Starbase23 v2.0 - Scottish Andy's Stories

Harrington 01: Shuttle Ride

By Scottish Andy


This style of storytelling was inspired by The Guv, where a small segment of a scene or ongoing story was posted in the SFC Fan Fiction Forum with high frequency to build up a tale. The story itself… I have no clue what I was thinking when I started it, no idea what inspired it.

I do recall wanting to use some characters I had been creating at the time, hence the chronologically-prior inclusion of Caitlin Harrington to her being captain of the Indefatigable. Also, I wanted a small-ship action, perhaps even specifically using the Starfleet Command/Klingon Academy-originated Akula-class light destroyer and the Relentless-class war cruiser.

This story itself as it was posted gained good reviews and several other authors expressed an interest in writing a segment, so I fully endorsed that and invited them and anyone to do so. Unfortunately no one actually did, with some merely expressing interest on seeing where I would take it.

Alas, it went nowhere further…

…until working on a later Harrington story titled 'MAYDAY', I merged that story with an earlier story scene. With that concept included I now had to write the story of that scene to explore and define the entity I was including in 'MAYDAY'.

That effort became this story. I combined three different story and scene ideas and then had tons of fun exploring and defining the entity and just how much would be discovered about it. Combined with 6.00am wake-ups, this new enthusiasm to finish a story after eight years instead of adding to or starting anew whatever drew my fancy brought this story to a very satisfying conclusion at the end of June '23.

I can only hope it matches my previous levels of storytelling before my extended Alan Wake-style slump into deep writer's block.

Chapter One

21st October 2289
Stardate 8948.5
On an Uninhabited Planet in Unclaimed Space…

"PULL UP!!!"

"Stop screaming in my ear like a frightened kit!" M'Rrowl snapped irritably as she deftly operated the shuttle's controls to neatly avoid the pinnacle of rock they'd been flying towards. As the Pup banked and weaved and neatly slotted though the annular rock formation fifty degrees port of their previous heading, she offered her nervous passenger a caustic glare. "Do you think I don't know what I'm doing?"

The white-faced Human looked as if he was about to lose his lunch and he clung white-knuckled and wide-eyed to his seat, unable to tear his gaze from the shuttle's clearsteel forward windows. "Watch where you're going!" he cried out, twisting away from their impending – to him – sudden fiery death against a canyon wall.

"If you do not shut the hell up, I am going to let them hit us!" she snarled back, furious. "This is the only thing keeping us alive so if you cannot watch, don't bloody watch! Get on the comms array and try to punch through to the ship."

"I can't—" he started, but she cut him off.

"Do something to stop me from throwing you out the side!" she roared. "'Cause if you don't stop your whining, I swear I'll stun you! Sir!"

She flung that in to remind the snivelling heap that he was her senior officer and as such should be setting an example or at least swallowing his fear to the point where he wasn't endangering their lives with his totally unhelpful and alarmist exclamations.

It was as if he suddenly remembered this too, because his next words were almost predictable.

"Ensign, I order you to not take such risks with our lives!"

M'Rrowl's ears flicked flat back and her eyes slitted. "Can you fly this shuttle, Lieutenant?"

"Yes! I can get us into orbit—"

"I did not ask if you could 'operate' it. I asked if you can fly. As in Space/Atmosphere Combat Manoeuvring?"

He managed a glare at her through his fear. "Then no, Ensign, I cannot 'fly' this shuttle."

She returned his glare with several centuries' worth of compound interest. "I… can. Sir."

So saying, she yanked the shuttle around again to avoid another series of disruptor blasts that would have downed them had they hit. To do so, she barrelled down a twisting side canyon at Mach Two after executing a switchback turn to 120° starboard from their previous course.

And she had to endure his shrill, terrified scream from about zero-point-three seconds into the turn.

I wish he'd lose his grip and knock himself out on a panel or bulkhead, she snarled inwardly, noting a relatively clear and straight section coming up on the scanner. They'd be there in three seconds. Then I wouldn't have to do this...

Maintaining control with her left hand, she reached to her belt and pulled her Type I phaser off it, checked the power setting, aimed, and fired, all in one smooth action. The terrified Human slumped nervelessly in his chair.

She hurriedly tapped in a landing command, replaced her phaser on her belt, and threw herself out of her seat. At the rush, she hauled her now-peaceful superior into the back and secured him in the restraint webbing of the bench against the starboard bulkhead and returned to the cockpit to the blaring of the sensor alarm.

"Incoming!" she muttered to herself, jumping into the pilot seat and gunning the shuttle's anti-grav and impulse engines. The strident alarm of a weapons lock abruptly cut off to be replaced by the sound of explosions behind her as the disruptor salvo from the pursuing Klingons created a large crater in the canyon floor where her little craft had briefly sat mere seconds before.

"Useless Human!" she snarled her frustration to the now-empty pilot's section as she manually jinked their shuttle around a base course mere metres off the ground and from the left-side canyon wall. I needed him to try and contact the ship! I cannot keep flying around in circles until they give up! Why the hell is Starfleet not arming its shuttles as standard procedure, anyway?

Another flurry of emerald pulses flashed past the shuttle to pulverise some rock in front of her.

Okay, I have to do something instead of merely dodging. It's keeping us alive but getting us nowhere. With a half-decent crewmate, she mentally snarled at her forcibly-napping senior officer, I could have had them implement any ideas we came up with, but noooo. I have to get a mewling kit who managed to hide his fear of flying for eight years.

She rolled her eyes at this. I mean seriously! Has he never been on a wild shuttle ride in all this time?


Another salvo dodged, she set her mind back to the problem at hand. They're faster than me and they're armed, but I'm more manoeuvrable and have stronger shields. I need to down at least one of them without damaging myself. How? How do I do this with no weapons and only my piloting skill?

A predatory grin decorated her face as she reapplied herself to the shuttle controls.

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth NCC-3154
Akula-class light escort
In Orbit

"Any word from the shuttle?" Captain Harrington asked. Again.

"Ma'am, we would inform you instantly if there is," Jiao Shi Qi answered almost before her C.O. had finished speaking, trying not to sound snappish or exasperated. The slight Chief of Ship Operations turned to face her captain from the Auxiliary Systems bridge station to the immediate right of the main viewer and quickly elaborated. "The Klingon ship is still blanket-jamming our communications and our sensors cannot punch through or compensate for the ionisation of the planet's atmosphere caused by their torpedoes. So far, direct optical scanning has not located the shuttle, but if they are involved in a wide-ranging evasion within the canyons riddling the entire region, we're unlikely to see them. Not that we'll stop looking or trying to clear the interference. Captain."

A brief silence greeted this verbal explosion from their normally quiet Ops Chief, who had presumed upon her friendship with the captain and answered in place of their first officer to make a point.

"Well. That's me told off," Caitlin replied in a mildly sarcastic tone. "Have I really been that annoying, Bonnie?"

"Yes Ma'am, you have," Jiao agreed more affably, her tension relieved by her friend the captain's playful response.

"Get me the Klingon commander again, please," Kate then instructed Lamar, their Izarian comms officer.

"I have him, Ma'am. On audio now."

"What do you want?" her still unnamed opponent greeted her.

"I want you to lift your jamming so I can talk to my survey shuttle and get it back."


The channel abruptly closed even as Kate's mouth was opening to form new words. Her eyes flashed with a flare of anger before she closed her mouth thoughtfully.

"Mr. Danilov, perhaps I am being paranoid, but does it seem to you that this gentleman of our esteemed galactic neighbours is deliberately making fun of me?"

The X.O. blinked. "He has done that to you several times now. Maybe it's how he gets his jollies? It's not like we can make an issue of it. His Relentless outranks our Akula."

"Only in the size of his guns, Stephan," Kate spoke chidingly, though inwardly added, and his engines, hull, and power curve...

"Well, when we're left to using a comm laser to even talk to him through his jamming, I'd say it's obvious he's not interested in talking to us."

"Yet," Jiao interposed. "Perhaps he's doing something nasty to our shuttle and doesn't want us to see it?"

"Or he doesn't want our shuttle seeing something down there and surviving to tell us about it," Caitlin voiced, a sudden chill suffusing her.

"You think they're hiding something on an uninhabited planet in neutral space?" Stephan asked thoughtfully.

"It wouldn't be the first time," the slight Chinese answered promptly, though genuine worry started to colour her tone. "Captain, we need to see what's going on down there."

"Agreed," Harrington stated abruptly. "Ki'aron, launch a probe and have it get under the ionised atmosphere, scan the entire region for our shuttle's physical parameters, power signature, crew lifesigns, movement above fifteen metres-per-second, and weapons-fire. It has to record and return to the ship."

Science Officer Ki'aron Xa-Havereii was already programming his board with the first parameter before his captain had finished speaking.

Lieutenant Jarinex turned from the aft-facing Tactical station against the rear bulkhead of the bridge. "Captain, perhaps we should also program the probe for evasive manoeuvres? We don't want it being shot out of the sky before it can return within comm laser range."

"Good point. Ki'aron, include randomly selected evasive patterns and have the probe start them if it is scanned by Klingon sensor systems."

"Captain, that may be a bit much for the probe to handle," Xa-Havereii warned, doing it anyway.

"Understood. Let's hope it doesn't come under fire then. Launch when ready."

"What reaction will we get from the Klingons?" Danilov asked. "They don't want us to see what's going on under the interference and they're not talking."

"We need to be prepared for them firing on the probe," Jarinex stated firmly.

"They may do nothing," Jiao opined from the opposite side of the bridge. "They may just be here to annoy us but nothing further. Maybe their captain is bored."

"If they destroy our probe, I'm taking the ship into the atmosphere to look ourselves," Harrington stated unequivocally. "Enough of that nonsense."

"Captain, that would put us at a tactical disadvantage if they decide to get rough—" Danilov objected, but Kate overrode him.

"We'll be under their own ionic interference so they would be the ones with the disadvantage. If they want to fight, they come under it too—"

"Where the odds would again be in their favour in a straight out fight of firepower," the X.O. countered, folding his arms across his chest and staring at has captain with narrowed eyes.

"Then we don't go for a straight fight, Stephan," Kate returned evenly. "Never fight on their terms or you're already half-way to losing."

"Probe's ready," Xa-Havereii announced, ignoring the byplay to follow his last orders. "Launching."


"No reaction— wait, they're scanning it. Probe is on evasive." A tense second passed, then, "They're powering up their facing disruptor!"

"Lamar, hail them!"

"They're firing!"

"They're not answering, Captain."

"Miss! The evasive is working!"

"Five seconds until it's through the interference."

"Firing again, miss!"

"Two seconds—"

"Probe destroyed."

"Damn their eyes! Take us in, Mr. Winchester. Z-minus… twenty thousand kilometres and point our nose right at them all the way down."

Sweat suddenly popped out on Wyatt Winchester III's brow as he fought to remember how to program such a fiendishly complicated manoeuvre, but the captain obviously wanted to send a message to the Klingon and didn't want to hear from her helmsman that he couldn't do it.

"Makes me glad we didn't launch the Camel after all," Kate stated in a quiet aside to her X.O., who stepped in closer. "Though destroying a crewed shuttle is quite different from a probe, for all we know they've already done the same with no witnesses to the Pup.

"Captain, is this really necessary?" Danilov asked pointedly, though only for her ears. "That manoeuvre will put a lot of strain on the ship, require extra power to the S.I.F. to counter it, and we're not even armed yet."

"I'm setting us up to preclude from needing to arm ourselves, X.O.," Harrington shot back a little testily. "If all our main weapons arcs are pointed away from him he may feel emboldened to try something while we'd have to struggle around in complicated intra-atmospheric manoeuvres to return fire."

Danilov looked dubious but let it stand. He could hear that the captain was getting annoyed at being questioned so much. They now had to put away their usual Q&A style of command.

"Descent plotted and laid in, Captain," Wyatt announced.


The Bigglesworth dropped towards the planet.

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder KL-4931
Relentless-class War Cruiser
In Co-Orbit

"Commander! The enemy descends towards the planet's atmosphere!"

Kron could see that both from the visual on the main screen and the tactical repeater screen before his command throne. After a few seconds he also saw that the unwieldy-looking Starfleet ship remained pointed directly at him, keeping its photon tubes unmasked.

Kron smirked. This Harrington is a feisty one! So much the better.

"They're keeping us in the firing arc of their heavy weapons!" Gunner Qo'leth reported redundantly again.

"Helm! Place us between the Starfleet ship and the planet. Block their descent!" he ordered with a grin in his voice.

"At once!"

The cruiser pointed his head at a spot far below the Fed ship and gunned his engines. Kron grinned wolfishly as the Shredder leapt forward.

Chapter Two

Shuttlecraft Pup

M'Rrowl weaved back and forth and up and down across her base course, slowing all the time to draw the two pursuing Klingon shuttles in closer to her.

She checked her Inertial Navigation System, watching the co-ordinates change rapidly.

Nearly there.

Suddenly a series of hammer blows struck the shuttle's roof, their kinetic impact imparting a vicious 3-axis tumble. M'Rrowl couldn't even spare the time to curse; all her attention was required to prevent the shuttle from careening into the canyon wall or floor.

Her fingers flew over thruster, anti-grav, and micro-impulse propulsion controls as she tenaciously wrestled her small craft back under control. Precisely-timed and -directed bursts from the thrusters and anti-gravs eliminated her roll and allowed a steadier application of the latter to boost her altitude and keep her in the air. She was bringing her nose up and concentrating on halting her sideways skid when the upper aft port corner of the shuttle clipped the canyon wall, starting the whole process all over again – and incidentally probably saved the lives of both shuttle occupants as the next disruptor barrage sailed through the space she would have been in otherwise.

More heart-stopping seconds passed as M'Rowl applied her superb piloting skills in a frenzied blur – there was no time for her to think, she did it all purely on instinct. After literally scraping back into controlled flight, an incredibly shaken and frightened M'Rrowl spared a glance for the shuttle roof – and her superior strapped in under it. On seeing it heavily-dented, she paled. If he'd been awake to scream and startle me, delayed any part of that recovery by even half a second…

Shaking off the shadow of death flitting around her, out of bravado she snarled aloud, "Okay, that's it! I've had it! You slime-devils are just so much chunky salsa now!"

She gunned her anti-grav to shoot her straight up over the lip of the canyon walls and punched the impulse throttle to all stop. Her seat belt easily kept her in place, absorbing what motion her inertial dampeners failed to – which made her heartily glad she'd taken the time to strap that idiot down – and watched the two clunky, wedge-shaped Klingon shuttles blast past her. They quickly began curving back around to intercept her, but as soon as their noses pointed far enough away from her intended direction of flight, she punched the micro-impulse drive up to full atmospheric speed and shot over the flat surface at eighteen hundred metres-per-second towards the area where her weapon of choice lurked: the large annular rock formation.

The Klingons, caught out by the expectation of her tearing away in a different direction and reacting instinctively to that end, took long seconds to regroup and resume their tenacious pursuit. Their superior speed – thanks to their more aerodynamic shape – soon had them overhauling her and she watched her aft sensors closely, carefully timing her breakaway from her oblique approach to the rock doughnut.

Annnnd… NOW!

M'Rrowl cut the impulse drive, spun right, and pitched the shuttle down to align her nose on the canyon leading to their final destination. Retarding the impulse throttle to produce a less insane 350 metres-per-second – which was necessary so she didn't slam into a canyon wall at slightly more than five times the speed of sound at this altitude on Cait – she dove down into the canyon. She could not let the Klingons see the rock formation too soon; they had to be concentrating on closing the distance to her and landing another disruptor barrage or two on her stressed and groaning shuttle.

The duranium that the shuttle's hull was made of was an incredibly strong metal alloy with some energy dissipation properties; you could fire a phaser rifle on full at a standard hull plate for half an hour continuously and only just break through. But targeting the shuttle's weaker structural points such as the hatches, viewports, engines, nacelles, and their pylons gave the opportunity for a critical hit – not to mention that the weapons mounted on shuttles were an order of magnitude more powerful than their handheld counterparts.

Her nacelle pylons were what stopped her going faster than a Mach Five equivalent through the thick air of this planet's lower atmosphere: the air resistance from the minimally-streamlined nacelles themselves would eventually rip them off, if the buffeting didn't flip her out of control before that happened. Her shields were down, completely burned out from the overload of previous strikes. If the Klingons landed another salvo in the same spot, or hit a nacelle or impulse drive unit…

M'Rrowl shook off the distracting thoughts and reapplied herself to ensuring her own survival. The distance was shrinking rapidly, and the Klingons were still hot on her tail. She hadn't wanted to shake them this time as it would have made them cautious and start to hang back. She weaved and dodged and jinked and varied her speed enough to stop the Klingons landing their debilitating strike. She hoped she was infuriating them with her evasive manoeuvres as much as they were infuriating her with their relentless and deadly pursuit.

A mad Klingon was an unthinking Klingon.

