Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“Bold Faced Lies”
by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler
While he wasn’t the oldest or most tried captain in the service of the Romulan Empire by far, Commander Vioxx had had his share of experiences in his forty-three years of life, so he could say with some measure of certainty that last night had been the most uncomfortable night he’d ever been unfortunate enough to have. The cave itself was pitch black, and the floor was a solid slab of rock except for the jagged bits of stone jutting up every few centimeters or so. If he’d known that it was going to be this bad, he would have ordered his crew to rip the cushions off of the shuttle chairs before they left the plateau.
“Unnnh,” Vioxx moaned softly, trying not to let his discomfort show to whomever else might be awake as he sat up. The few streaks of sunlight entering the cave revealed Sub- Commander Remax sitting against the opposite wall, looking as grumpy as ever. The night on the cave floor probably didn’t even bother him and his Old Guard mentality.
The thought gave Vioxx pause for a moment. Did that mean Remax was right? Were they becoming as soft as the Federation?
Vioxx quickly pushed this aside. They weren’t Klingons. Alliance with the Federation or no, Romulans did not find sleeping on a cave floor to be acceptable. They were above such things.
“By the Praetor, I am paralyzed!” Nortal cried suddenly from her position near the cave entrance.
“Sleep,” Zantak snapped, giving probably the only word she would utter all day. For his part, Selex rolled over with a grunt, trying to claim a few more minutes of rest.
“What’s wrong?” Vioxx asked, climbing to his feet and making his way over to his tactical officer, who was frantically trying to move her limbs.
“My arms and legs refuse to obey!”
Vioxx could sympathize. It took all the energy he could muster to move himself after a night on that rock floor not to mention resisting the urge to wince and moan as he got to his feet. There was no point in giving Remax any additional ammunition to use against him.
“You’re not paralyzed,” Vioxx said.
“You doubt the word of Nortal?”
“You probably just slept wrong.” He noticed the up-jutting bit of rock that her head was resting on. “Did you try and use that as a pillow?”
“It served me well.”
“And bent your neck,” Vioxx replied, grabbing Nortal’s head and bending it the other way until he heard a soft pop.
Nortal sprang to her feet in an instant. “You have the touch of the gods! I am healed, great commander!”
“Uh huh. Whatever,” Vioxx said with a sigh. He grabbed a remaining fruit from his small pile, headed deeper into the cave and took a seat against a fairly flat-looking section of wall. The fruit was actually quite good. Juicy and refreshing without being overly sweet or tart. If they were ever able to get back to Romulus, he’d have to take a few with him. Perhaps they could be grown there as well. They could even name it after him. Vioxxina. It wasn’t exactly a statue in the Praetor’s Hall, but at least it would be some small recognition of his service to the Empire.
“I don’t suppose you even have a plan, do you?” Remax said, walking over and looking down on Vioxx.
“I plan on enjoying my breakfast.”
“It’s bad enough that you got us into this mess in the first place, and now all you can think to do is eat?”
“Our first order of business was to see to the necessities of life. We’re in a shelter consuming a bit of food. Once everyone is awake, I will talk to our hosts about finding a source of fresh water.”
“I’ve got an idea. How about we start acting like Romulans?” Remax said snidely.
“I’m sure I can’t wait to hear how this will be accomplished.”
Remax shook his head in disgust. “Don’t they teach you anything about the basics of D and T anymore. Time was when even the lowest recruit was a master of Deceit and Treachery.”
“There is a time and a place for everything, Sub- Commander.”
“Human platitudes. Every time is the time for D and T. We need to get one of our so-called hosts away from the others. Once it shows us where food and water can be obtained, we will kill it, then return and kill the others before they know what has happened. Only then can we be assured of our own survival.”
“You live in a dark place, Remax,” Vioxx replied. “Prefftle and his family have been kind and generous to us, which is far more that you’d be to them if they crashed on our world.”
“Do you have a point?”
“I think they’ll help us willingly. There’s no need to kill them.”
“If you start acting any more like a human, the points on your ears are going to shrink away to nothing,” Remax said, turning on his heel and storming toward the cave exit as he pulled the scanner out of his coat.
“Where are you going?”
“To ask your bulbous friends where the damn water is,” Remax shot back.
Vioxx looked over at the rock near where he’d slept. The group’s lone disruptor was still there. “Permission granted,” he said as Remax grabbed the empty canteen out of the rations kit.
“I didn’t ask,” Remax replied, heading out of the cave into the morning sun.
Remax returned a scant three minutes later minus the canteen and his left arm. He was doing a hell of a lot of screaming, though.
“Well?” Captain Bain asked expectantly, turning toward the science console as the Anomaly orbited the fourth planet.
“No sign of them yet,” Dr. Kasyov replied.
“But they did crash onto this planet, right? It’ll be something of an embarrassment if we’ve gone to the wrong place.”
“Wait. I’ve got something,” Kasyov said. “I think it’s the shuttle. I’d say they crashed.”
“None…but I’m not reading much in the way of organic material inside the wreckage either. They either survived and left the site, or their corpses were thrown clear to rot in the surrounding underbrush.”
“They’re rotting?” Commander Prosak asked, emerging from her quarters onto the bridge.
“Hopefully not,” Bain said. “You and Tovar go down and have a look about. We’ll have Doctor Nooney on standby in case you find anyone still alive.”
Prosak nodded and entered the turbolift with Lieutenant Commander Tovar.
“By Jenichai, your arm is GONE!” Nortal exclaimed upon seeing Remax stumble back into the cave.
Through the searing pain overwhelming his body, Remax managed to shoot the tactical officer a vicious glare just before he collapsed to the cave floor.
Vioxx scooped up the medkit and rushed to Remax. Finding a hypospray inside, he loaded all of the painkiller they had available and injected it into the scientist.
Remax’s body relaxed as the chemicals raced through his bloodstream while Vioxx put the largest bandage he could find onto the patch where Remax’s left arm had once been, stanching the flow of blood.
“What happened?” Vioxx asked.
“You got hurt trying to get breakfast?”
“No, you moron, they tried to eat me for breakfast!”
“Our ‘friends,’” Remax shot back. “I knew we should have killed them.”
“But why? They seemed so helpful?” Engineer Selex said confused. “Did we offend them in some way?”
“I now see their sinister plan,” Nortal said, holding up a piece of fruit. “They were fattening us up for the slaughter.”
“For once I agree with her,” Remax said.
“Helllooooo?” Prefftle called into the cave, his voice emanating from the scanner stuffed in the pocket of Remax’s jacket. “We’re really sorry about what just happened, but I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. Would you all like to come out and discuss it?”
“We’ll crush your scorched unworthy bones under our boots!” Remax shouted back.
“Oooooh. Good one,” Nortal said.
The shuttle had actually remained relatively intact despite the crash, which seemed to eliminate the “bodies thrown from the site” theory. With his wrist phaser extended, Tovar examined the nearby ground for some clue as to whether the Romulan crew left on their own or whether they were carried off by persons or things unknown.
“I cannot say that there is much to recommend this planet,” Commander Prosak commented, scanning the area with her quadcorder. She looked out off of the edge of the plateau at the valley below. “I suppose this particular spot could be considered scenic. Perhaps for a picnic. How are you and Lieutenant Torgerson?”
Tovar choked suddenly. “Excuse me?” he asked, standing up from the trail of matted grass he was following.
