Stardate 220757.3 (Tue 23 Feb 2382): The Timeship Hawking must prevent Romulan forces from changing the events of the Tomed Incident.
Tomalak materialized in complete, drowning darkness. The decorated Romulan starship commander switched on the light in his hand, its beam cutting a narrow swath of illumination on the walls of the dank, oppressive cavern.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen, he mused as he picked his way carefully through the network of caves he now found himself in. Transporting into such a place for a top-secret war council seemed… wrong, somehow, to Tomalak.
But the past three years had not been kind to the Romulan Star Empire. In a move few saw coming, Shinzon, one of the Empire’s greatest strategists, assassinated the Senate’s powerful Continuing Committee while it was in session with the Praetor. Shinzon’s allies across the Empire mirrored the attack, furthering the coup, seizing power within a matter of days.
It wasn’t long before Shinzon’s coup fell apart, nearly dragging the Empire into a disastrous war with the Federation in the process. But in the chaos that followed, the remaining Senators tried to circumvent the laws that had governed the Empire for centuries. They tried to consolidate all of the power of the government into the Senate, eliminating the Praetor entirely. Tomalak, and others like him, wouldn’t stand for such a flagrant, illegal maneuver. They became outlaws—Praetorites—and thus the Romulan Civil War was born.
"Tomalak!" a voice called from the distance. "Is that you? Can’t your transporter technicians get their coordinates right?"
Tomalak grunted. It was Tebok, who for many years had been a personal adversary and was now a grudging ally. "The coordinates were exactly as you gave them to me," Tomalak shot back, stepping into the dimly-lit cavern where several Romulans were gathered.
"Now that we’re all here," another voice interrupted, "let’s get this council underway. I’m sure you’re all wondering why you’ve been called to meet under such… unorthodox circumstances. Tebok, if you would?"
"As I’m sure you’re aware," Tebok began, spreading his arms dramatically, "our forces are losing to the Senatorials. Granted, we have dealt them some severe blows as well, but it’s becoming only a matter of time before we are defeated. But we can prevent that. We can prevent Shinzon’s treachery before it ever happened."
"What are you saying?" someone asked.
"Time travel," Tebok replied. "Righting a wrong that should never have happened."
"You’re mad!" another of the Romulans present shouted. "You can’t be serious!"
"I am very serious," Tebok replied coolly. "We have known for more than a century now that the Federation has had time travel capabilities, but our own attempts to duplicate them have proven… unfortunate. That is no longer the case."
"What exactly are you proposing?" Tomalak asked. He didn’t like where this was leading.
"I propose," Tebok replied, "that we attempt to send a task force of a dozen ships back, three years into the past. There, they will stop Shinzon’s treachery before it has a chance to occur. The Praetor will be spared, the Empire will be spared, and this civil war will have never happened."
"Why stop there?" asked Kepak, the youngest member present, as he stepped further into the light, toward the center of the group. "It is no secret that I am something of a student of history… why not alter events elsewhere in history, to make circumstances that much more acceptable for the Empire? Why, you could change the outcome of the first conflict with the humans, or perhaps the unpleasantness of the Tomed Incident…" He trailed off, grinning. He had everyone’s attention. "Yes, the Tomed Incident. Because of that one event, the Empire was thrown into decades of isolation. Years of planning had been thrown out the airlock. The Empire was poised on the brink of greatness. Had that never happened, the need for Shinzon’s creation would never have come about in the first place."
"Despite what happened three years ago," Tomalak countered, "Shinzon was still a vital asset during the Dominion War. He was among the best tacticians in the Empire, and was undefeated until his death. Eliminating him from history entirely could have catastrophic consequences."
"You overestimate his importance, Tomalak," Kepak said. "The good he did was far outweighed by the long-term effects of his treachery. But with the events of the Tomed Incident changed, there would be a stronger, more secure Empire, and we would not need to worry about unstable monstrosities such as he. A weakened Federation might never take control of the Bajoran system, thus never discovering the wormhole and the Dominion in the first place. And even if they did, others would rise to the challenge, and take his place in history."
Tomalak looked around, to the others gathered in the cave with him. He saw heads nodding, chins cupped in thoughtful fingers. "You cannot be seriously considering this!" he implored. The others looked at him curiously. Some seemed completely on Tebok and Kepak’s side, others seemed uncertain, and only one or two seemed to agree with him. "This is madness, potentially more dangerous than Shinzon ever was!"
"What Kepak says has merit, Tomalak," Tebok said. "I say we should hear him out."
Of course the fool would agree, Tomalak thought. "Madness," he repeated. "I shall have no part in it." He activated his communicator. "This is Tomalak. Bring me aboard!"
After Tomalak vanished in the transporter effect, Tebok eyed the others menacingly. "Would anyone care to join him?" His hand twitched near the disrupter holstered on his hip. Several heads quickly began to shake in the negative. "Good." He turned to Kepak. "Now, Kepak, what exactly did you have in mind?"
23 February 2382 09:42:59.9 hours
In orbit of the world known as the Time Planet to some, and code-named Gateway by the Federation, hundreds of kilometers above the unimaginably ancient and apparently sentient temporal gateway that called itself the Guardian of Forever and the facilities of the Department of Temporal Investigations that surrounded it, a spiderweb orbital drydock complex reflected the sunlight of the system’s star. Within that drydock was a newly-commissioned starship, the USS Hawking NX-81470, named after the human quantum physicist of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, which boasted the familiar lines of her sister ships in the Federation’s Starfleet: a large, saucer-shaped primary hull and a pair of powerful warp drive nacelles at her stern that seemed to push the ship forward, even while at rest.
A tiny glint of metal sped toward the starship—the Shuttlecraft Cochrane, named for the human who invented the warp drive system in the mid-twenty-first century, based on the theories postulated by his predecessor, Stephen Hawking. Within the small, sleek shuttlecraft, two humans sat at the controls; one a dark-haired male in his mid-thirties, the other a blonde female of comparable age.
"Hawking, this is the Cochrane, requesting permission to land," said Commander Dan Phillips as he activated the shuttlecraft’s communications system.
"Cochrane, this is the Hawking," a pleasant male voice replied. "Permission granted to land at Shuttlebay One."
"Thank you, Hawking," Dan replied. "Commencing approach." He cut the channel and glanced over at the pilot’s seat, where his wife, Marla, manipulated the controls. "One of these days," he said, "you’re going to have to let me fly."
"Not a chance," Marla replied playfully. "Even Chakotay’s a better pilot than you." She glanced out the forward window. "Coming up on the Hawking. Estimate landing at… sixty seconds."
"I’m glad the Titan was at Earth at the same time as we were," Dan said as the shuttle passed through the yawning doors of the Hawking‘s main shuttlebay. A heavily modified Akira-class starship, the newest vessel to join the elite ranks of the Federation’s "timeships" had ample landing space. "Harry and Annika’s kids sure are getting big! It seems like yesterday when Tommy was born… I can’t believe he’s already going on six." He trailed off as Marla powered down the Cochrane‘s systems.
"I’m glad the Federation’s been able to make such good use of Annika’s knowledge of Borg technology," Marla commented. "The Hawking‘s teeming with new advances: slipstream, transphasic torpedoes… not to mention the temporal drive."
"It certainly puts previous timeships to shame," Dan agreed as he keyed the hatch at the rear of the shuttle, "and it’s much safer and more reliable than either the slingshot maneuver or the Psi 2000 cold-mix method."
As Dan and Marla stepped out of the Cochrane and into the Hawking‘s yawning shuttlebay, they were greeted by a burly Tellarite woman, whose arms were folded across her chest, and a warm grin spread across her face.
