Friday, December 12, 2008

The M-5 - Chapter 9

Chapter 9

"I need a firing lane. Good-by, Captain Ruzar. M-2V, execute SERS Emergency Routine 5a."

"Affirmative," said M-2V.

Lothar didn't know what this was, but it was one hell of a shock to see everything except power readouts go down. Everyone scrambled to put on helmets, get any response from any system and couldn't. This was the hardest power down of the systems that he had ever seen on the Grant. Only the fact that the APUs continued output held hope and he did not want to send anyone anyplace until he had some idea of what was going on.

"Can we even get passive sensor readings?" he asked.

"Not at this time, Captain," said the Ship Systems Specialist.

"Then we hold tight. Whatever Enid is doing is a gamble, but she has one great factor on her side," he said.

"Which is?" Theresa Kul asked.

"She is a survivor who pulls as many through with her as she can."

"Yeah, fat lot of help that is sitting here. And you're right, too, Lothar. I read up on Exmar 2 when I got a chance. I mean what did we have as a great plan? Fight hand to hand with sidearms?"

"That would be possible to do," said the Ship Systems Specialist.

"Well, yeah, you folks are used to fighting like that, aren't you?"

"Yes. We are Gorns."

A shudder passed through the ship, as if a giant's hand had gently nudged it.

"What the hell was that?" asked Lothar.

"Hey, it isn't something from us, thats for sure," said Theresa.

Then a few moments later of listening, there was a second, sharp jolt with some metallic pinging sounding in the hull.

"Disruptor bolt. Someone has fired at us. Not good, but doesn't sound like one at overload or even at full power."

Then the lights came on. Sensors activating. And the last, known position of Enid Daystrom showing up in the shuttle bay which was registering damage, even with the bay doors finally shutting.

"Shields warming, weapons systems warming..."

"M-5 tie-in, activated. M-5 online."

"Finally! Welcome to the USS Grant M-5 and could you get my ship up and operational so we can deal with the threat?"

"And just what the hell happened to you?" asked Theresa.

"Thank you, Captain Hampton. I have taken the precaution of preparing the deflectors, shields and weapons, as well as starting the impulse engines for additional power and to maneuver."

"Wonderful, get us protected now that Enid's dead. Well, she obviously didn't go down without a fight..." Lothar said checking the tactical display. Theresa was, too.

"Where did one of the ships and all the shuttles go to?" she asked.

"... she did THAT? And look at the other Light Raider, parts of it are still discharging..."

"Yes, apparently Enid took care of the immediate threat and even some of the heavier ones. The Strike Cruiser has some damage to its bridge area, as well, although it is still powering up." said M-5V.

"We're even, then. Good. Raise the shields and start getting the phasers up and running..."

"The second ship shows damage and having ejected a warp core with its antimatter cache," said the Systems Specialist.

"Can we maneuver to get that, M-5? I mean so that you can get it on board?"

"Yes, even with shields up that can be done, Captain," said M-5V.

"Ok, prioritize, that and fending off the Strike Cruiser with whatever we need, consult with Theresa and Brian on that."

"Yes, Captain. Raising the shields now."

"Good, lay in new course for the antimatter. We are not going down without a fight. Enid will not have died in vain."

"She is not dead, Captain," said M-5V.

"What?!? But she was in the shuttle bay..."

"No, she wasn't, Captain. She moved outside the bay via a hatchway."

"Then how... where did she go?"

"She was behind the aft running light just above the shuttle bay." said M-5V.

"She is the best!" said Theresa, "Said she wanted a firing lane but wanted a damned blind, instead, and a light that bright in front of her would blind anyone looking to find her and the energy would mask where she was."

"Can you put her on, M-5?" asked Lothar.

"She is on, Captain,"

"Enid? Just what in the name of the Spiral Arm do you think you were doing?" he asked.

"Lothar, the M-Units were putting the ship in danger, plus all aboard her. I could fix that, but did not have time to contact you and deal with the incoming threat. So I chose the latter, and deal with you when things were a bit more even..."

"Tactical is online, shields up, weapons warming..." Theresa Kul said at the tactical station, "... dear god..." she said say very, very softly.

"What the hell...?" asked Lothar.

Theresa Kul had gotten Enid's tactical download and put that up on a side screen, and flashed it through at 10x speed. The sudden flashings, explosions, and sudden disappearance of one ship and another ejecting its warp core was nearly a blur if you didn't have the eye to know what to look for. The shockwave obviously rattled Enid's position, but she was already getting her next magazine in the weapon and everything was lashed down next to the hatch. With a shudder Lothar watched the shield section just to the right build up as Enid calmly keyed in a firing sequence then pulled everything together and slid into the hatch just as some blue of the plasma was appearing.

"So, do I end up on the shuttle bay repair crew?" she asked.

That broke the spell.

"Get the current tactical up and visual. What the hell has she done to that last ship?"

The USS Grant was executing a sub-light turn on impulse power, her shield glowing as plasma, gas and metal particulates hit the shields. The remains of the Ara tumbled above her, slowly, and the Grant was modifying the shields to take in the place that held the precious antimatter. What they saw was not easy to describe...

* * *

Captain Ruzar was going down the gangway ladder, quickly letting artificial gravity help him descend as he put his boots outside the ladder rungs and did a controlled slide. He opened the hatch at his feet, which had on the positive safety indicator, and smelled the acrid fumes of burning decking, chemical fire retardants and the smell of at least one crewmember who had perished due to one of those rods of metal coming in at horrific speed. His mind was still piecing that together as he reached, instinctively, for the hand light in the wall recess next to the gangway, as it helped him see, some, through the smoke. He worked his way down the hallway to the next gangway ladder and opened its hatch.

The sudden piercings, arcs of light, plumes of smoke, and flames following on had announced the impossible: Enid Daystrom was still alive and had just fired on the Shrike. The main shields of his ship should stop anything like this: nothing this small could get through starship shields to damage a ship.

One rod had passed through the gangway he had just opened and he could see the hatch indicator change from safe to hazard. He let the hatch drop and it snapped into place. He headed inboard from the outside hull, as that had now become a deadly zone to be in, he realized. His Engineering Officer was following him, coughing but still mobile in her dark outfit with metal bands on it. A very old style of clothing, but seemed better suited to this than his synthetics.

The Shrike shook with a great booming sound beneath his feet as he lurched forward to another hatch and saw that it still indicated safe. He slid down that ladder and reached the hatch and the clear label of 'Deck 3'. He opened it to yet more smoke, flames, and someone moaning. He ignored that and checked the next hatch, which also had a safe indicator on it. As he reached down he heard something that sounded like a series of dull pops off in the distance and the lights started to falter then went to their emergency condition. He opened it and slid down to the hatch which was marked safe at 'Deck 4' and opened it just as the lights, artificial gravity, air circulators, indeed anything that depended on ship's power went out.

This was bad. Very bad.

He pulled himself through the hatch and saw that the one to the next deck was marked hazard. Deck 5 had the Secondary Bridge. He pushed off into the smoky darkness keeping orientation by floor, ceiling and railing. He used that last to keep himself moving so that he didn't stop and asphyxiate in a bubble of air that would be trapped around him without circulation of it by the ship. By rights he was above the Secondary Bridge. The hatch to it was marked as hazard. The Engineering Officer kept up with him until she tugged his leg.

"Space suit lockers to the left in the next corridor."

He nodded, having forgotten about them as emergency supplies, but this was a dread emergency. He went to the lockers on the left corridor branch, he went to ones on his right, she to the ones on his left, and they were both pulling them on as the ship shook, fiercely, with a sound of rending metal. The ship shifted upwards on its forward axis. Captain Ruzar was hoping to hear any comms of others through his suit, but didn't. Intraship comms was down, and suit to suit was limited by the decks.

"That woman is lethal," the Engineering Officer said.

A final, distant boom and shrieking of metal was heard and the ship started to shift to starboard along the plane of its orbit.

"We have got to get to a major control center. One that just might have power, and that will be next to engineering," the Captain said.

"Best to head back to the anterior portion of the forward hull and then down to Deck 7 which starts the interconnecting decks. Then back, from there, into engineering." she said.

The Captain nodded and pushed off, and down the center of the corridor, hitting the corner on an intersection and pushing off, from there, down the axis of the ship and to the rear. He snagged a rail near a gangway that had a safe indicator on it and opened it to go down to Deck 5. He saw bodies floating in the hall.

"Is anyone alive on this deck?" he asked via the suit comm system.

He got no reply. Not all of these crewmen had died due to burns, being penetrated by something or explosions: many had just died in their own exhaled gases, unable to keep moving. Some had not studied their basic emergency techniques, and were paying the price for it.

The next hatch was marked safe by its internal circuits and he opened that to descend, pulling himself to Deck 6. Here he found three crewman sealing a hole somewhat larger than a fist in the side of the deck.

"How are things going here?" he asked.

"Captain Ruzar?" asked one of the crewmen.


"Lieutenant Raln. We had a major, multi-deck penetrator destroy most of decks 5, 6 and 7 on the forward, port side. Then a smaller penetrator followed that putting large holes across at least two decks and possibly more. We think there was another penetrator at the interconnector decks, but have not been able to establish contact. I sent a team of three down to deal with the holes, as they are causing atmosphere to escape as there is no outer hull to seal them off."

"Good, continue on as you were. Did you send people down by this hatch?" he asked.

"No, Captain, the next one aft, as aft seems to be safer than forward."

"It is. Thank you, Lt. Raln."

Captain Ruzar pushed off hard and to aft.

Something had taken a chunk out of his starship, through its shields. Then sent in something to hurt the ship deeper right after it. He found the gangway and it was safe, he opened it and went down to deck 7, and it was safe. There he found two crewmen sealing a hole and heard some chatter on the suit systems.

"Whatever it was went right through the battery system and fed back everywhere, there isn't a 'safe' system to route energy through going forward," said one voice.

He heard his Engineering Officer speak up.

"What happened, Larza?" she asked tartly.

"Commander Walsa! Captain Ruzar! I am glad to see you both alive, we were beginning to think most of the officer cadre was dead," he said as he broke away from the group he was speaking with at a nearby intersection.

"Commander, something hit just forward of the interconnecting decks and sent a running overload through the ship's energy systems. The entire battery system discharged. One of the forward APUs we lost just before that with whatever hit the ship. The other forward one went with the overload and its circuitry fused solid. Then the phaser capacitors couldn't hold their charge, the same with the forward disruptors. Their charges backfed into the system, and we only lost some of the cut-offs, which was good luck. Those charges then surged into the already crippled batteries, somehow, and started to fuse them with that load, that they weren't meant to handle. We are still trying to get in contact with Engineering, but something to the aft part of the ship has caused the interconnecting decks to twist out of true, so nothing functions through there and we may have to use hand cutters to get through the hatches and doors."

"How many crew are suited up?" asked the Captain.

"On this deck, twenty, sir. Deck 6 maybe five to seven. Deck 8 twelve. Thirty seven to, I don't know, forty, possibly, Captain."

"Standard for this area is?"

"Eighty five, Captain, including all hands forward of here."

"Can we get the forward section of the ship operational?" the Captain asked of his Engineering Officer.

She did a mental assessment.

"Not until we get into a shipyard, Captain. Fuzed batteries, blown conductors, and no ability to power it, means it is unsafe even to occupy."

