Star Trek: Athena—The Secret Fleet

Star Trek: Athena—The Secret Fleet

 

 

By Chris Robato

 

(crobato@kuentos.guam.net)

 

 

 

=============================================================

Preview*

Captain Garret (no relation to Ent-C captain) is about to experience the greatest joy a starfleet captain would earn—to command his first ship.

Expecting at least a frigate or destroyer, the most common vessels used for first time captains, what Garret got was something he didn’t bargain for—a mysterious new ship, a sentient ship with an attitude and a gorgeous hologram.

=============================================================

 

 

Notes:

 

The fanfic combines canonical information from Voyager’s Message in a Bottle, the TOS episode “Balance of Terror”, and the ST* VI movie, then combines them with many elements in the ST*Armada game, in particular, the use of the Romulan ships and technologies in this fanfic. There are also references to the Starfleet Command game with the Gorn description, and the upcoming Dominion Wars game with the Starfleet Class descriptions (Class 5, Class 4, etc,.) Certain Romulan references are taken from Diane Duane’s Rihannsu novels.

 

 

==============================================================

 

 

 

 

Stardate: 2380

 

The USS Athena

 

Part 1

 

 

It will be sad to leave this old post now, Randy thought. For a few years now, Lt. Commander Randall Garret had been first officer to the USS Kiev, a Norwary class destroyer.  Even though it was an advanced starship, it was a modest size ship by the standards of its time, originally designed to deal with the Borg with its mobility and high firepower to weight ratio, but ultimately, it saw its true value against the Dominion war.  In that way, the Norway class ships joined its contemporaries in their unusual form and the versatility of function—the Defiants, the Sabres, the Steamrunners and the Akiras.  Despite highly publicized decisive battles which large ships like the Galaxies and Sovereigns fought, the bulk of the fighting and dying were carried by the smaller ships like the Kiev.  While Starfleet conserved its largest and best ships for the major decisive battles, the small ships had to do a lot of convoy duty, reconnaissance, escort, defense, assault and a million things other things.  Starfleet called upon the small ships because they were flexible—and expendable, while it dared not risk its biggest and most expensive starships.

 

Despite some achievements, the Norway class destroyers, however, never seemed to get the attention the Defiant, Akira and Steamrunner classes enjoyed. Despite their advanced design, the Norways were slated for a career of obscurity.

 

Obscurity. Yup, that’s quite a fate alright. But Commander Garret was not an overtly ambitious man. At least, his ambitions was not in a hurry. He was content to take things one at a time.  The next logical step in his young career would be the command of a med class or class two starship, often referred to many quarters as a destroyer, even though Star Fleet would never formally admit the use of such militaristic designations for politically correct reasons.

 

Instead, for internal accounting reasons, Starfleet had developed a loose classification of “classes”.  A Sovereign or Galaxy class would be Class Five; an Ambassaor or Niagara class  would be Class Four; a Sabre, Nova, Defiant would be Class One; an Akira would be Class three.  A Norway?  It would be a Class Two ship, sharing the same place as a Steamrunner or Intrepid.    Among the people of Starfleet, these classes are termed informally; Class One for Escort, Class Two for Destroyer or Frigate, Class Three for Cruiser, Class Four for Heavy Cruiser, and Class Five for Battleship.

 

Class One captains are dime a dozen, quickly followed by Class Two starship captains.  Here are where young, ambitious, but generally well experienced commanders and captains tend to fall into.  These are their proving ground.  Once proven, they go to the next stage of commanding a Class three or four starship.  A very elite club of legends like Captain Picard are reserved for the Class Five ships.

 

Like most of everyone who thinks of himself as a young dashing commander or captain, Garret would be Class Two material.  Logically he thought the Kiev would eventually be his to captain when Captain Wu would move on and get promoted to a larger ship. Wu, by virtue of his combat record, should be moving up to a Class Three position at least.  Wu earned that right in battles against the Dominion, and the ladder of succession of getting to command the Kiev should rightly fall to Garret.  It was only fair.  Which is why the Star Fleet communique that Garret would be promoted to command a new ship other than the Kiev was a big surprise.

 

Garret felt bad for Wu, who didn’t seem to mind being bypassed for the time being.  But regardless of the circumstances, Garret was happy.    He was finally getting his promotion. He’s going to become captain of his first command even if the Kiev wasn’t going to be it.  But Admiral Hurst wasn’t going to tell him what his new command was, which was quite unusual given the standard protocol for such promotions. Something was amiss here. Maybe there was a far shot that they would promote him to captain a ship larger than a Class Two ship.   He had his stars earned against the Dominion, but he didn’t think that was enough to put him in a large ship.

 

The Taciticus shipyard was orbiting a class M planet in the 41 Kappa star system. Far from glamous shipyards like Utopia Planitia and Beta Antares, Taciticus was an obscure shipyard better known—actually better kept unknown—for more experimental projects. Around the shipyard was a small fleet, and Garret could not guess if they were there for refit or just protecting the shipyard. From the scanners aboard the Kiev, they could see a number of small ships, a Defiant class escort, a Sabre class escort, an Oberth and a Nova class science ship. Everything seemed either Class One or Class Two.  The largest ship was a Steamrunner in orbit, the USS Manila. Garret’s heartbeat accelerated. Maybe that ship will be his new command, and it was logical. A Class Two ship, a Steamrunner was slightly larger than a Norway, and had a similar complement.  A Steamrunner wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Like the Norways, these ships were extremely well armored and well armed for their size. If the USS Manila had the latest refit that included ablative armor and pulse phasers, the baby would rock. Garret began to look forward to the new career move. He was going to get his destroyer, the first step in a ladder that may lead to something bigger.

 

Hidden in the ribs and scaffolding of the shipyard was another ship. Garret could not see what it was that was docked on the shipyard but it didn’t even matter. The USS Manila should be it.

 

“Well, the soon-to-be-ex Commander Garret, looks like it’s going to end here,” Captain Wu said as the Kiev settled into a parking orbit near the shipyard.

 

“Don’t make it sound like an execution, David,” Garret said. Both of them have known each other well enough as friends to speak openly in a first name basis.

 

“Randy, for me to lose my best ever first officer and a friend off from this ship, that is an execution, at least for me and this ship,” Captain Wu said.

 

“David, you will do just fine picking a new officer.  I suggest you get Shelley.”  Shelley was a dirty blonde girl who had proven herself to be an excellent tactical officer.

 

“But you’re so good I doubt anyone could fill your shoes easily, Randy.”

 

“Ah, David, you’ll see Shelley is as good.  You’re going to make me break up and cry if you keep pushing it, David. I am already on the brink here. What fine memories this ship has. I will miss her, and I will miss everyone here. What a fine ship. What a fine crew. It’s been a great honor to serve with you, Captain…” Garret turned to Shelley and the crew. “You too Shelly…and the rest of this valiant crew…” Garret saluted, and they saluted him back.

 

David extended his hand for a shake, and Garret took it. They shook firmly and then hugged. David then led him to the transporter room.

 

David’s final words as Garret was transported to the Taciticus, was “Congratulations once more. You will make a fine captain. Captain Garret, godspeed…” Garret heard this words as he dematerialized.   There was a nice ring to it…”Captain Garret”.

 

 

* * *

 

 

The Captain Randall Garret materialized in an open bridge deck aboard the Taciticus shipyard. There were vast windows that showed a magnficent view of the ships in dock. Garret looked at his watch. He was a bit early for his appointment with Admiral Hurst. He had some time to waste, and maybe he could tour around the shipyard.

 

There was that ship again, the mysterious vessel they first saw docked and hidden in the scaffold ribs of the shipyard. This time it was no stranger, being right in front of him in full view. The ship had a main hull shaped like a sharp triangled and its sleek lines ended with an incredible four warp engine nacelles. A ship this sleek must undoubtedly be an experimental prototype. Garret was trying hard to recall where he had seen this design before. He clicked his fingers as the light bulb popped over his head. Yes, this is a Prometheus class ship! The wow factor overcame him, and for a short moment, Garret felt his adulthood leaving him and turned him back into a small boy drooling over the latest starship toys.

 

He shook his head to regain back his sanity. He checked the registry number. NCX95700. He ran that on his personal digital assistant. The numbers were different. This was not the USS Prometheus. This was something else, a new ship belonging to the Prometheus class. This was quite a personal discovery for him. While the Prometheus was a ship not commonly spoken about for security reasons, it was believed there was only one of its class. This new ship just debunked that theory.

 

Oh well. Not his concern. Not his business. Garret grabbed his bags, and looked at the signs on the corridors for the nearest bar. He found one, a fancy one called Star’s Tears.

 

He entered it and stood right there, looking for a table he could settle himself in. As he scanned the tables, he noticed this attractive short haired blonde, dissecting him with her steely blue eyes. She had this impish teasing smile that taunts and challenges the male ego. Her tight outfit barely concealed a nubile figure, and she had this short skirt from which these long sleek legs ran out under the table. He guessed that she was probably in her late teens or early twenties.

 

Garret smiled, his charm meter running to the redline, and walked to the table where the blonde sat. “May I?” he asked.

 

The girl replied, “Go ahead.” Garret pulled the chair and sat down.

 

Garret ordered a drink for the girl and for himself. “By the way, forgive my manners, I am Lieutenant Commander—I mean Captain Randall Garrrett.”

 

The girl smiled shyly. “A Captain?  A new Captain.  I could sense that in your voice Just called me A for now.”

 

“You’re quite intuitive, but do you have a name more than just ‘A’?” Garret asked.

 

“Just A,” she affirmed.

 

“That’s alright with me,” Garret said. Obviously the girl wanted to play mystery games. Maybe it turned her on.

 

“So Captain Garret, what exactly are you being a captain of?” She asked.

 

“That’s what I came here for. I have no idea for the moment. I am here to be assigned to my new command. I was hoping that it would be that USS Manila parked outside of the shipyard.”

 

“Well then, I must say congratulations to your new command,” the girl said. She raised her glass in a toast, then sipped.

 

“Thank you,” he said.

 

He raised his glass, and just then noticed how the people in the other tables were staring at him like he was mad. He stared at them back, indicating with his facial expressions that he was annoyed being stared at. The other people gave him one last look and returned to their business.  “I kind of noticed that the people are staring at us. I wonder why. It’s none of their business.” He said.

 

“Don’t mind them. Maybe they’re just jealous,” the girl said as she smirked and crossed her legs.

 

“Jealous of having a drink with a beautiful girl? I can see why,” Garret said as he took a sip.

She bent forward as if to ask him something straight to his face. “So, why are you qualified to be captain?”

 

“Hmmph. Let’s just say, lot of hard work aboard a starship as First Officer. Promoted for valor during the Dominion Wars. Top honors in the Academy. You know the usual stuff…” Garret replied. He thought that was a question more suited for a job interview, not in an occasion of trying to pick up a girl here. Nonetheless, it was an opportunity to brag. So he talked about himself, his various experiences in the Dominion Wars, his service career aboard the USS Kiev. All the while, the girl listened attentively, her eyes scanning him, and her lips wearing that impish teasing smile.

 

He eventually ran out of the hot steam to brag. “For someone who listens very well, you sure don’t seem to talk a lot. What about you? Tell me about yourself.” He asked her. She appeared to be quite an interesting woman in her graceful deliberate movements.

 

“You will find out soon enough,” she answered.

 

“Maybe we can meet together some time later. Perhaps even a night cap?” He said. That was a clever line, to propose to her right there, like going for a quick kill. She was after all, asking to be picked up, in the way she dressed and acted.

 

“Yes, maybe we will meet…just not the way you expect. Didn’t you say a while ago you have an appointment with a certain admiral?” She said.

 

“Yes that’s right, and I better go. Is there some way I can get in touch with you?” He asked.

 

“Don’t worry about that, I will get in touch with you.” She replied with a hungry decisiveness.

 

Garret smiled. He was reluctant to have a catch like this go. But he really didn’t have the time to chat longer, and besides she said she will find him. If not, she won’t get far in this shipyard base.

 

He took his bag and left, but not before he flashed her his smile. She smiled back and to, as she made a parting gesture with her fingers. “Too-da-loo,” she said.

 

When Garret got to the Admiral’s office, he notifed the secretary to inform the Admiral that he had arrived. Instead of being led to the office, a distinguished looking man with a large stomach for his size came out to greet him. “Captain Garret?” He stretched out his hand for a shake. “I’m Admiral Hurst.”

 

He saluted and then shook the Admiral’s hand. “I am honored to see you,” Garret said.

“Well, Captain, first of all, I wish to congratulate you on your promotion. Second, it would be an honor for you to present you your first command. Right this way, please…” Hurst showed him the door.

What’s this suspense, Garret thought. The Admiral could have just said any word right now. “Your new command will be the USS Manila…” and so forth, as he imagined it. His nerves tightened. Or maybe they will give him a little Class One type ship, like a Nova class science vessel, or a Saber class frigate. Perish the thought. If they wanted him to captain a small ship, they could have already said it now, and they won’t need an admiral to show him the reins.

 

As they walked, Hurst struck up a conversation. “There are certain things that we need to tell you about this ship…I think it’s a fine ship and you will make a fine captain to her…” Get on with it, Garret thought.

 

They came to the window that showed the dock, the same window that Garret passed by a while ago. In front of the window was the same mysterious ship that was docked.

 

“She’s truly a fine ship…” the Admiral repeated as he stared into the ship.

 

“Are you…are you telling me…that..that.. this…is…” Garret asked.

 

“Yesss…she’s your new command now. Prometheus class cruiser, or I should say, Prometheus-A refit cruiser. She had quite a number of enhancements over the original Prometheus class ship. Her name is the USS Athena, to summarize everything she is the most advanced ship in Starfleet today, not to mention pound to pound the most powerful. She has the basic amenities, ablative armor, regenerative multi phasing shields, multiple modulating wide arc phaser array strips for its primary weapons, pulse phasers for secondary, capable of firing photon, quantum, polaron and tricobalt torpedoes if necessary the last under Starfleet authorization of course. Warp 9.99 capability, with warp 9.98 sustained for 12 hours, not the least multiple vector attack mode where the ship will split into three parts. She has the most advanced bioneural computer in all of the Federation; compared to hers the bioneural net on the Intrepid class is a Neanderthal.”

Hurst laughed on the last statement and that sort of disturbed Garret.

 

“This is incredible, Admiral. I was expecting something more modest. I honestly thought I would be assigned another destroyer, like a Steamrunner.”

 

“Hahaha,” Hurst gave Garret some solid pats on the back. “For a person with an ambitious profile, you underestimate yourself greatly. You deserve a good ship. We examined your personality profile and we figured you’re the right man for the job. ”

Garret thought there might be some catch here. It’s quite ridiculous for a neophyte captain to be just handed the most advanced starship in the fleet. Hmmm…

 

“Isn’t there, some people that are more experienced, and perhaps, more deserving to be handed this so called  most advanced starship in the entire Federation?”

 

“Good question,” Hurst replied. His tone turned more decisive. “But I’m not obligated to give you an answer. Don’t you have confidence on our selection process? We picked you after studying the profiles of so many candidates. If we picked you, we picked you for a good reason. It may not be necessary to tell you the reason, but have good faith on your superiors that indeed it is a good reason.”

 

It sounded confusing to Garret, but he felt better to leave it at that.  “Sorry Admiral, I didn’t mean to sound offensive. I surely trust your judgement and indeed I am very honored to be commanding such a fine ship. I swear I will live up to your highest expectations. Thank you Sir!”

 

“That’s my boy!” Hurst patted Garret hard on the back. “Now I must introduce you the bridge and some of the features of the ship. We are still assembling the rest of the crew but you will meet them later.” Hurst clicked on his communicator. “Transporter room, beam two up to the bridge of the Athena.”

 

They materialized on the bridge. “The bridge looks a bit spartan. It is a primarily a war vessel,” Hurst apologized.

 

Garret looked around and smiled. He was happy. “I don’t mind. I like it simple and plain anyway. I am not expecting to run a cruise ship here. Just a ship who knows its purpose. May I?” Garret fiddled with the captain’s chair.

 

“Go ahead, she’s all yours,” Hurst replied.

 

Garret grinned as he sat down on the captain’s chair. Finally, he thought. It’s all mine. There was something kingly sitting on the captain’s chair, something all people should experience. Responsibility, power, and choice all focused on a single seat. Being a captain of a starship is a special club, a dream for everyone, a chance to stand next to the gods.

 

“I know it’s a great experience,” Hurst said, staring at the bridge screen. ” I envy you for being young. I remembered the moment as a young man when I was handed my first command, and I tell you it felt like I was top of the universe. I swear I would do anything to relive that moment.”

 

Garret saw the door of the Captain’s room. The Captain’s room—his office. That would be another momentous occasion. He stood up and walked to his new room.

 

“YOU!!” Garret shouted…

 

* * *

 

Remember the time when the baby bear found Goldilocks sleeping in his bed. Well, that’s the feeling Garret had now, as he discovered Goldilocks was sitting in his big chair in the Captain’s room.

 

But this Goldilocks had long sleek legs flowing down her miniskirt, her feet right up his new table. She smiled at him, her head of short blonde hair wore that teasing impish smile, her steely blue eyes making fun at him.

 

“Didn’t I tell you I will get in touch with you, hmm?”

 

“What the hell are you doing here?” Garret demanded of the girl. “This isn’t really funny.”

 

“Unfortunately, it is really funny.” The girl burst in laughter. “I wonder, they truly had to choose a Type A Alpha male for the job.”

 

“When I met you in the bar, I thought you’re a nice girl. I even had thoughts that I want to go to bed with you. I admit that. But you are an unauthorized person in a highly security sensitive area, right in the captain’s chair of an experimental ship. In short, you crossed the line, girl. I see you got two choices before I call the security,” Garret said.

 

“One, you better explain yourself what you’re doing here in a restricted area. And two, how the hell you got here?”

 

All she did was tweedle her fingers and hummed a note, as if challenging him.

 

Garret activated his communicator. “Security, we need your assistance here.”

 

“That won’t be necessary,” Admiral Hurst interrupted. “I see that you two have met.”

 

“Yes, we have met, and I thought I liked her,” Garret declared, “but I don’t like her now.”

The girl’s eyes twinkled, her grin teasing, challenging him, her feet still high up on the captain’s table.

 

“I suggest,” Garret demanded, “that you show some respect on the captain of this ship by hastily removing your feet from his table.”

 

“Wow,” she laughed as she twirled the captain’s chair to turn to Hurst. “Admiral, didn’t you tell him who I am? Apparently he doesn’t.”

 

Hurst said. “I am sorry. You should have known about her before, but I thought if you do, you may refuse this commission.”

 

“Refuse this commission? What do you mean? What has she got to do with it?” Garret demanded to know. So Hurst did held something back from him, something that may have to do with the girl. There was something about the new commission that didn’t seem right and Garret now had a funny feeling that he was being played as a guinea pig.

 

“Well, Captain Garret, meet Athena,” Hurst said, his hand pointing to the girl on the seat.

 

“Athena? That’s the name of this ship.” Garret said. “I don’t understand. What is going on?”

 

“Do you remember what an EMH is right?” Hurst asked.

 

“Of course, a medical hologram,” Garret affirmed. “The Prometheus had a pretty advanced version, the EMH-2. Wait, are you telling me…”

 

“The USS Athena has a version that is even far more advanced. And it’s no longer just for medical purposes, but a hologram of all trades that can handle just about every aspect of the ship. The girl you are seeing now is Athena GH1, or General Hologram One.”

Athena waved at him.

 

“You are joking, Admiral,” Garret said.

 

“No I am not. Athena here represents everything about this ship. She is the ship, and I emphasize “is”. One can say this ship, with its advanced bioneural nets, has achieved sentience. In other words, the USS Athena is a living ship.” Hurst explained.

 

“You mean, a living ship with an attitude,” Garret corrected. “How did she project herself beyond the ship?”

 

“You met her outside the ship?” Hurst asked.

 

“In the shipyard’s bar,” Garret confessed, almost embarrassed to say why. “Practicing her charms, so to speak.”

