"They can't be us. We're us. Aren't we us?"
"They're us and they're not us."
"Hold on. Attention. Ahhh, the other RAVEN's. I don't know how to put it. Are you really the RAVEN?"

Into the Funhouse Mirror

the RAVEN: X

To the Desk main page.

©04 The Media Desk and the USS RAVEN (IFT) crew

Part one

        First Rank Officer Brian Lukas stood in the center of the bridge and glared at the screen. He didn't like mysteries. Not at all. Especially ones that interrupted a collection mission. He turned to the communications station and waited for the station's master to look up.
        "No sir. Nothing further from Central. And I'm having trouble picking up their carrier. That must be interfering with it."
        Lukas didn't like that answer. But he let it go. "Keep trying." He turned back to the helm and nodded to the Fourth Rank Officer at the position. "Take us around it, maintain distance. Speed normal two."
        "Yes sir."
        "Hackett take over the scanner station. Full probes. Active and passive."
        "Yes sir."
        What they were investigating was an ugly swirl of energy, dust, and debris that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the Glilto system. Central Fleet Command wanted it evaluated to determine if it was a hostile action or a natural phenomenon. Lukas protested that they were in the middle of a collection mission and some of the colonies were behind in their tribute as it was. But they were the closest and best ship for the assignment.
        The FC RAVEN slowly circled the swirling mass as the ship's scanners searched for clues.

        "I'm sorry sir. I've lost communication with Region 5. I'm not picking up anything from anywhere…. Wait a minute." The communications officer's voice trailed off.
        Ship Commander Lucas looked up. Something in their tone got his attention.
        "Sir, there's a hail from inside the ahhh, whatever it is. It's really choppy, but it could be a ship."
        Lucas turned to the science station. "Lieutenant Slack, bring all sensors up and scan for it, full resolution. See if you can find the other ship. Helm. Take us a little closer. Very slowly."

        Captain Lukas sighed as the lift doors opened and he got a good look at what was on the screen. The Red Alert claxon was still blaring from everywhere.
        First Officer Rowell was still trying to get some sort of report together, but wasn't having much luck.
        "It just appeared ma'am." One of the bridge officers said to her.
        "And we're inside it?" Lukas said.
        "Yeah. Ahhh, Yes sir."
        Ziggy straightened up quickly. "Yes sir. It materialized, or appeared … something, all around us. Shields are responding but I don't know if they're actually doing anything. We can't get a good reading from them."
        Hackett looked up. "I can't tell if the weapons are online or not. I… I just can't tell without firing them."
        "Not yet." Lukas said to him. "Are you seeing any other ships or bases in the area?"
        "Not yet."
        He looked up at the communications station. "Anything?"
        "All channels went dead as soon as it appeared." Ensign Kokoszka answered.
        "Engineering. Report."
        Mel Barnhardt appeared on the monitor but he was talking to somebody else. Finally he looked at the camera. "We're still trying to make sense of this sir. According to what I can see, we should be running at warp three. But I don't think we're moving. Do you want me to shut down?"
        "Not yet." Lukas looked around. "Let me get some more information."
        "Sir." The communications officer said. "I'm getting a return to my hails, indistinct, but it is an answer." The officer hit a switch and spoke somewhat loudly to the panel. "This is the USS RAVEN. Please repeat your message."
        The overhead speakers came to life with a garbled voice, but the voice was clearly answering their hail.
        "Can we maneuver at all?" Lukas said to the helmsman.
        "We can try."
        "Set course for that answer and let's see who they are. Maybe they know what's going on."

        "Commander I think they're calling us by name." The communication's officer touched a button. "I'll replay it."
        The bridge was filled with electronic hash. But in the middle of it was the word 'RAVAN'.
        "Well, somebody wants to talk to us in there. Open that channel." He cleared his throat. "This is the SLS RAVAN. Please relay your coordinates and state the type of assistance you require."
        Lieutenant Slack looked up suddenly. "I've got something moving under power. It's not the source of the signal, it's behind us, further out in the cloud. Definitely a ship under way."

        "First Rank. I'm detecting two different communications signals in the area. They appear to be calling to us for assistance. The signals are very distorted, but I can get a fix. One of them is deep inside the cloud-thing, the other is off to our port bow about three hundred thousand kilometers."
        "Set course for the second ship." Lukas nodded to his second in command. "Full arms stand by."
        "Full arms sir."

        "Captain. We've got more company. And I think I see full shields and weapons on the new ship." Lt. Slack said from across the bridge. "Best I can do is say it looks like they might have their weapons armed."
        "Any idea on our shield status?" Lukas glanced over as Ziggy shook his head. "Mel. It'd be really nice if we knew those shields were up."
        "Working on it." Mr Dubin answered for his chief.
        Lukas checked with communications next.
        Ensign Kokoszka shook her head. "The first ship is still responding, voice only. But nothing else."
        Lukas nodded. "Try to hail the second ship. Let them know we're not a threat."
        Ziggy smirked. "We couldn't be if we wanted to be right now. Sir."
        Hackett agreed. "Captain, I wouldn't trust the phasers on a bet right now. I think we could launch photons, but I'm not sure if they'll work."

        "First Rank. We just lost the pulse cannons. I'm showing full charge but the targeting system is overloaded." Sergeant Hackett reported.
        Third Rank Officer Zizileuskas added to the bad news. "Shielding is losing substantiation. Forty percent prime. Maybe."
        Lukas took it in stride. "Helm. Take us back out of the disturbance." He looked over at the communication's station. "Hail the other ships. Inquire if they are the cause of this and order them to cease and desist."
        "Helm's answering. Changing course. Sir. Indicators say we're turning, but we're actually still moving toward that ship."

        Major Rhoades walked onto the bridge. "Commander. The energy field is starting to affect the other systems besides weapons and shields. I'm getting reports of life support systems going yellow and some secondary systems shutting down. The scanning systems are functional, but I will have to order them shut down to maintain life support."
        Lucas wanted to sigh, but didn't dare. "Thank you ma'am. We'll get out of here as soon as we check out this rescue."
        First Sergeant Hackett didn't help any. "Sir. The other ship is still attempting to bring their shields back up, and they're still coming toward us. But I think they're as crippled as we are."
        "Their weapons are powered up, but I don't see any targeting systems active." Senior Lieutenant Zizileuskas said.

        Ellingsworth was on the comm from Stellar Cartography. "Sir this phenomenon doesn't appear to be unique, but the records aren't clear whether it is altogether a natural phenomenon or a specially created event."
        Lukas blinked. "Thanks John. Keep looking. I'll get back to you on that."
        "Captain." Ensign Kokoszka said. "I think our hails may be getting bounced back to us, but it's oddly distorted. Changed. I'm trying to clear it."
        "Captain." Mel added to it. "I just got the final word on the warp engines. They've been down since we got into this mess. The field indicators have been lying to me. Everything is shut down now. We've got the little bit of impulse we've been using, but that's it. I think the same thing is happening with the shields."
        "Sir, I've got…"

        "… a visual on the…"

        "… other ships."

