Star Traks: Boldly Gone... was created by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler. It's based on Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry. Star Trek is owned by CBS, Paramount and Viacom. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, not to mention a huge jump 120 years into Star Trek's future, better hit the 'Back' button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
Copyright: 2004

STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…

“Bold Faced Lies”

by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler



INSTALLMENT FOUR


Chapter Twelve


He’d felt the blast. The heat searing through him as the raceabout vaporized in a tremendous release of destructive power.

Did that mean he was dead?

Arroyo opened his eyes, if they were really his eyes. For all he knew, he was now non-corporeal and floating around some after-life.

It certainly looked like the afterlife. All pale violet and misty. No floor. No ceiling. Nothing but the mist. He pushed himself to his feet (if he even still really had feet) and stepped forward into the haze around him.

Gradually, a figure became visible, standing a short distance ahead of him. He quickly approached, finding Commander Prosak looking around at her new surroundings.

“Commander, are you all right?” Arroyo asked urgently.

Her eyes locked on him. A sultry smile spread across her face as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Why hello, Hector. You didn’t think I was going to let you slip away from me again that easily, did you?”


FOUR YEARS EARLIER


When the assignments had come through, Hector Arroyo had gotten a lot of looks of pity and the occasional “that’s rough” from his fellow cadets in his graduating class at Starfleet Academy. No one wanted to get stuck at Starfleet Research and Development when they could be on a starship somewhere or assigned to an exotic outpost in the reaches of deep space.

No one except Hector Arroyo, that is.

He’d had to pull a few strings to get there, but there were some bonuses to having a parent serving in the Earth Planetary Government. Fortunately, no one in his class had put together that he was Senator Arroyo’s son. To be honest, though, most of them probably hadn’t even heard of Senator Arroyo. No one really cared about what Earth’s government was doing anyway.

It did give Arroyo enough pull to end up at R&D, though, which suited him fine. He liked space. He wouldn’t have joined Starfleet if he didn’t, but hanging around Earth test piloting the latest creations to hit the stars was mighty appealing. Arroyo was actually surprised more cadets didn’t try for the assignment.

But then maybe they didn’t want to get stuck with missions like this.

This, specifically, was the first manned test-flight of an experimental wormhole-drive craft. Wormhole-drive was actually something of a misnomer, making it sound like the small ship was powered by wormholes. In reality, the craft created a small wormhole in front of itself that could be passed though to a terminus point pre-determined when the wormhole was created.

So far, the unmanned tests had gone smoothly with the unpiloted ships creating and entering small wormholes near Venus, which then dumped them out an instant later just past Neptune. Starfleet was suitably impressed, but they wanted to see a bigger test of the drive’s capability.

The wormhole drive’s project head, Lieutenant Commander Odare Bes, a Bajoran with the least patience Arroyo had ever encountered, immediately proposed jumping straight to a manned test involving a hop to the Vulcan system, insisting over any and all protesters that the ship and drive were ready to go. What he needed, though, was a solid pilot, but one with a low enough rank that if the test failed, it could easily be blamed on pilot error.

Since his project was still in the unmanned testing phase, though, Odare had not yet had a pilot officially attached to the effort, but he knew where he could get one: the anti-singularity drive project. The anti-singularity drive effort annoyed Odare Bes a bit to begin with. Here some hot-shot lieutenant had come up with an extremely far-fetched design combining Romulan and Federation hardware into something that was supposed to be faster than anything that had come before, and Starfleet Command bought it. They even put the lieutenant, Shelly Marsden, in charge of the project and gave her a full staff, including a newly-assigned pilot.

As Odare had predicted, the so-called anti-singularity drive hadn’t worked yet, so the pilot, one Ensign Hector Arroyo, was sitting around twiddling his thumbs. A quick chat with Commodore Enhni about the matter had gotten Arroyo “loaned” to Odare for the wormhole test, which was why Arroyo was currently sitting in the cockpit of a heavily-modified scout ship hovering just beyond one of the Gas Refining Platforms orbiting Venus waiting for the signal to start the test.

“Control to Sisko. Status report,” Lieutenant Commander Odare’s voice said over the test ship’s comm system. The craft had been named the Sisko as a tribute to a Starfleet captain from more than a century earlier who’d evidently spent a lot of time traveling through the Bajoran wormhole. From what Arroyo had heard, the Bajorans believe Sisko was actually still in there, which seemed like a laughable idea to him.

“Sisko standing by,” Arroyo replied, glancing across his console to make sure everything was still in order for the test.

“We have a go from Starfleet Command.” Translation: all of the admirals had finally finished yapping, eating, and visiting the lavatory and had finally sat down in their seats to watch the show. “Begin startup sequence.”

Arroyo reached forward and tapped the flashing “Startup Sequence” control on his console. “Startup sequence engaged. Wormhole drive fully online in five…four…three…two…one. Wormhole drive online and fully-operational. Wormhole vector for the Vulcan system locked in. Sisko is ready for launch.”

“Is preflight complete?” Odare asked. Arroyo could detect more than a hint of condescension in his voice. He knew what Odare really wanted to ask was, “Are you sure you’ve done everything right, rookie?”

“Aye, sir,” Arroyo replied crisply.

“Very well. Begin countdown to wormhole formation.”

“Counting down. Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one. Engaging wormhole drive.”

Arroyo tapped the final control, causing three bolts of sparking blue energy to blaze out of the triangular array of emitters mounted at the front of the test-ship. The energies met one hundred meters in front of the craft and began to swirl, breaking down the barriers of space-time as they did so, and tunneling their way through the sub-layers toward the programmed terminus at Vulcan.

After a few moments, the readouts in front of Arroyo showed that the new wormhole was stable. He gave the polaron engines a short burst, propelling him into the mouth of the wormhole. A second later, both wormhole and test-ship were gone.


This was Arroyo’s first time in a wormhole, which wasn’t all that surprising since very few people actually tended to travel through wormholes other than the stable one out by Bajor. Really, it didn’t feel any different than traveling in normal space, but it was far nicer to look at with the strands of swirling colors passing by his ship. Sure, just watching the pinks, blues, and purples would probably get old after a while, but with the wormhole-drive, no one would be in here for more than an hour or so. His trip to Vulcan should actually only take about five minutes.

Five minutes wasn’t even enough time to grab a decent bite to eat out of the replicator. Of course, Lieutenant Commander Odare would probably frown on him getting up from the pilot’s seat at all during this flight, not that there was much he could do if things went wrong in the wormhole. Actually, there wasn’t much for him to do period on this flight. He was kind of just along for the ride. But it did get him out of the office for a little bit. Lieutenant Marsden had been fairly stressed lately about the anti-sing drive as the first prototype ship was being built. Arroyo, as just the pilot, had been able to stay clear of her ravings, but Janie Tyler, who had quickly become Arroyo’s closest friend at Starfleet R&D, was right in the middle of it, which made Arroyo even more glad that he’d stayed away from the science and engineering fields. He was quite content just to sit behind the controls of a ship and sail through the stars…or a wormhole as the case may be.

Um…why was he slowing down?

Arroyo double-checked his sensor readouts to confirm the sensation of slowing he was feeling. Sure enough, relative speed had dropped to zero kph. He fired up the polaron drive, but the ship didn’t so much as vibrate. Thrusters and warp drive were equally useless. The ship was just plain stuck.

“Not good,” Arroyo muttered. “So not…”

A flash of something suddenly ripped through him, setting his entire tingling with the most pleasurable sensation he’d felt since…well…pretty well ever.

“GOOOOD!” he cried, practically having a seizure in his seat. After several seconds, the sensation faded, leaving him more than a little dazed and confused as he checked the sensors for any sign of what had just hit him.

“What was…WOAHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Another wave tore through him, blurring his vision and threatening to send him collapsing into complete unconsciousness.

“Wa.wa…wait,”he gasped. “Stop…please. Can’t handle…UNNNHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” In a clear confirmation of the old “too much of a good thing” adage, Arroyo lost the battle with the force assailing his body and gave in to oblivion.


Consciousness. Arroyo would rather have rejected the offer, but once it arrives, consciousness tends to stick around barring the intrusion of some outside force.

Arroyo slowly opened his eyes as the shuttle gently bobbed in the eddies of the wormhole surrounding it. The ensign pushed himself to his knees and grabbed onto the chair he’d fallen out of during the assault on his body.

If you could call something that felt that incredible an assault. As it was, his muscles were practically trembling with the mere effort of getting into his chair. The console in front of him drifted in and out of focus as Arroyo struggled to get his mind in gear.

He was still in the wormhole, and the shuttle still wasn’t moving. He had to do something to get some forward motion going or he was liable to be trapped for…

“Are you well?”

Arroyo stopped abruptly, a cold spike of fear lancing down his spine. He turned in his chair, looking for the source of the voice.

No one was there.

“Hello?” he asked hesitantly.

“Are you well?” the voice repeated. It was soft, androgynous, and sounded sincerely concerned. It also seemed to be speaking directly into Arroyo’s brain.

“I’m…okay,” he said finally, not sure how he should proceed. “Um…how are you?”

“I do not know. It is a new concept.”

“Take your time. I don’t seem to be going anywhere. Er…did you…were you the one who…did that to me?”

“I made contact.”

“That you did,” Arroyo said with a chuckle. “I don’t want to sound rude, but where are you exactly?”

“Here.”

“Of course. How silly of me.”

“Why are you with me?” the voice asked.

“I’m not sure how to answer that,” Arroyo replied. “I was traveling through this wormhole when you…contacted me.”

“Wormhole,” the voice said, mulling the word over.

“Yeah. It’s…like a tunnel. Say, you haven’t heard of Bajor, have you? Are you a prophet?”

“These terms are not familiar.”

“Just thought I’d check. My name’s Hector, by the way. Do you have a name?”

“No.”

“Then what do others of your kind call you?”

“Others?”

“Never mind,” Arroyo said quickly.

Arroyo suddenly felt a slight crackling running across his limbs up and down his body. “You are not like me,” the voice said thoughtfully. “You are bounded in form. Is this all that you are?”

