Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
It was all just a bad dream.
It had to be.
Some weird hybrid Federation/Romulan ship. A living brain. A Nantucket sleighride to the Andromeda galaxy.
All of that was just a dream.
Natalia Kasyov turned over in bed, hugged her pillow, and draped an arm over the man who shared her bed with her.
There was a man in bed with her?
She must still be dreaming.
The man snorted and rolled over to face her. She recognized him, and immediately, like a starship crashing into a sun, the reality of what Natalia Kasyov had been through in the last few months all came tumbling back into place.
“Why on Yyns are we in bed together?” Lieutenant Commander Tovar asked calmly.
“I was hoping you’d be able to tell me,” Kasyov replied, quickly yanking back her arm and sitting up in bed. She immediately laid back down and pulled up the sheets when she realized that she was naked.
“I, too, am naked, in case you were wondering,” Tovar muttered. “In addition, I seem to have broken out in some kind of rash. We didn’t…do anything last night…did we?”
“And just what the hell are you implying?” Kasyov rolled away from Tovar, scanning the bedroom for some form of clothing. It was a white-walled, bare room with boxy white cabinets and drawers and what appeared to be a spacious walk-in closet. It was dim; dawn light was peeking in through slatted windows from either side of the bed.
“I was unconscious. You may have taken advantage of me, as the squid lady did,” said Tovar.
“I assure you, you don’t have to worry about that,” mumbled Kasyov. Hell with it. Kasyov jumped out of bed and wrapped herself, toga-like, in the sheet. That left Tovar decidedly uncovered.
“That was uncalled for,” Tovar griped as he threw a pillow over his privates.
“THIS is uncalled for!” Kasyov shouted, gesturing all around the bedroom.
Tovar sat up. “The last thing I remember is us getting blown up by an Associates battle cruiser. I would say this is quite preferable, all things considered.”
“Well, I’m going to go on a limb here and say the Associates have captured us,” Kasyov said, staring at herself in the dresser mirror. Her hair was an unkempt black mess. They certainly hadn’t done any grooming while she was unconscious.
“These little bumps are really itching,” Tovar noted.
“Let me have a look at them,” mumbled Kasyov, turning to face Tovar.
He gripped his pillow. “That…won’t be necessary. They seem to be focused in large quantities right near my…”
“Don’t be an ass,” said Kasyov. “I’ve been to medical school. Just because I study brains all the time doesn’t mean I don’t know other things about humanoid physiology. Besides, I’m a lot better than Nooney, aren’t I?”
Tovar raised an eyebrow. “You ARE naked, though.”
“I have a sheet!” protested Kasyov.
“It is see-through.”
Kasyov looked down at herself. “Oh, hell.”
On the other side of the mirror, First Operative Ieeeooop looked on with great interest. “They’re quite ugly. Sort of like Vesecchians without all the feelers. I’ll have to make note of that.”
Suddenly an alarm blared in Ieeeooop’s ears. A voice boomed: “They will be late for work. Get them moving.”
“Right, First Supervisor. Right away.”
Ieeeooop pushed a control, and a similar alarm blared in the bedroom. Tovar and Kasyov looked about, confused.
“Attention, guests. My name is First Operative Ieeeooop. I must inform you that you are being watched. You are our guests here at the Associates Inspection and Evaluation of Interesting Entities training camp. The AIEIE for short.”
Ieeeooop did not recognize the gesture that Kasyov flashed all about the room, but he wrote down a description of it for later. It appeared that Kasyov was pointing at something, but her one extended middle finger was pointed straight up. How odd.
“You cannot lay about in bed all day, however,” continued Ieeeooop. “There is a program of study designed especially with you in mind at the AIEIE. You each have a role to fulfil in our little community.”
“What would that be?” Tovar asked, looking about with mild annoyance.
“You, Mister Tovar, are to stay at home, clean, prepare meals, and keep your mate satisfied.”
“WHAT?” This from Tovar.
“MATE?” This from Kasyov.
“And you, Doctor Kasyov,” Ieeeooop continued, unfettered, “Although we don’t recognize your alien doctoral title, you will be placed into a position in the scientific field. You are apparently somewhat well-versed in the art of brain study.”
“SOMEWHAT? I’m one of the preeminent neurologists in the Federation!”
“We do not recognize this ‘Federation.’ At any rate, you are to be put to work immediately. Get dressed. You will report to work in ten minutes.”
“With what clothes?” demanded Kasyov.
Ieeeooop pressed another button. Kasyov was momentarily engulfed in white light, and when the light faded she was wearing a somewhat unflattering, quasi-futuristic silver jumpsuit, complete with a silver scrunchie for her ponytail.
“Do I get clothes too?” Tovar asked.
“Not yet,” replied Ieeeooop. “Now get to work, Doctor.”
“Where exactly am I supposed to go?”
“A tram will pick you up outside on the doorstep. Don’t miss it. Go. Go. Go.”
“What if I don’t?” demanded Kasyov.
“They have the power to dress you at will,” Tovar whispered into her ear. “They can probably do a lot worse.”
“What do you mean? Put me in white shoes after Labor Day?”
“If they can beam clothing onto you, then it stands to reason that they can beam bits of you off.”
“Right, then. Off I go!”
“Meanwhile,” Tovar said, pulling Kasyov back toward him. “I will stay behind and try to devise an escape.”
“There is no escape,” Ieeeooop broke in.
“Shut up,” Kasyov snapped and marched out of the room.
“Well, I’d better get to cleaning up the house. Long day ahead,” Tovar said, stretching and yawning. “How about those clothes, whoever you are?”
“Fine, if you insist,” replied Ieeeooop.
Now it was Tovar’s turn to be engulfed by light.
Siege mentality. That’s what Bain called it.
As he sat in his command chair, staring at the front viewscreen, which showed nothing but the advertisement-strewn hull of Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway, Bain felt like a prisoner on his own ship.
Marsden was still finishing repairs, the brain that kept Bain’s ship running smoothly was kidnapped, his right-hand man and chief science officer were off, who knew where, looking for said brain, and on top of all of that Bain was being hunted down by tiny aliens who saw him as their supreme ruler.
All in all, a disagreeable state of affairs. Bain grunted something unintelligible and looked down at his readouts.
