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Military Sacrifice

©03 The Media Desk
and the USS RAVEN(ift) crew


      The Admiral behind the oversize desk was glum. His face, expressionless.
      "Captain Lukas. You are familiar with the term 'Military Sacrifice' aren't you?"
      Lukas nodded slowly. "Yes sir, but I thought Star Fleet did not use that tactic as a matter of principle."
      "Things have changed."

      The RAVEN's one-ship crusade had seen some outstanding victories, and a few staggering defeats.
      The ship that had started out as an emergency replacement for vessels damaged or destroyed at Wolf-359 by the first major Borg incursion into Federation space had undergone outward changes so dramatic it's own designers and builders at Utopia Planitia and the Mars yards may not have recognized it. The weapons pod had been completely replaced recently after having been blown clear off the ship last year. Before that the engines had been upgraded to coaxial warp by the mysterious Patrol and its Colonel Romack. Secondary shield emitters bulged from the saucer, extra quantum and temporal torpedo launchers projected here and there. There was also the transwarp conduit detector intake, a subspace signature damper trailed behind the ship like a tail.
      Inside the changes were even more striking. One of Star Fleet's few operational cloaking devices sat humming in engineering, the metaphasic shield generator was still there even though it hadn't lived up to its hype. Entire sections of the NEBULA class ship's superstructure which were to have been devoted to creature comforts for its crew or diplomatic or cargo functions had been replaced by storage, energy generation equipment, weapons and other gear of war or extended missions in deep space. The science section was now totally dominated by the sensors and analysis machinery necessary to detect the Borg and devise ways to defeat them. One of the more unusual features was in a room which had been labeled as the Midshipman's Lounge on the original blueprint was now dominated by a unit that extended through the bulkhead into an adjoining former crew quarters. The unit was designed with one purpose, to reverse engineer Borg Nanoprobes and build Anti-Borg Nanoprobes. The machine was so secret it didn't exist, the joke was that Captain Lukas hadn't even told God he had the machine yet. There were two known working versions of it, one on the RAVEN, the other deep in the bowels of a Starfleet Security installation in a former mine in Siberia.
      The only room that hadn't really changed since the RAVEN had been commissioned was the RAVEN's Nest. The only area of any size in the ship dedicated to the rest and relaxation of the crew. But even there, a few changes could be discerned those with keen eyes and a good memory of the original blueprint. The entire room could be flooded with a high intensity stasis field to immobilize intruders, and Grunt, Mr. Kada's ungainly robot, had been equipped with weapons ranging from a blowgun that fired pellets containing tiny amounts antimatter to a obscenely powerful laser both of which had been demonstrated to make enemies ranging from Borg drones to upset six legged reptiles have second thoughts about attacking it. The Nest had become the informal town square of the ship with those not otherwise engaged spending most of their off duty time there. One card game had run for nine days with the players coming and going as duty or sleep required and others fielding their hands until they too had to be relieved.
      As for the crew, well, the crew too was hardly standard Star Fleet either. Some of the key members had up and run off on something just short of a mutiny. New crew had joined up and others changed jobs. All in all, the RAVEN continued to grow, sometimes in spite of itself, into more than the ship or her crew could ever be separately.

      Lukas sat in the station's officer's lounge and thought about several things. He could resign his commission, give up his ship, and maybe captain a tourist shuttle around the Malorian Glow Clouds.
      Or he could back out and tell the Admiral he didn't want any part of the assignment no matter how critical it was to the security of the Federation.
      He could ask the crew, for the most part, his friends, once again, if they wanted any part of a mission that was being billed, going in, as a one way trip. And if the majority of them said no way, he could use that to have the brass at least make some changes to the script.
      But something deep inside Lukas knew that not only would he do it, most of his crew would as well.
      And… he thought after a long pause, they would find a way to live through it.

      The next morning the Nest was crowded with RAVEN crew, others watched from duty stations on monitors all over the ship. The Admiral sat at a table in the corner with a couple of other officers at his side, Lukas sat at the end of the table with his hands folded in front of him. The RAVEN's senior officers were spread out around the room with the rest of the crew that could attend.
      "As you more than anyone know, Borg offensive activity in and around Federation space has dropped of to almost nothing in the last six months. Also there has been a significant reduction even as far away as in the Gamma quadrant. Now, we know why." The Admiral began. "Commodore Sphrist will explain. And, of course, this information is classified with the highest priority. We're only telling you so you will know what you are up against."
      The Commodore had an almost arrogant bearing. She stood and seemed to look down her nose at them while smiling as if to small children, but it wasn't condescending, it was simply a result of being a distant member of Rigel's royal family. "The information you have provided, when coupled with an independent report we recently received from someone who had been captured by and whom escaped from the Borg, confirm there has been a major shift in Borg operations throughout the galaxy." She paused dramatically. "Yes. The Borg are attempting to invade the Continuum and to defeat or to assimilate the Q."
      There was silence in the room while that sunk in. Some people laughed nervously, others simply shook their heads.
      "It may seem absurd, but our sources indicate that the Borg have consigned one thousand capital vessels to the effort." The Commodore said with authority. "And some of the events in the report have been confirmed by outside sources such as low energy concussions that reverberated across several sectors. Yes, Sectors. Also, there are confirmed finds of debris of several Borg ships with unusual energy signatures scattered across several million cubic kilometers"
      "Several Million Cubic Kilometers?" Somebody said incredulously.
      "Yes." The Admiral said. "Just outside of Klingon space. The debris was from several ships, but it was spread almost evenly across three star systems. And what's more, it just appeared there. In one case, right in front of a Klingon cruiser."
      "Appeared. And was expanding at approximately one half the speed of light." The Commodore said. "Yes. Something on the order of one hundred fifty thousand Kilometers a second."
      The Admiral nodded. "So you see. The Borg are serious about this. They have a plan, they are working toward that end, and they have contingencies in case the effort fails."
      "But in the meantime. They have tied up a significant percentage of their hardware and other available resources."
      The Admiral nodded as the Commodore sat down. "Which is good news for us." He looked over at his other officer. "Captain Tolson will continue."
      Tolson stood up and frowned while he talked. "However, there is a chance that all this is simply a very complicated misdirection move and the Borg are massing for a irresistible sweep through this quadrant. Your mission is to circumnavigate several areas of known Borg activity and report back. You will not run silent, in fact, we want you to all but advertise your presence. We'll provide various escorts and support vessels so it looks like an official expedition, but not a serious military exercise." He took a deep breath. "We're sending enough of a task force to require the Borg to respond with a meaningful counterstrike, which if the Q theory is correct, they will not be able to mount without substantial communications, which we can monitor." He paused and frowned some more.
      "However. If the Q theory is wrong and they have substantial forces secreted throughout the areas in question. You may not be able to either evade or repel them." The Admiral finished for him. "And in that case, the only way we will know that theory was wrong will be when you fail to report in on time."
      "So we're bait." Someone muttered.
      "Again." Another added.
      Lukas looked out at his crew, but he nodded instead of scowling at whoever spoke.
      "The mission is totally voluntary. Your ship and the support vessels assigned will be completely manned by volunteers." The Admiral said.
      From off to the left one of the RAVEN officer's had a hand up, the Admiral acknowledged them and the officer stood. "Sir. If we do run into Borg, are we authorized to blow them halfway to hell?"
      The Admiral smiled grimly. "No sir. If you run into Borg, blow them ALL the way there."
      "I'm in." The officer said and looked around.
      There was some murmuring in the crowd, then most of them stood up and voiced the same sentiment.
      The sickbay twins looked at each and then shrugged. "We're supposed to go back to the academy." One of them said.
      "But we think we're learning more here." The other one finished.
      "We're in."
      It seemed to be unanimous with one notable exception. Mr. Kada was leaning on the bar with one side of his mouth screwed up.
      Lukas looked his way. "Well mister?" He almost grinned, "Excuse me. Doctor?"
      Kada blinked and nodded toward the Admiral.
      "So you think the sighting of that damaged Borg Field Expression ship in the Paoli system a couple of weeks ago is what? An apparition?"
      "That. Is classified." Captain Tolson exclaimed.
      "So is this mission." The bearded man said without diverting his gaze from the senior officer.
      "The good doctor has some non-traditional sources, but he's usually right." Lukas said
      "We know." The Admiral muttered. "That ship sighting is still under investigation."
      "Add this to your investigation." Kada said and tapped a small funny looking communicator. A boxy and slightly grimy robot rolled through the crowd to the far end of the front table and stopped.
      In a second Grunt was playing a hologram of an elongated Borg ship with multiple sharp antennae protruding from its bow. There was obvious damage to the ship as one of its 'wings' was bent and broken and there were places where drones could be seen actively repairing hull breaches.
      "Where did you get that?" Captain Tolson asked.
      "Where did you get your report of the Borg attack on the Q?"
      "I am not at liberty to tell you."
      Kada snorted, "Let me put it to you this way, Paige says hi."
      Tolson's eyes doubled in size, his mouth dropped open.
      "It's enough that he has the information." The Admiral said. "Yes, that is an image of one of the types of ships the Borg are using to open a gateway to the Continuum. They are lightly shielded as most of their energy is used to project the distortion field. But, they are assigned an armada of defensive ships to protect them."
      "So one good torpedo hit can probably take those things out." One of the RAVEN's weapons officers said.
      "Well. Yes." Tolson said looking up at Grunt's hologram.
      "Wait a minute. If we start taking out their projector ships, wouldn't we be helping the Q?" One of the Slack sisters said.
      "Yeah. Whose side are we on in this one?" Ziggy asked. "Personally I'd like to see the Q and the Borg wipe each other out."
      Several of those in the room agreed with that statement. Loudly.
      "That is a possible outcome." Commodore Sphrist said softly. "However I do not think that will happen. While it is obvious the Borg have done some damage to the Q, the Q's source of power is the aether of the cosmos itself. It is unlikely even the Borg can disrupt that. And since anything except a direct attack against an individual cube is dissipated throughout the Borg realm, which appears to be about a third of our galaxy and into the Magellanic Clouds and we even have intelligence reports indicating they have established a conduit into the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy."
      Several people whistled softly as they thought about the power needed to pull off those connections. The Commodore nodded for a second, then continued.
      "So all that is likely is the Borg will need to expand their domain even further to exploit new resources for this effort, and the Q will begin operations in our universe to disrupt the Borg's effort." She frowned. "Both of which are bad news for us."
      "Not just us, but the Romulins, the Dominion, the First Federation and everybody else." Commander Rowell added.
      "Thereby comes your mission." The Admiral finished.

