Shadows Dancing

As the newly minted Lieutenant Commander O'Shaughnessy ran her systems checks, the engineering doors opened to admit the captain.

"Good morning, Commander," Lucara said pleasantly. "I trust you rested well. What is our current engineering status?" The question was a matter of form. Lucara looked around her with keen interest.

If Moira was surprised by Lucara's unannounced visit to Engineering, she didn't show it, taking it in stride as through the captain was a frequent visitor to the department.

"All systems are green, Captain," she replied, her lilting accent a marked contrast to the Vulcan's cultured precision. "We're after finishing the last of the diagnostics now on some of the minor systems."

"Thank you. As soon as we are completed, I believe we shall be getting underway. Will you introduce me to your staff? I would like to become acquainted with the people who returned this ship to its functional capacity."

"Aye, sir. 'Twould be a pleasure to introduce ya around," said Moira, then hesitated slightly before continuing. "'Twill mean a fair bit to the lads' morale."

Lucara nodded, and Moira led the captain through the department, introducing the men and women on duty, mentioning each person's role in containing the crisis, however small it had been. The crew unmistakably took pride in their work. Some of them were slightly embarrassed, others were pleased that Moira had actually noticed their work during the stressful and demanding hours when she, too, had been harried and beyond exhaustion. They all seemed to stand just a little taller as their chief let their new captain know that they were an important part of the Engineering team.

Lucara listened attentively as Moira spoke of each member of her team, praising their working during the crisis, acknowledging each contribution. Excellent . . . very good with her people, she thought. Her Vulcan demeanor precluded a smile, but her own words to each individual were obviously sincere. She added her compliments to her chief engineer's, making certain that she spoke a few works to each person to whom she was introduced.

Finally, Moira and Lucara reached the warp engine core, where Chigara was explaining some esoteric aspect of warp field theory to Domingo, who was valiantly trying to keep up with the older man's explanation.

"Chief Petty Officer Baako Chigara and Crewman Rolando Domingo very cleverly set the engines to working with but a wee bit of help, and working against the tantrums of the computer," Moira said to the captain. "Gentlemen, I'll be having ye meet Lucara, our new captain."

Chigara looked up with a mask of puzzlement on his face. So engrossed had he been in his explanation of the warp field theory that it took him several seconds of trying to fit Lucara into that theory before he returned to the mundane reality of the engine room. He smiled somewhat sheepishly and nodded to the captain. Rolando, on the hand, came to rigid attention. Moira noticed that he seemed to pale slightly, and his emotions fit the pattern of panic and anxiety.

So, 'tis not just Sarath that spooks the lad, she thought, then made a mental note to have a wee bit of a chat with him soon. The sooner she discovered why he was so nervous around Vulcans, the better.

Lucara was faintly amused to note the absorption the men had in their work. Chigara's double take returned that light to her eyes, the one Moira had noticed when she'd spoken of Sareth at the briefing. Domingo's obvious discomfort was puzzling.

"At ease, Crewman," she said quietly. "This is not an inspection. I have just come to meet the people who put the Eclipse back together again so well." She nodded to the men. "Carry on."

* * *

Moira was in Mulvihill's office — yes, it was technically her office now, but she just couldn't stop thinking of it as Commander Mulvihill's — going over the diagnostics reports, musing about Domingo, when her comm badge beeped.

"Commander O'Shaughnessy, this is Akira Hitachi at Tactical. Would you have a few minutes to go over the readings on those alien ships with me on the bridge?"

Interesting. "Of course, Commander. I'll be there in a few minutes." From where she sat, she could see that Chigara and Domingo were once again engrossed in their love affair with the warp engines. Shaking her head and smiling, she left the office and found Jefferson muttering softly to the central console. "Patel, I'm thinking ya had been assigned to the second shift, and it'll be but the beginning of the first."

"Oh, yes, sir! But while our blessed ship has been healed of her most terrible wounds, and is now on her way to recovery, I thought perhaps I would coax that healing along with my presence and soothing words," he said as he patted the console.

Moira chuckled. "As ya wish, Patel. These engines and the whole ship will be listening to ya even better than the holodecks ever listen to me."

"Oh, I have heard you speak with the most admirable skill to them of the marvels they should create! And . . . perhaps enough people have already said this, but I have not had my chance and so I, too, must say it: Congratulations on your promotion, Commander Moira!"

Moira grinned at Jefferson's infectious good humor. "Thank ya, Ensign. I'll be on the bridge should anyone think of needing me," she said to the young man.

"Ah, yes! Most excellent, sir!" He beamed happily.

The corridors were more populated now, and people seemed calmer and more relaxed. It appeared that most folks had taken advantage of the rest period . . . except, of course, for Emerald. Moira sighed and reached out across their bond. Em, how are ya doing with the Pakleds? Ya will get yourself some rest today, won't ya, Imazdi?

Arriving on the bridge, she said hello to Lieutenant Father Lucas and nodded to the two newcomers. "Ya have some ships ya want to show me, Commander?" she said as she stepped to Hitachi's side.

"Maybe the big ship is hollow or something," Lucas was saying as he shrugged. Ship and in-space tactics weren't his strong point.

* * *

The alien ships floated impassively, vaguely threatening, on the viewscreen. They were no more explainable now than they had been hours ago. Moira concentrated on the figures Lieutenant Commander Donovan Kahallan, their new security chief, had circled. Her arms were folded and her brow was faintly wrinkled.

"What sort of folks will be after building ships such as that, Commander?" she asked, still facing the viewscreen. "Someone with something to hide, I'm thinking." She was silent for a moment. "Sure now, but what will it be that they'll be hiding?" she asked, more to herself than the bridge crew.

She glanced at Kahallan, her eyes resting on his face for a heartbeat before returning to the alien ships. Her first impression of him had been one of a spring very tightly compressed, or a predatory animal ready to strike. And yet, what she perceived through her empathic sense made her feel entirely at ease around him.

"There'd not be a reason, based on any physics we're knowing, to be painting the ships black," she mused. "Religious significance, perhaps? Clan colors? Ya might even find . . ." She turned to face Kahallan again, her expression reasonably impassive, but her green eyes showing the anger at the damage done to the Eclipse and the lives wasted because of the attack. ". . . that they'll have what they believe to be a sense of humor."

She turned back to the viewscreen. When she spoke again, they could hear the overtones of her anger in her voice. "I'll not be giving any advice on stopping their punch, as ya put it. Anything that can cut through our shields like a hot knife through butter will be something we ought to be running from, not fighting." She glanced once again at Kahallan, including Hitachi in her gaze. "Of course, that'll just be my opinion."

"Normally, I'd agree with you, Commander," said Hitachi. "However, as we're going in pursuit of these ships, I don't anticipate that we'll have that option. We know that distance has a detrimental effect on their weapon. Is there something there we can use?"

Moira nodded. "So I'll have suspected. 'Twas too much to hope that we'll have the option of retreating." She again studied the data they'd massed. "I don't notice that ya have the frequency of their weapon, and I suppose that'll be lost in the computer malfunction we were having. Well, we can make some adjustments to the shields' frequencies based on our observations of the previous encounter. Of course, I'm not trusting the shields to take more than one hit, but we'll be after catching their frequencies from that, and can adjust our own again. If there'll be modulating, we can have the computer racing against their modulations, we can. Will the distance where their weapon will weaken be inside or outside the range of the phasers and photon torpedoes?"

And I'm thinking I'll be shutting down power to the bloody holodecks in a minute, she thought. Shield technology will be Padraig's specialty, and I can sure use his help. She resisted the urge to sigh heavily.

"I'll check the readings and get it back to you, Commander," Hitachi said.

"Commander Hitachi, do we have any mass, volume, and power numbers on the big ship?" asked Kahallan.

