The air was tense on the Bridge of the Intrepid, Terri had the klaxon muted because it was only starting to unnerve her after a point. The red indicator lights washing the light colors of the bridge in red were bad enough. On-screen the enormous creature that dwarfed them moved ahead in its impossible way through space with them just barely keeping up with it. She was surprised that it could even travel at warp speeds, surely for a living thing to do so it had to have some sort of tremendous way of generating energy.

"Load a full spread of torpedoes," Terri ordered. "I doubt we can kill that thing with them but maybe draw its attention away from it."

"Aye," Baxter replied. "Full spread armed and ready."

"Fire," Terri ordered

The Intrepid fired a full spread of torpedoes that soared towards the entity. It paid no mind to them until they exploded against its surface.

"Torpedoes hit their mark, the damage is negligible," Baxter reported.

"Any change?" Terri asked Lt. Plex.

"It has stopped advancing, I think we have its attention."

"Good fire again," Terri said.

"Torpedoes away!" Baxter announced.

A few moments passed until they were seen impacting again on the entity.

Suddenly the creature was enveloped in darkness once again and rapidly approaching their ship.

"Mr. Munro get us out of here, any course. I don't care just outrun that thing." Terri said quickly getting back into the command chair.

"You got it." Munro said quickly, plotting a course and launching the ship into warp.

"The entity is still in pursuit," Baxter reported. "Less than a few meters before contact!"

"Push it to warp 7 maybe we can outrun it." Terri said.

Ensign Munro nodded and increased their speed.

Baxter nodded her head. "It's falling behind us."

"Bring us around the instant it stops following us and heads back to that system," Terri said. Maybe they could keep it distracted from its potential next meal by annoying it.

"It's stopped pursuing us," Baxter reported after a few moments.. "It's returning to the Delta 3B system."

"Well that settles it, let's get it to change its mind again," Terri sighed. "Bring us around Mr. Munro. Baxter, Load another two spreads of Torpedoes and fire as soon as it drops that shroud."

The Immunity Crisis Part 2

Episode 17

IDP 2020

Jack couldn't sleep, he tossed and turned and then finally gave up and sat up on the end of his bed looking down at the ground.

"Nnn What's wrong?" Nova said groggily, sitting up and wrapping her arms around her.

"I'm not sure." Jack said. "Somethings not right about any of this."

"What makes you say that."

Jack stared hard at the wall trying to put words to his feelings. "It's my friend Harry, somethings not right."

"Your Captain?" Nova asked.

Jack nodded.

"What makes you think there is something wrong?"

"Because I can see it in his eyes. He's hiding it well but I know him." Jack said sighing. "He wants to hurt that thing out there."

Nova picked up on something he was hiding and hugged him. "What else."

"It's Commander Lu as well," Jack said. "There's something up with her too, I just don't know what." He remembered their little confrontation back in the transporter room. He remembered she seemed on the verge of tears before he dematerialized. He remembered that for a fleeting moment, even after telling her off, he felt regret.

"You two know each other well?" Nova asked.

"I thought I did." Jack said sighing. "I feel like I'm watching two people careening toward something terrible and all I can do is just sit here and watch. Harry of the two of them worries me the most."

"I'm sure if the crew feels he is putting them in danger they will let it be known," Nova said, trying to reassure him.

Jack patted her hand as she nuzzled him from behind running her hands along his chest.

"You don't know Harry, he has a way of manipulating people, he can make you believe in him even if he is wrong," Jack said. "And that's what worries me."

"So what's the plan sir?" Terri asked on the forward viewer of the Raptor..

"We need to try to stop it from moving in on that world if possible," Harry responded on the bridge. "Have you contacted Fleet HQ for reinforcements?"

"Most ships are spread out too far, it would take them days to get here," Terri replied.

Harry sighed, Even with the last invasion less than a decade ago the Admiralty still hadn't learned their lesson.

"Then it's just us." Harry grunted. "If anyone of us is going to have luck destroying that thing it's this ship, even with us being hobbled."

"I wouldn't advise it sir, it can move at least warp five and faster, although damned if I know how." Terri huffed. "It doesn't like torpedoes against its hide, that's for damn sure. We've managed to kite it out away from Delta 3B by at least a few lightyears." Terri paused for a moment. "I don't think it's intelligent, it reacts to things that happen to it. Doesn't really show any thought or planning in its actions."

Harry thought. "What about that shroud?"

"It's some sort of energy field from what we can tell." Terri replied. "I'm not sure if shields would help against it."

Harry steeped his fingers in thought.

"Captain I dont like that look.." Terri said on the screen.

"We need to know what we are dealing with. So far we know it can kill a starship. We know we can hurt it when the shroud is down. I can assume that Kensach would have tried to examine the entity in some way when she encountered it. You said the ship had deployed some probes correct?"

"Well, yes it had." Terri responded.

"Standard procedure. But why more than one?" Harry said.

"Maybe the first one malfunctioned," Michelle spoke up from her station.

"Right." Harry said. "They would have tried again wouldn't they?"

"Of course who wouldn't?" Michelle shrugged.

"Have you tried attacking when the shroud is up?"

"We did, it didn't do any good." Terri replied. "It was like they were duds."

Harry tried to think. He knew Nora well, he knew that she loved exploration and she had been responsible for several first contact missions. He took a deep breath, cleared his thoughts and put himself on that bridge beside her.

She would have been intrigued and excited about discovering something new.

What would she have done?

Probes….

Certain probes were not ion charged to pass through shielding. In most situations.

She didn't have her shields up.

Why would she? She didn't know what it was. How could she?

Probes needed to be within close proximity, Class 7s especially.

Probes and Photon torpedoes didn't have any type of energy shielding.

"Captain?" Terri prompted him, causing her to appear on the Intrepid's screen in his mind's eye.

"In a moment Number One." He said deep in thought.

What happened had to have been sudden. What he knew of this… thing now. Knowing what it can do, how it could move, and with some quick math. It would have been on top of them in moments. Too fast for anyone caught off guard to react properly. No time to raise the shields.

Harry's eyes opened and his expression was one of grim determination.

"I have a plan." He stood up out of the command chair. "I believe that whatever that shroud is, I think our shields can protect us from it."

"Sir, if you don't mind me saying that's a hell of a lot to assume," Terri said doubtfully.

"I never said it wasn't, it's just a theory." He hit his com button. "Fara I need a shield generator rigged to a photon torpedo,"

"A who with a what now?" Fara said over the speaker.

"You heard Me, meet Jakar and O'mara in the forward torpedo bay, he'll have instructions for you. Martinez out."

"Sir?" Jakar said doubtfully.

"It's simple, I need you to remove a warhead from one of our photon torpedoes and put in a shield generator. Can it be done?"

"Yes." Jakar responded. "I think I can figure something out that can work."

"Michelle, can you get a decent scanner rigged inside that casing too? I know we don't have any probes on this ship but think you can get something thrown together?" Harry asked

"Probably, it wouldn't be that hard, I'd have to go by my lab and grab some things," Michelle said.

"Super, gather whatever equipment you need, and meet Jakar and Fara in Torpedo Bay One. You've got about a half-hour before we need it." Harry ordered.

"Understood Captain," Jakar and O'mara said leaving the bridge.

Ambassador Kolnoz clapped. "Captain watching you in action is quite something you are quick to find a solution to our little problem."

"I haven't done anything yet Ambassador," Harry said humbly before turning to face the viewer."Commander, you keep on doing what you are doing and keep that thing distracted. I have a plan, we're going to get a probe inside that shroud and get some readings and if we can understand it better, we can deal with it properly."

"Understood," Terri said looking at someone off-screen. "We've lost its attention again, We'll stay in touch."

Jack entered the bridge and walked up to his console without a glance up at the screen as he relieved Ensign Rosa.

Her lip twitched visibly on the screen and she curtly finished with. "Intrepid out."

A bit later.

"Ow gods damn son of a!" Fara said tossing a spanner across the torpedo bay

"That's not very productive chief," Jakar said calmly removing the detonator of the torpedo and deactivating it.

"Right above my fuckmothering eye!" Fara snarled stamping her foot in frustration

Fara's spanner had slipped when she removed the final stem bolt holding the warhead and it caused her to slam her head into the torpedo's casings upraised hatch.

"Come here let me look." Michelle said trying to stifle a lap. "Stop fidgeting."

Fara let her look.