At that moment, Lt. Bre’zan Brazzell spoke up from tac-ops:
“Captain,” Brazzell said. “We’re receiving a call from a small transport just entering sensor range.”
“Who does it belong to, Brazzie?”
“Oh,” Brazzell said, still confused. “It appears to be an Associates vessel, sir.”
“On screen.” Bain narrowed his eyes at the viewscreen as the arrowhead-shaped vessel darted into view. “Blast, I wonder what they want from us now?”
Brazzell’s panel bleeped. “They’re hailing.”
“Let’s get on with it, then,” Bain said, as Prosak emerged from his former ready room, now her quarters, zipping up her uniform jacket.
“Good morning, Captain,” she said, taking a position standing next to Bain.
“We’ve got company, Prosak.” Bain pointed at the screen, where a purple-skinned, triangle-headed Associate Enforcer appeared, looking…well, really he had no facial expression whatsoever.
“Greetings,” said the Associate on the viewscreen. “I am Associate Enforcer Aaaiiieee.”
“What can we do for you, Aaaa…” Bain said, then gave up trying to pronounce the man’s name. Sounded too damn much like screaming. “What can we do for you, sir?”
“It is not what you can do for me,” replied the Associate, “but what I can do for you.”
“The vessel on which I am traveling belongs to you.”
Bain and Prosak exchanged confused glances.
“Why would you give us a vessel?” asked Prosak.
“In exchange for the one we destroyed, of course.”
Bain’s eyebrows darted up. “PARDON?”
“We blew up one of your ships. Dreadfully sorry. I hope this one is satisfactory. There are also some sacks of marba wheat aboard. You should consume those within the next two weeks, because after that they go bad and release a highly toxic gas.”
“Look here,” Bain began, not knowing exactly where to begin.
“And, as a special treat, since we have confiscated two of your crew for testing, we tossed in coupons for two free defonilations.”
“Confiscated?” asked Prosak.
“See here now, sir,” Bain said. “You can’t just…”
And just like that, Aaaiiiieee vanished in a whirl of gold sparkles from the cockpit of the tiny ship.
“Red Alert,” Bain said, punching a control on his command chair. “Marsie, dear, a bit of an emergency has come up. How’s the ship?”
“Just a few minor repairs,” came the concerned voice of Marsden. “We can get underway, if necessary. What’s up?”
“I’ll fill you in later. Prepare us for immediate departure.” Bain turned to Prosak. “Why don’t you see about the docking–”
Just then, Brazzell’s console bleeped.
“Sir, I’m detecting eleven tiny lifeforms at the airlock, pounding on the door…they appear to be Lackinis.”
“Oh sod it, then!” Bain exclaimed. “Mister Arroyo, pull us out already! Docking skirt and all!”
“Sir, that’s not advise–”
“Just do it, man, there are mini-Mongols at the door!”
“Mongols? I thought they were Lackinis?” Prosak said confused.
“Leave now. History lesson later,” Bain said.
Arroyo punched the Anomaly into reverse, ripping it free of Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway’s docking ring, with part of the Gyjik’s airlock still attached.
“Grab the Associates’ transport in a tractor beam, Brazzell,” said Bain. “It might be useful.”
“Yes sir,” Brazzell said, and worked at his panel. A beat later, he looked up. “We are being hailed.”
“Go figure,” Prosak muttered, leaning against Bain’s chair.
“On screen,” said Bain.
“Greetings,” said a woman on the viewscreen, or at least Bain was pretty sure she was female. She was bloated, orange, and sported a head like a squid, complete with flopping tentacles. “My name is Moklok. I’m Gyjik’s Administrative Aide. We noticed that you ripped free of our station. Not to worry, we’ll just add the repairs to your tab.”
“Your tab…you’ve rung up quite a bill at the repair shop, the chocolatery, the beer lounge and also the tailor. With our special low financing, we can arrange a payment system you can afford.”
“Good to hear, there, Moklok, but we have a spot of trouble here to attend to and will have to deal with your special financing later.”
“That’s fine. Um…is Mister Tovar there?”
“Not at present,” Bain said. “If you don’t mind my asking, how do you know Tovar?”
“We met, and…” Moklok trailed off.
“I’m sorry, but we really need to be going.”
“Fine. I should tell you. We…”
“Damn it, Arroyo, skip out on the check already.”
“What’s that, Captain?”
“Take us into warp!”
“Right, sir. Course?”
“Away from here!”
“Okeydoke.” Arroyo sent the Anomaly pitching around and darting away from Gyjik’s, with their tiny Associates vessel in tow. Just another great example of Starfleet diplomacy in the Andromeda Galaxy.
The tram ride to work was uneventful. Kasyov was joined by other jumpsuited figures, none of whom seemed eager to speak to her. All in all, it seemed like no one was thrilled to get to this workplace…wherever or whatever it was.
Not that it mattered to Kasyov much. She was just concerned with holding out long enough for the Anomaly to find them. Hopefully, that wouldn’t be long. But she didn’t know any of the crew, save Shelly, long enough to really gauge how good of a job they’d do rescuing her.
She had to admit, they did a good job tracking her down when one of her test brains kidnapped her months earlier, but she’d already managed to defeat poor Subject 241 before the Anomaly arrived on the scene.
She didn’t have hopes quite so high for this particular kidnapping, considering that she was on an unfamiliar world, who knew how far away from the Anomaly, and if that weren’t bad enough, she was in fact not even in her home galaxy.
Kasyov sighed as she was ushered by Associate guards into a large, featureless, white building.
Her only hope for the moment, frighteningly, lie in Lt. Commander Tovar.
“I’m a clean clean clean, clean machine, let’s give those tables a brilliant sheen!”
Tovar, whose mind had taken a temporary holiday in favor of that of his past life Tarva (a giddy housekeeper), dusted the tables in the living room with one hand as he ushered a floorsweeper along the room’s hard granite floors.
The room could use a nice rug!
He’d have to see about that.
Meanwhile, Kasyov was immediately put to work in a laboratory, where she assumed she’d be forced to experiment on brains.
Instead, oddly, she was testing different types of jam.
“Well,” came a voice over a loudspeaker in the bare, white room. “What do you think of that one?”
Kasyov, along with the row of other cursed humanoids, thought the matter over as they swished the spoonful of jam around in their mouths. Electrodes attached to their foreheads recorded brainwave patterns.