      The brass had left the room. Lukas hadn't moved, the rest of the RAVEN crew sat and thought about it.
      Finally, the Captain looked up. "Well? Discussion. Now or never."
      There was silence in the room for a long minute. Lukas's eyes came to rest on Ziggy.
      "When do we leave?" Lt. Commander Zizilueskas asked with a straight face.
      Lukas looked across at Lieutenant Kokoszka.
      "We have to do it." She said.
      Commander Rhoades was sitting next to her and nodded as his eyes moved to her.
      The Captain sighed and looked at the Tollers, some of the newest crew members. "It's why we signed up. Let's do it."
      Finally his eyes landed on the tall bearded man in the back again. "See if you can find out anything else Fleet Security isn't telling us."
      "The rest of us will do what we have to do to get ready for…. For anything and everything." He tapped the table in front of him for a second. "OK. That's it. We leave in forty eight hours." He stood up, "Department head conference in one hour. We have some work to do before we pull out."

      The ship's systems and stores were checked from end to end. Everything was tested and re-tested and then the tests were tested. Equipment from the main engines to individual com badges engineers and technicians from Star Fleet and the ship's own crew had been inspected and checked within an inch of its life. If something didn't come back as in perfect working order, it had been replaced.
      Lukas had been called down to the Nest to settle a dispute.
      "It's fine." An angry voice said.
      "But Doctor." And equally irritated voice said, "There isn't adequate ventilation according to the specs for…"
      "Now what?" Lukas muttered sitting on a stool at the counter with obvious weariness.
      The technician turned around with relief. Lukas could see into the small galley area behind him and Kada, Grunt was sitting ON the jury-rigged stove that could use everything from live energy plasma to bottled white gas to generate heat to cook.
      "He wants to take my stove." Kada said with some venom in his voice.
      "And replace it with an approved model…."
      "That won't work if we loose power down here." Kada cut him off.
      Lukas saw the man's point. "This is a non-essential system, in combat it can be powered down. And there've been times when his …." Lukas made a face, "cooking… is all we have besides emergency rations for some extended periods of time."
      The technician sighed. "How about that thing?" He jerked a thumb at Grunt.
      "You want it, you take it." Lukas said with a grin.
      Grunt grunted, then opened a small angular door on its side and swung out a small high output electric stun gun and aimed it, sparking, at the tech.
      "Nevermind." The technician said and walked out.
      Lukas watched as Grunt rolled sideways and, humming loudly, lowered itself slowly to the floor. "So, any news from any unofficial channels."
      Kada nodded. "Tons. I owe a few people a few favors for it too."
      "Any of it good news?"
      The bearded man just looked at him.
      "It figures." The captain taking a slow deep breath.

