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0. The Great Chase

The USS Century is sent to track down and monitor a Borg Scout vessel and ascertain the purpose of it's incursion.

Chasing Sensor Ghosts and Ill Premonitions

USS Century
2401

Captain Gar’rath sat behind his desk, the displays before him hovering silently while fluttering with a myriad of reports and situational reports from the USS Century’s patrol area. The longer the Gorn studied the reports coming in, the more he began to worry that something was amiss in his part of space. Reports of unregistered craft throughout Federation space wasn’t at all unheard of, and many times those very same craft were being piloted by some random citizen who simply wanted to live their lives in relative obscurity away from the eyes of others. It wasn’t far-fetched and certainly not against any actual laws to live on the fringes and go where they pleased without reason. What was concerning was the descriptions of the craft that had been seen following a rather chaotic flight path. Several reports merely described an oblong vessel with no obvious propulsion system, while others contained hull composition data listing tritanium as the primary building material. Even having been a security officer his entire career, Gar’rath knew that such a composition was not the workings of a ‘friendly’.

“Lieutenant James,” the Gorn said, looking up toward the middle distance of the room, “Report to my Ready Room.”

The ship transmitted his command through the comm system and a few moments later, the aforementioned Lieutenant walked into the space, his hands drifting behind his back absently as he looked to his commander. “Yes, Captain?” the science officer asked with a tinge of curiosity.

“Tritanium hulls,” Gar’rath said after shifting the display out of his line of sight.

After a brief pause, Lt. James shrugged, “What about them?”

“What species is know for using them almost exclusively for outer hull construction?” the Gorn inquired, already having a good idea as to what the answer might actually be.

“As far as I’m aware, tritanium in the kind of quantity to cover an entire ship’s hull is generally a Borg construction method,” the man answered after a moment of thought.

“I thought as much…” the Gorn grumbled, his throat rumbling in displeasure.

Lt. James raised an eyebrow at the comment, “Something the matter, sir?”

“Perhaps…” was all the Gorn said in reply. With another glance at the displays off to his side, the Captain made up his mind that it was something worth investigating and rose from his chair. “Gather the senior staff and have them report to the observation lounge immediately.”

“I’m on it, Captain,” the man said as he quickly turned on his heels and departed to do as he had been asked. Alone once more, Gar’rath walked over to the view port and looked out into the cascading star field that accompanied warp travel. If his suspicions were correct, some manner of Borg craft had infiltrated Federation space, and was just as likely to enter other territorial holdings of surrounding powers for some unknown but no doubt nefarious end. The fact that the object hadn’t garnered more attention was strange, which could mean that the reports might not be as accurate as they let on, or something else entirely was taking place. He couldn’t be sure, which was why at the very least, he was going to consult with his crew.

Gar’rath abandoned his contemplative vigil of the stars and walked out onto the expansive bridge of the Constitution-III class vessel he’d been given command of. All of the critical positions were manned by the relief crewmen, meaning that his science officer had already gathered the bridge crew and they were awaiting his arrival. The Gorn officer scaled the steps leading up to the command chairs, passing by the vacant center seat on his way to the rear of the compartment. Another flight of stairs traversed brought him to the observation lounge where his senior officers sat waiting for his arrival. Instead of going directly to his chair, the Gorn walked to the port side wall, bringing up the information on the display that he had been reviewing before finally taking a seat.

“I’ve been reviewing message traffic from the local area, and I’ve noticed a pattern of reports that has caused me some concern,” the Gorn remarked while casting his eyes over the crew gathered before him, “While they haven’t actually said the word Borg in any of them, the signs are rather clear that it is a possibility that this is who these reports are mentioning. Hull composition reports chief among them. Lieutenant James was kind enough to confirm my suspicions on that front already, thought he didn’t know that’s why I asked about it.”

Lt. James nodded silently in agreement with his Captain. The rest of the staff stole glances at one another at the revelation from their commander. While they hadn’t worked under him for very long, most of the crew had a good grasp of his overall personality, and jokes are not featured as part of it. If he was saying there was a Borg incursion of some kind, it was what he really thought was happening.

“And what do you suggest we do with this information, Captain?” the first voice to break the silence was that of the Vulcan engineer, Lieutenant Commander Sorreth.

“Investigate its voracity, Commander,” the Gorn’s reptilian head swiveled toward the engineer, “I would rather we look into this matter while it is still scattered routine transmissions than have to respond to a crisis we are likely ill-equipped to handle, even with this vessel’s capabilities.”

“Logical,” Sorreth conceded.

“But what are we going to do with it once we find it?” the Commander sitting directly to Gar’rath’s left asked. The Gorn turned to regard his first officer, a Human woman by the name of Abigail Peters, taking note of the look of apprehension on her face.

“Observation is the primary objective,” the Captain stated in an even tone, “Even if we are unable to match the vessel tactically alone, the possibility exists that conflict with vessels is not their primary objective. If it were, there would have been far more detailed reports of attacks made already.”

“What if that is only because they haven’t encountered Starfleet vessels on their flight path. It stands to reason they haven’t already encountered any since none of the reports you called up are from any of our ships,” the Century’s security officer, Lieutenant Khar spoke up.

Gar’rath turned to regard the Klingon, “That is a risk, one we are here to discuss.”

“I see,” Lt. Khar said in a contemplative manner before remarking, “While I do not wish to sound like a coward, fighting the Borg with such a tactical disadvantage will only lead to an honor-less death, if not worse.”

“Possibly,” the Gorn nodded his head slightly, “However, that is only if these reports are true. The fact remains that each of the reports comes from areas that are not in direct flight paths from one another and only similar in their areas might mean that they caught sight of something other than what I suspect it might be. It could be that we are chasing sensor ghosts or some manner of malfunction in their equipment that made them believe they saw something that they did not.”

“Then why look into it at all?” Lt. Khar asked.

“Because failing to do so would open the Federation and our neighbors to unnecessary risks. Much as I hate to say it… this is the right thing to do,” Cmdr. Peters chimed in, the exasperation clear in her voice.