He looked around him at the devastation.

"We will head aft to do a jump from the forward to aft hull. Prepare the crew to move aft. We will use a suit ferry or any emergency containers for saving crew from space exposure. We will use the Deck 6 airlock which is a freight one that can be manually cycled out. Use your best zero-g personnel to start finding all survivors and move them aft. Take anything that may be necessary to move, primarily suits but any other emergency supplies. When I can find a safe area in the secondary hull, I will send personnel back for you."

"Yes, Captain Ruzar."

"Lt. Larza and Raln I will brevet to Sub-Commander status. Contact him, Sub-Commander Larza and start preparing to evacuate to the secondary hull. Engineering should have been able to shunt this load and should still have power, but the forward part of the ship is now unsafe for habitation."

"Yes, sir!"

"Commander Walsa, come with me."

The Captain headed up to deck 6 via the gangway ladder and opened it up to deck 6 letting Sub-Commander Raln know of his position and to coordinate with Sub-Commander Larza. He came to the end of the corridor and went to the side personnel airlock and manually cycled it open. The space indicator was at 'normal' not 'shields on'. That was bad.

Commander Walsa helped him close it and then cycle the air out to space. They opened the hatch.

"By the Spiral..." said the Captain. He was looking up to where the upper intercooler nacelle should be and there was only a split open, twisted piece of the pylon that showed, still letting off some gas and sparking.

"Captain we may want to do a jump across and to the curve just below the top. You can see the twisting of the interconnector and that the secondary hull is at least twenty degrees out of true with the primary. Something hit on the port side, there, just aft of the interconnector and immediate forward part of the hull."

"Yes, that area has the shuttle bay. Best we check it out."

Saying so he skillfully jumped, as did his Commander, and they spent their few seconds in space flight looking out.

"The Su is gone," she said.

"There on the other side is the Ara. Her upper nacelle is gone, the lower... nothing should be able to make a pylon flow like that. Not even running lights on her," Captain Ruzar said in a flat voice.

"The Grant is turning, impulse engines. Heading towards the Ara."

"No, Commander, just below and that path is getting steeper out of the plane of the Ara's orbit. Captain Hampton is no longer worried about us, and will come up behind to tractor us."

They landed just at the rise of the hull and saw devastation. The entire shuttle bay from the mid-way point of the secondary hull to the rear, including all the cargo bays, maintenance bay and some of the bulk storage areas used for taking in goods during raids had been blown open from the inside. There was no second wave of shuttle craft, although some of the wreckage could be identified as them.

"Running lights are on," said the Commander.

"Yes. Best we move down to come in via the forward hatch there. I think that is aft deck 4."

They jumped to that and cycled it open, and then through into the ship via a powered cycle. Beyond the crew were methodically working to get to the interconnector and bringing up cutting phasers. They were all in emergency suits.

"Who is in charge, here?" he asked as he opened his suit and flipped his helmet back.

"Sub-Commander Kotath, here, Captain Ruzar. It is good to see you, Commander Walsa."

"I am glad someone has been able to keep things going. Don't bother with cutting, do a space ferry across from the forward hull. Make sure it is sealed off on this side as the forward section will need to be replaced. I have two new Sub-Commanders, Larza and Raln on the forward section organizing the rescue. Commander Walsa, get someone to handle that while we get an update from Sub-Commander Kotath."

"Yes, sir! Lieutenant Muray and Estren, start working on a personnel ferry and take a portable generator for the airlock. Take spare suits and rescue bubbles."

"Yes, Commander," they both said before heading off to stop the cutting parties and re-organize them.

"Good, now to the tertiary bridge, talk as we walk, Sub-Commander Kotath,"

"Yes, sir. We lost contact with the bridge soon after that disruptor fire. We were charging the disruptors, phasers and got the shields fully raised. About a minute after the shields were in place we started getting multiple reports from the forward part of the ship. The first attack after that one that hit the bridge was just below and to the side, multiple small attacks which were causing a fire hazard of some sort that automated systems couldn't easily handle. We don't know what happened next, but it hit into deck 6, forward, and spread into the decks above and below. Some sort of delayed or pushed explosive material caused a major implosion as it pushed forward and then overpressured into the interior of the forward hull and exploded, taking most of the forward, port sections of those three decks with it. At that point we were having trouble staying on course and we had lost direct control from the bridge and secondary bridge, and sensor feeds were not getting properly through the system. We were going blind, forward."

"That was happening in front of us as we evacuated the bridge. What happened next as you recall it?"

"Sir, there was something that we think was a penetrator round of some sort that came in through the missing hull section and penetrated deeply into the forward hull and interconnector. That was followed by something that caused the entire energy system to discharge forward, and only the over-energy cut-offs melting out prevented that from seriously damaging the secondary hull. Still there were all sorts of ongoing shorts and other disturbances and that is when we also lost the shield system: enough damage had tripped back through the superconductors and we had to take it offline to save it. Then came the damage to the aft hull, only two strikes, but they are critical."

They entered the small room, almost a galley bridge and Captain Ruzar snorted.

"I am not amused at the damage, Sub-Commander. But just ten or so minutes ago I had seen Captain Hampton in a similar place, with his space suit on and thought how pitiful he was. Now I find myself in the same situation, and probably much worse off. We saw the damage to the shuttle bay and upper nacelle, Sub-Commander. In brief, if you can."

"Yes, sir. I understand. Again it was this rolling implosion to explosion that went through the shuttle bay and cargo areas, but this was far more extensive and may even have taken as long as three seconds to complete. I had one crewman report that the entire section of the hull above all of that had actually bowed in by two meters before the back explosion ripped it all out. He was saved by dint of a blast door closing just as he turned to watch it. No one back there survived, and I estimate the loss of mercenaries and crew to be nearly two hundred, Captain."

That was shaking. He had lost nearly 80% of his entire crew, unless there was some relatively populated section forward that had a number of crew that kept their wits about them and had donned suits quickly.

"And the nacelle?"

"Again, some sort of rolling explosion penetrated the interior of the nacelle, propagated down the pylon and into the secondary hull below. That sudden loss of coolant as we were powering up overloaded the warp core which ejected the core and the antimatter cache to save the ship. We are currently running on impulse engines."

"Very well," said the Captain, "get any working sensors routed to here, and try to get at least one experienced cadre from the forward hull to the aft. Then re-start cutting efforts to rescue the rest. Can we get the deflector system up?"

The Commander and Sub-Commander looked at each other.

"I think, so, Captain, although weakly forward it will still hold just through normal uncoordinated superconductor," she said.

"Good. One ferry, two at the most then turn on the deflectors and the cloak. We have the last course to Io laid in so that should be available to execute. Use small charges to remove the top pylon just before that, put in something to make it very bright and perhaps an energy discharge of some sort, and do everything to keep the warp core warm. Once we get behind Io we will use Karsu's cache, remove the forward section of the ship and warp out of this benighted system once and for all. Is that understood?"

Commander Walsa smiled.

"Yes, sir," and she turned to Sub-Comander Kotath to have him start organizing the few people she knew could handle this.

"We will get out poor, but alive. I have survived poor before, but it is hard to survive the lack of the latter. We will do everything to lower our ship's signature. But we must get to Io."

* * *

"Any response to the hails, M-5?" asked Lothar.

"None, sir. The Shrike appears permanently disabled, having ejected its warp core, also. Its impulse engines are active, but that appears to be for immediate survival, not propulsion."

Lothar nodded, looking at Theresa.

"That was something that was damned hard to survive, Lothar. We do have life form readings there, about sixty from what I can tell. Normal ship's complement is about five times that and more if they are going to be ship stealing: you need a prize crew for that."

"Still on course for the anti-matter?"

"Yes, Captain. It is identified, but I will need to grapple it with a tractor and use phasers to shear off the support elements around the cache."

"Keep Theresa and Brian informed, so ordered. What is the status of this other ship, the Light Raider?"

"It is not under power, Captain Lothar Hampton," said the Weapons Specialist who had come down to relieve the Systems Specialist,"there are five life form readings forward. Their entire engineering area is uninhabitable or missing. There are only forward thrusters available and one APU, forward. Life support is off ship-wide."

Lothar shook his head from side to side.

"Can't save them right now. Transporters are down due to the sub-space interference and I am not risking the only shuttle on the ship to rescue them. And their comms are down. Let me know if they jettison via a rescue pod or equivalent."

"Yes, Captain," said the Weapons Specialist.

Mentally Lothar Hampton was appalled at what he was tallying up. Enid Daystrom had done more damage, in a handful of minutes that could not have been replicated by a fully powered Dreadnought, with fully overloaded weapons in the equivalent amount of time. Those shuttles were optimized for a forced boarding, and would have held at least 15 if not 20 boarding party members each. A Light Raider only had a crew of, maybe, 30, yet one was destroyed and another down to a last few survivors. And then the Strike Cruiser... something that size would have had a full second set of boarding shuttles to launch: it was larger than the Grant. A Federation ship that size would have a crew of, say, 400 to 500, but Orions operated on a very lean crew and maximizing cargo space, so possibly as many as 300 on her... that wouldn't include any extra support personnel for boarding and raiding if you brought in an outside outfit to do that. That was at least 300 dead, and maybe up to 350 or more.

M-5 certified that her suit's recordings were unaltered.

Considering the Fleet operations that had been ongoing against the Orion Pirate Clans, this single raid may turn out to be the largest to have been stopped, just in quantity of personnel lost on the pirate side. Ships and base raiding was another matter, but open space encounters usually were not up into that range.

Lothar Hampton, Captain of the USS Grant was not a bloodthirsty man. He would defend a ship, destroy enemy capability and ensure the survival of his crew, as he had done temporarily in the 'center seat' at other points in his career. He desperately wanted these pirates to surrender, and yet Enid had made that nearly impossible for them. On the Light Raider if they sought to save themselves, he could tractor escape pods to the Grant. He had no other means he considered worth risking to do so while one opponent was still viable. And on the Shrike... he examined the tactical feeds over the structure of the ship... in spite of his wanting to feel sorrow for them, he was, instead, impressed by what Enid had done.

She was a matter-of-fact woman, and he had seen her in the administrative role during the project and was suitably impressed. He knew that she didn't care for it, but she was damned good at it. Somehow dealing with megacarnivores shouldn't fit in with that woman's demeanor, and yet it was obviously a passion with her. He had attended two of her presentations to the bio-sciences group and her passion for her work was contagious. What drove her to that he couldn't really figure out until this encounter, now just ten minutes in the past. He remembered how she coolly, methodically, explained how she had designed and tested each round and why it was made the way it was made. She saw this as hunting, not killing sentients in a starship... no, that wasn't fair. She knew that and still went about it the way she did. She had forced herself to be civil and offered mercy, as she knew what she could do and that those sentients arrayed against her deserved a chance at mercy. If they didn't understand what she could do...

Lothar chuckled.

"God, damned pirates. When a woman offers you mercy and thinks she can afford to offer it to you, you damned well take it!" he said with a grin.

"Damned straight, Lothar. Fighting is too important to fool around with the crap that normally goes on. You do it and be done with it, and the devil take the hindmost," said Theresa, very seriously,"because that hindmost is gonna get chopped."

Lothar looked at Theresa.

