Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“Bold Faced Lies”
by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler
Commander Vioxx’s crew was dead. All dead. Leaving him alone on this alien world as the sole survivor of the shuttle crash.
“Are you going to snap out of whatever trance you’re in and lead us somewhere or not?” Sub-Commander Remax groused.
Okay. So his crew wasn’t dead. It was a lovely notion, though.
Vioxx took a last look across the valley below the cliff edge where the shuttle had crashed after more than a day of fleeing the dead-in-space Tyvek, then turned back to the battered remnants of the crew of the Tyvek. “All right,” he said, hoping against hope that the Tyvek would just beam him up and tell him this was all a bad joke. “What do we know about this planet?”
“It’s a planet,” Remax replied. “What more is there to know?”
“Oh I don’t know. What about life-forms? They could be interesting. Particularly if any of them are the size of a house and intent on eating us.”
“Then they will feel the sting of my mighty blade as I render them in twain!” Centurion Nortal replied resolutely.
Vioxx fought back the urge to disintegrate Nortal right then and there. There was still a chance they could be rescued, and it was probably best not to kill the daughter of a senator. He instead turned his attention to Engineer Selex. “Was anything salvagable?”
“One disruptor pistol, a scanner, half of a medkit, and the emergency rations,” Selex replied. “I am very sorry that there isn’t more. I expected our shuttle to withstand the impact far better than it did. I will start on design improvements immediately.”
“We lived, so it did fine,” Vioxx said. “How’s Zantak?” Leaning against the crumpled remains of the shuttle, Sub-Lieutenant Zantak simply nodded, indicating that she was fine.
“Not to get ahead of you, Commander, since I know these are the next words to come out of your mouth, but we should find shelter,” Selex said, looking at the barren plateau they crashed upon.
“And something to eat besides rations,” Vioxx agreed.
“What’s wrong with rations?” Remax said. “They’re all we need.”
“My taste buds demand appeasement,” Nortal said.
“Either way, we’re getting off of this plateau,” Vioxx said. “There’s obviously nothing up here. The valley below appears to be fairly lush, though. If we get lucky, we may find a cave as well.”
“What about the shuttle? This is property of the Empire,” Remax said.
“Then you’re welcome to stay here and guard it,” Vioxx shot back. “The rest of us are going to see about staying alive.” He helped Zantak to her feet, then headed off across the plateau looking for a place to descend to the valley that didn’t involve climbing down a cliff.
“We’re becoming as soft as the Federation,” Remax grumbled, shaking his head as he followed his crewmates.
Over the next several hours, Zantak recovered her strength enough to keep up with the others, the only remaining sign of her run-in with the energy creature on the Tyvek’s bridge was a dark handprint on her face.
Zantak had been hit before during her training at the Romulan Academy, but never had a blow affected her so. From the instant the energy creature made contact with her, it was as though her limbs had been removed. She couldn’t make them do what she wanted without a tremendous effort, effort she was not able to put out considering the fatigue she felt from the blow. The creature had drained her energy as effectively as it had drained the helm console. It was something she would keep in mind if they met again.
Meanwhile, the survivors of the Tyvek made their way slowly down a steep slope toward the tree line of the forest below. Commander Vioxx was confident that he would find food and shelter for his officers, but he couldn’t help but wonder what to do after that. Even assuming the distress signal they’d sent before the shuttle crash had been received by the Romulan High Command, their odds of rescue were remote. The Tyvek was weeks away from the Empire when it was destroyed. Diverting a ship here would be a tremendous waste of resources that could be better spent protecting the Empire from whatever that energy ball was that had obliterated his ship.
He was pulled out of his somewhat fatalistic thoughts by Nortal’s loud voice. “WHY WILL YOU NOT SCAN!” she demanded, grabbing Remax by the collar of his uniform.
Remax shoved her away, raising his fists. “Watch how you treat your elders, Centurion,” he warned. “I’d rather explain to your father why you’re dead than put up with this disrespect.”
“You have the screen of scanning,” Nortal replied unbowed. “You will use it to find us a great feast!”
“What? You can’t hunt without some piece of technology to tell you where the game is?” Remax replied. “Pathetic.”
“I defy you to say that word once I have removed your foul head from your equally foul body!”
“I could try building some traps, Commander,” Selex said, sliding up beside Vioxx.
Vioxx let out a loud breath, calming himself. “Priorities, people. First shelter THEN food. We still don’t know what else lives on this planet, what kind of storms it has, or anything. Until we have a place to use as a base of operations, we keep moving. Is that understood?”
“Wisest thing you’ve ever said,” Remax said, keeping his glare locked on Nortal.
“We will find a great hall for our feast,” Nortal added. She narrowed her eyes at Remax. “But I warn you not to cross me again, old man.”
“Don’t worry. Next time I cross you, you’ll be too dead to notice,” Remax replied.
“If we’re done with today’s installment of pointless intimidating tactics, could you possibly pull out that scanner of yours and find us a damn cave,” Vioxx said.
“Still scared of the wildlife,” Remax scoffed. “Ooooh. Some big scary monster is going to get us. Oooooooooh.”
The Romulans’ heads whipped around toward the source of the sound of several branches breaking.