“Indeed,” Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth chimed in.

“Doctor,” Gar’rath said as he turned his gaze toward the only other Lieutenant Commander in the room, “Do you have anything to add?”

The chief physician, a Betazoid woman by the name of Reli Odaim, offered a weak shrug from her seat at the table, “Not really. Much as I don’t like the idea of having to plan for possible assimilation, I would feel even worse if we let this one go and there was an actual threat lurking about that took advantage of our reluctance to get involved.”

“Thank you for that, Doctor,” Gar’rath lowered his head slightly before sweeping his gaze across the gathered personnel once more, “I understand and appreciate your apprehensions about this, but as it has already been said, doing nothing may prove to be the greater folly. While the risk is not mine alone to accept, the decision to act on this information is grounded in the tangible risk to more lives than we might ever hope to count ourselves. Though I am hopeful that this is truly an exercise in futility on our part chasing what isn’t actually there, we must be prepared to accept that we are going to encounter a Borg vessel and prepare ourselves and the crew for such an encounter. I trust I can leave it to you to get your people onboard with this.”

“Yes, sir,” the assembled officers spoke up in near unison. Gar’rath straightened up and nodded firmly before stating bluntly, “Let’s see it done.”

Reservations / Resolutions

USS Century
2401

A tense atmosphere hung over the bridge as the various senior staff members approached their respective posts, only to inform their relief officers that they would need to remain on watch. Some of them were better at hiding their misgivings coming out of the meeting better than others, leaving the general feeling of something being amiss lingering in the air. Captain Gar’rath was the only member of the command staff that remained on the bridge, taking his usual spot in the center seat.

“Helm,” the Gorn said in his deep timbre, “Adjust our heading toward the Romulan Republic border, maximum warp.”

“Aye sir, adjusting course,” the Ensign at the controls said without looking back.

“Is something going on over in the Republic?” The young Junior Grade manning the tactical station asked. The question was a natural one, with the Republic being a relatively new addition to the roster of friendly states, it wasn’t at all unexpected that they might reach out for assistance should they need it, and the Century’s close proximity to their shared border made it an obvious choice for a response. A somewhat exaggerated shake of the  Gorn’s head signaled that the man’s suspicion was incorrect. 

“There have been no calls for aid by anyone in the region,” Gar’rath stated flatly, “We are pursuing what I am hoping to be false reports of strange vessel sightings in this region of space.”

“Strange how, sir? What should we be looking for?” the tactical officer pressed, eager to assist while he was manning the station.

“Tritanium hulled vessels,” the Captain said after a brief pause to contemplate how he wanted to break the news, “There have been some reports sent out regarding vessels of this make, though they have been rather vague as to location and descriptions otherwise. It is strange enough to warrant investigation, but currently only suspicious and little more.”

“So there haven’t been any distress calls linked to these sightings?” an Ensign manning the communications console spoke up.

“None that I have seen, no,” Gar’rath admitted while turning to look at the speaker.

“Should I keep a lookout for further reports of a similar nature?” the woman asked.

“Please do, and inform me of it should it come through,” the Captain requested before shifting his focus back to the view screen. 

Several hushed conversations took place around the Gorn as he sat watching space rush around the ship, most of the curious but unobtrusive and inoffensive. Given his own contemplative nature, Gar’rath couldn’t blame the crew for constructing their own views on what had motivated their Captain to change course so suddenly to chase down something he’d said he wasn’t even sure was there.

As time passed, the senior staff returned to there stations, resuming the work that had been started in their absence. The only person who hadn’t taken a seat was the ship’s Executive Officer, who stood off to Gar’rath’s right. The Gorn turned his head slightly to the side to glance up at Commander Peters, taking stock of the expression on her face. Her earlier apprehension had hardened into something akin to resolve, prompting him to ask, “Do we have something to discuss?”

“If you wouldn’t mind, Captain,” Peters replied, looking just slightly off guard by the sudden question that seemed to read her mind.

The Gorn nodded and pushed himself out of his chair, looking over to his Operations Officer with a measured look conveying who was now in charge of the bridge in his absence. The Vulcan gave him a brief nod before vacating his position to occupy the one Gar’rath had left behind. This exchange took place so quickly that the two officers had barely enough time to get halfway across the room before the footsteps of the Vulcan could be heard climbing the stairs.

The Gorn made his way through the doors of his Ready Room as they parted, stalking his way behind the desk in the center of it before sinking down into the chair resting just slightly removed from it. Cmdr. Peters took one of the two seats in front of the desk, taking a moment to shift into a more comfortable posture before finally speaking.

“I’ve spoken to several departments about our mission change, and there are a few people that have raised concerns given what we know and what we anticipate to find at the end of this investigation of ours. I’m sure you know already that I have encountered the Borg previously in my career, and do not at all relish the thought of another encounter with them. A fair number of our crew have had similar interactions with them and are even less enthusiastic about it. To put it bluntly, those of us who know first hand what we could be looking at aren’t in a hurry to go through that again… and I feel it is my duty to inform you of that,” the Commander said in a firm tone.

“Understandable, Commander,” Gar’rath said while dipping his head down slightly, “And I appreciate the candor. The fact remains, however, that this is something we must do to ensure that tragedies such as those you were witness to are not repeated. I have no intention of putting the lives of this crew in danger for no reason, nor am I looking for a fight. I sincerely hope that we are indeed chasing after rumors and they prove to be unfounded. That does not relieve us of the obligation to investigate these reports to make sure, even if I have doubts about their authenticity and some of the crew have misgivings about a possible encounter with an unassailable foe. I will note the concerns you have brought to my attention, Commander, but it does not alter our objective or my orders. We will see this through, for the benefit of all involved.”

Abigail shifted uncomfortably in her seat after hearing the declaration of her Captain. Several moments of silence slipped by as she struggled to formulate an argument that could somehow spare her and others from the pain of having to relive an encounter that still haunted her dreams. But at the root of it all was the cold hard truth that avoiding an encounter with a possible enemy simply because it felt wrong to her wasn’t enough. Personal comfort was nothing in the face of the widespread catastrophes that could be wrought should the reports be true and a Borg ship be allowed to run rampant through the area simply because facing a fear inducing foe was unpalatable. 

