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01/10 – “This is Where it all Went Wrong.”

Stardate 42781.2
10 Years Ago

“Good Morning, Admiral.”

Commander Krystine Leone entered the turbolift and joined her commanding officer and captain of the USS Potemkin, who as was her wont, was dressed in a command-red, custom-replicated two-piece uniform instead of the more conventional and much more formfitting jumpsuit version.

T'Cirya raised an eyebrow at her first officer, keeping her hands clasped behind the small of her back. “You are well aware, of course, that my promotion will not take effect until next week. Until that time it will be more appropriate to refer to me as ‘captain’.”

Leone smirked. After having served with the Vulcan for over a decade on two different ships, she had come to learn how to read her extremely subtle mannerism, and could tell, not only that she was somewhat amused by the reference to her impending promotion but that she felt a certain satisfaction—not pride, of course—about her career moving on to new heights. Naturally whatever she felt, was well hidden and almost impossible to decipher without the luxury of having served with the stoically steadfast Vulcan for a long time.

“Naturally,” she said, still smirking, and turned to stand next to her, facing the doors she had just passed through. “Bridge.”

The lift acknowledged and set into motion once more.

“Any word yet on your next assignment?” asked Leone.

“Not at this time.”

“Any word yet on my next assignment?” she said and threw the other woman a sidelong look, unable to hide the gleam in her eye. It was well known to her commanding officer that Krystine Leone had ambitions to become a starship captain herself and hopeful to be chosen as T'Cirya’s successor.

The Vulcan turned her head marginally to consider her first officer but said nothing.

The lift arrived at its destination, the doors reopened and the soon-to-be admiral, swiftly stepped out.

T’Cirya clearly took delight in subtly torturing Leone, no matter how much she’d deny it. Leone was convinced of it. She uttered a little sigh but refused to let her mood slip before she followed her captain onto the bridge.

“Report,” Leone heard T’Cirya say before she had even caught up with her.

Lieutenant Commander Ariel Elannis smoothly stood from the center chair to turn to the captain and first officer, shooting her close friend Leone a very brief smile.

Compared to the Vulcan, the dark-haired and buxom half-Orion operations officer had adopted the exact opposite approach on how to wear a Starfleet uniform, evidenced by the fact that her mustard-colored jumpsuit appeared to cling to her ample curves almost as if painted on, and of course it didn’t help much that she insisted on wearing the zipper undone nearly halfway down her chest.

“We have just crossed the Selcundi Drema sector and are now approaching her last know coordinates.”

T’Cirya acknowledged this with the briefest of nods and as Elannis stepped away from the command chair to return to her operations console at the front of the bridge, the captain took back her seat with Leone taking her customary chair next to her. “Helm, slow to one-quarter impulse power.”

“Slowing to one quarter impulse, aye, sir,” the petty officer at the helm console quickly responded even as he entered the new commands into his console.

Leone turned to look towards the ship’s security officer, Lieutenant Ethan Dawkins. “Anything on sensors yet?”

The blonde-haired human shook his head. “Nothing so far.”

“Ships of that size don’t just fall off the face of the galaxy,” said Leone from her forward station. “We should at least be seeing some debris if she has been destroyed.”

“Belay that talk, Commander,” Leone said sharply.

Elannis turned in her chair to give her friend a sheepish look. “I’m just saying.”

“Well, don’t. It’s unbecoming. And until we know for certain we shouldn’t assume the worst.”

Dawkins nodded. “She’s one of those new Galaxy’s, right? Not much I can imagine that could seriously hurt her.”

“Then you suffer from a lack of imagination,” said Elannis, albeit much more quietly then before. “Remember the Yamato?”

Another withering look from the XO caused the operations officer to get the message and preempted any further commentary as she turned back to her console.

“Prepare to initiate a full sensor sweep of this sector,” said the captain and then looked towards her first officer. “We will implement our previously agreed search pattern.”

Leone nodded sharply and then stood to walk towards the conn. “Helm, course heading one-ten mark ten, full impulse.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Captain, I am reading some sort of spatial disturbance about five hundred thousand kilometers off our port bow,” Dawkins reported as his fingers danced over his controls.

“On screen,” the captain ordered.

The image on the main viewer shifted to display what looked like a vortex in space, a maelstrom of blue and gray, looking almost like the mouth of a wormhole, but it was impossible to determine what—if anything—lay beyond, as a thick mist obscured the eye of the anomaly.

"What are we looking at here?" Leone said as she took a step closer towards the screen.

Elannis frowned at her instruments and then shook her head. “Unclear. The anomaly seems to be emitting strong triquantum waves. Subspace disruptions are through the roof, showing at three point one teracochranes and climbing.”

“Yellow Alert, raise shields,” T’Cirya said calmly from the captain’s chair, crossing her legs at the knee.

The order was promptly executed.