“You have brought the wrath of fate down upon us!” Nortal cried.
“What is it?” Vioxx snapped.
“I don’t know,” Remax replied, scrambling for his scanner.
“Nothing to worry about, you said.”
“Hey. You’re the one who mentioned animals as big as a house. As far as I’m concerned, this is your fault.”
“The sound comes from all around!” Nortal exclaimed. “Hmm…a passable chant. The sound comes from all around! The sound comes from all around! The sound comes from all around!”
“SHUT UP!” Remax screamed as he held out his scanner. “I’m trying to concentrate here before we’re all…oh no.”
“What?” Vioxx demanded.
Remax pointed back over Vioxx’s shoulder. The Romulan spun around to see a massive creature lumbering through the trees toward them. On the upside it was only as tall as his house, not as wide, but its head was as large as a shuttle. The creature’s body was reminiscent of a giant green potato with four stocky muscular legs and a head that was little more that a giant, lumpy blob on top with two round yellow eyes two great black holes for nostrils and a mouth of rather jagged teeth.
Before Vioxx had time to react to the newcomer, three more of the creatures burst through the trees in different directions around them.
“All right,” Remax said. “I’m enough of a Romulan to admit when I’ve made a mistake. Next time, I use the scanner sooner.”
“I’m so relieved to hear it,” Vioxx said as the largest of the creatures lowered its head down to him.
“ROAXARRAARRRRRRRRROOOOOOOUUUUUUUK!” it bellowed, knocking Vioxx backward with the force of the air blasting from its throat.
“What’s wrong with you?” Remax said, prodding Nortal forward. “Go cleave it in twain.”
“By Jenichai, my feet are stuck to this spot,” Nortal said in horror.
“Right. Well, Commander, the Centurion seems to have wet herself.”
“ROOOOOORRAAAAAKK!” another of the creatures howled, turning toward the one staring down Vioxx.
“Okay,” Vioxx said, getting to his feet. “I think I know what’s going on here. These four are about to fight to see who gets to eat us.”
“What makes you the animal expert?” Remax asked.
“Several episodes of Nokalok’s Wild Romulus. Now when they attack each other, run…and try not to get trampled.”
“Excellent advice, sir,” Selex said. “I do ask that you please excuse my wetness. I seem to have emptied my bladder as well.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Vioxx said as all four of the creatures moved in a bit closer.
The largest one once again stared down Vioxx, its massive teeth bared. “Disruptor,” Vioxx squeaked, sticking out his hand. Selex quickly retrieved the weapon from his supply pack.
“Your life has been an example to me, sir,” Selex said, handing the disruptor to Vioxx.
“It’ll be an example to lots of people,” Remax said. “Romulan children everywhere will pray that they never become like you.”
“Nortal, if I die, make sure Sub-Commander Remax is next,” Vioxx said.
“I will see to it, Honored Commander,” Nortal said.
“Here we go,” Vioxx said, leveling the weapon at the creature in front of him.
“RRROUUUUUUUAAKKKK,” it roared, almost questioningly.
Vioxx fired, sending a disruptor blast right into the top of the creature’s mouth.
“RRROOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRAAAAAAAK ROOORRROOOORRRRAAA,” it screamed, rearing its head up.
Remax’s scanner sprang to life, much to everyone’s surprise, spitting out words from its universal translation matrix.
“OOORRRAAXXX…do that for? That really smarts!”
The Romulans looked in stunned silence from the creature to the scanner, then back again.
“What’s the problem?” Remax said finally. “Keep shooting.”
Captain Bain had been silent throughout the turbolift ride to the lower decks of the Anomaly, a behavior that Lieutenant Commander Tovar was not used to seeing from his adopted father.
“Are you concerned about dealing with the Romulans again?” Tovar asked after watching Bain’s brows furrow yet again as the Anomaly zipped toward the Delta Quadrant using the anti-sing drive under the watchful brain of Cabral.
“Doesn’t bother me at all,” Bain replied off-handedly.
“Considering our last experience with them, I could understand a bit of trepidation,” Tovar said. Well, that was half true. He could understand trepidation, but not from Reginald Bain. Bain seldom felt intimidated by or wary of anyone, which was one of the primary reasons Tovar had become such a skilled tactical officer in a short time. Bain needed a steady hand at the weapons to back up his words.
“Bollocks,” Bain shot back. “This is strictly routine. The only thing different than any other rescue is that the Roms are involved. No worries.”
“Something’s on your mind, Dad,” Tovar said bluntly.
“Dad?” Bain replied with a smile. “Pulling family on me, eh?”
“Since you won’t talk otherwise.”
“What about him?”
“This whole affair. I don’t like it,” Bain said, pacing back and forth in the turbolift as best as he could.
“I wouldn’t say there was anything about it to like.”
“It’s not that. It’s just…wrong. Why would he do such a thing? It doesn’t make any sense. Are you sure that’s the real Polnuc?”
“Who else would it be?” Tovar asked.
“An imposter? Maybe an evil android duplicate. I don’t understand it at all otherwise. Why would a member of my crew turn on the rest of us like this?”
“You’re taking this rather personally.”
