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Part I
By Eric Szuminski

S1 - Big Boy Blue
S2 - Into The Fire
S3 - Scheming Devils
S4 - The First Charge
S5 - The Race of Giants
S6 - The Final Showdown
S7 - Celebration!
S8 - Containing Secrets

S1 - Big Boy Blue
Admiral James Hodge sat comfortably alone at the conference table aboard the U.S.S. Unionbay. He was pouring over new design schematics coming in from Tition Yards; a new light cruiser model had caught his attention, but Hodge had noted a few weaknesses here and there. Nothing major, nothing the engineers couldnít handle. He scrolled down the page on the hand held padd looking over energy consumption rates when the door chimed. Hodge had locked the door so he wouldnít be disturbed. "Who is it?" He asked without stopping a moment.
"Itís Captain Redman, sir." Came the perfectly synthesized voice.
Admiral Hodge looked up from the padd and seemed to talk to the air. "Computer, release door locks." The locking mechanisms clicked and the door parted.
In entered the captain of the Unionbay. "Admiral, weíre almost to the starbase."
Admiral Hodge looked up again from his padd to the forward view ports and saw that spinning carousel orbiting a lifeless moon and light from the nearby red giant casting the station in an eerie red glow. Ships were moving all around the station, most of them newly constructed Starfleet vessels undergoing shakedown runs. "Good, my eyes are starting to strain after looking over this."
"Ah, yes, the spoils of being an admiral. All those luncheons and briefings must really be taxing you," the captain said with a smile.
Hodge looked wearily over. "And from what I hear, youíre next."
"Only if you say so," the captain replied.

"Admiral Hodge!" called from behind. Admiral Hodge stopped and turned around. A young lieutenant was running full bore down the bright corridor towards him. It was hard to see details, but he knew who it was.
Admiral Hodge waited until the officer had caught up to him and caught her breath. Lining the corridor to his right were banks of windows looking into the heart of StarbaseSDL, where ships were being constructed and repaired. Many were from a recent engagement with rogue Dominion forces left over from the war a few years ago. He noticed a padd in her right hand. "Lieutenant Janner, it is customary to call me on the communicator, not yelling across the starbase."
"Yes, sir, Iím sorry. But-" she paused still trying to catch her breath. "This message came for you."
"Couldnít you just transfer it to mine?" Hodge asked bringing up his padd.
The lieutenant held out the padd. "No, sir, the message said not to transfer it anywhere."
Admiral Hodge took it. "You read the message?"
Lieutenant Janner shook her head. "No, the message is encoded, but there were instructions. Just put your thumb print on the reader to activate the message."
"Thank you lieutenant, Iíll take it from here."
"Yes, sir." She replied and headed back down the corridor.
Admiral Hodge waited until he was alone before activating the message, because obviously someone went through a lot of trouble to ensure only he saw the message. By the looks of it the message was an intelligence report. All it showed was a long range scan of an immense object, judging from the zoom factor, and a few energy readings. What was most disturbing was the object was orbiting a yellow sun, much like Sol, and it was pure black against the star. It seemed to be drawing the burning plasma into itself. Admiral Hodge could only think it was using the star for an energy source. The energy readings finalized his thoughts as the object was rising in emitted energy pulses.
What is this thing?

