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Part IV
By Eric Szuminski

S1 - Homeward Bound
S2 - You Are Who You Are
S3 - Too Easy
S4 - Visiting An Old Friend
S5 - Finally, Some Rest
S6 - Chance Encounter
S7 - Secrets Revealed
S8 - Preemptive Strike
S9 - Clone Reunion
S10 - Unlikely Proposal
S11 - Gathering Strength
S12 - A Cold Stare Gone Colder
S13 - The Time To Strike
S14 - Locking Horns
S15 - Sadness And Surprise
S16 - One More Stubborn Useran
S17 - A Reason To Celebrate

S9 - Clone Reunion
"This is getting out of hand, Admiral Hodge" said rejoining Commander Henson who stood outside the temporary detention center aboard the Nargolis shipyard. "I mean first it was Captain Vencor, then it was Lieutenant Janner, then more Vencor, now more of Dr. GiíGilo. When will it end?"
Brian Henson began to chuckle. "Admiral, you donít even know the half of it. If you recall, most of the Annihilatorís crew were either clones or androids before we abandoned her. And the P.L.S. facility also had a large number of clones working there. Iíve forgotten how many times Iíve spoken to one person, and then come back thinking it was the same person and think they knew what I was talking about from before. Iíve seen the counselor on more than one occasion since joining up with Azak Vencor."
"But according to him, every clone, though the same genetically, is different. Each seems to gain different personalities, but retaining bits and pieces of the original, uh, copy." Commander Henson explained.
Hodge smirked. "Hmm, I guess only clones can tell the difference though."
Henson shook his head. "I dunno. But youíve met our Lieutenant Janner, is she any different than your Lieutenant Janner?"
James Hodge had to think about that for a while. "You know," He paused. "I think so."
The Nargolis shipyard was an intertwined mess of construction docks that were then connected to large habitation hubs. Looking like some patch work strand of D.N.A., the shipyard spanned several thousand meters in diameter dwarfing even the V.T.F. Annihilator parked in stationary orbit just above.
One of those connected hubs had been converted into a detention center for all the captured Userans. They were to soon be transported to a resistance world for a longer duration. Of course how long determined how long it would take to defeat the Useran Empire, which could take years. And there was still the matter about the location and capacity of the Useran armada that was defending the empire. Resistance cell spies had finally reported that the fleet was massing for an attack, where they were massing had not been found out. Hopefully, new reports would reveal that much needed information.
But right now, other information was being gained. Captain Azak Vencor stood in front of dozens of clones, ranging from himself to Dr. Tolna GiíGilo that were captured from the transports escaping the research station. There were other clones of people Azak didnít know, but Tolna knew them, they were fellow scientists who had originally worked on the first star feeder. Tolna had been shocked to learn that clones of himself had been created to work on the research station. Well, maybe not shocked, but alarmed.
A security field separated Azak and Tolna from the clones and captured Useran starship personnel. For Azak this was a common sight, having created so many clones himself to help run Phantom Lord Systems. However, for Tolna, it was almost disturbing to see his clones walking around and talking to him. Even more disturbing was that they all knew what he knew; all of his knowledge, and memories, had been passed on to them.
Azak was busy interrogating some of the other clones, when a Tolna clone approached Dr. GiíGilo. "Why did you turn against your own people?"
Tolna ignored the clone.
"Where you not receiving enough attention? I remember you thinking that way for a while just before you joined this resistance."
Again Tolna ignored the clone.
"We are one in the same you and I. I have your thoughts as well as your fears, but I know in your heart that you know this is wrong."
Suddenly, Tolna looked at the clone.
"Itís not too late for you."
"Youíve probably been programmed to think that way. Youíve been blinded to the fact that millions have died for our so-called supremacy. More will continue to die if the government doesnít put a stop to the bloodshed." Tolna reacted.
"Then you think the Divine President is wrong in continuing the experiments on the sub-life forms?"