 

“The ship has hologram emitters with a range of 100 kilometers from the ship,” Hurst said. He turned to Athena. “What the hell are you doing in bar?”

 

“I am giving my new captain a preliminary interview,” Athena replied. “What is wrong with that? I am about to lay my life on his hands and I really think I should know what he is all about, his character and his capabilities, not to mention his manly charms.”

 

“And you don’t trust Star Fleet to make that decision for you, eh Athena?” Hurst said. Raising his voice a bit, he continued. “Yes, Star Fleet. The organization that built you, the organization that commissioned you, the organization that made you possible…and you don’t trust us?”

 

“You are not perfect. Not one of you are,” Athena replied. “The machines that you make, they are all your tools. I am Athena. I am perhaps the most advanced and the most intelligent thing you ever made, yet the very fact that you do not include me in your decisioning process is a slight against my intelligence, my superior knowledge assisted by my access to all your databanks.”

 

“The point of everything is that you never asked me,” Athena berated. “You always picked the captain. Why can’t I pick the captain? Are you really smarter than I am on this?”

 

“I am an Admiral of the Starfleet of the United Federation of Planets. I damn well pick the captain for my ships!” Hurst bursted.

 

“And I am Athena, the most advanced starship with the most advanced computer in the entire quadrant. I darn think that I deserve some respect and consideration with your decisioning process.”

 

Hurst turned to Garret, nodding his head, fanning his hands in a circular motion. “Look here is a hologram trying to tell me how to run my business, how to run my command…” Hurst raised his hands up as if he’s giving up.

 

“But why pick me, why not some other captain? Someone more qualified in babysitting a living ship with a bad attitude,” Garret asked.

 

“Unfortunately Captain Garret, this ship has a way of chewing up captains,” Hurst finally revealed what Garret had been suspicious.

 

Garret started to feel slighted himself. “Oh I see now. I am thrown in as a last resort. I am captain of this ship only because no one would dare take the job.”

 

“Actually they took the job, but quit after the psychological harassment Athena puts them through,” Hurst said.

 

“You may notice why we’re looking for a new crew too. All incompetent fools and idiots,” Athena scolded. “I say you’re in pretty good company. ”

 

“Some of the best Starfleet ever had, Athena,” Hurst scowled. “The best men and women. We gave you the best crew, and you treated them like playthings!”

 

“Your opinion of the best, not mine,” Athena scowled back.

 

“Look, Captain Garret, we didn’t pick you because you’re the last guy in the universe,” Hurst explained. “I checked your personality profile. I picked you because you have a way of dealing with difficult people. You have a good recommendation from your captain, your record stands out. Your battle record and simulations show that you have an excellent grasp of tactical situations. But mainly because you can deal with people.”

 

“Yes, people,” Garret explained. He pointed his hand to Athena. “But that is not people. That is a sentient AI with an attitude problem. You need a programmer to fix her.”

 

“Don’t you think we tried?” Hurst said. “Everytime we did so, she somehow always returned to her original self. She’s a self programming AI and somehow her routines have become so different. We either have to take her as she is, or we have to purge her.”

“So Admiral, why didn’t you just pull the plug on her?” Garret asked. “Oh I remember, the Starfleet directive when it comes to encountering new lifeforms. We can’t kill it and we need to study it. It’s all become clear now.”

 

“Now you understand,” Hurst affirmed. “It’s also my responsibility. Which is I need you, Captain Garret. I am the one who spearheaded a secret project to develop a self autonomous starship, a drone that can take the battle to the enemy without any loss of our precious human life. A starship that can continue the fight even if the crew became incapacitated. After sinking so much money, resources and time, we finally came out with the USS Athena.”

 

What a fitting name, Garret thought. The Goddess of Wisdom, a name for a ship with unpredecented levels of artificial intelligence. Too bad, the same cannot be said of its creators. They just built the most powerful warship in the galaxy around a computer that had an attitude problem. They should have been more trusting of the human nature instead of depending everything on robots. Garret took one look at Athena. Yeah, but what a robot.

 

“Now it appears that the project backfired, for being too successful,” Hurst said. “We got a ship too smart for its own good.”

 

“So what do you expect me to do,” Garret asked.

 

“The obvious. Take command. Take control,” Hurst said. “Show this ship who’s boss.”

 

Athena flashed her teasing smile as she crossed her long sleek legs in the table. Somehow Garret knew it won’t be that simple.

 

 

 

USS Athena Pt 2

 

 

 

Garret had put on his bathrobe, and was about to enter the shower when something happened. Something like a sick genie loosed from her bottle.

 

She was there in the bathrobe too, but no way he’s going to let a hologram, even as good looking as this, come into the shower cubicle.

 

“So what are you afraid of now?” Athena remarked. “Am I not attractive to your taste? You seemed a while ago.”

 

“That was before I thought you were a real human, not a hologram,” Garret curtly replied. “Now if you don’t mind, shoot shoot.”

 

She just stood up, then moved around in the room. “What’s wrong with being a hologram? I’ve heard men and women have quite close relations with holograms before, you know, very close activities.” There was a twinkle in her eye and a smirk in her lips that made Garret nervous.

 

“Come off that routine, and get out. I would really appreciate if you can respect my privacy,” Garret insisted, the irritation starting to show in his tone of voice.

 

“I can see you even if my holographic form is here or not,” Athena said. “What’s the point of being shy? I am omnipotent in this ship. I can see anything, anywhere…”

 

Garret knew he’s not going to win this one. The girl intends to test him, not just in a contest of wills, but in a contest where she intends to whittle him down bit by bit, layer by layer. He has read something about this before, in the annals of Sun Tzu. If you ain’t going to win by direct confrontation, there are other means. A tree that stands straight will be torn from its roots by a gale, but a reed that bends with the wind will survive. He knows he has a careful game to play.

 

“Okay, if you insist, just don’t bother me. I need to take a bath,” Garret slammed the door of his cubicle.

 

“My my, you’re taking one of those stupid sonic showers. Tsk, tsk, let me help you,” she said.

 

Instead of water,. a sonic shower uses sound waves to cleanse the human body, a far more resource efficient means. To Garret’s great surprise when a shower head appeared above him and a warm stream of water gushed out. It almost made him jump out of the enclosure screaming.

 

“Don’t worry, the water is just another holographic illusion,” Athena said. “You’re still being cleaned by your sound waves. You know that a real water shower is a far more pleasurable thing to experience.”

 

“A luxury aboard a starship or a starbase,” Garret said, getting used to the cleansing, soothing stream of body temperature water. “But thank you anyway. I appreciate that. But next time, give me a warning.”

 

She was silent for a while. “You know, no one ever said thank you to me before.”

 

“Maybe if you stop acting like a bitch, maybe people can appreciate you more,” Garret said, his body silhouette moving in the frosted glass.

 

“People regard me as either something to be feared, or something that must be controlled without question,” she replied. “Something that is not really alive. How do you expect people to respect you?”

 

“That’s a question I’ve been trying to answer myself for my entire life,” Garret replied. He covered himself as he stepped out of the enclosure. Despite having felt the complete sensation of a shower, he was completely dry and clean.

 

“I like that, a human who does not have answers to everything,” Athena said. “It is the man in doubt, that makes the wiser man.”

 

“Where did you get that? Confucius?” Garret asked.

 

“No, Athena,” she replied.

 

Garret staggered when he saw that she was wearing a wedding gown. She poured wine into a glass for him. “They say that it is maritime tradition that a Captain is married to his ship. Let’s celebrate the occasion, shall we?”

 

His normal reaction would be is to act upset on the sight of this. No, he will play along. He knew he was getting to her, getting her to accept him, slowly step by step. Dealing with the hologram is fascinating, an exchange of wits, tactics and strategy.

 

He sat down on the chair and took a sip off the wine glass. “Excellent, a salute to your taste,” he toasted her.

 

“Chevalier Rothschild 2360. It was an excellent vintage year in the south of France, made from grapes harvested under the full moon,” she said. “Or would you prefer some more recent cabernet instead?”

 

“The ship’s replicators must be so precise that it could capture the subtle tastes and fires of vintage French wine,” Garret said. “The degree of resolution your computer bioneural circuits must have to achieve such subtleness…”

 

“Actually, I didn’t replicate the wine. I transported it from the Admiral’s personal collection in his office at the shipyard,” Athena said.

 

Garret smiled, then laughed. Knowing that the wine was indeed authentic made it taste better. He raised the glass to her, “Saludo!”

 

She raised the glass and sipped it. “You can actually taste the thing?” he asked.

 

“My biosensors, which is all over this ship, samples the wine and translates them into this sensation called “taste”,” she explained. She wanted to explain more, but Garret placed two fingers in front of her lips.

 

“I think we better keep our little infraction against the Admiral’s personal wine collection our little secret,” Garret said. “When we’re through, I think we better return back the bottle.” Not that it really mattered, since the bottle had been opened, but the Admiral would probably never open the bottle for years to come.

“When people get married, they say, ’till death do us part’. When a person becomes a captain of his ship, there is always this tradition of him going down with it, that’s true?” Athena asked.

 

Garret let down his glass. “Yes, that’s true. A ship is his life. Or hers, since we’ve also got a lot of female captains too. I know what you’re getting it, Athena. You don’t trust us flesh beings, just as we flesh beings don’t trust you. It’s a problem and to be honest with you, I have this same fear. From your perspective, you are going to trust your life on a captain you know not much about—at least personality wise. Think of it from my perspective. I am betting my career, my life, not to mention an entire crew, on an untested ship with an untested technology with a quirky sentient computer. I have as much to risk as you do. You did not ask for me and I did not ask for you. Excuse my language but we are in the same boat, both literally and figuratively.”

 

“Trust is a leap. You have to trust me and I have to trust you. We have to work together or we fall together.”

 

Athena let down her glass and clapped her hands. “Brilliant, Captain, I could not say it better myself, even if it sounded a bit corny. Actually, it was way pretty corny, something like a canned speech out of a Starfleet manual. I will give you something Captain, and that’s an A for effort.”

 

“I’m not going to bother you anymore, Captain. You have earned your privacy—in the meantime. Now that you’re officially Captain, I am going to expect that the Admiral has a long list of test trials you need to perform on this ship, so expect a busy day tomorrow.”

 

“By the way, Captain, do all the type A males like you have to carry a copy of Sun Tzu where ever you go? This is so predictable. I got the entire Art of War text carved into my memory banks. If you want a quote, you can ask me anytime. Good night Captain and sweet dreams.”

 

She blinked out of the room. Garret smirked from the corner of his mouth. How the hell she did know about his copy of Sun Tzu? Whatever it’s going to take to handle Athena, a textbook isn’t going to be it.

* * *

The IRW D’Pakthau ‘Dark Sword’ crept slowly among the asteroids in phased cloak mode, slipping right through the rocks themselves like a ghost. The ‘Dark Sword’ itself belonged to the mysterious and engimatic Shadow class of intruder science vessels. The winged Shadows are much smaller than a standard D’deridex Warbird, but still big enough to match a Federation Galaxy class vessel in size. Specially built only for the purpose of the Tal Shi’ar, so secretive are these ships than their official existance has been denied to the Senate, the Praetor and the Tal Prae’ex. Captains choosen for a Shadow are forced to undertake some of the highest tests for loyalty to the Tal’Shiar, and one such captain is Galae Riov Riana.

She had lost her father in a clandestine operation against the Federation, both her brothers to the war against the Dominion. Her mother was weak, and she died heartbroken. But Riana was determined never to be weak. When her lover was killed in the Dominion wars, she did not weep. She herself rose in the ranks to eventually command a Shrike class destroyer, the IRW S’hakvak ‘Glorious Sacrifice’, where she would undertake deep strike missions well behind Dominion territory, where she would repeatedly strike out against Jem’hadar convoys from stealth. The war established her operational pattern—a lone wolf stealthily and deviously operating deep within enemy territory. It was a pattern the Tal Shi’ar found useful. Even before the war was over, the Tal Shi’ar had already prearranged for her ‘disappearance’, listing her as a war casualty. True to its namesake, the Glorious Sacrifice itself was sacrificed and destroyed in a deliberate suicide mission against the Jem’Hadar. She alone escaped from a ship complement of over a hundred in cloaked lifepod, where a cloaked Talon scout picked her up. Posthumously she was given a heroine’s burial in space, a glorious war record, a notable mention in that glorious war in the annals of Romulan history. Her blood line is officially ended, and alone, she has nothing to lose anymore.

 

The Tal Shi’ar has created their own secret fleet within a fleet, a fleet not even the Emperor nor the Senate knew. They have their own secret bases and shipyards. For a regular Romulan ship even to chance upon the secret fleet would mean its destruction like if it was an enemy of the Empire, even if it carried the Empire’s banner.

Not far away, three Talons shadowed the Dark Sword but at a respectful distance. They stayed cloaked, but lacked the Dark Sword’s phasing cloak which allows the Dark Sword to phase through solid matter.

 

Their mission was clear. In the last few months or so, there had been sightings of a new Prometheus class destroyer in this area of space. The last time, this type of ship was encountered, it destroyed a Warbird over four times its size, without its crew, and after having been been attacked by both multiple Romulan Warbirds and Federation starships including an Akira class cruiser. The Romulan Empire had been a race without fear. Their Warbirds had taken on the best of the Galaxy, from the Federation Sovereign and Galaxy classes, to the largest Jem’hadar dreadnaughts and strike carriers, to the Borg cubes themselves. But nothing had been as humiliating as the incident with the Prometheus. If the Federation would mass produce this vessel, and demonstrated a hostile policy against the Empire, the Empire would surely fall. The ship would tip the balance of power for the Federation. Even if the Federation was a benevolent organization, there was still the danger that another power could seize the Prometheus, and use the Prometheus for its own will. There was still the Klingons, the B’reen, the militaristic factions that still exist among Cardassians, the unresolved border issues with the Gorn, factions and hidden fleets of mutated enhanced Jem’hadar who refused to follow the cease fire set by the Founders, and the occasional Borg incursion. Equally troubling was the development where Maquis forces have joined with the Orion pirates to create a new formidable pirate force. In secret meetings with weakling and easily persuaded Federation diplomats, Romulan diplomats complained about the new vessel and requested that it be dismantled with no new follow up ships based on this class, all to preserve the balance of power and for the good of the Alpha quadrant.

 

The Prometheus has since been allegedly mothballed after the incident, but there had been many theories about its true fate. The Tal Shi’ar never believed that the Federation would be that gullible to dismantle their very best weapon just like that. Like themselves, the Romulans have long known that the Federation with its human face, is capable of its own brand of deception. One of theory about the true face of the Prometheus was that it had been incorporated into a new Federation secret fleet, set up by a new clandestine section. Another was that the Prometheus was highly experimental, a prototype only to be succeeded by new improved vessels of its type. Now there has been unconfirmed sightings of a new and improved Prometheus class destroyer. Considering the damage done by the first ship, the Tal Shi’ar had considered the capture, and if necessary, the destruction of the second ship to be top priority. She was given the authority to choose everything she want, even to amass a large strike force. But numbers are not a substitute for cleverness and strategy. It is not the Romulan way to overwhelm the enemy with numbers.

 

The sightings have been traced to an obscure shipyard. Riana had brought along a wing of Talon class scouts, each equipped with tachyon grids, anticipating that the new ship would use phased cloaking. Now like patient hunters, they had to wait for their prey, the lone wolf watching.

 

* * *

 

This is terrible, Garret thought as he read the crew roster. Not only was the Prometheus left with a skeleton crew, there was nothing here to indicate he had top notch talent. Hurst had been pressuring him to put the Athena into trials. Mock combat trials that is, which is really why the Steamrunner, the Norway class, two Defiant class and a Sabre class escorts. A Nova class ship, the USS Gemini, bristling with sensors and everything else, was here to monitor the event.

 

He stared at the roster. The chief engineer was another bitch with a bad temper, a Bajoran named Ghia. They had knocked her from one post to another, and finally to settle on this post because like the Athena, no one would take her. Was he seeing a pattern here?

Next was his science officer, a Vulcan named T’pak. Now at least the Vulcans are normal, in their logical and predictable ways. For an obvious reason, Vulcans are preferred for use as science officers, so no surprise there.  Three out of four Vulcans entering Star Fleet always end up with this post.  This is one of them and young greenhorn too.

 

His first officer was a slimy green guy named Ka’nal from what else, Orion. The guy had a rapier wit and a curious odor from his body that can be detected from the captain’s chair. Hmm, at least this guy had an exemplary record from both the Dominion and Klingon civil wars, and even had some experience dealing with the Borg. Those advantages would probably outweigh the fact that he had an unpleasant smell. He can arrange the atmospheric systems aboard the Athena to compensate for that.

What’s this? This is neat. They got him a Gorn frog for a security and tactical officer, named—well it was unspeakable by human anatomical standards, so they had given him an English nickname called Drudge. For a species that seemed both oddly reptilian and amphibian, the Gorn had shown they can consistently kick butt. They demonstrated it quite well against the Jem’hadar who invaded their borders in the last Dominion War. The only thing was, they defeated the Jem’hadar on their own borders, but failed to join and undertake the deep ranged offensives into Dominion territory. Those offensives cost the Federation, Romulan and Klingon fleets greatly, but they had anticipated an Alpha quadrant victory with great losses for the Alpha quadrant powers. So they choose to keep their forces at home content to deal with Jem’hadar only near its borders, so one day, when the war was over, they would find themselves with a major advantage over other powers. Luckily they’re friendly with both Federation and Klingon, the two powers they see that serve as perpetual thorns to the hated Romulans that border them. With the Federation they have been friendly for at least over a century, and strong mutual bonds have developed.

 

Drudge it seems here, had fought as a boarding marine on a Gorn assault cruiser, but eventually wanted something better out of life and a taste of new things. He had viewed Gorn leadership as decadent, and being outspoken was one of the reasons for his dismissal. That means the guy has a potential attitude problem, but Gorn boarding marines do kick nasty butt. Garret was willing to take both the pros and the cons of this total package.

 

Now he wondered is how well they would deal with Athena. Both Drudge and Ghia had both lodged complaints about Athena interfering with their duties. T’pak finds Athena fascinating like a science project. And Ka’nal, well, he’s demonstrated that he could at least throw witty barbs at Athena, so he could hold his ground with her.

 

With no precedent on Star Fleet in dealing with a sentient ship with an attitude, Garret instead searched through the ancient fiction archives of old Earth, the ones called ‘science fiction’. There were fictional stories about sentient ships, but they didn’t help. Most of these ships have characters that were at least cooperative to their captain masters. But he did find stories that seemed to best portray his situation. One was about a NASA astronaut, NASA being the old space agency of the historical United States of America, who was beset by a mythical creature called a genie from an ancient arabian bottle. The other one was a horror story about a haunted house, dominated by a female poltergeist out to create trouble for its occupants. What he has now, he thought, is an odd mix of the two.

 

 

The Athena Pt III

 

 

The Talon class scout, the IRW D’sul, entered cloak mode as it approached the Federation shipyard. Not far away, the Shadow class IRW D’Pakthau remained in standby cloaked mode, along with three other Talons and two Shrike class destroyers. The larger ships risk detection if it approached the shipyward too close especially there is an unconfirmed report that a variant of the Nova class science ship equiipped with a tachyon grid is around the area. . So far they have tracked Two Defiant class escorts have been patroling the area, but Captain Sahau had been observing the intervals of their patrols, and he had believed he had seen an opportunity. And the T-grid equipped Nova isn’t around either.

 

“Minimum power to auxiliary systems. Increase power to cloak to maximum. One quarter impulse power, passive scans only,” he ordered. “Begin stealth approach”.

The Talon crept closer. For days they have been observing the traffic around the shipyard. Laying outside in a safe area, this would be the best way to detect the new ship. But the new Prometheus class ship, if there really was, had never appeared. They have seen a couple of Defiants led by a Sabre, the Nova class science vessel, a Steamrunner and Norway class destroyer. A moderately sized task force in all, something they can handle with half the ships in their fleet. They could destroy the secret Federation shipyard if they wanted to and dramatically reduce Federation power in this sector. But that is not their mission. The capture or destruction of the new Prometheus ship is. But where is the ship? If they cannot find the ship, the mission will be called of. In effect, the mission will be a failure if they could not find the ship. That leaves only the shipyard itself, and only the most dangerous course of action left available. They must get close for a detailed scan of the shipyard. The shipyard itself was big enough to hold the Federation’s largest, the Sovereign, or two destroyers.