"Yes, I'll route those to your attention. I was having the computer run an analysis to see if they matched any known or suspected race or technology reports."

"So. We know that it tends to get weaker the farther it gets away," said Kahallan. "The shields will not stop it. What about bending it, deflecting it? Kind of like when light passes through water. Refract it . . . slow it down and make it think it's gone a bit father than it really has?"

"Or is it a weapon that expends all its punch in one blow?" mused Hitachi. "If that's so, we might be able to project a double layer of shields, letting the first absorb the weapon. Use the data from the first shot to change the frequency of the second shield."

Kahallan paused a moment before asking, "The Pakleds and Lieutenant Drake . . . they both actually saw these folks?"

"Yes. The lieutenant was there and saw the boarding party. A mixed band of races, she said, but they acted in a very professional, organized manner. You should speak with her. Your grasp of small group tactics and dynamics is certain to be far superior to mine."

Moira listened to the discussion, but something about the ships themselves stuck in her mind.

"'Tis an odd thing, as ya say, that we're finding so many strangers with a fondness for black ships. And they'll have gone to plenty of trouble to make sure we don't discover a thing about them." She raised an eyebrow, her eyes displaying the merest hint of humor. "Hiding the duct tape, will they? Sure now, that could be a possibility. But why? If they'll have weapons that powerful, why the need to hide?"

She shifted her stance as she became more relaxed about being on the bridge, her hands clasped loosely behind her back. "Aye, we could keep the beam away from the ship, Mister Kahallan. We'll need to find out what kind of light we're dealing with so we can tell the shields how to be water, though. As I said, I can make some guesses based on how the shields will be reacting to the weapon the first time, but they'll only be guesses until I can get better data.

"And as ye'll have mentioned, gentlemen," she concluded, "'tis likely that we'll have the chance to collect the data."

"Aye, unless perhaps they be folks we already know, and they don't—" Kahallan began in a thick Cockney accent, before suddenly stopping mid-sentence. His mouth closed, and one might have imagined hearing his teeth snap, so quick and jarring was the halt. He took a breath, letting his fingers trace a silent pattern across the console's surface. Then finally he exhaled, slowly shaking his head. He gave the engineer a sharp, narrow-eyed look, wry and dark. Similar, one might have said, to a wolf pup that just had a steel trap snap shut right in front of its nose.

Kahallan's look of surprise, and something more that Moira found hard to read, at his lapse into that vaguely familiar dialect startled her more than the lapse itself. At the moment when he spoke with his authentic voice, Moira's unique artistic talent filled her mind with colors, patterns, pictures . . . dark and somber, swirling and dancing, surrounding the image of a young girl with blond hair and bright blue eyes. When he spoke again, the images dimmed but didn't fade. Her fingers longed for the velvety touch of her pastel chalks to set that image of youthful innocence on canvas.

Taking a second breath, Kahallan returned to the beginning, without a trace of an accent. ". . . unless perhaps, they're folks we already know, who didn't want us to know that they have this brand-new weapon. I didn't look at it that way, but you're right. They've gone to a lot of trouble to keep this secret of theirs."

He repeated O'Shaughnessy's words, his voice quiet and even once more. "And you're right on that second count, too," he said as he folded his hands together, absentmindedly rubbing his knuckles. "We need to get you more data. I think that's going to be more Commander Hitachi's field than mine, but I have a couple of thoughts of my own, coming in from another side of our problem."

With just a turn of his head, Kahallan looked back at Hitachi. "Unless you need me here at tactical, Commander, permission to leave the bridge?" After all, Lieutenant Commander Hitachi did have the bridge watch.

Hitachi looked at Kahallan and smiled slightly. "No need to be so formal. Of course, you have permission to leave the bridge, Commander. I look forward to discussing our departments at 1200."

It wasn't until Kahallan finally left the bridge that Moira was able to push the images of that young girl completely from her mind. But she wasn't going to forget them.

Hitachi turn back to the engineer and sighed. "I know that you've been pushed to the limit, Commander, but I'd like an analysis report of the data we have on the two original bandits and the larger ship as soon as possible for the captain. Use whatever resources you need. And . . . thanks. This ship is in one piece due in large part to your efforts and the efforts of your engineers. They can be justly proud of their work."

She nodded to acknowledge the praise of her people. Mulvihill had trained them all well, and she was as proud of them as anyone.

"Aye, Commander. Will ya just be transferring what data ya have to my office?" She looked around the bridge and gave Hitachi a lopsided grin. "'Tis just a wee bit more comfortable working there, being a bit smaller, ya know."

"Of course, Commander. I'll have it sent down immediately."

* * *

Moira sat in the Chief Engineer's office mulling over the data that had been cheerfully provided by the computer. She'd run a query on all the databases for anything related to the alien ships, their weapons, and the Pakleds and their ship. She had the data Hitachi had transferred down, she had all the data Emerald had entered, she even managed to locate the data Lucara had backed up before the computer was reinitialized. There were fragments of information all over; putting it into some sort of coherent form was a challenge.

She saw fairly clearly the sequence of events. It looked like the Aliens in Black had been uninterested in the Eclipse until they decided to help the Pakleds. But once they got interested, they sure packed a hell of a punch, almost as if the Eclipse was nothing but an annoyance to them. She wasn't having a lot of luck coaxing information on the weapons of the aliens, but she kept the computer on its search. Damn, but she wanted Padraig's help. If he was going to haunt her, he might as well be useful, rather than spending all his time playing with the holodeck programs. A few taps on the console cut the power to the auxiliary holodeck Padraig currently inhabited. Then she set the computer to running simulations for determining possible shield frequencies based on observations of the alien's weapons. Slim data to work from, but the computer didn't balk, which was a good sign. By the time the simulations were set up, she had a response from Padraig.

Hey! You deliberately shut down the holodeck! Why?

Moira sighed. Because ya still be a Starfleet officer as far as I'm concerned, and ya going and dying will not get ya out of your obligations, she said with more anger than she'd expressed in the year since he'd died. If ya don't like it, ya can just kindly get yourself gone for good! It almost felt good getting angry at him; she hadn't realized that he was one of the few people who had ever truly seen her angry. That seemed to sober him considerably. She could actually feel her twin's hesitation. Well?

When his answer came, it was tinged with something akin to defensive guilt. You're not exactly easy to live with, you know. Padraig hesitated. I'm sorry, Mo. I guess there just aren't any protocols for behavior in this situation, are there? I just thought I'd keep out of your way . . .

It had always been hard for her to stay angry at him. I know. But I'm needing your help. Can ya keep yourself focused enough to help me work out this problem?

Ghosts apparently did have emotions, because Padraig's were seeping into her consciousness. He was torn between what he knew he should do and what he really wanted to do. Moira couldn't blame him all that much; when she'd first discovered holodeck programming, no one had seen her for months. Paddy, the holodecks are always going to be there. And the sooner we get to fixing these problems, the sooner we both can get back to them, isn't it so?

She felt his sigh more than heard it. Okay, okay. His grin felt like a tiny bubble of happiness floating up her spine and she smiled too. You know I hate it when you call me Paddy. What do you need me to do?

Here . . . look at this data, she said, indicating the disparate conglomeration of factoids displayed on her console. Ya be the shields expert. Tell me what ya think of that weapon. How're we going to stop it? Or at least slow it down some? And see if ya can find more data on that weapon and those ships in the computer. I know ya have some kind of way of finding things faster than my queries are managing. And I don't think I want to know about it, either.

"Sure now, ya go and call me a witch," she muttered to herself, and to Padraig.

And ya don't have Mam to call ya Paddy anymore. Ya going to be putting up with it from me, brother dear. And besides all that, I'm your twin. Ya put a stop to me calling ya Paddy when we were teens, but I'm after starting the practice up again, I am. Moira barely managed to keep from laughing out loud.