"Lt. Cmdr. Kul, you seem to be enjoying what has gone on with the pirates."

"Tractor beam is being deployed, forward phaser bank receiving targeting information," said the Weapons Specialist.

"Go for it, M-5! And, yeah Captain, you might not like the thought of the Orion Pirate slaver dens, but you wouldn't get the worst of it, you know? They aren't civilized. No one has been able to shut that down and the Klingons and Romulans have many ready buyers there, so all our agreements with the Klingons don't get us squat in that regards. You know those societies, Lothar, so you tell me who gets the raw deal when captured, ok?"

Enid had mentioned the same thing, and really Lothar hadn't thought about it very much in his life. He was not a bloodthirsty man. He had never thought of himself as a gallant man, either. For the first time he was beginning to understand what these two women saw and how they saw it. It wasn't hatred he felt towards the Orion Pirates and those that did as they did. In all of his years in service he had never wanted to kill, and yet some part of him was letting him know that this was not killing in rage, but to protect. Enid had offered them mercy when he had forgotten to do the same.

It shook him to think that he could have accepted the consequences of losing.

He had been playing at being civilized.

Enid was dead serious.

"Tractor locking on to warp core," said the Weapons Specialist, "single phaser targeting."

Lothar Hampton had sworn an oath to defend the Federation's Citizens. Now it was his time to do his duty.

* * *

"We have initial charges in place, Captain Ruzar," said the Sensor/Helmsman who had survived the attack on the bridge of the Shrike.

"Good. Do we have sensors operational?"

"Yes," said Commander Walsa, "we have re-routed secondary hull feeds and are about to direct link in to the tactical and piloting system, a minute or so for final system check."

Captain Ruzar sat back in his seat in the tertiary bridge near Engineering. The new helm/pilot was a young Orion man from one of the lesser clans, but was accorded good place for skill. His able Ferengi pilot had perished when a hull section gave way on deck 5 as he was still trying to get to the secondary bridge. The screen flashed showing the positions of the Shrike, Grant and Ara, with Jupiter looming over them all.

"What is the Grant doing?" he asked.

The screen zoomed down and around to show the Federation Heavy Cruiser clearly passing far beneath the damaged and crippled Ara.

"They are deploying a tractor," said the new officer at tactical, a young human with dark long hair and green eyes, "and looking to grab something there..."

"Commander Walsa, analysis?"

"They are tractoring the jettisoned warp core and antimatter cache of the Ara, Captain, and..." her voice lowered to a mere whisper as a phaser beam fired, "that is not possible..."

Those that survived on the Shrike saw the first, ever, time a starship had pulled in raw anti-matter through its shields, deflectors and into the ejection port used to drop an unstable warp core. They watched in the few minutes it took for two very precise phaser strikes to sever the core from the cache and then open the cache and remove the antimatter.

Commander Walsa looked at the sensors.

"Their mains are coming online, Captain," she whispered.

"We would spend at least two or three hours to do that. There are so many things that could go wrong..." he said in horrified fascination.

"More if it was the bare and unstable core, Captain," said the Sensor/Helmsman,"much more just to stabilize it."

"If the charges are ready, Commander Walsa?"

"They are, Captain,"

He nodded.

"Do precisely as I say and we may survive this. When I give the order we will power down everything save those energy systems needed for the thrusters, deflectors and cloak. All high energy systems must go down then. When we remove the pylon, immediately use our thrusters along the following vectors..."

* * *

"The mains are coming on-line," said the Weapons Specialist.

"We are free and clear to navigate at full power, Captain Hampton," said M-5.

He nodded.

"M-5 start charging photon torpedoes. Bring all weapons systems online and execute a maneuver to bring us behind that hulk of the Shrike."

"Aye-aye, Captain, all weapons charging, changing course and speed as ordered."

The USS Grant, its nacelles showing a light blue as intercoolers started to do their work of cooling the warp core, shifted in its orbit. As the ship slowly came about the Shrike suddenly erupted in a flare of white and the Grant was slightly buffeted by that shockwave.

"Explosion aboard the Shrike, Captain Lothar Hampton," said the Weapons Specialist.

"Theresa, what the hell happened?"

"They used some charges on the superstructure of the ship, especially the pylon... but they have disappeared from sensors."

"No debris?"

"No debris, Lothar. Not even a high energy field nearby."

"M-5, can you find anything?"

The automated system took a moment to respond.

"Captain, they utilized a pulsed explosive to overload certain sensor bands. What little visual evidence there is suggests they powered down all but one or two APUs, activated their deflectors and went into cloak. At such low power they will be nearly impossible to find as that is the main way of finding a cloaked ship."

"Do we have photon torps yet?"

"Yes, Captain, a spread of three is available."

"Proximity fuse and fire along last course of the Shrike, Lt. Cmdr. Kul."

"Aye, sir, firing,"

The dull red photon torpedoes leapt out of the forward tubes and detonated at the last position of the Shrike and along its last course. The Shrike was not there.

It's ejected warp core, was, and detonated in a blast that sent a wave of energy through the Grant causing a momentary power failure.

"Shields held, mains still online, Captain," said the Weapons Specialist.

Lothar was cursing himself as he hadn't thought of that... perhaps Captain Ruzar thought that he had and would stop to take that cache in, too.

"Any sign of the Shrike?" he asked

There was a moment of silence as the air circulators took some smoke out of the air and Theresa and the Weapons Specialist scanned with sensors, just as he knew M-5 was doing.

"No sign of the Shrike, Captain," said M-5.

"Where the hell did that ship go?"

* * *

It was simplicity itself: overload a few sensor bands, cloak the ship and then stop some forward momentum with thrusters and add just a touch down from the plane of the orbit. The result was that the Grant was sliding around and in behind where the Shrike was and the Shrike had just slid below and into the turn of the Grant. Captain Ruzar watched the torpedoes streak out and go for a close pattern proximity detonation that had, unexpectedly, taken out the jettisoned warp core. If the Shrike had been closer to that, he wouldn't be alive. As it was the plan worked flawlessly, with the minimal energy of the thrusters lost in the sensor overloads and soon those thrusts were lost to the chaotic energy discharges going through the Jovian atmosphere. You could pick a ship out by its thrusters in such a situation, but you had to know what to look for.

And the USS Grant was slowly sliding further and further away.

"Is the repeater network up for intraship comms?" he asked.

"Yes, Captain, it is working and will keep all comms inside the ship," said the Sensor/Helmsman.

"Good, patch me through,"

The Sensor/Helmsman nodded, and signaled it had been done.

"To the officers and crew of the Shrike, as you know our original mission has been an abject failure of proportions I cannot even begin to get across. As you all know, you have volunteered into my service on the Shrike, but as in days of old I only propose missions, you accept them. As it stands my obligation is now to you, not to myself. I have three proposals that I will put to you, and you can discuss them and choose any or another proposed by your fellow crew members. You may even choose a new Captain, although I still retain ownership of what is left of the Shrike, if you feel I am not the one to get you out of this and I will abide by whoever you choose as your new Captain. All of your votes are equal on this. As we seem to have gotten away from the Federation Heavy Cruiser and it can't find us, we have some space to decide on our next course of action. I will take no part in discussions, but await your verdict. Here are my proposed courses that seem obvious to me if you retain me as Captain.

First is to utilize our cloak, slip to a higher orbit and wait for the Grant to be out of sensor range, then take the antimatter cache my half-brother left behind Io in orbit and power what remains of the Shrike up and leave this system. We will all be relatively poor, and you will only be getting wages from my personal reserves once we reach safety.

Second, we can slow our orbit to match that of a Federation Destroyer in the Yellow Fleet, board her using suits and escape systems, and install a cloak on it and go to Io. A Destroyer is a valuable ship, for sales, as there are ready bidders from the Romulans, Cardassians and Dominion willing to pay for such as an infiltration vessel. The Shrike is a loss, as you know, so I would scuttle her in Jupiter and let all of you gain shares from the sale of the Destroyer. We might be able to tow the Shrike out, but that is no sure thing, and we would not be able to use the cloak to escape and I don't want to wait in the orbit of Jupiter much longer as our chance of being detected grows when we are uncloaked.

Third, is much like the second, save that we increase speed to catch up to a Yellow Fleet Light Cruiser. That currently has a lower market value, due to its age. With that, however, we would be going for commerce raiding to recoup losses on this trip. It has one, major, added value, however, and that is it is armored as it is an old Romulan War build cruiser that has been updated. My clan will pay well for that armor technology, once they hear our story. In fact we can ask for a small share of each ship that is armored, and there will be many of them. We have experienced the future of space warfare, and it will require armor to protect us from the likes of Enid Daystrom. She is the one that did all of this to the Shrike.

Those are the three that I can see. I will now cut myself from the suit comm network and head to the aft observation deck. I will abide by your decision. Captain Ruzar, out."

With that he turned off his suit communicator and walked out of the tertiary bridge. He could hear some discussions going on as he went by various areas. He was only Owner Captain so long as the crew wanted him as Captain. They respected his owning the ship, but their destination after so horrific an outcome must be their own. When he reached the aft observation deck, he looked out into space that was blurred by the cloak, with Jupiter off to his right and two decks down the damage to the shuttle bay clearly evident. In truth little light got in from the outside, but it was enough to let him see the ghostly damage to the Shrike. He had lost battles, but had been able to survive the aftermath before, but only when clearly overmatched by far heavier ships.

Once as a Light Raider Commander he had a deadly duel with a Romulan new build Light Cruiser, and survived due to the problems that early class of new ships had with their plasma devices. A second hit on his ship would have been lethal, and timing a phaser strike to hit just as the plasma ball was leaving the bay detonated it early and that had still not stopped the Romulan Commander. By abusing the engines on the Light Raider he escaped into the triborder area and was able to sell his prize cargo of Romulan Ale, plasma rifles and slaves picked up from a plantation during a ground raid.

A few years ago his second confrontation with a Klingon old build D-7 battlecruiser against his Heavy Raider Mark V was part of a larger, three ship raid proposed by Clan Admiral Musal. His raider was to screen off a contingent of three E-4 patrol craft, but they had come with a D-7. He would get help in that, but only after it had turned into a battle between his rear shield and distance fire from the D-7 and one remaining E-4. He had run out of mines, missiles, bombs, and anything else that could be dropped or sent backwards after most of the forward part of his ship was ruined by a D-7 close confrontation. The D-7 was the worse for wear, and he gave a good account of himself so that he did not lose any prize awards. Still, that was a defeat in his light of things, as the prize awards did not cover the full cost of the mission. His crew, then, knew this and many stuck with him. It was that encounter that convinced him that he needed to fend off heavier vessels in close quarters, and so the Shrike was built.

This expedition was a failure so far: his half-brother, Karsu, gone along with the Conquest, a company of mercenaries dead, save for one or two that were merely injured as the shuttle bay turned into a charnal house, the Su so much vapor and expanding gases, the Ara an unrecoverable hulk, and his own ship crippled beyond any ready recovery. The Shrike was destined for the scrap heap as it was more a collection of pieces than a ship at this point. He had always recovered by commerce raiding, that was his 'bread and butter' as humans put it. And after this encounter he knew that was going to be a much deadlier proposition than it had been. Truly the Grant had not fired anything, done anything, to the Shrike. Somehow one woman had created a weapon that ignored shields and delivered small but lethal blows to starships.