        "What the hell?"
        "Excuse me First Rank?"

        "Hailing channels." He paused, then spoke in an authoritative voice. "This is Commander Lucas of the SLS RAVAN. We were responding to a possible distress call. Do you require assistance?" He nodded sharply. The channel closed.

        "Commander. This is Captain… This is the Captain of the USS RAVEN. We're having some problems with the effects of this cloud on our systems. Could you by any chance tow us out of here?"
        "Sir, I'm getting a visual signal now."

        "Third rank. Put the visual signal on viewer. Both signals split screen."
        "Yes sir."

Part two

        "Is that when you lost all contact with your home base?" Commander Lucas asked First Rank Lukas who sat in his slightly throne-like command chair in the briefing room of the FC RAVEN.
        "Yes Commander. There was no warning. As soon as we crossed the outer perimeter of the area, all channels went dead."
        They all looked at the projected image of the disturbance. The paths of the three ships showed as small lines converging inside a large ugly swirl of gray.
        The Commander followed up his first question. "First Rank sir. When did you detect us?"
        "Not immediately. Although not long after we lost external communications we did receive a bad stream from one or the other of your ships. Then we did the same as you." He nodded to the Commander. "We moved to render assistance."
        "With full shields up." One of the Zizileuskas's said.
        First Rank Lukas partially raised an eyebrow toward him. "A wise precaution don't you think, Senior Lieutenant?"
        "Yes sir." The officer replied after a sharp look from his superior.
        Captain Lukas was still trying to figure out how this could be a Borg weapon, or maybe a distraction. "Commander. Did you detect any Borg activity in the area before the disturbance appeared?"
        "'Borg' sir?" He looked puzzled. "Who is that?"
        The First Rank shook his head as well. "I've heard of them from another quadrant, but never around here Captain."
        Second Rank Rowell nodded. "I don't think they'd have the power or technology to do something like this. The Borg Collective Domain is all but defunct."
        "Oh." Captain Lukas said. "I guess things are a little different in your… universe."
        First Rank Lukas looked at Captain Lukas. "Did your crew record anything abnormal before the cloud appeared around you Captain?"
        "No sir. We were running at warp three to Starbase 201 from Colport. Everything was normal."
        "Where is that base Captain?"
        He picked up an indicator and drew their course on the star map. "There are some differences on our charts but… It's near the Tropis cluster, about here."
        "Odd." The First Rank said. "We had just left the Tropint system."
        The Commander looked at the First Rank. "Where were you going?"
        A stern expression crossed First Rank Lukas's face. "It may help this investigation. We had been dispatched from the Special Station at Tropint to the Balmora Colony."
        "Coincidence? We had been at Balmoress Colony and were going to Calpor." The Commander said drawing his ship's path on the map.
        The map now had three different lines on it forming an uneven triangle. The disturbance was more or less in the center of the triangle.
        "I don't believe in coincidence Commander. Not at all." First Rank Lukas said slowly.

        Back on the USS RAVEN Captain Lukas briefed his senior staff and answered the questions about who had a double on the other ships and what they were like. What they were supposed to be talking about was the confusing and often contradictory readings they had been getting from the center of the disturbance.

        "Even Dr. Leftover had a carbon copy." Lukas smiled at the man. "I met him when we took a break and I needed a cup of coffee."
        "But there is a limit of one of me per universe."
        "Thank the heavens." Commander Rhoades said with a smile.
        "I do." Leftover said. "All the time."
        "Anyway. Their version calls himself 'Reverent' and wears monks robes." Lukas smiled.
        "There's no accounting for clothing preference." Kada snickered.
        "Weren't you a priest once upon a time?" Rowell asked him.
        "Not a priest, an evangelist. Anyway… What do you want me to do?" He asked Lukas.
        "Just trade notes."
        "And see if they know more about what happened than they are letting on."
        "How about the SLS RAVAN?"
        "I don't know, but it wouldn't hurt to check and see if they have one of you too. The next meeting is over there in a couple of hours."

        First Rank Lukas looked around his briefing table. "What else have you been able to determine about their engines and weapons from your probes?"
        Fourth Rank Dubin stood to give his report. "First Rank. The USS RAVEN'S engines are not standard, and possibly superior to ours. The SLS ship has engines comparable to ours. Also. The USS ship has been in many battles and has sustained tremendous damage. It has, however, been mostly repaired. Their shields are equal of ours, and their weaponry is compatible with ours."
        "What of the arms on the SLS ship?"
        "Sir. That ship would appear to be a science vessel. They have a superior scanners installed in their dorsal pod and their weapons and shields are consistent with primary defensive arrays."
        "So Fourth Rank, the USS RAVEN is a battleship as well?"
        "No Second Rank. From what we've been able to learn, most of the heavy arms are retrofitted. I believe it started out as an exploration ship and has been converted to a battleship."

        "Is everything ready?" Commander Lucas asked his staff.
        "Why must we invite them here?" Major Rhoades asked. "We do not have the security squads necessary for this task. Much of my equipment is highly classed."
        "I'm sorry ma'am. I didn't realize this current problem is a Science Section task. Once we're free of the field I'll be more than happy to run every test you can come up with on it. But until then, we're stuck, and I think they are as well. We might need them to get out of here more than they need us."
        "Our sensor array is better than both of theirs together. They should welcome our assistance."
        "But we don't have the power to run it right now and keep breathing."
        "A ship's systems failure is your responsibility."
        Lucas was saved from having to respond with something he would probably regret by his first officer's announcement that the teams from the other ships were ready to beam over.
        "And sir. The escort for First Rank Lukas's party is armed."
        "Of course. We'll all be very polite." He stood at attention. "Energize."

        Captain Lukas and the others were waiting in the transporter room.
        "Come on Ziggy." He muttered.
        Dr. Leftover had been on time for once. "I wonder if he's late in all three universes."
        The doors opened and the security officer walked in. He wasn't wearing the body armor he had been wearing for their first trip to the FC RAVEN. Lukas asked him about it. "I've evaluated them and decided there is limited threat under the present circumstances."
        "You mean the battle can is too hot to wear just standing around in the hallway." Rhoades chided him.
        "That too."
        "They're ready over there sir."
        Lukas shook his head. "Everybody got everything?"
        Dr. Leftover picked up a large tote bag. "Yessir."
        "Whisky and sausages?" Mel asked peeking inside the flap.
        "Yes sir."
        "Energize." Lukas sighed.