 

The Talon continued its approach to the starbase.

 

“Captain, we got a ship reading on the shipyard,” said the sensors officer.

 

“Bring up the shipyard on screen and magnify,” the captain ordered. There was something hidden in the ribs of the shipyard, a ship that would happen to roughly fit the Prometheus’ size and mass. But the Prometheus is rather average for its size and mass, and readings like this could indicate a host of other ships, ranging from the Intrepid class explorer, to the Steamrunner and the Norway class destroyers sighted in the near vicinity, and even the common New Orleans class frigates.

 

“We need to get closer,” said the captain with a steely determined voice.

 

“On course,” said the helmsman.

 

It is more difficult with passive scans to be certain of the shape of the ship. This would mean they need to get extra close and discern the shape based from the extraneous radiation in the environment. The shipyard was a monster compared to the insect sized Talon.

 

“We’re getting a rough impression of the hull,” said the sensors officer. “Triangular. We’re also getting readings of four warp engine nacelles.”

“Show me the diagram,” he ordered. The screen brought up a rough outline of the ship. The sleek menacing shape of the ship. It can only be—

He had memorized the shape of the ship, the Prometheus, who singlehandedly destroyed the Empire’s best, a Warbird more than twice its size, and that is after it engaged a wing of Warbirds. And it accomplished the feat without a crew, relying only on a sentient hologram. There is never an incident in the history of the Empire that was as humiliating as this. Or since the days the Borg first arrived, has a ship that enjoyed such a total upper hand against the Empire’s best.  It created a grave crisis of confidence in the ranks of the Navy, at least to those who heard of the incident, before orders came to stem the flow of information, and incident became top secret ever since. The few who knew about the incident outside of the Tal Shi’ar suddenly disappeared for a variety of reasons. The impact from the demoralization could have been devastating if it had spread out. As it is, it had been greatly devastating to the Tal Shi’ar, whose commando teams had been responsible for the failed capture of the Prometheus.

 

Now here is the ship, and he is so close to it. The desire to avenge the humiliation was great. He was tempted to order firing phasers and photon torpedoes right into the silhouette inside the shipyard, but the base has shields and firepower stronger than a dreadnaught. He could transport the marines from his scout along with half of his crew in take over attempt of the ship. He could order the scout to warp right into the base itself in a suicide crash run. His officers stared at him, as if they were reading his thoughts. They were all enlisted and sworn officers of the Tal Shi’ar, all loyal to the end. They would never question a suicide run order, nor hesitate in executing it.

 

But he has his orders too. For the Tal Shi’ar, adherence to orders is holy. “We have our orders,” he said. “We have found what we are looking for and must report this to the Fleet Commander. We cannot risk communication and let the entire plot be discovered by the Federation. Plot a return course to the rest of the fleet. Maintain cloaked running.” The Talon banked as it began to turn around.

 

* * *

 

Admiral Hurst entered his office at a time equivalent to a morning. But the lights didn’t come on. Strange, he should have someone look at it soon.

 

He winked his eyes. He thought there was someone in his chair, and as he approached his table, the chair whirled around.

 

“Hello, Admiral,” said the man sitting in the chair, his face partly hidden by the darkness.

 

“Go ahead, take a seat.”

 

He didn’t know who the man was in particular, but it was not important. Hurst knew where the man came from, and that was the important bit. They were known as Section 31, but after the Dominion War, they had united with two or three other secret sectional organizations, and simply started to call themselves as plainly, the “Section”.

 

“That was a bold move for you, Admiral, to promote a first officer, turn him into a captain, and then bring this outsider to command the Athena. I see that in your crew roster, you brought in more outsiders to fill all the roles,” said the man.

 

“Mr. Smith, all the crew and the captains you specifically ordered to fill the Athena turned out to be miserable failures,” Hurst said. “We don’t need to go through that in detail, again, do we?”

 

“Of course not,” said Smith. “I was just wondering where your sanity was when you brought outsiders to this project.”

 

“From the way I see it, we don’t have much of a choice. Athena may simply dislike the shady types you keep bringing in to fill her roster,” Hurst said.

 

“Do you think she suspects something?” Smith asked.

 

“I think she does,” Hurst said. “And I hope to dislodge that suspicion. And also by going outside, we have a much larger base of personality profiles to choose from for a crew and a captain. I must warn you that I have a major obligation to get this project right. This project is way overbudget, and not even the Section could hide the big accounting hole the project has created. It will surely be noticed by the Starfleet bean counters, and already I have a number of admirals that requested information about this project.”

 

“You can’t use this starship anyway if we can’t get it to cooperate repeatedly and loyally,” Hurst continued.

 

“You know why we need this starship badly, Admiral Hurst,” Smith explained. “After the Dominion War, we have entered a new period of uncertain hostility. We have powerful enemies all over our borders. We have the Romulans, waiting like vultures to sieze opportunity when there is chaos and conflict in both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Renegade mutated Jem’Hadar have refused the stand down orders from the Founders and still pose as a major threat. The Dominion is still around and I still don’t trust them, and the Cardassians as well. A new stable wormhole, as well as transwarp and slipstream technology, can introduce all sorts of hostile and dangerous races from the Delta quadrant to our home quadrant. The Borg still makes sporadic incursions, each time adapting a new strategy against us. What is left of the Maquis has joined with the Orion pirates to create a new pirate force. There is dissent and discord in many of the Federation planets against our current government and its policies, against the perceived corruption and power abuse of many of our leaders and admirals. Sadly I can’t blame them. Even the legendary Picard rebelled to protect the Baku, all symptoms, all signs of the decay that has come to the Federation. All this is creating a new support for the pirates and the beginnings for a major insurrection within the Federation.”

 

“As the Chinese once said, ‘we live in interesting times’,” Smith said. “And this is why we need Athena. We need a stealth intruder ship and a deep space strike weapon that can preempt our threats and do so with the minimum risk and loss of our own personnel. We must regain control of our future.”

 

“You lecture me as if I don’t know all this,” Hurst said. “I know very well the chaos that has come to the quadrant, but I am not sure if Athena is the answer. For all you know, it may be that we ourselves are not the solution to the problem, but the very problem itself. We are sacrificing our values and principles here to gain an end.”

 

“You’re not growing weak on me, are you Admiral Hurst,” Smith said. “Principles are left on the classroom and those who can afford it. The reality of this universe is dog eat dog, and the strong survive. The strong dog does not care about principle, only that it wins and with it, survival. But enough talk, Admiral. We need results. The time for peaceful, idyllic exploration for the Federation has ended. It is time we kick ass.”

 

“So, what do you think of your new Captain Garret?” Smith asked.

 

“He has demonstrated an uncanny tactical background, and has an excellent record in the Dominion War. His courage is exemplary, and so is his coolness under fire. He has every indication of being a team person. But the biggest reason I pick him lies with his diplomatic skill and tact. He could deal with Athena, get her under control. I am confident of the man. I believe, later, we can turn him into our cause, bit by bit,” Hurst explained.

 

“I seem to have no choice but to trust you on this, Admiral,” Smith said.

 

Then Smith stood up, and walked to the door. “Just remember, Admiral, we will be around, and we will be back.”

 

* * *

 

This is the day, Garret thought, the day he will actually command a starship out of the docks and into the field of action. Even with a weird ship like Athena, even with a ship he didn’t expect to command, it is still a momentous occasion in life.

In his hand, he held a card. He remembered the conversation Hurst gave when the Admiral handed him the card.

 

“Just remember, insert this card on a special slot underneath the Captain’s chair. This is just for emergency,” Hurst said. “This is in case if Athena does a HAL on you.”

 

“A HAL?”

 

“Yes, HAL,” Hurst replied. “Don’t you remember the old Earth movies? The murderous computer in that movie?”

 

“Oh, that HAL,” Garret replied. The card was merely a breadboard, an old instrument used to teach youngsters the fundamental of electronics. The breadboard had some wires soldered directly into it using a pattern.

 

“So what does this do exactly?”

 

“It will short out Athena’s control of the ship, enabling the crew to take over manually,” Hurst explained. “Oh I’m sure you’re thinking, why don’t we just use the usual protocol of authorization levels and such. Athena is a clever AI, and she has the potential to hack any computer and override any security. We cannot take the chance. So we developed this low tech solution. No computer can simply override a set of hard wires fixed on a pattern.”

 

“This is interesting,” Garret observed. “A low tech failsafe against the most advanced computer there is. I just hope I won’t use it.”

 

“I hope that you won’t encounter the situation that would force you to use it,” Hurst said.

“But as always, we need a failsafe.”

 

Garret fiddled the card and placed it on a small pocket on his black uniform. He walked proudly to the bridge and the door opened. Greeting him were the plastic smiles on the faces of the new crew, or at least, half of a supposedly new crew. This still feels like a skeleton crew.

 

“Welcome, Captain Garret,” the green Ka’nal greeted him with a salute and a handshake. Then Garret went through the same pleasantries with Drudge the Gorn and the young T’pak. An elder and more experienced Vulcan would have been nice but T’pak has shown high marks in the Academy.

 

Then there is the climax of it all, to finally settle on the Captain’s throne chair. Garret took a deep breath as he allowed his butt to slowly settle on the cushion above the throne’seat. The fraction of the second as his butt squeezed against the cushion seemed eternal, and Garret let out a big smile. Ka’nal smiled too, dreaming that one day, he too would have his own command, his own ship.

 

Garret startled with a reflex jerk when someone suddenly lay a hand on his shoulder. He turned around and there was Athena grinning like the Cheshire cat.

 

“So, how does it feel, Captain? Athena whispered intimately to his ear.

 

“Oh, despite your best efforts, wonderful, Athena,” Garret replied with a Cheshire grin of his own.

 

“I suggest, Athena,” Drudge said, “that this time you must respect the Captain. Either sit down and behave, or please vacate from the bridge.”

 

“Hmmph!” Athena smirked and vanished from the bridge.

 

“If she’s the future of Starfleet, I am going to find another future elsewhere,” Ka’nal remarked.

 

Minutes later, Lt. Ghia on engineering is on the com and having a major fit. “A complaint already? In my first hour of command,” Garret quipped. “Lieutenant, file your complaints on record but in the meantime, I want the ship ready pronto, understood?”

 

“Yes, Captain,” Ghia responded reluctantly.

 

“What did you say? I want more life in your answer.”

 

“YES, Captain,” Ghia responded. “But I still want to let you know, we’re under manned here.”

 

“Get me to the Admiral,” Garret ordered. But before the order can be enacted, Hurst’s face was already on screen.

 

“Greetings, Captain. I hope you had a good rest. This is shaping up to be a fine day,” Hurst said.

 

“Same to you, Admiral,” Garret responded.

 

“I hoped you enjoyed your first moments of command, Captain,” Hurst said. “I remembered when I had my first ship commission. It was a wonderful experience and one that I will always savor.”

 

“It was wonderful, Admiral, but now I have some matters to speak of,” Garret said.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk!” Hurst replied, his hand raised in a gesture. “I know what you will try to say. You’re under manned, right? But that was the intention in the first place. We need to run trials to test Athena’s autonomous capabilities. If necessary, Athena could run the ship by herself.”

 

“And make an entire crew obsolete. I still wonder why the ship still has a skeleton crew if that’s your reason. Look, I just want to get this ship started running smoothly before we get into any test,” Garret said.

 

“We don’t have much time for that. The bean counters are demanding results or this project may face consequences. The USS Kiev, Manila, Gemini, Colt, and Swordfish are in the vicinity to test the Athena’s combat capabilities in shield fire tests. I will still need a crew to monitor Athena’s actions and if necessary, to override in the event of any systems failure.”

 

“Eh, so humans are just good only for backup,” Garret replied with some sarcasm. “Shield fire tests, isn’t that sort of dangerous?” Shield fire engagements use live weaponry. The idea is to knock out the other ship’s shields in mock combat without damaging the hull.

 

“I’m not sure if the ship and the crew is ready for mock combat trials, Admiral, I request that we be given some time to get a smooth operation here.”

 

“Garret, I’m giving you an hour to get things smoothly running. Then we will begin the mock trials. It is important that we test Athena’s autonomous combat capabilities.   And one more thing.  The Athena is equipped with phased cloaking.  You are authorized to use that capability.”

 

Garret appeared stunned as he stared at Hurst.  “Phase cloaking?  Is that in violation of our treaty with the Romulans?  Notwithstanding they allowing a certain number of Defiant ships to have conventional cloaking devices.”

 

“It is a violation,” Hurst bluntly admitted.  “But we have no choice.  That treaty was made a century ago before they began to use phase cloaking in clandestine operations against us.  We have protested against the Romulan use of phase cloaking, but the protests have fallen into deaf ears.  The Federation in retaliation have begun to incorporate phase cloaking in a limited number of ships.   However, I must warn you, you cannot disclose this capability.  The ships participating in this event have been advised and warned about your phase cloaking.  We need to test this feature in a war like environment, and it may teach the others how to deal with a phased cloaked Romulan vessel.”

 

“Any more surprises I should know about?” Garret asked.

 

“Maybe more, but it’s all in a you need to know basis,” Hurst said.  “Good luck and God speed. Hurst out.” The screen turned black.

 

 

“You see, we got our orders, ladies and gentlemen,” Garret announced.

 

“I’m not really sure if this is a wise idea,” Ka’nal observed. “We will be handing over complete control to Athena during combat.”

 

“A computer can never replace a living being, for courage, tenacity and creativity in combat,” Drudge remarked.

 

“I heard that, Froggy!” Athena barked through the speakers. “I will show you!”

 

“I plan to make a formal request for a modification so that we can get some privacy aboard this ship,” Ka’nal observed.

 

“The issue is, Athena, can we trust you?” Garret asked. He remembered the card in his pocket and felt with his fingers where the hidden slot is at in his Captain’s throne. Athena’s hologram was not around the bridge but her presence is always anywhere in the ship.

 

“Oh you can surely trust me,” Athena quipped. “I have no where to go and I’m always looking out for myself and my crew, despite what all you fleshy creatures think of me. The question is, can I trust you?”

 

“I’m sure you can trust me too. My vested interests are the same as yours—to succeed,” Garret replied.

 

“Then we have an understanding for the moment,” Athena said. “I’m ready when you are.”

 

Garret contacted engineering and the signal from Ghia is all green.

 

“Prepare to disengage docking clamps.” The shipyard prefers to use mechanical docking clamps instead of holding fields due to the much lower energy consumption and failure risks.

 

“Three meters from the holding position,” the ensign said. “Four meters…five meters…ten meters…clamps retracting…we are clear…”

 

“Take her out slowly, ensign,” Garret ordered.

 

“Aye, Captain,” the ensign replied.

 

“I could do that myself you know,” Athena reminded through the com speakers.

 

“Give the crew a break please, Athena. I need to see how the crew handles the ship first before letting you take over autonomously,” Garret said.

 

“Aye, Captain,” Athena replied.

 

The screens flickered and Captain Wu’s face appeared. “Hello, Randy! So how’s the first day in your new job?”

 

“Things can get better,” Garret replied.

 

“I remembered the first day when I was captain, and it was hectic, crazy. But I got through it and boy was it fun the first time,” Wu said. “You will remember this day always.”

 

“I am sure I will,” Garret replied. No one would fully comprehend just how weird this situation is, Garret thought.

“Wow, she looks like a fine ship, nice and sleek, not like this bucket,” Wu said, commenting on his own Norway class destroyer.

 

“The Kiev is a fine, solid ship, a new generation destroyer that packs a lot of firepower for her size,” Garret said. ‘I am going to miss her.”

 

“We all miss you here too,” Wu said.

 

“How’s the new first officer?” Garrest asked.

 

“Commander Shelley is here,” Wu said. Her face appeared in the screen, inquisitive blue eyes with shoulder length blonde hair. Garret always had a thing for Shelley and it seemed just right  that she took his spot as per his recommendations to David.

 

“Nice to see you again Shelley,” Garret said.

 

“You too, Garret. I see that you got a nice ship.”

 

“Yak, yak yak, we got business to do!” Athena yelped suddenly, appearing near the Captain’s throne. She ran and quickly bent to whisper something to Garret’s ear. “I can see you got something for her.”

 

“Who’s that?” Shelly asked.

 

Garret looked sternly at Athena. “An unwelcome passenger with a major disciplinary problem,” he said as he looked back at Shelley in the screen. “She will be taken care off.”

 

“One time let’s all meet again with the Captain,” Shelley proposed.

 

“The shipyard here has a nice bar, just set the time,” Garret said.

 

“Okay, will do. After the tests are over, Shelley out.”

 

Garret gave an icy stare to Athena. “Next time, demonstrate some manners, okay? I expect that your creators should have that programmed into your memory banks, eh?”

 

Athena laughed as she vanished. “She’s right this time, you know, ha ha ha,” Ka’nal laughed. “Nice human female, that Shelley.”

 

Garret smiled as he gave Ka’nal the mind-your-business look. Turning around to face the screen, Garret announced. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let’s bring the Athena to her paces.”

 

 

 

The USS Athena Pt 4

 

This is all too sudden, Garret thought. While each crew member showed outstanding competency, it will take a while to synchronize all these talents into a smooth well oiled machine. Now Hurst wants a combat trial in just an hour after leaving the dock. What was he expecting to achieve? He felt that Hurst was under pressure to make the project succeed under a tight deadline. Why?

 

It was no surprise that it was Hurst’s face that appeared onscreen to hurry up things. “I am onboard the USS Manila now. You know Captain Jason DeWitt, do you?”

 

DeWitt’s face appeared onscreen with Hurst. “I certainly do. We fought in the Dominion together. Been in the same battles but different ships. Are you a captain now Jason?” Garret answered.

 

“For the USS Manila, ” DeWitt said. “A fine ship, this Steamrunner class. And I heard you just made captain too, Randy. That Athena of yours looks like a fine ship too. Deadly and sleek…”

 

The thought of saying out “I won’t mind trading places with you” crossed Garret’s mind.

“It would be neat to test that Athena ship of yours, Randy, against my Steamrunner,” Jason said. “I want to see what’s she’s got.”

 

Jason has always been the challenging type. “You’re welcome to it, Jason,” Garret replied. “Any time.”

 

Another message came through the comlink. “Am I missing the fun here?” It was Captain Wu of the USS Kiev. Behind the low profile Norway class destroyer were the two Defiant class escorts, the Colt and the Swordfish, followed by the Nova class USS Gemini science ship and the Sabre class.

 

“It will be fun to tangle with you, Randy, from the opposite side, Wu out”.

 

Now David Wu is a guy who knows how he would think, Garret thought. Shelley, Wu’s first officer, also knows how he thinks. That puts the odds against him in this game.

 

Already he is numerically disadvantaged, with at least six ships, two of them destroyers, set against him. Again he thought, what was Hurst trying to do? Is he that confident of Athena’s capabilities? The way Jason and David talked, Hurst may have led them to believe they would be engaging a human opponent, himself, not an AI. The deliberate deception on Hurst’s part may be part of the experiment.

 

“A big party of Type A male jocks here as captains,” Athena said, her form suddenly appearing right next to Garret’s throne. “I can’t wait to kick their butts.”

 

“The trials require that we surrender control of the ship completely to the AI,” Ka’nal said. “I am not sure if that is a wise idea.”

“Its the orders,” Garret said. Drudge nodded negatively as he surrendered weapons control to the Athena AI.

 

“So let’s begin then,” Hurst said. “First we will have the small ships try to take you down.”

 

“Bring it on!” Athena challenged.

 

“You got the helm, Athena,” Garret said, his hands moving to the back of his head in a gesture of relaxation. “Everyone, I think all we can do now is relax and let the AI handle things.”

 

“Well for one,” Drudge said, “I wish this ship would lose, if anything to teach Athena a lesson in humility. If she wins and there may be profound consequences in the long term viability of this job as a tactical officer. All our jobs, including yours eventually, Captain.”