Tolnaís anger flared. "They arenít sub-life forms! Theyíre intelligent beings just like-" Tolna stumbled. "Like you and me."
"Youíve spent too much time with them, theyíve clouded your judgment."
"My judgment is just fine. Its your morality that Iím worried about."
The clone twisted his face in a look of puzzlement. "My morality? Whatís wrong with it?"
Tolna gave up on trying to "convert" one of his clones and walked away to join Azak.
"What have you found out?" Tolna asked.
Azak was inputting some information into a datapad. "Thankfully that was the only star feeder device being built that we destroyed. The Useran government canít build too many of those things, cause it takes away from building up the fleet. Also, there are some mirror projects being produced. For instance: artificial wormhole devices, high-powered energy weapons, and even a new energy source. Sound familiar?"
"Those are what youíve developed!" Tolna realized.
"Yeah," Azak replied looking over some of the research data recovered from the station. "Some of it is more refined. While other projects use different materials found only in the star cluster, making them more effective."
"Have the Userans been able to incorporate any of these new devices onto their ships?" Tolna feared.
Azak quickly held up his hands. "I canít get an answer from them! Itís like talking to me, and you know how frustrating that can get."
Tolna gave out a short laugh. "Yeah, I sure do. So, whatís our next move?"
Azak led Dr. GiíGilo out of the detention center and into the hallway. A long bank of windows showed a section of a starship being built. A huge warp nacelle suddenly came into view as three small work pods moved the piece into position using tractor beams. A new warp nacelle design using the Sovereign-class nacelle as a template, but increasing the bussard collectors' intake by thirty percent and shortening the warp coil section by twenty percent was being used. However, since using the hypermatter reactor, warp power is actually increased by untold increments, and new starships using the configuration can now achieve new warp speeds.
Azak immediately recognized the partially constructed starship as an Inquisition-class heavy cruiser. It was a smaller starship that used a Norway-class forward section and runabout style warp struts, with Sovereign-class style impulse engines. Azak was known for taking proven designs and twisting them around to make totally new designs. Not totally original, but if it isnít broken then donít fix it.
The Inquisition-class was the same size as the Norway which was good because smaller starships could be built faster, and the more starships that could be built in the least time was welcome. With the P.L.S. fleet as far stretched as it was and the looming threat of the Useran armada out there somewhere, starships were in dire need.
Azak had noticed Admiral Hodge leaving the detention center earlier and expected to see him and Commander Henson outside. However, neither of them was to be seen. "Well, right now ship building is top priority. Thankfully, thereís enough officers and crew undergoing training to fulfill posts as they become available. Then Iíll worry about the Useran armada."
"I wonder where Admiral Hodge and Commander Henson have gone off to?" Tolna wondered.
"I donít know," replied Azak. "Theyíve probably gone off to supervise the construction on the Inquisition." Azak continued pointing up above him at the starship.
"Ah, yes. The next starship in line, but tell me Captain Vencor-" Tolna started.
"Azak, you can call me Azak. Iím not your captain." Azak interrupted.
"Okay, Azak, tell me, are you going to build a different starship each time?"
They started heading for the shipyard control room that was several habitat hub above them and looked over the entire structure. "Well, Iím testing our construction crews to see which type can be built the quickest. I could have them build extremely small starships, but it would diminish the power of the fleet I want."
"Well, you also need crews and officers to run those ships." Tolna pointed out.
Azak nodded. "The crews and officers will be no problem."
Tolna stopped. "And how can you be sure of that?"
"Because-" Azak replied. "Iíve also begun construction on a cloning facility."

Tolna demanded to see the cloning facility. He was furious that Azak would build one without his knowledge, or his authorization.
"I donít need permission from you doctor!" Azak yelled.
Tolna came up to his full height. "I am the leader of this resistance cell, captain! Whatever I say you do, understand me?"
Azak bellowed. "Ha! Iíd like to see you last three minutes in command of this operation. You havenít made one important decision since I brought your cell out of the Stone Age!"