“Want to know what I think?” Kasyov muttered.
“Yes indeed!” the voice replied.
“I think this experiment sucks.”
A pause. “Interesting, interesting. Other opinions?”
A chorus of groans and muttering erupted around Kasyov. She got the impression that many of the others in the room had been at this much longer than she.
One person threw up.
“Splendid!” the irritating voice said finally. “This will all be very helpful as we compile our data.”
“How, exactly, will this be helpful?”
“Good question. How about lunch everyone? I believe they’re serving…muffins and jam!”
The same person threw up again. Groans filled the room.
Kasyov wished she and Tovar could switch places.
“Housemates behave, We have to live together, Watch where you spill, that’s gonna leave a stain… and so I’m–Cleaning just as fast as I can (can, can, can) in a far-off Andromeda land (land, land, land) tryin´ to mop up all the floors and then you mess it all up again, so I have to clean some more and I say, I’m cleaning my home now, there doesn´t seem to be anyone around I’m cleaning my home now, the beating of my duster’s the only sound…”
In mid-duster-swipe, Tovar’s eyes rolled up in his head, he pitched forward into a mound of curtains as he dropped to the floor.
His eyes popped open. Confused, he stood up and looked around.
Hmm. The house was neat as a Yyn. Tovar said a silent thank-you to Tarva. He HATED housework.
Kasyov sighed and pushed away her plate of muffins ‘n jam. For some reason, she just wasn’t into it.
“Is this seat taken?” someone asked, across the table from her.
The first friendly voice she’d heard all day.
The word “yes” was her usual response to that question, but in this particular situation, a friendly voice (preferably with a friendly person attached) was just what she needed.
“Nope, help yourself,” she said casually and looked up from her untouched plate to see…
“It’s the big head, isn’t it? Stare. It’s okay. I’m used to it.”
Kasyov marveled at the man’s gigantic head, but looked away. “I’m…sorry. It’s rude to stare.”
“Nah. I get it all the time.”
I can imagine, Kasyov thought. “I don’t see why,” she said. In every other way, the man looked human. Same skin color, two arms and two legs, everything the right size and shape.
But the head.
The head was half a meter all around, top-heavy, and pulsating. It was the most beautiful big head she’d seen since the Talosians she’d studied.
“Us Pulsans look a little out of place among all you round-heads,” the big-head said to break the silence. He put his tray down and sat opposite Kasyov. “You have a nice one, by the way.”
Kasyov cocked her head. “Nice…what?”
“Nice head. Good egg shape. I bet you look great in a hat.”
Kasyov truly didn’t know what to say. Finally, she went with the obvious. “Um…thanks. You too.”
“Actually, I’m forbidden from wearing hats. The Associates like looking at my head too much.”
“Any idea why?”
“They’re fascinated with brains.”
“No kidding,” Kasyov muttered.
“You are too, I take it?”
“Yeah, they’re okay I guess.”
“I’m enthralled by them. You should see what the Pulsan brain looks like. It’s a thing of beauty. Smooth…no ugly wrinkles or anything. The most beautiful color of mauve you’ve ever seen. And one, single, solitary…”
Kasyov leaned forward, breathless, staring deep into the Pulsan’s eyes.
Kasyov leaned back, caught her breath, and resisted the urge ask for his brain scan. That was so…forward.
“The name’s Balpar, by the way.”
Balpar gently took Kasyov’s hand and kissed it lightly. She was faced with his gigantic forehead. She resisted the schoolgirl’s urge to just reach out and touch it…to feel the veins…
She sighed as he pulled back.
“You seem…preoccupied, Natalia.”
“Thinking about getting home,” Kasyov said, gathering herself. She ruefully shoved a muffin in her mouth. “Mmph…what about you.”
“Oh, I lost hope of getting home long ago,” Balpar said with a smile. “As have the rest of these rogues. You will too, soon. You’ll find that’s why they’re all so dreadfully…surly.”
Kasyov cocked her head at Balpar. Even though she’d only known him a short time, his response didn’t seem to make sense.
It was then that Balpar grabbed Kasyov’s tray, and dipped his finger into her jam. She made no attempt to stop him.
He scribbled in the jam for several moments, then slid the tray back to her.
“Enjoy your lunch,” he said softly and rose from his seat.
After watching him go, Kasyov stared down at her tray. The letters, in jam, said: “There is hope, Nat. Meet me outside the Level Four test room first thing tomorrow morning.”
She quickly mopped up the writing with a muffin and stuffed the muffin into her mouth, just as an Associate guard walked by.
Kasyov returned from work that day exhausted, both from the second round of jam-tasting and from her bizarre encounter with Balpar.
She stepped through the door of her crackerbox house and sniffed the air. Something smelled delicious!
“Tovar?” she called in the empty living room.
“He’ll be back later,” came a voice from the kitchen. It was Tovar’s! It just sounded…different.
Kasyov rushed into the kitchen to find Tovar in an apron, chopping relentlessly.
“Dinner will be ready in five minutes, hon. How was work?”
“Tovar?” Kasyov asked tentatively.
“I said he’ll be back later.” He stopped chopping long enough to reach out a hand to shake Kasyov’s vigorously. “I’m Toflay. World-famous Yynsian chef. Certainly you’ve heard of my restaurant? Toflay’s?”
Kasyov shook her head.
Toflay shrugged. “Maybe that’s cause it was destroyed in a war three thousand years ago.”
“That just may explain it, Toflay.”
“Well, let’s not dwell on that. I’m going to make you the best cream of zeltan stew you’ve ever had.”
“What’s a zeltan?”
“It’s a special meat found on Yyns. They didn’t have it on replicator files, so I used the next closest thing.” He held up a purplish lump for Kasyov’s inspection. “This is called boonta. I have no idea what type of animal it came from, but the texture’s right. And doesn’t it smell great frying?”
Kasyov sniffed the wafts of steam that came up from the frying pan. “Yeah, it does smell great.” She backed toward the kitchen table and sat down. “Any word from the Associates?”
“Not a peep, other than when I asked them how to order up some food in this joint. They’re not very hospitable, are they?”
“Not really,” Kasyov said with a small groan.