“Afraid so, but it gets the job done,” he replied.

The probing seemed to grow more intense. He could feel the entity in his mind, browsing through him as though he were a library. “Well, I’m very sorry to have barged in on you like this,” he said, growing nervous. “If you’d just let my ship go, I’ll be on my way.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No,” the voice said firmly.

He knew capture and imprisonment was always a possibility. Space travel had its inherent dangers, and that was certainly one of them. However, Hector Arroyo never thought much about it. Working on Earth most of the time tended to keep one sheltered away from many opportunities to be captured.

This was evidently his big chance to experience it; although, he had to admit that it was a fairly pleasant imprisonment as imprisonments went. The test ship wasn’t large, but it had enough space that Arroyo didn’t feel claustrophobia setting in. And the replicated food was certainly superior to bread and water or whatever glop some alien captor might have forced on him.

In the end, though, he was still a prisoner. The wormhole entity would not release him. Actually, wormhole entity did not seem to be an accurate description. The being, whom Arroyo had dubbed Lucinda for the simple reason of needing something to call her…er…it, seemed to have no knowledge of wormholes or normal space for that matter. Instead, she…he meant it…just wanted Arroyo’s company.

This had gone on for eight days now according to the test-ship’s chronometer. They talked. He told Lucinda all about his life, and in return…

“Uuuuuunnnnnnh.” Arroyo’s body shuddered again as Lucinda did whatever the hell it was that she (it…IT!) did to him. Somewhere inside he knew he was in danger of becoming addicted to the sensation as Lucinda played her private tune on his nervous system, but he was long past caring. She could keep him here as long as she wanted as long as she kept on…

Lucinda wasn’t a she. It’s an entity. A disembodied energy entity. He couldn’t allow himself to forget…

“Ooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

“Are you well?” Lucinda asked.

“Very,” Arroyo replied dreamily. It’d taken some practice, but Lucinda had learned just how much Arroyo could stand before passing out.

“Do you love Earth?”

“Huh?” Arroyo asked, not much up to being conversational at the moment.

“You display it constantly.”

“Display? Where?”

“In your mind. I see strange shapes. Beings like the One but not the One.” Lucinda had taken to calling him the One, which Arroyo found flattering and a little disconcerting at the same time. “Structures. Green shapes. Blue emptiness. And I sense strong emotions from you for it.”

“It’s home,” Arroyo replied.

“Home? But this is home.”

“This is where I’m currently living. There’s a big difference between that and home.”

“You will not allow this to be home,” Lucinda said.

“Probably not, but you could always come back to my home with me.”

“No.”

“No you can’t? Or no you won’t?”

No response.

“Lucinda? Lucinda?”


Three more days passed. Arroyo was alone for much of the first, but Lucinda finally returned. She made no mention of Arroyo’s offer, but continuously questioned him about every detail she could think of. What was water? How did water taste? What was taste? To finally put a stop to that particular line of inquiry, Arroyo replicated a glass of water and drank it while Lucinda probed him. This seemed to satisfy her, but she wanted more and more and more.

“I wish to taste celery,” Lucinda said.

“Why celery?”

“The name is…poetic.”

“Can we please skip that one?” Arroyo asked, looking at the empty plates in front of him. “I’m not a big fan. You’re going to be disappointed.”

“I wish to taste celery,” Lucinda said, nudging his mind and sending a pleasant shiver though his form.

“All right, but this is the last one for tonight. You’ve eaten or touched just everything that could be eaten or touched on this ship.”

“We have done this together.”

“That’s true,” Arroyo said. Somehow he could feel Lucinda’s consciousness inside his own. The curiosity and the wonder at these new experiences.

He ordered up a single stick of celery and a side of peanut butter, then sat back down at the small table in the living quarters of the test-ship.

“What is that brown substance?”

“Trust me,” Arroyo said. He took a bite of the plain celery and chewed it up.

“Crunchy,” Lucinda observed, trying out adjectives she’d never needed before in her existence. “And green.”

“It’s a plant,” Arroyo said. He dipped the celery in the peanut butter. “Now try this.” He took a bite and could sense Lucinda’s pleasure at the new taste sensation.

“I like that. The brown substance is very good.”

“It’s called peanut butter. Tomorrow I’ll show you the glorious things that happen when you mix it with chocolate, but now I need some sleep.”

“May I stay?” Lucinda asked.

The request caught Arroyo off-guard. “You’re everywhere in this realm. Where would you go?” he asked confused.

“May I stay here. In you.”

“I’m just going to be sleeping.”

“I wish to be with you.”

Arroyo smiled. “I’d like that.”

“Then we will be one, Hector.” Lucinda was silent for a few moments as Arroyo cleaned up the plates. “My One?” she asked finally.

“Yes, Lucinda.”

“I want to experience our contact from inside you.”

He laughed slightly. “If you can feel half of what I do during contact, you won’t want to leave.”

“Why would I ever want to anyway?”

Arroyo couldn’t think of a single reason.


They were the One. As days passed, co-existence dissolved into a single existence. Contact pleasured the One. The One experienced many things for the first time that the part once known as Hector Arroyo had long taken for granted. Each taste, each memory, each moment was viewed from the new perspective of the One.

But eventually everything new becomes old. The One desired to move its completeness out of the wormhole to experience the homeworld of Hector Arroyo. The world known as Earth. From there they would roam, taking in the material universe that produced Hector Arroyo and yet was completely unknown to Lucinda.

And forever they would be One.

The One changed the auras of the realm outside of the test-ship, freeing the vessel from the grip Lucinda had grabbed it in all those weeks ago. The engines were activated, thrusting the ship gently forward to the terminus of the wormhole, a terminus that was never designed to remain in existence for as long as it had.

The test-ship re-emerged into normal space a parsec away from the Vulcan system due to drifting of the neglected terminus.

The One did not notice.

It was far too busy being ripped asunder.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Twin screams as Hector Arroyo and the entity that had merged into his body were forcefully separated by physics incompatible with their combined existence.

Arroyo again collapsed to the deck, this time in agony as his neural pathways were scoured of Lucinda’s presence.

And in an instant, Arroyo realized he had been saved. Under the control of Lucinda, he’d ceased to be Hector Arroyo. Through isolation and its “contact,” Lucinda had taken control of his body and then his mind.

“Hector, my One.”

Arroyo froze. How was Lucinda contacting him? Surely she was back in the wormhole. That was why he’d been ripped free of her, wasn’t it?

“Where am I, my One?” Lucinda asked.

Arroyo pulled himself back into his seat and checked the sensors. If Lucinda was in normal space, something had to be on the scanners. A blip. Something.

And there it was. A small globe of anomalous energy readings, no more than ten centimeters in diameter, floating in front of the test ship.

“What is this form?” Lucinda asked, uncertainly in its voice.

“That is you,” Arroyo said.

“I can sense you,” Lucinda said. The globe began to move toward the test-ship. “We will be One again.”

“That may not be possible here.”

“It WILL be,” Lucinda replied undeterred. “We will be together as One. We will see this universe and bring others into our One if they are worthy to be of us. We can be One forever.”

An arc of energy suddenly erupted from Lucinda and hit the test ship. The globe of energy glowed brightly.

“Good taste,” Lucinda said. Arroyo’s readings showed the globe was now a good three centimeters larger than before. “I will taste more.”

“Hold on!” Arroyo cried as he brought up the engineering readouts. Somehow Lucinda had pulled power straight from the ship’s core.

“I will feed,” Lucinda stated as it pulled another arc of power out of the test-ship, this one running in a continuous stream. “Once I feed, we will be One. This realm will sustain us as One for eternity.”

“I can’t let you do that,” Arroyo said. He activated the ship’s shields, instantly shutting off the flow of power.

“I WILL FEED!”

“You don’t belong here,” Arroyo said, typing commands into his helm console. “You have to go back.”

“Not without the One.”

“You’re going to have to be your own One,” Arroyo said, typing in the final command. The three-pronged emitter on the bow of the test-ship flared to life, forming a wormhole directly behind Lucinda.

“What is this?” Lucinda asked.

“Your road home,” Arroyo said. “You need to go back.”

“I will not leave the One.”

Arroyo pushed the test-ship forward, nudging Lucinda with the ship’s shields and pushing the energy globe into the wormhole’s event horizon. An instant later, the wormhole and Lucinda were gone.

Ensign Arroyo set a course back for Earth through normal space and activated the test-ship’s distress beacon.


ONE WEEK LATER…


“I hope you had a nice vacation, buddy, because Marsden’s finally got something for you to do,” Ensign Janie Tyler said, walking up to Arroyo as he stood in the Starfleet R&D mess hall trying to figure out what he was going to order for breakfast. Somehow all of the options looked boring.

“It wasn’t a vacation,” Arroyo said tiredly, turning toward the one close friend he’d made since joining R&D.

“I know,” Janie said, placing a comforting hand on his arm. “Are you all right?”

“After four weeks alone stuck in a wormhole? Oh yeah. I’m fine.”

“At least you came back,” Janie said. “Lieutenant Commander Odare was so annoyed that you vanished that he took the remaining wormhole drive prototype ship out himself just to prove that it worked and blew himself up before he even crossed the event horizon.”

“Ouch,” Arroyo winced. He made a mental note to make sure that Lieutenant Marsden included LOTS of escape pods on the anti-singularity drive prototype ships. You just never knew when you’d need one.

“Seriously, though. What did you do in there?” Janie asked as Arroyo finally settled on a plate of chocolate-chip waffles.

“Ate mostly,” Arroyo said. “And slept.”

“Figures. Well have you at least commed your parents? They contacted me with condolences that they weren’t going to get to be my in-laws.”

“But we aren’t engaged. We aren’t even dating!” Arroyo said.

“Do they know that?”

“Yes!”

“Do they care?”

“Evidently not.”

“Maybe you need to bring home a woman. Offer them some hope that their boy is going to be getting married soon,” Janie said.

“I don’t think I’m up for being that close to anyone right now,” Arroyo said. Lucinda had given him quite enough of that for the time being.