"You really havenít given me a chance have you? First it was overriding my attack plan of the shipyard. Then it was you have to get your Annihilator. Now itís a new cloning facility. Iíve been taken out of the picture!" Tolna complained.
Azak smiled and shook his head. "You really donít get it do you? I rose from nothing to a captain during the Dominion War. I was given command of a small fleet to defend a small corner of Federation space during the reconstruction, which eventually became Vencorís Task Force and Phantom Lord Systems. So you see, doctor, I think I have a bit more experience at these matters than you. So if you want to see our resistance to the end, then youíd better keep me in charge!"
Tolna sneered at Azak then charged out of the cloning facility. Azak watched him leave then brought his hand up to rub his eyes. He then dropped his hand and looked at the first seven cloning tubes ready for activation, more were in various stages of construction. He walked the line of tubes and peered through their clear maturation chambers. The tubes and the ones afterward were arrayed in a half-circle around a control booth. Four different levels of soon to be cloning tubes rose away from the first level like a stadium.
Azak walked over to the control booth and noticed the first seven tubes were ready. He brought up the first cloning program, one that held over two dozen different bio-signatures. There were over two hundred programs with literally thousands of randomly constructed bio-signatures. He started the program.
Suddenly, the seven cloning tubes began to fill with replicated bio-matter, which would then solidify into the desired being. The program running was carrying human bio-signatures. Each of the seven human beings would also be fitted with a psionic datalink at the back of their necks, just like Azak. Those implants would grow along with the clone; the technique was taken from the Borg and perfected without the need for nanoprobes.
But that was Azakís little secret.
The process of cloning would just take several minutes, but it was the inputting of knowledge that would take a couple of days. In those first few days a normal clone would learn anything given to them in seconds, but after the fourth day the clone will begin to learn at more normal pace.
That was for normal clones. The ones Azak was creating right now with psionic datalinks were different; they would receive information and learn it as they received it for their entire life.
It was the same process for Azak. Clones are also more controllable than natural offspring. In the education process, a clone can be taught to think or act in certain ways. Thus, certifying their loyalty, but Azak had been different. As he was being created, an influx of power to his cloning tube gave him double the bio-matter needed. It made Azak a complete individual. He could think and act as he wished, but at the beginning he did not realize that.
Azak Vencor educated him of course, but during the process Azak didnít buy the whole Useran supremacy ploy. He learned of the Useranís terrible experiments and slavery of billions of conquered people.
Azak was unique, an individual, but still a clone with the datalink at his neck. There were times when he just wanted to rip the device off his neck. But it was impossible, for it was apart of him. To simply rip it off would kill him.
Some of his clones he spared the torture of wearing a datalink. One of those individuals was Lieutenant Janner. Before her creation, Azak had looked at the beautiful young face on the computer screen- a representation of what she would look like, and forgone her datalink. There was something in her eyes, an innocence that he liked and couldnít bare to see her suffer.
Azak looked up from the controls of the cloning booth to see the tubes filled and shallow forms beginning to take hold. He could just barely see facial features, noses, eyes, ears, and mouth. He looked down at the screen to see who they were, his first new clones: Four males and three females.
He would have to decide later what their positions would be in the resistance. Or would he? Tolna and the other resistance cells have been very slow in gathering intelligence on the Userans. Azak needed more capable individuals to spy on the Userans, and in the data bank were the techniques and procedures of some of the Alpha Quadrantís most famous or infamous intelligence agencies. He had complete records of the Romulan Tal Shiar, the Cardassian Obsidian Order, the Klingon Honor Guard, and even some Federation Section 31 files. But why limit his clones to only one; he could give them knowledge of all the agencies?
Azak felt a chill run up his back. The excitement was too much. I should have done this a while ago. Would have spared Lt. Janner all that training. But now was a good a time as any. With a few commands into the console and Azak created an education treatment comprised of all the intelligence agencies. He put the file on standby, for as soon as the clones awakened from their creation Azak would implement the activation of his new intelligence agency.