"You big baby you just got a small cut, walk it off." Michelle said examining the injury. "I think sickbay can wait."

"Sure, you're not the one it happened to you don't have to feel it." She growled running over to get her spanner back. Shen then started working on getting the engine compartment open muttering under her breath.

"Chief where is the shield generator?"" Jakar asked. "I can start installing it while you work on the power shunts."

"It's over on that roller cart on the bottom part." Fara said. "It should mount in there easily enough although it'll be a bit tight."

"I can manage," Jakar grunted.

"Yeah, I am sure you can." Fara said as she managed to crack open the engine casing finally. "Michelle you got your scanners mounted yet."

"Of course I do." Michelle smiled. "I just happened to smuggle some compatible scanners on board a while ago for just such an occasion."

"Look at you, breaking the rules." Fara chuckled. "What happened to that timid chickadee I used to know?"

"I wasn't always that way Fara." Michelle sighed. "I just had to work through a lot of things."

"Been that done that," Fara said. "I'm sure better living through medication too right?"

Michelle nodded. "And other things."

"Ha!" Fara cackled. "Oh you are going to have to tell me about that."

"No!" Michelle said flushing under her feathers.

"Ms. Phoenix can you please connect shunt A6 and A5 to shunt J25 and J28." Jakar said flatly.

"Yeah one second," Fara said, quickly accomplishing the task. "Oh you can't not talk about it now." Fara said, waving her tool at O'mara. "Cat's out of the bag, who you've been seeing?"

"I… I.. I never insinuated… any any!." Michelle stammered.

"You are stuttering, that means I'm right, who is it, Michelle?" Fara said teasingly

"LADIES." Jakar snapped. "Can you pick this up later? We need to complete the task at hand, we have less than 10 minutes to have this ready to launch.

"Ok what shunts do you need?" Fara asked Michelle.

"B2 through B6." Michelle said relieved Fara had been kept at bay for now.

Fara quickly got it completed. "Ok now all I have to do is rig the subspace transceiver to send data back to us for you and we'll be done." Fara said.

"Martinez to Jakar, how's it going down there?" Harry asked.

"And there he is like clockwork." Fara chuckled.

"You had better be completing the modifications," Jakar said sternly.

"Don't you worry about that," Fara said, smugly shutting the engine compartment and dusting off her hands. "I'm done."

Jakar glared and tapped his badge. "Yes, sir the modifications are complete."

Fara made a dramatic stage bow just to annoy him.

"Good all of you get back to your stations as soon as possible we will be engaging the entity to deploy the probe." Harry said over the speakers.

"Well it's been fun guys, but back to the grind." Fara said closing up the torpedo and putting in the sealing bolts. She then slapped the loading mechanism and gathered her tools as the mechanical arm loaded the torpedo into the launcher.

Fara, Jakar and O'mara returned to their stations.

"Well done the three of you." Harry congratulated them, keeping his eyes fixed on the viewer. "I take it there weren't any problems."

"It was a piece of cake sir." Fara spoke up before Jakar could interject. He just glared and went to work on his console.

"I wouldn't expect anything less," Harry said. "Mr. Land eta."

"45 seconds. Intrepid reports she is bringing the creature out to meet us, it's shroud is up."

"Good. Stay on your toes jack, this thing might not like us shooting a probe into it and there's a chance we might not outrun it in our current condition." Harry said.

"Don't need to worry about that from me Captain." Jack said. "I'm fully rested and recovered."

"Good, we're going to need you awake." Harry yawned wishing he'd taken his own advice from earlier.

"Coming out of warp now. Hold onto your butts." Land said pulling down the warp speed lever and the streaking stars stopped and were replaced by the entity pulling back towards it's intended target with the Intrepid completing another attack run.

"This is the Intrepid, if you are going to make your move do it now." Terri replied.

"Mr. Land, bring us within range." Harry ordered. "Jakar raise the shields and prepare the torpedo for launch."

"Already on it sir.' Jakar replied.

"Closing to 75,000.. Kilo… meter…" Jack said suddenly when he, Fara, Michelle and Jakar and suddenly made an unearthly scream and fell out of their chairs unconscious.

Harry suddenly felt very weak and he headed for the con.

"Jakar fire the probe…" He grunted getting out of his chair and heading for the com seeing Ensign Land, slide out of the chair, and thud to the deck. "Jakar!?"

He looked behind him and Jakar looked like he was struggling just to stay conscious and get back to his station. Ambassador Kolnoz ran up to his station and although he looked as if he was weakened too Jakar was prompting him on what controls to press to get the torpedo to fire. "I've got it Captain!" He said and they heard the torpedo launcher fire along with the notification sound. "Bring us around!"

Harry saw it launch, and he quickly changed the course of the ship away from the entity and got away from it at warp six despite the computer protest. Once some distance had been obtained everyone started to come too.

"Thank you Ambassador." Harry said suddenly feeling whatever drain was hitting him sway a bit.

"It's nothing Captain." The Altarian smiled. "It's just fortunate I have spent time on a simulator on this ship and know a thing or two about it."

Harry nodded and went about helping his crewmates back to their seats.

"Dr. Okan to bridge, just what the hell is going on up there?!"

Harry staggered over to his chair and hit the com switch. "Doctor, we could use your help up here." Harry panted.

"You and the rest of the ship! Half of the crew just fainted on me, the other half are showing signs of extreme fatigue and weakness, I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment!" Okan responded. "I'll be up there when I can."

"Sooner, better than later, Doctor." Harry said leaning back in his chair.

He looked over to Fara and Michelle who were both in similar shapes. "What did you two feel?"

"I don't know…" Fara said. "It was terrible, it was like something was just snuffing me out." Fara said, shivering slightly.

Michelle nodded. "It was horrible, and just all of a sudden."

"It was like all my strength and energy was just gone." Jakar grunted still struggling himself.

"Well now we have an idea of how it got the Intrepid," Harry growled feeling his strength slowly coming back to him. "Nasty little trick it has."

"That is an understatement." Jack groaned. "Let's not do that again."

Harry tried to shake the weakness that just seemed to linger. "Hopefully we'll get some readings from that probe."

Dr Okan finally arrived on the bridge with a satchel around his neck and a hypospray in his hand. He grabbed Fara's arm and quickly injected her with something and she seemed to perk up, then he did the same for Michelle as well before he came over to Harry giving him an injection.

'Thanks, doctor, what is it?" Harry asked.

"Stimulants, vitamins essential Amino Acids. It's similar to what Ideveloped several months ago." Okan replied. "Should perk you right up." He then moved over to Ambassador Kolnoz, Jakar and the others and gave them injections. "It seems to do the trick for now any idea what happened?"

"I'm working on it." Michelle said. "It looks like it's some sort of negative energy field, if we hadn't had the shields up we probably wouldn't have stood a chance."

"Lovely, anything on our little experiment?" Harry asked.

"Yes actually, it's still online, i'm receiving data now." Michelle said working fast

"Negative energy field?" Okan said, thinking about it. "I guess that's one way of saying it'll snuff the life out of a person. Maybe this thing feeds on life energy, or any energy for that matter was there any power loss to our shields?"
Fara looked. "Yes there was a slight power drain to the shields, it's a small percent but it doesn't seem to have done anything but drain their power."

"Do you think we could possibly be protected from that shroud if we are close enough?" Harry asked.

"I dunno maybe, I'd have to run these readings through the adaptive shield matrix." Fara said. "Give us a bit Michelle and I might be able to come up with something." She said getting up and going over to O'mara's station.

"Doctor do you think your little miracle mix can be on hand if we need to get close again?" Harry asked.

"It's a stimulant Captain." Dr. Okan said. "Overuse can be dangerous. I suppose I could make some changes but it's never for continuous use."

"Good then I also have some sensor readings. I need you to take a look at as soon as Lt. O'mara gets done with them.

"Any Idea what it is?" Okan asked.

"It appears to be some sort of gargantuan organism, it doesn't seem too intelligent." Harry replied. "It responds to stimulus but it doesn't seem to learn we've got it chasing the Intrepid back and forth right now."

"We should try to study it as much as we can, something like that." Dr. Okan said, pointing at the screen. "We should at least try to understand it in some way. I understand it's a threat that needs to be dealt with but if it's the last of its kind we may not have another chance."

"I understand Doctor, I am a bit more concerned with keeping it from eating a pre-warp world at the moment."