The kilometres flashed past until there it was! It was slightly hidden by the canyon walls and chances were the Klingons didn't even recognise where they were amongst the hundreds of kilometres of intersecting canyons cutting their way through the desert plateaus of this region. M'Rrowl only saw it because she was looking for it and recognised it. It would take a moderate turn to lead her assailants right up to it, hiding most of it until the last millisecond. In between piloting the shuttle and her constant random evasions, she spared a flick of her eyes for the I.N.S. co-ordinate readout from the windscreen, watching the readout tick ever closer to her destination…

Shuttlecraft Mek'leth

Grimtak roared in frustrated fury as he again watched his carefully judged and selected predicted aim point being blithely ignored and bypassed by the Fed shuttle – and thus his latest salvo failed to connect and spent itself on the canyon wall ahead of it.

His pilot did not appreciate his outburst. "If I could spare my hand for but two seconds, I would smash your head in!" Qo'pEch snarled at him as he yanked the shuttle's nose around again to cut a few extra metres off the Fed shuttle's lead on them. "Can you not land a single blow? Your so-called skills – from our so-called best gunnery specialist! – have thus far been out-stripped by the smooth-browed whelp on Dag'thar's shuttle! Not only once, but three times!"

Anything Grimtak would have said in reply – and he had many choice replies – was overridden by Qo'pEch's triumphant shout. "We have him!" the pilot crowed and altered course to cut across the sweeping curve the enemy shuttle had started. "Shoot!"

It immediately seemed wrong to Grimtak. This Starfleet pilot was exceptionally good and smart. He had to be, to have survived this long against their two shuttles. He looked out of his gunnery scope and loosed off a snap-shot, but it was too hurried and his mind was elsewhere.

"You dolt! Buffoon! Numbskull! When we get back to the ship I will have your ears pinned over the door to my quarters!" Qo'pEch raved.

"He would not make such an elementary mistake after all this time! He's leading us somewhere!"

"There's nowhere—"

Then there it was, and it was too late.

Shuttlecraft toQ

Dag'thar looked on in horror as the impenetrable wall of rock suddenly appeared before them – and Qo'pEch's shuttle ploughed into it without slowing.

Even as the first shuttle's tough duranium nose hit, Dag'thar immediately punched his impulse drive into full reverse while pulsing his anti-gravs to try and get them away from it. His instinctive response and his position behind Qo'pEch's shuttle were all that saved him and his gunner from the same fate as their shuttle bounced and scraped off the rock walls all around them before Dag'thar's frantic but purposeful control inputs finally stabilised the gouged and dented shuttle and put it down on the plateau above the canyon they'd been racing through.

A very shaken pair or Klingons exchanged glances before Dag'thar collected enough of his wits to ask, "Sensor readings. Where are the shuttles of Qo'pEch and the Earther?"

Krell poked at his controls, still shaking his head to clear it. "Nothing on the Earther. He must have escaped or gone to ground somewhere to hide," the Fusion sneered. "Qo'pEch… is on the canyon floor. No movement. Two lifesigns, so they survive."

Dag'thar pondered that as Krell continued to poke at his board. The pilot ran his own system checks and was pleased by what he found: no damage that would impair further pursuit. His shuttle was still flight- and space-worthy.

"Khest it!" Krell exclaimed. "Starboard disruptor is offline."

"Replay the video of your gunnery scope. Last minute only."

They both watched as the pursuit neared its end. Then Qo'pEch's shuttle smashed into and through the rock wall, started a lateral spin into the side of the annular rock, then cartwheeled down towards the canyon floor. All that happened in the second and a half before Dag'thar's reactions saved their own lives. Probably. The scope immediately lost sight of the Starfleet shuttle.

"Treacherous Ha'DI'bagh," Krell growled. "He could not defeat us in battle so he tricked us."

Dag'thar regarded his gunner critically. "And how would an unarmed single shuttle manage to defeat two armed shuttles in a 'battle'?"

Krell kept his mouth shut on that topic and asked instead, "Where'd the Fed go?"

Dag'thar replayed his own sensor logs so he could see what he had no attention for at the time.

"There he goes. Straight for orbit."

"What will we tell the ship?"

Meaning, of course, Commander Kron. Who wasn't known for his leniency towards failure.

Dag'thar powered up the shuttle and took off. "They'll know before we can tell them through the atmospheric ionisation. We will rescue Qo'pEch and Grimtar, and monitor the sensors for any signs of the Fed returning. When we can talk to the ship, we'll tell them…

He grinned suddenly.

"…Mission accomplished."

Chapter Three

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Captain! The Pup is entering orbit, coming through the ionised layer!"

"Warn the Klingons off! If they fire on our shuttle we will attack!"

Lamar's fingers few over his board but before he could send the message, Jarinex grated, "They're firing!"

On the main viewscreen, phase disruptors streamed orange beams from the Klingon war cruiser's wingtips to a point far below them as Harrington barked, "Red Alert! Arm all weapons and target their bridge!"

"They missed!" Bonnie crowed. "The Pup has ducked back below the ionised layer."

Xiaron added, "It seems their own ionisation effect threw off their scanners."

"Fifteen seconds for phasers, forty-five for torpedoes," Jarinex updated.

"Reinforce forward shield and prepare to engage," Harrington ground out, fire in her eyes.

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

"Captain, Federation ship is arming weapons and locking on!"

"Gunner Qo'leth, explain to me why I should let you live for firing without orders," Kron purred dangerously, fingering his bushy moustache.

No one mistook the commander's genteel mannerisms for comradely banter. Quite apart from his words, the molten lava in his hot yellow eyes gave an observer a totally accurate gauge of his bottled wrath.

Spinning to face his captain, Qo'leth began, "Sir! I reacted on inst—"

Kron whipped out his disruptor pistol and pointed it directly at the hapless gunner's face. "No excuses! I demanded a reason!" he barked.

"Captain, they are reinforcing their forward shield and are locked onto our bridge!"

"Reinforce facing shield!" Kron snarled over his shoulder, eyes not leaving Qo'leth.

"Commander… by… by missing their shuttle, we have not yet killed any Earthers! We… you can use this to prod them!"

Kron's beetling brows raised thoughtfully, the heat diminishing in his eyes. "You surprise me, Qo'leth. I had not thought you capable of such strategic thinking."

Qo'leth did not do anything so foolish as to relax, even when Kron re-holstered his sidearm and gave his attention to the main viewer.

Fool! Kron raged inwardly, not letting his fury at losing control of the situation show to his subordinates. If I cannot have that shuttle and its crew as my hostages, then I wanted it back on its khest'n ship!

"Comms," he growled forcefully, "drop our jamming field and hail the Starfleet ship. Get them on my screen before their torpedoes are armed!"

Only time would tell if Kron would truly let Qo'leth's blunder pass unpunished, or if this lull was merely a reprieve until his battle of wits with the Earthers was over.

Shuttlecraft Pup

M'Rrowl breathed a shaky sigh of relief when no other weapons-fire streaked past her and eased the Pup out of its screaming dive to the relative safely of the canyons below. Her scanners still showed no sign of the Klingon shuttles, but she steered away from where she'd led at least one of them into the wall.

No point trading one trouble for another. Well, not again, she reflected angrily. Now what? I cannot get to space to question the ship or even hail them from under here… She almost groaned for not following that thought to its logical conclusion. …so if I get out from under the effect, and out of weapons range, I should be able to make contact and not die.

She banked the shuttle around and headed in the opposite direction from where she'd run afoul of the Klingon warship and keyed the throttle up to full atmospheric speed. The Klingon ship had given her pause as she'd risen into orbit, almost instantly followed by a nasty scare as it blasted at her.

What the hell is it that the Klingons don't want us to see here? she pondered while intently monitoring her scanners for the possible appearance of a shuttle from below or a starship from above. I haven't scanned anything of interest or any installation of theirs on the planet. Are they trying to keep me from discovering something if I get too close?

In a few minutes M'Rrowl would be reaching the edge of the communication disruption effect.

We'll find out then if the Brains on the Bridge have answers for me.

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Oh, so now he wants to talk to me?" Kate observed sardonically. "No response, Comms."

Danilov reacted with concern, made sure his captain saw it, but said nothing.

"Torpedoes armed, Captain," Jarinex updated again.

"Tactical on main viewer," Harrington ordered next.

The orbital situation appeared, visible to all. The Klingon war cruiser was now 'below' the Bigglesworth with its neck and blocky head pointed up at them. Harrington's ship faced its adversary head-on in its lower orbit.

"They're still hailing us, Captain," Lamar reported.

"Put them on-screen now please."

Her opponent and current personal bane replaced the tactical view in all his close-up glory. As he opened his mouth to speak, Kate beat him to the punch.

"What do you want?" she snarled belligerently.

Hoping to give him a taste of his own medicine, Kate was intensely irritated when instead the Klingon commander broke into a wide grin.

Damnit, he's really gotten under my skin! And to think, he may have just been flirting with me! she despaired. Stephan may be right; I need to take it down a notch or two.

"Commander Harrington, disarm your torpedoes and I won't destroy your ship."

Kate stared at him. He seemed genuinely amused. She decided to roll with it.

"Am I making you nervous?" she asked with a provocative head-tilt, maintaining her aggressive tone.

His grin got wider.

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

Kron stared more intently at the Earther woman. He began to believe that she was someone he could actually deal with. Perhaps Starfleet puts all their hothead captains in their patrol vessels? he mused idly. Scare them with facing off against real enemies so they become those boring, stodgy creatures commanding their larger ships?

Addressing her again, he commented, "A ship with such pitiful weapons and defences as yours gives me nothing to be nervous about, Commander Harrington. I'm more concerned with becoming irritated at you, losing my temper, destroying you outright. This would deprive me of the pleasure of your company."

Kron then had the immediate pleasure of watching her face darken and redden noticeably. What am I saying to her? Kron wondered at himself, smothering an inappropriate grin.

"Commander, I suddenly find myself in a good mood. I will let you retrieve your shuttle with no further interference."

"What, you've gotten your jollies pushing us around, threatening the lives of a hundred people, so now we can go, is that it?" the feisty Earther shot back, still clearly outraged.

Kron grinned back but said nothing, and again his adversary's face darkened further.

He was really enjoying this exchange.

I wonder what would anger her more; being taken lightly, or having her words utterly ignored? Kron considered his options both from his own amusement factor, but also from the standpoint that he did want her to leave. I don't care of you go away mad, Human, as long as you go away.

He'd encountered Humans and other Federation types who, if you showed them the slightest respect or comradeship, would want "to open a dialogue at this historic opportunity to forge a stronger relationship with his species and the Empire", and would not take "no" for an answer until you slapped them or their ship with weapons-fire.

He'd similarly encountered Starfleeters who'd buzz around your face like a giant glob fly solely to prevent you from doing what you wanted to do if you antagonised them too much.

Judging by her reactions, Harrington would be one to fall into the latter category. With great regret, Kron decided to moderate his antagonism so that he could complete his mission.

Taking a more open tone and smoothing the smugness from his expression Kron began to exercise his diplomatic skills. "Commander, my offer is sincere. If you do not wish to take me up on it…"

At his hanging sentence the Human's visible anger subsided into a glower that would have done a Klingon woman proud. "Your ionisation layer will not allow for communications for hours. You will not get in our way – or attack my ship! – at any point as we descend below this layer to recall our shuttle."

Kron's respect grew slightly; it was not a question, it was a threat. It was however not one he could let go unchallenged.

"We shall not interfere or attack," he replied and paused to let her react. She did, showing minor relaxation, at which he added, "But we shall accompany you."

That fleeting relaxation was instantly gone, replaced with more anger and suspicion.

"Fine. You've given me no word to keep or reason to trust you, so you'll not be offended if we keep our torpedoes trained on you at all times. Harrington out."

Immediately onscreen, the flimsy-looking Starfleet destroyer grew larger as it headed right at them in their lower orbit.

Kron grinned again. Feisty, indeed.

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth


Danilov stepped in closer at his captain's summons to a private conference.

"I cannot figure this guy out. Hot one minute, cold the next. Shooting at us then escorting us. He doesn't want us seeing something on that planet, detonates a torp in the atmosphere and tries to shoot down our shuttle, but then 'allows' us to go beneath his barrier and recover the shuttle anyway. What's his game?"

Danilov puzzled it over briefly. "It could be a trap. Lure us into a low-speed, low-manoeuvrability fight where his heavier guns, shields, and hull will let him win a slugfest."

Kate glanced askew at him. His answer was entirely in line with their earlier argument and this time it did have more weight to it. Despite the Klingon's comments on her ship's capabilities, they both knew that the Bigglesworth was easily capable of inflicting significant damage to the Klingon ship; a trap or surprise attack was in his best interests.

"A distinct possibility. However hostilities have ceased – for the time being, at least – between the Federation and the Klingons, now that they have a real war to fight on their far borders. With the ongoing negotiations at Korvat, would this Klingon attack us in earnest?"

Even as she posed the question she already knew the answer. The Enterprise and Okrona at Nimbus III, the Sentinel and the two unidentified Birds of Prey near Alpha Herculae, and dozens of other provocations and exchanges of fire over the last two years, coming after four years of open warfare winding down, all pointed to the high probability that this Klingon might savage her ship if she pushed him too far. And his ship was a war cruiser against her light escort.

This fact of life galled her and it showed.

"I see I don't need to answer that one, then," Danilov commented soberly. "We have to be vigilant and extremely cautious, Captain. This is not over."

Kate nodded. Leaning back to indicate the end of their conference, she ordered, "Commander, rig the ship for battle. Shut down all non-essential systems and divert power to the S.I.F. Maintain full shields in all areas. I want a full sensor crew watching the Klingons, the planet, their shuttles, and ours. Maintain full charge and readiness of our weapons. Man all transporter rooms and prep damage control and medical teams."

"Aye, Captain."

Under his approval at the extensive measures being taken she could sense his belief that the action prompting it all was unnecessary and putting them in extreme peril.

Kate's eyes narrowed minutely. That's not your call to make, Stephan.

"Mister Winchester, slide us underneath him, keeping our tubes pointed at him all the way down. Miss him by ten metres as we go."

She watched Wyatt flinch and his belated "Aye Captain" was not confidence-inspiring. Again she felt Stephan's eyes on her from across the bridge but she didn't look at him.

She split her attention between the viewscreen showing the Klingon ship growing ever larger and Wyatt's jerky movements at the helm.

He was taking it carefully, approaching neither recklessly nor hesitantly. Harrington liked to think it was giving them a sense of deliberate, calculated weight. She found herself nodding approval and a brief, wintry smile flitted over her face at the realisation.

Then the manoeuvre came, and the viewscreen remained unwaveringly fixed ahead, keeping the Klingon ship centred without lock-on. Kate's eyes flicked between the attitude indicators and tactical display. The Klingon helmsman was clearly returning the favour, pivoting his ship almost in time with her own, keeping the Bigglesworth in the Klingon ship's primary weapons arcs.

Then it was done, and Bigglesworth was descending nacelles-first into the planet's lower atmosphere with the Klingon war cruiser still centred on their viewscreen but growing more distant than Kate's specified 'ten metres'.

"Nicely done, Mr. Winchester."

Wyatt's tense shoulders smoothed out and his hyper-sharp movements became more natural at his captain's praise. Kate turned her attention to more pressing matters. "Lieutenant Xa-Havereii, let me know the instant we are in the clear below the interference. Lieutenant Lamar, start trying to raise the shuttle. Commander Jarinex, start scanning for our shuttle and any traces of weapons-fire."

The aye-ayes echoed back and it wasn't long before Xa-Havereii called out, "We're entering the ionisation layer now, Captain."

"Okay. Keep that sensor watch on the Klingon and report the slightest change in his energy profile or flight aspect. Now, let's get to work and bring our shuttle crew home."

Chapter Four

Shuttlecraft toQ

Dag'thar finished his assessment of Qo'pEch's shuttle and cursed. Krell looked over from setting Grimtar's broken arm, eyebrows raised interrogatively.

"This shuttle is only salvageable. It will not move again without extensive component replacement," he informed his gunner in disgust.

Both Qo'pEch and Grimtar were still unconscious. "We should take these two back to the ship—"

Krell was interrupted by a loud alarm from within their own shuttle. Dag'thar bolted through the open hatch.

"The Starfleet shuttle is re-entering the atmosphere! Leave them, we must resume pursuit!"

Krell leapt up and sprinted inside, his tending to his fellows already complete.

"He's headed away from us at sixteen hundred kellicams per hour, bearing three-zero-three, range four-seven-five kellicams!" Dag'thar reported, punching up the anti-gravs to get them off the ground. "We'll have Feklhr's own time catching up to him again," he growled with great frustration.

"And then we have to scare him back up into orbit again? How in Gre'thor are we supposed to do that a second time? Why do we even need to?" Krell grumbled as their shuttle shot to maximum atmospheric speed even as he strapped in.

Dag'thar silently agreed. I bet that fool Qo'leth blasted away as soon as he saw it. As much as he wanted to share that dig at their third-rate gunner, he didn't want to share it with their second-rate gunner and inflate this whelp's head.