Janie shrugged. “Well, they’re parents. If you’ve got some way to get them off of your back, I’d love to hear it.”

“I’ll figure out something,” Arroyo replied.

“Good.” She gave him a tight hug. “I’m glad you’re back and feeling okay.”

Arroyo just nodded. He was definitely back, but he felt…

…empty.


Chapter Thirteen


One of the joys of Lieutenant Commander Tovar’s position as Tac-Ops officer was the opportunity to blast strange new lifeforms with a variety of high-powered weaponry. For the current alien energy being in question, Tovar had chosen his trusty wrist phaser, more out of convenience than anything else; however, far be it from him to delay at all in carrying out Captain Bain’s order to “blast that bugger.”

Tovar fired, sending a searing bolt of phased energy from his weapon directly into the chest of the vaguely-humanoid glowing figure currently attempting to drain every available lick of power from the helm console.

The creature barely seemed to notice.

Tovar upped the power level of his phaser, noting out of the corner of his eye that Commander Vioxx was shaking his head emphatically.

This time, the energy being lost all interest in the helm and stood up fully to face Tovar as a continuous stream of phaser power impacted against it.

“Bigger gun, Tovar,” Bain said, mildly alarmed.

“I concur,” Tovar replied, ceasing fire and opening the secured drawer below the tac-ops console from which he pulled a phaser rifle. Not bothering with the formalities of a lower power setting, he jacked the weapon’s output to maximum and fired.

The energy being staggered back for a moment, struggling under the onslaught, then suddenly exploded in a release of power that knocked everyone to the floor.

“One down,” Bain said, climbing back to his feet. “Tovar, hand out the phaser rifles and warn the crew that these things are stubborn.”

“It will come back,” Commander Vioxx said.

“They regenerate?” Bain asked, somewhat more alarmed.

“I meant the mother entity. We’re immobile according to your engineer. Once the entity surrounds us again, it will send more of those energy creatures until every last drop of power has been drained from this ship and every single one of us is dead.”

“Cabral!” Dr. Kasyov suddenly exclaimed in a panic, leaping from her seat and racing toward the turbolift.

“Doctor, this is hardly the time,” Tovar said.

“Let her go, Tovar,” Bain said. “Remax, you’ve seen these buggers before. Get on that science station and find me a way to deal with them. Tovar, get to engineering and establish a defensive perimeter around the singularity and the warp core. Beam the entire armory down there if you have to, but buy Marsden the time she needs to get the engines back online.”

Tovar nodded and charged into the turbolift as Bain turned on Commander Vioxx. “Where is that tactical officer of yours? Get her up here!”

“You have no authority to order me or my officers around,” Vioxx said indignantly. “We are officers of the Romulan Star Empire, and I am not about to stand by and allow some human…”

Vioxx was suddenly knocked to the deck by a solid right cross from Bain. “Now see here, Commander,” Bain said ominously, looming over the Romulan. “When you are on my ship, you are under my command. I don’t care if you’re Romulan, Breen, or a sentient ball of slime. We are in a combat situation, and my people are busy saving this ship; therefore, you and your crew are going to do everything you can to assist, particularly since you’re the primary reason we’re in this mess in the first place!. Is that clear?”

“Crystal,” Vioxx muttered.

“Good man,” Bain said, extending his hand to help the Romulan up, a gesture Vioxx grudgingly accepted. “Glad we cleared that up.”

Vioxx ignored the comment. “Vioxx to Nortal.”

“Hark! A call to action!” Nortal replied over the ship’s comm.

“Exactly. Report to the bridge.”

“At once! Away!”

“Eager one, isn’t she?” Bain said.

The Romulan commander grunted as he stalked over to the science console where Remax was busy looking through the ship’s internal sensors.

“Where the hell were you?” Vioxx demanded.

“Right here the whole time.”

“Yeah. So why weren’t you backing me up? You’re the one who’s always going on about being true Romulans. I was standing up for our superiority to the humans.”

“You were being a moron,” Remax said. “Survival first. Superiority doesn’t matter all that much when you’re dead.”

“Funny. I didn’t hear you saying that down on the planet.”

“I misjudged our adversaries. It won’t happen again.”

“Fine, so what about our current adversaries?”

“They seem to be coherent clusters of pure energy capable of draining any power source they come in contact with.”

“We already knew that! Is that all the Federation’s famous sensor technology can tell you?”

“I have no idea, but they CAN tell me that there’s a lovely woman on Deck Six taking a real-water shower right now, and she seems truly unconcerned by the current crisis,” Remax said, pointing at the image in one corner of the monitor.

“So,” Bain called from across the bridge, “what do you think of those sensors?”

“Incredible,” Remax and Vioxx said replied, their eyes locked on the screen.


“Lucinda?” Hector Arroyo gaped as he ducked to get out of the grip of the now-possessed Commander Prosak.

“In the flesh at last,” Lucinda replied, the words even more disconcerting coming in Commander Prosak’s voice. “It has been a long time, my One.”

“I’m not your One,” Arroyo said. “I’ve got my own life…and I thought I sent you back to yours.”

“You exiled me to the farthest reaches of your realm,” Lucinda replied, anger filling Commander Prosak’s usually stoic features.

“Oh god. You didn’t stay in the wormhole,” Arroyo said, understanding. “I was trying to send you back where you came from. I never thought you’d pass all the way through.”

“But I did, Hector. I did. I was all alone, a tiny being amidst infinite vastness, sucking in whatever stray solar particles I could as I began my journey back to you, to show you your mistake. You cannot be without me. We are One.”

“Then why take Prosak. She has nothing to do with this.”

Lucinda ran Commander Prosak’s hands along her newly-claimed body. “There are many ways to join, Hector. If you wished to join in the manner of your species, I can now accommodate you.”

“Prosak isn’t my species.”

“The differences are superficial. See…” Prosak’s hand began to unzip her uniform.

“I believe you!” Arroyo shouted quickly. “Don’t do that.”

“Why not? Do you not find this form desirable?”

“That form belongs to a friend of mine, and you would be violating her even more than you already are.”

Lucinda shrugged. “So be it.”

“Thank you.” Arroyo was quiet for a few moments. “Besides, your form was never the problem.”

“Then what was?”

“I…I was scared,” Arryo replied. “When we got out of the wormhole, you suddenly started talking about sucking the universe dry of energy and merging with anyone we came across.”

“It was all for the One.”

“Yeah, well there’s a lot more than One around here, if you hadn’t noticed. There are people and places I care about here, and I just couldn’t let you destroy them while we went on some pleasure binge around the galaxy.”

“I…understand,” Lucinda said. “Your love for these things must be powerful to deny yourself the One.”

“The One was great, but there are more important things.”

“Then these things that stand in the way of the One must be removed.”

“That wasn’t what I meant!”


Despite his awareness of the Anomaly’s situation, Cabral was not incredibly concerned when the energy being entered Science Lab Four. For creatures that seemed so single-mindedly interested in energy sources, a big black sphere without much in the way of power output probably wouldn’t even draw a second glance.

He was wrong.

The being instantly locked in on him, approaching his protective sphere with its arms extended.

Cabral immediately activated his remote hovercam located on its docking platform across the lab and sent it sailing toward the creature, its small weapons firing as Cabral slid open a hatch in his sphere to allow one of his protective arsenal to emerge.

The energy being was not amused. With a well-timed swing of its arm, it swatted the approaching hovercam, instantly shorting out its systems and sending the device clattering to the deck.

Turning its attention to Cabral, the energy being reached out and actually grabbed the small beam emitter that was currently extending from Cabral’s sphere. The effect was instantaneous as Cabral suddenly felt that his entire form was being forcefully sucked away. The agony was overwhelming.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

“Get away from him!” Natalia Kasyov’s voice screamed, breaking through the pain assaulting Cabral.

The pain abruptly halted, allowing Cabral to regain his senses. Kasyov was there, and heavily-armed. Sporting a phaser rifle in each hand, she blasted away at the staggering energy being until it was finally obliterated in a flare of light that knocked Kasyov to the deck and rattled Cabral’s sphere.

Kasyov quickly scrambled to her feet. “Are you all right?”

“I am now,” Cabral replied. “Thank you, Natalia.”

“You’re welcome. Just don’t make me do it again soon,” Kasyov said, rubbing her arms. “Those rifles are heavy!”


Centurion Nortal slammed her fist down on the tac-ops console, yet again startling Captain Bain, who sat in his command chair, tensely watching the massive energy entity outside on the damaged, but now-kind-of-functioning viewscreen for so much as a twitch.

“We are again victorious!” Nortal exclaimed, looking up from her internal sensor readouts. “Only nine of the demons remain!”

“Good show,” Bain said.

“And only three more valiant warriors need to report to sickbay.”

Bain ran his hand down his face tiredly. That made twenty-nine casualties of one sort or another. No fatalities yet, but pinning these energy buggers down and vaporizing them was proving to be more of an affair than Bain was comfortable with.

“Bain to engineering. Report, Tovar.”

“We are secure, sir, and Lieutenant Marsden is effecting repairs from the damage caused by the creatures that were here when we arrived.” Tovar’s voice reported. “However, the movements of the other intruders concern me.”

“How so?”

“Their arrival patters have thus far been random, which has made destroying them before they cause damage difficult. I will send teams to intercept them where possible, but a large portion of my staff is now in sickbay.”

“The crew is at your disposal. Just tell Marsie to get those engines back up. Bain out.”

“Too late,” Sub-Commander Remax said.

“What?” Vioxx said from where he stood behind Remax.

“It’s moving, if you didn’t notice,” Remax said.

“I was still watching the other monitor,” Vioxx shot back.

“Why? What’s on the other monitor?” Bain asked.

“Nothing!” Remax and Vioxx said quickly.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Vioxx added.

“Unless you think we can outrun it with thrusters, that won’t be possible,” Bain said.

“What about this supposedly-superfast drive of yours?” Vioxx said, stepping in front of Bain’s chair. “Built with our technology, I might add.”

