A Star Trek: The Next Generation Fan-Fiction Story
By Imzadi Round Robin

Chapter 1
By Opal

Stardate 56936.7 - December 2379

"I have fought beside the Federation ship Enterprise. I have walked her decks and shared a glass of ale with the legendary Jean-Luc Picard. We watched our doctors work together to save members of his crew. Romulan hands working in harmony with Terran, coaxing life forth when it was fleeting. Romulan and Terran, Empire and Federation, standing together helpless as death took her warriors to Vorta Vor. I have looked into the eyes of the Federation and beheld my own dreams. I have walked through the dying and sensed my own fears.

"Shinzon preyed on our fears. He turned our strengths against us. Romulus has always been strong, her people brave and her armies built for conquest. But what is conquest now? Within our borders we grow restless. We have no new territory to explore, no new worlds to bring within the reign of the Empire. Shinzon looked outward and saw weakness in the Federation. He looked out and saw new lands to conquer.

"When I look outward I see strength. The same strength in the blood of our veins is mirrored in the Federation. Whether green or red, we both die as it spills from our wounds. Whether Romulan or Terran, we must change as the universe changes. We must grow within ourselves instead of constantly growing outward. What frontier is more new to our people than peace? What land more untried, what battle less fought, than peace?

"In war we find death. We grow through destruction, we piece together the remains of our spoils and look again desperately for new grounds. We can have the entire Federation as new territory and we will! Not as a conquered people slaving beneath the boot of the Empire, but as allies, as compatriots, even as friends!"

Her speech had been repeated over and over on every Romulan news screen. It filled the streets and the people leapt in joy to embrace the new Praetor's philosophies. That weakness made Tal'aura sick. If she had been Praetor there would be no talk of peace. Now weakness was slowly eating away at the Romulan people like a plague and she had no chance to save them from their own childish dreams of peace.

Even now, celebration rang through the streets of Romulus. The people had long been weary of the war and bloody governments who promised everything would be different, yet yielded nothing. The people were hungry for leadership. With the Senate dead and Shinzon, the vengeful Reman dictator of the darkness, also dead, the way to power was ripe for anyone who would seize it. It should have been a proud time to be a Romulan politician with ambition.

It should have been a blessed time to be a Romulan with ambition. The greatest seat of the government was open to someone with the credentials to claim it, but the Romulan people had been tricked. Empress Siraliv had sold her own people to the Federation and they were going with cheers of joy. Instead of warriors, they would be diplomats and pacifists. Instead of bloodshed they would embrace talk and negotiation. What life was that for a child of the Empire?

Former Senator Tal'aura left the balcony in disgust. Inside her private apartment the words of the crowd were dulled into obscurity but the fevered joy in their voices carried through the ancient walls of stone. She had never expected the brave Romulan people to fall for Donatra's pacific rhetoric. The Praetor-elect's inauguration speech was already becoming legendary.

Tal'aura was not the Empress' chosen one. She had been officially pardoned for her actions during the coup d'état, bringing an end to her career. The pardon had sealed her forever into obscurity. The Tal-Shiar had seen to that.

Tal'aura bared neat white teeth as she thought of her own farewell speech. It had been eloquent but brief, and barely memorable. The Tal-Shiar's puppet of a hologram had seen to that. They had made her wishes abundantly clear in their mockery. She wanted a simple life now, one with less prestige. The final touch had been when her image praised the Federation's y'kilht! The whore whose name echoed through the very core of Romulus.

"Donatra," she hissed through the growing din outside. Donatra would be Praetor and she would lead the people as promised. Though weak, she was a woman of honor and honor would demand no less. The Romulan people were doomed to live life as sheep in the great Federation. Donatra, for all her love of peace, had failed to see the Federation for what it truly was. It was a conqueror as insidious as any had ever been, but it wrote its own rules for conquest. Instead of coming with weapons drawn and energy raining down from the heavens as people screamed in terror, it came with empty palms outstretched in friendship. When the Federation came for you, you went willingly.

A cold shiver went up her spine at the very notion.

* * * * *

Epsilon Indi Shipyards
Stardate 57253.6 - April 2380

Captain William T. Riker rested his hands on the rail and stared lovingly through the starbase window. Hanging there like a jewel in space was his ship, his future cast in duranium and fitted with nacelles. She was beautiful. Though smaller than the Enterprise-E, the Akira-class Titan was compact and graceful within her lines. Her nacelles were closer to the saucer section, held slightly above instead of swept back like the Enterprise's. Her saucer was small but powerful, much like Riker's wife. He smiled like a boy of ten instead of the mature and seasoned Starfleet officer he was. In a few short hours he would be embarking on his own adventures with his own crew, his Imzadi by his side.

Riker couldn't think of anywhere in the galaxy he'd rather be. This was his time. His life was finally together, a bit later than he might have originally planned, but Deanna and the Titan were certainly worth the wait.

All the stars around Andor hung patiently in space waiting for the Titan's debut. Her first flight, the first flight of Captain Riker. He shivered in anticipation.

"I really don't think she's going anywhere, sir. Once a woman like that gets her hooks into you she really doesn't let you go." Hugh McCoy, the dashing young Operations officer rested his hands on the rail next to his captain and joined him in watching the ship. "She almost makes me wish I was bound for command."

Riker turned his head to catch the other man's laughing blue eyes. "Almost, but not quite?"

Hugh's brown hair moved slightly as he shook his head. "All the freedom in the galaxy and all the responsibility to go along with it can suck the fun right out. Oh no sir, that's not for me."

Will ran a hand through his beard and felt the stiffness of grey. "I was going to beat Kirk's record. It was all I thought about when I was young." He traced the lines of the Titan again in his mind, seeing every phaser bank and shield emitter. "I was going to be the youngest captain Starfleet had ever seen."

Hugh knew the story. He had heard if from the captain's formidable mother-in-law, but he waited, smiling, for the inevitable conclusion.

"My life had other plans and I'm thankful every morning I wake up next to her that it did."

Hugh chuckled dryly in the back of his throat and after a moment Will joined him. "Life's really worthless if it can't surprise you now and then."

"Too true, Mr. McCoy, too true." Will turned his head away from the Titan, "What work have you brought me?"

"Commander Holman sent me to ask if you wanted to inspect the tractor beam before it was installed, Captain." McCoy's expression remained jovial as Will winced.

"Commander Holman seems to have nothing better to do than inspect things. Ask my first officer to do it."

This time it was Hugh's turn to wince. "I would, sir, but she said if she saw me again with one of Holman's absurd 'requests' she would have me assigned to the Legaran Diplomatic Corps."

"Legar? The sulfuric gas giant?" Will asked with a raised eyebrow. "I didn't know we had a Diplomatic Corps there."

"I'm fairly certain we don't, sir," Hugh replied with a sigh. "Perhaps you can explain to Commander Holman that we trust his judgment in such matters."

Will started walking toward the Command Center. "He will probably then inform me that my lack of concern for matters I deem trivial will by my undoing. That I'm lucky to have him building my ship when I show such a lack of concern for it."

The two men paused before the double-doors to the Command Center and steeled themselves. "I believe there is a reason men like Holman work in construction yards," McCoy volunteered quietly, "Metal can't be offended."

"If only we were so lucky," Will dead-panned as he reached for the entry control.

* * * * *

On Starbase Epsilon, Lieutenant Scott and Ensign Ferris were at the head of a large group of junior crewmembers and a handful of civilians. They were all waiting, but unlike the crew and civilians who could wander freely through the Market Commons housed in this large open deck, both officers had duties.

Ensign Joslynn Ferris gritted her teeth and again tried to explain where the crates of scientific equipment were going once they reached the Titan, "Deck seven. Se-ven, Science Labs." Blue-skinned Andorian technicians scurried around her and into the umbilical connection without speaking.

"You'd have better luck if you were just a bit more patient with them," Lieutenant Caitlyn Scott pointed out gently as she directed the crew with the medical supplies to deck five. "They do speak Standard."

Joslynn kicked one of the offending crates with a free foot. "But they don't speak, they just stare at us like we're some kind of freaks because we aren't blue and we don't have those dangly things on our heads." Pausing, she sighed, "Why does Starfleet even build ships here?"

Caitlyn smiled patiently as she tossed her tight braid back over her shoulder. "Because the Andorians are one of the founding races of the Federation, even if they have dangly things on their heads." She turned to the next group of technicians, "Deck eleven, please."

In contrast to Caitlyn's neatness, Jos' golden-brown hair was tumbling all over in loose waves as she shook her head in frustration. "If they're one of the oldest races in the Federation they should speak Standard. They helped invent it, dammit." Caitlyn giggled and leaned against the wall as she watched Joslynn direct yet another group. "Deck twelve. One-two, shouldn't be too hard to find." Grumbling, Joslynn dropped to the wall next to Caitlyn, "How many more groups?"

The science officer lifted her PADD and sighed, "Thirty-four."

"Dammit!" Jos cried again as she stood up and started pacing. "I know why you're stuck down here, but why am I?"

"I don't think the pilot is all that necessary when we're in spacedock," Caitlyn replied calmly, "Besides, the captain was sick of you fighting with McCoy in Command."

The beautiful pilot shook a finger threateningly at the smaller woman. "Don't even start if you know what's good for you."

"I think he's sweet," the lieutenant offered with a slight blush.

Ferris' brown eyes glinted. "Oh you would, wouldn't you? I think I'm the only person on board immune to his charms."

Caitlyn couldn't help giggling again. "You make him sound like a disease."

Forcibly shoving her hair out of her face, Joslynn nodded quickly, "I think that's exactly what men like that are. A smiling, perfect plague."

* * * * *

Commander Deanna Troi sat in the captain's chair on the Titan's Bridge and wrapped her fingers around the edge of the armrests. Through the newly-functioning viewscreen she could watch the spinning brownish-gold surface of Andor and the ribs of the shipyard that held the Titan in place. Around her, a few members of Will's crew, her crew, flitted about with various tasks, making ready for the launch which was only a few hours away. A large cat, standing on his hind legs with his tail dancing behind him impatiently, stopped in front of her and stood at attention.

"Lieutenant Commander Ibric reports that he is about to bring the warp core online." Sharpclaw-to-Ennien, a Sivaoan, flexed his claws. He didn't mind the reports, but he wanted to be free in space instead of trapped in orbit with a cage around the ship. "Security is also ready. Medical is transferring the last of the sensitive biomedical gels from the planet, Ensign Cartwright is still waiting for her final calibration of the Astrometrics sensors and Chief Yavan reports that he awaits your command to start beaming the crew aboard." He flicked his tongue over his canines in disgust, "Venuri is also ready to depart."

"You seem annoyed, Sharpclaw," Deanna smiled at him. Annoyed was an understatement; his silver-grey fur was even bristling slightly.

"No, sir." He growled softly at his error, shaking his whiskers, "I mean yes, sir. But it will not interfere with my duties, sir." He started to stalk away but turned back, his tail tip twitching anxiously. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"

Deanna leaned back into Will's command chair, feeling the responsibility of the position ooze into her. "Of course, Lieutenant."

"I know many crewmembers are concerned about relations between the bartender and I, but I can assure you that there will not be any problems that effect either of us professionally. It was simply a misunderstanding." His fur still bristled but she could feel the amount of control he was pouring into his gravelly voice.

Deanna rested her chin on a hand and tried not to beam at him. "I have no fear of either of you shirking on your duties. Please carry on."

Sharpclaw nodded curtly and returned to his Tactical station all the while muttering about the insanity of bringing an overgrown bird into space.

* * * * *

Chief Xander Yavan rested his elbows lazily on the transporter console in front of him and stared at his bored reflection in the smooth surface. He toyed with his black hair restlessly and sighed. He already had the coordinates of the remaining senior staff plugged in and had just informed Sharpclaw that he was ready to go whenever the Bridge was.

The Bridge, however, was not ready to depart. Whatever Commander Troi was doing, she wasn't ready for the remainder of the crew. Xander sighed heavily again. He was about to contact the Bridge to ask why the transport was being delayed when his console chirped with a message from the surface. A group of technicians was ready to beam aboard.

"Finally! Something to do," Xander said aloud as his fingers flew flawlessly over the transporter controls. The Betazoid had an almost instinctual bond with his console. The shimmering began with a whine and ended with four Andorian engineers, dressed in the familiar dull grey uniform of the Epsilon Indi Shipyard, materializing on the pad. A large crate sat in the middle of the group and the rear pair of technicians moved to lift it as the forward pair advanced toward Yavan.

The chief let his mind brush easily across theirs and was almost overcome by the excitement they radiated. The female technician kept advancing, smiling coolly. "You have fascinating eyes for a human. So deep, so black ... so full of intelligence."

Xander pried into her mind with nervous curiosity. He suddenly gulped in horror and backed away from her.

Still smiling, she continued onward, resting her hand lightly on his chest. "Far too black to be human, aren't they?" Her fingers closed hard around the officer's right wrist as his hand flew to his combadge. "I felt you touch my mind. Do you know what we do to telepaths on my homeworld?"

Something hard and heavy smacked into the back of Yavan's head. The transporter chief sank unconscious to the floor. The female Andorian quickly took control of his console. Two of her cohorts, carrying the heavy case, left through the large doors of the room while the remaining male wrestled the unconscious body into a rear corner.

"Seal it off. We can't risk anyone finding him."

She nodded, tapping the controls with nimble blue fingers. "I'm informing the Bridge that the transporters need an immediate maintenance cycle." The Bridge would simply think that Yavan was being overzealous.

The male stood, smiling with icy eyes. "Good. Stay here and make them think the Betazoid is still awake." He fingered a green hypospray in his pocket, "Wait for the signal."

The female nodded again as he disappeared through the doors, leaving her to wait.

* * * * *

Ibric Lyda was bored, so bored that her nose ridges itched. She had been waiting in the large Market Commons on Epsilon Starbase for the last two hours with the rest of the junior officers and civilians. Way down at the end of the huge open area she could barely make out Joslynn at the Titan's umbilical connection. She could go talk to her, but Joslynn was working and then they'd both be in trouble. Lyda was just supposed to sit there and wait until Jos finished whatever she was doing and came to get her, but she had been waiting such a long time.

Having already completely finished the outline for her next holoprogram, Lyda leaned back into the bench her father had left her on. She would have rather waited in her quarters with her toys and the lovely new stuff she had purchased with Joslynn, but some stuffy commander wasn't letting civilians on the ship yet. Here she was surrounded by so many glorious things and not allowed to even look at them, let alone buy them. Why was her life so unfair?

Crossing her arms and pouting for a moment, she suddenly remembered her allowance in her pocket. Though it wouldn't go all that far, it was enough to justify looking through some of the shops. Lyda jumped off the bench and started to look at the boutiques with new eyes. She could justify buying something small. After all, her dad had left her for far longer than he said he would.

The girl ducked away from the waiting area filled with Titan crewmembers and slipped easily into the crowd of Andorian shoppers. Everyone was looking for something or at something and no one paid any real attention to the 11-year-old Bajoran wandering among them. Lyda passed the fruit and vegetable stands and the tea sellers. They were boring and she wasn't hungry. Finally, she spotted something good up ahead on her left. A clothing shop was hung with ribbons of every color and she had to go in.

An elderly, stooped Andorian woman smiled at her gently when she entered. "Hello iari. Can I help you?"

Lyda looked at her shyly, but had been raised well enough to know that she needed to reply. "I'm just looking. My ship isn't leaving for awhile yet."

The ancient woman nodded, her wispy white hair fluttering around her head. "Look all you like, iari. Ask if you have any questions. You are not often so far from home as Fesoa."

Lyda came closer to the counter and gave the woman a confused look. "I thought the planet was called Andor."

The storekeeper's laughter sounded like dead leaves falling. "Many years ago it was called Fesoa. It's an ancient name, much like your Celestial Temple." She waved a withered blue hand at the youngster and gestured her still closer. "I think you might like these. They are pretty enough to hold your attention." She pointed to a display in the corner of the store filled with diaphanous fabrics and ribbons, "My fantasy wares, if you will."

Lyda's hands immediately went in to a bin full of silks. "They're beautiful!" Nodding politely, the storekeeper turned to leave. Throwing a purple silk over her shoulder like a cape, Lyda ran after her. "Wait, please. Tell me how you knew about the Celestial Temple."

Her old hand rested insubstantially on the young Bajoran's shoulder. "Once, when I was a very little girl, I met a man almost as old as I am now and he told me stories of a glorious temple in the stars near his home planet. It was such a beautiful story that I remembered it to this day and your nose," she tapped the girl's ridges with a bent finger, "reminded me of him."

"Perhaps someday, when I'm old, I'll be able to say that I visited Fesoa," Lyda wondered with large eyes.

"Indeed you will, iari. Someday you will." The storekeeper patted her shoulder again and shuffled back to the counter, leaving Lyda alone with the beautiful fabrics and ribbons.

Shret Asketen tapped his left breast to activate his combadge. "Commander Troi, are civilians boarding yet?" He waited, but no response came. He tapped his chest again and realized he was tapping fabric. Shret sighed heavily and started searching his pockets. It was the second communicator badge he'd lost and Mae would never let him hear the end of it. He glanced at his PADD of notes for the day. Maybe he could still retrace his steps and find it before she got really annoyed with him.

He started walking along the row of ships, heading for the clothing store. Maybe he had lost it amongst the tunics. He stepped through the door and the venerable old storekeeper smiled at him. "What have you forgotten today, Professor?"

Shret smiled at her sheepishly, "I've lost my badge from the Titan, Nesca. I thought it might be here."

Nesca shook her antennae to berate him. "I could build a new shop with the things you have forgotten here over the years, Shret."

He laughed and took her hand as they slowly headed over to the racks of tunics. "But you're too honest, Nesca. You keep returning them." They spent much time moving displays and looking around for the tiny silver communicator.

Lyda had narrowed her choices down to eight things. She though about her allowance and decided she'd take whatever she could get for it. She pulled the silks into her arms and headed up to the counter. "When you're ready, I want these please." No one responded and, after a moment, she started to search the store. She found the storekeeper laughing with another Andorian, a tall one with a long white ponytail and gentle eyes.

The stranger pointed at her. "There, Nesca. It looks just like that." The girl followed the man's finger and saw that he was pointing at the combadge on her chest. Lyda wasn't quite sure what to think, but the kind storekeeper was holding his hand and smiling.

She took a brave step forward and extended her hand, "I'm Lyda." The tall blue man's antennae moved toward her as if they had a life of their own. "My dad's the chief engineer on the Titan."

His antennae dancing with amusement, he took her hand and held it. "He must work with my wife. I'm Shret."

"It's nice to meet you," she replied politely. "I like those things." Lyda pantomimed antennae on her own head and Shret laughed as he knelt down next to her.

"So do I." He looked at the floor for a moment, then called her closer with a hand. "I've a confession to make, Lyda. I've lost my communicator."

"That's pretty serious." She thought for a moment before her eyes brightened. "I can help you look for it, if you want. Do you think it's here?"

Shret shook his head, antennae drooping. "Nesca and I have checked here and I can't think of anywhere else I might have lost it." He paused, still looking at the floor, "Perhaps you'd consent to shop with me for a while? So I don't get lost without it?"

Smiling, Lyda nodded, "Shopping's more fun with someone else."

Shret stood up and reached for her hand. "I heartily agree with you, Lyda." He tilted his antennae to Nesca and she began bagging the silks Lyda had chosen.

"But wait, I still have to pay for those," she interrupted anxiously. "I really was just looking."

A blue hand patted her head gently. "She'll put it on my account. Gressoran silks can be hard on your allowance. Ancestors know I understand what it's like."

Lyda giggled and accepted the bag from Nesca. "I can't believe you still have an allowance!"

Shret sighed as they left the store and headed further into the Market Commons, "I see you have yet to meet my wife."

* * * * *

When Ensign Lisa Cartwright walked into the lounge on deck eight, she expected to find at least some crewmembers waiting for the Titan to leave, but it was deserted except for a ball of feathers dancing along behind the bar crooning to itself happily. "Lisa! Come in come in!" he croaked with enthusiasm. "So busy everyone today. Not you, you come in, drink be having."