        "Welcome to the SLS RAVAN Captain." Commander Lucas said to the new arrivals. First Rank Lukas and his party are awaiting us in Frontier View." He gestured toward the door. "My briefing room is somewhat small." He said to Captain Lukas's curious expression.
        The USS RAVEN crew was more than a little shocked when they walked into Frontier View and smelled the familiar odor of one of Dr. Leftover’s lunch specials, except for subtle differences, it was their own RAVEN’s Nest. They were even more shocked when the SLS RAVAN’s Mr. Kadal greeted them from behind the gleaming white counter. Except for the fact that his beard and hair were neatly groomed and he was wearing an SLS uniform with a junior officer's pin on the collar, they were basically identical.
        The FC RAVEN crew was already there. First Rank Lukas was seated at the head of the largest table, his Second Rank was next to him and the other officers were standing behind him at parade rest.
        Commander Lucas did some introductions and indicated that Captain Lukas was to sit at the other end of the table.
        “Please sir. This is your ship.” Captain Lukas said in deference to the other officer, “We’ll do just fine right here.” He indicated a group of seats in the middle.
        “Very good sir.” The Commander said. He nodded to his people and they took their positions.
        After they were seated the Commander introduced his Chief Engineer and his assistant.
        Captain Lukas had to do a double take. On the SLS RAVAN the positions of Chief Engineer and Assistant Chief were reversed.
        Chief Duban stood and announced they had been doing some deep probes of the disturbance. “We’ve found a multitude of quantum variations inside the core of the disturbance. Separate, individual, signatures.”
        Chief Engineer Barnhardt from the USS RAVEN raised his hand. Commander Lucas nodded. “We noticed the same thing. But our scans indicated the localized variations overlapped."
        "With all due respect Chief. We've got better equipment."
        There was a long round of heady scientific discussion. During which several of the non-technical people took advantage of Mr. Kadal and friend's buffet spread. First Rank Lukas seemed most impressed by Dr. Leftover's fletin sausages.
        "Just spicy enough to eat with a smile." He said. Then he sent one of his assistants back to bring him a few more.
        The technical discussion was dissolving into an argument. Captain Lukas had been following some of it, but then they got into multi-phase dimensional crossing quantum folds that left him fuzzy around the edges. He put up his hands to stop the back and forth talk.
        "OK. Let me go through this once to make sure I'm following it."
        "Thank you Captain." First Rank Lukas said. It had been obvious early on he was just pretending to understand it.
        "Somehow, either through some natural phenomena or by design by parties unknown, otherwise randomly occurring quantum events in our three universes…"
        "Or more." One of the scientists added.
        "Or more." Lukas continued. "Somehow lined up across all the dimensions and phases and whatever else, and created this… ah, hole, in reality. And since our three ships happened to be in the vicinity, we all ended up here together. AND… we have no way of knowing which universe we'll go back to, or even if we can get out of here."
        "Where or… if Chief Barnhardt's assistant is correct. When." Chief Duban said with a nod at his other self.
        "Like I said before. I do not believe in coincidence." First Rank Lukas said.
        "That's about it captain." Third Rank Barnhardt said.
        Chief Barnhardt nodded.
        Commander Lucas took a deep breath and tried not to look at anybody. "If there is no objection. I would like to call a full recess to give everybody time to digest all that."
        Reverent Leftover bowed to the group and announced there was plenty of food and drink. Then he blessed their efforts and invoked the Spirit of the Universe to watch over them.
        "A bit much don't you think?" Mr. Kadal whispered to Dr. Leftover as they stood behind the counter to keep the bowls and platters full.
        "Yeah, maybe."

Part three

        Three nearly identical ships cruised in a tight formation through the edges of a large gray cloud of unreality. While the immediate area around and between the ships appeared to be normal empty space, the further they looked out the denser it became. Even though the maps the star charts indicated a binary star system should be within easy visual range of their position, there was nothing to be seen in any direction. They had launched various types of probes to no avail. Once the probe was a few hundred kilometers from the ships they lost all signal from it, the ones they sent out in a circular course simply came back as programmed with no new data. They had simply flown out, lost contact with the ships, continued on their prescribed path, turned around, and after awhile, resumed contact. The ones programmed to fly straight out flew straight out, and after several hours, flew straight by the ships again. The universe was curved indeed at least their small one was.
        The SLS RAVAN continued to use its instruments to probe the secrets of the anomaly.
        The FC RAVEN, still operating with the suspicion that this was a diabolical plot by unmentioned enemies of the Carvair Federation, was riding outboard of the two others. They were fighting to keep their shields operational and had worked out a method to target their weapons by hand and all but blind.
        The USS RAVEN sat between the other two and attempted to use the sensors they had to learn something new before SLS crew announced it.

        "Very well gentlemen. I'll see you here in two hours." Captain Lukas said to his counterparts on the other ships. The screen went dark. He turned to his staff. "Well. Now what?"
        "I guess we wait for their update." Chief Barnhardt said.
        Lieutenant Slack agreed. "We haven't even been able to come up with a new theory to test."
        Lukas sagged. "I hate this. Waiting for somebody else. There has got to be a way to find out what they know so we can work on it in the meantime." He looked up. "Bridge to Nest."

        "Well I don't know Doctor." Reverent Leftover said. "Security is almost another religion here."
        Mr. Kadal nodded at the screen. "But I can see his point. We all know those on the Command Deck can be rather stubborn. It would be for the good of all to share what information we have that is not classed."
        "That's all I'm asking. I don't know about you guys. But I have things to do and people to see back in the real universe. Sitting around here just isn't cutting it." The Doctor held up a data crystal. "Here's everything Jon and Mel and the Slacks have pulled in off everything from the transwarp neutrino detector to old fashioned radar returns off the probes as they went by." He inserted into the consol and hit a button.
        "Data coming through." Mr. Kadal said.
        "Yes. Thank you." The priest said in a second. Then he nodded to the other two. "As a show of good faith. I will transmit the unsecured data I have on the phenomena."
        "Thank you." Dr. Leftover said as his station began to receive a stream.
        "As will I." Mr. Kadal said. "Transmitting."

        "I trust your exchange with the others benefited us more than them." First Rank Lukas said to Reverent Leftover as he reviewed the material from the other two ships.
        "Yes sir. The SLS ship's sensors are far superior to ours, and we simply do not have the high energy particle detector the other ship has."
        "Very good. I'll let the specialists review this information." Lukas said examining the data as it scrolled by. "I don't see anything here of a command nature."
        "I've got full copies of the files sir. With your permission I'll take it to the department heads."
        "That would be excellent. Thank you Chaplain."

        "So they didn't say how they came upon this data?" Commander Lucas said.
        "No sir. But I'm sure they have their ways."
        "As do you." He fed the information into the ship's databank. "Science section. Please begin comparison and overview of sensor information from the other ships with our own."
        Major Rhoades answered. "I believe we can do that sir. Would you like me to review the recipe for sausage dressing the USS RAVEN's cook left with us as well?"
        "Maybe once we get out of here."
        Mr. Kadal suppressed a snicker. "If that is all sir."
        Lucas nodded.

        "Bingo." Chief Barnhardt said.
        "Bing-o?" Captain Lukas repeated as a question.
        "That's Mel Speak for 'Eureka'." Mr. Dubin explained. "This is exactly what we were missing."
        "Ok." Lukas said with great patience.
        "You see. We were right about the overlap of the quantum points. Their sensors are too good. Where the points overlap they are seeing the interference pattern as an actual boundary. There is no boundary."
        "The boundaries are occupying the same space at the same time." The chief continued.
        "And how does that help all of us to get home?"
        "Beats me." Mel said. "I'm just reading the sensor data."
        "Don't worry. We'll take it to the Slacks and see what we can come up with."
        Lukas nodded. "We've got that meeting with the other crews in about an hour and a half."
        "We'll have something by then. I don't know what. But something."