"Captain I think if we modulate the shields properly we might be able to be protected from the entity." Fara said. "I can definitely do it with our ship, probably not the Intrepid though."

An alarm sounded.

"Skipper I hate to interrupt but that thing is moving away from the Delta 3b system. It's resumed its course." Jack reported. "The Intrepid is in pursuit."

"Well, don't just sit there, follow them!" Harry snapped. "We don't need to be falling behind again!"

"Ok, Ok, pursuit course laid in." Jack said jumping the Raptor back to warp.

"Harry I need to grab Michelle and get down to engineering. I think we might be able to make an effective defense against that thing." Fara said.

"Get on it, keep me apprised," Harry replied.

Fara and Michelle left the bridge as they did Dr. Okan slid into the science station and looked at the readings. "Captain if I didn't know any better this thing, whatever it is, seems to be one massive single-celled organism." He quickly ran a few analyses of the readings. "I'm certain of it, although it's fascinating that it can exist in space and move as it does."

"Yes I am sure it is Doctor but I am more concerned with the billions it may consume or has on its trek through the stars." Harry said flatly. "Do you think it can be destroyed?"

"Probably, the readout shows it is of our universe it is composed of all the same elements everything else is made out of." Okan said looking at the readings.

"I want that probably to be a certainty," Harry said.

Okan sighed, he didn't like being handed a living things death sentence. "I'll check everything thoroughly sir, but please consider that if you do wish to destroy it we should study what we can."
Harry said nothing and just stared at the screen.

Okan left the bridge and headed down to sickbay.

"Captain if I may, I think it may be prudent to warn Altaria of our situation." Ambassador Kolnoz said speaking up.

"Of course, that wouldn't be a bad idea. Lt. Pery, contact Starfleet Command and update them of our situation. Assist the Ambassador will handle contacting Altaira."

"Of Course sir Right away." Pery said as Kolnoz walked over to the communications station.

"Jakar prep some quantum torpedoes," Harry said. "Maximum yield I want to get that things attention next time." Harry ordered.

"Done." Jakar said entering the commands into his console. "So what is the plan sir."

"It depends on what Fara and O'mara can come up with." Harry said. "I think to hurt this thing we might have to go inside it, and if it's a giant amoeba, we need to destroy the nucleus but we need to be able to keep that energy-draining field at bay." Harry said typing in a few things into his command console. "And it looks like we just got handed the dirty deed."

Just then the ship shuddered a bit and the lights dimmed slightly power fluctuated throughout the grid. Jack's console elicited some alarms.

"Skip we are losing power on the Starboard Nacelle.' Jack reported.

"Compensate." Harry snapped.

Jack quickly re-tuned the warp field so that the Port nacelle was doing the greater portion of the work. It was a bit risky but it would allow them to push a bit faster and keep up.

The shuddering stop and the power stabilized. "That'll do it for now." Jack said. "But Fara is going to have my ass for doing that."

"You let me worry about Fara." Harry said flatly.

Later.

Okan sat in his lab and brought up the results from the scans and ran some simulations based off them. There were a few things that had him concerned. HIs calculations of the possible amount of protoplasm that the thing contained based on understood models, showed that with the possible model of the organism's metabolic rate assuming it was consuming as much as he thought. It could be close to reproducing.

Wouldn't that be something to witness?

However, what was equally terrifying to his wonder was how many lives that would take. It seemed to drain energy and consume all organic matter from what he could extrapolate from what they've seen so far. The image of a planet being ravaged as the Intrepid had chilled him to his core.

He cracked his fingers and decided to get work as he hunched over his lab terminal.

Fara arrived on the bridge back with Michelle. She looked rather pissed but she was keeping a tight lip about it. "Shield Modulation is set Captain, if you want to make a run at that thing we can probably do it."

"How confident are you that those shields can hold chief?" Harry asked.

"Fairly confident," Fara said. "Michelle thinks the modulation can keep that field at bay for some time."

"At least that's what the simulations tell us." O'mara added. "Simulations aren't actual field results. However, we're about as ready as we can be sir."

"Good."

"Captain if you don't mind I need to get down to engineering, I'm sure I don't need to go into details." Fara groused after giving her station a quick look over and noticing the Warp field modification that Land had implemented.

Harry nodded and Fara quickly left the bridge.

"Intrepid to Raptor." Terri's voice came in over the com. We have a problem."

"Go ahead Intrepid." Harry said hitting the acknowledgment button.

"There is a Corron Freighter in front of the entity that it will intercept in about five minutes, we have tried to warn them off but they aren't acknowledging us." Terri reported.

Corrons were an insect race that was non aligned with the confederation but ran routes through their territory, they were not hostile people but they were very standoffish when it came to dealing with other races.

"Lt. Pery Patch me in through to them."

"Aye Sir channel open."
"Attention Corron Vessell, this is Commander Harry Martinez of the Starship Raptor. You are in grave danger, you need to alter your course immediately or your ship and crew will be consumed by the entity closing on your position. Respond immediately Corron Vessel."

"Captain the entity is dropping out of warp to intercept the freighter." Jakar reported.

"Raptor we will not alter course, please leave us alone." The vessel responded.

"Corron Captain check your readings you should see a massive ionic disturbance appear behind you and it is closing fast, it is not an ion storm it is a giant organism that will consume your vessel if you do not take immediate action."

"The entity is now within one thousand kilometers of the Corron vessel and closing fast." Jakar reported. "The entity has yet to drop the shroud."

"Corron Vessel jump to warp immediately. I repeat your lives are in grave.."

Harry was suddenly cut off as shrieking feedback came through the speakers before Pery could get them turned down.

"The Corron ship has been enveloped, Captain." Jakar said as his console signaled the ship's demise.

"Stubborn to the last, eh Captain?" Ambassador Kolnoz said sadly.

Harry pounded his armrest. "That's it we have got to stop this thing, Ms. O'mara activate the shield modulation. Lt Pery inform the Intrepid of our plans and tell them to keep an open channel. Jakar all power to shields we're going to stop that thing one way or the other. Mr. Land take us into the shroud before it takes off again."

"Aye skip." Jack said reluctantly

"Captain are you sure you want to do that?!" Terri said over the speaker. "Going in there you don't know what will happen, I think you are taking a big risk!"
"I trust in my crew, Number one." Harry said as the starless black filled the forward view screen. "I don't see you coming up with any better ideas. If we don't do anything all 4.6 billion Altarians will be that thing's dinner and I'm not going to let that happen."

"I think this is just a bit risky sir, it's very dangerous you don't even know if your shields will hold!"

"Risk is part of the game if you want to be in that chair Number one." Harry said gripping his armrests. "Step on it Mr. Land."

"All ahead full." Jack said entering the commands.

"All hands brace for impact!" Harry ordered.

Suddenly the Raptor shuddered violently as it plunged into the shroud of darkness and disappeared from sight.

Terri watched from the Intrepids bridge and tried to hail them as the mass swarmed up around where the raptor had disappeared and came to a stop. "Lu to Raptor, Respond please… Lu to Raptor, if anyone can hear me please respond."

The impact had been rather violent; everyone had been thrown about as the deck pitched and heaved as the Raptor passed through whatever the shroud was made of. Power flickered, conduits overloaded, consoles shorted out but much to everyone's relief they were alive and the shields were still holding.

"Status report!" Harry snapped.

"We're in." Jack replied. "Whatever… it is."

"Minor damage reports all over the ship, shields holding, damage control teams are already deployed," Jakar reported.

"How are those shields holding up Ms. O'mara?"

"They're holding for now sir." Michelle reported.

"Now this is more like I was anticipating." Ambassador Kolnoz said he was way more excited about the situation than he should be. "Grappled in a life or death struggle with a giant space creature, the fate of my homeworld hanging in the balance how exciting."
"You are enjoying this way too much Ambassador." Harry said dowerly. "Do you even understand the gravity of the situation we are in?"
"Oh I do completely captain but I haven't felt this invigorated or excited in ages I'm loving every minute of this!" Kolnoz said excitedly. "This is why I chose your ship Keptain! Something's always happening!"

Harry just stared at the Altarian dumbfounded and completely at a loss of words.

"Captain I'm receiving a signal from the Intrepid." Jakar reported. "They want to know our status."

"Tell them we're in and we're fine for the moment." Harry said. "Mr Land I assume we are still moving forward."

"We are but I think it's pulling us toward its gooey center somehow."

