Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“Do You Have Anything to Declare?”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
Stardate 175195.4. At long last, the brass at command have seen fit to give this ship and crew a proper mission to show off what we’re capable of. All I can say is it’s about bloody time. Scientific missions have their place and all, but studying subspace was starting to get mighty dull. Give me a Romulan ambush or a Breen murder plot any day.
In any event, we have a real mission now, and it’s a corker! The Anomaly will be the first Federation starship to venture to another galaxy…on purpose. Cabral assures me that he’s more than capable of keeping the anti-sing drives online for the whole two week trip to the Andromeda Galaxy, so all that’s left is to get underway…once we get through the galactic barrier. But Admiral Larkin says that won’t be a problem either.
“We’re approaching the barrier,” Ensign Hector Arroyo reported from the helm console as the vast ribbon of undulating purple energy that was the Great Barrier loomed large on the viewscreen.
“I believe that much is evident,” Commander Prosak replied from her usual spot, standing just to the right and behind Captain Reginald Bain’s right shoulder. Despite every offer Bain had made, Prosak still refused to sit down in a proper chair…not even on a barstool. Damn unnerving.
“I feel like we should be scanning it,” Bain said glancing at the unmanned science station. Dr. Natalia Kasyov, the Anomaly’s chief science officer, was currently down in Science Lab Four running final checks on Cabral.
“Unnecessary,” Prosak replied. “The Federation has centuries worth of data on the barrier. Our one sensor sweep would be completely superfluous.”
“So you’re going more Vulc than Romma today, I take it?” Bain said.
“You noticed? Do you like it? I’m going for scientific detachment.”
“You hit it bang on,” Bain said. “All right, Tovar. Where’s this outpost we’re supposed to be headed toward?”
From his post at the Tactical/Operations console, Lieutenant Commander Tovar was lost in his own mind. Ever since the orders had come through to head to the Great Barrier, Tovar had been troubled. He could feel the rival life-forces inside him resuming their struggle for control. Something was just not right.
“Tovar?” Bain called, pulling the Yynsian out of his thoughts. Tovar checked his readouts. “It should be coming into visual range shortly. Not that there’s much to see.” Tovar pressed a couple of controls, bringing the image of a dilapidated science station up on the viewscreen. The outpost, one of the old Regula- class space stations, had obviously seen better days. Beyond it, though, was a vast ring-like structure with a diameter wide enough for a Juggernaut-class starship to pass through floating just in front of the Great Barrier.
“Our door, I imagine,” Tovar said.
“Better that than mess with that barrier,” Bain said. “Did I ever tell you about the time I was on the Sun Tzu and we accidentally…”
“Fourteen times,” Tovar interrupted.
“Is this fourteen or would it be fifteen?” Bain asked.
“Fifteen if I allowed you to continue.”
“Is that the record?”
“No. You have told me about your capture by and escape from the Pygmy Deathsloths of Obuduscon Major thirty-two times.”
“Righto. Just want to make sure I haven’t started boring you yet. The missus says I do have a tendency to tell the same stories over and over.”
“It’s barely noticeable, Captain,” Prosak said. “Of the fifty- eight stories you’ve told me since we met, only seven of them have been repeats.”
“Arroyo?” Bain asked.
“Um…I don’t have an exact count. I know I’ve heard about you and that orbital trapeze artist a couple of times.”
“Bugger. Bain to Marsden.”
“What is it, Captain? We’re kind of busy preparing to boldly go where no one has gone before and all that crap,” the chief engineer’s voice replied over the comm system.
“Just a quick question, Mars. Do I repeat my stories?”
“You interrupted a very touchy singularity calibration to ask…”
“I’m sure you’re going a bang up job, Marsie, but this is important. Do I repeat my stories?” Bain said impatiently.
“I’ve heard the one about how you restarted the engines on some shuttle by yourself with just a metal rod and a phaser power cell about ten times, so yes! Marsden out.”
“Hmm…Guess that settles that,” Bain said. “I’ll have to watch that from now on. Steady as she goes.”
“We’re receiving a hail from the outpost requesting that we hold position until they can remodulate their shields to encompass us,” Tovar reported.
“Right. Better stop that going then. Full stop.”
“Admiral Larkin wishes to speak with you,” Tovar said.
“Capital! On screen,” Bain said, hopping up out of his chair and straightening his uniform as the image of Admiral Kristen Larkin appeared on the viewscreen. “Krissers! Came to see us off, have you?”
“I wouldn’t miss it, Captain,” the android replied. “Even I have never visited another galaxy. This will be a historic event.”
“Well, you’re more than welcome to come along.”
“That will, unfortunately, not be possible. However, I have no doubt that you will represent the Federation well to whomever you may meet in Andromeda.”
“Don’t you worry about that. We absolutely won’t have a repeat of that little spat between me and the Gernabi. I have no desire to sit through another one of those remedial diplomacy classes,” Bain said.
“Indeed. Barrier Control assures me that the gateway is functioning properly. We will be ready to send you through on schedule.”
Bain took a couple steps toward the viewscreen and lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “Now you’re sure this thing is safe? I’ve read about people who went through this bloody thing without protection, and I want no part of it. I’ve had my fill of silver-eyed freaks with godlike powers, thank you very much.”
“The gateway technology was perfected years ago. Nothing will happen,” Larkin replied. “We just haven’t used it because we did not have any ships capable of traveling to Andromeda in anything resembling a reasonable time.”
“All dressed up and nowhere to go.”
“That analogy is somewhat flawed. We had the destination in mind from the very beginning.”
“All dressed up, but your ship won’t start?” Bain offered.
“Closer, but not quite.”
“How about all…”
“Captain, there’s a warp core breach in progress!” Tovar shouted suddenly. He had enough problems in his own head at the moment. Dealing with one of Bain’s sidetracks was out of the question.
Bain whirled around to face Tovar. “What? How? Abandon…”
“Never mind. My mistake. I read the console incorrectly. My apologies.”
“Think nothing of it, my boy,” Bain said, turning back to Larkin. “Now what was I saying?”
“You wished to know when we would be departing,” Tovar said.
“Right,” Bain said, snapping his fingers. “So, when do we head out, Krissers?”
“On schedule. I believe I already mentioned that. We will contact you when we are ready for you to dock for final preparations.”
“Right. We’ll be standing by. Anomaly out.” Bain headed toward the turbolift as Larkin’s image on the viewscreen was replaced by the Great Barrier. “I’ll be down in the mess. No sense leaving the galaxy on an empty stomach.” Bain stepped into the turbolift and was gone.
The bridge was silent for a few moments other than the blips and beeps of the computers and the ever-present thrum of the engines.
Tovar finally spoke, his voice deadly serious. “If anyone mentions that ‘all dressed up’ analogy to him ever again, I will personally remove your teeth with a hammer and chisel, hang you from the ceiling by your small intestine, then slice off your fingers and toes and cook them up in a nice stir-fry. Is that clear?”
“Oh yeah!” Arroyo said, nodding nervously.
“Most logical,” Prosak said simply.
Tovar smirked slightly. “Quite.”
Dr. Natalia Kasyov entered Science Lab Four and immediately noticed the humming sound.
The plate of falafel surprise she’d just gotten from the mess hall hit the deck with a crash as she pulled her quadcorder visor out of the pocket of her lab coat and snapped it onto her head with a speed that would make most Old West gunfighters jealous.
“Is there a problem, Natalia?” Cabral’s asked, his deep voice resonating through the room as Kasyov scanned the large, metal sphere containing the disembodied brain that was Cabral.
“I hope not,” Kasyov replied. “I just want to localize the source of that hum.”
Kasyov listened for a moment. It was gone. All she could hear was the occasional beeps and blips coming from the science console that continuously monitored Cabral’s status.
“There it is again!” Kasyov exclaimed. She checked the readings on the quadcorder lens in front of her eye. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. “Cabral, are you doing that?”
“What? This? Ohmmmmmmmmmmm. Ohmmmmmmmmmmm.”
“Yes, I am. I am meditating. Many great thinkers of your species recommend it before great trials.”
“So you’re going to ‘ohmmmmmm’ us to Andromeda.”
“In a sense,” Cabral replied. “I have also taken the liberty of directly interfacing myself with the engineering status and control systems. This should increase my efficiency and reduce the strain on my abilities by an order of magnitude.”