“The rumor on board was that you and the lieutenant were experiencing difficulties in your relationship. I was just attempting to get to the truth of the matter.”
“And it’s your business because?”
“I’ve obviously offended you. I apologize,” Prosak replied quickly, looking away.
“I’m just not used to having my personal life be a source of interest among the crew.”
“I find that hard to believe. Your personal affairs have had a great impact upon us in the past. We went to great lengths to help you when your Interloping past life took over, and I even went so far as to meld with you, something that I have rarely done with anyone.”
“I’m sorry my presence on board has been such an inconvenience to you,” Tovar replied coldly.
“That…was not what I meant,” Prosak said. “We have served together for a good deal of time now, and I have grown interested in you.” Tovar looked at her quizzically. “In your well-being,” Prosak corrected quickly.
“I see. Then, in response to your question, Lieutenant Torgerson and I are fine,” Tovar replied flatly. “There is little to report.”
“Bain to Prosak,” Prosak’s commpip barked suddenly.
“Go ahead, Captain,” Prosak replied.
“What’s going on down there? Do we have Rommies or not?”
“Other than myself, no. We are continuing our search.”
“Very well,” Bain said, rising from his command chair and beginning to pace the bridge. “We’ll do what we can from here. Anomaly out.”
“I’ve widened my scan radius,” Dr. Kasyov said. “I’m still not detecting Romulan life signs.”
“Where the devil are they?”
“I don’t know. I can’t imagine that they made it any farther than this on foot.”
“What about a cave?”
“I thought about that,” Kasyov replied. “But our scans are having trouble penetrating very far into the plateau where the shuttle crashed. For all I know the Romulans are in there, but there’s no way for me to tell for sure unless…now that’s funny.”
“What?” Bain asked, leaning down beside Kasyov and trying to make sense out of the results being displayed on the various monitors of the science station.
“These creatures,” Kasyov said, pointing at a small grouping of signals clumped together. “They’re very intent on this cliff-face for some reason.”
“I can’t say for sure, but I am picking up traces of copper splattered on the ground. It could be copper-based blood.”
“Then it could be that these alien hounds have our Romulan quarry treed…or caved in this case,” Bain said, clapping his hands together. “I’m going down there.”
“Sir, I know this isn’t my job, but I don’t think Prosak would want you beaming into that kind of situation.”
“She and Tovar will be there with me,” Bain said, heading toward the turbolift. “Bain to Arroyo. Get to the bridge and take the conn. Bain out.” He smiled at Kasyov. “We’ll be back before you know it.”
“You just had to suggest the cave, didn’t you?” Groop whined, kicking her brother.
“They would have found it anyway!” Kudool shouted back as they stood outside of the cave where the Romulans were hiding.
“Calm down, children,” Boolit said, peering as best she could into the narrow cave entrance. “They have to come out eventually.”
“Your mother is right,” Prefftle added. He raised he head up to the cave entrance. “Mister Vioxx? Helloooo? Could you come here for a moment?”
“How stupid do they think we are?” Vioxx said as Prefftle’s words echoed around the cave.
“Stupid enough to get ourselves trapped in a cave with no exit except into their mouths,” Remax said.
“We must fight our way through these beasts,” Nortal said.
“With some additional supplies, I could possibly construct an explosive for you, Commander,” Selex offered. “But I’m afraid this one disrupter is all I have to give to your efforts.”
“It will have to be enough,” Vioxx replied, raising the weapon and moving cautiously toward the cave entrance. The cavern narrowed at the opening, forming a small rock corridor that he would have to enter if he was to have any hope of hitting the creatures outside.
The rock corridor was calm and quiet as he slipped into it. No sounds seemed to be entering from the outside, either. In fact, he had a clear view of the tree line beyond. The creatures must have given up and gone off to find something less troublesome to eat for…
A giant clawed appendage suddenly zipped in from the outside and latched onto him in a flash, yanking Vioxx out of the cave and toward certain death.
“Good lord! If we don’t do something, that poor bastard is facing certain death!” Captain Bain exclaimed as he, Tovar, and Prosak crouched in the woods just outside of the creatures’ clearing. “Good thing we brought the rifles,” he added, aiming his compression phaser rifle carefully.
“Indeed,” Tovar replied, barely able to contain a grin. He rarely got to pull out the big guns, so this was a treat.
“I still think you should be on the ship, sir,” Prosak said.
“Nonsense. This sort of thing is right up my alley. Now ready…aim…FIRE!”
Vioxx was certainly a squirmer. Prefflte was tempted just to bite his head off and be done with it, but he so hated to start with dessert. At least Boolit had stepped on that strange object he’d used to harm Prefftle the day before.
Wait. What was that shouting noise?
Prefftle turned toward the forest just as three beams of energy seared toward his position. His head incinerated an instant later, much to the surprise and alarm of the remaining members of his family.
“Daddy!” Groop and Kudool cried, quickly getting a fix on the source of the attack.
“We’ll get another daddy, children,” Boolit said calmly. “Now go see what that was.”
“Yes, mommy.” The two children put their heads down and charged the group of Starfleet officers.
“Bloody hell! Those things can move!” Bain said, getting to his feet as the creatures closed in alarmingly quickly. “You two get the Roms. I’ll see to these blighters.”
Bain ran into the clearing, moving diagonally away from the creatures, which quickly changed their course to intercept him. The Captain had kept in shape over the years, but he quickly realized that he wasn’t going to be able to outrun the two angry monsters chasing him down. Evidently, they took a threat to their survival quite seriously.
He fired behind himself as best he could, but aiming a rifle one-handed while running the other direction just wasn’t the easiest task in the world. His best shot managed to nick the muscular side of one of the beasts but did little to slow it down.
Tovar and Prosak, meanwhile, waited until Bain had drawn the two charging creatures away, then ran out into the clearing, firing wildly at the creature pinning down one of the Romulans. In a move of surprising dexterity, the creature dodged the blasts headed straight for it, then ran for cover in the forest.
“Oh no you don’t,” Tovar muttered, increasing his speed until he’d almost caught up with his fleeing quarry. Suddenly, the creature spun around, catching Tovar off-guard as he was swatted by a massive leg and knocked back several feet before he hit the dirt with a thud, his weapon flying from his hand in the process.
“Tovar!” Prosak cried, rushing toward him as she sent cover fire hurtling toward the attacking creature. The creature avoided the blasts, stomping on Tovar’s rifle in the process. Prosak scored several hits, leaving scorch marks on the creature’s hide and causing it to bellow in anger and pain.
Prosak reached Tovar, who was struggling to get to his feet, and grabbed his arm, yanking him toward the cliff-face near where the Romulan lay dazed from his near-death experience.
“Can you walk?” Prosak asked, looking down at the Romulan.
The Romulan gazed up at her, his face filled with confusion. “You’re…Starfleet?”
“Yes. Commander Prosak,” Prosak said.
“Vioxx,” Commander Vioxx replied as Prosak and Tovar helped him stand. “Commander Vioxx of the Tyvek.” He spotted Bain running from two of the creatures. “Shouldn’t you help him?”
“Captain Bain will let us know if he needs us, which I doubt he will,” Tovar said. “Besides we have our own problems,” he added, pointing at the creature who’d stomped on his rifle and who was now staring the trio down.
“Is it going to charge us?” Prosak asked.
“Possibly,” Vioxx said. “They seemed so nice when we first met them, though. They gave us food and a place to sleep.”