" . . . and find out what this is." ordered Admiral Hodge. Captain Paul Redman was on the view screen, his face stern while overlooking the strange report. "Keep your distance and use maximum scan ranges, then-"
"Sir, I understand," Captain Redman interrupted. "This ship has been through a lot. I can handle it."
"I hope so, Captain. Starfleet is spread too thin to mass any kind of defense against this thing." Hodge replied as he sat back in his command chair. To the right and left of him officers manned weapon, science, and communication stations. On the chair itself were eight holoprojectors ready to display a display of some major system of the starbase. StarbaseSDL is unlike normal Starfleet bases, which are powered by an array of fusion reactors -- SDL is powered by four Galaxy-class warp cores. That power runs to six computer cores, an amazing array of phaser banks, torpedo launchers, and to the construction and repair facilities. "Good luck, Paul."
Captain Redman nodded with a smile then disappeared as the view screen went blank, then replaced with a starboard view of the Unionbay turning away from SDL and finally stretching out into warp.
Admiral Hodge activated one of the holographic displays showing a progress report on the status of deployment. The Demon Power, the Sparrow, and the Geneva -- all ready for deployment. Plus, six still under construction, two in shakedown, and several good designs still under consideration. "If this thing is hostile weíre one of the closest bases in the sector. Time to contact Starfleet." Hodge whispered.
Admiral Hodge swung around in his chair, "Mr. Morris, get Starfleet Headquarters for me please," he said before coming to rest in front of his communications officer.
"Aye, sir," replied the officer and then went to work. "On screen sir."
Hodge swung back around to face the main viewer and found Fleet Admiral Remarto on the screen. Her light blue skin clashed with the crimson admiralís uniform, something the Bolians have complained about for years. Their cosmetic perfection usually sparked numerous arguments about uniform color changes. "Admiral Hodge, a pleasure to speak with you once again."
"Likewise admiral," Hodge replied.
"What can I do for you?" she asked, fingertips coming together under her chin.
"Weíve been monitoring an alien spacecraft of immense proportion in sector 750b. Iíve sent the Unionbay to investigate."
"I see," Was all Remarto replied.
There were several seconds of silence. Hodge began to wonder what she was thinking.
"Admiral?" he prompted.
She stirred. "Iím sorry Admiral Hodge, this spacecraft you mentioned has brought up some unpleasant memories. You see another large alien craft nearly destroyed the St. James, and nearly killing my crew and me. Iím talking about the Borg. Could this be another Borg ship?"
"It could be, but itís displaying different characteristics. Usually a Borg vessel goes after the first technological society it detects. But this thing stopped by a star and began to feed off it."
Admiral Remarto looked puzzled. "Feed? Could this be a biological entity?"
Hodge shook his head. "The Unionbay is still investigating, we wonít have that information for a while yet."
"Hmm, well we canít overlook the possibility that this object could be hostile. Does the captain of the Unionbay realize that?"
"I have complete confidence in Captain Redmanís judgment."
Remarto nodded. "Good, Iíll pass this along to the others. Keep me informed. Starfleet out."
"Admiral, what kind of defense can Starfleet offer if this thing is hostile?"
Remarto had dreaded such a question. She had hoped the channel closed before Hodge had asked the question. "Nothing right now, but Iíll see what I can do." She hesitated. "Anything else?"
"No admiral."
"Fine, Starfleet Command out."
Fleet Admiral Remarto was replaced by Starbase SDLís vital statistics on the view screen.

The California-class heavy cruiser U.S.S. Unionbay emerged from warp as easily as it had many times before. Its familiar design was the collimation of several years of design strategy starting with that of the Excelsior-class. The last of its kind giving way to more streamlined features, even now the next generation of the Unionbay is being planned.
"Sir, we have reached the coordinates. The star is directly ahead." called the conn officer.
"Any sign of the object?" asked Captain Redman.
The operations officer replied, "There is a large trail of ionized gas leaving the star and heading towards the fifth planet in the system. Sensors are also picking up dissipating energy readings from a debris field trailing from the third planet to the fifth. It appears to be the remains of several ships."
"Any readings off the alien craft?" Redman asked.
"No sir, not at this range." Replied operations.
Redman nodded. "Helm, take us to within sensor range and hold. Engage at half impulse."
A few minutes later the helmsman called, "Holding at one hundred million kilometers from the object."
"Anything on sensors?" Redman asked immediately.
"Nothing captain. We should switch back to active scanning to get better readings off the object."
"That would only alert it to our presence. Weíll get all we can on passive scans." replied Redman finalizing the argument. "What about the planet itís orbiting, anything there?"
The operations officer looked over new readings coming to him. "No, the planet appears to be barren," the officer paused. "But I canít be certain."
"Thatís okay weíll collect data until this thing leaves Federation space." Captain Redman rationalized. "Helm, move us to this moon at bearing 40 mark 2 engage at half impulse."
"Aye sir, coming to course 40 mark2-"
"Captain, the vessel is powering up!" the operations officer announced.
Redman sat back in his captain chair. "Helm?"
The helm officer responded, "The vessel is beginning to move."
"Weíre being scanned," added operations. "It sees us."
"Open all hailing frequencies, all languages; this is Captain Redman of the Federation Starship U.S.S. Unionbay. Please state your intentions."
A moment passed.
"No response captain," said the operations manager.
"Did they receive the message?"
"I donít know captain."
"The object is heading straight towards us at full impulse," said the helmsman. "And itís increasing speed."
"Yellow alert. Raise shields, standby on weapons." Redman commanded. "Try hailing the ship again."
The operations manager was shaking his head. "Still no response captain."
"The ship will be within weapons range in four minutes." the weapons officer called.
"I want a full sensor sweep of it now!" Redman finally ordered.
The operations officer was all too happy to. He initiated a full sweep. "Captain, the vessel is building up power of a magnitude Iíve never seen before."
Captain Redman saw only one action. "Red alert! Full shields, ready weapons."
"Vessel will be in range in-"
The huge alien vessel, totally unseen in starlight except here and there were itís own emanating power shone brightly, spewed forth a blinding beam of pure energy toward the small Starfleet vessel.
The Unionbay was engulfed in seconds. The beam cut needlessly through the shipís shields and immediately began to alter the ship. The Unionbay was slowly contorted and twisted in the energy beam. Suddenly the beam ended, leaving the Unionbay a mélange of twisted metal.