“Are we able to determine what lies beyond the anomaly?” the captain asked.

Elannis shook her head again. “Negative, sir. Sensor are unable to penetrate it.”

“I recommend we send a probe,” said Leone.

The captain offered a nod which quickly prompted the first officer to glance towards the tactical console. “Dawk, class-six probe. Fire it right into the center of the anomaly when ready.”

It took the tactical officers only a few brief moments to have the probe loaded into a torpedo launcher and slung into the spatial vortex. The crew watched the projectile cross the distance between the ship and the anomaly in just a few seconds before it was swallowed up whole and disappeared.

“Commander Elannis, do we have telemetry from the probe?” said T’Cirya.

“It is coming through but the readings don’t appear to make a great amount of sense. According to this the probe is—“ she stopped herself suddenly and then her fingers raced over her touch-screen console.

Leone took a step towards her. “What is it, Ariel?”

“We lost all contact. One moment she was there and the next one … gone.”

“What were the last readings you had?”

She turned with her seat to look first at Leone and then at the captain. “As I said: Inconclusive. According to the data the drone was at a location at least sixty thousand light-years from our current position. Deep inside the Delta Quadrant.”

Leone and T’Cirya exchanged brief glances.

“Sir, something is emerging from the anomaly,” Dawk said, his tone urgent and alert.

“Is it the probe?” Leone wanted to know.

“It’s a whole lot bigger than the probe.”

All eyes once again turned towards the main screen, just in time to see that what was escaping the vortex was indeed much larger than the probe they had sent. In fact it was larger than the Potemkin itself but quickly took a very familiar shape as it slowly revealed itself, starting with a large, oval shaped saucer, followed by a bulky engineering section and two tubular warp nacelles.

“It’s the Enterprise,” Elannis said.

“My God, what happened to her?” said Leone when the image zoomed into the other Starfleet vessel, revealing a great number of obvious modifications to her main hull, which now seemed to be covered by a web of dark metallic protrusions, some of them glowing with angry green energy, turning the once handsomely curved flagship into a sinister looking vessel which seemed to have little in common with a Starfleet ship other than the overall shape of her superstructure.

“We are being hailed,” Dawkins said.

T’Cirya nodded. “On screen.”

The man who appeared to be standing in an indistinct part of the ship looked very much like the captain of the starship Enterprise but it was unmistakable that whatever transformation had befallen his ship, had also happened to him. His bald head was sickly pale and the entire right hand side of his face was covered with seemingly implanted machine parts. A black tube connected them with the dark, equally mechanical suit he was wearing. A bright red and directed light shone from the facial modification and directly into the visual pickup.

For a moment nobody on the bridge spoke, as they stared at the sight with disbelieving eyes.

T’Cirya was the first to break the silence, her carefully neutral face showing no evidence of astonishment. “Captain Picard?”

A heavily modulated voice answered her. “I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your live as it has been, is over. From this time forward, you will service us.”

“What the hell—“

T’Cirya spoke right over the befuddled Elannis. “Red Alert. All hands to battle stations. Helm, back us off now, half impulse power.”

The connection was cut on the other end and the man who had indentified himself as Locutus disappeared to be replaced once more by his equally deformed starship.

“Ariel, scan for life-signs, what is going on over there?” Leone asked.

“I’m reading over one thousand life-signs which is comparable to their standard crew complement but they are all off somehow. They do not read as fully human.”

“The Enterprise is firing!” Dawkins yelled.

“Evasive action.”

The captain’s order came too late, as Potemkin was hit dead-on and with such immense force, nobody on the bridge remained upright and a number of consoles exploded in a shower of sparks, filling the bridge with thick smoke.

“Damage report,” Leone asked as she crawled back into her seat.

It took Dawkins a moment to return to his own station. “Shields are down to ten percent. We won’t survive another hit.”

T’Cirya didn’t hesitate once she was back in her chair. “Helm, reverse course. Warp six.”

Potemkin promptly turned away from the Frankenstein Enterprise and jumped to high warp.

“She’s pursuing,” Elannis said. “I’m also reading another vessel emerging from the vortex.”

“Put it on screen,” Leone said.

The viewer changed once more, showing the heavily-modified Galaxy-class ship moving away from the anomaly on a pursuit course and something else emerging behind her. Something much larger. At first it appeared like a single, solid wall of metal, until the edges came slowly into view. It finally revealed itself to be one massive, dark cube with no apparent distinctiveness beyond its basic geometric shape.

“The object is a perfect hexahedron,” Elannis reported, wiping the sweat from her brow, as the bridge was becoming increasingly warmer. “Each side is at least three kilometers wide and—I’m now reading a third vessel emerging—it’s another cube.”

Indeed the main screen showed yet another massive ship following the first two.

“Sir, the Enterprise is gaining on us,” said Dawkins.

