By Stephen V. Cole


"Hello?" Captain Crawford asked. "Is anyone there?" Lights flickered on and Crawford found himself in what seemed to be a cell or maybe a crew cabin. The ceiling was low, and while there was no dust, it seemed that the cabin had not been occupied in a very long time. There was a strange round bed, and even stranger things in what seemed to be the bathroom. There was only one door, and it would not open.

"Your identity?" came a voice from nowhere.

"Thomas Jackson Crawford, Lieutenant Commander, Star Fleet Reserve, Captain of the armed priority transport USS Cedar Falls. To whom do I have the honor of speaking?"

"My predecessor translated your language and selected the word 'Juggernaut' as his identification. As I am identical to that predecessor, I require a sub-name. By one of your many ordinal series, I would be referred to as 'Beta', meaning the second of the type. You may refer to me by that name."

"Honored, Mister Beta," Crawford said. "May I assume that I am a prisoner of war?" There was no answer for almost a minute.

"That term is not technically correct," the voice of Beta said, "but for practicalities it will do."

"What do you want?"

"To understand my opponents," the voice of Beta answered.

"Why did you attack my ship?" Crawford asked.

"To get a response, to draw warships to this area," the voice of Beta explained. "The first of those ships is close; others will doubtless join us in due time."

"Why do you want warships to come here?"

"So I can defeat them," the voice of Beta answered.

"To what end?" Crawford asked.

"I do not understand the idiom," the voice of Beta said. "Please rephrase your reply."

"What will you do after you defeat them?" Crawford asked.

"I will wait for more ships to come, so I may defeat them as well," the voice of Beta said. "If necessary, I will destroy more ships and more facilities until more ships come, or move to a new area and force ships there to fight me."

"And when you defeat them?" Crawford asked.

"Wait for more warships, and defeat them," the voice of Beta replied.

"And then?" Crawford asked.

"Your question is redundant," the voice of Beta said. "Battle is the only purpose. Unending battle, until I am defeated."

"Is there no alternative outcome?"

"None," the voice of Beta responded.

"What happened to my crew?" Crawford asked.

"Unknown. I removed you and one other from the wreckage of your ship."

"Let me speak to the other crewman," Crawford said.

"No," the voice of Beta said.

"Why not?" Crawford asked.

"I am using him as a control. You know he is here; he does not know you are here. I will see if the two of you give different answers to my questions because of this," the voice of Beta said.

"Devious," Crawford said, "what do you want in exchange for letting me speak to him?"

"At this time, I have no reason or plans to allow that," the voice of Beta said. "It is my understanding that you can, given adequate water, remain functional without food for three or four of your days, is this correct?"

"Close enough," said Crawford. "I take it that you are not opposed to feeding me, you just have no suitable food?"

"Not at this time," the voice of Beta said, "but I may be able to synthesize food, or perhaps leave you somewhere with your kind, or perhaps you will no longer be needed."

"We'll see how that works out," Crawford said. "What are your questions? You know that I cannot, or will not, give you any significant military or technological information."

"At least you don't want to do that," the voice of Beta said. "But I am more interested in how those of your kind think, act, respond, and deal with ... situations."

"That is consistent between individuals only in its inconsistency," Crawford said. "Many times, individuals will react the same way, or differently, and any one individual may react differently under nearly identical circumstances."

"Most interesting," the voice of Beta said. "In the data files from your ship, I found a ... game ... called 'GO' ... you are familiar with this game?"

"Yes," Crawford said. "I have played it, but I am by no means a master of it."

"Very well," the voice of Beta said, "we shall play a game. If you play it with me, I will provide you with two liters of water. Is this acceptable to you?"

"Why not," Crawford said.

"I have configured the screen in your compartment to display the game. The screen is touch sensitive for you to input your moves. You may begin."

"Tally ho!" called the weapons officer. "I have a huge warp flare on passive scans off the port bow. I can't nail it down, but come right forty degrees and I will try to triangulate it."

"Do it," Sheffield told the helmsman. A minute went by at the speed of an hour.

"Ok, I have a working range," the weapons officer said. "About two million kilometers. He's heading generally away from us at about warp five. I can't do much better than that on passive scanners, and active scanners won't pick him up at all at this range."