"We're at max velocity and should reacquire the Fed shortly. Prior orders still stand in the face of no comms with the ship: shoot to down him, or scare him back up into orbit. Whatever stops him from searching down here."

Krell nodded grimly and both started watching their scanners intently.

Shuttlecraft Pup

M'Rowl's sensors showed that she was about twenty seconds from escaping the worst part of the Klingons' layer of ionisation where she might be able to punch a signal through the weakening interference, when the threat warnings lit up again.

The Caitian's eyes flicked to her displays and she uttered a curse. "Holy Kolker, don't you know when to give up?!"

A single Klingon shuttle was rapidly overhauling her.

M'Rowl immediately started looking for cover. She knew she'd not have time to get a message through and get an answer or support before they started blasting at her again.

She needed to maintain what advantages she had, and clear atmosphere with no cover was not her best option. Snarling, she hammered at her shuttle controls with angry precision, and then she was diving for those canyons again at breakneck speeds before the Klingons could catch her out in the open.

"At least there's only one of you slime devils now," she commented with angry satisfaction, but started wondering at the back of her mind if she'd killed the crew of the other shuttle. The sickened sensation starting to spread through her body had to be pushed aside, but M'Rowl's subconscious wouldn't let her instantly dismiss the possibility she'd been responsible for causing the deaths of one – or more! – living beings.

"C–Can't think about that right now!" she scolded herself aloud through gritted teeth, eyes glued to the speed and altitude readouts. Her hundred-thousand metre height had almost been fully expended and the shadowed canyons raced up to meet her tiny vessel.

Her plummet had allowed the Klingons to close the distance even faster on an intercept vector, and the incessant warning pings of her sensors told her they were almost in weapons range again. Now without shields she could not allow herself to be hit even once.

Briefly she wondered if she should have just attained orbit and took her chances with the Klingon war cruiser until she could get aboard the Bigglesworth, but decided that relying on her own survival skills was the better option. Even if the Klingons shot her down in the canyons, her death was not assured and she'd have more options and time.

Setting her sensors for short-range terrain mapping and avoidance M'Rowl once again plunged into the deep canyons of this inexplicably-interesting husk of a world.

Shuttlecraft toQ

"We have him again," Dag'thar stated flatly.

"He's heading right back into the canyons. Probably trying to make us crash too."

"Then I will ensure I do not attach myself to his rear bulkhead and you will use the experience gained from our previous chase to predict his movements and hit him this time," Dag'thar growled threateningly.

Krell stifled a sigh and kept his eyes on his targeting scanners as Dag'thar started his pursuit of the Starfleet shuttle anew.

They both grunted at the high-G manoeuvres Dag'thar put them through to stay on its tail at a safe distance. "Slippier… than… a Denebian… slime… devil," the pilot forced out between gritted teeth. "This Earther… is good," he allowed grudgingly.

"I can't… get… a lock," Krell gritted out. "Not… wasting power… until… I get… a good… shot at him."

The view out of the front of their shuttle reminded Krell of the combat simulators he'd gone to as a child at the military fairs, where fighters performed incredibly tight manoeuvres through the ridiculously cramped confines of tunnels through asteroids almost as if they were in a choreographed fight sequence. He had never once thought he'd be doing that in real life, but this Earther was insane in their desire to make them crash. Krell's admiration for Dag'thar's piloting skills had increased measurably over the last few minutes alone.

Dag'thar had no time to check his guidance system for where they were or where the Earther was leading them. He was fully engaged at the ragged edge of his skills staying on their tail and a moment's distraction could be fatal. He did notice peripherally the canyon walls climbing higher around them as the ground continued dropping away from them. All he could do was follow the Earther down. He couldn't even curse at Krell for not taking any shots, as even he could tell nothing fired at this stage of the chase had any hope of connecting.

They fell into ever-deeper shadows and started pursuing through short tunnels that time and erosion had worn through the thicker rock formations.

Shuttlecraft Pup

M'Rowl had led the Klingon shuttle on a very merry chase and she had been frankly surprised that they'd managed to stay with her at all. Her respect for the Klingon pilot's abilities grudgingly rose, but admiration for a worthy adversary didn't get her out of her current predicament. Only the lack of weapons-fire directed at her mollified her at all; clearly, they knew they were unable to hit her as she dodged, jinked, spun, rolled, and zoomed her way through the growing gloom at the bottom of these deepening canyon walls.

Her terrain-mapping sensors found another tunnel to try leading them to their doom in, longer by far than the others encountered to this point, and she plunged into it as fast as she dared – which was still markedly slower than she had been through the canyons.

Shuttlecraft toQ

"How deep… is he going… to take us?" Krell pushed out, somewhat fearfully to Dag'thar's ears. He could spare no mental effort to even speculate however as they followed the Starfleet shuttle into a tunnel that had no apparent exit.

Despite himself, Dag'thar slowed to regain his sense of control. There was nowhere else for the Earther to go here though, and he'd rather lose some ground than embed himself in it.

Shuttlecraft Pup

Deeper and deeper into the undulating tunnel she went, eyes glued to the terrain-following display to keep her speed as high as her reflexes could handle. M'Rowl couldn't even spare a glance for the sensor readout to show how much distance she was extending – if any – from the relentlessly pursuing Klingons.

This tunnel was extending so far under the canyon plateaus that she began to worry it wasn't a tunnel at all and would end in a cave at best, or a flat wall of rock, or worse yet simply narrow down to a fissure she could no longer manoeuvre her shuttle in.

Fortunately none of those came to pass, and her terrain-following display finally showed her the end of the tunnel. She shot out the other side with a big sigh of relief, and was very pleased to note that she'd left the Klingons behind. She immediately doubled back and shot up out of the valley, heading for orbit at maximum atmospheric speed, but her sensors alerted her to the presence of something else in that valley. Not altering her escape vector in any way, she flipped her scanners to the appropriate screens…

…and gaped in wonder.

Shuttlecraft toQ

After a harrowing tunnel chase that saw them completely lose their quarry, their shuttle shot through the other end and back into the open air, emerging into a valley unlike the previous canyons.

Krell's sudden exclamation clued him into the fact that they'd simultaneously completed their prior mission but failed their current one.

Shuttlecraft Pup

Nestled into the farthest opposite extent of the valley – causing her to miss getting an immediate visual on it – was a stunning sight: a massive, inverted, 4-sided pyramid made of some smooth, featureless, purple-obsidian material, hovering seemingly motionless several metres off a valley floor that was more pleasant and far less jagged-edged than the canyons she'd been chased through.

Shaking out of her moment of dazed awe, M'Rowl hit the comms channel and yelled into it. "Shuttle Pup to Bigglesworth! Pup to Bigglesworth! Am being pursued by a Klingon shuttle trying to shoot me down! Made a second one crash but—"

An emerald pulse scorched past her port window, making her flinch and jerk the shuttle away from it.

"Biggles! I'm under attack! Do you copy?!"

Chapter Five

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"We're almost through the ionisation layer now, Captain. Starting to get more detailed readings of the surface," Xa-Havereii reported.

"The Klingon is still descending with us—" Jarinex started to say but was cut short by Lamar breaking in with urgent news.

"Captain! The Pup is hailing us, audio only!"

"On speakers!" Harrington barked, and through a hash of interference the Bigglesworth's bridge crew finally heard their long-lost shuttle crew report in.

"… …pursued… Kli… shuttle… … shoot… … …ade… second… crash…"

"Compensate for that ionisation effect and open a channel!"

As Lamar worked his controls, the howl and crackle of static faded enough for M'Rowl's next message to come in loud and clear: "Biggles! I'm under attack! Do you copy?!"

"Captain, detecting weapons-fire one thousand seven hundred kilometres to planetary north-east!"

"Navigator, plot an intercept course and provide coordinates for in-atmosphere rendezvous to Comms! Helm, hold position for now but prepare to implement that course! Comms, get me the Klingon commander!"

The bridge crew fairly exploded into action obeying the rapid-fire orders.

"Channel open and stable to the Pup, Captain!" Lamar finally reported.

"Pup, Harrington here! We're under the ionisation layer and dealing with the Klingon ship! Rendezvous coordinates being calculated now!"

"Acknowledged, Biggles!" The relief in M'Rowl's voice was palpable.

"Commander Danilov, oversee recovering the shuttle."

"Aye Captain," he nodded and headed for the Mission Ops station.

"Channel open to the Klingon ship, Captain!"

"Klingon Commander! Order your shuttle to stand down immediately or you'll get a full salvo on your bridge! You have five seconds! If our shuttle is shot down you're getting our torps in your teeth!" Kate yelled, then gave the 'mute audio' signal to Lieutenant Lamar.

"Biggles, this is Pup! I may have found what the Klingons are looking for! Transmitting the data now!" The weird whine of disruptor pulses sounded clearly over the commlink as M'Rowl spoke.

"That's five seconds, Captain!" Bonnie called out.

"Lieutenant Jarinex, full power phaser strike to their bridge!"

"Aye Captain!" the Andorian responded, covering his surprise. With everything already locked and charged it was a second's work to recheck everything and press a single control. The bright orange twin beams reached out directly in front of them on the viewscreen to smack the stubby war cruiser on its bulbous nose.

"Put me on with the Klingon again," Kate growled.

"Channel open!"

"Klingon Commander, that was your last warning! Stand down your attacks or you've got a real fight on your hands!" Harrington snarled. "You have five more seconds!"

A thought struck her as she indicated to Lamar to mute the open channel again. "Comms, broadcast the data M'Rowl sent us to the Klingon ship and put it up on the main viewer, tactical display to my screen here."

"Transmitting now, and on-screen."

Kate spared a second to look at the hugely bizarre object nestled into the valley before launching into a new verbal gambit with another nod to Lamar to unmute her. "Is this what you've been trying to stop us from discovering, Klingon Commander? Well, we know about it now. Respond to me here and now or we're done talking."

Kate again gave the 'mute audio' signal to Lamar and got an acknowledgement before issuing another slew of orders. "Lieutenant Lamar, set Level One ECM. Lieutenant Shi Qi, shut down non-essential systems; Engineer Harvey, reroute power to forward shield reinforcement."

After getting their acknowledgements, Harrington queried her First Officer. "Commander Danilov, is their shuttle still firing at ours?"

"Pup just dodged another salvo two seconds ago," he stated grimly.

Kate's eyes hardened as she stared at her tactical repeater, then at the object on the viewer.

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

"Commander, the Federation ship is hailing us, audio only."

Kron grinned in anticipation of more verbal jousting with the fiery Earther woman and instructed, "Put her through."

"Klingon Commander! Order your shuttle to stand down immediately or you'll get a full salvo on your bridge! You have five seconds! If our shuttle is shot down you're getting our torps in your teeth!"

Kron looked to his tactical display in honest surprise. "What is she talking about?" he growled in growing anger at possibly being caught unprepared. "Full sensor sweep!"

Having finally cleared the interference layer deliberately created by their own torpedo to stymie the Starfleet crew, the answers were not long in coming.

"Commander, our shuttle is pursuing theirs approximately eight hundred fifty kellicams planetary north-east, both ascending to upper atmosphere; our shuttle is firing."

"Raise our shuttle and get a report!"


With no further warning the Starfleet destroyer unleashed twin phaser beams at them from their forward paired emitter, rocking the ship dramatically.

Kron stared in disbelief. She fired on us? He shook off his split second of amazement, feeling his anger growing and building upon itself. "Damage report!" he roared.

"Forward shield down to thirty percent! Minor systems overloads in affected areas, no major damage, no casualties reported."

"Klingon Commander, that was your last warning! Stand down your attacks or you've got a real fight on your hands! You have five more seconds!"

His comms officer spoke up eagerly. "I have our shuttle, Commander!"

"Put them through!"

"Shuttle toQ reporting, Commander! The Starfleet shuttle caused the Mek'leth to crash but we successfully chased into it orbit as ordered. After we secured the Mek'leth and treated its crew, the Starfleet shuttle returned to the surface." Kron spared a sour glare for the back of Qo'leth's head at that, and he saw the gunner twitch. "We resumed pursuit but couldn't shoot it down or force it back up. Then—"

"Is this what you've been trying to stop us from discovering, Klingon Commander?" The infuriating Earther woman's voice crashed in over the shuttle crew's report, and the image he'd been hoping to see from his own shuttles' exploratory efforts was suddenly on-screen. "Well, we know about it now. Respond to me here and now or we're done talking."

Too much had happened in too short a time. Kron's quarry was suddenly revealed, but he was seconds away from all-out battle with an enemy ship that could significantly impact his ability to destroy or track the alien object. He needed time to reassess and come up with a new plan.

Kron spoke directly to his shuttle crew. "Shuttle toQ, cease fire immediately! I repeat: cease fire! Break off your attack!"

"Complying," was the brief and flat-toned response from the shuttle crew. "What are our new orders?"

"toQ, you will return to the Obelisk and prevent Starfleet from approaching it," Kron instructed them. "Supply us with coordinates for the Obelisk and the Mek'leth."

"Commander, the Starfleet ship is demanding two-way communications."

"Ignore them, but warn them off approaching the Obelisk or we'll give them the battle they seem so eager for! Let the Earthers recover their own g'day't shuttle," he groused. "Helm, assume position over the Obelisk. First Officer, beam down a repair crew for the second shuttle then join me in my Security Office."

Kron left the bridge to the sound of Shredder's engines thrumming to push them through the thick lower atmosphere to their destination. Moments later he was joined in the electronically-shielded private room for the ship's commander.

"Well, they found it," he grumbled.

"We should destroy it before the Earthers figure out that we want to, and figure out a way of their own to stop us."

"A plan with great merit, but for one thing. All previous attacks from our other ships have done no noticeable damage to the Obelisk. Who's to say this attack will go any differently?"

Kol mulled that one over but Kron found himself answering his own question.

"Perhaps it is merely hiding its damage, the same way it's hiding all the other data on itself from us. Ours could be the attack that breaks through its sensor shielding. Or perhaps we've exhausted its energy levels from our pursuit and now it's vulnerable to our attacks."

Kol nodded thoughtfully. "Good points, Sir. But what of the Starfleet ship's reaction? Will it attack us if we attack or destroy the Obelisk?"

"They will not attack us," Kron stated confidently. "They have no context for why we're attacking it. They'll defend their own – this one more than most, it seems – but won't attack us if we ignore them."

"They may have found what we're looking for but they don't know why we're looking for it or what it is," Kol recapped slowly. "They will do nothing, or perhaps even help us, if we say that it's one of our own malfunctioning robotic probes, or just claim it was rampaging through our space attacking and destroying our installations."

"These are Earthers, Kol. They will demand proof, and gnaw at that desiccated bone until they get it."

Kol balked. "Then why do we even need to justify ourselves at all? We can handily disable them or send them fleeing with a real attack in earnest. And we need not do even that! We just attack the Obelisk and they do nothing lest they invoke our wrath!"

Kron shook his head "An appealingly simplistic notion, Kol. However, I get the feeling that these g'day't Feds will interfere to the point of physically shielding the object with their vessel forcing us into the choice of disengaging or continuing the attack through their shattered hull. No," he opined, "these arrogant, interfering do-gooders will obstruct us and we need to have a plan that does not end up with us causing an incident that High Command must address."

"Very well, Commander. What would you have us do?"

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Captain!" Danilov exclaimed. "Pup reports the Klingon shuttle has stopped firing but is still in pursuit."

"E.T.A. to rendezvous?" Harrington snapped out.

"Three-point-seven minutes if we move to intercept now, Captain," Ensign Tenok replied evenly. The dark-skinned Vulcan had been constantly updating that point as their shuttle streaked closer.

"What's the Klingon ship doing?" she demanded next of her science officer.

"Nothing yet," Xi'aron replied. "Maintaining altitude and distance from us— wait, they're under way! Moving towards the Pup!"

"Helm, track their ship around! Alter attitude to keep them in our torpedo arc!" Harrington barked.

"Captain, M'Rowl reports the Klingon shuttle has broken off pursuit and is returning to the object she discovered," Lamar updated, then added, "Message from the Klingon ship, Sir! Audio only!"

"Let's hear it."

"Starfleet vessel, recover your shuttle. Do not approach the Obelisk! Stay away!"

"Helm, implement our rendevous course, maxium safe atmospheric speed!"

"Aye, Captain!"

"Tactical, maintain weapons lock on the Klingon ship. Target their impulse engines," Harrington ordered more calmly, feeling the situation begin to come under control. She no longer thought anything would happen, but it didn't pay to take chances with the Klingons.

Tense moments passed as their adversary closed the distance to their shuttle.

"Captain, the Klingon ship has passed the Pup without attacking it, and looks to be taking up a position over the valley where the object is," Xa-Havereii reported finally, relief evident in his voice.

"Have we just bought ourselves some breathing room?" Bonnie asked over her shoulder.

Caitlin observed the Klingon war cruiser rumble past their shuttle, now ignoring it – and them – completely, but didn't answer; she didn't want to jinx the unexpected lull in the action. Inwardly though she thought, It does look that way, Bonnie. They've even turned their backs on us, in deep atmosphere. We'll see any move they make against us long before they're able to complete it.