"Don't fight it, that's where we want to go." Harry said. The lights dimmed slightly and a few alarms sounded. "We don't know how much time we got in here." He glanced over at Michelle who seemed to be watching her readings intensely.

"Captain sensor readings indicate that with the drain to our shields we will only last an hour here at our current power consumption levels."

"Then let's get every scrap of power we can get." Harry said, hitting a button on his console. "Engineering shut down every non-essential system."

"I can do that Captain but you better like working in the dark." Fara replied.

"More concerned with staying alive, bumped shins and foreheads are the least of our concerns at the moment," Harry replied.?

"Understood. Phoenix out."

Soon the lights all dimmed and any console not in use powered down. This only seemed to make Kolnoz now even more excited and his tail whipped about.

"The lighting is very appropriate." He chuckled.

"You are having way too much fun with this ambassador," Harry said beleaguered.

The ship suddenly lurched forward.

"Something is moving us sir." Jakar reported.

"Should I reverse the engines?" Jack asked.

"Negative, let it take us where it wants, I don't want to waste power fighting it if we can keep it at bay with the shields." Harry replied.

"If it's anything like it's smaller counterparts, it's probably trying to digest us." Michelle added.

Harry suddenly felt a bit weak. "Doctor you might want to get more of those stimulants up here shortly."

"Understood, you aren't the only one sir, I'm getting calls from all over the ship, I"ll be there as soon as I can." Dr. Okan replied. "I suggest whatever the hell it is you are planning on doing, get it done fast sir."

"That's the plan." Harry replied. He hit the active channel between the Raptor and the Intrepid. "Commander Lu, we are in and we are heading towards the creature. Shields are holding, we'll keep you in touch."

"...derstood….tor. Your…. mission is…. weak." Terri responded over the speaker. "Try boo….. Subspace… ain."

"I'm on it sir." Lt. Pery replied. "Subspace gain increased by 75%. We should be able to get them on screen."

"Do it ." Harry replied as Terri appeared on the main viewer although it was a bit staticy.

"Much better." Terri said. "I think you should know that that thing is getting closer to the Altairia system, at its current speed it will get there in about 45 minutes.."

"Damn," Harry grunted. "That really puts the crunch on us, What about word from the fleet?"

"I've got multiple ships responding but they are several hours away." Terri said flatly. "No one was really expecting a giant space blob to be invading our space. What's your full status?"

"O'mara says it's trying to digest us but our shields are protecting us for now, we're having problems with people feeling weakness but we're ok for now." Harry replied. "We're making our way through the shroud towards the creature, we hope to be able to take it out once we get to it."

Terri frowned; she wasn't happy with whatever plan Harry was cooking up it seemed too reckless even for him.

"I am confident we will be successful," Harry said wearily looking tired. "If we are not I am charging you with stopping this thing by any means possible. Is that understood?'

"Understood Captain." Terri replied.

"Wish us luck. Martinez out."

Nearly a half hour later.

Nova had appeared on the bridge by now Jack glanced over at her and she smiled looking very tired. Just then Dr. Okan showed up with another round of stimulants and started injecting everyone.

"Any word on what we can use to kill that thing Doctor." Harry asked.

"From the readings I have it should be just as vulnerable to any method you can throw at it as anything else. It's made of the same elements in our universe as anything else is that I can tell." He said as he went from person to person injecting them. "It's a shame we can't study it more."

"In about forty-five minutes it's going to chow down on one of our most populated worlds. I'm not too interested in studying it, and it's wise to use our tricks and we're not going to be able to divert it again." Harry replied.

"From what I can ascertain, that organism has enough stored energy to reproduce. Then there will be two of them. Then four, eight, then more..." Okan stated. "If we don't stop it now, lifeforms like us could be the minority in our own galaxy in a short time if we survive at all."

Harry frowned, the irony of the situation wasn't lost on him; he couldn't help but chuckle. "So we'll be the galaxy's immune system to fight this thing off."

"That's one way of looking at it Captain." Okan shrugged.

Nova brushed her tail against Land's arm casually. He looked at her and smiled a weary but reassuring smile.

"How are you holding up?" He said quietly.

"A little scared. You?" She asked.

"Hardly, to me they are just smaller versions of things we have back home that float through space." Land chuckled. "Cept this one seems to stand up to weapons."

"I am going to have to see the Lylat system sometime."

"I'd be glad to take you.." Jack said when suddenly he spotted something dark on the viewer.

"Skipper you might want to take a glance at the viewer." Land spoke up suddenly.

On the main viewer they could see they were being drawn toward what appeared to be the creature's nucleus.

Suddenly the power began to flicker. And an alarm sounded.

"Report!" Harry snapped.

"The power drain has increased on our shields and the pull has increased," Michelle reported.

"Re-modulate the shields and reverse all engines," Harry ordered.

"I"m working on it, captain." O'mara replied.

The ship suddenly shuddered as it pulled against the force drawing it towards the gargantuan organism.

"Engineering we're going to need more power," Harry said, hitting his com button.

"Already at max, mains will blow if you keep fighting that hold it has on us." Fara snapped over the com.

Harry pounded his armrest in frustration. "Jack can we maybe at least hold our position?"

"Maybe.' He played with the throttle controls and the engines audibly got quieter although they were still pulling against the force the organism had on them. "That should do it, now what's the plan, skip?"

Dr. Okan injected Harry with a stimulant and then scanned his vitals and frowned. "It probably wouldn't be a good idea to keep these up Captain your vitals are redlining."

"I'll be fine, doctor," Harry said dismissively. "The plan is part one to get us where we are, part two is trying to figure out how to get us out of the mess I made of part one."

"I am far from a scientist but if we destroy the nucleus of that… thing." Jakar spoke up. "Would that not kill it?"

"How do you suppose we do that?" Dr. Okan replied. ""It eats energy, I don't think phasers will do a thing to it."

"It doesn't like Photon torpedoes, that's for sure.' Jakar added.

"Except that field out there drains them of their power." Michelle spoke up. "So we're going to have to go close or get … inside it.'

The aft bridge doors parted and Fara entered the bridge and transferred engineering controls to her station and then noticed everyone standing in thought. "Oh god now what are we doing?!" she said exasperated.

"We're trying to figure that out." Harry said. "How much longer do you think the shields can hold?"

"At our current usage of power, two maybe three hours. but we'll be draining our power significantly if we try to breach that membrane." Michelle said. "Unless we let it envelope us."

"It's trying to anyway." Jakar grunted. "I mean it's not like, we can't avoid it at this point."

"That might work." Okan said. "Invade the body, just like a virus to destroy the host."

"Ugh all this just sounds terrible." Fara groaned. "Look, that thing is draining our power, all the shields are doing is delaying the inevitable. It's just leaching off us like it's savoring a piece of candy trying to get to the gooey center which is us!"

"That's enough Fara." Harry said. "We're all very aware of our situation. Doctor you said we should be able to destroy it. Jakar do you think we could construct a high yield antimatter explosion that could do the trick?"

"We would have to get close." Okan said. "If that thing has any sort of fluid mass inside we'd be fighting currents, eddies. It could drain our power more."

"What about the Talon?" Harry asked. "It has its own core and adaptive shielding it might have a chance to get close."

"It could, but who are you going to get to fly it?" Fara said. "That's a potential suicide mission."

"I'll figure that out." Harry replied. "Fara can you help Jakar rig an antimatter explosive that can take that thing out."

Suddenly the lights and power flickered on the Raptor and Michelle quickly remodulated the shields as everyone suddenly felt very weak. "Sorry, it's increased it's pull on our power." Michelle reported.

"I"ll do anything at this point to get out of this mess, lets go Jakar." Fara replied as Dr. Okan shot her full of stimulant. "Thanks can i get that in coffee form?" Fara asked.

"No." Okan said flatly as Jakar walked past them and Fara followed him out.

"Skip, it's starting to increase it's pull on us." Jack said.

"Let it, we keep fighting it we're not going win this at this point.."

"Captain, the Intrepid is hailing us." Lt. Pery spoke up.

"On screen."

Terri's image appeared on the screen although it was hazy and filled with static.

"How are you holding up, Harry?" Terri asked.

"We're still in one piece, although this things got a good hold of us, trying to suck us dry but we're using our shields to keep it at bay."

"You don't look well, how is the crew?" Terri asked.

"They're managing and it's the stimulants," Harry replied. "We're working on the problem."

"Do you have any way to get out of there?"