Lisa looked over the row of bottles in back of the bar and thought for a moment. "What's your specialty?"

He reached for a twisted purple bottle in the very back of the shelf. "Most easy, most easy. Crash-landing."

"Stellar Cartography's all ready to go. I've even got our first joyride programmed in. Bring it on." Lisa watched with interest as the bird took a tall, thin glass and filled it part way with the purple liquid. He added a flurry of other ingredients and stirred it with a feather he'd plucked from his chest. The drink sat for a moment as a dull orange color, then popped to a bright blue.

Venuri H'tujl waved his finger feathers with a flourish and broke off the feather stirrer to form a straw. "Ta da! Crash-landing."

Lisa took a sip and smiled appreciatively. "I really like it. It tastes like," she paused in thought, "something I've never had before, I guess. I do like it."

"Music of the soul, no? Just good drink, yes?" He fluttered his wings in pride. "Good, good. Humble Pukah server pleased." Venuri hopped himself to the other side of the bar with a tall glass full of yellow bubbles. "Work you finished yes? Fun free be having?"

The navigator took another sip of her crash-landing and smirked. "I'm all finished so far, that's why I'm down here."

Venuri fondled a lock of Lisa's bright red hair and cooed. "Good good good! Sing we together, music bring poor lonely 'nuri?" He hopped off his stool and wandered to the end of the lounge. "Maybe, maybe. Yes yes yes! Music bring?"

Lisa picked up her drink, already feeling like an Earth singer of days gone by. "I could be persuaded ..." Regardless of her decision, Venuri was already turning on the holographic band.

* * * * *

"It was hard by the dim lake of Auber in the misty mid region of Weir. It was down by the dark tarn of Auber in the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir," Ibric Sark muttered the poetic lines aloud as he performed his final check of the antimatter emitters. "Here once, through an alley Titanic," he said, aligning the flow converters, "Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul. Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul." Sark even double-checked that the antimatter pods were exactly in the middle of acceptable tolerance levels.

"There were days when my heart was volcanic." He touched the first regulator, coaxing life into the veins of the Titan. "As the scoriac rivers that roll." The matter injectors came online with a growing hum. "As the lavas that restlessly roll."

The warp core came to life. Glorious, pulsing life that filled the engine room with a soft blue light. "Beautiful," he whispered to himself from his position on the catwalk, "Simply beautiful."

Sark allowed himself a moment to watch the heart of the Titan beat as his staff cheered their enthusiasm. He tapped his combadge.

"Bridge, warp power is now online. The umbilical power transfers are disengaged." The Engineering computer panels went dark for a second before snapping on with a new brightness. "We're under our own steam," he added before tapping his communicator again to end the transmission.

With a new lightness in his step Sark climbed carefully down the ladder to the main deck. "Excellent work everyone. Power output is even two percent higher than we predicted." One of his crewmen was passing around a bottle of champagne and handed it to the chief sheepishly. Sark wasn't known for being a celebrant, however, he accepted the bottle with a quiet smile. The resounding cheer was almost enough to drive him out of Engineering all together, but he managed to give his crew another heartfelt smile of thanks.

"Keep up the good work," he offered as he settled into a chair in front of the monitoring station. Sark allowed himself to lean back and close his eyes. He had done his part; his crew had brought life to this ship. Brilliant life that would carry the entire crew to the end of the stars and back. The Titan was ready to fly.

* * * * *

Dr. Aria Braz attempted for the third time to scratch the nagging itch on her forehead and remembered, as her hand impacted her faceplate, why she had failed on her previous efforts. Instead, she tried her best to shake a stray lock of blonde hair out of her face because her hands couldn't reach inside her environmental suit.

"How much longer?"

Ensign Reyllt called on every iota of Vulcan control he had ever had not to sneeze. "We still have fourteen dangerous samples to transfer."

Disgruntled, Aria looked up at the read-outs for the computer-controlled environment. "We're already in quarantine, there are three level-ten forcefields between us and the rest of the ship. The samples are in double-sealed containers. The chance of us dropping one so it actually breaks is next to nothing and even then the microbes would have to survive the biogenic field."

"I will not stop you from removing your suit, Doctor," Reyllt assured her as he reached for the next container, "I will not even inform the captain that you are risking your life. However, I will remain in my own suit."

"I thought you were supposed to have a sense of humor," Aria muttered back quietly, loud enough for the suit comm to pick up.

Just then, Reyllt sneezed, covering the glass of his faceplate with moisture. He looked over at her with a pitiful expression and they both started laughing. "I thought these suits were supposed to have something to deal with that."

Aria lifted her left wrist and pointed to a green indicator button. "Press this," she instructed through her laughter. "It should help some."

His faceplate glowed for an instant and flushed itself clean. "Thank you."

The young doctor's nod was lost in her helmet as she went back to business. "Be careful with this one, Reyllt. The TR-4819 is named for the number of people who died on Mora Two." Something clinked on the floor behind her and she whirled around as quickly as the EV suit would permit. "What was that?" Braz asked, a slight tinge of worry in her voice.

Reyllt seemed unconcerned. "The prions for Denallax Fever."

"You dropped them?"

"My hand slipped and you warned me to be careful of the TR-4819. Unfortunately, that care came at the expense of the Denallax Fever." The nurse's back was to her and she couldn't see his face.

Aria bit her lip in frustration. "It will take four hours to decontaminate the surface of our suits. We won't be able to watch the launch."

Hearing nothing in response, she stewed in her own annoyance. Reyllt knelt to pick up the dropped vial and turned around to show it to the doctor. Instead of the expected green syrup of Denallax Fever prions, the vial was clean and empty. Reyllt was laughing through his faceplate. Mirth was an odd juxtaposition to his nearly Vulcan features.

"You knew it was empty."

"Of course I did." His chuckling carried well over the suit comm system. "My reflexes would never allow me to drop something that important."

Braz took a deep breath. "You're going to pay for that."

The young man nodded quickly. "Yes, sir. What penance will you assign me?"

"Your reflexes can work on the thirty physicals that still need updating. Not the captain because he was responsible enough to come in on his own, but there's a good list of others. Counselor Troi, Ensign Ferris, Lieutenant Scott, Lieutenant Commander Ibric," the doctor's quick hands were already back to work checking that all her viralogic specimens were intact. "Need I go on?"

"No, sir." Reyllt winked as he handed her the real vial of Denallax Fever, "You have started with three very beautiful women and conspicuously left Lieutenant McCoy off the list. I am starting to believe that you may enjoy his company more than you claim to. I also believe that you've given me the lovely Troi, Ferris and Scott to keep me from noticing your omission."

Slightly flustered, Aria snapped at her head nurse in her best command voice. "I think you should keep your devious thoughts to yourself, Ensign."

"Of course, sir. I will endeavor to hide them in the future."

"You'd be better off if you didn't have them at all," she muttered darkly.

"I am afraid I have no control over my thoughts. Deviousness is part of my Romulan heritage." There was a trace of real apology in his voice.

Aria looked up from her vials and managed a smile. "Is that your version of 'I'm sorry but you'll have to live with it, sir?'"

"I think that is a very astute realization of your behalf."

For a long time the pair worked in silence before Reyllt spoke again. "I also find you quite lovely, sir. Just in case you were concerned that I found the other women attractive and did not mention your obvious charms. I find your eyes especially intriguing."

"Ensign?" She forced herself to look at her work, completely unwilling to meet Reyllt's eyes and let him see her blushing.

"Sir?" Had Aria looked up, she would have caught the half-Romulan in a wicked smile.

"No more talking."

"Yes, sir."

* * * * *

Sharpclaw leaned over his Tactical station to give Deanna his next report. "Ibric Lyda reports that she will be taking charge of Shret Asketen. She is escorting him shopping."

Deanna smiled warmly. "Pass that on to Engineering. I'm sure Sark will be pleased to know that Lyda's taken on so much responsibility."

Confused by the counselor's reaction, he only let it show in his tail. That confusion then gave way to supreme annoyance as she saw the next report flash across his console. "Chief Yavan has taken the transporters off-line. He believes they require further maintenance," he said with an underlying growl. This could keep them stuck, unnecessarily, for hours.

Deanna sighed and ran her fingers over her temples. The excitement of setting off on the Titan's maiden voyage was being buried yet again under maintenance and bureaucracy. "Inform the captain at Epsilon Indi. Ask if we can start transferring the crew through the umbilical."

Sharpclaw hurried to comply with her message, let an ensign take his position and crossed to stand before the command seat. "I wish to speak with Chief Yavan, sir. I will return to the Bridge momentarily."

Trying not to smile, Deanna nodded, "Good luck, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir." Sharpclaw's bushy tail showed a touch of excitement as he headed for the turbolift.

* * * * *

Commander Jareth Holman was short, barely standing over one and a half meters in height. His hair was steel tinged with blonde, as if the color had retreated from his face overnight. His jaw was firm and even the lines around his pale blue eyes were cut deep into tired skin.

Even with the Titan's first officer towering over him in a blazing blue fury, he was not ready to give in. "The tractor emitters must be visually inspected for dust and additional contaminants. By not inspecting them himself the captain is already showing his contempt for the beautiful vessel it took us years to construct. Bolt by bolt, one deck plate at a time ..." Holman's determined voice trailed off in a self-righteous whine.

With her short white hair mussed and her antennae nearly rigid with anger, Commander Maeute Asketen was an intimidating presence. "He's the captain! Starfleet captains do not look for dust when one of your crewmen would be perfectly capable of doing it."

"So you would entrust the pride of Starfleet engineering to one of my first-year techs?" Seething in disgust and rage, Holman's fists were tight as rocks.

"I would entrust it to a Ferengi dabo girl if it got you to shut up about the damned dust!"

Will Riker had to clear his throat three times before either of the bickering officers looked over at him. All of the technicians in Command had retreated to safer territory some time ago and only the three Titan officers and Commander Holman remained. Guilty silence waited for Will to speak. "What seems to be the problem?" the captain asked.

Jareth blustered over to him. "This irritating woman refuses to ask you to look over the tractor emitters, sir. She claims you are not interested in this vital part of your ship and I tried to impose upon her the importance of the tractor emitters."

Riker waved him off with a hand, "This irritating woman is my first officer and she is doing exactly what she should. Perhaps with a bit more gusto than is required, but her duty."

Lieutenant McCoy wisely chose to stand in the back, away from the action, and was the only person who happened to see the message coming over from the Titan. As soon as Will stopped speaking, Commanders Asketen and Holman began yelling at each other again. The captain watched with a quiet, bemused expression.

Hugh didn't have a chance of distracting either of them from their shouting match, so he tapped Riker on the shoulder. "Captain, they're having some trouble with the transporters. Commander Troi wants to let the crew walk over through the service umbilical."

Will faced him and nodded. "It sounds like a good solution. Tell her to begin immediately." He leaned in closer, "I don't know about you, but I'm ready to be light years away ..."

McCoy nodded curtly. "I'll agree with that, sir."

"If the Enterprise-B had their tractor beam in proper working order, Soran would never have been able to nearly destroy the Viridian star system. If you aliens would read Federation history--" Holman's sentence was cut off as a blue hand stopped dangerously close to his neck.

The fingers of the hand were trembling in rage. "'You aliens?'"

Will imposed himself between the two commanders, sufficiently separating them. "Holman, Deanna wants to start transferring the crew through the service umbilical. Would that be all right?"

The commander quickly retreated from the enraged Andorian and crossed to his console. He touched a few controls. "It seems that your transporters are in a maintenance cycle." One hand still tapping controls, he reached for his combadge and barked, "Fvai Arieynne, your time is now!"

Hugh saw it first as Holman turned around with the phaser in his right hand. "Captain! Get down!" McCoy leapt for the captain just as the bright red beam lanced out in a wide arc. Hugh hit the deck and lay still. Commander Asketen and Captain Riker fell to the floor a split second later, a tangled mess of arms and legs.

Commander Holman touched a control on his phaser and calmly began blasting every console in sight.

A short while later, content that the Command Center had been completely reduced to melted rubble, he tapped his combadge again. "I'm ready to join you."

The transporters of the Titan then whisked Jareth Holman away from the smoking ruins of the Epsilon Indi Command Center.

* * * * *

The female in the transporter room heard Holman's signal and beamed him aboard. She pulled a slim green hypospray from her pocket and injected it near the large blood vessels in her thigh. Though she knew it was irrational, she pictured the contents slipping through the blood of her body. The activation molecule found the blood cells and rode them to her lungs. There it exited through her breath as the carefully constructed sleeping agent, Quinze-Trojazine. The Starfleet officers were not part of the mission, only the ship mattered, but death was distasteful to the public and would not serve the goals of the Fvai Arieynne.

She tasted the faint metallicness in the back of her throat that signaled the agent's complete assimilation into her system. She smiled and breathed deep. The Fvai compound would soon be all over the ship. Every time the Fvai breathed it filled the air, more pervasive than even a powerful anesthesia. The Titan's crew wouldn't even smell it.

All over the ship, the easily dismissed Andorian technicians pulled their own hyposprays from their pockets injected the contents into their thighs. They then broke into small groups and started to wander the corridors as the Titan's crew fell like so many dead leaves.

One walked into the lounge and Lisa Cartwright collapsed mid-note as Venuri crumbled beside her. Ibric Sark passed out in his chair while his engineering crew fell to the floor. Sharpclaw-to-Ennien only had enough time to wrinkle his nose in disgust before falling to the deck in a furry heap just outside Transporter Control. Deanna Troi slumped forward out of the command chair just as the male who had originally knocked out Xander Yavan exited the turbolift onto the Bridge.

In Sick Bay, neither Dr. Braz nor her carefully silent nurse saw the green light outside their containment area turn red, indicating an airborne biohazard alert. Inside their EV suits and the sealed environment they worked in, the pair continued without interruption.

* * * * *

Ensign Ferris saw the red warning light come on above the umbilical corridor as a forcefield snapped on. "It's losing containment," Jos called to Lieutenant Scott as she ran to the controls. "It's been breached on the Titan. It's as if the ship's pulling away--"

Caitlyn grabbed Ferris' hand and pointed out the window. "Look!"

The Titan was pulling out of spacedock, atmosphere bleeding from the umbilical support sheared away during its quick departure. Like a graceful sea creature breaching the surface, the Titan righted herself. The energy of her warp field then coalesced around her as she disappeared in a burst of light.

"What the hell?!" Joslynn said in utter disbelief. "That's our ship and it just left us."

Caitlyn stared after the ship, speechless, wondering if it was some kind of trick.

A second later, Red Alert sirens came on all over Epsilon Station, screaming their warning a few minutes too late.

·  Featured poem: Edgar Allan Poe's Ulalume.


Chapter 2
By Miriam

Dr. Aria Braz noticed something strange as she handed the last container of hazardous chemicals to Reyllt. A green light was flashing on the central medical console. A light that shouldn't be flashing ... ever. Not unless the ship's computer had been accessed by an unauthorized party who was trying to override the security system.

Pulse ... pulse ... pulse ... It was a tiny green beacon, hardly noticeable unless one looked directly at the console. One light among many that happened to be brighter and more irritating than the rest. Yet staring at its piercing insistence, Aria knew that it wasn't a mistake or a drill. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Reyllt followed her gaze to the console. His eyes met hers in surprise and they shared a silent nod of acknowledgment.

"Dr. Braz to the Bridge," Aria said to the communication unit built into her EV suit. There was no answer. "Braz to anyone onboard the Titan."


Reyllt's hands raced across the buttons on the central console. "The ship's internal communication system is disengaged and the sensors are off-line."

"Get these bins secured," she directed him, unable to control the shaking in her voice.

He hurried to complete the task as the doctor stepped through the decontamination field and exited the quarantine enclosure at the back of Sickbay. She wriggled out of the protective suit that covered her body from head to toe and tossed it into the nearby recycler.

Reyllt emerged from the enclosure moments later. He quickly disengaged himself from the cumbersome suit just as the doors on the opposite side of Sickbay opened.

Because they were standing behind the wall that separated the quarantine enclosure from the rest of the medical center, they couldn't see who had just entered, but when the visitors spoke harshly in an alien tongue, the Starfleet officers froze.

Reyllt abruptly grabbed the doctor's arm to get her attention and nodded at the access hatchway that was set in the middle of the rear wall. She didn't question his urgent suggestion, only followed as they slunk along the floor toward the hatchway door. They crawled inside the cramped space and Aria eased the door closed behind them without a sound.

They held their collective breath and listened. To Aria, the language was indecipherable. She looked at Reyllt, but he didn't meet her gaze. He was concentrating on what the intruders were saying, his gentle eyes wide with comprehension.

After searching around the room for several minutes, barking orders at each other and kicking over what sounded like two small medical stands, the strange men at last departed Sickbay.

"Who are they? What do they want?" Aria whispered, her face just inches from Reyllt's in the confined space. She didn't expect him to know the answer.

"They're Romulans: surgically altered, if I heard correctly. Fascinating. They met no resistance in their hijacking of the Titan."

Braz felt the blood drain from her face. "How can you say that so casually?! Where's the crew? Did they say anything else?"

"They were told to find anyone the pathogen missed, render them unconscious, and put them with the others. Any resistance will be met with death. One of them doesn't like the false antennae. They itch. And he believes his blue skin is unbecoming. Actually, he used more ... expressive terms, but that is a close approximation."

Ignoring the last bit of trivial information, Braz added, "So the rest of the crew is being held somewhere by Romulans posing as Andorians. We must have been spared from whatever pathogen they used because of the containment suits."

Reyllt nodded.

Aria's stomach clenched in fear. Though she searched her training, her mind came up blank. "What are we going to do?"

The nurse thought silently for a moment, then pulled out the tricorder that was still attached to his utility belt. He opened it and scanned on a wide frequency. "I'm reading numerous life signs in the Mess Hall. I suggest we start there."

Braz took the tricorder from him and began some scans of her own. The pathogen was easily picked up and identified as Quinze-Trojazine on the small instrument. There were only minute traces of it left onboard the ship; not enough to render anyone unconscious. The antigen would be a simple mix of sympheidine and cortisine, administered through a hypospray ... or better yet, she could convert it to a gaseous state and pipe it through the life support system. That was it would revive everyone at once. Brilliant! She didn't bother to suppressed the self-satisfied grin that spread across her face.

Reyllt raised his eyebrows with interest. "You've got a plan."

The doctor's voice became an octave higher with excitement. "It's a simple antigen and it maintains full potency in a gaseous state."

"The circulation system."

"Exactly. Once we're done, we can use the access tunnels to get to the Mess Hall. I think there's a couple of phasers in the locked cabinet." Aria turned and began to push on the hatch door when Reyllt's hand came down on her arm to stop her.

"No, it's too dangerous. They could come back."

The doctor swung her head around to meet his eyes in the semi-dark. "So what do you suggest we do? Sit here?"

"No, I'll go and make the antigen. You stay here where it's safe. It will only take a moment."

Aria smiled at his old-fashioned chivalry. "Always looking out for the ladies, aren't you, Rey?"

He shrugged.

"Well, it'll get done faster if we both go and that's what we're going to do." Before the nurse could protest further, Aria had already opened the hatch and was slinking back into Sickbay.

* * * * *

"Shit!" Joslynn Ferris stopped dead in her tracks, nearly tripping Caitlyn Scott who was right on her heels. The captain, first officer and chief of ops were all lying unconscious on the floor by the fried command console. The walls stunk of burnt metal and paint from numerous phaser lacerations.

The science officer tried to move past Ferris, but the pilot stopped her with an extended arm. "Cait, whoever did this could still be around here," she hissed between clenched teeth.

They visually scanned the chamber with caution. There was no one in sight and the room was eerily silent. At last convinced that the danger had passed, they both moved to the fallen officers. Joslynn shook the captain's shoulder. When he didn't awaken, she was tempted to give him a nice hearty smack across the face in the name of duty, but then thought better of it. Another shake and Riker began to come around. She glanced up and saw that Caitlyn had already woken Hugh and Maeute. Time to get some answers.