* * *

Moira leaned forward with one elbow on the console, chin resting on her palm, fingers absently tapping her upper lip. One leg was tucked beneath her on the chair, a position more suited to a less casual environment than her office, but she was oblivious to the discordance. Her free hand danced along the console and images of the aliens' ships flitted across her screens. Padraig had ferreted out tiny bits of information that her query had missed, but unfortunately, it wasn't much. And the information seemed so . . . ordinary. Most of it anyway.

She was vaguely aware that the timbre of the engines had changed, an indication that the ship was underway. She ignored it, intent on her analysis of the alien weapon.

Her comm badge beeped, startling her. "Would all senior officers please report to the ready room for a briefing," announced Hitachi. "Thank you."

Still not quite accustomed to her promotion, it took Moira a second before she remembered that she was now a senior officer. She shook her head and, with a little smile, began transferring her data and observations to her PADD.

If ya think ya will be going back to the holodeck, ya will be mistaken, she said to her ethereal twin. She felt his mental sigh and couldn't help a mischievous reply. If I'm to be on duty, you're to be on duty. Ya may have been a few inches taller than I, Paddy dear, but I'll still be more than a few minutes older, and I'll be outranking ya now as well, Lieutenant.

His reply made her wish, not for the first time, that he wasn't quite so ethereal. Aye, aye, Commander Bossy!

After letting Reynolds know she'd be in yet another meeting, Moira noted with some consternation that she didn't seem to be spending any more time in the Engineering department than she had when she was a mere holodeck specialist. And she wasn't having nearly as much fun, either. She sighed and shrugged. To everything, there is a purpose and a time for all in the Lady's great plan. And now was the time for a meeting.

At the first step into the captain's ready room, Kahallan's dark eyes took in the size of the space, its simple layout, the standard issue conference table, the curve of the windows, and the tightness of the room. Thus, for now, the unassuming security officer took a step back and to the side, to remain standing close to one of the walls. He gave a small nod to Lieutenant Drake when she entered the room.

For a moment, Kahallan haunted his corner of the ready room, moving only to stab out a few commands on his PADD. His summons brought up the chief science officer's data on the viewscreen, her images of starships and combat now adding a touch of chaos to the quiet room. Again, Kahallan paused, frowning at the PADD. Then a last command froze the images: the Paklad ship, and the interior shot of the strange gold coins.

Then he leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms and tucking his PADD against his brightly emblazoned jacket. From there, he waited as others arrived, watched as if perhaps their choices of where they sat were an intriguing puzzle to be figured out. His stance changed, however, the moment the Eclipse's captain entered the room: formal, disciplined, and partly a reflex reaction.

"Captain Lucara, sir."

She nodded, then said, "Commander, I know you had something you wanted to discuss vis-a-vis the scan, but before we get to that, I would like to hear a general report on the ship's systems from Commander O'Shaughnessy."

A single curt nod was the captain's answer, quiet and straightforward. For the moment, then, Kahallan remained where he stood, leaning against the ready room wall, waiting patiently, listening carefully.

Before Moira could give her report on the ship's status, a young officer entered the room, trying rather hard to hide, or so it seemed to her. She didn't recognize him, but the captain did; likely one of the crew from Hawking she hadn't met yet. Lucara vacated her seat for the new arrival, an act that Moira considered just a little odd, although also more than a little amusing. She mentally shrugged and was about to speak when the ready room door opened again.

This time, she did recognize the officer: Jason Tyler, newly promoted by Captain Yeade. In fact, her first official holoprogram on Eclipse had been an entertaining adventure to celebrate his promotion — Captain Yeade's wedding reception having been an unofficial program. She smiled at Jason has he found a spot in the already crowded room. Now, if only she could complete her report before the door opened again.

"Aye, Captain. We'll have the engines, sensors, and shields back online. Level one diagnostics are showing green on all systems, but we'll be tweaking them to bring them back to one hundred percent, or as near to one hundred percent as we can get out here. The tractor beam will be inoperable, and will be so until we can get to a space dock for repairs."

Turning to face Kahallan, she said, "And I'm to be reporting that the brig will still be off limits, Commander. We have a patch on the breach, but 'tis only a temporary measure. If we're being hit there again, the patch will not hold. I'll be happier if the area stayed empty. There'll be no sense risking a bold lad falling out of the ship, is there?" Her expression was bland, but the tiniest of smiles practically dared him to disagree with her.

The captain nodded. "I agree," she said, adding her weight to the Chief Engineer's assessment. "I am concerned with the safety factors above all. I would have preferred to return to the Starbase 319 to address these needs, but Starfleet Command has other plans for us. Let us take every precaution. Decks twelve through fifteen as well as deck thirty-three in the areas surrounding the breaches are off limits until further notice. If any type of confinement is necessary, Commander O'Shaughnessy can assist you to rig a temporary area, Duffy—"

She broke off, realizing she had used the name without actually knowing how she knew it. Perhaps she had heard one or two of the Hawking's crew use it when addressing him? She shrugged.

In the corner, there was a sudden and quick start. An odd look crossed the security chief's features for the briefest moment and then his eyes narrowed, cold and unfathomable. He was suddenly focused on the captain of the Eclipse at an uncomfortable and unexpected use of a familiarity. Then, with a breath and a shift of his weight, the still-silent security officer settled back against the ready room wall.

"Thank you, Moira," Lucara decided, continuing her trend.

Although the chief engineer kept her focus on the captain, there was a ringing of emotion, odd and distant and suspicious, from the chief of security when the captain had used his name. Duffy. Must be a nickname, as she knew his given name was Donovan. It was something Moira would consider later, for the images that reverberated in her mind, and the emotions they evoked, reminded her of something . . . something . . .

"I did not wish to have to explain this more than once, so I have waited until all of you on the duty list were assembled. I must add that this vessel will not function at optimal efficiency without an executive officer. Therefore, I am going to appoint Commander Hitachi to this post, who will, I hope, accept my brevet promotion to full Commander for this purpose, and the position of first officer of the Eclipse at least for the duration of my command."

Hitachi stared at her for a moment, not quite comprehending her statement, then letting it sink in. He nodded woodenly at her, murmuring an acknowledgment.

Once again, Kahallan waited, folding his arms behind his back and tucking his PADD against his heavily patched jacket. He watched, too, his gaze crossing the tight little room, noting reactions to the new posting. His own was, perhaps, unreadable as he stood a few paces back from bulk of the group.

Lucara looked back at Hitachi, eyes locked on his. "I am sure you would have preferred that I speak with you privately first, but time is of the essence here. We will speak of this further after the briefing."

He nodded again, felling her dark eyes burn into him, judging, questioning.

Turning back, with hardly a beat, to the rest of the company, Lucara said, "I suppose our next order of business is Commander Kahallan's comments concerning the enemy. Commander, I believe you and Lieutenant Drake have already conferred."

Without a best, in an almost-matching rhythm, Kahallan replied, "Aye, Captain, sir.

"The lieutenant has some very useful information herself, and a lot better explanation for some of our strangeness than I did an hour or so ago."

With a single step forward, Kahallan let one hand drift out to stab sharply on the display console. The Pakled ship under attack by the two black interlopers was enlarged on the screen. His fingers drummed a four-beat pattern once before he stepped away to slowly pace in the tiny space afforded in front of the console.

"I do not want to start without enemies, I think I want to start with our friends. As I was mentioning to Lieutenant Drake, that is not a Pakled ship. That is a Ferengi trader. And not only is it a Ferengi ship, it's an older Ferengi ship. That distinctive straight bow configuration dropped out of service years ago. And yet the Pakleds were not only able to stand up to an assault by two ships, they were able to stand up to them long enough for the Eclipse to arrive. That should not have happened. I wasn't there, but I've been on those types of ships.