"Commander, lieutenant," she greeted. "Welcome aboard."
"Lieutenant Pushlar," Dan replied. "I’m pleased to finally meet you."
"Come," she said brusquely. "I’ll show you to your quarters."
As the three crossed the bay toward the turbolift entrance, Dan commented, "You know, it’s kind of ironic, using an Akira-class ship for the newest timeship in the fleet."
"How so?" Pushlar asked, turning her head toward Dan, intrigued.
"You mean you haven’t heard?" Dan asked. "I’m surprised, having to spend as much time here at Gateway as you have." At her insistent glare, Dan continued, "The old Earth ship, the Enterprise NX-01, became involved in a complex, trans-temporal conflict that some called the Temporal Cold War. DTI has been fairly involved as well for much of the past century. Anyhow, the Akira‘s design was something of an homage to the old Enterprise."
"Interesting," Pushlar said as the three officers stepped into the turbolift. "Deck Three." She turned her attention back to Dan and Marla. "I had never before heard of this Temporal Cold War. What is it, exactly?"
As the lift began to climb upward, Dan explained, "As near as we can determine, the Temporal Cold War is a blanket term for both forces from the future attempting to advance themselves through interference in history, as well as instances where individuals from divergent timelines clash at nexus points in their histories, literally fighting for the survival of their realities."
"Wait," Marla interrupted, "doesn’t the multiversal theory hold that the alternate realities encountered by Starfleet officers—particularly, the Mirror Universe—are simply parallel realities with divergent histories, coexisting with our own? Why fight for the existence of your timeline, when the very fact that both of you were able to travel to the same nexus point in the first place proves the theory?"
"Would you rather risk doing nothing?" Dan asked. "If the multiverse were simply left alone, with no time travelers at all, I’d agree with you. But herein lay the paradox: the very acts of both parties are the events that either create one or even both futures, or condemn one to nonexistence. DTI’s archives have examples of both cases."
"Oh?" Pushlar asked as the lift stopped. The three stepped out into the corridor.
"Time travelers, one of whom claimed to be from the thirty-first century," Dan explained, "attempted to manipulate events in their own time and apparently used time travel in their own time much like how nuclear weapons were used in the late twentieth century. One faction, presumably from an earlier point in linear time, manipulated a group of Suliban and used them to interfere with the Klingons and other powers, while another faction, whose representative interacted with the crew of the Enterprise, claimed to be attempting to protect the timeline. The group working with the Suliban carried out a number of operations, all of which apparently would have affected the events that ultimately led to the first war with the Romulans, were it not for interference from the other faction, and perhaps even other factions as well."
The group stopped at a set of doors recessed into the bulkheads. "Your quarters," Pushlar explained. The doors parted, and they stepped inside.
"On the other hand," Dan continued, "when Director Harrington was still a field agent, he and his partner, Assistant Director Sekrinn, traveled to pre-Reformation Vulcan to prevent the assassination of a young Surak. When they arrived, they discovered the assassin was Sekrinn, from a timeline in which Surak had died as a child. To the other Sekrinn, he was part of a predestination paradox, ensuring the existence of his timeline. Their version of DTI registered someone preventing Surak’s death, and he traveled back to make sure the boy died, little realizing the truth of his timeline’s origin."
"I see," Pushlar said. Dan thought for a moment that perhaps the Tellarite was overwhelmed by the new information, but a moment later, she added, "Well, I need to be back on the bridge. Perhaps we can resume this conversation after you both have had a chance to unpack and settle in."
After Pushlar had left, Marla turned to her husband with a grin. "Nice job," she said. "We’re not even aboard ten minutes and you’ve scared off the chief of security."
"Commander Kepak," a young officer announced as he held out a datapad, "the fleet is nearly ready to depart. Course data has already been received for the S’harien, as well as ten other ships. Upload is in progress to the Nanclus as we speak, and the computers on the surface are calculating for the remaining ships.
Kepak took the datapad. He leaned back in his chair at the heart of the S’harien‘s bridge, his right hand absentmindedly stroking his chin in concentration. "Any word on Tomalak?" he asked.
"He continues his refusals to participate," the officer replied. "He said something about how, as a student of history, you should have learned the lessons of the Second History incident. Sir."
"Does he think me a total fool?" Kepak thundered, nearly leaping from his chair in fury. He stopped himself, and forced himself to calm down before continuing. "I’m well aware of that debacle, and I’ve taken steps to ensure it won’t happen again."
"Sir!" the tactical officer called from her station. "Picking up a number of sensor contacts on approach, moving fast! It looks like Senatorial forces!"
"Break orbit!" Kepak called. "Lay in our course, and order all ships that received theirs to follow suit. Tell all other ships to cover our escape; we need as many ships as possible to increase our chances of success."
"The Nanclus reports their upload is complete," the first officer announced.
"Good," Kepak replied.
"Course laid in and ready," the helmsman reported.
"Sir, we’re being hailed," the first officer announced. "It’s the lead vessel of the Senatorials, the Valdore."
"On screen," Kepak ordered. The image shifted, and was replaced by the face of a Romulan woman about the same age as Kepak. "Donatra," he said. "Finally taking me up on my offer? You never could resist me for long."
"Hardly," Donatra replied. "I may once have shared your bed, but that changed when you chose to join the Praetorites."
"There was never a choice," Kepak shot back. "I served the Praetor loyally my entire life. It’s you and the other Senatorials who’ve betrayed the Empire, not me."
"I’m not concerned with the politics," Donatra said. "I’m just a soldier of the Empire, with or without a Praetor." She paused, shaking her head wearily. "This is an old argument, Kepak. We won’t solve it now, and I have a feeling we won’t solve it anytime soon. Stand down."
"Never!" Kepak hissed.
"We received an anonymous communiqué," Donatra said. "We know what you’re planning. Please, Kepak, think this through. You’re risking the very existence of the Empire. You could just as easily make things that much worse."
"I have thought this through," Kepak said. "I won’t let anyone stand in my way. Even you."
Donatra closed her eyes sadly. "I see," she said softly. "I cannot simply stand by and do nothing."
"I understand," Kepak said. He pressed a button on the arm of his chair, closing the channel. "Target their bridge, then continue on course after firing."
"Targeted," the tactical officer said.
"Farewell, Donatra," he whispered somberly. Louder, he ordered, "Fire."
"Torpedoes away," the tactical officer said.
"Resuming course," the helmsman announced.
"Their shields are significantly weakened," the tactical officer said. "Minor structural damage to their hull. They are pursuing."
"Full power to shields and propulsion," Kepak ordered.
"Two warbirds have disappeared from sensors," the first officer said. "The Nanclus is caught in the star’s gravity well… They’re being pulled in; there’s no way they can escape."
"Stay on course," Kepak ordered as the deck pitched from a weapons impact.
"Three scouts have been vaporized," the first officer continued. "Three more just disappeared from sensors. The Warbird Bloodwing is losing orbit… the star has them. Shields failing on the Nanclus… they’re gone, sir."
"Entering orbital insertion of the star," the helmsman announced. "Warp drive holding steady."
"The Senatorials are breaking off pursuit," the tactical officer said.
"Another scout just vaporized," the first officer said. "No other vessels attempting the maneuver."
Kepak leaned back as the ship began to tremble violently. Then, everything went white.
23 February 2382 13:44:59.7 hours
Dan and Marla charged through the doors, into the Briefing Room as the Red Alert klaxons blared throughout the ship. Several other officers followed close behind, and as they took their seats around the table, Captain Thelev, standing behind his seat at the head of the table, began to speak, his antennae arching back against his skull anxiously.