      Lukas called the senior staff together to review the new information.
      While organized Borg activity had dropped to almost nothing, there had been a huge decrease in apparently random attacks or raids, almost unexplainable nonsensical acts by all sorts of Borg vessels had been reported from every sector of the Federation and several nearby territories.
      "Watch this one." Kada said to the briefing room. Lukas had told him to go through the data and find the best of the lot. This one was a very good example of what had been happening. "This is actual video shot by the MORTSURIGATE, a patrol ship from the Saybon Port."
      They looked at the screens in the conference room. A small Borg cube with small cylindrical protrusions from the center of each of its flat faces was, for lack of a better term, dancing in space. It would zoom forward at maximum impulse for some distance, then stop suddenly spin almost at random on various axis then dart backward to about where it had started, and repeat the spinning. Then it would take off at another angle and do it all again. The patrol ship had watched this for some ten minutes, then decided that if the Borg wanted to dance without bothering anybody they could do it all they wanted. Several hours later the ship sped off under warp and was never seen again.
      "How's this?" Kada said.
      This time it was three spheres. They were sitting in orbit around a brown dwarf, firing their weapons at the star. The small dark star, glowing only slightly from the minimal nuclear reactions in it, was still many score of magnitude beyond being influenced in any way by their weapons and didn't seem to be impressed. The spheres fired for some time, then got into a tight formation, opened a conduit, and vanished.
      "Show them the base." Lukas said. Kada nodded and pushed some buttons.
      The base was one of the Borg's huge globular affairs with many arms and nodes and docking ports. Except this one, as recorded by an observation post, was having a fit. It came apart into hundreds of pieces, then re-assembled itself into a different configuration. In a couple of minutes, it did it again.
      "We have three days of observations. Over three hundred different combinations, and about a hundred duplications." Kada said.
      "And nobody has a clue as to why they'd do any of it?" Somebody asked.
      "Right." Lukas said.
      "You've got to see this one. I promise it's the last…" Kada hit his button one more time.
      Two cubes were butting heads. There is no other way to put it. The huge ships rushed at each other, their shields lit up, then the cubes themselves smashed into each other resulting in tremendous explosions and massive damage to both. Pieces of the ships were flung into space, you could see drones being expelled through the gaping holes, internal explosions and damage could be seen throughout their superstructure. The ships then drifted apart, regenerated the damaged sections, lined up, and did it again.
      "They were averaging one collision every four or five hours. They've done it nine times that we know of."
      "Where did you get that video?"
      Kada smiled. "We're still getting it. From a live feed from a source… well, not in the Federation."
      "There's more." Lukas said and when everybody looked at him he continued. "There are reports of drones materializing on planets with no Borg ships in the area. Some of the drones were dead or severely damaged. Three turned up floating in the North Sea off Britain on Earth. Others have ended up drifting in space. Same with Borg ships, or pieces of them. Some have had unusual energy signatures that we now know are related to the Continuum. Could all this be some sort of manifestation by the Q, or a result of direct exposure of the Borg to them or the Continuum? Maybe the Q trying to confuse or disorganize the Borg to disrupt their war effort? It's possible. But I think there is something else to it."
      One of the bridge officers nodded slowly. "And this little scenic cruise is to find out what that is."
      "Exactly." Lukas nodded. He glanced at the old fashioned clock above the door. "We leave dock in less than an hour. Let's get it together people."
      "Oh, sorry sir. There is one more I think you should see." Kada said and without waiting for Lukas to respond he started the video.
      One of the Borg's massive hyper-cubes was cruising through space. Except as it went, parts of it seemed to fade from view, then they came back and another section or two of the ship would vanish. Other parts shimmered with wild energy while a different section seemed to be totally dark.
      "It appeared out of nowhere near Fortoon. They monitored it for about twenty minutes, then it simply vanished."
      "Let me guess. It was also invisible to scans." Ziggy said.
      "Yeah. Pretty much." Kada nodded gravely.
      "OK, we know what we're up against. Dismissed." Lukas was still staring at the image of the hyper-cube. "I'd like to catch that thing between dimensions… or whatever it is." He almost growled at it.

      The small convoy of ships that were escorting the RAVEN left orbit on schedule. All four of the ships reported all systems operating as normal, and for awhile it seemed they were simply going to be on a rather pleasant cruise. At least for the first full duty shift. Then…
      "Red alert! Battle stations. All personnel secure all sections against possible boarding parties."
      "Here we go." One of the sickbay twins said.
      "Again." The other one finished.

      "I don't see it."
      "It's there, at least it is on my sensors." Ellingsworth said. "Twelve hundred meters off the port bow."
      "Magnify the area."
      "It should be dead center on the screen."
      "I'm not reading distortion from a cloak. Whoa… What the…"
      "THERE IT IS!"
      "….it just appeared from empty space…."
      Then the cube stopped dead. And came apart like a house of cards. It was expanding rapidly in a silent dark explosion.
      "No energy readings at all." Ellingsworth said. "Not even a living drone."
      "Is there anything else in the area?"
      "No sir."
      "Maintain red alert. Lieutenant Kokoszka, have the SPIRIT move in and collect some samples. All other ships to maintain visual scanning as well as sensors."
      The com office nodded sharply and relayed the message to the smaller ships.

      "Analysis of the Borg ship indicates that it broke down on the molecular level." Ensign Slack said. She picked up a small piece of metal and simply crumbled it in her hand onto the conference table. "That was a piece of the outer hull."
      "What caused it?" Commander Rhoades asked.
      Slack shrugged and shook her head. "Probably something they encountered on their way to or from the boundary between here and the Continuum." She looked at her data pad. "It even killed all their nanoprobes. I tried to re-energize some of them, they disintegrated."
      "That's good, maybe we can use that sometime." Ziggy said.
      "Without destroying our own ship in the bargain." Commander Rowell said with a slight grin.
      "Where did it come from?" Lukas asked.
      "From what we can tell… It jumped into… well… whatever you want to call that part of space from the Beta Quadrant, it looks like it spent about twenty seconds there, and then fell out here… Dead…. Fifty thousand light years later."
      "Damn." Somebody whispered. "Imagine the power involved in all that."
      Lukas nodded. "We're talking about the Q Continuum here. Unlimited power. Time, distance, nothing has any meaning there. From the data we accumulated the Borg are attacking the Q from one central location from near their base of operations on the far side of the Beta quadrant, they've been turning up in this shape galaxy wide."
      They discussed the implications some more, then Lukas ordered them to scan the area one more time, then resume their course.

      Everybody was on edge, waiting for something to happen. Anything to happen. But by the time eight or nine hours had passed without another Borg sighting or new report the routine began to get tedious. Then a day passed.
      The senior officers gathered for an informal meeting and breakfast in the Nest.
      "Let's schedule some battle station drills, I don't want things to get lax." Lukas said to a security officer as the third day of cruising, stopping and scanning, then cruising some more began.
      "Maybe run some ambush simulations for the ships as well." He nodded.
      Lukas sat and looked at the plate Mr. Kada put in front of him. "Why is my breakfast glowing?"
      "New recipe for Frisen hash. Lot of the crew seem to like it."
      The security officer laughed. "But you won't be able to hide in the dark for awhile."
      The Captain chuckled and tried the hash. "Not bad." He looked up at Kada. "So what's your take on our progress?"
      "Reminds me of a benchmark mission I was on a long time ago. Six months of nothing but empty space and stars, mapping warp corridors."
      "We're not going to be out here that long." The security officer said.
      "We'll be out here as long as it takes." Lukas said putting some pepper on his eggs. He looked across the table at the Operations Officer. "Well?"
      "Everything normal so far. The TARNOST EXPLORER has to turn back later today to resume their normal duty. Other than that, we're good to go."
      Lukas nodded. "Give Captain MacClennin my regards and permission to withdraw when they're ready to go."
      They ate and talked and compared ideas for a slight detour to check out an interesting group of rogue planets nearby. Then the engineer stood up and said he had to get to his station. That broke up the meeting and soon the Nest was all but empty again.
      Kada looked out at the void. "You know. It's way too quiet." He said to the stars. But then when nothing happened, he collected the dishes and took them into the galley for Grunt to sanitize and restack.

      "It's just too quiet." Hacket said from the weapons station.
      "I'll take it." Commander Rhodes answered from the other side of the bridge.
      "Me too." Ellingsworth echoed. "Compared to the last time we went out like this. This is a breeze."
      In a few minutes Lukas asked them to conduct extensive long range scans the next time they stopped.