"No, it's got us good, we're letting it just take us where it wants us at this point. We can't fight it, we don't have enough reserves to keep fighting against it and keep the shields up." Harry said, feeling very fatigued. "Have evacuations begun on Altairia if we fail?"

"They've been notified but you just can't get several billion people off-planet on a moment's notice," Terri replied.

"Many would not leave," Kolnoz said. "It is our home where else would we go? Many of us would rather perish with our homeworld than part from it."

"Not if I can help it." Harry said reassuringly. "How close are we to the cellular wall of the nucleus out there, Michelle."

"A thousand Kilometers and closing." Michelle said keeping her eyes fixed to the shield modulation."

"We're going to use the Talon to deliver a warhead to the Nucleus of the creature," Harry told Terri on the screen. "Hit it with enough antimatter to take it out with one shot."

"That sounds incredibly dangerous," Terri said less than enthused.

"Well the alternative at this point is get sucked dry and let this thing devour Altairia." Harry replied.

"Skipper, we're almost to make contact." Land reported.

"We're going to try to breach it's membrane, we'll try to keep in touch." Harry said. "Keep all power to the shields." Harry quickly flipped the shipwide coms. "All hands, this is the Captain we are going to try to breach the creature's membrane. Brace for Impact." He closed the channel. "All engines to full thrust forward Jack."

"Here we go again," Jack said under his breath and forced the ship forward.

The Raptor plunged toward the nucleus of the creatures and slammed into its membrane breaking through it. Everyone was tossed about and alarms sounded, power systems failed, consoles overloaded and a whole cacophony of alarms went out. Suddenly it subsided and the power slowly came back.

"Are we in?!" Harry asked as he got up off the floor.

"I think so." Michelle said there was a literal cloud of feathers about her console at this point. "Good news is the power drain is not nearly as bad. Bad news is, we have a lot less power than we did when we started."

"Bridge this is Fara, Jakar and I are down here playing with highly reactive anti-matter capsules would you all kindly STOP KNOCKING US AROUND," Fara yelled in frustration over the com.

Harry smirked, at least that saved him the trouble of checking on her. "Sorry Cheif we're just proceeding with the plan."

"You mean continuing to pull this out of your ass yeah I can see that plainly!" Fara snapped.

"Just hurry up with that weapon," Harry responded closing the com.

"Captain, we're holding steady where we are at, whatever was drawing us in here has released us."

"So who is going to deliver the package?" Dr. Okan asked.

"I'm working on that," Harry said.

The ship shuddered a bit as the protoplasm inside the creature shifted.

"Sorry about that folks, adjusting to compensate," Jack said.

"I would be interested in doing it, we could collect some samples to try to understand this thing better." Okan volunteered.

"I appreciate your enthusiasm for scientific discovery but you are needed here on the ship, Doctor."

"Pfft don't look at me," Michelle said. "You are going to stun me first."

"I could do it." Jack said. "I am the best pilot on this ship, I have the best chance of getting back."

"You are also the best one to keep the ship in one piece when we try to get out of here" Harry replied.

"Skip, that's ridiculous, I can do it you know I can."

"I said no, Ensign," Harry said sternly. "I will be the one doing it, I got us into this mess, I'll get us out of it."

Everyone suddenly got quiet.

"Everyone of you is vital to this ship's survivability," Harry said, straightening his uniform. "Most of you know this ship better than I do, I'm just the one that makes the big decisions on what to do with it." He paused. "I've put you all in danger by bringing you this far, I will be the one to finish this." He smiled at the glum faces. "Who knows, I might pull it off, wouldn't that be the story to tell, I've been lucky before. Anyone have any objections?"

Nobody said anything, the bridge was eerily quiet.

"Very well, Doctor if you want your readings I suggest you equip the Talon with the necessary equipment," Harry said.

"Of course," said reluctantly, nodding and leaving the bridge.

Harry felt eyes on him and looked up at Jack. "Problem Ensign?"

"No, No problem." Jack said, turning back to his station. He over his shoulder looked up at Nova who smiled she looked scared. He smiled reassuringly at her wishing he could do more but he had a job to do.

After what seemed like an eternity Michelle O'mara finally spoke up. "I've got the nucleus, it's now on long-range sensors."

"Hold our position," Harry said. "Can you put it on screen."

Michelle worked her controls and it appeared on the main viewer although very static. A large dark-colored spot floating in the flotsam that had to be hundreds of miles across.

Several tense minutes past, Harry checked his readout on the remaining power, 10 minutes was all they had left, he hoped

Fara and Jakar returned to the bridge both looking tired and done. "It's done, even got it mounted to the Talon's underside," Fara said tiredly. "Dr. Okan even got his equipment on board, Now who's flying it?"

"I am." Harry said.

"What?"

"You heard me, you have the bridge Chief."

"Me, what, why?" Fara said trying to process this. "You can't."

"Fara, I need you to get the Raptor home, do that for me ok?" Harry said levelly.

"I will but you had better come back!" Fara said. "You can't just up and leave like this!"

"I have to, someone needs to destroy that thing Fara, you take.." Harry started.
"No.. no no, stop." Fara said her voice wavering. "You are getting ready to say goodbye, don't do that."

Harry softened a little. "The ship is yours, Chief."

Fara nodded and looked down at the ground.

"Skip." Land spoke up. "Can I at least see you to the shuttlebay?"

"That's fine."

"Captain." Michelle suddenly spoke up.

Harry acknowledged her with a nod.

"In case I don't get the chance again…" She said choking up a bit. "Thanks for pushing me."

Harry smiled. "You are very welcome."

Jakar nodded at Harry not saying anything, he didn't really expect more than that.

"To hell with regulations.." Fara said, suddenly giving Harry an unexpected hug. "You come back to us damn it" She whispered in his ear. Before breaking the hug and wiping a few tears from her eyes.

Jack walked up beside him. "I want you all to know that I am proud to have you as my crew. We have come a long way in a short time and I couldn't have asked for any finer group of men and women than you to serve with." He smiled and then made his exit from the bridge with Jack in tow. They got on the turbolift and headed down to the shuttlebay. Jack leaned against the wall with his hands in his pockets.

"I appreciate you coming, Jack."

"Sure skip. We started this together, right?" Jack said quietly.

"Yeah, we did." Harry smiled. "Do me a favor."

Jack looked at him quizzically.

"Keep working on the engineering. Fara is very happy with you and I never hear anything bad about you. Keep up the good work."

Jack smiled a bit. "Thanks, Harry."

The turbolift slid to a halt on deck 4, they exited and walked toward the gangway towards the shuttlebay. Jack keyed in the commands to open the door and then waited for Harry to pass. Harry walked up to the main launch console and keyed in the commands for the Talon to begin pre flight startup.

"Jack, what's the hold up I could use a hand."

"I'm fine." Jack said walking in the bay but as he did the emergency override hatch was left open and the door crank was clearly seen to be missing. Harry couldn't see this or the missing crank tucked into the back waistband of his slacks.
Jack stood by the console and activated the shuttle bay door. The Klaxxon sounded and the door pulled up revealing the swirling morass of protoplasm beyond the force field

"So…" Harry said, looking a little sad. "This is it, amigo."

"Yeah it is.." Jack said trying to remain looking calm while preparing to do what he intended to 've always been a good friend Jack, even when you drive me nuts." Harry smiled, showing a bit more emotion than he was used to and offering his hand to shake.

"You too buddy." Jack said, grasping Harry's hand and shaking it while taking his other hand behind his back and wrapping his fingers around the handle of the crank. "That's why I can't let you do this." He said quickly hitting the echidna hard across the jaw using the crank for some added momentum for the punch. It had worked although he quickly dropped the crank after catching Harry. He was pretty sure he broke a finger.

"You told me once the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Well this ship, this crew, and she needs you a lot more than they need me." Jack said walking over to the console and programming in an automatic door closure. "I've got a way better chance making this trip than you do and you know it."

Harry groaned something unintelligible on the ground. The echidna was tougher than he looked, he was sure that would turn his lights out for at least ten minutes.

"I think you are just too stubborn to let the rest of us take the risk. It's appreciated, but like you told Terri." He said quickly initiating the countdown. "It comes with the job. You take care Harry, catch you on the flip side." He quickly bolted for the Talon.

The gargantuan creature slowed down and dropped its shroud as it costed into the outer reaches of the Alatarian home system. The Intrepid was rapidly on its tail.

