Vortex, Part One

Captains Log, Stardate 51408.3: We’ve been docked at Deep Space Nine for nearly three days now. The Monet has undergone repairs and is almost ready to depart. We will be leaving for Starbase 216, where I will be meeting Admiral Foster to be briefed on our next orders. At my request, Lieutenant Commander Christy will remain on board the Monet as a security officer. Meanwhile, I’ve granted shore leave to most of the crew, following the recent events; I hope they enjoy it.         

Shearer sat back in his chair and read through yet another systems status report. He glanced back at his desk, where several more padds lay, waiting to be read. He sighed and turned his attention back to the padd in his hand. It was the engineering report. He read down a little way. The shield emitter problem had been fixed, which was great news. Shearer jumped as someone pressed the door chime. “Enter,” he said. The doors parted and Commander Kingston entered. “Hello Commander, what can I do for you?” he asked. Kingston held out a padd.

“I’ve got another report for you,” she said. Shearer sighed and took it from her.

          “What’s this one for?” he asked.

          “The latest casualty report. I thought you might want to look it over,” she said. Shearer’s expression changed to a serious look. He put down the padd he had been reading and skimmed through the casualty report. His eyes searched for familiar names and he found some, like always. He handed the padd back to his first officer. “Commander, post this on the ships computer and let the crew know that it’s there,” he said. Kingston took the padd and nodded. She turned and made her way out the door. Shearer glanced out of the large windows and spared a minute for the lives that had been lost that day.

 

          “DABO!” someone called as Lieutenants Gravis and Brady entered Quarks, the liveliest place on DS9. Gravis turned his head towards the Dabo tables at the back of the bar. A young Bajoran was collecting his winnings, much to the disgust of the other players. Gravis grinned and turned his attention back to his destination, the bar. As the two men approached, they heard someone call out to them. “Well, look who finally decided to come and pay his tab…”

Gravis grinned.  “Hello Quark. It’s good to see you too,” he paused as he and Lieutenant Brady sat down, “Now how about a drink?” Quark smiled and moved over to them.

          “What can I get you?” he asked.

          “I’ll have a Synthale,” Gravis said.

Quark nodded and turned his attention to Brady. “I’ll have the same,” he said.

Quark nodded again and went to get their drinks. Brady turned to face Gravis. “Friend of yours?” he asked. Gravis grinned.

          “You could say that, I was posted here before the Dominion took over. I was one of Quark’s best customers!” the two men laughed.  Quark arrived with their drinks. They thanked Quark as he moved away to serve another customer. Brady glanced around the large bar. Even though there was a war on, you wouldn’t know it if you stepped in here. The whole place was filled with people having a good time and enjoying each other’s company. He glanced at the top balcony, and his eyes fell upon Lieutenant Commander J’mall. His exploration of the bar stopped there. He just stood there staring. “Hey Ralph, want to book a holosuite?” Gravis asked. He got no response. “Ralph, are you listening to me?” he said. Brady snapped back to reality.

          “Sorry, what did you say?” he asked. Gravis glanced up at the balcony, where Brady had been staring. He found himself looking at Lieutenant Commander J’mall. He faced Brady and gave a smile. “Looks like someone’s in love! Have you told her?” he asked. Brady looked embarrassed. “Not yet,” he replied. Gravis laughed.

          “Well, even if you haven’t, she probably knows. Betazoids can detect a lot of emotion!” he joked. Brady looked even more embarrassed, but he did manage a slight smile. Gravis picked up his glass and took a sip. He leaned closer to Brady. “Why don’t you go talk to her?” he asked. Brady turned and looked at him as though he were stupid. “What?” he said. Gravis snickered.

          “Why just stand here wondering, when you can go over there and find out for sure?” he replied. Brady continued to look at him as if he was mad, but then his expression changed and he glanced up at Lieutenant Commander J’mall. He turned towards the bar and placed his glass down on the shiny surface. He turned round again and straightening his tunic, headed off for the stairs. Gravis stood there with a big grin on his face, then shook his head and turned towards the bar and sipped his drink.

 

          Rachel J’mall sat her table with her legs crossed reading a small padd. Occasionally she reached out toward the table to take a sip of her drink. She was completely unaware of what was going on around her. “What are reading?” someone asked. J’mall jumped. She turned round to see who had spoken to her and she came face to face with the smile of Lieutenant Brady. She smiled back at him, her heart rate now returning to normal. “It’s a novel from twentieth century Earth called Strange Meeting, she said. Brady moved round to the seat opposite her.