Captain Gar’rath watched the various expressions flash on his XO’s face as she struggled to make sense of everything, and perhaps reconcile her feelings with her responsibilities as a member of Starfleet. This was something the Gorn had been forced to learn in his time among mammalian races. His own personal feelings on matters of duty never played a part in his thought processes, even if they were ever present in his mind. Unlike him, most of his compatriots were seldom able to separate themselves from how they felt, and even the cold logic of is Vulcan crew could be tainted by personal biases at times. This was one of the many reasons why Gar’rath chose to encourage his crew to come to him with their thoughts so openly, because he knew without a doubt that his way of thinking was just as alien to his crew as their thoughts on things were alien to him.

After dealing with various stages of emotional distress and cold rationality, Cmdr. Peters let out a long sigh and nodded to herself, “I understand, Captain. We’ll see this through to the end. Thank you for taking the time to hear me out.”

“It is no trouble in the least, Abby,” Gar’rath said in as warm a tone as he was capable of, “We have spoken about this before. I value your thoughts on these matters given how differently our species react to things. I would be a poor leader indeed to ignore these things out of hand simply because I do not understand them as you do.”

Abigail looked up from her lap and allowed the corners of her mouth to quirk upwards just a bit, “I have to admit I’m jealous of how easily you can compartmentalize things. I wish I could do it even a tenth as well as you can.”

“It is our differences that make us such a good team,” Gar’rath said with narrowed eyes, “If you could do as I can, neither of us would notice things about those around us and we would make poor leaders for the crew of this ship. Best that we stay as we are.”

Abigail chuckled softly at that, “I suppose that’s true. Envy is never a good thing.”

“Not entirely a bad thing either. It was envy of the closeness of Human culture that drove me to join the Federation when I lived on Cestus III,” Gar’rath commented with what amounted to a toothy grin among Gorn. The gesture was a bit jarring for most people who witnessed it, but Cmdr. Peters seemed at least accustomed to it, and somewhat amused.

“Envy and pride are tied together, and my people have pride in abundance. It should be no surprise that envy follows closely behind,” the Gorn remarked.

“That’s fair,” Peters said with a shrug, “But you never struck me as being overly prideful.”

“I hide it well, Commander,” Gar’rath said with a hint of mirth in his tone, “As you say, I am adept at compartmentalizing things.”

Abby let out a bit more of a genuine laugh at that statement, “Using my words against me already, huh?”

The Gorn shrugged his massive shoulders in an overly exaggerated manner, “Who’s to say…”

“I hate that you know that phrase…” Peters said while shaking her head.

“You seem less tense now,” Gar’rath noted.

A frustrated sigh escaped the woman’s lips, “Yes… thanks… I suppose… I don’t think I’ll ever get used to getting cheered up by a Gorn of all things…”

“Cheering up mammals wasn’t something I had thought possible when I started out in Starfleet either,” Gar’rath said, emitting what amounted to a chuckle for his species.

A long silence settled over the two before Peters spoke up again, “We really aren’t going after this thing looking for a fight, right?”

“We are not,” Gar’rath said firmly, “This is purely reconnaissance. If it turns out to be nothing, you are free to laugh at me and my overreaction to these foolish reports. And if it turns out to be something… the moment it seems unsafe, I will turn the ship around myself, even if I have to throw the Conn officer across the room to do it.”

“Extreme… but appreciated. I’ll make some reassurances to the individuals who came to me with reservations and see if I can’t keep morale from flagging too far down over this,” Abigail said as she pushed herself onto her feet.

“Thank you, XO,” Gar’rath said with a nod.

A(n un)lucky break…

USS Century
2401

Several days slipped by as the USS Century continued to pursue the scattered reports of vessels matching descriptions of Borg vessels. The longer they searched, the more confident the crew started to become in their assertion that this was simply an act of over caution on the part of their Captain and not something to be worried about. Several stops along the rather chaotic route yielded explanations for the sightings, not the least of all being sensor malfunctions. By the end of the week, the oppressive mood that has lingered at the start of their investigation was nowhere to be seen. Almost no one aboard the ship was even discussing it in the same way they had been originally. Hushed rumors had given way to joking statements about their grand adventure chasing down glitches.

Captain Gar’rath was happy that his crew had found ways to break through their initial fears, and while he hadn’t determined the mission a complete wash, he was giving serious consideration to the prospect of returning to their original patrol route, even if he hadn’t been ordered to do so by Starfleet. It was that very thing that had prompted him to meet with his Executive Officer, who was sitting in a chair opposite him in the observation lounge following a routine update brief they held at that particular time of the week.

“I’m tempted to say ‘I told you so’,” Commander Peters said with a smirk after the last officer had vacated the room.

“Only tempted?” the Captain asked with skepticism riddling his tone.

Abigail shrugged at the retort, “Call it a bad habit of mine, but I don’t like saying things like that until I know for sure that I did actually tell you so.”

“It would appear that may be on the path to being correct, Abby. Any other circumstance might make it difficult for me to admit that, given the time and care I took to ensure that I wasn’t merely reading into things before altering our course and objectives… but in this instance I am less inclined to resist the admission.” Gar’rath said in a low, rumbling voice.

“Is that a hint of that famous Gorn pride rearing its head?” Peters said with a teasing lilt.

“I see I’m not the only one adept at using another’s words against them,” Gar’rath fired back.

Cmdr. Peters clutched her chest in feigned offense, “I would never!”

The Gorn was about to wave the comment away when the comm system chirped to interrupt. “Captain, please report to the bridge,” the voice of Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth echoed in the observation lounge. Had his face been capable of it, Gar’rath would surely have frowned at the strange interjection from the Vulcan officer, given that he knew exactly where he was. An unsettling feeling bombarded him as he pushed himself out of his chair and moved rather swiftly for his species toward the exit into the bridge.