"Based on what I've seen, that ship was kitted out with at least military-grade shields." Kahallan paused for a moment and then nodded. "I do not thing I should be the one to question the Pakleds next, Captain, sir.

"I think our engineer should have a word with their engineer."

Letting his gaze drift to O'Shaughnessy, Kahallan smiled a slow, wolfish grin, having just saddled the engineer with something a little more inconvenient and a lot more painful to the ear than a blown-out brig could ever be.

Moira met his gaze and return his grin with one of her more mischievous ones, though it wasn't in anticipation of chatting with the Pakleds.

Oh, fair play to ya, Kahallan. And I'm thanking ya very much, ya bold lad, she thought. And I'll be sure to be thanking ya again and thinking of ya as I keep from trying to ring their necks. She suppressed a sigh as Kahallan continued his report.

The ensuing several minutes consisted of Kahallan running through the events and their timing, with a suggestion that particular incidents should be investigated further to rule out conspiracies and internal sabotage. The junior officers, and even the captain herself, appeared confused.

"Cor . . ." Taking a step back, Kahallan once again leaned against the ready room wall. Holding his PADD at an angle, he roughly stabbed out a set of sharp commands. His eyes narrowed again, frowning down at the device. Sparing a quick glance across the room to O'Shaughnessy, he took a long, deep breath.

"Okay.

"Start from the beginning."

Commander O'Shaughnessy wondered about that look, wondered if it was another game he was going to play, but he began speaking again. She would have to be content to remain as confused as her new captain, though for completely different reasons.

"There was a distress call from a Ferengi trader. While on route . . ."

Kahallan's gaze shifted slightly to look back down at Drake.

". . . there was an explosion in the science labs. Is that right, Lieutenant Drake? The original explosion was before the pirate attack, or am I mistaken?"

"No, you've got it right," Emerald said.

"Then we had the pirate attack," Kahallan continued. "They are very particular about the loot they are going after, and just want to target on Eclipse. the Ferengi vessel not only had military-grade shields operating, but was not filled with Ferengi but packed with Pakleds, who have now decided to inhabit our sickbay.

"During the battle, the optical data network goes down, crippling the computer and sensor systems . . ."

Kahallan's eyes dropped down for his PADD for just a blink and then he looked back up at Lucas.

"Now, somewhere in all this, the Eclipse's hull must have gotten severely damaged in the area of the brig. So, after the battle, when Lieutenant Drake is escorting the prime suspect in the lab explosion to the brig, that is when the local structural integrity field generator decides to go offline, because . . ."

Frowning again, Kahallan's gaze returns to the PADD.

". . . the generator thought it was on auxiliary power when it was really just draining its emergency battery. And, coincidentally, it fails just in time to take away the one suspect to the lab explosion incident . . . without also taking out the lieutenant. So the hole in the side of the Eclipse occurred after the attack, but resulted from cascading failures caused by damage taken during the battle.

"And the only thing we know is that we only have a handful of pieces to this jigsaw, and not enough to get a handle on what the real picture is. The only thing that comes to mind, if you try and link all these odd pieces, is that the lab would have been a resource for figuring out what the coins were if we did manage to get hold of them. And that if Blakslee were involved, the one thing he would know would be if he did get caught, the brig would be the one place on the ship he could depend on ending up in."

Shaking his head, Kahallan snapped one last command into his PADD. When he looked back up, his smile was both wry and predatory.

"Now, that was a twisted chain of logic. The only problem is that, at this point, we do not seem to have enough information to really determine if all these odd events are linked . . .

". . . or are just coincidence. And I think we should start figuring out that part, fast.

"That's the second-best reason for going after our missing crewmates because they'll have firsthand knowledge of these folks, and why the Pakleds need a good talking to, and why I'd like to know more about those coins. And mostly, to turn the tables on those ships in black, so they're the ones asking all the questions."

Will he be trying to make connections that will be coincidences? Moira asked Emerald. With the way we were being hit, I could just as easily make a case for the breach in the brig to be a warning shot, the one in Engineering . . . Well, deliberate and designed to stop us, that'll be the truth. And when we didn't stop, they hit the saucer. I hate conspiracies!

Emerald stood up and approached the display screens, glancing at Moira as she did so. "Blakslee was involved in an illicit operation that was to result in distilled alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, his location for a distillery was ill-planned, being located next to a plasma conduit in the Science Lab bulkhead." Emerald showed a map of the science deck and indicated the source of the explosion.

"Captain Yeade was en route to Sickbay when the explosion occurred. The captain's injuries were not a result of the blast, rather from exposure to a chemical reaction taking place in the plasma fire in the lab. I did not discover any indication that there was any malicious intent. Blakslee was loyal to Starfleet, if not to the letter, then to the spirit. Blakslee's co-conspirator in the still operation died in the initial explosion. The explosion did occur while en route to the distress call. We were at full warp, and the still was inadequately protected from the energy flowing through the conduit. Also, the accident occurred before we knew anything of the Pakled discs. They are not the same as the tribloons that we were initially investigating."

Emerald looked at the captain. "I would be happy to fill you in on that tangent later, Captain. Right now, I have seen no connection between them and our current objectives."

She changed the image to the fuzzy golden discs, her expression non-committal. "It is my opinion, as I have no facts to back this up, that the discs are a form of new technology we have not encountered before. I suspect that their technology, connected to the deflector and navigational systems, allowed faster travel through subspace by improving the output-to-mass ratio of the ship. I suspect that the physical structure of the ship was altered so that the ship's mass in this universe was reduced, a possible application of the Romulan-Federal mass-phasing field developed in the Pegasus. Is suspect that the Pakleds, bright as they must be, do not know the mechanics of the device. However, they are not above smelling an opportunity, a trait no doubt lifted from the Ferengi culture."

Drake paused a moment for a sip of water. "It might be a case where they were allowed to acquire the discs so that the pirates could see them in action, and they reacquired the discs once the Pakled ship didn't blow itself up." She shook her head. "No, the pirate ships exhibited the same behavior. The field would also account for our lack of detecting the large gray ship. It phased in just to blast us, giving us no warning.

"If we could follow the trail, and find a planet the raiders have stopped at, we might pick up more information, if we were discrete enough."

She nodded to Lucara. "That's all I can offer for the moment, Captain."

* * *

Ensign Xavia Brammer's voice interrupted the meeting. "Captain to the bridge. We have made contact, repeat, we have contacted the Windjammer."

Lucara slid off the counter with an uncharacteristic bounce, eyes suddenly glittering as her mind raced, calculating possible scenarios.

"On my way," she replied calmly, and then, "Gentlemen, dismissed. Please take your stations. We shall continue our speculations after we have assessed the present situation."

She made her way to the bridge, not looking back to see if the others were following.

Moira's eyebrows rose in surprise at the message from the bridge. Windjammer found? Lady bless! She said a silent prayer to the Goddess for the Chief's safety and that of the security officer with him. 'Twill be another long day, Imzadi, she said to Emerald.

"Mister Kahallan, ready two security teams, heavy arms and full body armor," Lucara said as the security chief exited the ready room. "Dispatch the first to transporter room one. Equip the second with rebreather equipment and a full range of grenades, including anesthizine gas. You will lead this boarding party, and Lieutenant Drake will accompany you. She is the only one who has seen these discs close at hand. They are to be recovered if possible. Stand by to transport at my signal. Mark and move."

Lucas took up his position to the left of the captain; his fingers were itchy to do something. "Sir, if we can't beam then straight — say, if the hostiles have removed their comm badges, which is likely — we'll probably need to send an away team in after them. I'd like to be on that team, sir."

The response came quickly, clipped and sure, from Kahallan rather than Lucara.