S2 - Into the Fire
Admiral James Hodge looked on in horror as the data feed of the U.S.S. Unionbayís destruction played out in front of him and several others in the command center aboard the station. The long-range observation probe transmitting the feed to the starbase had just a few minutes time difference. The data continued to show the large alien craft scan the wreckage, and then seemed to scan the probe. A beam of some sort reached out towards the probe, which was transmitting from the next system. The large alien ship then disappeared from view, only to show up several seconds later in full view directly over the probe. The view panned up to see the huge vessel, its dark features barely visible without the sparkle of starlight. There was time enough to stare at the vessel before another charged blast obliterated the probe.
Admiral Hodge fell back in his chair shocked and horrified at what he had just seen. His friend had just been killed, but all he could think about was the sight of that terrible machine floating over the probe just before destroying it. The image of that death beam stretching out towards the probe was forever ingrained in his mind.
Hodge leaned forward and held his head in his hands for a while, trying to get that image from his mind.
"Admiral," called the first officer. "There was no way you could have foreseen this, and nothing you could have done."
Hodge sat up and nodded his agreement.
"Admiral, other observation probes are monitoring the alien vessel; itís moving towards us!" yelled the operations manager.
"Red alert, bring shields up to full power, ready weapons!" Hodgeís first officer was quick to react. "Bring any starships in for defensive posture."
"Status," ordered Admiral Hodge.
The operations manager replied, "The alien vessel is moving at high warp directly for us."
Captain Alvin Gelhart, Hodgeís first officer, had moved to a tactical station and began typing in commands. Hodge did the same on a holographic display to his right showing power distribution. He immediately began shutting off power to nonessential parts of the station; he even shut off the construction and repair area for the time being.
"Mr. Morris," Admiral Hodge called to. "Send a message to Starfleet Command stating we're under attack."
"Aye sir,"
The huge black alien ship suddenly appeared from warp near the swirling red giant. Itís huge form nearly eclipsing the old star as it crawled toward the Federation starbase like a dark storm cloud just over the horizon.
"Mr. Morris, open all hailing frequencies," Hodge ordered.
"Do it!" barked Hodge. "And send this: To unidentified object, we mean no aggression toward you. But have monitored your actions, and we are prepared to defend ourselves."
"Aye sir,"
Captain Gelhart called, "The alien vessel will be within weaponís range in two minutes. We have five starships ready for action, but the only warship we have is the Demon Power." Captain Gelhart looked at Admiral Hodge. "Thatís one of Captain Azak Vencorís ships, isnít it?"
Admiral Hodge was more concerned with the alien ship than with one of the rogue Captain Vencorís ships. "Yeah, so?"
"I donít trust him," Gelhart replied. "Heís restricted our personnel from entering engineering and other places on board the Demon Power. Even the crew heís assembled seems, strange."
"Yes, he does seem finicky about his ships, but you donít know the half of it. Weíll discuss this later." Admiral Hodge replied putting an end to the conversation.
"The alien vessel is almost within weaponís range," announced the operations manager.
The officer didnít take into account though of the alien vesselís range, for it spewed forth a great plume of energy at the starbase. Simply condensed energy from a star, the burning yellow-red fire rocked the starbase. Personnel were slammed to the floor instantly, and propelled into bulkheads. Some small starships under construction attached only by a docking ring tore away, and crashed into the inside of the starbase. Other explosions also shook the station as severed power lines and plasma conduits tore away the starbase from the inside.
Admiral Hodge struggled to pick himself up from the deck; a stream of crimson blood ran down past his right eye. The shaking had stopped; they were still alive, the shields had held. He climbed back to his command chair, several others were also recovering and going back to their stations.
"Status," Hodge ordered shakily.
Captain Gelhart was wiping blood from under his nose. "Medium damage to several sections, reports still coming in. We still have weaponís available."
Hodge coughed from the acrid smoke floating around the command center. Display monitors on the back wall and a few on the side had blown out, the officers stationed at them laid dead or injured on the floor.
They had been fired at and survived, but there was no way to escape- "Fire!" Hodge yelled.
Several beams of phaser energy and a fierce barrage of torpedoes from all over the station fired toward the alien ship. Following only a hairís width behind was fire from the assortment of starships racing toward the alien vessel.
"The alien ship is turning away from the station." reported the injured operations officer. "Itís heading toward the red giant."
"Itís preparing to gather more energy from it. We have to stop it!"
"Itís out of weaponís range." Gelhart chimed in.
"Order all able vessels to converge on the alien, then maybe we can disable it?" suggested Admiral Hodge.
The Geneva led the charge followed closely by a Sparrow-class fast scout and the Demon Power. They constantly pecked at the huge alien vessel, but causing little damage. The Geneva and Stewart edged out ahead of the impressive Unification-class Demon Power.
"V.T.F. Demon Power reporting damage to their impulse engines, falling back." Reported operations. "Theyíre also transmitting a message."
Hodge looked concerned. "To where?"
"Unknown sir, theyíve blocked our scanners." replied a puzzled and shocked ops.
From the main viewscreen, the Demon Power targeted all its weapons on one section of the ship and fired. The resulting explosion managed to tear off a large chuck off the alien vessel. The tumbling debris was then immediately tractored into the main shuttlebay of the Demon Power.
He looked on in confusion, "Contact the Demon Power, I want to know whatís going on right now." Hodge commanded.