“What is it, Commander?” the Captain asked as he moved to take his position in the center chair.

“We’ve received a distress call from a civilian freighter, Captain,” Sorreth stated in the disinterested timbre common among Vulcans.

“Set an intercept course,” Gar’rath ordered, which drew a spirited “On it, Captain,” from the helmsman. The Gorn turned back to face the Vulcan, “If that was all there is, you could have handled this without my intervention.”

“Under the circumstances, I felt it better if it came from you, as it appears your theory regarding our erratic visitor was correct,” Sorreth responded to the Captain before bringing up a tactical display on the main view screen. The object taking center stage on the display was highlighted green, with a compositional read out displaying information matching all known Borg construction compositions.

“Good thing I kept my mouth shut…” Cmdr. Peters mumbled just loud enough for Gar’rath to catch it.

The Gorn turned just enough to glance at Abigail before returning his attention to the viewer. “XO, set Red Alert.”

“Aye sir,” Peters nodded before announcing in a loud voice, “Red Alert, all hands to battle stations! This is not a drill!” As the words left her mouth, the compartment dimmed, and the displays shifted from their normal blues and greens to the blues and reds that accompanied the alert status. The alert klaxon sounded several times before silencing itself.

“Is the vessel sending out the distress call under attack?” Gar’rath inquired as he studied the display.

“Negative, it is departing the area without pursuit,” the Vulcan responded curtly.

The Captain turned toward the officer manning the communications console, “Contact the vessel and inform them we are on route. Have them inform us immediately if the vessel begins to pursue them.”

“Right away, Captain,” the man responded, turning his attention to the task.

“Lieutenant Khar, raise shields and power up the weapons, but hold your fire once we make contact. If the vessel isn’t currently engaged in hostilities, it may ignore us as long as we don’t act aggressively,” the Gorn said without turning to address the Klingon.

“Weapons and shields are already online, Captain,” Khar responded from his position.

“Vessel is maintaining course and speed away from the civilian vessel. Pursuit seems unlikely at this point,” Sorreth remarked.

“Time to contact?” Gar’rath asked, his eyes never leaving the display.

“Three minutes at present speed,” came the reply from the helm.

Gar’rath leaned back in his chair, contemplating all of the possible responses they might receive from the vessel. The best case scenario he could envision was that the vessel would completely ignore them, going about whatever directive they had been given without so much as a spared thought to their presence. The worst case scenario saw their vessel being attacked the moment they dropped out of warp. Sadly, both outcomes were equally likely, and everything in between was also no less possible when dealing with an enemy as inscrutable as the Borg. The only consolation they currently had was that the ship that had alerted them to the presence of the Borg vessel wasn’t currently being hunted down or in the midst of being assimilated. Time slipped by swiftly, and as the Century dropped out of warp, the main viewer switched from the tactical display to a visual of the vessel in question.

Dark metallic latticeworks highlighted by an eerie green glow at various points along the oblong craft greeted the crew, simultaneously simplistic and menacing. As the crew continued to gather information regarding their target, it became more and more apparent that the best case scenario had won out.

“I am not reading any reaction from the Borg vessel at all, Captain,” Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth said after reviewing the information displayed by his console, “It would appear that whatever directive this vessel was given does not currently include assimilation of nearby vessels.”

“Can you tell what it is they are doing?” Cmdr. Peters asked from her chair.

“Not currently. Scans indicate that the vessel is active, the drone within are not in stasis, but there are no other overt signs that might indicate what their purpose for being in the area is,” the Operations officer reported.

In the midst of their conversation, the console before Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth emitted a rather troubling warning sound. “Captain, the Borg vessel is about to go to warp,” the Vulcan reported.

“Can we follow them?” Gar’rath asked, leaning forward.

The short pause from the Operations officer seemed far longer than it actually was before he said, “I believe so, yes. Their destination is within this sector.”

“Do it,” the Captain said firmly. The JG manning the helm began inputting coordinates as soon as he heard the Gorn speak. Gar’rath watched as the Borg ship hurled itself into warp, and a moment later the screen showing the Century going to warp in pursuit.

“Contact Starfleet Command and inform them of our discovery and of our intention to keep the vessel under surveillance for as long as is safe to do so,” the Captain said, turning his attention to the communications officer.

“Aye sir,” the man responded without turning back to look at the Gorn.

“What do you suppose they’re doing out here jumping from point to point?” Cmdr. Peters wondered aloud.

“Hopefully we can discover that before the vessel turns hostile…” Capt. Gar’rath said as he leaned back into his chair.

Sophistic Behavior

USS Century
2401

Captain Gar’rath sat perched in the center chair on the bridge, staring at the view screen as it displayed a Borg Scout vessel surrounded by the streaking star field that accompanied warp flight. The crew around him kept themselves busy monitoring their situation as well as that of the craft before them. Their encounter had come just on the cusp of them giving up their search, meaning that most of them had let their guard down just enough to have to scramble to keep up with the situation.

“It would appear the Borg are preparing to drop out of warp,” Lieutenant Commander Sorreth announced from his console forward of the Captain’s position.

“Try to match our own drop out as close as possible. It is fine if we drop out a second or two before them and have to chase them down a bit,” Gar’rath remarked, leaning forward in his chair.

A shift in view accompanied a brief sensation of deceleration as the Century dropped out of warp and came to a relative stop about one million kilometers or so away from the Borg Scout. The vessel they were chasing after sat at a stand-off distance with a dilapidated communications relay of Romulan design. As far as ‘targets’ went for Borg attention, the current one certainly seemed incredibly out of place.

“What are they doing?” Commander Peters asked from her chair to Gar’rath’s right.

“Sensors are picking up transporter signals at various locations throughout the relay station,” the Vulcan Operations officer reported.

“Are they going to assimilate the relay? That thing looks like it’s barely holding together as it is…” the XO muttered in confusion.

“I am not reading any life signs aboard the relay. It would appear they are harvesting components from the remains of that installation,” Sorreth replied to Peters’ utterance.