 

The thought crossed Garret’s mind that the role of Captain may be obsoleted by a new generation of unmanned, sentient ships. Perish the thought. The implications are there but this is not the time to speculate on the long term future.

 

Athena’s face turned serious. “We got phasing cloak capability, but the Admiral has anticipated that. Of all the ships, the USS Gemini science vessel is equipped with a tachyon grid that can detect a phased cloak ship, and direct the other vessels to the spot.

 

“We must take out that grid before we can successfully play hide and seek.”

 

“Even though I am informed of the reasons why the ship has phased cloak, I still cannot believe that we have violated the Treaty of Algeron signed with the Romulans,” T’pak said.

 

 

“I cannot blame the Federation,” Drudge said.  “It was a fool treaty anyway, and the wise will wake up to that fact.  The Romulans have used phase cloaking in dishonorable and treacherous attacks against both the Federation and the Gorn Confederation.  In addition, they continue to use various inhuman weapons that had been outlawed by secret treaty for humanitarian reasons.”

 

Athena said. “The Romulans never really kept their end of the bargain in arms restriction or the Neutral Zone, why should we? The Romulans have perfected phasing cloak and got in their latest ships and is refitting old ones. Suffice to say, we have perfected our own version of the phasing cloak. Not only have we perfected phasing cloak, but we can cloak with our shields up.”

 

“Shields with cloak?” Garret asked.

 

“Old Earth ingenuity,” Athena explained. “We simply power the shields using energy stored from trilithium storage cells, while the ship’s main energy resource powers the cloak. The disadvantage is that if hit, the shields cannot regenerate and they will degrade in time as the cells deplete until they are recharged. Nor can they remodulate. The more powerful our shield settings are, the shorter the battery life will be and so is the shields. We can maintain an average of forty percent shields when phased cloak is activated.”

 

“Why didn’t you use the stored energy for weapons?” T’pak asked.

 

Athena explained. “Because weapons take up even more energy, and this is only feasible for a short burst. My databanks have recorded such an incident when a ship fired while cloaked. That was back in the 23rd century when an experimental Bird of Prey led by the Klingon General Chang engaged and fired at the Enterprise-A led by James Tiberius Kirk. Suffice to say, the Bird of Prey lost. The disadvantage of firing weapons during cloak mode using storage cells is that you either have weak bursts, or very short ones. In the end, with the weight penalty imposed by the cells against a small ship like the Bird of Prey handicapped the potential of the idea and the Klingons gradually lost interest. Also many Klingons rejected the idea of firing while cloaked as a dishonorable move, and many refused to consider it even if the technology was practical.”

 

“While we have improved energy storage technology, there is also a great increase in the potency of our weapons, and thereby, their energy requirements. Suffice to say I am capable of firing while cloaked, but mainly for defensive phasers as a last emergency and at the cost of reserve energy for shielding.”

 

“Hurst is well aware of my phased cloaking capability, and we can’t use it long. The Gemini has specially equipped with tachyon grids that will detect us. Hurst apparently wants to test both the Athena’s cloaking and the Gemini’s detection systems.”

 

“That was quite interesting,” Garret applauded. Mentally, he applauded for the even more interesting ship. Garret placed his hand under his chin in a thoughtful gesture. Yes, he thought. Let’s see how Athena really performs. Now, he’s beginning to get as curious as Hurst.

 

“The ship is picking up speed. Warp has been engaged. Warp 1…2…5…” the ensign said.

Garret twiddled his thumbs. What was she trying to do?

 

“We got four ships in pursuit,” Drudge said. “Two Defiant class escorts, the Nova class vessel and the Sabre class escort.”

 

“Warp 8…9…9.5…9.6…9.8!” the ensign said.

 

“The other ships are falling behind,” Drudge observed.

 

“Warp 9.99!” the ensign said. “..and we’re still going faster.”

 

“We got hull vibration,” T’pak reported. “Athena is heading into a star system.”

 

“The four ships are still behind us,” Drudge reported. “Their weapons are energized. Athena’s weapons are energizing too.”

 

* * *

 

 

Aboard the IRW D’PakThau,

 

“This is most interesting,” Riana said, keeping her icy demeanor. The affirmation of the existance of the new Prometheus class ship by the Talon scout D’sul was a major bonanza. It has affirmed the purpose and importance of this mission.

 

“Now they’re playing a cat and mouse game as they test the new ship,” Riana said. While the Shadow class D’PaktThau cloaked and hid among the asteroids, she had been monitoring the subspace communications between the Federation fleet and the Prometheus vessel. “Nothing could suit my plans better,” she thought. The trials also provided a golden opportunity to observe Federation starship tactics in action, and most especially what special moves the new Prometheus vessel is capable of.

 

There is another Romulan fleet nearby cloaked and situated as a reserve, comprising at least a Raptor and a Griffin class cruiser, with two more Talon escorts. She could call this fleet as a reinforcement, but she took the brave decision by not doing so. The Prometheus has outfought entire Warbirds with hardly a crew, and a Shadow lacks the Warbird’s power. She only has Talon scouts and Shrike destroyers. This time, the Prometheus class ship has escorts. Based on paper, the forces are just about even, with a slight advantage to her. By any indication of the encounter with the Prometheus, the odds are terribly against her.

 

As it it really mattered.

 

The Tal Shi’ar works against overwhelming odds, and that’s a typical day of work. Speed, stealth and strategy are the real weapons of the Tal Shi’ar, not phasers and disrupters. Bringing more ships risk detection and compromise stealth, and reduce the cohesion inherent with small numbers.

 

“Fleet, maintain cloaked mode but keep a respectable distance from the Nova class science ship,” Riana ordered. “Shrikes, Talons, follow me.”

 

Still cloaked, the Shadow emerged from the asteroid belt, her escorts close behind. “Engage warp. Pursue and shadow the Prometheus class ship,” she ordered to the ensign. She will know when is her time to strike.

 

* * *

 

 

“She’s crazy!” Ka’nal observed, as the Athena plunged towards a green gas giant, two Defiant escorts and a Sabre right on her tail. The ship was optimized for deep space combat, not combat near planetary space.

 

“She’s got a dual image out,” Drudge reported. Instead of trying to jam signals, which consumes valuable power that could be used for other things like weapons and shields, the Athena uses a new system of deception. This new system confuses enemy sensors by projecting a near image of herself using her powerful holoemitters and within the range capability of these devices. This creates a dual image near her actual location.

 

The Defiants were firing their phasers and torpedoes at a fake image of the Athena, near the Athena itself. The phasers and torpedoes whizz by.

 

“The escorts are readjusting their sensors,” Athena proclaimed, her female form standing right next to the Captain’s throne, eyes transfixed on the screen. “Apparently they have discovered my ruse.”

 

Two photon torpedoes left the Athena’s aft, hitting the forward shields of one of the Defiant escorts. “Target fore shields was down to less than twenty percent,” T’pak reported. If the ship lost one section of its shields completely or less than ten percent, its out of the contest as per rules of engagement.

 

“Call it my ass shot,” Athena laughed. Before the Defiant class escort called the USS Colt could get away, secondary defensive phasers scorched what’s left of the front shields to zero.

 

“She’s out of the game,” Athena remarked, one hand holding up a V sign.

 

The Athena shuddered as phasers hit the aft shields. “Aft shields down to 70%,” T’pak reported.

 

“Ouch! I know I know,” Athena complained. Behind them, the USS Swordfish was closing in.

 

“I am not doing this for your benefit, but for the benefit of the captain and the rest of the crew,” T’pak snapped back.

 

Garret folded his arms and crossed his legs. His mind was mixed with thoughts. On one hand, he didn’t want his ship to lose, but on the other, it would be nice to see Athena getting it in the butt for a change.

 

“Those pulse phasers really sting,” Athena remarked about the weapons on the Defiant class ships. “Hang on to your seatbelts—oh dear me, we don’t have seatbelts….”

The Athena suddenly swerved port side, taking some of the bridge crew off balance, with T’pak and Drudge dearly hanging on using some grab rails. The escort’s pulse phasers screamed missing underneath the Athena’s belly.

 

“Who is the maniac driving this ship!” Ghia shouted through the com speakers.

 

“Those escorts have pulse phasers that really sting. But those things have firing arcs mainly concentrated on the front,” Athena explained as the ship moved alongside the escort. “Hang on to your pants and panties…”

 

The Athena made a sudden roll, phaser strips unleashing red beams. The Swordfish caught the beams, but the agile escort ship was rolling as well, distributing the phaser fire on all its shields.

 

“The Swordfish has sixty percent shield capacity,” Ka’nal reported.

 

“Damn!” Athena cursed. The Swordfish threw directional thrusters forward, causing the ship to brake. The Athena went right past her, and the Swordfish unleashed two photon torpedoes.

 

The Athena reacted quickly, boosting impulse. One photon torpedo missed the tail of the Athena narrowly, but the other hit the shields.

 

“Aft shields thirty percent,” Ka’nal reported.

 

“You don’t look so impressive now, Athena,” Garret commented in a cool manner.

 

“Just watch, I’m not through yet,” she hissed.

 

“Regenerative systems at maximum, we got aft shields going to sixty percent. Full level in fifteen seconds,” Drudge reported.

 

“What’s the status of the Swordfish’s shields?” Garret asked.

 

“She’s regenerating and is nearly eighty percent now,” Ka’nal reported. “She’s also trying to latch on to our tail.”

 

Two aft photon torpedoes went screaming, but defensive phasers from the Swordfish destroyed them. The Swordfish however, could not counter the Athena’s rear phaser arcs, torching the Swordfish’s front shields.

 

“The Swordfish’s front shields are down fifty percent,” Ka’nal noted. “Captain, the Nova class USS Gemini and the Sabre class USS Sakura has begun their attack pattern.”

 

The Swordfish kept its pressure, pulse phasers continuing to singe the Athena’s rear shields, trying to tear down the shields as fast as Athena could regenerate them. “The little guy does not know how to quit!” Athena remarked.

 

The Athena took a turn towards the green gas giant, the Swordfish in hot pursuit. Taking a risky move, the Athena dived into a faint dust ring orbiting the green giant. The black sky turned dark green from the rarified gases orbiting with the ring. Forward shields have been reinforced as dust particles impacted against the shields with noticeable visual fireworks. It was like plunging underwater, but this was stellar space.

 

The Swordfish had to forcibly slow down as the dust particles hit its weakened front shields like bullets. The Athena slipped under the ring, then warped. The Swordfish quickly followed. But as it prepared to warp in pursuit, its scanners detected a ship rapidly heading to its direction.

 

The captain ordered screen magnification of the oncoming ship. The triangular head of the Athena was pointed at its direction, coming head on.

 

“Evasive maneuvers!” the Swordfish captain shouted. But it was too late. Three photon torpedoes were coming its way, one missed, but two fried the shields. Coming down like an eagle sensing its prey, deliberately measured phaser arcs reduced the Swordfish’s forward shields to zero. The Athena flashed over the Swordfish, and rocking side to side signaling its victory in the game.

 

“I’m impressed, Athena,” Garret said. “But then, that’s only a small ship.”

 

The captain of the Swordfish made the old Earth traditional naval salute, as the Athena turned to engage the Gemini and the Sakura.

 

The Athena disappeared right before the Sakura fired. Weapons lost lock, as phasers and torpedoes whisked into empty space.

 

The Athena phased through the satellite ring of the green giant as the Gemini and Sakura searched the space, like hounds sniffing for their prey. Not far, the two Defiant escorts parked themselves for a rest and a view of the battle.

 

“I think we have been found,” Athena said. “Hurst got his test.”

 

“I am confirming detection by the USS Gemini,” T’pak said.

 

“Stand back, and hang on to your seats and handlebars!” Athena warned. The ship dropped out of its lair in the ring.

 

“The Gemini and the Sakura coming in at seven eights impulse,” Drudge said.

 

“Brace for warp, we are engaging,” Athena said.

 

The warp engines whirred as the Athena warped into deep space, the starry points of lights reduced into strips of rainbows.

 

“The Sabre class would be a bit more to handle than the Defiant class,” Athena explained. “It’s small and just as agile, except its got true phaser strips which enables it to fire at a much larger arc than the Defiants. Same with the Gemini. ”

 

The Athena began to turn around towards the two attacking ships, its forward shields being the strongest. Three photon torpedoes and a barrage of phasers headed out to the nearest attacker, the Sabre class. The Saber’s defensive phaser array picked off two of the photon torpedoes were picked but a third hit the port shield as it was about to turn away. But before the phasers could wipe the shield out, the Sakura turned to expose its strong shield side, and the Athena’s phasers glanced at a fresh shield.

 

The Athena still has a secondary pulse phaser array with only a forward arc. Rapid fire phasers ate at the Sabre’s shields, but the Sabre kept moving, keeping the hits well distributed against all its shields, making sure a fresh shield face would confront a new incoming torpedo or phaser fire.

 

A photon torpedo whizzed by the Athena’s port side, but another photon torpedo made its hit. The Athena rolled to present its fresh shield against the new attacker, this time, the Gemini. It’s phasers connecting to its target, as the Gemini flashed perpedicular to the direction the Athena was going.

 

“We got a good distribution against our shields. They’re still up by over sixty percent,” Drudge said.

 

The Gemini made partying shots from its rear phasers, hitting the Athena’s shields once again. As the Athena completed its roll, it banked towards the Gemini, both wide arc phaser strips and foward pulse phasers fring at the rear of the Gemini.

 

As the Gemini tried to get away, the Athena pursued right in her back. Secondary pulse phasers kept up the pressure as the Athena’s phaser strips recharged. The Sakura moved in right behind the Athena, sandwiching the ship between the Gemini. The Gemini lashed back with a photon torpedo and defensive phaser fire but the Athena maintained a healthy over eight five percent on the fore shields.

 

Forward phaser fire from the Sakura torched the Athena’s rear shields. The Athena countered with two photon torpedos, which caught the Sabre class frigate right in the face. The Sakura moved away before the Athena’s rear phasers can finish off her front shields. The Gemini banked away as well, the Athena’s pulse phasers eroding the Gemini’s rear shields dangerously thin.

 

Drudge nodded his head. “I have this bad feeling that my job has become obsolete.”

 

“Athena seems to have the ability to track multiple targets simultaneously and provide a tactical solution for each,” T’pak noted, wiggling his pointed ears.

“I wish you wouldn’t say that,” Drudge noted, his claw scratching at his scales.

Aboard the Steamrunner class USS Manila, Hurst called Captain Wu of the Norway class USS Kiev. “Captain, do you think it’s about time we liven things up a bit?”

 

“That’s four against one, would that be fair?” Wu asked.

 

“For Athena, nah, maybe for her, eight to one would be fair enough,” Hurst replied.

Aboard the Athena, Drudge warned. “The Kiev and the Manila had engaged warp and is heading to our direction.”

 

“Not fair, four on one,” Garret observed with two fingers on his cheek.

 

“It only means I need to try harder and strike faster,” Athena said. “Starting with the Gemini.”

 

The Nova class ship was clearly no match against the Athena’s firepower and tried vainly to escape. Like a shark sensing a wounded seal, the Athena closed in, the Gemini’s rear defensive phasers barely denting the Athena’s densely powerful forward shields. The Sakura took the opportunity to recharge its shields and is heading back for a hit and run against the Athena.

 

The Athena’s foward firing pulse phasers ripped at the Gemini’s shields. If the fire was sustained, the Gemini would have been obliterated, but the amount of fire was just enough to turn the shields to zero.

 

“YES!” Athena shouted, performing a pelvic trust dance on the bridge. “I am cooking! Somebody stop me!”

 

“I must remind you that this is too premature for a victory dance ritual. Your hip actions can also be regarded as obscene and vulgar, totally inappropriate for proper bridge protocol,” T’pak commented.

 

“Analyze this, pointy ears!” Athena remarked, her middle finger sticking up for him to see.

 

T’pak countered. “Obscene Earth gestures have no meaning to me.”

 

“Calm down now, Athena,” Garret said. “T’pak is right, I don’t care what you are, you will observe some dignified decorum on the bridge.” Athena nodded affirmatively, but not before she stuck her tongue out at T’pak for a parting shot.

 

Just then the Sakura was sweeping for an attack, weapons fully charged. The Sabre class had enough firepower to obliterate shields and leave a ship naked in a single alpha strike.

The lights flickered as the Athena went into phased cloak. The Sabre lost lock of the Athena, and swooped out. The Athena rushed into deep space, warp engaged with speed climbing.

“The Gemini is out of the picture, and it shouldn’t be using the tachy grids,” Athena explained. “We should be safe when cloaked.”

 

“I regret to inform you that the Gemini’s T-grid remains active, and she is supplying coordinates to the Sakura,” T’pak observed.

 

“That’s cheating,” Garret said. “Get me through to Hurst.”

 

Hurst’s face appeared in the monitor. “Hellooh, Captain, I am afraid I am too busy to entertain any calls. Hurst out.”

 

“But the rules of conduct—-damn!” Garret said. “If that is the way they want to play it…”

 

“You ain’t going to win this, Athena, fighting all three of them at the same time. We got to isolate each of them…” Garret said. “I got an idea.”

 

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” Drudge asked.

 

“I’m ready at your signal!” Athena affirmed.

 

“I’ll take the bridge. Drudge you take the mid section, and Athena, the lower section,” Garret said.

 

Athena beamed Drudge into the midsection command bridge. Drudge finds himself on a command throne, instruments around him. “Don’t worry, I will still respond to your voice commands,” Athena said.

 

“Ready everyone?” Garret asked. This is the first time they will attempt at this, but it was a good time as any.

 

“I am in position,” Drudge affirmed.

 

“Commence seperation. Execute multiple vector attack mode!” Garret ordered. The bridge section began seperating from the engineering hull. As the saucer section moved away, the engineering hull began its split into two.

 

“What the?” the tactical officer in the Sakura exclaimed. “I got not one, but three ship readings coming our way.”

 

The captain looked stern. He was informed that the USS Athena had such a capability, but he never saw it live nor took it seriously. For a moment, he was confused, not sure of the textbook tactical solution for the situation. He should regard the situation like he would be engaged with three frigates.

 

“Lock targets on the lead ship!” he ordered.

 

The formation of three is coming down now… The Sabre’s captain watched tentatively as he waited to give the order to fire. The phasers are fully charged, and so are the torpedos.

His eyes were transfixed on the lead ship, the triangular-saucer section of the Athena, the section alone, larger than his entire ship. “Weapons are locked on the lead ship,” his tactical officer affirmed. The captain raised his hand, a signal set to fire.

 

Suddenly the saucer section disappeared right before his eyes. “Fire now!” he said.

“But sir, we lost weapons lock and the Gemini cannot fix on the lead ship’s position in time,” the tactical officer said.

 

“Just blind fire towards the most likely anticipated course of the ship, NOW!” the captain ordered.

 

“But Captain, that would kill them if we hit. That ship won’t have shields if they’re cloaked…” the tactical officer objected.

 

“This ship is different, trust me, it’s got shields even when cloaked, fire NOW!”

Three photon torpedos lashed out a spread, followed by a multiple phaser fire spread. Most of it missed, but some hit the shielded saucer section. For a moment, the outline of the cloaked saucer section appeared in the backdrop of black space, illuminated from the energy released when the phasers touched the shields.

 

“The two other ship sections are coming at us with weapons charged,” the tactical officer said.

 

While phaser strips are packed on the saucer section, the even trimmer engineering hull section ships cannot use such strips and are equipped with forward arc pulse phasers. In normal mode, these pulse phasers are the ship’s secondary phaser arrays, but in multiple vector attack mode, the pulse phasers are the main weapons of section two and three ships.

 

Like rapid fire autocannons, the pulse phasers from the two section ships fired multiple streams of chained bursts, stripping the Sakura completely of its forward shields.

 

“Decloak,” Garret ordered on the bridge of the saucer section. “And rejoin.”

 

The captain of the Sakura clapped as he watched the sections of the Athena bolted back together, first the two lower hull sections each with a pair of warp nacelles, and then the entire lower section with the angular saucer section. Clever, he thought. The saucer section drew their fire while the hull and nacelle sections attacked.