“You’re damn right I’m taking it personally!” Bain snapped. “I’ve considered myself to be a fairly easy going chap, but I draw the line at ripping holes in dimensions trying to put another member of this crew out of a job.”
The turbolift slowed to a halt, its doors opening revealing the narrow corridor beyond.
“There are other perspectives,” Tovar said, following Bain out of the turbolift.
“One where Polnuc didn’t basically commit mutiny and almost get us all killed?” Bain asked.
“No. However, you might attempt to at least understand his motives so as to present a thoughtful recommendation to the review hearing rather than looking at this as an assault against you.”
“Did Rosalyn teach you to speak to me like that?” Bain asked.
“I think you did, sir. Stand up for your beliefs and all that.”
“Right right. I should have known that would come back to nip me in the bum.”
“Captain!” a voice called from behind them. The pair turned to see Martin Kawafura, the Anomaly’s Chief Comptroller (i.e. Inventory officer) jogging up to them. “Were you coming to see me?”
“Why in blazes would I do that?” Bain asked.
“The padd?” Kawafura said. Bain stared back at him blankly. “The padd from the science lab on Deck Eight?” Kawafura clarified. Bain looked to Tovar, who simply shrugged.
“What the devil are you on about?” Bain demanded.
Kawafura blanched. “Er…well. I sent you a report about the padd that had gone missing from the lab on Deck Eight. When I saw you and Mister Tovar down here, I…I just assumed you were coming to see me about the problem, so that we could begin a proper investigation.”
“I am confident in your ability to handle this crisis on your own,” Tovar said. “The Captain and I are on our way to the brig to interrogate a prisoner.”
“Oh…well…could you ask about this padd? If he’s already committed one crime, maybe he did this too.”
“That will be my first question,” Tovar replied sarcastically.
“Good luck with your investigation,” Bain said, clapping Kawafura on the shoulder before heading off down the corridor. He stopped a few steps away and turned back to the Comptroller. “Oh, do you remember what we discussed a few months ago? About you getting another position on the ship?”
“I meant it. Wrap up this padd business and find something else to do ASAP.” Bain spun on his heel and left with Tovar.
“But I keep telling you, I like my job,” Kawafura said, dejectedly heading back to his office.
The Anomaly’s brig was a small affair, with only enough cells to hold six prisoners, assuming the prisoners were to be incarcerated alone. If the situation required it, Tovar would be perfectly happy to cram in a few more, but rarely did he have a need to use the cells at all. Actually, he’d only visited the brig, which like the Comptroller’s Office was located at the very bottom of ship, two or three times since the Anomaly’s launch.
Currently, only one cell was occupied. Polnuc stood near the force field barrier, defiantly staring down Lieutenant Shelly Marsden, whom Bain had ordered to meet them there, while Lieutenant Lara Randall from security stood watch at the small monitoring console near the entrance.
Bain gave Randall a perfunctory nod as he charged toward Polnuc’s cell, fists clenched. “Marsie,” he said by way of a curt greeting to his Chief Engineer before turning his full attention to the diminutive Moglodin on the other side of the force field. “All right, Mister. Let’s have it?”
“Have what?” Polnuc responded as Marsden stepped over to Tovar.
“Bain’s not taking this well?” Marsden said.
“Worse than I would have thought,” Tovar replied. “He hasn’t responded this badly to Breen invasions. He seems to be taking it as a personal affront.”
“YOU WERE ONE OF MY OWN, DAMMIT!” Bain shouted.
“Gotcha,” Marsden replied. “So, are you okay?”
“Fine,” Tovar replied. He’d intended to stop there, but found himself still speaking. “Several joints and muscles were a bit stiff, but I am recovering. You?”
“Doctor Nooney insisted on examining me thoroughly to make sure my knife wound wasn’t re-aggravated.”
“My sympathies,” Tovar said. “I didn’t cause any harm, I hope.”
“Not at all,” Marsden said, smiling slightly. “I can’t say I’ve had anybody using me as a pillow for a while, though.”
“There were certainly less comfortable places I could have landed.”
“Glad I could be there then.”
“As am I,” Tovar said, their eyes meeting for several seconds before Tovar looked away uncomfortably.
Bain’s eyes, meanwhile, had locked firmly onto Polnuc. “What’s your mother’s name?”
“What?” Polnuc asked confused.
“Ah ha! You are an imposter!”
Tovar cleared his throat, trying to get Bain’s attention.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Polnuc said.
“Don’t try to turn this around on me, you spy. Who do you work for?”
“Nice try, whoever you are.”
“Then why don’t you know your own mother’s name?” Bain demanded.
“It’s Polnuc,” Tovar said. “All members of a Moglodin brood are…”
“Tovar,” Bain said sternly.
“Told you,” Polnuc said.
“Fine. You’re Polnuc. Just tell me why you did it. Why did you betray me like this?”
“Betray you?” Polnuc replied. “I was trying to help you. Help all of us. We’re enslaved to that brain, but everyone on this ship likes him too much to realize it. Anti-sing is ours! Starfleet’s! Why should we have to rely on Cabral?”
“He makes it work,” Marsden said.
“Only because you couldn’t,” Polnuc shot back.
“That’s quite enough,” Bain said. “Now see here, Cabral is a damn fine fellow, and I won’t have members of my crew trying to bypass him or anything else. He’s as loyal as you are…well, more so actually.”