He grinned, ruefully, and shook his head from side to side.

He had ordered her killed with a disruptor bolt from a starship!


Captain Ruzar chuckled, then laughed, uproariously. He was gasping for breath in a minute or two, but he could not deny that he had met his match and then some. In a few, short minutes the best ship his Clan could produce, a match mass for mass, throw weight to throw weight, with any ship its size and even larger from any of the major fleets had been reduced to this horrible piece of barely mobile scrap metal.

The Great Nebula would take anyone that crossed that woman.

He would never, ever, take a threat from her lightly: he had learned his lesson. No matter who this Enid Daystrom was, his Commander's assessment of her was correct. She was lethal. That secret of how she could do all of this would come out, he was sure, but for the first time in his life he really did start to realize that this brilliant technology so many took for granted was also flawed and deeply so. He felt it. This was not something that could be defended against by newer technology but by plain, old defense. And even that would not stop what had happened, he was sure.

Gazing so intently out into the murky space beyond the ship, he did not hear the Commander come up next to him. She put a hand on his shoulder and he started.

"Has the crew come to a decision?" he asked.

"Yes, they have," she said softly.

"Tell me what it is..."

* * *

"Captain on the bridge!" said Lt. Matthews.

Simon got out of the Captain's Chair to the right and turned to face the turbolift.

"Welcome to the bridge, Captain Hampton."

"Thank you, Commander, Lieutenant... I think we can do without that formality save for formal events," Lothar said smiling wanly.

The bridge looked different, felt different, with people at the stations. Ensign Matthews returned to his seat at the Communication's console, Simon moved towards the Engineering station, Lt. Cmdr. Brian Duvale was at the Weapon's Station, Tareen Lefar was at the Helmsman's seat on the left while the Gorn Energy Specialist had taken the sensor and pilot duties on the right and the Space Specialist was at the Sciences Station. Lothar stepped down, to the Captain's Chair, activated the readouts and turned to Simon.

"Report, Commander Lurva, it hasn't been more than an hour, but have we found anything?"

"Captain the status is the same. We are in a general search pattern for the area and have yet to find any trace of the Shrike. Our mass sensors are getting too many false positives due to the charge densities and gases shifting in the upper Jovian atmosphere and around the sulfur torus of Io. Due to the low energy the Shrike is using, its cloak is very effective and the general energy shifts around Jupiter mask the cloak very well."

Lothar nodded.

"Captain Ruzar is very skilled and could be vectoring off in a large number of directions. Even with that hulk of a ship he is left with, he is using what little he has extremely well. M-5, status update?"

"Captain, I am still not fully integrated after the emergency integration restart done by the M-2V web. I am only now starting to get some of the sensor suites integrated, but the problems of each suite, as Commander Lurva has mentioned, makes it difficult for me to synthesize them together. Our ship's status is good, for what has happened, and the main engines are in functioning order for the X-Class system."

Captain Hampton sat and thought a moment.

"Ensign Matthews, tell the M-5 team to get up here for a general meeting. I can think of a few alternatives, but I need feedback."

"Yes, sir. Contacting them now."

"Enid has prioritized this for her team, they are now responding individually and will be here soon."

The turbolift doors opened and Alexander Jomra stepped out into the bridge. He looked around, eyes glistening and smiled.

"I will miss this life," he said.

"And I will miss you in Engineering, Alex," said Simon.

"Same here, Alex... and damned if it isn't hard to call you that," said Lothar.

"That's ok, Captain, it feels strange to me, too," he said stepping around the perimeter of the bridge.

"Remember how this looked when we first got here? You could see right through the panels, up there," he said pointing towards the ceiling of the bridge, "right to the hull. Most of the consoles were a mess, too. It has a few rough spots left, that display over Communications really does need a replacement and the forward railing needs some straightening, but really, this is beautiful."

Enak and Kathy stepped from turbolift and glanced at the crew there, smiling.

"Captain Hampton, thank you for asking us to be here," said Kathy, "Enid will be a minute or two more as she had to double check the old photon torpedo launching system."

"You are both welcome, Kathy, Enak... and why in hell is Enid getting the old system working?"

Enak looked at Lothar and repressed a smile.

"She said, 'you might need it some day...',"

The turbolift door opened just as he started, and Enid Daystrom stepped out.

"... and you would much rather have it working than not. Actually, its a nice piece of equipment and a shame to see it left unused like that. At the very least you could lay down some flooring and put a nine-pin alley in there."

"That's not a bad idea!" said Alex, "I can get the design sketches up and get the pins down, and the feeder can be the ball return..."

Lothar cupped his face in his hands in mock sorrow.

"What is this younger generation coming to?"

"It's not as bad as all that, Lothar," said Simon.

"Remember, she was the one to bring back the fine art of swallowing your food dry," said Brian DuVale.

Lothar looked between the two and saw Alex, Enak and Kathy taking spare seats while Enid swung her legs over the railing between the Science and Communication stations, put her hands on the flat upper portion and crossed her ankles under it, her toes just above the floor.

"So what's up, Lothar? Still looking for the crafty Captain Ruzar?" asked Enid.

"Yes, I am, Enid. I am coming to the conclusion that he is very good at this. Even with the damage you did to his ship, he has been able to use the local environment and general inability of sensors to pick up very low ship energy readings to escape. That leaves me with a wide leeway on what to do. And he really is limited in his options, just using the full breadth of them to his advantage."

"You think he hasn't fled the scene, then?" asked Kathy.

"No, I don't. He came here to get the Grant and has been stymied at that. If you take a look at his entire mission, you see that he has expended a lot of capital or has leveraged himself into deep debt with this mission. Either way, if he just leaves, he will have lost not only his investment, but be seen as a failure on what is a premier mission. No matter what the circumstances, he will have lost one capital ship, has another so severely damaged it will probably be scrapped, lost two minor capital ships and, worse, good boarding and capture parties. He might not even be able to get a spot on a Light Raider if he comes back with nothing and still has indemnity and wages to pay out."

"You mean piracy isn't all glamor and swashbuckling and care-free?" asked Enid, smiling deeply.

"Actually, it is probably worse than Fleet contracts," said Enak, "as pirates usually don't leave you alive if you default on them. Lothar is right, for Captain Ruzar to maintain himself, he needs something from this mission. If he hired a mercenary company, say, to help out, he would have death benefits equal to a year's wages for each member, often more for officers. That would either come out of any captures or from the Captain's personal accounts. Hiring on clan ships would cost a bit less, because they would expect shares, but there are still expectations for death payments."

Alex looked at Enak.

"How do you know that?"

"Andorian families and lineages did not entirely come over to the Federation. There are still some families that have renegades who left to piracy and have worked with the Orions and Ferengi over the centuries. It is not many, but we still do have members who come back to society and tell us about their ways. They pay off a portion of the incurred damage done by all pirates, for a period of ten years. It amounts to half of what they make for that period of time, and it is a death sentence if you don't finish the payments."

"Are those who do so considered full members of society again?" asked Enid.

Enak turned to her and closed his eyes for the briefest fraction of a second.

"No, they aren't, Enid. There are many things that they are restricted from doing. That call to return to civilized society and ways must be admitted for them, so that they can make peace within themselves and seek to make further amends beyond such minor repayments. It would be kinder, perhaps, to do as humans did, and put them in a secure place for the rest of their lives. We consider it far more beneficial to the individual involved, and society, to not use the neuralayzer and forcibly change the individual. To us that is a violation that cannot be sanctioned and is a point of contention between Andoria and the Federation since the invention of that system back to Richard Daystrom's time. By removing volition, one removes the ability to know right from wrong as a good thing, and that is no good as we have seen, Enid."

"That I had never thought of, in that way, Enak, thank you," said Enid.

"I've always had a revulsion towards that treatment," Simon started saying as he turned from a readout from his station, "now I know why. Perhaps Andoria could speak a bit more clearly to the other Members of the Federation on it. You would find some peoples and audiences that will understand this very deeply, and they just may not have a way to express themselves on it."

Enak raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"We have tried, on a small scale for that..."

"Then we had best give you a certain case in point, hadn't we?" asked Lothar.

Everyone turned to him and there was a slow, spreading confidence in those words that told everyone that he had come to a decision.

"Helmsman, plot a course to that ruined Light Raider. Pilot, make way at best possible speed, and consult with M-5V about not creating too much turbulence, as I don't want our travels to mask any hope of finding Ruzar. Space Specialist, arrange for your shuttle to rendezvous with that hulk, and coordinate with Lt. Miyaka. M-5 pass that on to Miyaka and that he is to get at least three other members of the crew who can serve as liaison and who can make their way through what must be one hell of a wreck in there. The pirates on board are to be told they will be given mercy and will be confined in safety until proper authorities arrive. Once you get back, keep them confined to the shuttle craft unless they are injured or near death. Once they are here we will tow that wreckage to where it can be secured."

"And where will that be," asked the Energy Specialist.

"The tractor base. There are fully automated brigs there that will hold the pirates in safety, along with the remains of the ship, until the Federation sends a proper team to take them in. Enak, I hope you will consider putting a message together to your Embassy on Earth. The law needs to be tried, far more than the pirates do, but they will benefit from that."

He looked around at the faces looking at him, this man they all knew, well, who had just become Captain of the USS Grant.

"Get to it, people. Whatever Ruzar wants, he will have time to do it, and we can be in a much better position for that after taking care of the stranded pirates. That is our duty. Now execute those orders."

"Yes, Captain Lothar Hampton," said the Space Specialist, followed a fraction of a second later by the translation from the Energy Specialist saying the same thing.

"Aye-aye, Captain," said Brian Duvale.

"Affirmative, Captain," said M-5V.

Enid pushed of from the railing and landed softly on her feet.

"Ok, folks, meetings over, time to get back to work. Lets see if we can't help M-5V get its sensors fully integrated as it must feel very unsteadying to not have them all properly synchronized."

"It is, Enid. Thank you."

"Thank my team, M-5V. I'll be looking over the slip warp system for you."

Lothar who had been turning away from Enid in his chair stopped, and turned back.

"You will be doing what?"

"Doing a thorough check over of the slip warp system. M-5V has cobbled together a check list out of old contract materials and some hand placed sensor units, and wants that thoroughly done. You did hand it the task of handing out work assignments, remember?"

Lothar could see the report summary now: 'After dispatching the majority of the Pirate force she then went on to refurbish the old photon torpedo launch system and then the experimental slip warp system...'

Shuddering, at the thought of someone who had not had two years of warp theory, an additional two of warp mechanics and engineering, and who, a mere two weeks ago, had never worked on a starship system of any sort actually doing that nearly caused Lothar to say something he would regret. He knew that and shook his head.

"I don't want to know," he said as he turned towards the main viewscreen with Simon stepping over next to him.

"I'm sure you don't," Enid said, softly, smiling at the ancient thumbs-up sign of approval from Simon. She stepped up the stairs behind the Center Seat and joined her staff in the turbolift.

There was work to do.

* * *

"Execute the new course," said Captain Ruzar to his Pilot/Helmsman, "softly and steady as she goes, or at least can go."

"Aye-aye, Captain. Thrusters at 30%."

