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USS Reykjavík, Briefing Room/C-&-C

Trujillo and her senior officers watched the second wave of Tholian ships cross the border over a live sensor feed. This time it was thirty-seven craft, again a strange mix of classes that eschewed any standard fleet formation, more a gaggle than an armada.

Starfleet had attempted opening communications with the Tholian formations repeatedly, with no response whatsoever. Even the entreaties of Tholian diplomats carried over Starfleet and Tholian frequencies went unacknowledged.

Having grouped all available starships into Trujillo and Marshall’s two task forces, Starfleet could only challenge this second incursion with a squadron of automated tactical drones.

The seventeen drones made a single pass at impulse speeds, firing photon torpedoes timed to detonate directly in the path of the Tholian ships at warp. This netted three ‘kills’ and a half dozen vessels damaged to varying degrees, which began to lag behind the others.

The drones then accelerated to warp and began high-speed kamikaze runs against the Tholian stragglers. This culled another five ships from among the laggards but exhausted the remaining drones’ propulsion systems. They dropped out of warp and out of the pursuit.

“They didn’t divert any ships to defend against the drones’ attack,” Lt. Helvia noted. “And none of the stragglers came to each other’s aid.” He shook his head as if in disbelief. “Tholians typically display some of the most elaborate and aggressive mutual-defense tactics we know of, but not in this instance. They act like moths…” he murmured the last few words, causing Garrett to glance up at him from her station.

“What?” she asked. “What did you say, Lieutenant?”

“It was nothing,” Helvia demurred. “I merely said they were behaving like moths drawn to a flame. No external stimuli appears to matter, only their forging ahead.”

“Moths to a flame,” Garrett repeated, her eyes widening fractionally. “Thank you,” she offered cryptically, diving back into her sensor returns and analysis.

Captain Marshall’s Task Force Alamo had fallen back to assist in the protection of the Draius-Arigulon system, joining forces with the small native Draiian navy to safeguard their population against a potential Tholian attack.

Trujillo and the others switched the viewer over to a real-time display of the first Tholian incursion group as it approached the Draius-Arigulon system.

The invading ships seemed to crawl past the system with an agonizing torpor, despite actually being at high-warp. Trujillo awaited any sign of the Tholians angling in towards the system which they were passing at less than four au from the system’s Oort cloud. An abrupt course change now could bring them into firing range of Alamo and the Draiians in a matter of minutes.

Trujillo looked away from the display, fixing her gaze on the newly promoted Lieutenant(j.g.) Garrett. “Mister Garrett, any progress on re-tasking the Shar’ar Array?”

Garrett tore herself away from her sensor returns to respond. “Yes, sir. Command pulled some strings and the Vulcan Science Academy is reorienting the array as we speak. We should have the initial scan results in a few minutes.”

Shukla looked up from his makeshift Operations station, unconsciously touching his communications earpiece. “Commodore, we’ve received a hail from the Fortitude, she’s on her way from Langston Yards and is asking to join up.”

A brief smile flitted across Trujillo’s features. “The yard superintendent said they couldn’t have her ready in less than a week, but Captain Breklar insisted he would have her underway in twenty-four hours. Good as his word.” She cross-checked two of her ubiquitous data-slates. “Alamo needs the additional firepower more than we do. Tell them to join up with Captain Marshall and the Draiians.”

“Threat Formation One has now passed the Draius-Arigulon system,” Helvia observed.

“No signs of incursion,” Shukla confirmed, “they are maintaining course and speed for the Longlax-Teko system.”

Trujillo opened a channel to Excalibur, the image appearing onscreen was that of the starship’s auxiliary bridge, currently being employed as Marshall’s own Task Force Combat Information Center.

Marshall nodded toward the visual pickup. “Hello, Commodore. Looks like we might be in the clear.”

“That increasingly appears the case, at least from this first group. We’ll be adjusting our destination to Longlax-Teko to investigate and possibly contest TF-1’s arrival there. Our ETA to the system is a bit over six hours now. Will you be joining up with us or remaining at your present location, Captain?”

Marshall appeared to mull that over for a long moment before responding.

“Given the Draiian military’s shortcomings, if that second threat formation decides to attack here, the locals don’t stand a chance without our help. I’m not willing to gamble the lives of eight billion beings on the actions of Tholians who’ve proven anything but predictable the past three days.”

Trujillo nodded approvingly. “Absolutely, Captain, and I fully support your decision. We’ve got the Vulcans’ Shar’ar Array coming online to give us better eyes on Longlax-Teko. Hopefully we can figure out what they’re after, or at least what they’re up to there before we arrive.”

“I wish you good fortune then, Commodore. If the next wave bypasses this system, we can join up with you there in a little over three hours.”

Trujillo made note of that on a data-slate. “Copy that, I’m not shy about calling for help when it’s needed. Speaking of that, you’ve got Fortitude inbound to join you.”

“So I’d heard. I can’t imagine what Breklar owes his chief engineer, but I’m guessing it’s expensive.”

“Amen to that, Captain,” Trujillo said with a half-smile. “Gauntlet, out.”

She turned away from the viewer to see Garrett looking expectantly at her from the Science station.

“Give me the word, Lieutenant,” Trujillo prompted.

“Initial sensor telemetry coming in from the array, sir. I’m running comparisons against our baseline scans of the system in our databanks.”

“Keep me apprised,” Trujillo said, standing and moving to the makeshift Tactical station staffed by Helvia.

“Lieutenant, any strategic or tactical assessments so far?”

Helvia came to attention at Trujillo’s approach, his right arm twitching involuntarily with what Trujillo was certain was a purely reflexive impulse to offer her the traditional Roman salute. He loomed over her like a piece of overly muscled statuary.

“At ease, Lieutenant,” she coaxed.

He relaxed, however fractionally. “Difficult to say, Commodore. With the Tholians behaving so erratically, trying to predict what they’ll do in a given situation is highly problematic. They’ve displayed no impulse to spin their energetic-web defenses, nor have they directly engaged any craft or emplacement opposing them with weapons fire. The border outpost they destroyed was the result of an apparent suicide-run, a warp-speed collision.”

She inclined her head, acknowledging his appraisal. “Expect the unexpected, eh?”

“A fair summation, sir,” he replied stoically.

“Well… that’s new,” Garrett said, her face radiating both excitement and bewilderment.

Trujillo approached, sliding behind the makeshift workstation to look over Garrett’s shoulder. “What have we got?”

“Something that absolutely shouldn’t be there, sir.”

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