“Believe me, as soon as Marsden gives me the word, we’ll use it…but only after that blighter out there has been destroyed. You know bloody well the devastation it’s going to cause if it goes through the Empire and Federation space.”

“A fleet would be better equipped…”

“By the time anyone got in range, that thing will be too big for a fleet and you know it,” Bain snapped, standing up from his chair and going toe-to-toe with Vioxx. “Now unless you’ve got any useful suggestions, sit down and be quiet.”

“Only one,” Vioxx said. “Don’t get us all killed.”


Chapter Fourteen


Captain Bain had to admit that Centurion Nortal really threw herself into her work. The Romulan had taken to the tac-ops station with gusto. Of course, she was sticking solely to the “tac” portion of the position as she attempted to fend off the advance of the massive entity making its way towards the Anomaly.

“Halt, foul space-beast! Tremble before the might of my disruptors!” Nortal exclaimed, slamming her fist down on the fire control again.

“They don’t have disruptors,” Vioxx snapped.

“Ahh! Rays of death it is then!”

“Just keep shooting,” Vioxx said.

“This is my bridge, Commander,” Bain said sternly. “I give the orders here. Nortal, keep shooting.”

“Oh that sounds so much better coming from you,” Vioxx groused.

“Actually, the human has some power to his voice. Gives the orders more heft,” Remax said from the science console.

“Thank you, Sub-Commander,” Bain said. “Nortal, FIRE!”

“Wither under my rays of doom, fiend!”

Vioxx groaned and sank deeper into the chair he’d put next to Bain’s. Less than a day on a Federation ship, and he was already losing his will to live, unfortunately it was his own officers that were doing most of the damage.

Meanwhile, Nortal opened up with a weapons barrage that even Tovar would have found impressive, placing compression phaser blasts and neutron torpedo strikes across the breadth of the oncoming entity in an arrangement of destruction that would have reduced most attackers to so much debris.

The entity didn’t even shrug.

“Why do I get the feeling that we’re being ignored?” Bain said.

“Because we’re a Moladian Gnat to that thing,” Remax said.

“Reginald Bain is no one’s gnat!”

“You will fear my tiny rage!” Nortal cried, shaking her fist at the glowing mass on the viewscreen.

“Stand down, Centurion,” Bain said. “I don’t mind a touch of indignant bellowing on the bridge, but that last bit was just embarrassing.”

“Yes, sir,” Nortal said. “May I return to unleashing death and destruction?”

“By all means,” Bain said.

“For all the good it will do,” Vioxx muttered.

“You, sir, have a serious attitude adjustment coming,” Bain said. “I don’t know how things work in the Romulan Empire, but on this ship, we never give in to such negativity.”

The Anomaly shuddered as the entity reached it, quickly surrounding the starship. Moments later, two more energy beings formed at the front of the bridge.

“Bugger all,” Bain said.

“Now who’s being negative?” Vioxx said.

“I was cursing,” Bain snapped. “There’s a difference.”

“Right.”

“Well, there is!”

“By Jenichai, I demand by the force of my mighty wands that thou return from whence thou came!” Nortal exclaimed, raising two phaser rifles toward the invaders.

“Down!” Vioxx shouted, grabbing Bain and pulling him to the deck a split-second before Nortal opened fire, filling the air above their heads with phaser fire.

“Thank you, Commander,” Bain said, watching with satisfaction as the energy beings staggered under Nortal’s assault. “And I would point out to you that we’re not dead yet.”

“For now, but things don’t look very good for that remaining true.”

“Attitude, Commander,” Bain scolded. “Not enough can be said about the power of positive thinking…or for having a really big gun. If you’ll excuse me…” Bain crawled away, heading toward the weapons locker below the tac-ops console.

“That’s the most sensible thing he’s said yet,” Vioxx sighed.


“What’s happening?” Arroyo demanded as Commander Prosak’s body stood before him unmoving. “Lucinda!”

“I’ll be with you in a moment, Hector. I’m busy with the Not-Ones,” Lucinda replied through Prosak.

“Those Not-Ones are my friends,” Hector said, grabbing Prosak’s shoulders roughly. “Stop it now!”

Prosak’s face suddenly sprang to life, the Romulan’s eyes blazing. “Why, Hector? What could these creatures possibly mean to you after what we’ve shared?”

“Shared? You were controlling me from the start. You practically took me over!”

Prosak/Lucinda stepped back, her eyes filled with fury and something else…hurt. “Do you really believe that?” she asked.

Arroyo almost snapped “Yes” out of reflex, but stopped himself. Did he believe that? Sure Lucinda had gotten out of hand once they returned to normal space, but what about what happened in that wormhole?

“We needed each other,” Lucinda said softly, extending one of Prosak’s arms toward Arroyo and running a gentle hand along his face. “We still do. Are you really happy on that ship?”

“I…I don’t know. It’s my home.”

“It’s where you exist, but I don’t think it’s your home any more than that rock you call Earth is. I’ve touched your mind, Hector. I’ve felt the emptiness there. Have you ever been fulfilled?”

Arroyo smiled slightly. “Once,” he replied. “With you.”

“And without me?”

Arroyo shook his head.

“You’re incomplete,” Lucinda said, wrapping Prosak’s arms around him.

“We need each other,” Arroyo said, no longer caring that it was really Prosak before him. This was his Lucinda. The other half of their One.

His lips met hers, and all thoughts of the Anomaly slipped away.


“Not again!” Lieutenant Marsden said in alarm as three more energy beings materialized in engineering.

“I will see to your protection,” Lieutenant Commander Tovar replied, gesturing for two of his security officers to fire at the newcomers. The entire group of Starfleet officers had created a makeshift barricade around the cores, allowing Tovar and his security staff to stand guard while Marsden, the Romulan engineer Selex, and Lieutenant J.G. Wrensk worked to stabilize the energy transfers between the cores that were severely disrupted by the first creature to drop into engineering univited.

“My own personal bodyguard,” Marsden remarked as Tovar slapped a new power pack into his own phaser rifle and opened fire at the remaining unengaged energy creature. “I could get used to this.”

“Get us out of here, and you may get the chance,” Tovar replied.

“We’re still a ways from the cores being stable enough to use.”

“But I will not fail my Commander,” Selex said.

“Isn’t that nice,” Marsden said, forcing a weak smile. All the toadying Romulan had talked about since he’d arrived was his desire to fix the engines for Commander Vioxx. “I just hope. Devix has gotten the polaron drive into better shape.”


Ensign Devix’s back hit the polaron reactor, indicating that she wouldn’t be backing up any farther despite her intense desire to do so. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Gworos, having just drained his lone phaser rifle destroying one energy being, retrieved the bat’leth hanging by a strap on his back and turned to the other that had materialized in the polaron reactor room.

“I have sworn to protect you, engineer, and I will not fail,” Gworos said determinedly.

“With that?” Devix said unconvinced as the Klingon stalked toward his adversary.

“It is still a weapon,” Gworos replied insulted. He let out a bellow of rage, then swung at the energy being, slicing directly through it. The energy being didn’t seem to care much, but Gworos’ bat’leth was now crackling with the power that had conducted into it.

This just seemed to anger Gworos more as he slashed again, his hands protected from the surging power in the bat’leth by the leather straps around the handgrips.

“Stick it in the thing!” Devix shouted suddenly.

Gworos spun around scowling. “I don’t know what that meant, but it sounded dishonorable!”

Devix quickly freed a small power shunt cable heading into the reactor monitor console and dragged it toward Gworos. “Stab that guy!”

“Ahh! Much better,” Gworos said, ramming his bat’leth into the energy being. Devix touched the exposed end of the power shunt to the bat’leth, sending a cascade of power through the bat’leth and directly into the being on the other end. The uncontrolled flow quickly overwhelmed the creature, causing it to explode in a violent flash that tossed Devix and Gworos to the deck.

“That was great!” Devix exclaimed.

“Glorious,” Gworos replied with a grunt. “It will be even more so once my bat’leth is removed from my thigh.”

Devix looked at the large blade piercing Gworos’ leg and winced.


Martin Kawafura froze as he heard the crackling sound emanating from the corridor outside the Comptroller’s office. Traditionally, he left the door to his office open. Not only did it allow him to talk to any of the few people who happened to be passing by, but it also did wonders for the ventilation. Things were a bit stuffy at the bottom of the ship.

But now Kawafura sincerely wished he hadn’t deactivated the closing mechanism on the doors because something was out there, something really nasty judging by the reports he’d heard buzzing around the ship.

As quietly as possible, he slid out of his desk chair and moved to the orphaned equipment locker located between the two leafy artificial plants along the side wall of his office, where he retrieved a lone phaser rifle. According to the inventory tag on the rifle, it actually belonged to the USS Perot, a ship the Anomaly had never been within a hundred light years of. How one of their rifles could have gotten on the Anomaly, Kawafura couldn’t imagine.

He also didn’t care considering that it might be about to save his life.

Cautiously, he tip-toed to the door of his office and peered into the corridor beyond, where he spotted a glowing figure, its hand pressed against an exposed bit of plasma conduit.

Kawafura took a deep breath and steadied himself. As a Starfleet Officer, he had a duty to protect his ship, and if that meant using confiscated property, so be it. Of course, he hadn’t touched a phaser rifle since the Academy, but he couldn’t let that stop him.

Tentatively, he pressed his finger against the fire control, sending a phaser burst lancing at the intruder.

That…that felt good.

He fired again, this time holding the trigger down and bombarding the energy creature with a constant stream of phaser fire. It spun toward him, writhing under the assault, then suddenly exploded, knocking Kawafura backwards into his office.

“Gotcha,” he said, feeling pleased with himself. It wasn’t quite the rush of finding a missing piece of Starfleet property, but it was pretty damn nice.


Yet another Anomaly crewmember staggered into sickbay, sending Dr. Fred Nooney into his eighteenth tizzy of the afternoon. “Auggh! I’m going to run out of lollipops at this rate. Nurse Ih’vik! Get this woman a nice magazine and tell her I’ll be right with her.”