Prosak’s eyes widened in alarm. “What do you mean ‘gave you’?”
“Just what it sounds like. Prefftle and his family were very kind at first, but it was all lies. Remax was right. They just wanted to eat us.”
“You talked to them?” Tovar asked.
“Unfortunately. Prefftle was good at appearing sincere…at least until you blew his head off.”
“This is an…unpleasant turn of events,” Prosak said, trying to hold her RommaVulc control. “Please retrieve your translation matrix quickly.”
Vioxx’s eyes narrowed. “Wait. Are you Vulcan?”
“No. I am Romulan, just like yourself.”
“No Romulan I know talks like…you’re a RommaVulc!” he said, not hiding his distaste for the word.
“Yes, but this is hardly the time to discuss the matter. We need that translator.”
“I don’t think it will help. Boolit’s just had her husband slaughtered and her kids attacked. I wouldn’t be in the mood to talk,” Vioxx said.
“Even so,” Prosak said, “we must attempt to make contact before her children are…”
“Too late,” Tovar said, pointing at Bain.
“Get the translator,” Prosak said. “Now.”
“Not a very good RommaVulc are you?” Vioxx said.
Firing accurately on the run may have been a problem, but Bain could still change the phaser rifle’s settings on the go. A couple of taps, and he’d set the device to overload. He waited for a few seconds, quickly estimating the running speed of the creatures chasing him as the hum began to build.
“That’s right, old girl. Build up that power,” Bain said, kissing the rifle stock briefly, then tossing it to the ground behind him. The creatures chasing him were so intent on catching Bain that they didn’t notice the object tossed in their path until they were directly over it and…
The compression phaser rifle exploded violently, releasing a blast of energy that instantly vaporized half of both creatures’ bodies and left the rest charred, smoking piles of flesh.
“RROOOOOOAAAAAAAXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX!” the lone remaining beast roared upon seeing its fellows killed. It turned its attention fully to Bain, leaving Prosak, Tovar, and the Romulan they’d rescued to see to the other Romulans.
Bain stared down the monster as he extended his wrist phaser. The weapon wouldn’t be much against a creature of its size and power, but Bain had been in worse scrapes and come out all right.
His commpip suddenly chirped.
“Bloody inconvenient time,” he muttered.
The pip chirped again just as he noticed Prosak and Tovar gesturing emphatically at their collars while the other Romulan scrambled up into a cave in the cliff-face.
“Blast,” Bain said, pinching his commpip. “Prosak, this is something of a bad time.”
“These creatures are sentient. The Romulans have a translation matrix that Commander Vioxx is retrieving as we speak.”
The last creature began its charge.
“Somehow I don’t think it wants to talk,” Bain said, raising his wrist to fire. He got off several shots, which the creature shrugged off in its ire as it loomed closer and closer.
“The Romulan commander shares your opinion, but we should at least try.”
“Oh all right,” Bain snapped, then closed then channel.
He stood his ground as the creature approached, then, at the final moment, dove to the dirt, rolling onto his back as the creature ran over him. He fired repeatedly, sending blast after blast into the creature’s soft underbelly. It screamed, charging onward to get away from the attack.
Bain took the opportunity to scramble to his feet and race toward his officers, who were just being joined by the returning Commander Vioxx who was holding the scanner containing the translation matrix. Bain raced by, snatching the scanner from Vioxx’s hand.
“What’s its name?” he shouted as he ran away.
“Boolit!” Vioxx called.
“Right. Got it,” Bain replied as he headed back toward the rampaging creature.
“Er…greetings, Boolit. I’m dreadfully sorry about all the fuss. It seems we’ve had a bit of confusion here,” Bain said. “I’d like to clear it up before you…er…anyone else ends up dead.”
“You killed them all!” Boolit shouted back. “Do you have any idea what trouble it is to find a secure family in this region?”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” Bain replied, still running since Boolit was showing no signs of giving up the whole revenge idea. “But I’m sure a fine specimen like yourself will come out all right.”
“But you killed them!”
“To be fair about this, you were about to kill that pointy- eared chap over there.”
“What else would we do with him?” Boolit asked confused. “He and his companions were just begging to be eaten.”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
“Look at him…and you…with those fleshy bodies and oh-so- inviting heads. What a treat!”
“I think not,” Bain said firmly.
“Come on. Just stand still for a moment.”
“If you so much as breathe on me, you’ll find yourself with the worst case of indigestion anyone in this sector has ever experienced.”
“I’ll take that chance,” Boolit said, putting on a burst of speed and catching up to Bain in a few bounds. Bain narrowly dodged Boolit’s snapping jaws by jumping up and grabbing onto the rim of one of the creature’s massive nostrils.
“Get down from there!” Boolit cried, trying to latch onto Bain with her tongue. Bain aimed his wrist phaser down and fired, searing off more than few taste buds.
“HEY!” Boolit screamed.
Bain quickly reached up and pinched his commpip. “Bain to Tovar.”
“Standing by, sir.”
“Good lad,” Bain said. “The diplomatic approach doesn’t seem to be working.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Tovar replied.
Bain laughed. “Good show, my boy. But, if you have a moment, could you see about dropping this pesky beast.”
“Of course,” Tovar replied.
A split-second later, a phaser rifle blast screamed toward Bain’s position, slamming into the back of Boolit’s head. Boolit staggered, but quickly recovered. Another shot hit. Then another…and another.
Boolit’s eyes rolled up into her head then, at long last, she collapsed to the ground. “Smartly done,” Bain said, climbing to his feet as Tovar rushed over after tossing Prosak’s phaser rifle back to her.
“I took the liberty of using heavy stun,” Tovar said.
“Right. Right. Good idea. Now then, let’s see to our reason for being here,” Bain said, brushing himself off before walking over to Commander Vioxx. “Captain Reginald Bain, USS Anomaly,” Bain said, extending his hand to the Romulan. “We’re here to take you and your crew home.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Captain, but we’re exceptionally grateful to see you,” Vioxx replied, shaking Bain’s hand. “I’ll just go get my officers,”
“Capital idea,” Bain said somewhat confused as Vioxx headed back into the cave. Once Vioxx was gone, Bain turned to Commander Prosak. “How could I take that the wrong way?”
“By assuming that an officer of the Romulan Empire actually needed your help.”
“Ah,” Bain said, clearly not happy with the explanation.
“Well this should be a joyous trip back,” Tovar remarked.
An hour later, Boolit awoke in a daze. Slowly, the memories of what had happened to her family and her encounter with the surprisingly-dangerous bipeds oozed back into her conscious mind. When she caught up with those pesky…
She opened her eyes and, when her vision cleared, found herself looking up at the most gorgeous face she had ever seen. His features were so…round and wonderfully bulbous with deep black eyes that she could practically swim in.
“Hey, sexy,” he said, nuzzling her side. “What’s a good lookin’ urgunup like you doin’ all alone out here?”
“It’s been a long day,” Boolit replied, getting to her four feet.
“I hear ya. So…wanna mate?”
Boolit giggled. “But it isn’t the mating time.”
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
And Boolit strolled away to start her new life.
One thing had quickly become apparent as Commander Vioxx walked with Captain Bain through the Anomaly’s pristine corridors then into a turbolift. The man just did not ever stop talking.
“Bad luck about those round blighters back on the surface,” Bain was currently saying as the turbolift made its way toward the Anomaly’s bridge. “I wouldn’t have known they were sentient either.”
