Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“Welcome to the Party”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
In many ways, Kristen Larkin was the ideal Starfleet admiral. She’d had a long career (and it was loooong. Well over a century at this point.) and had served on several different ships with all kinds of crews, some of which were more interesting than others. As an android, she maintained perfect recall of every experience that she had ever had, and she could process new information at a rate that was still impressive even so many years after her initial construction.
With all of that going for her, someone looking in from the outside would find it odd that Larkin wasn’t the Fleet Admiral by now, but it was not a path that she wanted to go down. She preferred to stay more directly involved in the day-to-day operations of certain aspects of Starfleet and really did not relish spending all of her time in meetings. When you had a brain capable of the speeds and feats hers was, sitting in a meeting really did feel like an eternity.
Instead, she looked for the interesting assignments, ships, and crews. It was likely a holdover from the early years of her own career, but she felt it was important that those ships and officers that didn’t fit neatly into Starfleet’s usual boxes have an advocate watching over them at Starfleet Headquarters.
On the surface, Captain Reginald Bain wouldn’t seem to be one of those people. He’d had a long, decorated career. He was a war hero several times over. And he commanded Starfleet’s one and only emergency response ship, the USS Anomaly, a ship with the only working anti-singularity drive in the known galaxy. Larkin wouldn’t send the Anomaly on any First Contact missions (Well, there was the one to the Andromeda Galaxy, but that had ended up being a disaster in many different ways.), but it and Bain were just the thing to get somewhere fast and deal with an emergency situation.
The problem was that even without a war to fight, Bain still tended to end things with explosions. The Dillion Consortium was still furious about the fleet he’d decimated near Multek space.
And now there was Planet B-2-47361, or as it had turned out to be, the Pliggeri homeworld. Starfleet had been searching for the Pliggeri for years, but almost as soon as they sent the Anomaly and confirmed that they’d found the Pliggeri homeworld, it was gone. Destroyed by the Pliggeri’s own defense systems. Granted, it was deserted, but the technology alone would have been incredibly valuable to Starfleet’s attempts to replicate the Anomaly’s engine.
Some others in Starfleet Command wanted to blame Reginald Bain, but from the reports that she had read, Larkin knew that it wasn’t his fault. Still, a lot of people inside Starfleet were not happy.
And based on the incoming comm that her attaché had just informed her about, Larkin was certain some other interested parties were not happy either. She stopped working on status reports (Admittedly, to someone on the outside, it would appear that she was just sitting at her desk unmoving, but internally reports were being done along with multiple other tasks. Since she had a computer for a brain, it seemed silly to use the computer on her desk for a lot of her tasks. Why do that when she could just transmit directly from her brain into the Starfleet systems?) to answer the comm.
“Admiral Larkin,” the image of Romulan Ambassador Rorshak said with a slight nod of his head by way of greeting.
“Ambassador. How nice to see you,” Larkin replied. “It has been quite a while.”
“I do enjoy our chats. I only wish this one were under better circumstances. As you can imagine, my government was most dismayed to read of the events at the Pliggeri homeworld.”
“I cannot say that we are happy with the outcome either.”
“Which is why we would like to meet.”
“May I ask who ‘we’ is in this instance?”
“Certain representatives of the Romulan Star Empire. We would ask that you attend along with any of your colleagues who would be relevant. And, of course, Captain Bain and Commander Vioxx.”
Larkin did not like the sound of that, but this was neither the time nor the place to voice her concerns. Instead, she went for the diplomatic response. “Considering all that we have been able to accomplish together with the Anomaly project, I think a meeting to discuss things and plan for the future would be wonderful.”
“Excellent,” Rorshak said. “We will be in touch soon to determine the time and place.”
Rorshak didn’t end the comm right then. If Larkin had to guess, she would say that he was debating whether or not to ask her something.
“Admiral,” he said finally.
“After that, I know it’s hardly the time to ask a favor, but…I’d like to ask a favor.”
“I will help if I can…in the spirit of cooperation,” Larkin replied.
“Of course. My daughter has requested a leave of absence from her duties on the Anomaly.”
“I am aware.”
“She has chosen to remain on board, but I was hoping you could see to it that Captain Bain doesn’t attempt to push her back on duty until she is ready. But also that she isn’t left to just wallow in her own misery.”
“So do not push her and do not leave her alone.”
“You understand completely,” Rorshak said.
“I will take care of it.”
“Thank you, Admiral. I will see you soon.”
“I look forward to it.”
With another slight nod, Rorshak closed the channel, leaving Larkin with the task of informing Reginald Bain that he was being summoned to a meeting. If there was one person who disliked meetings more than she did, it was Reginald Bain. But he was probably enjoying his current assignment even less.
“This is intolerable,” Captain Reginald Bain said, rubbing his temples as he sat in the Anomaly’s command chair.
“Yes,” Sub-Lieutenant Zantak replied simply from the helm. She didn’t say much under normal circumstances, but as it was, she was struggling to keep the USS Anomaly out of the paths of any of the hundreds of other ships swarming around the perimeter of the Deneria Ship Yards.
“By Jenichai, YOU WILL YIELD!” Centurion Nortal shouted at tac-ops. The bridge crew was not the target of her fury. Instead, it was one of the many ships out there. Perhaps all of them. Bain didn’t rightly know or care at the moment.
If Starfleet saw fit to put the Anomaly (along with several other starships) on glorified traffic cop duty for this ridiculous event, Bain would follow orders, and he was making damn sure that the swarms of onlookers and press ships out there knew that the Anomaly meant business. To that end, he’d assigned Nortal to handle communications. Tovar was a top-notch security officer and a sure hand at the weapons console, but he’d lost the ability to scare the holy hell out of others with his voice alone when his interloping past life was removed, taking that J’Ter fellow with it.
The one problem with putting Nortal at tac-ops in this situation was the monumental amount of restraint she needed in order to not start blasting each and every ship out there into pieces. Said restraint was currently being provided by Commander Vioxx, who was standing next to Nortal. Every time her hand moved toward the phaser or neutron torpedo controls…
“But they have invaded our personal zone!’
“If you were not my commanding officer…”
“The spacedock doors are opening,” Doctor Natalia Kasyov reported from the bridge science console.
“About bloody time,” Bain said. “They were supposed to start this dog and pony show half an hour ago. Alright, Dax, get on with it. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.”
The fuss, as it were, was the unveiling of the refitted USS Enterprise-J, still under the command of Captain Barnum Dax. With it being the flagship and all, the reveal was being trumpeted by Starfleet as quite the event, and it seemed like every news outlet in the Federation had bought into the hype and sent a ship to cover it, which, along with the civilian ships that had shown up to oooh and ahhh at Dax’s new and improved ship (Well, not new, but supposedly improved.), had created the traffic nightmare the Anomaly was now contending with.
This crowd was also why the event was being held out at Deneria rather than over Mars at Utopia Planitia. No one was thrilled with the idea of having this kind of chaos buzzing around the Sol System.
But for a moment, the chaos at Deneria had been stilled. All of the ships were focused on the massive vessel emerging from the spacedock doors.
“Have I gone crackers, or does it look exactly the same?” Bain asked.
“The nacelles are new, I think,” Kasyov said.
“Oh yeah. Longer?”
“Maybe. And pointier. Is that a word?”
“Good enough for me, Doctor,” Bain said.
“Captain, our superiors hail!” Nortal exclaimed.
“Anything to cut off this nonsense. On screen, if you please, Centurion.”
“Her visage appears!”
True to Nortal’s word, the image of Admiral Larkin replaced that of the Enterprise-J on the Anomaly’s bridge viewscreen.
“Krissers! What’s the good word?” Bain said happily, leaping up out of his seat.
“Hello, Reginald. I’m sorry to interrupt the unveiling,” Larkin replied.
“Not at all. The show was mostly over anyway. What can we do for you?”
“The Romulan government has requested a conference to discuss recent events.”
Bain’s smiled disappeared. “Ah. I thought they might want to have a chat about that.”
“You did manage to destroy an entire planet less than an hour after your arrival. That is a record, even for you.”
“In all fairness…”
“I know you were not to blame. Still, in the interest of our alliance, you and the Anomaly will report to Alkor Six in three days.”
“We could be there in a couple of hours.”
“Yes, but the rest of us cannot, and we need to make sure all interested parties are accounted for. Three days. You and Commander Vioxx are required to attend the conference. I will leave other attendees from the Anomaly to your discretion. Let me know if anything changes.”
“One more thing. Check in on Prosak. Her father is worried about her. Larkin out.”
The admiral closed the channel, switching the viewscreen back to showing the space outside the Anomaly, which was rapidly clearing out as vessels got their look at the Enterprise-J then headed back to where they came from.
“Another communication arrives!” Nortal said. “Captain Barnum Dax requests an audience!”
“Of course he does,” Bain muttered. Dax would certainly be full of himself after all of this pomp and circumstance for a couple of new nacelles, but Bain wasn’t going to hide from the man. “Put him on.”
Once again, the image on the viewscreen shifted, this time to show the two-story high bridge of the Enterprise-J and standing in front of its command chair, its Trill commanding officer, Captain Barnum Dax, who was grinning broadly. “Reginald! So what did you think of my new beauty?”
“I’m sorry, Barnum, old boy, but Starfleet Command commed just as they were opening the barn doors. I’m sure it was quite the spectacle, but we couldn’t keep the Admiral waiting, now could we?”
Dax’s face darkened considerably. “No. No, you couldn’t.”
“Sorry to dash, but we have a mission, and I’m sure you have several days to weeks of warp field alignments to get to with those new nacelles. See you out there, Barnum. Anomaly out.”
Nortal smacked the channel closed with the palm of her hand as Bain settled back into his command chair.
“You just lied to a Starfleet captain…a lot,” Kasyov said.
“I’m a captain too, so no harm, no foul,” Bain replied. “And it’s good for him. Got to keep that ego in check somehow, or his head is likely to fill up even a bridge as large as his. Two decks. Bloody waste of space.”
Bain pulled himself out of his grumbling about the Enterprise-J. “Zantak, get us on a heading in the general direction of Alkor Six. Seems we’ve got some time to kill, but I’ll be damned if I’m spending it here. Engage.”
Zantak entered the coordinates and sent the Anomaly into warp, speeding them quickly away from the Enterprise-J and its shiny new nacelles.
In her short time serving as CEO of the Dillion Consortium, Tori Burke had come to one inescapable conclusion: most of this job was really boring. Yes, the rush of power from being in control of a massive galactic corporate conglomerate had been great, but now most of her days were filled with meetings, briefings, conference comms, other comms, and many many many reports and other bits of paperwork to read and approve.
But as it was, only part of her felt that way. The rest knew the importance of what she was doing, acted in the best interests of the Consortium, and kept the dozens of bickering vice presidents of this and that in line. It all kept her busy.
What really kept her going, though, was the special project. Everything inside her was determined that Reginald Bain would be brought low for humiliating the Consortium on multiple occasions.
All that they needed was an opportunity.
Burke’s office door chime sounded. She looked up from the latest earnings statements from the cruise line arm of the Consortium and called out, “Come in.”
Her android assistant, Gregory, stepped inside. “I know you are busy, ma’am, but we have received word that the Anomaly has been summoned to Alkor Six for a meeting with Starfleet and Romulan officials.”
“Isn’t that interesting?”
“I knew you would think so.”
The reports could wait. An opportunity had presented itself, and there were arrangements to make.
Two days into the Anomaly’s slow voyage to Alkor Six (Well, relatively slow compared to the anti-singularity drive. The ship was still moving along at a pace several times the speed of light.), Captain Bain approached the doors of Commander Prosak’s quarters. If he was honest with himself, which he always tried to be, he bore a certain amount of responsibility for Prosak’s current state. Perhaps he shouldn’t have let that Vulcan, Snotch, on board.
Now Snotch was gone, but he had apparently crushed Prosak in the process. She had not been seen outside of her quarters in days. He’d had Tovar check the internal sensors to make sure that she was alive and moving, which she was, but she’d been on something of a loop between her bed and the couch in her living area…or sometimes the floor.
He pressed the door chime.
At first there was no response, but finally Prosak’s voice said, “I am not receiving visitors at this time.”
If she was going for emotionless Vulcan, Bain thought that she’d taken it a bit too far even for them.
“Prosak, it’s Captain Bain. I just wanted to check in to see how your…reconsidering was going.” That is what Prosak had said that she would be doing, reconsidering her life choices, which Bain thought would mean going more Romulan and less Vulcan, despite her current tone.