“For now,” Polnuc said. “But mark my words, relying on that brain is going to get us into trouble…again. Andromeda should have been enough for you to realize that.”
“And you should realize that we’re a crew. If you have concerns, you come to me,” Bain replied. He turned suddenly to Marsden. “Find out what the devil he built in that jefferies tube and if its safe to dismantle it.”
“The dismantling will have to wait until we repair the rest of the damage caused by the bypassing, but we’ll take care of it,” Marsden said. And to be perfectly honest, she wanted some time to see what Polnuc had done. She didn’t have any intention of trying to cut Cabral out of the anti-sing drive, but it’d certainly be nice to have some options should he get brain-napped again.
“Just see to it,” Bain said, giving Polnuc one last glare before charging out of the brig.
“This shouldn’t take too long,” Marsden said to Tovar. “If you aren’t busy for dinner, we could get something…”
Tovar frowned. “I can’t. Jamie and I…”
“Lieutenant Torgerson. I’m sorry. I should have known you two would have plans.”
“Some other time perhaps.”
“Right. Sure,” Marsden said, already turning away to head to Polnuc’s cell.
Tovar watched her silently for several moments, then left the brig, ignoring the knowing smirk from Lieutenant Randall.
To be completely honest, Tovar was not looking forward to dinner with Jamie Torgerson this evening. She’d told him earlier in the day that she wanted to talk, which, in Tovar’s experience, usually meant that she had several complaints about him that she wanted to air while he repeatedly apologized for his shortcomings in the relationship.
When these chats had occurred in other relationships he’d had, Tovar normally felt that he was being unfairly attacked for being himself, but in this case he knew Torgerson had some legitimate complaints. On more than one occasion, his dates with her had been ruined by the untimely arrival of his mother, surreptitiously beaming into his quarters with some bit of Section 31 business or other. Of course, he couldn’t let Jamie know any of it. He couldn’t even inform his father.
Such incidents had made it difficult to concentrate on being an attentive boyfriend, which was difficult enough due to the warring influences inside his Yynsian mind as his past lives weighed in on Torgerson. Toflay liked her because the relationship gave him someone to cook for. Totap didn’t see the purpose of having her around. Tarva seemed a bit jealous, actually. And the others were too cacophonous for Tovar to make out other than that one guy who was always calling penalties.
Confirming Tovar’s fears about the evening, Torgerson met him at the door of her quarters in uniform (something that almost never happened, since she was far more fond of wearing outfits she’d designed herself) and looking very serious.
“Come on in,” she said, stepping aside for him to enter the living area, where the lights were on at full strength (also not a good sign. Torgerson was usually preferred a candlelit atmosphere, or, at the very least, dimmed lights). Despite his feeling for Torgerson, Tovar found himself wishing he’d just made some excuse to get out of dinner with Torgerson and joined Lieutenant Marsden for dinner instead.
Marsden’s invitation was something of a surprise in itself. Was it possible that she intended more than a simple meal between colleagues? Certainly they had spent a fair amount of time thrown together in hazardous situations. Such interactions had been known to engender stronger feelings.
Way to overanalyze it, Tovar. Just think like a person for a minute instead of some scientist. The scientist lifeforce wasn’t even a part of him anymore, yet he found himself occasionally slipping into those thought patterns.
Back to the issue at hand: Lieutenant Marsden.
“Tovar?” Lieutenant Torgerson said, waving her hand in front of his face to get his attention.
Ah yes. Back to the real issue at hand: Jamie.
“Sorry,” Tovar said finding himself standing in the middle of her living room. “You were saying?”
“Nothing, because you zoned out the second you walked through the door.”
“Once again, I’m sorry.”
“Do you want something to eat?”
“That is usually included in dinner,” Tovar said lightly, hoping a bit of humor would lighten the mood.
“I replicated lasagna. You seemed to like it last time we had it,” Torgerson continued, leading Tovar to the small table in the dining area.
“That sounds fine,” Tovar said, quickly moving to hold Torgerson’s seat out for her before sitting down himself. She seemed a bit surprised, but smiled sweetly at the gesture.
The meal progressed in relative silence. Occasionally, Tovar would catch Torgerson looking at him, and he knew what she wanted. He was supposed to ask what was wrong, which would then start the “talking” process in motion. Well, he wasn’t going to play. He liked Torgerson a great deal and enjoyed their relationship. He wasn’t sure if he loved her, but that was not really the point at the moment. The important thing was that he was not about to be shoved into a behavior pattern that she specified. He was his own person with his own eccentricities. Any partners he had would have to understand that about him. Certainly someone like Prosak would. She had been with him during his visit to Yyns when the Interloping Lifeforce was driving him to the Bak’u Homeworld.
Prosak also understood what it was like to be the only one of your species serving on the Anomaly. She also had the benefit of serving with Tovar on a regular basis, so she knew him, perhaps even better than Torgerson did at this point.
And what did Prosak have to do with anything right now?
“You’re gone again,” Torgerson said softly.
“Excuse me?” Tovar asked, pulling his mind back to the table.
“I should be used to it by now. You haven’t really been here through most of our relationship.”