"There’s just been a temporal incursion near Romulan space, with major ramifications," he said. "Data from Gateway indicates nine vessels successfully completed a slingshot maneuver. Eight appeared on Stardate 149658.7, while the ninth appeared about fifteen hours earlier. Our temporal shields were up, so we’re unaffected by the changes to the timeline. Commander Phillips, you’re the expert on that era. If you would fill the rest of us in…?"
"Yes, sir," Dan replied. "On Stardate 149658.7, a task force of Starfleet vessels — including the Enterprise-B, the Excelsior, and the Merrimac — confronted a Romulan fleet massing at the Tomed system. During the battle, the Enterprise and the Excelsior were heavily damaged, and several ships were destroyed, including the Merrimac. The Merrimac, however, played a vital role, and intelligence data gained from captured vessels forced the Romulans into more than fifty years of isolation."
"You have a personal connection to the Tomed Incident, don’t you?" Thelev asked.
"Yes, sir," Dan admitted. "As most of you are aware, I was aboard the Challenger nearly six months prior to the Tomed Incident, and we were transplanted almost sixty-five years into the future, where we were found by Voyager. My mother was the science officer aboard the Enterprise-B, and died in the battle. My father was in command of the Merrimac, and is still famous for the fact that, despite the thousands of casualties in the battle, there were no fatalities from the Merrimac crew."
"None of that happened now," Thelev said sadly. "The lone scout engaged and destroyed the Merrimac in deep space, killing all aboard." Dan’s eyes widened in horror. "Without the Merrimac, the Enterprise, the Excelsior, and the rest of the task force were all destroyed. The Tomed system was overrun, and Starfleet wasn’t able to muster a credible response. Nearly thirty systems fell to the Romulans, and most still remained in Romulan hands after six years of war."
"My god," Dan breathed. "My entire family…"
"We’re going immediately to the Merrimac‘s position when she was attacked," Thelev said. "Once there, we’ll engage the temporal drive and set things right." The Andorian looked at his officers. "Best possible speed. The coordinates have already been fed to the helm. Dismissed."
"Dan," Marla said softly after the others had left, "we’ll make it right."
"T’Maril was on the Merrimac," Dan said. "They were searching for the Challenger… She—she was still pregnant with Solvek. T’Jenna wasn’t even born until a few years later."
"We’ll make it right," Marla repeated, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"I shouldn’t be on this mission," Dan said. "I’m too personally involved."
"We’re the best ship for the job," Marla countered.
"Do you have any idea how tempting it is to hurl myself through the Guardian to go see my parents?" Dan asked. "To let them know I didn’t die on the Challenger? But I can’t. To them, I’ve been missing and presumed dead for months."
"I can sympathize, Dan," Marla said. "I know you, though. You’re too much of a professional to let that happen." She rose from her seat. "Come on. We’ve got work to do."
Captain’s Log, Stardate 149656.9
Admiral Jack Phillips recording
It’s been two months since I pulled the Merrimac out of mothballs, and took a leave of absence from my post at Starfleet Command to search for my son. Two months and we’ve still got nothing to show for our efforts except for a few hundred kilograms of metal from the Challenger‘s hull—hardly conclusive, but it does give credence to my worst fears: the Challenger may well have been destroyed, which would mean that my son is dead.
But a few kilos of metal does not account for an entire missing starship. We aren’t giving up hope just yet, and there’s been no evidence indicating that the rest of the ship is gone.
We just have to keep on looking.
"Jack," T’Maril announced, turning in her chair at the science station to face her husband at the heart of the Merrimac‘s bridge, absentmindedly stroking the seven-month-old bulge in her belly as she spoke, "I’m detecting a vessel closing at high warp. It’s general configuration appears Romulan, but it’s no design I recognize."
quot;Hail them," Phillips ordered. There was a beep, and Lieutenant Commander Carl Jackson nodded from the Communications station. "This is Admiral Jack Phillips of the Federation Starship Merrimacto the unidentified Romulan vessel. You have entered Federation space. Come about and return to your side of the Neutral Zone immediately, and we will simply log this as a navigational error."
"No response, sir," Jackson replied.
"They’re charging weapons!" the lieutenant at Tactical called. "My god… they outgun us three to one!"
"Evasive maneuvers!" Phillips ordered. "Julio, get us the hell out of here! Shields up, Red Alert!"
Commander Julio Mendez’s hands darted over the helm control panel. Mendez, a veteran of the Merrimac‘s five-year mission under Captain Phillips, had taken leave from his post as first officer aboard the Exeter, and was one of many volunteers aboard the Merrimac on this mission, most from Phillips’ old crew. The deck pitched, and a low rumble resounded throughout the ship.
"We took a hit to the secondary hull," the lieutenant at Tactical said. "Minor damage. Shields down twenty-six percent."
"Return fire!" Phillips ordered. He looked over at Jackson. "I’d call that a hell of a response."
23 February 2382 13:52:59.8 hours
"Disengaging Slipstream drive," the Bolian Ensign Adar said from the helm. "We’re at the coordinates."
"Sir," Phillips warned, "according to the data we received from Gateway, this area is still contested space between the Romulans and the Federation."
"Yes, of course," Thelev said. "No need to attract undue attention. Engage phase cloak." He turned to face Marla at the Operations console. "Lieutenant, status of the temporal drive?"
"Destination coordinates input," Marla replied. "We’re ready to engage at your command."
Thelev nodded, then turned to face Dan, seated to his right. "Family is very important in Andorian society," he said. "We’ll make this right." He raised his voice and ordered, "Activate the temporal drive."
The space ahead of the Hawking flared, and a brilliant, blue-white rift opened. The ship surged forward, and the rift sealed itself upon her passage.
"We’re through," Marla announced. "Temporal displacement confirmed; timebase beacons register Stardate 149656.90829."
"Sensors indicate one Romulan scout vessel," called Pushlar. "They’re firing on a Constitution-class starship; probably the Merrimac."
"Ready transphasic torpedoes and switch to stealth cloak," Thelev ordered. Fire in coordination with the Merrimac‘s torpedo launches. Let’s make this look like they destroyed their attacker on their own."
"Firing," Pushlar said, then added a moment later, "The scout’s shields are down. One more volley should destroy them."
"The Merrimac‘s taking disruptor fire," Marla announced. "Her shields are down to twenty-three percent."
"Firing," Pushlar said. "The Romulans are losing containment in their singularity core."
"The scout’s hull is beginning to buckle," Marla said. "Estimate implosion in thirty seconds."
"What’s the Merrimac‘s status?" Dan asked.
"They’re moving away," Marla said. "They’ve got several hull breaches, but their emergency forcefields appear to be holding. No evidence that anyone was blown out into space."
"That’s a relief," Dan breathed.
"Commander," Thelev began, turning to Dan, "I want you to take engineering and medical teams over to the Merrimac-"
"With all due respect, sir," Dan interrupted, "I can’t do that."
"We need to repair the damage the Romulans caused," Thelev said. "I need you to supervise the teams."
"Commander, you are the expert on this time period."
"And if someone recognizes me?" Dan countered. "This is my father’s ship."
"Holographic technology’s come a long way in the last few centuries," Thelev said.
"And if the mask fails for some reason?" Dan asked. "You should send one of the civilian DTI contingent."
"They’re not officially in the chain of command," Thelev replied, "and I don’t trust them like I do you. We’ve known each other for some time now; trust me on this. In my view, you’re the best person for this assignment."