"Sir, it looks like the immediate crisis is over," Danilov opined. "We may want to reassess our posture."

Caitlin thought about that for some moments. "I disagree. The immediate crisis may have been averted but this is not over, not by a long shot. Cancel Red Alert but maintain battle stations. Resume power to all systems but keep shields up and weapons armed."

Stephan looked like he disagreed but he passed on her orders without comment or complaint. "Captain, the Pup is now in range and requesting docking clearance and vector."

"Clearance granted. Helm, hold position here until they're aboard then ascend to orbit and approach the object's valley slowly so as not to antagonise the Klingons."

"Yes Ma'am."

"Understood, Captain."

"Status of the Klingon ship?" she asked next.

"They're in the lower atmosphere, at only a few hundred metres' altitude over the object, taking no other action at present," Xa-Havereii reported.

"They are expending a significant amount of power to hold that altitude, Captain," Jarinex spoke up.

"Theories on what they are doing?" Harrington asked the bridge at large.

"Attempting communications with damaged comms gear on either side," Lamar offered.

"Scanning it through heavy interference," Xa-Havereii spoke up.

"Attempting to board via transporters through interference," Jarinex suggested.

"Attempting to attach tractor beams without a computer lock-on, to pull it into orbit," Bonnie put forth.

"All good speculation," Harrington commented. "How's the Pup?"

Danilov, nominally in charge of recovering the shuttle as per his captain's order, delegated this update to the Chief of Ship Operations with a nod.

"Entering the shuttlebay now Captain, just a few moments more…" Bonnie reported. They all waited patiently until finally she told them, "Down and secured, Captain."

"Mr. Winchester, get us back into orbit."

"Yes Ma'am."

"Lamar, have the shuttle crew debriefed immediately and get me a report."

"Aye, Captain."

Kate beckoned Stephan in for a consult. "I don't believe Ensign M'Rowl can shed any more light on this situation since she found what the Klingons were after only at the end of her unfortunately wild shuttle ride, but you never know."

Danilov nodded. "Agreed. What's now to be done about this object? It's a unique find, but the Klingons want us nowhere near it."

"True, but it doesn't mean we can't look it over from here." So saying she ordered, "Mr. Xa-Havereii, full power deep scan of that object, and show us the data that M'Rowl transmitted to us from her brief look at it."

Their chief science officer worked his board for a moment. "Data on auxiliary science screens now, Captain, and the scan is under way."

Kate and Stephan moved over to the Science station and had just started to look over the data when their science officer let out a puzzled exclamation.

"Captain, I'm getting no data back from the object."

"Scanner malfunction?" Danilov immediately asked.

"No Sir. The realspace sensors are registering its physical presence and dimensions; it's five hundred metres long on every edge. I'm also getting data back on the surrounding valley and the Klingon ship. But where the object is… it's just a void, a null reading. A blank in the realspace and subspace sensor readout."

"Okay, now it's not only intriguing, it's also puzzling." Kate managed a real smile, her first since arriving in this star system and the building aggravation and stress of dealing with the Klingons right afterwards. "Can you tell us how it's blocking or absorbing our scans?"

Xa-Havereii tapped more of his controls, trying to find that out, but after several minutes of poking he let out a frustrated sigh. "I'm sorry Captain, but I'm getting nothing at all. It's like—"

With all three of them staring at the sensor readouts and visuals they saw it at the same time, but Ki'aron said it for the bridge at large.

"Captain! The Klingon is firing on the object!"

Chapter Six

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

Kron watched as the mountain valley finally opened up to their sensor angle and revealed their elusive quarry once again. He felt grim satisfaction at being the one to finally corner and destroy this alien spy.

"Sensor readings?" he demanded.

"It is blocking our scans, as before. We are detecting the Obelisk itself and receiving sensor data from all surrounding environmental elements, but we're getting no data about its nature," Science Officer Toron reported.

Kron hadn't expected any other reply, but was then struck with a further thought. "Are you getting data on the terrain directly behind the object, terrain blocked by the object itself?"

Toron double-checked before replying. "Yes Commander. The object doesn't block sensor beams in its direction, only its own structure and internal workings remain opaque to us."

Kron dismissed the errant thought. It only makes sense, after all. Multiple sensors scanning from multiple directions would eventually glimpse inside.

"Very well. If it will not give up its secrets, then we will crack its shell and scoop them out ourselves. Remove overload suppressors on our facing disruptor banks. Full power to phasers. Set level one ECCM. Maintain relative position out of feedback damage range. Signal when ready."

"Complying!" his bridge crew responded together as multiple stations began discharging their duties.

"Weapons fully charged and ready, overload suppressors disengaged."

"Ascending to geosynchronous orbit, to hold position at ten thousand kellicams."

"Counter-jamming active at level one, but no jamming detected."

"Once in position, lock target and fire," Kron ordered casually. "Maintain fire until it is destroyed."

Mere moments were all it took for the small cruiser to haul itself up out of the planet's gravity well, at which the helmsman reported, "Geosynchronous orbit established."

"Firing!" Qo'leth announced eagerly as he mashed his controls.

On the viewscreen, twin emerald pulses and five orange beams reached out towards the planet below.

"Centre display on target and magnify to show the assault."

The viewscreen instantly changed as directed and the bridge crew of the Shredder had the satisfaction of watching their weapons reach out to their target…

…but to no apparent effect.

No direct hits on its hull, no explosions, no shield impacts, no kinetic shock.


Again, as expected. His comrades had attacked this thing twice before and chased it from three star systems, but it was only because it had reappeared in multiple Klingon-held systems that they'd gotten more than a single attack on it.

Curiously though, Kron noted no collateral damage to the environment around their target, either. His ship was releasing enough energy to boil that lake and shatter the surrounding mountains, but there was nothing. His ship might have been shooting beams and pulses of multi-coloured laser-light at the object for all the effect his weapons were having on it.

"Science Officer, can you explain its method of absorbing our attack? Clearly it is not being merely deflected or the surrounding valley would be Fek'lhr's own garden already."

Seemingly surprised by the question, Toron bolted out, "I will investigate this at once, Sir!"

Kron's demand for instant information thwarted, he subsided with a glower and grumbled, "Very well."

"Commander! The Starfleet ship hails us again! Captain Harrington wants to know—"

"I do not care. Ignore her."

Comms Officer Korgath burst out into a brief chortle at his commander's words and his tone in saying them, before realising he may gave overstepped and earned a disruptor in the face. His glance at Kron, however, showed this time that his commander shared in his humour as a fierce grin briefly decorated his features.

This lightening of Kron's mood, together with them having located their quarry and freely attacking it, eased the tension on the bridge considerably and once again comradely looks were shared between the bridge crew.

Kron himself noted it and was pleased. I do not want them further abrading already frayed patience. Boisterous and alert is better than an insult away from a d'k tahg duel.

He stared at the viewscreen, deep in thought again. We can do this all day, especially with that thing not shooting back. Question is, can it?

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Red Alert! Hail them!" Harrington snapped out to Lamar, then ordered, "Xa-Havereii, display object on the main viewer. Is it still in one piece?"

The red alert sirens whooped yet again on this mission, but nobody moved; everyone was already maintaining battle stations from the previous brush with their as-yet unidentified opponent.

With all ship's scanners already focussed on the object, the Efrosian's answer was immediate. "It's not only still in once piece, Captain, it seems completely unaffected by the Klingon barrage."

Kate's eyebrows rose and she shared a look with Stephan. They both looked over the sensor data streaming in over several monitors at the science station, able to interpret the relatively basic information on display.

"The object doesn't seem to have any active defences like shields or deflectors in play," Kate commented.

"The surrounding environment isn't being destroyed by thermal backwash or radiation effects either," Stephan noted.

"Lieutenant Lamar, anything from the Klingons?"

"No Captain," Lamar sighed. "They're not even accepting our hails this time."

"Great. Back to being ignored," Harrington commented in a hard tone.

Danilov didn't respond.

Kate moved on. "Xa-Havereii, any reaction at all from the object?"

"Absolutely none, Captain. It's not moving a micrometre and it's not emitting anything our sensors can detect." The Efrosian shook his maned head in frustration.

"Hmm. We can't see in and it's not giving anything out," Kate recapped. "We don't know why the Klingons are attacking it – and they're also not telling us anything – but we assume they did pursue it here. Makes me wonder if they even tried talking to it at all."

Danilov looked thoughtful. "If it encroached on their space or one of their installations they may have warned it off only, or perhaps just opened fire."

"Lieutenant Lamar," Kate called across the bridge. "Hail the object with standard First Contact linguacode messages. Let's see if it will talk with us. The Klingons aren't interested in being friends, but we are."

"Aye Sir," the dark-haired young Izarian replied, working his board to call up the requested communications protocols. "Transmitting now."

They all waited, observing the apparently ineffective Klingon barrage as they hoped to elicit a response from the mysterious and secretive alien object.

However, seconds stretched to minutes and still Lamar offered no update. The linguacodes were language broken down into the most basic components and related to universal constants. This was to enable a never-before-encountered intelligence to have the most effective means of reverse-engineering Federation language constants to allow them to build a cross-reference and rudimentary translation matrix. The Starfleet ship's own Universal Translator circuits could then complete the process and begin to render the alien intelligence's efforts into coherent speech.

It was never expected that a newly-encountered alien species could start talking to them in understandable Federation Standard, but there was always the hope of a reciprocal exchange of language basics, or at least an acknowledgement of the intent to communicate. It looked like this object would remain reticent when it came to talking to others, however.

In light of the unending barrage of disruptor and phaser fire from the Klingons, perhaps talking to others was not high on the aliens' list of priorities right now.

Kate said as much to Danilov and added, "If we could just get the Klingons to stop attacking it, maybe it would respond to us?"

Danilov looked doubtful. "Maybe, Captain, but with neither of them currently talking to us how do you intend to stop the Klingon assault?"

"By getting in their way," Harrington responded seriously.

"Captain…" Danilov began, but paused.

Harrington didn't interject.

Danilov sighed. "Aye, Captain."

Harrington was pleased. You're learning. I'm glad to see you realise that I understand the risks I'm taking with all our lives.

"Mister Lamar, hail the Klingons. Tell them we cannot allow them to attack this object without justification. We want an explanation and we will protect that object until we get a satisfactory one. Tell them that if we don't get an acknowledgement from them agreeing to talk, we will start shielding the object from their fire. Give them two minutes to respond."

"Aye, Captain," the dark-haired Izarian responded, his voice revealing nothing of what he thought of those orders.

"What now?" Danilov commented.

"Now we wait. But not for long," Harrington replied.

As expected, two minutes passed without a response and with no slackening of the Klingon assault.

Kate didn't do anything so expressive as fetching a sigh as the timer ran out, but she wanted to. "Mister Winchester, drop into a lower orbit and place us between the Klingons and the object. Do so slowly and deliberately. Bonnie, shut down non-essential and auxillary systems. Mister Jarinex, zero out the phaser capacitor recharge rate and reinforce dorsal shield to two hundred percent."

"Aye-aye, Sir."

"Yes Ma'am."

"Yes, Captain."

Harrington opened a 'com channel. "Bridge to Main Engineering."

Moments later the voice of their chief engineer came back. "Engineering, Zathras here."

Kate had to grin this time. If ever a being had the voice of a martyr, it was their own chief engineer. And a very resigned martyr at that, Kate thought, amused. Especially after he hears what's going to happen now.

"Commander Zathras, we're going to need all available power channelled into our dorsal shield. We're shutting down all non-essential systems and diverting power from weapons; we won't be needing them this time," Caitlin told him briskly, then changed her tone to apologetic. "The reason for all this is that we will be shielding an object on the planet's surface from the Klingons, who are currently shooting at it. We'll need you to maintain that shield power and be on top of any overloads, burn-outs, or other damage that may result."

There was a noticiable though not significant pause – enough to pass comment but not judgement – before the Tellarite answered. "Zathras understands. Zathras has his own opinions, but no one ever asks Zathras. Zathras just left to pick up the pieces." He paused again to let that implication sink in before continuing. "Zathras will get your shield power for you, Captain. Zathras out."

The bridge was all smiles after that pronouncement from their beloved chief engineer. Even Helmsman Wyatt seemed more relaxed as he eased their smaller ship between the Klingons and their target.

Here we go… he thought as the saucer section began to eclipse the object on the planet's surface. Now we see who is right – the Captain or the X.O.

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

"Are they actually going to do it?" Kol bolted out.

Kron looked at his X.O. askance. "Calm yourself, Commander. What part of the last few hours of this, our own personal Earther nemesis, did you sleep through? Of course this is something she'd do. I even predicted it, if you recall."

"That you did," Kol grimaced, "but I did not believe you."

Kron was already issuing instructions to his conn officer. "Adjust our orbit to not hit the Starfleet ship."

"Aye Commander."

"Shall we cease fire so we don't hit them as we reposition?" Qo'leth asked.

"Why, our gunner is attempting to use his brain again, Kol," Kron mocked the hapless young Klingon. "No. Cease fire only when I order it."

Qo'leth flushed dark at the mockery but as no one else laughed openly he swallowed it and only uttered an "Aye, Sir" in response.

"Let them get a taste of what it means to get between a Klingon warship and its target," Kron elaborated. "Perhaps they will not be so eager next time."

Qo'leth actually managed to let go some of his anger at Kron's uncharacteristic explanation. "Line of sight re-established, Commander, but they're already moving to occlude us again."

"We may actually have to damage them to force them to back down – or it will be us who backs down at the end," Kol stated sotto voce to Kron.

Kron rested his chin on his fist as he stared at the viewscreen pondering his X.O.'s words, wondering which predicted outcome would prevail.

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

The entire ship shuddered as the first Klingon disruptor pulses slammed into the saucer section from above, but with double shields no damage got through – from this first salvo.

"Shields down to eighty percent!" Jar called in alarm. "He's firing fully overloaded disruptors and not pulling his punches! Shield reinforcement recharging!"

Caitlin grimaced.

"They're altering their orbit to get line-of-sight to the object again!"

"Helm, move to intercept their fire again," Harrington ordered calmly.

"Aye, Captain."

Danilov stepped in again to speak quietly but urgently. "Captain, if he doesn't stop and you don't give, even without taking internal damage he will batter our shields down with four more salvoes per shield facing. If you intend to use more than one shield we could end up with no shields right before he switches back to attacking us!"

Caitlin's eyes narrowed as Danilov's warning all but ended in a hiss. She let him have a good two seconds of her cold glare but saw that it wasn't making an impression on him.

Matching his lowered volume she fired back, "I am not going to strip all our shields to the bone, Commander. I am aiming for a specific effect to engineer a specific result, and if it ends up not working we'll try something else." She glared at him again. "I'm not going to unnecessarily or frivolously endanger our lives or ship."

"With respect, Captain, we're a light escort ship and he's a state-of-the-Klingon-art war cruiser."

He clearly wanted to say more but did not want to become insubordinate. However, Harrington heard him loud and clear: "You're already frivolously endangering our lives."

Her face hardened at him as another disruptor barrage slammed into them.

"Dorsal shield down to sixty percent! Shield reinforcement recharging!" Jar updated from Tactical.

"Your objections are noted Commander, and you've made your position quite clear. Both will be taken into consideration for my future orders." She turned away from him to address her comms officer. "Mister Lamar, hail the Klingons again and repeat our demand for a dialogue."

"Aye Captain."

"Captain, the Klingons are repositioning again," Wyatt noted from the helm.

"Keep getting in their way, Ensign."

"Aye Captain."

"Mister Lamar, try hailing the object gain with all linguacode greetings on all subspace and realspace frequencies. Perhaps we've made an impression already."

"Aye-aye, Captain, coding n— Captain, the Klingon is responding with an open channel!" Lamar's surprise was evident at this development.

Harrington felt surprise from Danilov buffet her as well and had the good graces to feel disappointed at herself for the flash of petty satisfaction it gave her.

"On screen, Lieutenant Lamar," she managed to say without anything unprofessional leaking out.

"Captain Harrington, I am not going to stop firing. Kindly stop getting in my way," Kron told her airily.

Caitlin offered him a head tilt and an arched eyebrow. "Commander Kron, all I ask for is an explanation."

"No, it is not," he snapped back, suddenly angry. "If any explanation I offer fails to satisfy the moralistic Starfleet's sensibilities you will demand more."

Caitlin felt that one and had no rebuttal; Kron was entirely correct. Resisting the urge to shift uncomfortably in her chair, she tried another tack: "Commander, you act like this object is some significant threat to your whole empire, yet it has done nothing more than sit there and let you shoot at it."

"That may be all that you have seen," Kron seemed to agree, but offered nothing more.

The Klingon ship's next barrage took that moment to hammer their shields. The deck shuddered noticeably and feedback damage shorted out some circuitry at the science console, sending out a spray of sparks and ending in a light cloud of smoke the ventilators soon cleared.

"Captain. Move your ship away," Kron growled.