        The crew on board the science ship was pushing the theoretical boundary as well.
        With the data from the USS RAVEN they were able to exactly map the various quantum bubbles in the area. They were also able to sort out the background noise and see recognizable signatures in them.
        "So we think if we can find the quantum point from our universe we'll be able to fly into it and come out in our own universe." Junior Lieutenant Slack said slowly drawing a curving line across the map that intersected with one of the bubbles.
        Commander Lucas stared at the map. "OK, put it together. We have a meeting with them in…" He glanced at the display. "About five minutes."

        "First Rank. Look at this." Third Rank Zizileuskas said. "It's been there for some time, but I've never been able to resolve the image any better. With the radomitry from the USS RAVEN I was able to filter out enough distortion to see it."
        "It's another ship."
        "Yes sir. And from the emissions signature and other traces, I believe it is another INTERVENTION Class vessel… like ours and the others."
        "Not an echo of one of the other ships or sensor ghost?"
        "No sir. It has been moving in a slightly different orbit and has altered attitude independent of us."
        "Very good Third Rank. Compile your data and join my team. If I believe it is pertinent to the situation I will allow you to reveal it to the other Commanding Officers and their people."

        For this meeting there was more of a sense of a team working toward a common goal amongst the various crews. The scientists and technical people were now spread all over two of the ships, they were in direct contact with the science section on the SLS ship and were using a serious amount of the USS ship's computer core to analyze variables and project possible outcomes. Every hour or so there was a skull session in the Nest where they'd compare notes and decide what was next.
        "I've been getting some incongruous readings now and then. Strange bits of energy signatures and odd fluctuations." Major Rhoades said. "But not from the core of the disturbance."
        Third Rank Zizileuskas looked at First Rank Lukas. The superior officer nodded. "I might be able to explain that Major."
        As he explained what they had found on the FC ship Chief Engineer Barnhardt and Security officer Ziggy worked swiftly to verify the data.
        "You guys need to look at this." The chief said to the group. "Doc, can you activate your screen?"
        "You should clear any findings with your superior." First Rank Lukas said to him.
        "Brian?" Ziggy said from across the room. He nodded. The bartender/cook sent Grunt out to physically drag the view screen out of its nitch in the wall. "Thanks man." He said to the machine.
        The First Rank seemed to think their easy familiarity almost amounted to insubordination. He bit his lip and tolerated it.
        "Cutting over." Mel called out. "This is the latest visual and sensor plotting we've gotten."
        The screen showed the three ships on an enhanced background of fuzzy gray energy and distortion fields.
        "This is what we're seeing using the combined sensors of all three ships including the FC's improved tracking filter that works against cloaking devices and our own neutrino detector."
        The view changed to a slightly wider field. Just ahead and behind the three ships were scattered spots that looked for all the world like hazy outlines of yet more RAVEN's.
        "More ships?" Commander Lucas asked.
        "Yes sir." Third Rank Zizileuskas said. "I detected two directly astern our formation this morning. There was a chance it was a sensor malfunction. But now. I believe we are not the only ships that are trapped here."
        "Why can't we see them?" Commander Rhoades of the USS RAVEN asked.
        The technical people looked at each other. Major Rhoades was the one to answer her opposite number. "It would seem they are slightly out of phase with us. Either dimensionally or temporally. Maybe both."
        "Check this out." Mr. Dubin said after playing with various settings on the sensors.
        "Running lights?" Somebody asked.
        "That's what they look like." First Rank Lukas said. "So that ship is closer to us in…"
        "Dimensional shift? Temporal balance… I couldn't tell you." Lieutenant Slack said.
        "Switch to our third feed, we've got another one." Junior Lieutenant Slack from the SLS ship said suddenly. Jon nodded and made the change to the big screen. "There's the best one yet."
        "It looks a mirage." Chief Engineer Dubin said. "Almost a ghost ship."
        "We've been seeing traces of energy, life signs, almost three hundred crew, normal starship mass, all that. But it's never solid or steady."
        The ship was a hazy, transient image that was more not there than it was. But it was obvious it was another RAVEN, cruising ahead and slightly above the trio of ships. Occasionally under high magnification they could make out a shadow in a portal that looked like somebody waving at them.
        Captain Lukas nodded to the image. "OK, we're not alone. There's dozens of us here, and I'd bet some of those sausages to a year's pay that they're all trying to crack this puzzle and get home…"
        "Exactly what I was going to say Captain." First Rank Lukas said. "We’re all here together and all trying to get out of here together."
        "But how do we do it?" Commander Lucas finished.

Part four

        It was proposed and accepted that the ships work as closely as possible on several of the issues with the RAVEN'S NEST on the USS RAVEN acting as mission control for the effort as it had the best overall facilities for both large groups and spontaneous research and communications with the other ships.
        One of the more chilling discoveries they made was that some distance behind the three ship formation was a drifting hulk, lifeless, cold and dark. Yet another RAVEN floated in space. Dead as far as their sensors could determine. No energy, no life signs, nothing except three hundred and twenty nine corpses according to the SLS RAVAN's high-definition sensors. The investigative team stood silently and watched it drift. It was out of transporter or tractor beam range and they didn't want to risk a shuttle investigating what was essentially a tomb.

        "So Doctor. Just how did you arrange all this capability in a non-duty location. It would appear to me your kitchen could operate as a command deck for the entire ship." First Rank Lukas asked sitting at the bar watching his senior officers work with the others.
        "Well, sir. I knew there would be occasions when such technology would be handy to have. This isn't the first time it's been used either. But this may be the most involved it's ever been."
        "How about that?" Major Rhoades asked him pointing at Grunt who was now serving as a portable workstation platform.
        "Something I found awhile back. Or maybe he found me. We kinda work together and he comes in real handy at times."
        First Rank Lukas looked at Reverent Leftover and scowled. "No, you can't have one."

        The FC RAVEN had been trying to communicate with the 'ghost image ship' and the 'running lights ship' with minimal success. Yes they could see the three basically as the three could see them, but using a beacon light to try to communicate between them was slow and inexact, and nothing else was getting through to them.
        "Negative, sir." Third Rank Kokosky said. "I don't think they're even seeing the com laser."
        The other officers nodded in agreement. "Acknowledged."
        Second Rank Rowell pursed her lips. "The First Rank wants to take something constructive to the next session. I suggest we come up with another procedure to try."

        "They move too much. And it appears to be truly random." Junior Lieutenant Barnhardt from the SLS RAVAN said. "I can't keep a fix on the sources."
        Major Rhoades was deep into the problem, and getting more frustrated by the minute. "If it is a natural phenomenon there has to be some sort of pattern."
        Third Rank Ellingsworth had been watching the interfaces in the RAVENS NEST. "Pardon me sir, but I think I do see a pattern."
        "I'm listening." The major replied.
        "The quantum sources are moving to fill in empty spaces, except when one moves it creates a vacuum which is then filled by another one. And I think there are fewer empty spaces between them than there were. More quantum sources are appearing, we just can't see them all."
        "Like the ships." Mr. Dubin said from behind him.
        "Exactly. Each source brings a ship with it." Major Rhoades said. "So, Third Rank, how many more empty spaces need to be filled?"
        "I don't know ma'am."
        "Let's look at it and guess."