“Sounds good,” Kasyov said distractedly. “…Um…did you ask Shelly before you did this?”
“Should I have? I didn’t see the need seeing as how I am the one who makes the anti-sing drive function in the first place.”
“Well, she is the Chief Engineer, and she’s a bit touchy about people taking over her turf. Bain’s about given her a stroke as it is. I don’t need you pushing her over the edge.”
“I will try to break the news to her gently then,” Cabral said.
“Why don’t you just remove yourself altogether before Shelly notices and comes in to make brain pudding out of you?”
“Removing myself would be an inadvisable and time- consuming job. I am now a part of the ship’s systems. If I were just to yank myself out, functions from warp drive to waste reclamation would be affected.”
“Waste reclamation?” Kasyov asked hesitantly.
“I am organic at my core, after all.”
“Right. That’s an issue we’ll cover another day. How are you feeling about the voyage?”
“Well. I am pleased that your Starfleet has enough confidence in my abilities to send us on a trip of this significance. I do not foresee any problems.”
“Believe me, Cabral, no one ever does,” Kasyov said, patting his sphere. “No one ever does.”
Soon after Bain’s departure for the mess hall, the Barrier Observation Outpost, known to most as BOO, signaled their readiness to receive the Anomaly. Commander Prosak handled the docking procedure, since Bain said he was deep into a plate of sausage and mash that just wouldn’t wait.
“Prepare for docking sheath alignment,” Prosak said, taking a seat in the command chair, as Arroyo steered the Anomaly toward the small outpost. Somehow it just seemed right to her to command from a seated position. Somehow it added more dignity and prestige to it. There was that Romulan ego talking again. Prosak tried to push the thoughts out of her head and focus coldly and logically on the situation at hand. That’s when a sudden jolt tossed her unceremoniously out of the chair and onto the deck.
“We are experiencing turbulence from the Great Barrier,” Tovar said flatly.
“Obviously,” Prosak muttered as she pulled herself back into her chair. The ship began bucking and jolting more and more, then suddenly was still as they slipped through the outpost’s stabilization shield and away from the effects of the Great Barrier.
“Sheath emitters online,” Arroyo reported. “Ready to engage.”
“At your convenience,” Prosak said. The Anomaly pulled up alongside one of BOO’s airlocks, aligning of her own airlocks directly across from it. Emitters on the station and the Anomaly detected each other and activated, creating a transparent tunnel connecting the two airlocks.
“Sheath has formed, and it’s stable. Atmosphere has reached nominal.”
“Thank you, Mr. Arroyo,” Commander Prosak said. “Mr. Arroyo, please report to the airlock to receive visitors from BOO.”
“BOO who?” Arroyo asked earnestly, as he turned to face Prosak.
“You are well aware that BOO is the acronym for…ahh…I see.” Prosak struggled to keep a straight face, but then abruptly dissolved in a fit of giggles. “Boohoo! Why are you crying? I love it!”
Tovar groaned. “Mr. Arroyo, please refrain from telling her anymore of your jokes; otherwise, I will be forced to…”
“Hang me by my intestines. Yeah I know,” Arroyo said, heading toward the turbolift. “Just trying to keep people entertained.”
“Do I look entertained?” Tovar asked.
“I don’t know. You always look like that. For all I know, you’re having a blast.” The turbolift doors closed, leaving Tovar alone with Prosak, who was now convulsing on the floor in uncontrollable fits of laughter, occasionally gasping “Boohoo!”
Tovar watched her roll around for a bit. Hmmm…he had to admit this actually was pretty damn entertaining. “Commander?” he said.
Prosak struggled to catch her breath. “Y…yes, Tovar.”
Actually, this was going to be quite entertaining.
Captain Bain wiped the last bit of mashed potato from his mouth as he headed out of the mess hall, which for some unknown reason the holochef had transformed into a bedouin camp at a desert oasis this particular day. He was really going to have to say something to Marsden about the behavior of the holochef. It almost went after Bain with a scimitar when he asked for his usual sausage and mash instead of whatever that leaf-wrapped stuff the holochef was trying to pass off as food was. Bain briefly toyed with the idea of having Marsden model the holochef after his wife. But then Rosalyn probably wouldn’t approve of being copied just to cook meals for the crew.
Lost in his own thoughts, Bain almost plowed right into Ensign Arroyo, who was escorting Admiral Larkin, her aide, and four other engineering officers from BOO through the corridors.
“Krissers!” Bain exclaimed, grabbing the android in a firm hug that at one point in her existence would have sent her head flying clear across the ship. “Great to see you. Are you headed to the bridge?”
“Roger,” Larkin said simply. Her aide, Lieutenant Roger Daley, rushed over as Larkin disengaged herself from Bain’s grip.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain,” Daley said, shaking Bain’s hand. “Admiral Larkin has asked that I go over some last minute details with you while she proceeds to the bridge with our technicians to make some final adjustments to your systems. “If you would come with me…”
“If that’s the caper, that’s the caper,” Bain said as Larkin, Arroyo, and the others headed off down the corridor. “I hope you’ll have time to join me for a pint before we shove off, Krissers,” he called after Larkin.
“I will attempt to find the time,” Larkin replied, then disappeared around the corner.
Bain smiled, then turned to face Daley. “All right, young man, what is it that has your knickers in a knot?”
“Yes…well…um…how is the crew adjusting?”
“The crew? First class! Every single one of them. Next.”
“Right. What about your first officer?”
“Prosak?” Inwardly, Bain winced. Was this padd pusher going to hold him up all day with this blather?
In the turbolift headed toward the bridge, Arroyo shuffled uncomfortably. Everyone was so quiet. He knew that Larkin was an android, so she’d probably only speak when necessary, but what was with the four techs? Creepy. He finally just couldn’t stand it anymore.
“So, Admiral, you seem like you’ve known the Captain for a while.”
“Yes,” Larkin replied.
“Forty-nine years, three months, twenty-two days…approximately. We met while he was at the Academy.”
“Oh…so did you two ever…?”
Arroyo told himself to shut up right then and there. This was an admiral he was talking to, and he was about to go prying into both hers and the captain’s personal affairs.
“Ahh,” Larkin said, suddenly understanding. “Did we ever engage in any relations of a personal nature?”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. I was way out of bounds.”
“It is a normal question that arises when two sexually- compatible people seem to have an intimate rapport with each other. And while I have been developing increasing emotional awareness over the last century and a quarter, embarrassment has not been a feeling that I have ever acquired. So, in short, yes, Captain Bain and I have engaged in sexual intercourse on numerous occasions and in many ways. But all of this was well prior to his relationship with and subsequent marriage to Mrs. Bain. Does that answer your query sufficiently?”
“Yes. That’s all I need to know. Again, I’m sorry to pry.”
One of the techs nervously raised his hand. “Admiral, what kind of ways are you talking about?”
Arroyo was considering how best to nonchalantly close his ears when the turbolift slowly to a halt and opened onto the bridge. “Here we are!” he said quickly, rushing out of the lift. “Great riding with you. I’ve gotta get back to my helm now.”
Larkin stepped out and surveyed the bridge while the techs headed to the engineering console and the computer access panels to set to work.
“Welcome, Admiral,” Tovar said. “Commander Prosak will be with you in a moment.”
“And where is she currently?”
Suddenly, Arroyo tripped, screamed and fell to the floor in front of the command chair just behind the helm console.
“Right about there.”
Prosak’s right hand grabbed onto the armrest of the command chair, then her left, then the Romulan pulled herself to her feet, wiping tears out of her eyes.
“Are you well, Commander?” Larkin asked confused. Tovar opened his mouth to speak, but Prosak quickly cut him off.
“Quite well. Thank you,” she said as Arroyo, clutching his head that he’d bonked soundly on the floor, crawled into his seat at the helm.
“She is fine,” Tovar said. “Just a little boo-boo.”
Larkin watched with curiosity as Prosak’s face suddenly contorted as she slammed her eyes and mouth shut as tight as she could. A few moments later, the fit passed.
“Perhaps you should be in sickbay,” Larkin said.
“I am fine,” Prosak said firmly. She glared at Tovar. “And you will be quiet or you will wish I’d just hanged you by your intestines. We Romulans know methods of torture that even the Cardassians wouldn’t use!”
“Commander!” Larkin snapped.
“My apologies. What can I do for you, Admiral?”