“Well, at least they’re letting us fix up a good meal. They did say that they wanted you to skip breakfast tomorrow, since there was going to be an extra round of jam testing, whatever that is, so I figured you’d better fill up tonight.”
“What’s the problem, hon?” Toflay asked as he tossed the veggies he’d been chopping into a large pot and stirred in a jar of orange sauce. “You seem downer than a two-bit jackafrag!”
“Well, I met someone today Toflay.”
“Not really,” Kasyov sighed. “He’s sort of…a colleague.”
“Well, let’s just say he’s filled out in all the right places.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“He’s a prisoner on this world just like me, and even if we weren’t prisoners, he’s a resident of this blasted Andromeda Galaxy. We have a responsibility to get back to the Anomaly, and I have no time for petty…dating.”
“Didn’t do a lot of that to begin with, though, did you, hon?”
Kasyov narrowed her eyes at “Toflay.” “You have Tovar’s memories, don’t you?”
“And he’s going to remember all of this, am I right?”
“Most of it.”
“Damn. Well, we have some details to discuss. Would you mind giving Tovar back?”
“Could it wait till dinner’s finished?”
Kasyov thought it over. “Good idea.”
Ten minutes later, Tovar sat down opposite Kasyov and studied the dish before him. “This looks delicious. The work of Toflay, I take it?”
“Yep,” Kasyov said, as Tovar dug in and began eating the lumpy orange and purple stew.
“He overcooked the zeltan a bit, but otherwise…” as Tovar chewed, he seemed to suddenly realize something. “Hmmm. I see.”
“When Yynsians experience past-life regression, there is often a lag before they get some or all of the memories of the experience back.”
“Hmm. So…you are wasting time engaging in senseless romantic melodrama instead of plotting our escape.”
“There is no escape,” droned a voice over the intercom.
“You shut up,” Kasyov shouted back.
“I take it you don’t want to talk about…who…Balpar?”
“That’s right I don’t want to talk about him,” Kasyov muttered as she ate. “Let’s just eat, okay?”
“You will hear no complaint from me. Toflay is an excellent cook.”
“You’re taking this whole regression thing well. You usually get a little more bent out of shape about it, don’t you?”
“I don’t mind it when it’s MY past lives that intrude,” Tovar said, adding to Kasyov’s confusion. “Although I must say they have been doing so much more often since we have arrived on this planet. They are quite handy, however. One of them cleaned up the house for me today.”
“Hmm,” said Kasyov. “Pardon me for asking, Tovar, but who else’s past lives could possibly be intruding?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Suffice it to say he has been a thorn in my side since the day of my birth. More stew?”
“Please,” Kasyov said as Tovar added stew to her dish. “So,” Kasyov said, taking another bite of the delicious glop. “What about those little red bumps?”
“Oh,” Tovar said, and sighed. “I think they’re growing.”
“I’ll take a look at them after dinner, unless you have a doctor in that head of yours somewhere.”
“I am afraid not,” Tovar said. Then his eyes glazed and he stood. “Look at the mess in this kitchen! Guess I’ll just go ahead and clean it up.” Tovar looked at Kasyov. “You don’t trouble yourself at all, girlie. I’ll just go about mopping up after you. You just shovel that slop in, and I’ll take care of everything else, got it?”
“Fine,” Kasyov said, and kept eating. She’d save a little for Tovar.
“Clean all day! When you’re not strong, I’ll come along and clean up for you. We all need somebody to cleaaaaaaan up,” Tovar sang, a bit off-key.
Kasyov left the house the next day without saying much to Tovar. He had gotten up at the crack of dawn to do some exterior improvements on the house. Another past life, she supposed. As instructed, she met Balpar at the Level Four test room.
“Were you followed?” he asked, ushering her quickly into the room, looking behind them into the corridor and then keying the door shut and locked.
“I don’t think so,” she said, looking around the dimmed lab. “What is this place?”
“It’s a lab that’s not in use anymore. I found it one day when I was wandering around at lunchtime.”
“Yes,” Balpar said gravely. “Marmalade, I know.”
“Those monsters…” Kasyov looked about the empty room. “What are they trying to do to us?”
Balpar took Kasyov by the shoulders. “Get a hold of yourself, woman! This is a safe area, the only one on the planet maybe. What you say here won’t be monitored by the Associates. I know they’re onto you. We’re both under strict supervision, and this place won’t be safe for long if we stay too long, so every moment we spend here has to be spent wisely!”
“But…but why, Balpar? Why any of this? And how do you suggest we get out of here?”
“Let me show you something,” Balpar said, and took Kasyov’s hand. He led her into a back room. Looked like a boiler or some other large, vaguely round object was in the back of the darkened room.
“Show me what?”
Balpar turned toward the large, round, object, and hit a control. The casing slid aside, to reveal…
“Meet Loborus, Natalia,” Balpar said with a grin. Kasyov stumbled, grabbing the wall for support.
“Hello, Natalia,” came a deep, rich bass voice pulsating from the oblong orange brain.
“Yes, I know it’s probably a bit of a shock to see such a large brain,” Balpar said with a small chuckle, “not to mention one that’s sentient. I mean…how often do you find one of those hanging about, anyway?”
That had been Shelly Marsden’s reaction.
“Try to stay calm,” Bain had said, shortly before she stormed off the bridge..
Marsden paced the small confines of her office, arms crossed, stopping every now and then to curse at the dim conduit running into the warp core. Yeah, that would be the one that powered the now-defunct anti-sing drive.
She didn’t stay calm, though. Marsden was stranded in the Andromeda galaxy because the brain that powered HER faster-than-warp drive was missing. And NOW her only real friend on the ship was kidnapped, and Marsden was helpless to save her. Engineers were never really considered a vital part of a rescue effort.
Her door chime bleeped and she glared hard at the door. “If you’ve brought a ‘pint’ down for me, Captain, forget about it!”
The door slid open to reveal Ensign Arroyo. “A pint of what?”
Marsden rolled her eyes. “Hector. Boy, am I glad to see you.”
“Yeah. Because you’re not Bain.”
“Funny you should say that.” Arroyo shifted nervously from foot to foot. “Captain Bain sent me to fetch you.”
“He couldn’t scrape together the nerve to call?”
“He said you could use ‘ a bit of the personal touch’ right now.”