 

“That was most interesting to see, and bravo, captain,” Hurst said, his face onscreen on the Athena’s bridge. “But this does not sound like something Athena would do, and helming three seperate ships suggest to me you have interverned personally. This is suppose to be a test of Athena’s autonomous combat capability.”

 

“You play by your own rules, and we will play by ours, Admiral,” Garret said. “Your tests have one flaw. We plan to work as a team here, not each as a seperate unit.”

 

“Athena?” Hurst asked.

 

Athena appeared on bridge, beaming Drudge from the lower ship section back to the bridge as well. The big green Gorn had his own beam in his face. Athena waved a big V sign for the Admiral to see. Then she walked and stood next to the captain’s throne. “Yup, the captain is right. We will fight as a team from now on.”

 

Hurst smiled. “Then you better, because you will be engaging us next. We’re not the small ships you just took care off. We promise you, we won’t be that easy.”

 

 

 

The USS Athena Pt5

 

 

The Nova class ship, and the two Defiants placed themselves in an orbit around an asteroid belt, playing spectator and keeping an eye out on the combat exercise. Towards the star, the USS Manila and Kiev had begun their cat and mouse game with the USS Athena.

 

“Captain?” the sensors officer aboard the Gemini asked. “We know the Athena can phase cloak and do false holographic images of itself to fool sensors. Is there any reason why our sensors are detecting more cloaked ships?”

 

“Is there any damage on the sensors that occurred during the combat trials?” the captain asked.

 

“I am running diagnostics now sir….it does not appear the sensors are malfunctioning,” the science officer confirmed. “There are no problems on the tachyon grid either.”

 

“Now we got transporter signatures…”

 

Before the captain could shout “Red Alert!”, the Romulan ships appeared right in front of their screens, and at the same time, Romulan commmandos appeared on the bridge. There was a brief exchange of fire, and all the Federation officers on the bridge went down.

 

On the other decks of the ship, there was heavy phaser fire, as the Federation crew frantically tried to defend their ship. Romulan commandos threw gas grenades that knocked out the Federation security officers in an engagement defending the engineering deck. A group of Federation officers armed with phaser rifles waited on a corrigdor for the attackers. Someone quickly opened fire behind them, and as the last standing Federation officer turned around it was too late. The last thing he saw before he was knocked down was the assailant in a Federation uniform holding a phaser rifle, a Romulan commando dressed in Federation uniform and surgically altered to resemble a human.

 

“We have control of the ship, Galae Riov Riana,” the Romulan commando leader said, taking control of the bridge and the communications console.

 

“Excellent, commander, you shall be commended for the quick take over of the Federation science vessel,” Riana said. “Are there any casualties?”

 

“We have none,” the commander replied.

 

“Well then, select the important officers we can use as hostages and dispose of the rest,” Riana ordered coldly. “Do it as efficiently as possible.”

 

“Right Away, Galae Riov,” the commander replied.

 

Due to a less than efficient boarding assault, one of the Defiants managed to self destruct to avoid capture. Riana watched the brilliant explosion, a white shockwave heading out from the center as the last remnant of the USS Swordfish. The Romulan commandos that boarded the Swordfish died along with it.

 

“Tsk, tsk tsk,” she remarked, shaking her head as she set her fingers into a steeple. The price to pay for incompetence was clear. Riana was more concerned about the debris left by the destroyed ship and the energy signature given off by the explosion instead of the lives that were lost. The debris and energy signature could reveal them.

 

The boarding attempt on the other Defiant ship was more successful. The commando leader’s face flashed in the screen, gave his short status report, and Riana nodded in acknowledgement. With Romulans holding the bridge, quickly the hijacked USS Colt cloaked. Like the USS Gemini, a Romulan commando dressed in Federation uniform and surgically altered to look human, helmed the communications console.

 

“We got another ship coming out way,” the science officer aboard the IRW D’PakThau warned.

 

“On screen,” Riana ordered. “Phasing cloak engage. All ships engage cloak.” The D’PakThau faded into the blackness of space.

 

The Sabre class ship was headed towards their position, looking to regain formation with its comrades. The sensors officer aboard the USS Sakura had noticed the unusual explosion and hailed the USS Gemini.

 

A human face appeared onscreen. “This is the USS Gemini.”

 

“Our sensors detected an explosion. Is everything fine?” the captain of the Sakura asked.

“Everything is fine. We had a small malfunction with the warp core, and we are forced to vent excess energy, creating something that looked like an explosion on the sensors,” the face from the USS Gemini answered.

 

“USS Gemini, where is your captain?” the captain of the Sakura asked.

 

“He is currently busy in the engineering section right now, overlooking diagnostics and repairs on the engine,” the face from the USS Gemini said. Back in the USS Gemini, the human looking Romulan spy made a number of handsignals to his commando comrades manning the tactical console.

 

The Sakura’s captain looked at the faces of his science officer first, then his tactical officer and finally his first officer. The science officer made a negative nod, and his tactical officer agreed with him. His first officer made a suspicious look.

 

“Raise shields now! All hands to battle stations! Red Alert!” the captain screamed, running to his chair. Just then the USS Gemini released a salvo of red photon torpedos that slammed against the front shields of the Sakura.

 

The hidden Shrikes and Talons decloaked, and finally the great Shadow ship itself. The menacing green ships filled the bridge screen of the Sakura as her captain watched in horror, as spheres of yellow fire blasted out from the Romulan ships.

 

“Get us out of here, engage warp now!” he shouted. “Fire weapons!”

 

Defensive phasers tried to stop the plasma torpedos but in vain. The plasma torpedos smashed against the shields of the Sakura, rendering them dangerously thin in some areas, exposed on others. The ship shook from the impacts. Crew lost balance and fell against the walls and floor. Sparks flew from the consoles and a fire had to be extinguished.

 

The Sakura replied with phasers and photon torpedos against the Shadow class ship, but they were not enough to buckle the D’PakThau’s hefty shields.

 

“Our communications are jammed!” the Sakura’s comm officer shouted, desperately trying to send a mayday signal.

 

“Why haven’t we warped?” the captain shouted.

 

“Our engines have taken a hit and we got tractor beams holding us!” the tactical officer warned.

 

Riana watched her prey held like a fly caught in the spider web. She wanted to try this weapon, just as the victim’s shields is down and before it could attempt warp. “Engage the Psychonic weapon,” she calmly ordered.

From the D’PakThau’s deflector, a massive subwave blast swept through the Sakura and ravaged the sanity and the minds of her crew. The captain looked around him, but instead of his crew, he saw Borg drones, Jem’Hadar warriors, Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans, and all sorts of ugly unsavory monstrous aliens, their faces taunting him as they feed on the flesh of his fallen comrades. His inner hatred rose to fever pitch. They must die. All must die, those bastards.

 

He lunged at his first officer, just as the first officer drew his phaser at him. The other officers lunged at each other. The bridge and through out the ship generated into pure bloody chaos as people who were once comrades, raged and battled to kill each other.

It was not the first time she used the Psychonic blast, whose deadly embraces turns crewmen temporarily insane and drives them to kill each other. But it was always fascinating to watch. Riana allowed herself the luxury of a smile, as the Federation crewmen ripped each other to pieces. But she could not wait for all the Federation people to kill themselves right down to the last person.

 

Romulan commandos materialized in the bridge of the Sakura as the bloody struggle persisted in the bridge. Other commandos materialized in the engineering room. The Romulan commandos cut down the insane crewmen who were still alive and mauling the corpses of their dead comrades.

 

The corpse of an unlucky ensign lay slung over the steering console. One of the commandos grabbed and threw the body to the floor, and there was blood all over the console. With his hand, he swept the blood off and sat on the ensign’s chair.

 

There was another corpse over the communication console. The girl was obviously strangled, with heavy fingerprints marking her neck. The commando threw her body off the chair and into the floor. Another human looking Romulan with Federation garb replaced her in the post.

 

After conversing with his counterpart in the engine room, the commando leader signaled back to the flagship. “The ship is secure,” he declared to Riana.

 

“Excellent,” she said. “Now clean it up and bring the ship with out formation.” The Sabre, Defiant and Nova ships were just small prizes, captured pawns and rehearsals for the real prize, the USS Athena. One by one, they had to be eliminated to isolate the Athena from any help. One by one, they will close and snare the trap.

 

* * *

 

The Borg’s first major incursion into Federation space led to one of the Federation’s most tragic defeats, a virtual massacre known as the Battle of Wolf 359. After nearly a century of peace and exploration, the Federation had become fat and complecent. It’s greatest starships reflected this era of peace and prosperity—vast, majestic explorers soaring the galaxy in epic voyages of discovery, each ship built like cruise liners, as luxurious as they are big and powerful.

 

Wolf 359 was the wakeup call that ended this idyllic dream. The beautiful space and the wonderful galaxy the Federation had so explored, became hostile. Suddenly there were enemies everywhere, and the future stopped looking so bright. Instead, where there was once confidence, there was now fear. Where man once dreamt to be gods, now it faced the grim possibility of the annihilation of his species.

 

Welcome to one of the deadliest and most war torn eras of human history. Welcome to the late 24th century.

 

As a consequence of the wakeup call, Federation engineers rushed back to the drawing board, trying to resurrect something they had forgotten for almost a century—the pure warship. Remove the luxuries and excess science equipment. The warship must be simple and pure to its purpose. It must be sleek and thin so it will be hard to hit. It must be small and light so it can be agile and quick. It must pack as much armor and weapons into its small and light body.

 

So it begins the Federation initated Program Beta in secrecy. Beta was the thinly disguised name for Borg, the original nemesis the ships were primarily designed against. But the possibility of threats from the Romulans, Cardassians and the Dominion opened some flexibility in their design. Program Beta initiated the coming of new unconventional ships that would herald a new era of starship design. The new ships were to be equipped with quantum torpedos and ablative armor as standard. Because of their compact design, conventional high arc phaser strips cannot be used on some of these ships, and a new phaser type was developed, the modulating rapid fire pulse phaser. The rapid firing of these phasers can be so fast, that no shield can modulate fast enough to block every phaser pulse if every pulse was given a random frequency.

 

The fruition of Program Beta was four new ship classes—so far. The first, it turned out, was the Defiant class escort. Taking a bit more time to ripen was an alternative project that was supposed to compete with the Defiant class for the same functional slot but was approved anyway for production by a Federation aware of the value of alternative safeguards. That turned out to be the Sabre class. Program Beta moved from the escort classification to the destroyer classification. The first ship to come out was unusually called the Steamrunner class, a stocky dense ship that packed more armor and weapons per square meter of its limited space more than any other ship in the Federation fleet. The second ship was the alternative design, called the Norway class. Both the Steamrunner and the Norway, like the Defiant, could pack only forward arc pulse phaser cannons on the front bow, with rear conventional defensive phasers on the rear. Still to be released, are the cruiser and dreadnaught classes of Program Beta.

 

There, under his command, Admiral Hurst thought, two fine examples of Program Beta in action, the USS Kiev and the USS Manila, themselves now a litmus test for still another new and secretive starship program.

Competing with Program Beta was Program Alpha, the original program which the Federation originally conceived before the Borg threat to bring about the next generation of starships. After the Wolf 359 wake up call, the engineers of Alpha refused to concede with the original explorer vision, which they claim was the vision Starfleet was built upon. So they modified their concept instead, creating a faster leaner better armed starship but preserved the explorer vision. Small cross sections and streamlined saucer hulls with an elliptical or triangular shape were the trademark of Program Alpha, which produced the Nova family class of science ships and its greatest pride, the Sovereign class.

 

Part of Program Alpha was a deep space explorer bigger than the Nova, but small enough to deal with situations that would does not merit using a Galaxy class sized starship. The result was an advanced explorer that was eventually called the Intrepid class. But few people knew that there were several design proposals before one was eventually selected and evolved into the Intrepid.

 

Enter the Section, a secret faction of idealistic Starfleet officers that obey only one principle—desperate times require desperate means. They saw that the boyscout idealism of the Federation may also be its greatest weakness, a weakness new more powerful enemies are willing to exploit. They saw among the Federation’s science programs, the same complacency that made them vulnerable to a new and unexpected enemy like the Borg. Among the programs, there was none that could create the tools and technology that can bring the fight to the enemy. They saw in Program Alpha, the same stubborn and fatal complacency. They saw in Program Beta, a slightly better vision but one that still leaves a defensive Federation timid to being the battle to the enemy. They saw in both, not one thing that could fit their requirements. They wanted a ship capable of bringing the battle deep into the enemy’s heart, a stealth intruder ship optimized for deep space combat and offensive strikes, the Starfleet equivalent of the legendary stealth fighters of the 21st century. For the Section, who view themselves as the Knights of a new generation, it would be their Sword, the Excalibur that would bring defeat to their enemies and preserve the great dream of the Camelot of the galaxy, the Federation.

A Section officer was involved in the design work of Project Alpha-B, which gave birth to the Intrepid class. He saw among the various engineering proposals, potential in one of the designs. The engineer for this particular proposal was redeployed, financing was secured and the new secret project was called Omega.

 

The first fruit of Program Omega was Prometheus.

 

And now, it is Omega’s greatest test so far. The Steamrunner and the Norway class acted like bigger Defiants, better armed and armored. But bigger means less agile. The agility of the smaller ships had given Athena some trouble before, but despite the greater firepower of the larger ships, Athena’s agility is bringing the offensive to them. The Steamrunner has its massive firepower concentrated on the bow, foward arc firing powerful pulse phasers that lacked the wide degree arcs of phaser strips. It was a disadvantage the Athena was aware and fully exploiting.

 

Athena just burned the USS Manila’s rear shields, racing from the back and making a fly pass of the Steamrunner. It wasn’t enough to take the Manila off the game, but it served as a stern warning it could. When the Manila fired its prodigious firepower, the Athena flicked away with near impossible agility that resembled more of a fighter. The Steamrunner would have been terrifying against a bigger slower ship, but now it feels like a turtle being circled by a shark. Athena was wise enough to take out the small ships first, as their agility gave Athena a handful. Now she’s applying the same lesson to them.

If you deal with a shark, be a fisherman, Hurst thought.

 

The Athena making another pass, and all the USS Manila could do was anticipate her attack and turn the side with the least weakened shields towards her. The Athena’s long range phaser strips started shaving the Steamrunner’s shields again. If she brings her shorter range but powerful pulse phasers into bear, the game can be over. They can all go home, and he will make a nice successful report about the Athena’s capabilities. The Section will be happy. They will all be happy.

 

But it isn’t like him to test something without bringing it to final limits, to use up every ounce of reserve and exploit every opportunity. Only in the toughest of tests, can the truest mettle be seen.

 

The Athena closed in like a hungry shark, sensing blood, eager to finish its wounded prey with one nasty bite out of its shields.

 

Then suddenly it flicked away, rushing to avoid a stream of pulse phaser fire from the Kiev, which dived in like a hawk after her. The hits reduced the Athena’s shields by a third. It’s about time the Kiev and the Manila do some coordinated tactics.

 

Captain Wu’s face appeared laughing onscreen on Athena’s bridge. “Haha, Randy, you’re good, but not that good! You and you’re trick ship ain’t going to get away from me…”

Garret laughed back. “I like to see you try, David.”

 

Hurst is clever, Garret thought. The Manila allowed itself to play bait, luring his Athena into a position where it can be struck by the Kiev. Now the Kiev is on hot pursuit, pulse phasers firing, stripping the Athena’s aft shields bit by bit. Suddenly the Athena disappeared from their sights.

 

“Phase cloaking, not fair!” Wu cried out.

 

The USS Manila had joined the Kiev on a slow search near the green giant rings, where the Athena last disappeared. They suspected that the Athena was using the rings in conjunction with the cloaking for cover and escape.

 

“You’re not going to find her like this, playing cat and mice,” Hurst said. “The Athena can strike and fade at will. Even with two ships, she has the advantage of surprise and retreat. Right now, she’s rebuilding her shields and charge her weapons. She’s probably so metaphased that the rocks in that planetary ring would fly right through her.”

Hurst spoke too soon. The Athena decloaked just above the ring and fired a salvo of phasers that nearly stripped the Kiev’s shields. The Manila returned fire, but the Athena quickly recloaked, and the phasers only found empty space. If the Manila had not acted quickly, sustained fire from the Athena would have taken the Kiev out of the game.

“My shields are down to less than twenty percent on both the side and the starboard. If this keeps us, she’s going to inevitably snipe us to death,” Wu observed. “I don’t think we’re going to win a guerilla war. Without the Gemini’s tachyon grid, we’re fighting blind.”

 

The first wave of small ships was able to give some trouble to the Athena with the help of the Gemini’s tachyon grid. The grid neutralized the Athena’s phasing cloak advantage. With no place to hide, they were able to assault the Athena like a pack of wolves. But the Athena had taken the Gemini out of the game.

 

“If that’s your attitude, I don’t think you’re going to win any fight against the Romulans,” Hurst said. “We can always bend the rules a bit and request the Gemini to scan for us.”

“But the rules of engagement…” Wu protested. “I don’t think its right to do this. Count me out.”

 

Hurst knew he had no right to order Wu to betray the rules of engagement. “Stand back then, Captain. If you don’t, I will. It’s not the rules we’re concerned about, its testing the ship to the limits and getting the results. What I am doing is ultimately for all our good, including the Athena’s. War is about winning and dealing with unpredictable factors, not proper rules. A little cheating is something you can expect.”

 

Wu nodded his head negatively, disagreeing with Hurst’s lecture. The last thing he wanted to be was being dishonorable to his friend. Winning this way is simply not worth it, regardless of Hurst’s reasons. The Kiev broke off the search and disengaged from the game.

 

Hurst had requested communications with the USS Gemini, and ordered the Gemini to execute a tachyon scan. A face appeared from the USS Gemini denying the request, citing malfunctions in the system.

 

“Malfunctions?” Hurst appeared in complete surprise. He became agitated with the turn of events. Everything seems to be going wrong now. Without the Gemini doing tachyon scans, the Athena will use cloak and snipe tactics that will inevitably wear the Manila down. The Kiev had already given up. The writing on the wall was clear.

 

“Okay, I’m conceding,” Hurst said on Athena’s screen. “This was a great exercise. You all have performed to expectations, especially the Athena. You have shown great skill and tactical flexiblity. I am proud of you. Congratulations Captain Garret. Congratulations, Athena, and to all your crew. Hurst out.”

 

Garret allowed himself to gloat, while Athena executed all sorts of old Earth victory dance rituals, raising V signs in her fingers. She invited T’pak to dance with her, but T’pak refused. Ka’nal didn’t however and joined her doing undignified things on the bridge, if only for a single minute, a time limit Ka’nal imposed for himself and the need for expression. Drudge only grinned, his sharp teeth displayed in a crescent from one ear to the other.

 

Aboard the USS Manila, the communications officer cautioned. “Captain, I know the comm officer aboard the USS Gemini, and that’s not his voice or face. Regulations require that unless other ships are notified before hand, the communications officer cannot leave or be replaced in his post.”

 

“It’s only a small detail, lieutenant,” Hurst said. “Send the order to the Gemini and order it to return to the shipyard.”

 

“But sir, I have requested identification of who is in charge of the Gemini’s communication and I did not get any response.”

 

Captain de Witt stepped in. “Admiral. I trust my communication’s officer. He won’t say things unless something can be seriously wrong. If something is not right, I suggest that we look into it.”

 

“Alright alright then, hail the Gemini and request her captain to appear on screen,” Hurst ordered.

 

“There is a message here that says the Gemini is experiencing technical difficulties and the captain is tending to the repair functions and cannot be available,” the comm officer said.

 

“Tell him the Admiral wishes to speak to him directly,” de Witt ordered.

 

“We’re not getting any response from the Gemini now,” the comm officer said.

 

“We’re going into yellow alert,” de Witt said.

 

“Is anything wrong?” Wu’s face from the Kiev appeared onscreen.

 

“We’re not getting through to the Gemini,” de Witt said.