Nooney had thought that the worst of his day was over after the casualties from the first wave of energy beings had been cared for and given lollipops and balloons for being such little troopers in the face of nasty burn marks and concussions caused by fighting the invading energy creatures or when said creatures exploded.

He had been just about to turn his attention back to Zantak, the rather quiet Romulan helm officer whose thorough examination he hadn’t yet been able to complete, when the Anomaly was recaptured by the big mother energy blob outside the ship.

Now sickbay was almost full again, and poor Zantak still hadn’t had the proper attention from Nooney that he wanted to give her.

Nooney sensed another person behind him. “Another one?” he said sympathetically as he turned to face the newcomer. “Now let old Doctor Nooney see what’s the matter?”

He found himself face-to-glow with an energy being that was just finishing materializing in sickbay.

“Oh dear!” he exclaimed.

“Should I get the anal probe?” Nurse Ih’vik remarked, non-plussed.

“BLOW IT UP!” the horde of patients in sickbay shouted in a panic.

“That’s not what I do!” Nooney cried, backing up and waving his arms frantically. “Ih’vik?”

“Sorry,” the Andorian nurse said with a shrug. “Everything I’ve got in my desk is bladed, and I don’t think a sword is going to help. I normally bring my plasma cannon, but I left it in my quarters today.”

“You bring a plasma cannon here? To our happy sickbay?” Nooney said in shock.

“Just in case the patients get rowdy.”

“That’s a big no-no, missy.”

“We can discuss it if that thing doesn’t kill you,” Ih’vik replied, obviously rooting for the energy creature.

Suddenly, one of Nooney’s laser scalpels skittered past him on the floor, sliding to a stop just inside one of the energy creature’s feet. It looked down to see what it was just a moment before…

ZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP!

The laser scalpel exploded, wiping out the energy creature in the process. Nooney looked back toward his supply cabinet, which Sub-Lieutenant Zantak was just closing, a look of satisfaction on her face.

“You…you…my scalpel!” Nooney wailed.

“I didn’t even know those things could be set to overload,” Ih’vik said impressed. “You learn something new everyday.”


Lieutenants Bre’zan Brazzell and Lara Randall rounded the corner, phaser rifles at the ready to face the intruder they knew waited in the corridor beyond. Laying eyes on one of the energy beings for the first time, Brazzell stopped in his tracks, his weapon falling to his side.

“It’s…it’s so beautiful,” he exclaimed.

“What?” Randall snapped. “Have you been listening to what these things have been doing to the ship?”

“The perfect form. No dirt. No germs. Only clean, lovely light,” Brazzell continued, stepping forward in a daze.

“Bre’zan,” Randall warned.

“Teach me, oh sterile one.”

“Brazzell!”

“I want to learn,” Brazzell said, going to his knees in front of the energy creature, which reached out, placing a hand on the lieutenant’s head.

“AAAAAUGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!” Brazzell screamed in agony as the being began to drain him.

“Randall to transporter control. Beam Lieutenant Brazzell to sickbay NOW!” Randall ordered moving to get a clear shot at the being.

The transporter engaged without so much as a word of protest from the transport control computer, which was a welcome change. Evidently even it understood the meaning of a crisis situation.

Brazzell dematerialized, causing the energy being to yank its arm back as though stung. With the creature distracted, Randall opened fire, obliterating the energy being in a flash of power.


“Huh,” Sub-Commander Remax remarked, watching the readouts on the science console.

“Huh?” Captain Bain and Commander Vioxx asked as Bain yanked a drained power pack out of his phaser rifle after repelling yet another intruding being.

“Your transporter just tried to beam one of those things.”

“Did it work?” Bain asked.

“Not as such.”

“Blast.”

“It did destabilize it temporarily, though,” Remax added, stretching out his prosthetic arm with his remaining real arm to loosen up the syntheskin a bit. New limbs took a little time to break in.

Bain and Vioxx exchanged an excited glance. “Brilliant!” Bain cried. “Lock on to the lot of them!”

“It won’t work,” Remax said. “They can just pull out of the beam, like the one on Deck Three just did.”

“But they can be destabilized,” Bain said. “That’s something to work with. Time to bring in the team. Computer, conference comm. Doctor Kasyov, Lieutenant Commander Tovar, and Lieutenant Marsden.”

The computer responded moments later. “Your conference link has been established. Please start speaking at anytime and thank you for using Federcomm.”

“Federcomm?” Vioxx asked.

“Third-party proprietary nonsense. They developed the conference algorithm,” Bain said. “Bloody annoying, if you ask me.”

“Is there something you wanted to talk about besides Federcomm?” Marsden’s voice asked, also indicating some annoyance.

“We’ve got a break on the energy being situation,” Bain said. “Sub-Commander Remax will explain.”

“The transporter seems to cause the beings to destabilize slightly,” Remax said. “But before you get too excited, they can pull out of the transporter beam.”

“They are not composed of matter,” Tovar’s voice said. “I do not understand why the transporter would affect them.”

“It’s something about the energy stream, I would guess,” Dr. Kasyov’s voice said. “Dematerialization requires very specific and organized patterns in order to maintain the coherence and structure of the subject being transported.”

“We’re taking people apart at the sub-atomic level and putting them back together,” Marsden added. “That’s no time to be sloppy.”

“Intruder!” Tovar shouted suddenly.

ZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPOWWWWW!!!!!

“Tovar, please try to keep it down. We’re having a meeting here,” Bain said.

“I will attempt to protect the ship more quietly in the future,” Tovar replied, hiding the sarcasm rather well.

“I appreciate that,” Bain said. “So where are we?”

“No farther than before,” Vioxx said.

“What did I say about the negativity?” Bain replied. “There’s an opportunity here, friends. I’m sure of it. Remax has cracked the door, we just have to find out how to kick it open the rest of the way. Give me ideas, the bigger, the better.”

“Beam the ship,” Vioxx said, drawing a glare from Remax.

“That certainly qualifies as big,” Bain assented.

“They wouldn’t be able to escape the beam easily,” Kasyov said.

“True, but we don’t have a really big transporter outside, if you hadn’t noticed,” Remax said.

“Now who’s being negative?” Vioxx said smugly.

“Moron.”

“I heard that.”

“Good. At least your hearing is Romulan.”

“Gentlemen, please!” Bain said. Another energy being started to materialize near the aft port turbolift.

“I will smite this adversary!” Nortal exclaimed, hurdling her console with her rifle.

“Splendid. Smite quietly,” Bain said. ZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!

“Right,” Bain continued, turning back to the matter at hand. “Now about this ship beaming…”

“I wasn’t serious,” Vioxx said.

“We might be able to do it,” Kasyov said. “Sort of.”

“What do you mean sort of?” Marsden asked warily.

“Well, as you said, the transporter affects matter at the sub- atomic level. At that level, you’re basically affecting the building blocks of the universe, so when you dematerialize someone, you’re changing the structure of this universe in a very localized area.”

Marsden immediately broke in. “Yeah but, that still doesn’t help us beam…” The engineer trailed off as a thought struck her. “THIS universe!” she exclaimed suddenly.

“How does that…” Tovar began to ask. “Polnuc!” he said.

“Polnuc,” Marsden confirmed.

“Of course!” Bain cried. “Brilliant work!”

“Marsie, are the modifications still in that jefferies tube junction?”

“Yes, sir. I looked them over but didn’t get a chance to remove them. I just cut the power to the console.”

“Can you operate it?”

“I think so, but I don’t know how the cores will handle it. You’re basically activating anti-sing. I’ve finished most of the recalibrations…”

“Your staff can finish the rest,” Bain said quickly. “Get to that jefferies tube and power up the system. Tovar, see to her safety.”

“With my life,” Tovar said.

“Good man. Now let’s get out of here before we run out of phaser power packs or the big nasty out there decides to get more unpleasant. Any questions?”

“Just one. What’s a Polnuc?” Vioxx asked.

“Polnuc,” Captain Bain said, smiling for the first time since this crisis started, “ is a bitter little man who may have just saved all of our hides.”

“Ah. I may have to thank him when this is over.”

“I’ll be sure to take you down to the brig to introduce you to him.”

“The brig?”

“Long story.”


Chapter Fifteen


Why did he ever resist rejoining the One? Arroyo couldn’t remember. It wasn’t a very good reason; he was fairly sure of that. Lucinda had been absent from his life for too long. She was right: he needed her. They were the same really. Two beings who longed to travel the cosmos, but, more than anything, who just wanted someone to share an intimate life with without the hassles incumbent in the vast majority of human existence.

Now they were One again, and that was all that mattered.


They should have transported, Tovar thought as he crawled behind Lieutenant Marsden through the jefferies tubes of the Anomaly toward the junction where Polnuc’s equipment waited. Speaking of behinds, Tovar was getting a splendid view of Marsden’s as they went. Finely-toned and pressing against her black uniform pants in a way that…he absolutely SHOULD NOT be thinking about!

“Everything okay back there?” Marsden asked, pulling an engineering kit along with her.

“Very fine,” Tovar said distractedly, still gazing at Marsden’s posterior. His eyes snapped opened wider as he realized what he’d just said. “Fine! I am well.”

“Good,” Marsden said with a chuckle. “I can’t have my bodyguard daydreaming on the job. We’re almost there.”

“Acknowledged,” Tovar replied stiffly, feeling the comforting weight of his phaser rifle strapped to his back.

The pair soon emerged into the jefferies tube junction, where they were able to stand up again and rub sore knees. If people were going to have to crawl through those tubes, Starfleet really needed to consider padding them.

“Well,” Marsden said, looking around, “this sure brings back fond memories.”

“Of being stuck to the ground? Or perhaps being shot at was your favorite part,” Tovar replied, unable to hide a smirk.

“Sorry, pal. Polnuc saved the phasers for you and Prosak.”

“Lucky us,” Tovar said, now standing face to face with Marsden.

Silence.

More silence as they continued to gaze at each other.

Then finally… “Um,” Marsden said. “I’ve got…”

“Work…yes. You should begin.”

“Yeah.”

