Old Game, New Players?

Part One: Ambush and Intervention

Captains' Log, StarDate (WITHHELD BY ORDER OF SECTION 9) The 'Enterprise' has been assigned to investigate a garbled message from Federation Survey vessel "Beagle" engaged in charting the (WITHHELD BY ORDER OF SECTION 9) Sector. The Sector lies at the edge of known space, and while there are civilisations there, none of them has yet developed to a point where contact can be considered. We must proceed with care.

Picard was finally getting used to the Enterprise-E. The ship was smaller than its' predecessor, and lacked the versatility, being primarily a military and diplomatic vessel. This lent itself to an atmosphere that was at once more disciplined and less polite, the absence of civilians and children aboard meant that regulations were more strictly applied, but that language and general social behaviour was less inhibited. It would not be entirely true to say that Picard was pleased that there were no longer children on his ship. Relieved would better describe the feeling, especially with a mission like this.

"Admiral Carson informed me that the message seemed to indicate that the Beagle somehow became involved in a battle." He was telling his Tactical Officer. "But the sector contains no warp-capable species that we are aware of."

Lieutenant-Commander Worf nearly filled the Ready Room, not just because he was physically large, his barely-restrained energy and intensity flowed out into any space he occupied. He frowned as he replied.

"It is ironic that, although we know many things about the Delta and Gamma Quadrants, there are still vast areas of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, the home Quadrants of the Federation and the Empire, that remain uncharted and unexplored

"Precisely so." Picard agreed. "There could be many advanced civilisations here that we have never encountered."

"Civilisations that may be at war with each other." Worf said. "In the aftermath of the Dominion War, neither the Federation nor the Empire is ready or willing to engage in another large-scale conflict.

"It is vital that we discover whether the Beagle was merely collateral damage, or the victim of a deliberate attack. If the former, we may be able to avoid further conflict. If the latter, then the situation becomes perilous."

"Those were my thoughts, exactly." Picard told him. "In either scenario, I would prefer to have a Tactical Officer on whom I can rely absolutely. I intend to request a further extension to your current temporary posting on the Enterprise, Commander. Unless, of course, you are particularly anxious to return to Deep Space Nine?"

Worf shook his head. "I will always be honoured to serve with you, Captain Picard. With the Dominion War over, and the Cardassians decimated, my post at DS9 is little more than an administrative one, the officer currently handling it is more than competent.

"Also," Worf paused, then plunged on, "the death of my wife, Jadzia, has made living on DS9...difficult. I would rather be here, among friends who do not remind me of her at every turn, and with access to Deannas' counselling."

Picard was both surprised and impressed. Klingons, both men and women, rarely admitted to such vulnerability, for fear of appearing weak. He remembered that Worf had been raised by humans, and that at some level, it must have made a difference. He also guessed that further discussion of the subject would be uncomfortable for both of them.

"Very well." He replied. "I will forward the request. Dismissed."

-XXXXX-

It was perhaps an hour later when the comm channel opened.

"Captain?" It was Rikers' voice. "We've picked up a message buoy from the Beagle."

Picard watched as Geordi and Data worked on the buoy. Such devices, he knew, were a measure of last resort, launched from a starship in the final extremity, to crawl back home at sublight velocities carrying a final message. This one had been found adrift and damaged, but bore the name and registration of the missing Beagle.

"Did someone try to stop this from reaching us?" He asked.

"I don't think so, Captain." Geordi answered, his startlingly blue cybernetic eyes still focused on the job in hand. "It looks as if it took a hit from a micro-meteor. Just bad luck that it went clean through the core. The good news is that we can track its' trajectory back to point of origin. It was a head on hit that stopped the buoy in its tracks, rather than knocking it off course."

"You getting anything, Data?"

"Not as much as I would wish, Geordi, but I have managed to retrieve part of the message. Projecting now."

The holo-image that appeared was of a middle-aged Bajoran woman, smoke-stained and bloody, obviously in pain. The image was unstable, flickering in and out. She was speaking urgently, but there was no sound. Picard recognised her from the files.

"Captain Ortay Kamara, of the Beagle. " He said. "Data, is there audio?"

"Not for the first few moments, sir," Data replied, "and what we do have is fragmentary."

The audio, when it came in, was also disrupted and broken up:

"...orden warned...dangerous. ...alien ship...bait for an ambush...trust him...not a warship...any choice...firing on us...too powerful...StarFleet...stay away...

