Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“The Ties That Bind”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
Sector 001 or the Sol system or even the Terran system, if you prefer, is not exactly the nicest piece of real estate in the galaxy. There are certainly more spectacular solar systems, some with binary stars, some with fantastic multi-colored nebulae, and others with gas giants of such magnitude that Jupiter seems rather ordinary.
Despite that, there’s something about the Sol system that brings a smile to the face of every member of a Starfleet crew, no matter their planet of origin, when a starship returns to Earth. Maybe it’s the simple fact that Earth is Starfleet headquarters. Or maybe it’s the sheer normalcy of the Sol system that makes it comforting.
That’s a question better left to the philosophers…or maybe Starfleet Psych.
Whatever the reason, Captain Reginald Bain could almost feel the excitement growing among the crew of the USS Anomaly as the ship approached the outer boundaries of Sol with its massive docking facilities, which provided ship storage and maintenance for the spacecraft of the private citizens of the various worlds in Sol. In the space outside the Anomaly, unseen transporter beams sent civilians back and forth from their homeworlds to the docking slips.
The Anomaly cruised inward, passing through Neptune’s orbital path. The planet itself and the Neptune Research Station where Dr. Natalia Kasyov had once lived and worked was currently on the other side of the sun.
Inward still, past the long-since colonized moons of Saturn and Jupiter, past the massive gas mining/replenishing stations and research outposts hovering over those huge worlds, though the asteroid belt, where huge lumbering rocks still bore the scars of mankind’s earliest efforts to make use of the resources of their solar system, and breaking through to the inner worlds. Mars, where Starfleet’s Utopia Planetia shipyards now completely encircled the world like so much scaffolding.
Then at last to Earth, which compared to Mars looked downright bare. Yes, McKinley Station and Spacedock still orbited, their huge structures now visible from the Earth’s surface. But otherwise, thanks to the efforts of the Save Our Space committee and other such groups through the last two centuries, the planet had not been overwhelmed by the stations and ships that obscured the views of other developed planets in the galaxy. As the Anomaly passed by the moon, where millions of people lived and worked inside colonies that now completely covered the satellite’s surface, the small, blue orb came into view, the sun shining against its surface, illuminating Bain’s beloved Britain which was visible through a cloud-free patch.
“Do you want to stop and enjoy the view?” Ensign Hector Arroyo asked from the helm console.
“The thought has crossed my mind,” Bain replied. “But I expect I’d be facing a mutiny if I delayed our homecoming any longer.”
“The thought has crossed our minds,” Dr. Natalia Kasyov joked from the science station. Normally, she’d be down with Cabral, but she just couldn’t miss the Anomaly’s homecoming. She only wished that Cabral could be up here with her.
“Spacedock has acknowledged our hail and assigned us a repair bay,” Lieutenant Brazzell reported from tac-ops.
“Finally,” Lieutenant Shelly Marsden said from the engineering console, patting it lovingly. “We’ll get you all fixed up.”
“I have no doubt,” Bain said. “But you’ve done a bang up job keeping her together up to now.”
Bain turned to Commander Prosak, who stood just off to his left. “So, Commander, will you be dropping in on your father while we’re here?”
“Unfortunately Father is away on a diplomatic assignment,” the Romulan first officer replied. “I spoke to him briefly over a commline, but that is all I will be able to manage for now.”
“I sincerely hope you won’t be spending your leave time alone.”
“Not at all. Doctor Nooney has arranged a trip to a Klingon vacation spot that sounds…intriguing. I have decided to go along.”
“With Nooney?” Arroyo said alarmed.
“I won’t be alone, I assure you,” Prosak said.
“Spacedock is ready for us,” Brazzell said.
Bain smiled. “Take us in, Mr. Arroyo. I will be departing for home with Mr. Tovar as soon as we’re at station-keeping, so I wish you all a pleasant shore leave.”
Three microseconds later, a signal arrived directly in the positronic brain of Admiral Carn, the android in charge of Section 31, the super-secret organization dedicated to protecting the Federation from things too nasty or too secret to tell Starfleet about.
Five seconds after that, Carn had activated the comm unit on his desk of his office, opening a channel to one of his field operatives: Rosalyn Bain.
In mid-punch, Rosalyn noticed the right cuff of her black uniform shimmer a bit, then resolve into the image of Admiral Carn. Her fist slammed into the jaw of the Cardassian in front of her, who obligingly staggered back to the rear of the small hypershuttle.
“Mind if I cut in for a moment, Ros?” Carn asked.
“Anytime, luv,” Rosalyn replied as the Cardassian, whose cloaked, sensor-shielded, and otherwise invisible shuttle was currently loaded with several tons of high-yield explosive and headed toward the Federation Capitol Complex in Paris.
“The Anomaly’s back. I just got word from the onboard voice monitors that your husband is heading home any moment.”
“Guess I should be there, then.”
“It would tend to help keep the secret in your title of secret agent,” Carn said.
The Cardassian, a rogue terrorist named Fubar, charged her. Rosalyn dodged to the left, then slammed her fists down on the back of his neck. “Right-O. Thanks for the tip,” she said. She tapped her cuff, closing the channel, then stepped toward the dazed Cardassian would-be-terrorist.
“Sorry, luv, but we’ve had a change of flight plan.” Rosalyn’s foot slammed into the side of his head, seemingly from out of nowhere. Three more swift kicks sent Fubar reeling against the hull, his head knocking painfully against the unyielding metal.
Rosalyn turned to the control console, but before she could type a command, Fubar was on her, his huge arms almost crushing her rib cage.
“Really, you’re just making this more difficult than it has to be,” she said straining.
As the last mooring tether connected to the USS Anomaly, now hovering inside Starfleet’s massive spacedock, Captain Bain walked a very quiet Lieutenant Commander Tovar to the ship’s transporter room. Tovar just hadn’t been the same since having his Interloping lifeforce removed a couple of days earlier. Now the Yynsian seemed lost and confused.
“We’re almost home, lad,” Bain said lovingly.
“Mumsie,” Tovar muttered.
“She’ll be there waiting for us.”
“And I’ll cook us up…”
“Cook for three hours at 275 degrees!” Tovar interrupted emphatically.
“…some of my famous Shepherd’s pie. You always clean…”
“Clean clean CLEAN as with an amazing SHEEN!”
“Um…right.” Bain turned Tovar’s shoulders, sending the Yynsian into the transporter room.
Rosalyn worked her boot off, then, using her toes, reprogrammed the hypershuttle’s course, sending it plummeting toward the Sussex Downs. A couple more toe taps, and the shuttle computer’s started a 15 second countdown.
Rosalyn moved her hand just enough to get to the fleshy part under Fubar’s left arm and pinched with all her strength. Fubar screamed as sharp fingernails ripped through his shirt and his skin, causing searing pain as she dug into his tendons.
The Section 31 operative took the opportunity to twist around and leap backwards. She landed on the hypershuttle’s controls, which she’d locked out, then kicked up with her still booted foot, catching Fubar on the bottom of the chin.
The battered terrorist staggered back again. Pressing her advantage, Rosalyn leapt at him, bashing her elbow into his nose, then sending a vicious chop to his neck with her free hand.
Rolling to the deck, Rosalyn snatched her boot, then jumped to her feet and programmed her uniform’s short-range transporter. It would only take her a very few miles, but, with the hypershuttle’s changed course, it would be enough to get her where she needed to go.
“You’re scared to finish this fight,” Fubar seethed as the computer counted down “Ten” and “Nine.”
“Sorry, luv. I’ve got a date. Ta ta.” Rosalyn activated the transporter, which immediately dematerialized her as Fubar screamed after her. In her mind, she continued the countdown.
She reappeared in her own kitchen at the exact moment Bain and Tovar materialized just outside the Bain home’s back door.
Rosalyn saw the shadows of Bain and Tovar just beyond the curtains covering the back door. She dove for the apron hanging on the hook just inside the open pantry.
She slid on the apron then tossed a head of lettuce and three potatoes (all homegrown by Reginald in his vegetable garden) onto the counter.
Outside, the retinal scanner hummed as it started its scan of Bain’s eye.
Rosalyn grabbed a knife from the block on top of the antique ice box (which now held a replicator inside it) and winged it at the lettuce. It stuck in perfectly.
The door clicked as it unlocked and Bain swung it open. Rosalyn was standing at the counter chopping lettuce.
“Dearest!” Rosalyn exclaimed happily upon spotting her husband. She put the knife down and rushed over, grabbing Bain and Tovar in a big hug.
“Welcome home, boys.”
The resulting shockwave blasted Bain, Tovar, and Rosalyn into the kitchen. Somehow Rosalyn managed to stay on her feet as Bain and Tovar landed in a heap on the floor.
“What the hell?” Bain said.
“Hmm…must be a storm coming,” Rosalyn observed, craning her neck to look at the sky out of the kitchen window.
“Hell of a storm,” Bain muttered. He started to pick himself up, then noticed that he was looking at his wife’s socked foot. The other one was wearing a boot.
“My foot itched,” Rosalyn explained, noticing her husband’s stare.
“Oh,” Bain said, picking himself up. He looked his wife up and down, admiring the sleek, black outfit she wore. “Is that new?”
“This? No. I’ve had it for years. Just something to work around the house in,” Rosalyn said. She brushed past Bain, wrapping her arm around Tovar. “How’s my boy?”
“Give me fifteen minutes in this kitchen, and I will create an entire eight course meal! That’s a FACT!” Tovar exclaimed.
Bain sighed. “He’s been doing that a lot.”
“Your father and I will take care of dinner,” Rosalyn said, snuggling Tovar in closer. “Let’s get you in some jammies and up to bed.”