      "Yeah, way quiet." Mr. Dubin said. He looked at the conduit monitor. "There's another one, but it ain't been used by anything in a month, maybe more."
      Mel Barnhardt looked over his shoulder. "Yeah, look at that, the field is almost gone in places."
      "I'd put the junction with the Fetur Branch pipe at about two hundred million kilometers."
      The chief engineer nodded. "Add it to the map."
      Dubin made the notes and added the scan to their database. "Pretty bad when you start looking forward to dinner."
      "What is it tonight?"
      "I dunno, Doc just said it would be entertaining."
      Mel laughed silently. "Oh no… not again."

      "I finished the analysis of the dust from that cube breakup. Some of it was actually space dust."
      Lieutenant Strunk looked at Ensign Slack. "And?"
      "Nothing. It was just dust that had accumulated on the outer hull of the cube."
      "Evidently the Borg don't wash their ships very often."
      The Ensign put the data pad she had been holding on the desk. "How long do you think this will go on?"
      "Waiting for the Borg to drop out of transwarp and start shooting at us? I don't know. But I for one am grateful to have some time to do some real research." She nodded to her terminal.
      Slack looked at her screen. "Estimating the mass and energy of asteroid impacts on a rogue planet? You are bored."
      "Better bored than under fire from a bunch of drones."
      "I think I have some more dust to analyze."

      The three remaining ships of the group continued their patrol. They split up a couple of times to check out drifting debris or to verify a report from a robot ore ship, but the debris was simply space junk and the robot ship had a bad sensor.
      It seemed as though the Borg were going out of their way to ignore them.

      "Ten days." Lukas tapped the table. "It's been Ten Whole Days since we left that cube. And exactly what have we found?"
      "A forgotten Vulcan space probe from two hundred years ago."
      "That the Songgrass Brothers need to maintain their freighters better."
      "The science section report says the Borg Cube had been in the vicinity of the Ressiton Carbon Field recently." Commander Rowell said with a slight grin. "Well, it is news, there were no reports of Borg in that area before."
      Lukas just sat there. "The Borg aren't crawling all over us. That's what we've found."
      "They're busy elsewhere."
      "And that, is what I'm afraid of.

      Lukas broke his order to maintain long-range radio silence and put in a call to Starfleet. It took a long time for the message to get through, then a long time for Command to acknowledge it. Then a long time to get a reply.
      "In light of these developments, or lack thereof, your orders are as follows Captain. Proceed as you see best. Starfleet, Out."
      "Fat lot of help that is." Lukas muttered. Then he touched his com panel. "Mary, get me Commander Wikstrt on the SUNSTORM and Captain Sunbray on the ONOT SPIRIT. Invite them and their officers over for tea or something. We need to talk."

      Lukas and his senior officers and the ranking officers from the other ships sat around the large conference table and listened to the message from Starfleet.
      "Well. It's up to us. There is a report of a large Borg structure drifting near the Scapular Colony. We could check it out. We could continue on our present course and see what happens. Or we could write it off and go back home and get ready for another mission."
      Captain Sunbray pursed his lips. "If the Borg structure is adrift, then it's just another dead unit like that cube was. It'd be a wild goose chase. Scapa has ships with science stations, let them check it out."
      "OK. On or back?"
      There was no dissent.

      "Still awful quiet." Commander Rhodes noted a couple of days later.
      "Commander, fuel transfer to the SUNSTORM is complete."
      Rhodes nodded. "Disconnect umbilical when ready."
      In a few moments the excitement of refueling the smaller ship had passed.
      "Awful quiet."

      The next day they came across a loose collection of dead and drifting Borg debris.
      "It is Borg. And it has been in space for about two months. Maybe more. Hard to tell with drones."
      "Bodies. Consoles. Machinery. Energy nodes. Looks like parts of the inside of a ship. But where's the hull?" Ziggy said looking at the scans.
      "Nothing larger than what we've got here for as far as we can scan in any direction."
      "SUNSTORM reports the stuff in their area is more of what we've got. But no ship."
      "Let's spread the search area some more. Have the SPIRIT open their sweep pattern a couple of degrees."
      The three ships scoured the area, they found a few more odds and ends, but nothing from the outside of whatever kind of ship it had been.
      "I was able to get some information from a couple of the nodes we recovered, but it wasn't much help. The ship's registry was Ninth Unit Twelfth Dispatch. There had been just over three thousand drones on board. This module was recording normal operations until the second the ship was destroyed. I don't think the Borg even saw what hit them."
      Lukas looked at the recovered data modules. "Three thousand drones done away with just like that. Without even having a chance to fight back." He shook his head. "What have they gotten themselves into?"
      There were a few more pieces of junk around, but that was it. In another hour, they were back on course.

      Two days from the debris field they were sitting in space doing another intense long range scan when the silence broke.
      "Sir. Emergency communication from a prospector. He is reporting an active Borg war party. Five ships in formation, traveling at high warp…" Her face got serious for a second. "Traveling at high warp, in a circle."
      Lukas blinked. "OK. Acknowledge the message. Set course Maximum speed. Red alert, all ships all stations."

      The RAVEN and its escorts thundered into the system ready for a pitched battle.
      All they found was a first generation runabout that had been converted, if that's the word, into a one man asteroid mine.
      "That's the prospector's ship sir. He's hailing us."
      "Boy you folks got here fast. But good to see ya'll anyway." The slightly eccentric looking old man said in a raspy voice.
      "Where are the Borg sir?" Lukas asked him.
      "They'll be back. Just sit tight and wait for the parade. Won't be long."
      "Sir. Borg ships on the long range sensors. Two cubes, a sphere, two other ships of unusual design. Traveling at warp seven…. And it is a circular course sir. They'll be here in about three minutes."
      "Told ya so."
      And a couple of minutes later, while the RAVEN and the other ships watched, the five Borg ships roared by without breaking formation or even scanning them.
      "Sir. I'm not sure of this, but I didn't read any life signs on any of those ships."
      "Information from the SUNSTORM and the SPIRIT coming in, same thing. No life readings at all."
      "Ahhh, sir, the prospector, Mister Corson, wants to know if we can spare a few things since he spotted the Borg for us."
      Lukas laughed. "Of course. Set him up, within reason, with whatever he wants."

      They sat in space and watched the procession go by every seven and a half minutes, always in the same formation and within a few KPM of the same warp seven speed.
      "Sir, I'm seeing an energy fluctuation in the second of the tubular ships."
      "No doubt about it sir, it's losing power. Their energizers are exhausted."
      The 'parade' went by two more times, then the one ship dropped out of warp somewhere along the route.
      "Set course, find that ship. Before they run over it or something." Lukas shouted.
      The RAVEN leapt into warp and followed the circular course. Not too far around the route they ran across where the ship had dropped out of warp and drifted some distance away.
      "Tractor beam, let's get it away from here." Lukas glanced at the star map, "Head for that group of moons around the fourth planet." He looked over at his security chief. "Get a heavy away team together. Once we're there and they go by again go over and see what happened to the crew, collect all the information you can and get back here."
      The four remaining Borg vessels went by right on cue, not even noticing their missing companion.