          “May I?” he said.

          “Of course,” she replied. She could sense that he was nervous as he sat down in front of her. He called over one of the Ferengi waiters and asked for a drink. The waiter hurriedly went off to get the order. With his hands clasped together in front of him on the table, he turned to face J’mall again. “What’s the story about?” he asked. J’mall suppressed a grin. She knew what he was trying to do. “Well,” she started, “It’s set during the events of Earth’s First World War,” she put the padd down, “Basically there’s an officer named Hilliard who forms a close friendship with a young soldier called Barton and the story deals with how these two, and other characters in the story, deal with the horrors of war,” she finished. She looked at Lieutenant Brady and saw he was actually interested in what she was saying. The Ferengi arrived with his drink and he took a sip. “So, is it good so far?” he asked.

          “Yes, it is. Actually it’s very good,” she replied. Brady leaned forward. J’mall could sense his nervousness get worse. He’s about to ask me out on a date or something she quietly thought to her self.

“I was wondering, if you’re not doing anything that is, if you’d like a game of velocity on the holodeck,” he proposed.

I knew it! She grinned. “Sure, why not? I’ve been looking for a formidable opponent!” she laughed. Brady smiled back at her.

          “Ok, I’ll see that we get a holodeck reserved for us,” he replied. J’mall was just about to say something but stopped her self. A hooded figure on the other side of the bar caught her attention. The figure looked extremely familiar, and if it was who she thought it was, something bad was about to happen. Brady caught her staring over the bar. “Are you all right? You look like you just saw a ghost!” he said. J’mall didn’t take her eyes off the figure, which was now making it’s way out the door. She rose to her feet. Brady looked up at her. “Where are you going?” he asked.

          “I forgot I had something to take care of,” she said. Brady rose and looked at her.

          “What about our game of velocity?” he asked.

J’mall was already moving away from the table. “Sorry, another time maybe?” she said. She made her way down the spiral staircase and out the door. Hurt, Brady sank back into his chair and sipped at his drink.

 

          J’mall made her way out the doors and onto the promenade. She glanced around quickly. She saw the figure disappear down a corridor. She started after it. Halfway down the corridor she came to a junction. She glanced down each corridor. She saw no sign of the figure. Angry with herself for not catching up with the figure, she made her way slowly back to the promenade. As she past one of the many doors that aligned the corridor, one of them suddenly opened and two hands reached out and grabbed her. The hands pulled her inside and she watched the doors shut in front of her. She whirled round to see who her captor was and found herself face to face with the hooded figure she had been chasing. The figure let go of her and reached for its hood. With graceful movement, it pulled the hood down onto its shoulders. J’mall gasped. “Jonathon! So I was right!” she exclaimed. The man nodded.

          “That is correct, Rachel,” he replied.

          “What are you doing here?” she asked. Jonathon handed her a padd. J’mall took it and started to read it, but the diagram said more than the words. She looked him in the eye. “My god,” she choked, “Tell me this is a joke.”

          “It’s no joke Rachel,” he took the padd from her, “The Vortex is re-opening.”

 

TWO YEARS AGO

“Try this one” Lieutenant Page said. She handed J’mall another glass. J’mall took it and sniffed the contents. She closed her eyes as she sniffed the pleasing scent, much better than the smell of the last four beverages she had tried. Lieutenant Page’s parents were bar keepers and they had invented a couple of drinks to sell in their bar on Earth. The Lieutenant had persuaded J’mall to try them. She glanced up at the Lieutenant and took a sip. She screwed her eyes as the flavour hit her tongue. She coughed and set the glass back on the table. “Don’t you like it?” Page asked. J’mall looked at her, unscrewing her eyes. “It’s a little sweet,” she said. “A little sweet” meaning very sweet. There must have been gallons of some sort of sweetener in that concoction!

“Really? I think it tastes just right,” Page said. She picked up the glass and made her way back to the replicator. She commanded the computer to make another drink. Not another one! J’mall cringed. Page moved back over to J’mall with a glass in hand. “Here try this one, it’s called…” she was cut off as the red alert klaxon filled the room. “Captain to the Bridge” J’mall heard over the comm. She tapped her badge. “On my way,” She motioned for Lieutenant Page to go first and the two women made their way to the bridge.