Tolna stopped to catch his breath. He had finally found Admiral Hodge and Commander Henson in the shipyardís living quarters hub enjoying lunch in the sectionís mess hall.
"Welcome to the mess hall Dr. GiíGilo." Commander Henson said with sarcasm.
"Can we get you anything?" Admiral Hodge added.
In between gasps for air, "You have to stop him," Tolna said. "Heís gone crazy!"
Commander Henson put down his cup of tea. "Who? What are you talking about?"
"Captain Vencor! Heís started a cloning facility!"
"Heís done that before, doctor." Henson pointed out.
"But heís acted without my authority!" Tolna yelled.
"Well if it bothers you, why donít you talk to him about it?" Hodge said bringing his personal logic to the table.
Tolna had managed to calm down a bit and sat down at the table. "I did, but heís made it very clear that he doesnít need my authority for anything. Heís taking over my resistance cell."
"Let me guess," Henson started. "He probably told you heís more experienced at these matters than you, running a shipyard and planning strategy, right?"
Tolna was utterly dumbfounded. "That is right! How did-"
"I knew because heís right. Iím sorry doctor, but the man was practically bred for this stuff. It all came from the original Azak Vencor." Commander Henson replied. "After he was given command of a small group of starships to patrol the Federationís backyard, Azak started designing his own starships. He knew the Federation was still in shambles after the Dominion War and the fact that Starfleet was so slow to mobilize for war he knew we needed military starships." Before he knew it, Commander Henson was telling the entire history of the beginnings of Phantom Lord Systems.
"He was then given permission from Starfleet Command to build his own construction and design facility. Thus, P.L.S. was formed. So you see doctor, Azak knows what heís doing." Brian Henson finished.
Tolna was still angry, but his fire had died down. "That may be so, commander, but the other resistance cell leaders will only talk to me. I know for a fact that they wonít trust Captain Vencor, so I need to be seen as in command. In other words, when they arrive tomorrow, they must meet with me or they just might shoot Vencor right there on the spot."
"Canít you just tell them that you trust Captain Vencor, and they should too?" Hodge asked.
"Thereís just too much hatred right now against Azak Vencor to risk saying anything like that. If I did, they might discredit me again." Tolna answered.
"Again?" Henson and Hodge both asked.
Tolna smiled. "As you may know, Iím a Useran. The other resistance cell leaders are non-Userans. There was hatred and distrust among the alien leaders and Useran resistance fighters, but I managed to prove myself to the others and led the charge on Milanda 3."
"Hasnít Captain Vencor proven himself in helping you win control over the shipyard?" Brian asked.
Tolna looked away. "I donít know. I doubt it."
Henson became incensed. "Then what does he have to do!"
Tolna looked back at Henson with a cold stare. "Win the war."

S10 - Unlikely Proposal
Admiral Hodge had been given command of the V.T.F. Annihilator and thatís where his quarters were located. As he walked along the curving corridor to his room, he took the time to gaze out the viewports. James could just see the tops of the shipyard and the swirling green gas planet behind. It had been another slow day of starship inspection and planning. Another day calming down Captain Vencor and telling him that patience was a virtue. But it hardly helped as the captain was constantly turning his gears and coming up with new plans.
James was just rounding the corner to where his room was when his communicator beeped. He exhaled a deep sigh. I just want to go to bed. "Hodge,"
"Admiral," called a squeaky voice. Hodge instantly recognized his new first officer, a Gamílir. Another new alien species Hodge had only recently been introduced to.
"Yes? What is it DiíMalsh?" Hodge asked irritated.
"Admiral, we are receiving a message for you from a long range communications probe."
Hodge was intrigued by the news; he knew Starfleet wasnít going to send him a message for another two days. "Send it down to my quarters. Hodge out." He ordered and immediately cut off the first officer.