"I hope your trust isn’t misplaced," Dan said. As he made his way to the turbolift, he said, "Marla, make sure the teams are in proper uniform, and have them meet me in Transporter Room Three in fifteen minutes."
Dan stepped into the transporter room, and surveyed his team, but one face caught his eye. "Marla?" he asked. "What are you doing?"
"Seeing you off," she chuckled. "You thought I was coming over, didn’t you?"
"Yeah," Dan admitted. At that moment, the doors opened again, and a middle-aged man in civilian clothes stormed into the transporter room.
"Phillips!" he shouted. "What do you think you’re doing? Are you insane?"
"Agent Gottlieb," Dan said dryly. "Nice of you to drop in, too."
"I can’t let you go over there," Gottlieb declared.
"The decision’s already been made," Dan replied. "For what it’s worth, I agree with you, but the captain’s right about one thing: I am the expert on this time period."
"Expert or no," Gottlieb shot back, "if somebody recognizes you-"
"They won’t," Dan interrupted. "I’ll be wearing a holo-mask. The only one I’d worry about is my dad’s old communications officer, a Caitian named M’Ress. She’d catch my scent half a deck away, but she’s not aboard for this mission."
"M’Ress?" Gottlieb asked. "Of the Trident?"
"No, her cousin," Dan explained. "She was born after the M’Ress you’re thinking of had been assigned to the Enterprise, and was named in her honor."
"Oh," Gottlieb said. "But that’s beside the point. The holo-mask could fail. It’s too risky."
"There’s risk in getting out of bed in the morning," Dan replied. "Look, this needs to be done, and I’m the best qualified person to do it."
Gottlieb nodded thoughtfully. "Be careful," he said at last.
"Admiral," greeted the image on the screen of the computer terminal on the desk in Jack Phillips’ ready room.
"Captain Chekov," Phillips greeted somberly in return. "The Merrimac is heading to Tomed IV. We ran into some new type of Romulan vessel that attacked us a few hours ago. I wanted to let you know, so you can keep an eye out for any others that may be out there."
"Tomed?" Chekov asked, his brow furrowing. "How far out are you?"
"Not far," Phillips replied. "Normally, we’d be just an hour or two away, but we’re limited to Warp Two until we’re able to put into the spaceport there for repairs. That Romulan ship packed a hell of a punch for its size. I expect to arrive tomorrow morning around oh-eight-hundred."
"I’ll alert Excelsior and Intrepid," Chekov said. "Sulu, Uhura and I have been tracking vhat ve suspect is Romulan actiwity, centered on the Tomed system. Ve vere trying to get more ewidence before saying anytiing, but…" He paused, debating how to deliver the information he’d gathered.
"But what, captain?" Phillips prompted after a moment.
"Ve have reason to believe," Chekov said, "that the Romulans are secretly massing a fleet in the Tomed system. Ve can’t be completely certain, but I’m sure you can imagine vhat that vould mean if it vere true."
"Damn," Phillips breathed. "If you’re right, this attack could mean that they’re either about to make their move, or we’ve wised up to them before their timetable was quite ready… in either case, they’ll probably make their move soon, regardless."
"Enterprise and Excelsior are both vithin eight hours of Tomed, admiral," Chekov said. "Intrepid isn’t much farther, and ve can probably get at least three or four more ships by morning."
"Do it," Phillips ordered. "Get everyone you can. I’ll call Starfleet Command and see if I can’t get any more."
"Aye, sir," Chekov said, and closed the channel on his end.
Phillips stared at his reflection on the now-blank screen for a moment, then sighed wearily and jammed a finger on the comm pad on his desk.
"Phillips to Communications."
"Jackson here, sir," came the reply.
"Get me CINC Starfleet," Phillips ordered, "and I don’t give a damn what time it is in San Francisco."
The doors of Captain Chekov’s ready room aboard the Enterprise-B hissed open, and his first officer stepped through.
"You wanted to see me?" asked Commander Demora Sulu.
"Please, Demora, sit down," Chekov said, indicating the chair across the desk from his. Once the younger woman had taken a seat, he continued, "It looks like ve vere right about Tomed. A Romulan wessel attacked the Merrimac a few hours ago near there."
"I had a feeling something was happening when you ordered a course change," Demora said. "Were there any casualties?"
"Admiral Phillips didn’t say," Chekov replied, "but it sounds like they vere hit pretty bad; it’s going to take them all night to get to the spaceport there, and Varp Two is the best speed they can make."
"Damn," Demora said.
"Communications to Captain Chekov," a voice interrupted from the comm system.
"Go ahead," Chekov replied.
"I’ve reached the Excelsior," the communications officer replied. "Captain Sulu is waiting for you on subspace."
"Put him through in here," Chekov ordered. A moment later, the monitor on Chekov’s desk came to life, the image of Captain Hikaru Sulu’s serious face appearing on the screen.
"Pavel," he said by way of greeting, "Demora. From the looks on your faces, I doubt this is a social call."
"I wish I could say otherwise, dad," Demora said.
"The Merrimac vas attacked by Romulans near the Tomed system," Chekov explained.
Captain Sulu’s eyes widened in horror. "Then we were right about them," he concluded.
"It vould appear that vay," Chekov replied. "I told Admiral Phillips about our concerns, and he vants us to get as many ships to the system as ve can, as soon as possible."
"Have you been able to reach Uhura?" Sulu asked.
"Not yet," Chekov said. "The Intrepid is still vorking vith the Genesis research team at Pacifica, and the radiation from the experiments is interfering vith communications."
"I’ll have Rand and her staff start trying to reach her and any other ships within our communications range as well," Sulu said.
"Ve’re already undervay to the Tomed system at maximum varp," Chekov said.
"I’ll have Excelsior underway as well momentarily," Captain Sulu said. His attention turned back to his daughter. "I’ll see you soon, Demora. Take care."
"See you soon," she agreed. The screen went dark.
"Report," Dan Phillips ordered quietly as he squatted down beside an engineer from the Hawking who was covertly helping to repair the damage caused to the ship by the Romulan attack.
"It’s pretty bad, sir," the engineer replied, his own voice just as quiet. "I doubt this ship could’ve taken many more hits than it did. This section of the hull alone is still dangerously close to breaching."
"Keep at it," Dan said encouragingly.
"This would go a lot faster if I had—"
"Don’t," Dan warned. "Don’t even joke about it, at least not while we’re still aboard the Merrimac. The last thing you need is to speak without thinking while in earshot of one of the crew."
"Aye, sir," the engineer nodded.
As Dan stood, he could hear a distinctive shuffling of feet behind him. He knew who was approaching without having to look.
"Do I know you?" a familiar voice asked.
Dan turned and saw the rough, craggy, and ruddy orange skin on the equally distinctive body of the Merrimac‘s chief engineer, Commander Akric. An Edoan, Akric had three arms and legs, a long, slender neck that bowed forward at the middle, deep-set yellow eyes, and a slight snout at the front of his face. He was completely hairless, like the rest of his species, and was eyeing Phillips suspiciously.
Thank God for the holographic mask and voice alteration circuitry,Dan thought. "Lieutenant Commander Phillip Daniels," he lied. "I was an ensign aboard the Merrimac during her five-year mission under Captain Phillips. I was a science officer." Well, not a complete lie. After earning his commision, he had come aboard the ship a few times while his father was still captain. And he’d served as a science officer on Voyager for several years before becoming the Hawking‘s first officer.
"Perhaps your face seemed familiar, Mr. Daniels," Akric concluded. "I realize you’re not an engineer; thank you for assisting with the repairs."