“We did know,” Vioxx said. “And their so-called sentience didn’t stop them from trying to eat us.”
“Quite right,” Bain said. “I won’t lose any sleep over them, that you can be sure of. Even so, Starfleet’s not going to look so kindly on the whole bloody affair.”
“Then don’t tell them. I do it all the time,” Vioxx said. Of course, somehow the Romulan High Command usually found out anyway. They tended to notice things like the destabilization of an entire star cluster, which is probably the reason the Tyvek had been banished out to this region in the first place.
“Falsify my log?” Bain said thoughtfully. “Hmmm…no. Couldn’t do it. In all my years of service, I’ve never stooped to such a tactic. If it comes to an inquest, I’ll stand tall, speak firmly, and tell anyone who wants to know that I blew those nasty blighters up, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
“Good for you,” Vioxx muttered as the turbolift slowed to a halt and opened revealing the Anomaly’s wedge-shaped bridge. Vioxx couldn’t move for a moment. It was all so shiny. And clean. And it all probably worked.
Bain exchanged a few words with the young human male in the command chair, ordering him to remain in command while Bain took Vioxx back to the Captain’s Lounge.
“You have my permission to enter the bridge, Commander,” Bain said, waiting outside of the lift. “I appreciate your courtesy, though. Quite refreshing, actually.”
“Uh huh,” Vioxx said, walking forward not even sure what Bain had just been babbling about. The Romulan almost felt bad about stepping onto the bridge carpet in his rumpled and dirty condition.
Vioxx leapt five feet as a piercing squeal filled the air from behind him.
“Stand down, Lieutenant Brazzell,” Bain ordered as the officer manning the tac-ops console at the rear of the bridge scrambled for the disinfecting sprays on his ever-present supply belt.
“But he’s so FILTHY! And the carpet. ACK! The turbolift. Did you touch the walls?” Brazzell demanded.
“His whole species is like this,” Bain whispered to Vioxx. “We have to put up with it. Cultural sensitivity and all.”
“Which is why our ships are crewed solely by Romulans,” Vioxx replied.
“Damned elitist of you,” Bain replied. “Not that it’s my place to judge.”
“Right. Let’s get to this. Status, Mister Arroyo.”
The young human officer in the command chair spun to face them. “Unchanged. Doctor Kasyov decided she was bored and returned to Science Lab Four, but we’re maintaining a sensor lock on the Romulan vessel.”
“My ship?” Vioxx asked. “But I assumed the entity…”
“What entity?” Bain asked.
Vioxx frowned. Had the humans not been informed about the energy being? Surely the High Command knew, since they sent a rescue ship. Best not to say anymore until he’d read the orders Captain Bain said the High Command had sent along for him.
“I meant engines,” Vioxx said. “We assumed the ship would be destroyed.”
“That’s what we were told as well, but your ship is out there. The storm did a number on her, though. I’ve been through some wild ones in my years, but I’ve never seen that kind of scorching on a hull outside of a firefight.”
So a storm was evidently the cover story chosen by Command. Good to know. “It was terrible,” Vioxx replied. Replace the storm with the unknown energy entity, and he’d be telling the truth. “You said you had orders for me?”
“Right right. Come with me,” Bain said, leading Vioxx to a door at the rear of the bridge’s starboard side then down a corridor to a wood-paneled room complete with leather chairs, a large wooden desk, bookcases, and a large painting over a faux fireplace.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Bain said, gesturing to a chair opposite his desk as he opened a small cabinet in one of the bookcases revealing various bottles and glasses. “I’m out of Romulan ale.”
“I never liked the stuff anyway,” Vioxx replied.
“I like you already. Here,” Bain said, handing Vioxx a glass of freshly-poured brandy. “And don’t worry; it’s not replicated.” After closing up the mini-bar, Bain headed to his desk and turned the small desk console toward Vioxx. “Computer, access Commander Vioxx’s orders please.”
“Authentication required,” the computer replied.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Bain said to Vioxx as he headed toward the door. “We’ll wait to board the Tyvek until we hear what tune your superiors want us to dance to.” Bain exited, leaving Vioxx alone with his console.
Now why would the High Command want them to dance?
“Oh dear, oh dear, OH DEAR!” Dr. Fred Nooney exclaimed as he walked around the biobed in sickbay, peering at Sub-Commander Remax from various angles. “This is QUITE the boo boo.”
“What is this?” Remax demanded, glaring at Commander Prosak, who’d been saddled with the joyous task of escorting the Romulans to sickbay to be looked over. “Some kind of Starfleet ploy to murder me by malpractice.”
“I assure you that, despite his unusual style, Doctor Nooney is fully competent.”
“And if you’re good, I’ll give you a candy when we’re done,” Nooney said brightly. He slowly peeled back the bandage covering where Remax’s arm had once been and was immediately met by a stream of green blood.
“OOOOOH! There’s a squirter!” Nooney cried, quickly stopping the flood with a wave of his arterial sealer. “Now let me go get our prosthetics catalog, so you can look through our selection of synthetic replacement limbs.”
Nooney scampered off to his office, leaving Prosak and Remax alone in the surgical area. Prosak noted that the elder Romulan was eying her suspiciously. The logical action would be to ignore it.
“You’re her, aren’t you?” Remax said after a few moments.
“That would depend on which specific her you are referring to; however, I am indeed a she in the general sense.”
“You’re Starfleet’s Romulan.”
“Last I knew, they had not acquired ownership of me,” Prosak replied placidly.
“Oh no. You’re a RommaVulc too,” Remax said.
“Why is everyone so surprised by this? There are thousands of us on Romulus. Followers of the Vulcan logical disciplines are not rare.”
“That doesn’t mean I have to like them. So why are you here? Did Starfleet just send you along to make us Romulans feel more comfortable?”
“On the contrary, I have been the first officer of this vessel for a number of years now. We are here to rescue you, something for which I would have thought you would be grateful.”
“Get me back to my own people. Then I’ll be grateful…and away from you and your Starfleet friends.”
“Has our alliance with the Federation been completely lost on you?”
Remax scowled. “I just keep hoping that if I ignore it enough, it will go away.”
“Ta daa!” Dr. Nooney exclaimed, leaping back into the room with a small holopadd. He activated it, projecting a 3D arm into the air. “What about this one?”
“Too bulky,” Remax said.
“We have dozens more. And I’m a wiz at matching skin tones!”
“I’ll look for myself,” Remax said, extending his remaining hand to reach for the holopadd. “And I’d like some privacy.”
“But of course!” Nooney said. “Picking a new limb is a big decision. I’ll just be in the main exam area seeing to your friends if you need me.” He latched onto Prosak’s arm and dragged her toward the door. “Come on, Commander!”
Nooney let go as soon as they’d returned to the main portion of sickbay, where Centurion Nortal, Engineer Selex, and Sub-Lieutenant Zantak waited impatiently on the biobeds to be released from the doctor’s care. Of course, part of their impatience may have been due to Nooney’s Andorian nurse, Ih’vik, who was lining up various invasive-looking medical implements on a small cart all while keeping a piercing eye on the Romulans.
“And how are all my other little patients?” Nooney asked, bounding into the room.
“I believe this blue demon means us harm,” Nortal said. “Back, foul beast, or face my fury!”
Ih’vik immediately started laughing with such intensity that she collapsed to the deck unable to stop. “Fury,” she gasped between guffaws. “Fury!”