“Developing something resembling an air of professionalism would be an excellent start, Commander Prosak.”
“I assure you that I am very professional.”
“Indeed,” Larkin said. “That aside, I have come to inform you of one addition we are making to the Anomaly’s systems.”
“Captain Bain did not tell me that there would be any additions.”
“That is because he does not know about this particular addition. And will not be informed unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Is that clear, Commander?”
“Quite,” Prosak said uneasily. The idea of being forced to keep information from Captain Bain was not at all appealing to her.
“I do not know how familiar you are with the captain’s service record, but, as Lieutenant Commander Tovar can attest, Bain has a tendency to lean toward military rather than diplomatic solutions. Close to the Federation, that is not so much of a problem; however, the Anomaly will be completely alone when it reaches Andromeda. Since we wish for you to return safely rather than while being chased by an angry invasion fleet, Command has requested that we install an Emergency Diplomatic Hologram as a emergency measure. If Captain Bain seems to be losing control of a situation, you are authorized to activate the EDH and remove Bain from the bridge by any means necessary.”
“I am not familiar with the EDH,” Tovar said. “Is this a tested system?”
“The EDH combines the abilities of some of the greatest diplomats in Starfleet history. Sarek, Picard, Spock, Fox, Riva…Kirk.”
“Kirk?” Tovar repeated. “Correct me if I am wrong, Admiral, but I seem to recall that Captain Kirk was prone to military solutions in his day.”
“It was a different galaxy 200 years ago,” Larkin said.
“True, but you still have not said if this is a tested system.”
“We have had a few small personality integration issues, but it is worth the risk. Starfleet does not want a repeat of the Voyager Pass. There are still worlds in the Delta Quadrant that won’t speak to the Federation because of that ship.”
“We’re finished, Admiral,” one of the techs reported.
“Then we will be on our way, so that you can be on yours,” Larkin said. With that, Larkin and her tech posse entered the turbolift and were gone.
Tovar, Arroyo, and Prosak were silent for a few moments. “Does anyone else really think this is all wrong?” Arroyo asked finally.
“Extremely,” Tovar said. One of the two life-forces inside him concurred vigorously. This was very wrong. Stop now.
“How so?” Prosak asked.
“We’re about to go on this historic voyage, but no one’s here to see us off. I thought this would be a big deal. Where’s the flotilla of ships waiting to see us leave the galaxy? Where’s the Federation President’s good luck speech? Where’s anyone?”
“Well, I’m here,” Captain Bain announced as he exited the turbolift. “Krissers sure seemed to be in a rush, though. Said we’d be shipping out post haste. And that damn assistant of hers just kept gabbing. Annoying little bugger. No matter. Orders are orders. Time to go meet the Andromedians…Andromedites…oh whoever the hell they are. Blighters had better be friendly, though.” Bain took a seat in his command chair as Prosak and Tovar exchanged a worried look.
“BOO has deactivated the docking sheath,” Arroyo reported.
Off to Bain’s right, Prosak snickered, then quickly regained her composure. Bain gave her a quick, confused look, then turned back to face the viewscreen. “All right, then, Mr. Arroyo, move us in front of the gateway.”
“Admiral Larkin is hailing us,” Tovar said.
“Good luck, Captain. We hope to hear back from you at some point,” Larkin said.
“You can count on it. No bloody Andromedons are taking out this ship,” Bain said.
“I am detecting three Starfleet vessels entering sensor range,” Tovar reported. “I believe this is our send off, Mr. Arroyo. We are being hailed.”
“Go to conference mode,” Bain said. Larkin’s image slid over to the left on the viewscreen as the wizened visage of Brogdak, the 110-year-old Tellarite who was serving his ninth term as President of the United Federation of Planets, appeared on the viewscreen. Well, it was more of the rear of his visage actually. Bain leapt out of his chair and stood out of respect to his president.
“I can’t see ‘em,” Brogdak groused. “Where the kalkak are they?” Two arms reached into the frame and gently turned the very elderly Tellarite so that he was facing the viewscreen properly. “There you are! About time you showed yourselves. Hmmph!” He stared at Bain expectantly. At least Bain thought he was staring. It was hard to tell, since the Tellarite’s eyes were practically buried under a mass of wrinkles. Brogdak lifted his cane into the air and banged on the viewscreen a couple of times. “Hello? Anyone there?”
“Your speech, sir,” a voice said from off-screen.
“Don’t you tell me to watch my speech! I’ll talk to them any way I feel like!” Brogdak snapped. A tall human…at least Bain assumed he was tall. He’d never seen Brogdak in person, though. For all he knew, the hunched over Tellarite was only four feet tall. Anyway, the human whispered in Brogdak’s ear.
“Oh! Right! I know why I’m here. I’m not senile dammit! Captain Cane, you and the crew of the Abominably are about to go where no resident of this galaxy has gone before. We wish you luck, Pain, and hope that you and the Abodaby will return safely. I’m finished. Let’s go! It’s happy hour on Rigel Eight!” Brogdak hobbled out of view just before the comm signal cut off, replacing half of the viewscreen with an image of the gateway ahead of them.
The President’s ship convoy, which actually hadn’t even slowed down as they passed near BOO, sped off toward his next destination.
“It was most difficult for President Brogdak to fit us into his schedule,” Larkin said. “I am very pleased that he was here for the ceremony.”
“That was a ceremony?” Arroyo muttered.
“At least he was brief,” Bain said. “Never had much use for the pomp and circumstance blather myself. We’re ship-shape and Bristol fashion here, Krissers. No need to dally any longer.”
“As you wish,” Larkin replied. She nodded to someone off- screen. Suddenly, nodes placed periodically around the gateway flashed to life with a bluish crackle, sending streams of energy from one node to the next until all were linked by a blue, pulsating glow. The glow began to expand inward in a spiral, filling the gateway as it went.
“Our sensors show that contact has been made with the automated gateway on the other side of the barrier,” Larkin said. “You are clear for departure.”
“You heard the lady,” Bain said, stepping over to Arroyo and clapping him on the shoulder. “In, through, and beyond…”
“Why does that sound so ominous to me?” Arroyo said as he sent the Anomaly into the gateway.
“Just the jitters, my boy. It happens. We’ll be back in a jif, Krissers.”
“It is a two week journey just to get to Andromeda,” Larkin said as the signal started to fill with static. “That is far longer than a jif…perhaps not on the cosmic scale, but, in human terms, it not definitely not a jif. You will be alone for a great deal of time.”
The Anomaly fully entered the gateway and instantly found itself coming out the other side into an empty black void. Larkin’s signal was now just a humanoid-shaped bit of snow.
“Don’t you worry, Krissers!” Bain shouted, hoping Larkin could hear him. “We’ve got plenty to keep us busy!”
ONE WEEK LATER
“Oh dear God, I am so damnably BORED!” Captain Bain shouted at the top of his lungs and slammed his fist down on the armrest of his command chair, breaking the silence on the bridge and nearly giving Prosak and Arroyo heart attacks. Tovar looked up from his tactical simulations blankly. Actually, he’d been staring at the simulations fairly blankly. The struggle for control of his body had escalated into an all-out war. He was trying not to let it show that anything was amiss, but if the other life-force, the intruder, were to get control…
Tovar ignored Bain and refocused on centering and calming the raging storm inside his mind.
“You could attempt to fill out the reports waiting for you in your ready room,” Prosak said once she had recovered from Bain’s shouting.
“Ready room? Bah! Bloody wastes of space. We converted the one on my last ship into an officers’ mess. Captains belong on the bridge, not twiddling their thumbs in some office.”
“Then perhaps you would like to do the reports in another location.”
“I have yet to fill out one of those blasted things. Starfleet doesn’t need them anyway. I see your crew reports. That’s plenty.”
“I see,” Prosak said, wondering how Bain managed to avoid the constant nightmare that was Starfleet paperwork. Hmm…paperwork. Why was it even still called that? It wasn’t logical. Paper hadn’t been used for centuries. Nevertheless, Prosak had been forced to take a special training class before she was made first officer of the Anomaly explaining to her in excruciating detail how to fill out the volumes and volumes of forms and reports Starfleet regulations required.
“You want it?” Bain asked, breaking into Prosak’s thoughts.
“My ready room. Do you want it? If anyone needs an office…and a place to sit down, it’s you.”
