Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“If I Only Had a Brain”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
“Looks like my mom’s lasagna,” Captain Alexander Rydell said thoughtfully as he stared at the bizarre lump floating on the viewscreen.
“Only if she made her sauce out of highly-charged plasma,” Commander Jaroch, the Secondprize’s science officer, replied as he monitored his scanners. “The object seems to be debris that has been forcefully removed from some larger structure.”
“You mean it blew up,” Rydell replied.
“Possibly. Very likely…most certainly,” Jaroch said finally. “However, the device, whatever its purpose was, is quite advanced.”
“Amazing what people just leave floating around.”
“Start a series of sensor sweeps,” Commander Travis Dillon, the Secondprize’s first officer said. “Jaroch, you and Commander Baird take a shuttle out to survey the item for any…”
“Just grab it and stick it in a cargo bay,” Rydell interrupted wearily.
“But this thing could be dangerous.”
“Only to my sanity if you keep talking about it. I just make deliveries; someone else can handle the work part.”
“Tractoring it in now,” Jaroch reported.
“Good. Now don’t we have a mission or something we’re on?”
“First contact with the Matriarchs of Gelgas Twelve,” Dillon said.
“See. Now that sounds important. Try to get us there in time for dinner, Sullivan.”
“You have a date, sir?” Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan asked.
“We’ll see how things go when we get there,” Rydell replied leaning back in his command chair. “Get this puppy going.”
The Secondprize, strange object safely stowed in its hold, shot into warp.
“Something on scanners, Captain.” Lt. Commander Ariel Tilleran looked up from the science console.
Captain Andrew Baxter rose from his chair and approached the bridge viewscreen. “Well, let’s be quick about it. We have more important matters to attend to.”
“Important matters,” chuckled Lt. Commander J’hana from tactical. “You mean a comic book convention.”
“U’orrix is going to be signing autographs there one day only,” muttered Baxter. “We can’t be late. Now what is this thing on scanners?”
Tilleran hunched over her console. “Not biological. But a definite life-form. I’m sensing thought patterns from it.”
“A great big space brain then?” Baxter said, scratching his head.
“Essentially,” Tilleran said. “Embedded inside a spherical object approximately two meters in width. We’re approaching it at warp nine. Should we slow down to take more thorough scans?”
“Warp nine, huh? Then we’ll probably pass it pretty soo-“
“Just went by,” said J’hana.
“Oh,” Baxter said, and returned to his chair. “Well, we can’t very well go chasing after it. We have our own business to attend to. File a report with Starfleet command and get a science ship out here to study it.”
“What if it’s a new life form?” Tilleran asked.
“Or part of a new civilization?” asked J’hana.
“Stuff it, you two. Return to course.”
STARDATE 174880.4 (119 Years later, for those of you who have trouble with math)
HERMES-CLASS PROTOTYPE 6 CRUISING THROUGH THE COSMOS…Just Cruisin’…
“I have a good feeling about this one, Arroyo,” Lieutenant Shelly Marsden said as she leaned forward eagerly in the command chair of the Hermes-6. Straight out of the Academy, Marsden had been put in charge of the Hermes project, the Federation’s first attempt at combining Starfleet panache with Romulan style and durability.
So far, they’d hit a few…small bumps in the process-okay, five big explosions-but Marsden was cautiously optimistic about this try.
Ensign Hector Arroyo sat at the helm, at the narrow forward end of the Hermes-6’s wedge-shaped bridge. He nervously tapped the edge of the console. “Are you sure about it this time, Shelly?”
“Absolutely. Engage already.”
“Are you SURE?”
“Right, you are the boss.”
“Okay.” Arroyo slammed his hand down on the console and squeezed his eyes shut.
Hermes-6’s engine roared to life, then the computer came on, just as it had five times before.
“This engine has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down. Press any key to self-destruct.”
Marsden put her hand on her face and sighed. “Not again.”
Arroyo stood up and headed for the aft bridge turbolift. “At least I know the way to the escape pods by now. Coming, or would you like to hang around this time?”
“Two minutes to self-destruct,” the computer said helpfully.
“I suppose so,” Marsden said, and slid out of the command chair. She looked around the bridge remorsefully. “I will command this ship one day. Well, maybe not THIS ship, but…”
ONE MONTH LATER HERMES CLASS PROTOTYPE 7 CRUISIN’…with slightly less optimism than before…
It had all seemed a lot more glamorous in the brochure. Starfleet Special Projects. The cutting edge of engineering and science. But after three years as Chief Engineer of the Hermes Project, all Lieutenant Shelly Marsden had to show for her efforts were six debris clouds that used to be prototypes…well that and a bevy of very annoyed superior officers. She’d been granted one more shot.
And this was her shot. Hermes Class Prototype Number Seven, complete with the state-of-the-art of Federation and Romulan technology…as well as one additional component tucked away in an out of the way lab on the science deck above the engineering level.
Marsden’s Starfleet training bristled at the unauthorized design modification she’d been forced to make, but she hadn’t seen any other options. Six previous ships had blown up due to the fact that the Hermes prototypes were powered by a hybridized Federation-Romulan engine, handily called an anti-singularity drive. Part matter/antimatter, part quantum singularity drive. All unstable.
And so, with various admirals and diplomats breathing down her neck and a deadline fast approaching, Marsden was forced to be creative. Damn bureaucrats. They cared more about the damn Romulan alliance than her project. But they were the ones in charge. With no choice but to produce something, Marsden scoured the archives of the Special Projects facility looking for something, anything that could be of use. Stashed in a far corner of a forgotten cargo bay, right between a combustion engine that ran on water and the Ark of the Covenant, sat a 122 year old container labeled “Strange Pipey Squiggly Thing We Picked Up” and signed by a Captain Alexander Rydell.
Inside was the answer to her prayers, she hoped. All indications were that the device was some sort of alien power transference and remodulation node.
Marsden quietly had the container transported to Hermes Prototype Seven and installed it herself. No need to implicate her staff in the legal complications, should someone at Starfleet Internal Affairs find out what she’d done. It was an act of desperation, but at this point she was willing to try anything.
And now, as she sat in the command chair trying not to rock back and forth in anticipation, the Great Marsden Gamble (as she called it in her head) was about to go online. She felt lonely at the center of the bridge. In this design, there weren’t even any side command chairs. Just one big chair at the center of the bridge. Behind and slightly above Marsden, at the back of the wide end of the pie wedge, sat the massive, semi-circular tactical/ops station, which was currently un-manned. As were the science and engineering stations, against the walls to her left and right. All the panels, as was standard these days, were shiny polished grey and white, bright indeed with lovely red highlights. A lot of paint work for a ship that was destined to get blown up again and again.
At this time, the only bridge crew were Marsden and Hector Arroyo, her helmsmen for this and the previous six flights. A skeleton staff of eleven worked below decks in the engineering section. Starfleet saw no reason to eject needless crew from yet another exploding ship. She was happy they had so much faith in her.
“We’re clear of the system,” Ensign Arroyo reported from his curved console at the front of the bridge, facing the large, semi-circular viewscreen.
“Engage the anti-singularity drive,” Marsden ordered.
“Engaging now,” Arroyo said as he stood up. No need to waste time in getting to the escape pod.
This turned out to be a mistake.
Suddenly, the ship rocketed forward, the stars on the viewscreen swirling into a bright spiral as Marsden was thrown back against her seat and Arroyo was tossed over his chair, falling at her feet. So much for the inertial dampeners.
Fighting her way forward, and over the groaning Arroyo, Marsden crawled against the G-forces to the helm station and slammed her hand down on the oval “EMERGENCY STOP” button, shutting down the drive.
“Well that was new,” Arroyo said weakly, climbing to his feet and dusting off his uniform.
Marsden looked up at the stars floating serenely on the viewscreen, then down at the location readout on the helm. “105 light years.”
“Holy shit! What is that? Warp 45? Whoa!”
“Definitely an anomaly,” Marsden said thoughtfully, and made mental note to mention that in her log.
“Because it didn’t blow up?” Arroyo said, returning to his chair. “I can deal with that kind of anomaly.”
Marsden smiled weakly. So could she…as long as no one started asking too many questions.
NEPTUNE RESEARCH STATION TERRAN SYSTEM
Doctor Natalia Kasyov walked into the observation room and stared at Subject 341, who looked content enough to her. The sensor readings on the console in front of the observation window told a different story.
“Good morning,” she said brightly, as she sat down at the console to begin studying the evening’s reports. “I see we’re not enjoying our breakfast stew very much.”
“That, my dear doctor, is an understatement,” said Subject 341. “The broth is cold, and the brine gets caught in my wrinkles.”
“My, that is a problem,” Natalia said, and tapped a sequence into the console. “Well, I’ve got a special treat for lunch. One of your old favorites…crab bisque!”
“Sounds good, Doctor,” replied Subject 341. “Did you have a good evening?”
“I had dinner and finished my book. Some tripe about schizophrenic Romulans by some flake named Peterman.”
“Ah, the classics,” 341 said, and sighed. “I knew Peterman. Did you know that?”
“Nope.” Kasyov continued to tap at her console.
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Do you EVER date?”
Kasyov stared at 341 through the observation glass, eyes narrowed. “Do YOU?”
“I have an excuse, my dear. I’m a disembodied brain.”
Kasyov rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I noticed.”
“Dreadfully hard not to notice, wouldn’t you say?”
“Dean, you’re driving me nuts this morning.”
“You must be getting annoyed at me. You only call me Dean when you’re really upset, or when you’re feeling…passionate.”
Kasyov rose from her chair, hands gripping the observation console. “341, I told you never to speak of that again!”
“Just trying to make conversation…” 341 muttered.
“Listen,” Kasyov said as she sat back down, “I have a lot of work to get to today. Try not to talk my ears off, okay?”
“Whatever you say. I have plenty of…floating…to attend to.”
“Then do it quietly.” Kasyov returned to her reports for the day and tried not to appear ruffled. That brain had a way of voicing her most intimate thoughts. She spent way too much time with it. And worse, she enjoyed it.
Stardate 175014.7. It’s been hours since the Hermes drive knocked us 105 light years off course, and so far the ship still hasn’t exploded yet. We’re returning on our back-up warp engines while we run tests on the anti-singularity drive, trying to figure out just what exactly made it work. I have a funny feeling…
That afternoon, Shelly Marsden stood in Science Lab Four, renamed the “Janitorial Supply Room,” staring at the bleeping mechanism that took up almost half of the room. It was large and rectangular, orange-ish and metallic, and looked vaguely like a large piece of lasagna. And stranger, it had a large, two-meter wide hollowed-out area at its center, in the rough shape of a large bowl, with all sorts of prickly pipes and nodes all about. Marsden had no idea what it did. But she had a definite feeling it was the reason the Hermes-7 was still around. And she hadn’t even told the research team about it. As far as they knew, this section was full of cleaning supplies.