"Well, I’ve got a vested interest in keeping this hull from breaching, too," Dan said honestly.
"Too true," Akric agreed. "Carry on," he said, then continued on down the corridor. As soon as he was out of sight, Dan let out a deep breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding.
"Good morning, Captain Thelev," Marla said after the Andorian had stepped onto the bridge of the Hawking and stood next to her in front of his seat at the center of the bridge. With her husband off the ship, Marla was the next in the chain of command and was filling in as first officer. "We’ve been matching course and speed with the Merrimac all night, and we’re now entering the Tomed system. We’ve got the Enterprise-B and Excelsior on sensors; they’ll be entering the system within the next forty-five minutes, and there’s about a half-dozen more ships en route that should arrive in the next hour to ninety minutes. More are coming, but we don’t have them on sensors yet."
"Merrimac," Thelev said. "Agamemnon. So many others. The Tomed Incident was one of the bloodiest battles in Starfleet history, unmatched until Wolf 359, then the Dominion War. I never once dreamed I’d see this happen in person."
"I know how you feel, sir," Marla said as she took her post at the Operations console, one of the two located directly in front of the captain’s chair. "I was still a kid the first time the Borg tried to invade, and I was in the Delta Quadrant for the duration of the Dominion War. Then I found myself having to go back to the Battle of Wolf 359 last year."
"Any sign of the Romulans?" Thelev asked.
"The contemporary Romulans are cloaked," Marla said. "Just as history recorded, they’ve massed around the eighth planet in the system. The Romulans from our time arrived from a slingshot maneuver on the edge of Romulan space two hours ago, and are also under cloak and should arrive here in another forty-three minutes. Unless another variable we’re not aware of enters the picture, the battle, as history recorded, should get underway approximately twenty-two minutes after their estimated arrival."
"Are you always this precise?" Thelev asked.
"It’s a habit I developed after joining DTI," Marla replied, a small smile of amusement forming on her face. "I used to always round off times and stardates. But when you’re dealing with time travel on a regular basis, precision is a necessity. That’s why Dan and I tend to give stardates at least to the third decimal point, although we usually go to the fifth."
"So I’ve noticed," Thelev said.
"The habit of rounding stardates to the first decimal point is something DTI finds maddening," Marla explained. "At one decimal point, the stardate is only accurate to within fifty-two minutes and thirty-three seconds. At the third decimal point, it’s accurate to within thirty-one seconds. DTI personnel usually prefer the fifth, though, because it’s accurate to within a third of a second."
"I can see how that would be important," Thelev acknowledged.
Marla studied the readouts on her console, then remarked, "I have noticed something unusual about the Romulans, though, sir, and I’m starting to think this may be a predestination paradox."
Thelev pondered her comment for a while, then joked, "Don’t let the other DTI agents aboard hear that. I know how they hate those." His tone then became more serious. "What’s on your mind?"
"The Tomed Incident was the first time a Federation starship came into contact with what was referred to an A-Type Warbird," Marla said. "But they weren’t seen again for more than twenty years. The D’Deridex class, which was also called the B-Type Warbird, may have been identical to the A-Types, at least externally, since early sensor readings of the internal configuration of the A-Types are somewhat less than reliable… but our sensors aren’t picking up any A-Type Warbirds in the Tomed system."
Thelev’s antennae stood straight up with sudden interest. "That’s… unusual," he allowed.
"I’ve been tracking the Romulans from our time, however," Marla commented. "Five scouts of the same class that attacked the Merrimac yesterday, one of the newer Warbirds the Empire began fielding just before their civil war broke out… and two D’Deridex class Warbirds."
Thelev rose from his chair and crossed the bridge to look at Marla’s sensor readouts for himself. After studying them for a moment, he allowed, "Interesting."
An image appeared on the viewscreens of the cloaked Romulan fleet. It was completely unexpected, and several months too early; they weren’t yet ready for what the speaker had to say.
"I am Kepak," the image said. "I have brought more ships to bolster your ranks. The time to strike is now. The Federation has become aware of our presence here, and you will soon be exposed. Let us strike! For the Praetor! For the glory of the Empire!"
"The Romulan fleet is breaking orbit of the eighth planet," Marla announced. "They’re heading straight for the Federation fleet at Tomed IV."
"The ships from our time?" Thelev asked.
"All ships are still cloaked," Marla replied, "but they’re in communication with the Romulan forces."
"Damn," Thelev said. "Adar, plot an intercept course. Pushlar, arm transphasic torpedoes and target the ships from our time. Marla, open a channel to the lead Warbird. I want to try to convince them to give up."
"Course plotted," Ensign Adar said.
"Armed and locked," Pushlar said.
"Channel open," Marla said.
"Romulan warbird, this is Captain Thelev of the Federation Timeship Hawking. We know you’re here, we know about the ships you brought with you, and we know what you’re planning. It’s not going to work."
There was absolute silence for several moments. Then, Marla announced, "Sir, they’re responding."
"On screen," Thelev ordered.
"I am Kepak," the Romulan replied, " of the Warbird S’harien. I congratulate you, captain. I did not realize that anyone could have survived the changes to the timeline unaltered."
"We have our methods," Thelev said. "It won’t work. You’re just going to make things worse for everyone in the future."
"You’re bluffing, captain," Kepak said. The channel went dead.
"Admiral Phillips," Captain Chekov reported over the viewscreen on the Merrimac‘s bridge as the ship entered orbit of Tomed IV, "the Eratosthenes and Excelsior are holding position in orbit of Tomed IV; the Agamemnon and Enterprise are orbiting Tomed V, and the Hanson and Intrepid are at Tomed VI. The Ahwahnee, Saratoga, Akula, Gettysburg, Repulse, and Unificatum all report that they’ll arrive vithin the next tventy to thirty minutes. Hopefully, that vill be soon enough."
Phillips nodded somberly. "Thanks for the update, captain. Any sign of the Romulans?"
Chekov nodded. "Ve sent out a probe toward the eighth planet. There vere a number of wisual distortions consistent vith cloaking dewices. They’re here, no doubt about it."
"The Merrimac is entering orbit of Tomed IV," Phillips said. "We’ll help defend the colony and spaceport there against attack. Keep me posted on any changes."
"Aye, sir," Chekov acknowledged. "Chekov out."
Just as the screen went dark and reverted to a forward view of the spaceport, a massive fireball erupted from the structure. And another. And another.
"Red alert!" Phillips ordered. "Hail the rest of the fleet. Let them know the spaceport’s under attack! T’Maril," he turned to his wife at the science station, "any sign of the attackers?"
"Negative," she replied. "It is possible that the Romulans have devised a method to fire while cloaked, much as the Klingon prototype that was destroyed at Khitomer."
"Maybe," Phillips said. "If that’s true, it must draw even more power than a conventional cloak. Scan for any anomalies. Maybe the power drain makes them visible for a split second as they fire."
"Excelsior and Eratosthenes are closing on this position," Jackson reported from Communications. "Enterprise and the Hanson are breaking orbit and coming as well. The Enterprise reports that they’ve engaged their cloaking device."
Phillips nodded. Ever since the Romulan involvement in the Gorn crisis that had erupted during his time as captain of the Merrimac, the Federation had reversed a prior decision and elected to outfit most of its capital ships with cloaking devices based upon captured Romulan and Klingon models. It had been a controversial move, but had so far proven effective in combat.
"It’s started," Marla announced on the Hawking‘s bridge. "The spaceport’s been severely damaged, and the Romulan fleet is almost entirely in orbit of Tomed IV."
"Who fired on the spaceport?" Thelev asked. "I never saw any of them decloak."