Ha! She’d gone onto the talking without waiting for him to instigate it. He’d won. Good! No wait. That wasn’t good. Things were bound to get ugly from here.
“Am I that boring?” Torgerson asked sadly.
“Boring? Not in the slightest.”
“Then why is your brain always a million miles away from me?”
“I can see it every time, Tovar. Your eyes glaze over, and you stare off into nothingness for ages, it seems. Other times, you just can’t seem to focus even when I’m in the room. How many aborted dinners have we had in your quarters?”
That depends, Tovar thought. How many times has Mumsie dropped by unannounced?
“I get distracted,” Tovar said, hoping an admission of guilt would help matters.
“That’s an understatement,” Torgerson scoffed. “But I’m supposed to be the one distracting you. Do you ever think about me while you’re on the bridge?”
Tovar opened his mouth to speak.
“And not just to remind yourself that we have plans for the evening?” Torgerson added.
Tovar’s mouth closed again.
“That’s what I thought,” Torgerson said, hurt in her eyes.
“I cannot apologize for my thought processes. On duty, I tend to focus on my work. I enjoy being with you, though, Jamie. I don’t ever want you to think otherwise.”
“I already do. I think that every time you zone out on me. I wonder who else you’re thinking of.”
“No one,” Tovar replied quickly.
“Then come back to me. Stay here with me. Don’t just sit here planning new and exciting ways to fire a torpedo. Is that too much for me to ask of my boyfriend?”
“No. That’s fair,” Tovar said. “You deserve nothing less.”
Torgerson reached across the table and squeezed Tovar’s hand. “And I want you know that if you want to talk about something, I’m here. You can share whatever’s on your mind.”
Tovar smiled in response.
Unfortunately, he thought, that is something that can never and will never happen.
This was something of a new wrinkle. Here Vioxx was, expecting to be devoured in a matter of moments by the massive thing in front of him, and it turns out it talks…at least that’s what the translation matrix in Remax’s scanner was claiming.
Remax, however, was not impressed. “If you won’t shoot it, give me the damn gun,” the elder Romulan science officer said, reaching for the weapon in Vioxx’s hand. Vioxx swatted Remax’s arm away and snatched the scanner.
“Can you understand me?” Vioxx asked the creature.
“I can now,” it replied through the translator, while the air reverberated with the sound of its roar. “I guess you’re intelligent after all.”
“We will blind you with our searing brilliance!” Nortal exclaimed. “Quake before us, oh…”
“Shut up!” Vioxx snapped at his tactical officer before turning back to the alien. “My apologies. It took some time for our translator to work through your language. I am Commander Vioxx of the Romulan Star Empire. These are my subordinates. Sub-Commander Remax, Centurion Nortal, Lieutenant Selex, and Sub-Lieutenant Zantak.”
“Pleased to meet you. I am called Prefftle,” the creature replied. He began gesturing with his head at the other three creatures surrounding the Romulans. “This is my family. My lovely mate, Boolit, my daughter, Groop, and my son, Kudool.
Remax stepped forward. “We hearby claim this world as sovereign Romulan territory.” Vioxx turned angrily on the older man. “What?” Remax said. “I’m just telling them the situation.”
“Please ignore my subordinates,” Vioxx said. “They still haven’t quite grasped the concept of obeying their leader.”
“I certainly know what that’s like, don’t I kids?” Prefftle replied with a gravelly chuckle. “They haven’t listened to me since they hatched.”
“Children never do, then they pay the price,” Remax said. “I told my daughter not to link up with that revolutionary cell. I told her that no good would come of it. I told her the same thing again after I had her arrested for treason. Damn that was a tough execution to watch. I’m usually fine, but when its your own…”
“Thank you for that,” Vioxx said, cutting Remax off before he could get into the gruesome details.
“Your appearance is unfamiliar to us,” Prefftle’s mate, Boolit said, sniffing Zantak. “Are you new to the region?”
“Recently arrived,” Vioxx replied.
“Do you plan to stay, or are you just passing through on your travels?” Prefftle asked.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem to be carrying very little for travelers.”
“Our resources are low due to a recent accident,” Vioxx said.
“Then you must dine with us!” Kudool exclaimed. “And we make our resting place near a cave that should be suitable to your species.”
“Kudool! These nice folks don’t want to be stuck in some dank cave,” Boolit scolded.
“Actually, that’s precisely what we were looking for,” Vioxx said. “We’d like to see this cave.”
“Certainly,” Prefftle said with a nod of his head. “Follow us. We will lead you back to our humble place of rest.” Prefftle turned his bulk slowly, then lumbered off into the forest followed by the Romulans with the remaining members of Prefftle’s family bringing up the rear.
They hadn’t gone far before Remax fell into step beside Vioxx. “Is that what they’re teaching at the Officer’s Academy now?” he asked disdainfully.
“If this conversation is going to consist of you insulting me and my command style, I don’t have any interest in hearing what you have to say,” Vioxx replied, resisting the urge to cover his ears.
“Since when do we treat obviously inferior species like equals?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. What was I thinking? Being crushed to death was obviously the more attractive way to go. Silly me.”