Marsden fought the urge to smile. Every time she wanted to despise Bain, he turned around and acted fatherly and it annoyed the hell out of her that she actually appreciated it.
“What does he want, and would he like me to refuse in person or over the comm?”
“I don’t think you’ll refuse when you hear what he has in mind for you.”
“A chance to help get Kasyov and Tovar back.”
Marsden whirled to face Arroyo. “How?”
Marsden instantly brightened. “Now we’re talking.”
“I should mention something…”
“Should you get behind some kind of protective forcefield before you mention it?” Marsden demanded, advancing on Arroyo.
Arroyo backstepped toward the door.
“What kind of sick, perverted kind of role playing game is this?” Marsden railed, storming out of the foreward turbolift onto the bridge. Arroyo was hot on her heels.
Bain turned in his command chair, where he’d been looking over some data on a padd with Commander Prosak.
“Tut tut now, Marsie, I assure you it isn’t all that bad,” Bain said reassuringly.
“You want me to pretend to be your wife,” Marsden spat.
“Would you prefer to pretend to be his husband?” Prosak suggested. “That would certainly be a more fitting test of your acting skills.”
“Muzzle it, Prosak,” Marsden muttered, and turned toward Bain. “Why? Why? WHY?”
Bain cocked his head quizzically, looked at Prosak. “Because it’s a couples-only condominium, Marsden.”
“I attempted to explain to the captain that I was the logical choice to accompany him, but he quoted me some inane rule about captains and first officers not being able to go off on dangerous missions together. I then suggested I accompany you as your mate, but he then informed me that my services would not be required.”
“Don’t take it personal, Prosak,” Bain said, sliding out of his chair. “But I know Lieutenant Marsden has a personal stake in getting the good Doctor Kasyov back, and that counts for a lot.”
“My objection has been logged,” Prosak said solemnly. “As has my comment that this entire affair is…”
“SO not logical,” muttered Marsden. “Yes, yes we know.”
“Well, then, we have a pilfered transport vessel to catch,” Bain said. He glanced at Brazzell, who was manning tac-ops. “I take it the vessel the Associates gave us is prepped and ready to go?”
“Aye, sir, though, as security officer, I must tell you I don’t think this is such a good–”
“Splendid, then,” Bain said, throwing an arm around Marsden. “Off we go, dearest. Time to find that condo of our dreams.”
“How will this help us find Natalia?” Marsden asked helplessly as Bain ushered her into the turbolift.
“Cartography says this system is a hub for the Associates. The condo lads will have to have some idea of where the testing facilities are. We’ll get a list and hit them one by one till we find our missing people.”
“Help,” Marsden mouthed to Arroyo, who, taking his station at helm, just shrugged.
Prosak hopped into the command chair and steepled her fingers. “Prepare to take us into hiding, Mister Arroyo, until either Captain Bain returns to us or we hear of his obliteration.”
“Um…sure,” Arroyo said half-heartedly, plucking at his panel.
Kasyov fell into a chair opposite the pulsating brain that bore an impossible resemblance to Cabral.
“I…I don’t know what to say.”
“Take your time, compose yourself,” Balpar said helpfully, kneeling beside her. His large head brushed up against hers, which didn’t help in the least. “I know that this is a lot to accept… a brain as large as Loborus isn’t something you see every day.”
“Actually,” Kasyov said, looking up momentarily at the large brain. “It IS something I see every day. Well, saw.”
“You’re kidding,” Balpar and Loborus said at the exact same time.
“Yeah,” Kasyov said. “We used to have a brain just like Loborus here running our starship, but he was taken by the Associates.”
“What was his name?” Loborus asked with intense interest.
“Can’t say I know him. Is he a nice sort?”
“Yes, he is.” Kasyov stared at the ceiling. This was hard. “We met Cabral several months ago while he was searching for a soulmate…another of your kind named Jacinda.”
“Jacinda,” snapped Loborus. “That bitch. She stood me up for a brain embedded in a comet. A COMET for lobes’ sakes! How childish.”
Kasyov didn’t know how to respond to that.
“I take it your friend Cabral is at the Associates’ primary Cerebral Testing Facility,” said Balpar.
“Beats me,” Kasyov said. “But let’s say he is. Is that near here?”
“I’m afraid not. It’s light years away, and deeply entrenched in the core of Associates’ space.”
“What makes you think Cabral would be there?”
“That’s where they took me when I first arrived. Much like Cabral, I had adopted a spacefaring vessel in order to assist its crew.”
“How’d you get out?”
Loborus let out a sheepish sigh.
“He doesn’t like to talk about it,” Balpar said.
“I’ve got a terribly low I.Q.”
Kasyov stared at Loborus. “So they removed you from their experiment?”
“After a very brief time, yes. I never even got to figure out what the experiment was about. They just shuttled me here and jacked me into the planetary control system.”
Kasyov looked to Balpar. “Wait. This brain controls the entire planet?”
“Yeah,” Balpar said. “But I haven’t been able to figure a way to hack into his systems in order to facilitate an escape.”
“Just ask him!” Kasyov said, exasperated, pointing at Loborus.
“I would gladly assist, but I’m afraid I’m not able,” Loborus said dejectedly. “I don’t have the ability to change my program. The Associates programmed me to open and close certain facilities throughout the day, monitor the climate and planetary defenses and the like, but I can only act within the parameters of the program. I can’t change it.”
“Neither can I,” Balpar said.
“Which is where I come in,” Kasyov said, pushing up the shirtsleeves of her jumpsuit and heading toward Loborus.
“Indeed,” Balpar said, grabbing Kasyov by the arms. “Not only are you a brain expert, but you’re even experienced with brains just like Loborus!” He leaned forward and planted a kiss on her forehead. “You’re better than I could have dreamed!”
Kasyov stared up into Balpar’s forehead, transfixed. “I…we should start trying to figure out how to hack into Loborus’ systems…”
“No, no,” Balpar said, gently turning Kasyov and shuffling her toward the door. “The Associates will start getting suspicious if we’re away from the lab for too long. We have to leave for now. But we’ll be back tomorrow, and we’ll find a way out of here.”
“Turn off the lights on your way out,” Loborus called after them helplessly. “I can’t do it on my own, you know!”