“I am being mocked,” Nortal said unhappily.
“You still have my deepest respect, Centurion,” Selex said. Zantak, meanwhile, grunted non-committally.
“Okay then,” Nooney said, picking up his mediscanner. “Let’s see who’s got what?” He scanned Nortal first, gazing intently at his scan readouts. “Hmmm. Um hmmm. Hmmm. Ahhh. Well…okey-dokey then! You’re just peachy!”
“My power knows no bounds,” Nortal replied sagely.
“Isn’t that nice?” Nooney said, moving over to Selex. He scanned the engineer briefly, running through the same gamut of noises before proclaiming Selex to be “Okey-dokey.”
Finally, Nooney reached Zantak and began his scans. He hadn’t gotten very far before he let out a huge gasp.
“Is there a problem, Doctor?” Commander Prosak asked, approaching the biobed where the Romulan helm officer sat silently.
“This poor thing has been through complete and utter heck,” Nooney said. “The last time I saw anything like this was after Ensign Loto got zapped by that plasma conduit. She’s experienced a total disruption of her body’s natural electrical impulses.”
He looked at Zantak sympathetically. “Now you tell the doctor what happened to you?” He ran a finger along the dark handprint on Zantak’s face. “And how you got this?”
Zantak thought for a moment, then opened her mouth to speak.
“Bain to sickbay,” the comm system barked suddenly.
“Go ahead, Captain,” Commander Prosak said.
“Commander Vioxx has requested that his crew join him in the Captain’s Lounge to review their orders. Presumably once they’ve done that, they’ll fill us in.”
“But, Captain,” Dr. Nooney protested. “I have one patient with electrical damage and another who’s about to pick out a brand-spanking new arm!”
“You can have them back as soon as the briefing is done, Doctor,” Captain Bain replied. “Bain out.”
“Oh fiddlesticks!” Nooney said annoyed as he turned his attention back to Zantak. “I have to say goodbye now, but you get your little Romulan self back down here lickety-split once your meeting is done. Understand me?”
Zantak nodded hesitantly, then, as soon as Prosak had retrieved Sub-Commander Remax, quickly rushed out the door of sickbay with the other Romulans.
“Ih’vik, prepare my instruments,” Nooney said once the group had gone. “I’ll be giving that girl a special THOROUGH exam when she comes back.”
Commander Vioxx looked around the Captain’s Lounge at the solemn faces of his crew as they absorbed the information he had presented to them. Unless they were able to do something, the energy entity that had decimated the Tyvek would rip right through the Romulan Empire in less than two weeks with enough destructive size and force to annihilate everything in its path, including the Romulan fleet, should it try to stand in the way.
On top of that, the Federation knew nothing about it. The Romulan High Command had given strict orders that secrecy was to be maintained. The last thing they wanted was for the Federation to send an entire battle-group into their space or, should the entity be somehow captured, for the Federation to benefit from a scientific discoveries made about the entity. Just because the Romulans were in an alliance with the Federation didn’t mean that they had any intention of showing all of their cards.
“We’re going to have to take control of the ship,” Sub-Commander Remax commented finally.
“I don’t think so,” Vioxx replied. “We’re to do everything we can to maintain the alliance…short of telling the truth about the situation.”
“Well, obviously we won’t tell the truth,” Remax said. “But I don’t see how we’re supposed to act while Starfleet’s running the ship.”
“I’m sorry,” Vioxx replied. “I must have misunderstood you. Evidently you already have a plan detailing how to deal with this thing that practically destroyed us the last time. Do tell.”
Remax just glowered back.
“Well?” Vioxx said. Remax didn’t reply. “Then I guess we’ll go with my idea, which is to let Starfleet do the work. We can’t tell them directly what’s happening, but we can tell Bain which course to follow. Once we catch up with the entity…”
“It will quake under our might assault!” Nortal exclaimed, rising from her seat triumphantly.
“We can only hope,” Vioxx said. “I’m going to give Bain our new course and speed. With any luck, the Anomaly crew will be able to neutralize the entity without us having to acknowledge that we know anything. Just in case, though, I want us to pool our knowledge from our first encounter and try to come up with a contingency plan.”
“What about the Tyvek?” Selex asked. “The entity completely drained the singularity, which I didn’t think was possible, Commander. In the future, I will be sure guard our ship’s power source more thoroughly.”
“I don’t think it would have helped in this case. But to answer your question, we’re not returning to it. But it will head back to the Empire.”
“That’s what I need to discuss with Captain Bain.”
“Bloody peculiar,” Bain said unhappily, brow furrowed as he sat in his command chair on the bridge mulling over Commander Vioxx’s request.
“But I assume it won’t be a problem,” Vioxx replied, standing in front of Bain while the rest of the Tyvek’s surviving crew (sans Remax who, in a hurry to get his new arm, had been escorted back to sickbay) waited at the rear of the bridge.
“No,” Bain said. “Bloody peculiar, though. I would have thought you lot would be anxious to get your ship up and running again.”
“We couldn’t do that without another quantum singularity,” Engineer Selex said, drawing an angry glare from Vioxx.
“The storm destroyed your singularity?” Commander Prosak, who had placed herself in her usual position standing just behind Bain, asked confused. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
“None of this is relevant to my orders,” Vioxx said, trying to steer the conversation back to the matter at hand, which he couldn’t really mention directly. Deceit could be a hell of a lot of work sometimes.
Prosak hadn’t quite finished, though. “You do realize that even if nothing interferes with the Tyvek’s course, it’s going to take centuries to return to Romulan space after we give it a starting push.”
“My people may retrieve it sooner than that,” Vioxx said impatiently.
“They’re my people, too,” Prosak said.
“Could we please get this moving now, Captain?” Vioxx said, making a point of not even looking at Prosak.
Bain exchanged glance with his First Officer, who simply shrugged. “Right right,” Bain said. “Mister Brazzell, lock tractors on the Tyvek and let’s give it a good shove toward the Romulan Empire. Once that’s done, send us that way ourselves, Mister Arroyo.”
“Course plotted for Romulus, sir,” Arroyo replied.
“Actually, we need to take a slightly different course,” Vioxx said, approaching the helm. “Take us to heading 178 mark 6.”
Arroyo looked to Bain for confirmation. The captain nodded; although, he didn’t seem too thrilled with someone else giving his officers orders.
“Thank you, Captain,” Vioxx said. “We’ll be rendezvousing with a warhawk along this course once we re-enter Romulan space.” It was all a lie, but Vioxx was fairly sure it wouldn’t matter as soon as they encountered the entity, which was the only thing actually on this heading.
“Our pleasure,” Bain replied, settling into his seat as Vioxx looked around the bridge searchingly.
“Don’t you have any more chairs?”
Over his years in Starfleet, Lieutenant Commander Tovar had discovered that there was an art to walking through starship corridors. If you were the sort of person to smile and greet everyone you saw, chances were that you would never reach your destination simply due to the sheer number of people you would find yourself in conversation with. Fortunately, most other people on a starship also had professional obligations that they were generally heading toward, which tended to keep these conversations brief. But even five “brief” conversations could severely impede Tovar’s progress.