“Mumsie?” Tovar said, seeming to look at her for the first time.
“That’s right, dearie. Mumsie and Dadums are going to fix you right up.” Rosalyn led Tovar from the room, leaving Bain to wonder just what Rosalyn was planning on fixing for dinner with a head of lettuce, three potatoes, and nothing else.
With the USS Anomaly in drydock for repairs following their extended stay in the Andromeda Galaxy, the crew rushed off for shore leave as though they each had a personal anti-sing drive…well, most of the crew anyway.
Chief Engineer Shelly Marsden wasn’t about to leave the repair of the ship she designed in the hands of a bunch of people who didn’t know the first thing about her, so she remained on board, enjoying time alone with her creation before the Spacedock repair teams started their work the following day.
Marsden was walking through the corridors considering trying to do some of the more sensitive repair work on the anti-sing drive herself overnight when she spotted something that positively should not have been there: Ensign Arroyo.
“Hector!” Marsden called out. “Don’t you have a life? Go home!”
Arroyo smiled weakly. “Don’t wanna.”
“Well, you can’t stay here.”
“Why not? My quarters weren’t damaged. You shouldn’t even need to be in there.”
“It’s the principle of the thing. Go request some temporary quarters on the Spacedock, or go with Prosak on that Nooney trip.
“They already left,” Arroyo said just as his commpip chirped.
“Ensign Arroyo, you have an incoming comm in your quarters,” the voice of his automated commpip operator announced.
“Maybe it’s an invitation to spend your leave somewhere,” Marsden offered brightly.
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Arroyo replied, turning on his heel and trudging back towards his quarters.
He stepped into the darkened room a few moments later. “Computer, is the comm for me still on the line?”
Arroyo sighed. Of course it was. “Put it through.”
The Federation insignia on his monitor vanished, revealing the image of Escobar Arroyo, his father. Escobar immediately started smiling broadly.
“Hector, my boy! I was starting to wonder if you were ever going to answer the comm.”
“Sorry, Dad. I was busy.”
“Starfleet busy. I understand,” Escobar beamed. “Your mother was here, but she got called away do deal with an emergency of some sort down at the shop. She’s desperate to talk to you, though. Why didn’t you comm as soon as you got back?”
“We had a slight situation to deal with first,” Arroyo said. It really wasn’t a lie. The Anomaly was busy dealing with Tovar and his Interloping past life problem. Of course, Arroyo probably could have commed home, not that the thought even crossed his mind. “So how’s work?” he asked, trying to change the subject. Escobar, who’d been a Senator in the United Earth Legislature for ten years now, usually jumped at any chance to discuss the machinations of Earth’s ruling body. Especially since, the UEL really did very little except ratify decisions made by the Federation government.
“As soon as Starfleet declared you overdue, I introduced a bill to make extra-galactic studies more of a priority in hopes of finding out what happened to the Anomaly, but I’m glad to see that’s unnecessary now.”
“Thanks for thinking of me,” Arroyo replied.
“That’s all we’ve done since you left. We tried to contact Janie, but we couldn’t get in touch with her. How is she?”
“Come on, Hector. You know damn well you weren’t back in this galaxy for two minutes, crisis or no, before you contacted that beautiful fiance’ of yours.”
Arroyo laughed weakly. “Right.”
“You two are EXPECTED to be here for dinner on Wednesday night. Are you reading me, Hector?”
Arroyo’s smile never left his face while his insides suddenly started to quiver. “Right, Dad. We’ll be there”
“Six-thirty sharp! Otherwise, your mother is killing all of us.”
“No problem,” Arroyo said.
“We can’t wait to see you both. Bye, Hector.”
“Bye, Dad,” Arroyo said with a wave. Arroyo closed the comm channel and collapsed onto his carpet.
“Oh, I am sooooooo dead.”
“The place looks good,” Captain Bain said sitting in his armchair, surveying the living room of his home. The Bain house had been standing since the 1800s in one form or another. Reginald and Rosalyn acquired it shortly after their marriage. It wasn’t either Bain’s ancestral home or anything, but its spacious, wood paneled rooms, yet homey atmosphere fit their idea of where they wanted to raise their family perfectly.
“I haven’t done anything do it,” Rosalyn said, sitting in the armchair across from her husband.
“You didn’t need to…or to yourself. You look radiant.”
Rosalyn smiled demurely. “And you’re as dashing as ever, Reggie. I’ve missed having you around.”
“Nonsense, Rose. It was a lot less time than many of my assignments.”
“True. But you never seemed so…gone before.” And out of range of my help, Rosalyn thought to herself.
“It was hairy there for a bit, but I wasn’t about to strand my crew there. Stellar group of officers. Just first rate,” Bain said.
“I’m sure. Oh, the girls commed once they found out you’d vanished.”
“Both of them?”
“Yes, dear,” Rosalyn said. “Even Audrey.”
“Will miracles never cease.”
“Honestly, Reggie. You really need to get over this bias against her boyfriend. He seems perfectly nice.”
“How does he feel about the fact that his girlfriend’s father thrashed his species from her to the Great Barrier!”
Rosalyn sighed. “He stopped calling you the Butcher of Breen months ago.”
“I still don’t see why she couldn’t have married Tovar.”
“He’s ten years younger than her.”
“So? They’re both adults.”
“He’s practically her brother.”
“Exactly! They already know each other,” Bain said.
“And you could keep tabs on their every move,” Rosalyn said.
Bain was silent.
“Uh huh. I thought so,” Rosalyn said. “None of this is really important now, dear. We should be thinking about Tovar.”
“I am. Believe me, I am. Polem J’Atric warned me that removing the other lifeforce could cause a bit of trouble, but I’ve seen hardly a trace of our Tovar since it happened. It seems that the Interloping lifeforce was providing all the stability.”
“But didn’t you say the loud, psychotic past life that kept insisting on destroying all ‘puny mortals’ was in the Interloper?” Rosalyn asked.
“Well, yes,” Bain admitted.
“And the one who kept shouting ‘boot to the head’?”
“And that smug know-it-all scientist?”
“Yes. Actually, that was Jaroch. He was the one providing all the stability.”
Rosalyn put a comforting hand on her husband’s arm. “Well, I’m sure Tovar will be fine. He’s a strong boy.”
“Yes, unless that chef or the clean freak or whoever else is in there drives the poor boy completely around the bend.”
Upstairs, Tovar lay deceptively still in bed. Meanwhile, the voices in his mind had each effectively set up their own domains, leaving Tovar himself surrounded and quite overwhelmed.
Hector Arroyo was practically rocking back and forth as he waited for someone, anyone to answer the comm.
Finally, the image on his monitor switched from the Federation insignia to that of a middle-aged woman in a Starfleet uniform.
“Starfleet Sciences. Admiral Okawa’s office,” the woman said. She suddenly recognized the face looking at her and smiled. “Well, if it isn’t the elusive Hector Arroyo? How the hell are you?”
“Holding up, Commander Pierce. Is Ensign Tyler in?”
Commander Emma Pierce’s face darkened. “I wish that she was, Hector. Janie and Admiral Okawa left a week ago and haven’t been heard from.”
“Haven’t been heard from!” Arroyo exclaimed. “Where did they go?”
“Nowhere dangerous…supposedly. The Admiral was scheduled to give a lecture at the Vulcan Science Academy annex on Waystation Prime about mobile termini wormholes, and Janie went along as his attache. They never made it.”
“How could something happen on the way to Waystation Prime? It’s the middle of the Federation! Not an enemy in sight!”
“Calm down. Starfleet is looking into it. Their raceabout may just have experienced some difficulties. We want this quiet for now, so don’t worry. We’ll find them.”
“By Wednesday?” Arroyo asked.
“Um…well…I don’t know.”
“Never mind. Arroyo out.”
Janie was gone.
And if she didn’t come back, Arroyo’s life was effectively over.
He basically had two options. Sit back and let Starfleet handle it or go find her himself.
Looking at it that way, Arroyo really had no choice. Racing out of his quarters, he headed to Engineering to enlist some help.
For a split second, Arroyo thought he must have been confused about Lieutenant Marsden’s destination. She was nowhere in sight. That’s when he realized the pressure door leading to the anti-sing core was open.
He walked over and saw Marsden had the core itself open and was adjusting one of the matter emitters, while behind her, encased currently in a high-powered force-field, the quantum singularity at the heart of the core…singulated.
Arroyo opened his mouth to speak, but was immediately cut off.
“If you speak, I throw you in,” Marsden muttered through the quantum scourer clamped between her teeth without looking at Arroyo. Using the two fine calipers in her right and left hand, she made a minute adjustment to the emitter, then closed the anti-sing core, stepped outside of the pressure door and sealed it.
“You’d better not be here just to say goodbye,” Marsden said distractedly. Having worked with Marsden on the Hermes prototype project for three years before serving together on the Anomaly, Arroyo was used to Marsden’s personality and took nothing she said personally. However, he did know when she was busy like this, it was best to get straight to the point.
Marsden took four more steps before the words hit her and she whirled around. “What do you mean missing?” she demanded.
“Gone. She and Admiral Okawa vanished on their way to a science conference on Waystation Prime.”
Despite himself, Arroyo smiled.
“What?” Marsden said. Then she realized what she’d just said. “Damn. I’m even starting to swear like Bain!”
“It is kind of catchy,” Arroyo admitted.
“What about Janie?” Marsden said impatiently. This was no time for small talk.
“There’s not much to say. I’m going after her, and I need your help. Come with me.”
Marsden continued into her office, followed by Arroyo, who took a seat while Marsden tapped a few notes into the ship schematic that dominated the wall behind her desk.
