Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“Going, Going, Gone…”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
“We’re going to be late!”
“When have I ever been late? And why are you worried? We are using a transporter. We could leave thirty seconds before the start of it and be on time.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Shelly Marsden said as she rushed into the kitchen. “But if Toflay decides to whip up some kind of special goodbye breakfast…”
Her husband nodded. “I see your point. I promise to keep Toflay in check.”
“That’s worked so well in the past.”
“When was the last time…”
“I was kidding, dear,” Marsden said, cutting Tovar off. She planted a kiss on his cheek. “I’ve got to have some fun if we’re going to be back to just the two of us.”
“The two of us have lived alone together before,” Tovar said, moving over to the replicator to put in his breakfast request.
“On a starship. That hardly counts as alone.”
“He’s been away at the Academy for the last four years.”
“And back here for every break or free weekend. We’re going to be real empty nesters now.”
“Assuming our bird ever flies away,” Tovar replied before shouting, “JARRETT!”
“I’m right here, Dad,” Jarrett Bain said, jogging into the kitchen. Marsden had wanted to name their son after someone in each of their respective families. She had chosen her maternal grandfather’s first name, Garrett, but Tovar had a harder time. He wasn’t about to use his father’s name, and he barely remembered his grandparents. Instead, he went with the one constant in the first half of his life: the interloping Jaroch lifeforce. And so, they ended up with Jarrett.
“Your mother thought you were taking too long.”
“Thanks for the support, DEAR,” Marsden said pointedly before finishing ordering her own meal.
“We’ve got like an hour,” Jarrett said. “I’m dressed. I’m packed. What’s left? Breakfast is just… Wait. Toflay isn’t…”
“Just the replicator today,” Tovar said. “And you’re crooked.” He reached over and straightened the collar of his son’s uniform tunic, so it was properly centered on his neck. “There you go. Ready for your first assignment.”
“Are you jealous?” Jarrett asked with a grin.
“We’re still in Starfleet,” Marsden said.
“Yes, but you’ve been planet-bound my whole life. Did you two get traumatized on your last ship or something?”
“You mean besides having your grandparents on board?” Marsden said.
“Shelly,” Tovar said.
“Again. Kidding,” she replied with a smile.
“But grandad lost that ship, right?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“Then explain it to me,” Jarrett said as he retrieved his breakfast from the replicator and brought it to the table where his parents sat. “I think I have a right to know.”
“A right?” Tovar said.
“He kind of does,” Marsden said. “And we have a few minutes.”
“You were the one in a hurry.”
Marsden glared at him.
“Very well. I guess it can’t hurt now. The story begins in a graveyard…”
Captain Reginald Bain stood on the rocky mesa, solemnly watching as a flaming streak seared through the skies. Moments later, it was over. The impact had happened so far away that he couldn’t hear it, but there was no going back once it had been sent plummeting into the atmosphere of this barren world.
“I thank you, Captain Bain. You have brought Jacinda to her proper final resting place,” Chindela, the Pliggeri caretaker of this world, said from his left after a few moments of silence.
“It was the least we could do,” Bain replied. “If it wasn’t for her…or really Cabral’s unrelenting determination to reach her, I might not be in command of the Anomaly today.” He looked to his right, where his wife, Rosalyn, Lieutenant Commander Tovar, Lieutenant Shelly Marsden, Commander Prosak, Dr. Natalia Kasyov, and Cabral stood (or floated in Cabral’s case). “And I can’t imagine not having served with all of these wonderful people. You just never know which circumstances are going to completely change your life.”
“I’ve been caretaker of Gathering Point for a couple of centuries, but I suppose I see your point. Especially considering the news you’ve brought of my homeworld.”
“I am sorry about that,” Cabral said, gliding over. He had detached himself from the Anomaly’s systems in order to attend Jacinda’s final descent in person. Watching through his hovercam just seemed disrespectful somehow. Not long ago, she had meant so much to him. But, as Bain had said, his encounter with the Anomaly had changed everything for him.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Chindela said. “The Pliggeri are fine. They just moved elsewhere. This was planned for. It would have been nice if they’d bothered to tell me when they were going, but I doubt I would have abandoned Gathering Point. I had a duty to you Cerebe. And now with Jacinda having expired, you are the last.”
“I hope you won’t be sitting here just waiting for me to die,” Cabral said. “Since you shut off my expiration, that could be a long time from now.”
“It’d better be!” Dr. Kasyov said.
“I don’t intend to do anything of the sort,” Chindela said. “I have completed my charge, as far as I am concerned. But now I hope that you, as the last of the Cerebe, will do something for me and all of your brethren who rest here.”
“Whatever it is, if I can help, I will.”
“Are we sure Chindela is sane?” Commander Vioxx asked as he sat next to Captain Bain on the bridge of the USS Anomaly.
“He had that one little moment when we first met him, but he’s been perfectly fine this visit,” Bain replied.
“You mean the one little moment when he tried to kidnap Cabral and sent an army of zombie spheres after us.”
“Yes yes. And he shot Tovar, but you’ve forgiven him, haven’t you, lad?” Bain said, glancing back at the tac-ops console where Tovar stood.
“I barely even remember it.”
“Only because he was unconscious after being shot,” Vioxx said.
“I don’t see what you’re on about, Vioxx. The man just asked Cabral to do something for him.”
“True, but ‘Take us with you’ sounds like a very big favor when you’re talking about an entire planet.”
“You saw what the Pliggeri are capable of when we were at their homeworld. I’m sure Chincinyera has a plan.”
“Cabral to bridge,” Cabral’s voice broke in. “Chindela says that he is ready.”
“Very well. Helm, take us back a couple thousand more kilometers. I want to be well out of range of whatever is about to happen.”
At the bridge’s conn station, Sub-Lieutenant Zantak smoothly activated the reverse thrusters, moving the Anomaly back. On the viewscreen, the red globe of Gathering Point suddenly vanished.
“Great Bird!” Bain exclaimed, rising from his seat. He looked over at Dr. Kasyov, who was manning the bridge science station. “Kassie?”
“I’m not sure, sir. There was a brief burst of energies that I’m still trying to sort through, and then it was gone. Wait. There’s something. Very small, but right where the center of the planet would have been.”
“Confirmed, sir,” Tovar said. I am reading a small object, approximately three centimeters cubed.”
“The whole planet is in that? Chincherito too?”
“That’s my best guess,” Kasyov said.
“All right. Let’s get it aboard. Commander, Doctor, take a shuttle and bring it in that way. I don’t want to risk the transporter possibly destabilizing it.”
“Captain, I would like to retrieve it myself, if I may,” Cabral said.
“You are the one Candelabra entrusted with this. Go ahead,” Bain said.
“Thank you, Captain.”
“But be careful,” Dr. Kasyov said. “I don’t want that thing re-expanding inside of you.”
“That would be…unpleasant.”
Down in his home in Science Lab Four, Cabral shifted his physical form out of phase with the ship, floated through several decks, and then out through the hull before sailing toward the cube. It was so very tiny, yet it contained the only remnants of his kind in the entire galaxy. He owed it to the Cerebe and Chindela to keep it safe. He opened a small hatch in his sphere and extended a manipulator to grab the cube and bring it into himself. Wherever he went, it would be with him, just as Chindela requested.
But once the cube was inside his sphere, Cabral got an added surprise. He could hear it talking to him. Just bits and pieces of whispers. Most of it was almost impossible to make out. Was it Chindela’s consciousness? Whatever spheres still had active systems when Gathering Point was collapsed? He didn’t know.
He was, however, eager to find out what the cube had to say.
While Cabral retrieved the remains of Gathering Point, the bridge was quiet. Bain took the opportunity to stroll back to tac-ops. “You ever think about what kind of funeral you’d like?” he asked Tovar.
“Not so much,” Tovar replied. “My lifeforce will be in the Past Life Clearinghouse waiting to be called to return to the mortal plane. What happens to the physical form that once held it isn’t really a concern.”
“But you had to put some wishes in your file. Starfleet insists.”
“I left it up to you and Mum, and if I outlive you, Audrey and Sophie or their descendants. I suppose I should change that to Shelly now.”
“I never much cared either, but I must admit there was something about what we witnessed today. That glorious streak of fire as your body burns up in the atmosphere. I wonder if they’d let me do that back home.”
“I doubt the county council would approve.”
“You’re probably right. It would have been something to see, though,” Bain said, turning to return to his seat.
“Captain, I do have a concern,” Tovar said.
“About your funeral?”
“No. The Breen. Even with war averted, tensions have remained high, and we just violated their space twice in order to get to the asteroid holding Jacinda’s sphere and bring her back to Gathering Point. I agree that it was the right thing to do, but there could be quite serious repercussions for our actions.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much, Tovar,” Bain said, patting his adopted son on the shoulder. “We were at max anti-sing both ways. Those Breen blighters probably didn’t even know we were there.”
There was a time Dobt Phul commanded respect. Or at least commanded a ship, which was enough for him. Back when he was Thot Phul, back before his humiliation at the hands of Reginald Bain and his demotion. He tried not to think about it, though. These last months working for Grad Norm hadn’t been terrible. The hours were good (Grad Norm was not one to stay in his office late). He got to sleep in his own bed in his own home on the Breen homeworld every night. And he really couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in any kind of mortal danger. Instead, he saw to the Grad’s needs, checked in on a few special prisoners (Bain had oh so briefly been in that category before he escaped), and generally attempted to make himself feel useful.
“You summoned me, Grad Norm,” he said as he entered the office of his superior. (We are translating this conversation for your convenience. In actuality, it sounded like two garbage disposals full of rocks having an argument.)
“Yes, Phul. Take a look at this.” Norm spun the screen on his desk around, so Phul could see it. The display showed a series of sensor contacts from various ships and monitoring stations. Just a momentary blip at each one.
“We thought it might a computer issue at first,” Norm said. “Command was worried that a sensor glitch was spreading through all of our systems. Maybe a virus from the Tzenkethi. But it only showed up in certain ones. When we looked through the timestamps, we saw that whatever this anomaly was passed all the way through our space in a matter of seconds.”
“So, it wasn’t a threat,” Phul said.
“I’m not sure I’d go that far. You see, a couple of hours later, it came back through. That’s when we realized that the anomaly we were seeing was THE Anomaly.”
“I don’t follow…”
“It’s the USS Anomaly. I know. The capital letters don’t come across when I’m talking. Regardless, it’s…”
“We’re fairly certain. Command hasn’t told the leadership yet. I wanted to speak with you first. We’ve had that Romulan from Bain’s ship in custody for quite a while now. He’s still alive, right? We didn’t execute him?”
“Selex? He lives. No one really cared about his trial, so he’s just been in his cell waiting for us to come up with some use for him,” Phul said.
“We certainly have one now.”
Selex never considered how boring life as a political prisoner would be. He’d escaped to Breen from the USS Anomaly after attempting to kill Commander Prosak, hoping to find asylum. Instead, he was taken into custody. After the initial terror of finding himself a prisoner of a Breen and being put on trial for charges he never understood, he soon found that he was basically being ignored. Granted, he didn’t mind that he wasn’t being subjected to constant torture, and the Breen didn’t seem to be very interested in prying Romulan state secrets out of him. It would have been a waste of time anyway. He didn’t know any, and, even if he did, he’d never betray the Romulan Empire. There were certainly several individual Romulans that he would betray, but never the Empire as a whole.
So now his days were spent mostly in his cell reading the parts of the Breen literary and historical archives that he’d been given access to. His main source of socialization was Dobt Phul, who would come by every day or so to check on him. It wasn’t much (and wouldn’t have been anything at all if Phul hadn’t given him a universal translator), but it was better than absolute solitude.
His cell door slid open, and a hulking Breen guard entered followed by Dobt Phul. It was a good thing that the Breen all wore the same outfits and helmets every day, or Selex would have had no idea who was who. As it was, there were tiny details that individualized each person.
“Romulan,” Phul said disdainfully.
“Breen,” Selex spat back.
(They’d had this exchange so often that it had become their equivalent of:
“Hey. How are you doing?”
“Fine. And you?”)
“Your days of worthlessness are at an end. You may just have some value to the Breen after all,” Phul said, surprising Selex. This was new.
“I’ll never betray the Empire,” Selex stated, which will come as no surprise to you, since you read the first paragraph of this scene.
“We’re not interested in the Romulans. I…we want Reginald Bain. You can give him to us while being allowed to return to your beloved Empire.”
“I’d also like to get revenge against a few people. I have a list.”
“We really don’t care, but I’ll see what I can do,” Phul said.
“Excellent. Then let’s make a deal.”
“Three months later…”
“Wait what? Nothing happened for three months?” Jarrett interrupted.
“Many things happened. But none of them are related to this story,” Tovar replied.
“Then why did you tell me all of that?”
“It was important set up. Now if I may continue without further interruptions…”
A slight breeze was coming in off the San Francisco Bay as Marsden and Tovar sat at a table for two on the deck overlooking the water. Tovar was fairly certain that this particular seafood restaurant didn’t actually exist in San Francisco. At least not currently. Maybe it did at one time. Regardless, it was a beautiful spot, and he was enjoying the smile on his wife’s face as she watched dolphins cresting the surface of the water in the distance.
“What?” she asked, once she realized she was being watched.
“Nothing. Just enjoying the view,” Tovar replied.
“The holochef really outdid himself this time.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
“Uh huh. I guess I should be glad you’re not bored of me yet.”
“After one entire year of marriage? No. Not at all. I can’t imagine feeling bored after fifty years.”
“So fifty-one years is when I have to worry about you tossing me aside,” Marsden said with a smirk.
“Are you telling me that I don’t have to have the same fears?” Tovar asked.
“You’re fine for now,” Marsden said, reaching across the table and taking his hand.
“You look awfully happy for me to just be fine.”
“I like it here.” She was quiet for a moment. “And…I’ve been thinking.”
“About what exactly?”
This was not an answer Tovar was expecting. The blob child that Commander Vioxx had raised over the course of 48 hours several months ago was off exploring the galaxy. Why would Marsden be thinking about…
“I have also thought about…Neb…a little,” Tovar said.
“Yeah yeah. It’s just been a little for me, too. But you’ve really been thinking about it?”
“We’re not talking about Neb anymore, correct?”
“Then yes. I have. I just didn’t realize you were, too.”
“Well, my body does have this functionality that I’ve never tried out,” Marsden said.
“Spoken like a true engineer,” Tovar replied.
“You just like being the only one who’s actually given birth.”
Tovar involuntarily shuddered. “The squidlings from Andromeda hardly count.”
“Don’t let their mom hear you say that.”
“Once again, you know what I meant.”
“I do. And I’m not just thinking about this because I have the ability to create life. We’ve talked about it before.”
“Yes. Before we got married, but we said, ‘sometime in the future.’”
“This is the future,” Marsden said. “Not that I’m ready right now.”
“I’m not either.”
“But you could be soon?”
“Perhaps. I wasn’t sure you would want to have a child on board the Anomaly considering the nature of what we do,” Tovar said.
“We certainly wouldn’t be lacking in babysitters.”
“No. Just privacy.”
“So nothing would change on that front,” Marsden said.
“No. But it is a topic that certainly warrants further discussion.”
“And practice,” Tovar said with a glint in his eye.
“Oh absolutely,” Marsden said. “Don’t want to mess up the baby making.”
Tovar stifled a laugh. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Across the holomess, Rosalyn Bain stepped through the doors into the bayside restaurant. While she and her husband tended to have breakfast and dinner together in their quarters, Rosalyn liked to get out for lunch and spend it amongst the crew. She’d gotten to know pretty much all of them over the last year or so that she’d been on board and had gotten used to the fact that a great many of them seemed to regard her as a kind of surrogate mother. Or grandmother to some of the younger ones. It was certainly different than the life she’d had as a Section 31 agent, but it gave her a role on board. And she felt that she was actually making a valuable contribution to the next generation and the generation after that one in many cases.
She usually looked around the room to see if any of the crew were trying to catch her eye and wave her over to join them, but today she locked onto Commander Prosak, who was staring blankly at the plate in front of her.
Prosak had been having a rough time of it of late. More accurately, the woman was completely adrift. Her time with an actual Vulcan, granted one that was trying to use her to get information, had shaken her RommaVulc beliefs as well as her confidence in her path as a Starfleet Officer. She’d then thrown herself completely into her Romulan heritage (Although, Rosalyn felt that the attire Prosak chose felt more Romulan street hooligan.), but over the last few months, she’d eased up on that as well. Gone were the face tattoo and metal-studded boots. Now she was opting mostly for black pants and a plain grey tunic. This attire was far more comfortable without the pointy metal bits to deal with.
At least she was coming out of her quarters. Prosak wanted to be with her shipmates. That was something.
Rosalyn made a direct line to Prosak’s table and sat down across from her. “Hello there, dearie. Do you mind if I join you?”
Prosak looked up surprised. “Uh…”
“Thank you. It’s so nice to see you.” A holowaiter rushed over and handed her a menu, which she quickly glanced over. “Shrimp cocktail, please. And an iced tea, sweet, with lemon. Thank you.”
The pair sat in silence for a moment as the waiter rushed away to put in Rosalyn’s order. “How are you doing, Prosak?” Rosalyn asked finally.
“Fine. I am fine. Absolutely fine. Why do you ask?” Prosak replied, barely making eye contact. This was for two reasons. First, while Prosak didn’t want to be alone, she wasn’t quite ready for a full-on conversation at this point. And second, Rosalyn Bain terrified her. Yes, she’d been nothing but kind, but the human woman had been an actual secret agent. Some of the stories Tovar had told Prosak about his adopted mother’s exploits once Prosak was aware of the truth were just…amazing. And terrifying. She could probably kill Prosak in 17 different ways just with what was currently sitting on the table between them.
This was, of course, complete nonsense. The actual number was 23.
“I’m asking,” Rosalyn said, “because you seem lost. And before you protest, remember that I’ve raised three children and taught hundreds of others at the Academy. I know the look.”
“I am not some teenager trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”
“No. You’re an adult trying to figure out what you want to do. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. We don’t all grow up knowing with absolute certainty what we’re meant for. And even when we think we do, sometimes we get there and find out we’re wrong.”
“Is that what happened with you?” Prosak asked.
“In a way. I was quite happy with my teaching career, but when I was offered additional opportunities, I discovered that I enjoyed those as well.”
“Which means you were never lost. And I can’t imagine that Captain Bain ever was either.”
“Dear me, no,” Rosalyn replied with a chuckle. “Reg knew that he wanted to be a Starfleet Officer from the moment he was aware of what Starfleet was. He never wavered, and to my knowledge the man has not had a single regret about his choice of profession. He loves what he does, and who he gets to serve with.”
Rosalyn gave a kindly wave as Ensign Bechdel walked by, then refocused her attention on Prosak. “But this conversation isn’t about Reginald. It’s about you. What do you want for yourself, Prosak?”
“I honestly do not know,” Prosak said. “Nothing has felt right in months. What do you think I should be doing?”
“That’s not for me to say. You’re going to have to find that for yourself.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you could be a perfectly good Starfleet Officer for the rest of your career. Maybe you’re not passionate about it, but you’re good at the job,” Rosalyn said as the waiter returned with her iced tea.
“That…sounds like TERRIBLE advice,” Prosak said.
“Does it?” Rosalyn asked with a slight smile before taking a sip.
“I don’t want to spend the next several decades doing something I don’t care about.”
“Excellent. You’ve made one decision right there. And, as you just pointed out, you do have time. Lots of it, considering the average Romulan lifespan. You may not figure everything out today, but you will. I have every confidence in you.”
“Of course. I’ve seen…”
The voice of Reginald Bain suddenly broke in over the ship’s comm system. “Senior officers to the briefing room. I repeat, senior officers to the briefing room. Bain out.”