      The first thing the away team noticed that there wasn't even the usual subdued indirect lighting used on most Borg ships. It was almost totally dark. It was also totally quiet. The sensors had indicated the atmosphere was intact on the ship, but it hadn't been circulated for some time as all the life support machinery was off line.
      "Musty." Had been the summary.
      "It stinks in here." Was the immediate evaluation by the team.
      They scouted around quickly but thoroughly, pulling out data modules and taking scans of everything they could.
      Then they were on their way back to the RAVEN.

      "No signs of battle sir. The drones were intact, just dead."
      "Just like the other ones." Rowell said. "How about the data modules?"
      "Still working on them, but it looks like they were out here running in circles for a long time before Mister Corson found them."
      "How long?"
      "Maybe a month, running full speed the whole time, in a circle."
      "We're seeing the same thing on the hull of the ship. Sustained high warp stress damage, some elongation of structural members, but no other damage."
      The com beeped, "Again?" Lucas asked.
      "Yes sir. No change in status. All four ships running normally."
      "OK." He looked at the others in the briefing room. "This doesn't make sense, the Borg would have made sure this ship was fully fueled before they set out. Why did it run dry and the other one is still going?"
      "Minor difference in engine efficiency. At warp seven for that long it wouldn't take much to make a big difference." The engineer said.
      "This much of a difference?"
      "Sure." Mel paused. "Unless the Q did something to them."
      "That's the variable we can't account for."
      Lukas nodded.
      They discussed it for some time, then decided to leave a set of probes in the area to record the Borg ship's progress then resume their mission.
      The ONOT SPIRIT would continue with the RAVEN while the SUNSTORM, the smallest remaining ship, would monitor the Borg for awhile, then return to Federation space by way of the Scapular Colony.

      "Captain. Mister Kada said he needs to see you." The Communications Officer said, then she turned toward him. "Immediately sir. In cargo three."
      "He said that?"
      Lukas left his first officer in charge as they waited for the probes to get into position and went down to cargo bay. He walked in and was surprised to find Mr. Dubin and one of the other security officers standing around a large piece of Borg equipment. "OK, now what?"
      "While you all were in your meeting we beamed Grunt over to the Borg ship's engine compartment." Mr. Dubin said.
      Lukas had two simultaneous reactions; "You did what?" and "What did he find?"
      "Well, it seemed like a good idea. The away team didn't have time to get down there and you wanted to know what happened to their fuel." Dubin said.
      "Here." Kada held out a data pad.
      Lukas looked at it. It was a series of extremely complicated numbers he recognized as a Borg time index. But he couldn't translate it.
      "We ran it through the computer, then compared it with the other ships." Dubin said.
      "OK, and…" He knew they'd get to the point if he prompted them a little.
      "There were only four ships in that convoy."
      Lukas blinked and looked at them.
      "This is, errr….. was, the other ship. I mean. The other ship will be this one…." The security officer was trying to explain it.
      "Somehow when they got knocked out of the Continuum, the field ship got duplicated, but the copy is three weeks older than the one that's still going." Kada said slowly.
      Lukas blinked. "Which would explain why it ran out of fuel."
      "But the translation was perfect. Our scans of the hull didn't show any temporal irregularities. It's perfect. Except for the fact it's out of fuel."
      "So what killed all the drones?" Lukas asked, then looked at the machine Grunt had brought back. "And knocked it three weeks out of time?"
      "Ahhh, sir, you may not believe it, but remember when we said that ship was three weeks older than the others." Dubin said.
      Lukas nodded.
      "That's not only thing we found out." Kada said.
      The security officer grinned. "The whole fleet is actually out of time. I mean, they're not from our time…. I mean… These ships are from almost fifty years in the future." He kicked gently at the machine, "This is Borg technology from the future…. But we're not sure what it does, or did."
      Lukas blinked. He looked at the time index. Knowing that he could now read it, it indicated a Borg Stardate about forty eight years from now. A chill spread up his spine and caused beads of cold sweat to run down his forehead. He touched his communicator. "All department heads to cargo three."

      They went through the numbers and evaluated the machine. Everybody was in agreement.
      The Borg were at war with the Q now, and were still at war fifty years from now.
      They had been from one end of the machine to the other. And had gotten it to work, sort of.
      "It's an advanced Borg replicator. But it didn't start out as Borg. The basic technology seems to be alien to even the Borg, but they have refined it for their needs. It can replicate organic material down to the genetic base pair level."
      "It can create living tissue?" Somebody asked.
      "I don't know. Maybe. Maybe on the Borg ship, we don't know how to feed it that level of information yet. Maybe something is missing."
      "It's enough as it is. Send the data to Star Fleet, including schematics."
      Kada had been standing in the back next to Grunt. "Sir. There's one more thing."
      Lukas seemed to have expected it.
      "When Grunt came back, his time recorder between maintenance cycles was off by about eighteen hours."
      "How long was he over there?"
      "About an hour. Maybe a little more, the replicator didn't want to come loose."
      Lukas looked at the officers that had led the away team. "Get to sickbay, full physicals for the whole team even though you were only there a few minutes." Then he looked back at Kada. "So how is…. Grunt?"
      "He needs some down time. But he'll be fine."
      Grunt, for his part, grunted.

      "No doubt about it Captain, we all experienced accelerated time, on the order of about three or four hours."
      Lukas nodded. "Lucky you didn't stay longer."
      "But we're pretty sure that's what killed the drones on those ships. They simply aged beyond their normal life cycle in a matter of a day or so."
      "Why didn't it affect the engines?"
      "The warp generators create a temporal dampening field inside. Ours do the same thing, just not as much as theirs. Still, they were at warp seven for over a month, well, this one, almost two months. It drained them finally."
      Lukas nodded. "I think I'm getting a headache."

      The two remaining ships resumed their course, leaving the circling Borg ships and the SUNSTORM to watch them for another few cycles.

      "We got the new Borg replicator to work. It seems it had to acclimate to being back in real time." Commander Rowell said as she walked into the Captain's ready room.
      "Good." Lukas said, he was totally absorbed working on something else.
      "We're trying to adapt one of our data terminals to feed it the data it needs. But it's an energy hog."
      "Your hair is on fire again."
      "Oh… What?"
      "Did you hear anything I said?"
      He looked up with a blank look on his face. "I was thinking."
      "You've got staff for that." She grinned.