"That was Kepak’s ship, the S’harien," Marla replied. "It’s cloak is undetectable by this era’s sensors, and it’s obviously been modified to fire under cloak like Shinzon’s Scimitar."
"And the others from our era?" Thelev asked.
"Still cloaked," Marla replied, "but it’s only a matter of time before they aren’t."
Thelev pondered for a moment. "Target the ships from our era only with a full spread of transphasic torpedoes. Fire at will."
"Firing," Pushlar acknowledged less than a second later.
"One of the D’Deridex class warbirds has taken heavy damage," Marla said. "Its cloak is failing."
"Romulan ship decloaking!" Commander Ilyana Ivanova called from the Enterprise-B’s Science station. "Boishe moi. It’s enormous!"
"Drop cloak and open fire!" Chekov called. "Hit them vith everything ve’ve got!"
"The Enterprise is firing on the disabled D’Deridex class warbird," Marla reported.
"Keep firing on that warbird," Thelev ordered. "Don’t leave enough for anyone to find anything that would upset the timeline. Make the debris small enough, and it’ll just blend in with the rest of the destroyed ships."
"The other Romulan ships are going in and out of cloak at random," Marla continued. "Our sensors can track them either way, but the sensors of the contemporary ships have no way of knowing exactly how many ships are really out there."
"Historical records," Pushlar interjected, "say that a count of the disabled and destroyed hulls after the battle estimated there were about fifty Romulan ships in the area, based on the amount of debris."
"Close," Marla said. "Sensors are picking up closer to forty ships, including our friends from the future."
"Any sign of the S’harien?" Thelev asked.
"I’m looking," Marla said. "Their cloak is more advanced than the others; its harder to lock onto." She manipulated the controls on her panel. "Got ’em. They’re making a beeline for the Merrimac."
"Put us between them," Thelev ordered. "Let’s take that heat off the Merrimac so they can survive to do what history said they’re going to do."
Ensign Adar stole a wide-eyed glance at Captain Thelev, then turned back to her controls. "Aye, sir." she said.
Soon, the ship began to shake and rock with the weapons impacts.
"Get everybody out of here and seal off this section!" Dan called out as the Merrimac bucked under his feet. A junction nearby overloaded, and sparks flew when it went. The lights dimmed, flickered, then stabilized at half their normal output.
"Commander!" someone called. Dan spun and saw one of the members of the team from the Hawking, struggling to free one of the Merrimac‘s crew from under a chunk of shattered bulkhead. He quickly made his way over and helped lift the jagged metal.
Once the crewman was free, Dan and the officer from the Hawking helped pull him to safety. Mere seconds after they sealed the section’s emergency bulkheads, the now-sealed section of the hull breached, exposing the evacuated area to space.
"Lets get the wounded to Sickbay," Dan said.
"Target the Romulan ship firing on the Merrimac," Sulu ordered on the bridge of the Excelsior, "then drop cloak and fire a full spread of torpedoes as soon as we’re in range. Once they’re off, recloak and change course. Circle around for another pass."
A chorus of "aye, sirs" answered him. Within moments, the bridge lighting brightened, indicating the Excelsior had decloaked.
"Torpedoes away," the lieutenant at Tactical said. "Reengaging—"
The ship lurched violently, throwing people from their chairs as the ship took an unexpected hit.
"Cloak offline!" the lieutenant called. "Swiftbird class Warbird at bearing 183 mark 227!"
"Return fire!" Sulu ordered. "Evasive maneuvers!"
"Incoming!" the lieutenant warned.
The deck lurched again.
"Excelsior‘s cloak is down," Ivanova said, studying the sensor readouts on her console. "They’re taking fire from a Varbird that vas firing on the Merrimac."
"Move to intercept," Chekov ordered. "Lock torpedoes, but don’t decloak to fire until ve’re right on top of them."
"Shields at sixty percent," Marla said as the Hawking took another volley from the S’harien intended for the Merrimac. "The Agamemnon and Hanson have been destroyed. I’m reading six other Federation vessels entering the system; the cavalry’s arrived."
"The ships from our time?" Thelev asked.
"One D’Deridex class Warbird destroyed," Marla replied, "plus two of the scouts. The other D’Deridex has taken a few hits, but their cloak is holding. One scout’s been disabled and is now taking heavy fire from the Intrepid, and the other two are popping in and out of cloak, hitting whatever targets present themselves."
The ship shook as they took another hit meant for the Merrimac.
"And then there’s Kepak’s ship," Marla muttered.
The deck pitched sharply just as Jack Phillips was rising from his seat. He was thrown forward, and his forehead smashed into the edge of the Astrogation console between the Helm and Navigation stations. Mendez turned to help his commanding officer, but Phillips would have none of it.
"Keep your eyes on your station, Julio," Phillips said, brushing away the offered hand. He reached up and gingerly touched his forehead, and his fingers came away bloody.
"Jack," T’Maril said, "you need to get that taken care of."
"I’m fine," he insisted.
"You’ve just suffered a head wound," T’Maril countered. "Get down to Sickbay. I’ll keep us in one piece until you get back."
Phillips locked gazes with his wife. He recognized the determined set of her jaw, the look in her eyes. There would be no budging her.
"I’ll hold you to that," he said, and made his way to the turbolift.
"Shields down to thirty percent!"
"Target their engineering section," Sulu ordered. "Full spread—"
He was interrupted when the attacking Warbird suddenly erupted in a blinding fireball. Before he could even ask what had happened, he saw the Enterprise streak across the viewscreen.
"I owe you one, Pavel," Sulu said.
"Reengage cloak and set course for the Eratosthenes," Chekov ordered. "They’ve got a Varbird and vun of those new ships hammering them."
Just as the bridge lighting dimmed, the deck rocked from another weapons impact. Sparks flew from half the consoles on the bridge, and the lights went down.
"Emergency lights!" Chekov ordered.
"Cloak’s not responding," Hardemon said as the blood-red lights snapped on. "Aft torpedo launchers are off-line. Shields up and holding at seventy-four percent."
"Vhat about the vun who shot at us?" Chekov asked. No answer. "Commander Iwanowa?" He turned his chair completely around to her station, and gasped in shock. Her console had exploded from that last hit, and she’d taken a faceful of shattered glass and metal. Her skin and hair were burned, and the stench of charred flesh was now making its way to the center seat.
"Excelsior and Enterprise‘s cloaks are down," Marla reported. "Merrimac‘s taking a defensive posture for the two, and the newcomers are reinforcing all Starfleet positions."
"Status of the S’harien?" Thelev asked.
"Still trying to maneuver around us for a clear shot at the Merrimac," Marla replied.
"No way I’m letting them past, sir," Adar called from the Helm.
"Firing another volley of transphasic torpedoes at them," Pushlar added. "Their multiphasic shields are making it tough for the torpedoes to get through, though."
"And they’re not exactly the easiest bird to track, either," Marla said.
"Keep at it," Thelev said encouragingly.
"We’ve got wounded!" Dan announced as he led the injured into Merrimac‘s Sickbay. "Plasma burns, hypoxia, vacuum exposure—" He was cut short when he saw the man sitting on the edge of the main biobed.
"Good enough for now, doctor," Jack Phillips said, brushing away the dermal regenerator from his face with a wave of his hand. "These others need your help more than I do." He hopped off the biobed, then helped Dan lift one of the most severely injured onto the raised surface.
"Thanks," Dan panted, catching his breath for the first time in nearly an hour.
"What happened?" Phillips asked.
"Hull breach," Dan explained. "Didn’t lose anyone, but it was close."