"Are you willing to cause a diplomatic incident over this?" Harrington shot back.

"Captain, you are the one causing the incident. My ship's logs – and yours – will show me exercising considerable restraint and repeatedly shifting my position to not hit you, and you… doing what you're doing. I think the diplomatic fallout will be entirely on your side."

Harrington was definitely feeling the lack of options tightening in a noose around her situation. "But you're not even damaging it! All your fire is being nullified. Do you know how it is doing that? Do you know anything about its capabilities or defences? Its intentions or motivations? Anything?"

Kron stroked his beard, then leaned into the visual pickup. "Do you?"

"No! And we want to know more! But you're giving us no opportunity to study it and learn its secrets! Would it not be better for you and your Empire to know what this thing is and where it came from?"

Kron stroked his beard some more, then conferred with his X.O.

"Instead of attacking it completely ineffectually, how about we investigate it! Together, a joint science mission to the valley below!"

"Gunner, cease fire."

Harrington felt relief flood through her and tried not to let any of that leak out either.

"Very well. But I will tolerate no delays," he warned. "Meet us at… these coordinates in ten minutes with your science team."

"I am… impressed… with your reasonableness, Commander," Harrington offered as a fairly sincere compliment.

"Make no mistake, Captain Harrington," Kron growled back menacingly. "If we experience no further success than we have from orbit, I will simply continue my attack. Kron out."

Chapter Seven

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

"Cancel battle alert but keep shields up," Kron ordered once the Federation captain disappeared off the viewscreen.

"A joint scientific investigation?" Kol stared, incredulous.

Kron ignored him. "Comms, hail Sector Command and get them to dispatch the closest battlecruiser or heavier unit. Inform them that our vessel does not have the firepower to destroy the alien object. Forward all data concerning our attempts and observed results. Have them expedite the arrival of that capital unit."

Korgath visibly wilted at the onslaught of orders, but acknowledged them and set about his tasks as the alert lighting changed back to normal.

"Science Officer, assemble a landing party best suited to study the Obelisk. Try to have them be people who at least don't mind working with Humans and their pet species, but we are looking for genuine results."

"At once, Sir!" Toron looked like he could not believe his ears or his luck, but he set about his task with a will.

Kron halted him. "Be warned, however! You have precisely as long as it takes for that thing to show signs of life, or until our battlecruiser arrives, whichever is first!"

"Understood, Sir!" he called out over his shoulder as be arranged his landing party.

Kol had by now simmered down and taken on a thoughtful mien.

Kron gave him a wintry grin.

"Will even a full-sized battlecruiser be enough, Commander?" he finally asked.

"We simply do not know," Kron replied grimly. "This is why I am willing to share the credit if we can also share the blame if we fail to destroy it. It is also why I agreed to Starfleet assisting us in trying to find out more about the Obelisk. If they can."

Kron grinned, showing the points of his fangs, and Kol responded in kind, supressing a chuckle.

"Should we educate them on its… unique… FTL drive?"

"I am wary of doing that immediately," Kron replied slowly. "On one hand, it might aid their theorists in understanding this alien technology by giving them possible avenues to explore. Also, knowing that it could simply vanish without a trace could spur them to greater efforts."

"And the benefits of withholding it?" Kol probed.

Kron growled low in the back of his throat. "I don't like giving up information before I know that giving it up will not lose us an advantage later."

Kol nodded in agreement.

"I may need to tell them soon, if no results are quickly forthcoming, but I will decide at that time. Just because I do not see a downside at this time does not mean one does not exist." Kron shook it off. "Toron! Have your team assemble in Transporter Room One and beam down. Only lower the facing shield directly before transport, and have it raised again immediately! Play nice with the Earthers, and use them to determine if there is a way to nullify the Obelisk's defences."

"Yes, Captain!" he replied as he bolted from the bridge.

Kron grinned wryly at knowing his haste was not out of fear, but out of excitement.

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Status of the Klingon warship?" Harrington demanded.

"Captain, they are disarming weapons but maintaining their shields," Kiaron reported.

"Bonnie, take us to Yellow Alert and set Security Condition Three throughout the ship," Harrington instructed her Chief of Ship Operations. "Kiaron, assemble a scientific landing party kitted out to break apart the object's stealth technology. Best people."

"Aye, Captain!"

"Yellow alert aye," Shi Qi responded and began working her board.

"Mr. Jarinex, prepare a Security detail to beam down at a moment's notice to protect our Science team, and an additional two officers to follow the team down under the command of Mr. Xa-Havereii."

"Aye, Captain. However, with Security Condition Three my staffing becomes stretched."

"Noted, Lieutenant. Mister Danilov," Kate then announced.

Stephan stepped in smartly for a private conference. He expected to emerge from it smarting.

"Captain," he offered neutrally, hoping the chewing out would be brief.

"Commander, you saw that abrupt about-face and your take on this situation is noticeably… different… from mine," she began with perhaps an excess of civility to counter the pressure of her gaze. "What do you think just happened?"

Danilov was again surprised by his C.O.'s actions and words. She just keeps doing this to me. Perhaps we are just too different to work synergistically.

This thought was hurriedly chased off to focus on answering his captain's question. "Perhaps… he was waiting on you making that specific offer, so that he wouldn't have to ask you for help?"

Harrington was already silently nodding. "Perhaps we can see eye to eye after all," she commented in a hard tone. Danilov resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably. "He was all set to keep blasting away, deflecting the diplomatic incident onto us, and as soon as I say 'joint investigation' he's all 'See you down there.' Well, it looks like our goals momentarily align, but I don't expect that state of affairs to last forever. Considering how mercurial this guy is, I don't want either of us isolated from the ship. We can't let our guard down just yet, if at all with this guy."

"Aye Captain," Danilov nodded, his second thoughts on the leader of the landing party confirmed. I really have to reconsider my relationship with and reactions to Harrington. She's just not acting the way I expect her to. She couldn't hide her anger with me at my objections so I thought she'd want me leading the landing party as some kind of lesson or even punishment. I keep predicting wrongly; no wonder she's getting mad at me. But she's got the ship, the crew, and the mission front and centre. Maybe I should trust her more.

"Captain, the Security detail is ready to go and the escort team for the science party is standing by in Transporter Room Two," Jarinex updated. "Just waiting on our Science colleagues to collect their toys," he added slyly.

Kiaron bridled back, as expected. "Captain—!"

"Mister Jarinex…" Harrington warned, tone amused and forgiving.

"Yes Captain. Sorry, Captain."

"Mr. Xa-Havereii, how long until you are ready?"

"Captain, respectfully, we're going to analyse something that doesn't want to be analysed. We're taking it for granted that our tricorders simply won't be enough and are deciding on the best portable equipment to take."

"Mr. Xa-Havereii, we don't have to do this all in one go. Just get down there, meet the Klingon team, make an initial assessment, and then decide what you need," Harrington told him patiently.

The Efrosian looked at her almost blankly, before saying "Oh."

Kate had no one to share a look with other than Danilov, so she decided to mend fences with her X.O. and do just that.

He seemed only too happy to reciprocate and the shared glance of gentle amusement went a long way towards thawing relations again.

"In that case, Captain, I'm going to send only two people down first to make that assessment and then we can start transporting the others with their best choice of equipment," Xa-Havereii decided.

"Proceed, Lieutenant," Harrington authorised him.

"Ensigns Nijjar and Jensen, report to Transporter Room One, standard science tricorders and field gear only," Kiaron instructed down the Master Circuit to the Science labs. "Be prepared to meet the Klingon science team. Assess the situation and the Object, and report in with recommendations of equipment and personnel for intensive analysis."

Harrington felt her amusement fade. What's the next stop on this mystery ride?

Transporter Room One, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Would you hurry up?! Do you want the Klingons to beat us down there?!"

"Will you calm down? It's not like they're going to steal it!"

Transporter Chief Mapp listened to the bickering scientists with growing irritation, but as they were both ensigns and she was enlisted, she had to stow it and instead ask politely, "Sirs, if you wouldn't mind…?" and looked pointedly at the transporter stage where the two Security crewmen were waiting with amused looks.

Both baby officers started guiltily at the senior enlisted's reproving tone.

"Ah, yes Chief."

"Sorry, Chief."

They took their positions on the pads still surreptitiously bickering and checking their tricorder data discs until Mostafa Nijjar finally said, "Let's just go. Energise, Chief."

"Sirs, Crewmen, please remember we're on the very edge of the Klingons' atmospheric ionisation effect. We're beaming you in at an oblique angle to completely clear it, but things could happen up here while you are down there. That is to say," she elaborated at their nonplussed looks, "there could be a delay in beaming you up. Be very aware of this and don't subject yourself to any unnecessary danger."

"Got it, Chief," Charlene Jensen replied for all of them.

Mapp nodded an acknowledgement then performed a final sensor sweep of the landing coordinates provided by the Klingon captain. "The Klingons have not yet beamed down, so you'll have a few moments to yourself. Sensors show no other lifesigns in the vicinity so it appears there's no immediate danger from wildlife either. Still, be careful. Energising now."


The four of them rematerialised on the gentle slope of the bottom of the valley amidst tough and hardy blue-green grass. It covered the valley floor and lower mountainside, along with rocks and boulders of various sizes haphazardly strewn across the landscape. The gentle slopes of the lower valley soon got steeper until they turned into the base of the low mountains forming the valley walls.

The two experienced Security crewmen exchanged a nod and visually scanned an increasing arc away from each other to confirm there were no unexpected threats to their baby officers.

Mostafa himself performed a quick visual sweep to check their surroundings and if anyone was inhabiting them, but then stopped slack-jawed and just stared at the object that had caused all the recent excitement.

It both towered intimidatingly above and loomed forbiddingly over them, its immense shadow darkening a swath of the valley like a sharp-edged cloud fixed against this system's sun.

Charlene similarly swept the area but with her tricorder; it's low, pleasing warble didn't deviate, indicating no lifeforms, threats, or anomalies discovered. Even pointing directly at the object some three hundred metres distant gave nothing. It simply registered as being there, like a box full of nothingness.

"I don't know what we're realistically expected to do here," she said, looking up at it and shading her eyes with her right hand. "Well, let's get a bit closer." She started picking her way carefully down the slope but stopped when she heard no movement from her companions. She turned to face Nijjar and saw that he was motionless, still staring awe-struck at the object, while the security guards exchanged an uncertain look.

"Mostafa, come on. We have to move now if we want to get any kind of assessment done before the Klingons show up!"

"In… Allah's name… It's just… hovering there!" he all but gasped out.

"What? It's just using anti-gravity." Her utterly matter-of-fact manner pulled him down a bit.

"But… look at it! It's bigger than a starship!" he tried again.

"Okay, so it's got really powerful anti-gravs. No need to go ga-ga over it," she lightly mocked him.

"Have you no sense of wonder in you at all?" he finally shot back, frustrated. "It's a giant, purplish-obsidian-coloured, glass-smooth, utterly featureless inverted pyramid with enough volume for a starship, a squadron of destroyers, and a brace of frigates besides, and it's hovering twenty metres off the surface of a valley bed between mountains climbing on three sides around it! Doesn't this make you go 'wow!' at least a little bit?!"

She caught his rather obvious crushing disappointment both at her and in her for bringing him and his sense of wonder down, and wisely assumed a contrite expression. "Sorry," she replied meekly. "My brain's not wired that way. But I can see how someone else can be… utterly blown away by it."

Her olive-branch words and hopeful smile had the desired effect, and he relented. He let out a little sigh of pent up frustration and allowed himself to be captured by The Object again.

"It's beautiful…"

She heard his utterly awe-struck, practically reverential tones and considered it anew. It was an amazing thing to find on an otherwise-uninhabited planet. Now that they were here it wasn't exactly hiding, but… it was definitely… unexpected.

"Okay, let's get closer. I'm getting nothing on the tricorder from here, except its precise dimensions."

"Ah, Ensign, is that wise?" the senior one of their escort asked. "Our brief was to await the Klingons here, at these coordinates."

"It'll be fi— no, wait," she reconsidered. "Good point. You two wait here for them while we move in a little. Don't worry, you'll not lose sight of us, and there's not even far to go. Set… uh, set a perimeter, and, uh… find defensive positions among these rocks."

The security guards exchanged another look, but then did as ordered.

We should have had a security officer in charge of this party so we could argue orders like those… the senior guard thought long-sufferingly.

"Are you able to record a video of it?" Mostafa asked his fellow scientist as he finally shook himself slightly free of his awe and activated his own tricorder.

"Haven't tried that. Give it a go."

He did so now that his tricorder was up and running and flipped between several different sensor settings. After a few moments he reported, "Yes, I have video but it is only video; literally picture and sound, the data channels are empty. It's giving away nothing."

Charlene's answer to that got stuck in her throat as the reddish glow of the Klingon transporter effect momentarily brightened their spot of the valley. Then it was gone as if never having happened and the glower of six Klingons took its place.

Jensen's immediate thought was Thank the goddess we were assigned a Security detail!

Despite being purportedly scientists, the Klingon party was being very intimidating in simply staring at the two Starfleet scientists – not to mention their ship had only stopped shooting at them about ten minutes before.

Before she knew it, her communicator was in her hand and she'd hailed the ship.

"Bigglesworth here," came Lamar's reassuring voice.

"This is the Landing Party. The Klingon science team of six have joined the four of us," Charlene reported succinctly, aware that she was within earshot of their opposite numbers.

"Ensign, this is the Captain. Do you require assistance?"

Junior Science Officer Ensign Charlene Jensen was further reassured by the close attention of the captain of her ship. "Ma'am, once we're decided what equipment we need, several strong backs to carry it around and set it up would be appreciated," she replied carefully, noting Mostafa's nervous swallow.

"Understood, Ensign. They'll be ready to come down when you need them. Just let us know when."

"Thank you, Captain. Science Team, out." Charlene carefully replaced her communicator on her belt and moved forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with Mostafa. Their Security escort closed ranks to flank both of them in echelon.

A Klingon stepped forward now, one of two Fusions among the Klingons, having perhaps graciously allowed her to complete her call before making an introductory move. "Lieutenant Toron, Head Science Officer of the Imperial Klingon Vessel Shredder," he announced to them both.

Ensign Mostafa Nijjar, a frail-looking and bookish-at-best Human in his early twenties, had never seen a Klingon in person before. He quailed and stammered trying to find his voice to respond, so Charlene answered for them. "Ensigns Jansen and Nijjar, Science Department, U.S.S. Bigglesworth," she indicated herself then Mostafa in reply.

"Ensigns! Are you ready to unlock the mysteries of the Obelisk?" Toron boomed heartily at them, making them both flinch and blink at his unexpected volume and bonhomie.

Charlene had no idea how to respond to a friendly Klingon that wouldn't end that friendliness in dismal failure. However, she knew that being meek would be the worst possible response. Attempting to respond in kind, she pointed first at Toron then the Obelisk blurting, "Y-you said it! Let's figure out this purple hunk! Of obsidian!"

Toron looked at her, his open, friendly expression frozen for a moment before laughing uproariously for a moment more. "A valiant effort, Starfleet," he nodded at her with a grin, though behind him the Imperial-race Klingons glowered witheringly.

Well, at least the friendly one is in charge, Charlie commiserated with herself. Aloud she screwed on her bravado and asked, "Lieutenant Toron, before we get started, is there anything you can tell us about the… the Obelisk from any prior observations you may have made? It would help us choose our more specialised equipment."

Toron nodded approvingly. "A good plan of attack. Wait here."

Charlene and Mostafa exchanged an uncertain glance and their escort's hands hovered near their belted phasers as the Klingon strode back to his own contingent and started snarling at them, but when this was followed by his own team starting to set up the equipment they'd brought the Starfleet party relaxed again.

Toron returned and immediately launched into his answer to Charlie's request. "Regrettably, we know nothing about this entity, only where it has been and what it has done. We have been unable to penetrate its scanning shields with ship-based or planetary sensors. As you have seen for yourselves, we cannot even tell if we are damaging it at all, or even whether it is absorbing our attacks or simply neutralising them somehow. We're further unable to determine if in the case of absorbing our attacks it is converting that energy to use for itself or not. We have no readings on its internal structure or power flows, or even if it has a crew or is fully robotic."

Charlene and Mostafa looked at each other.

At this, Toron asked, "So, what will Starfleet's vaunted scientists' first move be?"

Jansen and Nijjar had listened with growing despair to the Klingon's litany of failure at gaining any information on the object they called "the Obelisk".

"If shipboard and planetary sensors couldn't penetrate its scanning shields, what are we going to do with hand-held devices?" Mostafa asked querulously.

Toron's face fell and his brows beetled together for what might have been an impending tirade, concerning the Security crewmen, but Charlene had a thought.

"Perhaps… the slow, silent blade can slit unnoticed the… the Obelisk's protective screen where all the fire and thunder of a high-energy frontal attack was seen and actively blocked."

The disappointed storm clouds gathering on Toron's face blew themselves out and a thoughtful look took their place. "An interesting supposition. Well, this is what we are here to test. Go on," he invited.