The chunk of debris lay dead upon the cold steel shuttlebay deck aboard the V.T.F. Demon Power. The large double doors leading out into the corridor opened and three odd looking figures entered and proceeded to the dead hull debris. They each held out a scanning device of some kind, but not tricorders. The three figures seemed to orbit around the debris like satellites of a much larger space body. They were dressed in typical Starfleet uniforms, all golden. Their golden rank pins sparkled in the artificial light, all full commanders. After they had completed their scan all their faces held the same secrets as plain as the look on their faces, all clones.
"This is very important data, the captain should be very interested in it."
"Yes, but this alloy has not changed in the last hundred years specified by the captain."
"That only means the Userans have not refined the technology. This could provide the necessary data to develop a more potent weapon."
They had all come up with the same conclusions, but each had a different perspective. The three figures were very different in their attitudes and personalities, but they were the same. They were androids.
The three beings left the shuttlebay with the data they had just collected, and left the debris in the middle of the bay.

"Thereís still no response Admiral." repeated Mr. Morris at communications.
"Have they at least continued the pursuit of the alien vessel?" Captain Gelhart hoped.
"No sir, theyíre headed back for the station."
Gelhart looked at Hodge and pointed at him. "I told you this Captain Azak Vencor couldnít be trusted."
Admiral Hodge was disturbed at the news, but he knew better than to turn his back on a fellow Starfleet officer so easily. Especially one who had earned his right to wear the uniform just as Hodge had. "Calm yourself captain. Azak Vencor is not on the Demon Power. Beside without impulse engines it would be hard to pursue anything on thrusters only."
"But still, any ship and crew with P.L.S. instead of Starfleet canít be trusted." raged Captain Gelhart.
Admiral Hodge held out his hand, just to his left for a second when suddenly a holographic display appeared. It was blank. "Damage," Hodge said to the display. A control board showing energy readings, and damage assessment reports revealed itself. It flickered a couple of times as main power was still being wrestled with down in engineering. "Captain Gelhart, I understand your feelings, but the Demon Power is damaged. They could not keep up. Hopefully-"
"Admiral, three ships have, uh, appeared." called out ops.
"Alien?" Gelhart asked as he quickly went back to his tactical station.
"No, theyíre from P.L.S." ops said with a smile.
Gelhartís heart sank. "Great,"
Hodge also smiled as he brought up another holographic display showing three high-resolution starship images make their way aggressively toward the alien craft. Heíd seen these designs before in a transmission from the mysterious P.L.S. All they had been were rehashed Starfleet designs and saw no need to begin construction on them. But apparently he had been mistaken, these ships moved swiftly toward the alien ship and were already engaged with it.
"Starships V.T.F. Intimidator, Sentinel, and OíNeal; attacking the alien ship admiral."
"How are they doing captain?" Admiral Hodge asked Gelhart.
Alvin Gelhart shook his head in disbelief. "Theyíre doing quite well, but I donít think theyíll be able to destroy the alien ship. However, they are concentrating on the feeding apparatus."
"Good," Hodge nodded in approval. "Where is the alien ship now?"
"Itís almost to the red giant sir, but it has already begun to draw power from it."