“I do not think I could…”
“It’s settled then. The ready room is all yours. Go to it.”
“Why not? At least one of us will have something to do,” Bain said.
“Yes…well, thank you, Captain. That is most generous.”
“Bollocks! I wasn’t using it. You’ll probably get more out of it anyway.”
The comm system suddenly barked to life with the voice of Dr. Fred Nooney, the Anomaly’s Chief Medical Officer. “All senior staff, report to the recreation room. All senior staff, report to the recreation room.”
“What the devil does he want?” Bain muttered.
“Maybe he wishes to instruct us on the dangers of holographic splinters,” Tovar said flatly.
“I don’t know how things worked on his last ship, but this captain does not come running whenever somebody orders him to report somewhere,” Bain said.
“A wise policy,” Prosak said. “But then you did say you were bored. The doctor may at least provide a brief diversion.”
“There is that,” Bain said thoughtfully. “Mr. Arroyo, you have the bridge…not that there’s much to do.”
“What?” Arroyo said, looking up from the holovid padd he’d been watching. “Oh. Right. Steady as she goes. No problem. Go have fun.” For the last week, helm shifts had consisted of nothing but trying to stay entertained as the ship raced at anti-sing speeds (Warp J using Marsden’s anti-sing scale) toward Andromeda. Cabral had the engines under control, and there just wasn’t anyone or anything out here.
Bain, Tovar, and Prosak entered the turbolift and descended to Deck Nine, where the ship’s holographic recreation room was located. The rec room hadn’t actually gotten a lot of use since the Anomaly’s launch. All crewmembers had their own holopods in their quarters, allowing them to engage whatever holodeck activities they wished to indulge in privately. The rec room allowed for group simulations, but no one seemed to be interested. Most of the time, it was just filled with exercise equipment, none of which was used very often.
When Bain and the others entered, however, Nooney had shut down the exercise program and filled the room with chairs set up in a semi-circle around the doctor, who was thankfully dressed and smiling broadly.
“Captain Bain!” Nooney exclaimed upon seeing his commanding officer. “I’m so thrilled you could come! You and I haven’t seen much of each other since I came on board.”
Bain muttered something about being busy and took one of the empty seats. Lieutenant Marsden entered a few moments later, followed closely by Dr. Kasyov.
“Marsie!” Bain exclaimed upon seeing his chief engineer. “Good to see you! We haven’t run into each other much lately.”
Marsden muttered something about being busy and grabbed a seat as far away from Bain as possible.
“I think the gang’s all here!” Nooney said, rubbing his hands together excitedly. “Thank you all for coming. I have something to show you. Oh, this is so exciting! Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to love it.”
“If it involves anal probes, I’m leaving,” Tovar muttered.
“No no no, silly,” Nooney said. “This is going to help the crew through this tough time. Don’t think that Dr. Freddie hasn’t noticed how edgy and grumpy everyone has been lately. Let’s face it; we’re bored.”
Bain sat up in his chair. By jove, the quack actually had figured out something useful. But what did he propose to do about it?
“So I got to thinking,” Nooney continued, “what this crew needs is someone in charge of making sure we’re all having a good time. My duties as Chief Medical Officer prevent me from doing that job, so….drum roll please…” No one moved. “I created…STEVE!”
On cue, the hologram of a smiling human male materialized beside Nooney. He was dressed in a loud orange suit, with a purple dress shirt and a yellow tie speckled with blinking red and blue lights.
“My eyes!” Tovar screamed, falling to the deck and convulsing. All semblance of control was gone. Tovar’s internal battle flared more violently.
“Steve?” Marsden said, ignoring Tovar’s performance.
“No no,” Nooney said, turning and shaking his finger at her disapprovingly. “You have to say it with the exclamation point. Steve!”
Steve! suddenly jumped up into the air and landed in a split with his arms outstretched. “Ta da! I’m Steve! With me around, today and everyday will be fun, fun, FUN!”
“NOOOOOOOO!” Tovar wailed.
Bain reached down and hauled Tovar back into his seat, then faced Nooney. “Just what will be this Steve’s position on the Anomaly. And I’ll warn you now, if you say morale officer, I’m ejecting him straight out the airlock.” Bain had developed a somewhat irrational distaste for holograms since he’d been attacked and nearly killed by one a few weeks earlier.
Prosak leaned over and, in a whisper, briefly explained the illogic of attempting to eject a hologram out an airlock.
“Right. Well, the point is I won’t have a morale officer on my ship. Bad for morale, if you ask me.”
“Bad?” Nooney gasped. “How can someone whose sole purpose in life is to entertain be a bad thing?”
“I’m not entertained,” Marsden said.
“Me either. Can I get back to Cabral?” Kasyov said impatiently.
Steve! jumped to his feet. “But just you wait! The fun hasn’t even started yet.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Kasyov said. “If you’ll excuse me, Captain…”
“Right. Go on ahead. We can take it from here,” Bain said as Kasyov made a hasty retreat.
“Who wants to see a balloon animal?” Steve! asked.
“Ooooh! I do! I do!” Nooney exclaimed, jumping up and down.
“Can you do junilaths?” Prosak asked.
“Coming right up, young lady,” Steve! replied.
“I may be sick,” Tovar said.
“Oh! We can’t have that,” Nooney said, rushing over.
“Wrong choice of words there, old boy,” Bain said. “Just tough it out. We’ve been through worse. Remember Lendax Three.”
“They simply wished to kill us. This is far worse,” Tovar replied.
“Wow!” Prosak said. “That looks just like my junilath back home! Amazing, Steve!”
“Just let me die,” Marsden said.
“I’ll kill you, if you kill me,” Tovar said.
Steve! looked back and forth from Tovar to Marsden disapprovingly. “You two don’t seem to be having a good time. How about this?” Steve! snapped his fingers, and suddenly Tovar and Marsden were dressed in bright clown costumes complete with giant red shoes.
Tovar was instantly out of his seat. “This is ridiculous!” he snapped.
“AHHHHH!” Marsden screamed.
“Isn’t that great?” Nooney gushed. “Steve! has complete control of the holoemitters in this room. He can do anything he wants!”
“Captain, you have to put a stop to this,” Tovar said urgently, his oversize clown shoes squeaking on the deck as he stepped toward Bain. “I need my uniform back.”
“Lighten up, Tovar,” Bain replied. “Get into the spirit of things. Steve! is just trying to help.”
“Absolutamundo!” Steve! said. “Who else wants a balloon animal?”
“I do! I do!” Bain said. “What about a tiger?”
“You got it, Captain!” Steve! said. “And it will be ‘purrfect.’”
“This guy’s good,” Bain said laughing.
Tovar and Marsden looked at each other, then screamed.
TWO DAYS LATER
Captain Bain had to admit to being somewhat surprised when the doors of the ready room opened and Commander Prosak staggered out onto the bridge wearing green satin pajamas and rubbing sleep out of her eyes.
Prosak suddenly snapped awake. “Sorry. Wrong door,” she said sheepishly.
“What are you doing up here?” Bain asked, rising from the command chair and walking over to his first officer. “You’re scheduled to be asleep right now.”
“I am…or was. I simply got up to…um…”
“Say no more,” Bain said. He took a peek into the ready room that he had given to Prosak a couple of days prior. The desk had been pushed into one corner to make room for a twin bed. Several Vulcan meditation candles, an incense burner, and some padds were scattered about the room while a giant portrait of Spock dominated the rear wall.
“You’ve certainly made yourself comfortable,” Bain
“I have relocated my quarters to here,” Prosak said. “This location will keep me closer to the bridge in case of emergency.”
“Potty or otherwise,” Bain said with a smile.
“Again, my apologies. I will have to make more of an effort to watch where I’m going, even when I’m half asleep.”
“Don’t worry yourself about it for another second. It’s not like you sleep in your skivvies or anything,” Bain said. “Good night, Commander.”
“Yes…well…” Prosak then noticed that Bain and Tovar were the only people on the bridge. “Excuse me, sir, but where is Mr. Arroyo? I believe he is scheduled for this shift.”
“Sickbay,” Bain said. “That pie eating contest Steve! held did him in. Poor blighter didn’t even win. For such a little guy, that Polnuc in engineering can sure pack it in.”
Throughout this conversation, Tovar remained at his post, his hands clenched on the edge of his console in a death grip as his knuckles turned whiter and whiter. The intruder was winning…and it was screaming in his head. YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!!!