“Do I have to spell out something this basic? You had the disruptor. Kill the leader, then order the others to submit to your wishes. We should be demanding to be taken to this cave, not groveling for the honor,” Remax said.
“That is not the way I do things. Times have changed, Sub-Commander.”
“Only because weaklings like you have let them. This is no way to run an Empire!”
“Despite what you may believe about me, Remax, I take my duty to the Romulan Empire VERY seriously, and I will not have you disparaging me because I am not ‘Romulan’ enough for you. I am a Romulan and a damn proud one. I will serve the Praetor and the best interests of the Empire to the absolute best of my ability and in the way I feel is best. If you have a problem with my methods, you’re more than welcome to lodge a complaint with the Praetor when we return. In the meantime, keep your opinions to yourself.” Vioxx picked up his pace a bit, soon catching up with Prefftle.
“Lovely planet you’ve got here,” Vioxx said casually.
“Planet? You really aren’t from here, are you?” Prefftle replied, unfazed.
“Not even close. Our vessel crashed here.”
“Was anyone hurt? You didn’t have to leave anyone behind, did you?”
“No no. This is everyone. And once again, I have to apologize for Sub-Commander Remax. He believes in doing things a certain way: his way.”
“Isn’t that the way of the elders?” Prefftle replied. “I am sure my children feel the same way about me.”
“You have a point,” Vioxx assented. “Are there many others of your kind at this resting place?”
“It is solely ours,” Prefftle said. “My kind tend to stick to our family units. Contact with others is rare outside of the mating times, when those of age who are not yet bonded come together to select life-mates.”
Vioxx frowned, trying to prevent the image of an orgy of these giant creatures from forming in his mind. Judging by Prefftle’s attitude, though, the affair was probably far more like the cotillions held by the upper levels of Romulan society. He’d attended one once, years ago when he was still dating Sarnol. He’d found the whole evening incredibly boring, but Sarnol was perfectly content. But then, Sarnol’s family was from those social circles, unlike Vioxx. It was only a matter of time before she came to her senses and left the Officer’s Academy and him, ending her “rebellion” against her family.
Vioxx pulled himself out of the memory to get back to information gathering. He may not want to follow Remax’s suggestion of killing Prefftle and his family, but he was not about to let this opportunity to learn about their species pass him by. The Empire might still expand this way, after all, and it would be helpful to understand what sort of resistance they might encounter when attempting to annex this world.
“I take it then that your people have little use for technology,” Vioxx said.
“I don’t even understand the word, so I guess not,” Prefftle replied.
“It’s not important.”
They walked in silence for several moments.
“So, which one is your mate?” Prefftle asked finally.
“Excuse me?” Vioxx choked.
“I am unfamiliar with your species, but the two with the long hair and the round bumps in front are obviously different than you, the elder, and the other.” Prefftle trailed off for a moment, a look of understanding coming into his large yellow eyes. “They are both yours?”
“No no and NO,” Vioxx said. “Nortal and Zantak are females, but I am not mated to either of them.”
“Are they not of age? They appear…”
“NO! I…they…” Vioxx’s first impulse was to just blurt out that Nortal was crazy, Zantak was practically mute, and he wouldn’t go anywhere near either of them. Instead, he fell back on his Romulan upbringing and lied.
“My mate is on our homeworld.”
“I see. Then your visit to us must bring you some sadness as you are separated from your mate.”
“I ache all over,” Vioxx said, which was actually kind of true, but it was due to the crash rather than any emotional longing.
“Perhaps an evening of rest will help you somewhat,” Prefftle said as the group emerged into a clearing right at the base of the cliff. “Welcome to our humble place of rest.”
The clearing was bare other than four gatherings of leaves, which Vioxx assumed were the “beds” of Prefftle and his family. At the very base of the cliff, equidistant from either side of the clearing so no one could sneak up to it without one of the family noticing, was a small pile of fruits, fungi, and vegetables that had been obtained from the trees of the forest or from the forest floor. A short distance up the cliff face, no more than eight feet, was a narrow cave entrance. At least, Vioxx hoped it was a cave. Surely there was no way that Kudool or the others could have entered it to check it out.
“Feel free to take whatever looks appetizing,” Prefftle said, gesturing at the food pile with his right forearm (Prefftle’s kind walked on all fours; however, they could use their forearms for certain activities much like an ape but without the dextrous fingers). “Then please feel free to take your rest. You do not have to go to the cave if you would rather remain outside. We want you to feel welcome.”
“We do,” Vioxx said. “And the cave will be fine.” Romulans did value their privacy, and most didn’t relish the idea of sharing a bunk with some strange alien thing. To illustrate the point, Remax, Nortal, Zantak, and Selex were already scrambling up the cliff-face to the cave entrance. All of them, except Remax, were loaded down with fruit. Vioxx was sure the elder Romulan would rather eat rations for the rest of his life than take something offered to him by an inferior species.
“Thank you again,” Vioxx said, noting that night was beginning to fall. “We will let you get back to your normal routine now, and we’ll see you in the morning. Thank you. Really.” He grabbed a few nice, juicy red fruits for himself, then headed into the cave.
With the newcomers resting, Prefftle and his family each grabbed a snack from the pile and gathered at the opposite of the clearing to relax.