“Starfleet has to be looking for her,” Marsden said as she worked. “There’s no need to get involved. Sure we worked with her, but she left. I respect her decision to join Okawa’s office, but I’m certainly not charging off into who knows what to find her. She never showed me that kind of loyalty.”
“Come on, Shelly!” Arroyo said. “The Hermes Project was no place for an astronomer. I don’t blame her for wanting a transfer. It certainly wasn’t a slight against you. She really liked you. I doubt she would have put up with all those nights in the Mars Bars with us otherwise.”
Marsden smiled. “Fine. I’ll give you that. But that still doesn’t mean we should go after her.”
“We’re engaged,” Arroyo said.
“WHAT?” Marsden shouted. “When the hell did that happen?!?!?”
Arroyo shrank into his chair and practically squeaked his reply. “A year and a half ago.”
“WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?” Marsden screeched. “And you didn’t tell me!”
“It’s not what you think,” Arroyo said. “We’re not in love or anything.”
Marsden was about to scream something else but stopped with her mouth gaping open and fist in the air. “Excuse me?” she said, sitting down in her chair utterly confused.
“Do you remember when my parents came by to visit the project?” Arroyo asked.
Marsden immediately put her head down on her desk as the memory flooded back. “Oh dear god yes.”
Senator and Mrs. Arroyo had dropped by the Hermes Project soon after its inception to see where their dear little boy had been stationed. In the process, they managed to erase several gigaquads of calculations, offend several officers, and almost release a micro-singularity all while constantly pestering Arroyo about which of the female officers he was dating. At the time, the answer was none of them. He was actually seeing a tour guide from Polar Express, but he’d kept his mouth shut about that one, knowing what the consequences of telling his parents would be.
“Do you remember what they said about Janie while they were there?” Arroyo continued.
“I’ve really tried to block the whole thing out,” Marsden said.
“They said she had good hips for childbearing. That’s what gave us the idea.”
“What idea?” Marsden said, fearing she already knew the answer.
“We faked being engaged. That way my parents were off my back, so I could see whomever I wanted.”
Marsden’s eyes narrowed. “And what was Janie getting out of this?”
Arroyo shrunk a little deeper into the chair. “Well…”
“My father introduced her to Admiral Okawa and wrote her a recommendation.”
Marsden steepled her fingers and stared across the desk at Arroyo. “So let me get this straight. You want me to come with you to find your fake fiance’, who you helped get transferred out of my department? Is that all of it?”
“Um…almost. We need to find her by Wednesday.”
“Why Wednesday?” she asked sternly.
“My parents invited us to dinner, and if she’s not there, they’ll find out we’re not really a couple.”
“Can’t you just tell them she’s missing?”
“My father would try to mobilize the fleet, and Starfleet wants it kept quiet.”
“I see,” Marsden said. “So here’s an idea. Why don’t you just say, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m not really engaged to Janie’?”
Arroyo almost leapt out of his chair. “Are you nuts? That’s a horrible idea!”
Marsden sighed. “All right. Fine. What’s your plan?”
“We’ll take the Navigator and go find Janie.”
“Right,” Marsden said, charging out of the office. Arroyo was hot on her heels.
“Shelly, please! This is important to me!”
“Oh you are so going to owe me,” Marsden said, turning on him. “And so is Janie Tyler.”
“Thank you so…”
“SHHHH!” Marsden snapped suddenly, cocking her head. “Do you hear that?”
Marsden dove at the wall, throwing open a jefferies tube access hatch and reaching her arm inside. A moment later, she pulled out a very surprised Lieutenant Polnuc.
The diminutive Moglodin engineer squirmed in Marsden’s grip. “Put me down!”
“What were you doing in there?”
Polnuc stopped for a moment. “Um…nothing!”
“Sorry, Polnuc, but now you have something to do. You’re in charge.”
“What?” Polnuc gaped.
“I have to leave. You’re in charge,” Marsden said slowly.
“What about my shore leave?”
“Tell you what. You’re now officially Assistant Chief Engineer. Congratulations. If anything’s not done right when I get back, it’s your ass. See you in a few days.”
Marsden grabbed Arroyo’s arm and dragged him out of Engineering before Polnuc could start cursing at them.
Being Chief Engineer gave Lieutenant Marsden a fair amount of freedom when it came to the Anomaly and her support craft. Therefore, Spacedock Control didn’t give it a second thought when she requested permission to leave in the USS Navigator.
The Lincoln-class vessel quickly cleared the space doors and sped off toward the edge of the solar system, just barely staying within the in-system speed limit.
“Easy there, tiger,” Marsden quipped from the command chair on the Navigator’s small bridge as Arroyo manned the helm.
“We have all of four days to find her, bring her back, and dress for dinner. Easy doesn’t seem to be a factor,” Arroyo replied.
Marsden walked over to the ship’s science console. “Well let’s see if we can’t simplify things a bit. How long have they been missing?”
“A week,” Arroyo replied.
Marsden brought up a display of the route between Earth and Waystation Prime. “This is what the astrometric buoys were showing for that time period. I’ll put it on time lapse.” The various planets and other bodies moved every so slightly in their orbits, but basically things remained unchanged. “Well, if they blew up, it wasn’t big enough blast for the buoys to see.”
“They didn’t blow up,” Arroyo said firmly.
“Okay. Given that, what happened? Nothing unusual shows up on their flight path. No invasions. No dimensional rifts. So where are they?”
“This is a well-traveled space lane, so we aren’t looking for pirates or anything like that,” Arroyo said, thinking aloud. “And if the buoys didn’t pick up anything unusual, I’m willing to guess that nothing unusual happened.”
“So what does that mean?”
“Maybe they left their flight path on purpose.”
“And why would they do that?” Marsden asked.
Arroyo stared at the route again, searching for the answer. He’d flown it himself a couple of times. Really there was almost nothing of note. Where would they…?
“Shelly, what’s that?” Arroyo asked, pointing at a pulsating blue blob in the lower quadrant of the map, a couple of parsecs away from the raceabout’s flight path.
Marsden magnified the image and looked at it blankly. “How the hell should I know? I’m not an…” She trailed off as she realized where Arroyo was going with this. “…astronomer,” she said finally.
“Maybe it’s nothing, but until we think of something better, I’m heading that way,” Arroyo said, his hands flying across the helm.
“I think the science console just did the electronic equivalent of sticking its tongue out at me,” Marsden said. “It doesn’t have a clue. All it will tell me is that it was not there before a week and a half ago.”
“That’s where Okawa went. He was never one to pass up space phenomena. When I was a kid, we went on vacation with his family and had to stop at every nebula along the way.”
Marsden returned to the command chair feeling uneasy. “We still have a problem here. I can believe that maybe Admiral Okawa and Janie changed course to look at the blue thing there, but what have they been doing for the last week? I’ve heard of losing track of time, but a week?”
“We’re just going to have to deal with that one when we get there,” Arroyo said. He realized Marsden was heading out of the bridge’s rear doors. “Where are you going?”
“Checking the weapons systems. I have this bad feeling that we may need them.”
What was that smell? Bacon? No. Sausage? No. It was…well, frankly Bain didn’t have a clue, but the smell was enticing enough to pull him out of bed. He threw his robe on over his PJs, then headed downstairs to the kitchen.
“Morning, luv,” Rosalyn said from a chair at the kitchen table. She was also dressed in a robe and casually scrolling through a padd, a fact that surprised Bain somewhat.
“Good morning, dear,” Bain said, stepping over and kissing her on the head. “Decided to skip the morning constitutional?”
“I got a fair amount of exercise yesterday, so I’m taking the day off,” Rosalyn replied.
That business resolved, Bain immediately started looking around for the source of the wonderful aroma that had awoken him. On the Bain’s ancient stove (at one time it used gas, but it had long since been converted to a fusion burner), sat a large, covered skillet.
“New recipe?” Bain asked, moving to peer under the lid.
“It’s not mine,” Rosalyn replied. “And I wouldn’t do that.”
“Why not?” Bain asked, his hand reaching around the lid handle.
“STOP!!!!” a voice bellowed from the door. Bain whirled around and saw Tovar, one hand clutching a freshly-dug-up onion as the other pointed at Bain accusingly. “Never view a work of art in its larval stage!”
“Ooookay,” Bain said, letting go of the lid and quickly retreating over to the table. He leaned over to his wife. “Somehow I never ever wanted to consider my breakfast as larval.”
“Toflay tends to be a bit excitable,” Rosalyn replied. “But he seems to be an excellent chef!”
“Seems! I know not seems!” Tovar/Toflay cried.
“But he does know Hamlet,” Bain muttered, prompting a smirk from Rosalyn.
“What?” the dead Yynsian chef demanded.
“Your plagiarism is showing. That’s all.”
“Silence, or you will not be fed!”
“My apologies,” Bain said. He turned to Rosalyn again. “Is this a good idea?”
“I don’t think we have a choice. He was in here when I woke up. Better this than that J’Ter fellow.”
“True,” Bain said. “We had to replace that entire set of pots after he melted them down for weapons.”
A low chime sounded through the house.
“That’s yours, dear,” Rosalyn said. Bain was already rising from the table.
“What the devil do they want now?” Bain mumbled as he headed into his study to his blinking comm screen. He sat down at his desk and opened the channel. “Bain here.”
“Good morning, Reginald,” Admiral Kristen Larkin’s image said warmly.
“Krissers. I should have guessed.”
“Is this a bad time?” the android asked.
“Not really,” Bain said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “We’re just about to sit down to breakfast, but that’s it. You’re welcome to beam over. I imagine Toflay made enough for an army.”
“Toflay? Ah…I take it this is one of Lieutenant Commander Tovar’s past lives.”