“Fine. Good. I’m reaching new depths, and I cannot be disturbed at this critical time.”
“Right. Good. I’m glad it’s going so well. Do let me know if I can be of assistance, or if you just want to talk about your discoveries.”
“Thank you, Captain. I am fine.”
Bain thought about pressing the issue. At least getting her to open the door, but then…
“Tovar to Bain.”
“Keep at it, Prosak. I’m around if you need me.” He started off down the corridor. “Go ahead, Tovar.”
“Message from Starfleet. The meeting location has been moved to Nelephron.”
“Nelephron it is then. Comm Admiral Larkin and let her know that we have received and acknowledged the change of venue to Nelephron.”
“Aye, sir. Bridge out.”
Bain continued down the corridor, still feeling unsettled about his conversation with Prosak. He soon spotted Commander Vioxx approaching from the opposite direction and realized that the Romulan officer might be just the person to help Prosak with her searching.
“Vioxx! Your timing couldn’t be better. I have a favor to ask.”
Vioxx, who had been expecting just a greeting from the captain as they passed each other, stopped abruptly. A favor? Bain never asked for favors, especially not from him. What could he possibly want?
“Look in on Prosak, would you?” Bain continued.
Oh…that. “Me, sir?” Vioxx asked, trying to come up with some reason that he couldn’t do the favor that wouldn’t upset the captain.
“I thought she’d be out of her funk by now, but obviously I was wrong. Maybe it’s a Romulan thing.”
“It’s not,” Vioxx said.
“Even so. A fellow Romulan might be able to help her get through this. I know we’ve got this conference coming up, but please try to see her before we get there.”
Vioxx’s mind was blank. No good excuses were forthcoming, so he said the only thing he could think of. “You have my word.”
“Good man,” Bain said, clapping him on the shoulder before continuing on his way. “I knew I could count on you.”
That was that then. Vioxx was obligated. But Bain didn’t say anything about checking in on Prosak right now. She could wait until later.
If you were looking to hold a clandestine meeting, you could do a lot worse than Nelephron. As far as Federation worlds went, it was a minor one (Not that the Federation ranks its members that way. All members are equal in the eyes of the Federation. Really. We mean it.), not really in the middle of anything but not especially isolated either. The Nelephronites had gone through the usual struggles of a growing civilization before reaching out beyond their world, first by mining a relatively nearby asteroid field (nearby once they achieved warp drive), and then eventually encountering other spacefaring species, most of whom were already members of the United Federation of Planets.
Nelephron quickly joined up as well and settled into a fairly non-exceptional existence. But that’s what made it so ideal for the aforementioned clandestine meeting. As a Federation member, the presence of a Starfleet vessel wasn’t unusual or worthy of mention, and it was far enough away from Romulan space that no one would be bothering to scan for cloaked vessels.
As it was, the Anomaly received the equivalent of a quick, “Hey. How you doin’?” when it slid into orbit, but that was pretty much the end of it.
“Right!” Bain said, getting up from his command chair. “Let’s go get this over with, Vioxx. You have the conn, Tovar. Keep a close eye on things. Please have Marsie and Nortal join us.”
“Aye, sir,” Tovar said, moving from tac-ops down to the command chair as Bain and Vioxx headed toward the turbolift.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Bain said once they were inside, “how are things with Prosak?”
Vioxx inwardly winced. He didn’t mean to put that off quite this long, but, on the bright side, this gave him a new solution to the issue.
“Excuse me one second,” he said, ducking back out of the turbolift before the doors closed. He rushed over to Sub-Commander Remax.
“The captain has a job for you. Check in on Prosak,” Vioxx said.
“Let me guess. That was your job,” Remax said.
“And now it’s yours. I’m delegating, so you can take care of Prosak…and not in the killing way!”
“You’re not serious.”
“Captain’s orders,” Vioxx replied with a grin before dashing back to the turbolift.
“All sorted now?” Bain asked.
“Yes. All set. And Prosak is being handled.”
“Glad to hear it,” Bain said as the turbolift began its descent.
Back on the bridge, Remax tried to focus on the sensors, but there was absolutely nothing of interest to see. Instead, he just felt growing irritation at the babysitting job Vioxx had dumped on him. He was not going to let this infringe on things he’d rather be doing, so he was getting it out of the way NOW.
He turned to Tovar. “Since we’re all just sitting here, can I go take care of something? It won’t take long,”
“Very well,” Tovar replied. “But we may need you.”
“I’ll hurry,” Remax said, heading toward the turbolift just as Lieutenant Bre’zan Brazzell emerged to take over tac-ops for Tovar.
The Mezzakkan security officer began his usual start-of-shift ritual of cleaning and disinfecting the tac-ops console. “The Captain’s team has beamed down,” he said distractedly as he focused on a particularly annoying smudge.
“Acknowledged,” Tovar said. Now there was nothing to do but wait…and hope that Brazzell didn’t overdo it with the cleaning products. Those fumes were not for the weak.
Remax stalked down the corridor towards Prosak’s quarters growing more and more incensed. He was a Romulan and understood the chain of command, so he would follow orders. But, since he was a Romulan, he was also looking for a loophole in Vioxx’s demand. He couldn’t kill Prosak, not that he wanted to at this point anyway. Selex had tried, failed, and run off to be a prisoner of the Breen, which seemed like an overreaction under the circumstances. Remax just needed to find a way to take care of her that didn’t involve actually listening to her whine and moan about whatever had led to her lock herself up in her quarters…or talk to her at all really. He had better things to do. He…
Was that someone whistling?
A moment later, Doctor Fred Nooney rounded the corner in front of him, whistling away happily. “Why, hello there Remax!” the doctor said brightly upon spotting the Romulan.
“Doctor,” Remax said simply. He already had Prosak to deal with and absolutely no interest in the prattling of the Anomaly’s Chief Medical Officer.
“You’re looking awfully grim today,” Nooney said. “Is something wrong? Want a lollipop?”
Remax stifled a growl. “No, I don’t want a…” Inspiration struck. Remax abruptly stopped himself and flashed a smile at Nooney. “I’m sorry, Doctor. I’ve just had a bit on my mind. I’m so very worried about Commander Prosak.”
“She has been in a mood, hasn’t she? At least that’s what I heard. Broken heart?”
“She needs a friend right now.”
“And you’re going to visit her. That’s wonderful of you, Remax.”
“Would that I could, but I am completely swamped with…all the science I need to do. Also, I…I just don’t think I’m the man for the job. She needs someone closer to her age who can understand what she’s going through. She needs someone who can remind her of the joy of life. She needs…”
“She needs ME!” Nooney exclaimed.
“You? Hmmm…there’s an interesting idea. I think you might be onto something, Doctor.”
“Yes, I am! Stand back, Remax. I’m about to make a house call!” Nooney waggled his eyebrows at Remax, which the Romulan found extremely unsettling for some reason, and then charged off in the direction of Prosak’s quarters.
There, Remax thought. Prosak was taken care of. And who better to take care of her than the ship’s caregiver himself? Let Vioxx try and argue with him about that.
There was no response to the door chime, not that Dr. Nooney really expected there to be. Poor Prosak was wallowing in her own sadness right now and probably believed that she didn’t want to see another person as long as she lived. That wasn’t the answer though. She needed to be with people. She needed companionship. Whether she believed it or not, she needed Nooney.
“Prosak!” he called sweetly through the doors. “Open up please. It’s Doctor Fred!”
“I’m here to listen. No judgments. Only love! Please let me in.”
“Okay, Prosak. I won’t push anymore. Have it your way!” he practically sang. Then, much more softly. “Computer, open these doors. Emergency medical override. Authorization Nooney Unicorn Seven.”
As instructed, the doors to Prosak’s quarters whooshed open, revealing darkness within. He could just make out the silhouette of Prosak seated in the middle of the floor.
“Lights. Dim,” Nooney ordered, rushing in and kneeling beside the Romulan woman. Her hair was a matted, tangled mess, and she was draped in a black Vulcan robe. Neither her or it smelled like they’d been washed in a very long time. Scattered around her were various plates, silverware, and food remnants, so at least she was eating.
Prosak stared blankly at Nooney, her eyes puffy. “I want to be alone,” she croaked, trying to get her long-unused voice to function again.
“You need to have company,” Nooney said. He gently took her arm and helped her up, leading her to the sofa. “Now tell Doctor Fred all about it. It was that mean old Vulcan, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, honey, I know it hurts now. We’ve all suffered through the end of relationships. I’m sure you thought he was wonderful, but you were only together for such a short time. As bad as this breakup feels, it will be better soon. You’ll find someone else. Someone better.”
“It’s not that,” Prosak said, tears welling in her eyes.
“It’s not the breakup?” Nooney asked confused.
Prosak shook her head. “He…he said I was too emotional! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
Nooney gasped and grabbed her into a big hug as Prosak dissolved into sobs. “OH, HONEY!”
“This is where they picked for the meeting?” Vioxx asked in disbelief as he, Captain Bain, Nortal, and Lieutenant Shelly Marsden stood outside of the structure at the beam down coordinates they were provided. It was a restaurant, and not a very nice one by the look of it.
“It’s certainly not where anyone would be expecting us to be,” Bain said, striding inside, followed by the rest of the group.
The restaurant in question, Days of Fryer Past, had been opened many years earlier in an attempt to attract an off-world clientele, specifically humans. The restaurant’s owners had purchased a pre-World War III Earth culinary structure and had it transported to their new establishment. Said structure, a battered contraption with wheels that appeared to be designed to be towed behind some other kind of conveyance, was on display in a transparent aluminum case in the center of the dining room with a sign explaining that it once roamed the landscape of Planet Earth moving from town to town to serve funnels cakes, corn dogs, and the like at an event known as a carnival.
They were greeted by a Nelephronite at the host podium almost as soon as they entered. “Ah, you must be here for the private party. You’re the first to arrive. Please take a seat.” He gestured to a long table that had been laid out to one side of the case containing the carnival food wagon with seating for twelve. Other tables were placed around the restaurant with booths along the walls.
“Capital,” Bain said. “Make yourselves comfortable everyone. Can we get some menus?”
“You’re going to eat?” Vioxx asked surprised.
“Why not? We’re in a restaurant, after all? Might as well enjoy it.”
“I demand to dine!” Nortal said, dropping down into a chair. Bain sat down next to her, while across the table, Vioxx and Marsden took their seats.
“Well…this is different,” Marsden said.
“Always be ready for anything, Marsie,” Bain said. “Whether it be a surprise meal or a fire fight.”
“Let’s stick with the former.”
“We shall see.”
Dr. Nooney had lost track of time.
And his pants were soaked.
He really thought that Prosak would stop sobbing at some point, but so far the RommaVulc seemed perfectly content to remain curled up, her head in his lap, as the tears flowed freely.
The crying continued unabated.
Nothing. He didn’t need her to go back to being Vulcan, but a little emotional control might be nice right now.
“Okay, honey,” Nooney said, grabbing her by the shoulders and pulling her upright again. “We need to talk about this now.”
“What…is there…to talk about?” Prosak sniffed, her face shining with a lovely mix of snot and tears.
“You, of course!” Nooney said. “Who cares about that stuck-up Snotch? He doesn’t know anything! You’re a wonderful person!”
“But…am I a wonderful Vulcan?”
“You can be a wonderful whatever you want to be! This is your life, sweetums.”
“You have to grab it!” Nooney pressed on. “Only YOU know what YOU can be, and YOU can be what YOU want when YOU decide what that is.”
“I wanted to be a Vulcan.”
“Then be a Vulcan.”
“I do not know anymore. Maybe Snotch was right. And…”
“And what, dear?”
“This is difficult to admit.”
“I’m here for you, Prosak. There’s no judgment.”
“That cry…kind of felt good.”
“There is no shame in that cry. It was a good cry,” Nooney said.
“But I cannot just stop being a RommaVulc, can I? I have been that for so many years. I do not know if I can start over.”
“You can always start over. No matter what.”
“No! No buts!” Nooney said. He suddenly knew exactly what he needed to tell her. No wait! Showing her would be so much better! He didn’t have time to actually take her off the ship, but…”
“Come with me!” Nooney exclaimed, leaping up off of the sofa and then grabbing Prosak’s arms and pulling her up.
“Where are we going? I am a mess! I cannot go…”
“You can and you will! Let’s GO!”