“What components are they taking from that station?” Capt. Gar’rath asked, his reptilian eyes narrowing.

“Redundant power relays, fragments of the inner hull, several non-essential workstations…” the Vulcan answered before commenting, “A most illogical assortment of items.”

Lieutenant Khar grunted at statement from his place at the tactical console, “Knowing the Borg, they could turn a chair into a weapon if you gave them enough time.”

Gar’rath turned to regard the Klingon for a moment before letting out a huff of air, “I’m not sure this is a means to procure more weapons, Lieutenant… but keep your eyes on them nevertheless.”

“Sir, the craft is prepping to go to warp again,” the helmsman spoke up, drawing the Captain’s attention toward him.

“I believe I have located their next destination. It appears to be a star system just outside of the Velorum Nebula. That particular system is currently controlled by a local warlord and outside of allied space,” the Operations officer explained.

“Follow them as far as the border of Republic space, and notify the local authorities of our purpose and mission. I don’t want anyone to be caught up in a conflict with that vessel in ignorance,” Gar’rath ordered.

The communications officer set about making contact as the Captain requested, while the helmsman busied himself adjusting their pursuit course to reflect his wished. As soon as the Borg Scout departed the system, the Century jumped to warp immediately behind it.

“Lieutenant James, any thoughts on what the Borg might be doing with the equipment they took aboard from that station?” Gar’rath turned toward his Science officer.

The man scratched the back of his head briefly, “Hard to say. Some of that gear was most likely to replace aging systems. We know that vessels like that tend to go for long periods without any support from the Hive, and need to scavenge for parts from time to time. The fact that they only took what seems to be redundant systems is a bit concerning, though. If they are only taking parts that would go unnoticed for long periods of time, they may have been attempting to avoid detection, which shows a level of guile we haven’t really seen from the Borg previously.”

“It would be a terrible day indeed if the Borg adapted subterfuge into their tactics,” Lt. Khar growled from his console.

“I am inclined to agree,” Gar’rath nodded, “A Borg vessel you didn’t see coming is an ever bigger threat than one you did…”

“This may not be intentional subterfuge,” Sorreth interjected, “And merely a case of coincidental happenstance. Without knowing how many other stations they have visited and what was taken from each one and why, it is impossible to conclude that their actions were anything but sophistical at this juncture.”

“In other words…?” Cmdr. Peters asked, fishing for a more simplified explanation.

“In other words,” Sorreth paused in what amounted to Vulcan displeasure at having to ‘dumb things down’, “It is just as likely we are assigning motive where none exists.”

“Ah… so we’re reading too much into it then,” Abigail nodded in comprehension.

Lt. Khar let out an exhausted huff of air, “I will never understand the Vulcan need to use a hundred words to say something anyone else can say in ten…”

“I find it equally puzzling how Klingons have reached the level of technological prowess they possess while being obsessed with combat nearly exclusively,” Sorreth shot back.

“Alright, gentlemen, you’ve had your fun… Let’s focus on the mission at hand, shall we? We can compare notes on cultural differences after we figure out what these Borg are doing here,” Cmdr. Peters cut in before another volley of ‘friendly fire’ could be launched. Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth nodded silently from his console while Lt. Khar growled in displeasure but didn’t add anything further.

“Perhaps we should just let them fight it out,” Gar’rath suggested just loud enough for his XO to hear him.

Abby pressed a hand to her temple, “Let’s not… I’d be the one to have to clean up that mess and I am not ready to file that kind of paperwork…”

“It isn’t that hard,” Gar’rath issued a chuckle, “I used to have to generate those kinds of reports all the time when I was a security officer.”

“Yes… well I was a pilot most of my career, and flying a desk isn’t something I’m especially great at. Bar fights, yes… the aftermath of said fights… not so much,” Cmdr. Peters said with a strained smile.

“Another time, then…” Gar’rath remarked, returning his attention to view screen once more.

Shots in the Dark

USS Century
2401

The USS Century eased to a stop as it neared the border separating Romulan Republic-controlled space with that of the various fractured ‘empires’ of various warlords who have taken control of a host of former Romulan Empire worlds. The crew now had to rely entirely on their long range sensors to keep track of what the Borg Scout was up to.

“Lieutenant James,” Captain Gar’rath asked as he turned toward his Science officer, “Do we have any probes that we could launch that would be able to intercept the vessel at its destination?”

“Our fastest probe wouldn’t arrive for another hour behind the probe, unfortunately,” Lt. James responded, “Our long range sensors are thankfully good enough to get fairly accurate information in real-time. We just won’t have visuals of what is taking place there.”

Gar’rath let out a huff of air, “Very well. Monitor the situation and display relevant information on the main viewer.”

“Aye, sir,” Lt. James said with a nod.

“Captain,” the voice of the Century’s Security officer cut in, “There is an incoming Romulan vessel, one minute to contact.”

“At least they didn’t come in cloaked, that’s a good sign,” Commander Peters said as she turned toward Lt. Khar, “Downgrade to Yellow Alert, we’re far enough away from the Scout ship that we can afford to relax just a bit.”

“Agreed,” the Gorn remarked before turning to the communications officer, “Hail the incoming Romulan vessel. I do not want them thinking us poor guests in their own territory.”

“Yes Captain,” the man said as he inputted the various console commands. In opposition to expectations, the view screen shifted almost immediately to the image of a Romulan sitting in a compartment tinted a pale green. It was odd to see a Romulan not wearing the uniform of the Star Empire in command of a vessel, though it wasn’t an unpleasant surprise.

“Greetings, Captain. I was informed of your purpose for entering the area and was asked to provide assistance. I am Commander Samohk,” the man remarked in greetings.

“Captain Gar’rath, it is a pleasure to meet you Commander. I am glad to see you received our warning and no vessels were caught in the path of the Borg ship,” the Gorn replied in kind.

“Most fortunate indeed. Your warning was most fortuitous, several cargo ships had intended to pass through this area prior to your message. I am certain they are grateful to have avoided assimilation,” the Romulan replied with a smirk.