"Thank goodness for small favors," Phillips replied. He looked curiously at the man standing across from him. "Have we met, Mr.—?"
"Daniels," Dan supplied. There was a momentary shocked expression on his father’s face before he could add, "Lieutenant Commander Phillip Daniels. I was an ensign the last time I was aboard this ship."
"Daniels?" Phillips asked, the name stirring a vague memory. He tried to place it, and Dan saw a glimpse of something cross his father’s face. "I’m sorry, I can’t recall you, but there’s definitely something familiar about you."
"It has been a while, sir," Dan said. He forced himself not to stare at his father. "I need to get back out there. I’m certain there’s more people who need help." Dan turned to leave Sickbay, then felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.
"Be careful out there, son," Phillips said.
Dan smiled at his father, briefly wondering if the old man knew after all. "Yes, sir," he said, then pulled away and led his team once more unto the breach.
Lieutenant Commander Ilyana Ivanova drifted in and out of consciousness as she was rushed from the bridge of the Enterprise to Sickbay. She was vaguely aware that she was lying on a stretcher of some kind, she couldn’t move, and she’d been injected with some pretty powerful painkillers that prevented her from feeling much of anything. She tried to lift her head to see where they were, where they were heading, but couldn’t manage more than opening her eyes into narrow slits.
"She’s conscious," Ivanova heard someone say. A young Troyian man’s face came into her field of vision. He struggled to keep a smile on his pale green face, and he locked eyes with her.
"You’re going to be all right, commander," the Troyian said. "We’re taking you to Sickbay right now." He saw the confusion in her eyes, and explained, "There was an explosion. You’ve got some pretty bad burns, and we need to get you to the doctor."
Ivanova tried to nod, but couldn’t. He apparently caught the subtle motion she was able to make, however, and he moved out of her field of vision and continued on his task of getting her to Sickbay. She wasn’t sure how much time passed before she once again lapsed into unconsciousness.
"The Unificatum just destroyed one of the scouts from our time," Marla reported. "The other is taking fire from the Akula and the Gettysburg, and likely won’t last much longer. The remaining D’Deridex class warbird is moving toward the Merrimac‘s position, probably because the S’harien hasn’t been able to get a shot past us."
The deck shook as the Hawking once again absorbed weapons fire meant for the Merrimac.
"Shields at forty-seven percent," Pushlar reported. "That last shot was from a Nighthawk class warbird, not the S’harien."
"Can’t be avoided, lieutenant," Thelev said. "Keep an eye on that D’Deridex class warbird. I don’t want it getting past us, either."
Jack Phillips nearly tumbled onto the bridge, as the Merrimac took another hit just as the doors opened.
"Report," he ordered. T’Maril rose from his seat and returned to the science station, which had been manned by another crewman in the admiral’s absence.
"Hull breaches on decks fifteen, sixteen, nineteen, and twenty-two," she said. "We’ve taken up a defensive position relative to the Excelsior and the Enterprise and the attacking Romulan ships, but the Romulans’ cloaking capabilities make determining their exact positions at any given moment troublesome at best."
"What’s our status?" Phillips asked.
"Shields are at thirty percent capacity," T’Maril said. "Weapons fully functional, and Tactical is engaging targets as they present themselves. Our cloak is currently operational, though not engaged."
"Enterprise and Excelsior?"
"Both heavily damaged," T’Maril said. "They were hit by weapons fire while engaging their own cloaking devices, so shields were down. They have limited offensive and defensive capabilities at the moment, but are effecting repairs as expediently as possible."
"Maintain our defense of the Enterprise and Excelsior," Phillips ordered. "Signal the Unificatum, and request their assistance—"
"Negative, sir," Jackson interrupted. "Another of those monster warbirds lost its cloak a few minutes ago, and the Unificatum, Akula, and Eratosthenes are all engaging it."
"General distress, then," Phillips decided. "Any ship that can lend a hand, come on over. We seem to be on the sidelines, at least."
"We’re right in the thick of things," Marla commented as she read the steady stream of information on her console. "Merrimac‘s putting out a distress call; they’re requesting help in covering the Enterprise and Excelsior."
"If I recall my history classes correctly," Thelev said, "that attracted the attention of a nearby Romulan ship, correct?"
"That’s what the history books say, at least," Marla agreed. She continued to study the readouts. "Looks like that’s not the whole story, though. The S’harien is signaling that Nighthawk class warbird that’s been stinging us, ordering them to target the Merrimac, since Kepak’s own attacks have been stymied."
"The Nighthawk is decloaking," Pushlar added urgently. "Targeting."
"Move to intercept," Thelev ordered.
"Too late," Marla called. "They’re firing."
"Shields failing!" Akric’s voice cried over the bridge speakers.
"Hold it together!" Phillips urged, gripping the armrests on his chair for support so tightly, his knuckles were ghostly white. "Return fire!"
"Firing," the lieutenant at the Tactical station acknowledged. "So is the Enterprise."
"Direct hits on their port nacelle and forward hull," T’Maril reported.
"They’re firing again," the lieutenant warned. "Shields are down!"
"Akric, I need shields!" Phillips called.
The ship rocked as the Romulan torpedoes detonated just short of the hull.
"Nice shooting, lieutenant," Chekov commended, turning to the officer at the Tactical station who had filled in when Lieutenant Commander Hardemon accompanied the wounded Ivanova to Sickbay to have his own broken arm treated. "First time I’ve ewer seen someone successfully hit a hot torpedo vith phasers."
"Just itching to get back into the fight and make a difference, captain," the lieutenant replied.
"The feeling’s mutual, lieutenant…" Chekov trailed off. He didn’t know the young man’s name.
"Vaughn, sir," he replied. "Elias Vaughn."
Akric shot across Main Engineering with blinding speed as the alarm klaxons blared. His heart sank as he read the display on the control console for the matter/antimatter reaction assembly.
"Evacuate engineering!" he cried out. His fist slammed onto the nearest companel control. "Bridge! We have a warp core breach in progress, and battle damage has fused the ejection hatch shut!"
Dan checked the chronometer on his wrist, then turned to the lieutenant at his side. In a low tone, he said, "We’ve got to hurry up and get these people to the saucer. We don’t have much time left."
A heartbeat later, Jack Phillips’ voice blared over every com system on the ship.
"All hands, warp core breach in progress! Evacuate to the saucer section!"
Ilyana Ivanova woke once again, but this time she wasn’t lying on a stretcher anymore. She was, instead, face down on the deck, the antigrav stretcher flipped and partly over her legs. Feeling was starting to come back to her body, and the only thing she could feel was searing pain. She was able to move, but each movement brought another wave of pain. Nevertheless, she turned her head to take in her surroundings.
The Troyian — a medic, she realized, now that she could see his uniform more clearly — was unconscious and pinned beneath a large chunk of shattered bulkhead. Beside him was Jon Hardemon, his arm wrapped in a makeshift splint, trying to pull himself along the deck with his good arm. He was conscious, but his right leg was bent at an odd angle, obviously broken. He noticed that Ivanova was awake.
"S-Sorry, commander," he apologized. "We tried to get you to Sickbay, but there was another hit. The com’s down; I can’t call for help, and I can’t move very fast with this leg. I’ll try. I’ll try." He continued to pull himself slowly down the debris-strewn corridor.
If her tear ducts hadn’t been seared when her console exploded in her face, Ivanova would have wept.
"Engage cloak," Phillips ordered.
"Engaged," T’Maril said a moment later. "Jack—"
"Hold that thought," Phillips interrupted. "Julio, full impulse. Ram us right into the heart of the Romulan fleet."