"Captain," Joslynn said, "the Titan is gone. I think it's been hijacked."

Will Riker's hand went to his head as he stumbled to his feet. "I know!" he growled, pushing his way impatiently past the younger woman. He stormed out of the room and down a long, high-ceilinged hallway to the next port over. Luckily, the port was untouched and the console was functional. Four men were standing guard at the post, but they all parted to allow the disgruntled captain access. Riker slammed his hand on the inner-station communications button. "Captain Riker to Indi Command."

"Command here, sir," came the voice of a young male. A moment later the tabletop viewscreen flicked on and an Andorian ensign appeared.

"Where the hell is my ship?"

"We ... don't know, sir ... The admiral is trying to get to the bottom of the problem."

"Trying to get to ...?" Will shook his head at the incompetence. "Look, it's quite simple. Someone has stolen my ship, along with half my crew and my wife! We have to go after them!"

"But sir ..."

"Patch me in with the admiral. Now!"

"Yes, sir." The ensign leaned forward and flipped a switch. His innocent face was promptly replaced by the stern features of the elderly Admiral Povinsiir, who presided over the space station.

"Captain, I understand that you're upset, but until we get to the bottom of this theft, what group was behind it and their motivation, I'm afraid ..."

"With all due respect, Admiral, it doesn't matter to me who did it or why. I'm going after them. Which ship is ready to go?"

"I'm afraid I cannot allow you to do that, Captain. Not until we have more information."

"Sir, we can't just sit here and discuss this in committee! We have to pursue now while there's still a signature to track."

The deeply wrinkled admiral huffed in annoyance, his dark blue antennae turning forward, openly challenging. "It may not be just the Titan that is in danger. There could be many more of the thieves just waiting to take out any ships that follow. Besides, I need your assistance in keeping the Indi citizens calm and safe. There could be more accomplices still here, planning further attacks. The entire station may be in danger. The citizens of Epsilon Indi must come first."

Will could do nothing but frown and clench his fists. He understood the logic of the elder's decision, but there was no way he could sit by and allow some misguided extremists to steal his life away. Everything he had ... everything he cared about was heading god only knew where and he would be damned if he didn't do all he could to stop it.

"I'm sorry, Captain Riker, request denied. Please gather your remaining command crew and stay put until further orders. Povinsiir out." The admiral's image rapidly disintegrated, along with Will's options.

Riker didn't turn around. He knew that his crew had followed him to the port and he couldn't face them. All those eyes staring at the captain who had failed his first mission before he even left. Why him? Why always him?

* * * * *

Counselor Deanna Troi returned to consciousness with a terrible headache and a nauseating sense of disorientation. Her eyes flew open and were met with the hard, thinly carpeted floor of the Mess Hall pressing against her face.

With great effort, she slid her hands under her chest and pushed against the floor. Her legs followed until she was supporting herself on trembling hands and knees. But the room spun around her and she was forced to lower her head back to the floor. Her knees buckled beneath her and she collapsed. What in the name of the deities was wrong with her muscles? With eyes closed, she tried to sense away her disorientation. She could tell that she was among many unconscious bodies, some of whom had stronger emotional signatures than others. Sharpclaw was easy to detect, as was Venuri, due to their distinctly alien thought processes. They were unconscious. She couldn't tell about the others. There was definitely someone else awake, more than one person in fact, but isolating their identities was next to impossible in her current state.

At last the dizziness faded and Deanna was able to pull herself slowly up to a sitting position, her back leaning against the blessedly stable wall behind her. The sight that met her eyes was expected, given what her senses had told her earlier, but seeing it herself made it all the more real ... and shocking. She was flanked on all three sides by her unconscious crewmates. Bradley, Sark, Cartwright ... So many of them, just thrown about like rag dolls.

Her eyes traveled upward until they came to rest on the Andorians standing by the Mess Hall door.

The workers from Epsilon Station! But how? Why?

Her mind whirled with so many questions, she neglected to use the very strength that made her unique among the crew. That was, until one of the hijackers began to turn her way and Troi was forced to close her eyes again, praying that he wouldn't notice her change of position. There were several other people leaning against the back wall as well, so she wasn't that conspicuous, as long as he didn't catch her awake.

Without the use of vision, Deanna was able to let go of her five basic senses more easily while she stretched out the sixth - this time toward the captors. The one closest to her was a young male, perhaps in his mid-twenties, rather confused about how they were going to escape the authorities, but unwavering in his devotion to their cause. The one closer to the door was older, maybe forty, female, incredibly focused and efficient ... practiced and deadly. There was something familiar in her bearing. In the male's too, for that matter.

The moment the female gave an order to the male in a language definitely not Fesoan, it dawned on Deanna that the two were familiar because they were Romulans. They must have been physically altered to appear Andorian. That was how they go away with the hijack. No one suspected them because they were posing as station technicians. But why? Were they somehow connected to the rebellion that Shinzon started?

The thought of Shinzon made her shudder to her core. But there was no time to get into that. She had to think about the crew. How she was going to rescue them. And about Will ... Will! Was he okay? Oh, gods!

Deanna scanned as far as her empathic senses could go for a trace of his spirit forced, but there was none to be found. Either the Titan was already very far from Epsilon Indi or ... no, the alternative was unthinkable. They must be quite far from Epsilon Indi. End of story.

She refused to let her worry for her husband cloud her thoughts. It was time to take action here and now. The ship was in danger and it was up to her to lead her crew to safety. Deanna could sense the others beginning to wake. Lisa Cartwright, who lay next to her on the right side was stirring. She let out a moan of pain and Troi wished that she could reach out to comfort the young ensign, but any movement at this point needed to be precise and well planned.

Now that so many of the officers were waking, there was little point in pretending to be unconscious herself. Deanna raised her eyelids and gazed at her crew, their communal sense of disorientation and fear nearly overwhelming to her open senses.

The guards turned their weapons toward the stirring prisoners. Their emotions radiated surprise and it was clear by their wide-eyed expressions that the prisoners weren't supposed to be awake yet. But rather than render them all unconscious again, the female seemed to take pleasure in the fact that her captives were becoming alert. Her thin lips curled into a crooked grin and a sadistic laugh bubbled up from her throat.

The Romulan in disguise waited for everyone to awaken, for all eyes to turn toward her. She obviously wanted to be in the spotlight. Suspense hung heavily in the air; a feeling that something horrible was about to happen. But exactly what, Deanna couldn't begin to guess.

"Hmmm ... so we're awake, I see," the female said at last. "Pity. This would have been quite painless if the pathogen had lasted longer." There was no sincerity in her voice; only venom.

Deanna found the strength to stand, using the wall behind her as a brace. "Who are you? What do you want?" She stepped forward, past the officers who were also gradually maneuvering to upright positions.

Sharpclaw moved in beside her, his large, furry frame a ready shield should the counselor be threatened.

The woman laughed. "Why in the name of Arieynne should I tell you that?"

Troi then spotted Ensign Paxson, a security trainee, shifting his body into a low attack stance. He was closest to the front of the group, but also had the advantage of being off to the side enough that neither of the guards noticed him. He might have a chance to disarm one of them if he moved fast, but that would give the other time to shoot before the crew overwhelmed him with sheer numbers. And who knew how many more guards might be waiting just outside the door? Deanna couldn't have the ensign acting rashly without the coordination of the rest of the group. If even one person died because of his choices, it was too many.

She obviously couldn't order Paxson not to make this move; he was too far from her and it would tip off the Romulans. She glanced up at Sharpclaw and was relieved to find that he too was glaring at the ensign. The ominous feline officer began to weave his way through the crowd toward Paxson, but by the time he got there, it was too late.

The ensign dove at the female guard who was standing only a few feet away from him.

It took several long, painful seconds for his body to disintegrate from skin to muscle mass to bone to dust as it hit an invisible disruptor field. His howls of agony were echoed by several other crewmembers who knew him well and cried out for him as he died.

Because she had left herself vulnerable in the scanning process, Deanna felt his death on a profound level. Tears immediately sprang to her eyes, but she swallowed them back ... hard. She clenched her jaw, ignoring the pain of the large lump in her throat, and forced her eyes forward in a straight, focused line as an example to the frightened crew.

The female guard help up her illegal disruptor for all to see and waved it toward the prisoners. "This invisible field around you is all you need to worry about. It allows my disruptor in ..." She fired the weapon through the forcefield and abruptly disintegrated another crewmember, to the disbelief and horror of all. This time it was Sarah Wiley, Astrometrics. Her screams of agony resounded through the Mess Hall, vibrating the walls and the floor, the mirrors and the doors, as her body took was seemed like forever to decompose. "... but keeps you out of the way," she finished with a casual wave of her hand, as if she had done nothing more important than toss a book on a table.

A devastated silence followed.

No one moved. No one dared breathe.

Except for the Romulan woman, whose amused smile glittered in her deep black eyes.

Taking a firm hold of her emotions and tethering them some place deep inside to be dealt with later, Deanna moved all of her focus into scanning the woman, desperately searching for a weakness. She found only pleasure. A true sadist. Maybe trying to reason with her would be of more use. She cleared her throat of errant tears and, with as steady a voice as she could manage, said, "These actions will be looked upon as an act of war by the Federation. You know they will pursue this ship relentlessly. If you stop what you're doing and negotiate ..."

"Shut up!" the woman yelled, impatience clear in the flash of her eyes and the thinning of her lips. She walked a few paces forward until she stood facing Deanna, pointing the disruptor directly as her head. "You're a bother. And I don't have the patience."

The young male Romulan opened his mouth to protest, but then thought better of it. Deanna knew he feared the woman. It was clear how desperately he wanted to prove himself to her, but worried that if he protested, she might turn the weapon on him instead. He glanced nervously at the Mess Hall door several times, no doubt hoping that another guard would enter the room to distract her.

No one came.

The woman's thumb went for the big round button. She hesitated a moment, measuring Deanna's focused gaze. Then with a shrug of indifference, she fired.

* * * * *

"Jos!" Lyda flew into her friend's arms, nearly knocking the woman over. "What happened? Where's Daddy? Who took our ship?" she babbled, tears streaming down her round cheeks.

"It's okay, baby," Joslynn soothed, stroking the child's hair and kissing her tears away. "It's going to be okay."

The Titan's first officer stared at Ferris with interest. This was a whole new side of the outspoken pilot. She watched as Joslynn led Lyda to a bench against the wall, with a firm hold around the girl's waist to ease the strain on the young muscles that were quickly becoming too weak to support the girl's small frame. Once seated, Lyda turned her head into the older woman's shoulder and nuzzled her neck, as she might have done with her real mother when she was an infant. Her sobs slowly ceased and her breath evened as Joslynn held her tightly and whispered comforts in her ear that only the two of them were privy to.

Maeute was jostled from the touching sight by a similar greeting from Shret, though not as tearful. He threw his long arms around her neck and they shared an intimate and comforting antennae touch.

"What has happened, Mae?" he asked tenderly.

"We don't know any more than you do at this point, kiiba. The Titan is gone. There is no other information." She turned to look at the captain and Shret followed her saddened gaze.

Captain Will Riker stared out the viewport, his fingers clenched so tightly around the decorative brass rail that his knuckles had long lost their color. He couldn't just stay here and wait. He had to do something! He was painfully aware of the crewmembers who awaited his orders. They needed leadership. They needed him to do something heroic. Maybe it was time to rise to the occasion. He pushed off the rail and wheeled around to face his crew.

"Number One, check the status of all available ships that are docked at this station," he ordered on his way back to the command console.

The commander thought to protest. She knew what he was thinking and it was utterly foolish. Not only would he be court-martialed for such an act, but it was likely they wouldn't get an inch past the numerous guards blocking the access to every port. All qualified personnel had already armed themselves and taken up guard posts around the station. At least the four guards who were at this post had left after Riker told them his crew would ensure that the port was well protected. Still, they wouldn't get past the secondary security system if they attempted to leave unauthorized.

Quickly punching in the necessary codes anyway, Maeute found that there was only one available ship. A runabout, just slightly larger than a shuttle. All the remaining ships had been sent out on patrol around the perimeter of the station to protect against further alien attacks.

"Sir ..."

"No good," he interrupted, examining the schematics over her shoulder. The runabout was too small and too slow.

"Let me check for any ships that are within subspace communication range," the first officer volunteered. At the very least it was something to do.

Will had to smile a bit at Maeute's dedication to her work. Wouldn't it be handy if the Enterprise just happened to be in the neighborhood? Of course he would never life down the shame of having to be rescued by Picard on his first duty as captain of his own ship.

"By the ancestors!"

"What?" Will asked, edging closer to the screen.

"It's the dreadnought P'Trell!" Maeute turned her head to gaze at her husband.

"Emor," Shret responded with a smile.


"Our wife," the two Andorians said in unison.

"She's the captain of the P'Trell and it's within communications range," Maeute explained. "Should I contact her, sir?"

Will thought about it a moment. But not much longer than that. A ship was a ship, even if it was Fesoan. The armaments were certainly comparable to the Titan. And it sure beat the hell out of hanging out here. Court-martial or no, it was worth the risk.

"Do it," he said with an authority that no one would dare question.

* * * * *

"Tralisse!" the young Romulan guard yelled at just the right moment. It caused the woman to flinch and she missed Deanna's head by two inches, singeing her top hairs and leaving a healthy sized hold in the jutting, angular support beam that connected the rear bulkhead to the ceiling.

Troi let out the breath she had been holding.

"What?!" Tralisse snarled in Romulan, turning to face the other guard.

He gulped and Deanna saw his hand twitch on the disruptor he held. "She is the captain's wife. The repercussions ..."

Deanna was relieved not only that the young officer had saved her life, but also because she had taken the time to study the Romulan language extensively after the incident aboard the Warbird Khazara. It gave her an edge since the crew's communicators/translators had been removed from their uniforms.

The female guard approached the male with slow, deliberate steps. He backed away defensively. "Do you presume to tell me what I can and cannot do, Fezzin? Daring to use my first name, no less?"

"No, Commander. I-I apologize. I just thought ..."

"That's the problem, Fezzin. Underlings like you aren't supposed to think. You do as you're told. Is that clear?"

He bowed his head. "Yes, Commander."

Just then, the Mess Hall doors opened and four more genetically altered Romulans entered. They stopped in their tracks, respectively, and stared at the prisoners in surprise.

"They're awake?" the one in front said, also in Romulan.

"Obviously," Tralisse replied angrily. "How did this happen?"

"I don't know. It shouldn't have. They should be out for at least another day."

Tralisse shrugged. "Well, it hardly matters. Did you find anyone else?"

The man in front shook his head. "No. I think this is everyone."

"It can't be. The roster said there were twenty-nine personnel onboard. We're missing two."

The man's eyes moved to count the prisoners in the Mess Hall.

Tralisse added carefully, "Two tried to escape and the field got them." She shot a warning look at Fezzin, who kept his mouth tightly closed. "Where's my daughter?"

"The last time I saw her, she was leaving the transporter room. Said she needed to get something to eat."

The commander tapped her communicator. "Tralisse to Rosnika."

"Yes, Mother?" came another young adult female voice through the channel.

"The prisoners have awakened early. I need you to take my place here. I have other business to attend to on the Bridge."

"On my way," Rosnika responded.

"You keep searching the ship," Tralisse ordered the other three guards in the back.

They nodded with a "Yes, Commander," and quickly exited the room.

The higher-ranking man up front took Tralisse's place as she left. He glared at the prisoners with sheet hatred in his eyes, but at least he wasn't a sadist. Not that Troi could tell, anyway.

* * * * *

"Two hours. She'll be here in two hours," Maeute announced happily to the assembled crewmembers at the port. Several more officers had gathered in the small waiting area, though most of the Titan crew was scattered through Epsilon Indi Station, some in their quarters nervously awaiting orders, others assisting with the security needs or the station or checking over supplies.

Will nodded, allowing just a shred of hope to enter his mind. "Now if we could only get the admiral to agree to let us go," he muttered, more to himself than anyone else.

"Leave that to me, sir," Maeute said with confidence. She quickly turned and exited the port without waiting for a reply.

Shret stared after her retreating back with admiration, not just for the wonderful strength in her long strides or the alluring curves of her slender waist and rounded backside, though those things certainly deserved his admiration, but for the knowledge that if anyone could change the admiral's mind, it would be his Mae.

Will didn't miss Shret's adoring gaze at his wife. It reminded him of how he often looked at his own wife, whether she was entering the room with that stunning white smile of hers, or leaving with a swish of that shapely body that drove him to distraction. He missed her already.

Pacing back and forth on the carpet, he clenched his fists, irritation, anger and a million other emotions wreaking havoc inside his chest. Damn it!

His hands found the cool brass rail at the back viewport again and he squeezed, resisting the urge to hit something. At last he released the breath he had been holding and allowed his muscles to succumb to their exhaustion as he leaned on his elbows. He prayed that Deanna was all right. Though somehow he knew that she was. It wasn't through their spiritual connection or some supernatural sixth sense, either. It was just a gut instinct ... and a measure of respect. She was strong and capable. She would take care of business aboard the ship as efficiently as he ever could, and come out all the braver for it.

Will smiled and shook his head. The deities favored Deanna Troi. She would make it through. He couldn't allow himself to believe otherwise.

Straightening up again, his jaw clenched with new resolve. Whether the admiral gave them the authorization to leave or not, he would go with the P'Trell arrived. And he would take a few choice crewmembers with him.

Maeute, of course. She was proving to be quite the handy first officer. Plus he had no clue about Andorian etiquette and would need her guidance in the matter. Shret, the absent-minded professor might turn out to be the "Wesley" in the equation. Besides, he hated to separate a married couple.

Joslynn Ferris, because he might need her expertise as a pilot. The P'Trell was likely to have several shuttles that could be useful, especially with a good pilot behind the controls. Time to see if Ferris was worth all the trouble she had already caused him.

McCoy would be good to bring because of his science and operations knowledge, as would Caitlyn Scott. That was probably all the crew he could risk taking along, but combined with the Andorians of the P'Trell, it should be enough.

"I'm frightened, Jos. What do you think is happening to Daddy?" Lyda whispered, clutching Joslynn's hand with a death grip.

Ferris gazed down at the child, her heart filled with fierce devotion. "I don't know what's happened to your dad, sweetie, but I do know that he's very brave and very smart. He'll likely think of a great idea and rescue the entire crew."

This line brought a small smile to Lyda's girlish pink lips. Joslynn grinned too, knowing that she probably wasn't too far off base. She had great faith in Sark. He had always rescued her from whatever ridiculous jam she had gotten herself into, more times than she cared to count. He would probably do the same with the Titan. He could think his way out of any situation.

Caitlyn lowered herself to the empty spot on the bench next to Joslynn and added, "You know, Lyda, your dad once helped me out of a bad situation. About a month ago, right after I found out I was awarded my posting to the Titan, I got stuck in a turbolift at Starfleet Headquarters. There was a computer malfunction and the lift got caught between floors. I was able to get the doors open, but when I tried to pull myself through, my leg," she pointed to the sensor web that allowed her right leg to move, "got caught on some exposed circuitry and the mechanism shorted out. I desperately tried to pull myself through but the wall was too high. All of a sudden, I felt two hands come down on my arms and pull me up. It was your dad. He happened to be there and he didn't hesitate to help me."

The girl gazed up at Caitlyn skeptically. "Anyone would have done that if they saw you struggling. He's not a hero for being in the right place at the right time."

Caitlyn sighed, ignoring the amused smirk on Ferris' face. "Yes, but what you don't know is that Sark saved me a world of embarrassment by carrying me to a private hallway and fixing my sensor web without anyone seeing. The circuit needed to be replaced and I didn't have any way to do that myself without hopping on one leg down several flights of stairs to the infirmary. He actually made a replacement circuit by taking apart the comm station embedded in the wall, something I could have done myself, but never would have thought to do. Once I could walk again, we repaired the comm station together and we've been friends ever since."

This time Lyda did smile. Maybe her dad was a hero after all.