“Unfortunately, our target has entered contested space, leaving us to keep watch here. Is there a long range sensor array nearby that we might access temporarily to conduct more detailed surveillance?”

The Commander on screen shook his head, “I’m afraid not. Most of our resources are currently being used to keep the Republic secure.”

“Understandable,” the Captain remarked, “Then we simply request permission to remain here while the craft is beyond our ability to pursue to ensure it does not pose a threat to yourselves or the Federation, should it decide to return this direction.”

“But of course, Captain. We are glad to have you keeping a vigil here. Should you need our assistance, we shall remain in the area, so please do contact us,” Cmdr. Samohk said with a gracious smile before the feed cut off.

“That went… eerily well,” Cmdr. Peters said with a puzzled expression on her face.

Gar’rath turned to regard his XO, “How so?”

“While we do maintain friendly relations with the Romulan Republic, their willingness to allow us to linger in their space for an unspecified length of time is highly unusual behavior,” Lieutenant Commander Sorreth observed from his station.

“Yes, that,” Abigail pointed toward the Vulcan to emphasize her agreement, “They were way too eager to let us handle the situation ourselves. Realistically speaking, we stand about as much chance of successfully repelling an attack by that ship as the Romulans do. I almost feel like a sacrificial lamb…”

“A ‘sacrificial lamb’?” the Gorn repeated in confusion.

“We are being used as a decoy,” Lt. Khar clarified with a sharp frown.

The Captain jerked his head up in sudden understanding, “Ah… yes, that makes a good deal of sense then. I hadn’t heard that expression before.”

“It is oddly appropriate,” the Klingon remarked, “Especially given the Romulan proclivity to use anything they can to gain an advantage.”

“That is not solely a Romulan practice,” Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth observed, “A great many other cultures do the same.”

“Perhaps,” Lt. Khar grudgingly conceded.

“Ultimately, their motives are unimportant,” Capt. Gar’rath said, “It does not change our mission in the slightest. Continue to monitor the craft and report any changes immediately. I will prepare a SITREP for Starfleet Command in the meantime. Commander, you have the bridge.”

“Aye, sir,” Abigail said from her chair as the Gorn pushed himself out of his and headed for the Ready Room adjacent to the bridge compartment. He took one last look at the tactical readout showing the Borg vessel and its projected target before retreating into his office. Once inside and seated, he began the task of drafting up the formal report to his superiors, something he hadn’t been able to spare the time to do given the urgency of their pursuit.

As his clawed fingers clacked away at his console, Gar’rath’s thoughts drifted over all of the information they had gathered so far. He hadn’t said much about it in the moment, but as he took time to reflect on everything that had happened things just didn’t fit neatly in his mind. The vessel’s erratic flight paths, the lack of interest it was showing to the Century following it so closely, the impromptu raid of a station long abandoned for parts no one would miss even if the thing was still functional. Nothing added up, and the less it did the more concerned the Gorn became.

Midway through generating the report, Capt. Gar’rath leaned back and pushed himself slightly away from the desk, casting an eye over what he had written so far. The word ‘insanity’ was a fitting moniker for what he’d put down, even if it were entirely accurate and verifiable. If he hadn’t lived it, it would look like a bad holonovel plot crafted by a lunatic. The Gorn ran his hand over the back of his head for a moment, letting a low rumble slip from his chest over just how little he liked what he had committed to words.

“Who would believe this?” Gar’rath asked the empty room, knowing full well no answer to his question was forthcoming.

A sigh and a shake of his head was all the response the question really deserved, and the Captain drew himself back toward the desk to complete the missive. Time slipped by around him as he continued to piece together into words all that the Century’s crew had discovered, the document riddled with speculation rather than concrete fact. As someone who’s career had relied heavily on proof rather than suspicion, it was almost viscerally unpleasant to have to commit to a report theories and postulation. The only vent for his frustrations over it was the slightly more forceful clacking of his claws against the console, even if the device wasn’t to blame for his displeasure over the circumstances.

“Captain Gar’rath to the bridge,” the voice of Cmdr. Peters pierced the silence of the Captain’s Ready Room, spurring the Gorn to rise from his desk, abandoning the report still in progress and his own ruminations in favor of whatever was happening. He stalked out of his office, entering the bridge to find it abuzz with activity. His head turned toward the view screen, which displayed several dots around the one that had indicated their Borg contact throughout their lengthy encounter.

“Report,” Gar’rath said as he took his place in the center chair. 

“Several Romulan vessels of various makes have engaged the Borg Scout. It appears they were guarding a station of some sort, though our sensors had difficulty picking it up given the location. We never would have found it if we weren’t tracking the Scout’s movement so closely,” Cmdr. Peters explained.

Lt. James spoke up from his station, “It would appear the station was emitting a sort of… beacon. It resided just outside the normal bandwidths we typically scan for, and even then if you weren’t looking for it specifically it was easy to miss.”

“Was that frequency being transmitted by the relay they scavenged earlier?” The Captain inquired, hoping to solve at least one mystery with the new information.

“Negative,” Lt. James relayed, “Nothing of the sort was picked up by our sensors, I went back over the logs once I found the beacon frequency.”

“Status of the Romulan vessels?” Gar’rath turned his attention toward his Security officer.

“They are putting up an admirable resistance, but they have already lost two vessel and have done negligible damage to the Scout’s outer hull. At our current distance, it is impossible to determine if they have deployed any drones to assimilate the Romulan crews,” Lt. Khar announced.

“Any movement from surrounding vessels?” the Captain asked, turning back toward the tactical display.

“The vessels that were in the area were cloaked, we only saw them after they engaged the Borg. If the local warlord has responded to the threat, they have done so with the typical Romulan subterfuge,” the Klingon said with a sneer.

“Have there been any distress calls sent out?” the Gorn asked.

“None. It would appear that the defenders do not wish to give away their position or the situation,” Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth remarked from his console.