        Reverent Leftover pulled Dr. Leftover into the storeroom of the galley and acted like he was asking about some spices.
        "I need a favor, if it's at all possible."
        Dr. Leftover nodded to the bottle of hot sauce and reached up into the cabinet for something else. First Rank Lukas was still sitting at the bar watching his people, but since the discovery that more quantum sources were appearing all the time, his attention was drawn that way for now.
        "There is a passenger on board my ship that would like asylum on board yours when we make the jump back to our own universes."
        Dr. Leftover's jaw got tight. "What if it's not possible? Maybe the transition back will kill them."
        "She's willing to take that chance."
        "So she's not really a 'passenger'."
        "No sir. Let me just say her situation would be much improved in either eventuality."
        Dr. Leftover walked out to the bar and checked the amount of SLS stew. Then he went back to the galley and stirred the large pot of it on the stove. First Rank Lukas had gone up to directly observe the attempt to identify the pattern of the appearances of the sources. The doctor nodded to the priest. "I take it your CO wouldn't approve this personnel transfer."
        "Most likely not officially sir."
        "But once it's done and we make the trip back…" He started dipping stew into a bowl.
        "There's no going back for her or any of us. Whatever happens will be up to the Spirit."
        "Let's hope it's in a good mood."

        "There's another one. And it's not a ghost ship." The viewscreen showed yet another RAVEN. This one was solid and moving their way on a wildly serpentine course.
        "Captain. I'm seeing active shields on it. And…" A blinding flash washed out the screen for a second.
        "Battle stations."
        "First Rank Lukas is demanding to talk to you sir."
        "Tell him to come up here."
        "They're firing at random. Sir, the SLS ship doesn't have the shields we do. Even now."
        "Move to cut them off."
        "The FC ship is returning fire."
        The turbolift doors opened and First Rank Lukas ran onto the bridge just in time to see his ship take a direct hit and then return it. The shields held on both ships. In a second the USS RAVEN and the FC RAVEN were firing simultaneously at the hostile ship. Its shields fought back as it turned at a sharp angle to try to avoid the attack. The SLS RAVAN then joined the fight. At three to one odds the hostile seemed to realize that this hadn't been a good idea and it began to move away.
        "Hail that ship!" Captain Lukas said.
        "Trying sir. I'm getting responses, but they don't make any sense."
        First Rank Lukas looked at her. "Put it on anyway."
        The viewscreen changed to the bridge of the attacking ship. But it was in chaos. Loud and heavily distorted music was blasting. People ran back and forth, some of the crew were lying in disturbing poses either dead or unconscious. Their edition of Captain Lukas was standing on the command chair in a torn shirt yelling something they couldn't make out while waving his arms. He was holding a large stick with a ribbon tied to one end.
        "What on Terra?" First Rank Lukas said.
        "Cranberry. Ahhhh Dogs. Warp Speed. Toothbrushed. EEEhauuh." He waved the stick at them.
        The officer at the helm seemed to be responding to Lukas's ranting with random actions. Suddenly the ship spiraled in space. Then took off on a different course again. Still firing wildly into the haze.
        "The FC ship is hailing for First Rank Lukas."
        Captain Lukas nodded.
        "Sir. Permission to pursue and eliminate the threat." Second Rank Rowell said seriously.
        "I don't believe they are a threat. Stand down attack alert, maintain guard position."
        The screen still showed the other bridge. Somebody had set something on fire in one corner and was waving over it. Again the ship changed direction, this time disappearing into the haze. The transmission broke up and faded out.
        "Well." Captain Lukas said.
        "It could have been us." Ziggy said softly.
        "Maybe it was." One of the others said. "Just from the future or something."
        "I don't even want to think about that." Captain Lukas said. He recognized the staff his insane counterpart had been holding.

        "Doctor?" Mr. Kadal said.
        "In here. Quickly." Kadal said to somebody behind him.
        Doctor Leftover caught a glimpse of robes and a travel case as Kadal turned off the lights in the galley and the storeroom.
        "During the battle the Reverent beamed her over to our ship. I passed her off as an assistant to him who was bringing supplies over here to get her past your security officer. Fortunately, they were a little distracted."
        "A fire fight does tend to have that effect."
        The Doctor checked the hallway and the Nest, nobody was paying any attention to them. He made a quick check of the 'bottomless buffet' they had been maintaining for the various crews then went back to the galley.
        "Nobody else goes in there right?" Mr. Kadal asked. "At least on my ship they won't come near it." He had found her some space in the storeroom. "They say some of my supplies smell bad."
        The Doctor looked at the back corner where he kept some rather questionable items. Unless you knew something had happened, you couldn't tell by a casual glance. "Most of them are afraid of Grunt, that's where he recharges. But I'll pull his cable out a little further to give her some room. Nobody will bother her. And when Grunt's in there he messes with the internal scans, they might not be able to see her that way either."
        For the first time the Doctor got to look at his new charge's face. She was a rather attractive woman of about his own age. There was a look in her eyes that she, like him, had seen too much in life to take anything for granted. She smiled at him then looked away.
        "OK, good. I need to get back." Mr. Kadal said. "And if anybody asks, I delivered some vegetarian spices and sauces." He patted a box on the counter.
        "That's all I've seen today." He opened the box and tried to read the labels. "Caldorin Fire Spice. Sounds interesting."
        "Don't mix it in anything with a low melting point."
        "I'll remember that." The Doctor glanced back into the galley. There was no sign of the woman. "Tell the Reverent I got his package."

        The next meeting between the majority of the people involved in the problem was pushed back one hour as several important discoveries were coming in all at once.
        They had measured the phenomenon and the number and locations of the quantum sources, which were appearing at an ever slowing rate. Evidently either the available space for new realms of unreality was either getting too full, or it was running out of universes to pull from, or most likely, Major Rhoades had said, both.
        Also there was news on the communication front. The FC crew had managed to arrange something of a numerical code of flashing a directional beacon to the 'running light ship' and using a scanning pulse to the 'ghost' ship. Once the system was clear they had exchanged quite a bit of information and then they relayed it to other ships they could detect.

        When the crews did finally meet there was so much to discuss Captain Lukas had trouble keeping order. Everything was feeding off something else. All the data was related, and everybody's idea had to be stated at once then argued about.
        But they did make progress. And slowly a plan to try to get them home took shape.
        "We can identify the signature of each individual source. Now that they're not moving around so much, we should be able to figure out which ones our ships came through." Major Rhoades said with self-assurance.
        "Do you know how many of them there are?" First Rank Lukas asked.
        "No idea." She answered. "We can't even see all them no matter what sensors we use. So all we have to do is scan the ones we can actually get readings on."
        "That's only a few dozen of them, maybe a hundred at most." Chief Engineer Barnhardt said.
        "Oh." The First Rank said with a glance out the window to the gray expanse.