“Oh yes,” Bain said. “We’ve really been through the wringer with him in the last few days.”
“As I am well aware. And I am sorry that I was unable to do more about the Yynsians.”
“Ancient history. It all worked out,” Bain replied.
“So Tovar has fully recovered?”
“Not quite, but I imagine a few days at home with his family will do the trick.”
Larkin grimaced slightly. “He will have to do without his father for a brief time,” she said hesitantly.
Bain’s eyes widened. “The bloody bastards scheduled my debriefing for tomorrow, didn’t they?”
“I’m afraid so,” Larkin said. “But I felt you should come to San Francisco early to discuss other matters before the formal debriefing.”
Bain glanced at the chronometer display in the lower corner of his viewscreen. “Krissers, it’s seven bloody AM! What are you doing at work at…” He quickly did the time change conversion in his head. “Midnight!”
“I am an android. Sleep is not required.”
“No date tonight?”
“And that is also true. I have the distinct feeling that many men find me…intimidating.”
Bain scoffed. “Ha! Who would be intimidated by a 140 year old admiral with the strength of ten men and a brain faster than many ships’ computers?”
“You certainly weren’t,” Larkin observed.
“True. But that was a long time ago.”
“Indeed. So when shall I expect you?”
Bain did the math again. “All right. If I get there in time for lunch, it will be 8 at night here, so I’ll want to pop off to bed at 3, which means…oh sod it! I’ll be there in 12 hours.”
“Acceptable. I will see you then, Reginald.”
“Looking forward to it, Krissers. Bain out.”
“She trying to steal you away from me again,” Rosalyn said with a laugh as she leaned against the door frame of Bain’s study.
Bain stepped over and wrapped his burly arms around his wife. “She wouldn’t have a chance in the cosmos, my love. Besides, I still have to have words with her about a certain hologram she put aboard my ship.”
“Is this that Diplomatic Hologram rubbish you were telling me last night?”
“Let it go, Reginald. Kristen cares about you and didn’t want you to get into any trouble.”
“Trouble!” Bain exclaimed. “That bloody hologram almost got us all killed!”
“Yes, but her heart was in the right place…or whatever passes for a heart in an android.”
Bain scowled. “I suppose.”
“Come have some breakfast. It’s really quite good.”
“Any sign of Tovar?”
“A brief flash. When he put the plate down in front of me, he said, ‘There you are, Mumsie.’ After that, he started cleaning up in some kind of frenzy.”
Bain nodded. “That’s Tarva, I think.”
“Well, she…at least I think this past life is a she…she’s pleasant enough, but I could do without the singing. Tovar is certainly helping out around the house more than he ever did.”
“This is not our Tovar. I want my boy back!” Bain said.
Rosalyn held her husband tighter. “So do I, Reggie. So do I.”
As the USS Navigator closed in on the massive blue space blob (scientific nomenclature was Kasyov’s department, not Marsden’s), Arroyo and Marsden watched the results of various scans scroll by at the lower part of the viewscreen.
“Hmmm…” Marsden said thoughtfully.
Arroyo nodded. “Oh yes. Very hmmmm-y.”
“You have no idea what this means, do you?”
“I just fly the ship. Besides, if I knew everything, you wouldn’t get the great fun of explaining stuff to me.”
“Yippee,” Marsden muttered. She stepped up to the viewscreen and pointed out a series of readings. “It’s a bunch of charged particles emitting electromagnetic radiation at a frequency we perceive as blue.”
“Is it dangerous?”
Marsden shook her head. “No more so than your average light. The only weird thing about it is how it got here.”
“How did it get here?”
“I don’t have a clue. That’s what’s weird.”
The bridge suddenly dimmed as the red alert klaxon started blaring.
“Intruder alert. Intruder alert,” the computer stated.
Arroyo looked at Marsden anxiously.
“I don’t have a clue how they got here either,” Marsden said, racing toward the emergency equipment locker stashed behind one of the bridge wall panels as Arroyo checked the ship’s internal sensors.
“We’ve really got to start leaving the shields up all the time,” Arroyo remarked. “One life form. Humanoid. But there are several power sources moving along with him. They could be some kind of robots.”
“Great,” Marsden said, tossing Arroyo a wrist phaser, which he quickly mounted on his arm. “So much for using anesthezine. Where are they?”
“A-Deck. They’ll be coming through the doors…”
The bridge doors suddenly exploded inward.
“Right now,” Arroyo said as several silver droids floated onto the bridge. And somehow Arroyo and Marsden had a feeling that the various objects pointing in their direction weren’t water pistols.
A bemused smile covered Rosalyn’s face as she walked into the bedroom she shared with Captain Bain. Bain, meanwhile, was throwing a couple of things into a small attache case. Technically he could just beam home every night; however, the time changes tended to affect him more than they did Rosalyn. She basically lived her day in reverse. What was morning in San Francisco was really her evening. She’d teach and have office hours from 8AM-Noon San Francisco time, then beam home where it would be 8PM. Spend the evening, go to bed, spend the day in Sussex doing whatever, then beam back to San Francisco at 4PM GMT, which would be 8AM San Francisco time. It worked for Rosalyn, but it just gave Bain a headache. Instead, he’d just go to San Francisco and stay at headquarters.
“Have you been in Tovar’s room today?” Rosalyn asked, still smiling.
“Can’t say that I have,” Bain said distractedly as tossed a padd containing the Anomaly’s mission logs into his case.
“He’s used a couple of coat hangers, the closet door mechanism, and one of his old toys to put together an automatic bed maker.”
“Totap,” Bain said.
“Totap. Seems to be a handy fellow.”
“I guess the Interloping lifeforce has really been the one in charge up to now,” Rosalyn said. “Tovar almost never exhibited these characteristics before.”
“Tovar barely exhibited past lives at all as a boy other than the occasional flare up. I never really thought much about it, but I guess the two lifeforces were so busy fighting each other, they didn’t have much time to bother Tovar.” Bain closed his case and kissed Rosalyn on the cheek. “I should be back on Tuesday. Wednesday at the latest.”
“All right, dear. Should I say goodbye to Tovar for you?
“No no. I’ll handle it,” Bain said. He gave his wife one more kiss, this one properly on the lips, and headed out of the bedroom.
Rosalyn smiled after him, then practically dove to the window. Was that movement she’d seen out there?
She searched the landscape.
Working for Section 31 had a tendency to make a person a bit paranoid, but Rosalyn couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss.
Lieutenant Marsden didn’t take her eyes or her wrist phaser off of the six silver droids hovering near the bridge doors.
“I am just way too popular with robots,” she muttered, unfortunately recalling a similar run-in with the spaceship parts’ droid in Andromeda.
“So are we shooting them or what?” Arroyo asked nervously.
“Hey, this is your mission, buddy. It’s your call.”
“But you outrank me. You decide.”
“I’ll decide,” a man’s voice called from the corridor. “Disarm them before their blather bores me any further!”
Marsden looked confused. “Disarm us? How in the world to they intend on…WOAH!”
Suddenly, she and Arroyo were dragged forward as a massive magnetic force latched onto their wrist phasers and pulled them toward one of the hovering robots.
“Fire!” Marsden ordered.
“What do you think I’ve been trying to do?” Arroyo shouted.
“Dammit! The magnetic field must be screwing with the phaser circuits.”
Just as Marsden finished her explanation, she and Arroyo’s wrists clanged against the one of the barrels protruding from the lead droid. It floated upward a bit more, lifting the two officers completely off of the deck.
“Ow ow ow ow ow!” Arroyo cried as the band from his wrist phaser dug painfully into his hand. Marsden seemed equally comfortable.
“Get it off!” Marsden said.
“Can’t! Latch is stuck!”
Marsden finally forced her latch open and fell to the deck. Before she could move, two droids fired cables around her wrists, pulling her arms out away from her. Arroyo landed on the carpet a few seconds later and suffered the same fate.
With the Starfleet Officers immobilized, the humanoid leader of the robotic raiders stepped onto the bridge. He could have easily been a human, but the subtle ridges on his forehead and sweep of his ears revealed him to be a Serellan, a fact that really confused Marsden, since the Serellans were known throughout the Federation as peaceful purveyors of art, music, and drama. They were concerned about culture, not conquest.
The Serellan stopped and surveyed his surroundings, taking in the bridge with a sharp eye.
“Of course,” he said gesturing around. “Bland walls. Boring consoles. It’s a classic example of a style I like to call neo-CRAP!”
He stalked down to the command chair, stopping just in front of Marsden and Arroyo. “Look at that!” he demanded, pointing at the grey domed ceiling. “It’s ideal for a mural. This is ship is the Navigator, correct?”
With little else to do, Arroyo nodded.
“Right! Imagine a glorious mural depicting the early days of discovery on your own planet! A sailing ship on the high seas with Christopher Columbian standing at the bow…”
“Columbus,” Marsden said.
“Whatever. Can you see it?”
Arroyo squinted at the dome. “That would be nice…”
“Hector,” Marsden warned.
“Well, it would,” Arroyo said defensively.
“Let’s focus now. Mad fiend. He probably has Janie. You with me?”
“Oh yeah!” Arroyo said, turning on the Serellan. “Where’s Janie?”
The Serellan arched an eyebrow. “I do not respond to that tone.”
Marsden decided it was time to step in. “Look, Mister…”
“Veraxe’. Artist Exemplar of the Grenevli Province and winner of the Federation Arts Council Golden Palette six times! Does that jog your memory?”
“I’ve never been much for painting,” Marsden shrugged. “But I’m very big on getting my ship back. Just tell us what the hell you want, so we can get out of your hair.”