A stream of superheated gas and radiation was being pulled into the giant ship, ready to be refined into a terrible power. The three P.L.S. ships already dishing out whatever they could, but it wasnít enough. Even the Geneva still continued the useless fight against the beast. The poor Stewart, a simple scout ship, had been damaged and headed back towards S.D.L. for repairs.
"This is useless," roared the commander of the Geneva. He flinched as a weakened blast from the alien vessel rocked his ship. "Is there some way we can stop this thing from gaining more energy?"
"The ship is taking in a vast amounts of plasma. Obviously itís designed to handle high temperatures and radiation. Our weapons donít carry enough power to puncture the hull." said the science officer.
"The Demon Power was able to," the commander responded. "Maybe they found a weak spot."
The bridge shook as another blast hit.
"That was in the aft section of the alien ship, far from our objective."
"If we concentrated there though, could we hit a reactor of some kind?"
"We might, but thereís no telling how long it would take. We need something now!"
Panels blew out as another hit sent bridge officers flying.
"If this thing wants this star, let 'em have it. Lieutenant Taínok, prepare to direct a graviton beam at the center of the red giant." the commander of the Geneva directed.
"But sir, if we do that, the star might explode." objected Taínok.
"I know, but thatís our only choice. Activate the beam!"
Lieutenant Taínok initiated the command. The charge built up quickly in one of the main phaser banks. When it was ready to fire-
Commander Taínokís console suddenly exploded sending him reeling towards the deck. The chief engineerís voice was then heard near the commander explaining that main power was out, and that auxiliary was all they had.
"Helm, take us out of here, weíve done all we can."

The Xavier-class cruiser, V.T.F. OíNeal, had just made a pass at the alien ship and was now coming around for another when the Geneva was dealt a harsh impact.
"Captain, the Geneva attempted to fire a graviton beam at the red giant," reported an officer at ops.
"Hmm, that would explode the star," the captain recalled. He took a few moments to think over a few things. "Once the Geneva is safely out of range, activate a graviton beam. Be ready on placement warp."
"Aye sir,"
The Geneva limped away at three quarter impulse.
"Tell the Intimidator and Sentinel to head back to P.L.S."
The two ships swiveled on axis and headed away at full impulse, and then seconds later jumped into warp. The Geneva was just kilometers away from the station, when a white beam erupted from the OíNeal.
The beam entered the star, and almost immediately the star began to change. The surface began to wave and change colors. The center of the star became visible and instantly turned bright white.
"Captain, the star is not going to nova! Itís collapsing!"
The star suddenly began to shrink, with the red matter condensing back to earlier states; for a second the star was back to itís original size before it wiped out the inner planets several millennia ago.
"I predict a sixty-five percent chance it will form a singularity," reported the science officer.
The captain charged around a bridge railing to the science officer. "Change the settings on the graviton beam, set it to a positive setting. That should stabilize the star to keep it as a white dwarf."
The star was moments away from forming a black hole, when suddenly the OíNeal fired a second graviton beam into the star . . .