“So do you enjoy hunting with your husband?” Accommodation Expert Ooooooops said with a grin as he studied the paperwork on his desk.
Marsden glanced at Bain, who gave her a brisk knee nudge. “Um, yes,” she said distractedly. “He wounds ‘em, and I finish ‘em off.” It disgusted her even to say it.
Bain beamed proudly. He was a better actor than Marsden had given him credit for.
“She’s a fine little marksman, my little Shellana.”
“You two seem like a nice couple,” Ooooooops said, grinning wider. “That’s why I’m going to make you a special offer.” He tapped something into a padd and turned it around, shoving it toward Bain. “What do you think, Mister Bainston?”
Bain put on a pair of glasses–where he got them was anyone’s guess. “Let’s have a look-see. Hmmm. Yes. Financing. Garage fees. Recycling. Waste Reclamation. Pool privileges. Looks great.” He turned the padd around and shoved it back toward Ooooooops. “Just one question.”
Ooooooops folded his hands atop his desk. “Anything, sir.”
“What do you have in the way of testing facilities around here. Any good ones?”
“Err…what would you want to test?” Ooooooops said, suddenly shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
“I’m more interested in what the Associates test. I’d be thrilled to tour one of the facilities.”
“There is a facility nearby, in the Keldora system, but it’s off-limits to outsiders,” Ooooooops said.
“Shame,” Bain said.
“I’m sure I can find you some multimedia on it.”
“Send it to our ship.” Bain stood. “Meanwhile, the wife and I will be off to think it over.”
“Don’t think it over too long,” said Ooooooops. “I have several other couples looking at that particular unit.”
“Fair enough,” Bain said. “We’ll get back to you.” He reached out his hand to shake Ooooooops’s. “Thanks for being a stand-up chap about all this. We shall not let you down.”
“I appreciate it, Mister Bainston,” said Ooooooops. He turned toward Marsden and bowed respectfully. “Glad I could be of service, Sheltara.”
“Sheltana,” corrected Marsden.
“Shellana,” Bain corrected, and took Marsden by the hand. “Back to the ship, dearest! You know we have a busy day planned!”
“Right,” Marsden said, and grinned uneasily at Ooooooops. “Later!”
Ooooooops grinned back, smiling as the pair walked off toward the leasing office’s lobby. Once they were gone, his smile instantly faded.
The padd Ooooooops had shown Bainston was in fact a leasing contract for the condo. By grabbing it, Bainston had unknowingly placed his thumbprint on the edge of the padd and thereby given his authorization.
Ooooooops rubbed his hands together as the credit check went through.
“The credit-holder is nearing the maximum limit,” a soft female voice said suddenly over his terminal.
“Not to worry,” said Ooooooops. “I’m sure they’re good for it. They seemed like SUCH a nice couple!”
Back on the testworld, Kasyov was heading out the bedroom of her and Tovar’s house/prison, ready to leave for the lab.
She thought it odd that she hadn’t yet seen Tovar that morning, that is until she came across him working on a large, black horizontal obelisk-type device arrayed with blinking lights in the living room.
“Tovar…should I even ask?”
“There is no Tovar here,” the Yynsian said, without turning away from the giant thing (would have made a GREAT coffee table). “There is only Totap.”
“Well what the hell are you doing to the living room, Totap?”
“Preparing for world armageddon. Leave me.”
“Riiiiiiight,” Kasyov said to herself and bolted out the door. She had more pressing matters to attend to. She would have to assume that her comrade was going to come out of his life-swap relatively soon, and unscathed.
After a quiet tram ride into the core of the testworld city, Kasyov walked her usual way into the lab, passing security guards and nodding perfunctorily at them.
She was so ensconced in her own thoughts, primarily about getting free of the test world, but primarily about Balpar’s beautiful skull, that she hardly even noticed the security guards pointing and yelling at the entrance behind her.
She didn’t notice anything was out of sorts until she heard blasts behind her, and a shockwave slammed into her back, slamming her into the floor.
Kasyov picked herself up and turned, horrified, to see Tovar straddling that damned obelisk like a cannon, sending beam after horrid beam of fire-like energy streaming into the compound, flattening entire hunks of building and sending debris raining down.
Associates guards shrieked mercilessly as they frantically tried to gather up their numbers and mount an assault.
Kasyov, meanwhile, felt she could do two things at this point:
A) Assist an enraged and possessed Tovar with destroying the test complex.
B) Go see what Balpar was doing.
She went to find Balpar.
Marsden rapped her fingers on the engineering station as the Anomaly streaked toward the Keldora system, where, hopefully, they’d find Tovar and some “bloody answers” as Bain had said.
Bain was the picture of calm sitting in the command chair. Prosak stood beside him, hands clasped behind her back, looking worried.
“Sir,” Brazzell piped up from tac-ops. “There’s a hail coming in from a channel coded to the Associates’ Frequency.”
“Think they know the game’s afoot?” Bain questioned Prosak.
“I have no idea what you’re saying,” Prosak replied honestly.
“Put them on, old boy,” Bain announced, as the squidlike visage of Moklok appeared on the screen.
“Captain Bain,” Moklok said. “I’ve been trying to reach you for hours. Where have you been?”
“Our vessel was hiding in a nebula while Captain Bain executed a top secre-mmph!” Bain’s hand gently wrapped around Prosak’s mouth.
“What the old girl’s trying to say is that we took off for a spot of fish…” Bain thought better of that, what with Moklok being a squid and all. “Um…hunting. What can we do to help you?”
“I was trying to tell you earlier, but I need you to cnvey a message to your Mister Tovar.”
“Go ahead,” Bain said, and gently lifted his steaming cup of chamomile tea from its holder in the arm of his command chair.
He sipped as Moklok spoke, and as she told him the message, his eyes bugged out, he spat hot tea all over himself, bobbled the cup, dropped it in his lap, and ordered Arroyo to put on more speed.
Kasyov skidded into the Level Four test room, to find a concerned-looking Balpar standing beside the huge brain, Loborus.
“Nat, what’s happened? Are those explosions below us?”
“Yes,” Kasyov said, bracing her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath (she’d had to take the steps; apparently lifts go nonfunctional when chunks of the building get blown up). “How on Earth didn’t he figure that out?” She jabbed a finger in Loborus’ general direction.