 

          “Report!” J’mall barked as strode out onto the bridge. Lieutenant Page made her way to the helm, relieving the Ensign on duty. Lieutenant Commander Hicks rose from the Captain’s chair and moved towards J’mall. “We’ve detected a subspace disturbance point three light years from here,” he reported. J’mall sighed as she sunk into the Captain’s chair. “Can’t Starfleet take care of this, I mean it’s not really a threat to the Federation now is it?” she said.

          “I wouldn’t be to sure of that sir, the disturbance matches that of a subspace vortex, which means there could be a hostile alien force on the other side,” he said. J’mall turned to face him.

“Then again there might not be Commander,” she challenged.

          “Even so sir, I think we should investigate.” J’mall stared at her First Officer for a moment. Then she nodded. “Very well, helm adjust course.”

          “Aye, sir,” Lieutenant Page called out. J’mall sat back her chair. What’s the universe going to throw at me this time? She thought.

 

PRESENT DAY

          Rachel J’mall glanced at her two companions. She could not get over how different they looked. Her former First Officer, Jonathon Hicks looked as if he had aged by ten years, not two. Sarah Page was even worse. Gone was the fun loving Lieutenant who always had a smile on her face, replaced by the stone faced women standing beside her. J’mall sensed little emotion from her, which reminded her of a Vulcan. She couldn’t stop asking herself what had happened in these two years that had changed them so much. She settled her gaze back on the turbolift doors. The lift came to a halt and the doors parted to reveal the bridge. She led the way out onto the bridge, with Hicks and Page tagging behind. J’mall strode down the left ramp and saw Natasha Kingston rise to met her. “Hello Commander,” she said, “The Captain is waiting for you.” J’mall had requested an appointment with the Captain as soon as she heard the news that the Vortex had re-opened. J’mall nodded and guided her companions to the Captain’s door. She pressed the chime. A voice from inside invited them in and the doors opened.

          “Good Afternoon Commander, what can I do for you?” she heard as she entered the room. The Captain was sitting behind his desk on which were several padds and a mug of drink. “Sorry to disturb you Captain, but I have some unsettling news,” she replied. The Captain put down the padd he was reading and turned his full attention to his Operations Officer. “I’m listening,” he said. J’mall glanced at her two companions and introduced them. “This is Jonathon Hicks and Sarah Page. They used to colleagues of mine,” she paused, “When I was working for Section 31.” The Captain looked lost. “I’m sorry Commander, but what is Section 31?” he asked. J’mall had been prepared for this, not many people in the Federation knew of Section 31’s existence. “Section 31 is a secretive covert operations unit of Starfleet intelligence. Section 31 was established under the Starfleet charter to be responsible for searching out and identifying extraordinary dangers to the Federation. They deal with these threats quietly and often use extralegal techniques,” she took a breath, “In short, they’re Starfleet’s version of the Romulan Tal’Shiar and the Cardassian Obsidian Order.”  The Captain still looked puzzled.

          “What’s this got to do with anything?” he asked. J’mall took a breath and was about to respond when Jonathon stepped in front of her.

          “Two years ago, while working for Section 31, we detected a subspace disturbance in Federation Space. We investigated and found that it was a subspace Vortex,”

          “A Vortex? Where did it lead to?” the Captain interrupted. J’mall stepped back in front of her friend and continued. “We weren’t able to get a fix on the location of the Vortex’s other opening point, to much interference, so we launched a probe to be a booster for our sensors,” she said. The Captain was taking this all in, still wondering what this had to do with him. Sarah Page, who had said nothing since boarding the Monet, spoke up from the back of the room. “Using the probe as a booster, we were able to scan the other side, but we still could not determine where that was,” she glanced at J’mall “The Captain ordered us to take the ship through the Vortex…”

          “Captain?” Shearer stared at J’mall, “You were a Starship Captain? That’s not in your records,” he pointed out.

          “Only with Section 31 sir, after I resigned from them I was demoted to Lieutenant Commander, the rank at which I entered Section 31 with…”

          “So not to arouse suspicion.” He finished for her. She nodded. “So what did you find on the other side?” he asked. Jonathon stepped forward to finish the story.