“Quite,” Tovar said as Marsden finally looked away and moved toward the ladder leading to Polnuc’s main console. Tovar pulled the phaser rifle off of his back and ran a hand along his belt to make sure that the extra power packs he’d brought along were all still there. “Tovar to bridge.”

“Bridge,” Bain’s voice said quickly. Tovar could hear phaser fire in the background.

“Lieutenant Marsden and I have arrived. We will contact you as soon as we are ready.”

“Capital, but don’t spare the horses lad. I don’t like this business one bit.”

“I have no doubt that Lieutenant Marsden will perform at her usual excellent level.”

“That’s our Marsie,” Bain said. “Bridge out.”

“Flattery, Mister Tovar?” Marsden asked amused.

“Simple truth.”

Marsden turned back to the console, trying to hide the stupid grin spreading across her face.

They were quiet for several moments as Marsden got to work and Tovar prowled for any sign that they’d drawn the attention of one of the invaders, a prospect that was rather unlikely for the time being. They seemed to be more interested in power sources than people, and Polnuc’s system was currently lacking a connection to the primary power system. Once Marsden reactivated the power, though, the situation could change quickly.

“Tovar?” Marsden called.

“Yes,” he replied, turning to her quickly.

“Can you guard and hold something at the same time?”

“I suppose it’s possible.”

“Then get your butt up here,” Marsden said, more playfully than she’d intended. Tovar didn’t need to be asked twice. He was up the ladder in a flash, awaiting Marsden’s instructions.

“Lean down here,” she said, gesturing to the open panel where she’d been working. “And put your arm in.”

Tovar did as he was told, extending his left arm into the panel while he held the phaser rifle at the ready in his right. The Chief Engineer squatted beside him, her face mere inches from his. Marsden’s hand grabbed his and moved him to a small bit of conduit. “Hold this up for me,” she said as he wrapped his fingers around the conduit. “Got it?” she asked, still holding onto his hand.

“Yes.”

“A natural engineer,” she said, her eyes positively twinkling.

“I’m happy to help you.”

“I’m happy you’re here,” she replied, sticking a tool into the console and starting back to work right below Tovar’s hand. Less than a minute later, the console flickered to life.

“That’s got it,” Marsden said. “You can let go now.”

Tovar did as he was told, quickly getting to his feet, and adjusted the rifle in his arms as Marsden moved to the next step.

“Marsden to Cabral. I think we’re ready here.”

“Very well,” Cabral’s voice replied. “I will release control of the anti-sing drive.”

“It’s only temporary,” Marsden said. “I’ll hopefully have it back to you before you even miss it.”

“As long as we’re alive to use it again when you’re done, you can keep it for as long as you’d like. Cabral out.”

Marsden whipped out a padd from her engineering kit and pulled up a schematic of the ship, on which she began rerouting anti-sing drive control to Polnuc’s console.

She was pulled out of her work by the loud whine of a phaser rifle. Looking up from the padd, she saw Tovar at the edge of the small platform they were standing on, firing a steady stream into a glowing energy being on the junction floor below. It vaporized a few seconds later, rocking the platform.

“I believe your efforts have been noticed,” Tovar said, checking the power level remaining in his phaser energy pack as two more creatures appeared.

“Popularity sucks,” Marsden said, rushing over to the console. “You up for a little trip?”

“I believe that would be very nice,” Tovar said, draining his phaser into one creature, then ejecting the power pack and slapping in another one in what was almost one fluid movement.

“Marsden to bridge. We’re ready. Request permission to get the hell out of this universe.”

“Granted,” Bain’s voice practically shouted.

“One dimensional rip coming up,” Marsden said, punching in the final command on the console.

Around them, the ship’s engines thrummed loudly, then their stomachs lurched despite the fact the ship didn’t seem to be moving at all, which, in fact, it wasn’t, at least not in the traditional sense.

Instead, the Anomaly swirled as though it were being sucked down a drain, then exited this universe, taking the Lucinda entity along with it.


Prosak’s body suddenly went ramrod straight in Arroyo’s arms. Before he could ask what was happening, she screamed, a horrible agonized wail that shook their very surroundings, then Prosak’s body fell limply to the stark white ground.

In an instant, Arroyo was at her side. “Lucinda, are you all right? What’s happening?”

“Gone…” she gasped through Prosak’s pain-wracked body. “Not anchored. Lost power. No control.”

“How…What can I do?”

“AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!”


“Steady, man! Steady!” Captain Bain cried as Commander Vioxx, who’d been drafted to man the helm through the Anomaly’s dimension jumping, narrowly avoided an oncoming bit of glowing green goo.

“Do you want to drive?” Vioxx snapped.

“I’ll just tell you the same thing you told me,” Bain said as the environment shifted to something that very much resembled the inside of a snow globe. “Don’t get us all killed.”


Lucinda/Prosak wailed again, her limbs spasming uncontrollably from the torment assaulting her body. All around them, Arroyo could see the walls of this chamber the entity, which of course was also Lucinda, pulsing in rhythm with the spasms.

Even without Lucinda telling him, Arroyo knew that only one thing could be causing this:

Reginald Bain.


Bain watched with satisfaction as an energy being began to materialize on the bridge, then fizzled out.

“They flee in terror!” Nortal said. “Long live Nortalia!”

“Nortalia?” Bain said.

“Her queendom,” Vioxx said.

“Only in her head,” Remax added.

“But she’s written nine plays about it.”

“Nine interminably loooong plays.”

“I don’t know. I kind of liked the musical.”

“You would,” Remax said disdainfully. “But she’s right. The beings are disappearing from all over the ship.”

“Smart lads,” Bain said, sitting back down in his command chair and settling in to relax. “Bain to Marsden.”


“Go ahead,” Marsden said as she and Tovar watched the two energy beings climbing the ladder toward their platform fade away.

“Excellent work. To both of you. We’ve got them on the run. I’ll give you a comm when we’re ready to return to normal space.”

“We’ll be here,” Marsden replied.

“Capital. Bain out.”

“Well,” Marsden said to Tovar as the channel closed. “I guess that’s that.”

“Nicely done,” Tovar said, letting his rifle fall to his side.

“Thanks. You too. None of those things even got near me.”

“I wouldn’t allow it.”

“Thanks.”

“You said that.”

“Yeah, I did. I meant it, too.”

“So did I,” Tovar said. “About the nicely done bit.”

“Of course.”

“Right.”

“So I guess we just sit here and wait,” Marsden said.

“So it would appear,” Tovar replied, smiling slightly as they looked at each other. She moved first, almost pouncing on him. He met her halfway, grabbing her in his arms and pulling her in close as the serious lip lock began.


All around him, Hector Arroyo could see the opaque whiteness beginning to destabilize, revealing red storming chaos beyond. The red shifted to a thick brown sludge, pulsing past Lucinda’s rapidly shrinking form. And suddenly Arroyo knew what Bain had done.

“Lucinda,” he said urgently, trying to get through to her in Prosak’s agony-wracked form. The Romulan’s sweat-streamed face looked up at him with dazed, unfocused eyes. “We can stop this. Take us to the Anomaly. Let me talk to Captain Bain.”

“Hurting me. Must destroy…”

“You don’t have to destroy them,” Arroyo insisted. “We can settle this peacefully.”

“But then you’ll leave me,” Lucinda said, mustering what little strength she could as the strain of being pulled from dimension to dimension ripped through her entity form and Prosak. “There will be no One.”

Arroyo smiled softly, running a hand gently along her cheek. “I won’t leave you again. I promise. But if you don’t let me talk to Bain, you’ll die…and you’ll take me with you.”

“Do you trust this human Bain?”

“He’s a good man,” Arroyo said. “And he’s not one to stand around and let people destroy him or his ship, as you can see.”

Lucinda/Prosak nodded weakly.

“So we’ll go?”

She nodded again.

“That’s my Lucinda,” Arroyo said. “We’ll be One before you know it.”


“Status of the entity,” Bain said.

“Hard to say,” Sub-Commander Remax reported from the science console. “Power readings from it are definitely in flux, but I can’t say if we’ve dealt it a death blow or not.”

Two more forms began to materialize at the front of the bridge, causing Vioxx to evacuate the helm console and Bain to leap to his feet and go for his phaser rifle before he realized that the newcomers were people instead of a couple of humanoid glow- sticks.

“Arroyo! Prosak!” he exclaimed happily, waving quickly for Nortal to lower the pair of rifles she was wielding. “You’re not dead!”

“Not yet,” Arroyo said, supporting Prosak’s ravaged form.

“Good lord,” Bain exclaimed. “What did that thing do to Prosak?”

“That thing is called Lucinda,” Arroyo said, more than a hint of anger tinging his voice. “And she’s Prosak right now.”

“You care to run that by me again?”

“She’s been possessed,” Remax said in disgust. “Weak- minded RommaVulc…”

“That’s quite enough!” Bain snapped, shooting a nasty glare at Remax before turning his attention back to Arroyo. “What’s going on here, lad? You know a lot more than you’re telling.”

“First, get us back to normal space,” Arroyo said firmly, helping Lucinda/Prosak into the helm chair that Vioxx had vacated.

“Ensign, I’d remind you of the chain of command.”

“Get us back NOW!” Arroyo said. “Or they’re both going to die.”

Bain nodded, his stern eyes locked on Arroyo, who glared back with fierce determination. “Bain to Marsden. Take us home.”

“Mmmph…yeah…got…mmmph…it. Out,” Marsden’s voice said. Bain was too involved with the situation on the bridge to even wonder what the muffled words and smacking noises were about.

On the viewscreen, the sea of gold gradually gave way to a comforting starfield as the Anomaly returned to normal space. Lucinda/Prosak immediately let out a sigh of relief.

“Better?” Arroyo asked concerned.

She nodded, still too weak for speech.

“I’ve done what you asked,” Bain said. “Now I believe I deserve some bloody answers!”

“Four years ago, I encountered Lucinda inside a wormhole. We became…close. After a while, I brought her to normal space, but…” He looked to Prosak, seeing only Lucinda, his one. “…We were separated,” he continued tactfully. “I thought she had gone back to the wormhole realm, but she was actually on the far side of the galaxy. She’s spent the last four years trying to return to me, gathering energy wherever she could for the trip.”