"Mister Lucas, there will be an away mission. Mine." He stood quietly for half a heartbeat. "And if we have to go in using the shuttlecraft, it will be under hostile fire. I'm going to want you piloting."

Lucara nodded toward the battle-thirsty counselor. "Well shall see, Mister Lucas. If Mister Kahallan has his way, you will be right in the thick of things. However, until we assess the situation, I am dispatching no one — in a shuttle, by transport, or otherwise."

A line of doggerel she remembered from a chaplain back from her own days in battle ran through her head. It began "Praise the lord and pass the ammunition."

"Aye, sir." Lucas smiled. He was excited by the prospect of flying a shuttle under fire, but the main excitement was the thought of helping to save their captive colleagues. revenge had nothing to do with it. Honest, guv.

As he waited for his responses, Kahallan tapped his comm badge once again, looking back down at his PADD and scowling. Then there was the quick shift of his eyes to look up and across the bridge and the long curve of the tactical station.

"Lieutenant Del Ross, to the bridge, double time."

Without a pause, Kahallan stalked across the back curve of the bridge, setting his PADD on one side of the tactical boards.

"Excuse me, Commander."

He didn't wait for an answer; in fact, he didn't even wait for his own words. Quickly, with sharp and precise actions, he stabbed out his commands. His work was very determined as he prepped the security board. As his fingers traced the colorful telltales, his even commands echoed their purpose.

Hitachi nodded approval as Kahallan moved the security functions to the other section of the arced console.

"This is Kahallan, chief of security, to all security personnel. No time for introductions. I need security teams four through fifteen at post in five: on the bridge, life support one and two, engineering, battle bridge, computer cores one, two, and three, and the sensor suite. Team three to transporter room two, full lock and load, folks. All tactical personnel, at ship's phaser banks and launch tubes to be issued sidearms."

Without a pause, Kahallan looked up, his gaze quickly snaring Lucara. "You are lucky the Eclipse is a lot bigger than the Hawking, Captain, sir. We still have three watches to draw from."

And then it was back to work.

"Teams one and two, including officers Danalla, Lorgnan, and Jungk, report to shuttle bay one."

Then he paused, his hands, for the moment, unmoving on the boards. He took a look over his shoulder, back toward the turbolift. And then his fingers drummed, swiftly, precisely, a double four-beat, accented by the snap of his thumbs. Once, twice . . .

And then with a whoosh, the doors to the lift split as Lieutenant Maissa Del Ross entered the bridge. The second watch officer had a calm and even demeanor, her sharp eyes were framed by long dark lashes, her black hair braided down her back, and her features harkened back to old Earth and the Spanish Mediterranean. When she stepped through, Kahallan moved back from the boards. Snaring his PADD again, he now set the device to mirror the displays.

"Lieutenant Del Ross . . ." He gave her a quick nod.

The young officer paused, and her answer was just as simple. "Aye, aye, sir."

Another career security officer. Kahallan smiled a small wry grin. As she stepped forward, he continued.

"Del Ross, you are the security liaison once I step off the captain's bridge. You will coordinate onboard security in case they decide to take the battle to us, and you will answer directly to Commander Hitachi. Support him. We are dealing with a highly disciplined group, so do not pull any punches.

"Here, here, and here . . ." Kahallan indicated specific tactical board readouts. "Security status, sensor tie-in, and tactical overview. Team three is posted to transporter room two. They are your rapid response unit."

Now he looked up again, he eyes going to the chief engineer.

"Commander O'Shaughnessy, you can make sure we have sufficient power set aside for site-to-site transport on demand, correct?"

Moira's expression might have been interpreted in many ways — most of her siblings would have said, Is the Pope Catholic? — but all those many ways all amounted to, Duh, obviously. She didn't bother saying it out loud.

Kahallan took a look at the chromometer as the young-looking security officer, recently promoted from the ranks, merely nodded as the new security chief started to leave the bridge.

"The boards are your," stated Kahallan as he stepped away. It was two long strides to the turbolift. At the doors, however, Kahallan stopped and spun on his heel.

"Commander O'Shaughnessy. I need an engineer with a good head on their shoulders and experience in a firefight. Do you know one?

"Lieutenant Drake, Mister Lucas, I believe you are with me.

"Mister Tyler, let's have four shuttles running hot."

Finally, Kahallan spoke to the captain, tapping his PADD as he did so.

"I will be monitoring tactical from here, so if I need to know something, make sure it gets copied to tactical. I will brief and prep in shuttle bay one. Give us a ten-minute warning whether we use the shuttles or go by transporter.

"Good hunting, Captain, sir."

Hitachi turned from his work and met Kahallan's dark gaze. "Take care of yourself, Commander, and good luck."

* * *

Moira watched as the turbolift door closed behind Kahallan, hands on her hips, and a look of exasperation on her face. "I do," she muttered under her breath to the absent security chief. "I'm knowing a whole department of engineers with more experience in a fight than any of them will be needing." Then she sighed and relaxed. Commander Kahallan was apparently just the way he was; he probably didn't even realize his strong resemblance to a cyclone.

She pondered Kahallan's question as she rode the turbolift to Engineering. It wasn't a matter of experience and level-headedness, but rather one of staffing. Who could she spare? By the time she reached Engineering, however, she'd made her decision. Tapping commands into her PADD, she brought up the department's duty roster, then made a detour to the LRS console.

"Jefferson, can ya get someone to watch your stations and come to my office?"

The young man nodded, white teeth flashing against his dark skin.

Moments later, when he stepped into the office, she motioned for him to be seated. "We're after receiving word from the Windjammer. 'Twill seem we have a chance to rescue Chief Mulvihill and our missing security officer. Our new security chief is requesting an engineer for his away team. I'm not ordering ya to go, Patel, but would ya be willing?"

Jefferson did not hesitate. "Most certainly! Chief Mulvihill is held in the utmost of esteem. It is only my duty to assist in his rescue and return him to his rightful place." The young man hesitated a fraction of a second, realizing his statement might not sound quite the way he meant it. "Oh! But that is not to imply we hold you in any less esteem, Commander Moira! What I meant—"

"I know what ya mean, Patel," she assured him with a smile. "This will be Chief Mulvihill's place, and I'm respecting him as much as ya will. Now then, won't we all be glad to have him back?" She referred to her PADD. "Commander Kahallan is thinking to attempt the retrieval of some artifacts from the ship we're following as well as retrieving our people. That will be what your task will be, 'tis my thinking. . . fetching the trinkets. He'll be assembling his team in shuttle bay one."

As the ensign stood and left the office, Moira whispered, "Lady go with ya, lad."

* * *

When she entered the ready room off the battle bridge, Moira noted with satisfaction that it was even smaller than the one off the main bridge. Almost cozy, if such a room could possibly be construed as such.

"Ya wished to see me, Captain?" she asked softly.

Lucara looked up and thought that the engineer looked tired.

"Yes, Commander. Sit down."

Moira sat down gratefully and, despite her obvious exhaustion, gracefully when Lucara invited her to do so. She interlaced her fingers and rested her elbows on the arms of her chair.

Lucara paused, weighing her words, knowing the weight of the authority she must maintain could easily quash the type of officer she was most intent on cultivating.

"Commander, I gave you an order earlier. Can you explain to me why you chose to ignore it?" Her voice was deceptively mild, but her fingers flexed slightly on the desk. It was clear that she wasn't used to having her orders ignored.

Leaning forward slighting, the engineer studied Lucara's face for several seconds before raising an eyebrow and cocking her head to one side.

"Aye, Captain." The very smallest of smiles flittered across her lips and then disappeared, lost again to the exhaustion. "Sure now, and didn't I notice the enemy will have been doing not the least bit of good to the Eclipse? 'Twas my thinking that ya will have been preparing to go down with the ship, so to speak."