Veraxe’s eyes bulged with sudden fury. “What I wanted you have already denied!”
“Um…we just met you. When did we have time to deny anything?” Arroyo asked.
“Not you specifically,” Veraxe’ snapped. “Your short-sighted Federation Arts Council has no respect for real art. They wouldn’t know beauty if it beamed in and introduced itself!”
“But didn’t you say you won some award from them six times?” Marsden said.
“Piffle!” Veraxe’ stated firmly. “All that matters now is NOW! Then was then and won’t come again!”
“Then why did you make such a big deal about winning those awards.”
Veraxe’ glared at Marsden. “It’s called establishing context, you philistine!”
Arroyo cleared his throat. “Er…excuse me. Could we get back to Janie?”
“What is this Janie you keep babbling about?” Veraxe’ asked annoyed.
“It’s a she!” Arroyo retorted. “And I want her back!”
“And Admiral Okawa and their raceabout,” Marsden added. “Then we’ll be on our way.”
“Oh no. No no no,” Veraxe’ said. “I know who you’re talking about. They aren’t going anywhere. And neither are you. Not until I’m done. If I let you go, you’ll have the Arts Council Attack Fleet here in a nonce!”
“The Arts Council doesn’t have an attack fleet,” Marsden said.
“What’s a nonce?” Arroyo asked.
“It’s a little longer than a second, but not quite a minute,” Veraxe’ explained.
“Oh. Thanks,” Arroyo said nodding his head in understanding.
“No problem. Take them to holding!”
The two droids flanking either officer suddenly darted around Marsden and Arroyo, allowing their arms to fall to their sides, but immediately wrapping them in cable until they were completely immobilized. Then, activating their magnetic fields, the droids lifted Marsden and Arroyo up and floated them right off of the bridge, Veraxe’ following behind.
The Serellan artist stopped at the doorway and turned to two of his robots. “You two, REDECORATE!”
The droids chirped their acknowledgment as Veraxe’ strode off of the bridge, laughing maniacally.
Several years of parenting had long since taught Rosalyn Bain that when the house was too quiet, it usually meant that one child or other was into something that they shouldn’t be. However, with Audrey and Sophie gone, narrowing down the list of suspects was a piece of cake.
It was Tovar. The question was which part of Tovar was out and what was he doing?
Rosalyn descended the stairs into the living room half expecting to find Tarva dusting madly or Totap using a padd, Reginald’s antique reading glasses, and a pile of kindling to build a holoprojector.
The room was empty.
A sudden and unpleasant thought struck Rosalyn. Maybe she had seen movement in the woods. Perhaps one of Tovar’s other past lives had taken charge and sent him running from the house.
Tracking down a Yynsian in the Sussex Downs (a place not known for its large Yynsian population) was not exactly a problem. Rosalyn was far more concerned about Tovar disturbing the neighbors. Mrs. Graninger in particular had barely put up with Tovar as a teenager. She would definitely not be pleased to find an adult Tovar breaking into her kitchen to cook.
Rosalyn ran through the wooden swinging door into the kitchen to grab her rain slicker (it looked a bit overcast out at the moment) from the hook by the door and chase after him.
It turned out not to be necessary.
Tovar was seated at the kitchen table, staring at her in absolute silence.
Of course the gag in his mouth probably had a great deal to do with that.
“Hello there, Rosalyn,” an unpleasantly familiar voice said from behind her as Rosalyn cursed herself for not checking behind the door when she charged into the kitchen. Of course, she usually wasn’t all that concerned about intruders in her own home.
She started to turn as Fubar swung. She’d barely made it halfway around when the heavy kettle in the Cardassian’s hand slammed into the side of her head.
Rosalyn was unconscious before she hit the floor.
After regaining consciousness, it took Hector Arroyo a few moments to remember just how he’d lost it in the first place. He and Marsden had been taken off of the bridge by two of Veraxe’s robots and beamed to another ship; although, how that ship had managed to sneak up on the Navigator, Arroyo had no idea. They’d been taken to a small chamber resembling more of a sitting room than a cell. There were two very nice day beds, a monitor showing the blue patch of space outside and the walls, ceiling, and even floor of the room had been decorated with murals all signed by Veraxe’.
Before they could close Marsden and Arroyo into this chamber, the droids had to release the cables confining the two officers. Marsden chose this opportunity to attack the nearer of the two droids, which came as a complete surprise to Arroyo, who’d been admiring the murals. Marsden managed to yank off her insignia badge and was attempting to use it to pry open the access panel on the rear of the droid nearest her when its companion, whom Marsden had assumed would be occupied with Arroyo’s tandem assault at that point, leisurely turned and blasted Marsden with some kind of beam. Before she slumped to the deck, she made a mental note to make sure Arroyo was actually aware of her escape plans before trying to implement them. That mental note fell right behind the mental note to kill Arroyo when all this was over.
Arroyo, meanwhile, suddenly realized that all that staring at him and moving her eyes around that Marsden had been doing on their way to this chamber was an attempt to communicate something. He really didn’t get much farther than that because the droids, operating under the assumption that Arroyo had been in on Marsden’s attack, decided to be thorough and blast him too.
But now Arroyo had the sense that he was no longer in the place where he’d been knocked out. For one thing, that room had not had any wooden furniture, and he was most definitely sitting in a wooden chair. Actually, he was tied to it…by rope, oddly enough.
Shaking off the last effects of the droids’ blast, Arroyo forced his eyes open and found that, indeed, he was no longer in the muraled chamber. Now he was in a large room, the front wall of which was dominated by an absolutely gigantic viewscreen. It had to be two stories high and at least thirty meters across. On it, the blue patch of space was visible. Other than the viewscreen, the room contained the chair Arroyo had been tied to. It was beautifully done. Sweeping curves, carved armrests, the works. Also several other chairs and sofas were visible as Arroyo looked from side to side. And if he really craned his neck, he could just see the edge of some kind of console on a raised platform behind him.
It was from this console that Veraxe’s voice then boomed.
“Welcome! Welcome to a truly historic day for ART!!!”
“Um…thanks,” Arroyo said hesitantly. “Happy to be here.” Well, that was sort of true. It was better than being dead anyway. The thought then occurred to him that he was alone with Veraxe’. “Where’s Lieutenant Marsden?”
“Unlike you, she has no appreciation for art, so I sent her to storage with the other intruders,” Veraxe’ replied as he stepped down from his console and moved in front of Arroyo, something Arroyo was actually grateful for, since trying to see behind him was giving him an awful crick in his neck. Veraxe’ smiled slightly. “But you, you have the gaze. I’ve seen it twice now. First on your bridge, when you looked at that dome. You could see my mural couldn’t you?”
“Yes. Sort of,” Arroyo admitted.
“Then in the spectators’ box I tried to assign you and your companion. While she was rudely attacking my assistants, you were admiring my work. Isn’t that so?”
“Well, yes,” Arroyo admitted.
“I knew it!” Veraxe’s exclaimed. “Oh, do you like the chair?”
“Sure. It’s fine.”
“I made it myself. And be careful with that rope. I pulled it off of an old sculpture of mine. ‘Bound for Glory,’ I called it. I made that rope by hand from the fibers of the frenuli plant of the Adasen Province. But I had to do something to make sure you didn’t try anything foolish before you could be the first to witness my greatest triumph!”
“Okay. So what is it?” Arroyo asked, looking at the blue space blob.
“Oh, it’s not done yet,” Veraxe’ said, turning to look at the screen. “That’s just the base coat. And then those other two showed up and put me behind schedule. When it’s done, you will see the galaxy’s first space painting!”
“Exactly! I call it ‘Sunrise on Serella’!”
“It will be the greatest show of artistic genius ever. A painting created with nothing but charged particles, emitting light at specific wavelengths. And the most amazing, most incredible part is that it will MOVE!”
“You mean drift?” Arroyo asked.
“Well, naturally, but the image itself will move. Several of my assistants will be placed in the region of the painting, and, using precisely aimed magnetic fields, they will change the image, showing a complete sunrise on the coast of Losapia, Serella’s most scenic isle.”
“Now THAT is the correct response! But those blind fools at the Federation Arts Council laughed at me. They LAUGHED! At ME!! They refused my grant request, forcing me to take matters into my own hands. But they’ll see. They’ll have to acknowledge my genius!”
Arroyo frowned. “Um…if the Arts Council refused your grant, how did you manage all this?”
“It’s my brother-in-law’s ship, and I managed to get a Dillon Fellowship for the sensor-reflective paint and the robots.”
“Excuse me for being a little dense here, but why are you still upset? You got everything you wanted.”
Veraxe’ turned on him. “Do you see where we are? This is nowhere! This should be on a major route of travel. The Earth- Alpha Centauri run for example! But the Arts Council said NO!”
“Ohhhh,” Arroyo said. “I see.”
“I knew you would,” Veraxe said. “That’s why you’re here while the others are in storage. But they too will get to experience ‘Sunrise on Serella’…up close and personal.”
For some reason, Arroyo really didn’t like the sound of that.
Several light years away, Rosalyn Bain awoke in very similar circumstances. She too had been bound. In this case, Fubar had evidently found the twine Reginald kept in the basement for tying his plants to support pegs. He always did prefer to do things the old fashioned way. Reginald, not Fubar.
Anyway, Fubar had bound her hand and foot and propped her up on the sofa in the living room, which is where Rosalyn regained consciousness. Before opening her eyes or moving in anyway to let on that she was conscious again, Rosalyn took a few seconds to ascertain her circumstances. Other than a nasty bump on the head from the impact of the kettle, she was uninjured. Another person was in the room. Fubar by the smell of him.