“We were having a conversation involving numbers,” Loborus said self-consciously. “I’m no good at multi-tasking.
“Who’s attacking the building?” asked Balpar. “My compatriots?”
“I have no idea who your compatriots are, but it’s not them. It’s my crewmate, Tovar.”
“H-how?” asked a bewildered Balpar.
“There’s not enough time to get into it. We’re going to have to scrap whatever plan we have and get out of here.” She looked at Loborus. “Can you travel?”
The brain lit up for a moment, then his glow faded. Kasyov knew enough of Cabral to know this was a shrug. “It depends on how you define the word ‘travel.’ I can disconnect myself from the planet’s mainframe and leave this room in a…somewhat portable form.”
Balpar turned on Loborus. “WHAT? Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“As I’ve been saying, I’m just not all that smart.”
“Whatever the case, disengage yourself from the planet’s computer system and come with us,” Kasyov said. “My friend’s not going to leave a scrap of this building standing if he has any say in it.”
“But what about the planet’s functions…”
“Honestly,” Kasyov said. “I think they’ll get along just fine without you. Come on.”
“Well, okay,” the big brain sighed. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Anything on sensors?” Bain asked, swiveling his chair to face Brazzell as Prosak mopped up spilt tea with a towel from the head. He’d tried to explain to her that Ship’s Services could handle it, but she insisted.
Brazzell tapped at the tac-ops controls. “Lots of communication on all the Associates bands. Lots of confusion and panic on the only inhabited world in the system. One of their test sites has apparently been attacked.”
“Nat…” Marsden said woefully, digging her fingers into her panel.
“Right, then,” Bain said rigidly. “Time until we enter the system?”
“Two minutes,” Brazzell said. “I should add, sir, that eight Associates vessels have been diverted to respond to the disruption on the planet. Based on the Associates ships we’ve encountered so far, that is roughly seven and a half more than we can handle.”
Bain sighed. “Crumbs.”
“Sir?” asked Prosak. “Where?”
“No, I…” Bain sighed again. “Go to Red Alert. Ready on all weapons. Full scan on the planet as soon as we come out of warp. We need to be ready to pull our people off the planet poste haste…”
“Why don’t we cloak?” Prosak asked casually as she dumped the soiled towel in a replicator and returned to Bain’s side.
“Pardon?” he asked.
“You know, cloak the ship. Make it invisible.”
Bain blinked. He whirled toward Marsden. “What’s that? We have a cloaking device?”
“Yeah,” Marsden said. “Haven’t really thought about it since we installed it. The thing’s so outdated, there’s hardly use for it anymore. Most ships are equipped to scan for cloaked vessels…”
“Most Alpha Quadrant ships, Mars,” Bain corrected. “That may just be the edge we need. Brazzell, cloak the ship.”
“I…I didn’t know we had a cloak either,” Brazzell said sheepishly.
“Prosak,” Bain said crisply, sending Prosak darting to the rear of the bridge to assist Brazzell.
Moments later, the bridge went dark all but for eerie green lighting.
“Cloak engaged,” Prosak said proudly.
“Splendid,” Bain said, showing no outward sign that he was in the least bit concerned about anything, but all the while thinking about the well-being of his chief tac-ops officer.
The chief tac-ops officer in question, meanwhile, was laying waste to scores of buildings in the middle of the quad of the test complex.
Just within, a large brain rolling on its side like a wheel, standing a good meter taller than most humanoids, came crashing out of the stairwell, pivoting to face the main entrance.
Security guards came in from all sides, locking their weapons on the brain as Kasyov and Balpar followed.
“What now?” Loborus asked, voice wavering with fear.
“Roll over them!” Kasyov commanded.
“Very well then,” Loborus sighed and obediently slammed right through the contingent of guards. Kasyov and Balpar followed.
Loborus rolled right up to the entrance, which was, for all intents and purposes, caved in, blocked by girders and hunks of wall.
“We’ll never get through that without a battering ram,” Loborus observed.
“That would be you,” Kasyov snapped, wishing she’d had Cabral with her instead, although not certain she’d be quite so eager to send HIM smashing through a wall. Of course, Cabral had the decency to roam around in a protective metal sphere. Loborus was simply a naked, orange rolling brain. A large, impressive, naked orange rolling brain to be sure, but still…
“YOU’RE the battering ram!” Balpar said with a sigh.
“Oh, right. Well, when you put it that way…” Loborus rolled backward a few paces, then smashed right through the debris, clearing a path that Balpar and Kasyov eagerly charged through.
They came face to face with an army of Associates, who’d at this point had surrounded Tovar, separated him from his weapon, and had him in custody.
“Would somebody please tell me what’s going on?” Tovar demanded, struggling against the grasp of two Associate Enforcers.
“You laid waste to one of our best testing sites!” the guard snapped.
“That wasn’t me!” Tovar replied. “It was my past life!”
“That’s what they all say,” muttered the guard.
“One Yynsian, one human,” Brazzell called out, and instantly Bain felt at ease.
“Beam them up,” he commanded.
“I can’t,” Brazzell replied after a short pause. “I’m reading some sort of energy buildup right beside them. It’s disrupting transporter lock.”
“What kind of buildup?”
“Whatever it is, it’s continuing to build. It’ll reach critical mass in five minutes.”
“Then we’ll have to remove it,” Bain said, cracking his knuckles. “Prepare for atmospheric entry.”
“The Anomaly wasn’t built for that!” moaned Marsden, then remembered it was Kasyov down there. “I mean, full speed ahead!”
“That’s the spirit,” Bain said. “Go, Arroyo!”
One Associate, dressed in brighter robes than the others, stepped out of the crowd to address the captive Kasyov, Tovar, and Balpar. Loborus looked on helplessly. Even he knew these were too many people to flatten before getting…brained…so to speak.
“Well, well,” First Operative Ieeeooop said, looking from Tovar to Kasyov. “I see our experiment worked.”
“What experiment?” asked Tovar.
“We detected an unusually high psi rating in you, Mister Tovar, and decided to explore it by bombarding you with periodic waves of psionic energy.”