“I should go,” Prosak said, standing.
“Yes yes. Absolutely,” Rosalyn said. That was awfully terse for Reginald, and she could tell by the tone in his voice that he was not happy about something.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bain,” Prosak said, breaking into her thoughts. “I am glad that you decided to join me.”
“I enjoyed our talk. If there’s anything else I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Prosak gave her a nod (The RommaVulc part of her hadn’t been completed purged) then made her way to the exit. Rosalyn saw Tovar and Marsden doing the same. The agent in her wanted to know what was going on, but it was Reg’s ship. He’d tell her tonight over dinner.
In the meantime, she’d enjoy this absolutely splendid location that the holochef had decided on for today. Hopefully the shrimp cocktail would be equally wonderful.
Prosak walked into the Anomaly’s briefing room a few steps behind Tovar and Marsden. Captain Bain, Commander Vioxx, and Sub-Commander Remax were already there along with Centurion Nortal and Sub-Lieutenant Zantak. The latter two were a surprise. Yes, they served on the bridge, but Prosak wouldn’t have considered them senior officers. She took her seat just as Dr. Natalia Kasyov strode in. With the extra attendees, Kasyov found herself without a chair.
“Take mine, Kassie,” Bain said, hopping up from his seat at the head of the conference table. “I think I need to pace this one out anyway. Vioxx, care to do the honors?”
“Yes, Captain,” Vioxx said from his seat at the opposite end. “A short time ago, Captain Bain and I received a priority message from Admiral Karwrek at Romulan High Command. We have been ordered to Romulus immediately.”
“Romulus?” Remax asked surprised. “What’s going on? Are we being invaded? Is the planet in danger?”
“Nothing like that,” Vioxx said.
“We do not usually take orders from the High Command. Starfleet Command concurs with this?” Tovar asked.
Bain just grunted in the affirmative.
“What is going on?” Kasyov asked.
“They’re being reassigned,” Bain said, pacing back and forth. “Just ripped away from us without a blasted bit of notice that this was coming.”
“The captain is correct,” Vioxx said. “That is why we asked Nortal and Zantak to join us.”
“Reassigned? Where?” Remax asked.
“I demand to know!” Nortal cried. “And will I continue to control the vast firepower of a vessel such as this?!?”
“Oh, that’s the best bloody part,” Bain snapped. His pacing at the front of the briefing room was really more angry stalking at this point.
“Due to the experiences we have gained here on the Anomaly, we have been ordered to take command of the Empire’s new anti-singularity drive prototype ship,” Vioxx said.
“The WHAT?!?” Marsden shouted. “How the fu…” She caught herself, realizing where she was. “How in the name of the Great Bird did they build a ship with an anti-singularity drive?”
“I really have no idea,” Vioxx said.
“Romulan ingenuity,” Remax said proudly.
“No seriously,” Marsden said. “Getting the energy outputs from the warp core and quantum singularity to align and create a stable anti-singularity field for any length of time has proven to be impossible without Cabral. No computer program Starfleet R&D has devised can keep up with it.”
“Cabral says it’s more feel than science,” Kasyov added.
“Exactly. You’d better make sure that ship has escape pods because you’re going to need them. I blew up six prototypes before this one kind of worked. Unless yours has a brain running it…”
“Do they have a brain?” Kasyov asked in horror.
“All of the Cerebe except for Cabral are dead,” Tovar said. “Chindela confirmed it.”
“What if they cloned Cabral? We’ve been to Romulus a couple of times. They could have grown their own Cabral to serve them!”
“The Romulan Empire does not secretly clone people for their own duplicitous ends!” Vioxx protested.
“Anymore,” Remax added softly.
Vioxx shot him a shocked look, but the elder Romulan just shrugged.
“We will discover the secrets hidden within our new vessel,” Nortal said.
“I’d certainly love to see for myself,” Marsden said.
“Negative, Marsie. This is to be Romulans only,” Bain said.
Prosak perked up at this. Maybe this was where she could provide some value and reconnect with her homeworld. She had years more experience commanding the Anomaly than Vioxx and had been farther on board that he could ever dream. “In that case, Captain,” she said, “I would like to join the new vessel.”
“I’m afraid not, Prosak,” Bain replied. “Our orders are specific that you are to remain here.”
“Very specific,” Vioxx said.
“That’s just…mean,” Prosak said.
“I’m not happy about a lot of this,” Bain said. “But these are our orders. We’ll be delivering Vioxx and company to the Imperial shipyards over Malak Pasala, where they will transfer over to their new ship. Since no other Romulan vessel is capable of keeping pace at anti-sing, the Anomaly will remain in the area to provide assistance, if needed.”
“And by ‘assistance,’ he means beaming you out before it explodes,” Marsden said to Remax.
“Believe me, Lieutenant,” Remax replied. “We Romulans will not need to blow up six prototypes to get this right.”
“I hope we don’t have to blow up any!” Vioxx said.
“I refuse to explode!” Nortal said. Zantak nodded in agreement.
“We’ll be standing by to rescue you lot if fireworks are in the offing,” Bain said. “But for now, I must regrettably ask you to go pack your things. Dismissed.” The gathered officers got up to leave. “Hang back a second, will you, Prosak?”
Prosak did as Bain requested, and soon the room was empty except for them. “I’m sorry about all that,” Bain said. “But if you want to join Vioxx, I can talk to Admiral Larkin. I’d hate to see you go, but if that’s what you’re keen on…”
“Thank you, Captain, but it’s fine. I can tell when I’m not wanted. I’m sure the High Command has no interest in bringing a RommaVulc into their ranks. Even a lapsed one.”
“That’s their loss, and all the better for me. Yes, I hate losing members of my crew like this, but it does mean that I’ll get you back as my Number One. That’s our silver lining!” he exclaimed. “Right then. I’d best get back to the bridge. Carry on, Prosak!” Bain strode out of the briefing room, leaving Prosak alone with her thoughts.
She could be First Officer again. More than that, despite everything that had transpired over the last several months, Bain actually wanted her back in the position.
This should be fantastic news.
So why did she have such an incredible urge to grab a shuttle and get the hell out of there?
Vioxx threw the last of his clothing into a small duranium suitcase and slammed it shut, thus finishing the packing job. Everything he’d brought aboard the Anomaly was in that case, and packing it all up took less than 15 minutes.
Just then, Vioxx’s door chime rang.
“Come,” he said then slid the suitcase over by the door.
The door opened to reveal Captain Bain. “Commander. Or should I say, Captain?”
“No, still a commander. Romulans have different rank structures.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Bain said. “Well, I brought you a little parting gift. A bottle of Glenlivet single malt. You seemed to enjoy it when we had a drink in the Captain’s Lounge a few months ago.”
“Thank you, Captain. That’s very kind. I’m sure I have a bottle of Romulan Ale around here somewh–”
“No!” Bain held up a hand. “I mean, that’s quite all right.”
“Well,” Vioxx said. “We’ll be at Malak Pasala in the morning. I should gather my people for their final debrief.”
“About that,” Bain said. “My people have a bit of a to-do scheduled in Twain the Keel. You and your people are invited. It was very last minute, but I thought it appropriate. Final send-off and all.”
“How kind of you,” Vioxx said. “We will be there. I’ll let the others know.”
“Yes,” Bain said, and put his hands behind his back. “You sure you don’t want to pass on this? Stay here instead.”
“I can’t say I blame you. And as much as I hate to lose you, I’m happy that you’re getting your own command again. It has been an honor, Commander.”
“The honor was mine,” Vioxx said, and put his hand out.
Bain shook it firmly. “I know we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but you’re as good as they come in the center seat.”
“I appreciate that, sir. Coming from you, it means a lot.”
“Right then. I’ll let you get back to it. See you at the party.” Bain gave him a quick head nod, then strode back out into the corridor.
Vioxx would never admit it, certainly not to a fellow Romulan, but he was actually going to miss serving with Reginald Bain. He was definitely not what Vioxx had been led to believe humans were like. And for a man with a nickname “The Butcher of Breen,” Bain was surprisingly kind…and decent. They were traits that would probably get Bain killed on a Romulan ship, but Vioxx certainly didn’t mind spending the last few years serving under a man who had them.
That night in Twain the Keel, Captain Bain stood before his gathered crew, pint glass in hand. “I know you all aren’t here tonight to listen to me blather on, but I did want to say a few words in honor of our departing comrades.”
“Nay! You must not mourn! We live!” Nortal shouted.
“DeparTING. Not deparTED, you gaplot,” Remax hissed from his seat beside her.
“Live you do, Centurion,” Bain continued. “Who knew that when we rescued you lot from being eaten…”
“That’s not what happened,” Remax said scowling.
“It’s exactly what happened! You lost an arm!” Vioxx snapped.
Nortal leapt to her feet. “Those foul beasts would have learned that Nortal is no appetizer! I am the meal you regret the next day as I lay waste to your inner realm!”
“Inner realm?” Remax said.
“Please ignore them, Captain,” Vioxx said, pulling Nortal back into her seat.
“Thank you, Commander,” Bain said with a nod. “As I was saying, when we first rescued you, none of us had any idea that we would continue serving together. But over the past years we have faced Borg…and even romanced one in Commander Vioxx’s case.”
Vioxx frowned. “That’s not exactly how that went.”
“Oh so now you care about veracity,” Remax said.
Bain continued over them. “…been marooned, traveled back in time, found a lost civilization, and defeated the Vulcans and Dillon Consortium. Not at the same time…but we could have. And though we were thrown together by circumstances outside of our control, our two crews merged into one efficient machine. It has been an honor serving with you, and I would gladly do so again.” He raised his glass high into the air. “Farewell, fair Romulans, we will miss you!” Moments later, he’d drained the entire pint.
“Fair?” Remax said.
“I am ravishing!” Nortal exclaimed.
“And I am drinking…heavily,” Vioxx said, taking a long gulp. Zantak just nodded and drained her glass.
“I’m actually sorry to see them go,” Marsden said to Dr. Kasyov as they sat at their table along the far wall of the pub.
“Who would have guessed that we’d become friendly-ish with a bunch of Romulans?” Kasyov said.
“Well, look at us. Did you ever think we’d be friends?”
Kasyov thought about that. “At first, heck no.”
“I sure couldn’t have predicted I’d end up with Tovar. I just thought of him as Bain’s lapdog. And I despised Captain Bain.”
“Despised?” Kasyov put up an eyebrow. “Wow, I had no idea.”
“He took my ship while it was still in the experimental stages. He threw my research out the window and had no interest in my ideas.”
“He was always more interested in diffusing crises,” Kasyov said. “Or starting them.”
“But now I think of him as a father. He’s going to be my children’s grandfather. If…I have children.”
“Anything you want to tell me?” Kasyov asked.
Marsden smiled. “Nothing yet.”
“Damn well better not be. I’m counting on you to get drunk with me tonight. We haven’t had a proper party on this ship in ages.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve already warned Tovar that I plan on getting plastered.”
“So he knows that he’s going to have to carry you back to your quarters? Or that you’re going to be all over him?”
Marsden’s smile turned into a broad grin. “Both.”
Tovar returned to the table with a round of drinks from the bar. Kasyov stood up and took hers from him. “I’m going to go pay my respects. Don’t get too far ahead of me.”
“Just the one drink. I promise,” Marsden replied.
“I would not believe her,” Tovar said.
“Not for a second,” Kasyov said before heading across the room.
“Was I away long enough for there to be sufficient gossiping about me?” Tovar asked, handing Marsden her drink. Before he could sit down to join her, Centurion Nortal swooped in from behind and wrapped him in a massive bear hug.
“The Great Toflay! I will miss you the most!”
“That’s Tovar,” Marsden said. “Toflay is one of his past lives.”
“Can you send him a message?” Nortal asked.
“I try not to do that anymore,” Tovar said. “My past lives have caused a bit of trouble.”
“A BIT!” Marsden said with a chuckle.
“Perhaps Toflay can make me a special dish in honor of my departure?”
“I cannot access one of my past lives for you,” Tovar said, and upon seeing the dejected look on the Romulan’s face, he amended. “Maybe if we had more time, but you see, I need to prepare.”
“I see. Well then, tell Toflay that we will see each other in the next life, to be sure!”
Marsden waved politely as Nortal slunk off. “Hon, what was that all about?”
“If I had to guess, I would say the centurion is quite enamored with Toflay’s cooking. She must have encountered him during one of my past life…regressions.”
“I don’t think she’s interested in his cooking,” Marsden said with a smirk. “Should I be jealous?”
“Why? She’s interested in Toflay, not me.”
“Toflay IS you.”
“She will get over me…him,” Tovar said. “And hopefully find someone more…alive.”
On the other side of the bar, Kasyov pulled up a chair next to Vioxx, Remax, and Zantak as they sat stiffly at a corner table. “Enjoying the party?”
“No,” Remax said, folding his arms. “We are attending out of courtesy, and because we were ordered to.”
“Good dip,” Zantak said.
“Thanks. I replicated it myself,” Kasyov said. “Any idea what kind of ship you’re getting? I hear the Romulan Warhawks have a rotating-band sensor array. It has a multi-phasic mode that’s really helpful in discerning disruptive events across space-time.”
“Wish the Anomaly had one?” Remax said.
“Well, it would be nice…”
“Just admit it. Romulan technology is superior.”
“Why does everything have to be a competition?” Vioxx asked, slamming his empty glass down on the table. By the looks of things, it was not the first.
“Because that’s how you get ahead.”
“Ahead in what? Do you even know what you’re competing for?”
“Galactic superiority,” Remax said simply.
“You really are full of yourself,” Kasyov said, and pushed out of her chair. “Well, nice knowing you, Remax.”
“Come back never,” Remax said.
“Why do you do that?” Vioxx asked, wobbling slightly. “She was trying to be nice.”
“Why not? We’re never going to see them again. Are you planning to come visit? Who cares what she thinks? I’m just happy we’re getting out of here.” He tapped his glass against Zantak’s.
“Why?” Zantak asked, looking at her glass.
“The clinking? It’s a human ritual.”
“And here I thought you didn’t like humans,” Vioxx said.
“Just drink up.” Remax smiled. “Tomorrow is a big day.” The elder Romulan’s mood suddenly darkened. “Oh klarnsvot,” he spat.
“What?” Vioxx asked, trying to focus in the direction Remax was looking.
“Prosak decided to show herself. And she’s heading this way. How many of these social interactions are we going to have to endure tonight?”
“It’s a party for us that we’re at soooooooo a lot. Yep! I’m guessing a lot,” Vioxx said.
“Haven’t you passed out yet?”
“Working on it,” Vioxx said. “But I ran out of drinks.”
“I’ll bring some,” Zantak said, practically jumping up from the table and heading to the bar.
“She’s a woman of few words, but they’re usually good ones.”
Before Prosak made it to the table, she was almost barreled over by Nortal, who slammed down the largest beer mug Remax had ever seen before plopping herself down into the chair Zantak had recently vacated.
“I am rejected!” she cried.
“Rejected or dejected?” Remax asked.
The Centurion considered this for a moment before finally deciding, “BOTH! Both I say!” Nortal grabbed up the massive full beer mug and started gulping.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Prosak said, trying not to watch the large amounts of liquid cascading down Nortal’s shirt.
“At this point, it’s an improvement,” Remax said.
“Yes. Well…I just wanted to say that I have appreciated having you aboard. I know we haven’t all gotten along all the time, but it has been nice to have other Romulans on the Anomaly to remind me of home.”
“You can’t come with us,” Remax said.
“I didn’t say that…”
“Not yet, but you were heading toward it. I know you’ve made a mess of things for yourself here, but you’re not an officer of the Romulan Star Empire, and we’re not taking you with us. Right, Vioxx?”
Vioxx was at that moment face down on the table drooling.
“That’s him agreeing with me.”
“Fine!” Prosak snapped. “I was just trying to say goodbye. Enjoy your new ship. I will happily not see you again.”
“Best farewell of the night!” Remax said as Prosak turned to go.
Zantak was just returning from the bar with a tray of drinks. “Bye,” the Sub-Lieutenant said simply.
“Thank you for saying that,” Prosak replied with a nod. “And goodbye to you.” With that, she strode away.
“Yet another thing I won’t miss about this ship,” Remax said as Zantak sat down. He glanced over at the passed-out Vioxx then grabbed one of the drinks Zantak had brought. “I’m starting to think he has the right idea.” He downed the beverage in one swig, just in time for another member of the Starfleet to come over to say their farewells.
This was going to be a long night, but with any luck, he’d soon be too drunk to care.
The next morning, the Anomaly arrived at the Romulan shipyards of Malak Pasala. Not surprisingly, the Federation starship was ordered to not come within 2 million kilometers of the actual facility.
The Romulan Imperial Navy did like its privacy.
Therefore, Vioxx, Remax, Nortal, and Zantak were to traverse the rest of the distance on board the Allegra. This also worked out well, since the Empire wanted its scout ship back.
There was just one small problem.
“Death, I beg for thee!” Nortal cried, dragging herself into the Anomaly’s main shuttlebay. The three other Romulans trudging along behind her shushed her as forcefully as they could manage in their current state.
“I can’t shake this off. Why can’t I shake this off?” Vioxx moaned.
“Because it’s a real hangover brought on by real alcohol,” Remax snapped.
“It wasn’t synthehol? What kind of madman stocks a starship bar with real alcohol?”
“Good morning!” Captain Bain’s voice boomed as he bounded down the Allegra’s ramp.
“That one,” Remax muttered.
“I was wondering when you lot would show up,” Bain said. He stopped for a moment, surveying the group before him. “You look absolutely knackered.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Remax said.
“I know we did the big goodbye thing at last night’s soiree, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to be here this morning to see you off. I may not like the circumstances of your departure, but you were all still fine members of my crew. And I wish you the best.”
“Ankusur,” Vioxx mumbled.
“What was that?”
“He said, ‘Thank you, sir,’” Remax replied.
“You’re quite welcome.” Bain focused his gaze on Zantak. “Are you ship-shape enough to fly this thing?”
She gave him a weary thumbs-up in reply.
“Good show,” Bain said, clapping her on the shoulder. It was almost enough to drop her to the deck, but Zantak maintained her footing then retreated into the ship.
Nortal pulled herself together enough to face Bain. “I regret that I was unable to die valiantly under your command,” she said.
“Nonsense. I’m happy to count you among the living, Centurion. You make the galaxy more interesting by being in it.”
“Then, by Jenichai, I shall live forever!” Nortal exclaimed. She bowed dramatically then charged into the Allegra.
Remax was next. Much to the elder Romulan’s surprise, Bain simply said, “Sub-Commander.”
“Captain,” Remax replied with a nod, then walked to the ramp into the ship.
That just left Vioxx. “We had our chat yesterday,” Bain said. “So I’ll just leave you with this. Be careful. Something about this isn’t right. I can feel it in my gut. It’s not because Romulans are involved. You’re Romulan, and I’d trust you with my life. No. This is something else. I don’t know what, but…something.”
Vioxx was aware that Bain had just uttered a lot of words in his general direction. Fortunately, they were said at a reasonable volume. He did catch that last one, though.
“Something,” Vioxx repeated, for lack of anything else to say.
“Exactly. Stay sharp. Be wary.”
Vioxx winced. That was loud.
“Right! I’ll leave you to it,” Bain said, stepping away from the Allegra. “But we’ll be there if you need us.”
Vioxx gave him a floppy wave back then stumbled into the ship. Once on the Allegra’s bridge, he collapsed into the command chair and immediately passed out. Zantak looked to Remax questioningly.
“Just get us out of here,” Remax said.
“Autopilot engaged,” Zantak replied. The Allegra lifted up off the shuttlebay deck and slid smoothly out into space.