 

TWO YEARS AGO

          Rachel J’mall could not believe what she was hearing. “Check your instruments again, there must be some mistake,” she said. Lieutenant Page nodded and worked the console once more. The computer beeped at her. She turned back to the Captain. “No mistake Captain, sensors confirm we have travelled over 2,250,000 light years, we’re inside the Pegasus Galaxy,” J’mall still couldn’t believe it. She had known vortices and wormholes to deposit ships over 75,000 light years, but 2,250,000 light years? It didn’t seem possible. She heard a voice beside her. “How is that possible?” Commander Hicks inquired. Lieutenant Page shook her head, as did others on the bridge. J’mall rose to her feet and tugged her tunic. “Well, we might as well see what’s out here,” she turned to one of the officers manning the port science station. “Ensign, begin full sensor sweeps, I want to know everything there is to know about this part of Pegasus Galaxy in two hours,”

          “Aye, sir” the Ensign called. J’mall turned towards Commander Hicks.

          “You have the bridge Commander, I’ll be in my quarters.” With that she strode over to the starboard door and was about to leave the bridge when an explosion took the deck from beneath her feet. A conduit above her ruptured, filling the bridge with its contents. She scrambled back to her feet and moved toward her chair. “Report!” she yelled.

          “Two ships just dropped out of warp, we couldn’t detect them until they were right on top of us, they’re using some kind of sensor grid to send false information to our sensors!” the young Lieutenant at Tactical called back. The ship rocked again sending sparks flying from a console at the back of the bridge. “Return Fire!” Commander Hicks ordered.

The Lieutenant tapped her console. “No damage,” she reported. J’mall sat down in her chair. “Evasive manoeuvres,” she ordered. The ship rocked again, more violently than the last time. Thank goodness their shields had been up to start with, or they would be space dust by now. “Captain, our weapons and shields have been disabled!” the Lieutenant at tactical called.

J’mall brushed back the hair that had fallen over her eyes. She turned to Lieutenant Page to give an order when a figure appeared on the screen. The Alien was humanoid, with ridges running down from its temples to the base of its neck. It had a large amount of loose skin under its chin that wobbled when it spoke. “Attention Alien Vessel, you have trespassed into Alh’nori territory. Your ship and its crew are now property of the Alh’nori Imperium. Prepare to be boarded.” The viewscreen flickered back to the view of the star field. J’mall faced Lieutenant Page. “Lieutenant, how fast can those ships go?” Page checked her instruments.

          “Due to their enormous size, no faster than warp six,” she reported. J’mall settled back in her chair. “Good, set a course away from here and engage at warp eight,”

          “Aye, sir” Page responded. The tiny ship turned and ducked under one of the enormous Alh’nori ships and went to warp. The two ships turned in pursuit.

          “They’re in pursuit, but they won’t catch up with us any time soon,” Lieutenant Page reported.

          “Good, scan for somewhere we can hide and make repairs and set a course,” J’mall ordered.

          “Aye, Sir!” Lieutenant Page acknowledged. An hour later they found their refuge, a small asteroid field located 1.6 light years from the vortex. There they waited for two days, repairing their ship.

 

          “What’s the status of the Alh’nori vessels?” Lieutenant Commander Hicks asked.

The Ensign at tactical checked her console. “One of the ships has left, the other is still scanning for us,” she said.

The doors at the back of the bridge opened with a silent hiss and Captain J’mall strode onto the bridge. Commander Hicks vacated the centre chair. J’mall smiled at him then turned her attention to Lieutenant Page. “Lieutenant, prepare to take us out of here, full impulse” she ordered. Lieutenant Page acknowledged the order and worked her console. J’mall turned to face her first officer, who had now taken the engineering station on the port side of the bridge. “Commander, activate the cloaking device,” she said. Hicks tapped a button on his console and the Nolan shimmered and disappeared. J’mall focused her view on the forward viewer. “Take us out Lieutenant and as soon as we clear the field set a course for the vortex’s coordinates and engage at warp eight,” she ordered.

          “Aye, sir” Lieutenant Page sung. The ship manoeuvred around the asteroids and cleared the field. The ship passed the large Alh’nori vessel and went to warp. “Did they detect us?” Commander Hicks inquired.

          “I don’t think so sir, they’re not pursuing us anyway” the Ensign at tactical reported. J’mall shifted in her chair. “How long until we reach the vortex?” she asked anyone who could tell her.

It was Lieutenant Page who gave her the information. “About twenty minutes, at our current speed,” she replied. J’mall settled back in her chair and waited.

