Planet Calonia Sirtis, Twenty-three years earlier…
It was a warm summer night on the outer colony world of Calonia Sirtis. The small agricultural world, despite lying on the very edge of Federation Space, had been left untouched by the Na'Vaxii war machine. Most of the people who lived there never gave the alien invaders any thought. In fact, most of the children on the planet didn't even know that the aliens existed.
It was this very fact that brought about a conversation between two young children who happened to be lying in a field of tall grass, gazing up at the stars.
"Do you ever wonder what's out there?" Six year old Johnny Paris asked as the breeze that ruffled their small clearing increased in intensity for a brief moment. When his companion didn't respond, he glanced over at her. "Abby! Did you hear me?"
"Oh, sorry," Abby replied quickly, tearing her gaze away from the mesmerizing field of stars twinkling above them. "What did you say?" Johnny shook his head at his best friend and repeated his question.
"I asked if you ever wondered what's out there." he said, pointing at the sky.
"Stars," Abby said, looking back towards the night sky.
"I'm being serious," said Johnny. "Do you think there's anybody else out there? On some other planet, looking up at us?"
"There could be," Abby said softly. She tilted her head toward Johnny. "Do you… do you think we'll ever meet them?"
A terrible screeching sound shook Abby back to reality. A salvo of Na'Vaxii plasma torpedoes had impacted Endeavour's port shields. The bubble collapsed and the energy weapons burned across the hull, causing the superstructure to screech in protest. Abby watched as the Na'Vaxii cruiser that had fired on them readied another salvo of torpedoes.
"Do you think we'll ever meet them?"
She heard the words in her mind as though someone standing beside her had just spoken them… as though she had just spoken those words again herself. She remembered that night on her homeworld so clearly during times like this. She had been so… innocent back then… so stupid.
"We're in the thick of it now," Abby said to Sheridan, who was standing next to her. "Both fleets are fully engaged." She turned to Ensign Mendez, who was manning communications in Ava's absence. "Alert the other ships. Tell them to commence their tactical FTL jumps immediately. Hope, as soon as we come out of FTL, launch all fighters. Lieutenant Hurst, do it."
"Course plotted, Commander." Lieutenant Hurst replied. "Initiating transition in three… two… one…"
Endeavour vanished and in the blink of an eye she reappeared fifty thousand kilometers away, directly on the opposite side of the Na'Vaxii fleet. The other five ships materialized around her and they began their assault. Endeavour's launch tube doors opened and a full squadron of fighters was catapulted into space. The squadron took up escort positions around the carrier. A Na'Vaxii battleship and two cruisers broke off their battles with the main UEF force and turned to engage.
"We've got three ships turning toward us, Commander." Hope reported. "The remaining vessels are holding their previous course."
"Well, at least we've drawn some heat off of the rest of the fleet." said Sheridan.
"I just hope its enough." said Abby darkly. "Lieutenant Ackerson, concentrate fire on the battleship, but keep us behind the other vessels. Their shields can handle the hits, ours can't."
Endeavour held back, providing a barrage of fire over the other UEF ships, which charged toward the Na'Vaxii vessels, weapons blazing. The alien cruisers advanced ahead of the battleship, their bow-mounted plasma cannons alight with fire. Both cruisers targeted the Zeus and fired. Their energy beams cut through the mighty warship's shields and burned across the hull. The wounded cruiser's hull buckled as she turned away, her engines flaring as her pilot fought to control his vessel.
"Lieutenant Ackerson, forget the battleship." said Sheridan. "Focus your fire on those cruisers."
"Lieutenant Hurst, move us in closer." Abby ordered. "Our shields will have to be recharged enough."
The human warships blanketed one of the Na'Vaxii cruisers with a barrage of weapons fire. The ship's shields flickered, flashed, and then failed completely. Endeavour unleashed her port particle beam cannon. A beam of bluish energy cut through the cruiser's hull, splitting the ship completely in half along her midline.