The flickering glow from the desktop computer was enough to illuminate only his face from the darkness. An unemotional face, clear of any indication of whether the events unfolding before him were of any consequence.
A command into the keyboard brought up another view from a probe. The large alien ship had retreated away from the once collapsing star, and the V.T.F. OíNeal was securing the situation.
Captain Azak Vencor was observing these events several light-years away at P.L.S., a small but capable base drilled in and around a large asteroid. Surrounding the asteroid were antenna-like limbs reaching out toward space acting as the baseís construction and repair facilities. At the base of each "arm" was a control center where several engineers and designers watched as each starship they created came to being. Most of the large pieces of a starship, such as nacelles, were carried into place by the arms. However, other systems, such as weapon systems, deflector arrays, and other equipment, were simply beamed in and assembled by hand. Even power relays, plasma conduits, and even holographic emitters were replicated and beamed in all ready to go. Looking much like a space faring arachnid, the base was powered by several small warp reactors, not full-sized drives. Main power came from a completely restricted device, a hypermatter reactor. Hypermatter is an unstable, modified byproduct of spent trilithium, which, if not monitored, could produce a level twenty shockwave capable of destroying an entire star system.
The Federation High council, along with several of the major powers of the Alpha quadrant, has agreed to ban the use of hypermatter and any attempt to use it is considered an act of war.
Suffice to say no one knows, including those who work at P.L.S., of the hypermatter reactor. They are told the smaller warp reactors are tied into a main warp drive in the asteroid core. Though anyone hardly ask.
He had enough time watching the probeís observations and turned off the computer, plunging him into darkness. He had heard of such a ship existing, one capable of drawing in star plasma and using it for destruction. Now what was their name? Usians, Unserias, Userans? He couldnít remember; they had only been monitoring them for a few months. But what did it matter. That "thing" was now loose in Federation space. The nearest populated system had just been a couple of light-years away, and now it was destroyed. Before the U.S.S. Unionbay had a chance to intervene. A noble effort on their part, but a futile one.
How could he have been so blind? Azak had known about the Userans, but had failed to alert the Federation, or any other power for that matter. His stomach churned as Azak let his guilt take over. He felt like dying.
The only option, the only counter against the Useran ship was to use the technology he had carried with him, even before being dragged into Starfleet. But that would alert Starfleet to the existence of strange and powerful technology. Technology they werenít ready for yet.
Once Starfleet tracked the origin of this technology to P.L.S., Azak Vencor would have no choice but to use the old style button to his right. He couldnít see it, but he knew it was there. A clear blue knob capable of eradicating every file within the computer core; every starship design, every weapon, sensor, and warp drive system would be gone in a blink of an eye. The hypermatter drive would be shut down forever if Azak pressed that button.
Deep in thought, the chime of his door interrupted Azak. He hesitated. But the door chime sounded again. "Enter," Azak said.
The door hissed open flooding light into the dark cavern Azak called home. Standing at the doorway, light barely illuminating her red Starfleet uniform, was a familiar face. "Sir, we are receiving a communiqué from Starbase-S.D.L. Admiral Hodge would like to discuss the matter of the alien attack. Heís looking for a plan of stopping it," a female voice called into the darkness.
There was silence. The aide moved her head a bit to peer into the office. Suddenly, Captain Vencorís large body seemingly appeared from nowhere taking the aide off guard. She inhaled sharply.
"Sorry," Vencor said quietly. "Please ready the Phantom Lord."
The aide nodded her head, "Yes sir," and began moving away.
"And Lieutenant Janner, download all information pertaining to a Trebuchet-class cruiser into the Lordís databanks."
Instantly she knew what he was planning. "Yes sir. Shall I be accompanying you to the starbase?"
"No, we might run into your counterpart." he replied.
"Yes sir," said Janner. Azak watched her go down the corridor then disappear as she entered another to the left.

"Vencor coming here?"
"Thatís right Captain Gelhart. Iíve asked all the heads of the surrounding design bureaus here to hammer out a plan to deal with the alien ship."
"Sir, shouldnít Starfleet be the one to Ďdeal with the alien shipí?"
"We are Starfleet, captain." Hodge replied.
"What I mean, admiral, is shouldnít we be receiving a fleet of combat ready starships?"
Admiral Hodge looked down at the datapad in his lap of a message he received from Starfleet Command. "Iíve been granted the use of eight starships: a Galaxy-class, a Nebula-class, the U.S.S. Thunderchild, a Defiant-class, a Steamrunner-class, a Norway-class, the U.S.S. Crimson, and the U.S.S. Zuhkov."
Captain Gelhart looked defeated. "Eight starships? Thatís all?"
"Captain Gelhart, you have a knack for complaining about everything. But youíre right, that is not enough. Iíve also contacted other design firms to see if they had any ships being readied for Starfleet. Of course, theyíd be only prototypes but anything would do." It was Admiral Hodgeís turn to look defeated. "Only two others had ships."
Gelhart took the datapad offered by Hodge. He looked over the designs and names of the ships being offered by the two other firms. "Hmm, most of these are just modifications to existing designs. I donít see how they could be prototypes."
"Well, when ever you try to combine the old and the new, you always get a prototype."