 

          After twenty minutes the Nolan dropped out of warp and slowed to one half impulse. “Captain, I’m picking up multiple energy signatures at the opening of the vortex!” the Lieutenant at Ops called over the bridge.

          “On screen!” J’mall ordered. She took one look at the viewscreen and bolted to her feet. There was a large fleet of Alh’nori ships preparing to go through the Vortex.

“How many ships?” she heard Commander Hicks ask.

The Lieutenant tapped her console and shook her head. “Unknown sir, but I can confirm there are more than 2000 ships.” J’mall stomach turned. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She turned to Lieutenant Page. “Sarah, can we get through the Vortex before the Alh’nori ships do?” she asked.

          “Yes Captain,” was her response. J’mall sunk back into her chair and let out a slight smile. “Good, set a course,” she turned to the Ensign at tactical, “Ensign, arm four photon torpedoes and prepare them for launch.”

          “Aye, sir” were the officers responses. Commander Hicks looked at his Captain puzzled. “What exactly do you plan on doing?” he asked. J’mall faced her first officer. “We’re going to go through the Vortex and as soon as we clear it, we’ll launch the torpedoes at the aperture, which should collapse it, trapping the Alh’nori fleet in Pegasus,” she replied. Hicks nodded, satisfied with his answer and turned his attention back to his console. “We’re approaching the vortex, Captain,” Page called out.

J’mall nodded. “Take us in Lieutenant. Jonathon, what’s the status of the Alh’nori ships?”

Commander Hicks checked his console.  “The smaller ships are moving toward the vortex, the others are still waiting for something,” he said. An alert suddenly sounded from his console. “Captain, the vortex must be interfering with our cloaking device! The Alh’nori have detected us, they’re moving to intercept!” he said.

          “Sarah, Get us through that vortex now!” J’mall ordered. The Nolan accelerated towards the Vortex with the Alh’nori fleet right behind them. The lead ships let out a volley of torpedoes. The Nolan ducked and dived and only two made contact. “Damage Report!” J’mall shouted across the bridge.

          “Shields down to 57%! Weapon systems are off-line!” someone shouted back.

J’mall glanced at the viewscreen. The vortex loomed closer. “Damn!” she said. “We have to get the weapons on-line, or we can’t close the vortex!” Commander Hicks picked himself up from the floor and settled back in his seat. “We might not have too, we could deploy the torpedoes like mines, then detonate them,” he suggested. J’mall considered his plan. After a few seconds silence she nodded. “All right, prepare the torpedoes for deployment!” she ordered.

          “Aye, sir” the Ensign at tactical called.

          “Captain, we’re about to pass through the vortex,” Lieutenant Page called out.

          “Take us in Lieutenant,” J’mall ordered. The Nolan passed through the vortex’s aperture. When they reached halfway, the four torpedoes were deposited from the belly of the Nolan. J’mall glanced at the viewscreen. A flash of white appeared, indicating that they had cleared the vortex. She turned to the Ensign at tactical. “Detonate!” she ordered. The Ensign tapped a button and a large explosion rocked the ship. J’mall clung to the arms of her chair as the Nolan went into a spin. She felt nausea begin to sweep over her, the inertial dampers must be malfunctioning, she thought. After what seemed to be an eternity, the ship finally came to a halt. J’mall swallowed hard and saw that others were doing the same. “Report!” she said, with a slight quiver in her voice. Lieutenant Page swallowed and checked her console.

“No sign of any subspace disturbances. The vortex is gone Captain!” she reported.

J’mall smiled. “Continue on our previous course, maximum warp!” she ordered. Lieutenant Page nodded and worked her console. The Nolan turned and accelerated to warp speed.

 

PRESENT DAY

          After Jonathon had finished telling the story, the Captain asked the question J’mall had anticipated. “That’s an interesting story but what is it you actually want?”

J’mall stepped in front of Jonathon and spoke. “Jonathon has shown me some sensor data that says the vortex is beginning to re-open,” she paused, “Which means that if the Alh’nori know that as well, they try another invasion. We have to seal the vortex.”

          “If it’s that big a threat, why doesn’t Section 31 deal with it?” Shearer asked.

Before she could answer Sarah Page spoke up. “Section 31 won’t believe us,” she said. Shearer looked puzzled. “Why is that?” he asked.

          “Because we have caused several false alarms already. They’ll think it’s another,” she said. Shearer glanced at her.