On the other hand, wearing a continual scowl or staring at the deck while walking tended to get one a reputation for being anti-social, which was not Tovar’s intention at all. If anything, he wished to be more social, but only on his terms. His relationship with Lieutenant Torgerson had blossomed out of one of his efforts. He’d attended a play put on by the Anomaly’s small amateur theater company, and, while the performance itself was pretty terrible, the costumes were spectacular (At first, Tovar was surprised that he even cared about such things, but later realized it was probably a lingering after-effect of the tailor that had been a part of the Interloping life-force). He’d found the costume designer listed in the program, Jamie Torgerson, and complimented her on her work.
Judging by her ecstatic reaction to the praise, Tovar concluded that she was not recognized for her efforts very often. This led to an invitation to see some of her other creations, which led to dinner, which led to more dinners, which led to a private fashion show, which led to a full-blown relationship.
Of course, his relationship with Torgerson had nothing to do with his methodology for walking through corridors. In that arena, Tovar had developed a very simple strategy: keep moving. He walked through the corridors of the Anomaly at all times at a brisk pace, making sure to always appear as though he was on his way somewhere important. He would give a courteous head nod, smile, and hello to people he passed, but at no time did he alter his pace. It was an approach that had worked admirably in the past.
“For god’s sake, would you slow down a minute!”
Tovar turned on his heel to see Lieutenant Marsden practically jogging to catch up with him. “You’re in a big hurry. Did somebody throw a red alert and forget to tell me?” she asked.
“I’m on my way to the bridge,” Tover replied. “We’ll be returning to Romulan space soon, and I would like to be on duty in case we run into anything…unexpected.”
“My aren’t you the trusting soul,” Marsden said with a laugh.
“I would think you, of all people, would agree with me considering your last Romulan experience.”
“I was stabbed by a clone made by A Romulan. Not all of them.”
“Even so,” Tovar said.
Marsden paused for a moment, her hands seeming to fidget of their own accord. “Look, I know you’re in a hurry, but I heard about what happened on the planet with those things, and I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Completely unharmed,” Tovar said, softening instantly. “But thank you for asking. I appreciate that you care.”
“Of course I do,” Marsden said with a grin, squeezing his upper arm. “I need you around next time my life’s in danger.”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
“You’d better not,” Marsden said, mock-threateningly as she moved off down the corridor. “I’ll see you later.”
“Yes,” Tovar said simply, resuming his course toward the turbolift, his mind considering the conversation all the while. Well, considering wasn’t quite the word for it. Tovar found himself focusing on Shelly Marsden’s smile and that arm squeeze. Marsden was a highly-skilled professional and a brilliant engineer. Tovar certainly admired her work on the anti-singularity drive even without the Interloping life-force’s science acumen as a part of his consciousness.
Additionally, Marsden was level-headed in a crisis, resourceful, and she also had a sense of fun that was undeniably attractive. Perhaps he could convince her to take him into her golf holopod program. Tovar didn’t know the first thing about golf, but he was positive he’d have a good time learning.
“You in there?”
Tovar jolted back to alertness mere moments before he would have walked headlong into Lieutenant Torgerson.
“Hello,” he said quickly, genuinely surprised to see her. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you. I was…thinking.”
“As usual,” Torgerson replied with a half-chuckle. “I said ‘Hi’ three times before you snapped out of it. Busy day?”
“I don’t know yet,” Tovar said. “But with the Romulans, you never know.”
“My aren’t you the trusting soul,” Torgerson said sarcastically.
“You aren’t the first to say so.”
“Well, try and get all of your deep pondering out of the way before dinner tonight. I’ve got this weird thing where I like the people I eat with to talk back to me,” she replied with a warm grin.
“I promise you’ll have my full attention,” Tovar said, returning the smile.
“Now you’re pushing it. Ninety percent I’d believe. No more.”.
“You’re possibly right.”
“Okay. Get along to wherever you were headed. And try to at least watch where you’re walking. Deep thoughts can lead to great pain when one does not watch where one is headed.”
“Yeah. I’m thinking of opening up a guru business on the side. It sounds like a good deal. Sit around, dispense kernels of wisdom, inspire devotion in my followers. I like it.”
Tovar laughed. “And you would have the best dressed sage award all wrapped up.”
“You know it.” Torgerson planted a quick kiss on Tovar’s lips. “See you later. Have a good day.”
“I shall try. And I hope you have a pleasant day as well.”
“Unless we get attacked, I probably will.”
“I’ll see what I can do to prevent that from happening,” Tovar replied as the couple headed their separate ways.
The next few hours were quiet on the bridge as the Anomaly sped back toward Romulan space. Commander Vioxx had commandeered a chair out of Commander Prosak’s quarters and had taken up a position to Bain’s right while Prosak stood behind Bain as usual, shooting rather un-RommaVulc dirty looks at the back of Vioxx’s head. Sub-Commander Remax, who was out of sickbay against Dr. Nooney’s recommendations but with a new, top-of-the-line prosthetic arm completely with life-like syntheskin, hovered behind the science console watching the readouts. At first, he’d been able to sit at the console itself, but Ensign Arroyo, who was fairly positive that Dr. Kasyov wouldn’t be thrilled with that idea, had sent Kasyov a quick text message informing her of the unauthorized guest at her station.
Kasyov quickly returned to the bridge to man her console, unaware that she was doing exactly what the Romulans wanted her to do. Of course, even if she’d known the Romulans wanted her there, she wouldn’t have known why until…
It was an odd bleep, not at all the sort of bleep Dr. Kasyov had become accustomed to hearing from her sensors. The bleep was not alone, though. It was accompanied by a large spike in the energy readings on the long range sensors. Something was ahead of them.
“Captain, I’m picking up something on long range scanners,” Dr. Kasyov reported.
“What sort of something?” Bain asked, not noticing the glance Commander Vioxx and Sub-Commander Remax exchanged.
“I can’t tell at this distance. All long range scanners are picking up are the energy emissions from it. They’re immense.”
“Where is it?”
“Directly ahead of us.”
“Directly?” Bain asked intrigued.
“Yes. And it’s moving toward Romulan space on our exact heading.”
Bain shot a look at Vioxx, whose face had gone inscrutable. “Does any of this sound familiar, Commander?” he asked.
“The information is very vague,” Vioxx replied. “I won’t know if its familiar until we get closer.”
“Surely your vaunted Starfleet sensors can do better than big energy thing,” Remax said, leaning in closer to Kasyov.
“Whatever it is, we’re going to intercept it in about twenty minutes,” Arroyo reported as he checked the readout on his helm console.
“Plot a course around it, Mister Arroyo,” Bain said. “We’ll take some readings as we swing by. No sense in delaying our guests.”
“We wouldn’t mind,” Vioxx said quickly. “Besides, aren’t you supposed to be big on the science and exploration business?”
“Always found it a bit dry, to be honest,” Bain said. “I’m more of the scrapes and adventure sort.”
“Maybe this energy entity will provide some adventure,” Vioxx suggested.
“Entity? Who said it was an entity?” Kasyov asked.
“Wait! It’s not an entity, is it?” Arroyo asked nervously.
“I mis-spoke. I apologize,” Vioxx said, ignoring the angry glare coming his way from Remax.
“Kassie, is it or is it not an entity?” Bain said.
“I have no idea, Captain. But if Commander Vioxx has any inside information, I would love to hear it.”
“It was just a bad choice of words,” Vioxx said defensively.
“We shall see,” Prosak said skeptically.
Remax looked at the readouts coming over Kasyov’s monitor. “Try checking more of the zeta bands,” he said.