Hugh McCoy approached the captain with caution, respectful of his stress, but determined. He joined him at the rail facing the viewport, where the captain had returned after Maeute left. They gazed out at the stars together, and when the timing was right, Hugh said quietly, "Sir, I hope you know that you're not alone. When the P'Trell arrives, I'll be breaking regulation along with you."

Will turned his head and glanced appreciatively at the younger man. "I'm glad you said that, because I was going to ask you and some of the others to risk your jobs, your freedom, and possibly your lives to join me. That's a hard thing to ask. Especially from a crew that barely knows me."

"We trust you, Captain. And we feel the same way you do. None of us wants to sit here and wait while our ship is being hijacked.

Will offered him a slight grin. "You're a good man, McCoy."

A moment of silence passed as they stared out at the stars again, lost in their own thoughts. Hugh then found the guts to inquire about something that he had wanted to know ever since he discovered he would be serving with the reputable William T. Riker. "Sir, may I ask a personal question?"

Will nodded.

"Why did you turn down three opportunities to command a ship until this one?"

Riker raised his eyebrows and glanced at the younger man, then returned his attention to the depths of space. "I've asked myself that same question countless times. The only thing I ever came up with, which sounds corny as hell, is that I was at home on the Enterprise. Comfortable. I liked my crew, I liked my position and I figured I would inherit Starfleet's flagship once Picard accepted promotion to admiral. Sure, it would take longer than I thought I was willing to wait, but the payoff in the end, to be the captain of the Enterprise, with the crew I knew I was comfortable with, was worth it. Of course the old coot never did give up that chair."

Hugh laughed.

"And I was forced to look at all the years I had wasted and promotions I had turned down waiting for that seat."

"Not wasted years. You gained a lot."

Will smiled. "You're right. Wasted is the wrong word. I wouldn't trade a day of it."

"You didn't mention the one reason that I thought motivated you the most."

"And that would be ...?"

"Deanna Troi."

Riker sighed loudly and ran his hand through his hair. "You'd think I was a real idiot if I said that."

"But it's true?" Hugh egged on, already knowing the answer.

There was a moment of tense silence when Hugh thought he must have crossed some invisible line. He was internally cursing himself when Will finally answered. "What kind of man would I be if I gave up all of my ambitions for love?"

Relieved to hear the levity in the captain's voice, McCoy said, "A man with a big heart."

"Don't tell anyone. They'll never respect me."

"They won't hear it from me, sir."

At that moment, Maeute returned with a huge, triumphant smile. "We have clearance for ten of us to leave Epsilon Station at 1600 hours provided the P'Trell authorizes our boarding. The admiral wishes ancestral blessings on us all."

Will could have kissed her at that moment. It didn't mean that he would get his ship back, but at least he could take some form of action without suffering a court-martial afterwards.

Shret did the kissing instead. "I knew you would do it, Mae," he cooed.

Riker reached out a hand and gave her a hearty pat on the shoulder. "Later I want to know how. But at this moment, we have less than an hour to get packed and ready to leave. Let's move, people!"


Chapter 3
By Vicky

Ensign Elizabeth Holman was a member of the acclaimed crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E. Her specialty was linguistics and during her four-year tenure aboard the Federation's flagship she was able to hone her skills, showing her prowess in quickly learning alien languages that would baffle her peers. Elizabeth's talents were unmatched and she was in demand during a majority of the Enterprise's missions.

She was in line for a rank promotion. She was in line to become head of the department. There was only one problem.

Elizabeth Holman was dead.

* * * * *

Ensign Ferris had finally calmed Lyda down enough that the young girl's tears had subsided and she was resting comfortably with her head in Joslynn's lap. It had taken almost twenty-five minutes for the two of them to reach this point, and it had been far from easy.

Joslynn inhaled deeply, quietly knocking her head against the wall behind her several times. By nature Lyda was a high-strung, dramatic child. In stressful situations those personality traits skyrocketed ten-fold. Sometimes more - like earlier. She cried, she worried, she rambled and all the while Joslynn held her close, allowing her to vent her fears, her frustrations, her concerns.

It was all Ferris could do to reassure Lyda that her father was going to triumph over evil without breaking down herself. Sark was her best friend, one of the only people who understood her, really knew what she was about. And aside from Sark, Joslynn was the person Lyda was closest to.

Joslynn's thoughts wandered back to a happier time in her life. About a year into her friendship with Sark she was having dinner with him and Lyda. Lyda was six years old and full of questions, especially about the new woman who had become such a big part of her father's life. With naked honesty, the little girl looked at Joslynn, looked at her father and asked if they were going to get married and if she was going to have a new mother. Joslynn almost choked on her mouthful of vegetables while Sark stifled a laugh and kissed his friend on the cheek. "What do you think of that, honey?" he'd asked, his smile growing wider. Swallowing hard, Joslynn gave a nervous chuckle before suggesting they consider themselves the "three musketeers" instead.

Ferris and the Ibrics agreed and had been following the motto "all for one and one for all" ever since. What if moments like that never happened again?

Will Riker had chosen the team he planned on taking with him aboard the P'Trell. Now he was in the process of informing the individuals of his decision. Having finished his conversations with Lieutenants McCoy and Scott, Riker walked down a corridor of Epsilon Indi Station in search of his pilot.

Ferris, Will thought, his teeth unconsciously grinding together. I want the best, but she comes at the cost of occasional insubordination and constant aggravation. Unfortunately, the best is rarely the easiest. Even if he didn't particularly care for Joslynn as a person he had to admit she was an exceptional pilot and her skills could come in handy once their mission to recover the hijacked Titan began.

The captain found his officer, eyes closed, sitting on a bench at the end of the hallway, the chief engineer's daughter lying next to her with her head in Joslynn's lap. He gently cleared his throat to announce his presence. Ferris' eyes immediately snapped open at the sound. She blinked once to clear her mind and turned her head to the left.

Not wanting to disturb the sleeping child Will gave the woman a 'come here' gesture with a single finger. Joslynn looked between him and Lyda a couple of times before carefully lifting the girl's head from her lap and repositioning it on the bench. Standing, the pilot smoothed her uniform before walking the few meters to Riker's side.

"I have a proposition for you," he said as he started moving down the corridor toward the remaining officers.

Riker noticed how the woman continued looking over her shoulder as they moved away from the bench. As he explained the mission he wanted her to be a part of, he wondered if he'd ever have her complete attention, even for something as important as this. Stopping, he placed a tentative hand on the younger officer's shoulder and turned her toward him. "What's on your mind?"

* &* * * *

Commander Jareth Holman materialized in an empty transporter room aboard the Titan. He extracted his own hypospray from a uniform pocket and injected himself with the appropriate antidote to Quinze-Trojazine. He knew better than to exit the transporter room without protection, knowing the fate that awaited the Starfleet crew aboard the ship.

Stepping off the platform and crossing to the exit, he tapped his communicator. "Holman to Tralisse."

"Meet me on the Bridge," came the answer to his unasked question.

"I'll be there shortly," he replied before severing the connection.

The doors swooshed open before him and he turned right. Walking through the Titan's corridors reminded Holman of the last time he was aboard a Federation starship. One that wasn't under construction.

Jareth had visited his only daughter - his only child - eight months ago when her ship was in the same sector as the Epsilon Indi Shipyards. He had spent two days traveling on a small transport vessel only to spend a mere five hours with Elizabeth before the Enterprise needed to embark on its next mission.

During that time, father and daughter toured the lower decks catching up on each other's lives. She talked about her participation in the surveillance group of a first contact planet. He talked about his recent work on the Titan, the first in a wave of newly-commissioned starships.

Elizabeth had been a casualty of war. A war that, in Holman's opinion, should never have happened in the first place. It was personal, he thought to himself. That bald-headed son of a bitch should have fought the war alone. It wasn't anything my dear Elizabeth should have been involved with.

She had died when the Enterprise battled the Reman Warbird Scimitar. In a last ditch effort to save humanity, Captain Jean-Luc Picard ordered a head-on collision with the enemy ship. Several hull breaches occurred as a result of the crash and Elizabeth was blown into space with no hope of survival.

Months of counseling couldn't curb the nightmares that continued to plague Holman even now. The thought of his little girl adrift in the vacuum of space - her blood boiling, her lungs exploding, her blood pressure ripping through her skin - was too much for him to bear. Her silent screams, never to be heard by anyone, haunted his sleep. Albeit brief, her death was horrifying and painful. One he would wish on his worst enemy: Picard.

* * * * *

The two technicians that beamed aboard with the large crate carried it down the hallway and entered a turbolift. The taller of the two commanded the lift to deck eleven, where they would unload their cargo.

* * * * *

"Okay, the antigen is circulating through the life-support system," Aria Braz said, making a final keystroke on the Sickbay computer panel before her.

"Now we wait," Reyllt added from behind her.

"No," she corrected with an admonishing finger raised, "Now we go to the Mess Hall to assess the situation. Don't give me any of this passive Vulcan mumbo-jumbo, Reyllt. The crew's going to be regaining consciousness soon and you know damn well they're going to need our help to get out."

The doctor could feel herself slowly gaining confidence. No amount of Academy emergency training or holodeck simulation programs could adequately prepare her for a situation like this, but she tried her best to keep things in perspective; to keep her wits about her. At least she wasn't alone.

Reyllt gave her a deep sigh and set his lips in a firm line. "Doctor, need I remind you about the danger we face? We do not know how many captors are on board or what they have done to the remaining officers. It would be illogical for the two of us to try and mount a rescue attempt."

"But we've got to do something!" Braz's voice became shrill, a sound Reyllt never cared for. She ran her hands through her dirty blonde hair in exasperation, finally resting them on her hips. Her eyes were dark, mirroring the frustration she felt.

Several seconds passed before Reyllt spoke again. "I'm leading."

"Fine by me," the doctor nodded vigorously. Both medics picked up their tricorders and phasers, holstering the instruments on their belts before Reyllt led the way back to the access tunnel's hatchway.

Before climbing inside, Reyllt removed his combadge from his chest and tossed it on the floor. "I suggest you do the same, sir," he said. "If the Romulans try to track us, it will be more difficult without our communicators."

Ditching her badge as well, Aria stepped through the hatch and quietly pulled the door shut behind them. Fear raced through her body, through every muscle and nerve at a speed the doctor couldn't even begin to imagine. There was no turning back now.

Reyllt opened his tricorder and pulled up a schematic of the ship's system of Jefferies tubes. "We are fortunate Sickbay is on the same deck as the Mess Hall, albeit on the opposite side of the ship. It should not be a long journey," the nurse whispered over his shoulder.

"As long as we don't run into trouble it won't be," Aria returned with a frown he couldn't see.

* * * * *

Tralisse entered the Bridge and strode to the command chair with purpose. She brushed past the male guard at Tactical, barely acknowledging his presence. Her mind was focused on one task and would not be distracted until it was complete.

Tapping the communications control on the left armrest, Tralisse cleared her throat before addressing the figure that appeared on the viewscreen before her.

"What is your status?" Tal'aura's image inquired.

"On schedule," Tralisse replied as she clasped her hands behind her back. "We've set course for Romulus and should rendezvous with you in twenty-nine hours."

"And the Federations?"

"Captured and held in a disruptor field."

"All of them?"

The smallest of hesitations escaped and Tralisse cursed herself for the slip. True leaders did not allow themselves a second of uncertainty.

"All of them?" the figure asked again.

"No," Tralisse relented. Her jaw clenched in frustration at the fact that her crew had failed her. Especially when she was the one who would take the blame. "We're still looking for two."

Tralisse watched as Tal'aura paced back and forth in her apartment. It was obvious that the leader of the Fvai dissidents was none too happy with the realization that there were Starfleet officers hidden somewhere in the bowels of the Titan.

Tal'aura stopped her irritated pacing and faced Tralisse once again. "Find them!" Tal'aura forcefully ordered before abruptly ending the conversation with the push of a button.

"Imirrhlhhse!" Tralisse screamed, slamming her hand against the back of the command chair.

* * * * *

The Fvai technicians entered Engineering and deposited the crate in the middle of the floor near the central control console.

"Desan," V'Dyk ordered the other man, "get the device unpacked while I re-calibrate the navigational shield array. You should be able to find a power connection easily enough."

"Aye, sir." Desan squatted next to the case and popped open the latch. Reaching inside, he pulled out the piece of machinery and set it on the ground next to a wall panel. He removed the panels to expose the circuitry inside it. Within minutes, Desan had the mission-essential machinery connected to the Titan's power supply.

* * * * *

Commander Holman strode onto the Bridge and was met by a furious Tralisse barking orders in Romulan to her combadge. "All guards search the ship! I want those unaccounted for officers found now! If not, fear my consequences."

She ended the transmission and furiously paced the command center. "Problem?" Holman asked with a casual air though what he felt inside at the sight of her rage was anything but.

"Two Federations are missing," Tralisse snapped in Standard.

Holman walked over to the Operations console at the front of the Bridge and pulled up a menu. "Have you tried scanning the ship for them?" Not waiting for an answer, he keyed in the parameters and allowed the computer to execute the search.

His lips curled up into a self-satisfied grin despite his efforts to contain it. He faced Tralisse once more, "They're in Sickbay."

"That's already been checked. It was empty." She pushed past him to see the computer read-out for herself. There was no way Sickbay was occupied.

"It might have been empty when your troops originally checked, but there are two life-signs there now."

A slight trace of hope creeping into her mind, Tralisse pushed a button on the console, directing her guards to Sickbay. The missing Titan officers would soon be transferred to the Mess Hall and put inside the disruptor field with their comrades.

"You can thank me later," he added as his smile grew wider.

The commander's cocky attitude was the last thing Tralisse needed at that moment. Without hesitation she pulled a disruptor from her belt and pointed it at him. Holman's eyes grew wide with fear and his hands immediately rose. "N-now calm down, Commander," he stuttered. "I misspoke. What I meant was--"

"I don't need any of your kllhwnia right now, Holman," she seethed. "At this point you are disposable. All I really needed you for was to get this ship out of dock, which is done." She moved forward and tapped the tip of the weapon to his chest. "If I were you, I'd keep my comments to myself unless asked for."

Holman visibly gulped back the lump in his throat and nodded his head ever so slightly.


The cold fire in her eyes burned into his soul, leaving a permanent scar. "Y-yes."

* * * * *

"Captain, you know I wouldn't be making a request like this unless I felt it was something important." Joslynn took a deep breath. "I realize it's breaking protocol but you have to understand the situation she's in."

Riker continued to listen, folding his arms over his chest.

"She's already lost her mother and her father's missing, being held hostage by an unknown terrorist group ... or worse."

Ferris stared out the viewport to her left. She fought back another bout of emotion before making eye contact with the captain again.

"Right now I'm the only sense of stability Lyda has. I just think ... no, I know she needs me. And I also know you need me, my help and my piloting skills."

"I'll take responsibility for you," a voice spoke from behind.


Joslynn turned around to find Shret stepping closer, compassion and determination in his yellow eyes.

"If Captain Riker consents to bringing Lyda on board the P'Trell I'll take responsibility for her. I'll keep her safe and out of harm's way."

"What about Emor?" Riker asked.

Shret gave him a small smile. "Let me worry about Emor."

A surge of hope raced through Joslynn's body as she looked to Riker. "Sir?"

Will uncrossed his arms and gave the other two a nod of acquiescence. "Agreed. But," he pointed to Joslynn, "make sure Lyda understands she won't be with you all the time and you," he pointed to Shret, "make sure she stays out of trouble."

The ensign gave Riker an affirmative nod and a slight smile of thanks before turning on her heel to relay the news to Lyda.

* * * * *

He tapped his communicator. "V'Dyk to Tralisse."

"Go ahead."

"The cloaking device is installed. All we need now is your authorization to make it operational."

Tralisse didn't even hesitate, "Do it."

"Yes, sir," V'Dyk answered. "Engaging cloak."

* * * * *

Trying to lighten the tension-filled atmosphere, Aria asked, "Why do they use grating on the floor of these tunnels? Don't the ship designeres realize it's murder on the knees?"

"Perhaps," Reyllt replied, "it is to encourage the engineers to keep ship's functions operating at peak efficiency. That way they can avoid being in the Jefferies tubes unless absolutely necessary."

"Always the logical one."

The pair crawled along several more meters before Reyllt came to a sudden halt at a tunnel junction. "Whoa!" Aria said is a hoarse whisper as he momentum carried her forward and caused her to collide with Reyllt's backside.

"Sorry, sir," the nurse tossed over his shoulder while he consulted the readings on his tricorder. "I seem to have come to a point of indecision."

Braz rocked back on her heels, giving her palms a much-needed break from the coarse grating. "What do you mean?" she asked.

The cramped space of the access tunnels didn't allow either medic much maneuverability. Moving his left arm around his body, Reyllt passed the tricorder behind him while he explained their situation. "Turning right or left will get us to the Mess Hall. One way leading to the front of the room, the other leading to the back. Which do you think would give us a more advantageous position?"

"Well," Aria studied the Titan's map on the small screen in her hand. "Can we get any sort of life-sign reading? That might help us make a decision."

Somehow, Reyllt had successfully managed to turn himself around, allowing the two of them to be face-to-face. "The tricorder is reading multiple life-signs, but I cannot pinpoint that information to a specific location from our current position. We need to get closer."

"Are you right handed or left?"

Reyllt raised an eyebrow at the peculiar question. One that had absolutely nothing to do with their current conundrum or the need to solve it. "I am right handed, but--"

Braz cut off the rest of his sentence. "Then right it is," she directed with a hand gesture. "Turn yourself around and let's go."


Chapter 4
By Shasta

It had been quiet in the Mess Hall for some time. Deanna watched the guards for a moment, then turned back to her crew. The tension and fear from everyone in the room felt like a huge burden weighing on her back.

She slowly approached Sharpclaw. "Lieutenant?"

He straightened, ears quivering in anticipation. Answering her in a low voice, he said, "Yes Commander?"

"Before our captors left, I overheard them say two of our crewmembers are unaccounted for."

Sharpclaw's yellow eyes widened. He quickly scanned the room. "That is correct. Chief Medical Officer Braz and Head Nurse Reyllt are not here."

"Then there is hope," she said. Troi relaxed and stretched out with her mind to find the missing officers. Unfortunately, all the emotion-filled minds in the room with her made that impossible. It was going to take a full telepath to find them.

Deanna thought for a moment, trying to remember whom among them was telepathic. Her eyes fell to the transporter chief, Xander Yavan.

Once again, she made her way through the crew and found the officer in question.

He smiled as she approached. "Hello, Commander Troi. I sense you need some assistance."

"Yes, in fact, I do," she answered. "Chief, we are missing two crewmen and I need your help to find them. Do you feel well enough to give it a try?"

"I still have a bit of a headache, but I'd be happy to assist you," Xander replied. He closed his eyes and reached out in every direction with his senses.

After a moment, his dark eyes popped open. This time, he sent a thought to Deanna. ::Forgive me for the intrusion, Commander. They are very close! Close enough that we can warn them of the disruptor field. Play along with me.::

She gasped at the unexpected voice in her mind, then nodded.

Xander thought for a moment then took a deep breath. "Commander, do you think there is any hope of us escaping?"

Deanna answered, "I don't know." She looked around and saw Sark nearby. "Mr. Ibric, could you help us? We have a question about the disruptor field."

"Sure," he said, "what's the question?"

"It's a hypothetical question," Yavan replied. "Would a person on the other side of this disruptor field be able to disarm it?"

Sark gave a confused look to Deanna. "I don't see why they couldn't--"

The guard that replaced Tralisse had felt the slight brush of Xander's mind earlier. He ignored it at first, until the silence was broken among the prisoners. He heard was sounded like a discussion between the captain's wife and a couple other captives.

He looked toward the group and recognized the transporter chief from when he beamed onto the ship. "Hey you! Be silent!"

Troi observed how the crew reacted to the yelling guard. Since no one could understand him, the tension in the room suddenly increased, almost choking her with its intensity.

The guard yelled again, aiming his weapon at the transporter chief. "You! Get away from her!"