They tried to get it to veer off by firing a barrage of torpedoes at it but it just seemed to ignore them despite the irritation.

"Raptor this is the Intrepid." Terri said opening a channel. "The entity has entered the Altairian System; we can't get it to divert."

"We hear you Terri, we're working on it." Fara replied.

"Fara, why are you in command?" Terri asked.

"Long story but we're carrying out the Captains plan." Fara replied.

"Shuttlecraft Talon is away." Jakar announced.

On the viewer the shuttle headed out from under the Raptor's bow into the deepest part of the creature.

"Martinez to bridge." Harry said harshly over the com.

"Captain?" Fara said, a bit relieved. "What are you doing?"

"Ensign Land is in the shuttle, he cold-cocked me and took the Talon!"

"Flyboy?!" Fara said, a bit shocked, toggling a channel to the Talon and tieing Terri into it.. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Doing what I'm good at, what does it look like." Jack said, pulling on the restraints on the Talon's pilot chair. "Can we not do this right now? I'm a little busy."

"Ensign just what the hell are you doing?! Why did you assault the Captain." Terri snapped at him.

"It was either him or me doing it and he wasn't thinking clearly." Jack said making a few adjustments.

"Ensign you turn that shuttle around right now…" Terri snapped.

"Or what you'll toss me in the brig?! We don't have time for this Commander, things going to destroy Altairia and I'm going to ram this bomb right up it's keester and get out if I'm lucky."

"But… you…" Terri stammered. "You could be killed."

"I could be, most likely, or not." Jack chuckled. "Fifty fifty shot either way it'll be interesting to see how it plays out."

The channel became a bit more hazy. "Jack, look I have something important to tell you that you need to know." Terri said suddenly.

"Well it's a bit late for that sorry, babe." Jack said sadly. "I'm starting to lose transmission. I need to put power to more important things. I may not see you again. Before I go.."

"Don't say that."

"Terri…" He said gently. " Before I go I just want to tell you, you were fantastic." He said with a mirthful grin.

Terri's lip twitched.

"And you know what?"

Terri shook her head no.

"So was I." Land said, gunning the shuttle engines and plunging the Talon deeper into the leviathan causing the channel to cut off.

Harry arrived back on the bridge holding his head and asked Fara to take the con. "Turn us around and get us out of here with everything we got."

"No argument from me." Fara replied hopping into the conn and bringing the ship around.

The Raptor quickly swung around and began to slowly force it's way out of the creature.

Jack locked onto the nucleus of the creature and checked his readouts already the strange energy that field that the creature emitted was draining the Talons power plant. He'd have to move quickly. He put more power towards the engines and muted the audio warnings. It was going to be hard enough without the computer nagging him all the time. He caught a glimpse of the Raptor coming about and going in the opposite direction on his long range sensors.

The Raptor passed back out through the breach in the nucleonic membrane a lot easier than it had penetrated it.

The ship was sluggish and hard to control, Fara fought with the controls trying to keep it steady as the eddies and currents of the creatures protoplasm. The engines were screaming in protest and the shields were running on just barely enough power to protect them.

"Jakar how far are we from the edge of the creature?" Harry asked.

"Twenty five thousand kilometers." Jakar yelled over the protesting engines.

"Can you spot the Talon? is it still on course!" Harry barked an order.

"Yes, just barely." Michelle said trying to keep the shields up herself. "I barely have him on long range sensors."
The ship shifted violently to port and soon Harry was at the controls with her. "Take the thrust, I'll fly."

Fara nodded and kept at the engines. Harry's help made her job a lot easier if she could control the thrust and power levels.

Minutes to arrival turned to seconds and soon the Nucleus deep within its shell could be seen. was in range growing in the shuttle's viewport.

He glanced at his power levels and cut everything he didn't need to keep the engines Shields and minimum life support going.

5000km… 4000km…..3000km…...2000km

The inner sanctum of the creatures nucleus was a creepy dark and very organic red chamber it was unpleasant to look at and slightly nauseating and he could see energy resonating along the walls of the nucleonic membrane.

Strange forms moved among the darkness paying no attention to him but what he could catch of them looked like strange molecules or some sort of strange enormous dna strand.

"Come on." He said tightening the Talon's shield bubble around the engine and passenger compartment. He could feel the life being slowly sucked out of him as the enormous double helix of the creature's DNA was growing in the viewport of the nucleus of the creature grew in the forward viewport. .

1000km… 500km…

He released the warhead and quickly spun the shuttle around and gunned the engines for all the had. The warhead plunged toward the massive nucleus as the Talon raced forward back the way it had came.

Land cut everything he could but the shuttle was being pushed to its limits. Consoles exploded as power fed back and systems were overloaded.

"Distance to the outer membrane!" Harry yelled over the noise of the engines and the alarms.

"10000 kilometers!" Jakar reported.

"Captain, the shields are failing!" O'mara said. "We maye have less than a few seconds!"

"Fara can you do anything?" Harry said, taking the chair and letting her run to her station.

Fara madly scrambled over to the engineering console.

"Oh god no!" Fara said looking up in horror. "Main power failure imminent, we've got nothing left!"

The engines shrill whine slowly started to grow fainted and power started to fail and consoles started to shut down.

"That's it then," Harry said direly as he felt his life start to slowly drain away. "We've done all we can."

The sensors went out he was flying blind other than what he could see out the canopy. He cut life support and tried to breathe as little as he could, the air in the cockpit wouldn't last long if he didn't keep his cool.

The shields were starting to fail, the power drain from the creature was more than the Talon's systems could handle. He glanced up at the counter and it was ticking down 10 seconds till detonation.

He could see stars faintly through the protoplasm. So close

5 seconds.

He closed his eyes and just held his hands over the power controls.

3 seconds.

The engines red lined and he would soon be on momentum only if he didn't go up with the shuttle.

1 second.

The warhead detonated, the release of the antimatter into a mass of pure matter began a simultaneous annihilation, the nucleus was absorbed in a blinding flash of light akin to a supernova. Land felt the shuttle start to shudder as shockwaves ripped away from the explosion. He listened even as the air began to get sharp and at the last moment through everything he had into the rear shields and one finale burst from the impulse drive.

There was a roar and a fierce collision and then… nothing.

The creature was almost at Altaria's atmosphere when suddenly it grew extremely bright and exploded in a mass of flaming protoplasm the majority of it that burned up in Altaria's atmosphere. It provided a tremendous sight for those on the surface, at least on the night side.

Altairia had been spared.

Billions of Altarians looked on in astonishment and wonder.

The sky was alight with large globs of the creature's protoplasm burning up in the atmosphere, along with debris of ships and other things it had ingested but no harm had come to Altairia.

Harry opened up his eyes, he suddenly gasped and sat up intaking a lungful of scorched and smokey air and immediately started to cough. He quickly checked himself and found he had several lacerations that were bleeding pretty good but he seemed mostly alive. His shoulder injury felt like it had been pulled, but pain was good, pain ment you were still alive. He could barely see anything other than the faint fires on the bridge that dimly illuminated the bridge.

"Damage Report!" Harry shouted coughing trying to figure out where he was on the darkened bridge. That atmosphere was choked with smoke and the only illumination was a few fires on the bridge.

"I'd assume everything." Fara groaned from somewhere nearby in the darkness.

"Did it work?"

"I don't know we're blind, I think the ships coms are down too." Jakar responded. "I had it up until we got hit by the blast.

He heard some wretching behind him somewhere in the darkness, it sounded like Mihelle.

"Lt. Omara." Harry said. "Are you ok?"

"I will be if i stop throwing up." he heard her cough.

Suddenly the power flickered back on. The ventilation returned and the smoke started being pumped out of the bridge and the fire suppression systems kicked in quenching the flames.

Harry glanced around and spotted Kolnoz was still alive, battered but very much alive. He seemed to be practically ecstatic. He gave Harry a thumbs up to let him know him and Nova we're both fine.

"That would be Knackt probably," Fara said getting up from being thrown over the flight control station and wincing as she stood up.

"I've got passive sensors sir." O'mara said. "I'm picking up something metallic off our stern."

"Could it be the shuttle?" Harry asked.

"Could be. It doesn't appear to have any power." O'mara replied.

"Any life signs?" Harry asked.

"Indeterminate," Jakar replied.

"Get him out of there, use a shuttle transporter if you have to. Go!"

Jakar nodded and left the bridge.