The remaining cruiser fired a spread of plasma torpedoes toward the frigate, Isabella. The weapons crashed through the ship's shield as though it weren't there and set the hull ablaze with fire. Isabella rolled over as explosions chained along her hull. The fires quickly reached the main reactor. The frigate exploded in a ball of fire, causing the shields of the ships near her to flare brightly.
The remaining cruiser turned to pursue the fleeing Zeus, while the rest of the Federation fleet swarmed the battleship. The Montana and Iwo Jima didn't have weapons powerful enough to wear down the shields of the battleship, however Endeavour most certainly did. The carrier turned broadside to the battleship and opened fire with her 2400mm artillery cannons. Eighteen five thousand ton metal slugs burst from the gun barrels and hurtled toward the battleship at nearly one third the speed of light. The rounds impacted the warship's shield, which immediately collapsed under the tremendous stress put upon it by the impacts.
With her shields down, the Montana and Iwo Jima closed on the battleship and began their attacks. Streams of missiles and waves of torpedoes followed the white hot artillery shells fired by the human ship's main guns. Endeavour joined in with a lance from her starboard particle beam. Lieutenant Ackerson's gun crews burned a pattern along the battleship's heavily armored hull, melting away the armor and exposing the decks beneath.
"Lieutenant Hurst, take us in close for a torpedo run." Abby ordered as the battleship turned its attention to Endeavour. A barrage of plasma beams burned against the already weakened shields, collapsed the port side defensive bubble and blazed across the carrier's hull.
"Hull breach on Decks Twenty through Thirty-One!" Hope exclaimed.
"Keep our damaged side away from their firing arcs!" Sheridan shouted.
"Lieutenant Ackerson, ready torpedoes. Full spread." Abby ordered. "Conventional warheads and disable the proximity fuses. Fire as soon as we're in range."
Lieutenant Hurst maneuvered the carrier dangerously close to the battleship, so close that any electronic countermeasures the Na'Vaxii might employ wouldn't have time to affect the guidance systems on the torpedoes. Ackerson launched the spread of torpedoes as Endeavour passed over the battleship's port bow. The weapons, designed purposefully to kill capital ships, slammed into the battleship's shieldless hull. Fires and explosions erupted all across the hull. The battleship's hull buckled and the ship exploded.
"Ensign Mendez, hail the Zeus." said Abby.
"They're hailing us, ma'am." Mendez replied. "Audio only."
"…deavour, this is… utenant Michaels of the… iser, Zeus. We've taken hea… damage. …captain's dead and we've… life support. Our shields are offline… weapons… down. Reque… assit…nce."
"Lieutenant Michaels, this is Commander Laine. Is your FTL drive still functioning?"
"Barely," came the garbled response.
"Then get out of here. You aren't going to do anyone any good by staying. Fall back to Repulse, you'll be safe there."
"Aye... We'r… ngaging FTL drive… Thank y… Commander."
"Zeus has jumped out," Hope reported. "The other ships are awaiting orders."
"Ma'am, the main fight has moved four hundred thousand kilometers away." said Lieutenant Ackerson. "We're well outside weapons range."
"Tell the other ships to prepare to engage a short-range FTL jump into weapons range." Sheridan ordered. "Recall the fighters, and…"
"Sir, the Iwo Jima took damage to her FTL drive during the battle." said Hope. "If we jump, we'll have to leave her behind."
"Any ship out here alone would be easy pickings if the Na'Vaxii find them." Abby said quietly. "No, the fleet will just have to wait for us. Order the other ships to proceed immediately to the rest of the fleet at sublight speeds."
"Commander, our fighter squadrons are equipped with their own individual FTL drives." Lieutenant Ackerson pointed out. "We could have them jump ahead and assist the fleet in our absence." Abby nodded.
"That's a good idea, Lieutenant." she said. "Hope, have the Buccaneers jump to the fleet's position. Deploy the 84th's bomber contingent to join them. Order the 84th's tactical wing to stay behind and cover us."