“How very romantic,” Bain said.

“Wait a minute,” Vioxx said, storming forward. “My crew was wiped out by that thing!”

“She’s very sorry about that,” Arroyo said.

“No, I’m not,” Lucinda/Prosak said.

“Not now, honey.”

“Commander Vioxx has a point, though, Arroyo,” Bain said thoughtfully. “This gal of yours is a danger to this entire galaxy.”

“She won’t be. Not anymore. We’ll go, and you’ll never hear from us again. You have my word.”

“You’ll go?” Bain asked. “Both of you?”

“We are One,” Lucinda/Prosak said, reaching out and grasping Arroyo’s hand.

“Think about this, Hector,” Bain said. “You’re talking about running off with a ball of light. Where will you live? How will you eat?”

“He will be absorbed,” Lucinda/Prosak said, getting slowly to her feet. “I can sustain us both for eternity.”

“And if we need more power, we’ll snack on some nice solar power,” Arroyo added,

“Yes, but absorbed?” Bain said. “You mean as in losing your body?”

“I won’t need it,” Arroyo replied.

“By god, it IS bloody V’ger all over again. All we’re missing is a robotic Deltan.”

“You mean like the sex toy?” Vioxx asked confused.

“Good god, man, please be quiet!” Bain said.

“I was just asking. I’ve seen one of those in a catalog…not that I normally look at that sort of thing, but…”

“Vioxx!”

“Never mind,” the Romulan said, quickly retreating to Remax’s console.

Bain turned back to Arroyo. “Are you sure about this, lad? What about your friends? Your family? Your career?”

“Captain, I’ve felt empty for the last four years, and I never really knew why. Well, I guess I knew, but I never thought I could get Lucinda back. I tried to go on and fulfill myself with other things, but it didn’t work. But in just the last few hours, everything changed. I need to be with Lucinda. I belong with the One.”

“I’m so glad you had that nice personal revelation while the rest of us were fighting for our lives,” Remax muttered.

“I need to go, Captain,” Arroyo continued, ignoring the Romulan.

“I could say no,” Bain said. “One order from me, and Marsie will reactivate the dimensional tears. I get the feeling I could wipe Lucinda out before too long and save you from this.” Bain stepped forward, placing a hand on Arroyo’s shoulder. “But I’m not going to do that, son. I’m not saying anything new here, but love’s a funny thing. You never know who or what you’re going to find it with. If this is the life you want for yourself, I’m not going to stand in your way…no matter how much this ship is going to miss you.”

Arroyo smiled slightly. “I think they’ll get along.”

“That doesn’t mean you won’t be missed.”

“I appreciate that, sir.”

“Would you like to address the crew?” Bain asked, gesturing to the all-call switch on his command chair.

Arroyo shook his head. “No thanks. Just tell everyone I said ‘bye.’”

“I’ll do that,” Bain replied, understanding.

“I’m ready,” Arroyo said, turning to Lucinda/Prosak and taking her hand.

“Good bye, Captain Bain,” Lucinda/Prosak said. “And…thank you.”

“Good luck, kids,” Bain said with a wave as Arroyo and Lucinda/Prosak gazed lovingly at each other. Arroyo’s entire body began to sparkle as a similar effect surrounded Commander Prosak. The ensign’s body became less and less distinct as Arroyo slowly was transformed into a glowing field of energy. Soon, his physical form was gone, replaced completely by the energy field, which rose into the air. The effect around Prosak rose beside it, leaving Prosak’s body behind. The two clouds moved together, sparkles of energy mingling into one merged entity which grew together more and more tightly until a single ball of coherent power was left. Suddenly, the ball shot upward, soaring through the bridge ceiling as though it were nothing then zooming away from the Anomaly at incredible speed as the One went off to enjoy its new existence.

Prosak’s eyes cleared as the RommaVulc’s mind resumed control. She took a disoriented look around the bridge, finally realizing where she was.

“Oh thank Surak,” she mumbled, then collapsed to the deck.

“My sentiments exactly,” Bain said. “Well, except for the Surak part anyway.”


Chapter Sixteen


“Captain’s Log. Stardate 177624.7. After a brief delay while Lieutenant Marsden gave the anti-sing drive a good once-over and returned control to Cabral, the Anomaly is headed back to Earth for a hopefully short stint in dry dock to deal with other damage caused by Polnuc’s equipment and our encounter with Lucinda. Polnuc himself will also be dealt with by the Starfleet JAG office. The damage to Commander Prosak, meanwhile, has proved to be temporary, and Doctor Nooney has already released her from Sickbay with a clean bill of health. She remembers nothing of what happened while Lucinda was in control of her body, which, judging by the way Arroyo and Lucinda were looking at each other, may be a good thing. While we’re on the subject of Arroyo, upon our return to Earth, I will be contacting Ensign Arroyo’s parents personally to discuss their son. I imagine dealing with the loss of a loved one who’s turned into a non-corporeal being must be difficult. Perhaps there’s a support group somewhere or something.

“Before we reach Earth, though, we must offload our Romulan passengers. We’ll be entering the Romulan Empire shortly, but we’re still awaiting word from Starfleet Command about where exactly we’re taking Vioxx and his officers.”


“Thank you for joining us, Ambassador,” Admiral Kristen Larkin said as Ambassador Rorshak entered the small conference room at Starfleet Headquarters where Larkin and two other admirals, an Andorian and a human, were waiting. “These are my colleagues Admiral Th’ril and Admiral Khalid Haddad.”

“Admirals,” Rorshak said, acknowledging them with a nod of his head as he took a seat at the opposite end of the table from Larkin.

“I assume you have some idea why we have called you here today,” Larkin said.

“I was informed by my government that the Anomaly successfully completed its mission. We are, of course, pleased and grateful for Starfleet’s help in this rescue.”

“This was a lot more than a rescue,” Th’ril said, his antenna twitching. “The Anomaly was very nearly destroyed by an entity of unknown origin that you knew was there!”

“Unknown origin, Admiral? My information states that one of your officers brought it into this universe.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that you withheld information and put our ship at risk,” Haddad said. “I don’t think your government fully appreciates how unique and valuable the Anomaly is.”

“On the contrary, Admiral. We are VERY aware of the Anomaly’s uniqueness and that the contribution of Romulan Empire’s technology is one of the main reasons that it is so special.”

“The Federation appreciates your government’s contribution,” Larkin said calmly, hoping to prevent the meeting from devolving into a shouting match. “The Anomaly is a shining example of cooperation between our governments.”

“An example crewed solely by Starfleet.”

“The Anomaly’s first officer is Romulan,” Th’ril said quickly.

“I am well aware of that,” Rorshak replied. “But the fact remains that she is in Starfleet. Recent events have shown that this is not a satisfactory state of affairs. The Romulan Empire must demand more of a role in the operation of the Anomaly.”

Larkin watched the ambassador’s face closely. She was not the best judge of emotional reactions, despite her years of existence and her own emotional protocols, but she still believed that Ambassador Rorshak was troubled by his last statement. Call it android intuition.

“We built that ship,” Haddad said. “We’re not about to…”

“Admiral, I believe the Anomaly is under the purview of the Explorer Project, not Tactical Operations. I will address the Ambassador’s concerns,” Larkin interrupted. She focused her attention on Rorshak. “We will, of course, consider and try to accommodate the wishes of our Romulan partners.”

“Then I will be in touch shortly,” Rorshak said, rising to his feet. “Good day, Admirals.” He strode from the room quickly.

“He just ran right over us,” Haddad said.

Larkin nodded. “I believe he did. Never once did he admit fault in the withholding of information, not that I would have expected him to do so.”

“Then why did you let him leave?”

“There was little to be gained in a direct confrontation; however, before we accept any Romulan proposals, we will be ensuring that such ‘communication lapses’ do not occur in the future.”


“Excuse me?” Bain asked, quickly setting his scotch aside and focusing his full attention on Admiral Larkin’s image on the viewscreen in the Captain’s Lounge.

“They’re staying,” Larkin said.

“We’re what?” Commander Vioxx, whom Admiral Larkin had requested be present for the comm, said in shock.

“After the incident in the Neutral Zone and this latest…event, the Romulan Empire has requested a more direct role in the day-to-day operations of the Anomaly. In short, they want some of their own people aboard.”

“But why do I have to be those people?” Vioxx asked. “I am a Commander in the Imperial Fleet. I belong in command of a Romulan ship, not sitting around observing Starfleet.”

“You won’t be observing, Commander. Effective immediately, you are the Anomaly’s first officer,” Larkin said.

“I already have a first officer, and a damn fine one!” Bain said indignantly.

“They’re demoting me?” Vioxx exclaimed.

“Gentlemen, please. I know this is something of a surprise, but I expect you to deal with this as professional officers.”

“Dammit, Krissers, don’t lecture me about professionalism when you lot are mucking about with my crew!” Bain said. “What happens to Prosak?”

“We’re looking into reassigning her.”

“Unacceptable. XO.”

“XO what?” Vioxx asked confused.

Larkin ignored him. “I was under the impression that Lieutenant Commander Tovar was already filling that role.”

“He has his tac-ops duties to deal with,” Bain said. “I want Prosak to stay on as XO.” He’d break the news to Tovar later, but he was sure the boy would understand Bain’s reasons for knocking him down the chain of command a step in order to keep Prosak around. They seemed to have an affinity for each other anyway. If Torgerson weren’t in Tovar’s life, Bain wouldn’t be surprised to see Tovar and Prosak escalate their relationship to something more than friends.

“Very well,” Larkin said, letting out an artificial sigh. “Commander Prosak will remain aboard as Executive Officer. And Reginald, I expect that you will find appropriate roles for Vioxx’s remaining officers on your crew.”

“How long is this going to last?” Vioxx asked.

“I do not understand the question.”

“When can we go home? I can’t believe the Empire would leave us on a Starfleet vessel permanently.”