Nooney led Prosak through the corridors of the Anomaly, where Prosak’s unkempt state and the massive wet spot covering Nooney’s front drew more than a few stares from the ship’s crew. Finally they arrived at their destination.
“The holodeck?” Prosak asked as Nooney, giggling wildly, quickly typed commands into the holodeck control panel.
“Yep!” he said.
“And I couldn’t use my holopod?”
“I wanted us to experience this together. And…there! It’s ready.”
Nooney took Prosak’s hand and stepped toward the holodeck doors, which opened revealing…
…the deck of a ship.
But not just any ship. This was outdoors somewhere and appeared to be floating on actual water.
“Welcome to Pacifica!” Nooney said happily.
“We’re on a cruise ship?”
“Yes. Complete nostalgia trip. The company that runs it wanted a throw-back to the days when people sailed on the water.”
Prosak looked around confused. “It is pretty, but I do not see how spending time on a cruise ship will help me.”
“I didn’t bring you here for the ship,” Nooney said, pointing down the deck as a figure strode their way. It was tall and carrying some kind of staff, which was about all Prosak could tell at first.
Then details became clearer. Long hair. Female form. And head ridges.
And not just any Klingon. Prosak knew this one. They had butted heads before, and, as you would expect when your opponent has bony ridges, Prosak had not emerged unscathed.
The Klingon woman reached Nooney and Prosak and tapped her staff, which was actually a shuffleboard stick, against the deck. “Welcome aboard the Wave of Relaxation.” She bared her teeth in what was possibly supposed to be a smile. Or maybe a threat. “Prosak.”
“Chynok,” Prosak replied darkly.
“Isn’t this fun!” Nooney exclaimed, clapping his hands.
Thus far, Tovar’s time in the center seat had involved little more than watching and waiting as the ship orbited Nelephron. He didn’t mind, especially, since he hadn’t spent as much time in command as Vioxx or Prosak. Still, he knew enough about how these things worked that he didn’t expect it to stay this way for long.
“Sir, we’re receiving a distress call,” Brazzell reported.
And there it was.
“Location?” he asked.
“The asteroid field approximately a light year from here. It’s a small mining scout. They’ve lost engines and main power after a stray rock strike. Auxiliary power is failing, too. I have no word on any internal cleaning bots or their status.”
“We will do our best without that bit of information,” Tovar said. “What about the Nelephronites?”
“I’m in communication with them now. They are asking if we can handle it, since we’re here and they’d have to get a ship manned and underway.”
“Why am I not surprised? Tovar to Bain.”
“Go ahead,” his adopted father’s voice replied.
“We have been asked to respond to a distress call. It’s a short distance away, but we will be gone for a little while.”
“Understood. Go lend a hand, if it’s needed, and be careful.”
“We will return as soon as we can. Tovar out.”
After his conversation with Tovar ended, Bain went back to perusing the menu as the waiter brought them all glasses of water. “They weren’t kidding about the name of this place, were they? How do you deep fry a BLT?”
“I’m glad Tovar didn’t come along,” Marsden said. “Toflay would be screaming.”
“Because of the frying or because he didn’t think of it first?” Bain asked with a smirk.
“You dare besmirch the name of my beloved!” Nortal cried, going for the knife at her place setting.
“Relax, Centurion,” Bain said. “No one is insulting Toflay.”
“And I’m not letting you near Tovar anyway,” Marsden added.
“That’s not helping,” Vioxx said as Nortal seethed.
“Enough arguing,” Bain said. “We’re here to enjoy what was apparently the food of my ancestors. Pick something out. At this rate we might even get to eat before the others arrive.”
“No such luck, I’m afraid,” a female voice called. The group at the table turned to see a woman in a tailored blue business suit striding over from the entrance. Two men, also in business suits but looking more like solid walls of muscle, took positions behind her blocking the door. Two more exited the kitchen and stood guard there.
“We are ambushed! Flee! I will end them all!” Nortal shouted, grabbing utensils in both hands.
Bain put a hand on her shoulder to stop her from launching her assault. “I’ll handle this one, Centurion.” He stood up to face Tori Burke, CEO of the Dillon Consortium. “I know what you think is going to happen here, but…”
“Relax, Captain,” Burke said, cutting him off. “I just came by to say hello to my new employee.” She gestured at Marsden.
“You’re nuts if you think I’m ever going to work for you,” Marsden said.
“We have ways of changing your mind, Ms. Marsden,” Burke said as she sat down at the end of the table near to Nortal and Marsden to join the group. “And if you don’t, it hardly matters, because by the time I’m finishing dessert, the Anomaly will be mine.”
Ensign Yonk steered the Anomaly gracefully between two more asteroids as the ship headed deeper and deeper into the field.
“There’s a less dense area up ahead,” Remax said, watching his sensor readings. “The signal is coming from there.”
As promised, once Yonk moved them past another massive rock, they entered a bit of an open area, surrounded on all sides by asteroids. They’d also been promised a ship in distress, but that was not readily apparent.
“Did they blow up already?” Yonk asked confused.
“I doubt it,” Tovar replied getting up from the command chair and peering closely at the viewscreen. Something was off. “Are we vibrating?” he asked.
“Of course we are,” Remax said. “The engines always cause a slight vibration.”
“No. This is more…”
The Anomaly shuddered suddenly, sending Tovar toppling to the deck.
“What was that?” Tovar snapped, climbing back to his feet. “Did one of those rocks hit us?”
“Negative,” Brazzell reported from Tac-Ops. “No contacts are within 100 kilometers of us. Ship’s systems are nominal.”
The bridge rumbled again, almost sending Tovar and the others back to the floor.
“The ship disagrees,” Tovar said. “Get Engineering to confirm.”
“Kasyov to Bridge!” the Science Officer’s voice shouted over the comm as the ship rocked again.
“This isn’t a good time, Doctor!” Tovar replied. “And yes, we know that there’s something wrong with the ship!”
“It’s not the ship!” Kasyov shouted back. “It’s Cabral.”
“What do you mean it’s Cabral?”
“Something’s wrong with him!”
The ship shuddered again as the lights flickered. “I can see that! Can you be a bit less vague?”
“Sir!” Brazzell exclaimed from tactical. “Five ships just entered sensor range heading directly toward us.”
“This is starting to feel a lot like a trap,” Sub-Commander Remax said from the science station.
“I am forced to agree,” Tovar said darkly. “Doctor Kasyov, can Cabral hold it together long enough to…”
Cabral’s agonized wail seemed to emanate from the very walls of the Anomaly themselves. The bridge suddenly was thrown into pitch blackness as every single system went out at once. With the ship’s artificial gravity now offline along with everything else, Tovar felt himself rising up off the deck.
“I’d take that as a no,” Remax said, floating somewhere nearby in dark.
Tori Burke seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. “Could somebody get me a menu?” she asked.
“I don’t know what you think you’re planning,” Bain said, “but I assure you that even without Vioxx, Marsden, and me aboard, the USS Anomaly and her crew are not to be trifled with.”
Burke chuckled. “I’m sure your boy Tovar is quite skilled, but we took precautions. They will all be taken care of soon enough.”
“You mean killed,” Marsden said.
“What happened to you?” Vioxx asked. “We rescued you. You could have been trapped in that stasis tube for eternity…or at least until the power ran out. And now you’re talking about attacking our ship!”
“I am doing far more than talking about it, I assure you,” Burke said as one of the restaurant’s waiters nervously brought over a menu. Burke looked it over for a moment. “Is everything here fried?”
“Did you even look at the name of the place before you walked in?” Lieutenant Marsden said.
Burke checked the front of the menu again. “Days of Fryer Past. Huh. I guess it is all fried. I really should have done a bit more micromanaging of the arrangements. Well then…” She began perusing the menu.
“You don’t seriously believe that Starfleet is just going to let you take the Anomaly and Marsden, do you?” Bain said.
“Of course not. They’ll find some convincing debris in the asteroid field. As for the good Lieutenant, she will be helping us reverse engineer the Anomaly’s anti-singularity drive as well as all of the rest of the items that we bring back from Pliggeri. As we speak, an entire Consortium Acquisition Group is on its way to the planet. Just imagine the wonders we will bring to market!”
Instead of imagining, the others at the table all started laughing.
“I don’t know what this is supposed to accomplish, Bain!” Burke said angrily. “But we…I…I know the Federation found the Pliggeri homeworld. You were there!”
“We were,” Bain said. “And now it’s not.”
“Not what?” Burke demanded.
“There!” Bain said, before erupting into gales of laughter again.
Burke looked to Vioxx, who abruptly stopped laughing. “What is he talking about?” she demanded.
“The planet is gone,” Vioxx said. “Destroyed by its own defense system…which then destroyed itself. There’s nothing left.”
“You could be lying. They’re lying, right? You think they’re lying,” Burke muttered.
“Are you asking me?” Vioxx said.
“No!” she snapped. “Shut up! I’m about to have the Anomaly anyway, so…it’s fine. It’s all fine.” Burke calmed herself down and looked back at her menu. “Why the hell would you deep fry lettuce?”
When you spend so much time cocooned inside the technological marvel that is a starship, it’s easy to forget that the vastness you are traveling through is really unwelcoming. It’s cold. It’s dark. And there’s a distinct lack of gravity.
The USS Anomaly’s emergency lighting had flared to life a few moments ago, taking care of the darkness issue, and the ship was insulated well enough that the cold wouldn’t be killing them anytime soon. That lack of gravity, though, was still a problem.
“Anything?” Lieutenant Commander Tovar asked, attempting to propel himself over to the science station where Sub-Commander Remax was struggling to remain in a seated position. It wasn’t working. And neither was his console.
“It’s completely dead,” Remax said.
“What happened?” Tovar asked. Elsewhere on the bridge, Yonk and Brazzell were struggling to remain at their stations. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that they were both floundering around in zero gravity. Tovar made a mental note to schedule zero G drills for the crew. It had obviously been far too long for all of them.
“Not a clue,” Remax said. “Everything was fine, Cabral screamed, and now this. As I said a little bit ago, though, I’m pretty certain that it’s a trap.”
“Considering those five ships we detected heading this way before we lost everything, I am inclined to agree with you. How long do we have, Brazzell?” Tovar asked.
“Assuming they will need to traverse the asteroid field as we did, approximately twenty minutes,” Brazzell said.
“Were you able to get an identification?”
“No. They weren’t close enough yet. I’ll try to float back over to my station.”
“It’s the Dillon Consortium,” Tovar said.
“How could possibly know that?” Remax asked.
“Who else would attack us in the middle of Federation space?”
Remax nodded as a faint voice broke into the conversation.
“Engineering to Lieutenant Commander Tovar. Can you hear me?” The male voice was soft, as though coming from a long distance away, and coming through his commpips directly.
“Yes, I can. Go ahead,” he said, after pinching the pip to open his side of the channel.
“Oh good. I wasn’t sure if this would work. I had to locate you with a quadcorder and then use it to focus the communication feed from my commpip directly to you. This is Lieutenant Lota in Engineering, by the way. Sorry. I should have started with that.”
“What’s your status?”
“Oh! Right. Well, we think we’re going to be okay, actually. We thought it was something external, but now we’re pretty sure it was Cabral. He’s tied into everything, so when he goes, so does everything else.”
“But he’s left the ship before, and everything didn’t shut down.”
“Yes, but he was able to implement the Cabraltocol in that instance.”
“Cabral Protocol. We just call it the Cabraltocol for short…and because it’s fun to say. Anyway, it’s something we came up with after he got kidnapped when we were in Andromeda to remove him smoothly from the ship’s systems. I don’t what happened this time, though. We’ve never seen a surge from him like this. Is he okay?”
“We don’t know, but the sooner we get power back, the sooner we can find out. Can you implement the…Cabraltocol from your side?”
“Working on it now, sir.”
“Just go slowly with the gravity!” Tovar said. “We have a lot of people floating over not-soft things.”
“Aye, sir. Activating now…slowly,” Lota said.
As promised, lights and consoles around the bridge came back to life as Tovar and the others gently descended to the deck.
“Yonk, get us out of this asteroid field fast as you can,” Tovar ordered the Ferengi conn officer, who was scrambling back into his chair. “We need to be clear before those ships get here.”
“Yes, sir,” Yonk replied.