Endeavour and her two remaining escorts closed on the rear of the Na'Vaxii fleet. The ships took nearly twenty minutes to cover the distance and by the time they arrived, the battle was on the verge of being over. The broken hulls of UEF and Na'Vaxii warships littered the area, drifting slowly through the void.
The remaining six UEF ships had clustered together around the two battleships, which were still intact. The Nightfall seemed to have taken heavy damage and had fallen back nearly ten thousand kilometers behind the UEF line to protect itself and provide limited fighter support.
The Na'Vaxii, it seemed, hadn't fared well either. They had eleven ships still intact, including a single carrier, three cruisers, a destroyer, and five frigates. Unlike the UEF ships, however, none of the Na'Vaxii ships had sustained damage. The two fleets were holding position sixty thousand kilometers apart, taking potshots at each other.
As Endeavour came within weapons range, Captain Braxton appeared on the communications screen.
"It's about time you got here!" Braxton growled. "We've taken heavy losses and need immediate assistance! Get your ships into range and give us some cover!"
"We've just entered weapons range, Captain." said Abby in a rather cool voice. "Don't worry; we'll try to take some heat off of you."
Endeavour and her escorts closed on the last Na'Vaxii carrier and opened fire. Large caliber artillery shells and high explosive missiles beat against the ship's shields, which flickered and then quickly failed under the barrage. The carrier's hull buckled as the human weapons fire hammered the alien ship. Venting atmosphere, the carrier rolled over and her engines flickered and died. She drifted slowly, dead in space. Trapped between two advancing fleets, the Na'Vaxii ships had been outmaneuvered. Their commander must have known this, because the remaining ships turned together and with a flare of their warp engines, they were gone.
"Stand down red alert." Abby ordered. She was as surprised as everyone else at the Na'Vaxii's sudden withdrawal. The aliens never ran. "I want a full casualty and damage report within the hour." she added as the Bridge lights returned to their normal bluish hue. She turned to Sheridan with a rather worried expression on her face.
"You're thinking the very same thing I am," he said knowingly. "They're coming back."
"They're doing something," Abby said quietly. "I've never seen the Na'Vaxii give up before. They'd take on a fleet of dreadnoughts with a frigate before they would turn and run away."
"What do you think they're up to?" Sheridan asked. Abby shook her head.
"I don't know, Zach… but I'm afraid we're about to find out."
After beating Abby's deadline for a damage and casualty report by a full twenty minutes, Hope gathered the various papers for her report and climbed the stairs at the rear of the Bridge, crossed the briefing room, and knocked softly on the Commander's office door.
Hope opened the door, slipped inside, and locked the door behind her. Hope had never been in this room before. The office, like most everything else on the Bridge, was quite small. There was just enough space for a desk and two chairs to be squeezed inside.
"I have the reports you requested, ma'am." Hope said, passing the small stack of paper she was carrying to Abby, who glanced at the first page and then placed the papers on her desk.
"And?" Abby asked, keeping her voice low. "Did it work?"
"Yes, ma'am…" Hope said quietly. "We were right, Commander. The person who has been sending the illegal transmissions is Lieutenant Malcolm Hurst."
Abby and Hope descended the stairs and stepped onto the Bridge. Abby gave Hope a quick nod and motioned for her to return to her station. Hope sat down, turned her monitor toward her, and stared rather blankly at the screen. Abby left the command center and returned five minutes later with Ava Mosley and two marines.
Ava crossed the Bridge and sat down silently at her station, while the marines surrounded Lieutenant Hurst's console. Hurst turned slowly in his seat to face Abby.
"Commander…?" He said, his expression one of complete confusion.
"Lieutenant, evidence has come to light that you were responsible for transmitting a series of unauthorized transmissions to the Na'Vaxii, including additional attempts during our most recent encounter."
"I don't know what evidence you've got, but I didn't…"
"Your personal identification code was used to access the communications system." Abby cut him off. "We know you're responsible, the only thing we don't know is what you sent them." Hurst stared at her for a full minute, his face impassive.