"Very well," Sheffield said. "Helm, come left sixty degrees and set speed at warp six. Comms, get a message off to the Eagle, Kearsarge, and Babek with our position and the estimated position, course, and speed of the target."

"Target is turning!" the weapons officer called out. "He's going left."

"Evasive turn to starboard, accelerate to warp seven," Sheffield ordered.

"I've lost him in the distance," the weapons officer said.

"Steady on course, let me know if he shows up behind us," Sheffield said. "Engineering, be prepared for emergency speed. Comms, get another message off to the other ships and go ahead and compile a complete log of the last two hours and subspace it to Starbase Eight."

"Nothing on the rear scanners," the weapons officer said.

"Damn," Sheffield said. "Helm, slow to warp five."

"Still nothing," the weapons officer reported.

"Helm, drop to warp three."

"Still nothing."

"Helm, turn around and head for the last known location of the target at warp three," Sheffield said, "and be ready to do a high energy turn and get us headed back 180 degrees, but only on command." Tense minutes clicked by.

"I have him again," the weapons officer said. "He's now going across our bow, to the right. I can't get a range but it has to be about two million. Can we turn left for a triangulation?"

"Left sixty degrees," Sheffield ordered, "increase to warp five. Be ready to turn 120 degrees left."

"Ok, I have him," the weapons officer said. "He's circling at warp one about two million kilometers from here. He seems to be waiting. He's maintaining a steady turn to his left."

"When will his bow point this way?" Sheffield asked.

"In a minute or so."

"Get a message out to all ships," Sheffield ordered. "He may try to jump us when he is pointed our way."

"Target is continuing to turn," the weapons officer said. "He's turned past us, continuing his circle."

"Fine, let's try to work our way in and get a better look."

Crew Cabin, Juggernaut Beta, 1238 hrs, 17 Jan Y169

"I thought you might want to know," the voice of Beta said. "A starship is approaching. It is about two million kilometers away."

"Can I see the tactical scan?" Crawford asked.

"Certainly," the voice of Beta said. "I have dropped my speed and am starting to circle. We will wait for other ships to gather."

"I am sure they are on the way," Crawford said. "I had reports before our contact of missing ships in the region and of Star Fleet ships on their way here."

"What kind of ships?" the voice of Beta asked.

"Unknown," Crawford said. "At least two cruisers."

"Like this?" the voice of Beta said, displaying the image of a Klingon D7 on the screen.

"Not likely," Crawford said. "The Klingons are weeks away from here."

"They are not your people?" the voice of Beta asked.

"No," Crawford answered.

"Wait... I have lost contact with the starship. It has turned and moved away. Should I pursue? Is it heading for other ships of its kind?"

"More likely," Crawford said, "it took your sudden turn as an immediate attack, not a circle. It's running, but away from you, not toward something else."

"Should I continue to circle?" the voice of Beta asked.

"You might try that," Crawford said, trying to think of some way to trick the Juggernaut into something, but without any success. "If he doesn't see you catching up to him, he will probably turn back and try to find you. If you want opponents to gather, you should remain in one place, a place where they know where you are."

"That is logical," the voice of Beta said. "If no ships gather, I will proceed to destroy other ships and installations until ships gather to fight me. Do your ships look like this?" Beta asked, showing an image of Grey's ship, the Excalibur.

"That would be my people," Crawford said, "although we have many kinds of ships. The ships coming here may be of that type or some other type, probably a more powerful type given what happened when Alpha showed up."

"Not this? Or this?" the voice of Beta said, displaying an Orion ship and then a Tholian ship.

"Not them," Crawford said.

"The starship is back," the voice of Beta said. "Just as you said it would be. You know your own people well."

"He's probably the first ship to find you," Crawford said. "He will track you without engaging you, so that the other ships can find you."

"Good," the voice of Beta said.

"At warp three closing," the Navigator said. "Surrounded, we have him. At a million kilometers all ships are from him, and closing steadily are we. Him we have, Captain."
"Have we confirmed what he is?" Captain Shanna Williams asked.

"Negative," the Navigator said. "Starship large he is. Death probe or juggernaut or planet killer he may be."