“Well, thank you very much for turning him into a giant schizo,” Kasyov muttered. “You realize, it’s your own fault that this whole mess happened. Your ‘periodic waves’ called up his past lives, until one of them finally emerged and tried to destroy you all. If Balpar and I had been allowed to execute our own escape plan, we’d have left with minimal damage to Associate property. Heck, you’d probably not even have realized we were gone.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” Ieeeooop said lightly. “At any rate, you and your co-conspirator will be moved to much higher-security stomping grounds, and Mister Tovar here, well…he’ll be much more closely dissected…I mean, examined.”
“Anybody hear that noise?” asked Balpar.
“What noise?” asked Ieeeooop.
“Sort of a high pitched whiny sound,” said Tovar.
“Yes,” said Loborus. “I hear it too. Odd.”
Ieeeooop looked over at a guard. “Check it out.”
“It’s the big black device, Operative,” a guard said, staring at Tovar’s contraption.
“Turn it off, then,” Ieeeooop snapped.
“Can’t.” The sound got higher-pitched, and higher-pitched.
“Perhaps we should get out of here,” Tovar suggested.
Kasyov was about to agree by running away at top speed when a bright green beam reached down from seemingly out of nowhere and latched onto the black obelisk. The beam and the obelisk rose as one, higher and higher, up into the clouds, where Tovar’s makeshift weapon exploded with a brilliant dance of light, leaving in its wake the silvery oval shape of the U.S.S. Anomaly.
“Oh, yvot,” cursed Kasyov, as the Anomaly sailed down toward them, smoke streaming from a dozen sparking pockmarks in its hull. It sailed right overhead, and Kasyov felt herself suddenly start to dematerialize. Looking at Tovar, she noticed he was dematerializing too. She turned and locked eyes with Balpar. “Balpar…I’ll come back for you!”
“Seek out the reisistance!” Balpar called to her, yanked backwards by Associate guards as Kasyov dematerialized. “They will help you get your big brain back, and you can use your knowledge of this place to help them free me and the others!”
“Where are they?” Kasyov asked, noticing the transporter was taking an surprisingly long time. Must’ve been that explosion affecting the Anomaly’s systems. “Where’s the resistance?”
Balpar managed to get out, “Just past the Vartasian Nebula, go straight for a few parsecs until you see a quasar–” but his words dissolved into the sounds of Shelly Marsden’s voice in the transporter room as she shook Kasyov by the shoulders, trying to get her to answer. Marsden’s words were indistinct and her voice might as well have been coming from a thousand lightyears away.
Stardate 175215.2. We are headed at best speed as far away as we can get from the core systems of the Associates and their “Network,” and in the general direction of the resistance against the Associates. This nebula Balpar spoke of turned out to be in the atlas I picked up while at Gyjik’s.
Unfortunately, we were unable to rescue Balpar or Cabral’s cousin-of-sorts, Loborus. The ensuing damage from the exploding weapon Tovar made caused us to lose cloaking ability, all shields, and a large portion of weapons, necessitating that we leave the system double-quick.
The mission wasn’t a total loss, however. We did get Kasyov and Tovar back, and we learned the, er, general location of some sort of resistance movement out there that will help us locate Cabral and get back to the Milky Way. I have to believe Kasyov’s friend Balpar is telling the truth about that.
Meanwhile, Chief Marsden assures me the ship will be bristol fashion shortly. She’s been working ‘round the clock to get us back to tip-top condition. Good show.”
Marsden stumbled into the vacant rec room and tumbled onto the nearest couch.
“Rough day?” a voice asked, and her head darted up. The rec room wasn’t vacant after all.
Kasyov sat at one of the tables, staring into a cup of coffee.
“You could say that.” Marsden sat up and looked at Kasyov. “How about your day?”
“Oh. It was fine. Somewhat boring. You’d be surprised how little work there is for a brain specialist to do when your resident brain is gone.”
“I can imagine,” Marsden said. She walked over to where Kasyov was sitting, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Kasyov said, sounding distant.
“Don’t you worry. We’ll find that resistance, and they’ll help us get Cabral back.”
“Sounds good,” said Kasyov. Only the “him” she was referring to wasn’t Cabral at all.
“Come,” Tovar said, rubbing at a crop of bumps around his elbow. They’d really started to get itchy in the last day since he’d returned to the Anomaly. And was it just him or were they growing?
Captain Bain stepped into Tovar’s quarters, standing in the doorway with a large basket of fruit.
“Captain?” Tovar asked quizzically.
“Can I have a little man-to-man with you, Tovar, my lad?” Bain asked earnestly, and Tovar nodded.
“Of course.” Tovar gestured for Bain to sit. He walked in and sat down in a chair opposite Tovar, putting the fruit basket on the coffee table like a peace offering. Bain waited for the door to the corridor to close before he spoke.
“Eventful few days, weren’t they?” Bain said, resting his hands on his knees.
“Yes,” Tovar said. “You could say that.”
“Sorry it meant seeing Doctor Nooney again.”
Bain clapped his knees. “Well, the good news, old boy, is that you suffered no long-term ill effects from whatever the blasted Associates bombarded you with. The personality changes should subside.”
“Comforting,” Tovar said, looking down at the floor.
Bain leaned forward conspiratorially. “Mind telling me what you made that weapon out of?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know. Totap, though, was apparently trained in the Mk’gy’vr.”
“The art of making advanced weaponry from little or no useful parts. I assume he replicated the parts for the weapon from the food replicator. The Associates, meanwhile, probably figured I was Toflay and was working on one heck of a steam-cooker.”
“No doubt,” Bain said. “Well, just wanted you to know I’m glad to have you back.”
“Indeed.” Tovar studied Bain’s expression. “Is there something else, Captain?”
Bain looked out at the stars in the slanted viewports behind Tovar’s sofa. “You know you’re like a son to me, right?”
“Did you ever consider having children of your own?”
“Well, according to our friend Moklok, you’re going to be doing exactly that in a couple weeks. I figured I ought to be the one to tell you.
“You’re saying I’m…”
“You’re pregnant with squid babies.”
Tovar blinked. “The…bumps? You mean Moklok didn’t just take advantage of me? She …impregnated me?”
“Afraid so, old boy. Nooney says they’re coming along fine, though. Moklok informed us you’d spawn a litter of hundreds of the little blighters. Fancy that!”
“Yes. Fancy that.” Tovar put his head in his hands and begged for another past life to take over his body. Preferably one who knew something about child-rearing.