“Not surprising,” Cmdr. Peters shrugged, “It isn’t as if they would want some secret facility to be raided by others after the Borg have cleared them out. Whatever they were hiding there is probably bad enough that they don’t want anyone finding out about it.”

“And unless there is a request for our aid, we will merely mark the location and keep watch,” Gar’rath said in a definitive tone.

“Should we share what we know with our Republic friends?” Cmdr. Peters inquired.

The Captain mulled over the question for a few brief seconds before responding, “We may as well. Likely they are watching the same thing as we are, but I would rather not be accused of operating in bad faith in their borders.”

“Ensign, if you would,” Cmdr. Peters turned to the communications officer, who nodded in acknowledgement and began to do as had been suggested.

“At least we know what brought that Scout here,” Abigail said after facing forward again.

“We can’t be certain this is the only reason this vessel is here. It may have simply stumbled on the beacon in the same way we just happened to be in the area when the Scout was actually seen,” Gar’rath pointed out.

“Your hypothesis is logical, Captain. Given what we know of the vessel’s behavior prior to our initial contact, it is unlikely that they were taking the most effective route toward this particular location,” Sorreth said in agreement.

“Now the only question remains, what exactly did the Romulans have that the Borg wanted back?” Cmdr. Peters mused.

“That does not seem to be the only question that remains, Commander,” the Vulcan retorted.

“Fair enough, Mister Sorreth, but it is a question that would shed more than a little light on what this Borg ship is doing so far away from the Collective.”

“Two more Romulan vessels have been destroyed, Captain,” Lt. Khar reported just as the display shifted to reflect that fact. Nervous glances from other officers on the bridge toward the viewer told of the crew’s conflicted stance on what was taking place. While no one on the bridge could be said to sympathize with anyone who would choose a path following a bloody warlord, they couldn’t bring themselves to be happy that they were fighting an enemy they had no chance at defeating.

“Any response from the Republic?” Gar’rath asked.

“Nothing beyond an acknowledgement of the situation, Captain,” the communications officer responded.

Cmdr. Peters frowned at that, “Oddly quiet in the face of a Borg ship rampaging near their own backyard…”

“It would be no different if the Borg were doing so in territory controlled by enemies of the Federation,” the Captain pointed out.

“They’re the same people though,” Abby argued, “It would be like me turning a blind eye to a Human colony being attacked simply because they were on the wrong side of a line.”

“While your sentiment is admirable, Commander,” Sorreth remarked, “The issue we are currently discussing is one of fundamental ideological incompatibility. Humanity has been party to such throughout a great portion of its history.”

“Humanity learned from those mistakes…” Peters countered.

Sorreth gave a half-nod-half-shrug at the statement, “Perhaps. However the same cannot be said of the Romulans. They have not had sufficient time to reflect on their past and correct what we would perceive as the errors of their ways. They do not, at the moment, believe their ideology and actions to have taken to be incorrect, no matter which side of the line they stand on, to use your metaphor.”

“Not all ideals are compatible, not all peoples can be united. There are just as many examples we have recorded throughout history of one side eradicating another because that is the easier path to ensure the continuation of the ideal thought to be the most ‘correct’,” Gar’rath interjected.

“Is that something that happened in the Gorn’s history?” Cmdr. Peters asked, “I confess I don’t know a great deal about that subject.”

“Now is not the time for reflection on ideological histories,” Gar’rath said, pointing toward the screen as the remaining Romulan vessel indicators disappeared. It wasn’t hard to imagine the hellscape that had been wrought by the battle, even if they were only observing a bland tactical display. Even the most hardy among the bridge crew found the information unsettling. The Borg had triumphed.

“The vessel is preparing to return to warp. They are heading deeper into disputed territory. Pursuit appears impossible,” Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth announced.

“Keep an eye on them,” Gar’rath remarked, “Scan the area for any survivors or distress beacons. We may be able to use that as an excuse to investigate the aftermath.”

“Do you really think they would allow us to just… show up to help?” Peters asked incredulously.

The Gorn snorted, “No. But if we are ever going to figure out what is going on, we may need to take a few risks. I much prefer our odds against semi-disorganized war hosts than going up against the Borg.”

“I think you might want to ask Starfleet Command if that’s something they’ll even buy off on before we do it…” the XO warned.

“That might be true…” Gar’rath conceded, “I suppose I should finish the report I have yet to send them and include that in it. Commander, you have the bridge.”

“Understood, Captain,” Peters nodded as she watched her commander stalk back into his Ready Room.

Objectivity vs. Morality

USS Century
2401

A full day had elapsed since the Borg Scout ship had assault what appeared to be a secret Romulan facility before departing deeper into contested territory, leaving the crew of the USS Century to piece together everything they could while at a considerable standoff distance from the attack site. The Senior Staff aboard the ship had assembled in the Observation Lounge to discuss their findings.

“I have gone over the tactical scans we conducted during the assault, and I have isolated the area within the facility the Borg were the most interested in. Scans indicate that they sent at least three boarding parties of drones to the station, thought the return signals are more sporadic, given the Borg propensity to transport heavily wounded drones back to their vessels rather than allow them to be captured whenever possible. Energy readings inside of the facility were extremely garbled, but it does not appear that the Romulans used their disrupters very long prior to having to resort to hand-to-hand combat,” Lieutenant Khar reported from his place at the table, “The Romulan vessels outside the station were marginally effective against the Borg vessel itself, though the Borg showed far more resiliency that previously recorded. It would appear that this particular Scout has encountered Romulan vessels at least once during its raid, as their weapons were adapted to within the first few minutes of their engagement.”

“Sensor readings suggest that not only has this vessel encountered Romulans previously, but it was also somehow able to anticipate a number of the hit and run tactics that Romulans are known to use with the aid of their cloaking devices. This gives credence to the hypothesis that they have assimilated some of the Romulan officers they have done battle with, giving them a tactical advantage in this instance,” Lieutenant Commander Sorreth spoke up from his place just to Captain Gar’rath’s left. 