The main screen flickered to life and they could see the Intrepid approaching slowly.

"They are hailing us sir." Lt. Pery announced.

"Put them on screen."

"Harry, you made it." Terri said relieved.

"Mostly, we're still figuring out how bad we're messed up." Harry said coughing. "Is it dead?"

"Yes you should have seen the fireball." Terri said. "The creature has been totally destroyed. Did Jack make it out?"

"The Talon did, we don't know if he's alive or not." Harry said grimly. "I'll let you know when we do."

Terri returned to the Raptor leaving Lt. Baxter in command. She heard the Talon had been severely damaged and Land's condition wasn't looking promising. She found a gangway hatch and quickly dropped down to deck two and entered sickbay. She was moving faster than she thought causing crew members diving out of her way.

Nurse Twila stopped her as she entered. "Can I help you, commander."
"Ensign Land, what's his condition?" Terri asked, trying to sound as level as possible.

"He's barely clinging on to life." Twila replied. "He was exposed to that creature's field, we currently have him on life support."

"Can I see him?" Terri asked.

"It's fine Twila, let her through." Doctor Okan said. "Stepping through, I think it will be ok."

Twila seemed a bit confused but shrugged. "It's your sickbay doctor."

"Follow me. I have him in the intensive care ward." Doctor Okan said leading her two a small set of stairs that went down to the lower deck of sickbay on deck three that housed the more sophisticated equipment. "I expected you to come by." Dr. Okan said. "I am glad you did, I am not sure if he is going to make it or not."

Terri chewed her lower lip nervously and nodded,

He took her down to the lower level of sickbay to a small alcove where Jack lay hooked up to several machines that were keeping him alive, he looked so gaunt, drained and lifeless.

"Before I leave, are you uninjured, is there anything I need to see too while you're here?" Dr. Okan asked.

"No Doctor, I'm fine." Terri replied.

"I will leave you be then, if you need anything."
Terri nodded.

"Very well." Doctor Okan said as he left the room.

"Oh Jack… what did you do to yourself…" Terri said sobbing slightly leaning on the biobed. "I did this to you, didn't I?"

Jack was unmoving only the faint whirring of the respirator and the beep of the biobeds systems monitoring his weak heartbeat.

"I'm sorry… I shouldn't have broken things off with you." Terri said. "It was probably the worst day of my life and I had no idea that I was not in my right mind at the time." She sobbed. "I'm scared Jack." She cried laying her head on his chest. "I'm pregnant with your child and I don't have anyone else. I don't know what to do. Don't leave me, please."

Jack, didn't respond, only the whir of the machinery and the sound of the respiratory device keeping him alive could be heard under her tears. She felt so lost, exhausted and devastated even more than she ever had before and her whole world felt as if it was crashing down around her.

She heard the door open and footsteps approaching and she tried to gathered herself. She felt relieved when she saw Harry standing there.

"Terri… Sorry I didn't know you were here."
"It's ok." She sniffed. "I heard what happened and I wanted to see him."

Harry nodded his eyes, spotted the wet stains on the linen and back to the dampness around her own and irritation. It didn't take too much deduction to figure out what was going on before he got here.

"I know you two were seeing each other until recently." He said carefully. "I understand."

"We were." Terri sniffed.

"What happened, between the two of you."

"I happened." Terri said, taking a deep breath. "Can we talk off the record?"

Harry nodded.

"You would understand better than most," She said fidgeting. "Look, I missed my shot a while back and I got pregnant. I didn't plan on it but we got so busy." She said. "Back when we got ambushed in the Roirishard system I was showing the first signs and I really wasn't in my right mind at the time and I lost it with him." She sighed heavily with a bit of a whipmer. "I didn't even know what was going on until the three of you got back from Mustafar and Doctor Okan told me."

"I see." Harry said quietly.

"I really screwed up, Harry." She said sobbing and wringing her hands. "I didn't know what was wrong with me, and now I can't even make it up to him."

"It seems to be a theme around here lately." Harry sighed. "Don't put it all on you, I'm just as responsible for him being there. If i hadn't been so determined to put an end to that thing, maybe I could have found a better answer and he wouldn't be in that state right now."

"I… I don't know what to do." Terri sobbed.

"All we can do is hope." Harry said suddenly he gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "Where there's tears, there is hope. If he is gone, I can tell you if you want to make it up to him. You give that little one all the love that you can, and let him know about the father they never knew."

Terri embraced Harry and sobbed burying her face in his shoulder and he comforted her. He hurt as much as she did, maybe more, but someone needed to be strong one in this moment.

Two weeks later.

Captain's Log,Supplemental:

The Raptor is space worthy again. At the behest of Ambassador Kolnov the Raptor has been given a full long over-due refit with options for returns if needed. Much to Chief Phoenix's chagrin they pretty much oversaw the whole thing only consulting her when needed regarding some of the Raptors other systems. During that time we've all enjoyed some R&R planet side.

I have had some time to process the loss of my friend. Captain Nora Kinsach, a death that has weighed heavily on my mind.

I find myself questioning my own decisions over the last few days. I wonder if they cost me my friend Jack Land who is still in a coma as well.

Maybe that is why he stopped me.

I can't help but feel responsible for the state he is in.

Ambassador Kolnoz has offered to have him taken to Altairia's best Medical Care facility, to treat him. Dr. Okan has tried everything to revive him but hasn't had any success. Not seeing any hope of improvement, I think it would be the best option for him than trying to get him home especially in his current state.

Despite our brief rest, we will need to return to Starbase 186. Commander Lu is still in command of the Intrepid until fleet command gets it recrewed, there is a chance they may offer her the ship. She's performed admirably and has earned the chance, I am not sure if she will take it or not. She still has her segment of the crew with her still, bolstered with personnel from Altaira they were recently deployed to one of the nearby colonies with medical supplies, but the Intrepid will rendezvous with us back at Starbase 186.

Although the Raptor will be refit and better than ever probably she will be noticeably emptier. A feeling that only serves to amplify my own.

Harry walked along the now pristine and almost glistening corridors of his ship. With it being in dry dock and his reports to Starfleet already completed he didn't have much else to do but wait until the Altarian fleet yards released his ship. The rest of the crew was enjoying their last remaining days of shoreleave planetside save for him and Fara.

He walked with his hands behind his back wincing a bit with every step, the wound in his shoulder constantly reminding him it was there despite the weeks of therapy since he'd been shot. The recent stress and tension he'd been going through only seemed to irritate it more.

He stopped at an intersection of a corridor half expecting Jack to be there, to show up like he always did to distract him from his thoughts, or offer to hang out or anything, but he wasn't. He'd already been sent planetside, so that was unlikely to happen.

Harry sighed heavily feeling sad. He wondered if Jack would ever bother anyone again.

He heard footsteps coming down the hall ahead of him and he saw Fara approaching.

"Is there something I can help you with, Chief?" He asked.

"Not right now, mind some company?" Fara asked.

"No I wouldn't," Harry said. "Ships looking pretty good."

"Yeah it is, they are going over everything with a fine-tooth comb," Fara said putting her hands in the pockets of her lab coat. "I don't even have to do anything. You should see the bin full of parts they've removed, I could practically build a functional shuttlecraft out of them if they weren't all shit."

Harry chuckled and then winced dropping his arms to his side.
"That still bugging you?" Fara asked, noticing.

"It comes and goes," Harry said. "I'm glad they are being thorough, we don't need any more surprises."

Fara nodded. "Of course, we're also getting new systems installed, hell by the time they get done with this ship we'll be about as versatile as the bigger cruisers with all the upgrades we are getting. The Ambassador is insisting that we leave Altairian space with a better ship than we arrived with."

"Won't that be nice?"

"Yeah."

"Do me a favor, have all those faulty parts sorted and placed under secure conditions in our cargo hold." Harry said. "I want to have evidence to use against our hidden saboteur when the time comes."

"Already on that. I even got it labeled." Fara chuckled. "Plus the Dockmaster has a rather large list of complaints he's filing against fleet acquisitions for the parts, which he is more than willing to share."

"Good."

"You know the crew is probably going to come back pretty drunk on shore leave and everything else." Fara said. "It's going to be hard coming back to us after being big heroes and all"

"That's why we're up here tending to the ship." Harry said. "They earned it let them enjoy it."

"I'll admit it's been nice not having to do much myself," Fara said. "That's enough downtime for me. I think the Doc and Michelle have been busy researching the readings from the Talon, Jakar's doing… Jakar stuff."