Rosalyn faked a weak moan then opened her eyes as groggily as she could manage to simulate. Fubar had moved one of the armchairs directly across from the sofa, and he sat there smiling.
“Wakey wakey, Rosalyn,” the Cardassian said smugly.
“How?” she mumbled.
“How did I survive the shuttle explosion?” Fubar asked. “Quite simply, I opened the door and jumped. Fortunately, you were nice enough to send the shuttle plummeting toward this spot, so I was fairly close to the treetops by the time I leapt. It was a bit of a rough landing, but nothing that the Cardassian frame can’t handle.”
“Hurrah for you,” Rosalyn said.
“I have to thank you for the kind invitation to your lovely home. It’s not often one gets a chance to see how a spy lives.”
“I’m not a spy,” Rosalyn mumbled.
“No? Then what else do you call someone who gets to know you under the guise of friendship and belief in a common cause, while in reality they are passing information to the enemy and working to stop you from achieving your dreams?”
“A patriot,” Rosalyn said, falling back on the standard Section 31 repartee’.
“No, my dear. I am a patriot.”
“No. You’re a suicidal nutcase,” Rosalyn said, raising her voice to cover the sound she’d just heard from the kitchen. If Tovar had managed to free himself, Fubar was about to be in for something of a surprise.
“I am not crazy!”
“You were trying to blow yourself up.”
“It would have been a blow for Cardassia against our Federation adversaries!”
“You’re Federation members, you wanker!” Rosalyn snapped. “You provide valuable contributions to our society.”
Fubar leapt up from his seat and began to pace. “Like what? Socks? Mittens?”
“Cardassian wool is highly prized. And your craftsmanship is unparalleled,” Rosalyn said. Come on, Tovar.
“We’re a planet of knitters thanks to you!”
“Well blowing up the Federation President isn’t going to change that.”
“Yes, it will!”
“No, it won’t!”
“Don’t even start, human!”
The kitchen door suddenly swung open, revealing Tovar. In his hands, he gripped…a feather duster.
“Don’t mind me, you two. Just carry on like I’m not here,” he said brightly as he began dusting the old piano in the corner.
Fubar chuckled. “He was a bit of a surprise. Who would have thought that a back-stabbing snake like you would have a soft- spot for the mentally ill? Multiple personalities, eh? I’ve met the cook and the cleaning lady so far. Very nice, and so very helpful. He knew right where that twine around your arms was and brought it to me. I’ll make sure he gets to an institution after I finish killing you. I promise.”
“He’s not mentally ill. He’s Yynsian.”
“What’s the human saying? You say tomato…”
“Would anyone mind if I ran the vacuum?” Tovar/Tarva asked.
“Not now, friend,” Fubar said. “Why don’t you go see to the bathroom? I’m sure it must be filthy.”
“Ooooh! We can’t have that now!” Tovar/Tarva exclaimed, then charged up the stairs, humming Ride of the Valkyries as he went.
With Tovar gone, Fubar turned his attention back to Rosalyn.
“Now, my dear, let’s talk about how I’m going to kill you,” he said with an evil grin.
Fear has to be the universe’s most perfect motivator.
Even with the odds as stacked against him as they were. Even while tied to a chair with an insane, albeit artistically-gifted, maniac striding around in front of him. Even knowing that Starfleet had no idea where the hell he was, Hector Arroyo had but one thing on his mind.
Dinner with his parents.
And the cold spike of fear that the prospect of going to that dinner without Janie drove into his spine was more than enough to motivate his next course of action.
First he had to escape his bonds.
Then he had to get past Veraxe’.
Then he had to get past the robots.
Then he had to rescue Janie, Marsden, and Admiral Okawa.
And then they all had to get back to the Navigator and escape.
Compared with the idea of trying to explain to his parents that he wasn’t really engaged and that Janie wouldn’t be joining them…ever, this preceding list seemed like a piece of cake.
“You say you built this chair?” Arroyo asked as Veraxe’ returned to his console from which he intended to create his space- bound masterpiece.
“Yes,” Veraxe’ replied. “I chopped down the trees, I prepared the wood, I carved the wood, I fastened the pieces together, and I finished it all without one bit of technology invented in the last four hundred years.”
“Wow. Impressive. So there’s no underlying metal structure or special fasteners or anything?”
“Not at all. I mainly used wood glue, which I also blended myself, I might add.”
“So there’s not even a nail in here?”
“A few wooden pegs, but no nails. They distract from the overall aesthetic,” Veraxe’ replied.
“I love it,” Arroyo said.
“Why thank you,” Veraxe’ said. “It’s nice to have my work appreciated.”
“It’s nice to have something go my way for a change.”
“I don’t follow.”
Arroyo suddenly let out a crazed battle cry, tilted the chair forward enough to get to his feet, then ran backwards as fast as he could, slamming the chair into the housing of Veraxe’s control console. As Arroyo expected, the console was unharmed, but every glue joint in the chair gave at once, leaving Arroyo free other than the bits of rope now connecting his wrists and torso to absolutely nothing.
“My chair!” Veraxe’ screamed. “How could you…”
He didn’t manage to finish the statement before Arroyo swung the rope connected to his right wrist around, sending the detached armrest connected to the other end slamming into the side of the Serellan’s skull. Veraxe’ collapsed to the deck moaning as Arroyo dashed up to the console…
…and immediately realized he didn’t understand a damn bit of it.
Veraxe’, meanwhile, managed to reach up and slap a button on the edge of the console, activating an alarm klaxon. Arroyo frantically hit the button again, but it was evidently just the on switch, since the alarm continued blaring.
Arroyo had the sinking feeling that the alarm was about to be accompanied by the arrival of several of Veraxe’s robotic friends. He quickly unwrapped the length of rope around his torso and bound Veraxe’s wrists as best he could before dashing out of the room clutching an armrest in each hand.
Honestly, Arroyo didn’t think the armrests were going to be much good against an armed metal robot. Even more of a concern was the fact that he had absolutely no clue where he was, much less where the others were being held. It would have been a great time to ask for directions, if only there was someone around to ask.
Wait a second. Maybe there was. He grabbed his commpip.
“Arroyo to Navigator.”
A small sliver of relief passed through him as the Navigator’s computer replied. “This is the USS Navigator. All of our officers are away from their posts or otherwise incapacitated at the moment. If you would like to leave a message, please do so after the beep.”
“Computer, this is Lieutenant Hector Arroyo. I need help!”
“Would you like to activated the remote command protocol?”
“Voice print accepted. Remote command protocol activated. How may I help you today?”
Arroyo ran around a corner and ducked through an open door into a cluttered bedroom filled with dolls and their associated paraphernalia. Either Veraxe’ was weirder than Arroyo thought or this belonged to the daughter of that brother-in-law Veraxe’ mentioned. Hopefully he could stay here for a moment without being discovered.
“Where are you?” Arroyo demanded.
“NO!” Arroyo said quickly. “What is outside?”
“Yes. The Navigator is currently hovering in a metal chamber.”
“A docking bay?”
“That would be a reasonable assumption.”
“Don’t get smart with me. I’m good friends with your engineer. She’ll have your personality circuits out in a heartbeat.”
“The Navigator does not have a heart.”
“Yeah yeah. Just can it and find Lieutenant Marsden.”
The computer hesitated just a moment before replying. “Lieutenant Marsden is not on sensors.”
“Yes. You are 100 meters away from the USS Navigator on a heading of…”
“I don’t care about the damn heading. Am I above or below you?”
“How many decks?”
“Fine. Here’s what I want you to do: raise shields, lock phasers directly ahead and fire.”
“Warning: raising shields inside of a docking bay is not recommended.”
“Trust me. You’ll need them.”
“Warning: firing phasers inside of a docking bay is not recommended.”
“Just do it!”
“It’s called a distraction, dammit! DO IT!”
“All right, but there is no need to be discourteous,” the computer replied then closed the comm channel. A moment later, the entire ship jolted as the Navigator let loose in the docking bay. With any luck, Veraxe’ would send his robots down to deal with the new threat, leaving Arroyo free to find Janie…and Marsden and Okawa.
Even though the Navigator couldn’t find Marsden, she had to be on board, most likely in some kind of sensor-shielded room. He was going to have to go door to door to find her. But to do that, he was going to need a bit more than a couple of sticks.
He pinched his commpip again. “Arroyo to Navigator.”
“Firing has commenced.”
“Thank you, Navigator. Could I ask one more favor?”
The computer was silent for a few seconds. “I suppose…”
“I need two wrist phasers. Could you beam them to me?”
“That will requiring lowering shields momentarily.”
“Are you being fired at?”
“Then would you please beam me the weapons, then put the shields back up?”
“Very well,” the computer replied. Seconds later, two brand new wrist phasers materialized at Arroyo’s feet.
“Thank you, Navigator.”
“You are welcome. See, courtesy is not so difficult.”
“Arroyo out.” He quickly strapped on the weapons, one on each wrist, set them to their highest setting (who knew how tough those droids were), and charged out into the corridor…almost straight into a pair of droids.
For a split second, Arroyo froze, filled with abject terror.
But then his mother’s voice broke into his mind.
“Where’s Janie, Hector? Where’s Janie? WHERE’S JANIE?”
“AHHHHH!!!” Arroyo hit the deck, rolling as he went, then came up, phasers blasting. All of it happened so fast that Veraxe’s robots barely registered that the person emerging from Glenadel’s room was obviously not an eight-year-old girl before they were reduced to piles of smoldering debris.
Marksmanship had never been one of Arroyo’s best areas at the Academy, but in these circumstances he more than made up for it in sheer volume of shots fired as he tore through the ranks of droids patrolling the corridors of Veraxe’s ship.