“Remax, scan anything and everything. Something in this asteroid field has to be affecting Cabral. Tovar to Dr. Kasyov. I…”
“WHAT IS GOING ON UP THERE?” Kasyov’s voice shouted back. “Cabral is in agony!”
“My theory is that it’s this asteroid field. We are on our way out as we speak.”
“Good! Tell me when we’re clear. Kasyov out!”
Tovar sighed and returned to the command chair. The asteroids on the viewscreen weren’t moving quite as much as he would have expected. “Mr. Yonk, could we get moving?”
“I’d really like to, sir. Engines aren’t responding.”
“Bridge to Engineering,” Tovar said. “Are systems still coming online down there?”
“Everything should be up, Commander,” Ensign Lota replied. “But the impulse engines, warp drive, and bunch of other things are still offline, and we have no idea why!” Not surprisingly, Lota sounded a wee bit stressed.
“You have about fifteen minutes to figure it out, or it is not going to matter. Bridge out.” Tovar swore he could hear panicked screaming in the background just before the channel closed.
Tovar turned to Brazzell at the Tac-Ops console at the rear of the bridge. “Are weapons and shields in that ‘bunch of other things’ Lota mentioned?”
Brazzell checked his readouts. “We should be able to launch torpedoes.”
“I won’t know until we actually try it.”
“Of course not,” Tovar sighed.
“No no no no no NO NO!” Dr. Fred Nooney whined as he drifted in the darkness of the USS Anomaly’s holodeck. One moment he and Commander Prosak had been floating out to sea on a perfect recreation of the cruise ship Wave of Relaxation, and now they were doing an entirely different kind of floating. This one involved a complete lack of gravity. How was this even happening? Holodecks had their own power supplies to prevent this kind of thing! There were probably other reasons, but Nooney didn’t really care right then.
“I am guessing this was not part of your plans,” Prosak said.
It wasn’t. How was he going to help Prosak like this?
Then just as suddenly as the power had gone out, it came back. Fortunately, Engineering had had the sense not to just switch the gravity back on, though. He and Prosak drifted gently back down to the deck, at which point Nooney stalked over to the holodeck’s control arch.
“We’ll just see about this!” he said, typing commands quickly into the system. He was the Chief Medical Officer of this ship, and that meant that if he deemed something to be medically-necessary, it darn well happened! He used his authorization code to make sure nothing else would get in the way of running the holodeck program…unless the ship exploded, of course. But what were the odds of that happening? They were safe in Federation space!
“There,” he said. “No more interruptions. And now back to our voyage of personal discovery!”
The holodeck grid vanished, replaced once again by the deck of the Wave of Relaxation…and the looming Klingon woman standing before the pair. Despite the breeze, Chynok’s towering hair stood firm. Prosak wasn’t sure that there was enough hair spray in the quadrant to make it that solid. Maybe Chynok had stowed a structural integrity field somewhere in her beehive…or perhaps an actual beehive. Considering that Chynok had tried to kill her twice, Prosak wouldn’t put anything past her.
“Welcome to the Wave of Relaxation,” the Klingon said. “I am Chynok, Your Ambassador from the Planet of Fun and Relaxation. Is there anything I can do to make your voyage with us more enjoyable?”
Admittedly, Prosak had had a rough few days. The man she thought wanted a relationship with her had run off quite suddenly but took the time to insult her efforts to emulate Vulcans before he left. That had led to a rather illogical jag of crying, sobbing, wailing, and general neglect of personal hygiene. And now, under guise of helping, Dr. Nooney had dragged her into the holodeck to see Chynok, who appeared to be enjoying a pleasant existence living on what was basically a floating luxury hotel. Instead of getting executed or rotting in a Romulan prison as Prosak expected, Chynok’s life seemed…idyllic. There was no logic to this. It didn’t matter if she had been a RommaVulc or a purebred Vulcan. Surak himself would crumbled in the face of such insanity.
For Prosak, it was far too much. She felt whatever composure she had managed to regain slipping away again. “Why?” she demanded, turning on Nooney. “Why would you bring me here? Why taunt me with this?” She grabbed Nooney by the front of his shirt and shook him violently. “WHAT KIND OF SADIST ARE YOU?!?”
This was not the reaction he’d been hoping for. Obviously, a bit more explanation was in order…if he didn’t lose consciousness first.
Part of being a commanding officer is trusting your crew. Reginald Bain knew that the Anomaly was in good hands, but he still couldn’t help wishing that he, Vioxx, and Marsden were there to deal with whatever nefarious scheme the Dillon Consortium had hatched. Of course, they were stuck in this blasted restaurant instead. And even if they weren’t, the Anomaly was a light year away. Tovar and the rest of the crew would deal with whatever they had to. Bain just hoped that involved giving the Consortium a good what for in the process. He had his own foe to sort out. He would handle Tori Burke and her goons…assuming she ever figured out what she was going to order.
“I like chicken,” Burke said. “And these dipping sauces look amazing.” She paused for a moment, her head jerking slightly. “It’s been five centuries. I think frying technology has advanced a bit.” Another twitch. “Like synthehol but for cooking oil? Could be. I could ask.”
Down the table from her, Vioxx watched Burke with growing confusion. Something was absolutely not right. True, he hadn’t known her for very long, but he certainly didn’t remember her twitching during any of their time in Multek space.
There was one way to find out. He casually reached over and grasped Marsden’s hand, which she was holding tensely on her thigh. She immediately yanked it away, but Vioxx grabbed it again, then used his hand to open hers, palm facing up and proceeded to start running his finger across her palm.
Marsden was having a hard time resisting the urge to smack him. Did Vioxx really think this was the time to make some kind of move on her? Was he interested in her?
She suddenly realized that it was not a romantic gesture.
He was tracing out letters.
Marsden grabbed Vioxx’s hand and squeezed it to acknowledge the message and then worked to subtly remove her rolled up quadcorder from her pocket as Vioxx put his hands back on the table and focused his attention on Burke.
“I was considering the BLT myself,” he said.
Burke narrowed her eyes at him. “It’s a fried sandwich.”
“True. But you are making me think that I should order it with a dipping sauce, though. Do you like dipping sauces? That’s good to know if I ever ask you to dinner.”
“I do. That would be…we aren’t going to dinner…except here…I know this is lunch! No more discussion. That’s the vote. With dipping sauce! Now where’s that waiter?”
Looking across the table, Vioxx could see that Bain was glaring at Burke, looking for a moment to act. “Patience is required right now,” Vioxx said, catching Bain’s eye. Right now, he wanted Marsden to finish her scan.
“I’m not good at patience,” Burke said. “Waiter!”
“Neither am I,” Bain said. But if Vioxx was advocating patience, he and Marsden must have something else in the works. At the moment, it was more important to get information about the Consortium’s broader plan. Let Burke get her food. Hopefully she was the type to get chatty over a good meal. They could deal with their captors later.
How much time had passed while Tovar sat there doing nothing? He knew Engineering was working as hard and as fast as they could, but this was becoming concerning.
“Brazzell, how much…”
“Nine minutes remain.”
“It feels like it should be less. Not that I want it to be. They can take their time.”
“I have something,” Remax said.
“What is it?”
“You ordered me to scan something, so I did.”
“There’s a lot of rocks out there,” Remax said.
“That is not unusual,” Tovar said, growing impatient with the elder Romulan scientist.
“I thought so, too.”
“I don’t understand,” Tovar said. But then realization struck. “Then what is affecting us?”
“Exactly. I can’t find any signs of a cloaked anything, and I seriously doubt that the Dillon Consortium has better cloaking technology than the Romulan Empire. If something was out there, I would have found it.”
“So it’s got to be the rocks.”
“You would think, but there is absolutely nothing unusual about this particular asteroid field. No abnormal radiation. No unknown elements. They’re big floating rocks. But that couldn’t be it. I started doing more focused scans on individual asteroids until I found this.” Remax brought up a sensor reading on his console. “It’s a fake. A big facade hiding an internal device. I’ve found eight of these positioned around the ship. They didn’t bother making them look different. All eight have exactly the same rock design on the outside, and they’re using some kind of sensor masking to make our systems think they’re nothing but regular asteroids.”
“Can you tell what they are doing to us?”
“I couldn’t at first. I was looking for a widespread effect blanketing this entire region, but these things must have locked on to us once we arrived. They’re firing some kind of constant beam at key ship components that’s interfering with those systems. One at the impulse engines, one at each nacelle, one at the central node that controls the shield emitters, another at the phaser control node, and the other three are all converging on Science Lab Four, right on our spherical friend.”
“So the Consortium knows the layout of this ship.”
“Most of it just requires knowledge of standard Federation ship design, but to aim right at Cabral? Yes, someone told them. I wonder who. Oh wait. Vioxx’s girlfriend was aboard for a little while. I’m sure she happily passed along what she knew, so her Consortium minions can try to kill us!”
“Who said anything about killing us?” Yonk asked, spinning his chair around toward them. “She just wants the ship, right?”
“Right. And after stealing a one-of-a-kind Starfleet vessel, she’ll have her folks kindly drop us off at the nearest starbase? I doubt it. We’re either dead, or they’re going to brainwash us into joining them. They supposedly can, right? Considering how many of us there are and how many different species they’d have to deal with, I’m betting on death. If we don’t have shields back by the time they get into transporter range, they’re going to beam every lifeform off of the Anomaly and just disperse our atoms into space.”
“My atoms will not become dust on these rocks!” Brazzell cried.
“Do not worry, Brazzell,” Tovar said. “It would be so small that no one could see it.”
“I’d know. Or not, I guess. Still!”
“Can we focus on actual solutions?” Tovar said, before Brazzell kept going. “We have thrusters. Can we move away from the beams?”
“They’ve been following us as we drift, and thrusters aren’t going to give us enough speed to get out of range before our friends show up,” Remax replied.
“Phasers are out. Torpedoes it is then!” Tovar announced, striding back to the command chair. “Send Brazzell the coordinates of the fake asteroids. Prepare to fire on my…” He trailed off, lost in thought.
“They’re too close,” he said finally.
“The asteroids?” Brazzell said. “I should be able to adjust the torpedo yield to compensate and destroy each of them nice and neatly.”
“Not them. The Consortium. By the time we destroy their devices and get moving, they will be practically on us. We’re stuck at impulse until we clear the asteroids. The Consortium ships just have to zip over to wherever we plan to exit the asteroid field and lay in wait. If Cabral is up for it, we could maybe jump to anti-sing as soon as we’re clear, but more likely they’ll disable us first.”
“I hate to admit it, but I think you’re right,” Remax said.
The bridge was silent for a moment, but then Tovar suddenly rushed back over to the science station. “Sub-Commander, can you do that sensor masking like the asteroids?”
“To an extent. This equipment wasn’t designed for it, but I can make it work,” Remax said.
“It does not have to be perfect. I do not think they’ll be looking too closely anyway.”
“What are you up to?”
“Setting a trap,” Tovar replied. “It seems only fair to return the favor.”
Dr. Nooney had to admit that Prosak had unexpected stamina. He assumed that she’d shake him for a bit, get her anger out, and then put him down. She was continuing to jerk him back and forth unabated, though.
“Heaaarrrrrr meeeeeeee ouuttttttttt,” he pled. Prosak gave him one more shake for good measure and then dropped him to the deck.
“Impressive,” Chynok said, her grip still tight on the shuffleboard cue stick she wielded like a staff. “You must enter the martini mixing competition we are holding this afternoon at Brunk’s Poolside Paradise on the Lido Deck. I can sign you up now, if you would like.”
Prosak ignored the Klingon, focusing instead on Nooney as he scrambled back to his feet. “Speak!”
“You were so down, and I didn’t know how to help, but then I remembered our good friend Chynok here!”
“Good…friend? She has actively attempted to kill me on more than one occasion. And I wasn’t aware that you even knew her. You two barely encountered each other during our visit to the Klingon dude ranch.”
“I know, but once I heard that she was in a Romulan prison, I just had to contact her…for old time’s sake, then she wrote back, so I wrote her, and so on and so on. We’re great pals now, aren’t we, Chynie?”
The Klingon looked confused. “Um…if you say so?”
“Don’t mind her. She’s just a hologram. The real thing and I are super-tight.”
“That still doesn’t explain why she’s here. Or why I’m here. Or how any of this is supposed to make me feel better.”
“But…it’s so nice out here,” Nooney said. “Just look!” He gestured at the great expanse of blue water stretching away from the Wave of Relaxation in every direction.