"Is the Talon salvageable?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, I've been working on her since I don't have much to do." Fara said, suddenly stretching and yawning. "I'll probably have her back up and running soon, she got banged up pretty good from the blast but I think I can salvage her. The worst part was getting all that seared slime off it which our eggheads just had to get every last drop." Fara sighed. "Oh yeah before I forget Jakar said something to me about all us getting together tonight in the mess."
"What for?" Harry asked.

"Not sure, he just said, come by at 1800, was all." Fara shrugged.

"Sure."

There was a brief pause. "I miss him."

"Jack?" Harry sighed stopping and leaning against a bulkhead.

Fara drew in a sharp breath and then nodded in agreement looking at the floor.

"I think we all do." He said running a hand through his headfur. "This one hits really hard."

"Do you think he'll get any better?" Fara asked.

"I don't know." Harry said quietly. "He was exposed to whatever killed the crew of the Intrepid and nearly drained us for the briefest of moments and he is barely clinging to life."

"Shit!" Fara said, uncharacteristically kicking the wall. "God damn him. Why did he go and do that to himself?"

"He said something about the Raptor, the crew and Terri needing me more than him" Harry said quietly resting his head against the wall and folding his arms.

Fara sighed and just half-heartedly kicked the wall again.

"Do you mind, you are scuffing the metal." Harry said teasingly.

"Fuck you Harry." Fara groused chuckling a little bit. "It's duranium you can't scuff it."

Harry smiled at her.

Fara's laughter eventually stopped and she sighed. "I'm sick of losing people."

Harry nodded in agreement as she leaned back against the bulkhead beside him.

"He was good, really good. Surprised me every day." Fara sniffed. "Never late, always got things done, hell he was one of my only people who'd get his damn paperwork done on time." She sniffed. "I don't know if he ever understood how much I appreciated him."

"I told him." Harry replied quietly.

"Thanks." Fara replied. "It's going to be really weird without him around."

Harry just nodded.

"How's Terri handling it?" Fara asked.

"As well as anyone." Harry said quietly. "She's a bit busy with taking care of the Intrepid's business at the moment until starfleet recrews the ship."

"Do you think she'll come back?" Fara asked. "

"That's up to her, Fara." Harry replied. "She did an admirable job captaining it, HQ might offer her the position."

"Great now I might lose another friend." Fara said sadly. "I'm proud of her, she can do the job, but it's a bit much to deal with at the moment."

"Yup."

They both quiet for a moment. "I think we've bummed each other out enough at this point, remember 1800, mess hall. I need to finish a few things and grab a quick nap. Remember, come casual."

"I'll be there." Harry replied.

Fara waved in acknowledgment as she walked down the corridor.

Later that evening, Harry arrived at the mess hall of the Raptor wondering what the occasion was as the scent of freshly prepared food hit his nose. He noticed that Dr. Okan, Nurse Twila, O'mara, Fara, Lt. Remmick and Rydel and Sonya Jax we're present and talking to each other. There was a small table set out with quite a selection of food and a bottle of Sauron brandy. He saw that Jakar was the one preparing the food.

"Well, this is hardly what I expected," Harry said approaching the table. "Didn't know you cooked."

"Oh he does when I pester him too." Sonya said walking up to Harry from behind. "He's pretty good at it."

Jakar grunted. "This is a special occasion, we should be grateful we have gotten through it. Grab a plate."

Sonya handed harry a plate and Jakar scooped what looked like brisket and some rice on it just dripping with sauce. "Stick around have a drink or two and relax Captain."

"Sure." Harry said grabbing a beer out of the buckett of chilled bottles. "Thanks, big guy."

Jakar grunted with a smile and he wandered over to a table that was set out and sat down to eat, everyone else followed suit apparently they were supposed to wait till he had arrived. Everyone else just took their places at the table around him. Fara sat across from Harry. He noticed that it was pretty casual and even though the air was trying to be festive there was an underlying gloom that he was pretty sure of what it was.

Jakar sat at the end with Sonya off to one side.

"This is pretty good." Harry said after taking a few bites to Doctor Okan who sat beside him.

"Indeed, he won't tell me where he learned the recipe." Doctor Okan said.

"Jakar this is great, where'd you learn to cook like this?"

"That's my secret." Jakar replied, smirking. "I told you a while ago I've been around the quadrant a few times. You pick up a few things here and there. When everyone is done eating please don't leave, there is something I need you all present for. Just relax and enjoy yourselves."

Everyone started to talk amongst themselves as they ate.

"Fara, where's Knackt? Shouldn't he be here?" Harry asked.

"You think he's going to pass up hero worship on shore leave?" Fara snorted. "Well be lucky if they don't ship him back to us in a crate in a few months. If they catch him., that is."

"I see." Harry said. "I'm surprised the lot of you stayed on board save from Fara and I. You all had leave."

"And it was appreciated Captain, but research needs to be done and if we don't jump on it someone else will." Doctor Okan said, taking a sip out of his wine glass and tipping it towards Michelle.

"Yes, the readings we got from the Talon we're quite extensive, we have a lot to sort through." O'mara added solemnly. "It could take months to go through it all. There was so much about that creature that we don't understand."

"Even with those readings though, without a living specimen we have a lot of work to do to just fill in the blanks. Should be a good challenge."

Harry nodded. "Kai, Jenna why didn't you take time off?"

"We were just there, Harry." Kai said. "I got my fill of power sailing on our vacation a few weeks ago."

"It's been nice just being on the ship with it being quiet." Jenna added. "That and with Terri being gone I have to make sure they keep the computer systems in good order."

"Ah I see." Harry replied.

"You should go down Harry it's really beautiful." Jenna added.

"It's a bit too humid for my liking." Harry shrugged. "I went there with J…" He said catching himself. "I was there before."

Even though he didn't completely say the name, Lands absence was palpable in the atmosphere.

The room fell silent before Jakar's voice pushed the silence asude with his rough tones. "That is why I asked you all to come here tonight. Jack was our friend, our shipmate and our fellow bridge officer. Honestly he annoyed the shit out of me, but he was one hell of a pilot. We are here tonight because of his sacrifice and we should all be honoring his memory. None of you should ever forget that."

He let that sink in a bit a few of the group nodded, O'mara looked like she was about to start crying but was trying to put on a brave front, a single molted feather giving away her true feelings.

"We have lost a lot of people since we started this journey together and we have all dealt with it in our own way. Some of us, more so than others." Jakar spoke with a level tone. "On a ship this size, we all feel a loss when it happens, regardless of the circumstances."

He then stood up while all eyes were on him. "I was going to save this till the end but I think it needs to be done now." He grabbed his glass and lifted it in the air. "I will lead us in a toast to absent friends, will you all join me."

Everyone nodded and followed suit. Jakar cleared his throat and then began to speak.

"In remembrance of those not here today,

To all our fellows, unwell or far away."

Back on Starbase 186, Don Rivas sighed, he was really missing Michelle and hoped the ship would get back soon. He sighed heavily and stared longingly at the bottle of whiskey on his desk, thought better of it and went back to the book he was reading.

"Those who've fallen along our way, remembered fondly as yesterday"

Nova sat besides Jack's bed watching over his still form in a fleet medical Center on Altairia. She had talked to him about her day, how she missed him. His prognosis was dire, limited brain activity, machines keeping him just on the brink of death.

There had to be some way to help him, and she was going to find it.

.

"It's our absent friends we miss the most."

Terri-lu stood in Captain Kensachs former quarters now bare of the former officer's belongings and unpacked what few things she had brought. It was going to be an interesting month of command finishing the Intrepid's duties. She unpacked some pictures from her quarters and regarded the one silly one of her and Jack when they spent the day in a holosuite amusement park. She traced her fingers along his image and tears swelled up in her eyes and dripped onto the glass of the picture frame.

"It's to your memory, our sweetest friends we shall drink this toast."

"Cheers." Everyone said at once while taking a drink.

"Well said Jakar." Harry said, complementing Jakar.

Jakar nodded. "Now, let's enjoy the rest of the night, remember the good things." He said sitting back down to eat.

This seemed to help elevate the mood everyone seemed to lighten up and they all shared their stories of Jack, laughter soon filled the room and for one brief night they had a reprieve from their shared grief.

Life would go on, as it always does….

...they all hoped that their friend, Jack would return to continue the journey with them.

The End