Captain Ruzar watched the screen as the USS Grant grew larger and slid out of sight to the top of the screen. The tactical system adjusted to follow, and they watched the Grant move forward and start to vector off towards the remains of the Ara.

"They are going to rescue the crew of the Ara," said Commander Walsa.

Ruzar looked at her and nodded.

"Predictable, yet that is by the book what the Federation does. I assume Captain Hampton has served on a number of vessels in some capacity, and so he would have to give up chasing us to do his duty. After seeing the damage, there is no way that we could effect an easy rescue and certainly not with a Federation Heavy Cruiser operational here. We have seen that, unlike these other ships, that one is armed and I now consider it the primary threat here. But we can do as the crew wants, just so long as we keep our orbital speed from causing a wake in the tenuous charge shell of atoms excited out of Jupiter's atmosphere, we will be unseen."

The crew's choice was obvious and Captain Ruzar's position was never in doubt. His actions had, in fact, re-united the crew and formed a common basis of opinion as the consensus was that no one could have predicted or expected what had happened. Captain Ruzar had pre-eminent skill in evasion and keeping crews alive when things went into the pot, and this was known in his clan and even further into Piracy circles. He had not lied when he said that commerce raiding, led by him on even a small ship, would be very profitable, and would at least cover losses for this trip. Thus the crew's choice to retain him and look to board the old Federation CL was obvious: they needed a real ship to work from.

"Pilot/Helmsman, make best possible speed and we need skill, not artistry in your work as all of our lives are in your hands. I did not hire you for your flash and boasts, but for your skill. And it is that skill that we all depend on, now."

The young man was concentrating, deeply, checking between sensor readouts from the Sensor/Helmsman's position just to his right, and the tactical system both on-screen and to his left. His hands never faltered, as they adjusted attitude, pitch and yaw of the ship to hide its trail while allowing for increased thruster use.

"Aye-aye, Captain. Understood."

The dim light of the tertiary bridge was common throughout the secondary hull, now. One APU ran sensors and the tactical system, a second supplied power to thruster and guidance control, as well as providing a minimal level of life support, but no artificial gravity. Everyone who had survived was now in a space suit.

"How is the evacuation of material coming on the primary hull?"

Commander Walsa checked her board and brought up status lists.

"We are removing final stores from the forward section now, and that will be complete in one-half hour. All severance charges are set and final plating will be installed after the last of the stores are out of the forward section. Impulse fuel is being transferred to space mobile platforms and we have broken out the one spare shuttle from the supercargo area. Rigging for a temporary shuttle launch bay will be done in two hours. All but a single cycles worth of phaser coolant is left in the system, the rest has been drained off to transfer containers. The second cloak has been tested and remains in its transfer container. We have assembled the portable generators and consumables near there and will convert a cargo bay into a transport unit. The crew now has enough suits to go around and emergency bubbles are being loaded with stores and consumables. In no more than three hours, we will be finished with all work."

"It has been an awful day, hasn't it Commander?" he asked.

"Yes, Captain, it has. The crew will be exhausted once we get out of this system."

Ruzar grunted.

"And then some month or two of light raiding to acquire some weapon expendables for the Light Cruiser, that will also be hard," said the Commander.

The Captain nodded.

"When all that work is done, place and prime the scuttling charges and link them to the central system. That will be the last thing the Shrike can do for us."

"Aye, Captain, the charges are placed and my teams are running the control leads. That will take awhile as I only have two teams to spare for it."

"Necessary. Tactical, have you transferred all data to portable systems?"

The new officer at the Tactical station nodded.

"Yes, Captain. We also have a running update store that will continue so long as it has contact to the repeater network."

Captain Ruzar nodded, gazing at the retreating USS Grant and the more distant Ara.

"I hope to never see that ship," he said nodding towards the Grant, "that close, ever again."

"So say we all, Captain," said the Commander.

* * *

Lt. Miyaka was proud to gain his full Lieutenant status while working with Simon, Lothar and Enid's team on the M-5. He took even greater pride in being assigned on the sister ship of the Republic, and that was a true honor for those aboard her. Being just a bit down the food chain of command meant that he had some of the lesser assignments in Engineering, but that was all to the good, really, and being a shift supervisor was suiting him well. Not that there was much of a shift to supervise. So he wasn't that surprised to be tapped for the boarding mission, and quickly chose Ensigns Arior and Raelyn to help out, as they were good at figuring out cyber systems and weapons systems, respectively. The Gorns had decided to send the Ship Systems Specialist and Cultural Specialist on the mission, mostly to pilot their shuttlecraft, but they would serve as welcome back-up in case things went wrong.

During the transit time of the Grant he studied what he could of Orion based systems and airlocks, and decided on a general, flexible tube with adhesive arrangement to make a temporary lock. These were standard issue for nearly a century, at this point, and served when dedicated lock couplers were not available. Ensign Arior would do the work to open the lock and they would immediately start to send messages over standard suit comms to see if they could get a response. There was only one real problem.

When Enid's round had gone through the upper nacelle, the energy released did severe damage to the ship, and when the lower nacelle vented its explosive gas mixture into the ship, most of the hull and superstructure was compromised aft and even the forward section was badly twisted out of true. Even armored airlocks could not take some of those strains and even the far forward most one was bent and the outer lock system, itself, no longer serviceable as an airlock. The small pocket of protected decks forward was situated between what was their bridge area and the forward most airlock. Getting into the ship would be simple: there were more holes, blown out air locks, and general damage than could safely be recounted. Even with all of that one APU remained functioning, between engineering and the forward hull. No, that one section was fully contained inside the ship, but a few staterooms or cargo areas inside from the hull, so no simple 'place the tube and cut the hull' idea would get to them. What made everything far more difficult was a tiny speck of antimatter that had reacted inside the engine system, probably right before the core ejected, had thoroughly radiated enough of the ship laterally and down that going through that, without a fully radiation protected suit, was likely to be lethal. The survivors apparently understood the danger and sealed off one full corridor between themselves and the radiation. Those were pressurized corridors so any attempt to open them would cause the radioactive gas to suddenly vent out through the opening.

Those survivors had perfectly trapped themselves in, although the radiation levels would rise, the atmosphere would not transmit it as well as vacuum, and so they bought themselves some time. He was stymied: to get to the survivors, he would risk killing whoever was doing the cutting, plus have the possibility that sudden decompression might cause something to collapse or expand. So the initial, simple, plan was scrapped almost immediately as they got within good visual range of the damaged vessel.

When he got his team together, he was thinking that they just might have to risk an explosive or thermal charge to melt out cutouts and hope that not too much radiation would get in to contaminate the rescuers or survivors. That had a high chance of killing the survivors and at least the humanoid members of the rescue team. No one liked either, and so when the Gorn Ship Systems Specialist asked if there were two more of the placement tubes, and it was confirmed that there were actually about five in stores in one of the cargo areas, the alternative was ingenious. Add in a quick seal lock or two and they were set.

The Gorns removed air from the shuttle as it transited from the Grant, and the most likely piece of hull with the least damaged airlock was found, Ensign Raelyn extended the tube to fit around the lock and Ensign Arior along with the Cultural Specialist opened it. The inner lock still held and tricorder readings indicated that there was air pressure present beyond the lock. The Gorn went back to the shuttle and atmosphere started to fill the shuttle and tube. When it was pressurized just slightly beyond normal for an Orion ship, the Gorn closed the door and Ensign Arior worked on the airlock to over-ride it. When he did, Ensign Raelyn and the Gorn Cultural Specialist deployed it between the airlock and the next wall, through the atmosphere that was kept at bay by the slight overpressure provided in the tube.

"Hailing all aboard the vessel, can anyone hear me? This is Lt. Miyaka of the USS Grant." asked Lt. Miyaka.

There was some static and the miscellaneous pops from radiation.

"Returning the hail, this is Sub-Commander Envar of the Ara. We are five souls seeking mercy, Lt. Miyaka of the Grant."

"Understood, Sub-Commander Envar. We are utilizing portable docking tubes with positive pressure systems. We are currently beyond the outboard wall where you are at. One of my party will use a welder to show you where we will enter. What is your group's status, Sub-Commander?"

"We have two crewmen suffering from burns and radiation damage, one with a broken leg and concussion, and two relatively fit, although exhausted crewmen. We have been taking in some radiation over the past half-hour."

"Sub-Commander, you will need to leave what contaminated gear you can behind. Anything that would endanger lives of the injured if removed are to stay on, and we will utilize emergency containers. One of my group, Ensign Raelyn, will start cutting through now. We have positive pressure to keep radioactive atmosphere contained. Again, leave all gear that has been exposed to radiation behind. You will remove your suits in the air chamber if possible. If you can tell me how many emergency bubbles we need, that would be helpful."

"Understood, Lt. Miyaka. Three of the transport bubbles will be necessary as the suits of those crewmen are maintaining their lives and minimizing damage. We see your cut, now, and are piling all other equipment along the opposite wall."

Miyaka turned to see the Ship Systems Specialist had brought forward three of the collapsible bubbles while the Cultural Specialist had been rigging one of the temporary locks between the forward position and the inner airlock hatch. Ensign Arior took the three bubbles and put them to one side as Raelyn continued to cut an oval into the interior wall. In a few minutes he was done and gave a sharp hit to the metal oval and it fell through.

The figure in the space suit identified himself.

"I am Sub-Commander Envar and thank you for our rescue, Lt. Miyaka. May I step through to remove my suit?"

"Of course. Cultural Specialist help him out while I take Raelyn and Arior forward to help transport the wounded."

"Yes, Lt. Lucas Miyaka. Step to me Sub-Commander Envar and I will assist you."

The Sub-Commander stopped as he had stepped through.

"That's... a Gorn!" he said in a shaken voice as he saw the toothy outline of the mouth inside the helmet of the Gorn spacesuit.

"Yes, it is, Sub-Commander, and a welcome guest and friend aboard the Grant. The Cultural Specialist volunteered to help in this mission and I suggest you allow that to be done."

"I... yes... of course, thank you, Cultural Specialist."

One of the things that Gorns were known for was physical strength. Yet the Cultural Specialist proved as adept with finding catches, undoing suit containment systems and generally moving quickly to help the Sub-Commander out of his suit.

"I will cycle you through to the Ship Systems Specialist who will take you to our shuttle."

Within a few minutes the rest of the survivors had been brought through, two of them unconscious, and one, Sub-Altern Numar, also having his suit stripped from him. The Ship Systems Specialist had arranged a simple water mist for decontamination in the interior tube space between the temporary hatch and the ship's inner hatch, with a final pushed mist in the last tunnel removing any clinging radiation on exterior surfaces. The Sub-Altern was handed a simple, one-piece jumpsuit in green to wear by the Ship Systems Specialist, and as he put that on the Sub-Commander and Grant crewmembers arranged the wounded for transport.

When the last was on-board the Cultural Specialist touched small heat cutting tool to the seal that started the process of decohering, and then closed the main door from the shuttle. As the last were being arranged, the shuttle moved to head to the Grant which was deploying a tractor beam on the remains of the Ara. The Sub-Commander sat next to Lt. Miyaka and looked in shock at what remained of the ship.

"How did you do that? We didn't register any incoming fire..." he said, softly.

Lt. Miyaka looked at the Sub-Commander, then at the receding Ara on a monitor in the shuttle.