      They cruised almost at random through the next several sectors. Checking out everything on the long range sensors that seemed out of place or interesting in any way.
      The ships turned up a lot of space junk some of it Borg, most of it not. And one small planetoid with what was left of some sort of alien ship splattered all over one side of it.
      "From the crater we're guessing the ship was running about forty percent of light speed when it hit."
      "The impact actually liquefied the surface of the asteroid." The monitor showed the area where the rock had melted.
      "So what kind of ship was it?" Lukas asked.
      "We're working on it. There's not much left."
      It was an interesting problem, and involved most of the departments on both ships as the two crews worked to solve the mystery as a sort of competition.
      "These are the two best designs we've been able to come up with."
      Lukas looked at the diagrams. "So it was some sort of long range scout or fighter or something?"
      "Most likely, that would explain the speed of the vehicle and the energy released when they hit."
      "I don't recognize either design." Lukas said. "Let's see if the good doctor recognizes it." He touched the com panel and asked for Mr. Kada to bring up his viewer.
      "Hang on, let me check something." The man said. "Yeah, well. Almost. Give me a minute." Then the com went dead.
      "What happened? Did he cut you off?" Ziggy asked in a minute. No sooner than he had said it the door buzzed and Kada came in, a little out of breath.
      "Here you go." Kada handed the captain a bound paper manual in some language most of the people in the room had never even seen before.
      "Where did you get that?"
      "Found it someplace. It's a picture book of small ships and probes. For kids I guess."
      "Whose kids?"
      "No idea."
      "That's it." Lukas held the picture up next to the monitor. It resembled something between the two diagrams reverse engineered from the wreckage. "So who did it belong to?"
      "Well… the translation of the text is a little rough…."
      "Best guess."
      "They were used by the Colobs Authority, one of the tribute systems of the Breen. Two man high speed normal space escort ships. Not much in the way of arms or defenses so they usually run in packs."
      "It's a long way from home." Commander Rowell looked at the pictures and shook her head. "How did it get all the way out here?"
      "Especially since it's not a warp capable craft." The engineer said.
      "Why's everybody looking at me? I just found the picture in a book." Kada said raising his hands.
      "Which makes you the expert on them."
      "I'd be lucky to find Coltolson or Obstribe on the map."
      "So that's where Obstribe is… Cool. I learned something today." Ziggy grinned looking at the map on another monitor with the system under discussion labeled with a dot.
      Lukas nodded. "Good. But as for the crash and why it was here to begin with… Unfortunately there are some things we'll never know." He looked at his staff. "OK, another hour, then we get back underway."

      "We were scanning the ship wreckage, the SPIRIT's people thought to run the rock through their sensors."
      "This changes things. Call the ONOT SPIRIT and tell them we're backtracking the asteroid's course. Engineering… Turn up the conduit detector, look for low range residual energy."
      The ships followed the course of the drifting rock back to where it had evidently emerged from a Borg transwarp conduit.
      The working theory was that the escort ship had been either in pursuit of or being chased by a Borg ship into a conduit gateway, then the smaller ship hit the asteroid and the resulting explosion knocked it into the open conduit. Either that or somehow the non-warp capable ship and a large space rock got into the conduit and found each other once there.
      "Or Q involvement."
      Lukas shook his head. "If that's the case we can't even be sure what we saw is what we saw. We'll work off the theory that the Colobs ship was in their own neighborhood and then found the rock and its way here, maybe with or without Borg help. That's enough for our purposes."
      The com officer spoke up. "Captain. Mr Dubin is showing a malfunctioning conduit dead ahead."
      "Right in the asteroid's path."
      Lukas nodded to the helm. "Slow to impulse, scan for the conduit."
      "I'm getting some really odd readings. Like the conduit is actually broken here."
      "Debris off the starboard side. Definitely Borg hardware sir. From the configuration it looks like a conduit relay… well… at least a piece of one." He shook his head. "But it looks like a way older model than the others. Smaller, lower power… Obsolete."
      "That would explain these readings sir. This conduit is like a couple of generations old. Probably not even maintained any more."
      "Bridge." Mr Dubin's voice came over the com. Lukas told him to go ahead. "This is the strangest transwarp pattern I've ever seen."
      "Go on."
      "It's not a network. This is one pipe that seems to run all the way around the galaxy. I don't see an intersection for more than a dozen light years in either direction. But the energy level is almost too low for one of their conduits."
      "Got it Jon, keep working. We're getting ready to launch a couple of probes into it."
      "Is there another conduit around here?"
      It took them a minute, but he answered the question. "Yeah, but it's a good distance away, and it does appear to be functioning normally. I'm copying the coordinates to you."
      "Don't bother, we're not going that way."
      "Probes ready."
      "Launch." Lukas said.
      There were twin thumps as the probes launched a split second apart. Everybody watched the screen as two small dots of light approached a barely visible glimmer on the screen that was the only indication of the malfunctioning Borg installation.
      The probes glowed briefly as they entered the transwarp tunnel.
      "Good data coming in from both. They're already over a dozen light years into it."
      "How's that possible?"
      "They're moving one heck of a lot faster than normal transwarp…. Eighteen… twenty. We're loosing the link to the one that went left."
      There was a long pause. "That's it…. No data from either one."
      "How far out did they get?"
      "Well the data is a little…. HEY!" The officer exclaimed sharply. "They just passed each other. I got a blip from both of them from both sides of the opening. They amplified each other's signal."
      "They went halfway around the galaxy? In less than a minute?"
      Then in another second the data started coming in again as both probes got closer to the opening.
      Then there was a bright flash of light followed closely by a second. The probes were back. They actually collided and were lucky to ricochet off each other instead of destroying themselves.
      "Now that's cool."
      Lukas nodded. "Let's recover them."

      The data from the probes was a long string of velocity indicators and positioning calculations. The video images showed a blur of the inside of the conduit with a brief flashing glimpse of the other probe as they passed. There were some indications that the generators were failing at several points, but the opening they had found was the only place where the conduit had actually ruptured.
      They hadn't gone exactly around the galaxy. The conduit bent sharply in several places, and passed just on the Alpha quadrant side of galactic center so they would have passed through some of the densest space so far mapped. But indeed, they had covered territory far into the Beta quadrant and just into the Gamma quadrant before it had bent back into the Alpha running very nearly into the heart of the Milky Way.
      "Something on the order of a hundred and forty light years, in about a minute and a half."
      "That's a tall order."
      "Almost… Almost unbelievable."
      "Although it would explain why the Borg abandoned this type of conduit. It's too fast. You'd never be able to control where you come out."
      "The readings indicate it is basically a wormhole, an artificially constructed and maintained wormhole, but a wormhole nonetheless." The engineer said.
      "Like at Bajor?"
      "Not exactly. That is a real wormhole being influenced artificially."
      "All of its readings are normal for the phenomenon. These are… well, weird."
      "How does it create that speed using that little energy?"
      The stellar cartographer spoke up. "Simple. It's a vast particle accelerator that's been running for who knows how long."
      "And it's probably nearing either terminal velocity or its energy reserves are getting low, maybe both. And since the Borg are otherwise engaged, they just let it go to pot."
      Lukas sat and looked at the projection of the conduit on the map of the galaxy. "Is there any way we can use it?"
      "Not right now, and if it is becoming unstable. Who knows what it will do to a ship."
      "And we could end up like that fighter, getting thrown out of it and finding a big rock."
      "Which is the next point…." They all looked at the engineer. He continued. "From the readings on the skins of the probes we were able to determine that the Colobs fighter was in the conduit for several circuits. He may have been in there for weeks, and that may be what threw him out. There was a weak link and it couldn't handle the energy load in the ship."
      "And I don't want the same thing happening to us." Lukas nodded. "OK, pack it all up and send it back to the fleet on the SPIRIT. We're calling this wild goose chase off."

      Now the RAVEN was alone, outside of Federation space, pursuing a slightly curving course that would eventually take them back home.
      "Sir, detecting some more space junk. Central large metallic object, some smaller ones around it. No energy readings to speak of."
      "Let's check it out." Lukas replied from his ready room. "Do they look like Borg?"
      "No sir. They look like… Junk."