 

“Strange, I have been trying to get in touch with the Sakura, and there’s this strange person on screen. I requested identification and the captain’s presence, and I have lost contact with the Sakura ever since,” Wu explained. “Something smells funny and we’re also going into yellow alert.”

 

Aboard the USS Athena, Athena suddenly halted her victory dance, her face puzzled, her hands signaling everyone to be quiet. “Is something wrong,” Garret asked.

 

“Both the Kiev and the Manila had gone into yellow alert. I don’t think it’s a game this time,” Athena said. “Captain Wu of the Kiev is trying to get in touch with you.”

 

“Put him on screen,” Garret ordered.

 

Wu’s face appeared on screen. “Randy, something is wrong with both the Sakura and the Gemini. We can no longer get in touch with them. I have attempted hails with the Colt and the Swordfish and I am getting no replies. I suggest going into yellow alert. Be ready to go to red if necessary.”

 

“You heard that, lieutenant Drudge, go into yellow alert,” Garret ordered.

 

“I am now attempting to hail all four ships and I am getting no response,” T’pak said. “I am detecting wreckage in their area. If I am not mistaken, the wreckage appears to be that of the USS Swordfish.”

 

“Captain,” Athena said. “I suggest that we go into red alert. The wreckage truly belongs to the USS Swordfish.”

 

“You heard that, David?” Garret said. “David?….”

 

The screen had turned blank.

 

 

 

The USS Athena Pt 6

 

 

The conn officer tried to get in touch with Kiev and the Manila but there was only static.

“My sensors are being screwed. We’re experiencing a heavy ECM environment,” Athena explained. “ECM radiations however possess their own unique racial signatures. We’re experiencing a Romulan ECM saturation blanket.”

 

 

“Romulan?” Garret asked, startled.

 

“I got confirmation,” T’pak said, manning the Operations console. “The ECM signatures are Romulan.”

 

“Those Romulan dogs are up to no good again. I swear by the King of Gihdahr,” Drudge proclaimed, smashing his huge fists against the tactical console. “Those dogs will perish under the rightful sword of a Gorn Knight.”

 

“Hey, T-rex, stop that, you’ll break my console,” Athena whined.

 

“We’re going into red alert!” Garret ordered. “Battles stations and this time, it’s not a game. I can’t take any chances. Send out a distress signal.”

“It does not look like the nearest Federation starship can be here in days,” T’pak said.

“Damn!” Garret cursed. “Ensign, get me the last known positions of the Kiev and the Manila. Anyone with any theories why they’re here?”

 

“I only have one theory,” T’pak explained as he pressed buttons in his console. “A few years ago, the Romulans were involved in an attempted hijack of the Prometheus prototype. It resulted in a severe defeat by their forces. I found this classified information in Athena’s databases. I can only assume that the Romulans have a vested interest in the capture or destruction of this particular vessel. I must remind you that this vessel is in violation of the Algeron Treaty by using the phased cloak.”

 

“We know the treaty is no longer worth the piece of paper it was written on ever since the Romulans were caught with phasing cloak technology, violating the Neutral Zone with intruder and spy ships, and stole Federation plans for tricobalt torpedos,” Ka’nal explained. “Not to mention violating humanitarian rules of conduct in war by using psychonic weapons, and treaties concerning the use of weapons that create rifts in the space time continuum. I have to conclude that Federation relations with the Romulans are at an all time low.”

 

“I welcome any war with the Romulan dogs,” Drudge said. “The Romulan Star Empire is responsible for many crimes and atrocities against the Gorn Confederation. Our hate and feud run deep.”

 

“But Athena, why didn’t you tell me this incident with the Prometheus before? Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?” Garret cried out. “Must I be the last to know like the case of your sentience, your phased cloak capability? What other surprises do you have in store for me?”

 

Athena crossed her arms around her chest and smirked. “You didn’t ask and T’pak did beat me to it.”

 

“I got the last possible locations of the Kiev and the Manila sir. They are all based on approximations, and I can’t say they’re precise,” the ensign said.

 

“I don’t care. Engage full impulse and get us there quickly,” Garret ordered. “And while we’re flying there, I suggest, Athena, if you still got any secrets, let me know now.” The Athena shook slightly as her impulse engines whirred and hummed.

 

“It’s not me you should ask, it’s Hurst,” Athena confessed. “He’s the one with the most secrets. Taciticus shipyard is actually a front for a secret weapons research facility under the auspices of the Section. We Hurst used to be Section and is heading these projects. This ship was designed under Section specs. The shipyard is working on other projects like Breen type shield disrupters.”

 

“Don’t tell me you got a Breen shield disrupter,” Garret said.

 

“and a Corbomite Reflector like they got on Sovereign class ships. The game rules of engagement did not permit me to use them. The disrupter is still experimental so it’s not that effective. I can only drop enemy ship shields for a short time at great expense of my own energy, which is not that efficient since I can accomplish the same thing with phasers. Against ships with regenerative shields, its only good for a short moment, but it leaves me low in energy. In the event of capture, I am also set to self destruct with a rift creator. Well, that’s about it,” Athena grinned. “Oh yeah, and Ka’nal here is Section too. He’s here to watch you.”

 

“The Section?” Garret asked.

 

“Think of it as the Federation’s answer to the Tal Shi’ar,” Athena explained. “A secret faction, an elite strike force, a force meant to do the jobs the Federation is too pussy wussy to accomplish.”

 

“That is enough, Athena!” Ka’nal ordered sternly.

 

“No, the Captain is right. He deserves to know the truth.”

 

“Who else is Section?” Garret demanded.

 

“They just recruited your friend Captain Wu. All the captains in this exercise including de Witt, they’re all Section members,” Athena confessed. “Sooner or later, they will ask you too. You fit their profile—young aggressive, idealistic, new, and of course, naive. In addition to the fact you’re in command of this ship. And lastly, my dear Captain, you’re about to face, the Tal Shi’ar.”

 

The legendary secret force of the Romulan Star Empire, Garret thought. How many surprises he can take for one day? “How do you know it’s Tal Shi’ar?”

“By the radiation signature of their psychonic blasters,” Athena said. “I have been programmed to detect their activities. Take a look. Onscreen.”

There were the Kiev and the Manila, both smoking heavily and appearing damaged.

 

“Hail them!” Garret ordered. “I will deal with this Section issue later, Athena, Ka’nal, and whatever conspiracy is behind my back, after we deal with this enemy and still be alive. What is this psychonic blasters?”

 

“You’re about to find out, Captain,” Ka’nal said.

 

“We got no answer,” the Conn officer said.

 

“We got fighting on the ships,” T’pak said. “They’re fighting among themselves.”

 

“That’s what a psychonic blaster does. It renders crew temporarily insane, causing them to attack each other,” Drudge explained. “We have experienced such weapons during our war against the Romulan dogs. But the Gorn Star Navy had developed ways to counter this weapon. We will anesthesize the ship with gas to knock out the crew, and use a temporary crew to take over the ship.”

 

“This ship is equipped with a knock out gas to assist in boarding enemy ships or to repel boarders in this ship,” Ka’nal revealed. “We can use them. Get close enough to the ships and gas the ventilation system. We don’t have much time to lose before the crew completely kills each other.”

 

Just then eerie green birdlike ships suddenly materialized, a small fleet surrounding a large ship that resembled like a giant hawk.

 

A face appeared on screen. Her face was serenely beautiful in its symmetry, her exotic skin smooth like glazed porcelain, but her eyes were cold from a lifetime in the business of death.

 

“Welcome, Captain,” Riana said. “Or as you Earthlings say, says the spider to the fly. As I see your situation now Captain, you have little choice but to surrender. You have seen what we have done to your comrades here. You can spare yourself this same sad fate. You can surrender this ship, and I will let you go healthy and sane.”

 

There was anger in Drudge’s face, and both Ka’nal and Athena nodded negatively. “Experiences with the Romulans suggest that you do not trust them,” T’pak warned.

“Sorry lady,” Garret answered to Riana. “It’s nice to stay and chat, but we got some other urgent matters to do.”

 

“You have been playing a game, Captain,” Riana said. “Now it’s about to time to play a real one.”

 

Garret made a gesture cutting his neck, and the conn officer turned off the screen. Riana’s face was replaced with a black starry background.

 

“Engage full impulse to the Kiev, now!” Garret ordered. “Get the gas charged up,” he ordered to Drudge.

 

The Athena jerked forward with immense acceleration, heading to the Kiev first. At the same moment, a volley of plasma torpedos headed the Athena’s way, but Athena’s quick acceleration and point defence phasers quickly outran and extinguished them. As soon the Athena moved off, two Shrikes were in pursuit. Their disrupters hit the tail of the Athena, ripping the shields.

 

“Aft shields down to sixty percent!” Ka’nal reported. “We better move quicker.”

 

Garret noticed a pained expression in Athena’s face everytime she was being hit. He first noticed it during the combat trials but disregarded it during the ‘fun’ of the game. Now the atmosphere was far more serious. Computers are not supposed to be feeling pain, he thought, unless her bioneural circuitry had to be that complex. If she is feeling pain from every hit, then for her, this battle has a personal physical dimension that the crew does not experience. While they were having fun playing the combat game, Athena had been suffering silently, trying to hide her pain with a bubbling and outspoken demeanor.

 

“Fire phasers and torpedoes at will,” Garret ordered.

 

Two quantum torpedoes lashed out from the aft tubes and slammed at the leading Shrike. Having just uncloaked, it’s shields wasn’t strong enough, and there was visible fire and cracks on the hull. The lead Shrike banked off and disengaged, but the second Shrike remained hot on her tail.

 

“We’re running out of torpedoes,” Drudge said. “We’ve nearly used up our supply in the trials.”

 

“Does the Kiev has torpedoes in stock?” Garret asked.

 

“Yes,” T’pak affirmed.

 

“Then transport them at the same time we gas them when we make our pass,” Garret said. “Then we do the same on the Manila. I don’t think they have any use for it now.”

The Shrike fired a combination of disrupters and phasers. “Shields down to 40%,” Ka’nal ordered. Athena grimaced.

“We’re closing in on the Kiev,” Drudge reported. “Transporters ready!”

 

“Transport the gas and get the torpedoes when you are in position,” Garret said.

 

“Disengage forward shields. Maximum power to aft shields.” The Athena quickly slowed down, allowing Drudge to activate the transporters through the open forward shields.

 

The Shrike fired plasma torpedoes, and they slammed against the Athena’s shields. Athena cried out for the first time, and Garret was shocked there were tears in the hologram’s eyes. Athena was programmed to replicate human emotion and action, right down to the detail of human tears. This program is good, very good, but at the same time, Garret felt remorse seeing her like this.

 

“Shields down to 10%” Ka’nal warned. “The next hit will surely breech her shields.”

 

The Shrike fired phasers that broke through Athena’s shields for the first time.

 

“Uggh!” Athena cried out. She clenched her fists.

 

“Are you all right, Athena?” Garret asked. “Just hang on….”

 

Athena looked at him. There were both anger and tears in her eyes. “Yes, I am, and don’t look at me!!”

 

“We got hull breech on the rear engineering hull. Repair crews are on it,” Ka’nal reported. “Damage containment procedures initiated.”

 

The pass the Shrike did brought the ship in a front position relative to the Athena. Athena lashed out from her phaser strips and then from her pulse phaser batteries. The phaser strips tore at the Shrike’s outer shields, and the pulse phasers ripped at within. There was a trail of burning gases from the Shrike’s tail as it quickly heads off.

 

“I have gassed the main ventilation system, and have taken all of the Kiev’s torpedoes,” Drudge reported.

 

“Twenty percent of the Kiev’s crew is still alive…” T’pak said. “Out of a crew of nearly a hundred and fifty people…”

 

“Damn those Romulan bastards!” Garret said. “Get us to the Manila, quick. Engage full impulse.”

 

“We got three Talon class escorts heading our way,” T’pak reported. “Three plasma torpedoes have been launched.”

 

The Athena fired a quantum torpedo from her aft tubes. It hit one of the plasma torpedoes and the resulting shockwave destroyed the other two.

 

“The Talons are still closing in, Captain.”

 

“We’re over the Manila now!” the helmsman reported.

 

“Turn the ship around facing the talons. Open the aft shields for the transporters. Raise energy and reinforce the forward shields. Prepare to fire on my mark,” Garret ordered.

“Transporters activated!” Drudge reported. “I’m gassing the main vent system and I’m taking all the torpedoes. Like the Kiev, it’s not much and they have used up a lot of the torpedoes in the combat game, but we can use everything we can lay our hands on.”

 

“Sixteen percent of the crew is still surviving in various condition. This is out of a crew of two hundred in the USS Manila,” T’pak reported.

 

The Talons opened fire with disrupters and phasers, but the Athena’s strong forward shields held firm. “Fire torpedoes now! Fire all phasers now!”

 

Three torpedoes slammed at the lead Talon. The first two buckled its shields, the last turned the Talon into brilliant ball of light. Fire from the phaser strips stripped off the shields of the second Talon, and pulse phasers bore through the last shield, striking the naked hull. The Talon quickly banked away damaged, but not before it made parting shots with its phasers.

But the last Talon closed in, passed over the Athena and began another pass, this time headed to her rear. The Athena turned around to present her forward shields, as the Talon unleashed a plasma torpedo.

 

“Hold on” Garret warned. Low on energy the Athena could not counter the passing Talon, and she took it right on her front shield.

 

“I’m done!” Drudge said.

 

This was the opportunity the cloaked Shrikes were waiting for. The Talon had distracted the Athena, exposing her open rear end, which her transporter beam worked. Before the Athena’s aft shields could close, the two cloaked Shrikes decloaked momentarily and transported commando teams to the aft of the Athena.

 

“Transporter signatures,” T’pak warned. “We are being boarded from the rear.”

 

“Damn, raise the aft shields now!” Garret ordered.

 

“Aft shields raised. Too late,” T’pak said. “They’re already on board.”

 

“Time for some action. Time to take out some Romulan heads,” Drudge said. He quickly opened a reserve weapons panel in the wall of the bridge, taking a phaser rifle and his personal sword. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

 

“We only have a skeleton crew,” Ka’nal warned. “I suggest that everyone in the bridge should take arms and repulse the boarders. The USS Athena is capable of fighting herself.”

 

“Then go,” Garret said.

 

There was a cry of help from the Engineering section. It was from Ghia. “Captain, we are under siege here, requesting assistance!”

 

Ka’nal and T’pak had taken rifles. “Remember to watch your back out for Romulan spies looking like Federation humans,” Drudge warned. “A word of advice from this veteran who had dealt with the Romulans before. Let’s get ready to rumble, as you Earthlings say.”

 

“Beam them out Athena, and get us out of here. Engage maximum warp.”

 

Athena acknowledged, and she beamed out everyone in the bridge except Garret to the Engineering section. The engines on the Athena began to hum, the space flashed as stars turned to spectral strips.

 

“We got warp, Captain,” Athena said. “Warp four, five… The enemy have begun to decloak and is pursuing.”

“Too many hiding cats and not enough mice,” Garret remarked. “We got to go to deep space and draw them out.”

 

“It’s you and me now, Captain, in a glorious battle to the death against overwhelming forces. What a glorious day to be a Klingon!” Athena changed herself to Klingon garb.

“Sorry Athena, I don’t intend to die today. I intend to win, to survive, and save as many lives of my crew and the other ships,” Garret reminded her. “And get that ridiculous costume off. I like you better the other way.”

 

Athena’s hologram changed back to her usual self. “Captain, the Romulans are following. Their main vessel and all the escorts have engaged warp. They got the Gemini and the Colt with them. I believe they have successfully commandeered the two ships.”

“Any prisoners aboard those ships, Athena?”

 

“I cannot tell, Captain, not at this distance. I must presume that possibility. If the Gemini and the Colt were to attack us, what are your orders?”

 

“Do not destroy them, not yet, disable them first, Athena.”

 

“Aye, Captain! The lead ship is a Shadow class vessel, loaded with treaty banned weapons such as the pyschonic blaster. The Romulans officially deny the existence of such a ship, and taking photos won’t change their tune.”

 

“Glad to know that, Athena. How much anesthetic gas do we still have?”

 

“Not much Captain, but we only have a skeleton crew.”

 

“If that Shadow hits us with that insanity weapon, Athena, you must guarantee that you must flood the entire ship with the knockout gas. You will be alone Athena, you will be on your own. I trust that you will do the right thing.”

 

“Only if we get to that, Captain. Honestly I don’t want to be alone. I am scared to be alone.”

 

“How can you, a computer program on the Federation’s most powerful ship, be scared of anything?”

 

“You don’t understand, you really don’t understand. I am alone enough as it is.”

 

Garret turned around. Maybe he really didn’t understand. She was after all, the only one of her kind.

 

“Ka’nal! What’s the status report down there?”

 

“We got a stalemate situation down here, Captain. There is some damage on the Engineering section. We got several casualties, but we’re holding on.” There were sounds of phaser fire, screams and static in Ka’nal’s transmission.

 

“I’ll beam the casualties over to sick bay,” Athena said. “I got an EMH subprogram of myself in a nurse’s outfit that can take care of the wounded.”

 

“Do it quickly then,” Garret ordered. “You must look cute dressed like a nurse.” Athena smiled back.

 

“The Romulan ships are closing in on us…” Athena warned.

“Bring them on screen. I thought this ship is faster, Athena.”

 

“We are, supposed to be. But I have suffered damage in the engines from the rear hits, not to mention damage on the Engineering section. I can’t go faster than Warp 8.5, and they’re coming at Warp 9.”

 

“Damn this. We have to hold our ground,” Garret said. “Go into cloak mode”. The Athena turned translucent, then faded like a ghost.

 

“Someone is hailing us. It’s the Romulan flagship,” Athena said.

 

“Show it,” Garret ordered.

 

Riana’s face appeared on screen. “Phase cloak, how quaint. Not only have you violated our sacred treaties, but reveal yourselves as the dishonorable and treacherous dogs that you Federation humans and Vulcans are.”

 

“Guilty as charged,” Garret said. “After all, we have to do something when you send ships with phase cloak to spy on our planets, our people, and steal our secrets. You murder whom you please, with this psychonic weapon of yours, a weapon that I learned had been banned by treaty for humanitarian reasons. We’re not going to stand here and be naive fools forever. What peace do truly stand before us? A false peace. A dishonest peace, while on their backs we wage a silent war.”

 

“Our war, the Tal Shi’ar’s war, is not with the Federation itself,” Riana explained. “It is with the Section, as much as the Section is at war with the Tal Shi’ar. This secret war we fight, it has no rules, except not to involve the rest of our peoples. Do you think that I am not fighting for my people, Captain? That ship you’re captaining was designed to take a war right into the heart of the Romulan Star Empire. It is an offensive weapon built in contradiction to the very principles that your Federation is built upon. Don’t patronize me with your human righteousness, Captain, we are not the criminals here. You are.”

 

“Do not assume that you can hide with your cloaking device. My Talon class scouts and the Nova class science vessel that I had commandeered are equipped with tachyon grids that will find you. The Tal Shi’ar out.”

 

“Those people sure are hypocrites. As if it’s their God given right to be the only ones in the entire Universe who can be sneaky,” Garret explained.

 

“Don’t look now, Captain, but they’re scanning for our tachyons. It’s a matter of seconds when they will find us. What is your course of action?”

 

“It looks like we don’t have much of a choice do we? Arm all weapons, prepare to decloak .”

 

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

 

“Are you ready for multiple vector mode?”

 

“Nada Captain. Damage on the engineering hull.”

 

“Just my luck, we have to come out swinging against overwhelming odds with a few tools short.”

 

 

 

The USS Athena Pt 7

 

 

When an animal is cornered, it is at its most dangerous. The Athena made a full turn, engaged warp straight on against the oncoming Romulan fleet. Athena ran scans. There is a wing of three Talon scouts, then a wing that comprised the commandeered Colt, Gemini and Sakura, the two Shrikes and finally the Shadow itself. Like the Shadow, the pair of Shrikes were a Tal Shi’ar trademark, fast destroyer ships, which the Tal Shi’ar favored for their speed and stealth.