So they were down in engineering running scan after scan on the prototype anti-singularity drive, trying to figure out what they’d done differently to get this one to work.
Marsden, on the other hand, claimed she had to use the bathroom and bolted for lab four, slung on her quadcorder headset and attempted to find out what exactly this damned bleeping chunk of Italian cuisine was doing to her engine. Not that she had a right to complain; she had put it there, after all.
The Great Marsden Gamble had actually worked. She just wasn’t sure what the hell to do now.
Marsden flipped the spectral lens of the quadcorder headset down over her left eye and, with a series of left-right eye movements began a battery of tests. Still, she couldn’t seem to find solid evidence that the damn thing was doing ANYTHING. She figured that whatever function it originally had, it was too advanced for her to figure out.
She was stirred from her thoughts when an alert klaxon rang throughout the lab.
“Arroyo to Marsden,” came the chirp on her compip, the string of rank insignia on her collar. “We have an object drifting toward us from off the port bow. Will intercept in thirty seconds. Suggestions?”
“Shields up, but no weapons,” she said, and headed for the door to the lab, tossing aside her quadcorder headset. “Try to stay out of its way before I get up there.” She spared one glance back at the odd device before heading for the bridge. There were more important things to attend to now.
When Marsden dashed out of the turbolift onto the bridge, she gasped at the object on the viewscreen.
“Seen it before?” Arroyo asked jokingly as he walked down to his station at the helm.
“Not exactly.” Marsden stepped up behind Arroyo and rested her hands on his chair. She’d never seen the object on the screen before, but it seemed to uniquely fit the mold in that big chunk of lasagna down in the lab. She wanted to tell Arroyo; after all, he was closer to her than anyone else on the project, but she couldn’t risk it. Not until she found out what that sphere on the screen was.
But no doubt about it, it looked to be the right dimensions, had holes to fit those nodes, and everything.
“Size of the object?” she asked as she went to the command chair.
“Two meters exactly,” said Arroyo, looking at his readings. “A perfect sphere.”
“Wouldn’t you know it.” She collapsed in the command chair. “Heading?”
“To intercept us. It’s navigating at impulse.”
“Put the anti-sing drives on stand-by.”
“And blow us to high hell again?”
“Who’s the lieutenant and who’s the ensign here, Hector?” Marsden asked. “Just get ready to do it.”
“Just because it worked once is no guarantee…”
“Hector…” Marsden said, with growing impatience.
“Anti-sing drives on stand-by.”
“Time until the sphere intercepts?”
“Prepare to engage…”
“I’m all prepared.”
Marsden gripped the command chair arms. “Engage!”
WOMP womp womp womp wummmmmmp.
Hermes-7 sighed to a stop and the lights on the bridge dimmed down to a romantic level.
“What was that sound?” Marsden asked, looking around the bridge. “And why do I suddenly feel like I’m in a French café?”
“I can’t tell,” Arroyo said, looking up from his sensors. “Anti-sing engines just burned up altogether. But at least we’re not about to blow up!”
“And the object?”
“Headed for us…” Arroyo kept on his sensors. “Just intercepted us. Made contact on the hull, on deck twelve.”
“Science deck,” Marsden said woefully, as the Hermes-7 rocked gently. “It’s phasing through our shields and hull. It’s coming INSIDE the ship!”
“Activate a level-ten force field around it!”
Arroyo did, and gasped. “It went right through!”
“Where’s it headed?”
“Um…Janitorial Supply Room.” Arroyo scratched his head. “What would it want with cleaning supplies?”
Marsden couldn’t answer. She was already in the turbolift.
When Marsden arrived in the “Janitorial Supply Room,” she found the sphere neatly embedded in the hollowed-out section, bleeping pleasantly, and looking both ominous, powerful, and beautiful, all at the same time.
Marsden had an itchy feeling at the back of her head that her career was now in serious jeopardy. Wait, screw her career. Her LIFE and those of her staff were in serious jeopardy.
“And where did you run off to without even saying goodbye?” Arroyo admonished over the comm channel.
“I’m down in the…janitor’s closet,” Marsden said. “Studying the object.” She’d found her quadcorder headset right where she left it, which she quickly donned and slid the lens over her eye. “Taking readings now.”
“That thing is powered to the gills, Shelly,” Arroyo said worriedly. “Why don’t you just get out of there and we’ll abandon ship? It’s at the very least something we know how to do well.”
“And what would we do then? Hitch a ride back to the test facility?”
“Good point. How are those scans coming?”
Marsden took a few tentative steps toward the sphere. “Stand by…”
Then she fell on her butt as the ship jerked underneath her.
“It wasn’t me!” Arroyo replied over the comm system. “The thing just sent us back into warp. Nine point five and rising, on a heading of 080 mark 150!”
“Toward Breen space,” Marsden said, and cringed. “They’re going to LOVE this.”
“You might want to try to find a way to unplug that thing now.”
“Not an easy task,” Marsden said, climbing to her feet. She stared at the sphere, watching the readings scroll by on her view-lens.
“Funny how we seemed to get thrown out into space exactly where that sphere could find us and take control, huh?”
“Yeah,” Marsden laughed nervously. “That’s funny.” She stared at the device. “Hector, I think this thing is sentient. Maybe even organic, though not in the way we’re used to.”
“And that helps us how?” was Arroyo’s quick reply.
“Well…it helps us because I think I have a friend who just may know how to reason with one of these things.”
“That’s handy,” Arroyo said. After a pause, he added. “It would be even handier if this person were HERE! Shall I send out an invitation?”
“On the usual stationery, please.”
“One distress call, coming right up.”
SUSSEX, ENGLAND EARTH
“Oh, I DO love my petunias!”
Captain Reginald Bain knelt over the flower-box that sat outside the glorious double-bay windows that opened up on a dim, mist-covered field. The Downs hadn’t been quite the same since the populace voted down the weather maintenance initiative of 2420, but Bain had learned to appreciate the fog. At any rate, fog was nothing compared to what happened to poor Canada after the war with the Jarada decades ago.
Bain loved his free time. He was currently between assignments; that was a nice way of Starfleet saying they didn’t have anyone for him to go off and shoot, or blow up, or rescue at the moment. Along with his security chief, Bain had logged thousands of star-hours getting other ships out of trouble. The Enterprise-J alone was a handful.
Right now, though, things seemed quiet, which was okay with him.
After closing the window, Bain went over to his desk and sat down to peruse his stamp collection. He found them a nice way to unwind after a long day of bashing in the head of a smuggler who’d escaped Starfleet Security or pulling some inept captain from the wreckage of his latest run-in with a Breen interceptor patrol.
“Tea is ready, dear,” came a voice from outside the study.
Bain stood and walked to the door. He stopped short when a “bleep!” sounded at his desk. “One moment, Rosalyn!” he called as he turned back to his desk and swivelled the holo-viewer around to face him. That 3-D Federation logo sent his heart aflutter before 3-D words flashed up on the screen:
“URGENT MESSAGE FOR CAPTAIN R. BAIN.”
He punched a control on the holo-viewer and whispered his clearance, “Fru-fru,” which was the name of his Yorkshire terrier.
The words vanished to be replaced with the grinning face of Admiral Kristen Larkin.
“It’s great to see you, Reginald!” Larkin said.
“Nice to see you as well, Krissers. Have you got a spot of trouble for me or are you just calling to shoot the breeze?”
“A little of both, actually,” Larkin replied. It amazed Bain to no end that the android female was 123 years old and didn’t look a day over 20. Of course, she was an android, which helped with the aging part. “It appears that one of our experimental vessels was commandeered by some sort of bio-mechanical alien life-form and lost control of her engines this afternoon.”
“Oh, beans,” muttered Bain. “We’re not talking about Borg again, are we? Those buggers are a menace. Don’t even have the common decency to fall down after I shoot them!”
“Not at all,” replied Larkin. “In this case, the entity seems rather harmless. Except for the fact that it sent the ship barreling toward Breen space.”
“Now those blighters I can handle!” Bain said. He glanced up as he noticed his wife, Rosalyn, standing at the door.
“We’re not going off on another killing spree again, are we?” she asked.
“Tut-tut, dearest,” said Bain, returning his attention to Larkin. “What’s the caper, then?”
“The ship’s being commanded by an engineer at the moment. A Lieutenant Marsden. Obviously, she’s in way over her head. You are to intercept, take command, and bring that ship back.”
“I’ll have that filly back in the barn before you shut the doors. Don’t you worry, Admiral. When do I leave?”
“Immediately. A scout from the Explorer Project is prepped and ready to go at McKinley station. The USS Navigator.”
“Good show, Larks,” said Bain. “Let me pick up my security chief, and we’ll be off on the next beam-out.”
“Two officers who should be of help to you will be waiting on the Navigator. Good luck, Bain,” Larkin said, and disappeared from the holo-screen.
“Pack the scones, dearest. I’m off on a mission!” Bain said, rising from his seat and dashing for the door.
Commander Prosak sat idly on the couch at the sprawling McKinley station, which seemed now to overshadow a good portion of the earth. Spacedock, which hovered just to the side, was even larger. A great ice cream cone, topped with a huge, hollowed out docking facility capable of holding a hundred lumbering seventy-deck Juggernaut-class ships.
Prosak had been waiting about an hour for the rest of her party to arrive. She didn’t hear much from Command when they routed her from the Romulan delegation meeting to the station, just that her presence was needed on the Hermes project.
Prosak was a bit concerned about the idea of combining Federation and Romulan technologies. No one was even THINKING about Vulcan technology. No wonder the thing blew up six times.
Whatever the case, some being had apparently latched on to the newest experimental ship and sent it fleeing toward Breen space. The Romulan delegation agreed wholeheartedly with Command that a Romulan should be on-hand to oversee the reigning in of the wayward ship, and Prosak was the woman for the job, since she was a Starfleet officer to boot. The ONLY Romulan Starfleet officer, at present.
She didn’t know much about the being that took over the stray ship, only that it was an alien mind of some kind. THAT problem was in the purview of a doctor named Kasyov, whom Prosak was waiting for at the moment.
On the whole shuttle ride from the Romulan embassy on Earth up to McKinley station, Prosak thought about what her father, Rorshak, had told her. “Humans are our friends now, youngest. Trust them, but never ever ever turn your back on them. And quit it with the Vulcan nonsense, okay boogles?”
Prosak always had a hard time understanding her father’s advice. Her father was a stubborn man. He wasn’t totally for the Romulan/Federation alliance and was none too thrilled with her decision to sign up with the growing group of Romulan/Vulcan unificationists, known casually as the “RommaVulcs.”