        "Apples…. tribble. AAAAhhhhhhhh." Lukas's hands were shaking. His mind knew what he wanted to do, but he couldn't make his body do it. He wanted to act, to move, to command, but all that came out was nonsense and meaningless gestures. "… GreenTree! … marbles "
        "Wrizztmain Attitude contrrrllllst fail ure auxilscht-rly…" Once in awhile the computer would announce something about half speaking half the words it had been programmed to say, interrupted by static and noise.
        The helm officer had been flying, and firing, blindly for hours. He had to get away from that nightmare behind them that had put them here, to attack it, to … anything… to make it stop chasing them.
        Commander Rowell writhed on the floor. Locked in a state somewhere between consciousness and death.
        Now and then another claxon or warning bell would sound. Something else had failed. The ship was coming apart around them. Like its very structure was incompatible with where they now found themselves.
        "Nomanch." Dubin screamed and tried to drag himself across engineering. His legs were limp and lifeless under him. "GrukloITCHtop! "
        Chief Barnhardt understood something was wrong with the panel, but his brain wasn't working right. Instinct told him the red lights weren't a good thing, but he couldn't come up with what to do about it. He tried to move his hand to push a button under a light, but his fingers wouldn't go the right way, thumping uselessly against the panel. More red lights appeared.
        Commander Rhoades ran up one corridor and down another. From turbolift to Jefferies tube. Then back across another deck. She was looking for something. Or she thought she was. The lift arrived at another deck. She took off down the corridor.
        In Sickbay the twin cadets checked the other medical staff, they had to sedate one of the nurses who had become violently disoriented. But the twins were having problems too. One of them couldn't speak and her vision was blurry, the other was partially paralyzed, but what had always been a mild telepathic link between them was now full, they were all but sharing consciousness. Together, they functioned almost as a single person. Of the entire ship, Sickbay was the only section actually working.
        Ensign Hackett sat in the weapons pod surrounded by tools. They looked oddly familiar, and he knew he should recognize them. But when he picked up one long shiny thing it beeped and glowed and startled him, so he dropped it. He didn't want that to happen again. So he huddled in the corner and looked at them. Then he reached out for one that didn't look like it would make a lot of noise or flash at him. Maybe this one would help him remember.
        Down in the Nest, Mr. Leftover shivered as some more pain got past the alien swill he had been drinking. The power feed to the cooking unit had exploded as they fell through the rift. He had watched the wave of dissolution roll through the ship, when it hit the stove… The blast had shattered his arm and burned his legs. He called for Grunt, but Grunt was dark and still, then he tried to yell for help, but his voice was garbled and shrill. Fortunately he had fallen across his desk, within easy reach of several bottles of prohibited drink and a package of smuggled cigars, but not within reach of a communicator. He sprayed some bioskin from a small med kit on his legs to slow the bleeding and waited for somebody to find him. Except there was nobody left capable of finding him.
        Ziggy had beaten his hands bloody trying to get out of his quarters. The phaser he had in his room wasn't working, the computer didn't respond, all trying to hotwire the door had done was turn his room lights out. He called for assistance on his communicator but could only make gargling noises and shout the occasional obscenity. Nobody had responded anyway. He sat in a chair and wondered what the confused mass of clouds outside the window were. Well, he thought, sooner or later somebody would cut through his door to let him out.
        More red lights.
        More warning sirens.
        "Witchhazel. Cats!"
        "Warnbngs… expl osive decom prbist sion… deck…. chruuumstsph… overloa…"

        Ziggy pointed out the window of the Nest.
        Something intensely and unnaturally bright was visible through the haze off to one side of where the 'ghost' ship floated in front of them.
        "That looked like a warp core breach."
        "I think we need to get out of here."

        Everybody agreed they had spent enough time sorting the theoretical from the improbable and now they had to do something.
        "Idea sirs…."
        The three commanding officers looked at two Mr. Dubins. One of them spoke first. "One of our ships drops back and gets a tow beam on the dead ship. Then we identify its quantum source and push it through while we monitor it."
        "Monitor it for what?" Commander Lucas said.
        "A warp core breach for one." Chief Barnhardt said grimly.

        The FC RAVEN slowly maneuvered and captured the drifting ship. Once it was back within their group several boarding parties checked it one end to the other. The ship was all but identical to the others, except there was nothing working and nothing at all alive. Even the occasional pet and potted plant they ran across were dead.
        "The registry is Vulcon Space Group, Bird-of Splendor Class- RAVEN." Ziggy reported from the away mission.
        "This is really odd." One of the medical personnel on a survey team reported. "Even the resident archinia bacteria in their intestines and in specimen dishes in the lab are dead. There is nothing at all alive on this ship from their universe. And from these readings, they died when they came through the portal. And…" the officer added. "I don't know if it's significant. But their DNA is left spiraled, like ours, not right spiraled like the USS RAVEN's crew. But we're fine, and this crew is dead."
        They looked at each other in the Nest. Another detail to add to the puzzle. Then the briefing continued.
        "Same with the ship's systems sirs. Even the batteries in their flashlights are stone dead. And won't take a charge at all. I tried." An engineer from the SLS ship reported.
        "Can we attach thrusters to it externally to get it back… there?" Captain Lukas asked.
        "I don't see why not. But my bet is once it crosses over the thrusters will be as dead as the ship is here."
        "That's all we need it to do. Make the arrangements. We have thrusters on my ship." First Rank Lukas said.
        "Excuse me sir. Which ship is that?"
        "The FC ship."
        "Thank you sir. I'll get right on it."
        Everybody had a purpose now and worked with confidence and precision. The scanning teams worked feverishly to map the sources with their resonance frequencies and had so far identified a good number of them.
        The group communicating with other ships had managed to extend their reach, through several other clusters of ships, one of them containing five ships working together, and a few single ships and had exchanged a great deal information. One flash of light at a time.

        The majority of the ships had more or less the same basic configuration and were fairly close on mass as well. Some were more angular than others, several were cigar shaped instead of having a saucer shaped main section, at least one was more of a dreadnaught class vessel without nacelles with heavy armament and several times the mass of the others. But the standard held pretty well. And the vast majority of them were named some variation of RAVEN.
        "Again sir. I DO NOT believe in coincidence. And I hold this list out as my primary argument." First Rank Lukas said stridently.
        Reverent Leftover looked down the registry of ships. It was odd that there were so many similarities. But there were a few noteworthy exceptions as well. He thought it best to not mention them. "Then perchance you are agreeing that the Spirit does intervene in our lives?"
        Something did. I won't say it was your Spirit. But something did."
        "Some thing. Or Some One?"
        Lukas glared at him then gestured with his empty mug to Mr. Kadal.

        As the ships moved slowly through the cloud they came upon the scattered remains of the ship that had exploded.
        "There's no doubt sir. It's the RAVEN with the insane crew that fired on us. There was a catastrophic failure of several systems at once. Some of the ship came apart before the warp core went." Ziggy reported from the Nest. "A lot of them were dead before it blew up too."
        Commander Lucas nodded. "It still doesn't make it any easier. That could have been any of us."
        Reverent Leftover was working the bar. "It was us. Yet their deaths may have served a purpose in the larger scheme. May The Spirit give them peace." He bowed to the cloud of debris.