“AHHHHHH!” Tovar screamed suddenly, clapping his hands to the sides of his head. “We’re going the wrong way! We’re going the wrong way!”
“Tovar, old man? What’s the trouble?” Bain said concerned. Prosak immediately raced to the vacant helm console. “Prosak?”
“We are on a direct course for Andromeda. I do not know why Mr. Tovar would believe otherwise.”
“WE ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” Tovar bellowed, leaping over his console and charging down the ramp toward Prosak at the helm. “Stand aside.”
“I will not do that, Lieutenant Commander,” Prosak replied, putting particular emphasis on Tovar’s rank in hopes of reminding him where he stood in the chain of command. Tovar grabbed Prosak by the collar of her pajamas and tossed her over the helm and into the viewscreen.
“WE ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” Tovar screamed as Bain rushed to his fallen first officer.
“Are you all right, there?” Bain asked. Prosak nodded shakily while Bain helped her to her feet.
“Mister Tovar seems to be rather adamant about changing our course,” Prosak said flatly. Then she winced painfully. “And that really hurt!”
“Stiff upper lip, Commander. This is no time to lose it. Tovar beat us to that one.” Bain opened his hands in friendship and took a couple of steps toward Tovar, who was beating on the helm console trying to figure out why he couldn’t turn the ship around.
“It’s locked out,” Bain said soothingly. “Engineering and Cabral are handling this one. Just relax and tell Reggie what’s bothering you.”
“I think I made that clear,” Tovar said, glaring furiously at Bain. “We are going the wrong way.”
“Right. But this is the way to Andromeda.”
“I don’t want to go to Andromeda. This is all wrong.”
“No offense, lad, but you should have said something before we left the galaxy.”
“I wasn’t this me before we left the galaxy!” Tovar shouted.
“Um…okay…which you were you?”
“Stand clear, Captain,” Prosak said suddenly. She had returned to her quarters in the ready room and grabbed her wrist phaser.
“Sorry about this, old boy,” Bain said, diving for cover behind the helm. Just as Prosak fired, Tovar dove for the command chair, flipping in mid-air and landing on his feet in the chair. In another graceful move, he flipped over the back of the command chair, hit the deck in a roll, and sailed straight into the turbolift, leaving Prosak watching him in stunned silence.
“Agile little monkey, isn’t he?” Bain said, stepping up beside Prosak and clapping her on the shoulder. “Bain to engineering.”
“Polnuc here,” the Moglodin officer who ran gamma shift in engineering replied. “What can I help you with?”
“There’s a psychotic Yynsian probably heading your way. He’s in a bit of a snit at the moment. Just thought you should know. Bridge out.”
Polnuc managed to get out a “But…” before Bain closed the commline. Meanwhile, Prosak headed to Tovar’s station to try and locate the rogue officer.
“I don’t understand this,” Prosak said irritated.
“What’s the problem?” Bain asked.
“The computer insists that there are no Yynsians on board the Anomaly.”
“Clever isn’t he? Tovar doesn’t like to be tracked. I think he erased his bio-signature from the sensors after that physical he got from Nooney.”
“That makes it considerably more difficult to transport him to the safety of the brig before he can reach engineering.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Bain said. “Tovar usually snaps out of these past life flare ups pretty quickly…but I can’t say that I’ve seen one this violent before. Going to have to mention that to the missus when we get back.”
“Why would this be relevant to Mrs. Bain, if I may ask?”
“She’s practically the boy’s mother. Has been ever since his parents vanished while he was at camp. Rosalyn felt I should take him under my wing and so on and so forth. But this isn’t really the time to be discussing the past. Zip me down to engineering, and let me see if I can’t talk some sense to him…or whoever he thinks he is at the moment.”
Bain materialized in engineering a split-second before Lieutenant Marsden rushed in angrily. She was still pulling on her uniform top having been rousted out of bed by all of this. Tovar, meanwhile, was holding Polnuc and the other six officers on duty in engineering at bay with a plasma welder near the anti-sing core.
“Turn the ship around,” Tovar said, his eyes blazing as he aimed the welder at Polnuc’s nose.
“Put that welder down, or I’m going to jam it up your ass,” Marsden said, charging toward Tovar.
“Hold on there a second, Marsie,” Bain said, grabbing Marsden by the arm as she passed him. “The boy’s sick. He needs our understanding, not serious injury.”
“Listen here, Captain,” Marsden spat, mustering all the disdain she could. “That ‘boy’ is threatening my staff. Somebody better do something, or he’s going to need serious medical attention.”
“You rang,” a female voice said sarcastically from behind them. Dr. Nooney’s Andorian nurse, Ih’vik, was just entering engineering wielding a hypospray like a knife. “That Romulan gal said there was a raving psycho down here. My words, not hers.” She spun the hypospray in her hand. “Okay. Who gets it?”
“Take a guess!” Marsden screamed, jumping up and down in fury.
“Gotcha. One sedative, coming right up.” Ih’vik let out a blood-freezing battle cry and pounced on Marsden like a panther. The engineer’s eyes widened in shock and fear, then went glassy as Ih’vik’s hypospray slammed into her neck. Marsden was unconscious on the deck a moment later.
“Beautiful leap, there,” Bain said, “but I’m afraid the patient is actually the one with the plasma welder.”
Tovar turned to them briefly, wielding the welder threateningly. “Take one step, and those antenna will be little bits of charcoal.”
“Whatever, buddy,” Ih’vik muttered as she reloaded the hypospray. “You wanna come peacefully?”
“I will not come at all. Don’t you understand? We’re going the wrong way! How many times do I have to say it?”
“You’re done,” Ih’vik said.
“I am?” Tovar asked confused. Ih’vik suddenly winged the hypospray at Tovar like a throwing dagger. It impacted perfectly in the Yynsian’s chest, injecting its contents into his raging body. Tovar’s eyes went glassy as a silly grin covered his face. “I feel funny.” Then he collapsed to the deck, joining Marsden in dreamland.
FIVE DAYS LATER
Stardate 175209.4. After a short stay in Sickbay, Lieutenant Commander Tovar has returned to duty. He has no recollection of trying to take over the ship and absolutely no idea why he would have been screaming that we’re going the wrong way. I guess we’ll just chalk it up to one of those past life things. Dr. Nooney wanted to keep Tovar a bit longer to run a few more of his “tests,” but I decided the poor boy’s been through enough already. Besides, we’re approaching the Andromeda galaxy, and I want my best team in position ready to take on whatever challenges we may face.
“What do you mean we can’t get in?” Bain demanded, spinning his chair around to face Dr. Kasyov, who was manning the science station. On the viewscreen, the outer edge of the Andromeda Galaxy beckoned.
“The entire galaxy for as far as we can scan seems to be surrounded by some kind of force field,” Kasyov said.
“Is it like the Great Barrier?” Bain asked. Damn. He knew he should have asked to take along one of those gateways just in case something like this happened.
“No. Andromeda does have a barrier of a sort, but it is relatively weak. We should be able to pass through it with no trouble…if the force field wasn’t there,” Kasyov replied.
“So it’s artificial?”
“Most force fields are.”
“I am reading a comm signal. It’s on an unusual frequency, but the computer does believe it’s a message. The universal translator is working on it now.”
“Source?” Bain asked.
“There seem to be buoys of some sort scattered at regular intervals along the border of Andromeda,” Tovar replied. “The translation is coming through now. Audio only.”
“Welcome to the Andromeda Galaxy,” a friendly female voice said. “We’re very pleased that you are interested in visiting our galaxy; however, you must enter through one of our many convenient checkpoints. Coordinates for the one closest to this position are being transmitted now. Have a wonderful day, and we hope you enjoy your stay in Andromeda.”
“Cheery sort,” Bain said. “Awfully nice to know we got their galaxy’s name right, too.”
“The translation added our name for it,” Tovar said. “We’re about three tongues short of being able to pronounce the name that was in the original message.”
“Oh…well…makes sense. Mr. Arroyo, as soon as you have those coordinates, take us to this checkpoint or whatever it is.”
“On our way,” Arroyo reported. “ETA at standard warp cruising speed is twenty minutes.”
“Not bad at all,” Bain said. He turned toward Kasyov. “So how is Cabral holding up? Were the two weeks too rough on him?”