"Truthfully, Sub-Commander, I don't know. I never... from all I learned in engineering and physics in the Academy, I never thought that anything like that was possible without heavy weapons."

Sub-Commander Envar shuddered and then looked at the approaching shuttle bay.

"It is good to be rescued, Lt. Miyaka. I know my fate will not be good, but far better in the hands of the Federation than, say, Klingon Empire. And if you can't tell me how you did that to the Ara, I understand."

The Ship Systems Specialist performed the end-for-end roll with twist of the shuttle inside the shuttle bay and settled the shuttle down, and the clamshell doors were already starting to close.

Lt. Miyaka smirked and looked at Envar, definitely a young, male Orion.

"Really, I don't know how it was done. Captain Hampton has an idea, I'm sure. But if you want to find out, you will have to ask the person who did that..." he was watching the exterior screen as the bay pressurized and saw a few people walking towards the shuttle.

The Cultural Specialist was opening the door as the pressure equalized and extending a hand to one of the people approaching.

"And who would that be?" Envar asked.

"I heard you need a medic here. Will an exo-biologist do?" said Enid as she stepped into the shuttle.

"Her," said Lt. Miyaka as he stood up and flipped his helmet back, "Enid Daystrom."

She was stepping towards the back of the shuttle, placing a hand on Lt. Miyaka's shoulder.

"Good to have you back, Lucas," she said in a whisper as she passed by.

"Good to be back, Enid," he said.

Envar noticed the suit Enid was wearing.

"She isn't in the Fleet?" he whispered.

"No, she isn't. She keeps busy. Don't try to keep up with her, whatever you do. Come on, lets see about getting some of those repulsor platforms here to transport your wounded to sick bay."

Envar looked back as Enid was using a tricorder of a much older style, and cross-checking with her personal system as she examined one of the unconscious crewmen. He didn't know what to think, what to say. If what Miyaka said was true, she had tried her best to destroy the ship he was on. Then he remembered, just before it all went to the pot, that the attack shuttles and the Su had all exploded. And then the Ara. No one had even bothered to mention them or the Shrike. It was only once he was helping to load one of the irradiated Sub-Commanders from Engineering onto a repulsor skid that he realized he was lucky to be alive.

* * *

The tactical overlay showed the USS Grant towing the Ara slowly to a higher orbit and then shifting forward. Within a few minutes it was beyond the orbit of Io then moving ahead past the night side terminator on Jupiter and then blocked by the planet.

"That course takes them to an intercept with the tractor base, Captain," said the Sensor/Helmsman.

"We are still out of direct observation of that base and Ganymede?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Sir we are approaching the USS Phaeton," said the tactical officer.

"On screen."

The old Federation Light Cruiser grew larger in the viewscreen, the fuzziness of it slowly disappearing as they got closer to it. It was an older style of vessel, which kept to the same general plan of all Federation vessels, but showed additions to it port and starboard where old missile pylons had been replaced with photon torpedo tubes. Two per side they offered a breadth of coverage that most later vessels would not have, although sacrificing much in the way of single strike power outside of a minimal overlapping cone to the forward of the ship. And to the rear, too, which was handy to have in a running fight. Although it had picked up some sulfur when its orbit went into the shell of Io's, no one would ever call that armor anything than black.

"Time to put our battle damage to good use. Pull along side, our port abreast of them. I want Commander Kotath to lead the first boarding party, taking with him the portable generator and whatever other consumables he needs. Once he has some energy to the ship, we begin the larger shift, with Commander Walsa organizing the shuttle and detached cargo bay. The crew moves over by sections, and every individual takes at least their mass in material with them if not more. I will then set the final sequencing for the Shrike, and be in the last party to leave with the Sensor/Helmsman and Pilot/Helmsman. As the evacuation begins we will be removing the primary hull and doing other work to send the Shrike on its last mission. When the Grant moves beyond the horizon of Jupiter, we de-cloak and begin. We have been over this before and some of the crew have had a bit of rest since we did the final preparations in-board. Are there any questions?"

"No, Captain," said Commander Walsa.

The others on the bridge shook their heads in a negative fashion.

Captain Ruzar flipped his helmet on and sealed it, as the other members of the bridge crew did the same he keyed in the general intercomm.

"This is the Captain. We will now be removing air and life support from the ship. Everyone will have five minutes until the air passes below critical levels, so it is time to don space suits and prepare to evacuate the ship and shift command operations to the USS Phaeton, which will be our new ship. Those on ferry duty, get to your posts, and Commander Kotath's boarding party should now be into position. We have..." he checked the chronometer and watched the minutes until the Grant disappeared, "... three minutes. You all have your orders, and I expect an orderly departure and start-up. Captain Ruzar, out."

Commander Walsa got up and left the bridge heading towards her evacuation group which would be moving the substantial part of the consumables from the Shrike to the Phaeton.

"Sensor/Helm come with me to the forward section interconnector. Pilot/Helm prepare for any last minute adjustments and a tractor to steady the forward hull. Bring up the impulse engines and lay in the new course, ready for automated systems."

Captain Ruzar got up and hurried out of the tertiary bridge, leaving the Pilot/Helmsman and an engineering Sub-Altern behind. They were each watching the critical systems as the ship's computer kept track of the Grant, and updated readouts in all of the suits on the ship. Even once the Grant was no long in direct visual, the order had been for an additional minute, which the system went into. The Captain and Pilot/Helmsman arrived within a few seconds of that mark and they checked the readouts for the explosives planted on the other side of the hull plating.

"We are now de-cloaking and deflectors are now inactive," said the Pilot/Helmsman.

At that point Ruzar tripped the main explosives and the Sensor/Pilot activated the minimal single use thrusters, which would be enough to move the forward hull away from the secondary. The ship shook as that happened and Ruzar headed to ship's stores to get his final material and get to the final interlocking computer station, while the Sensor/Helmsman rushed to join Commander Walsa and her team.

Being the last man out wasn't actually a tradition for the Orion Pirates, it made good sense when evacuating a ship that all necessary information be removed, and that is what Captain Ruzar was doing: taking the equipment and information that could be entrusted to no one else. Like who gets paid and how much. That, alone, would ensure an orderly departure, but Captain Ruzar didn't have many worries on that as only a couple of crewmen had never done a forced boarding and take-over before. Capturing entire vessels was still the best way to get to the cargo, and Ruzar had led many a boarding party in his life to do just that. This time it was an evacuation but also a seizing, so the orderly habits necessary to do that task would be in place.

"Commander Kotath has successfully boarded the Phaeton and opened all hatches and the shuttle bay. All Phase One personnel are now to cross," said Commander Walma.

In the background he felt the tractor shake the ship slightly for a second and then stop. The forward hull would now be just fore of the Phaeton. He knew that the tertiary bridge was now empty as he removed the vital information from his cabin and headed aft to the old shuttle supercargo area. All the atmosphere had been removed from the Shrike, compressed and was being put into bulk storage containers for transition. He joined that group, overseeing it and preparing for the return of the shuttle, under a younger pilot as Commander Walma was needed to oversee the Phaeton.

"It's good to see you, Captain Ruzar," said a Sub-Altern from the communications section.

"I would rather be out system with a prize, but given what happened it is good to be here. How is the transition going?"

The technician turned to a readout.

"We have the atmosphere stored and the last crew from engineering will be coming with it. Our shuttle is indicating that it has successfully delivered its first load and is now coming back for the final run."

The Captain indicated for a moment, and then keyed over to the general communications system.

"All Phase One personnel are now to be over on the Phaeton. All Phase Two personnel are now to begin evacuation," he said then keyed over to the local comms.

The Sub-Altern looked at the readouts.

"We now have the back-up cloaking device, atmosphere and the last of the impulse engine fuel ready to go to the shuttle,"

In the cavernous area just beyond where they were, amidst the wreckage, a landing area had been cleared and the shuttle was touching down, as two crewmen moved to put temporary holds on it.

"Very good, begin the loading and prepare for the final transfer. Once I receive the 'all aboard' signal I will join you and begin final evacuation."

"Yes, sir. That will not take long as the shuttle is set up for cargo containers."

That fast loading system that helped so much in bulk transport in ports also helped greatly in ship operations. Of which evacuation was a prime one.

Captain Ruzar pushed off to the control area, which had another Sub-Altern keeping track of on-board sensors. He looked at the screen as he entered the room.

"Good! This is an efficient transfer. We will be the last here."

"Yes, Captain. Even with what has happened, it was fate that played against us, not anything else. We will survive, I can feel it."

Ruzar cocked an eyebrow and could make out the facial lines of Romulan lineage just barely past the polarizing filter in the suit.

"I haven't lost a crew, yet, and don't intend to," said the Captain.

They watched the readouts as the last individuals were either loading the shuttle or jumping across to the Phaeton.

"All aboard," came across the comm system.

"That's us," said the Captain.

"To any remaining personnel, abandon ship. This ship will be leaving in 5 minutes on automated systems."

Saying that he looked over at the one screen that was dark and powered it on.

"This is Captain Ruzar."

The system screen read out 'IDENTIFIED, APPROVED'.

"Execute final orders C sub Alpha Three in five minutes. That is five minutes for C sub Alpha Three."


"Now let us depart", said the Captain as he left the control room for the shuttle.

As they entered the shuttle, the temporary restraints fell away and the door closed. The shuttle lifted off and away from the Shrike. Standing the Captain watched the one aft sensor as the ship lost some of its size, and a slow turn brought the Shrike into view for just a moment. He could see the impulse engines come on, then the deflector screen and then the cloaking system. He knew it was making a high energy turn to shift above the plane of the orbit and starting to depart the Jovian system. It was doing its last duty to him.

The shuttle touched down in the shuttle bay, which currently had the large cargo bay from the Shrike which was being quickly off-loaded by his crew. Internal lighting was on and he took the container with the cloaking device and moved forward down the passages marked by his people to engineering. It was a much smaller engineering area than he had seen in some time, but that made it easier to find Commander Kotath, whom he hailed.

"Commander Kotath, I have something for you to install," he said.

The Commander jumped down from an upper engineering area and landed beside the Captain.

"Yes, Captain. This is a standard Federation deflector and shield system. It can readily be adapted for the cloaking device. It will not take long to install it. We will have an APU up and running in three minutes and we are putting the impulse engine fuel into storage systems. The dilithium crystals have been installed. All is going to plan."

"Excellent, about time something does. I will be headed towards whatever counts for the bridge where Commander Walsa is."

"Yes, sir. Follow the green markers and you will be there."

"Carry on, Commander,"

"Aye-aye, sir."

Moving out of engineering, Ruzar saw the first dim, green marker and headed down the corridor, then up gangway ladders. The ship was still dark, and there was no real need for lights save what they had brought with them. The most critical part was to get the deflectors, at the very least, up and the ship cloaked. After that they could take their time, leaving the mass of the forward hull of the Shrike in their place. It was a simple ruse, unlike the remains of the aft hull of the Shrike, but with some luck it should be a distraction.

For the second time that day he found himself in one of the galley bridges, and counting that of the Grant it was the third he had seen. For so many years he hadn't even visited one, and now they were becoming nearly second nature to him.

"Captain on the bridge," said Commander Walsa as she stepped from the seat and to the left of it.

"As you were, we all have work to do. Report Commander."