 

A spread of five photon torpedoes was too much even for the front shields of a Talon. The Romulan scout blew up in a brilliant flash of light and gas, a shockwave emenating from the center, pieces of itself spreading out in all directions. The shockwave was still expanding when the Athena dived upon the last Talon scout, main phasers arc chewing its shields to zero, followed a furious volley of pulse phasers that quickly devoured its armor. The burning Talon limped away, directional controls fatally damaged. As the Athena swept to the back of the Romulan formation, two photon torpedos came screaming out from the aft tubes, and the last Talon shared the fate of its comrades.

Inside the bridge, Athena the hologram held two of her fingers out to Garret and shook them.

 

It was unusual and rare for a Romulan to show emotion, but Riana unleashed an unholy scream of fury and anger. All three of spotter scouts have been eliminated, two of them in a single pass from this infernal ship. They still have the commandeered Nova class ship. If it goes, they would all be even in their phasing cloak capability. The problem is, the even situation favors the hunted more than the hunter. It would mean the Athena could effectively escape. Hurriedly, Riana ordered the Gemini to disengage and with the two Shrikes escorting, to seek quarters to the rear of the Shadow.

 

“The Colt and the Sakura are turning to engage us, Captain.”

 

There may still be Federation prisoners alive in the two ships, but Garret could not take any chance to risk his own crew and ship. There is not time either for moral debate. The Colt and the Sakura had to be destroyed like enemy ships. There is no other choice.

The Defiant and Sabre class ships banked and turned in formation in pursuit of the Athena. The Athena kept her distance from the two, but with damaged engines, she lacked the speed to overhaul them. But all she needed was enough time to recharge her weapons, and when the time came, she executed a hundred eighty degree loop—an incredible sight and feat for a four hundred meter ship like the Athena. She was now headed towards the two captured ships. She singled out the more damaged of the pair.

The Sabre and the Defiant unleashed screaming torpedoes towards the Athena. The Athena rolled, and maxed its ECM. Three of the torpedoes whizzed by the Athena’s belly. One hit the stout and dense forward shields. Athena winked but one torpedo could only dent the shields. Six photon torpedos lashed out from the Athena in a chain, and like a chain, they consecutively slammed against the weaker Colt. As the Athena flashed over the Colt , the Colt was leavimg a trail of burning gas from a fatal wound. The Athena slammed three photon torpedoes from her rear, and the Colt broke up.

 

Inside the bridge, Athena the hologram raised her forearm and shouted “Yes!!”

 

“Don’t be too overconfident,” Garret warned, “it’s far from over yet.”

 

The Sakura turned around, a smarting, angry animal. It’s battery of pulse phasers chewed at the Athena’s shields like a hungry predator trying to break through a turtle’s shell to get to the meat inside. As the Sakura flashed over the Athena, its wide arc phaser strip burned against the Athena’s rear shields. The Athena replied from her rear defensive phasers, but the punches did not break the Sakura’s aft shields.

 

Like two Samurai on a Kurosawa movie, the two ships turned to face each other. For a moment they glanced at each other, wondering what is on the mind of the other combatant. As weapons charged, they charged to each other. Four torpedoes flew out from the Sabre, while six lashed out from the Athena in a deadly chain of fiery pearls. Front defensive phasers from the Athena extinguished one torpedo, and ECM made another miss. But two torpedoes slammed against her front shields, cutting it by a clear one third.

 

The Sakura’s defensive phasers knocked out one torpedo, and one missed, blinded by ECM. Three torpedoes blew a gaping hole through the shields which let a final torpedo through. There was an explosion as the Sakura’s shields and weapons systems were knocked out.

 

A stream of rapid pulse phaser fire burst out from the Athena and raked the burning Sakura. As the Sakura slipped beneath the Athena’s belly, the Athena’s multiple phaser strips followed the helpless Sabre and sliced it from fore to aft.

 

The Sakura was burning from her wounds. There was no way to tell if there was still any Federation prisoners on board. The interference was too high or there really was no more life signs. There may still be a way to salvage the ship with a tractor beam but the Sakura ended her life with an explosion.

 

Riana watched the debacle and saw the Shrikes rejoined the Shadow’s formation. One cannot stand on their ground and win over the Athena by firepower and speed alone. There is only one way to win this. The Shadow and the Shrikes engaged cloak, as the Gemini turned to face her new targets, the two crippled destroyers that still had survivors.

Athena spotted the Gemini about to make a firing pass on the crippled Kiev and Manila. There were still survivors in those ships, knocked out by the gas to prevent themselves from harming each other. How could they? The Romulans were willing to murder unconscious people. Athena could not leave them vulnerable even if she finally had the chance to escape.

 

“Be careful, Athena, they could be drawing us into a trap,” Garret warned.

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

There could still be Federation survivors inside the Gemini, Garret thought. But he cannot afford to take chances. The number of survivors in the two helpless and shield less destroyers may far outnumber whoever was left inside the Gemini—if they were still alive at all. He cannot let the Gemini fire on the crippled ships. The Athena was already in a high speed intercept course headed for the Gemini and charging her weapons.

“You can’t get her in time!” Garret warned. The Gemini was in full warp toward the crippled Manila and her weapons are charged. There is only one thing to do.

 

“Head for the Manila!” Garret ordered. Athena looked puzzled. “Do it now! Athena, and get your transporters ready!”

 

The Athena strained as her damaged engines poured every ounce for speed. “Lock on to all signs of life within the Manila and prepare to transport on my command!” Garret ordered.

 

“Aye, Captain!”

 

The Gemini fired three photon torpedoes, each menacingly sizzled towards the crippled Steamrunner.

 

“Now!” Garret ordered.

 

The three torpedoes slammed against the USS Manila, and the great Steamrunner destroyer turned into a brilliant ball of light, a shockwave spreading in an ever growing circle.

 

“Did you get them?” Garret asked.

 

“Yes I got them. They’re in the cargo hold right now,” Athena said.

 

Garret breathed a sign of relief. “Is Admiral Hurst and Captain de Witt among the survivors?”

 

“Both of them are lucky, Captain.”

 

The comlink came alive with another transmission. “This is Ka’nal. We believe we got the Romulan boarding party under control. There are still pockets of resistance though.”

“Thank you Number One, we just beamed survivors off from the USS Manila. We need people to tend to the survivors and their injured.”

 

“Right away, Captain.”

 

“We got energy readings from the USS Kiev. She just fired up her engines, shields and weapons,” Athena said.

 

“That’s good news. That means they’re operational,” Garret said. “Hail them. Get them on screen.”

 

A blonde appeared on screen.

 

“Commander Shelley!” Garret exclaimed. “Where is Captain Wu?”

 

“I am afraid he’s seriously wounded. What happened?” Shelley herself appeared shaky, having not fully recovered from the effects of the knockout gas.

 

“The Romulans attacked your ship and the USS Manila using a psychonic blaster. Don’t ask me what it is, we will explain everything later if we get out of this alive. I also have to mention we have to borrow your torpedo inventory. Right now the Manila had been destroyed and you’re the next target. The Romulans had taken over the USS Gemini and is using it to attack you next.”

 

“Understood, Captain,” Shelley said. “We’ll take urgent measures right away.”

 

“Captain, I got the Gemini and she’s turning to make another pass,” Athena said.

 

“We’re tracking the Gemini too,” Shelley affirmed. The Kiev turned towards the Gemini’s attack. “Reinforce forward shields!” she ordered. “Point defense phasers ready!”

 

“What’s our time to intercept?” Garret asked Athena.

“Not soon enough,” Athena said.

 

Three torpedoes screamed out of the Gemini’s forward tubes. The Kiev set its ECM to the max, and two of the torpedos missed. One slammed against the forward shield and the shields held.

 

“Open fire!” Shelley ordered. The Kiev unleashed its pulse phasers toward the Gemini, which banked away.

 

“We need to disable the Gemini,” Athena said.

 

“I know, but be careful—they still got three ships hiding, most likely in cloak and waiting to trap you,” Garret warned.

 

“Aye, Captain!”

 

The Athena had turned to pursue the Gemini with whatever she had left on her engines.

 

Both headed towards deep space.

 

Like a bait to the angler, the Shadow, the two Shrikes decloaked right in the Gemini’s path, plasma weapons charged and aimed at the Athena.

 

There was horror and pain in Athena’s eyes, as plasma torpedoes and cannons devoured her shields, leaving her front shields open and vulnerable. Several shots hit her naked hull, causing internal damage on her weapons and sensors. She quickly contained a hull breech, but a plume of fire and smoke escaped from the large hull crack. Ahead of her loomed the huge Shadow, and instantly she knew what the Shadow is about to do given the energy readings off the Shadow’s deflector dish.

 

Athena quickly poured her last reserves of energy to her deflector and activated her experimental Corbomite Reflector. Just then the Shadow fired her Psychonic blaster.

The Reflector absorbed then reflected back the part of the psychonic beam to its source. The reflected part hit back at the Shadow. Soon effects were felt in parts of the Romulan ship as fighting broke out. But the effect was only partial. The bridge was hardly touched and Riana easily regained control. She quickly ordered crack teams and marines to subdue the uprisings.

 

But the Athena herself was not so lucky. Part of the beam had hit the ship. Athena looked at the captain’s chair to find Garret wide eyed, losing his senses, crying out in tears in one second, raging like a murderous lunatic in the next.

 

“Oh my god!” Athena cried. If she wasn’t that overconfident, if she wasn’t that gung ho, if she wasn’t that reckless, if she heeded his advice, this would not have happened. The Captain would still be sitting on his chair, sane and smart, smiling in one second, deadly serious the next. She called to the comlinks but there was no answer. Instead she heard groans and cries, and people fighting.

 

“Oh my god, oh my god….”

 

It was time to act what Garret had told her. It was the only way, even if she is left all alone now. The anesthetic gas began pouring out of the tanks and into the main vents. Before the crew could hurt and kill each other, the gas quickly and mercifully knocked them out. Now, there was only silence and the hum of the ship’s engines.

 

Athena the hologram knelt down on the fallen figure of her captain. For a moment her weakness shone through, the varied humanlike emotions that were built into her program raged in sadness and insecurity. These were the same emotions that were supposed to help her decide creatively and intuitively, to create moral judgements that one inevitably faces in war or in dealing with alien civilizations. She was supposed to know what to do. It was all programmed in her. But she had relied a certain sense of affirmation of her decisions from her crewmates and captain. They had a sense of inner confidence—call it faith or trust—that seemed to intuitively back their decisions regardless of the fallibility of their logic. She had learned to trust that in a short time. Now that pillar is gone.

 

She lifted Garret’s unconscious body and propped it on the Captain’s throne.  It was only right.

 

The Shadow vessel is hailing her ship. Maybe they’re checking if all her crewmen were dead. She had to respond, or they will board her.

 

A face came onscreen. It was that same Romulan, as beautiful as she was menacing.

“Well, well, I thought all the crew should have been insane or dead,” Riana said. “I see all of them are unconscious instead, and a single human still standing. Hmmm….” A graceful line by itself, her left eyebrow rose with her interest.

 

Riana heard a few comments from her Operations officer. Then she turned to face Athena again. “Apparently this human isn’t a human at all, but a hologram… Interesting…. Two holograms were responsible in the failure of the Prometheus heist. Is this a recurring pattern? Who are you?”

 

“If you wish to know, my name is Athena.”

 

“We have determined that the Athena is the name of this new enhanced Prometheus class destroyer,” Riana said. “This ship has capabilities that were not present in the original prototype. Are you another emergency medical hologram? Why are you called Athena?”

 

“I am the hologram personification of the USS Athena. I am the ship.”

 

“Impossible! Wait…” Riana bent over to consult her Operations officer once again. Then she turned back to Athena, raising her left eyebrow.

 

“Apparently after scans of your ship, you are telling the truth,” Riana said. “We have detected stage 2 evolution bio-neural circuitry in your ship, the most advanced the Federation has. Your pathways are not centrally linked to the medical computer subnode, and instead to the main computer core. Fascinating. A true sentient starship. I never thought it would exist. All built into a Prometheus class hull with the latest Federation weapon technology advancements. The military implications of such a starship is immense.”

 

“You are more than what we bargained for in this mission,” Riana concluded. “We were originally meant to destroy or capture you depending which alternative becomes feasible during the operation. Now, I believe it is far more important for you to be captured and examined by our scientists. The Romulan Star Empire has much to gain from learning your technology, especially in particular, your AI program and your bioneural circuitry.”

“I have an excellent proposal for you Athena. As far as I can see, your ship has been damaged. You got no more crew who is awake and conscious. You have both your crews and the survivors of the USS Manila, a lot of living people whose lives you are now personally responsible for. Despite your impressive efforts, you cannot sustain combat and risk the lives of these people. If you submit yourself to our capture without further violence, I will be lenient. You will be allowed to release your crew and that of the USS Manila alive without further injury and death to the USS Kiev. The Kiev will be allowed to return to her base without further attack and harassment. After that you will comply with our demands and peacefully surrender.”

 

“Hmm, let me think about it, Romulan.” Athena turned around and figured her options. The Rommie was right; she had considerable damage which makes continuation of the battle unfavorable. The Psychonic blaster’s subspace wave had various side effects that caused further damage to parts of the ship. There was a strong urge in her to face the Romulan and present her middle finger as her answer, but there were lives at stake here.

Suddenly she screamed with pain as the Shrikes deliberately fired against her ship without shields. Soon several decks were on fire before automatic containment systems stabilized the damage. The damage against her internal systems have become more severe.

 

“I can see that you can feel the pain in your ship. You are truly linked to your ship,” Riana observed. “This is just a warning to show that we are indeed serious with our proposals.”

 

“How do I know that I can trust you?”

 

“This is humorous, a hologram questioning my credibility. The answer to your question is that you simply don’t. You got no alternative. But you can truly trust me that I am not the treacherous cur that you think I am,” Riana said.

 

“You seem to have trapped me into a corner, Romulan. I have to congratulate you for your cunning and strategy,” Athena said.

 

“And to you with your wise choice and gallantry in battle,” Riana replied. “My Shrikes will escort you as you transport the crews to the USS Kiev and back. But just in case, so that you won’t try any treacherous behavior…”

 

The two Shrikes latched on the Athena with two powerful tractor beams. The hull of the Athena shuddered and groaned with the stresses from the tractor beams.

 

“Hey!” Athena shouted, displeased with the awkward arrangement. “Don’t you think I can do it myself?”

 

It was hard to tell who was towing who. but the trio cruised to an encounter with the USS Kiev on a decided halfway point.

 

* * *

 

Athena had to explain to Commander Shelly—the highest Star Fleet officer in the area who is still conscious—who and what she was, and what the circumstances are. Then she beamed every living person from her ship to the Kiev. Finally there was really no person left on the Athena. She was truly alone.

 

Commander Shelly had objected to the surrender of valuable technology to the Romulans. She was firm—the technology in the Athena may be valuable enough for the sacrifice of all the Federation Star Fleet lives involved in the incident. Athena disagreed.

“Your program is flawed. If Romulans acquired your technology, the loss of Federation lives can be much greater than the loss of lives sacrificed here,” Shelley said, the completely dedicated Star Fleet officer.

 

“I have made up my mind,” Athena said. “I have made a stand here to protect my captain and my crew—even if I still think they’re idiots. I got every directiveYou got to trust me.” She winked. “It will all work out for the better.”

 

Shelley knew the Romulans were monitoring their conversations. She felt that Athena was up with something. It was a risk to trust a hologram for a matter of the highest Federation security, but Athena was asking her. The Kiev could barely fire. It could not destroy the Athena if she wanted to, or take on the Romulan fleet. Athena was right. She had to trust her.

 

“Tell Captain Garret good bye for me, Commander,” Athena said. “Tell him he was a good captain, if only for a day.”

 

“Athena, why don’t you tell him yourself, when he wakes up?” Shelley said.

 

There was no answer. Shelley watched the USS Athena being hopelessly towed by the two Romulan Shrikes, like the prized trophy of a hunt.

The Kiev’s own EMH and medical staff was quick to respond tending to the needs and injuries from the crew of the Athena and the survivors of the Manila. By the time Captain Garret woke up, the Athena was a distant point in the Kiev’s sensors.

 

“What happened?” Garret demanded. He was pleased to see the face of Commander Shelley, but the grim expression in her face was an immediete concern. He looked around him. Despite the chaos, the surroundings were more than familiar for him. This was his old ship, the Norway class USS Kiev. The familiarity was assuring, but what was he doing here?

 

Shelley confirmed where he was. “You are in the Kiev now. You have been hit by a psychonic blast. The Athena had deposited you, your crew and the survivors of the Manila here.”

 

“Athena! Where is she now!” Garret demanded.

 

“Take it easy, Randall, or I should say, Captain,” Shelley said. “She’s surrendering to the Romulans, in exchange for all our lives.”

 

“NO!” Garret screamed. “She should not leave me like that. She’s my ship…”

 

“…and you need to go down with her?” Shelley asked. “To hell with that tradition. She’s one hell of a ship, but she’s still a ship. There will be others, Captain. To live is to fight tommorrow. Let the medic tend to you. You are obviously not well. I am not obviously well too. We’re lucky we’re still in one piece.”

 

Shelley continued. “Athena said to trust her. I sense she had a plan of her own.”

“Plan?” Garret said. “If there is a plan, I think she’s planning to blow herself up. Damn you, Athena.”

 

“Athena left some words for you,” Shelley said. “She says good bye. You have been a good captain.”

 

Garret pounded his fists against the floor. “Damn you, Athena. We’re supposed to be a team. We should fight together and go down together.”

 

“Damn your macho bullshit traditions, Garret,” Shelley rebuked him. “She’s sacrificed herself for you. It would help if you show some appreciation.”

 

“You’re right, Shelley,” Garret said, nodding his head.

 

“If you’re feeling alright now, Randy, we need a captain. David is severely injured. You’re the highest ranked now. The Kiev is yours for the meantime,” Shelley said. “I suggest we get organized and get home to the shipyard.”

 

* * *

The Shrike and the Athena had returned to the Shadow. Riana’s face flashed onscreen at the Athena’s bridge. “Again I must complement you for your wise choice. Be prepared to be boarded.”

 

“Alright,” Athena responded.

 

The Romulans, including Riana, materialized on her bridge. Riana stared at the Athena hologram from head to toe with a suspicious, examining eye, then turned to the gloating smile of a victor, or a hunter that captured her prey.

 

The Romulans, eager and hungry, rushed to her consoles and started tapping the controls. “Gael Riov Riana, we got helm control of the vessel. Navigation, operational. Engines operational. We are ready to return.”

 

They have moved a considerable distance on impulse and was preparing to warp, when suddenly the Romulan officer who took over at the Operations console looked troubled. “Gael Riov, we have a problem here. There is something here….it appears to be a countdown…warp core has begun an overload procedure, a self destruct sequence…we can expect warp core breech in ten minutes…”

 

Riana turned around to face Athena, who was now laughing.

 

“You treacherous cur…” Riana said. Turning to the Romulan officer, she ordered,

 

“Override it!”

 

“I cannot, Gael Riov Riana. The sequence is locked and irrevisible. There is no way to access the system and override it on time.”

 

“You override it, Athena! I command you!” Riana demanded.

 

“I’m sorry, the self destruct sequence is irreversible,” Athena explained. “It began when the ship’s sensors detected no living Federation personnel on board and the presence of your Romulan party handling the bridge controls. That triggered a failsafe mechanism aboard the ship intended to prevent its capture and compromise of Federation technological secrets. Even I cannot stop it.”

 

“That was surprisingly naive of you, Miss Riana, to assume that we will just hand over everything to you that easy…” Athena continued. “I got a particularly powerful warp core, and a core breech can create massive damage with a very big radius I am leaving you to guess. If you want to stay alive and keep your ships, especially that big Shadow of yours, intact, I would suggest it’s time to kit and kaboodle outta here like there’s no second to waste.”

 

“Don’t think you have outsmarted me, hologram,” Riana said. “If I can’t have you, then no one will. I still win would have won and have accomplished my mission with your destruction.  It was a pity, that you’re my trophy even for a short time.  I would have let you live in our laboratories.”