A short time later, the Allegra approached Malak Pasala. Several attempts by the shipyards to hail the ship went unanswered. A heavily armed boarding party was sent to find out what had happened.
This team didn’t know what they would find.
Had the Allegra’s crew fallen victim to Federation treachery?
Were they attacked by rogue Klingons?
Were they exposed to a dangerous new virus?
On high alert, the boarding party beamed onto the Allegra’s bridge only to find four sleeping Romulans.
“In the name of the Praetor, I command you to awaken!” the team’s leader shouted.
“Unnnh,” Vioxx groaned from the command chair.
The leader rushed over to him. “Commander! What happened to you?”
“Bain,” Vioxx said weakly, then fell back into unconsciousness.
So it was Federation treachery!
They would rue the day they had harmed officers of the Romulan Star Empire!
Fortunately for the galaxy, Zantak woke up as well and heard what Vioxx said. She quickly added, “Bain threw us a party. We got drunk.”
“So…no treachery?” the boarding party commander asked, disappointment evident in his voice.
“Dock your ship and report to the Admiral,” he said. He looked over the group again with disgust. “After you’ve gotten some sleep and cleaned up.” He then slapped a control on his wrist and disappeared in a swirl of molecules. The rest of his team soon did the same, leaving the Allegra crew alone.
“What happened?” Remax asked groggily.
“Vioxx almost caused a war. I stopped it.”
“Nortal will be sorry she missed it.”
Zantak just shrugged.
“We should be dead,” Remax said the next morning as the group waited outside of the office Malak Pasala’s commander, Admiral Fixit.
“We didn’t drink that much,” Vioxx said.
“No, but we arrived here drunk and unconscious. I don’t understand it. We should have been executed immediately. Have standards fallen so far in the few years we’ve been away?”
“Hurray for low standards.” Vioxx said.
“If I were to ever touch the accursed poison known as lager again, I would drink it in celebration of the plummeting standards of which you speak that have saved our lives,” Nortal said.
“We’re expendable,” Zantak said.
Remax thought for a moment. “She has a point.”
“I don’t get it,” Vioxx said.
“We’re about to board an experimental ship. Despite the confidence I expressed to Lieutenant Marsden, it could explode. Why waste another crew?”
“But they said it was because we have anti-sing experience,” Vioxx said.
“We do,” Remax replied.
“And we’re expendable,” Zantak added.
The admiral’s attaché emerged from the office. “Admiral Fixit will see you now.”
Vioxx and crew filed into Fixit’s office where the elder admiral was standing behind her desk.
“It’s good to see you all up and about,” the admiral said, gesturing to the two chairs in front of her desk. As the senior officers, Vioxx and Remax sat down in the offered chairs while Nortal and Zantak took up positions behind them. Fixit sat back in her own seat and plastered a smile on her face that made Vioxx distinctly uncomfortable.
“This is an important day for the Empire,” Fixit continued. “And one many years in the making. For too long, we have been at the mercy of Starfleet and their anti-singularity drive, and you four have borne the brunt of this indignity. The Praetor thanks you for your service and is pleased to reward you with the honor of being the crew to man the first of many Romulan-built anti-singularity vessels.”
She tapped a control on her desk, activating a holographic display that floated in front of Vioxx and company. It was a ship, similar to a warbird, but a bit smaller. Along with the standard two nacelles affixed to the ends of the forward-swept wings, two smaller ones had been mounted on stubby supports rising above rear of the main body of the craft.
Fixit beamed proudly. “I give to you, the MANAMANAT!”
“DO DOO DE DO DO.”
“Damned annoying comm signal. I apologize. We were not be disturbed. But as I was saying, the MANAMANAT!”
“DO DOO DE DO!” the comm chimed more insistently.
“I have to answer this. If I don’t, it’s just going to keep sounding over and over again. Just a moment, and we can get back to the Manamanat.”
“DO DOO DE DO DO DE DO DO DE DO DO DE DO DO.”
Fixit slammed her hand down on a different control on her desk. “WHAT?” she shouted.
“You asked to be informed when the final checks were complete,” her attaché’s voice replied over the comm. “They are complete.”
“I did, didn’t I? That’s on me. Get facilities up here and tell them that if they don’t get me a different door chime, I’m going to mount their heads on pikes outside my office as a warning to the NEXT facilities crew. Is that clear?”
Fixit closed the channel with another slap of her hand, then put the smile back on her face. “So sorry about that. Back to the Manamanat…” She looked around expectantly, but no additional interruptions came. You will take the ship out to the Pharsalus Sector at increasing anti-sing factors to test out the engines. The Anomaly is standing by to assist if you encounter any issues, but we do not expect there to be any.” She said that last part quite pointedly.
“No issues,” Vioxx said. “We understand.”
Remax spoke up. “Admiral, we are deeply honored by the trust you have placed in us, but none of us are engineers. If we were to need assistance, wouldn’t it be better to have one aboard the ship with us?”
“That has been seen to,” Fixit said. “I have the greatest faith in you all. Prepare yourselves and get to your ship. I want you ready to launch within the hour.”
“Yes, Admiral,” Vioxx said, quickly getting to his feet. “We won’t let you down.”
“I hope not,” Fixit replied as an unspoken “for your sakes” hung in the air.
Out in the corridor, Vioxx looked concerned. “Where in the name of the Great Bird is the Pharsalus Sector?”
“Very far away on the opposite side of the Empire from Federation Space,” Remax said. “There’s nothing out there.”
“So it’s the perfect place to send us if we do explode. No one will notice.”
“Plausible deniability and saving face. It’s the Romulan way,” Remax said.
“But we shall not explode!” Nortal said. “I forbid it!”
“I hope that’s enough,” Vioxx said. He looked back and forth down the corridor. “Do you have any idea where this ship is docked?” His officers all shook their heads. “Great. We’d better find it before Fixit uses our intestines as party streamers. Come on.”
They rushed off to locate the Manamanat.
FIFTY-NINE MINUTES LATER…
“Docking Control grants us leave to away!” Nortal reported from the tactical console on the starboard side of the Manamanat’s small bridge.
“Clear all moorings,” Vioxx said to Zantak as he settled into the command chair. It had taken a lot longer than they had hoped to find the ship, and he’d started genuinely fearing for his life near the end there. But finally they’d found their way to the high security dock where the Manamanat was waiting for them. “Take us out a safe distance from the facility.”
Zantak nodded and gracefully steered the ship out of its bay and out into space. She brought the Manamanat to all stop in plain view of Malak Pasala’s observation windows, where several of the facility’s crew had gathered to watch the launch of Romulus’ first anti-singularity vessel.
“All right. They want a show. Let’s give it to them. Lay in a course for the Pharsalus Sector. Vioxx to Engineering. I don’t know if anyone is actually down there, but I want Warp G on my mark.”
“Warp G is standing by,” an all-too familiar voice replied. Vioxx and Remax exchanged a concerned look.
“Selex? Is that you?” Vioxx asked.
“It is indeed, Commander Vioxx. Or should I just say Vioxx because you won’t be commanding anyone ever again! HAHAHAHAHAHA!”
Vioxx was about to protest that what Selex said didn’t even make sense, but he was cut off by the Manamanat’s anti-singularity drive engaging and sending the ship zooming away from Malak Pasala.
This felt weird.
There Prosak was, back on the Anomaly’s bridge in her Starfleet uniform (without any Romulan adornments) and seated to Captain Bain’s right as though the last few years with the other Romulans on board had never happened.
She was First Officer again (Technically “Acting” until Starfleet Command approved Bain’s request to reinstate her in the position.) and back on her way to possibly commanding a ship of her own one day.
Which she absolutely did not want to do.
What the hell was she doing? She’d been on the command track ever since she decided to leave Romulus and join Starfleet? Now she didn’t want it?
She thought back to her conversation with Rosalyn Bain. The woman seemed so content. Why couldn’t someone give Prosak the opportunity Rosalyn had been given?
“All right there, Commander?” Bain asked, breaking into her thoughts.
“Yes, sir. Sorry. Just mentally reviewing some personnel issues.”
“Anything that requires my attention?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
“Capital. Never enjoyed that part of the job anyway. That’s why it’s so important to have a solid First Officer at your side.”
“To do the paperwork and handle personnel matters?” Prosak asked.
“Well…not just that. We’ve had some fun, gotten into some scrapes. What more could you ask for?”
“What more indeed?” Prosak replied with far more import than Bain picked up on. Before she could sink back too deeply into her own thoughts, Prosak heard Lieutenant Commander Tovar speak up from his post at the tac-ops console.
“Captain, we received what I believe to be a distress signal from Commander Vioxx,” Tovar reported.
“You believe?” Bain asked.
“It was just a half second of screaming before it cut off.”
“Ah. That does sound like distress. Right. We’d better go after them. Check with the High Command to find out where they were heading…which they really should have told us from the start, since they’ve had us sitting out here waiting for just this sort of situation.”
“They were likely confident that we would not have to intervene, sir,” Prosak said. “Romulans are not fond of sharing our plans with outsiders. Or often even amongst ourselves.”
“Bloody waste of time,” Bain said. “Bridge to engineering.”
“Marsden here,” the Anomaly’s Chief Engineer replied over the comm system.
“Our Romulan friends seem to have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble. I’m going to need to push the engines pretty hard to catch up with them.”
“So their prototype didn’t work? I’m incredibly surprised by this turn of events,” Marsden said with detectable glee in her voice.
“This isn’t the time to gloat, Lieutenant.”
“You’re right, sir. I’ll wait until after we’ve rescued them, so I can do it to Remax’s face. I’ll coordinate with Cabral and get you whatever you need. Marsden out.”
Bain chuckled as the comm channel closed. “Never insult an engineer,” he said. “You will pay for it one way or another. Remax is going to get an earful after this.”
“Assuming he isn’t killed when the prototype explodes,” Tovar said.
“I’m sure they have escape pods,” Bain said. He thought for a moment, then turned to Prosak. “They do have escape pods, right?”
She just shrugged.
“Right. Let’s get moving then. Best speed to…Tovar?”
“The Pharsalus Sector, sir.”
“Best speed to Pharsalus!”
Vioxx and the others had reacted just as Selex had hoped once he took over control of the ship and launched it into anti-sing. He recorded a snippet of the screaming and sent the distress call. The Romulan High Command would receive it, but there was nothing they could do.
Really only one ship mattered: the USS Anomaly.
Bain would hear it and come running, bringing Prosak along with him.
And Selex would be ready for them.
For now, though, he really needed to get to Pharsalus and shut down the anti-singularity drive. Trying to keep it from destroying itself was taking all of his focus. Fortunately, Vioxx and company were sealed onto the Manamanat’s bridge. The last thing he needed was them getting in the way before everything was ready.
But when the time came, they’d see that they should have listened to him all along. They didn’t need the Anomaly because Selex had given the secret of anti-sing to Romulus! It might even be the last thing they saw.
Or perhaps he would be magnanimous.
Regardless, right now and at long last, he was the one with all of the power.
Screaming gets tiring very fast. So, while their panic at being at Selex’s mercy and zooming off to who knew where had not subsided, Vioxx and his officers quickly fell silent on the Manamanat’s bridge.
Well…except for Nortal.
“Centurion,” Vioxx said, trying to get her attention.
She quickly stopped. “Has our plight been sufficiently conveyed?”
“More than,” Remax said.
“I’m assuming he’s got us locked out of everything,” Vioxx said.
“Yes,” Zantak said, after trying the helm console.
“Are we still on course for Pharsalus?”
“My weapons! They do nothing!” Nortal exclaimed, smacking the tactical console. “My rage is impotent!”
“Uh huh. Remax?” Vioxx said, turning to the elder Romulan.
“I can use external sensors…a little bit,” Remax replied. “Nothing internal to let us know where Selex is…or what might be waiting between us and him.”
“Why is he taking us to Pharsalus? There’s nothing out there.”
“I don’t think this is about us,” Remax replied. “We’re just bait to get him the one person he truly hates.”
“Prosak,” Vioxx said. “We’ve got to get off this bridge and find him.” He rushed over to the bridge doors and started trying to pry them open.
“Hang on a second. You don’t know what he’s going to do with us. Maybe we grovel a bit, and he’ll let us live. If you start messing with his plan, we’ll find out just how expendable he thinks we are!”
“Nortal does not grovel. I will face death with my Commander,” Nortal said before striding over to join Vioxx’s efforts to open the door. Zantak shrugged and came over as well. After considering the situation for a moment, she knelt down beside the doors and started working to pry open a small access panel to their right.
“I am not involved with this,” Remax huffed, crossing his arms and refusing to move from his chair.
“Yes, you are,” Vioxx grunted, straining with the door. “Now start helping, Sub-Commander!”
“When Selex catches us, I’m telling him that I was just obeying orders.” Remax said as he reluctantly got up from his chair.
“Obey silently!” Nortal snapped.
“Thank you,” Vioxx said. “Now let’s just hope Selex has more to focus on than us right now.”
In fact, Selex did have more to focus on: namely keeping the Manamanat from exploding. As much as he hated admitting it, Selex had to acknowledge that Cabral must have phenomenal abilities. The disembodied brain had made it look so easy. But Selex was Romulan! He would not be outdone by some abomination grown by the Pliggeri.
They had almost made it to the Pharsalus Sector. Just a little bit longer, and he could shut down the anti-sing drive and prepare for the Anomaly’s arrival.
“Has it said anything today?” Dr. Kasyov asked as she monitored Cabral’s sphere in Science Lab Four.
“Just random whispers. Like yesterday. And the day before that,” Cabral replied with something resembling a sigh.
“I’m not reading any unusual energy output.”
“Again, like everyday before this one. What are you expecting to happen, Natalia?”
“You have the remnants of your entire species in that cube inside you. Plus Chindela. I don’t want any of them to…take over.”
“This is not like a Yynsian lifeforce,” Cabral said. “All of the Cerebe were dead. Maybe what I’ve been hearing is snippets of what was recorded by their spheres on their travels.”
“What about Chindela?”
“I honestly don’t know. I assume he did something to protect himself before collapsing Gathering Point. I have to believe he is safe in the cube somehow.”
“As long as he doesn’t try to shove you aside and take your sphere for a spin,” Kasyov said.
“You really need to be a bit more trusting.” Cabral was silent for a moment. “Ah. We’ve arrived. Dropping out of anti-sing.”
On the Anomaly’s bridge, Captain Bain stood next to Ensign Yonk at the helm and peered at the Romulan vessel on the viewscreen. It was stationary, but not showing any signs of damage that Bain could make out. “Tovar?” he asked.
“The ship is motionless. Its shields are down. Weapons offline. No outward signs of damage. Power levels are nominal. I cannot detect anything amiss from here, but no one is responding to my hails.”
“Lifesigns?” Bain asked, turning to the science console. With Remax gone and Kasyov off-shift, the station was being manned by a lieutenant, who we’re not even going to bother naming at this point. Do you need to know the name of every random officer who comes in to take over for the main characters when they leave the bridge? I didn’t think so. Moving on.
“Unclear,” the lieutenant replied, crisply and professionally. She may have been a glorified extra, but she was damn well going to do her best with the opportunity she’d been given. “Four. Possibly five. Perhaps more. The sensors are having trouble getting a clear view.”
“That’s quite peculiar,” Commander Prosak said from her seat beside the command chair.
“Agreed,” Bain said. “And I don’t like it at all. Tovar, raise sh…”
“Transporter activity in Science Lab Four!” Tovar shouted suddenly.
“Bloody hell! Get the shields up! Yonk, back us off!”
Kasyov and Cabral were interrupted in mid-conversation by the sound and cascade of a transporter beam forming near the housing where Cabral’s sphere sat. As a rule, anyone beaming directly into Science Lab Four was usually there for nefarious reasons. In this instance, though, a Romulan transporter beam had delivered a device emanating large amounts of energy.
Cabral quickly came to two conclusions: 1) Bomb, and 2) He probably had very little time to act.
He did the only thing he could think of moments before the world exploded around him in a massive fireball.
The bridge shuddered as the explosion in Science Lab Four rocked the Anomaly.
“Shields are holding,” Tovar reported. “No signs of a hull breach. Medical and engineering teams are on their way to Science Lab Four. The Romulan ship has raised shields as well. And now they are hailing.”
“Damn it!” Bain shouted. “Any other contacts on sensors?”
“No, Captain,” Tovar said.
“For now. Yonk, stay alert and be ready to get us out of here.”
“I don’t believe for a second that this attack was sanctioned by the Romulan government,” Prosak said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Bain said grimly. “I was too slow spotting the trap, and Cabral and Kasyov may have just paid with their lives. The only reason that ship out there is still in one piece is that I refuse to lose Vioxx and the others as well.” He glanced back at Tovar. “Get the bastard on screen. The sooner he gets the gloating part over with, the sooner we can get to the real meat of this thing.”
“Channel open. Audio only.”
“Audio?” Bain said confused. Before he could question it further, their adversary’s voice boomed over the bridge speakers.
“Captain Reginald Bain! I bet you never expected to hear my voice again.”
“I’ve heard it before?” Bain asked, now even more confused.
“Yes! It is I, SELEX!”
Prosak gasped in shock, drawing a look from Bain. “So you know him?” Bain asked.
“Unfortunately,” Prosak replied. “But you do as well.”
“He was the Romulan engineer who served on board until he beamed down to the Breen homeworld,” Tovar explained.
“Oh, right right.”
“You left out the part where he tried to KILL me!” Prosak said.
“Sadly, I was unsuccessful,” Selex said. “I never gave up, though, and my patience was doubly rewarded. Romulan High Command negotiated for my release from the Breen and put me to work on our own anti-singularity drive. The special insights I gleaned while serving on the Anomaly were the key to the project’s success! And now the universe has granted me the chance to finish off Prosak while taking away the only thing that made the Anomaly special…quite literally thanks to my brilliant explosive gambit.”
“I don’t think you’re going to find me quite so easy to destroy, with or without anti-sing,” Bain said.
“That’s why you’re beaming yourself over here.”
“Why the devil would I do that?”
“You’ll do it, or I’ll beam Vioxx or one of his other traitors to the Romulan people out into space one by one until you comply.”
“It’s me you want to kill,” Prosak said. “Why take Bain?”
“There are other interested parties.”
“It’s the bloody Breen, isn’t it?” Bain said.
“Yes,” Selex admitted. “I suppose that was fairly obvious. But they’re not here yet, which means this is happening my way! I defeat Prosak and the Anomaly in battle with my far superior, Romulan-built anti-singularity drive! Prosak dies, Romulus takes over the galaxy with a fleet of anti-singularity ships, and the Breen do whatever the hell they want with you. I’m the hero of Romulus. You’re all dead. The End.”
Prosak couldn’t help but feel that this was her fault. Selex and his irrational desire to kill her had spiraled out of control into a galactic-level threat. This was Rosalyn Bain’s domain. Not hers. If Rosalyn knew what was happening, she’d…
Prosak leapt up out of her seat and frantically signaled for Tovar to mute the comm channel, which the Yynsian quickly did.
“I have an idea,” she said to Bain, then took off at a run toward the turbolift. “Stall him!”
“Stall? All right then. Put him back on, Tovar.”
“Bain?” Selex was asking.
“I’m here,” Bain snapped. “I have to admit that is quite the plan you’ve got, but if I’m to beam over there, we need to talk conditions.”
“There are no conditions. You’re surrendering to me.”
“Not those kinds of conditions. I mean the conditions on your ship. My accommodations.”
“Accommodations? This isn’t a hotel, Bain. You’re going into the brig.”
“But will I have my own cell? I’m very particular about my space, and I don’t relish the prospect of sharing it with whomever else you’ve got imprisoned over there.”
“You know damn well who else I have imprisoned over here!”