Moira shook her head slightly. "I'll not be having a fine ship such as the Eclipse lost to Starfleet if I can help to save her. Begging the Captain's pardon, of course, but I'm thinking Chief engineers will be allowed to stay at their posts to ensure such a thing will not be happening."

The captain sat back in her chair, her fingers steepled in a characteristically Vulcan gesture, and studied the tips of those fingers.

Moira relaxed, leaning back in her own chair and folding her arms under her breasts. "'Twas not as though I'll have been disobeying your order, not quite, Captain. 'Tis just that ya will have entrusted the workings of this ship to me, and so 'twill be my duty to see that the Lady Eclipse will keep on working."

The chief engineer said nothing more, but her eyes — piercing green gems, intent on Lucara's face — fairly screamed, you can argue if you want, but you know I'm right.

Lucara was silent for quite a bit longer than one might have expected in such a situation.

For per part, Moira waited patiently through her captain's silence. She wasn't sure if it was meant to intimidate her, but that sort of thing never seemed to bother her. Because of her psi talent, no silence ever seemed complete to her. Her eyes remained focused on Lucara's face.

At the point at which it seemed that she wasn't going to say anything at all, Lucara spoke again.

"I see. May I remind you, Commander, that when I give an order, I am not asking you what I need, I am telling you want I want."

She let that hang for the barest of moments and then looked up to calmly meet Moira's eyes again.

"So, the next time you decide to ignore an order, Commander, I trust your reasons for doing so will be equally logical."

Moira gave her another fleeting smile and nodded. "Aye, Captain. Ya can count on it."

Gray eyes to green ones, locked intently.

"Good work," Lucara added, very softly.

In the moment when their eyes locked, Moira realized that, in addition to the respect and admiration that was growing for Lucara, she genuinely liked the woman. She wasn't sure if it was the captain's subtle sense of humor or just her own sixth sense putting her at ease. She barely heard Lucara's last comment. Moira was determined not to lose another captain while she was on the Eclipse.

Lucara stirred, restless in the first gesture of impatience and frustration she had permitted anyone to see.

"As soon as we are docked, we need to talk, all of us, about what we are going to do. I am unwilling to relinquish Mister Mulvihill to the pirates, wormhole or not. We need to analyze every scrap of data we have on the wormhole and that ship. This is most . . . irritating." She almost looked as though she would have liked to use much stronger terms to describe the situation.

Moira, too, was less than pleased with the situation. To discover Chief Mulvihill alive, only to see him snatched away again! A nagging bit of impulsivity wanted to find a way to crash through the barrier that the wormhole presented, but her practicality realized that Lucara was right. They had to pore over the data with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. There had to be something there. They needed to rescue the chief. The Celtic blood flowing through her veins wanted retribution. The modern woman quashed down that impulse.

"I suggest you try to get some rest until then," said Lucara, interrupting her thoughts, "and some food."

Moira nodded and stood. "And I might respectfully suggest ya be taking your own advice, Captain."

Captain Lucara nodded wryly. "You may," she conceded. "I shall attempt to preempt the fuss that Mister Hitachi and Mister Kahallan will certainly make if I look anywhere near as drained as I feel physically at the moment.

"It will take an hour or so before docking with the saucer is competed and the crew and civilians have returned to their quarters and stations. We won't be able to to get much else done until that is settled. I suggest that we both take the opportunity to refresh ourselves." She nodded again in Moira's direction. "Dismissed, Commander. Again, well done."

* * *

One by one . . . Kahallan waited, his armed still crossed, still leaning against the cool hull of the Rappahannock. One by one, the security team left. One by one, until Drake, Jefferson, and Lucas finally debarked. Like a shadow, he rested against the little ship for a count of four long heartbeats before finally moving.

"Mister Logon . . ." The chief's voice was cool, calm and quiet. "Commander Hitachi and I will be wanting a full meeting of all security personnel in two hours. Everyone is up. Make sure they know and find us a place big enough so that everyone who wants to talk will get their chance."

"Aye, sir," replied the petty officer. "We'll have two birds ready, and I'll have boarding parties standing by in the pilots' lounge. I'll be rotating the troops through, but I think I can promise you one squad of a dozen security at any given moment with another dozen in the vicinity," reported Logan briskly.

Logon was one of the senior petty officers aboard the Eclipse and was widely known and respected. He had been part of Eclipse's crew for over four years now, and his reputation was that of a stern disciplinarian. Many an enlisted person had complained to the commissioned officers about Logon's tendency to pop people's heads off, but the senior staff quickly learned that he was someone who could get jobs done efficiently. An experienced line officer, he had the uncanny ability to know what any given officer wanted before they asked for it.

The man's quick and sure response was met with just the slightest nod from Kahallan.

"Good. However . . ."

Kahallan let the one word hang for a long moment. Then he added an additional clarification to the petty officer's command.

". . . when things are set, I want you and CPO Danalla to take a break. If we do get a second chance at this, folks, I'll want both of you at your best. Do it, Mister Logon."

Eyes narrowed, Kahallan watched Logon turn on his heel and begin barking his orders. Then he took two clipped steps forward, turning to the flight operations chief.

"Keep the Rappahannock warm and continue prepping the second runabout. Until Mister Mulvihill is returned, I will want both — not one, but both — runabouts on standby and ready to fly in five.

"We will not be caught short-shuttled again, aye?"

The flight chief nodded crisply. "Aye, sir. Understood."

With that, Kahallan turned, precisely and surely, his boots snapping out a sharp staccato rhythm on the shuttle bay deck. As usual, he didn't pause at the door, timing his measured pace to match the opening shush of the sliding panels. Without a word, he continued down the long curving corridor, working his way toward the turbolift.

But then he stopped, meters short of the turbolift.

Kahallan paused not at an intersection, but at a vertical accessway, one of the many narrow chases and ladderways leading around and through the guts of the Eclipse.

It was a long climb.

The vertical chase was right, the polished rungs crowding the accessway, matched by cable runs and power conduits and ventilation grills. the climb set a pattern of exertion; his breathing matching each reach of his arms and the pace of his legs on the rungs. Silent as a wraith, he was more at home here than in the automated comfort of the turbolift.

Each rung was a silent curse for someone taken away, one of the Eclipse's, one of his own.

Each rung was a silent curse for someone killed, one of the Eclipse's, one of his now.

While he'd just stood, just waited, just watched.

Finally, deck one, just outside the bridge.

* * *

"Shall we stand down from red alert, Captain, sir?"

"Yes, Mister Kahallan," said Lucara. "By all means, you may bring the ship down to yellow. I wish to remain in a state of some readiness until we have completed preliminary repairs."

"Aye, aye, Captain, sir!"

Kahallan's first task was simple, succinct, and straightforward: With a single stab of his fingers, the flashing red alarms downshifted to warning yellow. It was followed by an open channel announcement.

"Eclipse, this is the bridge . . . Standing down to yellow alert."

Finally, however, as the last of the level one diagnostics came in, he brought up the sensor logs concerning their dark quarry. This time . . . this time the ship's sensors should have been working, watching the hostile alien as closely as the aliens had been watching the Eclipse. In a second window, Kahallan brought up the visuals of the alien ship's bridge.

He investigated the combat data from a particularly Kahallan point of view: Just what might be the best way of getting inside that ship? Resting his elbows on the console, he folded his fingers together to rest his chin on his thumbs, returning to his study. And he looked over the panel, the computer finished downloading the most recent tactical events. Looking it over, Kahallan could see that the battle played itself out like pieces on a chessboard.