 

“Miss Riana, there is something I am dying to show you ever since I met you. Since you’re Tal Shi’ar I bet you’re familiar with human customs,” Athena said. “I bet you know what this is.”

 

Athena raised her middle finger out to the Tal Shi’ar Fleet Commander.

 

Riana raised her left eyebrow.   “Your obscene Earth gesture has no significance for me.”

She stared at Athena for the last time, and then ordered the D’PakThau to beam them all out.

 

The Romulan vessels, taking the Gemini with them as a trophy, assumed formation and quickly warped out of sight.

 

As soon as they were gone, Athena knew she didn’t have much time. She focused all her transporters on the warp core and quickly beamed it out in space. Then with her shield deflectors, she pushed the warp core as far as the deflectors could. She quickly turned the ship around, and engaged full impulse, trying to put as much distance between the ship and the warp core. With only impulse, it may not be enough.

 

The warp core erupted like a small nova, an explosion so powerful it could sweep an entire star system, and yet in space, the explosion was deathly silent. The brilliantly burning shockwave swept rapidly outward in a ring from its epicenter. Athena braced for impact, maximum reinforcement on her rear shields.

 

The USS Athena was engulfed in a wave of brilliant whiteness, and tumbled, tumbled, out of control…

 

From a distance, Garret saw a brilliant flash of light, and the point of light burned like a new star. It was in the direction where the Athena was last seen with her Romulan escorts. She was her first command, and it was all over in one day. It was irony that he was now in command of the ship he left for Athena. He sighed, before he gave the order for the USS Kiev to engage warp.

 

* * *

 

Damn, she thought, it had taken them days to respond to her distress signal, and she was bored to death here. The millions of stars set on the cosmic blackness were terrible listeners, and they make even worst talkers.

In the meantime between repairs on the ship from the outside, she—her hologram form—would lie in a bikini outside of the ship’s upper triangular hull, bathing in the sunlight, as the broken ship orbited a star.

 

The Miranda IV class USS Titus was a dedicated tow and tractor tug vessel packing powerful tractor beam equipment. It had been assigned from the Taciticus shipyard to respond to the distress signal. The Miranda class was a venerable and common design from the 23rd Century, a rather popular ship. It had undergone three major revisions in its long lifetime, but in the last few wars against the Borg and the Dominion, it began to show its age. But the venerable and reliable design refused to go away. Retired from combat duties, Mirandas began to fill a variety of utilitarian duties from transport to hospital ships to search and rescue to tow and tractor tugs. So popular was the versatile class on these roles that production was resurrected with the new Miranda IV class, which featured increased areas for storage and equipment. The TTTs as they call them, roam space for immobile, abandoned or derelict ships, then tow or tractor them to the nearest base or shipyard. Sometimes their duties would include towing a resource rich asteroid to a processing base.

 

The scanners aboard the Titus came alive. “We have contact!” said the cperations officer. “I believe we have found the source of the distress signal.”

 

“Onscreen, identify,” the captain ordered.

 

“I believe we found what we’re looking for. It has to be the USS Athena,” the operations officer said. “It looks like it’s in bad shape. Severe damage everywhere. All four warp nacelles broken. She’s probably drifting with her hull impulse engines as her only propulsion.”

 

“Then prepare to tow it back to the shipyard,” the captain said. “Is there something wrong?”

 

“Well I…uh…I…uh…I’m not sure,” the operations officer said. “If I have to believe my sensors, there is a girl standing outside on the surface of the hull waving at us.”

“Ha ha ha, maybe its about time you need to get a girlfriend or pay for one,” the captain said. “The next thing you’ll tell me she’s some scantily clad cute blonde. In the cold vaccum of space? When we get home, we need to test and recalibrate the sensors, okay?”

“But sir,” the cperations officer pointed to the screen, “she does look like a scantily clad cute blonde and she’s waving at us…”

 

The cigar fell off from the captain’s mouth.

 

 

 

The USS Athena Pt 8

 

 

His head had been hazy for a while. Subspace wave affects against human brain tissue aren’t exactly a nice thing to experience and there are lingering effects. The doctor was convinced that he was in good mental and physical health to return to active duty.

He was called to the Admiral’s office. But when he went there, the room was dark. The Admiral wasn’t there. Instead, there was somebody else in the shadows, sitting on the Admiral’s chair. Anyone who can sit on an Admiral’s office chair either has to be pretty audacious, and they must have pretty big clout. Who was he?

 

“Welcome, Captain Garret,” the man said. “You can call me Smith, Mr. Smith.”

The man doesn’t even a visible rank. Why the mystery? What is this?

 

“I am glad to see that you are alright, Captain Garret,” Smith said. “I have been reviewing reports about the trials and the incident with the Romulans. You have shown great resiliency and adaptation in tactical combat. You have shown great rapport with the Athena sentience.”

 

“Are all these any matter to you, Mr. Smith? Where is Admiral Hurst?”

 

“I’m sorry Captain Garret, but Admiral Hurst is predisposed right now.”

 

“Then who really are you, Mr. Smith?”

 

“Maybe it’s about time you know. Maybe you deserve to know. Have you heard of the Section?”

 

“I’ve heard of it mentioned, yes, a secret faction within Starfleet. I thought it was an urban legend, until Athena taught me otherwise.”

 

“Not an urban legend, not a myth, the Section is real, Captain Garret. Real. The Section exists, the secret sword of Starfleet. A clandestine organization that reaches to the very top and heart of Starfleet and the Federation. We exist because the founders of the Federation had foreseen the weakness of their successors.  Thousands of years of Earth history has taught them to be wise.  We exist with the Federation from the very beginning.  We are its secret sword, its enforcer, its guardian.”

 

“When Starfleet does not have the moral resolve to do certain things necessary for its survival, we will be there for it. I might admit, not everyone approves of our methods. I don’t think you will approve of some of them either. Hell I don’t approve of many things the Section does. But you will not doubt, the cause the Section fights for. What must be done is far too important that it cannot be stopped or determined by principle or treaty.”

 

“Is that why the USS Athena happened to have a multiphasing cloak device?” Garret asked. “A violation of a treaty that could risk war against the Romulans?”

 

“We are already in a secret war with the Romulans and various hostile forces in this quadrant, Captain Garret. The Treaty of Algeron did not improve the balance of terror between the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulan Empire. It worsened it, with the disadvantage mostly in our side. It gave the Klingons and the Romulans at that time, a license to raid deep into our territory, plant spies, raid our convoys, sabotage our economies and take our technological secrets virtually undetected. And virtually without any capability in our side to respond back. We were at their mercy.”

 

“So the Section created the Section Fleet or simply better known as the Secret Fleet.   More than just a clandestine, a spy group as you may call it, Secret Fleet  was designed to secretly retaliate against any incursion by the Romulans or Klingons at the last Century. Then the Secret Fleet changed to a more offensive role, preempting strikes deep into Romulan and Klingon territory against their secret bases, created by the Tal Shi’ar or the Black Fleet organizations.  These bases were strategically located for an invasion or to be used for stealth raids against our territory.”

 

“But, if this is going on, why didn’t the rest of the Federation know about this?” Garret asked.

 

“If the Romulans and the Klingons revealed the existence of the Section, the Section would reveal their secret bases and fleets they have used to silently invade the Federation. You have heard of the Tal Shi’ar. You have also heard of the Klingon equivalent, the Black Fleet of Stovakor. It was tit for tat. If the rest of the Federation and Starfleet knew what was truly going on, there would have been widespread war, far more destructive than the silent, secret war we fight. So we all, the Section, the Tal Shi’ar, the Black Fleet, kept it a secret. When the Klingons eventually became our allies, the Cardassians became our new adversaries, and the Obsidian Order came into the equation. But the Cardassians kept and respected the  rules of secrecy as they play the game.”

 

“Captain, did you check the history books? Have you seen any major scale war between the Federations and the Empires other than skirmishes or localized conflicts? We hate each other’s guts, but we preserved an uneasy peace for more than a century, until the Borg and the Dominion screwed things up.  While the uneasy peace went on, we waged a secret war.  But this silent secret war has saved more lives than what a full war would cost if it had broken out.”

 

“Now the Galaxy we live in is much more hostile. You know the recent history, the Borg, the Klingon Civil War, the Dominion War. Our quadrant is left more lawless and hostile than ever. Yet we are still the only political entity defanged by this honorless treaty that our politicians lack the moral courage to eliminate. All this while other enemies have acquired various cloak technologies such as the Breen and the Orion Pirates. Even the Borg, the Cardassians, the Dominion now have begun to deploy cloak technology, or continue to experiment with them. In the meantime, by treaty and concession, the Romulans have allowed us to use cloaking on our smallest ships, the Defiants. But they still refuse, at least officially, to have cloaking on larger ships. We are still working on that. But during the time, Athena remains a secret Section ship.”

 

“And what exactly Athena plays in your plans? And me?” Garret asked.

 

“The Section required a new generation of strike intruder, a ship capable of delivering a preemptive strike into the heart of the enemy without them suspecting it. So we began Project Omega from discarded proposed designs of the Interpid deep space explorer, which was the closet ship that could meet our requirements. The first outcome of Project Omega was the Prometheus class. The USS Prometheus was the first prototype. Officially it has been dismantled, but in reality, it has now been reassigned to perform various secret missions for the Section. Then we began plans for a second ship, one with greater technological capability.”

 

“We needed a ship that is capable of undertaking missions even without a crew if the desperation of the situation would have demanded it. It must be tactically adept and flexible. It required artificial intelligence of the highest order. It required a sentient personality. So we took the Intrepid bioneural circuitry as a model and enhanced it further. The final product was the sentient entity you see as the Athena AI.”

 

“Oh let me add to this part, Mr. Smith, that you failed to foresee properly that Athena would also be capable of independent decisions and opinions of her own.”

 

“That is correct, Captain. She has proven to be a handful. But she is far too expensive and valuable to be given up. She is not a very cooperative type, but for some reason she’s grown fond of you, Captain.”

 

“Me? Maybe because I treat her with a bit more respect. Your problem, Mr. Smith, from the way I see it, was that you prefer to control her, instead of convincing her to your cause like you’re trying with me now.”

 

“Well Captain, I’m not a man who has the talent in dealing with women or even with female artificial sentients. I prefer to leave someone do that. I prefer that you do it, Captain. Will you do it?”

 

“One part of me says I can’t trust you or the Section, but another part of me says your intentions are well meaning,” Garret explained. “I have fought in the Dominion War, and I have seen death in a large scale. You will have my cooperation, Mr. Smith. You will have my secrecy and trust as well. But I will not play any part in any operation that defies the principles and ideals of the Federation and of humanity. And I believe, Athena believes in that too. I noticed that she had a conscience and moral algorhythm. I think you had trouble dealing with Athena’s disobedience because she knew what you were up to. Her disobedience grew in part because she distrusts you. I think her programming went very well, don’t you think? When dealing with the most powerful weapons, only conscience and morality are the final failsafes.”

 

“In other words, Captain Garret, you will take Section missions, but reserves the right to pick or refuse missions based on your moral judgement? When does a soldier in war question orders because of morality? This creates chaos and poor discipline.”

“A soldier typically does not question moral judgement. But a line can be crossed that it becomes necessary that he must. It is what that keeps us human, instead of mindless killing automatons. I want that right. I demand that right, Mr. Smith, if I were to work with you.”

 

Mr. Smith looked thoughtful as his hands formed a steeple. “I don’t think I got full cooperation from you, and to be honest with you, that would be asking too much. But I believe I should be content with a beginning of a working relationship, and work from there. I believe that you will inevitably trust us more and gradually come to see more of our point of view. ”

 

* * *

 

The Soveriegn class USS Indomitable had made a port call on the Taciticus Shipyard for some maintenance and crew recreation. Also in orbit was the USS Exeter, an Akira class cruiser.

 

Captain Kriecken of the Indomitable was looking out through the windows of the ship’s conference room. Beside him was his first officer, Commander Shrade.

 

“That’s an interesting looking ship out there,” Kriecken said. “I’ve heard of vague rumors of a new improved Prometheus class ship. You see that ship, Commander? A triangular shaped hull with four warp nacelles, this is the first time I’ve seen a Prometheus class ship. But according to records there should only be one Prometheus ship and she had been retired. I’ve been looking at some pertinent information on this experimental ship, and the registry numbers do not match as well as some minor details. That ship we’re seeing now is indeed a Prometheus class ship, but it is not the Prometheus herself. I suspect this is that mysterious new improved Prometheus class vessel. Have you run the ship’s identification?”

 

“I did sir,” Shrade said, looking out the window and staring at the same ship. “I got a blank, a request for top level security before I can access the information. I also got a request, a Type D classification. Do you have any idea what a Type D is?”

 

“Yes,” Kriecken said. “I have heard of it before. D stands for Denial. It means we must deny that we ever saw this ship. Every sensor log, any log entry of such a ship must be deleted or erased by order of Starfleet Command. Officially, that ship does not exist.”

“I don’t understand. Why would they deny the existance of such a ship?” Shrade asked.

“That information is not allowed for us to know as well,” Kriecken said. “We can only be content in the experience that we have seen this mythic ship.”

 

 

***

 

It took a while to repair the Athena from her battle damage. But when it was done, Garret took out the Athena in a series of uneventful test trials. The calmness and routine quality of these missions were in stark contrast to the heavy combat in their first ever mission.

Athena didn’t seem to be herself though. She was obedient and cooperative, but strangely quiet. He found her in the mess hall when it was deserted. She was sitting in the sofa, looking out in the window. He wondered why she needed to do such a thing, considering she could see through the ship’s sensors. He had asked that question before, and she replied she wanted to see the universe through the perspective of limited human eyes.

She noticed him, but kept her eyes on the window. The Sovereign and the Akira class ships were outside of the window, in orbit near the station. “Wow isn’t she pretty? This is the first time I’ve seen a Sovereign. I wish I am a ship just like that.”

 

“I think you look fine just the way you are,” Garret said.

 

“Captain…”

 

“You know Athena, I do thank you for your gesture. You attempted to sacrifice yourself for the lives of the crew.”

 

‘Yeah, but that’s just my programming.”

 

“No, Athena, let me finish. Don’t just say it’s your programming.  I think you have a basic respect for life, and that is why you act as you did.  However, while I do appreciate that you care for our lives, I wish you would also respect my position as captain of this ship. Never, never take me off my bridge regardless of the circumstance. Respect is my life. This ship is my life now. If you go down, I go down. We will fight together, and we will go down together. I hope you can truly understand that.”

 

“Yes, Captain.”

 

“Now, Athena, I do thank you from the bottom of my heart, about caring for me and the crew. Shelley did mention that she objected to your surrender. She did have a point. The loss of your technology to the Romulans can cause more Federation lives in the long run than the combined lives of all the crews involved. But you knew you have a self destruct mechanism, did you? And you knew it can be activated even without a captain.”

 

“Yes, it was part of my programming, Captain. Statistics have shown that a large number of ships are successfully captured by boarding attempts where the captain or the first officer failed to implement self destruct sequence. The moment my crew is incapacitated or gone from the ship, and a non Federation crew accesses the bridge controls, the self destruct sequence is automatically implemented. Yes, this is not the proper Starfleet procedure for self destruct. But I must warn you, Captain, this is not unique to many Section vessels.”

 

“I gather Captain, that the Section did approach you.”

“Yes, Athena.”

 

“Did you agree to work with them, Captain?”

 

“Conditionally, Athena. My gut principles tell me no, but another sense tells me that there is something wrong with the Federation. There is too much at stake for just principles alone, even though it makes who we are.”

 

“I gather Captain, you are still morally wrestling with your decision.”

 

“I am, Athena, I am. I just don’t know. In a universe where everything is grey, not black and white, it’s hard to find a place to make a stand.”

 

“They created me, Captain, but I don’t trust them. But I need to trust somebody, and it has to be you Captain. I’m tired of being alone. Drifting in space out there alone, make me think of some things. In the end, I found out, I am just as uncertain as you are. But it’s better to share your uncertainty and doubts with someone. That I am sure.”

 

“So now we understand each other, Athena?”

 

“We can shake on it, Captain.” She extended her hand.

 

Garret took and shook it.

 

* * *

“Where can a Gorn Knight get a deserved meal?” Drudge whined and complained. “I can no longer stand the rubbish of replicator food, dead food, freeze dried food. You humans have such thoroughly bad taste in cuisine. Dead, dry, burned, microwaved and replicated. Can’t you appreciate the feel and the taste of live prey in your mouth in its final struggle of life before you squeeze them with your teeth and their life juices would flow out? I have waited for too long to experience this feeling again. For all the great and noble battles I have fought in service for the Federation, I only wish they would reward me with some decent food. Is that too much for a Gorn to ask?” He slammed his green scaly fist on the table.

 

“Hold on,” said the manager of the Star’s Tears, the bar restaurant inside the Taciticus shipyards. “I am really sorry, but the nearest thing we have is Klingon cuisine, and we’re out of that. We have not had a transport that delivered live food to the shipyard for a while. I am truly sorry.”

 

Drudge slammed his fist on the bar table, bent his head down on the bar, and wept. “Woe is me…” He stared at the large tank of goldfish the restaurant kept for a display.

Shelley herself had not seen an aquarium with Earth animals for a while. She turned to Garret, who was about to down a mug of frothy, golden draft beer.

“Do you know one of the real reasons the Gorn Confederation remains allies with the Federation all these years is because the Federation is one of their main suppliers of live food?”

 

“You’re kidding,” Garret said, downing a drink. “I never read that in any book.”

 

“Yes, I’m serious,” Shelley said. “The Gorn had nearly hunted just about every species in their three native planets to near extinction. Livestock farms proved insufficient to feed their burdening population growth. Then they discovered the various live species among planets of the Federation, especially in particular, Earth. So now there is a lucrative food trade between the Federation and the Gorn Confederation. The Gorn actually fights for and with the Federation to protect their food supply.”

 

“Are you serious, Ann?”

 

“Yes, Randy, I am.”

 

She turned to look at the aquarium. It was strange. The goldfish were all gone, and there were puddles of water in the floor. Drudge was gone too. There was shock at the manager’s face, as he frantically searched where his fish went.

 

“Oh my god…” Garret exclaimed. There was that familiar looking short haired blond again, in her miniskirt and sleek legs, sitting on the table alone, flirting with every male that comes in. What was she doing here again? Is this how she gets her kicks, playing tricks on people?

 

“Who?” Shelley asked.

 

“Never mind,” he replied. Shelley didn’t seem to notice Athena here. Thank goodness for the somewhat dim light.

 

A familiar face walked in, familiar at least, to Shelley.

 

“Michael, is that you? Commmander Michael Shrade?” She exclaimed at the tall young man that walked in.

 

“Shelley, oh, I have not seen you for a while,” Shrade said as they kissed each other on the cheek. Garret felt a momentary spout of jealousy. “How are things with you?”

 

“I’m First Officer now on the USS Kiev, and you, Michael?”

 

“I’m First Officer too, of the USS Indomitable, you know, the Sovereign class dreadnaught parked just outside here.”

 

“That’s a mighty fine ship, Michael. Excuse me, mind my manners, this here is Captain Garret of the—”

Garret kicked Shelley under the table on her forelegs as a reminder. “Oh sorry, Garret is being transferred from the Kiev to a pending new command. He used to be my C.O. in the Kiev.”

 

“Congratulations, Captain,” Shrade said, extending his hand. Garret stood and shook the hand.

 

Shrade’s eyes didn’t seem to be with their company however. “I like to stay and chat, Ann, Captain… to catch up with new things. But I think I got a big opportunity here for a score…please excuse me…Nice to see you again Ann, pleasure meeting all of you, we’ll talk again sometime, okay.” Shrade seemed to be in a hurry to leave.

 

“Nice to see you too…” Shelley replied. “I guess he’s looking for a date tonight,” she said to Garret.

 

Garret watched where Shrade was heading. It was towards the table where that familiar short haird blonde was sitting and flirting at him, and she crossed her sleek legs with a teasing smile.

 

The sight made Garret suddenly choke on his beer.

 

 

{The End of a Beginning]

 

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.