“No, I don’t. You could have a lot more than Vioxx and the others there. I don’t know what villainy you’ve been up to.”
“I am not the villain here, Bain! You are!”
“So says the man who beamed a bomb onto my ship.”
A Short Time Earlier in Science Lab Four…
“OW!” Kasyov glared at the metal spike now embedded in her shoulder, a spike that was attached to a tendril extending out from Cabral’s sphere. The moment of impact had been followed by explosive pain. “What the hell?!?”
“It was the only way to save you. I’m so sorry,” Cabral said.
“Save me from what?” Kasyov demanded. Through the pain that threatened to overwhelm her, she realized something was different about the room.
It was basically gone.
Replaced by blackened bulkheads that had been shredded by an incredible force.
So…on top of the explosive pain, there had been a literal explosion.
“How?” she gasped.
“Someone beamed a bomb into the room. Going out of phase was the only way to avoid it, but to bring you along with me, we had to be in physical contact.”
“So you harpooned me.”
“Yes. I only had a moment to disconnect myself from the Anomaly’s systems and grab you. I’m sorry. We’re back in phase now, and I am certain help is on the way.”
“Thank you.” Kasyov said. She suddenly dropped to her knees. “I don’t feel…”
She collapsed to the deck just before a medical team, led by Nurse Ih’vik, arrived. The Andorian looked at Kasyov with surprise. “Huh. I thought there’d be bits of her all over the place.”
“Fortunately, not,” Cabral said. “But she has been seriously injured.”
“Yes, the impaling tipped me off.”
“It really was the only way to save her.”
“Uh huh.” Ih’vik yanked the spike out of Kasyov’s shoulder and quickly slapped a regenerpack onto the wound. “Ih’vik to Sickbay. Emergency medical transport. Energize.”
Ih’vik, Kasyov, and the other medics vanished in several transporter beams. Lieutenant Marsden and several of the Anomaly’s engineering officers rushed in a seconds later.
“Holy shit!” Marsden exclaimed, looking around. She turned on Cabral in sudden alarm. “Was Nat here with you?”
“Yes. They just took her to sickbay, but she will be fine. I made certain that we were out of phase when the explosion happened.”
“Thank the Great Bird!” Marsden said. “And you phased the lasagna…your housing too!”
“Obviously someone hoped to remove me and our anti-singularity drive capabilities. I did not want them to succeed.”
“I appreciate that. If you’d still been tied into everything when this happened…well, we’d all be in trouble. More trouble anyway. But you’re a lot calmer than I would be after narrowly avoiding blowing up,” Marsden replied.
“We are all safe.”
“Yeah, but the blast took out a lot of the conduits connecting your housing to engineering. Until we get that repaired, no anti-sing.”
“I will let you and your team get to work.,” Cabral said, then fell silent. Natalia was his first priority, but there was nothing else he could do for her now. Instead, he was content to wait for the Anomaly crew do their jobs.
He had something else on his large, disembodied mind. Something that had happened while he was phased. Cabral had heard Chindela loud and clear, repeating words that he’d said on Gathering Point: “This was planned for.”
Chindela had no interest in taking over Cabral’s sphere, as Natalia had feared. But he had left Cabral with a feeling, one that he could not ignore and one that had given him much to think about.
The report from Marsden was surprising, but a relief. Tovar would find out the details of how Kasyov and Cabral had managed to survive the explosion later. Right now, he needed to get the information to Bain, whose growing anger at Selex was threatening to…become threatening. Tovar was honestly surprised that Bain had kept it together this long considering the rage that had to be inside him at the possible loss of Dr. Kasyov and Cabral.
“Now see here, you craven little…”
“Captain, report on your two prized petunias. They survived.”
Bain looked back at him skeptically. “My…petunias are unharmed?”
“Well, that does change things,” Bain said. A smile spread across his face. It was time to have a bit of fun with this pompous git.
“Flowers?” Selex snapped in disgust. “We’re talking about the end of your life here, and all you care about is some plants?”
“I don’t like to lose any of my…flowers,” Bain replied. “But back to the matter at hand. If I’m beaming over there, can I bring my mattress? I can’t sleep on a brig slab anymore. I just can’t. It’s murder on my back.”
“How long do you think you’re going to be here?”
“I haven’t the foggiest. You tell me.”
The evident explosion that had happened on board (And Rosalyn Bain certainly knew an explosion when she felt one. She’d caused enough of them over the years.) had driven Rosalyn to pull out a bit of her old Section 31 tech and use it to tap into the Anomaly’s systems, just to get a sense of what was happening. She was sure that Reginald had it all under control, but she just didn’t like being in the dark when the ship was in danger. She didn’t know how the rest of the crew managed it.
She’d just gotten into sickbay’s systems to see the live readouts of Natalia Kasyov’s current status when the door chime of the Bains’ quarters sounded.
And quite urgently.
“Come in,” she started to say, but only managed the first part before Commander Prosak burst into the room.
“I need your help,” the RommaVulc (Was that even accurate anymore?) panted, trying to catch her breath.
“What is it, dearie?” Rosalyn asked.
“Selex is trying to take the captain.”
“Selex? Wasn’t he on Breen?”
“Not anymore. He’s got Vioxx and the others, and he is demanding that Captain Bain beam over there, so he can destroy the Anomaly while I’m in command.”
“He’s scared of facing Reg in battle. And he thinks that he can beat you because he has anti-sing and we don’t.”
“Yes. How did you… Never mind. I can’t let the captain go over there. Selex is after me. I need to deal with this myself. I WANT to deal with this myself. But I have to get onto that ship.”
Rosalyn nodded, understanding. “Come with me. I believe I know exactly what you’re after.” She started back toward the bedroom.
“You’re not going to try to stop me?”
“On the contrary. I think this is exactly what you should be doing. Now let’s get you sorted before Reginald does something rash.”
Despite his commanding bravado, Vioxx really expected to be met with a hail of disrupter fire the moment he and his officers managed to force open the doors of the Manamanat’s bridge.
Instead, they were met by an empty corridor.
“Where is everyone?” Remax asked.
“The crew has been cloaked!” Nortal cried.
“I don’t think so,” Vioxx said. “I can’t imagine High Command is in on Selex’s scheme here, and he doesn’t have the charisma to inspire lackeys to follow him. I just don’t understand why he didn’t do anything to stop us from escaping the bridge.”
“Maybe he’s busy,” Remax said.
“Lucky thing for us. Now we just have to find him.”
“Engineering,” Zantak said.
“That would make sense.”
“We shall breach the walls of his domain!” Nortal exclaimed, charging off down the corridor.
Three of the four Romulans moved cautiously through the Manamanat’s passageways, listening carefully for sounds of any other people, or of Nortal plunging into battle.
All was silent. Eerily so.
Finally, they reached the doors to engineering, where Nortal waited.
“Our breach should be as one!” she whispered in probably the loudest voice that could still be classified as a whisper.
Remax examined the door control panel. “He doesn’t even have this locked.”
“Overconfident to the end,” Vioxx said. “Open it on three, then we charge. One…two…THREE!”
“CHARGE!” Nortal bellowed, storming through the doors as they slid open with Vioxx and the others close behind.
Vioxx slid to a halt, looking around in confusion.
Selex was nowhere to be seen, but there was…
“What the hell?!?”
Prosak raced back onto the bridge, hoping that she hadn’t taken too long. But it seemed like the captain had Selex well and truly stalled.
“You left me on Breen to rot!” Selex’s voice screamed. He sounded near tears.
“I didn’t even know you’d beamed down until we were leaving. And it seems to have worked out for you.”
“That’s not the point, and you know it.”
“I don’t know that I do,” Bain said. Prosak had taken up a position in front of his command chair and was frantically pantomiming…something. Bain wasn’t quite sure what, but based on her pointing and the movements she was making with her hand, he gathered that she wanted to speak to him. “I’m sorry to do this, old chap, since we really need to get this question of my dietary needs resolved, but could I put you on hold for a moment? There’s a bit of ship’s business that requires my immediate attention. I’ll be back in a nonce, so we can return to discussing my surrender.”
“Um…sure. That actually works well for me. I’ve got a situation here that I need to attend to as well. But hurry back! Or ELSE!”
“Most certainly. Reginald Bain does not dawdle!” Bain signaled for Tovar to cut the channel then focused his attention on his First Officer. “What has you so worked up, Prosak?”
“Could I answer you and Tovar in private, sir?”
“Very well. We’ll speak in the lounge. Yonk needs to stay at the helm, so… You have the bridge, Lieutenant,” he said, this last bit to the officer at the science console.
“Me, sir?” she replied in surprise. “I don’t have…”
“There’s nothing to it,” Bain interrupted. “Just sit here, and if Selex comes back on, tell him I’m indisposed and will be right back.” He strode off through the doors at the rear starboard of the bridge with Prosak and Tovar close behind as the lieutenant slowly lowered herself into the Anomaly’s command chair. What a day! First she got assigned to the bridge, and now she was in command of the whole ship! At this rate, she might even get a name!
(The writers hate to burst her bubble, but that won’t be happening.)
“All right. You’ve got our undivided attention, Prosak. What’s going on?” Bain asked, striding around his captain’s lounge. Normally he’d grab a drink and settle into one of the room’s comfortable armchairs, but this was hardly the time.
“I want you to send me over there, sir,” she replied.
“I appreciate you wanting to protect me, but I don’t think Selex is going to react well if he’s expecting me to beam over and gets you instead.”
“True. Unless he doesn’t know it is me.” Prosak reached up and tapped behind her right ear. Her whole body suddenly shimmered, blurred, then resolved itself into the form of Reginald Bain.
“Great Bird!” Bain exclaimed. “How the devil…” He stopped and nodded. “My missus has a hand in this, doesn’t she?”
“She does, but it was my idea. Right now, our anti-sing drive is down, Selex’s ship has one that works, and, if he is to be believed, the Breen are on their way. The only way we have any kind of chance against all of that is if you’re in command of the Anomaly. I will locate Vioxx and the others and deal with Selex.”
“Her argument is compelling,” Tovar said. “Some might even say logical.”
Bain sighed. “As much as I’d relish the chance to give that little rat bastard a good what for, I can’t be in two places at once. Except in this instance, I sort of will be. Your plan is approved, Commander.”
“Thank you, sir,” Prosak said with a nod.
Vioxx was not an engineer, but he’d been in the engineering sections of several different starships from a number of different civilizations throughout his life, and none of them looked anything like this. For one thing, there was the total lack of anything that remotely resembled an engine. It was also surprisingly lacking in consoles. As in there weren’t any at all.
Instead, the so-called engine room of the Manamanat was just a big empty room with drab grey walls. It contained only one thing: a large black metallic sphere resting on the floor with various conduits leading out of it into the rear wall and ceiling of the room.
A cold chill went through Vioxx. So this was how Selex had done it. He’d gotten Romulan High Command to find another Cerebe and tie it into the Manamanat. Was it here willingly? If not, maybe he could convince it to…
“Greetings, Commander,” Selex’s voice boomed from all around them. “I can’t say that I’m happy to see you here, though. I’m busy, and you were supposed to remain on the bridge. Didn’t the locked doors make that clear?”
“We needed to stretch our legs,” Vioxx replied, stealing a phrase he’d heard Captain Bain use on occasion. “Where are you? And who is your friend here?”
Selex’s voice laughed. “You don’t see it, do you? I’m here. This is me!”
“You’re the ship?”
“In a sense.”
“We are surrounded!” Nortal cried. “But lo you may consume us, the indigestion I shall cause you will know no bounds!”
Remax cut in impatiently, since Vioxx was taking forever to figure this out and Nortal was…Nortal. “Did you seriously have your brain removed and put in that sphere?”
“AHA! I have you now!” Nortal exclaimed, launching herself at the sphere. As she pounded on it with all her might, Selex continued speaking, unperturbed by her assault against his new being.
“I realized the wisdom of Cabral’s interface. With no body diverting processing power, my brain is able to maintain a stable anti-singularity drive field. It was the breakthrough we needed to make the project work. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to demanding Captain Bain’s surrender.”
“He’ll never agree to that.”
“He’s human, which means he values your lives. He’ll do whatever I say…if he ever comes back to this comm.”
Vioxx chuckled. “He put you on hold?”
“We put each other on hold!” Selex snapped back. “I…hang on. He’s back.”
“I feel like we should be doing something,” Vioxx said.
“Like what?” Remax asked.
“I don’t know. Putting up more of a fight. Any ideas?”
Zantak just shook her head. Nortal had moved on to gnawing on one of the conduits leading away from Selex’s sphere, but she was having little success.
“We’re going to have to find some sort of opportunity to take action,” Vioxx said. “I don’t care what Selex says, there’s no way that Bain is going to beam over here and…”
He was cut off by the sound of a transporter beam and the arrival of Reginald Bain in a cascade of molecules.
Bain looked around quickly, taking in his surroundings. “Oh! Well…um…right. I’m here. Reginald Bain is here. Good to see you, Vioxx, old chum. And you Remax. Looking well. Zantak. And…uh…okay. There’s Nortal. What is…what the devil is she doing?”
“Attacking Selex. Or trying to,” Remax said.
“And failing!” Selex’s voice gloated from all around them. “Welcome, Captain Bain. Now that you’re here, the fun can truly begin!”
“Wait. Can you catch me up? Why are you a disembodied voice?”
“Selex put his brain in a sphere to run the anti-singularity drive on this ship,” Vioxx said.
“Is he crazy? Who does something that…I mean…Ah.”
“Oh, it gets better, Bain!” Selex said. “I shared my revelation and drive specifications with the Breen.”
“And you call yourself a Romulan,” Remax spat. “You…traitor!”
“I had Admiral Karwrek’s full approval. Call it our way of thanking them for sending me home. The Breen will be here soon with a fleet of anti-singularity scythe-ships ready to take you on. He’s going to be disappointed, though, since Prosak and the Anomaly will be destroyed well before they arrive. Handing you over should lessen the blow, though. Enjoy the rest of your short, miserable life, Bain. I think you’ve all seen enough. Off to the brig with…where is Prosak going? Does she seriously think she can get away from me at plain old warp? HA! Engaging anti-singularity drive!”
“Do you have to announce it?” Vioxx asked. He got no response. “You’re ignoring us now?”
“That’s a good thing,” Bain said. “But I need to tell you something.” He got very close to Vioxx, putting his lips uncomfortably close to the Romulan’s ear canal, then whispered almost inaudibly. “I’m not Bain. I’m Prosak.”
Vioxx looked at Prosak/Bain in surprise. “So Selex is chasing…”
“Uh huh,” Prosak/Bain said. Then put her finger…well, Bain’s finger…up to her…I mean his…mouth. “Shhhhhhh.”
Over on the bridge of the USS Anomaly, the actual Reginald Bain had reclaimed his command chair. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together expectantly as the ship sped away from the Manamanat at Warp 8. “Right! I’ve been planning a long time for this. Time to put theory into practice!”
Ensign Yonk spun his chair back toward Bain. “You’ve been expecting to fight a ship with an anti-singularity drive?” the Ferengi asked.
“As soon as I found out they existed, I’ve been working out how to battle one,” Bain replied. “It would have been foolish to assume that we’d always be the only ones with anti-sing, and now here we are.”
“But you also planned to fight one when you don’t have anti-sing as well?”
“Yes, I did. Just in case. Of course, I was expecting to be able to shoot back, but with our people trapped over there, we can’t risk it.”
“Much,” Tovar said.
“Yes…well. I suppose shooting back a little wouldn’t hurt,” Bain said thoughtfully. “And I’d also like to know if we’re getting our drive back anytime soon. Bridge to Marsden.”
“Go ahead, Captain,” the Anomaly’s Chief Engineer’s voice replied with a grunt.
“I know you’re hard at work down there, Marsie, but could I get an ETA on anti-sing?”
“Conduits are almost run, but it’s not pretty. We cut holes in walls and floors wherever we needed to, so we could bypass the damaged areas and connect to Engineering. After that, Cabral and I need to run through some configuration checks.”
“Understood. But just to warn you, things are likely to get a bit bumpy. And I will be taxing the warp drive a bit.”
“Captain,” Tovar said.
“Bumps start now!” Bain said. “Keep up the good work. Bain out.” He spun back to Tovar. “Send the tactical display to the viewscreen. Standby on torpedoes.”
The view on the screen switched to a readout of the sector. The Anomaly was quickly moving away from the Romulan ship, which suddenly started closing the gap with alarming speed.
“All stop!” Bain ordered. “Come about bearing 315 mark 40!”
The Manamanat sped past the Anomaly, slowing to a stop several million kilometers away.
“Standby,” Bain said. The Romulan ship jumped into anti-sing again, coming right at them. “Fire aft torpedoes. Two second timer. Yonk, warp speed now!”
A volley of torpedoes sailed out of the Anomaly’s rear tubes a split second before the ship itself launched forward into warp. Almost immediately, the Manamanat arrived and dropped out of anti-sing, only to be buffeted by the simultaneous detonation of the gifts the Anomaly left behind.
Vioxx, Prosak, and the others were all knocked to the deck of the Manamanat’s engine room as Selex screamed, “Is she trying to kill us?!?”
“Can I please tell him?” Vioxx asked Prosak/Bain.
“Not yet,” she whispered back. Then to Selex, “You are trying to do the same to them.”
“That’s not the point!” Selex snapped. If Prosak didn’t know any better, she’d say he was in pain. “And it doesn’t matter. She got in one lucky shot. I still have the advantage!”
“Not likely he’ll fall for that again,” Bain said thoughtfully as he surveyed the tactical display of the sector. “I can see why Selex picked here to fight us, though. There’s absolutely nothing around to use as cover. Not so much as a rogue planet. Nothing for it. Yonk, set a course for the nearest Federation outpost. Maximum warp.”
“Captain, that’s days away.”
“I’m aware. Let’s see if Selex makes the next most obvious move.”
The Anomaly was trying to run back to the Federation? Ha! Prosak was predictably pathetic. Just trying to save herself and her crew. Did she really think that he would back off because of a few torpedo detonations?
He had an anti-singularity drive. He’d cut her off before she made it another parsec.
“I hope I didn’t give him too much credit,” Bain said as the Manamanat raced toward their position. The Romulan ship zoomed past and slowed to a halt several million kilometers ahead of them. “No. Just enough credit,” Bain said. “Yonk, drop us out of warp. Nice and easy. Continue at one quarter impulse.”
“Come on!” Selex seethed. The Anomaly was coming at him slower than a Frodalian snail!
FINE! He’d go straight down her throat.
The Romulan ship started to move again. At that distance, the anti-sing burst made it look like it had disappeared only to reappear…
“Fire phasers!” Bain ordered just as the Manamanat dropped out of anti-sing directly ahead of them.
Selex was ready to fire as soon as he came out of anti-sing, but somehow Prosak was ahead of him. The Manamanat was battered again, and his shields were all but gone.
He went to return the favor, but the Anomaly had yet again jumped to warp.
And then things got worse.
“No. No! NO! NOT NOW!”
The turbolift doors opened, and Dr. Kasyov stepped out onto the bridge.
“Kassie!” Bain said happily. “I am so relieved that you and Cabral are all right.”
“So am I,” she said. “And I’d like to help you deliver some payback.”
“We’re well on our way, but I’d be delighted to have you, if you’re up for it.”
“My arm is a bit tender, but Ih’vik has me back in decent shape,” Kasyov said as she relieved the lieutenant manning the science console.
The lieutenant somewhat reluctantly got up from the chair and trudged into the turbolift. “Bye, everyone.”
“Thanks for covering for me, Elyna,” Kasyov said.
“Ha!” the lieutenant exclaimed, whipping around in the turbolift. “I do have a na—” She was cut off from the bridge and the rest of this tale by the closing of the turbolift doors.