        They were all exhausted, the three CO's ordered everybody to stand down for a few hours before they started the attempt to get back to their own universes.
        "I don't want anybody nodding off at a crucial moment and miss something important." Captain Lukas said from his bridge.
        "Four hours?" First Rank Lukas suggested.
        "Yes." The Commander agreed.
        "I'll pass the word to my crew. Let's get everybody back to where they belong and take a break."
        "We'll be in touch in four hours Captain."

        A good percentage of the crew descended on the Nest for a quick bite and a drink, but then, they left. Most to try to get a couple of hours of shuteye.
        Doctor Leftover found the Nest deserted for the first time in several days. He went to the doors and hung a handwritten sign on them that had only appeared rarely before. "Closed for Cleaning." Then he locked them.
        "It's OK. Come on out and look around." He said to the woman who had been hiding in his storeroom.
        It took some coaxing but she finally stepped out for the first time since she had arrived. "Where is everyone?"
        "Hopefully sleeping."
        She looked out at the void beyond. "Is that the ship I was on?" She nodded toward one of the other RAVENs.
        "I think so. It's hard to tell them apart from this angle." He looked at her. "So what's your name?"
        She looked at him sadly. "I've had several."
        "So have I." He smiled. "Some of them I'd rather not repeat." It took her a minute, but she finally laughed a little. "What would you like me to call you?" He asked softly.
        "Te-a." He said softly. "I like that. So it is." He looked back toward the galley. "Grunt!" In a minute the boxy machine rolled out and sort of looked their way. "This is Te-a. She's going to be with us for awhile. Take care of her."
        Grunt grunted. Then it hummed for a second, and went back to cleaning up the Nest.
        "So what's it… he, do for you?"
        "Almost everything. But he makes lousy coffee."
        "I make great coffee." Te-a said a little more relaxed now.
        "I'd love some." Leftover smiled. "Then we'll start breakfast. About half an hour before we go back to full duty I'll announce it. And tell them we've got fresh coffee."
        "You take good care of the crew."
        Leftover smiled broadly. "Self preservation. That way they take good care of me."

        First Rank Lukas didn't even try to take a nap. He was studying everything he could and quizzing his officers about the situation. It wasn't that he didn't trust the crews of the other ships, but he… well, he didn't trust the crews of the other ships. And he was still nursing the idea in the back of his mind that this was all some sort of vast plot to separate his ship from Central Fleet Command for nefarious purposes.

        "We've got a match!" Major Rhoades announced. "The Planetary Alliance's RAVVENT is a certain match to the source at vectors 113.23.109 mark 230.94.51 drift 87."
        Commander Lucas nodded. "Send them the coordinates through the relay."
        "Already have sir."
        He nodded. It wasn’t worth arguing about.

        One of the ships in the communication's network was also identifying sources and sending out coordinates. One of them was a match for the VS RAVEN and its deceased crew.
        "Location and resonance trace confirmed. It's a match."
        "OK, let's do it. They're the test case. Tell First Rank to fire up the thrusters." Captain Lukas said.
        Commander Rowell grinned at the way the Captain referred to himself on the other ships.

        Without warning the center of the area lit up with brilliant fireworks.
        The three ships worked feverishly to find out what happened.
        "First Rank. I have word from the Star League RAVEN-2. The Travian RAVON didn't wait. They found a source and went for it." Third Rank Zizileuskas reported. "It wasn't a sure match. They exploded at the threshold."
        A long silence followed.

        "Now that changes the picture a little doesn't it?" Captain Lukas said. "If its not a one hundred percent match… Boom."
        The other officers around the table in the Nest nodded.
        Commander Lucas held up his hand. "How long until the VS RAVEN goes in? We've confirmed that match a dozen times. It has to be right."
        First Rank Lukas looked at his data pad. "It's on course, it should reach the threshold in nine minutes. With the random motion of the source we didn't want it going too fast in order to ensure good course corrections."
        "Well. In nine minutes. We'll know if this works at all."
        Mr. Kadal stepped a little closer to the table. "Fresh hotcha anyone?" He asked holding up a large steaming coffee pot.

        "Two minutes." Mr. Dubin announced. The assembled officers and scientists quieted down and turned their attention to one of the large viewscreens Grunt had pulled back out.
        "On course. Speed holding, 150 CpC and steady." Third Rank Barnhardt added.
        "Source sensor data good." The SLS's version of Lt. Slack said quietly. "Threshold stable."
        There was a long pause.
        "Forty five seconds to contact." Mr. Dubin said.
        "Thruster power down." First Rank Lukas ordered.
        "Powering down sir." Zizileuskas answered from the FC ship.
        "Source stable. Motion negligible."
        The watched the small elongated dot of the VS ship approach a slightly more pronounced hazy area of the general background haze.
        "Contact…. Now."

        They watched as nothing seemed to happen.

        Then more nothing happened.

        Everybody took a deep breath and blinked a few times.
        The ship and the source were still there.

        "Well. Now what?" Captain Lukas said.
        "I don't understand. Something should have happened." Major Rhoades said slowly.
        "What's the scanners say?" First Rank Lukas asked.
        "Everything is normal. I'm showing the ship and the source as… Wait a minute."
        "I can't get a separate fix on either one now." Mr. Dubin said.
        "Confirmed sir." Third Rank Zizileuskas said over the com. "The ship's…. gone."
        The VS ship wasn't there anymore, and the source was reading somewhat smaller than it had been.
        "As time goes on it is getting smaller and weaker. Evidently whatever hole was opened into that universe is closing." Major Rhoades said to the meeting.
        "How many sources have we identified?"
        "About eighty at last count. And we've matched thirteen to known ships. No, none of them match any of ours yet. But it's only a matter of time. We haven't scanned even half of them yet."
        First Rank Lukas scowled, but he nodded eventually.
        "OK. Let's keep at it." Captain Lukas said.
        "Agreed. We keep scanning and targeting."
        "Sir. I've got a message from the relay through the Alliance ship. The Star League RAVEN-2 says they're going in. Three minutes to threshold. They sent out the rest of their data to everybody. Possible match for the SLS RAVAN. They wish us all well."
        Nobody said anything but looked at the officers that tracked the first ship.
        "On plot." First Rank Lukas said. "This'll be a live test."
        Mr. Dubin nodded and fed in the information into the system. "Got it. I think that's the ship." He indicated a wavering bluish dot moving across the field of haze toward a particular source.
        "Confirmed. That has to be them."
        Once again they watched the screens as the Star League ship approached the threshold.
        "They're slowing. I guess they shut down their engines." The Third Rank said over the com.
        "Can you confirm that Mister?" The First Rank asked Mr. Dubin.
        "No sir. We're barely able to see the ship at all."
        "Ten seconds."
        "Targets merging. Just like before, everything's froze. No motion, nothing."
        "I'd say that it's normal then." Major Rhoades surmised.
        It took another minute.
        "Readings changing. There it goes. The ship just vanished."
        "Everything was steady until just before the ship went through."
        "Successful live test."
        "OK. We know what to expect. Pass the word." Commander Lucas said.
        They set up a scanning schedule and rotation to finish the survey.
        "Sir. Message from a probe through the relay. The Star League ship sent it back through once they were clear. They reported successful crossing, all stations secure…" The communications officer from the FC ship continued reporting. "They said they can see their stars and a were in contact with a search party from the Star League… they say they reported them missing four months ago by our calendar."
        The message took a minute to register.
        "So we are out of space and time." Captain Lukas said. "I wonder if it's consistent?"
        "We'll find out."