All the while, his mind raced.
“I made a double chocolate cake with mint icing. Janie’s favorite.”
“Janie, would you like another serving of carrots?”
“So, Janie, when are you going to finally force our boy Hector to pick a date for the wedding?”
“You two are going to produce the most beautiful babies.”
Rosalyn shifted positions on the sofa again as Fubar continued his listing of the possible ways he could kill her. At that point, she really just wanted him to get on with it. Obviously he already had something in mind that he was trying to save for some kind of macabre finale. But he didn’t seem to realize that he was dealing with a woman who’d been threatened with some kind of horrible death or another more times than she could count.
“…but all of that is far far too quick,” Fubar said finally. “And I prefer a more laid back approach.”
“A relaxed murder. How enlightened of you,” Rosalyn remarked.
Fubar ignored her. “On Cardassia Prime, the execution had been raised to an art form. A criminal’s death could be a true thing of beauty.”
“Even more than Cardassia’s Argyle socks?”
“Well…those are very nice too, but I’m talking about a whole other kind of art.”
“Would you just spit it out please? Tarva or whoever he his currently will be done cleaning the bathroom soon, and I’d really like to have this unpleasantness over with.”
Fubar smiled an evil smile. “Oh but it won’t be over for a very long time. I intend to watch you bleed to death oh so slowly. That’s where the art comes in, you see. If I cut you too deeply, you bleed out too quickly. Too shallow, and your blood will clot. And the true beauty is once it’s all over, that Yynsian will mop up for me. Oh Tarva!”
“Yes?” Tovar/Tarva said jogging down the stairs.
“Would you be so kind as to pop into the kitchen and find me a nice, sharp knife? And find me a bite to eat while you’re in there, would you?”
Tovar’s expression suddenly shifted from a beaming grin to an intense stare. “I, Toflay, shall create for you a snack unrivaled in the history of snackdom!” He leapt over the railing, landing with a thud on the living room floor, then charged into the kitchen.
The Cardassian turned back to his captive. “I just have to keep him when I leave. He cooks; he cleans. If he does starship repairs, I may be in love.”
Rosalyn glared at Fubar coldly. “I assure you that you will come nowhere near my son.”
“Son?” Fubar laughed. “That freak is your son? Better and better!”
Meanwhile in the kitchen, Tovar/Toflay busied himself rummaging through the Bains’ pantry in search of inspiration for what was sure to be a triumph in between-meal cuisine. But deep in his cooking-obsessed psyche, Tovar’s mind screamed.
“LET ME OUT!!!!”
“Silence!” Toflay snapped. “I am trying to create!”
“But you always make such a mess,” Tarva scolded. “You’d better let me out to clean it up.”
“With pleasure,” Toflay replied.
“NO! This is MY body!”
“Penalty! Two minutes!” another voice shouted.
“Who the hell was that?”
“Just ignore him,” Tarva said.
“Could everyone please be quiet?” Toflay said petulantly.
“I second that,” Totap, who had been quiet up until now, said. “I’m working in here.”
Tovar forced himself to calm down. Blind rage wasn’t going to help anyone. Despite knowing that he’d helped Jaroch’s lifeforce out greatly, Tovar couldn’t help blaming him for all of this. Things had been much more controlled with Jaroch’s influence around…at least until he took over completely to go find Patricia Hawkins. But none of that mattered at the moment.
What did matter was that his mum was about to be killed.
“Where’s that knife?” Fubar shouted from the living room.
“I require it for chopping!” Toflay replied.
“Well, hurry up!”
“You have to give me control back,” Tovar insisted.
“Why? You cannot cook worth a soltin!” Toflay retorted.
“But I have to save Mum!”
“I don’t not care about such things. All that matters is the FOOD!”
“And saving people can make such a mess,” Tarva added.
Tovar fumed, trying to figure out just what he was going to do.
“What did you have in mind?” Totap asked finally.
“I’m going to…” Tovar trailed off. Really he didn’t know what he was going to do. He could call for help, but that would expose Rosalyn’s status as something more than a simple Tactics instructor at the Academy. He could try to capture Fubar himself, but, even with a knife, he had no guarantee of taking the large Cardassian in a one-on-one fight.
“I don’t know,” he said finally.
“It doesn’t matter,” Toflay said. “I am not giving up control unless it is for something I like.”
“Do you like to watch me clean?” Tarva asked.
“Wait,” Tovar said as an idea struck him. “What if we saved Mum in such a way that all of you got to help?”
“The two minutes are up. Resume play,” the unfamiliar voice shouted again.
“Except him,” Tovar finished.
Lieutenant Marsden heard the forcefield outside the door of the chamber she was being held in deactivate with a pop seconds before the door slid open revealing a crazed madman.
It took her just a moment to realize who the wild-eyed, spiked-hair maniac was. One of her companions beat her to it, though.
“Hector!” Janie Tyler exclaimed, leaping off of the thinly-padded cot she was sitting on.
In the doorway, breathing heavily, Hector Arroyo stared at Janie. “Good.” He took another deep breath. “Now we can eat.”
“What?” Janie asked confused.
“Half a sec,” Arroyo said. He raised both arms in opposite directions, firing several blasts in each direction from his wrist phasers. “Now we’ve got to go. We’re going to be late.”
Janie looked at Marsden confused. “What’s he talking about?”
“It’s not really important,” Marsden said. “Come on, Admiral.” She helped the half-Asian, half-Benzite Admiral Okawa up from his cot as another round of alarms suddenly began to blare.
Then, just as abruptly, the alarms stopped as Veraxe’s voice boomed out of the comm system.
“Attention enemies of artistic genius. The time has come for the unveiling of my greatest work, ‘Sunrise on Serella.’ Since you have refused to enjoy it willingly, you will appreciate it by force…as part of the painting. Try not to drift too much, you’re supposed to be a section of the beach.”
“He’s going to beam us off the ship!” Okawa shouted as the alarms started back up. Marsden heard a soft hiss and came to a sudden realization of what Veraxe’ had in mind.
“RUN!” she shouted, pulling Okawa bodily out of their cell into the corridor just as what they thought was the rear wall of their cell began to open to space beyond. Marsden slapped the door close control as she ran out of the room, sealing the door before the vacuum outside was able to drag her off of her feet. The horrible groaning of strained metal told her that her solution was not going to hold for long.
Arroyo frantically grabbed his commpip. “Arroyo to Navigator! Beam us aboard!!!”
“Warning: lowering shields while the ship is under attack is not recommended.”
“DAMMIT!!!” Arroyo screamed. “Destroy the attackers!”
“The attacking robots are outside of the Navigator’s firing arc.”
“Of course. Where are we in relation to the ship?”
“You are inside the ship.”
“Not that ship. You, you positronic piece of…never mind!”
“Oh no. I want to hear what you were about to say, smart ass.”
Marsden grabbed Arroyo’s collar and leaned down to the commpip. “This is Lieutenant Marsden. Tell us where you are or I will personally…”
“Thirty meters down the hall. The door on your left,” the computer said quickly, not wanting to even hear whatever horrible fate Marsden had in mind for it.
“Thank you.” She snagged Arroyo’s arm. “Give me one of those!” He unlatched one of the wrist phasers, which Marsden quickly strapped on as the group ran down the corridor to the correct door.
“Stay out here!” Arroyo ordered Janie and Okawa as he and Marsden slid the door open. As advertised, inside was the docking bay. At the moment, the Navigator’s shields flared constantly under a continual barrage of weapons fire from a platoon of Veraxe’s art droids. Nearby, Janie and Okawa’s raceabout sat waiting. Marsden and Arroyo made a mad dash for the raceabout, then, using the vehicle for cover, began systematically taking out the attack bots.
“This is ridiculous!” Janie suddenly shouted from directly behind Arroyo.
“I thought I told you to stay in the hall!” he cried.
“Since when did I ever listen to you,” Janie said. She opened the raceabout’s hatch and ran inside. A few seconds later, the craft powered up and lifted off of the deck.
“Hey!” Marsden shouted. “That was our cover!”
“I don’t think we’re going to need it anymore,” Arroyo said, grabbing Marsden’s arm and dragging her back out into the corridor. He closed the doors just as Janie slammed the raceabout through the massive hole blasted in the front of the docking bay by the Navigator’s weapons. The raceabout’s shields pushed aside the already weakened metal as she pressed the ship forward to the outer hull, which, while not pierced by the Navigator’s phaser fire, had been weakened severely. She pressed the raceabout’s fire control, sending out a continuous stream of energy as the ship surged forward bursting through the outer hull into space beyond.
Instantly, the vacuum grabbed Veraxe’s robots, which had not been expecting to suddenly be pulled out of the ship. Several bots exploded upon impacting the sheared sides of the hole Janie created while the rest were forcefully ejected into the void and sent tumbling away from Veraxe’s ship before they were finally able to compensate.
“The Navigator may now beam your party aboard,” the computer voice said through Arroyo’s commpip.
“Finally!” Arroyo exclaimed.
Marsden and Arroyo sprang into action as soon as they materialized on the Navigator along with Admiral Okawa…well, almost as soon as they materialized. For the first few seconds, they were shocked into silence by what had happened to the Navigator’s bridge. Taking Veraxe’s order to redecorate to heart, his robotic assistants had paneled the entire place in a dark wood, highlighted with brass fittings here and there. The carpet was now a deep blue with images of various sea creatures created out of different colored yarns. But the ultimate addition was the large mural filling the dome over the command area. Just as Veraxe’ had described earlier, it depicted the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria approaching the New World. Obviously, the robots had a better understanding of Earth history than their master.
“Woah!” Arroyo exclaimed finally.