So Prosak left her father at the embassy and headed for McKinley station, IDIC symbol strung around her neck. She hid it within the folds of her uniform just to please her father and the Starfleet higher-ups who were anal about such things as dress code. Hopefully the head of her current mission would be more casual.
Prosak tried to suppress the feelings of anticipation that welled up inside her with her Vulcan mind-control techniques. Handy tool, that. All the Romulans seemed to have to contribute to the Vulcans was a really good casserole recipe and an unbeaten Parises Squares team.
The gentle thrum of a shuttle pulling in at the port stirred Prosak from her thoughts. She looked up to see the arrow-shaped hypershuttle glide into place at the docking arm. A string of passengers disembarked from the airlock. They could have just as easily transported, but some folks still liked the nostalgia of good, old-fashioned space travel. While it was, admittedly, not logical, Prosak could understand the appeal.
At last, a woman matching the image Starfleet had given Prosak disembarked from the hypershuttle carrying a shoulder bag. She was tall with long, wavy dark hair and dark eyes. In a word, Prosak would have described her as intense. She also didn’t look at all pleased to be where she was. Following her father’s lead, Prosak decided this would be as good of a time as any to open diplomatic relations.
“Dr. Kasyov,” Prosak said, rising and extending her hand to the woman in standard human fashion.
“I am ready to get underway,” Kasyov said, ignoring Prosak’s offered hand. “The sooner the better. My brains don’t like to be left alone for long.”
Prosak briefly looked at either side of Kasyov’s skull. No apparent damage, but with all that hair, who could tell? However, if Starfleet saw fit to send this woman along, she must be highly competent. She decided not to pursue the matter.
“Our vessel is standing by; however, our captain has not arrived just yet. We should not have much longer to wait.”
Kasyov turned on Prosak in irritation, then stopped as her attention was drawn by the Romulan’s head. Without so much as a “would you mind?” Kasyov ran her hand along Prosak’s skull.
“Romulan!” Kasyov said more to herself than anyone.
“Commander Prosak,” Prosak replied.
“Beautiful cranial structure. I’ve never seen a Romulan brain up close.”
“No offense, Doctor, but I sincerely hope you never have the opportunity to see mine. If you are ready, I will take you to the ship.”
Kasyov reluctantly stopped fondling Prosak’s head and followed the Romulan through the crowded corridors to a docking bay on the far end of the station, where the USS Navigator sat. A harried ensign was just racing out of the access hatch.
“There you are, Commander,” he said gratefully. “The Captain just sent me to look for you.”
“I was not informed of his arrival.”
“He and Lieutenant Commander Tovar just beamed in a minute ago. He was half through the disembarking procedures when he realized you weren’t on board.”
“Nice to see everyone else is so anxious to get going,” Kasyov muttered as Prosak and the ensign brushed past her to get on board.
Moments later, Prosak and Kasyov entered the bridge of the USS Navigator, a small scout ship designed for speed and agility but without the weaponry of the larger Defiant-class variants Starfleet had utilized over the last century or so.
The bridge reflected economy more than anything else. There were chairs for a captain and a helm/tactical officer, but everyone else was on their own. At the moment, the two available chairs were occupied. Hearing the bridge doors open and close, the occupant of the captain’s chair spun around to greet the newcomers.
He was an older man, most likely in his mid-to-late sixties; although, it was often hard to tell with human men. His hair was dark, peppered with gray, and he had a salt-n-pepper moustache. For all Kasyov knew, he could be pushing 100. Despite his age, whatever that may have been, he was a powerfully built man, fit and hearty. He stood up from his seat and extended his hand to Kasyov. This time she took it and returned the handshake, drawing a glare from Prosak.
“Welcome aboard,” the man said. “Captain Reginald Bain at your service. Awfully sorry about almost running off without you.”
“Doctor Natalia Kasyov,” Kasyov replied.
“Right. Tovar tells me you’re a brain expert. Is that right, Tovar?”
“Correct, sir,” came a voice from the helm console.
“Get us underway, would you, my boy?”
“Disembarking now, sir.”
“Good lad.” Bain turned his attention back to Kasyov and Prosak. “As you will have gathered. that is Lieutenant Commander Tovar. Yynsian stock. I know the reputation, but that boy is as solid as they come. Good man to have around in a pinch. Taken him through three commands now.” Without missing a beat, Bain took Prosak’s hand.
“And you must be Commander Prosak, head of our Romulan contingent.”
“As far as I know I am your entire Romulan contingent,” Prosak replied, confused.
“That would certainly make you the head then. Glad to have you aboard. I assume you’ve both been briefed.”
“To an extent,” Kasyov replied. “Lieutenant Marsden…”
“Marsden…Marsden,” Bain interrupted, searching his memory. “Tovar?”
“The engineer in command of the Hermes craft at the moment.”
“Righters. Sorry there, Doctor. Go on.”
“As I was saying, Lieutenant Marsden is an associate of mine. She apparently requested that I be pulled away from my research to join you on this excursion.”
“I’ll try not to make the ride too rough, then,” Bain replied. “Why don’t you both stow your gear, and we’ll meet for a more thorough briefing later. How’s dinner sound? I ran off without my supper, much to my dear Rosie’s dismay.”
“I don’t eat much,” Kasyov replied cooly.
“Ah, come on now,” said Bain. “It’s a tradition of mine when I’m embarking on a new ship with a new crew. We all replicate, or make if you’re so inclined, our favorite recipes and get to know each other. Builds comradery.”
“I can prepare my spicy plomeek soup!” Prosak said excitedly.
“That’s the spirit!” Bain said.
“Sir, if I may point out two things,” Tovar said, turning from his post at tactical/helm at the front of the bridge. “First, we are on a mission of emergency rescue. Time is of the essence. Second,” he said, and glared at Prosak. “Plomeek soup is NOT spicy.”
“Mine is,” Prosak said, unaware of any derision on Tovar’s part.
“Well, then,” Bain said, rubbing his hands together. “Mister Tovar does have a point, about us needing to hurry, anyway. Why don’t you make your course to intercept that bugger of a stray ship and we’ll get the dinner things ready below decks?”
“A ship is on its way to assist,” Admiral Larkin said pleasantly enough over the viewscreen on the Hermes bridge. “Under Captain Bain. He’s quite a professional, I assure you.”
Marsden swiveled in the command chair, a knot of uncertainty in her stomach. “I think there’s something you should probably tell Captain Bain, Admiral.”
“And that would be?”
“There’s a little piece of technology downstairs we can’t really identify that may be the source of this trouble.”
“The one that invaded your ship, correct?” asked Larkin.
“No…this one was here before. The other thing latched onto it.”
“I see,” Larkin said. “And how did this original…thing…get on your ship?”
Marsden twirled a clump of blonde hair with her finger. How would she put this? “I put it there, Admiral.” That would be how.
Arroyo turned in his chair. “Come again?”
Marsden mouthed “be quiet!” to Arroyo and looked for a reaction from Larkin. She didn’t get one.
Larkin nodded. “Very well. I will tell Captain Bain.”
“You’re not…mad at me?”
“I am registering fourteen separate emotions at the moment. Anger is one of them, but it is ranked second-to-last among them. You should include a complete explanation of your actions in your debriefing, but at the moment there are more urgent matters to attend to, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, Admiral,” Marsden said, and Larkin disappeared from the viewscreen.
Arroyo turned in his seat again and looked at Marsden expectantly.
Marsden took a deep breath. “Well, I guess it’s high time I filled you in, Hector.”
“And that’s how Rosie and I escaped the bloodworms of Deneb IV,” Reg Bain said, leaning back in his chair at the end of the long table in the Navigator’s mess hall. They’d had to push together many of the short tables in order to seat everyone at dinner, but Bain insisted they dine as a whole crew. That included Bain, Tovar, Dr. Kasyov, Commander Prosak, and the six other engine, science, and security officers that made up the entirety of Navigator’s complement.
“This is all very fascinating, Captain,” said Kasyov, as she poked at her half-eaten square of Yorkshire pudding. She swirled a chunk of it around in the dish of spicy Plomeek soup. “But weren’t you supposed to fill us in on the mission? Do you have any additional information about the Hermes project?”
“What’s that?” asked Bain. “Well, I suppose I don’t.”
“I do,” Prosak said quietly, raising her hand at the other end of the table. “The Romulan delegation produced a presentation on the project for the galactic conference. I have it right here on this nanolinear chip.”
“Good show, Prosak!” said Bain. “Tovar, why don’t you boot it up on the viewer?”
Tovar frowned at his untouched bowl of Plomeek soup. “I hardly think that’s in my job description.”
“Now now, my boy, no need to grouse about it. Let’s see this presentation Prosak has so kindly brought us,” Bain said it with a grin of amusement, but something told Kasyov that a measure of authority accompanied the command.
Reluctantly, Tovar rose from his seat and walked over to Prosak’s seat. “The chip, if you please.”
Prosak gladly produced the ship, and Tovar walked over to the monitor at the front of the room as Bain wiped his mouth and turned in his chair to view the presentation.
“Dim the lights, lad!” he said good-naturedly.
Tovar bent by the monitor, plunked in the thumb-size chip, and waved his hand over a control panel.
The lights dimmed, and the Romulan and Federation logos appeared on the viewscreen.
Admiral Larkin appeared next, seated at a desk, with a Romulan at her side.
“And who’s that with Larks there?” asked Bain.
“That is my father,” said Prosak. “Romulan Ambassador Rorshak.”
“Your father’s the Romulan ambassador?” said Kasyov.
“Wish you’d shaken my hand now, don’t you?” Prosak said, with a fleeting tinge of pride.
“What you are about to see is classified,” said Admiral Larkin on the screen. “Please do not share it with anyone or mention it in your diary.”
“The Hermes Project,” said Rorshak, stepping out from behind Larkin’s desk, “is designed to meld, so to speak, Romulan and Federation technologies.” The vid device moved to follow him to a holoviewer. He hit a control, and the Hermes-class vessel appeared in front of him. “As you can see, the hull design up front is quite similar to the old Intrepid design, and includes an upper sensor/weapons pod, and lower secondary deck for engineering purposes. But, as we move to the back of the vessel, you see that the two warp nacelles are nestled in a wing-like, forward-sweeping encasement, which is at the same time beautiful and useful from a warp design standpoint.”
“So far this is quite over my head,” Bain commented.
“Do not worry,” Tovar said, taking a seat beside Bain. “I will explain it all to you later. I’m…” Tovar sighed, “used to doing that.”