For Lucara, it was a strange sensation seeing the ships' paths fly about the screen as though one was watching it on a news program rather than actually being in the thick of the fight. But then there was a haze that came over the pirate ship just as Eclipse fired her torpedoes. The beautiful parabolic arc reached out like tentacles as they turned in toward the pirate ship; it appeared for a moment that the gleaming Eclipse was about to embrace the pirate ship in her warp death grip.

But it was that haze. Why would it be there?

And then . . . they were gone. The torpedoes missing, the Eclipse's phasers firing into open space where the ship had been but a scant few meters away, striking at nothing but vacuum and the dust of space.

Something prickled at the back of the Vulcan's neck as if she felt some danger close at hand — a phantom that she could not believe in, and yet she felt it stalking them somehow. With a determined pace, it crept along as Eclipse gently glided through the placid oceans of space. It wasn't safe here.

Turning back to her screens, she scrolled through other views of the ship's hull to satisfy herself as to their integrity. In spite of what the sensors might have said, Lucara spent a long time staring at the breached hull in the saucer section; and in spite of their lack of success in recovering Mulvihill, she was satisfied that her decision to have the saucer section hang back in the battle was the correct one.

The captain turned the viewscreens outward again, perusing the vast panorama of space — a black, star-spun void where the wormhole should have been — that stretched to infinity and beyond.

And from somewhere deep inside, a strange sensation arose. Suddenly, she choked on a mouthful of redmint tea, sputtering, wide-eyed. Perhaps it was a residual memory of the death screams of the crewman who had been sucked through the hull breach with the structural integrity field has failed? Perhaps it was Kavanagh's ghost?

Nonsense. Nonsense and illogic and . . .

Meanwhile, Kahallan scrolled back through the battle log, frowning. And then ran it again. He did it once more, to make sure he was reading the information correctly and not just seeing a blur of his own vision. And when he was sure, he didn't look up, he merely spoke in an even, quiet, conversation tone.

"Captain Lucara, I believe we have another anomaly."

Without a pause, his fingers stabbed across the console, flagging the strange distortion in a bright red circle and then copying it to two other shipboard locations.

"Chief O'Shaughnessy, this is Kahallan. I have just sent you a portion of the ship's log from the battle. We have a strange distortion just before photon torpedo impact and the escape of the hostile vessel. This strikes me as odd, but finding out what it means might be more Engineering's and Science's bailiwick.

"Lieutenant Drake, do you copy? The same information should be showing up at your workstation. We need to know if this means—"

Lucara set the cup in the holder with a trembling hand and pressed her forefingers against the bridge of her nose.

"Engineering, how long until repairs are completed?" She tried to control the urgency in her voice and was disappointed with her failure. She rose, needing to be away, to hide what she was feeling . . .

Feeling!

The security chief stopped, interrupted.

"—Kahallan out." His closing, while final, was almost a whisper.

"Gentlemen, I shall be in the ready room. Please notify me as soon as we can be underway with any safety margin. Mister Kahallan, you have the conn." she rose quickly and left the bridge.

He looked up, his attention quickly snared by the hint of a choke, a subtle shake of a hand, and words spoken with an uncharacteristic emphasis.

"Captain Lucara?" His query came out quickly, and just as swiftly changed to an assured response. "Captain Lucara, aye, aye, Captain, sir."

Slaving tactical to the captain's boards, Kahallan took the conn, quickly crossing the bridge in a tight, smooth arc, until he was at the central command station. He made sure, however, that his path took him past Commander Hitachi. Catching the commander's gaze, Kahallan nodded his head in the direction of the ready room. His message was unmistakable.

Follow the captain.

He might have done so himself, but it seemed Kahallan's duty at the moment tied him to the bridge. He settled down into the command chair, slowly leaned back and crossed his arms, considering. Then he tagged his comm badge.

"Do you copy, O'Shaughnessy?"

* * *

What repairs that could be made outside of a space dock were well underway. The Engineering crew was working efficiently, their light and easy banter dispelling tension. Moira stood beside the main status board with Chigara, the two of the discussion strategies for repairing the various compromised systems.

"Engineering, how long until repairs are completed?"

The captain's request wasn't unexpected, and Moira smiled.

"We'll be needing at least seven hours, Captain."

She was about to comment further when she heard her brother's voice in her mind.

Moira, whispered Padraig, his voice quieter than usual, and trembling like a child's . . . urgent and demanding and yet terrified of something. Moira! he hissed in a tone she hadn't heard from him in more than a decade. Father is here with us . . . he whispered. She could sense his furtive glances, as though there was something out there hunting him. Can you feel him? I can.

She stood stock still, surprised. This was the first time since their arrival on the Eclipse that Padraig had initiated contact with her outside the holodecks. But what the heck was he talking about? Father? Here? That was impossible! Their father was on Earth.

Oh, Moira! Moira! RUN! RUN! HE'S COMING!! HE'S RIGHT OVER THERE! screamed Padraig. It was the small child who had so many reasons to fear, not the man who had conquered those fears.

Her hear raced, and her palms were sweating from Padraig's terror.

A voice interrupted her; she wiped her hands on her uniform and gripped the back of a nearby chair.

"Chief O'Shaughnessy, this is Kahallan. I have just sent you a portion of the ship's log from the battle. We have a strange distortion just before photon torpedo impact and the escape of the hostile vessel. This strikes me as odd, but finding out what it means might be more Engineering's and Science's bailiwick."

Moira stabbed a button on the console to acknowledge the security chief's data.

Suddenly, in her mind, Padraig was hit hard across the face in a brutal, swift stroke that sent him to some ethereal floor. Moira's face stung from the blow, and for a moment, she saw through Padraig's eyes . . . their abusive father was towering over him. So big, he always seemed so big. And poor little Padraig . . . for years, he was Sean's favorite target for abuse, despite their older siblings' and mother's attempts to shield him. Sean's broad shoulders, his large hands, and his eyes cried out the rage that had been unleashed.

Another interruption . . . the console indicated another file transfer from the bridge, and Kahallan's voice floated from her comm badge.

"Do you copy, O'Shaughnessy?"

Moira slapped her badge. "Aye, Kahallan, I copy," she said, considerably more terse than her usual calm, cheerful demeanor. She broke the connection abruptly, surprising herself and Chigara, and possibly Kahallan as well.

In her head, the scene of Padraig's terror played out. She suppressed an overwhelming urge to wince as she watched each terrible blow fall on her weeping brother as he cried out, AWAY, MOIRA! AWAY! GET US FAR AWAY!!

For a second, maybe two, Moira was very nearly paralyzed by her fear and Padraig's both. But training took over — Starfleet's training in self-defense, and her grandmother's training in . . . other things. She slammed up her psionic shields, which she usually kept lowered in the non-threatening atmosphere of the Eclipse, and placed herself mentally between her brother and whatever it was that threatened him. She surrounded him with her strength.

She felt a touch on her arm and realized her eyes had been tightly closed. She glanced at the concerned face of her warp engine expert.

"Hey, Chief . . . are you okay?"

Moira took a deep breath and nodded. "I am. Thanks." She even managed a smile. Chigara didn't look entirely convinced, but shrugged and turned back to the console. She noticed her fingers maintained a death-grip on the chair, and consciously released it. Everything in the department looked so routine, so ordinary. But in the realm of the unseen, there was anything but normality.

She made it to her office with no problems. Whatever it was that had terrified Padraig didn't appear to be aggressively hostile . . . at least, not now. She closed the office door behind her and sank slowly into her chair. Elbows on the desk and her face in her hands, she shook from the adrenaline coursing through her body.

Paddy . . . ya be okay now. She felt him crying, as he always had after one of his encounters with father, huddled tightly in a corner of her mind. What was it that terrified Padraig so much that it sent him back to the abused child he'd been so long ago? Moira could feel her anger rising. How dare anyone hurt him like that again! Then she shuddered. What could possibly threaten an ethereal being? She began downloading Kahallan's data to her PADD.