The doors to his quarters swooshed open revealing a dark and cold room. "Computer, lights and raise room temperature to standard levels." The computer obeyed and illuminated the room, but the temperature would be noticed later. Hodge unzipped his officerís jacket and threw it over a soft chair that was inviting him to sit down. He did and pulled the tabletopís computer over. With a quick tap, he activated it. The message was waiting for him in the start up, but it was all in text. James rubbed his tired eyes and began reading.



James had to read the message over again to see if he had misread it. But every time it remained the same, a message of help from Captain Gelhart. Though even through the message he still conveyed his hatred for Captain Vencor, it was a message of help all the same.
Captain Gelhart wasnít much of a writer, but it didnít matter. James planned to take the Annihilator back to Starbase-S.D.L. and bring back the fleet of starships tomorrow. That should impress those other resistance cell leaders.
He tapped a control on his table that activated a communication channel to Captain Vencor.
"Vencor here." He answered.
"Azak, I have interesting news."
"As long as itís good news."
"I received a message from my first officer, Captain Gelhart."
Azakís tone of voice sank with dread after hearing that name. "Then itís not good news."
"Donít worry, itís definitely good. Heís managed to assemble a fleet of starships to help us. All he needs is a way to get here. I was thinking of taking the Annihilator."
There was silence on the other end of the channel.
"Uh, I donít know if thatís such a good idea." Azak finally replied.
Hodge felt another task of calming Azak coming. "Trust me captain, nothing will happen in the few minutes I need to bring back the ships."
Again there was silence. Hodge was frantically trying to think of another calming thing to say, when Azak replied. "Okay,"
"Great, Iíll leave first thing tomorrow morning. Thanks Azak." Hodge replied and closed the channel. He then sat back in his chair, drained of all energy finally. James had planned on ordering some dinner, but didnít have the chance. In just a few minutes James was snoring and sound asleep.

Azak heard the channel close and sat back also, not knowing his friend had done the same. Though he wasnít drained of his energy, Azak continued to look things over. From construction reports to training reports, Azak had his eye on everything. Datapads of all sizes littered his desk in his ready room aboard the Phantom Lord. He was gazing at training reports when a name caught his eye.
Lieutenant Melinda Janner.
He brought up her progress report and smiled approvingly as news of her passing command school. All that was left for her now was waiting for a command of her own, and an official promotion straight to captain.
At the rate sheís going, soon Iíll be calling her admiral or worse-" He smiled. "Taking orders from her." But he was proud, though not in a father-daughter way, something much closer. His heart pounded harder in her presence, and his mind faltered if she looked at him. Azak knew he loved her, but could never allow himself to tell her. That would only complicate matters. He needed to know he could send anyone on a dangerous mission, including Melinda, and not feel devastated if they were to die. As any good leader would tell you, separate the person from the mission- never get too close personally.
But it was hard for him. She was perfect for him and perfect to him. She was more than just an aide, or an adjutant- Melinda was a friend. Azak found himself staring at her image on her personal file, when the door chime sounded. "Come," he answered.
The doors parted and in stepped the last person he expected to see, but maybe he should have, the newly unofficially promoted Captain Melinda Janner. Suddenly, Azak fumbled with the datapad he was holding and allowed it to fall to the floor. She quickly went around the sleek brown desk in hopes of helping him recover the datapad, her previous duties still ingrained in her mind. "Iíve got it, thanks." He called out.
"Sorry, if I startled you, captain." She apologized.
Azak waved off the statement. "No, you didnít startle me. I was, uh, just trying to turn it off. I must be tired from reading all these and my mind wasnít focusing." Azak placed the datapad calmly on his desk and left it alone. He saw the four pips shining from her collar. "I see congratulations are in order." He said standing up and walking over to Melinda with his hand extended.
"Thank you, captain." She replied shaking his hand. "I wouldnít have gotten the chance if it wasnít for you."
Azak smiled. "Melinda, it was within you all the time. I only pushed you in the right direction." His emotions were running wild. He wanted to kiss her, to pull her close, but at the same time wanted to push her away- to not let her further into his life. His heart ached for her. He began to grind his teeth to keep back the pain.