      At one time it had been a large space station. And there were signs that parts of it had been used recently. For salvage.
      "How long has it been out here?"
      "And whose was it when it was new?"
      "Some of the hull markings are in what appears to be El Aurian, but the database isn't able to translate it. And I'm getting dates that have to be a mistake. Did they have space travel two thousand years ago?"
      The massive thing on the monitor looked every day of that. Lukas shrugged. "Somebody did." He turned back to the bridge. "Get some samples and let's keep going. I don't want to stay in one place too long."

      The El Aurian's station's secrets would have to wait for another day. The RAVEN logged its location and sent a message to Star Fleet that it might rate a look by a dedicated science ship. Then they resumed their course through the void.

      The RAVEN was alone. The crew was exhausted from the long, mostly boring, mission. Their stock of supplies, from the Lattorian Fletin Sausages in the Nest's freezer to circuit packs for the weapons systems, was running low. The ship was at its furthest point from Federation Space on its loop in sectors that had barely been mapped, let alone explored by humans.
      Lukas was uneasy. "IF there's going to be an attack… NOW would be the best time for it." He stared out the window at the dust cloud they had been investigating, half expecting to see several squadrons of the long angular Borg fighters they had been introduced to several missions ago flying out of it. Their weapons blazing away at them. The whole time a larger Borg ship maneuvered behind the wall of smaller ships to lock onto his ship with a tractor beam, boarding parties of assimilation drones at the ready.
      He blinked.
      The cloud hadn't changed. Its only threat was a few small asteroids with unusually high concentrations of radioactive ores in them.
      "Bridge, status."
      "Scans almost complete. We've isolated the samples in the science lab. We'll be ready to go again in maybe fifteen minutes."
      The uneasiness hadn't faded. Something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong and he knew it.
      "Com, get me the nearest friendly outpost. Secure channel, pipe in it here."

      It took several minutes, then they had to tweak the translator, but finally the captain was talking to somebody named flor-Jin, the Magistrate of the Third Warren of the Allied Seltoss Systems.
      "Yes captain. Of the Borg threat we are aware." The magistrate said in a slow cadence that the translator then turned into English. "We have various sources to receive updates from."
      "Has there been any recent reports of activity in your area?"
      "Yes captain. My sources indicate that such updates your Federation also receives."
      "We've been out of touch with our people for some time. I was hoping for some news."
      "Yes captain. Some interesting data we do have. Classified highly it is not."
      Lukas shook his head. While the translator was making sense of the magistrate's meaning, the syntax wasn't all that easy to follow. "Very good. I have some data you may find interesting as well."
      The magistrate's face went through an unusual scrunching expression and he said something that came out of the translator as, "Yes yes captain captain."
      "Thank you."
      Lukas went to the bridge and told them to send them several different sets of their recent readings, "But not the El Aurian station. Let's keep that one for Star Fleet.
      The comm. officer nodded and selected several files of 'interesting' data and transmitted them to the magistrate.

      Still uneasy, but now with some fresh data from the general area they were going through, Lukas ordered them to resume course.

      Captain Lukas was sound asleep in his quarters.
      Then he was wide awake and running down the hall shouting at his communicator while still trying to put on his shirt while the 'Red Alert' Claxon blared around him.

      There had been no warning.

      Not even the "We are the Borg, lower your shields and surrender your ship…" speech.

      A Borg sphere had suddenly materialized behind them, firing all of its weapons at once.
      "There're not actually shooting at us. But they are following us… and shooting."
      "I can see that."
      Lukas burst out of the turbolift onto the bridge amidst the confusion. The screen showed the sphere rotating as it flew, and every few seconds an apparently random shot leapt from its surface.
      "Evasive course." He shouted to the helm.
      "We are evading sir. It's matching us turn for turn, and at warp six as well."
      "It's mimicking everything we do. And continues to fire blindly."
      "Is there anybody alive on that thing?"
      "Yessir. But they don't appear to be doing anything."
      "The sphere started to hail us, then left the channel open, and forgot about it. Here."
      The screen changed to the open channel to the Borg. Instead of the glaring faces of several drones, it showed some drones milling about, others were shadow boxing, for lack of a better term. Still others were standing still, staring off into space.
      "What's wrong with that picture?" Lukas asked. Then he shook it off. "We've got to get away from it before it gets off a lucky shot."
      "I've got an idea sir. Since it is mimicking our moves, let's give it something with our signature to mimic, then get out of its way real quick."
      "Got it." Lukas nodded. "Launch a warp torpedo with our engine signature and program its course and ours at right angles. Except as soon as you launch it, drop to impulse and make the turn."
      Several officers worked rapidly together. Then it was ready.
      "Do it…. Have another one ready in case this doesn't work."
      "On my mark." The weapons officer said sitting ready to launch the torpedo. "Five- four- three- beacon away- two- broadcasting- one."
      "Hang on!" The helmsmen shouted as the ship executed a gut wrenching deceleration and extremely abrupt turn.
      "There it goes." Somebody shouted.
      The screen showed the sphere retreating hot on the false beacon's heels.
      "Follow it at a discreet distance and get some good scans."
      The RAVEN resumed warp and followed the sphere as it followed the torpedo. Then in a few minutes the torpedo slowed to normal space as its energy reserve was exhausted. The sphere had slowed right behind it, and shortly they were both drifting in space. Now the sphere's weapons were silent.
      "Keep your distance and power to a minimum. I don't want it to see us and start all this again."
      "Unlikely sir. I'm not seeing any major active energy sources over there except for the drones. And they look like they're dying. When the torpedo shut down, so did everything on the sphere."
      Lukas stared at the image on the screen. "OK. I can't resist. Away team." He nodded. Then as Ziggy and some others got up to go the captain turned to them. "Take Grunt with you, just in case."

      From the looks of the away team you'd thought they were beaming into an active combat area. Grunt had their back with a plasma cannon swinging slowly back and forth. Ziggy and the other guard had heavy phaser rifles at the ready. Even the science and mission officers had a weapon in one hand and a tricorder in the other.
      "Energize." Ziggy said as crouched slightly, ready to fire.
      They materialized on the deck just behind what passed for the Borg command area. The majority of the control panels and indicators were either dark or in what appeared to be a standby mode.
      On the RAVEN you could see part of the team beam in and do a standard sweep of the area for hostiles. Except there were no hostiles. The Borg that were moving were doing so very slowly, almost painfully. One drone seemed to look at them for a long second. Then it dropped to the floor, dead.
      "Area secure. I guess." Ziggy said as a weak and shaky drone actually staggered by and tried to get into a regeneration niche that was already occupied.
      "Understood. Do your thing, and make it quick." Lukas said with a nod at the screen.
      "Grunt, go down to the main computer core and pull a central nodule." Ziggy told the robot. It grunted and rolled away with unexpected speed and dexterity.
      The others fanned out through the command deck, scanning the consoles and the drones, taking samples and downloading data.
      "Two minutes to go." Lukas said. "Grunt's already back. It brought back half their engine room again."
      Ziggy nodded to the still working camera, "I don't think these Borg will be missing anything. They're done. So's the ship, we're detecting structural failures all over the place."
      "Finish up and get out of there."
      "Aye sir…. We'll get … WHOA!" Ziggy said as he took a step and lifted into the air, barely catching himself on a pipe before he hit the ceiling.
      "I take it the gravity plating just failed." Lukas said half chuckling as his security chief tried to orient himself as a lamely floundering drone floated by.
      "It would seem so sir." He took a breath. "Away team, prepare for beam out. Signal when ready."