“Captain, twelve new contacts!” Tovar said.
“How far out?”
“They’re here. Twelve Breen scythe ships.”
“All with anti-sing?” Bain asked incredulously as the contacts slowed from their ridiculously fast incoming velocity and came to a stop near the Romulan ship.
“Do you have a plan for this?” Yonk asked.
“Unfortunately, I do not,” Bain replied grimly.
Selex was being hailed by the last person he wanted to talk to right now. Why couldn’t have Phul shown up just a few minutes later? He absolutely would have cornered Prosak and listened to her quivering pleas to spare her and the Anomaly before blasting them to oblivion by then. But instead, he forced himself to focus on responding.
“Greetings, Dobt Phul.”
“Thot Phul,” the Breen commander replied.
“Oh? They gave you your rank back. Well deserved.”
“It was. And now it looks like I’ve arrived just in time to save you from Reginald Bain.”
“That is where you’re wrong, Phul. The Anomaly is helpless. I destroyed their brain. They cannot go to anti-sing without him. I was just about to finish the ship off. As for Bain, I have him here aboard the Manamanat. He’s ready for you to take into custody.”
“That was not our agreement,” Phul said. “You could take out whatever revenge you needed on whoever it was you were always seething about, but I get Bain.”
“You do get him,” Selex said. He extended the comm into the Manamanat’s engine room. “Tell him, Bain. Tell Phul that I got you.”
Prosak and the others had actually gotten pretty bored considering there was nothing to do other than sit down and try not to get knocked around too badly by the weapons fire coming in from the Anomaly. Even Nortal had given up attacking Selex’s sphere and had settled for half-heartedly kicking it every so often.
But upon hearing Selex, Prosak leapt back to her feet…Bain’s feet (You get the idea by now.). “You do not have Reginald Bain!” she announced.
“What? Of course, I do! You’re right there!” Selex’s voice replied.
“Selex, what is going on?” Thot Phul demanded.
“Bain surrendered to me. I’ve been holding him for you.”
“No!” Prosak said, tapping the device behind her ear, which deactivated the holographic imager and revealed her true form. “You have been fighting Reginald Bain. And he’s been kicking your ASS!”
“So…I do get to fight Bain?” Phul said. “That’s ok, then. Stay put, Selex. We’ve got it from here.” Phul closed the comm channel.
“Prosak!” Selex screamed. “You’re dead! DEAD! And Bain was not kicking my ass.”
“If you had an ass, it would be thoroughly kicked now,” Prosak replied. She had to do something. Selex was off-balance, and things were quickly spiraling out of hand with the arrival of the Breen fleet.
“Leave my ass or lack thereof out of this!”
Prosak had an idea. Possibly a terrible one, but…
She spread her fingers and slammed her hand down on the sphere.
“My mind to your…ASS!”
Down in what was left of Science Lab Four, Lieutenant Shelly Marsden was intently focused on the eyepiece of the quadcorder strapped around her head as she monitored power fluctuations in the cables connected to the large housing where Cabral’s sphere rested.
“Bain to Lieutenant Marsden.”
Uh oh. He was using her rank. Things must be serious up on the bridge. She stopped adjusting the power flows on her padd.
“Not to be a bother, but how soon can I expect to have anti-sing back? We’ve got twelve Breen ships all sporting their own bloody anti-sing drives. I’ve fought my way out of a few scrapes with one hand behind my back, but this is more like being hogtied and strapped to a turtle.”
“Twelve! How the hell did they get twelve?” Marsden said.
“A mystery for another time, Marsie.”
“You’re right. We’re almost there. Connections are all in place. How’s your side of things, Cabral?”
The sphere beside her did not respond.
“Cabral. You there, buddy?”
“Yes. Sorry,” Cabral said finally.
“Are you ok?”
“Yes. I am fine.”
“I hope so,” Bain’s voice said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“Believe me, Captain. I am very motivated to get us all through this situation.”
“Aren’t we all. I’ll do my best to get you the time you need. Bain out.”
“Nat’s fine, you know,” Marsden said, turning her attention back to her configurations.
“I am aware. I was momentarily distracted by other matters.”
“Does that mean you missed the part about the twelve other anti-sing ships out there?”
“That is surprising,” Cabral said.
“Yeah. You could say that,” Marsden replied darkly. She worked quietly for a few seconds then… “You know I like working with you. You’re great. But I’ve tried to get anti-sing to work without you for years! If there was a way, I would have found it. I just don’t understand how they managed it.”
“Maybe you’ll get a chance to find out what the Romulans and Breen did once this is over.”
“Assuming they don’t kill us first.”
“The Breen fleet is overtaking us,” Tovar reported. Even at warp nine, the Anomaly might as well have not been moving compared to the speed of the Breen ships.
Bain just grunted.
“Huh,” Kasyov said from the science console.
“Are you ‘huh’ing about the fleet?” Tovar asked.
“No. Well, yes. I was reviewing the sensor readings from your fight with Selex, and I noticed that he would stop, set a course, and then launch into anti-sing. The Breen fleet just did the same thing. They were stopped over at the Romulan ship, turned toward us, then went into anti-sing. I’m not sure if that means anything.”
“Hopefully it means they can only go very fast in a straight line,” Bain said, perking up. “Start hailing them as soon as they are in range. I can’t imagine that their commander won’t want to monologue a bit considering all the effort they took to get here.”
Was this really happening?
After all of these years and so many near-misses, was he finally FINALLY going to deal with Reginald Bain?
Thot Phul had gotten close a couple of times, but those were really because of FOBBER and then the James T. Kirk hologram that had hijacked his brain. And then when Bain had been briefly held by the Breen, the cursed human had managed to escape before Phul had gotten the chance to gloat or administer even the tiniest bit of torture.
This time, though, things would be different. They were implementing HIS plan. He’d gotten that very ambitious Admiral Karwrek to trade the design specifications for the Romulans’ anti-singularity drive to the Breen in exchange for Selex’s release. He’d overseen the refit of twelve scythe ships and found the soldiers patriotic enough to become Volunteers and have their brains removed from their bodies and encased in the drive control spheres in order make the engine function properly.
And now, after all of that work, Phul was in sight of Bain and his stupid fast ship. Of course, thanks to Selex’s well-placed explosive, it wasn’t so fast anymore.
Despite all of that, Phul couldn’t help but worry that something could still go wrong. He just had to be careful. Take his time. And not do anything stupid.
“XAWKTA Two through Six, with me. Seven through Twelve, come in behind the Anomaly. Helm, take us in front of the Federation vessel, disengage anti-sing, and bring us about,” he ordered.
Space on the viewscreen shifted from an almost blinding mass of white streaks (Thankfully his helmet took care of most of the glare) to blackness dotted by distant pinpoints of stars.
“They are hailing us,” his tactical officer reported.
Phul straightened his helmet and took a deep calming breath. “On screen.”
The man himself soon appeared. Salt and pepper haired, barrel-chested, and standing defiantly on his bridge. Why couldn’t Bain cower in fear just a bit? This was certain doom surrounding him. XAXAFRAX, he was infuriating!
“This is Captain Reginald Bain of the Federation Starship Anomaly. Stand down, Breen Commander. Your actions are bordering on hostile and could be considered an act of war. As our governments narrowly avoided one of those just recently, I’d prefer to keep things friendly.”
Phul took a couple more deep breaths. Stay Calm. Bain is all bluster. You’re in control here. Nothing is going to go wrong.
“This is Thot Phul of the XAWKTA One.”
“Phul! Sorry, old boy. I didn’t recognize you. Now what’s this all about?”
Phul almost laughed. That question. That perfect question. He almost wanted to thank Bain for setting him up so wonderfully.
“It’s about retribution! It’s about blasting the Butcher of Breen and your infernal ship into so many tiny pieces that no one will ever find debris large enough to identify! It’s about ridding the galaxy of a huge pain in my VORXAP!”
Oh wow. That felt good.
The officer behind Bain (Tovar, if Phul remembered correctly from their last encounter) spoke up. “Captain, Cabral reports ready.”
Cabral? Wasn’t that the name of the Anomaly’s brain? But Selex killed…
And then EVERYTHING went wrong.
Despite her many years following the RommaVulc way, Prosak had never developed any particular skill with mind melds. Mostly because she rarely had a chance to practice. For some reason, most people didn’t like the idea of letting someone who didn’t really know what they were doing attempt to rummage around in their brains.
And while Snotch had also never melded with her during their time together (It would have given away the fact that he was actually working for the Dillon Consortium), he had helped her with her melding technique (along with making her read volumes and volumes of the writings of obscure Vulcan philosophers). Her finger positioning was much better now, and she was able to almost instantly put her mind into the state it needed to be in to initiate the meld.
She just hadn’t had a chance to put it into practice until now. Selex’s metal sphere was basically his skull at this point. Prosak just needed to reach through it with her mind and connect with Selex.
Was this Selex’s mind?
“A little bit that way!”
“No! Too much! Go back. BACK!”
It was Selex all right. And he seemed to be in an absolute panic. She probed a bit deeper, then risked contact. “Selex?”
“Go away! You’re going to get us all killed!”
“I thought you wanted me dead.”
“Yes, but I don’t want to die too. Leave me alone!” Selex snapped.
“I don’t understand. What is happening here?”
“Running an anti-singularity drive is VERY complicated! The slightest variance between the energies coming in from the quantum singularity and the warp core or a misalignment of the field frequencies means the whole thing will fail catastrophically.”
“You mean explode?”
“YES!” Selex screamed.
“But we are stopped. How is this still a problem?”
“I used the drive. Repeatedly. It gets harder to maintain every time. I need to concentrate! I’ll kill you later, but until then GET OUT!”
Prosak quickly ended the meld and found herself back in the engineering section of the Manamanat.
“What happened?” Vioxx asked.
Prosak shook her head to clear it. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but we have to help Selex.”
Tovar let loose torpedo volleys from the Anomaly’s fore and aft tubes a moment before the ship launched into anti-sing, zipping straight past the Breen blockade as their vessels were pounded by the Anomaly’s weapons.
“Bring us about,” Bain ordered.
“About?” Ensign Yonk asked confused. “We’re not going back to Federation space?”
“Not with this lot of anti-sing ships on our tail. Nothing else in Starfleet would be able to stop them.”
“There’s still only one of us and twelve of them,” Dr. Kasyov said.
“Then we’ll just have to do everything we can to even those odds.”
Thot Phul scrambled back to his feet as alarm klaxons blared around him. As the lead ship confronting Bain, the XAWKTA One received the majority of the torpedo blasts, and the flashing damage reports all around him certainly bore that out. Phul, however, only had one question on his mind:
“WHY DOES HE STILL HAVE ANTI-SING?!?”
This was all Selex’s fault. He never should have trusted that weaselly little Romulan.
“All wings, pursue and engage the Anomaly. Disable if possible. I want the killing shot!”
His second-in-command stepped up to him. “Weapons and shields are down. Engines are barely operational. Our Volunteer is struggling to maintain systems integrity. We cannot face the Butcher of Breen in this state, sir.”
Thot Phul was thoughtful for a moment (It’s the last story. Of course, we were finally going to make that joke.). “He’s just a human. We are Breen! Our engineers can make repairs as the fleet pursues the Anomaly. Then when we are ready, they can drive him to us for the final blow!”
He started to settle back into his command chair when…
“Thot!” his tactical officer cried. “XAWKTA Three reports their Volunteer is losing control. Systems are destabilizing across the ship. They…”
The XAWKTA One rumbled from the force of an explosive shockwave passing through it.
“They’re gone,” the officer finished.
Phul considered this new information. “On second thought, take us to the Romulan ship. Selex got us into this mess. He’s going to get us out of it!”
“One of the Breen vessels has been destroyed,” Tovar reported.
“It has?” Bain asked surprised. “Not to look a gift Breen in the helmet, but I didn’t think we hit any of them that hard.”
“We barely grazed that particular ship,” Tovar replied. “I cannot explain it.”
“I might be able to,” Kasyov said. “I’ve been scanning the Breen ships to try to determine how their anti-sing drive is functioning without Cabral. Each ship has a unique energy signature, which you wouldn’t expect if they’re all basically duplicates of the same ship running the same technology. Then I was able to isolate the unique component. It’s neural energy. Breen to be exact.”
“Breen brains?” Bain asked. “And you took the crew into account?”
“Yes. This is different. Amplified and part of the overall ship. I’m certain they’ve tied a Breen brain into each ship to try to maintain their anti-sing reaction the way Cabral does for us. But they don’t have the Pliggeri interface housing that we have. And Cabral is just far more capable than they could ever be.”
“We are all quite aware of Cabral’s mental prowess,” Bain replied.
“Trying to keep the anti-sing reactions in check while also dealing with the variances that come from even the slightest damage and trying to chase us must have just been too much for whoever’s brain was running things on that ship.”
“Poor blighter,” Bain said. “But this does explain a lot about how they’ve been flying. And if I’m right, we may just have the upper hand.” He turned to Yonk. “Keep our course erratic, Ensign. Lots of turns. Don’t stay on any course or plane for too long. Make them work if they’re going to catch us. We’ve got an entire sector to play with. Tovar, if you get a clear shot, take it.”
“Aye, sir. But I am concerned about our torpedo complement,” Tovar replied.
“Understood. I’ll take it easy on the full spreads from now on.”
“Help Selex?” Vioxx asked. “Help him do what?”
“Keep us alive,” Prosak replied. “The anti-sing drive alone requires a tremendous amount of mental focus to keep it from becoming misaligned and exploding, which is what Cabral does for us. But on top of that, Selex is tied into every other system on the ship. Even at full stop, he cannot handle the strain for much longer.”
“Why would he do that?” Vioxx asked. “That’s just way too much.”
“He’s power hungry and convinced of his own superiority,” Prosak said.
“That,” Zantak agreed.
“What do you propose we do?” Remax said. “We can’t exactly disconnect him.”
“I continue my struggle to do just that!” Nortal shouted from across the room, where she had removed her boot and was beating a conduit with it.
“Definitely not,” Prosak said, ignoring Nortal. “The ship would detonate instantly. We can, however, combine our mental energies with his to strengthen his control.”
“You’re talking about a mind meld.”
“I know,” Prosak said. A memory stirred from all of the reading Snotch had made her do. Unbelievably, he was helping her out twice in one day. “There was a Vulcan master a couple of hundred years ago who postulated that group melds were possible. S’kype’s teachings were dismissed as nonsense, so he was never able to test them. But he did leave the process for the Rite of Mo’oz in his records. We could join with Selex together using it…if we had one more person with the ability to meld.”
Remax put his head in his hands and groaned.
“Why are you telling us this?” Vioxx snapped exasperated. “Did you bring a Vulcan along with you? You’re the closest thing we’ve got! Do any of us look like RommaVulcs!”
Zantak raised her hand.
“You don’t have to wait for me to call on you to speak, Zantak,” Vioxx said. “What is it?”
“I am a RommaVulc,” Zantak said.
“You’re what?” Remax gaped.
“What? Why didn’t you ever tell me?” Prosak demanded.
“Or me!” Vioxx said.
“I am betrayed!” Nortal cried.
“Talking too much is illogical. And…most Romulans are mean,” Zantak replied.
“I cannot argue with you,” Prosak replied. “But we could have been supporting each other all this time.”
“I did not want that.”
“Can you deal with your hurt feelings later?” Vioxx interrupted then turned to Zantak. “Can you do a mind meld?”
“Maybe,” Zantak said.
“Which means she hasn’t done one,” Remax said. “I’d call that a no!”
“I don’t want to die, so we’re going with it. What do we do, Prosak?” Vioxx said.
“Phul is on his way!” Selex’s voice suddenly broke in. “He wants to beam aboard and take control of the ship.”
“Um…have you been listening to us this whole time?” Remax asked.
“I don’t have time for you idiots!” Selex shot back. “I have a ship to run here! And if I try to fight Phul, we’re all going to die! My shields are almost gone as it is!”
“Drop them,” Vioxx said.
“Seriously? Just surrender? You are a terrible Romulan!” Selex said.
“You said yourself that you can’t fight him. Let him have the ship. Just keep the Breen out of this room. We’ll take care of the rest.”
“Fine! But know that I consider you all expendable!”
Vioxx turned to Prosak. “I’m guessing Nortal would be more trouble than help in this meld.”
Prosak thought a moment. “Er…yes. I see your point.”
“And can you do without me?”
“Hang on. You’re leaving me alone to meld with these two freaks!” Remax protested.
“They need your superior mental abilities,” Vioxx said.
“I am smarter than both of them combined, but that’s not the point.”
“It’s absolutely the point, and you’re going to do it. Get that meld going, Prosak. Nortal, put your boot on. We’ve got Breen to deal with.”
“I obey!” Nortal said, redonning her footwear. “But I do not leave in defeat! Selex will feel my wrath upon my return!”
“I’m sure he’s quaking in his sphere,” Vioxx said as they left the engine room.
Prosak, Zantak, and a reluctant Remax approached Selex’s sphere. “Zantak, you and I will each position one hand on the sphere and another on Remax. Then, and this is crucial, we say ‘Our minds to your minds. Our thoughts to your thoughts.’ Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Zantak said.
“Not much of a rite,” Remax muttered.
“Do you want your brain reduced to mush?” Prosak asked pointedly.
“Then let us concentrate.” She and Zantak placed their hands as prescribed on the sphere, then positioned their fingers on Remax’s face.
“I hate this so much,” the elder Romulan said.
“Shhhh,” Zantak whispered.
She and Prosak began to chant: “Our minds to your minds. Our thoughts to your thoughts.”
The Anomaly banked and zoomed away from a pair of incoming scythe ships. As Ensign Yonk found a new heading, Tovar fired a lone torpedo, sending to where he judged the Breen vessels would be stopping to make a course change before resuming their pursuit, as all of the Breen ships had been doing to prevent overloading their Volunteers. Only one of the two ships actually came to a halt, though, and it was too far out of range for the torpedo’s detonation to do any harm.
The remaining craft instead adjusted its course at anti-sing speeds and continued its pursuit, quickly closing in on the Anomaly. Seconds later, it exploded, the resulting blast violently shaking the Anomaly.
“They’re getting braver,” Captain Bain said, hanging onto his armrests as the bucking subsided.
“Stupider,” Kasyov said. “No Breen is going to be able to keep an anti-sing drive stable under these conditions.”
“They just don’t have the brains for it, eh, Kassie?” Bain replied. She rolled her eyes as he glanced back at tac-ops. “How are we doing, lad?”
“Four ships destroyed; however, if the others become as impatient as this last one, that number will increase quickly,” Tovar replied. “Phul’s ship is not pursuing us, though. They are on course for the Romulan vessel.”
“Blast,” Bain said. “Yonk, move to intercept.”
“Sir, that will make it far easier for the Breen ships to catch up to us,” Tovar said.
“I know, but I’m not leaving Prosak and the others there to die.”
Selex was deeply concentrating on preventing yet another feedback loop in the anti-sing drive while also monitoring Thot Phul’s approaching ship when his thoughts were intruded upon.
“We are here to assist you,” Prosak’s voice said in his mind.
“I told you to leave, Prosak!” he shouted. “I will kill you when I have time, dammit!”
“Shut up and let us help you,” Remax said.
“Remax? How are you here?”
“Mind meld,” Zantak said.
“You too? How?”
“It doesn’t matter right now,” Prosak said. “We can share the mental load of running this ship.”
“Absolutely not! You’re just trying to escape!”
“We’re trying not to explode, you cassjaat!” Remax snapped. “Or get killed by the Breen. Give me ship’s sensors, so I can mask our lifesigns before they get here.”