“Just curious,” Remax replied. Actually, he wanted to see how much of the energy from the Tyvek’s quantum singularity this monster had actually been able to absorb.
Kasyov whistled as the readout came up on her monitor. The spikes were huge. Practically off the scale.
“All of it,” Remax muttered.
“Excuse me?” Kasyov asked.
“Nothing,” Remax said. The thing had sucked the entire singularity dry and was just awash in the singularity’s energy signature.
“How big is this energy…thing?” Vioxx asked.
“Approximately 100 kilometers in diameter,” Kasyov replied.
Vioxx choked. It had only been 10 meters across when his crew encountered it a couple of days ago. The Romulan High Command had been right (of course). This thing was growing at an incredible rate.
“Give us a wide berth, Mister Arroyo,” Bain said.
“I like that plan,” Arroyo said softly, altering the Anomaly’s course.
The next several minutes ticked by in relative silence as Kasyov focused on her sensors, which were giving her an increasingly good view of the energy phenomenon in front of the Anomaly.
The zeta band request Remax had made was gnawing at her. Why had he requested that specifically? What did he know that she didn’t? And why were her readings shifting so much? Certainly a phenomenon of this type would have some fluctuations in size and energy, but these were almost rhythmic. The object was pulsating, but never returning to the exact size it had been before the pulse.
“It’s growing,” Kasyov muttered.
“What was that, Kass?” Bain asked.
“The object is growing,” Kasyov said more firmly as she typed some calculations into her console. “Assuming that its rate continues, by the time it hits Romulan space, it’s going to be 300 million kilometers across.”
“Good lord!” Bain exclaimed.
“That’s not the worst of it. I’ve extrapolated its heading. It’s going straight to Earth.”
“Earth?” Bain said. “Now why would…oh blast, it is an entity!”
Arroyo spun around in his chair toward Bain, his face blanched. “Wh…why do you say that?”
“Precedent, my boy,” Bain said. “Nomad, V’ger, the whale probe, Quisaris, the Kalibak field. They were all heading to Earth looking for some particular person or thing. Well, we’re going to nip this in the bud right here and now. Intercept course, Mister Arroyo. Yellow alert. Tovar, standby on shields and weapons.”
“Excellent idea,” Remax said pointedly at Vioxx.
“I’m so glad you approve,” Vioxx said annoyed.
“Are you sure about this, sir?” Arroyo asked. “What can we possibly do?”
“We’ll figure it out,” Bain said. “That’s what we do. And if the good doctor is correct, which I’m sure she is, this blighter won’t be getting any smaller.”
“Good point,” Arroyo muttered unhappily as he laid in the new course and sent the Anomaly careening directly toward the energy phenomenon.
“Let’s have a look at it,” Bain said. Kasyov changed the view on the screen to show the massive spherical field of energy ahead of them, crackling with almost-blinding white power as it went.
“Oh boy,” Arroyo said softly.
“Steady, lad,” Bain said confidently. “We’ll cut this thing down to size.”
“I bet he will,” Remax said, sliding up behind Vioxx’s chair.
“Oh shut up,” Vioxx snapped.
“Sub-Commander Remax’s confidence in Captain Bain is justified,” Commander Prosak remarked. “He has a strong track record.”
“Shutting up goes double for you, RommaVulc,” Remax spat.
“Move us to within 100 kilometers,” Bain ordered as the object loomed on the viewscreen.
Arroyo nodded as he carried out the order.
At the science console, Doctor Kasyov kept one eye on her readouts as she quickly queried the ship’s computer about the zeta band readouts. Her expertise was xeno-neurology. How was she supposed to keep straight all of the other sciences running around out there? She was quite pleased with how well she handled most things, but occasionally she just had to look something up.
She quickly read through the entry in the Science Console Operator’s Manual until a term caught her eye: Quantum Singularity. Remax asked for the zeta band because he knew what he’d see there. The Tyvek’s singularity had been completely drained, and this was obviously what had done the draining, which meant their entire story had been lies. Which meant…
The Anomaly shuttered violently as an arc of energy from the phenomenon reached out and hit the ship, sending a surge of power cascading through the vessel which shorted out conduits and consoles as it went.
“Report!” Bain cried, hanging onto this seat as the Anomaly’s momentum abruptly changed.
“They lied! They knew! They knew all along!” Kasyov shouted back.
“That wasn’t exactly the report I wanted,” Bain said.
“We’re being held in some sort of energy field,” Tovar said, his hands flying across the tac-ops console. “I’ve raised shields, but the phenomenon still has us.”
“It’s pulling us in!” Arroyo said, clearly very alarmed.
“Arm neutron torpedoes and prepare to fire,” Bain said.
“Yes!” Remax exclaimed.
“NO!” Vioxx shouted.
“Why?” Kasyov demanded. “Is that what you did?”
“Engineering to bridge,” Lieutenant Marsden’s voice called over the comm. “We’ve got problems down here.”
“No offense, Marsie, but we’ve got a few up here as well,” Bain said.
“Whatever it is out there is trying to tap into the cores,” Marsden snapped. “If it succeeds, your problems aren’t going to matter.”
“You’ve got me there, Marsie. Take whatever steps you feel are necessary. Bring in that Romulan engineer, Selex, if you have to. He may have some insights into this thing.”
“So the Romulans lied to us.”
“It appears so,” Bain said.
“Figures. Marsden out.”
“Captain, I’m reading very complex energy patterns at the core of this phenomenon,” Kasyov said excitedly. “I’m certain it’s sentient.”
“So it is an entity after all?” Bain said.
“Definitely!” Kasyov said.
Bain spun his chair around to face his tac-ops officer. “Try to get a channel open. If Kassie’s right, maybe we can talk some sense to it before it sucks us dry,” Bain said as the Anomaly was pulled into the outer barrier of the energy being.
“Channel open,” Tovar said.
“Energy creature, this is Captain Reginald Bain of the USS Anomaly. We’re a peaceful vessel crewed by sentient beings. Please call off this assault at once!” Bain announced.
“SOME OF YOU ARE OF THE ONE,” a crackling voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “I WILL HAVE THE ONE.”
“Good lord,” Bain muttered. “It’s bloody V’ger all over again.” He raised his voice back to a commanding level. “I assure you that your one is most likely long since dead. There’s no point in destroying us or heading all of the way to Earth for nothing. Just run along and find something else to do with your existence. Perhaps a hobby.”
The ship rumbled as several more tentacles of energy latched onto it.
“BRIDGE!” Marsden’s voice shouted over the speakers.
“Yes yes, I KNOW!” Bain shouted back. He turned his attention back to the thing engulfing his ship just as Ensign Arroyo darted up out of his seat. “Man your post, Ensign,” Bain said firmly.
“I can’t. Not now,” Arroyo said, rushing up the ramp into the port turbolift as a stunned crew looked on.
Tovar recovered first, extending his wrist phaser and headed toward the turbolift doors to pursue the fleeing Ensign Arroyo.
“Belay that, Tovar,” Bain said. “I need you here.”
“I will alert security, then.”
“No. I’ll go after him,” Commander Prosak said. “I do not feel that Ensign Arroyo’s moment of panic requires security intervention.”
“Good plan,” Remax said with disdain. “Perhaps you can use your many RommaVulc talents to explain the logic of staying to the human.”
“I do not appreciate your remarks,” Prosak said, heading into the next turbolift car. “But we will discuss the matter when I return.”
