Tower surveyed the two boards with a growing sense of dread. Colonel Noran had outwitted him thoroughly so far. Especially in the space based portion of the conflict which was very frustrating. Tower glared at the upper board as Noran leaned back in his chair with a confidence swiftly turning to outright cockiness. The onlookers who had bet on Tower were muttering among themselves as well. He had been the favorite. Thus, they gave Noran's people three to one odds to attract some action. Tower's position in the space battle continued to deteriorate as Noran entered another series of orders. At the core of his force, two 40 km. wide Berserkers held position flanked by more than two dozen Imperial Star Destroyers of various types. His left flank was guarded by the U.S.S. Saratoga and the 58th Squadron (Wild Cards). His right flank was equally well guarded by the Battlestars Galactica and Pegasus. Tower's forces were neither as large nor as well positioned. A Hatak class pyramid ship along with its full complement of Alkesh and Death Gliders protected the center. Moving up fast were a number of Honor Harringtons superdreadnoughts along with their usual support elements. Tower had no illusions as to how long these would last once the battle was joined. On the planetside board, Tower was in much better shape. The main part of Tower's forces were centered around a Mark XXX Bolo Combat Unit supported by the tanks from Hammer's Slammers Regiment. Against them Noran had a full division of Imperial Walkers with Stormtroopers plus a group of T-800s. Eagles and Hawks from the nearby Moonbase: Alpha were providing air support for Noran's troops, and SeaQuest DSV was providing long range missile fire from a nearby cornfield (Tower still had not figured that one out). Tower wasn't worried about events on the planet. Imperial Walkers couldn't do a thing against Hammers tanks. Noran tried a bold move. He sent Alpha Regiment of Wolf's Dragoons on a sweeping attack around Tower's flank, but Tower had anticipated the move. He sent Optimus Prime and a squad of autobots into action and quickly pinned down the Dragoon 'mechs. Now, while Noran was focused on the surface, Tower sprang into action! On the space board, he sent his Omega class destroyers and Whitestar class ships commanded by Ivanova into Noran's flank, led by the Deep Space Vehicle Liberator commanded by Blake himself. Liberator destroyed Galactica and Pegasus in short order clearing the way for Ivanova to smash into the Star Destroyers. There was nothing that said Tower had to wait for a countermove by Noran. He ordered the Hatak full ahead and to attack while Harrington's superdreadnoughts turned and fired full spreads of missiles at the Berserkers. The Berserkers began to respond but then Tower brought the Mark XXX Bolo's legendary hacking capabilities into action. The Bolo quickly infiltrated the Berserkers computer minds and disrupted their systems. The battle of machine versus machine continued while the Berserkers took more damage from the Superdreadnoughts. Finally Noran had enough. He sacrificed the 58th to cover the withdrawal of the remainder of his forces. In three more moves it was all over. Noran stood up and Tower grasped his hand briefly. "I thought for sure I had you there Admiral" Notan said smiling. "I guess I focused too much on retaking lost ground planetside that I lost track of the Babylon-5/Blakes 7 force that you had moving around" he finished. Tower returned his smile. "It is an easy mistake to make. One I've made myself many times. Still you played a great game." "You'll have to give me a chance to get even in the future" said Notan. "Though I suspect it won't be for awhile. Are you still shipping out the day after tomorrow?". "Actually tomorrow, you know how the fleet is. Right now I'm just killing a little time while my gear is beamed aboard" Tower said as he looked around for the wall chonometer. "You still travel pretty heavy don't you sir?" Notan said knowingly. "Hey, you get 20 years in and see how much baggage you tote from ship to ship" Tower exclaimed in mock annoyance. "But yeah, I've got quite a pile" he finished. "Good luck Admiral" "Same to you Colonel" Tower looked up from the football magazine he had been reading. He had noticed a shadow moving over the house and became abruptly aware that clouds were starting to build up despite the 30 degree centigrade plus temperature outside. Thunderheads were blossoming in the southwest so Tower decided to play it safe an unplug the mainline feeders in the poultry broiler houses. He put down the magazine deciding that contemplating the state of the Cardinals offensive line for the fall season could wait. He marched out the backyard gate and up the slight hill to the broiler house. As he did he noticed an even more impressive thunderhead back east. He opened the door on the western end of the 100 meter long broiler house, shooed numerous chickens away and unplugged the large electric motor that brought feed into the house. He then worked his way to the far end of the chickenhouse, taking about a minute to cover the 100 meters and unplug the three feed line motors. As he exited the chickenhouse, Tower decided to walk up the steep rise to the pasture that plateaued to the north. Once there he took a closer look at the towering thunderstorm formation to the east. Even as he watched he saw a flicker of lightning in the uppermost reaches of the formation. "Strange to see a storm approach from the east", Tower said out loud, but he could see the storm was at least 20 kilometers off. The one in the southwest was even further off and aside from darkening sky didn't show much life. "Beautiful by human standards isn't it?" said the Borg who had suddenly appeared behind him... Tower ignored the Borg following his every step as he walked back down the hill, past the broiler house and back through his yard. He walked around the house then up the unpaved main road to the second and more modern broiler house. Without a word, the Borg continued to follow. Tower reached the other broiler house and entered on the east end, quickly unplugging the three