“Once Phul takes this ship, he’s going to use it to attack the Anomaly,” Selex said. “Ohh. Wait. I love that actually. In your desperation to stay alive, you’re going to help the Breen destroy your ship.”
“That won’t happen,” Prosak replied firmly.
“You have too much faith in Reginald Bain.”
“I trust my crew.”
“Did you ever trust me?”
“I did…until you showed yourself to be a deceitful murderer.”
“Attempted murderer, unfortunately.” Selex said. “As for the other part, I am a true Romulan! Unlike you.”
“Currently, you’re a brain in a ball,” Remax said. “Unless you want to become a debris field next, how about we all just get to concentrating or whatever?”
And so they did.
“Thot, the Anomaly is moving to intercept us.”
“Time?” Phul asked, trying to keep his voice steady and not reveal his nervousness.
“Status of the Romulan ship?”
“Unchanged. I am reading five Romulan life signs in what appears to be the vessel’s brig.”
“Excellent. Hail, Selex.”
“Hail, Selex!” his bridge crew shouted in unison.
“Wha…why? Just open a channel!”
“Selex, this is Phul. Lower shields. I’m coming aboard.”
“Of course, Thot. I am so happy that you’re here,” Selex replied with a feigned obsequiousness that made Phul really wish the Romulan still had a face to punch.
“Thot,” his first officer broke in. “We won’t have time to evacuate the entire crew. And we’ll be abandoning the Volunteer.”
“You’re taking command of the XAWKTA One. Engage the Anomaly as soon as we’re clear,” Phul commanded. He tapped the all-call switch on his command chair. “Relief crew to the bridge. Security team, prepare for beam out,” he said quickly, then switched it off. “The rest of you, you’re with me. Computer, energize.”
Phul and his five bridge officers, minus the first officer, dematerialized. Moments later, the relief crew filed in and took up their stations. Despite that, the first officer felt anything but relieved. And he sure as WAXAKAX wasn’t engaging Reginald Bain.
Bain was up out of his chair as soon as the Anomaly dropped out of anti-sing close to the XAWKTA One and Manamanat. The Breen ship turned to flee.
“Tovar!” Bain commanded. The Yynsian’s hand was already activating the ship’s compression phasers, which lanced out and quickly sliced through what was left of the XAWKTA One’s shields just as it launched into anti-sing. A moment later, a fireball in the distance signaled an abrupt end to its escape attempt.
Before Bain could turn his attention to the Romulan vessel, Tovar shouted in alarm, “Four scythe ships dropping out of anti-sing.” Almost immediately, the Anomaly jolted under an assault of Breen weapons.
“Return fire!” Bain said. “Yonk, evasive!”
“Already evading,” the Ferengi replied.
“Marsden to bridge!” the Chief Engineer’s voice called over the comm. “We’ve got a lot of jerry-rigged systems down here right now. It’s not a good time for more explosions!”
“Noted,” Bain snapped.
“Shields at 63 percent,” Tovar said.
“Conduit overload on Deck Four!” Dr. Kasyov reported.
“Anything critical?” Bain said.
“Negative. Damage contained to crew quarters. Not great for whoever just lost their stuff, but…”
Another blast rocked the bridge, nearly tossing everyone from their seats.
“The remaining the scythe ships are incoming,” Tovar said.
“Hang it all. Yonk, get us out of here!” Bain ordered.
The Anomaly performed a diving corkscrew, with Tovar letting loose with phasers and torpedoes as the ship weaved through the Breen fleet, then, once clear, leapt into anti-sing.
Thot Phul, his bridge crew, and a security team of six more Breen all materialized on the Manamanat’s bridge, which made the place more than a bit overcrowded.
“Get to the brig and make sure the Romulans are secure,” he ordered the security team as he pushed past his science officer to get to the command chair. “Then get to wherever Selex’s brain is housed. If he tries anything, be ready to shoot your way through his brain casing. Or blow it up. Did we bring any grenades?” The security team shook their heads. “None? I guess there wasn’t time, was there? Disappointing. We’ll have to make due with disrupters.”
The security team jogged out as the bridge crew took their stations. Or at least what they thought were their stations. Phul looked down at the unfamiliar symbols on the controls mounted in the command chair armrests.
“Um…can anyone read Romulan?”
Deep in the Manamanat, Vioxx and Nortal rummaged through another set of quarters. It wasn’t much of a rummage really. Like every other room they’d been in so far, the place was practically empty.
“The Breen are aboard,” Remax’s voice broke in over the room’s comm. “I’ve got them heading to the brig, but they’re going to figure out that the lifesigns are fake pretty fast when they see a bunch of empty cells. How are you two doing?”
“Not well. There’s not a single disruptor in any of the armories. And we’re coming up empty on anything else we could use as weapons.”
“My hands are the superior weapons!” Nortal announced.
“The Breen’s disrupters might disagree,” Remax said. “We’ll see if we can keep the Breen busy, but you need to figure something else out.”
“We’re trying!” Vioxx said. “The ship is empty! Why is the ship so empty?”
“What are you all doing?” Selex’s voice broke in.
“Did I ask you join this conversation?” Remax snapped.
“You’re in my brain! This is really a conversation with me!”
“I’m standing in engineering. I’m in Selex’s Brain. And I’m kind of also the ship,” Remax said. “It’s all very weird.”
Prosak’s voice suddenly said, “Selex, are you coming back to help me keep this singularity contained? As you have made very clear, this is at least a two brain job.”
“You can have him in just a second, Prosak,” Vioxx said.
“It’s longer you get to stay alive,” Selex said.
“Yes, we are all VERY aware that you want to kill me,” Prosak shot back. “But what you need to do is focus on not letting the anti-singularity drive destroy itself.”
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do!”
“Bicker later!” Vioxx shouted. “Selex, why isn’t there anything useful on this whole ship?”
“It was a test flight. Command thought we were probably going to explode. They weren’t about to waste a lot of equipment outfitting the Manamanat for a one-way trip. And I didn’t want you all to have any weapons in case you did somehow escape me,” Selex explained.
“Great. So we’re taking on the Breen unarmed,” Vioxx said.
“My arms are…”
“We get it, Nortal.” Something on the wall caught Vioxx’s attention. “Are the replicators working?”
“Yes, but they’re only going to produce food and drinks,” Selex said.
“And utensils,” Vioxx said, a smile spreading across his face.
The whole point of commandeering a ship was to be able to use it, but thus far Thot Phul and his officers had been completely thwarted by their inability to read Romulan. If only they’d had time to bring their sensenscans (The Breen equivalent to the quadcorder…if something that was less advanced than a 23rd century tricorder could be said to be equivalent.).
The ship’s computer was also spectacularly unhelpful, answering most queries with just a curt no.
“Computer, change this console to display in Breen.”
“Computer, pull up a Breen/Romulan dictionary.”
“Is this the correct button to fire a torpedo?”
“Which button fires a torpedo?”
At least it wasn’t a no, but neither Phul nor his officers had any idea what “Arteeeffem” meant or how it related to the tactical console’s controls. Once he got back to Breen, Phul was going to recommend to Command that they build automatic translation capabilities into the visors of their helmets. That would be incredibly useful.
But for now, Phul needed to get this ship moving. The rest of his fleet was facing Bain alone, and he had no idea what was happening out there. Even with anti-sing, they needed his leadership, tactical abilities, and experience against the detested human if they were to be victorious. If the computer wouldn’t help, he would go to the one being on the ship who outranked it.
“SELEX!” Phul shouted.
“I am here, Thot,” Selex’s voice replied over the bridge comm.
“I demand that you get that computer in line and convert these bridge controls into something we can use.”
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t aware you were having an issue. I’ve been very busy monitoring the ship’s systems.”
“Is there a problem?” Phul asked. The last thing he needed was for another ship to start exploding out from under him.
“No! No. Of course not. This ship is the peak of Romulan design!”
“Then Romulan design leaves much to be desired considering how much trouble your anti-sing specs have been causing us.”
“Perhaps your scythe ships are the problem,” Selex said.
“And perhaps my soldiers should cut you out of this ship and eject your brain into space.”
“That won’t be necessary. I believe the bridge should be more to your liking now.”
Phul looked around at his officers, each of whom checked their consoles then gave an approving nod. “Much better,” Phul said. “But once my soldiers finish dealing with the prisoners from the Anomaly, they will be joining you to ensure that you remain cooperative.”
“What are you doing?” Prosak demanded in the meld space she currently shared with Selex.
“Keeping my word,” Selex said. “I did say that you’d help the Breen destroy the Anomaly.”
“I will not.”
“You have no choice. If you don’t help me keep the engine systems calibrated, we’ll all die. Surely you’re not worried. What about your trust in Bain?”
“Shut up and deal with that spike in the singularity,” Prosak seethed.
The Romulan ship must have been bigger than it seemed considering how long it was taking the Breen security team to get from the ship’s bridge to the brig. The ship’s computer they had asked for directions had no reason to lie, though, even if its responses were a bit terse.
“Left,” the computer said.
The Breen, marching in three rows of two men each, crisply turned and continued down the next corridor. They were at this point unaware of three things: 1) The computer was actually Sub-Lieutenant Zantak. 2) They were being led along an incredibly roundabout route that was not getting them any closer to the actual brig. 3) They were being stalked.
They passed the next corridor junction and continued straight on per the computer’s instructions, not bothering to look left or right because the lights were off in those corridors and there was no one else on the ship to see anyway.
If they had looked, the two Breen bringing up the rear of the security team might have avoided what happened next.
The two Breen staggered from both the forceful impacts against their helmets and the subsequent deafening ringing inside of them. It was as though they had both been smacked with a hammer, which was close to the truth.
Commander Vioxx was fairly certain that the Breen had never been to a goval boil or ever had to get into the crustacean’s shell once it was cooked, so they had never seen the implements involved. One of these was a large metal mallet that was closer to a meat tenderizer than the crab mallets generally seen on Earth. This mallet was called a tondru, which roughly translated as “whacker,” and the Manamanat’s replicator was more than happy to produce them when asked.
Vioxx and Nortal, who had slipped out of the dark corridor, had then crept up behind the Breen and put their tondru to good use on the rear two Breen’s helmets. The Breen in turn quite literally got their bells rung. Their Romulan attackers quickly dropped their tondru and wrested the disrupters out of the Breens’ hands. The next two Breen were caught by disruptor blasts at point blank range and collapsed to the deck, as the lead two turned with their weapons ready to fire.
Vioxx grabbed the Breen he’d just smacked with a tondru and shoved him forward as cover while Nortal dove to the deck for her dropped mallet and flung it at one of the two lead Breen, catching him right in snout of his helmet and snapping his head back, while blasting the other with the disruptor. Vioxx took the opportunity to zap the Breen that Nortal had just clocked with the tondru, then quickly spun and fired at the one he’d shoved forward.
The one remaining Breen leapt onto one of his fallen comrades, scrambling to get his disruptor. Just as he got his hands on it, blasts from Nortal and Vioxx ended his efforts.
“We are victorious!” Nortal cried, raising her fists in the air.
“Excellent work, Centurion,” Vioxx said.
“I assumed she’d be fine,” Remax’s voice said. “I didn’t expect you to survive, though.”
“I’m glad I could exceed your low expectations. Make sure you let us know when they wake up. I don’t want any surprises.”
“Oh, you had those set on stun?” Remax asked.
“I…I didn’t set them! We just grabbed them and…”
“I know. Relax. Breen always take prisoners. They like to do that weird hanging people upside down thing. You didn’t kill any of them…not that you should care if you did. Enough of them are blowing up outside.”
“So Bain is doing well.”
“He was, but the Breen got a few good shots in. And it’s still seven versus one. Eight to one soon, now that Selex gave Phul and friends consoles they can actually use.”
“To the bridge!” Nortal exclaimed before running off down the corridor, a disruptor in one hand and a tondru in the other.
“To the bridge,” Vioxx repeated, jogging after her.
Much to Bain’s annoyance, the Anomaly was in something of a stalemate with the Breen ships. They were still pursuing and occasionally attempting to box in the Starfleet vessel, but for the most part, none of them seemed willing to really commit to engaging the Anomaly.
“What are they doing?” Bain muttered. He suddenly smacked his hand down on the command chair. “These are Breen, Bain. Think, man!” He spun his chair toward his science officer. “Kasyov, was there any communication between Phul’s ship and the Romulans before we blew it up.”
She pulled up the Anomaly’s sensor readings from a few minutes earlier. “Yes, Captain. And multiple transports from the Breen ship to Selex’s.”
“They’re waiting for him. I’m sure he doesn’t want to risk any more losses until he’s gotten that ship underway.”
“We still have our maneuverability advantage,” Tovar said.
“But Cabral can’t keep this up forever,” Kasyov said.
“Quite right,” Bain said. “Let’s see about giving him a break.”
“That will mean dropping out of anti-sing,” Tovar said.
Bain smiled. “Precisely.”
On the XAWKTA Twelve, Thot Abawt slumped in her command chair, glowering at the viewscreen, not that the glowering part was obvious with her helmet and all. It was bad enough that she’d been put under Phul’s command for this debacle, but he’d given her the last ship in their fleet. This was payback. She’d grabbed the last fixul crème from the buffet in the mess before he did that one time, and he’d never forgiven her. How was she supposed to know that it was his birthday?
And now she was stuck here chasing the Butcher of Breen around without being allowed to actually attack until Phul was ready. What the XAXASARF was taking him so long on that Romulan ship anyway?
“Thot,” her tactical officer said, breaking into her thoughts. “The Starfleet vessel is slowing.”
“Confirmed,” her science officer added. “I am reading energy fluctuations. They are increasing.”
“They have dropped out of anti-sing. And now warp. They are adrift.”
“Ha!” Abawt exclaimed, leaping to her feet. “We have him now!”
“Thot Phul is hailing. He is getting underway now and orders us to await his arrival.”
“But Thot Phul is in command of…”
“Thot Phul was Dobt Phul a few months ago, if you remember,” Abawt said as she began to walk around her bridge. “Why should he be the one to end the life of Reginald Bain? Because he and Bain have history? Our entire civilization has history with that human! We have the opportunity to strike a blow for every Breen life he took. We must do it now before he gets his ship operational again.”
“He’s the Butcher of Breen,” the helm officer said, voice quivering.
“So? He got that name because he destroyed a lot of Breen ships. He’s destroyed more today. But we are still here. WE are still HERE! Now is our chance, and we are going to take it!”
“YES, THOT!” her bridge officers responded now thoroughly inspired.
“Open a channel to all vessels.”
“All XAWKTA’s are standing by.”
“This is Thot Abawt. The Starfleet ship is disabled. I say we act now rather than waiting for Phul. Are you with me?”
The other Thots quickly gave their agreement.
“Excellent. But we are going to do it by the Breen book. XAWKTA Two, Four, Five, and Eleven, anti-sing in for your attack run. XAWKTA Seven and Ten, form up on either side of my ship for the second wave.”
Abawt watched the tactical display on the bridge viewscreen as her ships (“Her ships” had a nice sound to it.) gathered, then the first wave leapt into anti-sing toward the crippled Starfleet vessel’s position.
Then suddenly the Anomaly wasn’t there anymore, and her tactical officer was shouting.
“First wave reports multiple explosions. Massive damage. The Volunteers can’t…” On the screen, the icons for XAWKTAs Two, Five, and Eleven blinked out of existence.
“WHERE IS BAIN!” Abawt demanded.
“Here!” the helm officer cried. The Anomaly’s icon was right on top of them. How had they gotten there so fast without anti-sing, unless…it never lost it.
Abawt didn’t have much more time to berate herself for being duped by Reginald Bain as the Anomaly zipped around the ships of her attack wave, laying into them with a relentless barrage of phaser strikes and torpedoes as her officers scrambled to respond. XAWKTA Seven exploded in seconds. As XAWKTA Ten and Abawt’s XAWKTA Twelve moved to respond to the attack, the Anomaly was gone again, zooming into anti-sing.
“Pursuit course NOW!” Abawt ordered.
The Anomaly dropped back out of anti-sing, arriving right back at the position from where they’d left a few moments earlier. The debris of several Breen ships floated near one lone remaining scythe ship.
“It’s arming weapons,” Tovar reported.
“Persistent buggers,” Bain said. “Fire.”
Tovar sent a sustained compression phaser blast into the Breen ship. With its shields already decimated from the Anomaly’s first attack, it didn’t take long for a series of explosions to rock the scythe ship, followed soon by a massive blast as it joined the rest of its attack wave in the expanding debris field.
“The last two ships are coming this way,” Kasyov said. “They’re at anti-sing, but only managing Warp B. The Romulan ship is on the move as well. Moving at Warp D. They’ll arrive approximately five minutes after the Breen.”
“I’ll take that window. Can Marsden spare one more antimatter canister?” Bain asked Tovar.
“She has two more ready with proximity detonators,” Tovar replied.
“Best Chief Engineer in the fleet,” Bain said. “She certainly saved us some torpedoes with those in the first wave. They plowed right into the damned things on their attack run. Breen tactics at their finest.”
“Antimatter canisters deployed,” Tovar reported.
“Capital. Bain to Cabral.”
“Yes, Captain,” Cabral’s voice replied over the comm.
“I hope this little break helped.”
“There were those two Warp M bursts.”
“Yes, but there were short and in straight lines.”
“I’m sure those were very relaxing,” Kasyov muttered.
“I need to ask you for one more,” Bain said. “And that will hopefully be the last one until we’re ready to head back to Federation space.”
“I am standing by,” Cabral said.
“Good show. Bridge out,” Bain said. “Yonk, set an intercept course for the Romulan ship.”
Tovar spoke up. “The Breen will arrive in three, two, one. Now.”
The two remaining scythe ships dropped out of anti-sing and immediately opened fire on the Anomaly as they moved to close the distance at impulse.
“Hold position,” Bain ordered as the bridge shuttered. “Return fire. Phasers only.”
“The ships will be in range of the detonators…NOW!” Tovar said.
“Yonk, go!” Bain ordered. The Ferengi sent the ship into anti-sing just as the Breen ships got too close to the rigged antimatter canisters floating in space near the position that the Anomaly had just vacated. The resulting blast engulfed both vessels. Once it subsided, the remnants of two more scythe ships (as well as Thot Abawt’s dream of defeating Reginald Bain) had been added to the debris field.
“NO!!!” Phul screamed, watching the last two scythe ships blink out of existence on the viewscreen tactical display. His entire fleet was gone, but Bain was still alive…
…and coming right at them.
“Shields at maximum,” Phul ordered. “Standby on all weapons. As soon as the Anomaly is in range, fire everything!”
“Step away from those consoles!” another voice suddenly ordered from behind Phul. He spun his chair around and leapt up to face the intruder. Two Romulans, both wielding Breen blasters, had entered the bridge.
“Woe to you, Thot Phul, for the only thing of which you are full is defeat!” the female exclaimed, adding an overly dramatic “HA!” for good measure.
“We’ve met, haven’t we?” Phul said. “Commander Vioxx, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Now order your officers to stand down, or we’ll shoot, starting with you.”
Phul tapped a small control on his sleeve. “Neither of those are going to happen. But if you surrender now, we’ll only give you a light beating before putting you in the brig.” He tapped his lapel. “Security team back to the bridge!”
“They won’t be answering,” Vioxx said. “And I told you to surrender.” He fired the blaster straight at Phul. At least that was the idea. Instead, a whole lot of nothing happened.
“You’re aiming a Breen weapon at a Breen officer, and you didn’t think I’d have a way to disable it?”
Nortal tried her blaster, which resulted in an equal amount of nothing.
“I disabled any Breen weapon within range,” Phul repeated. “You’re acting like this is completely new to you. Romulan commanders don’t have that ability?”
“Um…no,” Vioxx said.