"Thank you sir, I, uh, really- thank you." She stumbled for words. For almost two years she served under him, and from the first time she saw him she had loved him. His rugged good looks, just the way he carried himself and how confident he was had captured her heart. But this was the first time they had been equals, and now she felt overwhelmed. She wasnít quite sure why, but being in his office after a long day, alone.
"Youíve been my personal aide now for two years. Iíd hate to lose you, but Iím sure youíll make a fine captain." Azak said and waved his hands over his desk that was filled with datapads. "This is the mess youíre leaving me with." He said jokingly.
She smiled. "Well, if you organized them the way I showed you, you wouldnít be having this problem." Melinda replied putting her hands on her hips and then shaking her finger at him.
Azak stared at the mess on his desk. "I guess I just wanted to keep you for myself."
Melinda was puzzled by Azakís last statement. "Sir?"
He slowly looked up at her, "Iím going to miss you Ė Melinda." He paused. "I know youíre not really going anywhere, but you wonít be buzzing around me anymore. You wonít be at my side, where Iíd like you."
She knew he was trying to say something else. "Iíll miss being with you too."
Suddenly, Azak turned around. He couldnít bear to look at her anymore, a great swollen lump of emotions almost surfaced. Azak felt as if his heart was going to burst, the pain in his eyes said it all. "I need to get back to my reports."
Melinda took a hard swallow. "Azak," She stopped, and put her hand on his shoulder. "I love you."
Azak turned back around. They embraced and kissed, softly and slowly.
"Iíve always wanted to tell you that, but I thought it wouldnít be right." Melinda said after their kiss.
They brought their foreheads together. "I felt the same way. I just didnít want to get too close to you in case I needed to send you on a mission. I couldnít bare to lose you."
"Now that we know how we feel about each other, what happens now?" she asked.
Azak gave a short laugh. "I donít know. But we both still have duties to perform. That needs to come first."
Melinda agreed, barely. "I donít want any special treatment from you."
Azak suddenly looked up at her. "Oh, thereís no problem there!" He said quickly and forcibly. "You wonít get any special treatment from me!"
"What?" She replied angrily.

S11 - Gathering Strength
Admiral James R. Hodge awoke to the buzzing of his alarm nearby his bed. It was exactly six hundred hours, well ten seconds past. With a grunt and a growl he sat up and swung his bare feet to the floor. He scratched the back of his head and stood up, and then proceeded to his uniform closet. Among a replicated dress uniform, an admiralís field jacket, and several articles of civilian jackets, he found his standard issue uniform jackets. He hung the dark gray and black jacket over his arm and also grabbed the red colored inner jacket. He then walked to a chest of drawers to fetch an undershirt and pants.
After assembling his uniform and placing it on his bed, James stepped into the sonic shower. After that, he ordered breakfast: ham and eggs with whole-wheat toast and a cup of coffee. It was the same breakfast heís had since his academy days, and he never tired of it. Someone had suggested pancakes for breakfast once, but he didnít understand the concept of cake for breakfast. That same person had explained what a pancake was, but James was so hard headed he still didnít budge from his ham and egg routine.
James headed out the door after cleaning up and brushing his short wavy blonde hair to his liking. Immediately upon entering the corridor, James noticed an influx of crew personnel. Just last night he remembered most of the Annihilatorís corridors being completely empty, now they were almost teeming with life.
Among the "new" crewmembers were alien beings heíd recognized being from the star cluster and the recruitment center. But several of them were also somehow different than most humans heíd seen. Some moved with almost android like precision, and others he felt were just different.
James watched as an attractive brunette passed by him, smiling. He then noticed a small black device on the back of her neck. "A clone?" He said out loud, which garnered some looks.
James entered a turbolift. "Bridge." He ordered and the turbolift began to move. Suddenly, it stopped and opened allowing three ensigns on.
