"Captain, Unknown One is breaking off and is turning outward."
"Understood. Helm, come to a parallel pursuit course and increase speed as needed. We have to make sure we don't lose them in the cloud.
"Navigation, what is the ETA for Thiefbreaker?"
"Captain, our plot shows three more minutes. Our current detection radius is 240,000 kilometers. If we are in Lyran space, we'll see them then."
"Understood. Auxiliary Control, what is our current data analysis on Unknown One?"
"Captain, we show Unknown One to be our equal in maneuvering and to have about 90% of our power. We do not have any data on their battery capacities. We still haven't gotten a good read on their weapon capabilities though we have plotted what we assume are the weapon ports for the delta masers; they also appear to have three launch tubes for internal drone racks. Vampire Two came out of the middle one. There is also a weapons mount of an unknown kind on the front end of both of their warp engine nacelles. Their shields seem to be taking no damage from the cloud, even when our analysis appears to show they have no spare power to reinforce their shields. Either they are drawing down their batteries or they have shields more resistant to radiation damage than ours. Special Team One has been doing an analysis of their shields that shows some interesting resonant frequency interactions between what we think are the emitters. Their ion trail appears to indicate they are reacting a lot more tritium and less deuterium than our engines prefer."
Minutes passed with Unknown One keeping a steady speed on a curved course always heading out from the vortex. Doomward maintained a stable 160,000 kilometers separation, just outside of the range for efficient weapons fire. As the cloud thinned, the scanners gained a longer detection range and still showed nothing except the fleeing ship.
"Guns, what is our weapons status?"
"Captain, all capacitors charged. We have some general reinforcement over the minimum required to prevent shield ablative damage. We have the center disruptor charged to standard levels."
"Navigation to Captain, Unknown One appears to be exiting the cloud ahead. We should be out on the fringe in about eight more chrons. They are turning to port and riding along the fringe."
"Understood. Come to port and maintain a shadowing position off their number five shield. We will maintain our position 100,000 kilometers inside their course. I want an immediate transmittal of an operational immediate report, and for communications to scan all subspace frequencies. Listen to see if we hear any familiar chatter. Navigation, be prepared to get star sights to confirm our position. Make sure we're still in our own space."
"Aye aye, Captain."
Several tense minutes ticked by. Unknown One now was cruising around the fringe as if he was looking for something.
"Captain, communications here. We are not monitoring any familiar beacons. We should be able to pick up at least four subspace navigation buoys here, no matter where we are outside the cloud."
"Captain, navigation here. We have picked up the signatures of two close-by type-Daleth stars and they are not consistent with any location in the Lyran Empire. We presume we have been transported."
"Captain, Special Team One here. We concur. Recommend we immediately re-enter the cloud and try transiting the vortex as soon as it returns to a collecting phase."
Thr'Uule's first reaction was to run for the vortex, but he took a moment to review the situation. Is there anything to be gained by staying here another minute? Is there anything to scan? Can we accomplish anything? Before he reached the end of his thought process, his bridge crew were barraging him with more information.
"Communications to Bridge, Unknown One is transmitting something on a medium power omnidirectional subspace S-band. We read this as a short operational update to a relay station or a call to nearby ships."
"Contact! Ships! Designate contacts Unknown Three and Unknown Four. They are transmitting on the S-band. Signature consistent with frigates; ships do not match anything in our database. Approaching from 43.8 mark 2; range 340,000 kilometers at warp 2.4, they are accelerating towards us."
"Helm, come about and return to the vortex at maximum speed. Science, prepare to intensively scan the vortex. As soon as it returns to the collecting phase it is my intention to pass back through the vortex in an attempt to return to the Empire. There is nothing for us to accomplish here. All extra power to reinforcement on the shields bearing on the frigates."
"Captain, Unknown One has turned toward us. They are off our rear shield, range 160,000 kilometers, although their speed is dropping. Unknown Three and Unknown Four are on what appears to be a forward intercept pursuit curve."
"Vampire! Vampire! Unknown Three and Unknown Four are launching ... drones ... or something like drones. Unknown One is also launching. Vampire Five and Vampire Six are approaching at warp 3 from Unknown Three. Vampire Seven and Vampire Eight are approaching at warp 2.76 from Unknown Four. Vampire Nine is approaching from Unknown One at warp 2.5. I have never seen drones like these. Nothing in the database, not even from the Federation, matches.
"Release one ESG, minimum radius and maximum strength, to be effective just before impact. Bump up our ECCM to get a good targeting solution. Scan the second group of drones as they approach. We will fire the bearing defense phaser into one unidentified drone on my order. If scan finds any armored ones, fire a phaser into it at minimum range before it impacts. Crew, we are on the defensive starting right now. I just hope the Thiefbreaker got clear."
"Vampires approaching! Vampire Five and Vampire Six appear to be aimed to hit our number two shield. Vampire Seven and Vampire Eight are closing on our number three shield. Vampire Nine is approaching from dead astern.
"Captain, I can maneuver to have the drones hit us sequentially. I mean, we can get the first two to strike the ESG before the second pair. The last one will strike later."
"Excellent, do so, but your priority is to get back to the vortex."
"Captain, Unknown One has dropped off tracking due to range and interference. We had a good lock on Vampire Nine and it abruptly dropped off tracking despite it being well within our scan envelope. Presume we are beyond their guidance range or the cloud is affecting them as much as us. Unknown Three and Unknown Four continue to close slowly and their drones appear hot."
"Very well, how long before we pick up the vortex again?"
"Captain, Navigation here. Indeterminate, earliest estimate is fourteen chrons for a lock, but if it has picked up speed and is on a cross track we might need a few more chrons to find it."
"Navigation, I don't have time. Find the vortex. You have discretion on reserve power for ECCM and to use the probes. And don't launch a probe into our own ESG field."
"Vampire Five and Vampire Six are impacting now. Both destroyed. ESG reduced 50%. If Vampire Seven and Vampire Eight are the same, the ESG should take care of both of them. Commit phasers to defense?"
"Scan the drones at twenty thousand kilometers. Fire a bearing defense phaser into one of them at ten thousand kilometers. I want some reserve in case they have a surprise for us. We don't have a lot of margin here."
"Labs report both drones are of unknown types, no signatures of armor or other known special modules. Vampire Seven has an unusual warhead signature, but neither of them is a standard type listed in our database."
"Weapons, fire defense phaser into Vampire Seven."
"Aye aye; firing defense phaser into Vampire Seven. Damaged but not destroyed. Vampire Seven and Vampire Eight impacting ESG. Both destroyed by ESG. ESG is almost down; it's at 9% strength. Our analysis shows the ESG could have handled both of them without the phaser fire."
"Understood, but we don't have any margin for error here. Drop the ESG and start re-energizing it with any power you can scrounge up after making sure we have maximum reserve power available."