"Disturbing, but not very helpful." Picard noted. "See if you can retrieve any more, please, Data. Geordi, send the results of your tracking to Navigation."

-XXXXX-

"Sir, our destination is less than five minutes away." Worf reported. "I recommend that we transmit a looped message on all frequencies stating that we are on a peaceful mission of investigation. But we should also maintain the ship at full combat readiness."

"Speak softly and carry a big stick." Riker commented.

"Sound advice in the circumstances, Number One." Picard replied. "Make it so, Mr Worf. Ensign Hashak, take us in!"

The panorama that unfolded on the main viewer drew a low whistle from Riker.

"Must have been one Hell of a scrap!" He stated.

Directly ahead, a cloud of debris hung in space. No fragment was more than two or three metres in size

"Mr Data?" Picard asked.

"Part of the debris is the wreckage of the Beagle." The android reported. "The rest is that of another ship of unknown origin. There are also organic remains, presumably the bodies of both crews." The sadness evident in the tone of the last sentence told Picard that his Ops Officer had his emotion chip switched on.

"Sir!" Worf announced. "We are being hailed. The signal comes from a moon of the second planet in this system."

"On screen." Picard ordered.

The figure that appeared on screen was apparently human. A tallish, slender man in civilian clothing. Dark hair and a blandly pleasant face.

"StarFleet vessel," he was saying, "please identify yourselves."

"This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise." Picard replied. "Are you a member of the Beagle crew?"

"I'm afraid not, Captain." The man replied. "My name is Morden. What happened to the Beagle was a tragedy, and if you wish to prevent more of the same, we need to talk! Can you beam me aboard? I assure you I am alone and unarmed."

"Give me a moment, Mr Morden." Picard said. At his gesture, Worf suspended the link. "Opinions?" Picard asked.

"We need information." Riker said. "This Morden may know what's going on here. But I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw Worf!"

"Which, with all due respect, Commander, would not be very far!" Worf commented. "However, the security systems built into the Transporter would neutralise any weapons, explosives or biological weapons he may attempt to bring aboard. Also, the Beagle was a survey vessel with only a small Security contingent, whereas the Enterprise is a military one with sufficient Security personnel to neutralise any threat an individual might pose."

"Sir," Data put in, "the message from the Beagle mentioned an 'Orden'. Given the distorted state of the message, this Mr Morden might be the person mentioned. In which case he must have been aboard the Beagle at some point, and therefore have either survived or witnessed what occurred."

"Quite so, Data. Counsellor?" Picard asked.

"He's not telling us everything, of course." Deanna said. "Though he may be waiting to come face to face for that. He's hard to read. Like wet soap - smooth and slick and the harder you try to hold it, the more likely it is to slip away. Will's right, we can't trust him."

"Understood." Picard said. "Well, we do not have to trust or believe him, but I think we will nonetheless have to listen to what he has to tell us. Mr Worf, ask Mr Morden to transmit his coordinates. You and I will meet him in Transporter Room One.

"Number One, you have the bridge."

-XXXX-

The transport seemed to go ahead smoothly. Morden in person was no more impressive than he had been onscreen, but Picard was forced to agree with Deanna's assessment. There was a palpable smoothness to the man. His body-language, voice, everything was deliberately tuned to ingratiate himself with and persuade others. Like a 20th Century salesman. Picard thought. Worf regarded their guest with a frank dislike that would have unnerved a normal man, but which Morden seemed untroubled by.

"Thank you for speaking with me, Captain Picard." Morden said. "You and your crew are in a great deal of danger here. It's important we speak before more lives are lost."

"Very well, Mr Morden." Picard said. "We will go to the Conference Room. Follow me."

"Captain," Said the Transporter Chief, "there was a brief power-spike just before materialisation. I'm not sure if it's a problem, but I'd like to ask Mr Barclay to take a look at it."

"Make it so." Picard said.

Once in the Conference Room, Picard spoke without preamble.

"I think the first thing I need to know, Mr Morden, is what a human is doing so far beyond the boundaries of explored space"

"Really, Captain?" Mordens' smile had something of a sneer about it. "Do you really think that the mighty StarFleet has a monopoly on exploration? Private interests have been pushing beyond your boundaries ever since warp drive was invented, as has been the case throughout history. If business were as risk-averse as government, we'd all still be living in caves.

"I was part of such an expedition. We were attacked, my colleagues were killed, I was rescued. Since then, I have worked for my rescuers.

"There are more important matters to discuss, but first, I must ask a question.

"Captain Picard, what do you want?"