      "The sphere is coming apart while we sit here and talk about it."
      They could see it on the monitors and through the windows. Visible cracks were appearing in the hull, and in only a few places any effort could be seen to regenerate it.
      "It seems to be a milder case of what that super cube had when we first started this mission."
      "So why did it chase us?"
      "From the data files one of the first symptoms was a deterioration in the sphere's logic systems. It lost its direction. And was cut off from communications with the collective. IT wasn't long after that that the logs ceased to make any sense. It was recording gibberish."
      "So whatever was left of its mind decided to latch onto us and follow us like a baby goose would."
      "Look at that!" A small section of the sphere had broken away from one section and drifted off into space.
      "OK, let's put some distance between us and that thing before it goes all to pieces."

      They had just resumed course when Magistrate flor-Jin called them.
      "Yes Captain. New reports we have of a Borg base in our space."
      "Is it operational Magistrate?"
      "Yes Captain. Our patrol to safe space retreated to report. Its status I do not know."
      Lukas decided to be a nice guy. "We can check it out and if it is in working order, we can blow it up for you."
      "Yes Yes Captain. Borg are not tenants of our space with authorization."
      The screen went dark and Lukas chuckled quietly. "'…not tenants of our space with authorization.'"

      The RAVEN roared into the system expecting once again to find dead Borg on a severely damaged station. But they weren't taking any chances. All shields were up and the weapons live.
      The ship eased into the system and found the station orbiting the star a couple of AU's out.
      "Their weapons just locked onto us. I'm reading fighter launch tubes coming up…. Now What?"
      "Their shields were up, now they're down."
      "The Borg weapons just went off line. They didn't launch a single interceptor."
      "Sir. I'm picking up a distress call. It's the Borg station."

      "Well… Now I've seen everything." Lukas said as the RAVEN cruised out of the system just outside Seltoss space.
      Commander Rowell tried to put a positive spin on it. "But we learned a lot more from them than if we just blew up the station."
      The Captain nodded. "True enough." He turned to the helm. "This mission is over. Best course and speed back to the Federation. Give me an ETA when you get one."
      The helmsman and navigator worked for a few seconds, then checked each other's numbers. "At warp five we'll reach the Deep Space Three Science Station in…" He paused.
      "Just under a week." The Navigator said.
      "I'm tired of this. Bring up the co-ax engines, let's go home, and skip the Deep Space Station, I know they'd love to have company, but I want some shore leave." Lukas flopped into the command chair. "Maximum co-ax to Riza."
      They did a new set of calculations. "Two days and change."

      "Now explain to me again why we towed a Borg repair base through two whole sectors? And Intact at that? AND still armed…." A rather upset crewman said in engineering.
      "They put out a real distress call, and they were in distress."
      The crewmen snorted and seemed to spit. "Darned Prime Directive."
      "It wasn't the Prime Directive."
      "Whatever it was. We should have blown them out of the sky." The crewman huffed. "We didn't fire our weapons except in drills for the whole mission…. When's the last time that happened?"

      The science section was still wading through the terabytes of information they had downloaded from the Borg station. It wasn't everything in the entire Borg database, it was only the stuff directly related to the care and feeding of a small base dedicated to repairing such systems as Borg ships couldn't completely regenerate on their own, such as a few internal engine components and some of the high energy communications equipment, but it was enough.
      They also had samples of dozens of never before seen nanoprobes, reams of data on new systems and planets Borg ships had visited in the area and then uploaded their information to the station for safe keeping, and even some odd Borg hardware that had appeared from nowhere to take up residence in cargo three.
      "What's it do?" Chief Engineer Barhardt asked.
      "No idea."
      "Did it still work when it …. found … its way over here?"
      "I think so."
      "And it is like this all the way around?"
      The object of their discussion was a large geometrists nightmare assembly with intermeshing surfaces of triangles, squares, hexagons and so on, everywhere, and all a seemingly different shade of metallic silver or gray. Between the shapes that didn't fit together neatly were access ports of varying sizes and shapes. But none that looked familiar.
      Mel scanned it, and peered into openings, and then poked a small probe into one. But it refused to surrender any secrets it may have held.

      The relief the RAVEN crew expressed when they crossed into Federation Space was audible throughout the entire ship. Even the ship herself seemed to relax.
      They announced their arrival at Risa in three hours and that shore leave was authorized for anybody that wanted it on a very generous rotation schedule.

      "You going down doctor?" One of the crew asked Mr. Kada as he packed up a box.
      "For a little bit, Riza's not my style, I told Commander Rhoades I'd cover the com so the others can go longer."
      "You said that before about Riza…. Where would you rather go for R&R."
      "I like Dave's World."
      "The last time we were there you kidnapped an alien and got in a shootout in a trading post. THEN you held the whole bridge crew at gunpoint."
      Kada's face lit up with a warm grin. "Yeah."

      "Well… Disappointed that you didn't get to shoot it out with a whole fleet of Borg ships?"
      Lukas looked up, "Who are you?"
      "You don't know?"
      "- Q -"
      "I guess our reputation precedes us."
      "Did you intervene in our mission?"
      "Not really." The Q's voice changed a little and took on a gravelly edge. "But it was fun to see you at work."
      "Corson the prospector."
      "At your service sir."
      "Was that the only time?"
      Q just grinned smugly.
      "We've accumulated a great deal of data on the Borg. You expect us to help you defeat them."
      "You humans really are keen minded." Q grinned knowingly. "Well, most of you."
      "What if I deleted all the info and jettisoned the equipment and samples into the Rizian sun?"
      "YOU wouldn't do that."
      Lukas frowned. "You set up this mission from the beginning. And you funneled that information to Doctor Leftover."
      Q just grinned smugly.
      "You must be loosing the war to go through all this to enlist us against them."
      "Loosing? No…. but it is getting tiresome."
      Now it was the captain's turn to grin smugly.
      The com beeped and Lukas glanced at it, when he looked back toward his guest, Q was gone.
      "We're approaching Riza. Everything OK sir? We've been trying to reach you for some time."
      "Everything's fine, I was just busy. Standard orbit, begin the rotation once we check in."
      "You going down sir?"
      "First shift. I need to sit on the beach and do a lot of thinking."
      "Yes sir."

End Raven 9

For more on the Borg's war with the Q see: Dear Diary

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[NOTE: This story carries the copyright of The Media Desk, 2003, and the USS RAVEN (IFT). Author retains all rights, including the right of approval for publication. STAR TREK, and all images and situations affiliated with STAR TREK are owned and copyrighted by PARAMOUNT STUDIOS. They are used in this story without intent to harm or otherwise defame PARAMOUNT or the estate of Gene Roddenberry. The Media Desk is not in any way affiliated with PARAMOUNT. For information contact Levite. Email- kadahillmea{at} , or surface mail to: The Media Desk, PO Box 1276, Dover, DE 19903 ]

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