S3 - Scheming Devils
The last to arrive at Starbase-S.D.L. was Admiral Justin Seabury from Nexus Creations. Captain Gelhart escorted him to the conference room, where he was introduced to Admiral Mike Brown from Tition Yards, Captain Azak Vencor from Phantom Lord Systems, and finally Admiral John Groves from Shadow Industries. There were also a few civilians present who represented different subcontracting groups.
He took a seat just opposite of Captain Vencor at the round conference table.
The meeting began with Admiral Hodge giving a detailed explanation of what had transpired just yesterday. He played back several sensor readings and probe observations on the conference roomís main display.
The final playback was that of the red giant collapsing into a white dwarf star, and the alien vessel racing away at warp before the star changed.
"We believe that the alien ship is manned by intelligent beings or they would never have retreated. The star would have collapsed in on itself forming a black hole, if not for the fast reactions of the V.T.F. OíNeal." Hodge reported and indicated Vencor.
All eyes were on him for a moment.
Hodge continued. "Unfortunately, we were unable to either reason with the aliens nor destroy their ship."
"Are we sure thereís no diplomatic way to solve this?" Admiral Groves voiced.
Captain Gelhart felt compelled to answer that. "Well, after that thing destroyed the Unionbay and tried to destroy the starbase with some sort of super energy beam, weíre not exactly looking for one."
"Communication attempts were made, by both the Unionbay and the starbase." Admiral Hodge added.
"Could they have mistaken our subspace calls as an attack?" asked Admiral Brown.
Captain Vencor answered. "Unlikely."
Brown just stared at Vencor. "Well? What makes you say that?"
"As you know admiral, subspace transceivers use low amounts of energy and emit even less as they transmit. Itís doubtful the aliens would interpret that as a threat." Vencor responded.
"Yes, however, Iíve known certain species to be harmed by subspace signals." Brown continued. "For instance the inhabitants of-"
"I assure you admiral that is not the case here." Vencor replied. He then held up a datapad. "Admiral Hodge, if youíll allow me. I have some information you might like to hear."
Admiral Hodge nodded and Captain Vencor went to the wall display. He then transferred his data to it and to holographic emitters in the table. Suddenly the lights dimmed and an image of the alien vessel appeared.
"Here is the vessel just before jumping into warp to Federation space." Vencor pointed out. "From these readings," Azak pointed at the wall display. "We detected subspace signals similar to our own coming from the alien ship. We tracked the signals to a star cluster approximately twenty-five light-years from this position." The holographic display showed a twisting turning image of the star cluster over the table.
Admiral Seabury interrupted. "This is all fine and dandy, but what the hell does this have to do about stopping this ship?"
"Several months ago Deep Space 6 observed a star nova in that cluster. Along with these residual radiation peaks." Vencor continued while bringing up a fluctuating graph of radiation graphs.
Admiral Hodge recognized the readings. "Those are the same readings we got as the alien ship was absorbing star plasma."
Azak Vencor nodded. "Itís my estimation the aliens were either testing the ship or using it." He then continued before any of the admirals could speak. "These subspace signals could be interpreted as telemetry or progression reports."
"Okay, so itís a prototype. How do we stop it?" Justin Seabury asked once again.
Azak Vencor ignored him. "When the alien ship attacked this planet," The holographic image changed to show a now barren planet where the Unionbay was attacked and destroyed. "It stopped to "refuel" at the systemís star indicated by these readings." On the wall display, data recorded and sent before the Unionbayís destruction showed the alien ship with full power.
"Just before the attack yesterday, the alien ship was low on energy. Thatís why the starbase wasnít destroyed. Furthermore, even if the star had turned into a black hole, or even went nova, the ship would not have been destroyed." Azak finished.
"Then why did it retreat?" Admiral Groves asked.
"We interrupted its feeding time."