“Granted. The surroundings are…pleasant.”
“And just wait until you see the inside of the ship! It’s gorgeous. And I had the program give us suites! Those lower deck cabins can be so nice and cozy, but you and I are living it up this time!” Nooney exclaimed, wrapping an arm around Prosak’s shoulder.
“I appreciate the consideration.”
“I mean I thought about taking you on the actual cruise, but then we’d have to request leave, get a ship, travel to Pacifica, make sure our dates corresponded to a sailing date, see if that sailing date had an itinerary that we’d like. There are sooooo many little islands on this planet, and they’re all different. Did you want to sit on the beach or go see how they make gurynianis…”
“I don’t know what a guryniani is,” Prosak said.
“That’s my point! So what if we’d ended up on the sailing with the guryniani factory? You would have been bored to tears. Literally! Because that brain of yours would probably have wandered back to Snotch and those mean things he said, and what kind of vacation would that be?”
“So instead you brought me to my would-be-murderer.”
“I am still missing something,” Prosak said, walking around Chynok, who was standing statue-like, her program waiting for input from Prosak or Nooney. “I avoided death at the hands of this woman by the narrowest of margins. She has made it plain that she sees all Romulans and me in particular as her enemy. She broke into a Romulan facility and stole an entire warhawk! And yet she is not rotting in a Romulan prison. I have tried to live my life for the good of Romulus, Vulcan, and the Federation, and what has it gotten me? Pain! Misery! Meanwhile, despite everything she had done, Chynok is here living it up on the SS Suck It, Prosak!”
“Suck what?” Nooney asked confused.
“It! Everything! My life does nothing but suck. And you brought me here to rub it in my face,” Prosak said, collapsing down to sit on the deck and putting her head in her hands.
“No no, honey. That’s not it at all,” Nooney said. “Chynok, tell her why you are here.”
Chynok reached down and hoisted Prosak back to her feet in an effortless move. “I was lost,” she said. “I was…am a Klingon, but what does that even mean anymore? We were conquered by the Romulans. Then the Romulans left, and we had to debase ourselves to performing for tourists just to survive! That dude ranch? A travesty! And that Klingon ‘Warrior’ Academy for Federation children? HA! Have you ever seen a Tellarite spawn waddling around with plastic armor and a foam bat’leth? It is soul crushing.
“Then if that wasn’t enough, in our desperation, we allied ourselves with the Vulcans. What do Vulcans and Klingons have in common? Nothing! We revel in the thrill of battle while they attempt to avoid feeling anything at all. I had hoped that their defeat would bring my people back to our former glory, but it was not to be. But even if the rest of my brethren were going to turn away from our heritage, I would not. I was a Klingon! I owed it to my ancestors to carry on our traditions and to fight with every ounce of my being to return us to our rightful place in the universe! Stealing the Zocor was supposed to be the beginning of our ascendance! But you and your other Romulan friends showed up, my own people betrayed me, and I ended up sitting in a Romulan cell.”
“At least there was some prison time in there somewhere,” Prosak muttered.
Chynok continued on. “So much solitude gave me time to think. What did it say about my actions that my own followers had turned against my plans? Weren’t we all Klingons? Didn’t we all want the same thing? What did I actually want?”
“This part is from our letters!” Nooney said, clapping excitedly. “I put them all in the program.” He glared at the holographic Chynok. “See! We are friends!”
“I thought I wanted to be a traditional Klingon,” Chynok said, ignoring Nooney. “But did I? Was that just my elders trying to force their will on me? As my incarceration dragged on day after day, week after week…”
“This seems a bit loquacious from what I remember of Chynok,” Prosak observed.
“I may have rewritten her a bit, but the meaning is absolutely the same,” Nooney said.
“…I found myself dreaming of the sea, fresh air, and endless skies. I didn’t want constant combat. Battle hurts! I wanted to have fun, and fun didn’t mean jamming my blade into someone else’s abdomen. But what did any of this self-realization matter when I was doomed to spend the rest of my existence in the bowels of a Romulan prison? To my great fortune, I had a benefactor.”
“That’s me!” Nooney said.
“This person made it his personal mission to see that I received a second chance. He pled my case to the Romulan authorities.”
“I commed your dad,” Nooney said.
“My father released her!” Prosak cried.
“Ambassadors have pull.”
“But she tried to kill his little Boogles.”
“That much is certain.”
“And that is how I came to be here,” Chynok said. “I can be who I really am while serving others to help right some of the wrongs that I have done. Now who’s up for a trivia contest? In twenty minutes, we’re starting a round of Name Those Celebrity Antennae!”
“Do you understand now?” Nooney said.
“I…no,” Prosak said.
“You both have…well, had in her case…the same problem! Once I realized that, I knew that you had to come here! You think you need to be one thing, but maybe you really don’t. How long have you thought that you had to be a RommaVulc?”
“I don’t have to. I want to. I’ve wanted to since I was a little girl.”
“Does the woman Prosak want the same thing as the little girl Prosak? Maybe you need to give yourself time to think about other possibilities.”
“So you think Snotch was right?” Prosak asked.
“I didn’t say that. But you should take some time to figure out what you really want. And what better place than here? We’re on one of the most gorgeous planets in the quadrant sailing on a ship full of hotties. It’s the holodeck, so there are no consequences. Come on, Prosak. Let’s have some fun!”
“No consequences,” Prosak said, a slight smile tugging at her lips.
Nooney launched into a full grin. “That’s the…”
Prosak suddenly yanked the shuffleboard cue out of Chynok’s hand, spun it around, and jammed it straight at the Klingon’s face. The two prongs smashed into each of her eyes with a sickening squirch.
“WHAT THE FUSHISNAT WAS THAT?” Nooney screamed in horror.
Prosak turned toward him, eyes wild. “Fun!”
“I’ll have the fish and chips,” Tori Burke said after much deliberation. “With dipping sauce!”
“Of course, ma’am,” the waiter said, rushing off to the kitchen.
“If I’m going to eat here, might as well go with something that was supposed to be fried in the first place,” Burke said with a chuckle as though the people seated with her were old friends rather than her hostages.
“You’re risking a lot here, Burke,” Bain said.
Burke shrugged. “Blame Starfleet.”
“I don’t follow.”
“I’m sure you don’t. You probably also buy into the whole ‘We’re the Federation. We don’t use money’ line of crap, too, don’t you?”
“We don’t,” Bain said.
“Of course, you do. You just don’t call it that, but the Federation has an economy just like every other civilization in the history of ever. And as long as somebody has something that somebody else wants, there will be commerce. I am just trying to engage in commerce.”
“That same explanation could be used for theft as well, but we humans seem to have gotten beyond that. Present company excepted, of course.”
“You’re really willing to kill everyone on the Anomaly just so you can sell anti-singularity drives?” Marsden demanded.
“A thousand times over. You’re talking about revolutionizing travel across the galaxy and possibly even opening up regular travel between galaxies, but Starfleet has been hoarding the technology. Whatever happened to the free flow of scientific knowledge? Isn’t that one of the Federation’s principles?”
“We aren’t hoarding it,” Marsden said. “There’s only one anti-sing drive. We can’t make more.”
“If a technology can be created once, it can be created again,” Burke snapped. “Starfleet just doesn’t want it spreading to the other galactic powers, so they came up with that ‘it’s one of a kind’ load of garbage. The Dillon Consortium has the best R&D division in the galaxy, which you are about to be joining. With your assistance, I assure you that we will not only reverse engineer the anti-sing drive, but we will improve it, patent it, and sell it to whomever is willing to pay for it. That, Lieutenant, is how commerce works.”
“I get why you’re after Lieutenant Marsden,” Vioxx said. “But what about the rest of us? We can’t possibly be worth anything to the Consortium.”
“You’re not, I assure you,” Burke said. “But we’re also not above a little revenge. I know it’s not nearly enough payback for devastating a Consortium fleet, but having Reginald Bain sitting here helplessly while his ship and crew are taken from him is going to have to do.
“As for this one,” she continued, gesturing contemptuously at a seething Nortal, “I owe her A LOT of payback for her treatment of me. How many times did you stun me on Edgeworld?”
“Not nearly enough, foul hag!” Nortal said.
“And not nearly as many times as you’re going to be,” Burke shot back. “Except for maybe the occasional one that vaporizes a foot or a hand. You’re going to suffer for a long time.”
“And me?” Vioxx asked. “What crime did I commit? And what terrible vengeance do you have waiting for me?”
“You are not important.”
“You were willing to go out with me.”
“That was before.”
“Before what? Your new job? CEOs can’t date?”
Burke’s face softened. “I’m sorry. And I’m sorry you’re here right now.” She twitched violently for a second. “Enough of this! You are all coming to Dillonia for your fates.”
“I still don’t know what mine is,” Vioxx pressed. “And how are you going to explain what happened to all of us?”
“Why would I have to?”
“You can’t just make four officers vanish and not expect there to be a full investigation.”
“I’m sure there will be, but that’s what you all get for eating at a death trap like this. A place full of fryers? Really? It’s a wonder it didn’t explode ages ago. Such a tragedy that one of Starfleet’s greatest heroes died in such a way. And at the same time his entire ship exploded killing his wife and adopted son? There are going to be tears for this one. People you don’t even know are going to sob at the injustice of it all. As I said, it’s a tragedy. Oh well. Life goes on. Just not yours.”
Bain knew that he was running out of time here. He’d gotten all he could out of Burke, and she seemed to be done gloating and lording her victory over them. She was likely to have them all beamed out of there and onto a Consortium ship any moment now. He was hoping some kind of plan would present itself. He had his wrist phaser, but he didn’t have a great line of fire on Burke’s goons. He needed just a little more time to…
“THIS SHALL NOT BE!” Nortal cried suddenly, diving at Burke.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Bain said, leaping to his feet. Plan or no plan, this was happening now.
Captain Deni Renara of the Dillon Consortium Cruiser Musk involuntarily tensed as her ship approached the asteroid field. Everything was going according to plan, and all scans showed that their target, the USS Anomaly, was trapped by the interference array at the center of the field. Also, Reginald Bain, the man who had decimated an entire Consortium fleet by himself a few months earlier, wasn’t even aboard the ship.
Still, she couldn’t help but be nervous. As a Consortium captain, most of her missions involved ferrying trade negotiators to various meetings or maybe the occasional cargo run, usually taking a prototype from one world or another to Consortium Headquarters. Combat was not part of the deal, and certainly not against a trained Starfleet crew. As long as the Anomaly was stuck in the interference array, everything would be fine. The Musk and the other Consortium ships would get into transporter range, beam the crew into the large buffer modules fitted onto each ship (Renara had no illusions that those were anything more than shiny boxes with a lot of blinky lights on them. But if for any reason she found herself needing to answer to Starfleet for the deaths of the Anomaly crewmembers, the so-called buffer modules gave her plausible deniability.), and then take the Anomaly to the nearest Consortium dockyard. With any luck, Renara would make commodore for it and finally get a station command or even an office at headquarters.
Of course, all that depended on the next few minutes.
“Status of the Anomaly?” she asked, turning toward, Lieutenant Swax, the Musk’s Tac-Ops officer. Technically, the Bolian was more of a Tac-Ops-Sci officer, with most emphasis on the Ops and very little on the Tac and Sci. He, Renara, and their helm officer, Ensign Kren, were the only three on the bridge, as was standard for this class of Consortium vessel.
“Stationary. Reading minimal power. No shields. The inference array is functioning normally.”
“All right. Let’s get this over with. Captain Renara to all ships. We are go. Move in.”
“They are still closing,” Brazzell reported from Tac-Ops. “Coming in from different vectors, but they should all arrive simultaneously.”
“Make sure everyone is ready,” Tovar said. “Once they get in visual range, things are going to get ugly in a hurry.”
The Musk sailed around another asteroid as it made its way closer to the empty space that had been cleared out by the Consortium for the purposes of this trap. In that time, the Anomaly hadn’t so much as flickered. Maybe this was going to work out after all.
On the viewscreen, the last asteroid passed by, revealing the clearing and the USS Anomaly and…
“Um…what’s going on there?” Captain Renara asked.
Swax frantically checked his console. “The interference array is active and locked onto the Anomaly. Everything is fine.”
“No, it isn’t!” Renara shouted, pointing at the screen. The Anomaly was there alright, but the interference array’s beams, which were supposed to be targeted onto very specific sections of the Starfleet ship, were instead hitting a few raceabouts, shuttles, and what looked to be a small Romulan scout ship which had positioned themselves between the array’s disguised asteroids and the Anomaly.