"Sir. The USS Phaeton was one of the last of the old Light Cruisers to have received what is termed the X-class refit, nearly a century ago. It's systems have been well protected by the armor plating and even without being touched in the last decade, almost all of the essential power and engine systems can be brought online on short notice. We are using only a single APU until all are refilled, then we can cloak. Thrusters are now being filled and tested, and within ten minutes will be fully fueled and tested. Initial low energy tests on the deflector and shield systems look good, and the former should be available soon. Impulse engine stores are currently at 20% and we expect to have excess left once the system is filled."

"Very good, Commander. It is good to see you Sensor/Helmsman and Pilot/Helmsman, and Tactical officer. Sensor/Helsman what is our position?"

"It is good to be here, Captain. We are currently aft of the Shrike forward hull by 500 meters. Although this is a low orbit, it does swing outwards past the orbit of the tractor station, and that is 15 hours from now, although the tractor station will be on the other side of Jupiter at that point. The USS Grant is not on any tactical system, and its last course was heading towards the tractor station. Although high power systems from Earth could see us, they have a large time lag due to loss of sub-space comms, and it would be hours before any message of our activity, if it can be seen at all, will get to them."

"Excellent. Commander Walsa, when we have energy for the deflector and cloak, bring them online. Pilot/Helmsman, your job is just as hard now as it was aboard the Shrike. I will want a minimal wake course to the orbit of Io and trailing behind it. Then we will need to risk some minutes to pick up the anti-matter cache left by my half-brother. Between now and that point, Commander Walsa, I will want the warp core warmed so that we do not have to do a full re-start."

"Aye-aye, sir," said the Pilot.

"Yes, Captain," said the Commander.

"Those crew doing transfer work are to get a rest period. That goes for all other crewmembers: I want all critical systems manned but back-ups are now to get a rest period. My command crew will need to work out shift and staff arrangements, and I expect we will be short at one or two places. Power, deflector, cloak, and maneuvering systems are all primary and will be fully staffed. Our suits will be good for another 20 hours, at which point I expect either a recharging system for them set up or life support for at least atmosphere available. I will be taking a rest period, Commander. If we see the USS Grant, wake me. I will be in the cabin across the way that has been opened for storage."

"Aye-aye, sir," said the Commander.

"And all of you need rest periods, too. Especially the Pilot and Sensor positions. Get alternates here for them. Pilot/Helmsman make sure your replacement knows what to do, she is younger than you, but able. Commander, you have the conn."

It had been a few years since he had done anything like this, and really more than a decade at this point. And yet the basic habits stuck with you once you learned them.

In a few minutes he was lightly asleep and the ship gained deflectors and cloak soon thereafter and slowly moved from behind the Shrike's forward hull and outwards, heading towards Io.

* * *

"Everyone needs a cycle of down time and some sort of shift arrangement," said Lothar over the general intercom.

"All my command staff needs a senior member on each shift, and while we don't have many people, we can keep all the systems manned with help from M-5V. M-5V will be taking over all the ship management, stores tracking and basic data analysis for internal systems, so that should off-load a number of duties from the crew. Additionally M-5V will do basic sensor work and notification of any problems. If you need rest and have to hand off your work to M-5V, make sure that your replacement knows this. I expect my command staff to set up shifts before they take downtime. We will be at Yellow Alert status for ship's systems, but Green for manning systems. Captain Hampton, out."

"The crew needs that," said Commander Lurva.

"Yeah, its been hell, Simon. I'm leaving you at the conn and I don't expect to see you here when my rest period is over. Got that?"

Simon Lurva smiled, "Don't worry, I'll be handing the conn off to Brian in a few minutes. We already have the shifts worked out in Engineering."

"Good. I'll be in sick bay for awhile before heading to my quarters... ahhh... we never did get down to that, did we?"

"No, Lothar. I asked M-5V to do a basic assignment of quarters. One of the Gorns took your materials from the Chief Engineer's Quarters and put them in the Captain's Quarters two decks down from here. M-5V can help you find them."

Lothar shook his head.

"This entire sentient ship idea will take awhile to get used to, really. And M-5V, let me know if I overload you with work, ok?"

"Yes, Captain. These are all standard routines that I can use, with only the data analysis and active scanning taking up sentient time, and even those are handled by lower systems."

Lothar nodded as he walked off the bridge to the turbolift.

"Sick bay," he said. And the doors closed.

"How is the integration of the sensors coming?"

"The spatial and standard visual ones are now fully aligned, Captain. Many of the others are difficult, even when I was at M-4 status, but there is now some basis for the non-visual bands, particularly the mass and charge density systems, being aligned with the basic systems. These give, for surrounding space, a sense that I think approaches something like 'touch' and 'hearing' to humans, but are not exacting equivalents. They are hard to describe as no known species has these functions."

This was one of the things that really enticed Lothar to the project, this ability to use all the sensor information and make something new out of it. There had been many times in the Fleet when having that could have proved vital. Like trying to find the wake of a damaged pirate ship that was emitting next to no energy under cloak.

"About how far do these senses operate?" he asked.

"They operate best close to the sensor arrays and within a one-tenth light second. Beyond that there is not only an inverse square fall off for information, but time-lag problem, so that at one-half light second they become nearly non-functional unless the ship is immobile."

"That is, actually, quite good, M-5V. About 30,000 kilometers at three-sixty is a large volume of space and most encounters of any sort take place well within that. And final drop-off at 150,000 kilometers is still very good. I assume you go back to single sensor modes after that?"

"Yes, Captain. My analysis for direct input becomes one of finding proper sensory inputs and crossing them to get relevant fusion of data, and as different sensor types have different limitations, that limits the full fusion area. Humans can sometimes hear a distant shout even if they cannot see the shouter, or they can see an explosion before hearing it. They work very well the closer events happen to you, but fall off in synchronicity the further away they are."

The turbolift stopped and opened to the deck that had the main medical area. This route he knew, some, having walked by it a few times during ship repairs. He walked in and was amused to see the two Orion Pirates at a holographic presentation at one of the desks while Enid was working with the individual with the broken arm.

"Hello, Lothar," she said, "come to visit the patients or detainees or whatever your term for them is?"

The two Orions paused the display and stood up, looking at Lothar.

"Ah, yes, Enid. How is everyone doing?"

"Well, lets see..." she said pausing from the humanoid who had an arm on a rest slide to the right of his bed, "those two," she gestured towards the standing pair, "wanted to check up on just who was treating them and Lt. Miyaka had suggested some sort of travelogue presentation to them."

"Really?" asked Lothar who turned to the two.

"I am Captain Lothar Hampton of the Grant, and you must be Sub-Commander Envar and Sub-Altern Numar."

"Yes, I am Sub-Commander Envar and this is Sub-Altern Numar, both of the Ara, Captain Hampton."

"Enid, just why aren't these two in the brig?" he asked.

She smiled at him and went back to work on the other pirate's arm. That individual was wide-eyed and awake watching her, in something close to abject terror. Even having a green complexion, there was a shade of it that just wasn't normal.

"You figure it out, Lothar, I'm busy making sure this poor man doesn't have a fit of apoplexy and that his arm bones are properly set."

Lothar was bemused for a moment, glanced at the holodisplay and then the Sub-Commander.

"Just what is it you are watching?" he asked.

"A documentary on a planet, Captain Hampton."

"Really? Which one?'

"Exmar 2."

"Oh. Ahhh... yes... isn't that a scientific documentary?"

"It is, yes, Captain."

"I see. Well, you understand what will happen to you, then. Enid isn't a doctor, you know?"

"Ahh, yes, Captain. Sub-Commander Thuzar, ahhhhh... he attempted to threaten Ms. Daystrom and she... ahhh... asked which vital organ he wanted to do without.... she... ahhh... used a small gland under the skin as a demonstration."

Lothar looked from the one Sub-Commander to the one on the table who was wide-eyed in terror.

"I put it, back, Lothar. Right where it should be, too."

He was, actually, taken aback.

"Enid, that is ruthless!"

She stopped what she was doing and looked at Lothar.

"After the threats of rape, grasping me by the neck and asking his two able-bodied compatriots for help, I thought a demonstration was needed. Considering that those two watched me do a thorough decontamination of their other two crewmen while this guy," she gestured with the small plasma skin healer, "was passed out, I considered that he needed to understand that I wasn't a doctor, a member of the Fleet or to be threatened. After that demonstration is when I sat them down with the introduction to Exmar 2 and this guy, this Thuzar, has been happy ever since. Haven't you?"

She looked at him.

He nodded quickly as she nonchalantly waved the skin fuser at him.

"Uncivilized, barbaric and needs to learn some manners. Now he knows. Yes I am female. What else do you know about me, now, Thuzar?"

"You... you killed and dissected Canthris, Ms. Daystrom, and are saving my life and that of my fellow crewmen."

"And that gland is back just where it should be, none the worse for wear. Do you think I would object to removing, say, your heart and putting it in again, backwards?"

He started to shake.

"No, I don't doubt that, Ms. Daystrom."

"Good. Lets keep it that way and you will survive to trial, ok?"

"Enid, they could bring you up on charges for that... although... ahhh..." he started thinking, furiously, "they aren't... ummm... you know I don't think they could bring you up on civil charges, could they?"

"Nope. Better check out your Fleet conventions, military standards, and treaties signed by Earth Gov, plus some of the older treaties signed by the member Nations of Earth Gov. The regulations don't cover me, the civil stuff doesn't either and this guy," she said calmly, "was trying to stop me from saving his life, as the internal clots that were floating around would have taken him out in a day or so if you didn't know what to look for. You tell me what is ruthless, Lothar. If you want I'll stop helping."

"No, please..." whispered Sub-Commander Thuzar, "I didn't mean..."

"Yes you did. And you apologized, too! Now would you like me to continue saving your life or would you like someone who doesn't know enough about your biology to muck around with you?"

"No, I want you to do that, thank you, Ms. Daystrom."

Lothar knew when he was outmatched. No matter what he thought of the action Enid had done, she was not only covered for that on the civil side, but no military court would dare touch her on it. It wasn't torture, wasn't criminal and was fully outside any treaty structure made by civilization. The Pirates had placed themselves into that area by being Pirates. Plus she had witnesses who understood what they were facing, too, and they would probably come to her defense and say that she was being 'nice' compared to what the normal sort of punishment was when doing something stupid on a Pirate vessel.

Ruthless? Yes.

Justified? Well, if Enid didn't have much else to defend herself with... yes. She actually would have been justified in killing him. Measured on that scale, she was justified in the minimal harm that she knew she could correct. Which she had done.

"We will not cross you again, Captain Lothar Hampton," said Sub-Commander Envar, "You have our full surrender now... or... ahhh... well Enid has that. But you have it too!" he said smiling.

"I will see if I can get a Gorn here to assist you, Enid."

"Yah, they understand this stuff about what to do when you surrender and not to attack someone saving your life," Enid said.

Lothar nodded, realizing that he was not Enid and she was fully justified. He didn't like it, but he knew that she was more than willing to do what was necessary and 'make things right'. It wasn't just fear that was on the faces of the Pirates... well, save for Thuzar, he was damned afraid but the question of it being of Enid or at his own stupidity or both would have to be left up to him... no the other two showed respect for her.