feed line motors. He then strode the 100 meters to the other end to unplug the large motor. Tower exited the broiler house the same way he came in. As he did, a distant clap of thunder announced that the thunderstorm approaching from the southwest had stolen a march and won the race with the one in the east. "You're determined not to speak to me aren't you?" the Borg asked in a most unBorglike manner. "Could you at least drop the projection while we're here" Tower answered with massive annoyance. "Sorry" Mik said as he reverted to his true form which was an aging Jem'hadar, "But I felt the Borg form was useful in reminding you of your duty. And reminding you that you are late" he finished. Tower walked out into the road as the air turned cool with the approaching storm. He gazed intently across the big hay field to the north. "What is the Enterprise going to do? Leave without me?" Tower snorted. "No, but with so many depending on you I would bet that Starfleet will be asking questions about any aberrant behavior. Need I remind you that we don't need too many questions raised at this point" Mik finished. "Right" Tower admitted, "just wait a few more moments though". Mik stopped and followed Towers gaze. A twenty third century era Klingon heavy cruiser now drifted into view about a kilometer above the hay field... U.S.S. Enterprise- Federation class Ten Weeks Later Beta Quadrant Engaged with the enemy Enterprise twisted and weaved as it desperately sought to evade the Borg cutting beams. Her aft weapons pounded at the monstrous armored cube trailing behind her with unrelenting fury. But the Borg kept coming. "No good sir!" Commander Pearson said from the Conn. "I can't get us out of range." "Out in the middle of nowhere with no cover. First Officer Goldstein grumbled with rising anger. "No gaseous anomalies, no planetary atmospheres, nowhere to hide and wait them out". "I have no intention of hiding" Admiral Tower said. "I play to win." "We have barely more than 60% ships power available John" Goldstein continued. "Sure, I would like to see this bastard torn out of space. But we need some serious reinforcements to make the attempt. At least two battlegroups would make it a fair fight!" The Enterprise was jarred severely. "More than half of the aft weapons arrays are down sir" the chief weapons officer reported "Continuing to engage with remaining systems" The CWO was understating the damage. Near the fantail of the Enterprise, a single torpedo tube continue to spit ordnance at the Borg cube. Pebbles against a rhino. On the bridge, Admiral Tower seemed to release a breath he had been holding. As though a vital decision how now been made. "Don't worry" Tower said rather tiredly. "You can cease all weapons fire. We won't need the arrays to finish the Borg this time" Goldstein and the other officers simply looked at the admiral incredulously. They all knew the admiral had suffered a number of severe injuries in recent weeks. Just when he seemed to recover from one another battle inflicted damage to his battered body. And he was now working on 72 hours without sleep. This seemed proof that the strain was finally getting to him. "Commander Pearson, I'll take the Conn for the next few minutes" Tower told the officer as he stepped down into the sunken station. Pearson didn't hesitate and slid smoothly from his seat. Tower cleared his throat and ordered "Computer! Reconfigure the Conn station. I want all primary, secondary, tertiary and emergency navigation and manuevering controls available at this station. Including all manual overrides. Also configure the console with primary engineering controls including those for sublight and FTL systems" The computer using the molecular suspension system quickly reconfigured and rebuilt the Conn station. All the controls requested would not normally fit at the Conn so the computer added extra panels and readouts. Glancing at the newly reconfigured Conn, Tower sat down and leaned to the edge of the chair so he could reach the majority of the controls at once. He changed the course of the ship quickly and the Enterprise seemed to heave as it charged at high warp speed down the path that the admiral had set for it. "Commander Goldstein!" Pearson whispered urgently, "The course the admiral has set will take us dangerously close to a black hole!" "I noticed commander, but I'm not going to second guess the admiral at this juncture" Chief Weapons Officer Hadley glanced over at Science Officer Newman wondering what she was thinking. "Probably looking forward to getting a good (and last look) at the black hole" he thought to himself. The Enterprise dropped out of warp dangerously close to the black hole. With the sublight engines seeming to almost howl, it then thrust itself even closer. The Borg ship dropped out of warp behind Enterprise and continued the close pursuit. Admiral Tower now began to play the controls like an insane pianist. Barely glancing at the readouts. Flying the massive starship more on instinct. "My God!" Newman said quietly in a voice that still seemed to echo throughout the bridge. "I know what the admiral is doing. He is going to orbit the black hole at high speed. If he is successful, we'll slingshot around the black hole with incredible velocity. So fast that the Borg can't react quickly enough to track us" "And if he is unsuccessful?" Hadley asked. "We probably won't feel a thing" Newman replied. Tower's hands played over the controls relentlessly. Finally he thrust himself back in the chair as though he was worried about touching another control and altering the course he had set. Tower reached for Pearson's hand who helped him away from the console. In just a fraction of a second it was all over. Enterprise whipped around the black hole and was flung away at tremendous speed. So quickly that the Borg were unable to react. Of course, the Borg had their own problems. Following the Enterprise so closely, the Borg found that they were unable to brake safely or veer away without suffering severe damage to their vessel. So the Borg chose to duplicate the manuever of the Enterprise. Surely, tens of thousands of