Xander stayed where he was, giving the captor a defiant look.

"You were a problem earlier," the Romulan sneered, firing his weapon.

Everyone dodged away from the blast. Xander wasn't fast enough and was hit full in the chest. He collapsed onto the floor.

When Deanna didn't hear the sound of Yavan's body being disintegrated, she turned back and knelt beside him. Thankfully, the guard's weapon had been set to stun.

She met the guard's eyes with an angry glare, all the while hoping their message had been heard.

* * * * *

Hugh McCoy, Caitlyn Scott and Joslynn Ferris looked on as their captain spoke with one of the Epsilon Indi officers. After a few moments, the officer left and Captain Riker turned back toward the viewport, leaning against the brass rail in front of it.

Caitlyn shook her head, causing her braid to fall over one shoulder. "He's taking this really hard."

"I don't think that's much of a surprise," Hugh said, leaning against the wall. "The love of his life is missing."

Joslynn scoffed, making a sound at the back of her throat. "Which one, the ship or his wife?"

He turned his head toward her. "His wife, of course. I figured you of all people would understand that since your best friend is also on the Titan."

"You don't need to remind me of that, McCoy." Joslynn stopped and glanced over her shoulder at the chief engineer's daughter. Lyda was sitting on a bench several meters away, tapping commands into a PADD. She figured the girl was working on a new holodeck program.

Caitlyn observed the direction of her friend's gaze. "Jos, how's Lyda holding up?"

"She's doing a little better. All of her attention is concentrated on going onboard the P'Trell now," she smiled.

"I bet she's excited about that," Hugh said. "However, I wouldn't endanger a child by taking her aboard a battleship."

"Well, if the situation was different, I wouldn't." Ferris sent him a penetrating gaze. "Her mother is dead and her father is lost with the Titan. The last thing Lyda needs is to be left alone."

Hugh crossed his arms. "She wouldn't be alone. I believe I heard Shret say he'd watch her."

"That's right." Joslynn leaned toward Hugh, "He'll watch her while on the P'Trell. Not here."

"Yeah, another life put in danger's way," he said. "They should both be left here. We don't know what we're getting into once we leave!"

Caitlyn moved between the two. "Hugh does have a good point, Jos, but please don't get started now. We'll have plenty of time to dish out our petty differences later." She looked from one to the other. "When this is over I'll reserve the holodeck and get you two some boxing gloves, okay?"

Joslynn's jaw dropped. "I can't believe you're taking his side!"

"I didn't say that!" Scott started, "Let me finish--"

"No, I'd rather not hear it." Joslynn rolled her eyes. "I see where you stand. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go check on Ly." She spun on her heel and walked away from the pair.

"Sometimes talking to Joslynn is almost as dangerous as playing with fire," McCoy said.

"I know, but she's got a lot on her mind. We don't know what happened to the rest of the crew after the Titan was taken." Caitlyn watched her friend interact with the girl. "I mean, if we look at it realistically, Lyda could very well be an orphan now."

"That's true, but Joslynn acts as if she's the only one to suffer for the hijacking and she's not." Hugh ran a hand through his brown hair. "I wish there was some way we could get along, but that's a two way street and it seems like her side is closed."

Both turned at the sound of someone approaching. It was Captain Riker. "Lieutenant Scott, Lieutenant McCoy, the P'Trell has arrived and is ready to take us onboard. Tell Ensign Ferris and get your things together. Commander Asketen and I will meet you in Transporter Room Eight in ten minutes."

"Aye, sir," they answered in unison.

* * * * *

Aria and Reyllt continued quietly through the Jefferies tube toward the Mess Hall.

Reyllt paused for a moment to check his tricorder. "We have approximately ten meters to the Mess Hall." He punched a series of commands into the device. "Interesting. There are only twenty-five life-form readings inside. Earlier there were twenty-seven."

Aria's brow furrowed. "That's not good. I wonder what happened to the other two."

"Unknown," he answered, "but there is evidence of disruptor fire. I suppose it is possible they have been killed."

Her stomach clenched at the insight. "How many guards are posted there?"

"I am reading two Romulan signatures." Reyllt holstered his tricorder. "I think we should get closer in order to have a better look at the situation."

"Lead the way."

They crawled through the tube until they were right outside the Mess Hall's back wall.

Reyllt was about to open the hatch when he felt a slight tickle in his head. He stopped for a moment and heard someone talking.

Aria saw him pause. "What are you waiting for?" she whispered.

He put a finger to his lips in a silencing gesture. He recognized the counselor's voice, but was unsure of the other voices he heard.

"... help us? We have a question about the disruptor field."

"Sure, what's the question?"

"It's a hypothetical question. Would a person on the other side of this disruptor field be able to disarm it?"

"I don't see why they couldn't--"

Reyllt heard the Romulan guard yelling, followed by a weapon discharge.

Braz also heard the blast. "We've got to get them out before everyone's killed!" she whispered frantically.

He turned to Aria. "I believe they know we're here."

"The hijackers?!" Her eyes widened in fear.

"No," he whispered, "our crewmates. Before the blast, Counselor Troi and a few other personnel were talking. Obviously, we should not go in this way. There appears to be a disruptor field inside the room." He met her eyes. "Since we do not know where it starts, there is a chance we would be killed instantly."

"How in the world are we going to get them out?"

Reyllt opened his tricorder again and glanced at the readings. With a mischievous glint in his eye, he said, "I have a plan."

* * * * *

Subcommander Jei met four of his guards outside Sickbay. "What are we doing here, sir? We checked Sickbay not long ago," said Tanis.

"I know, but Commander Tralisse says there are two life-signs in here." He hefted his disruptor up. "Let's get this over with."

The doors opened and the Romulans filed in, disruptors at the ready. The leader gestured for the others to spread out.

After a moment of searching, one called out, "Sir! I think I found our 'life-signs.'"

Jei stomped over to the guard that called out. He saw the combadges the other held out to him. "Great." He looked at the younger man. "Where did you find there, Thelak?"

"Over here." Thelak led the subcommander over to the area where the objects were found.

Jei looked around. "This looks like a hatch." He felt around the panel on the wall and found the release. "They've gone into the repair crawlways."

The subcommander tapped his combadge. "Commander, we've secured Sickbay and found two Starfleet combadges. It appears our missing Federations have escaped into the crawlways."

On the Bridge, Tralisse angrily turned toward Holman. "How do we find them now?"

Holman suddenly felt light-headed. "I-I don't know!" He checked the console again. Swallowing hard, he looked back to Tralisse.

She tapped her combadge. "Subcommander, send a few of your men after the Federations and keep a guard by the hatch in Sickbay. We don't want to give our captives that advantage."

"Understood, Commander. Jei out."

He turned to his men. "Tanis, you and N'Ket go into the crawlway. Thelak, you stay here and make sure the Federations don't leave this way. I will go back to the Mess Hall to make sure our captives are still in their cage."

* * * * *

The Titan crew materialized onboard the P'Trell. The low lighting made Will pause for a time, allowing his eyes to adjust. He looked around, noticing how alien, yet familiar, the transporter room appeared. The coloration of the room was what caught his attention. The transporter pad and the console were dark shades of red, while the rest of the room appeared to be sandy brown in color.

Will's eyes stopped on the Andorian in a brilliant white, well-armored uniform. "Captain Emor?"

She nodded, "Yes, Captain Riker, I am Emor. Welcome aboard the P'Trell." Giving him a slight smile, Emor continued, "I am sorry we couldn't meet under more pleasant circumstances. My crew is already in the process of tracking the emission stream left by the Titan."

"Thank you, Captain," he replied as he stepped off of the platform. Will held his hand out to her. "I appreciate your help."

She shook his hand. "Well, had it been anyone else, I probably wouldn't have." Emor glanced over his shoulder to her mates, then back to Riker. Her antennae swayed in amusement. "But, you are very welcome."

Will heard the others stepping down from the transporter pad and he moved aside to introduce his crew. "Captain Emor, my officers. Lieutenant Scott, Lieutenant McCoy, Ensign Ferris and Ibric Lyda."

Maeute and Shret were last and greeted their wife with a hug and antennae touch. Riker smiled at the display, even though it painfully reminded him of the missing half of his soul. "I think you know my first officer and her husband."

"Yes," she said, smiling. "Indeed I do! Now that we've gotten the introductions out of the way, shall we try to find your ship?"

"With all speed." Will was past ready to be underway. "First, Captain, may I use your comm system to contact Starfleet?"

"My ship is at your disposal," she replied, "Within reason, of course."

"Of course," he repeated.

That said, Emor turned to one of her junior officers that appeared to be standing guard at the door. "Shakai, take the Titan officers to their temporary quarters, with the exception of Commander Maeute and Shret. You will take them to mine."

The copper-clad officer straightened, then bowed to his superior. "Aye, Captain Emor. It will be done." He turned to the others, "Follow." Spinning on his heel, Shakai marched through the door.

Riker nodded to his officers and they quickly followed the Andorian into the corridor.

Emor turned to Will, "If you will follow me, Captain, I will take you to my Armory so you can make your call."

Will followed Emor through the dark grey corridors of the P'Trell. They entered a turbolift and she ordered it to the Bridge.

Once they were out of earshot from others, Emor spoke, "I understand your wife was aboard the Titan when it was taken."

He jerked his head toward her. "That's right."

"All the more reason to find your ship." She appraised him with her gold eyes. "You seem to be holding together well."

Riker's eyebrows knitted. "You have no idea."

"I understand your need to find your loved one," Emor said. "I would do the same for any of my spouses."

The lift stopped and a split second before the door opened, Emor stepped away from him, as if nothing happened. She entered the Bridge with Will close behind. Emor guided him to a door on the left and punched in an access code.

The door swooshed open and she moved aside, allowing him into the room. "The screen is on the far wall. I think you know how to operate it." She gave him a small smile. "Take all the time you need, Captain."

He nodded to her. "Thank you again, Captain Emor."

When she left, Will took a quick look around the Captain's Armory. Weapons and armor of all kinds were displayed on the walls. Several pieces were ornately decorated, making him think they were probably for ceremonial use.

What stood out most was the lack of any chairs in the room, and a desk for that matter. He did notice there were a couple of hammock-chairs like he had seen in Maeute and Shret's quarters. Will was tempted to try to take a seat in one, but the thought of busting his ass right before contacting his superiors didn't appeal to him. He sighed.

Approaching the computer screen, Will punched in the code to contact Starfleet. In a few moments, the United Federation of Planets logo appeared onscreen, followed by the image of Admiral Kathryn Janeway.

"Hello, Captain Riker." She had a bemused smirk, "I was wondering when you'd call."

"Hello, Admiral. Some of my crew and I are currently on the Andorian dreadnought P'Trell. We're awaiting orders concerning the theft of the Titan."

She sighed and leaned toward the screen. "First, I need to give you a little information about the hijackers."


"As you already know, Commander Jareth Holman has defected. He is now working with a group of Romulan terrorists known as the Fvai Arieynne."

"Shinzon's followers."

"Exactly. He blames Picard for the death of his daughter, Elizabeth."

"Blames Picard?" Will's brow furrowed. "Wait ... she was killed in the battle between the Enterprise and the Scimitar. What does that have to do with the Romulan terrorists? You'd think he'd blame them as much as, if not more than, Captain Picard."

"That's true," Janeway nodded. "From the little bit of information we've been able to gather so far, it appears Holman thinks Picard should have dealt with Shinzon alone and not gotten the rest of the ship involved."

"Great. And with me being the former first officer of the Enterprise, that just made the Titan fair game."

"You could say that." She leaned back in her chair. "As for his defection, we've found evidence pointing toward the possibility that Holman is insane. If that is the case, it probably didn't take much for the Romulans to lure him to their cause - to convince Holman they were victims like him. That Shinzon and Picard destroyed their world and their lives as well as his."

The thought of Holman being delusional was far from comforting. What could be happening on the Titan? Will rubbed his hand over his face. "So, Admiral, what are my orders?"

"The obvious is to do whatever it takes to recover the Titan and get Holman into custody. We're sending the Nefertiri and the Okame to help with the search, but you'll be on your own until they can rendezvous with the P'Trell. That should be about six hours." She paused a moment. "If you can't get the Titan back, it must be destroyed."

"What?!" He felt his whole body go numb. "Admiral, with all due respect--"

Janeway raised a silencing hand. "Captain, think of the consequences if the Titan falls into enemy hands. Terrorists, at that. She's a top-of-the-line Akira-class warship."

All Will could do was stare at Admiral Janeway.

After a short silence, the admiral continued, "I'm sorry, Will. You and Counselor Troi, along with the rest of the crew, knew the risks when you joined Starfleet. The Titan cannot be allowed into the hands of the enemy regardless of your feelings towards those onboard. I'm sorry."

Everything Janeway said made sense. Riker tried to keep the emotion out of his voice when he finally answered. "Understood, sir."

"Good. Janeway out."

The screen when black and Will felt even emptier because of the realization that he may have to destroy everything that ever had any meaning to him. There had to be a way to get Deanna and the Titan back. He'd make a way.

* * * * *

"Come, Doctor. If we intend to free the crew, we need to go back a little way." Reyllt typed some commands into his tricorder and turned around in the narrow space.

"Where are we going?"

"The best place would be to the junction where we stopped earlier."

"All right." Aria turned and began retracing their path. "What's going on in that head of yours?"

"I have my tricorder recording our conversation as we're moving."

She stopped to look over her should at him. "Why are you doing that?"

Reyllt stopped a split second before she did. He smiled. "It's going to be our distraction."

"Oh." Braz began crawling again. "We're almost to the fork. Which way do I need to go?"

"Go to the left, then take the first hatchway to the right. That should get us to the counselor's office and far enough away from the guards."

"Okay." She did as he requested, then asked, "What's your plan for taking out the guards?"

I will tell you when we get to our destination."

They entered the hatchway and Reyllt heard the shuffling sounds of someone coming their way. "Quickly!" he whispered while turning to close the hatch behind them.

Aria continued crawling ahead of him and found a Jefferies tube leading to the next deck up. She stood and climbed the ladder several feet. Her legs were stiff from all the crawling she'd done, making her slow. Reyllt wasn't far behind. He barely climbed out of sight when they both heard the sound of the hatch opening.

They held their breath.

The Romulans were talking in hushed voices. After what seemed like an eternity, the sound of the hatch closing echoed through the passage.

Braz let several quiet moments pass before talking. "What did they say?"

"They were trying to determine if we'd gone this way," he replied.


"And they figured our first priority would be to help our friends escape," Reyllt answered, "so they went the other direction."

"Good." Aria let out the breath she was holding. "Let's get to the office and get his over with!"

* * * * *

It wasn't long after Riker went to make the call to Starfleet that Maeute came onto the P'Trell's Bridge.

Emor's expression softened when she saw her wife exit the turbolift. "Find our quarters comfortable?"

"Of course," Maeute smiled. "I have a feeling Captain Riker will be calling for me soon. I thought I would go ahead and get the long walk behind me."

"Good idea. Tell me, what happened to the Titan? I only know what little bit you told me in your message."

Maeute crossed her arms. "A Starfleet officer has defected, apparently. He distracted the captain and me while his minions boarded the Titan." She sighed. "I had no idea until it was too late."

"Even the best can be fooled from time to time," Emor said. "We'll get you back on your ship soon enough."

"I certainly hope so." She studied the viewscreen for a second before her combadge chirped. "Commander Asketen here."

"Commander, I'd like to talk with you for a moment. Please meet me in the Captain's Armory."

"Duty calls." She smiled at Emor and walked to the door.

Upon entering, Maeute noticed that Riker's coloration seemed a bit more pale than usual. "Yes, Captain?"

He glanced at her. "I just finished talking with Admiral Janeway. Our orders are to get Holman into custody and to bring the Titan home." Will paced around the room. "If we can't take back the ship, she must be destroyed."

Maeute's antennae twitched in agitation at the news. "Our crew is eager to get the Titan back, sir. I believe things will go well with our mission."

"I hope so." He stopped momentarily. "Starfleet is sending the Nefertiri and the Okame to assist. They should meet with us in about six hours." Riker resumed pacing.

"That is good to hear." She observed his frustrated movements. "Is there anyway I can assist you, Captain? Would you like to talk?"

"I don't know," Riker said, pausing. "I don't know. I may have to kill Deanna." He turned and ran a hand through his hair before bringing it up to rest over his beard. "It's not just that, though. I may have to kill everyone onboard that ship." He huffed bemusedly, "I haven't even sat in the captain's chair yet!"

"They are Starfleet officers and they know how to defend themselves. For all we know, they may very well retake the ship and bring her home for us!" She gave him a small smile. "Have no doubt, sir, that we will get the Titan back. And the crew. You must have faith in them and in their training. Besides, you haven't seen anything until you've seen what Emor and her P'Trell are capable of."

"I hope you're right, Number One." He continued pacing once more. "Assemble the crew and inform them."

"Aye, sir. I will do that immediately." Maeute turned and left the room.

The door shut behind her, she tapped her combadge. "All officers of the U.S.S. Titan report to the War Room on deck two."

She walked into the turbolift. "Deck two," she commanded. Maeute took a deep breath, thinking of how she would pass along the news of their mission.

* * * * *

Reyllt proceeded to Counselor Troi's office. He came to the hatchway and consulted his tricorder. Seeing that the room was empty, he opened the hatch a crack and scanned the room. It was clear.

He crawled out and helped Dr. Braz as she exited the tunnel.

Aria saw that Reyllt was punching commands into his tricorder again. "So what's the plan, Rey?" she asked.

"I am programming the tricorder to perform a playback loop of our conversation I recorded earlier." He paused for a moment. "That should distract the guards long enough for us to render them unconscious."

"And how do you propose we do that?"

"If memory serves, I believe there is a slight niche from the corridor that leads to this office. I will place the tricorder there, with it facing the opposite way from the Mess Hall." He gave her a mischievous smile. "That should make them think our voices are coming from further down the hall. With there only being two guards, it is probable only one will come to see what the noise is."

"That sounds like a good idea, but what if they've increased the number of guards? I mean, we know they're looking for us now."

"As you humans say, we will 'play it by ear.'"

Aria crossed her arms. "That's just great."

"It is ready. What I need you to do is go back into the Jefferies tube--"

"What?! I'm not going to let you do this alone!"

"You did not allow me to finish, Doctor." Reyllt placed a hand on her shoulder. "There is another hatch near the turbolift. You can hear when the lift is coming and use your tricorder to tell if anyone is around. I need you to come from the opposite side to stun the second guard."

He pulled up the schematic and showed her how to get to the other hatch. "It should not take you long to get there. I will wait approximately five minutes before I set up my distraction."

Aria sighed and re-holstered her phaser and tricorder. "Here goes nothing!"

Reyllt nodded, "Good luck, Aria." His heart fluttered a bit as he watched her disappear into the tunnel. "Be careful," he whispered after her.

* * * * *

Aria made it to the hatch without any problems. She scanned the area and the only Romulan signs were those of the two guards in the Mess Hall. She sat and waited for Reyllt to begin his diversion.

* * * * *

Reyllt gave Dr. Braz plenty of time to get to the other hatch and quietly stepped out of the counselor's office. He was about to place the tricorder down when he heard someone approaching. Quickly, he flattened himself into a small alcove, watching as the captors strode by.

He quietly checked his tricorder and found there were three guards outside the Mess Hall. Reyllt listened as best he could to the two he heard talking. He understood the hijackers were presently looking for him and Aria, which was no surprise. He also caught that they had placed a guard in Sickbay. That could be a problem.

When the third guard didn't leave after a while, he activated the tricorder. It was now or never. Against his better judgment, Reyllt slid the instrument down the hallway instead of setting it in place as in his original plan. He hoped they wouldn't see it before he could make his move.

He heard the guards get quiet followed by two pair of footsteps approaching.

Aria checked her tricorder and noticed there were three Romulan signs. Against her better judgment, she decided to make her move. As quietly as she could, she slipped out of the crawlway and drew her phaser to the ready. She stayed near the wall and tiptoed down the corridor.