“Nice folks,” Boolit said.
“They’re kind of cute,” Groop said.
“Of course you think so,” Kudool said, nudging his sister.
“I think they’re nice, too!” Groop said defensively.
“Yes yes. We all think they’re nice,” Prefftle said, calming his children down. “So which one do we want to eat first?”
Despite the fact that the USS Anomaly was currently speeding through Romulan space, Commander Prosak couldn’t honestly say that she felt any more at home than she did normally. The general uniformity of space pretty much prevented the feeling of being in a familiar neighborhood that she would get when she visited her father’s quarters near the capitol complex on Romulus.
Not that it mattered much anyway. Outside of the occasional comm with childhood friends, Prosak’s main Romulan contact was with her father, who lived on Earth.
Considering all of that, it was no wonder she was surprised when her attempt to sleep in her quarters was interrupted by a message from the bridge indicating that she had an incoming comm.
Prosak pulled herself out of bed and stumbled over to the desk, a desk that had once been Reginald Bain’s when this room was his ready room, not that he’d ever used it. The captain much preferred the private lounge he’d had installed off of the corridor behind the bridge.
She pulled the desktop console closer to her and pressed the screen to open the channel.
“Father!” she said happily, her RommaVulc veneer breaking as she saw her father’s face on the screen.
“Hello, Boogles,” Ambassador Rorshak replied. “I heard you were in our home space, so I thought I’d give you a comm over a proper network.”
“The Federation comm network is more than sufficient,” Prosak replied, parrying one of her father’s common jabs about Romulan superiority. Prosak didn’t honestly believe that Rorshak meant his superior remarks most of the time. He seemed to get more amusement simply out of watching her reaction.
“Of course it is,” Rorshak said condescendingly. “But how are you doing?”
“All is well,” Prosak said, deciding quickly that informing the Romulan Ambassador to the Federation about Polnuc’s attempt to commandeer the anti-sing drive could be a bad idea. “The mission is progressing as expected.”
“Good. Good,” Rorshak replied, seeming somewhat distracted. “You are being careful, aren’t you? All systems are fully-operational and all?”
“The ship is in good shape, and we will be as careful as is required for this rescue mission.”
“Good,” Rorshak said again.
“Is something wrong, father?”
“What would make you ask that?”
“You are normally far more focused in your comms to me,” Prosak replied.
“I just wanted to see you for a moment. Those of us with emotions tend to feel that way about our children,” Rorshak said.
Prosak frowned slightly. Something about her father’s expression suggested to her that there was more to this comm than she was getting. However, she knew that her father was not likely to be forthcoming over a comm channel.
“Perhaps we should dine together during my next visit to Earth,” Prosak said. “We could talk more then.”
“That…that would be pleasant,” Rorshak said, doing a fairly decent impression of a RommaVulc himself. “Good luck on this mission, Boogles. And stay alert. The unknown is everywhere and can be very dangerous.”
“I have confidence that we can handle whatever we may encounter,” Prosak replied.
“I’m sure you can,” Rorshak said unconvincingly, his eyes unwilling to look away from her. “Good bye, Prosak.”
“Good bye, father. We’ll talk soon.”
She heard Rorshak softly mutter “I hope so” just before the comm channel closed.
“Golfing in the middle of the Romulan Empire! How’s this for exotic?” Ensign Hector Arroyo said enthusiastically as Lieutenant Shelly Marsden lined up for her putt.
“This isn’t golf,” she grumbled.
“Sure it is! We’ve got a ball and a club, and there’s a little hole we have to hit into. How isn’t this golf?”
“Real golf does not involve hitting the ball through some clown’s mouth!”
“You really need to learn to branch out a little. Try some new things.”
“Don’t push me, Hector.”
Arroyo held his hands up in mock surrender as Marsden returned her attention to the ball. After a couple of moments of lining up her shot, she putted, sending the ball rolling cleanly through the giant clown mouth ahead of her and rolling down a ramp toward the actual hole.
“Nice one,” Arroyo said.
“Yeah yeah. But next time we head into the holopods, I’m picking the course.”
“You always want to play those big courses with all the walking from hole to hole. This is much more compact.”
“And all we do it putt,” Marsden said.
“So? It’s gets us to the important part faster. The point is to get it into the hole after all. Why start hundreds of meters away when we can begin right here?” Arroyo replied, placing his ball down to make his first putt.
“Hitting it accurately over hundreds of meters is part of the challenge. There is no challenge to mini-golf!”
“You weren’t saying that back on the 5th hole when your ball kept dropping off of the bridge into the pond.”
“Are you going to yap or putt?”
Arroyo stood up from his club and stared at her. “If this is pissing you off so much, we can switch back to a regular course.”
Marsden’s glare softened. “Sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t be taking things out on you. I’m having fun. Let’s play.”
“What things shouldn’t you be taking out on me?” Arroyo asked.
“Oh come on, Shel. I know I’m not Natalia, but you can talk to me. I’ve certainly told you enough over the years.”
Marsden bit her lower lip for several moments, mulling it over. “I don’t think you want to hear this.”
“Now you have to tell me. You can’t say something like that then not follow it up.”
“Um…can I just ask you a question?”