“Don’t hurry on my account,” Remax said.
“That’s enough out of you,” Bain said angrily. “That’s my first officer, and you’ll treat her with respect or you’ll find yourself confined to sickbay.”
Remax’s face paled. “I apologize,” he said quickly.
“I thought you might,” Bain said, turning in time to see a slight smile on Prosak’s face just before the turbolift doors closed.
The Anomaly bucked again, the lights and consoles flickering wildly.
“YOU ARE KEEPING ME FROM THE ONE,” the voice stated ominously. “YOU WILL BE CLEANSED ONE BY ONE UNTIL YOU GIVE ME WHAT I REQUIRE, THEN I WILL FEED ON YOUR VESSEL.”
“Not very appealing options,” Bain remarked.
“THESE ARE NOT OPTIONS. THEY ARE CERTAINTIES.”
Commander Prosak watched the progress of Ensign Arroyo’s bio-signature as he descended through the ship then exited his turbolift on Deck Seven. He immediately ran toward the rear of the ship. Prosak quickly realized just where Arroyo was headed.
“Commander Prosak to Transporter Control. Beam me to Corridor 45-G.”
The transporter control computer’s response was instantaneous. “Intra-ship transport is only allowed in emergency situations. Does someone of command authority believe that this transport is justified in conjunction with a situation of emergency proportions?”
“YES!” Prosak screamed, relieved that no one on the crew was there to see her complete loss of RommaVulc control.
“Increased volume is not required in your replies,” the computer said. Prosak could swear that it sounded offended. “Energizing.”
“Thank you,” Prosak said just before the transporter disassembled her.
Moments later, she rematerialized on Deck Seven, mere meters away from her destination. She caught up with Arroyo just as the ensign charged into the secondary shuttlebay. “Arroyo, stop!” she ordered.
He kept running, right up the stairs into the nearest raceabout. “HECTOR!” she screamed, racing after him and leaping into the craft just before the hatch closed.
Arroyo was already behind the controls of the raceabout, starting the liftoff sequence as the shuttlebay doors opened revealing the entity beyond.
“What are you doing?” Prosak demanded, storming into the cockpit. “This course of action is extremely ill-advised.”
“I’m sorry, Commander. I have to,” Arroyo said, panic in his eyes. The raceabout suddenly ripped out of the shuttlebay at full impulse, almost knocking Prosak off of her feet and leaving a swath of battered shuttles mangled in its powerful wake.
“We’ve had a launch,” Tovar reported. “One raceabout. Ensign Arroyo and Commander Prosak are aboard.”
“Bloody hell!” Bain said as the Anomaly jolted beneath him in the fury of the entity’s assault.
“I’ve been trying. No response.”
“Beam them back.”
“I can’t. Not through the interference out there.”
“Blast. Lock tract…”
Bain didn’t finish the rest of the order as a glowing humanoid figure began to coalesce at the front of the bridge.
“What the devil is that?”
Vioxx and Remax exchanged a panicked glance.
“RUN!” they screamed as Tovar aimed his wrist phaser at the stationary figure.
“Wait!” Kasyov said. “It’s moving off.”
“What?” Bain said confused. “It’s standing right there.”
“The big entity outside! It’s moving away.”
Bain looked past the glowing figure at the viewscreen to see that the Anomaly was indeed now emerging back in normal space.
“That’s nice, but this creature did not come alone. I am reading nineteen identical energy signatures,” Tovar said.
“Now see here,” Bain said, pointing at the glowing figure at the front of his bridge. “I don’t enjoy being boarded without so much as a ‘we’re coming over.’ If you’re here to talk, fine. I’m certainly open to diplomacy in the proper circumstances, but I won’t stand for any sort of assault against my ship or crew.”
The energy being turned around and reached a hand out to the viewscreen. On contact, the viewscreen flared, then went dark as every bit of energy feeding it streamed into the being.
Vioxx grabbed Bain and spun him around, his eyes wide with terror. “What part of RUN didn’t you get?”
“It’s coming,” Arroyo said without looking back at Prosak from the raceabout controls.
“What’s coming?” Prosak asked, stepping forward. Perhaps if she could keep him talking, she would be able to sneak up and apply a nerve pinch before he realized what was happening. Of course, that plan would have a far greater chance of success if her neck pinching abilities were reasonably adequate, which they were not.
“The entity. The creature. It. It’s coming,” Arroyo said, his voice quivering.
“You’re panicking, Hector,” Prosak said soothingly, taking a seat beside him. Perhaps just talking him down without trying the neck pinch would be the most desirable strategy. “It’s understandable, but we must turn around and help our crewmates.”
“I am helping,” Arroyo said, his fingers typing commands into the console. Prosak looked down at the console in front of her. Arroyo was right. It was coming. Within moments, the energy phenomenon would overtake the raceabout.
“It won’t let us get away,” Arroyo continued.
“Evidently not,” Prosak said. She noticed a flashing readout on Arroyo’s console. It was counting down and, by her calculations, would reach zero soon after the raceabout was within the phenomenon. At first, she thought Arroyo’s own calculations must have just been a bit off, but then she spotted the build-up occurring within the raceabout’s own warp core.
“What are you doing?” she exclaimed, unable to hide her alarm.
“What I have to,” Arroyo replied as the entity began to surround them, sending power surges and arcs of white lightning cascading throughout the raceabout. “I’m sorry that you caught up with me. You shouldn’t have to be here for this.”
Prosak couldn’t look away from the rapidly dropping counter. “Stop this, Hector. There has to be another course of action available. There are ALWAYS other courses of action available.”
“Not this time,” Arroyo said sadly as the counter hit zero.
Matter met anti-matter.
And the raceabout exploded in a violent release of power.
“Engineering to bridge!” Marsden’s voice called yet again.
“Report, Marsie!” Bain said crisply, not taking his eyes off of the energy being that was currently eying his bridge for his next meal as though it were some sort of all-night all-you-can-drain buffet.
“So you want to listen to me now. We’ve got company down here, and they’ve taken a liking to the warp core and the singularity.”
“Security will be along presently,” Bain said distractedly. “Do we still have propulsion?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Marsden replied. “We took a real pounding from that thing, and I have no idea what these guys attached to the core and the singularity are doing to the drive fields.”
“What about the polaron drive?”
“Same problem. These guys are everywhere.”
“Understood. Do what you can, Marsie. Bridge out.” Bain pressed the all-call on the armrest of his command chair. “Bain to all hands. Arm yourselves and do everything possible to repel the invaders. They don’t want to talk. I repeat, THEY DON’T WANT TO TALK, so we’re going to have to skip step one of the usual invasion protocol and go straight to the shooting bit. Good luck to you all. Bain out.”
The captain turned to his science officer. “Status of the raceabout,” he said quickly.
“The entity’s got it,” Kasyov replied. “Power readings on the raceabout are fluctuating. I think it’s building toward…”
She fell silent.
“Oh my god,” Kasyov murmured after a few moments.
“What is it?” Bain said.
“The raceabout…it just exploded. It looks like a self-destruct, but I can’t be sure.”
“What about the entity?” Bain said hopefully.
“Still there. But it’s not moving.”
“Then maybe Arroyo and Prosak injured it at least. Very brave pair. But this is not the proper time for mourning.” He pointed at the energy figure that was now reaching out toward the helm. “Tovar, blast that bugger!”