There had been a lot of arguing and finger pointing during the next hour of the meeting. Most of the arguments were directed at Admiral Hodge only because he was regional commander of the sector. He was very stern in sending only a few ships at a time in small fleets. Many of the admirals, all of them in fact, thought it was a too conservative plan. They felt sending a huge fleet at the alien ship was the correct course of action. Admiral Hodge had argued that sending a large fleet would leave other starbases or systems undefended if the alien ship destroyed the large fleet. What it came down to was a paradox; either send a large fleet or small fleets- both with the potential for disaster. But at least keeping some ships at the starbase would ensure there was a defense if needed.
But Captain Vencor had an ace up his sleeve. He recalled the attack from yesterday, "If these fleets could keep the alien ship busy," He wasnít ready to announce the fact that he knew who was in control of the alien monster. "And another two or three ships alter- assuming the aliens will go to a star to refuel- the ships could alter a starís matter so the aliens couldnít refuel. When the alien ship heads off to another star, we can put this star back to normal. Itíd be like using a delaying action against it."
"Youíre crazy," voiced Captain Gelhart. He came around the table to stand face to face with Captain Vencor. "Youíre going to put several thousand Starfleet officers in danger. No telling how many civilians in the star systems."
"I think it can be pulled off." Vencor responded.
Gelhart turned to look at Admiral Hodge. "Sir, this . . . maniac is considering using stars as weapons against this thing. We canít start playing around with stars and other things like that, weíll be no better than the Q."
"I have to agree with Captain Gelhart, Mr. Vencor. Trying to "alter" stars sounds too risky. Weíll have to come up with something else," said Hodge.
"Fine," Vencor said disappointed, then he sat back down. Gelhart moved away, but never took his eyes off Azak.
"Now, Admiral Brown, what is the status of the U.S.S. Atlantis?" Hodge asked.
Admiral Brown replied, "The Atlantis is in the Delta quadrant. She shipped out last week on a new tour of duty."
Hodge nodded. "How long until she can be pulled back?"
"If I gave the order now, the message wouldnít arrive until a few days from now. Then it would take at least a week for the Atlantis to arrive, even at full quantum speed."
There was a round of heavy sighs coming from the men surrounding the table. All except Vencor.
"Iím not familiar with that design," joked Azak. He had in fact, earlier in a break, been given information pertaining to a very large cruiser in use by Tition Yards from his data sources.
Admiral Brown was all too happy to talk about the Atlantis in question. "Sheís probably the most advanced starship ever to be produced."
There were some quiet murmurs coming from the other admirals.
Brown continued. "At a little over eight hundred meters long sheís also the largest. And like I said earlier the Atlantis is also equipped with a modified quantum drive for much faster than light speeds. If she can get here in time, that alien ship is as good as destroyed."

The meeting was over; their plan was being put into motion. Starships were being brought to Starbase-S.D.L. as a staging area for the initial attacks on the alien ship. Already there were six in orbit around the starbase waiting for orders.
Admiral Hodge stood at a status board in the command center with Captain Gelhart standing close giving his suggestions. Hodge was doing his best at ignoring him. Lost in the usual hustle and bustle of noise, Captain Azak Vencor appeared from a turbolift. He was impressed with all the "pretty lights and strange computer noises", but still preferred the sanctity of his office or the silence of space around him.
Vencor had gotten a good look at most of the command center before an ensign asked if he needed any help. This caught the attention of both Hodge and Gelhart.
"Captain Vencor, this area is off limits to non-base personnel. You are ordered to leave immediately!" Gelhart roared.
"Admiral, I need to speak with you," Vencor urged, his dark eyes searing Gelhart. Gelhart could do nothing but back down.
"Of course, captain, to my ready room." Hodge allowed and showed Vencor to a small room just off the command center.
Hodge sat down behind his desk and offered the one in front to Azak. "Now, what did you want to talk to me about- oh, can I get you anything? Drink? Eat?"
Azak waved his hand a negative. "Nothing sir, thank you." Azak paused before continuing. "I still believe this plan is flawed. However, I have something here which just might alleviate some of the burden."
Azak held out his datapad with the schematics for a large vessel on the front page.
Hodge looked over the diagrams and dimensions. "This thing is huge. It would take . . . years to complete. If this-"
"Itís more than three quarters finished." Azak interrupted.
Hodge was dumbfounded. "Are you serious? How . . . " Hodge trailed off. "Has Starfleet approved of this design?"
Azak stood up from his chair and went to the meter long viewport by Hodge. "Starfleet doesnít know about it. They canít know about it, though they probably will now." Azak said with a snicker.
Hodge was going to say something when Azak stopped him. "Iíve known about the alien vessel for some time now. P.L.S. and I personally have been monitoring that star cluster I mentioned for a while now. During the Dominion War, there was a small battle near that cluster, but all records of the incident were erased from Federation databanks. Iíll tell you why . . . "

Captain Azak Vencor had left Admiral Hodge in his ready room minutes before the admiral came back out to give new orders. Captain Gelhart was ready to burst in there to find out what they had talked about, but he knew to restrain himself instead. He still felt there was something amiss about that Vencor, something that didnít sit right with Gelhart.
He was monitoring the traffic of starships outside the starbase. He was even beginning to issue shore leave for the officers and crew, plus seeing if any ships needed repairs or upgrades.
Hodge took his seat after Gelhart had relinquished it. He activated a targeting information control and punched in some new data. An outline of the alien ship appeared on the holographic pad. Underneath the picture was the word: Unknown1. After the commands had been entered the word changed to: Useran1.

Continued in Part II >>

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