Picard blinked, then shrugged. "I want to find out what happened to the Beagle and her crew, and to resolve any potential conflict peacefully, if possible."

"I wonder." Morden said. "Is that merely you quoting the parameters of your mission, or is it what you truly want? Not that it matters. I can help you with the first, the second is, frankly, impossible!

"You must understand, Captain, this sector has been the scene of a generations-long war between an implacably hostile race -bent on total dominance - and my associates and their allies.

"When the Beagle came into this sector, my associates sent me to warn them to leave at once. But Captain Ortay was stubborn, and continued forward. Inevitably, she was met and attacked by an enemy vessel. The result was as you see out there, the battle ended in mutual destruction. But my associates and I were impressed by the bravery and skill of Captain Ortay and her crew, as well as the firepower of a simple survey vessel.

"But now, Captain, your situation is equally dangerous. The enemy have sent a ship to salvage the battle-scene, it will be here shortly. You have two choices; to turn and run, now, or to engage the enemy as soon as they arrive. I can assure you that if you do not fire first, they will, and the ship now on its way will be far more powerful than the one the Beagle faced!"

"Captain to the bridge!" Rikers' voice came over comms. "Unknown vessel has just dropped out of warp!"

"Mr Morden, you will remain here, under guard for your own safety." Picard snapped. "Commander Worf, with me!"

"Make the right decision, Captain!" Morden called.

-XXXX-

"It looks like an angel-fish." Deanna remarked.

She was right, Picard realised. The ship on the screen was taller than it was wide, just like the tropical fish popular in aquaria on earth.

"Are we transmitting, Mr Worf?" He asked.

"Yes, sir." Worf confirmed. "Though as yet, they do not appear to be hailing us. It is possible that they do not possess translator technology. They are approaching at approximately one-quarter impulse power. Their gun-ports appear to be open, but they are not charging weapons. Orders?"

"What kind of weapons do they have?" Riker asked.

"Beam projectors of some kind, and mass drivers." Worf reported. "We do not yet appear to be within their range, though they are within range of our torpedoes."

"Hold position and maintain shields at full, Mr Worf." Picard ordered. "We are as unfamiliar to them as they are to us. In their captains' position, I would be cautious as well."

"Respect." Murmured the Ensign at the helm.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Hashak?" Picard said.

She visibly jumped, then turned in her chair. Ensign Hashak was a Silurian, a member of the first intelligent species to evolve on Earth, and one of the very few of her people who lacked the genetic acrophobia that had kept the race Earthbound.

"Sorry, sir," she replied, looking flustered, "just thinking aloud! Won't happen again, sir."

"Ensign," Picard said gently, "it is not my habit to prevent members of my bridge crew from voicing any thoughts they may have which may prove relevant to the situation. You are here for anything you can contribute, not just for your helm skills. Please share that thought with the rest of us."

"Very well, sir." Hashak took a breath. "Historically, when Silurians or Aqualurians of different tribes met outside of our cities or villages, the warriors would keep their weapons at the ready until the leaders had spoken. It was supposed to show confidence in your own strength and respect for the strangers'. I just wondered if these people were doing something similar?"

"An interesting thought, and one worthy of consideration." Picard told her. "Thank you, Ensign, and please never hesitate to speak up again."

"Sir, the alien ship is now within weapons range, and has come to a halt." Worf announced. "Sir! Communications are being jammed! Vessel decloaking at twenty degrees!"

It was not a Romulan or Klingon ship. It was four times the size of any ship in the Federation or Imperial fleets, jet-black shot with purple, with a crystalline surface and an array of spikes projecting from the bow. Ignoring the Enterprise, it opened fire on the other ship with a violet beam that sliced effortlessly through the hull time and again, reducing the vessel to fragments in seconds. Then it simply hung in space, as if waiting for something.

For a moment, there was silence. Then the comms channel beeped, and the voice of a security man said "Captain, Mr Morden insists he needs to speak to you immediately!"

-XXXX-

Morden looked, Picard thought, excessively pleased with himself.

"Captain Picard, you are either a genuine pacifist, or very slow to respond to a threat." He said. "The enemy ship was in range, with weapons ready, but my associates were forced to intervene in order to stop them destroying your ship!"

It was Worf who responded. "Mr Morden, you are either a fool or a liar! The alien ship had showed no hostile intentions. It approached too slowly, and though its gun-ports were open, its weapons were not charged. Nor was the Enterprise being targeted."