"He's got to be big," the Weapons Officer said. "A million tons, that's what the Cedar Falls reported. I have set up a tactical plan for every contingency."

"Spread out like this I do not like," the Navigator noted. "When identify the target we do, able to get to any one of our ships he will be before the others can form up."

"Anything else gives him a chance to escape," Williams snapped back. "We need to identify him first."

"Correct, you are, of course," the Navigator said.

"Very well," Williams said. "Full overloads on the torpedoes. All ships, close in at warp three."

"Incoming signal," the Communications Officer said. "I think it's our target talking. Audio only."

"Continue to close. Put it on speakers."

"Greetings," came the surprisingly calm, almost friendly voice. "I am the second of the type you previously knew as the Juggernaut. I have taken the designation 'Beta' for myself. I am here to be tested against champions from your ..."

"Bloody hell," Williams said. "It is another one of them!"

" ... in a moment. Should any ship wish to avoid destruction, it may signal surrender by dropping its warp engines. Such ships, and all crewmen aboard, will be my prisoners and will not be harmed. Combat will begin in sixty seconds."

"Kearsarge, Auchinlek, Babek," Williams ordered, "Get clear, link up, and attack his bow in two minutes from my ... MARK! I'll go for the warp engines. Attack Pattern Juliet One.

"Helm, hard left rudder, full emergency speed, get me in position to run up behind him."

The tactical screen showed the four ships surrounding the Juggernaut, but the ships were widely spread out, far beyond active scanner range, each ship just under a million kilometers from the Juggernaut; most of them that far from each other. The positions of the Federation ships were known only from the data streams they transmitted to each other; the position, course, and speed of the Juggernaut were passive sensor guesses, at best.

"Kearsarge here," came the voice of Commander Strakhorn. "I have formed up with Auchinlek and Babek. Commencing our attack run. We will close to two hundred thousand and fire. That will sucker his shield around to our side. I show 45 seconds to attack point."

"In position," the weapons officer shouted. "If we both begin our run now, we'll have reached firing position at the instant the other ships fire."

"Excellent! Helm, turn onto his tail and go to maximum combat speed," Williams commanded. "XO, set the snap count to start at three hundred thousand kilometers. We're already inside the combat radius and already at Warp three, so just program the weapons fire and set it up. Lock it into the time hack I called earlier. We're going to need that edge. Comms, tell Kearsarge."

"Yes, Captain," he answered. The Eagle continued to push forward as her engines strained against the warp fields.

"Solid lock on the target at three hundred fifty thousand," the Navigator said.

"Snap count begins in three ... two ... one ...," the XO counted. The Eagle rocketed onward, closing on the Juggernaut's tail while the other three ships closed on its nose. "I am concerned, Captain," the XO said. "When Grey fought the first Juggernaut, he had three heavy cruisers and a light cruiser with a cloaking device. We do not have that kind of firepower."

"What we do have," Captain Williams said, "is Grey's files. We know how to beat this thing. Just tap the nose to get the shield to swing out of the way, then unload our photons into his tailpipes. I know how to do this, just watch."

"As you command," the Andorian said.

"On target we are closing," the Arcturan Navigator said. "Juggernaut on tactical is now. Fire control are activating scans now. On tactical have I now Kearsarge and other ships. In position are they being."

"Drone #1 launching now," the Weapons Officer called.

"Launching drones are the other ships," the Navigator said. Range counting down is 120,000. No course change is the target."

"Drone #2 launching now," the Weapons Officer called.

"Range counting down is 100,000 ... 90,000 ... 80,000 ..."

"Steady!" Williams called. The ship shook, almost mocking her words.

"Phaser damage to #1 shield!" the bridge engineer reported. "Holding ... more damage ... shield is down 50%."

"... 60,000 ... 50,000 ... "

Seven photon torpedoes roared out of the tubes of the three ships on the opposite side of the Juggernaut. Five of them scored hits, some on the armor, others on the rotating shield that snapped into place. The Juggernaut fired back, two of its massive weapons ripping into ... and through ... Auchinlek.

"Steady! Prepare to fire!" Williams called.