"Our tricorders revealed nothing except unenhanced audio/visual data on its external surface and dimensions. Perhaps we can start with low-power mass spectrometers and a graviton emitter. Perhaps we can make it think we're not looking and catch it with its screens down."

"I like this idea," Toron declared. "I too will seek some low-power instruments. Perhaps even a Space/Energy Matrix Distortion scanner."

Charlene looked at him uncertainly. "Would that even be effective at such short range?"

"We are reduced to sifting for iron, Ensign. We have a low-power portable sensor, and if there is even a chance that it might yield the tiniest nugget of low-grade information I shall sift away."

She nodded in understanding and rueful agreement.

Toron clapped his hands together. "Then let us begin." He returned to his compatriots to organise obtaining the additional equipment.

Mostafa breathed a bit easier. "You really handled that very well, Charlie."

"Thanks Mos. But I think all the credit here goes to Toron for making it easy for us."

Mostafa found himself nodding in agreement.

"Okay, let's get our first load of gear and the people to use it." She flipped open her communicator again. "Science Team to Bigglesworth. Here's what we're going to need…"

Chapter Eight

Ninety minutes later…

"…nothing? Not even a single scrap of additional data, after more than an hour?"

"I'm sorry Captain but this thing is locked up tight. We've tried low power passive scanners such as the Neutrino Emission Detector and the Tachyonic Emission Analyser, but it is emitting precisely zero things. We're getting no emitted light, matter, standard or exotic particles. No E-M or subspace emissions at all. We've even tried the portable dynoscanner, but it's not emitting any chemical or organic activity, inanimate, preanimate, or otherwise," Xa-Havereii reported, sounded baffled and frustrated.

Ki'aron had joined the landing party with some of the heavier equipment that had been sent down in an attempt to remedy the lack forthcoming data. He confirmed, "We've run though our low-power passive scanners and graduated up to the most powerful active scanners we can bring to the surface. Zero gathered data from any of it, or anything the Klingons brought. Inspired by Ensign Jensen's initial idea they even brought down a barely portable Space/Energy Matrix Distortion array to attempt a reading on a subspace displacement as opposed to regular realspace mass, but that too yielded no results."

There was a pause while both sides of the transmission considered how to react to this total and complete failure in data gathering and what their remaining options were.

"I have to tell you Captain, we're running out of ideas down here. Any non-scientific layman's theories or thoughts?" Kiaron asked helplessly.

"To recap, it's emitting nothing, its hiding everything inside it, and it's deflecting everything you're hitting it with?" Danilov spoke up.

"That's right, Comm—"

"Hit it!" Harrington suddenly exclaimed.

"Excuse me?"

"What was that, Captain?"

"Have you tried physically touching the Object?" Harrington asked, controlling her excitement.

The silence through the comms was her answer.

"No, Captain. The Object is hovering or suspended twenty metres over the lake," Xa-Havereii reminded her.

"Well then, let me send you a shuttle and a stick."

Kiaron's puzzled, delayed response made her laugh.

"Why would we need a stick?"


"I cannot believe we're poking it with a stick."

Crewman 2nd-Class Nytigen grinned at her compatriot in the co-pilot's seat as he shook his head and suppressed a chuckle at the officer's repeated exclamation.

Several sensor configurations had been hurriedly retrofitted into the small craft and wired up to the controls for the two junior science ensigns to operate, and they were performing system integration checks to ensure the equipment would work as needed. At the same time the pilots were ensuring that jury-rigging wasn't impacting the shuttle's flight and power systems.

Crewman 1st-Class Omniks was however unable to restrain himself when Ensign Nijjar muttered irritably, "Will you stop saying that!"

Ensign Jensen protested, "But it's utterly ridiculous! We're the most technologically advanced interstellar civilisation in two quadrants, and we're poking it with a STICK!"

Omniks burst out into full-throated uproarious laughter at Charlie's outraged tone, and added through tears of his own, "And you're going to be hanging out of an interplanetary shuttlecraft running on its antigravs to do it!"

The sheer absurdity of it combined with Jansen's outrage and Omniks' contagious laughter had all four of them breaking out laughing themselves.

"Hoo, boy," Nytigen uttered, sobering up somewhat. "What a riot. Anyway, here we go." So saying, she started her preflight checks.

"Just be glad we're not bringing a Klingon," Omniks added with a subsiding chortle. "They might want to swing a blade at it!"

"That's not a bad idea," Jensen noted with sudden thoughtfulness.

"What, having a Klingon attack that thing with a sword?" Omniks shot back, confused.

"Nytigen, don't lift off just yet." She popped the door seals and once it finished opening fully, yelled out, "TORON! Lieutenant Toron! Might we offer you a ride?!"

An indistinct bellow came back from the Klingon side of their hasty encampment and Charlie grinned. To her pilots she said, "Wait a bit longer."

"You're really bringing a Klingon on board?" Mostafa yelped, to consternated looks between the pilots.

"Why not? This is a joint mission and none of this equipment is sensitive," she responded evenly. "Besides, one good turn deserves another. I feel we owe Toron for making this whole 'joint' thing work."

"Well… I suppose that's true…" Mostafa responded, and the shuttle fell into silence as they waited on the Klingon showing up.

"Hey, I just realised," Charlie suddenly blurted, "where's M'Rowl? No offence to you guys, but why isn't she our pilot?"

Onmiks and Nytigen exchanged an uncomfortable moment of silence. "I… look, Ensign, I know she's your roommate, but I don't think it's our place to say."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, it's not like it's a secret," Nytigen said to Onmiks by way of an answer.

"Yeah, but we shouldn't be spreading—" Onmiks began to reply but Charlie butted in.

"Spill it, Crewmen! That's an order from an officer!"

Both junior enlisted looked doubtful at that as the Science Department ensign was not in their direct hierarchy, but then Nytigen relented.

"Sir, Ensign M'Rowl was taken off the flight roster."

"What?! What for?!"

"Assaulting a superior officer."


"With a phaser," Onmiks added, starting to lose it again.

"WHAT?!" Both Charlie and Mos yelled incredulously.

Nytigen and Omniks were openly failing to hide their shaking shoulders at these responses so Charlie deduced that it wasn't as serious as it sounded, but… it sounded serious.

"Okay, come on guys; what happened?" she demanded, half fearful of the answer she was about to get.

"Fine," Nytigen sighed, then explained. "Apparently her mission commander, Lieutenant Duderstadt, put up such a commotion at her evasive actions to get them away from the Klingons that she… felt he was threatening her ability to get them out safely."

"Or even alive," Onmiks added, mostly serious again.

Mos and Charlie exchanged a look, and then realisation dawned on her as she connected the dots.

"Oh no… she didn't…"

"She did," Nytigen confirmed, nodding with a not-entirely-successfully suppressed smirk.

"She stunned her superior officer just to get him to shut up?!"

"She did!" Onmiks confirmed, then his grin split his face apart and he started laughing uncontrollably.

With all the others barely holding on to their own decorum as it was, this set them all off and the shuttle rocked with their laughter.

"Oh sweet Kolker, that's just so… so… her…" Charlie said of her friend, wiping tears from her eyes. "I'd better look in on her after we get back to the ship."

"Was she reprimanded?" Mostafa asked more seriously now that the humour was subsiding.

"Ah. Well, we don't know that; it… that would likely be done in private, right?" Omniks returned.

"Yeah, most likely," Charlie replied more soberly. "Oh I hope she didn't drop herself in it too deeply."

"Ensigns!" Toron suddenly boomed from the hatch, making them all jump.

Hauling a specific piece of scientific apparatus with him into the cabin, he added, "You honour me with your trust!"

"We're thrilled to have you with us," Charlie told him, forcibly reinstating her own sense of decorum. "All of us are."

"I'm sure." Toron tossed off over his shoulder as he secured his equipment before turning to grin at them all, showing the points his teeth as usual. "I will do my best not to betray you all and stab you in the backs until it is absolutely necessary!"

Charlie grinned tightly, not fully comfortable with that type of humour. "Most kind," she commented through her teeth.

Toron chuckled heartily. "Then let us proceed! What is the plan of attack?"

"We're going to approach level with the upper, flat surface of the Obelisk—" Jensen began.

"—and then we're going to poke it with a stick!" Omniks finished for her, laughing again.

"Crewman…" Nijjar said warningly.

"Yes Sir. Sorry Sir," was the false-contrite response.

Toron grinned widely. "Ah yes, for all our high technology, with this formidable adversary we are reduced to cave-dwellers with wooden spears."

"Yes, that is a fitting analogy. However… we are actually going to see if it will react to a physical contact, and… well…"

Toron stared as Charlie, almost shame-faced, raised her actual honest-to-gods wooden stick. Then he burst into gales of laughter, setting the other four off again.

Anyone who claims Earthers are humourless has clearly never met any!

"Okay, time to go," Jensen announced, bringing the group back on-task. "System checks, call out."

By protocol the highest rank went first. Mostafa reported, "Diagnostics and test cycles completed with no faults. Equipment is installed and operational."

"Shuttle power systems and auxiliary systems testing out as unaffected and able to handle the additional power and processing loads," Omniks stated, all business now.

"Flight and navigational systems check out fully operational, Ensign," Nytigen rounded off the Starfleet crew's reports.

Charlene opened her mouth to order lift off but fell silent when Toron announced, "Klingon sensor system physically secured and running on independent power supply, Ensign. No integration required."

Charlie felt slightly abashed. That's a good job, otherwise we'd have had to integrate it and re-run all the checks we just reported on, resetting our departure time, all thanks to my impromptu addition to our expedition.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," she said, trying not to let her mild embarrassment show. "Onmiks, hail Lieutenant Xa-Havereii."

"Aye Sir."

"Everyone get settled in."

"Shuttlecraft Camel, this is Xa-Havereii."

"Sir, we're ready to begin. Diagnostics and test cycles show clear across the board, and Lieutenant Toron from the Klingon team is accompanying us with his own equipment."

There was a pregnant pause as their chief science officer digested this late addition to their sortie, and Jensen began to fret that she'd gotten herself into trouble.

"Understood, Ensign." His voice promised a "later for you" and Charlie began sweating. "We will activate all sensors here in the camp and begin recording as you lift off. I will inform the Klingons to do likewise—"

"There is no need, Lieutenant," Toron interrupted loudly. "I had already instructed them to do so before joining your shuttle mission."

"Very well," Xa-Havereii responded, sounding to Charlie as if he was exercising great patience. She hoped that Toron couldn't hear that. "Ensign Jensen, you may begin your mission."

"Aye-aye, Lieutenant. Launching now," Jensen replied, feeling a little bit shaky as she nodded to Nytigen to launch.

The Izarian female nodded and worked her controls, lifting the Camel off the impromptu landing pad and outfitting zone. She rotated the shuttle to face the ominous bulk of the Obelisk so that it filled their forward viewports and continued to rise straight into the air until they were level with the top of the thing, nearly three hundred metres above the lake surface. Only then did she engage forward thrusters and move them in.

They approached slowly so as not to appear threatening to any defensive systems it may possess, not wanting any response they might provoke to be a hostile one.

"All sensors on, begin recording," Charlie ordered. Even Toron acknowledged – with a smile in his voice – giving Charlie a surreal moment of having a Klingon nominally under her command.

"Twenty metres, Ensign," Nytigen announced.

"Slide us in at half a metre-per-second, beam on, and hold position one metre away."

"Point-five m.p.s., beam on, hold at one, aye."

"Omniks, open the starboard hatch."

There was virtually no buffeting as the hatch whined open. Their very low speed and the relatively still air saw to that.

"Okay. Here I go," she told them. Toron nodded and watched her step out onto the shuttle's starboard nacelle, bracing herself on the interior vertical handrail next to the hatch with her right hand, and returned his gaze to his equipment.

"Omniks, let the basecamp know we're about to attempt contact, and hand me my stick."

Onmiks smothered an inappropriate grin but he did as he was bade, and activated the radio.

"Ensign, wait; will you not secure yourself?" Toron exclaimed in surprise.

"Nothing's going to happen, Toron. You blasted it with full shipboard disruptors and we've scanned the crap out of it every way we can think of."

Toron got up and strode to her side even as she reached out with the now infamous wooden stick and without further ado gently touched the blunt end to the edge of the Obelisk, over the edge just below its flat upper surface.

The Obelisk vanished.

The hurricane that arose around the shuttle broke her grip on the rail and sucked Ensign Charlene Jensen right off the nacelle and cast her into the sky.

Chapter Nine

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

"Commander, the Obelisk is gone!"

Kron looked up from his logs and blinked. "Battle Stations! Show me!"

The orbital view immediately showed that the purple-black square no longer blighted the pristine valley below.

"Maximum magnification! Show me the science encampment and where the Obelisk should be!"

The screen blinked and displayed the stated area.

"There's a Starfleet shuttle where the Obelisk was," Kol growled accusingly.

"The encampment is being hit by something, and the shuttle looks like it is in trouble too," Kron noted, then added, "Though it looks like it's already dissipating…"

He trailed off thoughtfully and Kol caught on. "It jumped away, as before."

Kron sighed. "Well, that was only a matter of time."

Kol replied, "You believe it finished recharging and simply left."

Kron nodded. "I had hoped that our battlecruiser would get here before it did and prove that it was not our incompetence but a lack of firepower that would allow its escape."

"You don't believe that even together we would have been able to destroy it, or at least crack it open?"

"No." Changing gears, he ordered, "Hail the Starfleet ship. Time to blame them for it."

Kol grinned, showing the points of his teeth.

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Captain, it's GONE!"

"What? On screen!" Harrington ordered. The very junior crewmember manning the bridge science station in Lieutenant Xa-Havereii's absence could have been excused their lack of professionalism but Caitlin needed information.

He transferred the feed from the science station's monitors to the main viewscreen, and sure enough the giant purple-black was gone from the orbital view of the valley.

"Captain! The Klingon ship is raising shields and arming weapons!"

"Raise our shields! Yellow Alert!" Danilov instantly barked.

"We need to find out what happened! Kron may blame us and attack!" Bonnie called out in alarm.

"Show me the feed from the science team's position! Comms, get me Lieutenant Xa-Havereii!" Harrington barked.

The image of the far end of the valley below appeared on the main viewer – on its side and askew, clearly knocked over. All it did was confirm the vast emptiness where the Obelisk had been.

But it also showed their shuttlecraft spinning like a leaf in a gale.

"Track the shuttle! Make sure they're okay and find out what happened! Also, long range sensor sweep! Locate the Object!"

"Aye-aye, Sir!"

Danilov spoke up. "Captain, we didn't find this thing until we stumbled over it. Sensors will be useless in finding it."

"We don't know that, Commander. Maybe after it moves it becomes detectable. Perhaps it was in shut-down mode before. We know nothing outside of what the Klingons told—"

"Captain! The Klingons are hailing us!"

Kate nodded to Lamar and Kron's angry voice filled the bridge.

"Harrington, what did you do?! Where's my target?!"

Shuttlecraft Camel

A grip like duranium clamped around her forearm and Charlie's impromptu solo flight was arrested – for the moment.

"HOLD ON, ENSIGN!!" Toron bellowed almost in slow motion over the howl of the shockingly sudden hurricane that erupted all around them as the planet's atmosphere rushed past to fill the vacuum left by the now-gone Obelisk.

Charlene felt a pain so intense she thought she'd pass out wrench at her shoulder as she flipped up horizontal and almost flew over the shuttle.

She heard indistinct yelling from within it, still less than two metres distant, and twisted her head around to see what was going on. Unfortunately on the way there she ended up looking down, and saw the churning waves of the disturbed lake from the terrifying height of two hundred-plus metres above it – with precisely zero support between her and that angry-looking surface.

Panic clawed its way up her throat, threatening to erupt into a shriek but she tore her gaze away to lock onto the shuttle hatch "above" the long axis of her body.

Toron held onto her with a death grip, his teeth bared with the effort of being her safety harness; one arm on hers, his other with a similar death grip on the rail she'd been holding onto only seconds before.

Charlie could also see Mostafa with his arm around Toron's torso and his other similarly wrapped around the handrail, bracing the Klingon as best he could.

He yelled something at the pilots as the hurricane finally began to ease and suddenly Charlie was arching lazily through the air directly at the shuttle hatch and Toron.

She "fell" in through the angled hatch as the shuttle descended underneath her and rolled away, and with yet more shocking suddenness she cannonballed into both men. They ended up in a tangled heap on the shuttle's still-heaving deck.

The groans of the abused were drowned out by the fading but still powerful voice of the hurricane.

Nytigen and Omniks finally brought the shuttle under control and became audible again by moving away from its epicentre, and the deck stabilised at last as they flew back to their temporary base. They brought the Camel down in a clear space outside the encampment's former boundaries as the "shuttlepad" they'd lifted off from was strewn with debris scattered by the powerful winds.

Safely on the ground with the whine of interior generators winding down in her ears, Charlie shoved and dragged herself clear of the pile of bodies to yell angrily.