“I have no information suggesting that this is to be a temporary state of affairs, Commander. Now I suggest that you both inform your respective command staffs and do your best to integrate them smoothly. Larkin out.”

The admiral’s image vanished and was quickly replaced by the Starfleet insignia, leaving the two men in silence for several moments.

“Drink?” Bain said finally, holding out the bottle of scotch toward Vioxx.

“Yeah. I think I will,” Vioxx said, taking a long swig.


Captain Bain never liked to leave scotch alone in his stomach. It tended to wreak havoc with his digestion, so, once Vioxx had pulled himself together enough to break the news to his crew, Bain headed down to the Anomaly’s pub to get himself a proper lager to chase the scotch.

Actually, he would have preferred to follow the scotch with a big plate of sausage and mash, but he had another duty to perform: talking to Prosak. And she was in the pub, which meant having lager and pretzels instead.

“Evening, Commander,” Bain said, sliding onto the bar stood next to his soon-to-be-former first officer. “What brings you down here?”

“I’ve actually come to find this environment comforting,” Prosak replied, a mostly-full lager sitting on the bar in front of her. “I’m not sure why.”

“Maybe you’ve got some British in you somewhere,” Bain said as he flagged down the holo-bartender. “I’ll take a pint,” he said, then turned back to Prosak, deciding there was no point in procrastinating. “I just got off a comm with Starfleet.”

“I take it from your tone of voice that the news was not all good.”

“The Roms are evidently making a stink. They want more representation on board.”

“More Romulans?” Prosak said. While she did enjoy the Anomaly’s crew, the presence of a few members of her own species could be pleasant. Perhaps one or more of them would be RommaVulcs. “When will they be joining us?” she asked eagerly.

“They’re already here. Vioxx and friends are staying.”

“Oh,” Prosak said, deflated.

“There’s more,” Bain said.

“More Romulans?” she asked, perking up again.

“More news. They’re giving Vioxx your post.”

The Vulc part of Prosak’s personality immediately vanished as her face filled with anger. “They’re what?” They can’t…It’s Larkin, isn’t it? She hates me. Where are they sending me? How?”

“Calm down,” Bain said, putting a comforting hand on her arm. “You’re remaining aboard as my Executive Officer. I wouldn’t let Starfleet send you anywhere.”

Prosak smiled slightly at that. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Bain said. “Now drink up. That lager is getting lonely.”

The RommaVulc picked up her mug and took a long drink just before the comm system activated. “Bridge to Commander Prosak,” Lieutenant Brazzel’s voice said. “We’re receiving a comm for you from Ambassador Rorshak.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Prosak said gravely. “I’ll take it in my quarters. Prosak out.” She stood up, chugging the rest of her drink in one long gulp.

“Everything all right there, Prosak?” Bain asked.

“My father and I have much to discuss,” Prosak replied, then headed for the exit.


Across the pub from Bain, Lieutenant Commander Tovar and Lieutenant Shelly Marsden sat staring at two untouched drinks.

“He didn’t even say goodbye,” Marsden said softly. “I thought we were friends. Good friends.”

“I believe Mister Arroyo felt very close to you,” Tovar replied.

“Then why didn’t I know about Lucinda?”

“Would it have mattered? Judging from his behavior on the bridge, Arroyo did not even realize we were dealing with this Lucinda entity until it was too late.”

“That’s not the point, Tovar. If we were so close, he should have felt like he could tell me about Lucinda. I wonder if Janie even knows.”

“Janie?”

“Janie Tyler. His fiance’,” Marsden replied, drawing a raised eyebrow from Tovar. “She’s just pretending to be his fiance’,” Marsden said quickly. “To keep his parents off his back.” Tovar looked even more confused. “Long story…and one that’s beginning to make a bit more sense. He didn’t hatch the whole fake fiance’ thing until after he got lost in that wormhole. All this time he was pining for Lucinda, which comes right back to the ‘Why didn’t he tell me?’ question.”

“Sometimes we keep secrets, even from those who are closest to us.”

“Are you keeping secrets, Tovar?” Marsden asked.

“A great many of them. From a great many people,” he replied solemnly.

“Like what happened in the jefferies tube?”

Tovar nodded. “I wondered when our conversation would turn to that.”

“You could have brought it up first.”

“True; however, I sensed that Mister Arroyo’s departure was troubling you and wished to provide whatever comfort I could about the matter.”

“That’s sweet…even if you sounded like a damn robot when you said it.”

“Force of habit,” Tovar replied, finally taking a sip of his drink. Hopefully, Captain Bain wouldn’t recognize from the bar that he was drinking a draft cider. Bain abhorred the stuff, calling it swill for people who couldn’t handle a real beer. Actually, Tovar just hoped that Bain wouldn’t come over period seeing as how that would be exceptionally awkward in the present circumstances.

“I’m going to call you on it every time,” Marsden said. “No retreating into robot mode on me.”

“I shall…I’ll try not to.”

“Good. So what happened back there? Stress of the moment?”

“You and I both know that’s not the case,” Tovar said.

“No…it isn’t. I…jeeze this is hard…Oh hell. Tovar, I’m attracted to you. It sounds corny, but there it is.”

“It wasn’t corny,” Tovar replied, unable to stop the smile from spreading across his face. Unfortunately, Marsden could see the hint of sadness coloring it. “I feel the same, but…”

“But you’re involved with someone else,” Marsden said. “I know. I know. You have an obligation to Torgerson.”

“You make it sound as though I don’t want to be with her. I do. She’s a warm, intelligent, beautiful woman. And you…you are so strong and capable and beautiful in your own right. But I can’t have you both.” And that’s not even considering Prosak, Tovar thought to himself. Why couldn’t he just be attracted to one woman?

“So you’re trying to do the right thing, huh?” Marsden said, shielding the emotions building inside her. Getting compliments and rejection at the same time was no picnic.

“I don’t know that there is a right thing here,” Tovar said. He pushed his chair away from the table. “But I think I should go.”

“Probably,” Marsden said flatly.

“I don’t want to, but I…”

“Shut up, Tovar. Please.”

He nodded and walked away, his hand running along the table and brushing against hers as he went. She clasped his fingers gently with her own, then let go, allowing him to exit the lounge.


Ambassador Rorshak was beginning to wonder if he was still connected to the Anomaly or not. It seemed to be taking Prosak an interminably long time to get on the comm line. Finally, his daughter’s face appeared on the viewscreen dominating the front wall of the study of his San Francisco apartment. She looked tired.

“Boogles!” he exclaimed happily. “It’s daddy.”

“Hello, father.”

“Something wrong, Prosak?” he asked kindly.

“I’ve recently been attacked, blown up, possessed, hurt rather badly, and demoted. You could say it’s been a rather rough couple of days.”

“I’m so sorry, Boogles. I wish there was something I could do.”

“You’ve done quite enough, father,” Prosak said coldly.

“I’m sorry?”

“You knew,” she replied through clenched teeth. “You knew all along.”

“I didn’t know exactly what…”

“But you knew something dangerous was out there!” Prosak snapped. “You knew, and you let us blunder into it without one clue as to what we were dealing with.”

“Boogles, my position…”

“The HELL with your position! I’m your daughter!”

“Is that the logical response, Prosak?”

“Even logic gives way to family,” Prosak replied.

“And family gives way to duty, my dearest. I have a duty to the Praetor.”

“I hope she rewards you for it well,” Prosak said, reaching forward.

“Boogles wait…”

But the channel was already closed.

For a brief moment, Ambassador Rorshak almost gave into his urge to sink into the nearest chair and stay there forever. The reception at the Iderian Consulate was in less than an hour, though. He needed to prepare. Duty called.


Epilogue


Even though Hector hadn’t been home in months, the house still felt emptier to Paula Arroyo as she moved from room to room, finally stopping in the den at the rear of the house looking out toward the stables beyond. Hector had never been much for riding, but he did love that backyard. Not even the heat of a San Antonio summer could keep him inside when there was baseball or soccer to be played.

But now he was gone.

The news had come almost 24 hours ago, and the numb feeling enveloping her had yet to subside. Her husband, Senator Escobar Arroyo, had needed to return to his work. Earth Congress was in session, and the disappearance of one Starfleet Officer would not stop the wheels of government. In fact, it was pretty much the only thing with wheels anymore.

Starfleet’s textcomm had been so positive-sounding. Ensign Arroyo wasn’t dead. He’d just chosen to end his corporeal existence in favor of joining with some giant blob of space-faring energy. Wasn’t that comforting? Hector’s captain, Reginald Bain, would be visiting as soon as he got back to Earth to explain in person how not horrible it was that Hector was gone.

She sat down on the sofa. Fell onto it, more accurately, her eyes never leaving the backyard where she could see a ten-year-old Hector running around kicking a soccer ball toward the two trees he’d declared as goal posts.

“Hi, Mom.”

Paula’s head whipped around in an instant. He was there, standing at the top of the single step leading into the kitchen and still dressed in his Starfleet uniform with a serene smile on his face.

“Hector!” she cried, jumping up from the sofa. “It was a mistake. I knew it had to be a mistake. You really need to say something to those morons at Starfleet about watching what notices they send out to people.”

“There’s no mistake, Mom,” Hector said.

“What?”

“Something’s happened…something wonderful,” he replied. Paula noticed the golden aura surrounding her boy and the full realization of the truth struck her.

“Wonderful for you maybe!” Paula shouted. “What about us?”

“It’s not like I’m dead.”

“No. You evolved or something so you could be with some cloud. Is that cloud going to give us grandchildren?”

“I have to go. Lucinda is waiting.”

“Lucinda. Lucinda. Get this Lucinda down here. I have a few things I want to say.”

“Goodbye, Mom. Give my love to Dad.”

“And what about Janie? Are you just going to run out on your fiance’?”.

“We were never really engaged.”

“That girl needs…wait. What did you say?” Paula demanded as Arroyo began to vanish. “What do you mean you weren’t really engaged? You lied to us? Your own parents! Hector? Hector?”

She was once again alone.

“HECTOR!!!!”



Tags: boldly