Borg should be able to duplicate the manuever of a single human. But the Borg have a hive mind and for once that was their undoing. As the Borg began their manuever, the time dilation effects of the black hole began to effect the Borg crew. The Enterprise has been guided by a single human mind but the Borg ship was being guided by more than forty thousand minds. The Borg in the part of the ship closest to the black hole began to experience time at a slower rate than the Borg in the other portions of a ship. A hundred thousandth of a second difference at first, then ten thousandths. Minute differences but enough. Differences in the passage of time for different parts of the hive mind led to confusion among the Borg. Confusion led to delay. And delays led to the Borg ship slipping too close to the singularity and its fate was sealed. The differences in gravitational pull on portions of the Borg ship rose rapidly. The portion furthest away from the singularity were experiencing only a single gravity. The portion closest were pulled by 10Gs, then 100, then 100,000, then 1,000,000. Gravitational stresses that no ship ever built could withstand. Huge chunks of the Borg ships armor were suddenly torn from its hull. Then the entire vessel seemed to twist and compress until the entire ship was turned into a single impossibly long, impossibly thin thread of metal and flesh spiraling into the event horizon. The bridge crew simply stared apalled. Only Science Officer Newman remained at her station. She had noticed that flare of radiation from near the event horizon. The only sign that the Borg ship ever existed. "The Vulcan Science Academy will love a recording of that" she thought happily. Newman was always cheerful when able to get some science done on a combat mission. Goldstein recovered first "Computer! Reduce speed and prepare to come about! Return the Conn to the basic configuration. Mr. Hadley, get the admiral to his quarters and have a medical team meet you there. He needs some food and a long rest." Goldstein noted that Admiral Tower had finally collapsed from the stress and strain of the last few days. Pearson retook the Conn and shook his head amazed, mumbling to no one in particular. "Incredible! Maybe the news people are right. Maybe he is all we really have..." Eighteen Hours Later... "I'm really feeling much better Frederick." Tower said addressing Commander Goldstein. "A fourteen hour nap and a leisurely breakfast does wonders." "Still, I'll remain on duty till the next shift change" Goldstein said firmly. "All those lingering injuries will heal faster if you are rested." "Thanks commander, I'll take things slow for a while." Tower said gratefully. "Call me if the war heats up before the shift change" he said as the First Officer smiled and exited the Admiral's quarters. Tower waited a few minutes. "Computer. Seal cabin door until further notice" Then he opened the closet and took out one of the few changes of clothes that he took from posting to posting. He changed quickly out of his uniform into the best set of civilian clothes he had with no indication of his rank or position. He went to the computer and brought the terminal up. "Computer, no record is to be kept of this session. Authorization Tower14". As the computer connected to the top secret site, Tower was pleased to note that six of the eight members were already there. The other two had duty assignments and couldn't get away. "I guess this will be all of us this week." Tower said to the images of the six people appearing on the screen. "Looks like we are holding our own in numbers". The various people connected to Tower shared various greetings and made small talk until it was time to begin First, Lt. Formri led several songs. Then CPO Robinson led the opening prayer. His wife then presented a tape of a sermon from a highly respected evangelist back on Earth. The group then studied the Book of Acts. The part covering Paul's first missionary journey. Tower used an old but well maintained Bible. He could've called up hundreds of different Bibles from the ships library but that would've left a record that he couldn't erase. And anyone repeatedly looking at Bibles from the ships library would arouse a lot of suspicion unless it was known they were doing historical research. The group ended the regular lesson and spent about half an hour just talking about what was going on in their lives. Thoughts about the ships mission. Problems with fellow crewmen. Suggestions about who they might approach to join the church. Crewman 3rd Class McInally wasn't at the service but the Robinsons said he was making slow but steady progress with someone in his department and might be able to get them to attend the virtual services soon. Tower considered this a good omen. A year after he took command of the Enterprise, he was quite surprised to find a fledgling church aboard of four Christians. Tower had been the fifth and with two years of solid effort, they had expanded their number to nine. Tower thought he might carefully broach the subject with Hadley but he would have to be careful. Finally, all of the members present took communion secretly delivered to their cabins the day before. Tower delivered the closing prayer and the service was over. The group of seven out of nine Christians aboard said heartfelt goodbyes and promised to be back next Sunday. Nine Christians aboard out of a crew of 7,551 with a couple of hundred civilian contractors and dozens of civilian scientists. Certainly a far cry from just a few centuries ago. But in the 22nd century, when humans rapidly began establishing colonies in other solar systems, a vast number of those leaving Earth were the more religously inclined. Now Earth's population was largely atheistic with those still professing some belief in God mainly deist. Strangely, some Wiccans with their beliefs in a living universe and all that stuff managed to hang on as well. Tower went back to his bunk and closed his eyes for that nap. He had to admit that the possibility of expanding the congregations numbers excited him even more than taking down the Borg cube the day before.