“But the real differences are internal,” Rorshak continued, pointing as the outer design schematic of the Hermes design melted away to reveal and zoom in on a warp engine at the center of the ship. “What you are seeing now is the first-ever hybrid matter/antimatter quantum singularity drive. We call it the anti-singularity engine. The prototype for this vessel is already being built. We expect it to enter testing within the next month.”
“This vid was taken quite a while ago,” said Prosak. “The vessel we’re on our way to meet is the seventh one.”
“What happened to the first six?” inquired Tovar.
“They blew up,” said Kasyov.
“And how do you know all about this?” Bain asked, pivoting to face the scientist.
“Lieutenant Marsden is my friend. She tells me these things.”
“And she is…”
Tovar pursed his lips. “The woman we are going to find, the engineer in command of the stray vessel.”
“Right, then. But didn’t Larks just tell us not to talk about this ship to anyone? Why is this Marsden lass being so loose-lipped?”
“Sir,” Kasyov said tiredly, “my security clearance is Alpha-Nine. I work on the brains of some of the galaxy’s greatest minds. I’ve talked to Sarek’s brain.”
A gasp echoed through the room.
“…in which case the entire thing will probably explode,” Larkin finished saying, at which time Rorshak returned behind her desk on the screen.
“Hope we didn’t miss an important bit,” Bain said, rubbing his chin.
“I think we have it covered,” Tovar said. “My primary concern is this being that has infiltrated the Hermes prototype.”
“Shelly never mentioned anything about that,” said Kasyov.
“Starfleet’s database is a bit vague on it as well,” Bain said. “They just know it got into the ship’s systems and took it over.”
“Then we need to find a way to stop that ship before it gets into Breen space,” said Prosak.
“Right you are!” said Bain. “But there’s nothing to be done until we meet up with our wayward Hermes and get a first-hand look. Anyone for some cinnamon scones?”
Lieutenant Marsden sat on her haunches, staring, fingers steepled to her lips, at the great sphere in Science Lab Four. The “janitorial closet” containing the invader had been redubbed a science lab at the very moment that Arroyo notified the crew as to what Marsden had done. They were currently miffed at her for going behind their backs, but they’d get over it.
“So you just found this thing?” Arroyo asked from behind her.
“Pretty much,” replied Marsden. “How was I supposed to know there was another piece of it out here?”
“It’s a strange galaxy,” remarked Arroyo. “Have you made any kind of contact with it yet?”
“Not really,” replied Marsden. “That’s more Nat’s department. She should be here soon, and hopefully she can figure out what it wants.”
“You really think your friend will be able to…” Arroyo nudged his head in the direction of the sphere, “get through to this thing?”
“Absolutely. I have total faith in her.” Marsden rocked back onto her rear end and sat watching the sphere as it blinked and thrummed. “Any idea how long it’ll be ‘til we get to Breen space?”
“About an hour, give or take,” said Arroyo. “You in any hurry to get blasted today?”
Bain returned to the mess hall looking confused. Kasyov had a feeling he had that look fairly often. She also noted Tovar was right at his side, ready to explain things. Everyone else pretty much continued to nibble on their scones.
“Just got a message from Admiral Larkin,” he said. He looked to Kasyov. “Darnedest thing. Appears your engineer friend put an unidentified alien device into the prototype. The being that took over the vessel seems to have been attracted to that.”
“She must have had some reason,” Kasyov said, sliding away from the table.
“Apparently to keep the ship from blowing up,” Bain said. “And the device did a right good job of it too.”
“Although one would argue that the method isn’t exactly standard,” said Prosak, looking up from her scone.
“So how does this help us?” asked Kasyov.
“That I can tell, it doesn’t,” said Bain. “But Larks did tell me she tracked down where this device came from. Found by a ship called Secondprize over a hundred years ago.”
Tovar involuntarily twitched.
Bain approached and clamped a hand on Tovar’s shoulder. “Something wrong, lad?”
“Not necessarily,” said Tovar. “There’s a point two-seven-five percent chance this device is something perfectly normal. Of course it could be a rock monster that will try to destroy this ship…”
“What would give you THAT idea?” wondered Prosak.
Tovar twitched again, then let out a sound somewhere between a grunt and a gurgle. “Not…welcome,” he hissed.
“Tovar, snap out of it man!” Bain called out. It was apparent he’d seen this before.
Prosak stood and approached Tovar. “Commander, I am aware I have not known you for long, but perhaps a mind-meld would help clear your thoughts…”
“I have no need of your Romulan parlor tricks,” Tovar said, regaining his composure. “I know real Vulcans, and you ma’am are not a real Vulcan!”
“I’m a RommaVulc,” Prosak said proudly.
Tovar rolled his eyes. “Allow me to humor you. Proceed with your meld, for what good it will do.”
Prosak turned Tovar to face her and firmly placed her fingers on Tovar’s forehead. “Clear your mind of distractions.”
“I assumed that’s what you were supposed to do,” Tovar said curtly.
“I said clear your mind of distractions,” Prosak said again. “My mind to your mind. Our thoughts are one.” No, they weren’t. Nothing was happening. Prosak winced inwardly. Very few Romulan RommaVulcs actually managed the famed neck pinch, much less an actual mind meld. Prosak’s melds, when they did work, always turned out a little…
Tovar’s eyes bulged and glazed over. “CURSE YOU, FOUL DEMON WOMAN!”
Prosak found something, and it was not at all good, she decided, as she was tossed to the floor like a rag doll.
Bain frowned. “Not to criticize, there, Prosak, but I don’t think that’s quite the way.”
Tovar turned instantly on Bain, who grabbed him by the shoulders, gave him a stern, fatherly glare. “Tovar, you stop that foolishness this instant, my boy, or there will be consequences!”
Tovar shrunk immediately away. “Daddy? Sorry Daddy!” He limped out of the mess hall, sucking his thumb and whimpering.
Bain straightened his uniform tunic. “Sorry about that display, friends. He gets like that sometimes.” He bent down to help Prosak up. “Are you all right, Commander?”
“That man needs serious therapy,” Kasyov said.
“Oh, no more than most Yynsians, I assure you. Past lives and all. Damned nuisance if you ask me, but that boy is one hell of an officer.”
Kasyov and Prosak exchanged a skeptical glance.
“Well then,” Bain said, “if we’re all done eating here, I think it’s high time we got to the bridge and found out what’s what.”
Marsden had had enough. She had never been one to just sit around while things happened. That’s how she’d gotten the Hermes project to begin with. Despite failure after failure, she’d pressed on and found solutions. So now one of her solutions was causing a problem. So be it. She could handle that too.
“I don’t know about this, Shelly,” Arroyo said as Marsden heated up her phaser drill and approached the sphere.
“I’m just going to look for now.”
“With a phaser drill?”
“Okay. So I’m planning on looking inside. I promise I won’t do anything else…yet. You just be ready to get me out of here.”
Arroyo took two steps away from the sphere. Oh how he wished he could be up on the bridge actually flying the prototype right now. Of course, with the sphere in control, there wasn’t much to do other than sit up there and watch old holovids. And he was probably better off here considering all they had in stock were three ancient episodes of Days of Honor and a J’naii production of Guys and Dolls. And Arroyo doubted anyone could tell which ones were supposed to be the guys and which were the dolls.
Marsden activated her face shield and placed the phaser drill against the surface of the sphere just above where it had attached to a hose from the lasagna drive, as Arroyo had taken to calling it.
The sudden booming of a deep voice shook the entire ship and knocked Marsden back into Arroyo, who narrowly avoided losing some vital personal equipment to the phaser drill.
“I think we just verified it’s alive,” Arroyo said.
“That helps,” Marsden muttered.
“Sure it does. You’ve been hiding out in engineering circles too long. We’re Starfleet. We go talk to strange lifeforms before we try to disassemble them.”
“You want me to talk to it?”
“You’re the captain. That’s what captains do.”
Marsden pulled herself off of Arroyo and stalked back towards the sphere.
“Open your hands in friendship,” Arroyo called after her. “And slow down. You don’t want to scare it.” Marsden shot an angry glare at Arroyo but did as he suggested.
“Hello, Mister Alien Sphere. I am Lieutenant Shelly Marsden. You’ve taken control of my ship, and I’d really like it back…please.”
“This is useless,” Marsden snapped.
“I preferred my phaser drill.”
Marsden was sure Arroyo was enjoying all of this way too much, but she didn’t have any better ideas to offer…other than taking the sphere apart piece by piece. She reminded herself that Kasyov was on the way. Natalia was way more qualified in the whole dealing with alien intelligences department. All Marsden wanted was to get her prototype back to Earth in time for her court-martial.
She knocked twice firmly on the edge of the sphere and took a step back. A small hatch opened in the seemingly-smooth surface of the sphere. Suddenly, two tiny energy bolts shot out, knocking Marsden back…twice.
“I think it’s mimicking you,” Arroyo said. “Knock again.”
“You knock!” Marsden said, rubbing her chest where the bolts had hit. They didn’t burn, but they had hit her pretty hard.
“No, thanks. But hey, at least it didn’t mimic your use of the phaser drill.”
Content after a big meal and a syntheholic brandy, Captain Bain strolled out onto the Navigator bridge and settled into his command chair. Kasyov and Prosak followed along with a yeoman carrying two stools for them to use on the cramped bridge.
“Did you enjoy your meal, sir?” Tovar asked from the helm console.
“Splendidly,” Bain replied. “Anything to report?”
“Not a thing since you left to eat, sir.”
Prosak stepped up to Tovar and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about what happened at dinner, Tovar. If you want to talk…”
“What about dinner? I wasn’t there. I’ve been up here the whole time, right sir?” Tovar looked back at Bain, who nodded sagely.
“Absolutely, my boy. I don’t think you set foot off the bridge all evening.” Tovar turned back to his console as Prosak gaped at Bain. The captain just shook his head and mouthed “Don’t.”
“Now what about this ship we’re chasing?” Bain asked without missing a beat.
“We should intercept the Hermes prototype in approximately ten minutes,” Tovar reported.
“Capital. Okay, Prosak. We know about the engines. What else are we up against?”
Prosak stepped away from Tovar and took a position beside Bain’s chair as the viewscreen brought up a schematic of the Hermes prototype. “The Hermes prototype is an attempt to meld Romulan and Federation technology, as you know. The prototype is equipped with neutron torpedoes, infi-phasic shielding, disruptor cannons, and linked banks of enhanced compression phaser arrays. The ship is designed for a crew of 200, but there are only 13 on board at the moment.”
“And the intruder,” Bain said.
“And the intruder,” Prosak concurred. “Aside from the usual amenities, the Hermes prototype has a crew lounge, holographic recreation facilities, and in-room holopods.”