“He’s relieved not to be holding us in anti-sing anymore, but otherwise he seems to be doing quite well. He’s taking a nap at the moment. Has been ever since we dropped out of anti-sing,” Kasyov said.
“It’s well deserved. He did a bang-up job.”
“Um…captain,” Arroyo said hesitantly.
“What is it?”
“Look,” Arroyo pointed at the viewscreen. Ahead of them, floating in space, was some type of octagonal object marked with symbols.
“Working,” Tovar said. “The universal translator is not sure. It needs a bigger writing sample.”
“Lucky us. Here comes another one,” Arroyo said as the Anomaly approached, then flew by another of the octagonal shapes.
“Still working. One more should do it.”
“Your wish is their command,” Arroyo said as another shape came into view.
“I have it,” Tovar said. “The message reads…” Tovar fell silent for a moment. “Two for one uroplins at Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway. Just ahead.”
“What the devil is a uroplin?” Bain asked, turning on Kasyov.
“I have no idea, but evidently we can get two of them,” the science officer reported.
For the next several minutes, the Anomaly continued passing similar signs.
“You’d Be Galactically Stupid to Miss Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway.”
“Good Food, Great Prices, and Gambling Await You At Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway!”
“Mention this Sign and Get 20% Off at Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway Hotel and Casino!”
“Free Defonilation with Every Energy Transfer at Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway!”
The Anomaly crew wasn’t quite sure what to make of that last one.
“I am detecting several ships ahead of us,” Tovar reported finally. On the viewscreen a vast single-file line of ships stretched out before them. On the whole, they were stationary, but every so often they would all move forward about one ship length. Tovar changed the image on the viewscreen to show why the ships were in line. At the barrier of Andromeda was a massive complex that each ship had to pass through one by one before they were allowed into the galaxy.
The ships themselves ranged from the fairly ordinary mechanical sort to complex masses of biotissue unlike anything they had ever seen. “The computer doesn’t recognize any of it,” Kasyov said. “The alloys, the bioreadings, the energy signatures…it’s all completely unknown. The computer’s about to have a nervous breakdown.”
“Just get as much data as you can,” Bain said. “We’ll let the eggheads back at Starfleet Sciences sort it all out when we get back. Queue us up, Mr. Arroyo.”
“Queue?” Arroyo asked.
“It’s British for get us into the line, Ensign,” Tovar said.
“Oh! Why didn’t you say so?”
“It’s not like I speak a bloody foreign language,” Bain said indignantly.
“We’ve been queued,” Arroyo said.
“You aren’t even using the word right,” Bain snapped. “Forget it. Tovar, since we’re going to be stuck here for a while, try contacting some of the nearby ships. Let’s meet the neighbors.”
Bain looked over his right shoulder. “And where the devil is Prosak?”
“Asleep in the ready…her quarters,” Tovar said. “Would you like me to summon her?”
“No no. If she’s off duty, let her catch her forty winks. She’ll want to be rested when we actually get into Andromeda.”
“The vessel immediately in front of us is responding,” Tovar reported.
The image of the green, bulbous mass of biomatter that someone claimed was a ship vanished and was replaced with the image of a room…at least Bain guessed it was a room. It just looked like a big, pulsating mass of reddish-green goo. A tentacle- like bit of the goo extended from the wall toward the viewscreen. When it got close, six eye-like disks opened up and stared at the Anomaly bridge crew for several moments, all the while blinking madly. Suddenly, mouth-like gaps opened all over the tentacle and started laughing madly as mini-tentacles sprung out and pointed at Bain and the others.
The comm signal abruptly cut off.
“Well that was a bit rude,” Bain said.
“We don’t know that for sure, Captain,” Kasyov said. “That could simply be this race’s way of communicating with us. What does the universal translator think?”
“They were laughing at us,” Tovar replied flatly.
“Is it sure?”
“Don’t you worry about it, Doctor,” Bain said. “They may not think much of us now, but if any of them try anything, we’ll give them a good what for!”
“Unless they have fantastically advanced weaponry that obliterates us in one shot,” Tovar muttered.
The Anomaly spent the next hour slowly advancing in line and attempting to contact the other vessels stuck there with them. Most of their hails were either ignored or not received by whatever bizarre technology the various alien ships used as comm systems. Most of those races that did respond either broke down into gales of hysterical laughter or threatened to destroy, sell, or eat the Anomaly crew.
At long last, the Anomaly approached the station at the Andromeda border and slowly sailed into the large, grid-like structure used by whatever species ran this facility to examine incoming vessels.
“Kind of looks like a big shipyard dock,” Arroyo commented.
“For ships far larger than our own,” Tovar said.
“You’re being awfully negative back there, old boy,” Bain said.
“A natural response considering I will be the one who has to attempt to get us out of trouble should this go badly. I do not like not having the slightest idea what we’re up against.”
“Comes with the job,” Bain said.
Several scanning beams traced over the Anomaly as a small vessel, no bigger than a shuttle, circled around above the saucer.
“We are being hailed,” Tovar said.
“On screen,” Bain replied, straightening his uniform as he stood up to greet whoever this was. The exterior view on the screen shifted to that of a muscular, purplish-skinned humanoid. His body and head were both very bulky and hairless as far as Bain could tell. Actually, Bain couldn’t stop staring at the head. It was like a rounded off triangle with two yellow eyes and a hideous gaping mouth with…as Tovar had predicted…three tongues, each of which seemed to move almost like tentacles.
“Welcome to the Andromeda Galaxy,” the being said tiredly as if he had repeated this speech many many many times before. “I am Enforcer Ooobuudaa of the Associates’ Organization of Enforcers Enforcing Ordinances of the Associates. You may simply call us AOEEOA.” Bain and Tovar looked at each other and mouthed “AOEEOA?” as Ooobuudaa continued. “Before AOEEOA can allow you to enter our fair galaxy, we must ask you a few basic questions.” His hand held a device resembling a padd.
“By all means,” Bain replied.
“Captain Reginald Bain. USS Anomaly.”
“I just said it. USS Anomaly.”
Ooobuudaa looked up from his padd. “Just answer the questions I ask briefly and completely. You don’t want to make this difficult. Trust me.”
“Fine. Carry on.”
“Galaxy of origin?”
“We call it the Milky Way. I’m not quite sure what you would call it. It’s the one right back there.” Bain pointed back over his shoulder. “Just go straight for a few million light years.”
Ooobuudaa eyed Bain again, then a toothy grin spread across his face. “You’re from there? Ha! We didn’t think any of you primitives would get a decent propulsion system for a few more centuries. What do you know?”
“Do you want me to answer that?”
Ooobuudaa glared at Bain. “Don’t mess with me. Please. What’s your business in Andromeda?”
“We really don’t have any. We’re just here to take a look about and see what’s what.”
“Tourism. Got it. How long do you plan on staying?”
“Oh I don’t know. A couple of weeks?” Bain said hopefully.
“Acceptable. Are you carrying any fruits, vegetables, plants, or non-sentient animals?”
“Well, we have an arboretum, and I have my petunias. That’s about it for plants. No pets, though.”
“Right. All plants will be surrendered immediately.”
“But my petunias!” Bain protested. “Tovar!”
“With all due respect, sir, I don’t think that would be advisable.”
“Damn it all, you’re right. I can get new ones when we get home. All right, you win. Take the plants!”
The ship suddenly shook slightly. “We’ve been hit by some sort of energy pulse from the grid surrounding us. All plant life on the ship has been obliterated,” Tovar reported.
“Efficiently blighters, aren’t they?” Bain said.
“Moving on,” Ooobuudaa said. “Are any members of your crew godlike beings, shapeshifters, or disembodied brains?”
“Nope! Not a one!” Kasyov said, jumping up out of her chair and running up beside Bain. “Nobody here but us boring old humanoids.”
Ooobuudaa’s eyes narrowed. “Really?”
“Absolutely!” Kasyov said as Bain stared at her confused.
“Is she telling the truth, Captain? The Associates are very strict about our regulations on this matter.”
“Um…er…sure,” Bain said, forcing a smile.
“Then you won’t mind if we come over there and take a look.”
“Not at all,” Kasyov said. “We look forward to it. Please excuse me.” Kasyov took off at a sprint for the turbolift.