As for the Anomaly itself…
“Company has arrived!” Brazzell announced.
“Tovar to all ships. FIRE!”
Swax would have been pulling his hair out if he had any. “I don’t understand. The sensors don’t show this at all!”
“The sensors are wrong!” Renara shouted back. “They must have…”
The raceabouts and the Romulan vessel suddenly opened fire, their weapons quickly obliterating the eight devices of the interference array. The fully-operational USS Anomaly, meanwhile, surged forward right toward the Musk.
“Oh my god. Oh My God!” Renara screamed. “GET US OUT OF HERE!”
But it was far too late.
Inside the Anomaly but an ocean away, Chynok collapsed to the deck of the Wave of Relaxation wailing in agony as the two perfectly spaced prongs of the shuffleboard cue stick impaled her eyes. Prosak grabbed the cue and kicked Chynok, freeing the stick from the Klingon’s skull.
“I WILL DESTROY YOU!” Chynok boomed, flailing around wildly as blood gushed from her empty eye sockets.
“What have you done?” Nooney demanded. He leaned down to try to examine the injured Chynok but was immediately batted aside by one of her blind swings. “Computer, end…”
“NO!” Prosak cried. “I am not finished here! In fact…computer, shorten this stick by thirty centimeters and sharpen the prongs and other end.” The game equipment in her hand suddenly morphed into a dangerous weapon. Prosak tried it for weight for a moment, twirled it around with her hand several times, and then tossed it in the air, spun herself around, caught it with a bow and a flourish.
Nooney just gaped at her.
“Five years on the Praetor’s Pep Patrol,” Prosak said with a smile. “Now then, computer, restore the Chynok character to full health.”
The bleeding, flailing, screaming Klingon vanished and was instantly replaced by an undamaged one.
“You may have repaired my body, but I will NOT forgive your unprovoked attack,” Chynok said. “Prepare to die, dishonorable petaQ!”
The Klingon lunged at Prosak, who neatly dodged (it was more of a hop actually), spun her baton of doom around, and smacked Chynok in the back of the head.
“How is this fair?” Nooney said.
“In our previous encounters, Chynok had the advantage. Now it is my turn,” Prosak said. Chynok came at her again, but Prosak sank into a quick split and jammed her baton into Chynok’s thigh. Chynok roared in pain and grabbed for Prosak, but the RommaVulc had already rolled away and jumped back to her feet. “Is it not logical to give myself the advantage for once?”
“NO!” Nooney said. “And this is not therapeutic!”
“I must disagree.”
“Your ridiculous weapon will not help you!” Chynok said, limping toward Prosak. She managed to swat aside Prosak’s first jab at her, but Prosak expertly rolled the baton around the back of her neck, grabbed it with her other hand, and jammed the two sharpened prongs into Chynok’s side.
“You were supposed to talk to her, not maim her,” Nooney cried.
“You do therapy in your way. I will do it in mine,” Prosak said, dodging an attempt by Chynok to wrap the RommaVulc up in a bear hug. She took the opportunity to stab the Klingon’s other leg.
“Be sensible and end the program,” Nooney pleaded. “You can’t just keep hurting her like this. Have a bit of mercy on…”
Prosak slid on her knees directly toward Chynok and slammed the baton upward. Its long pointed end pierced straight through Chynok’s chin and continued up through her skull. Based on the shocked expression on Chynok’s face, the move had caught her by surprise. She fell forward and landed on the deck quite thoroughly dead.
“Well! I certainly hope you’re happy now!” Nooney scolded.
Prosak considered this for a moment. “It was somewhat satisfying,” she said.
“We need to have a long talk.”
“It will have to wait, Doctor,” Prosak replied, retrieving her baton and jogging off down the deck.
“Where are you going?” Nooney demanded.
“As I said, it was only somewhat satisfying!”
“What does that even…” Nooney trailed off as he had the horrible realization of what that even meant. “Prosak! No! You get back here this instant!” he shouted, dashing after her. “Don’t you dare start slaughtering these people! Prosak! PROSAK!”
Bain appreciated Nortal’s bravery and her desire not to end up at Tori Burke’s mercy, but it would have been nice to be let in on her plan…not that “attack Burke” really constituted a plan. There was no sense worrying about it now, since he had far bigger concerns. Four of them, to be exact.
As Nortal and Burke fell to the ground, struggling with each other, said four concerns, the hulking Dillon Consortium guards/enforcers/walls of muscle that Tori Burke had brought with her by way of protection, were all reaching into their coats, presumably for weapons.
Bain extended his wrist phaser.
Burke suddenly tossed Nortal off of her with surprising ease and scrambled to her feet. Nortal jumped up as well, unholstering her disrupter.
“Why would any of you bring your weapons to an official Starfleet meeting?” Burke asked angrily.
“In case it was a trap!” Bain shot back.
“You put a spy on my ship and summoned us within striking distance of Dillonia. Of course, I knew! What kind of doddering fool do you think I am?”
“We had a spy on board?” Marsden said shocked.
“Espionage is below Nortal!” Nortal cried.
“Can we discuss this at a more opportune moment?” Bain said. “The point is that we’re not going to go quietly, Burke. Do you really think your men can take on trained Starfleet and Romulan Officers?”
“I could take them all,” Burke said, but not to anyone in the room. She seemed to be conferring with herself. “I know! Fine!” She focused her attention back on Bain. “You have no idea what you’re up against. We…”
“I SMITE THEE!” Nortal cried, apparently having had enough. She opened fire wildly, sending the Consortium goons by the door diving for cover behind the host podium. Nortal spun toward the goons guarding the kitchen exit, continuing her barrage of disrupter blasts and shattering the case holding the carnival food trailer in the process.
Bain didn’t waste any time, taking aim at the Consortium guards by the door and trying to keep them pinned down. Marsden, meanwhile, grabbed Vioxx by the arm and pulled him to cover below the long table.
“Something is weird about Burke’s outfit,” Marsden told him. “I was reading small power sources all over it and what looks like a positronic matrix.”
“A positronic matrix?” Vioxx asked confused. “What is that even for?”
“I’m not sure. And there’s a bunch of other stuff I can’t really identify.”
“I appreciate the information,” Vioxx said, moving to stand back up.
“What the hell are you doing?” Marsden said.
“Going to talk to her.”
“Maybe I can get her to stop this.”
Marsden peeked over the table. Bain and Nortal and the Consortium muscle were exchanging weapons fire and generally destroying the place. Burke had tried to take cover as best she could in one of the booths.
“Fine. Can I at least have your disrupter?”
“You don’t have a phaser.”
“I didn’t come prepared for a fire fight, okay?”
“Here,” Vioxx said, handing her the weapon.
“I’ll cover you.” Marsden popped up from under the table and fired.
With yet another source of blasts coming their way, the Consortium goons lost their focus on Nortal for a moment. She took the opportunity to scale the carnival food wagon and open fire from a higher vantage point, hitting one of the guards near the kitchen right in the head. He collapsed unconscious.
“My wrath has been felt!” Nortal exclaimed.
The Anomaly rocked as another blast of phaser fire impacted the shields.
“Shields at 45 percent! Resheathing at maximum!” Brazzell reported from Tac-Ops.
Tovar’s sensor masking ploy had caught the Dillon Consortium ships off guard, but once the surprise wore off, it was still five on one, since the Anomaly’s support craft were of little use against ships as large as the Consortium’s cruisers. Not that that was stopping Lieutenant Gworos aboard the Allegra. With Zantak at the helm, the Romulan/Klingon combo had been buzzing around the Consortium cruisers like the universe’s most angry mosquito, blasting away with everything the little scout ship could muster.
The Consortium ships, meanwhile, were focusing their attention on the bigger threat (and the thing they’d come there for): the Anomaly.
“Evasive, Yonk!” Tovar ordered.
“That’s all I’ve been doing, sir!” Yonk replied. There was a bit of a borderline-subordinate edge to Ferengi’s voice, but, considering the circumstances, Tovar decided that he’d let it slide.
Despite the pounding the ship was taking, the Anomaly was giving it back in spades. Her initial surprise attack against the Musk had left that ship adrift and able to do little more than take pot shots from the edge of the battle. One other had lost its shields and was currently sporting several large phaser gashes in its side while the remaining three did not have much shield strength left.
The problem the Anomaly faced was the lack of anywhere to really run for cover. This clearing at the middle of the asteroid field was vast enough to fit the ships, but not to really maneuver. And slowing to enter the field itself was just inviting a possibly-catastrophic volley of incoming fire.
Yonk banked the ship as close to the edge of the clearing as possible, giving Brazzell a clear shot at the crippled Musk. He raked compression phaser blasts across its hull. Several explosions later, the Musk went dark.
“They have lost main power,” Brazzell exclaimed. His victory was short-lived as another blast rocked the ship.
Prosak’s rampage seemed to know no end. She ran along the deck of the Wave of Relaxation stabbing, slashing, and cackling all the way. By the Great Bird, she was actually cackling!
Nooney struggled to keep up (And stay on his feet. He didn’t know what was happening outside the holodeck; however, it would be VERY nice if the Anomaly would stop shaking!), but his human (and admittedly fairly out-of-shape) body was no match for the Romulan.
All he could do was shout after her and hope against hope that his words would eventually get through to her.
“Stop! We need the karaoke machine for Swim and Sing tonight! Not in the pool! No!!!!”
“Put those down! Those skewers are for use with the chocolate fountain ONLY! In the ears? REALLY?!?”
“Let that man up! The carving station is for cooked meats! That was not an invitation for you throw him into the oven!”
Vioxx stayed low and made his way to Burke’s booth. Her eyes locked onto him once he got within a few feet, and she sprang at him, sending Vioxx scrambling backwards to avoid her attack. Burke let out a terrifying screech and gave chase all the way back to the long table where they had been seated. He reached back onto the table, fumbling for anything he could use. Marsden said the suit was full of power sources, so…
He grabbed a glass of water and flung its contents at the oncoming Burke.
“What…was…THAT?” she shouted, swiping the liquid off of her face.
Obviously that didn’t work. Vioxx grabbed another glass and tried again.
Now she was wetter. And angrier.
Burke was on him before he could react. Vioxx fell back to the floor with her right on top of him, hands wrapped around his neck and strangling the life out of him.
Not far away, Nortal had become the biggest threat to the three Dillon Consortium goons who were still conscious. They were focused on trying to blast her from her perch on the carnival food wagon. Bain used the opportunity to move in on the lone remaining guard by the kitchen. He just hoped that Nortal was enough of distraction that the guard wouldn’t notice Bain crossing the bit of open floor to the flipped over table the guard was hiding behind.
Marsden, seeing what Bain was up to, did her best to keep the two by the door occupied dodging her incoming fire.
Bain was halfway there, but if the guard popped up from behind the table and looked his way, he’d be in real trouble. It was too late to back off now, though. Bain dove, arm outstretched, and fired just as he got an angle past the table. The Consortium guard fell forward, taking the table with him, and landed stunned on the bottom of the table which was now facing upward with its table legs sticking up around him.
Seeing this, the two guards beside the door decided that Bain was now the biggest threat. He barely managed to get to his feet and barrel through the door to the kitchen before two blasts hit where he’d been a moment earlier.
This was all the opening Nortal needed. She quickly took out one of the two, then leapt off of the carnival food wagon toward the other, screaming a battle cry at the top of her lungs as she did so. He spun away from Bain to try to shoot the descending Romulan, but it was too late. She hit the ground in a roll and came up firing. The Consortium guard leapt to the side in a desperate attempt to avoid Nortal’s shot and ended up right in the path of a blast from Marsden.
He hit the ground as Nortal turned on the Anomaly’s engineer. “You have stolen my prize!”
“Lucky shot!” Marsden shouted back, holding up her hands.
“You still did the lion’s share, Nortal,” Bain said, emerging from the kitchen. “Get them all secured. I don’t want them waking up and causing us more trouble.”
Vioxx, meanwhile, was struggling in vain to wrench Burke’s hands from around his throat. She was shockingly strong for her size. He could feel consciousness slipping.
“Tori,” he gasped.
For a moment, her eyes, which had been glaring at him with pure hatred, widened with horror. “Can’t stop,” she said. “Strip…me.”