“Don’t get attached, Hector,” Marsden snapped. “It’s all coming out when we get back to spacedock.” She turned to Okowa. “Take a seat, Admiral,” she said, gesturing to the command chair as she raced to the tactical console. “We’re never going to make it out that door. I’m trying to override the docking bay door controls, so we can back out of here.”
“Just let me know which direction to go,” Arroyo said anxiously as he sat down at the helm.
“Any way that gets us out of here,” Admiral Okawa said, pulling a portable breather out of his uniform pocket and taking a couple of puffs.
“Got it!” Marsden said. “Wait! Veraxe’s trying to override the command.”
“No no NO!” Arroyo said, tapping on his console until he brought up tractor beam controls.
“What are you doing?” Marsden demanded.
“Propping the door open,” Arroyo said as he activated the beam. It latched onto the closing docking bay door, then pulled it upward, as Arroyo slowly backed the ship out.
“We don’t have emitter coverage all the way over the ship, Hector!” Marsden warned.
“Then you’d better find a way to take control of that door back in a hurry!”
“I’m working on it…yes!”
“You got it?”
“No. Janie did,” Marsden said. Arroyo looked down at his readouts, and, sure enough, Janie’s raceabout had its tractor beam locked onto the docking bay door as well. “Go!”
“Going!” Arroyo replied, slamming the ship into hard reverse.
“Bring us about!” Marsden ordered as soon as they’d cleared Veraxe’s ship. “I’m arming weapons and…” Marsden trailed off as she gaped at the viewscreen. Arroyo and Okawa looked at her, confused as to why she’d stopped in mid-statement, then followed her gaze to the screen.
“Wow,” Arroyo said softly.
“It’s gorgeous,” Okawa added.
Marsden just nodded, unable to look away from the image on the screen. Veraxe’s robots, rather than continue their attack on Janie’s runabout once they’d been blasted into space, had moved into their assigned positions in the blue patch, only it was no longer a blue patch. The blue was now much darker had been shaped and molded into a dim sky, while puffs of white clouds floated along over a pristine, sandy beach. Then, a brilliant ray of light burst forth revealing shimmering water as gradually the light grew in intensity as it rose higher and higher in the sky, which lightened to a bright blue during the ensuing sunrise.
“Shelly,” Arroyo said finally.
“Let’s skip the torpedoes.”
“Okay. Do you mind, Admiral? You are the ranking officer here.”
Okawa took another puff from his breather as he pondered the matter, then he started chuckling, sending puffs of white vapor across the bridge. “I never did like the Arts Council. Take us home, Hector…excuse me, Ensign Arroyo.”
“On our way.”
While he was definitely impatient to get on with killing Rosalyn Bain, Fubar had to admit that the smell coming from the kitchen was absolutely heavenly. Chocolate. Rich, warm, chocolate. Even though he despised the Federation on principle, he was willing to grant them that chocolate was one of the great gifts to galactic civilization.
“Does this Toflay have a speciality?” Fubar asked Rosalyn eagerly.
“I wouldn’t know,” she replied flatly.
Several more clangs and bangs issued forth from the kitchen.
“Whatever it is must be intricate,” Fubar said appreciatively. “Maybe I’ll let you have a taste while you bleed.”
“How considerate of you.”
Finally, the kitchen door burst open revealing Tovar standing with some sort of contraption strapped to his back. Rosalyn grimaced as she realized part of it was her new tea kettle and several of her pots. A long hose ran from the device to a metal nozzle in Tovar’s hands.
“Who the hell are you supposed to be?” Fubar said, rising from his chair. “Tippy the Fireman?”
Tovar’s eyes flashed with fury.
“I AM TOVAR! AND YOU HAVE ATTACKED MY MUM!!!”
Fubar’s eyes widened in alarm, but the Cardassian recovered quickly. He managed to take just one step towards Tovar before Tovar activated the device. Suddenly, a stream of chocolate shot forth, coating Fubar. In less than a second, the Cardassian was completely covered. He struggled to take another step, then froze in place.
Tovar quickly slid the device off of his back and rushed over to Rosalyn, who was positively beaming. “Mum!”
“I knew you were in there somewhere, son,” she said, throwing her arms around him. Tovar hugged her back tightly, then suddenly realized that she shouldn’t be hugging him at all.
“Weren’t you tied up?” he asked, pulling away from her slightly.
“Your father must have lost this in the sofa cushions years ago,” Rosalyn replied, holding up an old Starfleet insignia badge. “I used it to cut through the ropes.” She stepped over to take a look at the chocolate-coated Cardassian. “What did you do to him?”
“It was a group effort,” Tovar explained, picking up the device. “I came up with the general idea, Totap built the choco- cannon, Toflay created the recipe for instantly-hardening chocolate, and Tarva…” Tovar slipped the device back onto his back and aimed a second tube at the chocolate splatters on the floor, firing another solution at them that quickly dissolved them. “…handled the cleanup.”
“That’s my Tovar,” Rosalyn said.
“And I should be so for a long time to come. I seem to have come to an understanding with the others in this lifeforce.”
“Good. Now let’s see about disposing of Fubar before your father gets home.”
After going all that way and through all he went through to rescue her, Arroyo suddenly found it difficult to find time to even have a conversation with Janie. Of course, the fact that they were flying different ships had a little bit to do with it. The first real chance that he had to get her alone was after their return to Spacedock on Wednesday morning. With mere hours left before “The Dinner,” Arroyo cornered Janie in her temporary quarters.
“I wondered when you were going to start acting like you know me,” Janie said scoldingly as Arroyo stood at her door. She couldn’t hold the facade for long and broke into a big grin. “Come here, you psycho.” She grabbed Arroyo in a hug and pulled him into her quarters, allowing the doors to close, finally leaving them alone. Janie released Arroyo and led him to the sofa. “What the hell did you think you were doing coming after me like that?”
“You were in trouble,” Arroyo said.
“I’m a Starfleet Officer. I’ve been in trouble before and you haven’t come charging to the rescue. What’s really going on?”
“I’m in trouble.”
Janie smiled. “Now that makes more sense. Are Escobar and Paula breathing down your neck again?”
“Oh yeah. Dinner. Tonight.”
“Uh huh. I figured it had to be pretty serious if you dragged Marsden into this. You know how fond of me she is.”
“She likes you fine. She was just surprised you left the project. It’s ancient history now.”
“So are you two…?”
Arroyo shook his head. “No no. We’re colleagues and friends. Nothing more. I think she’s too in love with the Anomaly to have relationships anyway. So will you come?”
“Let’s see. You want me to spend an entire evening pretending to adore you while I scarf down a free meal. Ooooh. Tough one. Of course I’ll come. It’s the least I can do considering you risked life and limb to bring me to dinner. My real dates aren’t that devoted.”
“That’s because they’re fools,” Arroyo replied.
“You smooth talker,” Janie chided as she snuggled up next to him. “So I guess we need to work on our stories, so we actually sound like we’ve been in touch huh?”
“Not this time. I’ve been missing for the last several months, remember?”
“Nice to know I was missed.”
Janie poked him in the side, making Arroyo jump. “You know you were.” They were quiet for a few moments. “Any word on Veraxe’?” Janie asked finally.
“No one’s seen or heard from him,” Arroyo replied. “The Arts Council has decided to award him this year’s Golden Palette. And I think Starfleet put out a warrant for him for Unauthorized Defacing of Space.”
“How nice for him,” Janie said as she reached over and switched on the holovision. With the dinner crisis averted, Arroyo leaned back against the sofa to enjoy the first bit of down time he’d had in months.
To both Tovar and Rosalyn’s delight, Toflay agreed to assist in fixing dinner that evening without insisting on totally taking over Tovar’s body. Tovar did finally give him control over his hands after several minutes of Toflay criticizing his chopping technique.
Rosalyn, meanwhile, had contacted Admiral Carn at Section 31 and had Fubar beamed out from inside his chocolate prison, which now stood by the wall near the kitchen table.
“Watch your fingers,” Rosalyn warned as Tovar’s knife moved rapidly across the cutting board, reducing several green peppers to perfectly cut bits.
“That is about all I can do at the moment,” Tovar replied as Toflay continued his work.
“In that case, we can talk.”
“Sure,” Tovar said. “What about?”
Rosalyn paused for a moment. Sure? Tovar never said sure. It was always a stiff “Quite” or “Indeed.”
“Well,” she began finally. “How are you feeling?”
“Nothing to complain about. I’m just glad you’re okay…not that you needed me to rescue you evidently.”
His adopted mother smiled. “Now what have you father and I told you for years?”
“Always have a backup plan.”
“Precisely,” Rosalyn replied. “But I was very impressed with your solution to the Fubar problem. It saved me from a potentially messy fight with that lumbering dolt.”
Just then, they heard the retinal scanner at the back door activate. A moment later, Reginald Bain burst through the door smiling broadly. “The bloody gits finally let me come home to my…” Bain trailed off as his eyes locked on the massive Cardassian-shaped statue of chocolate standing by the table.
“What in the name of Winston Churchill is that?”
Tovar and Rosalyn glanced at each other.
“Dessert,” Rosalyn said quickly.
“Toflay made it,” Tovar added.
Bain looked his son up and down. “So who are you now?”
Tovar set the knife down and extended his hand to Bain. “I’m your son, Tovar. Nice to meet you,” he said grinning.
Bain ignored the hand and quickly grabbed Tovar in a big hug. “It’s good to have you back, lad,” Bain said.
Seated in her chair at the table, Rosalyn wondered if “back” was truly the right word. With the Interloper gone, Tovar was almost a different person. And just how this new person would react to life as a Starfleet Officer remained to be seen.