“Well…I guess you’re coming over then,” Bain said. “Anomaly out.” As the image of the outpost returned, Bain turned to look at his tac-ops officer. Tovar just shook his head and put it down on his console.
“That bad?” Bain said.
Tovar just groaned.
Kasyov ran into Science Lab Four at top speed and immediately dove to her control console in front of Cabral.
“What is going on?” Cabral asked, concern evident in his voice.
“Andromedans…no brains…coming here,” Kasyov gasped as she tried to catch her breath.
“We’re being boarded by brainless Andromedans?”
“No. The Andromedans…don’t allow…your kind…into their galaxy. No brains.”
“Oh. I see. That could be a problem. What do you suggest we do about, Natalia?”
“I’ve got to shut you down. Disengage you from the system. If there aren’t any energy readings in here, maybe they won’t bother to look inside,” Kasyov replied, trying to automatically disconnect Cabral using her console. It wasn’t working.
“I told you, my dear. I’m thoroughly meshed into the ship’s engineering systems now. I can’t just be turned off with the flick of a switch. Ripping me out would shut down half of the ship.”
“Then what the hell are we going to do!” Kasyov shouted.
“Can’t you just throw some plants in here to mask my life readings or something?”
“They took all our plants.”
“That wasn’t very sporting of them,” Cabral said.
Kasyov scowled. “You’re starting to sound like Bain.”
“That’s what I was going for. I’m trying to master the crews’ dialects.”
“Now is definitely not the time,” Kasyov said. “Got to think. Think. Think.” Kasyov suddenly jumped up out of her seat and ran toward the door. “Be right back!”
Bain paced the bridge, cracking the knuckles on his left hand one by one. “Blighters should be here by now. Not cricket to leave us waiting like this,” he muttered. “Blast!” In a fit of motion, he charged over to Prosak’s door and pounded on it. The Romulan answered the door a couple of moments later, dressed in those green satin pajamas again and rubbing sleep from her eyes.
“What do you want?” she demanded, then caught herself and forced her face into a look of Vulcan stoicism. “How may I be of assistance, Captain?”
“We’re here, and we’re being boarded. You have the conn. I’m going to deal with these Andromedanianians myself!” Bain said, grabbing Prosak’s arm and pulling her out onto the bridge. Then Bain heard a popping, crackling noise behind him. He turned around just in time to see Ooobuudaa and another being, this one far taller and lankier than Ooobuudaa, materialize in front of the viewscreen.
“This is Chief Associate Enforcer Uuulaadoodee,” Ooobuudaa said. “He will be overseeing this search to make sure it is performed in accordance with the Ordinances of the Associates.”
“A pleasure,” Bain said, extending his arm for Uuulaadoodee to shake. The Chief Associate Enforcer just stared at him. “Right. Well, I’m Captain Reginald Bain. This is Commander Prosak, Lieutenant Commander Tovar, and Ensign Arroyo. On behalf of the United Federation of Planets in the Milky Way galaxy, welcome to the USS Anomaly.”
Uuulaadoodee hadn’t stopped looking at Prosak. “Why is this one dressed differently? Is it due to gender discrimination? The Associates will not allow…”
“No no no. She just woke up,” Bain said. “She was asleep in the ready room.”
“Ready? And what is she ready for? To service your crew in some primitive…”
Prosak broke in before Uuulaadoodee could get any farther. “I assure you, Chief Associate Enforcer, that that is not the case. I am second in command of this vessel. The species of the United Federation of Planets believe in equality on all levels.”
“We are relieved to hear it,” Uuulaadoodee said.
“Good. Glad we’ve gotten that cleared up,” Bain said. “Now then, we don’t have anything else interesting over here, but it was definitely a pleasure to meet a new species.”
Uuulaadoodee stared at Bain, his yellow eyes unblinking. “We have reason to believe that this ship contains beings the Associates have deemed inadmissable to our galaxy.”
“But what about all that equality stuff you just said?”
“This is very different. Now then, we will search the ship.”
“All right,” Bain said. “But I don’t think you’re going to find any god-like beings or shapeshifters here.”
“What about disembodied brains?” Uuulaadoodee asked.
“Er…them either,” Bain said, leading Uuulaadoodee and Ooobuudaa into to the turbolift.
“Was Bain’s diplomacy the cause of this?” Prosak asked Tovar once Bain and the visitors had left.
“Not entirely,” Tovar replied. “And I believe that Dr. Kasyov is currently attempting to prevent Cabral from being discovered. I would suggest, however, that we devise an alternate plan.”
“Running?” Arroyo offered.
“I was going to add a bit of blasting myself, but that is the general idea,” Tovar said.
Prosak half-sat/half-collapsed into the command chair. “I have no idea what the logical thing to say in this situation is.”
“Most likely some form of profanity,” Tovar said.
“Oh yeah. Definitely,” Arroyo concurred.
Kasyov rushed back into Science Lab Four several minutes after she left pushing a large box that had been fitted with a couple of anti-grav generators. In a mad dash, she dumped out the box’s contents and began setting them up around the room. Two easels were erected near the rear wall, and Kasyov placed a painting on one, then a blank canvas on the other. Next she put several small statues on the science console and on a worktable against the side wall. Finally, she took several buckets of paint and started prying them open.
“Natalia, I hate to pry, but what is going on here?” Cabral said.
“What does it look like? I’m saving you!”
“With art? How…erudite.”
Kasyov took bucket of red and yellow paint and ran over to Cabral. “You’re sealed, right?”
“Natalia…wait a moment.”
“No time,” Kasyov said, sloshing paint randomly on Cabral. “It’s insta-dry, so you should be fine.” She added a bit of blue, green, and orange, then rushed over to the blank canvas. She dumped blue all over the canvas, then pulled a couple of brushes out of her lab coat. In seconds, she spread green along the bottom of the canvas and painted a yellow circle near the top. “There! Instant landscape!”
She splashed a bit of paint on herself for good measure, then grabbed a large white tarp from her pile of materials. “Just stay quiet,” she ordered as she draped the tarp over Cabral, completely covering the sphere.
Seconds later, the lab doors opened and Bain, Uuulaadoodee, and Ooobuudaa entered. “You really don’t need to see this room,” Bain was saying. “It’s just…” He stopped in his tracks and looked around confused at the drastic change in decor.
“Welcome to my studio!” Kasyov exclaimed, racing over to Uuulaadoodee and Ooobuudaa. “Are you art lovers?”
“Is this the one?” Uuulaadoodee asked Ooobuudaa.
Ooobuudaa nodded. “Yes, Chief Associate. She ran out of the command room when I said we were coming over.”
“I had sudden inspiration,” Kasyov said. “Artists get that sometimes. Your species’ skin is such a lovely shade of purple.”
“And what did it inspire you to do?” Uuulaadoodee asked.
“Um…well…this!” Kasyov said, grabbing one of the small statues on the console and dipping it in her bucket of purple paint. “What do you think?”
“I am not much of an art critic,” Uuulaadoodee said.
“What do you call this one?” Ooobuudaa asked, pointing at the landscape.
“My Backyard,” Kasyov replied. “It’s an Earth scene.”
“And this one?” Ooobuudaa pointed to the portrait of a dark-haired woman sitting in front of a window, smiling slightly.
“Um…the Mona Lisa,” Kasyov said weakly.
“It is far superior to your landscape,” Ooobuudaa said, walking toward the drape covering Cabral. “But what about this?”
“We are wasting time, Enforcer Ooobuudaa,” Uuulaadoodee said impatiently.
“It’s nothing,” Kasyov said. “Just a work in progress.”
“May I see it?” Ooobuudaa asked.
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“You heard the lady,” Bain said quickly. “Let’s get moving.”
Ooobuudaa suddenly grabbed the tarp and ripped it off of Cabral, revealing the oddly-painted sphere. “Very…well…what is it?”
“Part sculpture. Part painting. I’m not sure yet,” Kasyov said nervously. “Like I said. Work in progress.”
“There, Ooobuudaa,” Uuulaadoodee snapped. “You have invaded this nice woman’s privacy and seen her work. May we move on?” Uuulaadoodee pulled a small device out of his belt and began looking at it. “Now then, the next suspicious life reading is emanating from…” Uuulaadoodee swung his device around the room as Bain very subtly reached up to his collar and tapped his commpip.
“Bain to bridge,” he whispered. “Monitor this channel. This could get ugly in a hurry, so I suggest you come up with a plan.”