Vioxx was fairly certain that oxygen loss was affecting his hearing. She couldn’t have said what he thought he heard. Unless…the suit!
He let go of Burke’s wrists, which did not improve his fading consciousness situation at all, reached down, grabbed either side of the blue dress slacks she was wearing, and yanked. The pants went down to her knees. Vioxx started kicking with everything he had left until he got a foot on top of her waistband and pushed the pants the rest of the way off.
Burke froze for a second, visibly dazed. Vioxx took the opening to jam his hands inside her blue suitcoat and pull it up as hard as he could, forcing her arms into the air. One more pull freed Burke from the suitcoat. It fell in a crumpled heap to the floor.
Vioxx pressed his advantage and started ripping at Burke’s blouse.
“Stop!” Burke cried, smacking his hands away. “I’m fine now.”
“What the devil are you doing?” Bain demanded, running over.
“Saving her from that thing!” Vioxx gasped, pointing to the suit as he struggled to his feet.
“It was more than that,” Burke said. “The minds of all of the former CEOs of the Dillon Consortium going all the way back to our founder, Bradley Dillon, are inside of it. Jackson Loomis had me put it on before he died, and it immediately joined with me. Once you’re wearing the suit, you’re the CEO and you know everything they knew. They also still present their opinions…pretty forcefully sometimes.”
“So it took you over,” Vioxx said.
“I wouldn’t say that. Not completely. We agreed most of the time.”
“Just not about killing me.”
Marsden slipped on her quadcorder and leaned down to inspect the suitpants now that she could get a closer look. “This is really amazing work,” she said. “I’d need to get it back to engineering to really see how it works, but…”
She was cut off as one of the pant legs suddenly kicked out and caught her directly under the chin. She fell backwards to the floor while the pants stood themselves up and walked to the suitcoat, which then floated up and took proper position above the pants. The newly-animated suit moved toward the only target that mattered: Reginald Bain.
“Great Bird!” Bain exclaimed.
“It’s…it’s…moving by itself!” Vioxx stammered. He turned on Burke. “Did you know it could do that?”
“No!” Burke said. “And I feel really weird about wearing it now.”
“Get clear!” Bain ordered. Vioxx and Burke pulled Marsden to safety as Bain sized up his new opponent. “If this empty suit wants to take me on, I’m happy to oblige. Set phasers to permanent press!”
“We can’t keep doing this,” Remax said.
“I am open to suggestions,” Tovar replied.
“Ok. You know how we use the tractor beam to pull things in a nice, controlled fashion?”
“I am familiar with the concept.”
“Let’s do that with the rocks minus the controlled part.”
“Those are some large rocks. Can we do it?”
“As long as we have enough power.”
“Take all you need,” Tovar said.
Remax began rerouting everything he could into the tractor beam system. Replicators? Check. Sonic showers? Check. Holopods? Check. Holodeck? Locked by CMO?
“Sir, I need your command override. I’ve sent the issue to your screen.”
Tovar glanced down at the display on the armrest of the command chair. “Doctor Nooney? What is he doing in there?”
“Does it matter?”
“Not a bit.” Tovar said, tapping in his code.
“Sorry, Doctor,” Remax muttered as he shut down the holodeck. “You can have ‘Let’s talk about our feelings’ time with Prosak after this is over.”
Nooney realized where Prosak was heading next and used every last bit of energy he had to get there first, throwing his entire body in front of the entrance to the Coral Cove Room. “THAT…IS…ENOUGH!” he wheezed. “Not the bingo game! Is nothing sacred?”
“I’m not satisfied!” Prosak said, holding her baton threateningly under Nooney’s chin.
“When will you be? You’ve already turned this wonderful vessel into a ship of horrors! It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Prosak. You were supposed to bond with Chynok. Enjoy the sun and the open sea. Relax and mingle with the passengers. Limbo a bit.”
“These sound like things you want to do.”
The doctor thought for a moment. “You do have a point.”
“Thank you. Now stand aside, so I can do what I want to do.”
“But is it, Prosak? Is slaughtering a bunch of holographic innocents what you really want to do?”
“NO!” Prosak screamed. “But what else can I do? These…feelings must come OUT!”
“What feelings? Tell Freddie.”
“I. AM. ANGRY! What is my life now? I’m not a Vulcan. I never will be. But I don’t want to be like other Romulans either. I’m superfluous aboard the Anomaly, and I’m not sure what I’m doing there either. I don’t want to command a starship. That’s not me!”
“What do you want?” Nooney asked gently.
“I don’t know anymore,” Prosak replied. “But I am going to kill everyone on this ship until I figure it out!”
She shoved Nooney aside violently and stormed through the door of the Coral Cove Room, startling the gathered throng of elderly men and women hunched over their game cards. “Bingo, bitches!” she cried, charging into the crowd.
Just as she was ready to impale her first retiree, everything vanished.
“Oh, thank the Great Bird,” Nooney said.
“NOOOOOO!” Prosak wailed, sinking to her knees in the now empty holodeck. “You shut it down. Why would you do that?”
“I didn’t,” Nooney said. “I guess I really should have, but I didn’t. Don’t hurt me!”
“I need it! Turn it back on! Turn it back on now!”
The room shook as the Anomaly took another hit.
“Are we under attack?” Prosak asked.
“I think so.”
“Maybe whoever it is will destroy us.”
“Is that what you really want?”
“There. You may not know what you want, but you know something that you don’t want. That’s a start.”
“I killed all those people.”
“They were holograms. No harm done,” Nooney said. Except to his psyche. The carnage he witnessed would be sticking with him for a long time.
“It didn’t help,” Prosak said flatly.
“No. You have to work through this another way.”
“Would you like to have meaningless sex with me?”
“Not even a little bit.”
Bain took aim with his wrist phaser and fired at the oncoming empty suit. He expected that to be the end of it, but, much to his surprise, the suit shook off the blast like it was nothing then got into a fighting stance, elbows bent and empty sleeves at the ready.
“Fisticuffs, eh?” Bain said, retracting his phaser and getting into a stance of his own. “Fine by me!”
The suit threw a right hook at Bain that he dodged. Normally he would have gone with a punch of his own in return, but there was no face to hit. He tried a left jab to the body, which the suit immediately shook off then came in with a few body blows of its own, surprisingly forceful ones considering it was just a couple of sleeves.
A change of tactics was in order. Bain lunged in at the suit grabbing it by the shoulders. The suitcoat flailed, trying to get a solid hit on Bain, but its arms just weren’t long enough. Failing that, it kicked out, slamming its right leg cuff into Bain’s shin.
“That’s enough of that!” Bain shouted. He grabbed onto the pants with his left hand while keeping a hold of the coat with his right, then yanked the two apart forcefully, tossing them in opposite directions.
The pants recovered first, getting back to their non-existent feet. Before they could take a step toward Bain, though…
“Perish, possessed demon garments!” Nortal cried, setting upon them with a fork clutched in each hand. In a few frenzied seconds of stabbing and rending, the blue slacks had been reduced to scraps of cloth, strands of wiring, and other assorted bits.
The suitcoat floated in front of Bain, each combatant looking for an opening to strike.
“This isn’t what you were made for, is it?” Bain said. “I’ve got an idea that can help both of us: Reginald Bain, CEO. What do you think?”
“Captain, what are you doing?” Vioxx said. “You heard Tori. That thing will take over your mind.”
“But how can I pass up such an opportunity?” Bain replied. He turned his back on the suitcoat and put his arms behind him. The suitcoat moved forward and positioned its coat sleeves where they could just slide onto Bain’s waiting arms.
Or they would if the Dillon Consortium techs hadn’t altered the suitcoat so that it was sized properly for Tori Burke. The sleeves got stuck at Bain’s massive hands, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He pushed against the sleeves until they each split open, then continued pulling his arms back together in front of him with all the force he could muster until…
The suitcoat gave, splitting in half across the back of the burly Brit.
Bain shook the remnants of the coat off of him and let them drop to the floor.
“I guess I wasn’t a good fit for the position,” he said smiling.
Captain Alfred Sanz of the Dillion Consortium Cruiser Walton felt like his entire ship was moaning underneath him. They’d thrown everything they had at the Anomaly. Surely the ship had to be defeated soon. This really wasn’t what he’d signed up for, but as one of the two ships that was actually moving (The Anomaly had left two adrift and a third without shields or weapons), it was Sanz’s duty to finish the job…at least if he had any intention of remaining employed by the Consortium.
“The Anomaly is coming about!” his tac-ops officer said.
“All remaining power to forward shields!” Sanz ordered as the on the viewscreen the sleek Federation/Romulan hybrid vessel bore down on them. A quick burst of…something…fired from underneath the Anomaly.
Sanz involuntarily flinched. “Brace for…”
But nothing happened.
“They missed? HA!”
The Anomaly did not miss. Instead, a supercharged but brief burst from the Anomaly’s tractor beam emitter grabbed onto one of the asteroids behind the Walton and yanked it with incredible speed into the fray.
The Walton’s now unshielded aft section was crushed by the hurling stone. Systems exploded around the vessel, plunging it into darkness.
The Anomaly, now with only one foe to deal with, focused everything on the lone remaining Consortium ship. Under the full might of the Starfleet’s vessel’s weaponry (and a bit from the Allegra, which had swooped in to assist), the commercial craft was soon left powerless and adrift like the rest of its fellows.
On the Anomaly’s bridge, Tovar surveyed the scene on the viewscreen. “Brazzell, recall all support craft, and get me a status from all departments.”
“So are we just going to sit here, or are you going to finish them off?” Remax asked.
“As…tempting as that is,” Tovar replied. “We are still Starfleet. We got what we needed from them.”
“Needed? We needed that near-death experience?”
“All support craft are back aboard,” Brazzell reported.
“Thank you. Mister Yonk, take us out of the asteroid field.”
Yonk steered the Anomaly back into the thick of the asteroid field as Tovar watched the viewscreen closely for the next several minutes.
“Seriously, Tovar,” Remax said finally, unable to take the lack of explanation. “What do you mean ‘needed’? What was all that about?”
“Sir!” Brazzell suddenly shouted, his voice at a near panic. “We’ve got more contacts coming in! At least thirty of them! Bearing 940 mark 20.”
“Stay on course, Yonk,” Tovar said.
“What the hell are we doing?!?” Remax demanded.
“What needs to be done.”
“I swear by the Praetor’s toenails, if you say ‘need’ one more time!”
“More contacts. Fifteen this time. Coming in from bearing 550 mark 8.”
“Tovar…” Remax said.
On the viewscreen, the last of the asteroids gave way to open space.
“All stop,” Tovar ordered.
“The first group of contacts is going to be on us in seconds,” Brazzell said. “It’s the Consortium.” Almost as soon as he said it, several ships dropped out of warp on the viewscreen ahead of the Anomaly.
“How soon until our next group of guests arrives?”
“Less than a minute.”
“Thank you. Hail the Consortium ships,” Tovar said, rising from his seat.
The ships in front of the Anomaly were replaced by a Yridian female in the uniform of the Consortium fleet.
“I am Lieutenant Commander Tovar Bain,” (Tovar hadn’t had the opportunity to use his newly-legal last name much so far, but this seemed like a good time) “currently in command of the Federation Starship Anomaly. You will surrender your fleet immediately.”
The woman on screen chuckled. “This is Captain Hafroff of the Dillion Consortium Vessel Prenx. We have a counter-offer. You surrender.”
“Do you have any documents drawn up that we could review with our internal counsel?”
“Documents? I’m sorry. Did you think this was a regular acquisition? We aren’t here to negotiate terms. Surrender and die.”
“Isn’t that supposed to be ‘or die’?” Tovar asked.
“Not according to my orders.”
“Ah. Well, as you can probably see by now, we will be declining your offer…unless you really want to take on an entire Starfleet battle group.”
Captain Hafroff conferred with someone offscreen that Tovar couldn’t hear as multiple Starfleet ships dropped out of warp and took up positions around the Anomaly. “I don’t know!” she snapped. “I guess we fight them. More! How…”
“Sir, there are ten Romulan warbirds decloaking on the other side of the Consortium fleet!” Brazzell said.
“Are there now?” Tovar asked, unable to hide a smirk. “So what will it be, Captain Hafroff? You outnumber us by a little, but we outgun you by a rather large amount. Massive really.”
“We surrender,” Hafroff said dejectedly.
“I thought so. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you. Anomaly out.”