“Damn nice ship, they’ve got there,” Bain said. “Too bad about that blowing-up glitch.”
“Quite,” Prosak said, pleased with how professional she was sounding. These sorts of briefings had never been a strong suit. She called up Lieutenant Marsden’s report to Starfleet that had been included with the prototype’s distress call. “As you can see, the first six versions of the prototype all self-destructed when the anti-singularity engines were engaged.”
“But the seventh prototype…blast, can we find a name for this bugger?” Bain said. “That’s a ship out there. A real ship. She needs a name.” He examined Marsden’s note next to the Hermes-7 prototype test report. It was only one word.
“Anomaly. Sounds as good as any,” Bain said, slapping his hand down on his chair to emphasize his point. “All right, then. The Anomaly worked presumably due to that alien technology this Marsden installed.”
“Correct, sir,” Prosak said. She rolled the name around in her mind for a moment or two. Anomaly. It actually worked. “So now we must stop the Anomaly.”
“If I were some cowboy space jockey, I suppose I would just lasso her like some wild horse, but we’re going to board her after the fashion of the English,” Bain said.
“And that would be?” Kasyov asked, wondering just how much danger this man was planning on putting her life into.
“Pull up alongside, grapple her, and beam aboard. Nothing to it. Tovar, handle the niceties if you would, please. Doctor, Prosak, a word…” Bain gestured for Kasyov and Prosak to follow him as he headed out of the bridge and through the narrow Navigator corridors to the ship’s transporter room.
“There’s something I need to tell you, Doctor, before we charge into the breech,” Bain said to Kasyov.
“By all means.”
“Now this is not meant as a slight to your abilities or your field, Kassie, but I’ve got a set of orders to reduce that ship and the whatever-it-is running it to so much space dust if you can’t find a way to get things under control before we cross the Breen border. I appreciate the whole new life forms mantra as much as the next bloke, but I will not have the Anomaly fall into the wrong hands. I think our esteemed Romulan companion would agree with me on that, right Prosak?”
Prosak jumped at the sound of her name. “Um…right. Definitely. We’ve got to save the ship.”
“Believe me, Bainie,” Kasyov spat as they reached the door of the transporter room. “If I can’t deal with this life-form, you’ll be the first to know. After that, you’re welcome to create all the destruction and havoc that you want.”
“Capital!” Bain replied with a huge grin as he clapped Kasyov on the shoulder. “I knew you and I would see eye to eye, Kassie. Can’t tell you how glad I am to have you along on this little jaunt.”
Before Kasyov could show him just how badly he was missing the point, Bain entered the transporter room.
“That man is intolerable,” Kasyov muttered.
“I find him quite engaging,” Prosak replied. “He’s certainly not like the usual Starfleet stiffs I deal with. I think I like him.”
“He’s all yours,” Kasyov said, gesturing for Prosak to go into the transporter room ahead of her.
Tovar watched the Anomaly grow larger and larger on the viewscreen as the Navigator moved in towards her at an intercept angle. So far, the larger Hermes vessel hadn’t so much as slowed down to acknowledge the approach of another ship. On the upside, that would make matching speeds a lot easier. The last thing Tovar needed was for the Anomaly to suddenly slam on the brakes after he’d tractored on to them.
<That display at dinner was unacceptable,> a voice from deep within his consciousness stated.
“I wasn’t at dinner,” Tovar’s mind replied.
<No, we all were,> the voice snapped. <Your controls are seriously lacking.>
“I’ve done fine for the last thirty years, thank you very much.”
<Just try to pull yourself together better. Not all captains will lie for you like Bain has.>
“He’s never lied for me!” Tovar said defensively.
<This is pointless. Just fly the ship.>
Tovar snapped back to the matter at hand just before the Navigator was about to barrel into the side of the Anomaly. He quickly corrected the course and swung in alongside of the larger ship. The Anomaly hadn’t even reacted to imminent collision. Somehow, the Yynsian doubted that this was a good sign. He activated the comm system.
“This is the USS Navigator to Lieutenant Marsden on board the Hermes prototype. What is your status?”
“Marsden here,” a grateful sounding female voice replied quickly. “I am with the alien sphere now. So far we haven’t been able to make contact with it…or shut down the engines. It’s set up some sort of forcefield around all of the vital systems. We have control of communications and life support, and that’s about it.”
“And the holovision,” a male voice said in the background.
“Stand by, Anomaly,” Tovar replied. “Captain Bain and his party will be beaming over shortly.”
“What’d you call me?” Marsden demanded.
“Your ship. The Anomaly. Captain Bain named it.”
“HE named MY ship!” Marsden replied angrily.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Tovar said, putting a bit of emphasis on the lieutenant part. “He can tell you all about it when he arrives. Navigator out.”
Marsden felt a mixture of emotions as the mustached and handsome in a My-Uncle-Bob sort of way Captain Bain swaggered into Science Lab Four. She was grateful for the help, to be sure, and quite relieved to see Natalia bringing up the rear, along with a Romulan woman Marsden didn’t know, but that conversation with the fellow on the rescue ship bothered her. Was this a rescue mission or a takeover?
Bain reached forward to shake Marsden’s hand and she stood, dusting off the legs of her uniform pants. She shook Bain’s offered hand and smiled weakly up at him. “Lieutenant Shelly Marsden.” She nodded at Arroyo. “Ensign Hector Arroyo, my helmsman.”
“Reginald Bain,” he said, nodding at both. “A pleasure to make your acquaintances.” He looked around the science lab with satisfaction. “I hereby relieve you of command. Kassie…?”
Kasyov stepped forward, quadcorder headset at the ready. She slid down the lens and circled the sphere, while giving Marsden only a vague nod of recognition.
“Kassie?” thought Marsden to herself. She promised to knock Bain out cold if he called her “Marsdie.” She was already steamed about the relief-of-command part, but she decided to just count her blessings that he was there to stop them from barreling into Breen space. She just wished she’d have been the one to do it.
While Kasyov performed her scans, Bain gestured regally at the Romulan woman next to him. “Lieutenant, might I introduce Commander Prosak, our Romulan attache.”
“Charmed,” Marsden said vacantly and continued to watch Kasyov. “Anything, Nat?”
“An energy signal that could power a few colonies,” Kasyov said crouching in front of the sphere. “But there is an organic brain somewhere inside. And quite an impressive one, by the looks of it.”
“Thanks!” came the quick reply, which boomed throughout the lab…possibly throughout the entire ship.
Kasyov lurched back and quickly planted her hands on the deck to keep from falling. “Well, it talks.”
“We established that,” Arroyo said. “When the lieutenant here poked it with a phaser drill.”
“Ahem!” Marsden cleared her throat and turned to Bain. “We’ve made some…attempts at communication.”
“Jolly good show,” Bain said, and looked down at Kasyov. “Tell it to stand down at once and power down its engines, Kass.”
Kasyov bristled, but turned to face the sphere. She didn’t quite know how to begin. “Alien sphere…can you hear me?” she finally said.
“Yes, I can hear you,” boomed the sphere from all around them. Bain nodded approval. “And I’m not an ‘it.’ I am a ‘he.’”
“Sorry, chap,” Bain said warmly. “So how about you bring us to a stop and turn us back away from the Breen? They’re a nasty people, not too friendly to Federation ships, I’m afraid.”
“And what exactly is this ‘Federation’ you speak of?” asked the sphere conversationally.
“Well, that will take a bit,” Bain said, stroking his chin.
“Maybe there’s a simpler solution here,” Kasyov said, turning to Bain. “He’s hooked into the engines. Odds are he can get to the computers. Sphere…” she said, turning back to the object.
“I have a name,” said the sphere, sounding a bit put-off.
“Oh, well do tell!” said Bain.
“I’m called Cabral by my people.”
“Good enough,” said Kasyov. “Cabral, can you access this ship’s computers?”
“And ‘computers’ are…?”
Kasyov sighed. “Can you get to the data storage facility in this vessel?”
“Oh, well why didn’t you just say so? Back in a moment!” and the sphere dimmed slightly.
“Cheerful fellow,” said Bain.
Prosak looked on, unsure exactly of how to contribute to the away team. So far she hadn’t said anything. “This is a wonderful ship,” she finally said. “I’ve seen the specs, but they just don’t quite do it justice.”
No one seemed to be listening.
“Ah, there we go!” Cabral boomed as the sphere lit back up. “Now I get the picture. Well, this will be a problem. See I need to get on the other side of that empire.”
“For what purpose, exactly?” asked Shelly Marsden.
“I’ve got to…find someone,” Cabral said.
“A fellow…sphere?” Bain ventured.
“A fellow explorer!” Kasyov said, snapping her fingers. “Am I right?”
“Sort of…” the sphere said, then dimmed thoughtfully. “You know when you meet a special being out there in the galaxies, and things seem to connect right away? Great conversations, and such?”
Marsden rolled her eyes. “He’s trying to get a date.”
“I have a date,” the sphere said haughtily. “I’ve just been trying for the past one hundred thirty years to get there. Unfortunately, my ship was blown up and that put a stop to that. Thankfully, this ship came along with just the part I needed, and I was on my way again without losing a beat.”
“130 years?” asked Kasyov. “How can you be sure she’s still out there?”
“My people are quite stubborn,” said Cabral. “Trust me, she’s still out there. At any rate, I don’t think time passes quite the same for my people as it does for you.”
“We’ll take your word for it,” said Marsden. “Listen, we just need you to stop before we get into Breen space, so we can turn back.”
“Quite impossible,” replied Cabral. “My components, which were incorrectly installed, mind you, burned out this ship’s primitive antimatter-singularity drive. You need to get it operational again and get me across that empire to my love…Jacinda!”
“How bloody romantic!” cheered Bain.
“Um…is anybody down there?” the comm system broke in with a nervous female voice.
“What is it, Devix?” Marsden asked.
“Well, we’re really getting close to the Breen border, and we just detected another ship sitting on the other side. I think they’re Breen.”
“Good guess,” Marsden said humorlessly. “How much time to do we have?”
“Oh, about one minute.”
“I’ll be right there,” Marsden replied. “Marsden out.”
“Afraid not, Marsden,” Bain said. “I’ll handle these Breen blighters. I need you on that engine.”
Marsden growled to herself. “Yes…Captain.” She glared at Arroyo. “Hector! Come on.”
“No can do there, Marsie,” Bain said.
Well, at least he didn’t say “Marsdie.”
“I’ve got to have a pilot, don’t you think?” Bain continued. “And I’d wager no one here can handle the Anomaly like Mister Arroyo. What say we get ourselves to the bridge of this bird?”
“Yes, sir!” Arroyo said smartly. Bain and Arroyo headed toward the door.