On the bridge, Prosak and Tovar exchanged glances.
“Does this mean we’re going with the running and shooting?” Arroyo asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Tovar said. “Putting shields and weapons on standby. Just give me the word, Commander.”
Prosak shifted a bit in the command chair. “Maybe I won’t have to,” she said hopefully.
“Have you reached odds calculations in your Vulcan studies yet?” Tovar asked.
“Oh stop it,” Prosak snapped. But it was too late. Her mind went back to the RommaVulc lessons she’d had on the subject. Odds of her not having to give the word…hmm…Bain variable…Kasyov…unknown technology…approximately one million to one. Prosak sank a little deeper into her chair.
Uuulaadoodee completed his sweep of the ship with his scanning device, his gaze falling on Cabral’s sphere. “We have been deceived, Ooobuudaa,” Uuulaadoodee said grimly.
“This isn’t art?” Ooobuudaa asked.
“There is a brain inside this sphere. You will hand it over to us now!”
“Look, if there’s a problem, we can be on our way back to our own galaxy,” Kasyov said.
“I don’t know about that, Doctor,” Bain said. “Admiral Larkin would probably have some choice words for us…possibly even a few court-martials, seeing as how we’d be disobeying orders and such.”
“Leaving is impossible. You are currently in the Associates Examination and Enforcement Arena,” Uuulaadoodee said.
“Besides, this area is entrance only. It’s a one-way space lane. The exit is several hundred kilometers that way,” Ooobuudaa added, pointing to his left. “You’re going to have to hand over your brain.”
“Go to hell!” Kasyov shouted, drawing a phaser out of her lab coat. Uuulaadoodee and Ooobuudaa ran for cover.
“Bugger!” Bain shouted, diving backwards and yanking his commpip toward his mouth. “Now, Prosak! Now now now!”
“I think that’s the word,” Prosak said.
“I hope so,” Arroyo said. “Otherwise we’re about to piss off a whole lot of people for nothing.” Arroyo activated the ship’s polaron engines, rocketing them forward at full impulse as Tovar let loose a barrage of neutron torpedoes and compression phaser blasts at the grid surrounding them.
The Anomaly sped ahead and found itself in almost a tunnel of various structures and outposts all decorated with flashing lights and signs. “This must be Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway,” Tovar said as Arroyo frantically tried to keep the Anomaly from colliding with any one of the many ships zipping around the facility in various directions.
“Damn,” Arroyo said. “I was hoping to stop and get something in the gift shop.”
“We are being pursued,” Tovar reported. “Four vessels of similar configuration to the Associate craft that confronted us in the grid are closing on our position.”
“How soon until we clear Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway and can jump to anti-sing?” Prosak asked.
“Hard to say,” Arroyo replied. “This place goes on forever!”
“Well, surely the Associates will not fire on us while other ships are about.”
“Your naivete is charming but badly timed,” Tovar said.
“Fine!” Prosak snapped. “Feel free to blast them, then…but only if they shoot at us first!”
The ship suddenly rocked from several impacts. “They have shot at us first. Infi-phasic shields are down by eight percent. Re-sheathing now.”
“Return fire, Mr. Tovar. Evasive maneuvers, Mr. Arroyo,” Prosak ordered with a calm she didn’t feel.
“Evasive? Are you kidding? We barely have enough room for flying straight.”
“Do the best you can.”
The ship rocked again. “I am having difficulty returning fire,” Tovar said. “Unless I may have permission to fire at will.”
“I don’t think that will improve our situation any,” Prosak said.
“This is really very pointless,” Uuulaadoodee said as he cowered behind the science console with Ooobuudaa. “There’s now reason to put yourselves at risk just for some stupid old disembodied brain!”
“Stupid! These brains are my life’s work,” Kasyov shouted. “And my friends!”
“The brain will not be harmed,” Uuulaadoodee said. “Just give him up, and we will send your ship on its way.”
“Never!” Kasyov cried, shaking her fists in the air. Ooobuudaa suddenly popped up behind the console and fired a tiny, pen-shaped weapon at Kasyov, narrowly missing her.
“Hey!” Kasyov said ducking behind Cabral. “That’s not fair!”
“Hold on here, folks,” Bain said. “Judging by the shaking and moving I’m feeling, we’re probably zipping away from your outpost as we speak. Why don’t we just agree to disagree and call this whole thing off?”
“The Associates will not allow that,” Uuulaadoodee said.
“And I won’t allow you to take Cabral,” Kasyov said.
“Dammit! I’m trying to be diplomatic here! If I had a phaser, I’d shoot all three of you!” Bain snapped in frustration.
“We’re clearing Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway,” Arroyo said.
“Standby on anti-sing engines,” Prosak said. “Any course. On my mark. Three…two…one…”
The ship suddenly lurched forward violently as lights flickered and exploded in showers of sparks.
“I guess I should have marked a moment sooner,” Prosak muttered.
Another blast send the ship rolling forward almost end over end. Their movement was suddenly brought to a dead stop, tossing Tovar over his console into Prosak, who was at that moment flying into Arroyo. All three officers smashed into the front viewscreen, then slid to the deck as the ship righted itself.
“Ow…“Arroyo gasped weakly.
“This…is why…you don’t line everyone up in a row,” Tovar said, forcing himself to his feat and crawling back to his station. The bridge was bathed in strobing red lights as smoke slowly billowed out of the ceiling and engineering console.
“Shields down,” Tovar said once he arrived at his console. “We’re being held by tractor beams from all four ships.”
Down in Science Lab Four, Bain peeled himself off the back wall and disentangled himself from the easel he’d slammed into during the ship’s convulsions. On the other side of the room, Kasyov slowly pulled herself up from behind Cabral and stumbled over to the science console where Uuulaadoodee and Ooobuudaa were shaking their heads trying to clear them after having been slammed violently against the console.
“There is no need for this to continue,” Uuulaadoodee said, tapping away at his scanning device.
“Damn right,” Kasyov replied. “Now get the hell out of here!”
“Of course. There is no reason for us to stay,” Uuulaadoodee said. After typing in one final sequence, Uuulaadoodee and Ooobuudaa vanished in what almost looked like a cylinder of static.
“And don’t come back!” Kasyov shouted at the empty air.
“Um…er…,” Bain said.
“What is it?” Kasyov demanded.
Bain pointed behind Kasyov at Cabral. “Er…”
Kasyov whirled around to discover what had Bain speechless.
Cabral was gone. All that remained was the housing his sphere used to rest in.
Suddenly, the lights in the room went out. Moments later, emergency lighting clicked in. The science console was completely dark.
“What the devil?” Bain said.
Down in engineering, Marsden ran around frantically from the status board to the anti-sing core to the individual control stations as system after system went down across the ship.
“Propulsion is out,” Ensign Rellsio shouted.
“Compression phasers are going too,” Lieutenant Polnuc called.
“What do we have?” Marsden demanded.
“Comm systems. Partial life support. That’s about it,” Rellsio said.
“Marsden to Bain.”
“Bain here,” the captain’s voice replied. He sounded like he was light years away. The comm system was working but not well.
“What the hell just happened?”
“I haven’t the foggiest. Wait…hold on…” Marsden could hear Kasyov’s voice in the background. “What do you mean he’d integrated himself into the systems?” Bain shouted suddenly. “Bit of a problem, Marsie,” Bain said more calmly. “Seems that Cabral had integrated himself more thoroughly than we realized.”
“No kidding,” Marsden said.
“What’s that mean?”
“…Cabral’s gone, and everything’s shot,” Arroyo reported. His console was the only one that was functioning at all, and even that was intermittent.
“Perhaps running and blasting wasn’t the most logical plan,” Prosak said thoughtfully.
“I did not hear any better suggestions,” Tovar replied.
Suddenly, the comm system erupted to life all over the ship.
“Thank you for your compliance with our customs regulations,” Uuulaadoodee’s voice said. “On behalf of the Associates, I welcome you and hope you enjoy your stay in the Andromeda Galaxy.”
“A stay which has now become permanent,” Tovar muttered. Prosak tried not to let such a negative thought overwhelm her, but Tovar had a point. Without Cabral, there was no anti-sing, and without anti-sing, there was no way home.
Outside, the four Associates ships disengaged their tractor beams, leaving the Anomaly helpless and adrift.
END OF SERIES ONE