          “How many false alarms?”

          “Twelve.”

          “I see. Because Section 31 won’t believe you, you want the Monet to investigate,” Shearer said.

          “That’s right Captain,” J’mall said.

          “What makes you think this isn’t just another false alarm?” he asked.

J’mall glanced at each of her friends, then said, “I trust them, sir.”

Shearer rose from his chair. “Very well.  It will not be a big detour to go and check this out.”

          “Thank you sir,” J’mall said. Shearer smiled at her. J’mall smiled back and motioned for the others to leave the room.

 

          “All decks report ready and DS9 has cleared us for launch,” reported Commander Kingston.

Shearer tugged at his tunic and straitened in his chair. He turned toward Lieutenant Maverick. “Lieutenant, begin undocking procedure,” he ordered.

Lieutenant Maverick acknowledged the order and the docking latches on the underside of the ships saucer began to detach themselves from Deep Space Nine. The Monet slowly drifted away from the upper pylon that had held it in place for over two days. “We’re clear,” reported Maverick.

Kingston made her way to her chair and sat down. “Enter the coordinates that Commander J’mall provided and engage at maximum warp,” Shearer ordered. Lieutenant Maverick’s fingers worked the console and the Monetjumped to warp.

 

          They reached their destination an hour later. The Monet slowed to a halt just a few hundred kilometres from where the vortex was supposed to be. Shearer glanced around the bridge. Standing at the back railing were J’mall’s former colleagues, who were certain that the vortex had begun to re-open. “J’mall, scan for subspace disturbances,” he ordered.

J’mall ran her fingers over her console. She found exactly what she was expecting to find. “I’ve found one, 200 hundred kilometres off our starboard bow,” she reported.

Shearer rose from his seat.  “On screen,” he ordered. The front view shifted from blank space to the source of the subspace disturbance. Shearer stared at the sight on the screen. On the viewer was a large stretch of white and blue that pulsated with energy. It looked out of place against the blackness of space.

“We told you Captain,” he heard Sarah Page say.

He turned his head and gave her a smile. “Now we know it’s here we have to close it,” she said. Shearer nodded. He turned towards Lieutenant Brady. “Ralph, prepare the torpedoes,” he said. Brady nodded.

          “Torpedoes ready,” he said after a few moments.

Shearer settled his gaze back on the forward viewer. “Fire!” he ordered. Four bolts of orange flew from the underside of the Monet and impacted the vortex’s aperture with a flash. Just as the explosion seemed to die down, a massive tendril of energy ripped out from the vortex and enveloped the Monet.

“Report!” Kingston shouted.

Lieutenant Brady picked himself up from the floor and checked his console. “The vortex wasn’t stable! The torpedoes set off a reaction, it’s pulling us in!” he shouted. Shearer moved over to the helm. “Lieutenant, reverse engines! Get us free!” he shouted. Maverick worked his console. After a few seconds he slammed his fist onto the console.

“It’s no good Captain, the gravitational forces are too strong!” he shouted. The ship rocked again as it was pulled towards the vortex.

“Everyone hold on to something!” Shearer shouted. Everyone on the bridge grabbed hold of their console as the ship plunged into the vortex. A minute later the ship stopped shaking as the vortex collapsed. Everyone straitened themselves up and got back to their duties. Shearer made his way back to his chair and slumped into it. He felt a drip of blood run down the side of his face and moved his arm to wipe it away.

J’mall suddenly called out from her station, “Captain, if the sensors are working properly, we’re in the Pegasus Galaxy!” Shearer turned his head, as did everyone on the bridge, to face her. “We must have been pulled through the vortex before it collapsed,” she finished. Before he had a chance to reply to J’mall’s report, Lieutenant Brady’s console beeped. “Captain, several unidentified ships are approaching our position,” Brady reported.

Shearer rose from his seat and made his way to railing just behind the helm console. “On screen!” he ordered. The viewscreen flickered to show the unidentified ships.

Shearer heard a gasp from the back of the bridge. “Those are Alh’nori ships,” he heard J’mall say.

          “How many?” Kingston asked. Brady checked his console.

          “Seven,” he heard Brady reply. Shearer turned and made his way back to his chair. “Red alert! All hands to battle stations!” he shouted. The bridge lights dimmed slightly and a red glow began to pulsate around the bridge. The Monet shields were raised as the Alh’nori ships closed in on their target.