        As more sources were identified other ships began move toward thresholds and cross over. There were no more explosions, but there were several close calls as more complete sensor readings indicated variations in some signatures that were very similar and ships that had started to move had to be warned off.
        Even though the SLS RAVAN's source had been identified Commander Lucas wanted to stay to help the other two versions of himself find their way home.
        "We'll all go through together when the time comes." Lucas said.
        "I appreciate that Commander." First Rank Lukas said.

        "You're another member of the Service." He smiled. "It may not be exactly the same service, but…"
        The First Rank Officer saluted his counterpart in response.
        "News from the relay sir. 209.112.10 mark 85.312.1 drift 45. Possible match for USS RAVEN signature. The Thrangstill ROPHIN sends their regards."
        "Return mine as well."
        "And Third Rank, I've got some confirmed matches to pass along." Major Rhoades said.
        "Yes ma'am."

        "That's a direct quote from the Imperial Attack Cruiser RAVVEN, sir. I was told not to translate it by request of their commander."
        Captain Lukas smiled with an amused look. "Can you repeat it please?"
        "Grbmsh prf drbs mfglshdnt RrVVN wprkstldnt jmmd."
        "Thank you. I understand it now. Reply with my best wishes."
        Commanders Rhoades and Rowell exchanged grins.
        Captain Lukas looked at them. "What?"

        Mister Dubin whistled out loud. "Look at THAT!"
        Framed against the haze of the source was the outline of the ship entering it. A massive slightly wedge shaped object with a pronounced bulge in the middle was dark against the brightness of the source.
        "That's that Attack Cruiser." Ziggy said. "It's … it must be twenty times our size. It's bigger than a super starship."
        The hazy image was magnified on the screen. "Easily."
        "Its big enough we're picking up gravitational distortions around it… like a planet."
        For a few seconds they were able to clearly see what had only been a rumor of subtle distortion in space for several days.
        "It didn't explode." Mel observed.
        "We'll be going soon enough." Lukas said. "Secure all stations. Let's get ready."

        "I just thought you'd want to know. The FC RAVEN will be going through its threshold in about an hour." Doctor Leftover said to Te-a. "We're supposed to go not long after that. They've got the majority of the sources identified."
        She nodded. "Thank you."
        "There's been no word from them about any search parties or inquiries. Either they don't know you're gone or aren't worried about it."
        She didn't answer.
        "You're sure about this? I mean, it might not work out like we hope."
        "Anything is better than what I had." She almost smiled to him. "I'll take my chances here. With you and…" She looked at the ungainly robot that was stacking supplies to be tied down in case it was a rough ride. "And Grunt."
        Grunt stopped working and turned slightly toward her and sort of whistled and chirped a couple of times.
        "Grunt!" Leftover said. "He's only done that… well… not often. I think he likes you." He turned to go check on the last of the buffet. "A lot."

        From all reports there were only a few ships left to make the transition. Some wanted to wait until there were fewer sources to choose from to minimize the chance for error. Others seem to not trust the scanning results filtering back and forth along what was left of the relay and were conducting their own study of the sources.
        The SLS RAVAN would observe the other two ship's transition for scientific purposes, then they'd go, followed shortly by a couple of the others closer to them in time and space.
        What the rest would do was up to them.
        A rumor that had been running around the relay was that one, a pirate ship by all accounts, was going to stay in the disturbance instead of going back into the middle of a battle aimed at their capture.
        "They'd went into the cloud to hide from a patrol of fighters and ended up here. They're going to stay." One young ensign repeated the story to another.
        "It's going to get awful lonely in here before long."
        "Better than prison."

        "We'll see you…. Next time. Captain. Commander. You both have excellent crews. It's been a pleasure. You have friends in the Carvair Federation."
        "Our pleasure as well, sir." Commander Lucas said to the man on the screen.
        "If it's all the same to you First Rank, I'd rather it were under less interesting conditions."
        "Understood sir. And it's mutual."
        The screens showed the tracking of the FC RAVEN as it broke formation and headed toward its source.
        The three ships were now down to two.

        "Communications just dropped to the FC ship, Captain. One minute to threshold."
        "Keep tracking."
        "Aye sir."
        "They're slowing down, engines off. Course steady."
        "Signals merging."
        "They're in. So far so good. All readings normal for the phenomenon."
        Then the pause.
        "There it goes."
        "OK. We're next."


        Lukas blinked. He wasn't used to seeing stars on the screen. "OK, that wasn't too bad. Now, where and WHEN are we?"
        "Working on it sir."
        "Navigational fix coming in…. we're… well… close to where we started." He changed the screen to a course plot. "We're just a couple of days out from Starbase 201."
        "Good. Any word from them?"
        "Yes sir. I've got Starbase Command on. They want confirmation that we are the USS RAVEN." There was a pause. "Sir. We've been missing and reported destroyed by a Borg Operative almost a year ago."
        "A year?"
        "Yessir. I've confirmed the stardate. We've been gone ten months and seventeen days."

        "So. Doctor. When were you going to tell me?"
        The man with the untrimmed beard and non-uniform shirt looked up. "Tell you what sir?"
        Lukas shook his head and walked into the galley. "Excuse me. Ma'am? Can you come…" There was suddenly several loud noises. Followed by some choice words from Lukas. Then he was backing up out of the kitchen area with an obviously angry robot following him.
        "No Grunt! It's OK." Te-a shouted to the machine. It stopped.
        Lukas looked at Leftover with exasperation all over his face. "That thing…. One of these days…"
        "I'm sorry sir. He's just very protective."
        "Anyway." Lukas said as Te-a walked out to the bar. "Before they went through, First Rank Lukas thanked me for relieving him of a… delicate matter, as he put it." He sighed. "All you had to do was ask."
        "The Reverent didn't give me a chance to ask sir. Then there was the attack. And … well…"
        "It's OK. Just… keep her and … that… out of my hair." He scowled at Grunt.
        Grunt. Grunted.
        "Yessir." He turned to Te-a. "Welcome to the RAVEN."
        Lukas thought about it for a second. "Sure. Welcome to the RAVEN."



The Crusade Continues

[This story carries the copyright of The Media Desk, 2004, 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 the Desk. Email- dr_leftover[-at-]themediadesk[-dot-]com , or surface mail to: The Media Desk, PO Box 1276, Dover, DE 19903]