Marsden heard the soft chirp as Bain touched the comm pip at his collar. “Bain to Tovar. We’ve got a right bastard waiting for us on the other side of the border. Bring the Navigator into the Anomaly’s shuttlebay and meet me on the bridge. We’ll give them a good what for.”
“On my way, sir,” Tovar’s voice replied just as the door closed behind Bain and Arroyo.
“Doesn’t take him long to march in and take over,” Marsden grumbled.
“He definitely seems to know what he is doing,” Prosak replied as Kasyov set to work monitoring Cabral. “Are you heading to the engine room now?”
“Doesn’t look like I have much of a choice,” Marsden replied. “Bain’s right that I’m probably the only one who can get the anti-sing up and running again. What of it?”
“I’d like to go along, if I may,” said Prosak. “I’d be interested to see the anti-sing engine design.”
“I’m not your keeper,” muttered Marsden as she headed to the exit. “Do what you want.” Prosak followed eagerly behind.
“So, 130 years without a date?” Kasyov said to the sphere once the room was empty.
“About that. How about you?” the sphere asked.
“About the same.”
Bain and Arroyo exited the port bridge turbolift and quickly took their seats, much to the relief of the two members of Marsden’s engineering staff that had been monitoring the situation. Almost immediately, Tovar entered from the starboard turbolift.
“Tactical,” Bain said with a quick glace as the Yynsian moved to the large station just above and behind Bain’s command chair. “Time to the border, Ensign.”
“Three…two…one. Now,” Arroyo reported.
“No time like the present, I guess,” Bain said eagerly. “Tovar…”
“Shields and weapons on-line. Breen vessel on screen.” True to Tovar’s word, the image switched to show the scythe-shaped Breen craft on an intercept course.
“Good man! Arroyo…”
“Yes, sir?” Arroyo asked. Bain shook his head. Always tough breaking in a new officer. That was one of the many good things about Tovar. Already knew what he was going to ask.
“Oh. I’m still locked out of the controls.”
“That’ll certainly throw a blanket on this fire,” Bain said, leaning back. “Bridge to Kasyov.”
“Kasyov here,” the Russian scientist replied with a hint of irritation in her voice.
“If it’s not too much trouble there, Kassie, could you ask our friend Cabral to kindly relinquish his control of the helm?” Bain saw the approaching Breen vessel looming larger.
“I cannot do that,” Cabral said, overhearing Bain’s request. “I just gave you shields and weapons. Isn’t that enough?”
“No. Give us full control of the ship, Cabral!”
“I cannot be late for this date!”
“You’re already running 130 years behind. What’s a few more minutes?” Kasyov said.
“If I relinquish control, you will remove me from this vessel.”
The ship rocked as the first blast from the Breen ship impacted the shields. “Believe me,” Kasyov said. “I think we’ll be busy with other problems.”
Another shot jolted Kasyov, sending her falling to the deck. “All you’re doing is making it easier for the Breen to shoot us!”
“Damn it! This is exactly what happened last time,” Cabral moaned.
“Then let Captain Bain do something.”
“Oh very well,” Cabral replied. “But you will all be very very very very sorry if I do not get my Jacinda-love and soon!”
“Oh, and he’s doing so much better than I would have,” Marsden said sarcastically as the Anomaly shook under her feet. The jolting was making it very difficult for her to hold her attenuator steadily.
“I believe your analysis is premature,” Prosak replied as she aimed a palm light at the area of conduit Marsden was repairing.
“Oh god. The emotionless Vulcan bit is the last thing I need right now.”
“I was just trying to make a point,” Prosak replied hotly. “He hasn’t had time to do much!”
“So you do have emotions!”
“Of course! I’m a RommaVulc. I use the best of both cultures. That emotionless bit is fine, but hard to keep going. Besides, you have no idea how quickly it brings dates to a standstill.”
“I can imagine.”
“Should we try to hail them?” asked Arroyo.
“You obviously haven’t dealt much with the Breen,” said Bain. shaking his head. “Tovar, ready a spread of neutron torpedoes and fire at your discretion!”
“Aye, sir,” Tovar said, and instantly five twinkling green neutron torpedoes blasted out at the Breen scythe.
“Wait,” Arroyo said, looking down at helm. “We have control back! Dr. Kasyov did it!”
“Jolly good, then, take us out of warp, fire up the polaron engines and engage evasive plan Delta!”
“Delta with a twist,” Arroyo said, and brought the Anomaly twisting about the Breen before its weapons targeting could adjust.
“What’s that?” asked Bain, and he held on to the command chair as the Anomaly’s enhanced polaron-based sublight speed combined with Arroyo’s tight maneuvers pulled more inertia than the dampers could handle.
“Just a little something I created on my own,” Arroyo said handily.
“Plain old Delta will do next time,” Bain said, then looked to the screen. “Tovar?”
“Reverse angle on-screen,” the Yynsian replied, and Bain watched the Breen ship disappear in the distance with great satisfaction. He wasn’t satisfied for long, though. Soon the Breen ship powered up and closed the distance, sending wave after wave of powerful blue balls of energy slamming into them.
“Infi-phasic shields are taking a pounding,” Tovar reported. “Re-sheathing on the port quarter, ablative armor rotating to a modulation of zero point two.”
“Sounds good to me,” replied Bain. “Hit them with the compression phasers!”
Tovar nodded. Five beams of rapid-fire energy ripped out at the scythe and blasted one section to pieces. It continued on, seemingly unperturbed.
“Nasty blighters, these Breen,” said Bain. “Let’s give those disruptors a go.”
“Disruptors, aye,” said Tovar, and glittering green beams lashed back at the Breen ship.
More blasts came back from the Breen vessel, rocking the Anomaly.
Bain waved his hand over a control on the command chair-arm. “Marsden, we could use that anti-sing drive now, if you please!”
Marsden slammed her fist against the white orb that made up the core of the anti-singularity warp drive. Within, a quantum singularity went about its usual business. The trick was to get the matter/antimatter injectors back up so that singularity could be bombarded once again, which would generate a warp field and send the Anomaly sliding across Breen space in half a jiffy.
But so far, the plasma injectors were unresponsive, and there wasn’t time for a cold start-up.
Hands clasped behind her back, Prosak looked on gravely. “I wish there was something I could do, Lieutenant.”
“You don’t have a degree in quantum dynamics by any chance.”
“Theater history actually, but I minored in warp propulsion.”
“Close, but no coilspanner. Unless you can mind meld with inanimate objects, we’re out of luck.”
“I don’t think so,” Prosak replied. “At times like these,” she continued, as the Anomaly was bombarded. “I always rely on the advice of Sarek: ‘do what feels right.’ Isn’t that good advice, Lieutenant?”
“No, not really,” Marsden said thoughtfully. Not listening to Prosak gave her an opportunity to clear her thoughts. “But…I could attempt a rapid-burst flow diversion from the secondary warp manifold to the primary singularity subsystems!”
Prosak blinked. “That would be acceptable.”
Marsden quickly slid under the railing that surrounded the white orb and swung down to the deck below, where she began working. “Thanks for all your help, Prosak.”
Prosak shrugged. “Any time, Lieutenant.”
Bain clutched the command chair as Arroyo put the Anomaly through her paces. He was continually amazed at the inertial dampers’ ability to keep him in his chair. Not for the first time, Bain felt that Starfleet’s core of engineers should design some sort of strap that could attach across the waist and sling also across the chest…a simple device, but one that would be effective nonetheless. In another life, Bain might have been an inventor. But in this life, Bain happened to be the captain of a starship that was being pummeled currently by a Breen scytheship.
Sparks burst out of the engineering console to Bain’s left, and he was once again stirred to battle-readiness. “Tovar, re-route emergency power to the shield regeneration matrix and rotate the ablative armor once more to account for those bloody Breen blasts!”
“Aye, sir. Rotating now. Preparing compression phasers for another volley!” Tovar’s hands scrambled across the immense tactical console. The console was so wide (and included a wall of panels behind him) that it was a tad overwhelming. His speed and reflexes more than made up for it, and the resulting effect was quite like that of a short-order cook rushing to get a meal prepared. In short, Tovar was all over the place.
Arroyo, meanwhile, pushed the Anomaly’s polaron drive to maximum, then stopped her on a latinum strip and spun around to face the surprised Breen. Tovar, instinctively, unleashed the full fury of Anomaly’s firepower, and the Breen ship spun backwards on its axis, spewing gas from several hull fractures.
Bain clenched his fist. “Good show, chaps! Already a gelled unit, I like that!”
“Problem,” Tovar said, studying the bank of stellar maps behind his station. “Five more Breen destroyers are on their way!”
“Don’t expect me to pull of that kind of wizardry five more times!” said Arroyo.
“I’ll expect all-new wizardry, my boy,” Bain said as the bridge comm bleeped.
“Marsden to bridge,” the lieutenant said over the speakers, breathless. “You’ve got anti-sings. Go for it!”
“How about a whole new wizard?” Arroyo said with a grin, adding quietly, “Way to go, Shelly.”
“Magnificent!” said Bain, and he watched the bevy of Breen destroyers advance on the viewscreen. “Put on the steam, Mr. Arroyo!”
Arroyo eagerly tapped in the engage sequence on the anti-singularity engines and the Anomaly snapped forward, just as the Breen vessels closed in.
Aboard the Breen destroyer XAXRDAARD, the captain watched in perturbed silence, pounding the command chair.
He barked an order to pursue, and his own vessels leapt into warp. He soon realized they wouldn’t be near fast enough to catch up with the Federation intruder. As a matter of fact, the intruder was moving so fast it would be clear across their empire within a few minutes. By the time they mounted a counterstrike, the Federation vessel would be gone.
Thot-Phul cringed at the thought at yet another defeat at Federation hands, and grudgingly ordered his ships to halt. Best not to mention this to anyone. But Thot-Phul would keep his eye out for this Federation vessel Hermes, as its ship ID tag read. He’d be watching the Hermes very closely indeed. And if he ever saw a ship named Hermes again…well, there would be trouble…assuming he could catch them.
Marsden and Prosak arrived on the bridge shortly after the Anomaly crossed out of Breen territory and Arroyo brought it out of anti-sing.
“What speed were we going, old chum?” Bain asked, leaning over Arroyo’s readings.
Arroyo gestured impotently at his panel. “It’s off the warp scale. At the academy, we were taught that the warp threshold was 20. I’d say, if there were any comparison, it would be that we were going 40 or higher, but that’s not exactly accurate.”
Bain rubbed his chin. “Well, that won’t do at all.” He glanced back at Marsden. “Say, why don’t you come up with a new scale for this anti-singularity thing, seeing as it is your baby and all?”