“I’ve isolated the signal that the station was emitting, the one that drew the Borg to it as far as we can tell. I’ve managed to track three other locations within the range of our sensors, though unfortunately none of them come from a system we could actively investigate. On the bright side, Federation citizens aren’t at risk, at least in any area we’re able to scan locally,” Lieutenant James rogered up from near the end of the table.

“But people are under threat, Lieutenant,” Commander Peters cut in, “We just sat here not even a day ago and watched this ship cut through the Romulans defending that outpost as if they were made out of cloth.”

“While your assessment is correct, Commander,” the Vulcan officer turned to address the XO, “Our objective was not to intercede on the defenders’ behalf, nor do we have the means or the ability to stop a vessel of this type without a great deal of assistance. Our interference in the matter would have simply added our names to a considerable list of casualties, and potentially placed our crew in the hands of the Borg as victims of assimilation.”

Lt. Khar let out a displeased growl, “While most days would be a good day for a warrior to die, walking into the arms of the Collective willingly is not an honorable death.”

Cmdr. Peters seemed visibly shocked at both the Ops officer and the Security officer taking the same stance on the subject of doing combat, even if they took two completely different paths to get there. It took her a moment to collect her thoughts before she continued, “Fine, I’ll concede that entering a fight we can’t win is pointless and self-defeating, but the battle is over. Why are we still here and not attempting to rescue any survivors.”

“Because we have not been asked to,” Captain Gar’rath spoke up for the first time in the meeting.

His Executive officer turned and stared at the Gorn in open shock, as if it had never occurred to her that he would make such a cold, calculating statement.

“I understand that,” Peters nodded, “But we haven’t seen any ships enter the area, and there could be survivors that need help. They may just be so badly crippled by the assault that they can’t hail us to ask.”

“That is assuming they know we are here… or care,” Lt. Khar remarked.

“It is logical to assume that the Romulans know we have taken up a position along their border,” Lt. Cmdr. Sorreth interjected, “However, it is not a general practice for Romulans outside of the Republic to call for aid in situations such as this, even less so when a facility they wished to keep out of sight is raided. Often times they would rather the installation be destroyed entirely than answer the obvious inquires that come upon such an installation’s discovery.”

Lt. James offered up a weak shrug, “I see where the Commander is coming from, though. There is a chance that the Borg didn’t assimilate any of the crew on the Romulan ships, though if my scans are accurate, there’s almost no possibility that anyone aboard any of those vessels could have survived after they were crippled. The only way anyone might have made it out of the encounter would have been via a life pod. I’m going to assume that since Commander Sorreth didn’t mention any life pod readings in his report, he didn’t detect any.”

“Your assumption is correct,” the Ops officer remarked.

Cmdr. Peters bit her lower lip as she listened to the exchange, following up the gesture with a disheartened sigh, “I still think it would be worth investigating the site, if for no other reason than to find out what it was the Borg were after so that we can pass it along to Starfleet Command to see if we have anything of a similar nature that might attract them to Federation planets.”

“We will not be entering contested space,” Capt. Gar’rath said with a finality in his voice that generally only came out when he meant for a conversation to end.

Most of the officers assembled around the table seemed content with the declaration, and looked to their commander for leave to return to their duties. The Gorn answered their expectations with a rather brisk “Dismissed,” sending them out of the Observation Lounge and back to their posts. The only person that handed departed was Cmdr. Peters, a situation that Gar’rath had fully expected and anticipated given the tone of the meeting they’d just had.

“With all due respect,” Abigail said, her face the very picture of someone speaking with none of the aforementioned respect, “Leaving people to die is not in keeping with the spirit of Starfleet.”

“Encroaching into contested space after we watched an installation get assaulted and did nothing, sifting through ship wreckage and blasted secret facilities under the guise of humanitarian aid is also not in keeping with the spirit of Starfleet,” Gar’rath retorted coldly.

“They might need our help, Captain,” Abigail repeated herself, an obvious attempt to invoke an emotional response.

If the Gorn’s face had been capable of it, he might have sneered at the very idea of someone trying to appeal to emotions, especially in him. Despite being one of the more gregarious and outgoing of his species, he was still at heart a Gorn, and as one he did not base his actions on emotion alone. More to the point, emotion almost never played a factor in his decision making, a fact he had thought his XO was aware of.

“My experience dealing with Romulans outside of the Republic, limited as it may be, does not support your appeal in the slightest. Until the star Romulus orbited went supernova… the very thought of asking anyone, let alone the Federation, for help was a laughable concept to them. Our cordial relationship with the Republic has… distracted us from the very real condition that exists in the collective psyche of most Romulans on the other side of the border we are currently sitting behind. We are intruders, our motives are not altruistic in the slightest, and everything we do is for our own gain and their detriment. If I were to order our ship to enter their territory, and we did find survivors, they would likely greet our aid with suspicion and accusations, however baseless and false they might be, simply because we watched them be overrun and did nothing to stop it,” the Captain explained.

“Our entering their territory to render aid isn’t an invasion,” Peters argued, “We aren’t looking to loot their facility or the ships that were destroyed. You can hardly compare what I’m suggesting now to any of the raids they’ve committed on Federation planets along the border in the last few years.”

“Simply because our enemies do not always follow the rules of engagement doesn’t give us the ability to ignore them. I can not justify moving the Century to that outpost given the likelihood that our presence there will do little more than give whatever warlord is currently in power all the ammunition they need to open hostilities with the Federation under the guise of responding to our ‘invasion’. The loss of life an armed conflict would bring is not worth the small morsels of information we may not even be able to glean from that place. My decision is final, Commander. We remain where we are and we go no further,” Gar’rath said, pushing himself to his feet.

“I object to this course of action, Captain,” the Commander said as she rose to her own feet.

The Gorn responded flatly with, “I will note your objection in my log.”

“This isn’t right…” Abby said, thinking she’d done so quiet enough for him to miss.

“Sometimes, doing what’s right doesn’t feel that way,” Gar’rath responded, walking out of the Observation Lounge without turning back.