“Wow. Really? That’s surprising. You really should. It significantly cuts down on mutiny attempts. Helm, tactical, stay where you are. Everyone else, get these two.” The three officers not manning those vital posts got up from their seats to obey.
“Nortal, do you have this under control?” Vioxx asked, his gaze never wavering from Phul’s helmet.
The Centurion flipped the blaster in her right hand and caught it by the barrel, then raised it in the air alongside the tondru mallet in her left. “They are no match for my mighty clubs of smiting!” With a sudden battle cry, she dove toward the approaching Breen in a flurry of swings and kicks.
“That leaves you and me,” Vioxx said, advancing toward Phul.
“No!” Phul protested. “I don’t want to fight you! I want to fight Bain! This is NOT narratively satisfying!”
“You do realize he would beat you so badly that there wouldn’t be enough left to fill your helmet.”
Phul considered this for a moment, decided Vioxx had a point, then raised his fists, ready for combat. Vioxx followed Nortal’s lead and took his disabled blaster by the barrel.
“Won’t fight me without a weapon, Romulan?” Phul mocked.
“Take your helmet off.”
“Weapon it is then.”
The two men advanced on each other, while the sounds of the brawl Nortal was currently engaged in with three other Breen filled the air. Based on the amount of clanging, she was scoring a lot of hits on their helmets.
Suddenly, Remax’s voice boomed over the speakers. “Vioxx, remember the Romulan way!”
“Who the XAXX was that?” Phul demanded.
“My science officer.”
“Could he stay out of this?”
“Normally, I’d agree, but he’s actually being helpful this time.”
“I don’t see how babbling about the ‘Romulan Way’ could possibly…”
Vioxx interrupted Phul with a swing of his blaster toward the Breen’s helmet, but it was a feint, and as Phul moved to block, Vioxx quickly ducked down and slammed the butt of the blaster into the side of Phul’s right knee. The Breen let out an agonized cry and dropped to the deck, cradling his injury.
“Deception is the Romulan Way,” Vioxx said smugly, standing over his fallen foe. Phul took the opportunity to kick out with his left leg, catching Vioxx right in the shin. “OWWW!”
“Thot! The Anomaly is closing! Twenty seconds to intercept!” the tactical officer shouted.
“Full stop!” Phul hissed through gritted…something. Who can tell with that helmet? “All weapons standby. As soon as the Anomaly is in range, fire!” He blocked a swing of Vioxx’s blaster, got back to his feet, and jabbed the Romulan in the gut.
“The Anomaly has also stopped. They are holding position two million kilometers away.”
At this point, Phul and Vioxx were just taking wild swings at each other with little landing to any effect.
“He’s going to do that anti-sing burst trick! Not this time!” Phul said. “Anti-sing burst to his position! Now!”
Vioxx’s blaster connected with the side of Phul’s helmet, staggering the Breen just as the ship launched into anti-sing.
The ship stopped seconds later and immediately started bucking violently.
“We dropped out of anti-sing right into the path of the Anomaly’s phasers!” the tactical officer cried.
“How? They would have had to already be firing.” Phul said. The realization struck. “He knew. He knew this is what I’d do! That XAZAOPA…”
“Shields down! We’re….AUUGGGGGHHHHH!” The tactical officer’s report was cut off when Nortal, having finished off her three assailants, tackled him to the deck and began pounding away with her tondru.
“Get us out of here!” Phul ordered. “Full anti-sing now!”
“No,” the computer said. At least Phul thought it was the computer. He was wrong. It was Zantak, and as a follow-up, she powered down all of the bridge consoles.
“Stop this now!” Selex snapped.
“I am not doing this,” Prosak said, strain in her thoughts as she struggled to keep the ship intact after the Anomaly’s latest attack.
“GET OUT OF MY BRAIN!”
Zantak and Remax found themselves back in the Manamanat’s engineering section again. Remax got his bearings as Zantak winced and rubbed her temples.
“Never again,” the elder Romulan said, steadying himself. He caught Prosak out of the corner of his eye. She was still motionless, her hand pressed to Selex’s sphere. He moved to pull her away, but Zantak grabbed his arm.
“No,” she said. “Too dangerous.”
“Fine. She can take care of herself. Let’s get out of here.”
Back on the Manamanat’s bridge, Phul dropped his arms to his sides in defeat. Vioxx was ready to strike another blow, but stopped. “We’re done?” Vioxx asked.
Phul gestured around the darkened bridge littered with the unconscious bodies of his officers, the last of which was currently slumped over the helm console after a visit from Nortal.
“What’s the point?” Phul replied. “He won. Again!”
“He had help,” Vioxx replied indignantly.
Phul plopped himself down in the command chair as several transporter beams cascaded down at the front of the bridge and quickly resolved themselves into Lieutenant Commander Tovar and a security team from the Anomaly, their wrist phasers at the ready.
Tovar quickly surveyed the scene before him. “Is everyone alright?”
“Do I look alright?” Phul snapped.
“Is everyone who wasn’t just trying to kill us alright?” Tovar amended.
“We’re fine,” Vioxx said. “But there are six more Breen down on Deck 3.”
“I will lead you to my fallen foes!” Nortal exclaimed. Tovar nodded to two of his officers, who followed Nortal off of the bridge. She glanced quickly back at Tovar. “Will Toflay prepare a feast in my honor?” she asked hopefully.
“I’ll ask,” Tovar replied.
Nortal grinned then charged off down the corridor.
“Why are you still here?” Selex said.
“You needed me,” Prosak replied. “But it looks like everything has been resolved.”
“Resolved?!? How does this resolve anything? Karwrek and I gave information to the Breen! Once High Command finds out, I’ll be executed! Or what’s left of me will. And for what? It doesn’t really work anyway! We can’t have ships blowing up the second they have to change course at anti-sing! I gave up my body for nothing!”
“They don’t have to know,” Prosak said soothingly. She could feel more of the strain of keeping the engines in balance falling on her as Selex panicked. “The Breen ships are all gone. We can take the Manamanat back to Malak Pasala and have the warp core removed. You could be the engineer here for decades to come.”
Selex’s mind was silent for a moment. Then…
“I won’t go back like this. Not in failure. Not in disgrace! And definitely not without taking you with me!”
Prosak could feel him trying to activate the anti-sing drive.
“Stop, Selex!” she demanded.
“Let’s see how fast we can go before the end!”
Prosak concentrated with everything she had to keep the anti-sing drive from engaging, but this was Selex’s mind. And he was VERY determined. This wasn’t a battle she could win.
“Understood. We have plenty of brig space standing by,” Captain Bain said after listening to Tovar’s report from the Romulan vessel. “Bain out.” He walked over to Dr. Kasyov’s station. “This is turning out splendidly, wouldn’t you say?”
“Someone tried to blow me up, I was harpooned, and the ship has had the hell beat out of it. Splendid seems like a bit of a stretch,” Kasyov replied. “And I don’t like this,” she added, pointing at one of the displays in front of her.
“What am I looking at?”
“Neural energy from the Romulan ship.”
“Tovar said that Selex was wired in, just like those poor Breen sods.”
“Yes, but he’s not alone. Prosak…”
“…is hailing us,” Lieutenant Bre’zan Brazzell said from tac-ops. “Audio only.”
“Put her on,” Bain said quickly. “Go ahead, Prosak.”
“Captain, you have to get everyone off of the Manamanat.”
“The ship! Selex is trying to go to anti-sing and kill everyone aboard. I can’t hold him off for long.”
“Hold him off? How? He’s a brain in a ball!” Bain said.
Kasyov gestured at the display in front of her. “She’s mind melded with him. That’s what I was trying to show you!”
“Captain!” Prosak cried urgently.
“Computer, beam everyone off of the Romulan ship now!” Bain ordered.
“Except Prosak!” Kasyov said quickly.
“Except Prosak,” Bain repeated.
“Energizing,” the computer voice said placidly.
“Damn thing is too bloody calm,” Bain said. “Now why am I leaving Prosak behind?”
“She’s in a meld. If you rip her out of it, you could completely destroy her mind. Or kill her,” Kasyov said.
“I am trying to end the meld,” Prosak said. “I just…”
She was cut off as the Manamanat leapt into anti-sing.
“Dammit!” Bain shouted, slamming his fist into his hand. “Bridge to Cabral.”
“I’m sorry to ask this again, but I need anti-sing. We’ve got to rescue Prosak.”
“I’ll give you everything I can.”
Tovar and Vioxx rushed out of the turbolift just as Bain said, “I’m counting on it. Bridge out. After them, Yonk.”
“Aye, sir,” the Ferengi replied, launching the Anomaly into anti-sing.
Bain turned his attention to the newcomers. “Welcome back, gentlemen.”
“I’m not sure if I should officially be up here,” Vioxx said. “I’m not your first officer anymore.”
“Nonsense. I’m glad to have you,” Bain said. “Tovar?”
“Our Breen guests are secure, and Zantak, Nortal, and Remax are in sickbay just to make sure they suffered no ill effects,” Tovar said as he took over tac-ops from Brazzell.
“Should you be there as well?” Bain asked Vioxx.
“I’m fine. Phul barely touched me. He wanted to be fighting you anyway.”
Bain laughed at the idea, then refocused. “Back to the matter at hand, how are we removing Prosak from that ship? Thoughts?”
“She’s got to get free of the meld first,” Kasyov said.
“Assuming she does, we can’t beam her out while we’re at anti-sing, can we?” Vioxx asked.
“No,” Tovar replied. “And firing on them at anti-sing is not physically possible. Even if it was, we’d likely destroy their ship.”
“This is a pickle,” Bain said, strolling casually back to Tovar’s station.
“Yes. It is,” Tovar said.
Bain leaned in close. “Comm your mum,” he whispered.
Tovar’s eyes widened. “Mum? Really?”
“Hopefully she has one more trick up her sleeve.”
“Feeling satisfied with yourself?” Selex spat. “You got to do a nice Vulcan ‘Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ to save your crewmates and nobly sacrifice yourself in the process. Spock would be so proud…if he had emotions.”
“You know a surprising amount about Vulcans for someone who claims to despise them so much,” Prosak replied.
“Know your enemy.”
“I am not your enemy!”
“They are. You…you’re just disgusting. You hate being a Romulan and tossed it all aside to copy a species that literally can’t care that you love them so much. Spending all of your time trying to shove down your feelings and forget your upbringing. I am doing a service to Romulus by removing you from the universe.”
“By the Great Bird, will you SHUP UP?!?” Prosak shouted. “You got what you wanted. You’re going to kill me. Good for you! It’s bad enough that I’m inside your brain. I don’t need to spend my last moments having you talk…I mean, think at me anymore.”
“Watch it. Your emotional control is slipping,” Selex gloated.
“Have you been paying a bit of attention to what I’ve actually been doing during all of this? Have I seemed remotely Vulcan-like?”
“Now that you mention it, you’re really terrible at being a Vulcan.”
“I know!” Prosak said. “I stopped trying while ago.”
“If this is some attempt to get me to spare you because you’re a ‘true Romulan’ now, don’t bother,” Selex said.
“I didn’t say that either. I learned a lot from studying the Vulcans, but I can’t be one. And I don’t even know what being a ‘true Romulan’ means. I’ve spent years in Starfleet, and I’ve realized I’m not that either. But I was trying to find my own path and my own way of being. If that ends here because of you, fine. I made sure my friends were safe.”
“Uggggh. That’s even worse than the RommaVulc crap. You’ve gone full Federation with all of their bettering yourself garbage. You really are a disgrace.”
“I’m glad you have to spend the last moments of your life being horrified by my existence,” Prosak said.
She could feel Selex push the Manamanat even faster, increasing the strain on them both as the singularity and warp core components of the anti-sing drive fought against being forced to work together to achieve this new speed.
“What the blehvik are they doing here?” Selex said angrily.
Prosak shifted a bit of her focus to the ship’s sensors. The Anomaly was sailing up beside them, matching their velocity.
In this instance, she agreed with Selex. She’d told Bain to get everyone off of the Manamanat before Selex could cause their deaths. Now he was putting the entire ship at risk if they were this close for the inevitable moment when she and Selex were not able to maintain anti-sing and the ship exploded. Why was the Anomaly here? There was nothing they could do unless…
They had a plan. They had to have a plan.
She shifted from the sensors to the comms. They were being hailed!
“Don’t you answer that!” Selex warned. “I wanted to see how fast we could go, but I’ll stop helping you keep the ship intact. We’ll blow up right now! I’ll do it!”
“Then he’d better talk fast,” Prosak said, opening the channel.
“Prosak,” Captain Bain’s voice said. “Break off that mind meld! Get out of…”
The channel went dead as Selex dropped all focus on anti-sing and mentally pushed Prosak out of the comm system. She tried to escape the meld, but Selex was holding onto her with all of his focus.
The drive system was rapidly losing alignment. It was going to take everything Prosak had to get it back under control, and even then, it might not be enough.
The Manamanat was going to explode.
And she wasn’t going to do a thing to stop it.
Instead, Prosak turned on Selex.
“THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” she screamed.
“W-w-w-w-what?” Selex stammered, caught off guard.
“You designed this piece of utter fleg dung! And look at it! We’re going to die here because you couldn’t engineer your way out of a soap bubble!”
She could feel his anger rising. “Don’t you DARE…”
“Bye bye,” she said quickly, breaking the meld while he was distracted with screaming at her.
Suddenly, Prosak was back in engineering. Her legs were complete jelly after standing still in the meld for so long, and her head was pounding. But she was out.
“GET BACK IN HERE!” Selex shouted over the comm. “I…oh no.”
Prosak saw explosions bloom all around her and felt a brief flash of searing heat just as she dematerialized.
“Got her!” Tovar announced.
“Now, Yonk!” Bain ordered.
“Already going,” Yonk said as he increased speed and veered the Anomaly away from the exploding Manamanat. At anti-sing, the ship was at a safe distance from the destruction in seconds.
“All stop,” Bain said. Yonk smoothly brought the ship out of anti-sing. The stars on the viewscreen resolved from streaks into pinpoints. “Where the hell are we?”
“Just inside the Delta Quadrant,” Kasyov said.
“Not bad. How fast was Selex going?”
“Warp H. Respectable, but not even close to what Cabral can do.”
“No indeed,” Bain said. “You have the bridge, Vioxx. Coordinate with Cabral on the best speed we can manage back to Federation space. Tovar, if you please.” He headed to the turbolift with Tovar quickly falling in step beside him.
The bridge was silent for a few moments, other than the usual thrum of the engines and bleeps and bloops of the consoles. Vioxx was enjoying the calm after what he’d just gone through, but then a question hit him. One that just had to be voiced:
“Umm…how did we beam Prosak out of there?”
Yonk and Kasyov just shrugged.
Prosak had been exploding. Well, not her exactly. But there were explosions all around her, and then…what?
A transporter! She’d been beamed away.
So why was she now lying on a floor?
“Are you alright, dear?” a kind voice asked.
Prosak knew that voice. She slowly opened her eyes to find Rosalyn Bain standing over her.
“What happened?” Prosak asked weakly. She felt like absolute hell. Almost being blown up had done nothing for the headache she already had from the sustained meld with Selex.
“Fortunately, you didn’t take off the holo-imager, so I was able to get a lock on you,” Rosalyn said, helping the Romulan gently to her feet.
Prosak looked around at her surroundings. “Is this…your bedroom?”
“That is where I keep most of my belongings,” Rosalyn said. “Come along now. I’m sure Reginald will be here presently.”
As promised Bain and Tovar rushed into the Bains’ shared quarters just as Rosalyn and Prosak emerged from the bedroom into the main living space.
“Brilliant!” Bain exclaimed, lunging forward and grabbing Prosak up into a bear hug. “I was worried there for a bit.”
“I’m…fine,” Prosak croaked.
“You most certainly are not,” Rosalyn said.
“Quite right,” Bain said. “We’ll get you to sickbay once we see to one small detail.”
“What detail is that?” his wife asked.
“I took the liberty of asking Shelly to join us,” Tovar said.
“Ah. I see.”
“I don’t,” Prosak said.
The door chime sounded prompting a hearty “Come in!” from Bain.
Lieutenant Marsden stormed into the quarters. “Sir, I know you’re the captain and my father-in-law and all, but pulling me away from Engineering right now while we’re dealing with…” She trailed off as she saw the group standing before her. “So…what are we doing?”
“Cover story,” Tovar said.
“And what are we covering up exactly?”
“Using Section 31 technology to beam someone off of a ship moving at anti-sing,” Rosalyn said.
“You can do that?!? How?” Marsden exclaimed.
“Not the time, dear.”
“Will it ever be the time?”
Rosalyn smiled and shook her head.
“Didn’t think so. Ok. Fine. What crap am I feeding Starfleet about this?”
“You performed an engineering miracle only possible in this exact set of circumstances and never to be repeated,” Bain said. “Don’t go into too much detail.”
“You’re quite good at this, dear,” Rosalyn said, squeezing her husband’s arm.
“I am capable of subterfuge. Remember the trip to that resort on Caberhamica Prime I surprised you with for our thirtieth anniversary?”
“Oh yes, Reg. It was lovely.”
“You knew, didn’t you?”
“Only because they commed to confirm the reservation.”
“I will be escorting Prosak to sickbay now,” Tovar said, breaking into their conversation.
“Thank you,” Prosak said, leaning on him for support.
“And I guess I’m off to lie to my log recorder,” Marsden said. The three officers headed out into the corridor, leaving the Bains alone.
“Dinner, dear?” Bain asked.
“Wonderful idea, but don’t you need to be back on the bridge?”
“Vioxx can handle things. It’s been a busy day. I’m absolutely famished,” Bain said, stepping over to the replicator. “Now what can I get you, my love?”
“And Starfleet believed you?” Jarrett asked his mother as the three of them sat around the kitchen table, their breakfasts long since eaten.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Marsden said. “Maybe Section 31 was involved. They were a lot more of a secret back then than they are now. They could have done something behind the scenes. But really considering everything else that happened that day, Starfleet Command had its hands full. They didn’t care about Prosak’s rescue. I mean, they were glad she was alive, I’m sure, but there was a Breen attack, stolen anti-sing technology, a Romulan admiral who had made a deal with the Breen, lots of exploded ships, and brig full of Breen prisoners for them to sort out. Our part was done. We just went back to Earth and put in for repairs.”
“Come on. More happened than that. What about Vioxx? Did he and the others stay aboard? And what about Prosak? What was going on with Cabral and the cube?”
“One thing at a time,” Tovar said. “Vioxx and the others were ordered back to Romulan space. It took some time, but eventually there were more officer exchanges and soon after that, Romulans started being accepted to Starfleet Academy on a regular basis.”
“It seemed completely normal when I was there,” Jarrett said.
“As it should.”
“It’s too bad Vioxx couldn’t stay, though.”
“I think they were ready to go home. They’d been away a long time, and Romulan High Command put Vioxx in command of his own ship again.”
Commander Vioxx rubbed the armrests of his command chair. It was a silly habit he’d developed ever since they’d left on this mission, but he couldn’t help it. This was HIS command chair on HIS ship. Everything was as it should be.
“What’s our status?” he asked Sub-Commander Remax at the science console.
“We’re right back where we started,” Remax groused. “On a scout ship in the middle of nowhere.”
“You didn’t miss exploring for the Empire?”
“I didn’t miss how long it takes to get anywhere out here.”
Vioxx nodded. “Anti-sing did have its perks.”
“My body shrivels from boredom!” Nortal cried.
“What about you, Lieutenant Zantak? How are you feeling about all of this?” Vioxx asked. Zantak swiveled her chair around and stared at him blankly. “Sorry. I forgot. RommaVulc. Is this mission engaging you adequately?”
“Yes,” she replied, then turned back to her console.
“I’ve got a sensor contact,” Remax reported. “It’s heading right for us.”