The ship is my baby too, you limey bastard, thought Marsden ruefully, and she plastered on a fake smile. “I’d be honored.”
“Jolly good,” Bain said, returning to the command chair. He saw Prosak looming behind him. “Well, now, Commander. I’m afraid there isn’t a seat here for you. I could have Tovar bring over one of the stools from the Navigator, if you wish?”
Prosak clasped her hands behind her back. “No need, Captain. I am content to stand behind you.”
“Right, then,” Bain said, turning back to watch the stars on the viewscreen. He could feel the Romulan’s cold stare on the back of his neck. “Jolly…good.”
Marsden took up a seat on the raised left quarterdeck at the engineering console. “Would you care to hear how the anti-sing engines performed, sir?”
“Absolutely!” Bain said, pivoting his chair to face her.
“They burned out again. That’s going to be problematic.”
“Quite,” Prosak said. “Especially from the Romulan Senate’s point of view.”
“We’ve got quite a few more pressing issues now,” said Bain. “Besides, you can go down there and perform the same old magic on those buggers to get us home once this is all over, can’t you?”
Marsden gritted her teeth. “I…guess.”
“All I needed to hear,” Bain said, and spun around to face Tovar at the rear. “Tovar, my friend, where the devil are we?”
Tovar checked his panel. “Just crossed the perimeter into the Gamma Quadrant, Captain. And, apparently, Cabral has re-taken control of the ship.”
“Has he now?” asked Bain. He thumbed the comm control on his armrest. “Kasyov, what’s all this control-taking about, then?”
“A deal is a deal, Captain,” Kasyov said. “You promised him we’d get back to finding his date as soon as we got through Breen space.”
“Can’t say I like having my ship pulled out from under me like that,” Bain said bitterly
“I know the feeling,” muttered Marsden as she headed toward the turbolift to return to engineering.
“But you’re right,” Bain said, undeterred. “I made a bargain, and I’m not about to let our spherical comrade down. Mr. Arroyo, sit there and look busy until we reach our destination.”
“Aye, sir,” Arroyo said eagerly, and went to work at his station, doing nothing.
Kasyov stood behind the main console in the science lab, running additional tests on Cabral.
“So what’s your love life like?” the sphere asked conversationally.
Kasyov wasn’t even thrown by the question. She spent more time with brains than with people, and seemed to have a genuine affinity with dis-embodied individuals, as some of them liked to be called.
She kept studying her scans. “Didn’t we already discuss this?”
“Just call me curious.”
“I get out on occasion.”
“What kind of…being is your type?”
“We call them men,” Kasyov replied, “and I like one who’s smart, funny…and at least somewhat responsible. He has to have a good head on his shoulders.” She paused to chuckle a bit at that.
“Did you say something funny?” inquired Cabral, glowing with curiosity.
“Oh, yes,” Kasyov said. “You see, in humanoids, the brain is usually-though not always-inside the head.”
“Good a place as any for one, I suppose.”
“Very much so,” said Kasyov. “But I guess I was always more comfortable with brains. At the academy, my friends used to say I had brains on the brain.”
“Well, then, I feel as though I’m in good hands.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Was that a brain joke?”
“I might be offended then,” Cabral said.
“You know you love it,” Kasyov replied. They may be different species, but basically a brain was a brain. All they wanted was a little attention.
“Did we just change course?” Bain asked, suddenly sitting up in his chair.
“Yes, sir,” Arroyo replied after scrambling to check his instruments. “And we’re slowing down.”
“Tovar,” Bain said, turning around in his chair.
“Sensors are showing an asteroid field ahead. I’m detecting a small energy signature surrounded by an alloy similar to Cabral.”
“I believe we’ve found the lady of the evening then, gentlemen…strike that. Piss poor choice of words. I’m sure she’s a splendid…brain. Bridge to Kasyov. We seem to have found our quarry.”
“Acknowledged,” Kasyov said.
“So how did you two meet?” Kasyov asked as she watched Cabral’s energy levels fluctuate. If he had a face, it’d probably be flushed with anticipation.
“We were grown in the same pod and went through harvesting and assessment together. We just had an instant link. Have you ever had that, Doctor?”
“Not for a long time, but I understand what you mean.”
“We shared several wonderful years, but then our assessment period ended. I was assigned to run a transport, while Jacinda drew probe duty. The separation was hard, but we got to see each other between assignments. Our last date was supposed to be before she headed out on another mission. I had the ship on course to the probe facility when we were attacked. I tried just to outrun them, but to no avail. I ejected, hoping to hitch a ride on another ship as my ship drew the attackers away. How was I to know it would take almost a century and a half to find a suitable vessel to latch onto?”
“It’s an unpredictable universe,” Kasyov commented.
“True. But my Jacinda is still functioning. I have a lot of lost time to make up for.”
“I’m sure she’ll understand.”
“I hope so. And I thank you for the caring you have shown to me. Not many humanoids work well with disembodied brains,” Cabral said.
“I will continue to allow you and the other occupants of this vessel to monitor my activities. It is the least I can do considering that I am not quite finished with your services. There are no monitors in this chamber, so you may wish to join your colleagues.”
“Thank you. And good luck, Cabral.” Kasyov patted the sphere gently, then headed out of the room.
Looking at the viewscreen, Prosak couldn’t help but wonder if maybe this was taking things a bit too far. On the screen, a sphere identical to Cabral’s was embedded partially in a small asteroid. Now Prosak was all for interspecies relations. Her entire personal philosophy was a mix of Romulan and Vulcan…as well as a healthy love of Andorian musical theater. But a ship dating…a rock? She couldn’t help but wonder if Surak really had this in mind when he spoke of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
“This definitely seems to be our lost brain,” Dr. Kasyov reported from the science console she’d taken a seat at moments earlier. “Energy readouts and metallic composition are almost identical to Cabral.”
For several moments, the crew sat watching the screen. Nothing was happening.
“I think he’s chickened out,” Kasyov said finally.
“Can I speak to the lad?” Bain asked.
“He should respond to you,” Kasyov replied.
“Bridge to Cabral. This is Captain Bain.”
“Yes, Captain,” Cabral said.
“We’ve come an awful long way for this, my boy. Are you going to say anything to her?”
“It’s been over a century. What if she’s mad?”
“I usually bring the missus some flowers. Guess that doesn’t really apply to the current situation. My guess is that she’s been here for a while, though. You need to take her out. Show her a good time. Tovar…”
“The asteroid is well within the mass range our tractors can handle.”
“Brilliant. Cabral, you two can have a night on the cosmos.”
“Tractor her?” Cabral replied. “That’s a bit forward.”
“Cabral,” Kasyov broke in. “You’ve been alone for a long time. So has she. She wants to hear from you. I promise.”
“All right,” Cabral replied. Tovar’s console flashed as Cabral activated the external comm system. “Jacinda?”
“Cabral?” came the hesitant, distinctly feminine reply.
“It’s me, Jazzy. I came for you.”
“Oh, Cabral, don’t look at me! I’m hideous! All these craters. And you’re so sleek. New housing?”
“I’m a Federation ship now,” Cabral replied. “And you look wonderful. Very natural.”
While this conversation continued, Bain moved over to Kasyov’s station. “Anything scenic in the area?” he asked.
Kasyov scrolled several screens of information across her monitor. “Two binary star systems, a nebula, and one pulsar.”
“Good show. Send the coordinates over to Mister Arroyo. Arroyo, lay in a course for all three, ending at one of the binary star systems. Symbolic coupling and all that.”
“That’s actually very nice of you,” Kasyov said, looking at Bain.
“I’m an old romantic at heart, Kassie. Ask Mrs. Bain how I proposed some time.” “You should watch yourself, Captain. I just might.”
“And you might be surprised at what you hear.” Bain straightened up to his full height and headed back to his chair. “Tovar…”
“Tractors are standing by. As soon as Cabral gives the word, we can lock on and get underway.”
“Good work,” Bain said, settling back into his chair to listen to the brains in love.
“…just a short spin,” Jacinda was saying. “I need to get back here before too long.”
“Why?” Cabral asked, confused.
“It’s my mission, Cabral. Don’t make me explain.”
“All right,” said Cabral. “Let’s not waste any more time. Captain Bain, we’re ready.”
“Top notch,” said Bain. “How about turning control of the ship back to us? We’ll handle the details, you just have a good time.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Cabral said, and with a bleep Arroyo had the helm once more.
“He actually trusts us,” Kasyov said quietly.
Bain nodded. “And we’re not about to let him down. Tovar…”
“Mister Arroyo, as chauffeur, it’s your job to keep this trip as smooth as possible.”
Arroyo grinned. “First class all the way, sir. You have my word on it.”
“All right then, let’s not keep these love…brains waiting any longer than we have to. Get us underway.”
The Anomaly didn’t so much as strain as Arroyo gracefully moved the vessel away from the asteroid field, Jacinda in tow. He gradually increased power to the polaron drive and set off for the pulsar in a nearby system.
Lieutenant Marsden arched her back as she stood up from the plasma shunt she’d just finished jury-rigging. The remainder of the engineering team was scurrying about repairing other systems and monitors that had been damaged in the Breen attack or burned out during the last anti-sing jump. The big job was done, though. Bain had his damn engines back.
Marsden thought back trying to figure out exactly when this trip turned into a living hell. One moment, she was in command of the cutting edge of Starfleet technology. The next, she was slaving away on a busted engine while that obnoxious Brit lounged in HER command chair, chaperoning two brains around the galaxy. Starfleet could bring on the court-martial for what she did to make anti-sing work. It had to be less of a punishment than this.
“I don’t think the pulsar did a lot for them,” Bain said thoughtfully as the Anomaly sped toward its next stop.
“In the end, sir, it’s just a big flashing light,” Kasyov said. “There’s nothing particularly romantic about that.”
“Can’t argue with you there,” Bain said.
“The nebula should be much more inspiring,” Prosak said. “My father once took me through the Horshak Nebula near Romulus. It’s an absolutely stunning place. Swirling gasses of half a dozen different colors. I choreographed an interpretive dance about it, actually.”
“So you’re a greasepaint and gaslights gal?” Bain said.
Prosak rocked on her feet behind Bain’s chair. “Um…I have no idea, sir.”
“Oh! Yes, sir!”
“Not my bag, personally, but the missus always had a thing for a good ballet…or what she says is a good ballet. It all looks like a bunch of dolts prancing about to me. But I do it for the missus. Love knows no bounds. Our friend Cabral proves that in spades.”
“That he does,” agreed Kasyov, who quickly returned to her scanning of the energy patterns between Cabral and Jacinda. They seemed to be spiking. Could that be…?
Kasyov dismissed that notion and continued monitoring.