Mendez turned toward Phillips, eyes wide.
"Trust me, Julio," Phillips said. The turbolift doors opened, and Akric stepped onto the bridge. Phillips smiled. "Your timing is perfect, commander."
"We have changed nothing!" Kepak roared in frustration as his fist pounded on the arm of his chair.
"The Merrimac has cloaked and is on course for the fleet," a centurion reported.
"Pursue them!" Kepak ordered. "Destroy them!"
"The S’harien is pursuing the Merrimac," Marla reported. "They’re continuing to fire, but we’re maintaining position between the ships." At that, the ship shuddered once more.
"Returning fire," Pushlar said. "Their shields are down to less than ten percent. It won’t be long before we’re finally able to punch through them."
"Status of the crew evacuation?" Phillips asked.
"All personnel report they are safely aboard the saucer section," Jackson replied from Communications.
"Prepare for separation on my mark," Phillips said. "How long until we reach the Romulan fleet?"
"Approximately four and a half minutes," T’Maril said.
"How long until the core breaches?" Phillips asked.
"Four minutes," Akric replied.
"Not the best odds," Phillips muttered. "Jackson, send a coded message to the fleet. Tell them we’re coming in cloaked and hot, and they’ve got less than four minutes to get clear of the area. Julio, Akric, let’s see if we can’t get our speed up a little."
"Direct hit to the S’harien‘s engineering section," Pushlar announced in triumph. "They’re losing power to propulsion, but their cloak is still online."
"Hail them," Thelev ordered.
"No response," Marla replied. "Captain, I’m reading an exponential power buildup in their engines. I think it’s a self-destruct."
"Back away," Thelev ordered.
"Umbilicals separated," Akric announced. "Docking clamps releasing. Warp core approaching critical mass."
"As soon as the clamps are free," Phillips ordered, "circle around and get us clear of the blast radius. Any sign the Romulans know we’re coming?"
"None," T’Maril said.
"Clamps released," Akric said.
"Getting out of here," Mendez said.
"The engineering hull’s momentum is carrying it into the Romulan fleet," T’Maril announced. "We are no longer within its cloaking field, and that’s beginning to fail."
"Best speed to Tomed IV," Phillips ordered. "Put the engineering section on screen."
On the viewscreen, Phillips saw the stars flicker as the cloaked engineering hull passed through space. Section by section, the cloak failed, and within seconds it was completely visible.
"The Romulans are beginning to move away," T’Maril said, "but they won’t get far. Detonation in five seconds."
Five seconds later, the viewscreen went white.
"Romulans decloaking!" Janice Rand announced. "I’m getting word from the other ships in the fleet; several Romulans destroyed when the Merrimac‘s engineering section detonated, about six disabled… including what may be the Romulan flagship."
"Set course," Sulu ordered. "Let’s get back in there and help mop this mess up."
"Landing gear extended," Mendez reported. "Structural Integrity Field at maximum."
"Easy does it, Julio," Phillips said.
"On the ground in five," Mendez announced. "Four. Three. Two. One."
The deck shook and a low rumble resounded throughout the Merrimac‘s saucer as the landing gear came into contact with the surface of Tomed IV.
"No damage reported," Jackson said. "Colonial authorities are dispatching medical assistance to help treat the wounded in Sickbay."
"How’s the battle going?" Phillips asked.
"It’s over, sir," Jackson said. "We won."
The corridor darkened as the transporter effect released the boarding party. Clad in Starfleet-issue environmental suits, they were secured to the deck by powerful magnetic boots. The Romulan crew, however, floated helplessly around them.
"Poor bastards," one of the crewmen muttered. "Looks like the shock wave disabled power, gravity, and life support."
Another crewman shook his head, studying his tricorder readings. "I don’t think so," he said. "According to my readings, the air in here is still breathable and would continue to be so for another hour or two. These people all committed suicide when they couldn’t self-destruct."
"Can ve access the computer?" a heavily-accented voice asked over their suit communicators.
"I believe so, Captain Chekov," the first crewman replied, crouching down in front of a computer access terminal. "Restoring power to this console shouldn’t be a problem."
"Hawking to Phillips"
Dan ducked into a secluded corner and looked around before tapping the combadge on his chest, disguised to look like the standard Starfleet arrowhead of this era.
"Phillips here," he replied.
"Mission accomplished, commander," Thelev’s voice said over the combadge. "We’re beaming our teams off the Merrimac as we speak."
"No fatalities on the Merrimac," Dan said. "History is once again where it should be."
"No, Dan," Marla’s voice interrupted. "It’s exactly how it should have been."
"What are you—" Dan began, then stopped himself, realization dawning. "Oh, man. This report’s going to go over at DTI headquarters like a lead balloon."
"Are you ready to beam up?" Thelev asked.
"Not yet, sir," Dan replied. "I have one last thing I need to do first. I’ll contact you when I’m ready. Phillips out." Dan closed the channel and turned back into the corridor. He walked a few meters before arriving at his destination. He could hear a pair of voices, and knew he was at his destination.
"—there vas nothing Dr. Stadi could do for her. I’m wery sorry, admiral. First your son—"
Jack Phillips interrupted, "Thank you, Captain Chekov, but even though my ex-wife is dead, my son is not. We haven’t found the Challenger or any of the crew’s bodies, and until we do, nothing will convince me otherwise."
Dan felt himself moving forward to console his father, and stopped himself before he could take more than a step or two. He ducked back into the corridor, squeezed his eyes shut, set his jaw, and tapped his combadge.
"Phillips to Hawking," he said through clenched teeth. "Let’s get the hell out of here."
27 February 2382 18:22:34.7 hours
Dan stood ankle-deep in the snows of central Wisconsin. His hands were buried in the pockets of his jacket, and the icy wind bit at his face. Before him was the tombstone marking his father’s grave. He said nothing, fighting back tears that froze moments after they were shed.
"He never stopped believing you were still alive," a woman’s voice said from behind Dan, startling him. He turned quickly to see who it was.
T’Maril moved slowly through the hard snow, and it crunched and squeaked under her boots. She stopped when she was standing next to her stepson at her late husband’s grave.
"Marla told me I could find you here," T’Maril said. "You’re a hard person to track. I got to your mother’s grave in Russia just hours after you had left." She pulled something from one of her pockets and handed it to him. "Your father made this recording for you, a few weeks before Irumodic Syndrome claimed him. At that point, no one believed any of his stories, but he was always so insistent that you were alive."
"Why did you wait until now to give it to me?" Dan asked.
"It had been misplaced," T’Maril explained. "I only rediscovered it a few weeks ago, and planned to give it to you the next time I saw you."
Dan placed the small holographic projector atop his father’s tombstone and pressed the activation control. A foot-tall hologram of his father, seated and elderly, appeared.
"Hello, Dan," the hologram said. "I’m sorry I can’t tell you this in person, but thanks to this damned disease, the doctors tell me I don’t have much time left, and you’re still nowhere to be found.
"I knew it was you. It had to be you. Who else could it be? All that time you spent in DTI training, telling me about the old Enterprise and the man from the future, Daniels. Then all of a sudden, there’s a new lieutenant commander on my ship I’ve never heard of who gets choked up when he sees me, and he calls himself Phillip Daniels? I may be losing my mind, but I’m not stupid, son. It had to be an older version of you, and if there’s an older version of you, that means somewhere — somewhen — you’re still alive. I may be coming up on my time, but at least I know you haven’t come up on yours yet. I love you, son. I always will."
The hologram blinked off, and Dan just stared at the blank projector.