Em, I'm on my way up to your office. I think we have a lot to talk about.

Emerald snapped up, the distressed tone of her Imzadi's mention communication shedding the sleep from her mind.

I'm awake, Mo. What's the matter?

The science chief glanced around, momentarily confused by her surroundings, until she realized she was in her office on the science deck of the Eclipse. There was a small puddle of drool on the PADD in front of her, and as she rubbed her face, she felt the impression of the PADD on her skin. Of all the times to fall asleep, she thought to herself.

The viewscreens in front of her displayed the last anticlimactic moments of the battle with the pirate ship. She shook herself and turned to the replicators. "Computer, double mochaccino, please."

After the tall, foamy drink had appeared, Emerald cradled the warm mug in her hands and wondered what could give Moira's thoughts that cutting edge of fear.

As Moira hurried to Emerald's office, she could feel Padraig's stark fear receding as the ship began moving. Meter by meter, slowly at first and then much more quickly, the Eclipse distanced herself from the wormhole. By the time she walked through the door to the Science department, Moira could sense Padraig's emergence from what was, for lack of a better term, psychic catatonia, although he remained quiet. Moira noticed quite a few people working at several stations as she passed through the room to Emerald's office.

She set her PADD on the desk as she slid into the chair opposite her lover, folding her arms tightly across her chest as through a chill wind blew through the ship. Perhaps it had. Inclining her head in the direction of her PADD, she said, "Kahallan will have a bit of data he'll be liking us to look at."

She looked Emerald in the eyes. "But we've another problem . . ."

As Moira relayed the twins' recent experience, Emerald could sense the residual fear behind Moira's shields.

"'Tisn't Sean that will be out there, Em," Moira said quietly. "But whatever 'tis . . . 'tis as fearful to Padraig as our Fa. sure now, I don't care for yon desperate thing either."

She was paler than Emerald had ever seen her and her voice barely rose above a whisper. She was obviously shaken by the experience.

"Ya didn't sense anything unusual while ya were sleeping, will ya have?" Moira shuddered. "'Tis not so bad when we'll be moving away from the wormhole, but I don't look forward to getting close to that thing again." She rubbed her arms; she felt as though the temperature had suddenly dropped to freezing.

Emerald reached across the desk to take Moira's hand. "No, I don't think I sensed anything. My dreams didn't react, at any rate, but then you know that I have no range. My telepathy is limited to touch," she said as she gave Moira's hand a squeeze. "But I might be able to trace it if I had a link. Did you feel anything, or was it just Padraig? Ghosts tend to relive memories of their mortal life; although, with Paddy, I suppose anything's possible."

She mulled a thought around. "Do you think he'd let me meld with him to see if I can get a line on what triggered the fear?"

Moira considered the request and managed a bit of a smile. "'Tis true. Ya will never know with him.." And then the smile was gone, to be replaced with a look of concern tinged with fear. "'Twas hard to tell what'll be my own reactions at the time, with Paddy's being so powerful." She shook her head.

"I'll have sensed something . . . but 'tis near impossible to tell ya what. Padraig's reaction . . . Well, he'll never have been able to project so strongly before. Whatever 'twas, 'twill have frightened him to the point of terror that he'll not have seen in twenty years or more." She hugged herself tightly again, almost as a gesture of comfort for her brother than anything else. "Aye, he might let ya in . . . but I'm thinking 'twill take some convincing on my part."

Pausing for just a moment, Emerald nodded. "Okay. Just let me know if you want to give it a try," she said before turning to watch the replay of the battle on one monitor while another showed the same sector of space in real-time.

When the Eclipse fired her torpedoes, the wormhole had opened. It seemed to occur when the torpedoes made their turn back toward the pirate ship, which then adjusted its warp coils somewhat and the hole appeared to open completely, then they slipped through it. When they'd made the adjustment, the sensory signals seemed to shimmer for a moment. As the torpedoes passed the closing wormhole, it also shimmered for a moment, as if hesitating, and then closed completely.

"Computer, can you show me a subspace spectrograph of the wormhole, both a current one and one from during the battle. Also, compare the wormhole with those created by the Borg. Note any differences."

"Please restate the question," replied the computer coolly.

Emerald gave the computer a dirty look and sighed. Sometimes she wondered if anyone told the computer system that the Science department had been reactivated when Captain Yeade brought her onboard.

"Computer, examine sensor logs from the recent encounter with the unknown ship and include all sensor logs from then until now.

"Are there any indications of alpha, beta, gamma, theta waves, or any other indication of psionic activity from the region where the wormhole appeared?"

"There is no evidence of organized brain wave activity within the regions indicated," came the quick reply from the computer.

Moira sighed, not at all surprised by the computer's answer. Once more, she reached out across the desk to her friend.

"Ya know I don't care to speak of Sean . . . And I don't think 'twill be wise to let people know about Padraig. But I'm thinking, perhaps, this will be something the captain ought to know about. She's a Vulcan, she is, and having the katra of my brother in my head likely won't be as strange to her as others might find it." Moira rubbed a hand across her eyes and slumped in her chair, emotionally exhausted. "Ah, Em, this will be a time I'll be missing Captain Yeade. I don't know about Lucara, but he'll have understood without having to do so much explaining."

Emerald got up and walked around the desk to stand behind Moira's chair, and started to rub her shoulders. "It would be easier with Captain Yeade, but if Lucara made it to Captain, she didn't do it on logic alone. Not in Starfleet, anyway. She has to have some ability to deal with hu— um, non-Vulcans." emerald had to mentally correct herself. With her relationship with Moira, she was starting to think of herself as being human, even though she had no genetic connection to them.

"Shall we request an interview with Her Majesty?" Emerald's thumb stroked the back of Moira's neck, easing the tension there. "And if you get your brother to talk to me, perhaps we could go to one of the holodecks . . . if he'd be more comfortable there, that is."

Moira hadn't realized how stressed she was until Emerald rubbed the tension from her neck. "Hmm. In the past few days, I'll have come to know Lucara as an excellent officer. But she'll still be a Vulcan, and we're talking about an emotional onslaught." She shook her head. "Perhaps our experience, Paddy's and mine, will just be a coincidence . . ." She paused to consider various options. "Aye, talking to Padraig will be a good idea, if he'll be willing to talk, that is."

Paddy . . . Hey, c'mon, talk to me. Moira felt her twin's presence, as well as a sense of expectation, as though he was trying to decide what to do.

Okay, okay. I think I'm fine. Well, I'm getting there, at least, he finally replied.

Good. Em wants to know if she can link with ya and see where that . . . entity came from. Ya could talk to her in the holodeck if ya'd be more comfortable that way. Moira thought, not for the first time, that it was awkward that Emerald could "hear" Padraig, but he couldn't "hear" anyone but his twin.

He was silent for several long minutes, pondering. Yeah, I guess so, he said eventually. I mean, I don't really want to go through that again, but I think it would be better to find out where it came from . . . so we don't have to get near it again. Moira heard his mental sigh. Sure, let's do it on the holodeck . . . She felt his rising cheerful humor. . . . and you can critique my program.

Moira laughed out loud. "Well, ya hear him. He'll talk to ya and show off his programming skills at the same time." She seemed almost to be speaking to herself now. "If Yera would be available, I'll have mentioned this to her. I'll not feel comfortable talking to Father Lucas about it, that'll be the truth. I don't know how he'll be managing in Starfleet thinking psionic talents will be 'occult,' and I suppose that will be leaving the captain." She looked up at Emerald and smiled. "I guess we can let the captain be deciding how important 'twill be."

"Great! It'll be interesting to see what he looks like or, rather, what he thinks he looks like." Emerald grinned.

"Aye," agreed Moira. "'Twill be most interesting."

© Kelly Naylor