"Well," he said with a roll of his eyes. "Fine."
"You'll be accompanying these men to the brig." said Abby. The marines moved forward and their leader gripped Hurst's shoulder. Hurst shrugged out of his grasp.
"I know the way." He said gruffly. He stood and the marines led him away from the Bridge.
"Commander…" Sheridan said slowly as the Bridge crew watched in stunned silence. "What is going on?"
"It's… a really long story, Zach." Abby replied, exchanging a quick glance with Hope. "Suffice to say that Mr. Hurst has effectively committed treason by transmitting messages to the Na'Vaxii and it to remain confined to the brig until we can turn him over to the proper authorities."
"Was initially a suspect in this case, but has since helped in apprehending the true culprit." Abby gave Ava a slight smile when she noticed her communications officer was watching her closely.
"Sorry to interrupt, Commander," said Hope. "But I've finished checking the com logs for the transmissions Hurst sent."
"Were you able to decipher anything?" Abby asked. Hope shook her head.
"His encryption algorithms are incredibly sophisticated." she replied, her eyes narrowing darkly. "Someone could crack them… but not me."
"Were you able to scramble the transmissions?" Abby asked.
"All to crap, Commander," Hope replied. "But… I don't know how much got through. Only Hurst could tell us that. He's got the encryption codes."
"Then we'll need to get them from him." said Sheridan. "Commander, would you like me to…"
"Interrogate him?" asked Abby. "No, not yet. We've got more important things to attend to. Commander, I want you to get our ship back into fighting condition. If the Na'Vaxii make another run at us, I want to be ready."
"Yes, ma'am," Sheridan replied. "Hope, I'll need that damage report along with…"
"Excuse me, Commander, but I've got something strange on the scanners." Hope interrupted. "There's some sort of energy signature on the outer hull… port side, near Deck Twelve."
"We took a serious plasma bombardment to that section during the battle." said Sheridan. "It's likely just residual plasma particles burning on the hull."
"I've already considered that, Commander." said Hope. "The energy signature is too consistent… there's no fluctuation whatsoever. Whatever it is, it's stable."
"Send a damage control team down to check it out." Abby told Hope.
"Yes, ma'am," Hope replied. "I'll get someone to…"
"Commander, I'm getting reports of a firefight on Deck 6," Ava said abruptly. "It's Lieutenant Hurst's marine escort. Hurst escaped, but the marines are in pursuit."
"Tell them to stop him," said Abby. "But I want him alive."
"Yes, ma'am," Abby turned to Hope.
"Come with me."
Out in the corridor, Hope glanced sideways at Abby as they headed for a bank of elevators.
"If you don't mind my asking, Commander…" she said slowly. "Where are we going?"
"Hurst's quarters." Abby said quickly. "He's gone to a lot of trouble today and I have suspicions about him. I'm going to search his quarters. You're going to collect any computer equipment he has and go over it with a fine toothed comb."
"What am I looking for?"
"Anything suspicious," said Abby as they reached the intersecting corridor where the elevators awaited them. "If I'm right, you'll know it when you see it."
"Yes, ma'am, but I…umpfh!" Much to Hope's surprise, Abby clasped her hand over her mouth and dragged her away from the elevators and back the way they'd come. She pressed Hope against the corridor wall and, keeping her hand firmly placed over Hope's mouth, leaned around the corner and peered down the corridor. Hope reached up and pulled Abby's hand away from her mouth and stared at her commanding officer as though she had gone insane.
"Did you bring your radio?" Abby cut her off, checking her pockets for her own radio. Hope removed her radio from her ear and passed it to Abby without speaking. Abby slipped it on and keyed the microphone.
"Sheridan, this is Laine."
"Commander, seal off the Bridge and scramble marine strike teams to every deck." Abby whispered, ignoring the confused expression on Hope's face. "We've been boarded."