"Your asking for mercy as stranded spacefarers is also your surrender, Sub-Commander Envar. In some ways it is fitting that you offered that to Enid, too."

"Yes, Captain Hampton. Lt. Miyaka told us she was responsible for what happened to Captain Ruzar's expedition."

He nodded.

"Watch the documentary. Enid, one of your crewmembers did that?"

She looked up from slowly using the bone knitting machine and nodded.

"A prospector by the name of Marc Ehrlichson. Good man, understands the concept of work and risk pretty well. I was not responsible for saving everyone, Captain, just making sure the threats on the surface were kept down and that we could get off of the planet again."

"That isn't true, Ms. Daystrom," said Sub-Altern Numar, "you saved the shuttle after the plasma ball hit it."

She looked at him, smiling.

"Just what any competent pilot would do in the same situation."

"Enid, most pilots I know would have been part of a smoking crater in your position, and I'm not too sure I wouldn't be one of them. What you did.." Lothar paused. "You did the exact, same thing here, didn't you?"

"Of course I did, Lothar. The damned technology wasn't working right and needed a restart. I have oodles of patience for technology, really, but when its failing and I need it, I take care of myself first, get the technology working, second. If the first depends on the second, I'm dead. Anything else is luck."

Save for the readouts in sickbay, things were quiet.

"An entire starship..." Lothar whispered.

"Uh-huh. Nothing against the M-5V, but it was going to take far too long to get itself oriented and needed a wake-up call. Plus something needed to be done about the group Ruzar was bringing up. Same thing as Exmar 2, only difference was the planet was going to kill me if I didn't deal with how to get things working save I expected to be that smoking crater as the technology was out. I've studied everything I could before that mission, and from what I knew of Exmar 2 getting on and off planet depended solely on technology. Surviving there depended on learning and analysis, then acting on it. Whenever I'm faced with the technology deciding my life, I do my best to make sure I have a back-up plan. There are times when you can't do that. That is called 'gambling with your life'. If that is how you live, day to day, then you will quickly end up without your life. I had back-up plans for the surface, lots of them. Getting on and off? Uh-uh, that is a gamble. Surviving what happened was sheer, absolute, dumb luck. And that is how I treat it. Skill is surviving on the surface."

"You weren't depending on the Grant, Ms. Daystrom?" asked Sub-Commander Envar.

"No, and I still don't. Getting to my spacesuit would be a bit right now, but what emergency medical supplies are here are enough to get me to that, two minutes, at the most. If I'm going to be the ersatz medical officer around here, I'll move my things in here and see if there is enough to save someone else if things go wrong. Same thing with dealing with Ruzar's forces: I had always been thinking about how to deal with starships after Exmar 2. You would, too, if you were in that position, because it pointed out some serious problems with even a heavily armored shuttlecraft. Ships also have vulnerabilities, weaknesses and the universe isn't a nice place, Envar. It holds lots of surprises, but you can prepare for a few of them. Plus it was described as 'impossible' and just knowing the physics involved I knew it wasn't. The mindset got set in stone somewhere after the discovery of the deflectors and shields, and no one wanted to go after those weaknesses. Look at Thuzar, here, a simple broken bone with just some of the tiniest fragments getting lodged in whatever passes for his liver/spleen area, and triggering off an antigen reaction that started bloodclots forming. Some of those broke off, and formed others due to what they were handling with radiation and some of the bone tissue. Give him another day or so and he would be having cascading strokes and heart stoppages, and soon just be plain dead as nothing could get rid of all the sub-clots that would form larger ones. It is a known issue with your species, Envar, and takes the wrong set of genes, wrong set of radiation and wrong set of circumstances to appear. He would look normally fit and healthy right up to the moment all that would happen to him, due to microscopic pieces of bone that got into his bloodstream. Humans can handle that differently, your species can't when the conditions are wrong. Very rare, but noted, and I just danced through the databases, found a few of the basics and started to address them. I analyzed his system, found out what the basics were and saved him by the results that rendered, this coming from the work of others. Did the exact, same thing to starships but had to make the work myself within what was known."

"And that, you three, is how she is dealing with you." Lothar started, " And me. Starfleet. The Federation. Remember, she is also the one responsible for saving the lives of your crewmates. You survived what she did, and she had offered mercy before she attacked, in case you all forgot."

She smiled and started up the bone knitting machine, peering through its viewer at the structure beneath. Sub-Commander Thuzar was returning to the more normal shade of green.

The door opened and the Cultural Specialist walked in.

"I am here to give assistance and oversight to those that have surrendered, as requested Captain Lothar Hampton."

Turning, Lothar nodded, "Thank you. I am sure your presence will be much more calming to these Pirates than just that of Enid Daystrom alone."

"Keeps me out of trouble, too. I get to talk to a sentient carnivore! Much better than this stuff, really," she said, not looking up.

"I will leave you to your work, then. It appears the brig won't be necessary. And M-5V will keep track of you if you wander."

"Yes, Captain," said the voice of M-5V.

"Now I'm taking a rest shift. Enid, grab some sleep when you're done here."

"After I finish up on the slip warp, Lothar. Another two hours, maybe three."

He shook his head and left. Enid Daystrom kept to her own ways and life, and there were times when he was sure he understood her, and others when he was certain he would never figure her out.

* * *

"Captain, your rest shift is over," said the new Tactical Officer who was next to Captain Ruzar's floating form.

Ruzar awoke quickly and oriented himself and checked the chronometer. Nearly 6 hours had elapsed.

"Are you in charge, Tactical Officer?"

"Yes, sir. I had the most rest before the evacuation started and spelled Commander Walsa. She is two cabins port of here."

Shifting to take in a minimal nutrition packet from his suit dispenser and water, Captain Ruzar followed the Tactical Officer to the control center, which was labeled 'AUX CON'.

"Report on status."

"Yes, sir. At this point the USS Grant has made rendezvous with the tractor station and appear to be transferring personnel from their ship to the station. Also they have brought the remains of the Ara with them and have put it in a co-orbit with the station. At this point we are near to entering the charged sulfur torus in Io's orbit and within 60 minutes of Io, itself."

Shifting to the Captain's Seat, Ruzar said, "Taking the conn. Continue the report. What is our status as a ship?"

"Captain, at this point we have all impulse engine fuel reserves transferred to the Phaeton's storage system. We also have full thruster fuel with reserve. All phaser capacitor coolant has been transferred with reserve capacity. Our warp core coolant is compatible with modifications to the Federation ship, and Commander Kotath finished those modifications one hour ago, and our coolant system is now operational, with reserve capacity to spare. Our deflectors are working as is the cloak, and all tests on the shields show they are able to be brought online. There is enough fuel to run all APUs for approximately two years if no other system were available, we are currently running on two APUs. We have basic shift assignments, and haphazard crew sleeping conditions. One Sub-Altern has identified the old ship's armory storage area which was used for Federation space suits and is working on adapters to the systems of ours. Our transferred atmosphere is available for full life support if we bring an additional APU online. One of the Sub-Commanders who does cybernetics work has removed the Federation remote transfer coding system and says that full shipwide computer use will be available beyond emergency systems when power is available."

Nodding, Ruzar was satisfied. He had wanted a good crew and ensured that those out for easy pay with low work were avoided.

"Bring up the overall Jovian system to include the orbit of the tractor base and expected path the aft hull will follow out of the system, as well as the position of the Grant and ourselves."

The main screen changed to a tactical display and zoomed out to encompass the planet and the dots that represented moons, ships and other known hazards, like the minor ring system, sulfur torus and some of the charged clouds of atmosphere that had detached from the outer reaches of Jupiter itself. Captain Ruzar looked at where the aft hull of the Shrike would be on automated course, and it was now on the other side of Jupiter and executing a high impulse thrust turn and increasing speed. It was heading to parallel the charged particle course from the temporary base Ruzar had established in the Kuiper belt, and that would be evacuated by his younger full brother by now. So the beam was still in-transit but would cease in a few days. It would be a move that was a gamble, but with the atmosphere of Jupiter the way it was and the low visibility of the ship under cloak, one that he might have taken himself. He had, indeed, been considering that, although with just a bit more shielding from Jupiter. It was not a complex scheme, to be certain, and the aft hull would finally pull to an orbit in the Kuiper belt near another known object he had scouted there three years ago if nothing came after it.

He also looked at the forward hull section which was now ahead and outward bound on its orbit, while the orbital tractor base was just heading in-bound, and the two were at a far distance from each other. By the time it got into stable visual range, the tractor base would be speeding inwards while the forward hull would still not be at the end of its traverse. The Phaeton had been adjusting course to curve slowly around toward Io and was now trailing the moon as it was coming into the sunlight out of Jupiter's shadow.

Ruzar then looked around the aux con area and saw the next shift filtering in, starting with the Sensor/Helmsman.

"Thank you, Sub-Commander Janar, now I believe your relief is here and your shift is over."

"Yes, Captain," Janar said and left the aux con area.

"It is good to have you here, Sensor/Helmsman. Do we expect any difficulties going into the charged torus of Io?"

"None, Captain, this ship has done that many times since the charging plan started and has not been effected beyond that thin coat of sulfur on the hull. All of these systems are well insulated from heat, shock and electrical pulse disturbances due to its armor."

"Good. Will our cloak interact with the medium?"

"Yes, Captain, but there are so many mass and charge currents going around the torus that ours will be lost in the background noise."

"If we dropped cloak?"

The Sensor/Helmsman turned to his Captain and was silent for a moment.

"Externally, our electronic signature being this low would be masked. Our visual signature would be a high contrast within the ring and be noticed."

"Would that be true if we were in Io's shadow?"

The Sub-Commander thought, again, and checked his intstruments.

"Our visual albedo would be low enough to go unnoticed by even automated systems as the swirling of some charged particles, eruptions from Io's volcanoes and other activity would put in a random background set of changes far higher than our ship's minimal reflectance."

Seeing the Pilot/Helmsman return, he looked to him as he sat down.

"Pilot/Helmsman, I believe you heard the last part of that inquisitive?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Can you install us in a close orbit trailing Io while the torus immediately behind the moon is in shadow, and then shift to a shadow following course as it moves around Jupiter?"

The pilot checked sensor readings, distance to the outer fringes of the torus and then available ship maneuvering capability.

"Yes, Captain. We can arrive there and have 20 minutes of direct loiter time and then assume such an orbit."

"Plot such a course and lay it in. How long to the loiter position?"

"Plotted and laid-in, Captain. We are 30 minutes from that position and are now in the torus itself."

Ruzar keyed in the suit comms.

"Sub-Commander Kotath, I believe you are on this shift?"

"Yes, Captain Ruzar."

"Take two of your best exterior work crew and make sure they have suit rigging necessary for such work. They are about to go and retrieve the anti-matter cache. Has the warp core been warming?"

"Yes, Captain. We have routed the APU coolant into the the system that cools the core and put a closed cycle in to warm it."

"Good! We will shift to regular life support when we de-cloak and then run low power circulators when we go back to being cloaked."

"I am keying in the coordinates of the cache now. Pilot set course for that in the shadow. Sensor/Helmsman and Tactical Officer, coordinate with the two suit workmen so that we may time the decloaking and taking down the deflector screens with them and Sub-Commander Kotath. After that, we wait for a while more while the anti-matter is installed, the warp core tested and the cooling systems checked over."

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