Her heart was pounding as she slowly moved her thumb closer to the firing button on her phaser. Suddenly, she heard Reyllt's voice. Holding her breath, she waited. The sound of two of the guards leaving caused her to take notice. Carefully, she snuck around the corner to where she could see the lone guard. She took aim and fired.

Reyllt was about to jump out at the guards when he heard weapons fire and the sound of a body slamming onto the floor. He heard one of the Romulans curse and start to run back toward the Mess Hall.

Quickly, Reyllt stepped out and stunned him before he could attack or contact anyone. The second Romulan fired at him and he narrowly dodged out of the way. Reyllt cried out in pain as he hit the floor hard and rolled.

Aria heard him call and ran through the corridor, hoping to get there in time. She rounded the corner and saw the guard taking aim at her comrade.

"No!" she yelled, firing at the guard. She missed.

The guard turned to face her and Reyllt took advantage of the momentary distraction. He reached out, grabbed the other's foot and yanked it out from under him.

The guard landed with a loud thud and Aria fired again, this time hitting her target.

Breathless, Reyllt looked up at Aria. "Thank you," he said.

"No problem." Her heart was still pounding hard from the thought that Reyllt could've been killed. She reached out a hand to help him up. "Come on, we probably don't have much time."

He went back to retrieve his tricorder and took the weapons from the fallen guards before continuing down the corridor.

Reyllt and Aria rain into the Mess Hall. They skidded to a stop when they saw the devices on the floor surrounding their fellow officers.

"Reyllt! Aria!" Deanna smiled as the two entered.

"Greetings, Commander," said Reyllt. "The field needs to be disarmed before we go any further. Who can help us with that?"

Sark came forward. "I can. We need to figure out a way to reverse the polarity of the field. What kind of equipment do you have on you?"

Braz spoke up, "Just our phasers and tricorders. We searched the guards and took their weapons as well." "Okay." Sark stroked his chin for a moment. "I think we can manage something. Reyllt, take the outer casing off of your phaser and, Dr. Braz, if you will, open the back of your tricorder."

After a few moments of fumbling with the objects, they were opened.

"Now, what we're going to do is adjust the tricorder so it can emit an electromagnetic pulse. What you need to do, Reyllt, is look around on the main circuit board and find the particle stream catalyst. It's a miniature version of an isolinear chip." He turned toward Aria. "Aria, you need to find the port where the scanning part of the tricorder plugs in. The plug is black and should have three wires connected to it."

Reyllt found the chip and checked the doctor's progress. "Okay, they've been found," he said.

"All right. Reyllt, take the chip out of the phaser. Aria, unplug the connector and put the chip in its place."


"Good. Now, we need to get that scanner reconnected. See if you can take the green wire out of the plug."

Braz tugged at the wire for a moment, eventually freeing it. "Got it."

"You two are doing a great job! What aren't you in engineering?" He laughed nervously. "Now, seriously, wrap the wire around the end of the particle stream catalyst and replace the casing."

Sark watched as the medics put the tricorder back in one piece. "When you open it, the tricorder should be able to emit an EM pulse, which will short out the field. I'm not sure of the range. I'd say about ten meters."

Reyllt turned to Aria. "We should stand back, just in case."

The two stepped back a few paces and waited for their crewmates to cluster in the center of their prison.

"Everyone ready?"

Reyllt waited for everyone's affirmative before opening the tricorder.

They watched a glittering silver beam come out of the tricorder toward the disruptor field. An electric crackling was heard as blue and yellow sparks flew from the devices that powered the field.

Reyllt stood still for a moment. "I wonder if it worked."

"Well," Aria took the tricorder from him. "There's only one way to find out. Sark, catch!" She tossed the instrument toward the chief engineer.

There was a collective gasp.

"Got it!" He held the tricorder up.

* * * * *

Maeute sat at the head of the conference table, waiting for the Titan officers to gather. It wasn't long before they were all assembled, with the exception of the civilians, Shret and Lyda.

She stood to address the crew when the doors opened behind her.

Everyone turned to see Captain Riker walk through the doorway. "Thank you for getting the crew together, Number One. I think I should be the one to tell them our orders regarding the Titan."

She nodded to him and stepped to the side. "As you wish, sir."

Riker approached the head of the table. "As you may have guessed, our orders are to retrieve the Titan and to get Jareth Holman into custody." He took a deep breath. "If we are unable to retrieve the Titan, Starfleet has ordered us to destroy her - the ship."

Will looked around at his crew, seeing their amazed reactions as they glanced at one another.

His gaze stopped on Ensign Ferris first. Even though they'd already clashed several times, he could see the concern she tried to hide behind a neutral mask.

Next was Lieutenant Scott. Will hadn't really talked with her much but hoped to remedy that once this whole thing was over. He figured the surprise written on her face was probably close to his reaction when he received the news from Admiral Janeway.

Riker finally turned to Lieutenant McCoy and smiled inwardly. He and Hugh had become fast friends. Will could tell by the defiant set of Hugh's jaw that he'd go above and beyond the call of duty to help get the Titan back.

Will straightened as he took pride in his officers and continued on, "I know this is shocking for all of us, but I also know you are among Starfleet's finest. We can - no - we will get the Titan and our crew back safely. There are no other options. I won't allow it."

Maeute watched the response of the others. "Captain, I have no doubt this mission will be successful. We will bring the Titan home."


Chapter 5
By Opal

"Where's Jos going?" Lyda complained as the crew left her alone with her temporary guardian in the transporter room.

Shret helped her off the transporter pad and smiled as a subordinate entered to greet them. "Sohcharn, thank you for meeting us." Sohcharn Shakai saluted with a slight tilt of his antennae and indicated the corridor with his arm. Shret returned the salute and reached for Lyda's hand as they exited the transporter room.

She avoided his grip impatiently. "When can we see Jos?"

Shret's antennae danced in mild amusement. "When we get to the Bridge."

Lyda brightened, "Can we go to the Bridge now?"

Shret shook his antennae and smiled, "Not just yet. They would like us to settle in first."

Their guide paused in front of an ornately decorated door of burnished metal inlaid with a brilliant shade of white. The patterns might have been letters on a secret door in a castle. Lyda wanted to run her fingers over it, but both adults were watching her. The sohcharn stopped and saluted more formally with an upraised fist by his shoulder as Shret turned to the access panel. Lyda looked on as he quickly spoke to it in Andorian. The door replied easily in a calm female voice and allowed them inside. The whole exchange was going to be a scene in Lyda's next holonovel. She was sure of it. "The young princess and her mysterious guardian use the spell to enter the cave of the dragon queen," she whispered to herself as Shret ushered her into the captain's chamber.

"I'm going to see if Gnoe left any food in the kitchen. Do you want anything?"

Lyda tried to think of an appropriate response but the room demanded too much of her attention. No furniture graced the front room, which made sense if dragons landed there. She wandered toward the sleeping room without acknowledging Shret further.

Lyda jumped as Shret started singing to himself. As odd as spoken Andorian was, she hadn't been prepared for the crooning nature of his song. "A dragon ballad," she whispered as she reached for the ornate handle on the wall. For a brief instant her conscience suggested that going through someone's closet might be interpreted as impolite. That thought was buried when the door opened into a huge closet full of costumes. It had to be costumes. No one she knew wore these kinds of things every day.

She took a step inside and did a quick inventory. On her right were a gleaming white shirt that seemed to be made out of metal, two pairs of tall black boots and three rather dull grey outfits that must be uniforms. Uniforms were boring no matter what culture you came from. Lyda ignored them. In the back was a collection of off-duty clothes she could certainly use. She reached into the silky fabrics, both hands outstretched happily.

* * * * *

Deanna knelt down next to the chief engineer and tried to get used to the faint buzzing that tickled the back of her neck. "Explain to me again, Commander; why do we have to talk here?"

Sark finished escorting the last of the escapees into the junction zone of the Titan's magnetic field. "This area scatters sensor readings. We've just passed under the shielded area of the plasma manifold. The noise from the force field behind us should prevent anyone from overhearing us."

Sharpclaw shuddered and puffed out his fur in annoyance. "Then I suggest we talk quickly. I am anxious to get back to the Bridge."

A few scattered giggles refreshed Deanna's tired mind and she managed the faintest of smiles. "I'll see what we can do, Lieutenant."

Looking around the faces of her crew, Deanna couldn't help wondering if she had seemed that young to Captain Picard on that first Farpoint mission so many years ago. "I know we've all been through a great deal lately. I wish I could guarantee that we'll all get home." She took a quiet breath, feeling the silence around her like a lead cloak, "The Titan must never reach Romulan space."

Sharpclaw bared his fangs at the challenge, "The Romulans will pay." Sark agreed with a curt nod, already lost in his planning.

"It won't come to that. We have two advantages. One, the Romulans don't yet know we've escaped. We need to use that surprised. And, most importantly, this is a Starfleet vessel. We can use every part of it to fight them. We need to remind them that this is our ship. The Titan can help us."

Dr. Braz asked the question floating in the faces around her. "How do we start?"

"The Bridge--"



Sark put up a hand and stopped the discussion with a quiet smile. "If you will permit me?" Deanna smirked faintly; it was good to feel the minds around her filled with purpose. "We know from the experience of our intrepid medical team that a small group can more easily elude the Romulans than all of us together."

"Correct," Deanna responded calmly. "First, in order to take back the ship we need to secure the Bridge." She reached out to brush the minds around her. Sharpclaw was a knot of honed rage. Lieutenant Tiege and Ensign Erith sat behind him, two security officers they were lucky to have on the skeleton crew. "Sharpclaw, Lieutenant Tiege, Ensign Erith. I'll need your help to retake the Bridge."

Lieutenant Commander Ibric nodded to a few members of the remaining group. "There six are engineers. We've just got the warp core online, but I guess we'll shut it down if we have to."

A shy hand went up in the rear of the group. "I'll send a distress call. They probably aren't watching the secondary sensor array in Astrometrics. It won't take long to reconfigure."

Deanna nodded again, building the scenario in her head. "Good thinking, Lisa. Ensign Meiers has some experience with the sensor arrays. You'll take her as back up. That just leaves our inventive medical staff," Deanna mused as Braz drifted back from the depths of her plotting.

"I think we could use the Romulan strategy against them. I'd like to take Reyllt back to Sickbay. We should be able to work something out," she explained.

Nodding slowly, the Vulcan nurse agreed. "I will retrieve Chief Yavan from the Mess Hall. He will be of more assistance to us after we attend to him and he has recuperated in Sickbay."

Deanna's smile of gratitude was calming to the entire group. Her crew was pulling together. "Sharpclaw, Sark, Erith, please accompany me to the Armory. The rest of you will meet us in the storage locker on deck eleven. You'll find tricorders and tools there." She glanced around the eager faces that surrounded her, finding the hope in their eyes far more refreshing than the doubt in her heart. "The guards won't even know we're out of the Mess Hall yet. So stay quiet, stay alert and stay safe. We're going to need everyone's help." Some, like young Ensign Cartwright, managed weak smiles.

Sharpclaw flexed a clawed foot as if he could see the Romulans in front of him. Sark nudged him with a brassy smile. "We'll all be ready when you take the Bridge," the chief engineer assured Deanna cheerfully. "The crew of the Titan is always ready to serve, Commander."

Deanna nodded, "We'll be completely out of contact once we've separated. Stick close together and listen to your team leaders. I'll see you all on the Bridge." Her quiet confidence visibly bolstered her crew. "We'll show the captain just how talented his crew is when we hand him his ship back."

Sharpclaw took point down the hallway. Sark tapped a few commands on the keypad and broke the security lockdown. "All yours, Commander," he said to Deanna as he ducked in to grab a few phasers and disappeared into a Jefferies tube opening in the wall.

Sharpclaw went straight to the compression phaser rifles. Deanna took his offering reluctantly. Violence was a weapon she tried to avoid but this was her home. These terrorists had tried to steal her home and the rifle was a comforting weight in her hands. Something solid between her and her mortality.

"Let's show the Romulans why they picked the wrong ship."

* * * * *

"He's not very charming," Emor complained with a sigh as she settled back into a hanging chair. "William Riker is supposed to be able to talk his way out of an Orion prison camp and into bed with the Empress herself. He's a legend in his own time - the silver-tongued ladies man at Picard's right hand. I'm going to hate ruining the stories they tell at Fleet Headquarters."

Maeute toyed with a gertak dagger from the wall and turned her antennae toward Emor in quiet frustration. "He's not at his best."

Emor reached a lazy hand for the replicator and took a smoking cup of ahress with a smile. "I wouldn't be at my best if someone else was at the head of the P'Trell."

The Titan's first officer twisted her antennae into a smirk and placed the dagger back on the wall. "You'd be worse."

Shrugging out of her glistening breastplate, Emor laughed with sudden amusement, "If our positions were reversed I'd already have tired to kick him out of the captain's chair?" She stood out of the hammock and hung the jingling metal in its place on the wall. She breathed in the smoke from the ahress and licked her lips easily. "You might be right, Mae. Not that I'll ever admit it to anyone else."

Maeute fidgeted with the armor her wife had just removed, remembering when her own uniforms had been heavy with the ceremonial metal. "I appreciate you letting him keep watch on the Bridge. He would not handle inactivity well."

Still chuckling to herself, Emor leaned back into her hammock. "He can tell my crew how to find warp trails and calculate the proper trajectory to Romulan space as well as I can. Besides, it's been months since I've seen you, Brynaur."

Maeute let the armor drop back to the wall with a clang. "Don't call me that."

Emor lowered her cup to the floor and braced herself in the hammock. "Don't?"

"Please do not," Maeute corrected firmly. "It's a childish name."

Lazy blue fingers traced down the edge of the hammock, dancing across the end of the fabric. "That's why it pleases me."

"I could find other ways to please you." Maeute's hands lowered to her wife's shoulders, resting there with quiet patience.

Emor kinked her antennae in a stubborn show of solidarity, "Brynaur is fairly dear to me."

The Titan's first officer backed off with twitching annoyance dancing in her antennae. "I hope it keeps you warm."

Laughing, Emor threw her hands over the edges of the hammock and rocked with glee. "That look of yours might do just that." She fanned herself with her hands, "Maybe even a little too well."

Maeute sighed in disgust. "You shouldn't tease me," she protested again. "It doesn't become one in your position."

Emor continued in a mockery of Maeute's seriousness. "Bryn, you know I enjoy this position. Lying here, watching you, has always been one of my favorites."

Her wife directed her reply at the replicator, calling forth a cup of strong black coffee. "I don't think I'm even going to answer that."

Leaning her head over the edge, just enough to rest her chin, Emor grinned wickedly. "Have I mentioned how nicely Starfleet uniforms flatter your back? You would think the understated colors would wash out your skin and I thought I'd hate the high collar at your neck, but it's really growing on me. I think I know why Starfleet uses them."

"More revelations from the noted scholar of extraterrestrial fashion?" Maeute asked over her coffee with bitter sarcasm.

"Really Bryn. I think I've discovered something here." She wiggled her antennae for emphasis. "Starfleet designers just appreciate a well proportioned bum."

Stopping just before taking a sip had prevented Maeute from choking on her coffee. "And they let you run an entire ship? Not any ship, but a ship with enough firepower to stop the Romulans."

"And you've done it again!" The P'Trell's captain groaned and sat up in her hammock, antennae moving in slow turns of annoyance. "There goes our nice discussion about sex. Right back into work. I steal you away for as much time alone as I can find and we might as well be arguing strategy with Riker on the Bridge." Emor climbed out of the hammock and tapped an engraved panel on the wall. "We're ready to talk Romulans, Captain, if you'd care to join us."

Commander Asketen shrugged her antennae weakly as the door behind her slid open to reveal a drawn Captain Riker.

Emor immediately straightened her posture and reached down to pull her boots back on, sliding into her tactical rundown without even greeting Will. "A Romulan D'Deridex warbird has a mass of four-point-three-two million standard metric tons. A D'Deridex has four photon torpedo launchers and six disruptor cannons. In battle their weak point is their lack of maneuverability. However, they make up for that by using their disruptor cannons to cover almost every degree of sphere around their vessel."

Will waited politely in the doorway, relieved that Emor has chosen to converse in Federation Standard. His universal translator would accomodate him, of course, but he always felt something of the meaning 'lost in translation.' The Andorian captain pointed Will to a hanging chair and stopped at the replicator. "Would you like ahress? Or more of that terrible coffe Mae's become so fond of?"

"Terrible coffee would be fine," Will replied with slight amusement. "I'm surprised to find you ready to discuss tactics so soon. Your second--"

"Gor'ann Tappu Elkiier," Maeute explained quickly. "But you can call him Tappu."

"Tappu," Will continued with a nod, "said you two were catching up."

"Tactics are more important--" Maeute began, but Emor interrupted her and continued to talk over her.

"I thought we were but someone believes we need to talk about Romulans."

Maeute's antennae twitched and Will recognized it as indignation. His first officer took a sip of her coffee and corrected her wife, "The Romulans are an immediate threat. We can 'catch up' later."

Emor mouthed "always later" to Will and turned to the replicator. "Coffee," she ordered with a grimace and handed it to him. "Sit. Talk about Romulans. I'd imagine you'd want to know something about my ship."

Riker took his coffee quickly, almost afraid she'd spill it on him. "I've been reading your technical schematics on the Bridge."

Emor settled back into her hammock but retained her strict posture. "Did Gnoe translate the computer terminal for you?"

Caught, Will shrugged and played with his beard. "No, I haven't been able to find him. I've been looking at the pictures."

"It's probably because he's up to his antennae in ion trails and babying his engines." Emor laughed easily and nodded as Maeute headed for the terminal on the wall.

The first officer sighed in chagrin. "If you can read enough to know how to ask for Federation Standard, you can convince the computer to translate." She accessed a few subroutines and then found the translation. "It isn't always a helpful system but at least now it's in Standard."

Will gave it a glance and smiled broadly, "Those are words I recognize."

"Good, now--"

Emor cut her off curtly and crossed to the terminal. "Commander, if you would be so kind as to keep an eye on my Bridge for me, I'll take it from here."

Maeute paused for a moment at the doorway, her face tight with frustration. The two women stared each other down for a brief moment. Will politely directed his attention to an antique sword on the other side of the room.

Maeute's antennae bobbed slightly in begrudging agreement. "Of course, Captain. If you will both excuse me." The door hissed behind her and Emor called up a full schematic of the P'Trell on the terminal.

"I didn't mean to interrupt anything between you," Will offered apologetically as Emor gestured him back to the computer.

"Married long, Captain?" Blue fingers danced across the computer panel and the center of the room became a three-dimensional display of the Fesoan dreadnought.

Will shook his head as a Romulan warbird and a holographic Titan materialized next to the P'Trell. "No, just over a year."

Emor tapped her fingers together anxiously. "Forty-one years. Forty-two in a month. I've been doing border patrol for the last eight months. I was hoping to make it back for your launch. Had it not been for the Romulans, I wouldn't have seen Shret or Bryn until our anniversary."

Will grinned dryly. "Since the Romulans are already working with your wishes, ask them to hand over the Titan without a fight and I'll throw in some extra shore leave for my first officer."

"If it were that easy ..." Emor sighed wistfully and crossed behind the Romulan hologram. "I'll start out being the Romulans. I'll come at you with the warbird first, then I'll use the Titan to outflank you. The P'Trell will respond to you voice commands, so run it as if you were on the Bridge."

"All right," he agreed as he looked over the silver-blue hull of his borrowed ship. "Shields up."

* * * * *

Joslynn leaned over Caitlyn's shoulder and whispered, "She looks almost more annoyed than the captain."

Caitlyn looked innocently over her shoulder as the Titan's first officer took the center seat. "How can you tell?" she whispered back.

The Andorian helm officer stepped aside to report to his first officer and allowed Joslynn into the chair at the controls. She slid behind the console and gestured Caitlyn over. "Her forehead gets tight just above her eyebrows when she's frustrated."

Caitlyn smiled softly. "I'm not going to ask how you know that so quickly."