“By Jenichai, I shall let loose with all of this ship’s might!” Nortal exclaimed.
“No no no. Not again,” Vioxx said. This was feeling alarmingly close to how he’d lost his last command and ended up on the Anomaly.
“The object is approximately twenty meters in diameter and composed of…it’s that damn blob of yours!”
Vioxx bolted upright in his chair. “Neb?”
“Your gelatinous offspring hails!” Nortal announced.
“Open a channel. Neb? Is that you?”
“Hi, Dad. This is a surprise. What are you doing all the way out here?”
“Just exploring the universe. Same as you, I guess.”
“I guess so.”
“Hey,” Vioxx said hesitantly. “Since we ran into you, do you want to join us for dinner? We could catch up.”
“I don’t eat.”
“I know, but…”
“I’d love to. I’ll be right there.”
“Fantastic. See you soon. Vioxx out.”
Nortal closed the channel.
“They’re going to get goo on our hull,” Remax said.
“Quiet, or you’ll be the one cleaning it off.”
“Prosak resigned her Starfleet commission as soon as we got back to Earth,” Tovar said. “We would still see her occasionally. She actually came to visit for a few days soon after you were born. I’m not sure what she was doing at the time, but she seemed happy.”
Three more days.
Captain Bain was trying to minimize the strain on Cabral, so he had ordered the Anomaly to continue to Earth at Warp 7 once they returned to Federation space. Prosak appreciated that, but it meant three more days as First Officer (Vioxx had been decent enough not to try to reclaim his position while back on board). She wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do next, but she knew it wasn’t that.
With her shift for that evening complete, Prosak returned to her quarters, ready to get a sonic shower and replicate something in the realm of comfort food from the replicator. Plomeek soup was fine and all, but tonight she was craving a nice, juicy cheeseburger.
“Lights,” she said, once she entered her living room. Much to her surprise, one of her armchairs was occupied by a human dressed in an all-black outfit much like the one she’d seen Rosalyn Bain sport on occasion.
“Don’t be alarmed, Prosak,” he said. “My name is Gunton. Agent Gunton, to be precise. We have a mutual friend who tells me that you’re looking for a change of vocation. She thinks you’d be an excellent fit for our organization.”
“She does?” Prosak asked in shock. Why was she tearing up?
“She does,” Gunton said kindly. “And when Rosalyn makes a recommendation, I take it seriously. But what about you? Are you interested?”
And suddenly Prosak knew exactly what she wanted to do.
“There you go. That’s the story,” Tovar said. “And we should really get going. We can’t make you late for your first posting.”
“You skipped the thing I asked about in the first place!” Jarrett protested. “How did Grandad lose the Anomaly? You all got back to Earth with it, right?”
“Your father doesn’t like to discuss this part,” Marsden said. “But yes, we did. And thanks to the damage we’d sustained from the bomb and fighting the Breen, and then running at anti-sing during and after all of that, the Anomaly needed an extended stay in a repair bay. Since we were going to be there that long anyway, I decided to take the opportunity to make several needed improvements. Remember it was a prototype ship that was pressed into service because it had anti-sing. It was fine, but the Anomaly was not fitted out as well as a lot of the other Starfleet ships at the time. I basically needed to start from scratch with a completely empty ship, so when we got back to Earth, the crew took all of their stuff and left the ship.
“My team and I got to work on the repairs and the refit, and then three months later…”
“I don’t get to do this nearly enough,” Captain Bain said as he and Admiral Kristen Larkin strolled through the garden outside of the home he shared with Rosalyn outside of Petworth, England. Nearby, two small bots tended to the Delphiniums, making sure their tall stalks were undamaged from the morning’s rain. Bain, of course, preferred to take care of such duties himself, but with as much as he was away, the bots were a necessary substitute.
“Are you thinking that you want to spend more time at home?” Larkin asked.
Bain chuckled. “Hoping I’ll retire, Krissers?”
“Many officers younger than yourself have made that decision. And with Rosalyn retired now, I would certainly understand it if you wished to leave Starfleet.”
“Nonsense! Ros and I are quite happy with our quarters on the Anomaly, and Marsden promises me they’ll be even nicer after the refit. I can only visit Sophie and the grandkids so many times before I’d go starkers. And Audrey…well… Besides, who would take command if I left? Prosak and Vioxx are no longer options, and Tovar needs to spend some time as First Officer before he’s ready for the center seat.”
“I did see your request to put him in that role. You are aware that your familial relationship makes that unlikely…at least on the Anomaly. There’s a post open on the Astoria, and I believe Tovar would mesh well with Captain Jodet.”
Bain knelt down to gingerly remove a bit of dirt that had ended up on a leaf of the Lady’s Mantle. “Take her out without Tovar,” he said after a few moments. He stood back up and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That would be…strange. The lad has been with me for so long now, but I won’t stand in the way of his career. It’s time. Well past, probably.”
“I will speak with Captain Jodet.”
“And I won’t say a word to Tovar.”
“You do realize that Lieutenant Marsden may wish to go with him,” Larkin said.
“I do, but it’s nothing that thousands of Starfleet couples haven’t navigated over the years. Ros and I…”
“Spacedock Control to Admiral Larkin!” an urgent voice suddenly said over Larkin’s commpip.
She quickly squeezed it to open the channel. “Larkin here.”
“Admiral, the Anomaly is leaving its repair dock.”
“What the devil?!?” Bain said, and locked eyes with Larkin. “How is it leaving? There’s no one aboard! We cleared everyone out for the refit.”
Larkin took a nanobeat and then looked to Bain. “Cabral remained, did he not?”
“Ah. Yes. I suppose he did.”
Larkin turned her attention back to the crisis at hand. “Have any ships in the area intercept. Tractor beams only. Most of the Anomaly’s systems are offline for repairs. It is in no condition to…”
“It just jumped to anti-sing! It’s gone!”
“That is…unexpected,” she said.
“Get me a ship!” Bain said, slamming his fist into his hand. “I’ll go after Cabral myself!”
“You and I both know that would be useless,” Larkin said.
“So…we’re not doing anything?” the officer on the other end of the comm asked.
“Alert the fleet, but realistically unless Cabral decides to come back, there is nothing to do.” She stared pointedly at Bain. “I will expect your preliminary report within the hour. Spacedock Control, one to transport. Energize.” The admiral disappeared in a cascade of molecules.
An hour later, Bain strode into Larkin’s office at Starbase One. “Blast!” Bain spat, tossing an iPadd Micro on Larkin’s desk. A holo image sprung to life of the Anomaly, detailing a comprehensive engineering and security report. “You were right, Krissers. That befouled brain spirited off with my ship. Of all the misanthropic…”
Larkin scanned the report for a few seconds and glanced up at Bain. “I was not aware that the Anomaly’s drive systems were already operational.”
“Marsden is very good at her job.”
“Perhaps a bit too good?”
Bain folded his arms. “Perhaps.”
“Regardless, you should have kept abreast of her progress.”
“I have her reports.”
Larkin leaned forward, turning off the holo image of the Anomaly and focusing on Bain. “Have you read them?”
“I’m a little behind,” Bain admitted.
“And when did you last speak to Cabral?”
“Ages ago! Not since we put into spacedock.”
“I see.” Larkin steepled her fingers. “Captain Bain, I am familiar with eccentric ship commanders and their motivations. Let’s not parse words. I take it your final report is that you have lost the Anomaly?”
“Are you seriously blaming me for this?” Bain huffed.
“The Anomaly is, in a word, gone. You are the ship’s captain and, therefore, responsible. In addition, I find it extremely coincidental that you happened to invite me for a visit on the same day that your ship was stolen.”
“I invited you weeks ago!”
“Precisely. I would also note that you seem less upset than I would expect under the circumstances.”
“I’m not happy, but I have to admit it’s a bit refreshing. First time I’ve lost a ship without having it blasted out from under me.”
“Be that as it may…” Larkin trailed off, giving a beat for Bain to explain himself. When no explanation was forthcoming, she stood. “You can expect a full investigation, of course.”
“My dear Krissers, I’d expect nothing less,” Bain said, and turned and left.
Tovar watched Jarrett’s reaction across the table, surprised by the look on his son’s face. “You’re disappointed,” he said.
“I just didn’t realize that when everyone said Grandad lost the ship, they meant he actually lost it. No one knows where Cabral went?”
“Nope,” Marsden said. “He and Natalia haven’t been heard from since.”
“She went with him? I guess that makes sense. But I don’t see why Auntie Kris would blame Grandad. The ship was in for repairs. Was he supposed to sit on board the whole time? Sounds like Spacedock Control is really at fault here.”
“Most would agree with you. However, there were some in Starfleet Command who thought he might have been involved,” Tovar said.
“Wait. Was he?” Jarrett asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You never asked him?”
“What good would that possibly do? Either my father made a massive mistake that cost Starfleet a ship with a one-of-a-kind drive system, or he was involved in a conspiracy to steal that same ship. If it was the former, I won’t be the one to hurt him by bringing it up again. If it’s the latter, I won’t force him to lie to me or make me an accessory after the fact.”
“But don’t you want to know what really happened?” Jarrett pressed.
“Not every mystery needs to be solved,” Tovar replied. “But I have my theories.”
Two days into the Anomaly’s trip back to Earth after their battle with the Breen, Captain Bain entered Science Lab Four, stepping over a bundle of conduits that Marsden’s engineers had run into the room as he did so. Bain didn’t make a lot of trips to see Cabral. It wasn’t that he ignored his ship’s resident disembodied brain. Far from it. He and Cabral conversed quite often over the comm or through Cabral’s hovercamera that allowed him to move throughout the Anomaly without the inconvenience of disconnecting from the ship and phasing his sphere through the hull.
However, when Cabral asked if Bain would join him and Dr. Kasyov in the space he called home on the Anomaly, the Captain was more than happy to oblige.
Granted, Science Lab Four wasn’t looking especially homey or inviting at the moment. The doors and several sections of the walls (presumably the ones that sustained the most damage from Selex’s explosive) had been removed by Marsden and her team, and those that remained were covered in varying degrees of scorch marks.
Speaking of Marsden, the Chief Engineer was actually there, deep in conversation with Dr. Kasyov and Cabral.
“I can come back later if I am intruding,” Bain said.
“No please. Come in,” Cabral said. “Not that there’s really an ‘in’ right now.”
“We’ll see that it’s taken care of during the refit,” Bain replied.
“That is actually why we asked you both to come,” Kasyov said, exchanging a quick glance with Marsden.
“Is there a problem with the redesign?” Bain asked Marsden.
“I just got here a little before you did,” Marsden said with a shrug. “This is their show.”
“All right. Let’s hear it then.”
“This is…difficult,” Cabral said. “Captain, you have been nothing but wonderful to me in all the years I have been here, but I cannot remain with the Anomaly.”
Bain opened his mouth to protest, but Kasyov cut him off. “Please let him explain.”
The captain nodded, and Cabral continued. “I am now the keeper of my entire species. I have a duty to them, and I cannot continue to put myself in danger as I have as a part of this crew. It’s selfish of me, but more than that, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to ignore the great responsibility I have been given by Chindela.”
“You’re not ignoring it at all,” Bain said. “They’re inside you. Quite literally.”
“It’s more than that. Ever since I took Gathering Point in, I have heard Chindela. He told me when we were there that the Pliggeri had planned for this. I didn’t know exactly what he meant until I was able to strengthen my connection with the cube. He knew where the Pliggeri were going. He just never thought he would be able to join them because of his promise to be there for the Cerebe. My continued existence has given him a chance to do something he never thought possible: return to his people. I can feel myself being drawn to go. But more than that, I want to go. For Chindela. For the Cerebe. And for myself.”
“And I want to go with him,” Kasyov said. “We just need a raceabout. If Shelly can outfit it with an anti-sing drive, we can do it.”
“You want me to shove a quantum singularity into a raceabout?” Marsden said in disbelief. “Do you have any idea how small the engineering section is in one of those? If…IF I could get my hands on a singularity, outfitting everything and making room for Cabral and his interface housing would leave you living in the cockpit!”
“I don’t care!”
“You will after a week or two! How far are you going?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” Cabral said.
“I’ll be fine,” Kasyov said. “But I’m not letting him go alone.”
Marsden started pacing the room. “I get that, Nat. Really. But I honestly don’t know if I can even do what you’re asking. The Anomaly was designed and purpose built to run an anti-singularity drive. If I try shoving a singularity into an existing ship then tying it to the warp core, the whole thing might blow up. You saw what happened to those Breen scythe ships.”
“They didn’t have Cabral.”
“Do you want him to have to be constantly straining himself the whole time you’re travelling?”
“We could drop out of anti-sing every so often, so he could rest,” Kasyov said.
“You’re being ridiculous,” Marsden said. “Great Bird! This is what arguing with my kids is going to be like, isn’t it?”
Kasyov stopped her arguing. “Shelly! Are you…”
“NO! Not now. I was just…it doesn’t matter.”
Cabral took the interruption in the argument as an opportunity to break in. “Captain, you’ve been quiet about all of this.”
Bain took a deep breath, then nodded his head once firmly, as though he’d just come to a decision…which he had. “You should take the Anomaly.”
“They should what?” Marsden said.
“You’ve built an amazing machine here, Marsie,” Bain said. “But look at what has happened as a result. The other powers in the quadrant have been scrambling to catch up ever since. Twelve Breen crews are dead, and who knows how many were killed while they were testing? Same for the Romulans. People are having their brains removed from their bodies and tied into engines! It’s ghastly! No offense, Cabral.”
“None taken. I never had a body,” Cabral said.
“And it’s made us a target,” Bain continued, refocusing his attention on Marsden. “The Dillon Consortium was ready to kidnap and brainwash you into working for them. How soon until someone else tries the same thing? Or comes for Cabral? Right now, this ship, as wonderful as it is, hurts the balance of power in the quadrant. As long as it’s here, of course I want Starfleet to be the one in possession of it. But if the Anomaly can take Cabral to his creators, that’s better for everyone.”
Kasyov did something she never thought she’d do and grabbed Reginald Bain into a hug. “Thank you, Captain,” she said.
“Yes. Thank you,” Cabral said. “I can’t express how much I appreciate this.”
“Before you get too excited, I can’t just give the ship to you,” Bain said. “Starfleet tends to frown on that. And there’s the matter of making sure it’s in any shape to get you where you want to go, which currently it is decidedly not. We also have an entire crew on board to run things. You’re talking about trying to go to another galaxy with just the two of you. There’s only one way that can happen.”
Bain locked eyes with Marsden. “I can’t order you to do this, Shelly,” he said softly. “As it stands, you’d be absolutely in your rights to report me to Command for even having this conversation.”
She chuckled slightly. “I spent so many years trying to make the engine work, and it never did. Not really. Without Cabral, this ship would have been just another failed prototype.” She walked over to his sphere and touched it gently. “Without you, I never would have been Chief Engineer on the fastest ship in the fleet. Or gone to another galaxy. Or reconnected with Nat. Or met my husband and become part of his family. If this helps me pay you back in some small way, I’ll help.”
Kasyov hugged Marsden. “Thank you, Shelly. Thank you!”
“I am very touched, Lieutenant,” Cabral said. “And yes. Thank you.”
“What do you need from me?” Bain asked.
“Just do what you’d normally do during a refit. I’ll make sure the Spacedock repair crews focus on the engines and key systems first.”
“Oh!” Kasyov said excitedly. “Could you make it so that Cabral can project himself into a holopod?”
“Why would he need to…Ohhhhhhhhhh.”
“It’s a long trip,” Kasyov said with a glint in her eye.
“Anyway,” Marsden continued. “I’ll automate everything I can, but we need a reason to clear everyone and everything off the ship that Kasyov and Cabral won’t need.”
“You said it yourself. This ship is a prototype. Maybe it’s time we got fancier quarters and the like. Rebuild from the ground up,” Bain said.
Marsden smiled. “That’s perfect. And it’s the kind of thing that could take months in case I hit delays in any of the other work.”
“How can we help?” Cabral asked.
“Honestly, you don’t need to do anything until I’m done getting the Anomaly ready.”
“And I trust,” Bain said, “that you can take it from there.”
“But Grandad was blamed for something that Starfleet had no proof that he did,” Jarrett said. “That just seems wrong. Was he upset? Did it hurt his career?”
Marsden suppressed a laugh. “Well, he definitely wasn’t offered that promotion to admiral that he never wanted in the first place,” she said.
“I just think he would have told you,” Jarrett said firmly to his father. “He tells you everything.”
“Sometimes being in Starfleet means keeping things from the people you love…or knowing that they are keeping things from you,” Tovar said. “And because you trust them, you accept that they are doing it for the right reasons. Right, dear?”
“Right,” Marsden said as she and Tovar exchanged a loving look into each other’s eyes that their son completely missed.
“And now, we really are going to be late,” Tovar said. “Grab your gear. Your mom and I will clean up.”
“On it!” Jarrett said, leaping up from the table and racing out of the room.
A short time later, the three of them materialized in the main transporter room of Earth’s Starbase One and made their way through the throngs of officers to the gangway entry leading to Jarrett’s new ship. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows next to the entrance, they could see the sleek Excelsior III class ship, the USS Holloway, floating in the starbase’s massive interior.
“There will be an officer stationed at the ship’s entrance. Give them your name, and they will take care of you from there,” Tovar said.
“I know, Dad. I’ve been fully briefed on the procedure.”
“Give him a break. This is his last chance to dad you for a while,” Marsden said, hugging her son then planting a kiss on his cheek. “Love you. Be as careful as you can out there.”
Tovar took his turn to hug Jarrett. “Don’t forget how to use a comm.”
“Why would…” Jarrett rolled his eyes. “I will comm you. I promise.”
“I love you,” Tovar said.
“Love you, too, Dad.” The hug ended. Jarrett adjusted his small pack on his shoulder, smiled at his parents, then headed off down the gangway.
Marsden clasped Tovar’s hand as they looked out at the docked starship.
“Do you ever miss it?” she asked.
“Not really. Working at headquarters has been quite satisfying. I appreciate having the broader perspective on the fleet as a whole. Do you?”
“Nah. And I really don’t miss getting shot at, stabbed, or being about to blow up. R&D is right where I want to be.”
“Speaking of, how is the new prototype coming along? I’ve been neglectful about asking, Did you crack it this time?”
Marsden smiled. “I think I did.”
They strolled off down the concourse, hand-in-hand.
After getting shown to his quarters and stowing his gear, Jarrett took the turbolift up to the Holloway’s bridge to check in with his new commanding officer.
“Ensign Jarrett Bain reporting for duty.”
The command chair spun around, and Captain Reginald Bain sprang to his feet to greet his grandson. At just over 100 years old, he was by far the most senior captain in the fleet. He was a bit thinner than he used to be. His hair a bit wispier. But he still seemed to be filled with boundless energy.
“There he is!” Bain exclaimed, wrapping an arm around Jarrett’s shoulder. “Excited to be serving with your grandad?”
“That’s what I want to hear!” Bain paused for a moment. “You’re not just saying that because it’s what I want to hear?”
“Excellent. So you’ve got a conn specialization, is that right?”
“Mom’s an engineer, Dad’s in tac-ops, and you decide to become a pilot. Did they give you any grief about that?
“None at all.”
“Glad to hear it. I just hope you’re better at the helm than your father. I lost more than a couple of shuttles on the Maladventure because of him,” Bain said.
“I’ll do my best.”
“Good lad. Take your station.”
“My station? Here?” Jarrett asked surprised.
“Of course! Let’s see what you can do.” Bain noticed the worried look on his grandson’s face. “Don’t worry, my boy. We’re just going to take a quick spin around the sector. I’m sure we won’t get into any trouble.”
“Unless we’re lucky.”