Several minutes later Charlie was having her shoulder "treated" by Mostafa with a hypospray full of analgesic from the shuttle's medikit.

"I'm sorry Charlie, we don't have a medic down here yet and the tricorder says you'll need treatment from Sickbay equipment. This pain blocker is the best I can do for you until then."

Charlie smiled her gratitude. "Thanks, Mos. This'll do fine until I get that."

His answering smile blinked and then fizzled as her saviour made his presence felt again.

"You popped it as if it were a balloon, Ensign!" Toron boomed, the mirth evident in his eyes. "Who would have believed the power of one Human scientist and her stick could vanquish so mighty a foe as could defy our warship!"

Toron burst into gales of uproarious laughter at her hang-dog expression.

Still standing beside the shuttle at its new landing spot they all turned to stare over at the end of the valley that had housed their huge mystery object but which was now as empty as Charlie's own reservoir of nerves.

Charlie groaned as if in pain and Mostafa looked back sharply, but she shook her head at him and addressed her saviour. "Toron, you're not helping."

At his toothy grin she relented and gave a tired chuckle. She then rotated her wrenched shoulder carefully to test its mobility and expecting to wince, but was surprised at the effectiveness of the pain blocker.

"At least we have a to-the-millisecond record of what happened," Mostafa volunteered.

"We'd better get to analysing it then. The ship will be yelling for answers from us in seconds, if they're not already."

She looked to Toron again. Puffing herself up and addressing him almost formally, she tried to bellow in a Klingon style. "Lieutenant Toron, you have my gratitude for saving my life!"

Toron smiled more naturally but it was still a Klingon smile: showing teeth and looking dangerous. "I did not want Starfleet to lose one of its few relatable people!" he told her with a heavily-lidded, almost evil looking-grin.

Charlie had no clue what to make of that and settled on an unfortunately limp-sounding, "Ah, thanks!"

Toron snorted and chuckled again.

"Well, let's find out if any of the base camp equipment survived in working order, and then if any of our stuff recorded anything that would explain any of this."

Bridge, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"Commander Danilov, get me some answers from the base camp. Find out what the shuttle crew actually did."

"Aye Sir," Stephan responded and strode across the bridge to the Mission Ops station to coordinate their response.

"Commander Kron, we have no answers yet, for you or for ourselves. Did your ship's sensors record anything? Or those of your science team on the planet?" Harrington immediately hit the ball into his court.

"Ship's sensors show nothing more than the Obelisk being there one splinter of a second and utterly gone without trace in the next. We are querying our ground team as we speak, much like yourselves," Kron beetled back.

An uncomfortable silence expanded into the gap in conversation until minutes later Danilov finally announced, "Captain, we have a preliminary incident report from the science team."

"Go ahead Commander. We have nothing to hide from the Klingons."

"Aye Sir." His hesitation was admirably brief. Striding across the bridge to the Comms station, he ordered into the open channel, "Lieutenant Xa-Havereii, go ahead."

"Yes Commander. Unfortunately the science camp is in disarray and some equipment was damaged due to the weather effects from the Obelisk's entirely unforeseen departure so we do not have a complete picture as yet, but up to that point we had noted nothing different or changing from the last two hours of observation. The shuttle crew however have something at least to contribute. I have the mission commander here now, Ensign Jensen. Deliver your report, Ensign."

A new and very young-sounding voice came on.

"Yes, Lieutenant. Sirs, there had been no change in readings right up to the moment we took the shuttle in, and further there was no response from the Obelisk up to the moment it vanished right in front of me," Charlene Jensen began to the most intimidating audience she'd ever addressed. She fought to keep her voice level and firm. "After inviting Lieutenant Toron along from the Klingon contingent and taking him aboard with his equipment—"

"You let a Klingon on board our shuttle?!" Danilov broke in hotly, then realised his faux pas as Kron growled ominously from the viewscreen.

"You have a problem with my Chief Science Officer accompanying your clearly more enlightened science team on their science probe mission, Commander Danilov?"

Danilov's back stiffened as he turned to face his captain and the Klingon commander. He stole a quick glance at Harrington, who merely quirked an eyebrow at him. Clearly, it was up to him to address his diplomatic fumble.

"No disrespect intended, Commander Kron. Merely expressing concern over allowing access to potentially sensitive Starfleet technology to a crewmember of the ship that was actively battering our shields not three hours ago, and which had attempted to destroy our other shuttle from practically the moment we'd launched it."

He rounded off his not-apology with a level stare directly at the Klingon commander. Never apologise, and don't back down! Danilov remembered from his cultural primer on Klingon-Federation relations – revised post-Taal Tan and Khatanga.

He caught Harrington's minute nod of approval before she stated, "If we're done scoring points off each other perhaps the ensign can finish her report?"

Danilov could have sworn he caught the ghost of a smirk on Kron's face before he impassively growled, "Very well."

Stephan was intensely irritated. Still messing with us, even now?

"Thank you Captain," Jansen's voice issued forth once more. "As I was saying, with Lieutenant Toron aboard we carefully approached the upper surface of the Obelisk in a slow, oblique, non-threatening manner, drew level with its outermost edge, and held position while I stepped out onto the nacelle and… extended our physical probe."

The entire bridge crews of two vessels clearly heard Ensign Jensen's acute embarrassment at this phrase.

"All this time our sensors continued to record precisely zero information about the Obelisk and its internal workings. When our… probe… made physical contact with its outer surface the Obelisk instantly vanished. Our sensor readings remained completely unchanged except for one: we detected a burst of neutrinos."

"Are you sure of this, Ensign?" Harrington queried.

"Yes, Captain. After breaking free of the hurricane and landing safely we analysed our data. We were… somewhat occupied during its departure. To that end, Captain, Commander Kron, I would like to make note that during that hurricane, Lieutenant Toron saved my life by preventing me from being sucked out of the shuttle and plummeting to my death on the valley floor below. Lieutenant Toron has my intense gratitude."

Harrington and Danilov exchanged looks with each other, then turned to see their actions mirrored on the Klingon bridge.

"Then Lieutenant Toron also has the gratitude of this crew and myself," Harrington stated generously, removing any incredulity from her tone. Weren't these guys trying to kill us only hours ago?

"We will certainly… commend Lieutenant Toron for his actions here today," Kron stated expansively, a grin tugging at his lips, before changing gears. "It does seem however that we have learned precisely that one thing from our joint science mission. Cursory scans of the planet and star system have not revealed our adversary. We will be staying to perform more thorough scans in case it has merely moved to a different location either on this planet or within the star system, but our only chance is those neutrino emissions suddenly appearing where we can zero in on. I believe it will have done as it has done within Klingon space; moved outside of sensor range."

"As we will likely be unable to detect it until after it appears, we can only hope that its controlling intelligence has learned to avoid Klingon territory through the strength and persistence of our reaction to it, and the nature of that reaction."

Changing gears yet again, Kron announced with some finality, "Captain Harrington, I am withdrawing our science team. Yours and your ship will similarly be allowed to leave unmolested."

"This communication ends."

The main viewscreen went dark, to be replaced by the forward view of the planet's limb.

"Well, that was the most verbose and communicative he's ever been," Kate commented. "Do you think that he doesn't want to speak with us again and was giving us a data dump?"

"That's how it sounded to me," Danilov replied, nodding. "He's basically given us his itinerary for the next few hours and clearly expects us to simply pack up and leave, and for us to leave him alone while we do it."

"Typical Klingon mentality to believe because we have no hard data that we have nothing," Harrington observed caustically. Addressing Ki'aron's stand-in at science, she asked, "Crewman, do you have any readings on the Obelisk?"

After a quick sweep of his screens the young Andorian thaan felt confident enough to reply. "No Captain. We've detected no further neutrino bursts nor sudden gravimetric disturbances anywhere across the system, and we've been unable to detect it via realspace sensors anywhere in view on the planet's surface. Though I must qualify that with the fact that our view is static from geosynchronous orbit."

"Thank you, Crewman," Caitlin responded. She turned to Danilov. "Get all our people back aboard and schedule a debrief for after the data has been analysed."

"Aye, Captain," he replied and returned to the Mission Ops station.

"Bonnie, let's pack up our rubbish. Get the ship ready to depart at warp speed."

"Aye-aye, Sir."

Chapter Ten

Science Basecamp, Planet's Surface

"Ensigns!" Toron boomed at them again, and Charlie felt a slow grin spread across her face as she turned from securing their portable photic sonar with Mostafa into the shuttle to greet her saviour.

"Lieutenant Toron," she acknowledged the jovial Klingon Fusion warmly, walking down the shuttle's open rear hatch to meet him.

"We are leaving!" He swept his right hand out behind him to indicate the somewhat frantic breaking down of the Klingon side of their "joint" basecamp. "I came to bid you farewell."

"We've been ordered back to the ship as well," Charlie told him, indicating her own side's controlled frenzy behind her with a thumb pointed over her shoulder.

Mostafa, Nytigen, and Omniks paused in loading up the Camel with the camp's bulkiest and most oversized equipment to regard the Klingon as well. The shuttle was none-the-worse for its ordeal, unlike its sister, the Pup.

Mostafa also stepped out to approach the Klingon. "I don't think I said it yet, but thank you for saving Charlie's life, Lieutenant," he stated loudly, though not without nervousness. He held out his hand.

Toron took it unreservedly. "You value your comrade. It does you honour."

Mostafa blinked but broke into a relieved grin that his overture had not been ignored or rebuffed. Toron had even refrained from crushing his hand.

"Perhaps we shall meet again, Ensigns. Space is vast but Fate conspires to have people meet again and again," he announced grandiosely. "Farewell."

"May you die well!" Charlie bellowed as best she could, and stuck her own hand out.

Toron looked surprised but then gave his "Klingon" smile. "From your lips to Kahless' ears, Charlie Jensen!"

He briefly gripped her forearm warrior-style, and walked away.

Charlie watched him go.

Mostafa observed, "You like him, don't you?"

Charlie nodded bemusedly. "He's not what I expected from a Klingon, that's for sure. Besides," she added with a glare of realisation at what Mos might also be meaning, "what's not to like? You like him too!"

"I wouldn't go that far, but he's certainly a lot more likeable than the rest of his science team. Perhaps it's because he's a Fusion?"

Charlie's glare softened. "Perhaps." She shook her head. "Okay, let's get back to loading the shuttle or our chief science officer will be coming down on our heads."

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

"Korgath, hail the science team on the planet. I want Toron up here now for a debriefing. Kol, you will supervise the recall of our personnel and equipment. Beam down immediately."

They both acknowledged and Kol left the bridge. Minutes later the swap had taken place and Toron stood in Kol's place.

"Commander, reporting as ordered," he announced. "I have brought a copy of the data recorded from the camp and the Starfleet shuttle."

Kron nodded approvingly. "Present your analysis, Science Officer."

Stepping over to the science station and beckoning his superior officer, Toron dismissed the junior crewmember there to their apparent relief.

Kron saw it and was annoyed. He may be the captain of a cruiser and a warrior of some prowess, but that crewman was still a Klingon even if he was in the science department. A Klingon should never cower, not even from another Klingon. Is Toron being a QuchHa affecting the morale and nature of his staff? Kron wondered. It did not predispose him well towards his science officer.

Blissfully unaware of his superior's changing mood, Toron brought up the data from the wafer he'd inserted into the science station console.

"As you can see, nothing we attempted bore any fruit. Every type of sensor we could bring to bear on it even from extreme close range remained devoid of any data beyond that of the physical exterior."

Kron observed all the various data channels from the timelined data stream. He was forced to admit that Toron had tried everything he could think of himself.

"Then came the shuttle mission. Their stated objective was to physically touch the object to see if it would provoke a response." Toron turned to Kron and stated humorously, "By that goal, I would have to say that their experiment was a success!"

Kron snorted despite himself.

"Perhaps the Obelisk realised that it could be physically damaged by a ground assault and jumped away with what energy reserves it had amassed… It could even have been a reflexive reaction. Or perhaps it was simply coincidence." Toron shrugged resignedly. "It is likely we will never know, unless a Klingon fleet successfully brings it to battle and cracks it open to spill its secrets. Until then, we have nothing."

"Except this neutrino emission signature," Kron rumbled, still displeased.

"Yes, except that, and its physical presence," Toron confirmed, bringing both up on individual screens.

The inverted purple-black pyramid hung there once again, mocking him from one screen. From the other, an interesting graphic went through its motions for him. It was an energy signature. It didn't mean much to Kron, except as a way to track and identify their enemy.

To that end, he ordered, "Perform another sensor sweep. Can we detect this signature anywhere in the system now?"

Toron immediately worked his board. "No neutrinos detected on the planet outside of the dispersing cloud at the Obelisk's original location. It's still too early to detect neutrinos arriving from the outer system, but gravitic sensors detect no new source of increased mass system-wide either. Also, nothing on any EM bounce-back sensors in the immediate spatial vicinity."

"So it jumped out-system," Kron summed up heavily.

"That is my conclusion, Sir."

"Very well. Maintain your station, Lieutenant, and report immediately if you believe you've located it."

"Yes Sir," Toron repeated.

"Helm! Plot a survey orbit for complete coverage of the planetary surface using realspace sensors. Co-ordinate parameters with Lieutenant Toron at Science. Lay in that orbit when ready, but do not implement until my order!"

"Understood, Sir!" Gor'Pech barked back.

Kron turned to Toron with a look.

"Acknowledged, Commander."

"Korgath, prepare a message burst for Sector Command to inform them that the Obelisk has jumped away out of our sensor range and we are rescinding our request for a capital unit; it is no longer necessary at this location. Compile our ship's logs and any and all data about the Obelisk from Lieutenant Toron. Ensure you include the precise neutrino emission signature we recorded. Recommend that Command distribute this information to all Klingon vessels, outposts, and worlds, so that they know what they are up against if they detect it."

"At once, Commander!"

"We shall await the return of our personnel from the surface, then begin," Kron elaborated as he returned to the command throne, where he sat and regarded the planet on the viewscreen with a heavy glower.


With deft and gentle thruster pulses Crewman Nytigen drifted the Camel into the Bigglesworth's shuttlebay, set into the ventral saucer surface forward and above the tactical sensor array. Delicately and precisely alighting on the checkerboard-patterned landing guide, she waited for and received the shuttle deck officer's signal to power down. The control booth cleanly attached the clamp from the overhead track system, which lifted the shuttle back off the cramped deck and rotated it to face outwards. Next, they were slid off to the left through an atmospheric forcefield and set down again in the boarding and disembarkation/loading and unloading area.

"We're here," Nytigen announced, and every one stretched out or breathed easy.

Ever the irreverent joker, Omniks announced, "Please bring your flight attendant to an upright position and observe that the seatbelt light is now off."

Charlie just groaned at the centuries old groaner while Nytigen and Mostafa graced Omniks with matched pitying looks. Landing in an escort-style shuttlebay – shuttle utility closet, Charlie griped – was nothing like landing in a cruiser's cavernous shuttle deck. It was more like squeezing a ground flitter into a 3D rack of parking slots than bringing a small interplanetary craft down on a proper landing pad deserving of the name.

The deck crew secured the shuttle to the deck to prevent shifting and an indicator lit up on the shuttle's control board. Omniks popped the rear hatch and lowered it, forming the ramp to the deck.

While Nytigen and Omniks post-flighted the shuttle Mostafa walked to the opening and called out, "Officer of the Deck, we need some assistance in offloading all this gear. Can you assign some people?"

Charlie felt proper gratitude towards him for that act of kindness as her wrenched shoulder had started hurting again, breaking through the mild pain blocker that Mos had administered over an hour ago now.

Mostafa saw her wince. Gently but firmly he stated, "Charlie, let's get you to Sickbay and get you fixed up."

"No argument from me—"

"Attention, attention." Lieutenant Lamar's voice broke in from the shuttlebay's Master Circuit PA. "Camel shuttle crew report to Briefing Room One for immediate debrief."

"I'll handle this," Mos told her and went to lean on a 'com panel. "Bridge, this is Ensign Nijjar of the shuttle crew. Ensign Jensen was injured during the mission. Request permission to take her to Sickbay for treatment first."

The response was quick in coming. "Ensign Nijjar, permission granted. Please give us an update on Ensign Jensen's condition after you get to Sickbay. Bridge out."

"Nice of them," Charlie noted, her voice tight.

"Thoughtful, even," Mostafa agreed, shepherding her towards the nearest turbolift. "Let's get you sorted."

"Thanks for the ride!" she called back to the shuttle pilots through the closing doors.

Omniks and Nytigen shared a bemused look before getting back to finishing the shuttle's post-flight checks.

Briefing Room One, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"…and as you can see from all our data channels, we obtained zero information beyond the fact of its physical existence, dimensions, and calculated attributes derived thereof," Lieutenant Xa-Havereii rounded off his unfortunately brief presentation.

"Every edge, five hundred metres long. Height, three hundred and fifty four-point-five-five metres. Volume, nearly twenty-nine-point-five million metres cubed" Danilov recited. "This, and that neutrino emissions signature is the sum total of our verifiable facts about this entity."