"Frustrate enough command officers and you start to notice the signs," the young woman replied softly. "Not that I blame her. The Andorians are going to do all the work and we'll just sit around and watch the battle. I don't even know where to start on these controls." Joslynn's whispering climbed toward her normal range of volume. "I think it's the helm, but it has raised buttons. It looks like something out of an ancient Bajoran starflier; I don't see how it could possibly control a warship."

Pointing to a glowing readout, she tugged at the science officer's arm. "What do you think that is? Current speed or heading?"

Caitlyn shrugged. "I only know a little about the helm of our ship, let alone this one. What do you think?"

"I was ready to call it the heading, but I think this dial over here - with the symbol that looks like a broken dagger - might be it. I guess that makes it the speed, but I've never seen a number that looks like that." Ensign Ferris closed her eyes for a second, trying to get the feel of the deck plates beneath her feet. "At our current speed I'm going to call that number nine. So, if they number clockwise, like we do, this must be eight, seven--"

Caitlyn tapped the symbol to the left of the broken dagger Joslynn had dubbed 'nine.' "Andor orbits its sun in the opposite direction as Earth. I think this is eight."

"Good thinking. Eight is the udouri shell."

* * * * *

Admiral Kathryn Janeway knew how infuriating it was to lose her ship. Voyager had been snatched from her several times during its long exile in the Delta Quadrant. Through the strength of her crew, and a little luck, it was still her ship when they returned. Now she could only wish Captain Riker the same luck.

"Tuvok? Do you have Praetor Donatra yet?"

"Yes, Admiral." Even from the other room she could picture the serene calm on his face. "The Praetor is ready to speak with you. I am putting her through now."

Romulan Praetor Donatra was a sculpture. Perfect black hair tight to her elegant skull, hard, thin lips, cheekbones high and chisled. Only when she spoke did life creep into her deep black eyes. "Admiral Janeway, I apologize for keeping you waiting."

Janeway chose to smile. "No need Praetor. I can only imagine how complicated the running of an empire can be."

An arched eyebrow raised slightly and echoed the Praetor's palpable disdain. "If only it were that. I am afraid members of the Senate still object to my speaking with you. Even after the defeat of Shinzon's coup d'etat, some of my people still wish he had succeeded." She took a moment to recompose herself and surprised the admiral with a softening of expression. "Politics of the empire aside, I believe I may be able to help your Captain Riker."

"Praetor, anything you can tell us--"

Donatra shook her head curlty. "I will speak with Captain Riker and Captain Emor directly. I wish to involve as few people as possible."

Admiral Janeway smiled with slight hope. "We would be most grateful Praetor."

The faintest of smiles touched Donatra's black eyes. "Even when I do not agree with their philosophies, all Romulans are my responsibility."

"Perhaps someday their philosophies will not be so different."

To Janeway's great surprise the Praetor's stony face broke into a gentle smile. "Eternal optimism is becoming my favorite part of humanity. I will speak with Captain Riker shortly. Romulus out."

* * * * *

"Lyda, if you would be willing to leave Emor's clothes, I think it's time to see Joslynn."

The young Bajoran dropped her purple cape to the floor and stood at attention in the closet door. "Really?"

Shret smirked at the pile of clothes on the floor. "I have obtained permission to tour the ship and I thought we could ask Joslynn to come with us. Do you think she would like that?"

Lyda nodded enthusiastically. "Now?"

Shret indicated the door with an open hand. "You will have to straighten this mess later, but we can go now."

Lyda was quiet as the door opened with a low hum, but her voice took on a hysterical note when the turbolift headed down instead of up. "Aren't we going to the Bridge?"

Shret brushed a hand across her head. "We have to pick up our guide first."

"Why do we need a guide?"

He looked down at her seriously and lowered himself to her level. "Promise not to tell anyone?" Lyda nodded. Making doubly sure that no one else was there, Shret rested his hands on her shoulders. "I'd get lost without one."

"How could you get lost?"

Bobbing his antennae ruefully, he straightened his tunic and stood back up. "Mae tells me I'm quite good at it."

Lyda smiled shyly as the turbolift opened into Engineering. The Andorian engineers wore minimal armor and moved about their duties precisely. One close to the turbolift nodded to them and pointed towards the glow of the warp core. "Chief's in the back." Shret smiled and started to reply, but their greeter was already back at work.

Lyda tugged at his hand, "Who's the chief?"

"See the man over there, with his head in the panel?" She followed his arm with her eyes and nodded again. "That's the chief."

At the word 'chief,' a smudged blue face pulled itself out of the panel with a concerned look that burst into a grin. "I was wondering how long it would take you to get down here for your tour."

"I've brought a friend with me. This is Ibric Lyda, my protector." Shret wrapped an arm around his husband's shoulders and they tangled their antennae. "Ibric Lyda, this is Gnoe Asketen, the P'Trell's Chief Engineer and my husband."

"You get all the pretty girls, don't you?" Gnoe teased Shret as he reached down to touch Lyda's shoulder. "Welcome to the P'Trell, iari."

The young Bajoran smiled importantly, "My dad's a chief engineer, too. He teaches me all about the Titan."

Shret laughed as Gnoe smiled with gusto. "Now that he knows you're an expert you're going to have to hear all about warp core injectors and plasma manifolds."

Lyda quickly made a face. "Maybe you should wait to talk to my dad about those things. I don't listen that much when he talks about work."

"Neither does he," Gnoe pointed to his husband with exaggerated disappointment. "He probably couldn't tell you what the difference is between the impulse manifold and the warp core." He sighed heavily and shook his head at both of them. "I guess I'll just have to make do with you two until we get your dad back. At least then someone will appreciate my engines."

Shret squeezed his hand and nodded. "We'll let you both ramble on about plasma injectors until you go hoarse. Won't we?"

Lyda agreed emphatically, "Yes, we will."

Gnoe shook his head and changed the subject, "How do you like Emor's ship?"

"She has nice things in her closet," Lyda replied cheerfully as she stared at the glowing warp core.

"She has quite a collection, doesn't she? I tell her it's neither captain-like nor menacing for her to collect such things," Gnoe joked.

"If she's captured, at least she'll be prepared to be a dancing girl," Shret said with a wink. Gnoe chuckled merrily at the old joke. Lyda's curious look drew a recalcitrant shake of both men's heads. "Someday we'll explain it to you," Shret replied.

"What's your favorite part of a starship?" Gnoe asked Lyda, moving the subject to safer territory.

Engineering was almost too distracting for her to answer, but the two men flanked her and took hold of her hands. "The holodeck, I guess," she answered with a shrug as they led her into the turbolift.

Gnoe disagreed with a dancing wave of his left antennae. "Holodecks are not unique to starships. In fact, even stuck-in-the-mud space stations have holodecks, so I'm throwing out that answer."

Lyda paused, caught between surprise and further thought. "I might have to think."

Gnoe patted her head and caught Shret's eye. "I encourage you to do so. It's not a choice one makes lightly."

Silence lasted until the lift stopped on deck one. "Should we give you some examples?" Shret offered as they slipped past the busy uniformed officers who lined the corridors.

She nodded and Gnoe jumped in with suggestions, "Warp plasma routing station seventeen. When we're at high speeds the reflection runs across the wall like a group of dancing spirits."

"Or the portal above the garden, on deck seventeen. It resembles night in the desert and it's beautiful."

Gnoe chuckled dryly at his husband, "He's still a romantic."

The door ahead opened onto the Bridge. After a nod from Maeute in the command chair, they headed for Joslynn at the helm. "You don't have to be romantic Lyda. You can pick whatever you want."

"Except the holodeck," she echoed quietly.

Gnoe kinked an antennae and smiled, "You've got it. I knew you'd be as smart as you are beautiful."

* * * * *

Admiral Janeway knew she should be asleep. After Tuvok when home she was supposed to sleep. The computer would wake her as soon as the message from Romulus came through. Her Vulcan friend had insisted if she wasn't going to go home, she had to sleep at the office. Even after she'd added the simple bedroom to the back of her office, the fact that she rarely slept in it remained a point of argument between them.

She could picture his scowl as she lay there in the dark, pretending she was falling asleep. She'd feel better at her desk where work would help take her mind off the endless waiting. Agreeing to sleep had been the only way to get Tuvok to leave and she felt bound to at least give it an honest attempt. She was just giving up on the idea of rest when the comm panel suddenly beeped on the opposite wall and the computer announced the priority message from Romulus.

"Open commlink with Romulus. Authorization Janeway-pi-one-one-zero."

Praetor Donatra's tight expression flashed onscreen.

"Praetor--" Janeway began politely. Donatra cut her off without ceremony.

"Three warbirds - the Aidoann, the Nei'rrh and the Tekenisu - are not responding to hails. Senator Tal'aura's personal ship, the Aehallh, has disappeared completely. Your Andorian strike force is not responding to hails. If the Titan is already under Romulan control they will be outnumbered five to one."

"Even Will Riker won't like those odds," the admiral acknowledged dryly. "I'll try to contact them personally." She fiddled with the control panel for a few moments but Donatra had to share her helplessness as the P'Trell continued its silent journey. "I'll send the border guard to help."

Donatra nodded. "The rogue warbirds were last seen heading for sector five-seven-three. I believe they intend to cross into Federation space. I cannot stress to you enough that the Romulan people do not support this action. We have no wish for war with the Federation."

"I understand," Janeway replied. "The Federation has no stomach for a war with Romulus either. Any action taken by the four ships you mentioned will be considered renegade."

"Thank you, Admiral."

"I'll request our two closest ships to sector five-seven-three. The Nefertiri and the Okame will meet the P'Trell there in time to make a stand against Tal'aura," Janeway explained as she sent the instructions through subspace.

"I am sending additional ships but I do not need to tell you that they will arrive only in time to pick up survivors." Donatra's grim expression relayed her poor opinion of that outcome.

"Maybe they'll just tow the victor home." Janeway tried to warm her voice or smile, but both eluded her.

"Perhaps you should prepare your government to receive Romulan relief vessels." Where Janeway's attempt at levity failed, the Praetor's weak smile succeeded. "A Romulan two ship would be quite a sight at Starbase Twenty-one."

"The next closest ship is a friend of yours," the admiral returned with her own small grin. "I'll tell Jean-Luc you'll be prepared to rescue him again."

"Tell him to bring a case of his best wine for my fleet commander. I'm looking forward to the comparision."

"I will remind him," Janeway assured. The Praetor reached to sign off but the admiral leaned in close to the comm screen. "Good luck Praetor."

"Please Admiral, once I've been seen in my bedclothes, I usually allow one to call me Donatra." She winked with a quiet glee. "Goodnight, Kathryn. Maybe when this is over we will both get some sleep." Donatra's visage faded into the raptor image of the Romulan Empire before going blank.

Admiral Janeway was once again alone in the dark, wondering if the P'Trell felt as lonely as she did.


Chapter 6
By Shasta

Tal'aura watched out the viewport of her dimly-lit cabin aboard the Aehallh. In seventeen hours, her ship, along with the warbirds Aidoann, Nei'rrh and Tekenisu would rendezvous with the stolen U.S.S. Titan. Soon Romulus would be rid of the weak government led by Donatra and her pacifist fools.

Tal'aura would rule Romulus as Praetor and bring the Empire back to its former glory. She would begin a new age of strength and conquest.

It's almost been too easy to get to this point, Tal'aura thought. One of her operatives had found Commander Jareth Holman and learned about the death of his daughter aboard the Enterprise. The human was already on the verge of insanity so it hadn't taken much for the Fvai to 'convince' him they were on his side. Just a slight push and he was theirs.

It was only happenstance that the Titan was going to be captained by William Riker. Which, for Holman, made the deal all the more sweet. He'd at least get a bit of revenge on one member of the Enterprise crew!

Tal'aura's thoughts turned toward the captured Titan. Tralisse and her team had caught all of the crew onboard, with the exception of two officers. Tal'aura shook her head, a bit disgusted with the situation. She should have taken the ship instead of delegating the job to Tralisse.

In fact, Tralisse was the factor that concerned her the most. She usually managed to come through her missions unscathed, but there were always 'accidents' that killed either some of the prisoners or some of her own people. Granted, Tal'aura didn't hold the lives of the Federations in high regard, but there was a difference between shedding blood for the Empire and killing to prove a point. Tralisse seemed to lean toward the latter.

Thinking of those missing officers, Tal'aura took note of the time. It had been a few hours since Tralisse had informed her of their progress in that matter. They should have easily caught the renegades by now.

Tal'aura ordered a drink from the replicator then walked to the comm unit to contact the Titan. After a few moments Tralisse appeared onscreen.

Leaning back in her chair, Tal'aura interlaced her fingers in front of her. "Report."

"We are cloaked and on course for the rendezvous point," Tralisse answered.

"I know that, Tralisse. What of the missing Federations?"

Tralissa blushed an almost unnoticeable shade of light green. "They have been caught and placed with the other hostages."

Tal'aura quirked an eyebrow at the other woman. "I see ... Very good, Commander. Make sure they remain in their cage. Tal'aura out."

She reached forward, cutting the transmission, then took her cup. Sipping its contents, Tal'aura thought about Tralisse's reaction to her question. Something didn't seem quite right.

* * * * *

Tralisse was silent for a moment after Tal'aura closed the channel. She fingered the trigger of her disruptor, wanting to lash out at anything and everything at once.

She paced around the Bridge of the Titan. So far, none of the teams searching for the two missing Federation crewmen had found anything. And Holman ...

Holman. She scoffed. Such a waste of skin and blood. As a former Starfleet officer, he was supposed to have all the information they needed to take the ship. The Titan was in the Fvai's hands now, so to Tralisse he had already out-lived his usefulness. It had crossed her mind several times to put him in the disruptor field with the rest of the Titan crew.

Tralisse stopped and thought for a moment. There had been no reports from the guards.

Spinning on her heel, she faced Holman, who was sitting at one of the aft science stations. "Have any of the guards from the Mess Hall reported in?"

Holman jerked his head up to meet her eyes. "No, Commander, they haven't."

Tralisse pointed to one of the men behind her. "Vehlan, come with me. It has been too long since they've contacted us. I want to go down there myself and see what's going on."

"Yes, Commander." Vehlan snapped to attention then fell in behind Tralisse as she entered the turbolift.

In a short while the doors opened and Tralisee walked down the hallway toward the Mess Hall. Seeing no one standing outside the doors, she turned to Vehlan. "Where are the guards?"

"I don't know, Commander," he said, fingering the trigger of his sidearm.

Tralisse drew her disruptor. "I don't like this," she hissed, continuing on to the door. Looking in, she saw the waking guards behind the disruptor field ... and no Federations in sight.

"Fvadt!! How did this happen?" she yelled at them. "How?! She pointed her disruptor at Subcommander Jei, the ranking officer in the enclosure.

"I-I-I don't know, Commander," he answered as he came to his feet. His weakened legs caused him to stumble some. "The two missing Federations--"

"I do not want to hear excuses, Jei!! There are three of you! And you were armed with disruptors! How did two lloann'na ataen do this?"

Before he could answer, Tralisse fired. The others watched as their comrade screamed, his body slowly disintegrating into nothing.

She turned to her daughter inside the enclosure. "And you, Rosnika, you let them slip by, too. I taught you better skills than that. These are humans, after all."

Rosnika's gaze went to the floor. "We were distracted, Mo-Commander," she corrected. "The Federations have more guile than you give them credit for."

"It makes no difference. I should kill you all, even you, but with the entire Federation crew now missing I must be 'merciful' and punish only one." Her face became a neutral mask as she de-activated the disruptor field. "I suggest you take that to heart."

Tralisse took a deep breath and turned to the other guard inside the Mess Hall. "Subcommander Fezzin, I hope you have learned from this experience. Now, you and your underling round up all available personnel and begin a search for the Federation crew. Do not disappoint me." She didn't miss the cold look her daughter gave her.

Fezzin swallowed hard. "I won't, Commander," he answered, leaving the room with Rosnika a few steps behind.

Tralisse addressed Vehlan, "Come with me back to the Bridge. We must devise some way to bring the Federations out of hiding."

"Yes, Commander," he said, falling in behind her.

* * * * *

The turbolift doors opened, depositing Tralisse and Vehlan onto the Bridge.

Tralisse immediately turned to Jareth Holman. "The entire Titan crew has managed to escape. No doubt it was with a little help from their friends." She studied the display at one of the nearby science stations. "I want to use this ship against them."

Holman's brow furrowed. "How do you mean, Commander?"

Annoyed, Tralisse closed her eyes for a moment before answering. "They may have escaped from the disruptor field, but they are still a bunch of humans on board a vessel taken by Romulans." She smiled and looked at Holman. "Humans weaken quicker under extreme temperatures. Program the computer to increase ship-wide temperatures to fifty degrees Celsius and humidity up to one hundred percent." Tralisse paused. "Then, cut all lighting except on the Bridge and in Main Engineering. That should make them think twice about who's in control of this ship."

"Isn't that a bit much?" he questioned. "They may get heat-stroke."

"Afraid of a little heat, Jareth?" Tralisse's laugh held little emotion. "If any of the Federations die of natural causes, it's hardly my fault. They made the mistake of escaping. I am only trying to persuade them to surrender."

* * * * *

Dr. Braz and Reyllt already had the equipment they needed for their part in sabotaging the Titan, so they left for the Mess Hall as the other crew members split into groups and went to deck eleven.

Reyllt gallantly opened the nearest hatch. "After you, Doctor."

Braz rolled her eyes. "I think I'll pass, Rey. You did a great job of leading earlier."

"As you wish," he said as he once again crawled into the Jefferies tube. "Since we know the disruptor field does no go all the way to the wall, we can enter the Mess Hall through the crawlway."

Aria listened as she crawled behind Reyllt. "Yeah, but how are we going to get Xander back to Sickbay? I mean, they've got to know the crew's escaped by now."

Reyllt smiled. "There obviously are not many saboteurs onboard. I believe we will be able to retrieve Chief Yavan and get to Sickbay before the Romulans figure it out."

He came to a fork and took a left. "We're almost there." He took out his tricorder and scanned the Mess Hall. "Only three Romulan life signs - all inside the disruptor field - along with one Betazoid sign." He looked over his shoulder at Braz. "All are still unconscious, but they may begin to wake soon."

"They we don't have any time to waste." Aria pushed her sleeves up to her elbows. "Let's get him and get back to Sickbay. I've had enough of this crawling around."


Reyllt approached the hatch that led into the Mess Hall and quietly opened it a crack. Seeing there was no one unaccounted for, he slipped out of the crawlway then helped Braz to her feet.

The Vulcan knelt by one of the floor devices to deactivate the disruptor field. After it shimmered into non-existence, he and Aria steeped over to Xander's prone form.

Aria flipped out her tricorder, checking his vital signs, and nodded. He was stable.

At her nod, Reyllt took Xander's arm and pulled the body of the unconscious transporter chief over his shoulder.

They quietly stepped outside of the devices that marked the field's boundary and Aria re-activated it. She stopped when she saw one of the guards stir. "We've got to get out of here!" she whispered. "They're beginning to wake up!"

Quickly, the trio entered the corridor and turned toward Sickbay.

Reyllt could hear the turbolift approaching. "Aria!" he said, "Into that alcove! The lift is coming to this deck!"

They were barely hidden in the shadows as the hiss of the opening doors was heard.

Reyllt rested Yavan's body against the wall and shifted his position so he was slightly in front of Aria, almost in a protective stance. Stay behind me, he thought. He could not fathom the thought of the Romulans getting their hands on her. Taking a slow deep breath, he tried to clear his mind. Now was not the time for emotion to get in the way.

Aria and Reyllt held their breath as two of the disguised hijackers walked past the niche they were hiding in.

Reyllt listened to the Romulans as best he could, but Yavan was beginning to stir. He clapped a hand over Xander's mouth and turned to the doctor, "I believe we should get our transporter chief to Sickbay before he alerts the others to our presence."

"Agreed, but since they already know the two of us are loose, don't you think there'll be someone waiting for us in Sickbay?"

"That is a possibility," Reyllt answered.