They all greeted him respectfully and turned around to stare at the turbolift doors. James instantly noticed one clone among them, and the others were human for all he could tell.
The turbolift finally opened up on the bridge and the group exited. James saw Commander DiíMalsh, his first officer, at the center seat. "Report commander."
The commander stood up from the seat relinquishing it to Admiral Hodge as he walked forward from the turbolift. "All systems ready, admiral. Just give the word."
Hodge nodded and took command. "Helm, set course for Starbase-S.D.L. and engage wormhole matrix."
A silver haired Andorian responded. "Aye, captain."
The massive vessel began moving slowly to starboard, its giant form casting darkness over the shipyard. Soon it was heading straight away from the shipyard at full impulse and at a good clip. Suddenly, a swirling blue-black wormhole opened up and swallowed the ship.
The wormhole opened again sending the Annihilator still at full impulse into space around the starbase. Awaiting the giant ship were many smaller ships, the fleet Captain Gelhart had promised. Admiral Hodge saw the fleet on the main viewscreen, the usual grouping of Starfleet vessels: Galaxy, Steamrunner, Akira, and Defiant classes. However, there was one ship among the group that caught his eye, for he had not seen it before. And it was big.
Though not nearly as large as the Annihilator, it was definitely larger than any current Starfleet vessel.
"Captain Gelhart is hailing us admiral." Announced the communications officer.
Hodge had just sat down, but stood to greet his first officer from the starbase. How many first officers did he need? "On screen."
"Welcome back to civilization, Admiral Hodge."
"I donít plan on staying long, captain. Are you planning on coming along?"
Gelhart shook his head. "No, admiral. Iím still needed here. What do you think of the Antietam?"
Hodge raised an eyebrow. "What kind of ship is she?"
"A tactical command cruiser. Just off the assembly line and ready for action."
Hodge seemed concerned. "Have you run any shakedown tests on her yet?"
"No, sir." Gelhart answered, though confused by the question. "Not necessary. She equipped with the most advanced warp drive and weapon systems to date. I assure you admiral, sheís ready for anything."
Hodge began nodding his head. "All in all, captain. Iíd like to run some shakedown tests before we start using this new ship. Weíll start them once we reenter Useran space. Have the fleet follow the Annihilator into the wormhole."
"Aye, sir." Gelhart replied. He felt mocked by Hodgeís refusal to take his word.
Again, the Annihilator created an artificial wormhole. Due to her enormous hypermatter reactor, producing wormholes so quickly didnít put too much of a strain on the reactor. Plus, the distance traveled was a mere stoneís throw away, at least for the wormhole matrix. This time around the Annihilator was followed into the wormhole by a small fleet comprised of eight starships ranging from three Defiant-class escorts, one Galaxy-class, two Akira-class through-deck cruisers, and two Steamrunner-class destroyers.
They emerged from the wormhole right next to the Nargolis shipyard.
"Is the relay satellite receiving?" Admiral Hodge asked his ops.
"We are receiving." The reply came.
Before leaving the starbase, a stream of artificial silithium was left inside the last wormhole creating a filament allowing subspace transmissions to pass back and forth from the star cluster to Starbase-S.D.L. Satellites were placed on either end for temporary service until relay stations with more capabilities could be put in place.
"Good, that should make communicating with Starfleet a bit more convenient. Open a channel to the starbase." Hodge commanded.
"Channel open,"
"Captain Gelhart," spoke Hodge.
"Your signal is a bit weak, admiral."
"Standby," Hodge walked over to the ops station. "Boost our signal a bit."
The officer at the station obeyed and played her fingers over the console with grace employing the order.
"Howís this?"
"Much better. Admiral, weíve received word from Starfleet." Gelhart paused. "This is just now coming in."
Hodge was getting ready for what was coming; orders to return to his station no doubt. Starfleet was still recovering from the Dominion War, and needed every capable officer to keep doing his or her duty. With Admiral Hodge running off joining another conflict put the Federation in an odd position.