"But not the sum total of our knowledge, Commander," Harrington reminded. "Several inferences can be drawn if not proven, and theories proposed about how it operates. This is what we are actually here to discuss, as we had all these facts beforehand."

"Ensigns?" Danilov prompted.

Jensen and Nijjar shared a look and a reminiscence of a certain absent Klingon, but quickly spoke up.

"Unfortunately, Sirs, we don't have much more to add from direct empirical observation. It was there, and then it was not," Mostafa offered.

"I barely touched it with the probe." Charlie was not calling it a stick. Not here, never again. "I felt a moment of resistance, of actual contact, and pushed very slightly harder to ascertain the 'give' – would it feel like wood, plastic, metal, neutronium? – and it had disappeared before I had a chance to register the fact. And then the hurricane started."

"What happened to the stick?" Caitlin Harrington asked, betraying Charlie.

"Captain, I… I lost it." Her face flamed red.

"You… lost my stick?" Harrington asked, deadpan.

"Captain…!" she replied plaintively.

"Relax, Ensign. I'm joking with you," Kate broke into a grin. "But seriously, what happened to it? I would have liked to be able to run tests on it to analyse the point of contact. Perhaps it had trace elements, potential temperature variations, radiation signatures, anything."

Charlie looked pained. "It flew out of my hand when I was sucked out of the shuttle. I dropped it and it flew away in the hurricane. We did look, hoping to do exactly what you're suggesting Sir, but we never found it. Sorry, Captain."

Danilov sighed but Kate brushed it off. "With as little as the Obelisk has given us to date, I doubt we'd have gotten anything except the short end of the stick," she joked.

At the blank looks, Kate sighed. So much for 'dad jokes', then. "It's an old expression, meaning to be in the disadvantageous position in a situation. Just a little wordplay." She cleared her throat. "Anyway. What can we theorise about this object to include in our exceptionally sparse report to Starfleet?"

Xa-Havereii instantly took that up as if he'd been waiting for it to be laid down. "Captain, its translocation is clearly not warp drive, or even Transwarp drive. It must operate on completely different principles of motion for FTL travel to anything we've encountered. This much is obvious. What isn't obvious is precisely – or even generally – what those different principles might be."

"You have some theories, Lieutenant?" Danilov asked.

"No. But I have ideas and speculation." At Harrington's nod of encouragement, Ki'aron began. "Since we did not observe it move, nor detect a pre-departure energy build-up or a post-departure trajectory to track, several possibilities present themselves.

"One: It cloaked itself with something far superior to anything the Romulans, Klingons, or Suliban ever have or had, and moved away rapidly enough to cause the weather disturbances. Perhaps it merely moved to a different locale where it could warp out unobserved.

"Two: An advanced and practical form of Transwarp where it opened a conduit and instantly transitioned the threshold.

"Three: Wormhole technology, an order of magnitude or more above Transwarp, which either let it escape onto a wormhole for transit through to another location, or allowing an instant transition from one point in space/time to another.

"Four: Highly advanced and fast transporter technology allowing it to beam itself across interstellar distances, much like the Terra-Luna boosted waveguide transporter system you Earth Humans keep trying to build because four hours in a shuttle or mere minutes in a low-warp shuttle is too long to wait."

Harrington and Danilov exchanged a glance.

"Or finally, Five: unknown means utilising substrata of the universe we are currently unaware of, or technological principles we are yet to even theorise about."

Ki'aron paused there to let all of that sink in, and Kate took the moment to interject. "An admirably extensive list of options. However, we might as well immediately discount Option Five as we would be unable to explain anything of that nature."

"Agreed, Captain," Ki'aron stated simply. "I merely included it out of completeness in considering all options for our report to Starfleet."

"It's the fact that it disappeared within a single nanosecond," Charlie advanced. "Nothing we know of or can hypothesise about – for FTL transportation – happens that quickly. It could have opened a wormhole terminus or Transwarp corridor and slid inside it… but it just did it too fast for even our best sensors to see it happen."

"Not necessarily, Ensign," Zathras refuted her. "Instead of an external opening it had to create for it to move towards and through as we believe any stable wormhole would have to operate, it may have had an internal mechanism or process that shields that 'happening' from our direct observation. Much like our own warp drive makes our ships appear to recede in an n-dimensional direction to an observer with FTL sensors, to an observer without them we too cease to exist almost instantaneously within their frame of reference."

They all sat back to digest that, but then Harrington posed the question: "With all this stated, what is our consensus for what actually happened, also bearing in mind the neutrino flux we detected?"

"That flux cannot be power generation," Zathras stated. "Otherwise we'd have detected it the entire time the object was here."

"Unless it was in shut-down, on low-power, or in a sleep mode, to regenerate its power reserves," Bonnie countered.

"If it was its power source, regenerating its reserves would have required that power source to be operating at a high rate, and thus detectable," Zathras refuted the Chief of Ship Operations.

"Hmm. A good point well made, Mr. Zathras," Bonnie had to admit.

"I tend to discount the advanced cloak option as well," Jarinek offered. "If it had an amazing cloak like this to begin with, why not use it to simply not be found?"

"Makes sense to me," Danilov agreed.

"Perhaps it didn't have the power to operate until it had regenerated its reserves?" Bonnie suggested, continuing her power theme.

"And yet it was able to operate this super-draining hyper-cloak and its FTL drive at the same time to finally escape us?" Zathras countered yet again.

"Again, a good point well made." Bonnie's chagrin was visible.

"So, we're left with some form of wormhole technology," Danilov recapped.

"Unobservable wormhole technology," Xa-Havereii amended.

"Would opening and/or closing a wormhole termini cause a neutrino surge?" Charlie asked, only partially to be included in the high-level discussion again.

"We've never observed a stable wormhole so we can't tell if it would or wouldn't," Bonnie replied.

"The only wormholes we have direct experience of are generated by a matter/antimatter imbalance in the generation of a ship's warp field," Zathras commented. "These are things to be avoided at all costs, less we lose a ship forever to the time dilation effects experienced within that frame of reference as a wormhole to nowhere in subspace."

That thought and mental image sent a shudder through most present. They all knew the story of how the newly-uprated U.S.S. Enterprise and her untested, vastly more powerful warp engines had almost suffered that exact fate during her relaunch over fifteen years ago.

"Some theoretical models of wormhole… 'operation' – for lack of a better term – do include bursts of exotic particles being emitted during the forming or establishing of a wormhole termini in the fabric of space/time. Neutrinos are one such postulated exotic particle." Ki'aron informed them at length, dragging them back from one of the worst spectres of interstellar travel.

"So, we have a hypothesised wormhole generator that functions within the object itself to shield it from being scanned as it happens, with the Obelisk moving into or somehow… folding itself inside it faster than our sensors can detect it. Very interesting! I believe this is good enough for the Science Department to explore a little bit further offline," Harrington commented. "Now, does anyone have thoughts on how the Obelisk managed to neutralise the Klingon's full-power orbital assault?"

The rampant speculation based on scant evidence kicked off in earnest, and it only got wilder as more people put their imaginations to work.


Briefing Room One, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

"…thank you all for coming. This was most enlightening and productive." Changing gears, Harrington announced, "This concludes our business in this system. We need to resume our patrol route, so return to your stations and prepare the ship for warp speed. Dismissed."

As her crew all stood up and filed towards the door Harrington added, "Mr. Danilov, if you could please remain."

Nonplussed, Stephan merely nodded and resumed his seat, joining Harrington at the table and awaited the others to finish leaving the room.

"Commander, we have a disciplinary matter to discuss, and since I have you here I wanted an update."

Update? On a disciplinary matter? Stephan felt blindsided for a moment by Harrington's unhelpfully detail-free announcement, but then he realised what she must mean.

"Ah yes. I had dealt with the issue, Captain. I will detail it for you in my report," Stephan told her.

"We're here now, Lieutenant Commander. Brief me in," Harrington insisted.

"Aye Sir." Stephan suppressed an irritated sigh and took a moment to marshal his thoughts. "Our best shuttle pilot Ensign M'Rowl… stunned her superior officer with a low-power phaser shot during her harrowing escape from the Klingon shuttles. Upon self-reporting this to her Department Chief Officer and surrendering herself for punishment, her D.C.O. removed her from the flight roster for no less than two weeks, forbade her any flight time real or simulated during that time, and confined her to quarters for that time."

Caitlin Harrington raised both eyebrows at the end of the punishment list but allowed Stephan to continue uninterrupted.

"After interviewing the ensign myself and later on Lieutenant Duderstadt, I endorsed the D.C.O.'s disciplinary regime and considered the matter closed. Upon the conclusion of this mission it was my intention to give this information to you in a full report." He hesitated momentarily but pushed on. "May I ask how you came to know of it ahead of my as-yet-unwritten report?"

"You may indeed. Apparently Lieutenant Duderstadt feels grievously wronged by such an assault on his person, unexpected and unprovoked, by a fellow officer. He feels he now has trust issues both with Ensign M'Rowl and the chain of command that has failed him, in the persons of his Department Chief Officer and the First Officer of the ship. He feels that the only person he could place his trust in is the Captain herself, and furthermore demands that Ensign M'Rowl be formally reprimanded, and also serve time in the brig for assaulting a fellow officer."

Stephan's eyes widened at this recital then narrowed at the way she delivered it. "He filed a formal complaint?"

"He filed a formal complaint. Further, he filed it directly with me, feeling that it would not get to me unmodified going through this chain of command; his 'loss of trust' in the aforementioned officers in not representing his unprejudiced version of events."

"What will you do? And what did he say happened?" Danilov pressed. "I believe M'Rowl's version. She is adamant that she very nearly lost the shuttle twice from his c– to his reactions. They were under very real attack from two armed Klingon shuttles. The burnt-out shield generator and dented duranium hull attest to that! This scenario would have ended completely differently had M'Rowl and Duderstadt been killed or captured by Kron."

Harrington was taken slightly aback by Danilov's vehemence. Clearly, this was no disinterested senior officer merely rubber-stamping his duties. He was rather fiercely defending the junior shuttle pilot from her senior mission commander.

He'd even almost accused that mission commander of cowardice.

"I pressed him on his version of events and he said she was overreacting to his 'surprised exclamations' and 'words of caution'. How did the lieutenant seem to you?"

"Captain, when I heard of this I went down there fully ready to back the lieutenant to the hilt and take Ensign M'Rowl's head off. Assaulting a superior officer, with a phaser?!" Stephan shook his head in disbelief. "But after talking with both of them, I know who I believe. They were in a life-or-death situation. And M'Rowl took the time to secure Lieutenant Duderstadt in the restraint webbing in the back of the shuttle, at yet more risk to both of their lives.

"Should she have done it? Of course not. Should she face no consequences for it? Of course not! She and all the crew need to know that this is not the way to handle things. But was it done out of fear, or malice? No. Do I believe that she saved both of their lives? Yes. Do I believe her that he was screaming like a terrified child or believe him that he was merely alarmed and advising caution? I believe her."

"You don't like Lieutenant Duderstadt."

"After this? No Captain, I don't. Before this, I didn't know him well at all. He seemed pleasant enough and properly respectful, where I know M'Rowl can be a bit… rough around the edges. She's already on my scopes. But this… And as you are aware, Captain, 'liking' one officer over another does not enter into disciplinary hearings."

"Very well. I'll talk to Ensign M'Rowl and make my own determination of her truthfulness. In my interview with the lieutenant I did sense an… embarrassment, an… undercurrent of evasiveness. But in accepting your judgement on the matter in the interim… it seems that Lieutenant Duderstadt has a problem. One we'll need to address."

"Yes, he's–" Stephan began with an angry undertone, but when the quality of the mood in the room instantly changed he became very aware of Harrington's sudden cool look of impassive regard. Stephan swallowed what he was going to say and forced himself to take a step back emotionally.

Harrington noted it and asked neutrally, "How has Duderstadt performed up until now?"

Danilov recalled the details he'd familiarised himself with for this fracas and said slowly, "His record is clean of even minor disciplinary matters, unlike M'Rowl's. He's acquitted himself well on numerous landing party duties, though with no special note made either. And he has been promoted twice, the last time to full lieutenant in line with his assignment to the Bigglesworth."

"And it has been front-line starship duty, not light or behind the lines assignments. So he's not been obviously craven or useless in his eight years since graduating the Academy. Wouldn't you say?" Harrington asked pointedly.

Danilov found himself nodding and to his surprise his outrage quickly drained away. "What do you want to do, Captain?"

"I'd say that we've just uncovered a phobia or unrealised fear. This is not something to blame the lieutenant for. It is something to help him get past."

Danilov stared hard at his hands. "My reaction to him. Perhaps mine and his D.C.O.'s. It forced him to try to defend his reputation. His future career. Because I just saw an adult male who was so scared he endangered the life put under his responsibility."

The weird air of crystalline tension in the room broke. "You impress me, Lieutenant Commander." Harrington's words were warm and did indeed contain admiration. "We will get to the bottom of Lieutenant Duderstadt's real issue, and as his senior officers we shall help him learn how to control them, cope with them, and get past them to emerge stronger and more capable from this ordeal. We will not be hanging anyone out to dry."

"Aye Captain. I'll be sure to convey that I am fully on board with this course of action once you've had your chance to explore the issue with him."

"Good man. Once I know what ails the lieutenant I can devise a Personal Improvement Plan for his D.C.O. to implement. This officer will have the full support of his command staff."

Stephan nodded, feeling humbled. "And Ensign M'Rowl's punishment?"

Harrington steepled her fingers. "I'll attempt to convince Wilhelm – Lieutenant Duderstadt – that her standing disciplinary measures are sufficient, once everything is said and done. I don't want her career so adversely affected before it's begun either."

"Here's hoping he'll see the logic on that approach."

"Thank you, Lieutenant Commander. Let's be about our patrol.

"Aye Captain."

They both stood and made their way to the bridge.

Bridge, I.K.V. Shredder

"There she goes. Finally."

"Good riddance to her," Kol added with feeling.

"Calm yourself, Commander. She was by no means the worst Fed we've ever encountered."

Kol remained unconvinced. "That's debatable. She was however perhaps the most… irritating."

Kron grinned. "Yes, she was rather fun to play with, wasn't she? And we did get to shoot at her without starting another war."

Kol's eyebrows raised less aggressively. "True, there was that."

"In fact, we got to annoy her with sensor hazing, have sport with her shuttle, blast her ship, pick her crew's brains for answers we sought, blame her for everything, and we still parted on good terms!" Kron recapped with increasing glee.

"But for all that, we still didn't complete our mission," Kol countered.

"True, but it would seem that we would not complete it anyway. It would have jumped away before our planetary search grid had us entering that valley so we'd never even have found it, never mind got the chance to pound it with ships' weapons or analyse it at close range."

"Hmm. Another point, for sure," Kol allowed.

"And all for the swampy bottomland price of getting 'friendly' with the Earthers and their allies."

"Ah. Speaking of which," Kol commented darkly, turning to face the science station.

"Ah indeed," Kron agreed, his own visage falling onto a playful glower. "Science Officer zan Toron."

Toron's back was immediately put up at such sickly sweet honourifics from his commander. He'd been listening with increasing dismay to the conversation of the ship's two senior officers just waiting on this. Without turning from his work, he offered, "Yes, Commander?"

"You too did your bit for Federation-Klingon relations on the planet. Quite the diplomat, in fact. Official thanks of a Starfleet officer and a Federation starship commander.

"Your point, Commander?" Toron gritted out.

Kron grinned nastily at Kol before addressing Toron again.

"About that… commendation."

D Deck, Junior Officers Quarters, U.S.S. Bigglesworth

Charlie Jensen finally made it out of all debriefings and the end of her duty shift, her head still ringing from the extended speculation and analysis of the Obelisk and its attributes.

Her shoulder still almost ached with the memory of pain long since removed, and she was dog tired at the end of such a long and demanding day.

"I'm sorry guys, no Rec Room for me today. I'm all talked out and just want some downtime alone in my quarters," she'd begged off the usual post-shift routine with her fellow Beta-shifters.

She'd taken the turbolift to her quarters on D Deck with her thoughts full of a cleansing sonic shower followed by a blissful and re-invigorating – if short – hot water shower, and then hours of just listening to relaxing music or even viewing an entertainment holo.

Those happy thoughts lasted all the way up until the door to her quarters slid open.

Her shared quarters.

Shared with someone who should have been back on shift herself but was still in those quarters.

Someone who was pacing like a caged tiger, and looked the part too.

"M'Rowl!" Charlie groaned, remembering the tale told by Nytigen and Omniks on the planet they'd left behind hours ago.

The primary shuttle pilot of the Bigglesworth paused mid yowl and turned on the interloper to her own pity party/rage-quit of duty.

"Charlie!" she snarled in a high rage. "They grounded me! ME!"

Jensen stepped into their quarters to observe the slovenly disaster area M'Rowl had made of the entire room and despaired. Her night of peace and tranquillity had just been sucked out into space as if through a hull breach.

"Oh M'Rowl… what did you do?!"