“As many as you want,” Arroyo replied, walking over and taking a seat on the bench next to the putting green. “Question away.”
“What do you think of Tovar?”
Arroyo looked at her for a moment, then smiled. “Oh, I get it. You’re still blaming him for that mess in the tube junction. You aren’t thinking of going to Bain are you? Even if Tovar were the biggest screw-up in the galaxy…which he’s not…Bain wouldn’t demote him. Sure he didn’t nab Polnuc, but things turned out okay. He can be a bit of a pretentious jerk at times, but he’s really a good guy when you get him relaxed. And he knows his job. I…
“Hector, that’s not what I meant. He didn’t screw up the Polnuc thing at all. I was already in trouble before he arrived.”
“Okay, so maybe I don’t get it. Why do…” He trailed off, his eyes widening. “Wait. I do get it, and I don’t want to. Shelly!”
“What?” Marsden said defensively.
“Uh huh. So?”
Arroyo stammered at a loss for words. “I just…I never thought you… TOVAR!”
“There’s something about him that I like. He’s a bit stiff at times, but he’s got a lot going for him.”
“Sure. Eight personalities, Bain’s his dad, and he’s got a girlfriend!”
“We don’t get to choose who we’re attracted to, Hector. Just because you hide from relationships like the plague doesn’t mean the rest of have to. And I don’t want to hear it about liking Tovar considering you’ve been faking an engagement for the last three years!”
Arroyo blanched at the mention of his pseudo-relationship with Janie Tyler, one of his former colleagues at Starfleet R&D. They had never actually even dated, but she’d agreed to go along with a fake engagement just to get Arroyo’s parents off of his back. Spending some time with the Arroyos was usually enough to make anyone pity Hector. They were so bound and determined to see their boy married off and producing grandchildren that they practically looked upon any available female as a potential daughter-in-law/child-incubator.
Arroyo stood up abruptly, heading back to his ball. “Are we playing or not?”
“That depends. Can you and that exposed nerve handle it?” Marsden asked.
“This isn’t about me. I’m not the one considering trying to break up a colleague’s relationship.”
“I’m not going to go anywhere near Tovar while he’s dating Torgerson,” Marsden replied. “I don’t even know if he’d be interested anyway.”
“I shouldn’t even be worrying. Tovar and Jamie have been together for months. I don’t think that relationship is in any danger,” Arroyo said, making his putt, which rolled up to the clown mouth, slowed to a halt, then started rolling back toward him. “Crap!”
Bain swivelled slightly in his command chair as the turbolift doors opened allowing Lieutenant Commander Tovar to step out onto the bridge. Bain frowned, seeing the haggard look on Tovar’s face.
“Rough night, son?” he asked as Tovar made his way to tac- ops.
“There were…issues,” he replied, not really wishing to pursue the matter on the bridge…or at all really. He’d been raked over the proverbial coals quite enough by Jamie Torgerson the night before and had no desire to submit to another interrogation. Actually, that was a bit of an overstatement. Torgerson had really been very reasonable and kind about the whole thing. That level- headedness was just one of the many things Tovar loved…(no…too strong)…liked…(weak)…liked a lot (good enough) about her.
Fortunately, events conspired to see to it that the matter was quickly dropped.
“We’re approaching the coordinates,” Yonk, the Ferengi who was currently manning the helm, reported.
“Take us out of anti-sing,” Bain ordered. He swivelled toward the science console to his left. “We’re looking for a Class M world, Doctor,” he said.
“This would be a pretty pointless rescue mission if we weren’t,” Dr. Natalia Kasyov replied as she pored over her sensors.
The streaks of stars on the viewscreen shortened as the Anomaly slowed, re-entering normal space at the edge of the star system from where the surviving crew of the Tyvek sent their distress call.
“Stay alert, Mister Yonk,” Bain said, leaning forward in his chair. “There could be another one of those storms about. We’re a bigger fish than the Tyvek, but I’d rather avoid the experience all together if possible.”
“That makes two of us,” Yonk said, shifting in his booster seat. Despite his stature, though, the two-foot-tall Ferengi was more than able to handle the helm.
“I’m detecting faint signs of an impulse drive,” Kasyov reported. “Probably two days old.”
“Sounds like our Romulan friends,” Bain said. “Any sign of the planet?”
“It’s the fourth one in the system,” Kasyov said. “I’m sending the coordinates to the helm now. The world looks…”
“What is it, Kassie?” Bain asked as Kasyov stared at her readouts.
“What did the Romulans say happened to the Tyvek?” she asked finally.
“Destroyed by a storm,” Bain said. “A tragedy to be sure, but then that’s one of the dangers of space travel. We all knew that when we signed up, and I’m sure those Romulan blokes felt the same way. This is not a business for the faint of heart, Kassie. We must be…”
The view on the screen shifted to show a dark hulk drifting in space.
“What the devil is that?”
“A Romulan vessel,” Tovar said, checking his console. “Scout class. From the readings it appears to be, surprise surprise, the Tyvek.”
“Life-signs?” Bain asked.
“None,” Kasyov replied. “But that still doesn’t explain what the ship is doing there at all.”
Bain nodded. “Then let’s go ask them, shall we? Take us to the planet, Mister Yonk.”