“I wonder if they’re hungry?” Bain asked. “What do you feed a brain, Kasyov?”
“If they’re human brains, they like crab bisque,” Kasyov said thoughtfully. “I have no idea what Cabral’s species eats. If my biological scans are any suggestion, they seem to subsist on silicone residue and theta particles.”
“So shepherd’s pie and a warm pint of lager is out of the question, then?” Bain deduced.
“If you’re really interested,” Cabral’s voice piped in, “a bit of radiation from that nebula would hit the spot.”
“I like mine flooded with tachyons,” added Jacinda.
“Will do, folks,” said Bain. “Hold on and enjoy the ride. One nebula coming right up. Arroyo?”
“Course laid in, polaron drive at a comfortable cruising velocity of one-quarter.”
Kasyov drifted over to the command chair to stand next to Bain as the Anomaly gently swept along the green-gold swirling nebula.
“I’m amazed, Captain Bain. It seems that Starfleet has a heart, after all.”
“No,” Bain grinned. “We just have a brain.”
Arroyo choked on a giggle as the bridge crew watched…well, nothing. They assumed the brains were simply sucking up that delicious radiation.
“Flood the area around the asteroid with tachyons, Mr. Tovar,” Bain said. “Just a pinch for spice.”
“Just a…pinch, aye, sir,” Tovar said, trying to cover his confusion.
After a few minutes, Cabral came back on-speakers.
“That was excellent, Captain. Jacinda was quite happy with her tachyons. We’re ready to go to the binary system. I would like to join Jacinda for this part, but I need to know that you won’t run off as soon as I leave the ship.”
“You have my word,” Bain said.
“And I don’t believe we can get home without him,” Tovar added.
“Quite right. Exit the Anomaly at your convenience, Cabral. But did you bring…” Bain tried to figure out how to phrase it, “protection…?”
“Our spheres are made of solid dolysphorium and encased in a protective phosphorous coating. We will be quite safe.”
Bain swiveled in his chair, showing only a modicum of discomfort. “I mean…you don’t want to spawn a little baby brain, at least not just yet, am I right, old man?”
“What kind of brain do you think I am?” retorted the offended Cabral. “I wasn’t even ready for TRACTORING, but you pushed me into it!”
“Settle, settle there lad,” Bain said, holding up his hands, though he was unsure as to why. “Just making sure.”
“I assure you, Captain, I intend to simply take Jacinda in there and enjoy the luminescence of the star, nothing more.”
Prosak huffed. “That’s what they all say.”
“Well, don’t let us meddle in your affairs,” Bain said. “Either way, we’re getting underway for the binary star now. After that, you’re on your own, my friend!”
“Thank you, Captain Bain. Um…can you give her a bit of a push in the right direction with your tractor beam? We can drift from there.”
“Right-O! Tovar, one gentle nudge for the lady, if you please.”
When Marsden arrived on the bridge to give Bain yet another irritating status report (She had tried to give via comm, but Bain had insisted she deliver it herself, to “give it the personal touch.”), she was surprised to see two identical spheres drifting quietly toward one of the stars in the binary pair on the viewscreen.
“What’s happening?” she asked, stepping up beside the command chair.
Bain swiveled toward her. He was enjoying the auto-swivel function WAY too much.
“Communications silence. They need a bit of alone-time, my dear. I’m sure you’ve been there.”
“It left? So we can get out of here! Why are we hanging around?”
“We promised,” Bain said.
“And don’t we need him to make your engine work?” Kasyov said. Marsden shot her a glare. “You just want to get into his…lobes.”
“I believe I was promised a report,” Bain said.
“Right,” Marsden said cooly, handing Bain a padd. “Here’s my report, in person, as ordered. If you’ll excuse me…”
“Tut-tut,” Bain said, looking at the padd. “I’d prefer it if you had a seat at the engineering console.”
“I’m really better-off down below, where I can keep an eye on my engines-“
“I won’t hear of it. I might need you here, and besides, I enjoy your company.”
“Well, then,” Marsden said, resigned, as she stepped up to the left quarterdeck and sat behind the engineering console. “Let’s just have a pleasure cruise!”
“That’s the spirit!” Bain cheered. “While the brain’s away, the crew will play. What do you all like to do in your off-hours? Gin-rummy? A bit of the old soft shoe? Ah, well, our Prosak here is an accomplished Thespian. Let’s give ‘er a go, there, Prosak?”
Prosak at first didn’t respond, then, when she realized everyone on the bridge was looking expectantly at her, she said self-consciously, “Well, I didn’t really have anything prepared…”
Two hours later, the bridge crew uttered an exhausted sigh of relief as Prosak finished her extended Romulan remake of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” with a reluctant Arroyo reading the part of “George” from a padd.
Bain was the only one who clapped. “Splendid, old girl! Hope I don’t lose you to the Federation Arts Society. Be a damned waste of a good officer, but what a performance! Brought a tear to my eye!”
Prosak bowed gently, and Arroyo collapsed into his chair. He turned to Marsden.
“Shoot me if I ever get pulled into that again,” he moaned softly.
“Not before I shoot myself,” Marsden whispered back.
“Cabral is on his way back,” Kasyov said, relieved to be doing something other than watching Prosak prance around the bridge berating Arroyo.
“What about Jacinda?” asked Bain.
“Still within the star’s gravity well,” replied Tovar. “Cabral is signaling.”
“Open the channel,” Bain said. Tovar nodded. “Bain here, Cabral. Is everything all right?”
“Please return Jacinda to where we found her. I will be aboard shortly.” The comm channel closed.
“I’m taking that as a ‘no,’” Kasyov said.
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 175015.2. Apparently, all did not go well between Cabral and his beloved. He didn’t give us the details, merely phased back into his chamber and, once we’d tractored Jacinda and her asteroid back where we’d found her, he returned us, somewhat rudely, on our course back to the Federation. With the anti-singularity drive running, we should get back to Earth within the hour. From then on, it’s anyone’s bloody guess as to what will happen.”
Kasyov stepped into the darkened lab. “Cabral?”
“Go away,” replied the sphere, which glowed only faintly in the back half of the lab.
“This is insane. You’ve been back aboard for nearly an hour, and you won’t tell us a thing. What happened?”
“Things…didn’t quite go as planned,” Cabral said woefully. “It seemed fine at first. Jacinda enjoyed the ride, loved the food. But we got to talking in that binary star. Apparently, she’s run into a hotshot brain embedded in a comet who comes around every two years. He’ll be back in a week, and from what I understand, he’s QUITE the jealous type.”
Kasyov approached the sphere and tentatively petted it. “You can’t be totally surprised, Cabral. She was alone for over a century. She had to start looking for someone else eventually!”
“I’d love to track down that comet and blow him to bits with my compression phasers,” Cabral said, the lights on his surface spiking red. “Show him who’s the hot-shot.”
“That’s not your style, Cabral, and you know it.”
The sphere once again dimmed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. But what’s to become of me now? My people are spread thinly throughout this and other galaxies! What are the chances I’ll find another sphere as lovely as her?”
“You two were exactly identical.”
Cabral huffed. “Not much of a romantic, are you?”
Kasyov was the last of the senior staff to arrive in the deck one briefing room, which was just to the starboard side of the bridge. “Well,” she said, sinking into a chair next to Marsden, “apparently love is a bitch no matter what species you belong to.”
“I can’t say I’m crying buckets for Cabral,” Marsden muttered, leaning forward, elbows on the table. “Once he gets ripped out of this ship, I’m back to the drawing board, or else out of a job. In any case, this ship may as well have blown up with all the others.”
“Buck up, Lieutenant,” Bain said, swiveling in his chair to face Marsden. The swiveling was beginning to drive her nuts. “The universe is not as cold and heartless as you think. I had a chat with Admiral Larkin not an hour ago that should put your mind at ease.”
“Oh god,” Marsden mumbled, putting her head down on the table. No good could come of this.
“She’s very impressed. Pleased as punch, you might say. Knocked the socks off the Romulans as well.”
“Figuratively speaking,” said Prosak. “My father believes this project will pave the way for similar Romulan/Federation initiatives.”
“And we’ve got to keep those bureaucrats happy,” Bain agreed. “To put it simply, the Romulans would really like to see the Anomaly on active duty post haste. As soon as we’ve fixed the place up and finished with our diagnostics at Earth, I’m taking her back out again.”
“You’re taking my ship, full-time?” Marsden railed jerking her head up off the table.
“Not your ship,” Bain said. He smiled around at the gathered senior staff, “OUR ship. I’ve requested you for my Chief Engineer. Don’t you worry yourself about the alien technology problem. I pulled some strings and had the charges dropped. Consider it a welcome aboard gift.”
“Welcome aboard? I was here first!”
“Let’s not get bogged down with details, Marsie. I’ve got a lot to cover. Prosak will stay on as my Executive Officer and Romulan Liaison, Arroyo will remain the steady hand at the helm, and Tovar, of course, will continue at my side at tactical operations and third-in-command.”
“So that makes me…” Marsden growled.
“Fourth,” Tovar said, not sparing her a glance.
“What about Cabral?” Kasyov asked.
“What about HIM?” Marsden demanded. “What about me?”
“Suck it up, Shelly,” Kasyov snapped. “Now what about my brain?”
“That is up to him. I’d love for him to stay aboard, but he’s a grown brain.”
“I want to stay here,” Cabral’s voice broke in suddenly.
“Good lad,” Bain said, smacking his fist down on the table with delight. “Then Cabral will continue on in his capacity as ship’s…brain.”
“Are you sure about this, Cabral?” Kasyov asked. “A starship is a dangerous place. You would like my lab. It’s cozy, quiet, and there are other brains there for you to talk with.”
“I appreciate the offer, Natalia, but I just can’t take that kind of confinement.”
“But you have so much to offer Federation science!”
“Don’t you worry, Doctor,” Bain said. “I’m sure our new science officer will spend ample time with Mister Cabral…once Starfleet assigns us one. Unless of course you wanted the job.”
“Come on, Nat,” Marsden said quickly. “Don’t leave me here alone.”
“It is an exciting research opportunity,” Kasyov mulled over. “I’ll think about it.”
“All I can ask,” said Bain, glancing around the table at his staff. “I expect this will be a rich experience for all of us. And I have no doubt we’ll quickly become a well-oiled unit.”
The group in the lounge exchanged uneasy glances.
Bain grinned easily. “All right! That’s enough chit-chat from me. Everyone to your posts!” Bain said, rising from his chair and pointing at the door behind him. “There’s a galaxy out there to explore!”
“We’re headed for Earth,” Tovar noted quietly. “And that’s the door to the lavatory.”
Bain sat back down again. “Right, then. Well, anyone for a nice game of gin rummy?”