"You need to retrain your attack dog, Captain Picard." Morden sneered. "The enemy was clearly trying to lull you into a false sense of security."

"Commander Worf is a StarFleet Tactical Officer of some years experience, and, as you may have noted, a Klingon." Picard told him. "A member of a proud and skilled warrior race. His unique blend of hard-earned expertise and finely-honed instinct has saved us on many occasions. He would have known if there were any hostile intent.

"Furthermore, we scanned the alien vessel. It had no weapon systems capable of inflicting more than minor damage on the Enterprise, and would have been defenceless against ours. Your 'associates' opened fire unnecessarily, from ambush and without provocation. It makes me highly suspicious of your motivations."

Mordens' smile was brittle, now. "We appear to have underestimated you. No matter. The next ship they send will be a Warrior ship, not a Worker vessel. You would find that much more of a challenge, if you were to meet it.

"Sadly, you will not. All the Minbari will find is a destroyed Worker ship and the wreckage of this vessel, along with a clear trail leading back to your territory. Your Federation will become a threat, and the Minbari will attack in force. Conflict is inevitable.

"Now, I'm afraid I must leave you!"

He twitched back the cuff of his jacket, revealing a bracelet of black metal, which he touched with two fingers. The band glowed violet for a moment, then flickered and went black again. Morden stared at it for a moment, then looked up at Picard with fear in his eyes.

Picards' communicator chimed. "Captain?" It was the voice of Lieutenant Barclay.

"What is it, Mr Barclay?" Picard asked. "This isn't the best time..."

"I know, sir!" Barclay spoke more briskly than usual. "Please look at the viewscreen on the table in front of you!"

Picard looked down. The screen showed an infra-red view of the room in front of him. It showed him Morden, and standing around him...Picard met Mordens' eyes. "You assured us you were alone." He said.

Mordens' eyes widened, then four figures wavered into sight around him. Man-sized, black, insectile, like preying mantises. With a storm of urgent clicking and rustling sounds, they made for Picard. The Captain was not armed, but it didn't matter, Worf drew fast and fired with lethal precision. All four were dead before they had crossed a third of the distance.

Morden was now literally cowering under the menace of Worfs' phaser, as well as those of the Security detail who had arrived seconds later, sent by Mr Barclay.

"Orders, sir?" Worf growled.

"Have him taken to the brig." Picard ordered. "Make sure he's thoroughly scanned and searched. We don't want any more surprises!"

Then Rikers' voice came over the shipwide channel. "Battle stations! Captain to the bridge! Helm, evasive manoeuvres!"

-XXXX-

"Report, Number One!" Picard demanded as he settled into his seat.

"We'd just gotten a report from Mr Barclay that you were in danger and that he'd sent a Security team." Riker said. "Then that thing started charging weapons. We managed to get clear before it fired.

"It's a big brute, slow to turn, and that beam seems to need recharging after a shot. We've scored a couple hits, done some damage, but it's just too big. No vital areas, everything's got redundancies. We're dodging and running at the moment."

"Time for a strategic retreat." Picard decided. "Prepare for warp!"

"Negative, sir." Data broke in. "The alien ship is emitting a subspace distortion field. Any attempt to go into warp within twenty thousand kilometres of it will cause the core to detonate!"

"I'm heading away, sir." Hashak said. "But I can't run straight. That beam would slice us in two if it hit!"

"Understood, Ensign, do your best." Picard said.

"Alert!" Worf called. "More enemy craft decloaking ahead!"

There were five of them. Smaller than the Enterprise, but more agile. They raced in to the attack, firing violet beams similar to that of the larger craft. The Enterprise suffered two direct hits immediately.

"Shields holding at sixty per cent, no damage!" Worf reported. "Firing torpedoes!"

Worfs' aim was true, and one of the enemy craft spun away, half its hull destroyed. The others displayed more caution, but no less determination, in a series of hit and run attacks.

"Sir, they are not attempting to destroy us." Worf announced. "Their intention is to prevent us fleeing beyond range of the distortion field. The larger ship is now moving on an intercept course."

"They're trying to box us in!" Hashak said. "Trying to stop us from evading that beam when the big one fires!"

"I'm beginning to get that Kobayashi Maru feeling." Riker said, referring to the notorious 'no win' simulation once used to 'test the character' of command cadets.

"You may be right, Number One." Picard allowed. "And no James Kirk to reprogramme it for us."

"Sir, another ship has entered the system." Worf announced. "Unknown configuration, high speed, power-levels off the scales!

"We are being hailed!"