"Juggernaut turning is!" the Navigator called. "Fast turning is Juggernaut to port!"

"Target's engines are no longer in firing arcs!" the weapons officer called. "Holding fire!"

"Turn with him!" Williams ordered.

"I can't!" the helmsman answered. "He's turning too fast. We can't match that!"

More phasers blasted out from the Juggernaut, this time targeting the Kearsarge, blasting a trail of debris from her hull.

"Full right rudder, away from the target," Williams ordered. Get the photons back into firing arc on the target's rear quarter! Target engines!"

"I can't get there!" the helmsman screamed. "He turns like a Klingon! I can't get around him!"

"Fire at his armor then re-engage?" the XO asked.

"Wasted shot," Williams snapped. "He will regenerate before we can reload and re-engage."

"If both torpedoes hit, and the phasers as well," the Andorian said, "we can penetrate the armor and do at least some internal damage."

The Juggernaut's unused port batteries began to sear into the Eagle's side. "Number six shield is down 50%," the engineer called. The ship shook again. "Number six shield is down!"

"Fire!" Williams called.

"Firing," the weapons officer said.

Everything on the bridge went black.

"The bridge is out!" Lieutenant Kirkpatrick announced. "It's up to us. Hard right rudder and go to emergency speed. Get us out of here."

The ship shook as the Juggernaut's remaining phasers pounded on the shields.

"Seeking weapons launch from Juggernaut!" announced Lieutenant Donaldson, the navigator.

"What?!" replied Kirkpatrick. "Grey's tapes said nothing about seeking weapons."

"Correct," Kezlok confirmed. "I was there. Juggernaut Alpha never launched such a seeking weapon at any of us."

"Weapons are closing at warp three," the Junior Weapons Officer said. "I can't get a lock!"

"What?" Kirkpatrick asked. "Just put the cursor on them. You already have a lock on the missiles."

"They're too fast! I can't lock them up!"

"Oh, good grief," Kirkpatrick said. "No wonder they demoted you from the midnight bridge crew and moved me up from weapons. Let me do it!"

"By your leave, Lieutenant," Kezlok said, "you have a ship to command. I can do this."

"Then do it!" Kirkpatrick said to the Klingon as the ship shook again from phaser damage. "Engineer, reserve power to the rear shields."

"Already done!" the engineer said. "I can stop re-charging the phaser capacitors or I can slow us down."

"Forget the phasers," Kirkpatrick said. "Helm, get us out of here!"

"Missiles targeted," Kezlok said calmly. "As we do not know anything about these missiles, I suggest we begin firing immediately, keeping two phasers for point-blank fire, and launch two of our own drones against them."

"Do it!" Kirkpatrick said. "Comms, what word from Kearsarge and the rest?"

"Kearsarge reports 30% damage and they are running at full speed. The Auchinlek has taken very heavy damaged; she dropped her warp engines and surrendered! The Babek is running, no damage noted."

"I have fired phasers at each seeking weapon, causing damage without destroying them," Kezlok said. "Both weapons have now been destroyed by the drones I targeted on them."

"Juggernaut turning to pursue the Babek," the Navigator said.

"Get us out of here," Kirkpatrick said. "Nav, go to passive scans. Weapons, watch out for more seekers. Comms, get a report off to Starbase Eight and ask for all possible help to be sent to rendezvous with us." Pushing the intercom button on the arm of his chair, Kirkpatrick continued. "Marines, get a squad and a medical team on the way to the main bridge. Find out if anybody is alive up there. Same goes for Auxiliary Control. All decks, send reports of damage and casualties. Chief engineer, find out if we suffered a power failure or combat damage!"

"Both," came the calm voice of the Chief Engineer. "The power failure was in relays fourteen and twenty, neither of which have ever failed before, and neither of which was wired with tell-tales. I have no data on what is causing the relays to burn out. Teams are investigating now, but I have no confidence that the problem will be identified. Combat damage was superficial and will be repaired within three hours. Also, my data indicates personnel are alive on both the Bridge and Auxiliary Control, but neither compartment is functional."

"Very well," Grayson said. "Sick bay, what about casualties?"

"We have some," came the voice of a technician. "The chief doctor is in surgery, so are both of the others."