The sound of disruptor fire and a death shriek from one of the guards stopped them for several seconds. Eyes wide, Reyllt picked up Yavan's body again. "We shall deal with that when we get there. Right now, I think it is more important we distance ourselves from the Mess Hall."

"Good idea," Aria said, drawing her phaser. "I'll lead the way."

* * * * *

After retrieving a tricorder and a few other tools from the storage unit on deck eleven, Deanna's team found a small hidden area to make their plans to take the Bridge.

The tip of Sharpclaw's tail twitched as he pulled up a schematic of the Titan on his tricorder. He studied the diagram with Lieutenant Tiege and Ensign Erith for a moment.

Tiege unzipped the top of his uniform a few centimeters and spoke, "It looks like there are several possible ways we could take the Bridge. We can sneak in by taking the Jefferies tubes to the Captain's Ready Room or to the Briefing Room."

"Very good, Lieutenant." Sharpclaw pointed to the display with a clawed finger, "Another option is to take the turbolift." His whiskers arched forward in his version of a smile. "Come in through the front door, so to speak."

The counselor listened to their suggestions. "Those are all good ideas, however, assuming the Romulans are searching for us, they would expect us to try and sneak in. I think we should come through the turbolift. The shock of us making such a bold move should give us the few seconds needed to take control."

"That's what I was thinking, Commander, however, that puts you in greater danger." Sharpclaw's left ear flicked back momentarily. "We don't know how many Romulans are on the Bridge--"

Troi figured this would come up sooner or later. She stopped him from continuing. "My safety is not the point, Lieutenant Sharpclaw. This is a group effort to take the Titan back. None of us knows what the odds are against us, but I plan on doing my part to get this ship back under our control. I expect you to do the same." She held his gaze for a moment. "When we take the Bridge, no matter how it's done, I'm going in with you."

With a whip of his long silver tail, Sharpclaw bowed his head slightly. "Aye, sir."

"Good." Troi slung the phaser rifle over her shoulder then loosened the collar of her uniform. She was beginning to feel hot, which was odd. The standard temperature of a starship always felt a bit cool to her.

Deanna looked at the others. They were showing signs of being uncomfortably hot, too. Tiege and Erith both had opened the tops of their uniforms. Sharpclaw seemed indifferent, except he was beginning to pant some through his mouth. "Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here?" she asked.

Ensign Erith answered as she raked a hand through her short brown hair, "It does feel warmer to me. The air feels thick, too, like it's more humid now."

At that moment the lights went out. Deanna sighed. It was pitch black. "I have a feeling our Romulan hosts have noticed we're gone."

"That would explain the jump in temperature," Tiege said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. "Romulans can stand hotter temps than most humanoid species can. They're probably trying to flush us out."

"Then we must work quickly," Sharpclaw hissed. "We have several decks to maneuver through before reaching the Bridge."

Deanna started to activate the wrist beacon she had taken from the storage unit, then remembered the advantage of having Sharpclaw on her team. "Sharpclaw, can you see?"

"Yes, I can," he responded. "Quite clearly at that."

"Good," Troi said, turning on the beacon. "That's one advantage we have if we get in a tight spot. Let's get to deck six by the Jefferies tubes then take the lift to the Bridge. I have my doubts they're watching the crew quarters for us."

Sharpclaw pulled up a diagram of the Jefferies tubes. He panted a few times before speaking. "We have quite a long climb ahead of us. I suggest we pace ourselves accordingly. We shoul first go to the crawlway on the other side of Engineering. It is a direct path up to deck six."

"I agree, Lieutenant," said Erith. "We could possibly take out some Romulans on the way." The Bajoran smirked as she rolled up the sleeves of her uniform. "That would probably help Commander Ibric's team."

Deanna pulled her long hair back, trying to get the bits unstuck from the back of her neck. "Then we have a plan. Let's move." She took her phaser rifle and addressed Sharpclaw, "We're following you, Lieutenant."

* * * * *

Lieutenant Commander Ibric Sark watched as his group of engineers took the necessary equipment out of the storage locker. He glanced at each piece as his people strode past him. When they were finished, he looked at the young crewmen before him.

Sark pulled at the collar of his uniform. All this sneaking around was making him uncomfortably hot. He took a quick breath. "Our priority is to get the warp core offline and the main computer locked off from our 'guests.' Our best bet is to split into two groups so we can get more work done. T'Mar, Avery and Espiro, I want you to work on sabotaging the main computer. Lee and Blakeman, you'll help me deal with the warp core."

Sark paused a moment to allow their assignments to sink in. "We'll stick together as long as possible, but it's inevitable we'll have to split up. Be careful. I have no doubt there'll be Romulans skulking around Engineering and, after our escape, they're probably not taking prisoners. All I ask is you do your best so we can hand this ship back to its rightful captain."

He was answered with several "Aye, sir"s from the team.

Sark smiled, proud of his crew. "Let's get to work."

* * * * *

As Fezzin led Rosnika into the corridor outside the Mess Hall, he heard a thump, like something had fallen to the floor. He stopped, giving her a silencing gesture.

They stood quietly and eventually heard shuffling coming from further down the corridor. Fezzin signaled again and he and Rosnika drew their disruptors, following the sound.

It wasn't long before they caught up to the source of the noise. Fezzin glanced around the corner he and Rosnika had just approached. About ten meters down the hall were three Federation crewmen, two helping one that appeared to be injured.

Fezzin whispered to his comrade, "They are going toward the Infirmary. I believe Jei left Thelak there in case the Federations returned." He stepped back a little ways before activating his commbadge. "Thelak, this is Fezzin. Are you still in Sickbay?"

"Yes, I am still in Sickbay. Why do you ask?"

"Be prepared for some company. Rosnika and I are following three Federations headed your way."

"Understood. Thelak out."

Fezzin smiled. This would be a great way to prove himself to the commander. "This should be fun."

* * * * *

Sark and his team crept into Main Engineering. They stopped momentarily at one of the stations right outside the warp core.

Sark faced them. "Okay, this is where we split up. Be careful and good luck." He let Lieutenant T'Mar's team continue on to the main computer interface before taking his group in.

When the officers were out of sight, Sark turned to Lieutenant Blakeman. "Julie, I want you to stay at this station and monitor our progress. Brent and I will start shutting the warp core down."

"Aye, sir," Julie Blakeman nodded as she tried to push back some of the dark blonde hair that was beginning to stick to her forehead. She managed to get over in a dark corner from which to watch the station.

"Come on, Brent, let's get started on the warp core." Sark shifted the toolkit he was carrying into his other hand, then led the way to their destination.

As he and Ensign Lee approached the core, Sark could feel the vibration in the floor plating as it gave life to the ship. He set the toolkit down in front of the console he and Brent were about to work on before unzipping the front of his uniform jacket. The heat was beginning to get unbearable.

Sark turned to address Lee, but the other officer wasn't behind him. A cold shiver show down his spine. "Brent? Where are you?"

He was answered by an unfamiliar voice, "We've been waiting for you, human."

* * * * *

Sharpclaw led his team toward Main Engineering. Counselor Troi had a wrist beacon activated, but he didn't see the need for it. The area they were about to sneak through appeared to be well-lit.

He flattened his left ear with a bit of confusion. Turning to the counselor, he started to speak as she reached to turn the beacon off. Sharpclaw arched his whiskers forward in a smile. She must've come to the same conclusion about the lighting as he.

Nodding in approval, he continued to tip-toe toward Engineering. He waved at the others to get against the wall as he poked his head around a corner. The security chief glanced around the room and, seeing it was empty, he sniffed the air. He could tell the Romulans had been there but it had been a while.

Sharpclaw turned back to the others. "Follow," he said, then took off to crouch behind the console in the middle of the room. He paused there for a moment, looking and sniffing some more before dashing through the entrance at the opposite end of the room.

He waited for the others to come, still keenly aware of his surroundings. The heat was really beginning to bother him. He tried to continue breathing through his nose because he was afraid his panting would give them away.

After a few moments, Counselor Troi, along with the two security officers, joined Sharpclaw. They were now in a dimly-lit corridor leading away from Engineering. Sharpclaw led them down the hallway and into a small room where several Jefferies tubes intersected.

He slung his phaser rifle over his shoulder and stepped up to the ladder in the center of the room. "This way," he said.

Lieutenant Tiege kept watch. Sharpclaw, followed by Counselor Troi and Ensign Erith, began climbing up the ladder.

Tiege waved at the others. "Quick! Someone's coming!" He pressed himself against the wall while the others scurried up into the Jefferies tube.

The security officer waited until the Romulan completely passed before trying to catch up with the others. He climbed up a few feet, then heard the hijacker coming back. Taking the ladder two rungs at a time, he was barely out of sight when the Romulan stopped outside the room Tiege and his comrades were just in.

Tiege stayed stock-still as the Romulan looked around, then walked on. He blew out the breath he'd been holding and climbed up to join his team members.

* * * * *

Aria stepped cautiously into the hallway. Seeing the coast was clear, she motioned for Reyllt to follow. He re-adjusted the semi-conscious form of Xander Yavan on his shoulder and walked behind her.

Yavan moaned as he started to come around. Aria jumped at the sound. In their attempt to be quiet, noises like that sounded ten times louder than they actually were. She turned to see Reyllt struggling with the chief, finally dropping him to his feet.

Braz holstered her phaser and swiftly walked back to help the head nurse. She and Reyllt shuffled Chief Yavan around until they each had one of his arms around them, then continued on to Sickbay.

* * * * *

Rosnika kept in step behind Fezzin as they followed the Federations to the Infirmary. She listened as the two uninjured, a male and female, talked and laughed quietly. It fascinated her when she noticed the male had pointed ears.

"He's a Vulcan," she said to Fezzin. Rosnika could hardly keep her thoughts to herself. "I thought Vulcans didn't laugh."

"That could be a falsehood. We really don't know much about our cousins."

"You're probably right," she answered.

* * * * *

Braz was a bit anxious and couldn't help but laugh a little at their situation. As she helped Reyllt carry Xander, she whispered, "You know Rey, we're only twenty or so meters from Sickbay but I think it's going to be the longest walk I've ever made."

"I know what you mean," he said, keeping pace with her. His face remained neutral as he continued, "It would be nice if the chief would stop trying to walk. Every time he has made an attempt, he has stomped on my foot."

The doctor giggled at Reyllt's admission. His sense of humor caught her that time. She looked ahead and saw the doors to Sickbay. "We're here. Let me see if we have any guests in there." Aria let go of the transporter chief and took out her tricorder. She started to open it when she heard a sound from behind.

* * * * *

Ensign Lisa Cartwright took a tricorder and a small toolkit that would work for re-configuring the secondary sensor array. She handed the latter to her partner, Ensign Warit Meiers. "Here you go."

Meiers nodded as she accepted the kit. "We're off to Astrometrics now?"

"In a minute," Cartwright answered. "I wanted to run something by you first."

"Sure! What do you have in mind?" The Bolian's dark eyes twinkled with a bit of amusement.

Lisa smiled. "I had an idea that may give us some extra time to get our signal out. I was thinking that since we're only three decks from Astrometrics it may save us some time to just sneak in there using the turbolift, instead of crawling through all the Jefferies tubes."

"Sounds like a good idea to me. I didn't like going through the bowels of the ship anyway," she laughed.

Lisa joined in the laughter. "Okay, then. That sounds like a plan." She patted her new friend on the shoulder.

As the two walked down the hallway, Lisa thought, All we have to worry about is accidentally finding a lift full of Romulans!

They came upon the intersection with the corridor that led to one of the turbolifts. Lisa scanned with her tricorder and, seeing they were safe, jogged to the lift. Meiers was right behind her when the doors opened, showing the area inside empty.

The two stepped inside. Meiers spoke, "This seems easy enough. So far, anyway." She paused for a moment. "It does seem a bit warmish, though."

"I was thinking the same thing, Warit." Cartwright pulled up her long red hair. "I just figured it was nerves."

Lisa felt her chest clench in fear when the lights inside the turbolift suddenly went out. "What happened?"

"I don't know," Meiers answered. "We're slowing down. Maybe the lights are faulty in this lift. I bet we'll be able to see when the doors open."

"Maybe." Lisa looked down at the display on her tricorder as the turbolift came to a stop. "I'm not reading any life-forms nearby. We should be safe."

The doors opened onto a darkened hallway. Lisa and Warit stepped carefully out and slowly made their way to Astrometrics. Cartwright kept a watchful eye on the tricorder display. There still were no life-signs as they approached their destination.

They both stood outside the doors of Astrometrics for a moment before entering. Lisa took a deep breath to try and steel herself. "Here goes nothing," she said, walking through the doors. She looked around then back to Ensign Meiers. "It's all clear. Come on, there's no telling how much time we have to get this message out."

Meiers nodded and pointed to a computer console on the far right wall. "Okay, the sensor array is over there."

The two walked over to the station and began pulling one of the panels off. Once the object was removed, Lisa placed it to the side. "Now we get to the easy part."

* * * * *

Tralisse had taken her seat in the captain's chair. Rosnika reported earlier that three of the Federations had been recaptured. A bit of pride washed over Tralisse knowing her daughter was in the group that caught them. From Rosnika's report, it sounded like two of the officers caught were the ones missing earlier. That, to Tralisse, was a big step toward collecting the remaining Federations.

Her train of thought was interrupted when Jareth Holman spoke. Even though he didn't speak much, his voice really irritated her.

"That's odd."

Tralisse looked up from the computer read-out she was studying. "What?"

"It looks like there's something going on with the secondary sensor array." He punched a few commands into the console in front of him. "I had the computer doing a sweep for any unusual activity and this showed up." He pointed to the display.

Maybe he isn't as useless as I thought. Tralisse walked up behind him to study the information on the display.

"As far as I know, there isn't supposed to be anyone in there," Holman offered.

Tralisse narrowed her eyes in thought, "I know." She turned to her guard. "Vehlan, gather your men and check Astrometrics. I believe some of our stray Federations are up to no good."

Vehlan straightened and bowed to his superior. "Aye, Commander," he said as he left the Bridge.

Tralisse gave Holman an appraising look. "Good job. Perhaps you are still of some use to me."

He managed a weak smile. "Thank you, Commander."

* * * * *

Fezzin tapped Rosnika's shoulder as they watched the Federations step into the alcove outside Sickbay. "We make our move now."

The two snuck down the corridor toward the three escapees.

Right as they approached the niche, Fezzin raised his weapon to the human female's head.

Rosnika aimed her weapon at the Vulcan. She watched as the female paused before turning around.

The female turned right toward Fezzin's disruptor and became even more pale before dropping the instrument she was holding.

* * * * *

"What's wrong, Doctor?" Reyllt asked, twisting his head to see what was going on behind him.

Aria turned and dropped her tricorder. There was a disruptor pointed right at her forehead.

Braz's mouth was completely dry when she answered, "We have company, Reyllt."

* * * * *

Sharpclaw glanced around the corner. "The turbolift is about fifteen meters to our right," he panted.

When Troi answered, her voice sounded tired, "Okay. Lead the way, Lieutenant."

The Sivaoan took a deep breath before leading the others toward the lift. He stopped just outside the doors. "Everyone against the wall in case someone is inside."

In the low lighting, Sharpclaw watched the grey forms of his team flatten themselves against the bulkhead. He could tell they were all tired and exhausted from moving around the stuffy corridors of the Titan. The Romulans did have some merit on that point. They knew what would weaken their enemy. They just didn't figure perseverance into the equation.

He shook his head, getting back to the matter at hand. Sharpclaw knew that surprise was his most prized weapon. He stepped to the side and tapped the button that would open the lift doors. Once they were open, he spun around to the entrance, phaser rifle in hand. The turbolift was empty.

"Clear," he whispered, helping the group inside before entering himself.

The doors hissed shut and Deanna spoke, "Is everyone in place?" A series of whispered affirmatives were her answer. "Bridge," she ordered.

The turbolift began its short journey to the Bridge and the security chief crouched down near the doors, ready for action.

Feeling the lift slow toward its destination, he crouched even lower, his muscles tightly coiled with claws extended. When the almost-blinding light of the Bridge flooded inside, he sprang directly for the nearest life-form he saw.

* * * * *

Sark felt what he thought to be the end of a disruptor being pressed into the small of his back. "I'd imagine so," he said, "but you aren't very observant. I'm Bajoran."

"That really doesn't matter to me. All Federation species are weak. Drop what you are carrying and turn around slowly."

Seeing as he didn't have much choice, Sark did as he was told. He let the warp field calibrator fall from his hand and un-holstered his phaser as he faced his captors. There were three disguised Romulans. One with the disruptor now pointed at his head and two more holding Ensign Lee.

"Tell me, Federation man, where are the rest of your friends hiding?"

As the hijacker spoke, Sark noticed a bit of movement in the shadows behind the Romulans.

He smirked at the one who spoke. "They're hiding all over. One wrong move and they'll take you out."

"Really?" the Romulan laughed. "I find that hard to believe. Your people aren't that devious."

Sark recognized Lieutenant T'Mar's slender form creep up behind the captors holding Ensign Lee. He did his best to keep the Romulans' attention while his people went to work. "Honestly, you have no idea."

T'Mar took that moment to grasp the left guard's neck with the Vulcan nerve pinch. The guard fell to the floor unconscious.

Lee stomped the second guard's foot, following up with an elbow to the midsection. The guard doubled over, all the while trying to hang on to Lee. A phaser beam lanced from across the room, hitting the Romulan in the back.

The Romulan talking to Sark spun to see what the commotion was behind him. Sark used the distraction to kick the hijacker's feet out from under him. He landed face-first on the floor and his disruptor clattered from his hand. As he scrambled to get up, Sark picked up the toolkit behind him and used it to knock the Romulan over the head.

Sark smiled at the unconscious form at his feet. Wiping the moisture from his brow, he took a deep breath. "I think we're pretty devious." He looked at the other engineers. "What happened there?"

Lieutenant T'Mar answered, "Lieutenant Blakeman saw the Romulans as they followed you and Ensign Lee toward the warp core. Apparently they didn't notice her hiding by the monitoring station."

Blakeman approached with Ensigns Avery and Espiro. "While they were occupied with the two of you I snuck off and brought in the cavalary."

"Well, you did a great job!" Sark praised. "Let's get the equipment off these bastards and get them locked inside one of the offices." He pointed to each of the prone forms in turn. "Avery, you and T'Mar take the left guard. Espiro and Blakeman, take the right and Lee, you help me with this guy."

The engineers divided accordingly and took their captives to the nearest office.

Once they got the Romulans inside, Sark pulled out a length of optical cable from a nearby wall panel and, with the help of the others, bound and gagged the former hijackers.

The engineers left the incapacitated Romulans and returned to their assignments. David Avery noticed some kind of device attached to one of the far walls. "What the--?" He wiped his brow, then went to find Sark. "Sir! I think I've found something."

Sark looked where the young ensign was pointing and saw the box he had found. He and Avery walked over to it.

"What do you make of it, sir?" Avery asked.

Sark studied the object in question, lightly stroking his goatee. "My God, it's a cloaking device." He knelt next to the piece of equipment, looking at the connections. "We've got to disable this!"

Sark addressed the officers behind him, "Change of plans, people, listen up! Avery, I need you, Lee, T'Mar and Espiro to get the remaining systems ready for lockup. When you're finished, start taking the warp core offline."

As the others turned to go about their business, he turned to Lieutenant Blakeman. Sark stared at her for a moment. She reminded him of Lyda. Their hair was very similar and her eyes were almost the same color. He had to get back to Lyda. He couldn't - no, wouldn't - leave her. Lyda needed him as much as he needed her.

Blakeman noticed his look. "Sir?"

"Sorry." He shook his head, giving her a lopsided smile. "You remind me of someone I know."

Sark raked a hand through his sweat-slicked hair as he returned to the task at hand. "Julie, I want you to help me get this contraption disconnected from my power matrix. We'll help the others when we're finished."

* * * * *

The turbolift doors opened and Tralisse turned toward the sound. She hadn't called anyone to the Bridge.

All she saw was a grey and while streak coming directly for her.