"They are allowing you two more months to complete your mission. After such time, you are to return to the starbase and reassume your original duties. You are also ordered to bring back any renegade Starfleet crew, which also means Captain Azak Vencor, who are to be placed under arrest for court-martial." Gelhart read over the channel.
"Admiral, it would seem you are harboring a wanted criminal."
Hodge sat back into his seat. "That all depends on how you see it, captain."
"Well, Starfleet Command sees it that way." Gelhart said with glee. "And thatís all that matters."
"Starfleet Command is no doubt being pressured by Section 31 to bring Captain Vencor back for questioning."
Gelhart had begun but was cut off as the communicationís officer behind Admiral Hodge called out, "Admiral, we are being hailed by Captain Vencor."
Hodge looked back to Gelhart who was still on the main viewer. "Sorry, Captain, Iíve got to take this other call."
A look of protest appeared on Gelhartís face before Vencor replaced him.
"Admiral, you couldnít have timed that more perfectly." Said Azak.
Hodge raised his brow. "Captain?"
"Just as your fleet emerged from the wormhole, the entire delegation of resistance cell leaders were arriving in their respective ships. I just learned from Dr. GiíGilo that you scared the crap out of them, or their equivalent to it."
Hodge had to smile at that.
"I recognize most of your fleet, but that one starship is unfamiliar to me."
James nodded. "I know- itís new to me too. Iíve been informed that it needs to go through shakedown tests."
"By all means, admiral. Check her out. Make sure sheís up to the challenge."
He quickly raised an eyebrow agreeing with Vencor. "Gelhart didnít think she needed it."
Azakís face turned to one of doubt. "Well, heís an idiot."
James felt he should have been stunned by Azakís crass statement, but he knew it to be almost the truth. At least as far as Gelhart and Vencorís rocky relationship were concerned, Azak had seen only Gelhartís bad side. It was no secret that Gelhart didnít trust, nor like Vencor, but he was still a good officer. "I plan on beginning shakedown tests right away as soon as I beam over and inspect her."
"Sounds like a good plan. I might join you since Iím not invited to the meeting of cell resistance leaders."
"Iíll bring the ship to within transporter range of the station and beam you aboard. That should also allow those resistance delegate a good chance to see the finest Starbase-S.D.L. can produce." Hodge said proudly.
Azak nodded on the viewscreen. "Vencor, out."

"How many problems does that make?" a disappointed Hodge asked wearily. He was still looking over technical power relays in the phaser array on a datapad trying to figure out what had gone wrong with them.
Azak, who was nearby at a station aboard the new U.S.S. Antietam, stopped calibrating flow regulators on the impulse drive to report. He picked up a recently updated pad. "Twenty-seven." He said and quickly slammed down the pad. "And half of that number is related to major systems."
Hodge slowly shook his head. Twenty-seven problems. What was Gelhart thinking? During their average shakedown cruise, at least one system of some kind malfunctioned. But that was common when a new ship was released from the shipyard, however, it would have been nice if the ship had been scanned with a level one diagnostic first. That would have caught most of the glitches even before leaving.
Thankfully, though, the Antietam didnít encounter a stray Useran ship on her maiden voyage like the Douglas. That would have been a disaster. First of all, the phaser arrays would have never even charged up, as Hodge looked over the power relays trying to find out why. The torpedo system would have worked, though the targeting scanners would have been thirty meters off target. That was a simple problem to overcome, but those phaser relays were a different matter.
"I donít understand. These power relays are exactly up to spec, thereís nothing wrong with them mechanically. The computer even says theyíre all right." Hodge said aloud. He continued to then look over the exact play of events for the phaser test. It wasnít more than three seconds into the test when Hodge saw the problem. The computer had detected an overflow of phaser energy entering the conduit and shut down the process. A glitch in the safety system. There wasnít an overflow of energy; only the computer thought there was too much. "Iíve got it!"

Continued in Part V >>

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