The voice sounded human, with a British accent. "StarFleet ship, hang on!" Then audio was flooded with crashing, rhythmic and singularly loud music.

"Earth music, 20th Century." Data remarked. "Bat Out of Hell, by Meat Loaf. Intriguing."

"It resembles Klingon Opera." Worf noted. "Bad Klingon Opera."

The tiny ship, half the size of a Defiant class, shot overhead and bore down on the four-kilometre bulk of the enemy capital ship, firing rapid pulses of blue-black energy that spread across the hull of the target, causing everything it touched to disintegrate. In less than a minute, the massive vessel no longer existed. The smaller ships turned to flee, and the newcomer went in pursuit., leaving the Enterprise alone.

"Secure from General Quarters." Picard ordered. "All sections, full diagnostics and reports, please.

"Ensign Hashak, an exceptional job under difficult conditions. I will be adding a personal commendation to your record. Thank you."

"Thank you, sir." She replied. "Permission to throw up, sir?"

"Granted." Picard and Riker exchanged wry glances as the young Silurian woman dashed toward the heads. They'd both had such moments as young ensigns in tight spots! Deanna rose and followed Hashak at a discreet distance.

"So, what just happened?" Riker said. "Who was our new ally and where did he come from? What kind of technology allows a tiny ship to destroy a huge brute like that in a few shots?"

"Unknown, Commander." Data said. "The weapon seems to have been based on Dark Energy. It neutralised or reversed all four forces -gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces- and caused the particles that made up the ship on the subatomic level to fly apart.

"The drive is of no known type, but registers a strong chronoton field."

"A puzzle, then." Riker said. "We've met a civilisation that used Dark Energy, before, but that was in an alternate timeline."

"Where we also met someone whose craft emits a strong chronoton field." Picard added. "Mr Data?"

"I had considered that, sir." Data acknowledged. "But the technology of the craft we just saw does not contain a Mass Effect Drive or any version of one. I could detect no trace of the substance known as Element Zero, which was essential to the technology of that timeline.

"Also, all records from either timeline concerning the Doctor strongly indicate that he, or she, has seldom used, and never condoned, violence. A ruthless and efficient attack of that kind, without any attempt at negotiation, would be highly uncharacteristic. There is also no record of the TARDIS ever mounting weapons of any kind, or appearing in any form except that of a 20th Century police telephone box."

"A puzzle indeed." Picard said. "Ah, Ensign, I trust you are feeling a little better? Would you like to go to your quarters?"

"I'm fine, sir, thank you." Hashak replied. "I would prefer to finish my shift, sir."

At a nod from Deanna, who had returned with Hashak, Picard gestured the Ensign to her seat. "Carry on, Ensign."

"Captain, the unknown ship is returning." Worf said.

The little ship drew to a halt in front of the Enterprise.

"We are being hailed, Captain."

"On screen."

The figure seated in the pilots' chair certainly looked human. Stockily-built, sandy hair, a squarish face with a snub nose, piercing blue eyes and a mobile mouth. He wore a grey coverall with no visible insignia.

"Mind if I ask what the Hell you people are dong here?" He said without preamble.

Picard, mindful or protocol, replied. "I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise. Before I reveal details of our mission, I must ask you to identify yourself."

"Enterprise," the other man muttered, half to himself, "of course, if a StarFleet ship is exactly where it shouldn't be, odds on it's the Enterprise! Picard, Picard...All right, less of a complete arse than Kirk, but still as bloody-minded!" He looked squarely into the screen again. "I'm the Major. I suppose if I advised you to go to maximum warp and get the Hell out of Dodge, you'd take not a blind bit of notice?"

"I would certainly need something more substantive than the unsolicited advice of an unknown individual." Picard replied. "No matter how grateful I may be for the assistance he has rendered us."

"Well, that's closer than Kirk ever got to a thank you!" The Major remarked. "Still, I doubt you'll give me any less gyp in the long run!

"Captain Picard, you have got yourself mixed up in something that is much bigger, much older, much more dangerous and a damn sight more stupid than you can imagine! There's a lot you don't know that you should, and a lot you'll have to find out for yourself because I'm not allowed to tell you!

"But for now, I'd better come aboard so we can talk face to face. There's enough room in the Astrometric main lab, and I can work better from there anyway. See you there in a second. Out!"

The screen cut back to the outside view as the small ship began to pulse with a bright blue light. Then it vanished.

"Sir," Worf reported, "an unknown object has appeared in Astrometrics!"