Brazzell cut the channel switching the image back to space in front of the Anomaly, where Starfleet and Romulan ships were taking up positions alongside the Consortium vessels.
Tovar retook his seat. “Get us back to Nelephron, Mister Yonk.”
“You planned this!” Remax said.
“Not all of it,” Tovar replied.
“But you deceived us.”
“Nicely done!” Remax said. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“I’m so glad you’re pleased.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 178802.6. With our foiling of the Dillon Consortium’s plot…it is fun to say that. Plot foiled. We returned to the Anomaly and set off for our original destination of Alkor Six. After all of that build up, the big meeting turned out to be incredibly anti-climactic. A bunch of Starfleet brass and their Romulan counterparts sat around a big table reviewing our scans and the notes of the Doctors Marsden, and then peppered Commander Vioxx and I with questions. By the end of it, they all seemed to be in agreement that Pliggeri was a big loss but that there really wasn’t much that we could have done about it. Honestly, I think the Marsdens helped in that regard, since they admitted that they were going to try to power up the computers in that growing chamber in another day or two anyway.
“The upshot of it all is a lot of nothing. Vioxx and I were dismissed, and the Anomaly is now en route to rendezvous with the USS Warren to hand over our Dillion Consortium prisoners and the remnants of that infernal suit. It’s also high time that I had a chat with my officers. I have a bit of explaining to do.”
Bain stood at the head of the table in the Anomaly’s briefing room where his officers, minus Commander Prosak, had gathered. He’d have to talk to her soon, but that was best handled in private.
“First of all, I want to make it clear that I take full responsibility for my actions,” Bain said. “I chose to keep some of you in the dark as to what Tovar and I were up to, and he was following orders to stay quiet.” He locked his gaze on Lieutenant Marsden. “To everyone.”
“After what happened at Waystation Prime, I expected the Dillon Consortium to make another move. On top of that, Commander Vioxx expressed his own concerns to Tovar about Tori Burke’s change of personality. So when Snotch suddenly wanted to come along with us without even knowing where we were going, I got suspicious and asked Tovar to give him the VIP treatment.”
“I don’t understand how making him feel special helped,” Sub-Commander Remax said.
“Right. Sorry. The VIP treatment is a little something Tovar and I came up with several years ago. It just means that we kept a very close eye on his movements and activities.”
“And you didn’t tell Prosak any of this either?” Marsden said, clearly displeased.
“No, we did not. And that’s between me and her.”
“Who cares about her?” Remax said. “Snotch was a Consortium spy?”
“Yes,” Tovar said. “We detected transmissions he sent while we were on our mission to Pliggeri. Thanks to our efforts, he really didn’t learn anything, but with the planet’s destruction, we decided to put out some bait.”
“I mentioned Pliggeri to him before he left the ship, knowing that he’d report it back to Burke. And then we had Admiral Larkin leak that we were heading to the meeting on Alkor Six.”
“She was in on this, too?” Vioxx said.
“So were members of your government,” Bain said. “We weren’t sure what the Consortium would do, but when we got the communique purporting to be from Starfleet moving the meeting to Nelephron, we knew we had a chance to draw them out. Both governments agreed that it was worth it, if it meant possibly dismantling the Dillon Consortium.”
“And you risked Cabral’s life in the process,” Doctor Kasyov said darkly.
“All of our lives,” Cabral’s voice said from his hovercam.
“Granted,” Bain said. “But it worked. They over-played their hand, that infernal suit has been destroyed, and, as I understand it, the Consortium is in complete disarray with the various vice presidents vying for power.”
“But you didn’t know about the suit?” Vioxx said.
“No, I did not. You figured that one out. Having Marsden scan her was a stroke of genius.”
“And the asteroid field?” Remax asked.
“I assumed it was a trap,” Tovar said. “But I knew help would be on the way. The Consortium just took action a bit earlier than I would have liked. I couldn’t delay responding to the distress call, though, because it might have been real or it might have tipped the Consortium off that we suspected something. I just had to take the risk and hope we could handle whatever the Consortium had waiting for us.”
“I trust all of you with my life,” Bain said. “This was no reflection on any of you. The Consortium was vast and had all kinds of resources at its disposal. They had become a danger to us all. I chose to play this close to the vest to keep anything from inadvertently slipping out. If you’re angry with me, I understand, but I can’t apologize. I did what I felt needed to be done.”
The room was silent for several moments.
“You are the captain,” Vioxx said finally.
“I was never mad,” Remax said. “As I told Tovar, I was impressed with the deception. You should do it more often.”
“I do not believe that you would have done this if you honestly thought we would be killed,” Cabral said.
“No. Me either,” Kasyov said.
“Marsie?” Bain asked.
“Yeah. I get it. I’m good,” Marsden said. Tovar could tell by the look in her eyes that she wasn’t.
“Excellent,” Bain said, missing that entirely. “We did a great thing today, everyone. Be proud. Dismissed!” Everyone dispersed, including Bain, who had someone else that he needed to speak to, leaving Tovar and Marsden behind.
“I wanted to tell you,” Tovar said, grasping his wife’s hand.
“I know,” Marsden replied. “And it’s not your fault. There is no fault. It’s just…these lines between our jobs and our personal connections are really messy sometimes. My ship’s captain and chief of security didn’t tell me everything because I’m the chief engineer and didn’t need to know. But also my husband and my father-in-law kept things from me and could have gotten me killed.”
“I understand. I do. I’ve had years of serving with him, and it is strange knowing that my father is sending me into deadly situations sometimes. I’m sure it’s the same for him. It doesn’t mean that he loves me any less. Or that I don’t love you with all of my being.”
“I love you, too.”
“Would you like to go back to our quarters for a quiet dinner?”
“Absolutely, but I need to get back to repairing the ship you almost managed to lose,” Marsden said, breaking into a smile.
Vioxx entered the Anomaly’s brig unsure why he was even there. After everything that had happened, he couldn’t imagine that Tori Burke would want to speak to him. Four of the cells were occupied by the muscle she’d brought with her to Days of Fryer Past. In a fifth, Burke lay on the bench, staring at the ceiling.
“How are you feeling?” Vioxx asked.
“Fabulous,” Burke said flatly. “I’ve got a pounding headache and will probably be spending the rest of my life in a Federation rehabilitation colony. What more could a girl ask for?”
“I will have Doctor Nooney bring you something for your head.”
Burke pulled herself to a sitting position. “You don’t have to be nice to me. I was never nice to you.”
“You were going to have dinner with me before the Consortium kidnapped us.”
“The Consortium wanted me to get close to you to gather information.”
“Ah,” Vioxx said. “What about what you wanted?”
“I was pretty focused on keeping my job after being stuck in stasis for twenty years. I didn’t have time to give it much thought before I put on the CEO suit. I guess I’m going to have plenty of time to figure it out now, huh?”
“I suppose you will. Doctor Nooney will be here shortly.” He turned to leave.
“Vioxx,” Burke called after him. “Thank you.”
“For coming to talk to me. You certainly had no reason to.”
“Maybe I’ll have no reason to come talk to you more in the future.”
“That sounded better in your head, didn’t it?” Burke said with a slight smile.
“It did,” Vioxx replied with a chuckle then exited the brig. He wasn’t sure if he would be allowed to visit a Federation rehabilitation colony, if that was where Burke ended up, but he would try.
Bain made his way through the corridors of the Anomaly, exchanging friendly nods with members of his crew as he passed. His thoughts, however, were on the conversation that he needed to have with Prosak, so much so that he was startled by the excited shout of “Captain!” behind him. Bain spun just in time to catch Dr. Fred Nooney, who was leaping into his arms.
“I would watch that sort of thing, Doctor. You’re lucky I realized in time that this wasn’t an attack,” Bain said.
“You wouldn’t have hurt Doctor Fred!” Nooney exclaimed as Bain put him back down on the deck.
“Not intentionally. And frankly, Doctor, I’m surprised to see you quite so jovial. Your report about your experience on the holodeck with Commander Prosak was almost harrowing.”
Nooney’s mood darkened ever so slightly. “I did see some things I never want to see again, but my time there brought me to a realization of my own. I don’t belong here!” He said this last part while spinning with outstretched arms.
“No, Captain! I’m resigning and going to be the Chief Medical Officer of the SS Wave of Relaxation on Pacifica! It’s absolutely perfect for me!”
“You’re going to be the doctor on a cruise ship?”
“Yes, sir! Just call me ‘Doc.’”
“I wish you all the best,” Bain said, shaking the doctor’s hand heartily.
“You’re not mad?”
“Heaven’s no. I think you’re right, Nooney. It does sound perfect for you.”
“THANK YOU!” Nooney said, grabbing Bain in a big hug then running off down the corridor.
Bain would let Starfleet know that the Anomaly needed a new CMO later. But it was time to get back to the matter at hand. Soon he once again stood outside of Prosak’s quarters and pressed the door chime. This time, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He needed to talk to her.
Much to his surprise, Prosak’s door slid open a few moments later, revealing the Romulan. Despite what Bain feared after reading Nooney’s report about what happened on the holodeck, Prosak was showered, dressed in slacks and a simple blouse, and looked nothing like someone who had recently murdered several holographic cruisegoers.
“Captain,” she said. “How nice to see you?”
“Mind if I come in for a minute?”
“Of course,” she said, standing aside so he could enter.
“I’ll get right to it,” Bain said. “I owe you an apology. I suspected that Snotch was with the Dillon Consortium and didn’t tell you. I knew you wouldn’t be in any physical danger, but I didn’t take the possible emotional damage into account. He was using you to get information about our mission, and I couldn’t risk warning you in case you both…well…melded.”
“I see,” Prosak said, steepling her fingers. “That was probably wise.”
“I thought so at the time. And if it makes you feel any better, he was taken into custody soon after we dealt with the Consortium. He’s got a long stay in a rehabilitation colony ahead of him. I do hate that you got hurt in all this, though. You really seemed to like him.”
“Doctor Nooney helped me realize that it wasn’t Snotch I liked. It was the idea of him. A full Vulcan who appreciated me and thought I was a fellow student of Surak. Snotch never felt that way. I don’t know that any Vulcan ever will. Or if I want them to. I have a lot to figure out.”
“If I can be of any help, let me know,” Bain said. “And, despite what happened on the holodeck, you’re welcome back on duty whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank you, Captain. I think that might be what I need for now.”
“Right. Then I’ll see you on the bridge, Commander.” He flashed her a broad grin then exited her quarters feeling quite good. That had gone spectacularly well.
Prosak, meanwhile, sat back down on the floor of her quarters and began to meditate. She still wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but for now, her mind was quiet.
The Praetor had listened attentively to each of her advisors as they reviewed the results of the conference with Starfleet. None of it was particularly surprising. Those closest to her had been chosen for their loyalty and fearlessness in telling her the unvarnished truth. And in matters involving Starfleet, she had her most trusted advisor of all.
“Do you believe these reports, Rorshak?” she asked, seated on her…well…most people would call it a throne. It was an exceptionally ornate chair up on a raised dais in her council chamber. In private, some called it the Praetor’s Perch. Those people generally kept their mouths shut because they enjoyed continuing to live.
“Yes, Praetor,” Ambassador Rorshak replied. “Starfleet has been very forthcoming throughout the entire Hermes project and about the missions of the USS Anomaly. Our officers have never been denied access to anything. And while none of our people were on the surface of Pliggeri, the reports of Commander Vioxx, Sub-Commander Remax, and Sub-Lieutenant Zantak all fit with the events as described. The planet and all of its technology are gone.”
“So we are back to the Anomaly holding the one functioning anti-singularity drive in the known universe.”
“Yes. By all accounts, Starfleet has given up any efforts to recreate it, since they have all ended in explosive failures.”
“Thank you, Ambassador,” the Praetor said. “You may leave us.”
“Yes, my Praetor,” Rorshak replied with a deep bow, then turned and left the chamber. He did not like that she was now in there alone with her military advisors, but such was his role. He would obey and trust that she had the information she needed to continue her wise rule of the Romulan Star Empire.
“Any dissenting opinions?” the Praetor asked once Rorshak was gone.
The gathered advisors all answered with, “No, my Praetor.”
“Very well. We shall continue to explore other avenues. You may go.”
The advisors rose from their seats and filed out of the room. All except for one officer. He was the youngest and most recent of the Praetor’s advisors, but a man known for getting things done.
“Yes, Admiral Karwrek?”
“I may have a thought about those ‘other avenues.’”