“Fire photon torpedoes, full spread,” said the captain.

Federation ship or not, Hawkins didn’t hesitate. “Torpedoes away.”

Somebody on the bridge, likely Elannis, had changed the main screen back to show the pursing starship and the six bright projectiles which had been catapulted into her path. Enterprise’s shields flared in an unnatural, bright green, instead of the usual blue as the torpedoes made contact. The result appeared negligible.

“No effect,” said Dawkins. “The shields appear to have completely neutralized our photons.”

Leone stared wide-eyed at the screen. “How is that even possible?”

“We have to assume that these Borg have somehow modified the Enterprise’s offensive and defensive systems,” said T’Cirya, calmly as ever.

“I am now reading at least six cube vessels having emerged from the vortex,” said Elannis, not quite able to keep a slight tremble out of her voice.

Leone turned to look at her captain, not saying a word—she didn’t have to. They both knew what this meant. If the Enterprise was able to seemingly swat them away like nothing more than an insignificant fly, what chances did they stand in the face of half a dozen ships, four times as massive?

T’Cirya began to enter calculations into the small panel imbedded into her armrest and then spoke even as she continued to work. “Helm, come about to two-niner-seven mark seven-seven, increase speed to warp nine point eight for ten minutes and fifteen seconds.”

Leone gave her a puzzled look, not exactly sure what she was up to.

“We cannot win this, Commander and if the Enterprise, as I strongly suspect, has had all their systems enhanced by alien technology, we cannot escape her.”

Leone nodded. “We need to warn Starfleet.”

“Correct, however the alien vessels are currently interfering with all sub-space communications and I calculate that we will not be able to clear their dampening field before we are intercepted.”

“The Enterprise is still gaining. She will be back in weapon’s range in approximately ten minutes.”

“We need to buy some time,” said Leone.

T’Cirya offered a miniscule nod in response. “This is the Captain, to all hands. Prepare to abandon ship. I say again, prepare to abandon ship.”

This caused Leone to whip her head back towards the Vulcan with disbelieving eyes.

“It is our only chance, Commander. At our current speed and heading, we will reach the outer edges of the Helix Nebula in nine minutes and forty-two seconds, at which time we will drop out of warp, initiate a high-intensity warp plasma discharge which has a chance of temporarily blinding the Enterprise’s sensors, even if they have been enhanced. We will then launch all escape pods and shuttles to take refugee in the nebula while Potemkin will continue at high warp to draw our pursuers off.”

Leone needed a second to catch up with her ultra-efficient captain’s plan which she had clearly only just formulated a few seconds ago. It was a desperate move, and considering the stakes, she would have much preferred some time to think this through. She understood time was their second biggest enemy right now.

She ultimately nodded and then went to work to do everything in her power to ensure the plan would work. Timing was going to be crucial. She also understood that everyone needed to get off the ship. Anyone who didn’t, most likely wouldn’t survive.

For the next nine minutes, the crew of the Potemkin underwent the most urgently rushed preparations they had ever known, quicker even than anything they had ever trained for. Over 750 souls had to be ready and depart the ship at a moment’s notice, making every second count.

“Sixty seconds to the nebula,” said Elannis about nine minutes after T’Cirya had given the order. On the screen Enterprise was inching closer by the moment and not far behind her, ten monstrously vast cube-shaped starships were following in her wake.

The captain stood from her chair and walked just behind the operations console. “You are relieved, Commander Elannis. Get to the escape pod.”

“Sir, with all due respect—“

But T’Cirya was brooking no debate. “That is an order.”

Elannis hesitated only another second before she stood to surrendered her station.

The captain looked at her first officer next. “You as well, Commander.”

But Leone shook her head decisively. “You can’t do this alone. You’ll need somebody else.”

“Incorrect. I have already determined that it will require only one individual to carry out the plan and to keep Potemkin on course long enough to draw our pursuers away from the nebula. It is illogical for you to remain as well.”

Leone was fighting to remain calm. In all the time she had known T’Cirya, it had been exceedingly rare that the Vulcan had used her vaunted logic against her. She was damned if she was going to start allowing her to do so now. As far as Leone was concerned, she would not let her captain—her friend—go down alone with the ship.

In the end the decision was taken away from her.

T’Cirya looked her square in the eye and raised her hand, palm facing outward, her fingers split in the traditional salute of her people. “Regarding your next assignment—should you survive this encounter, you will be awarded your own captaincy. You will excel at it and you will excel at everything you will do beyond it. Live long and prosper, Captain Krystine Leone.”

Leone hadn’t even noticed that T’Cirya’s other hand had somehow reached behind her neck.

The last thing she remembered from the deck of the bridge— as she was rapidly losing consciousness—was the sight of ten, dark and ominous and unrelenting black cubes racing towards Potemkin.

Racing towards the Federation, with nothing in their way to stop them or even slow them down.

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