Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors - Part One”
By Alan Decker and Anthony Butler
THE NEUTRAL ZONE (Um…the Romulan/Federation Neutral Zone that is, not to be confused with the Romulan/Klingon Neutral Zone or any other Neutral Zone that exists or has yet to exist. This clarification brought to you by our legal department. Now then…)
Thot-Phul looked at the barren planet rotating on the viewscreen and wondered what in the name of his helmet had possessed him to listen to a Romulan in the first place. Sure Dr. Lenik was a top mind in her field, but her field was genetics. Not revenge. How in all that was Breen could this dirtball on the viewscreen possibly help the members of FOBBER (Foes Of Bain Bearing Eternal Rage) achieve final vengeance against their hated adversary, Captain Reginald Bain of the USS Anomaly?
Judging by the expression on the face of Rear Admiral Lorgander Delk of the Dyonian Legion, Thot-Phul wasn’t alone in his displeasure. Either that or he was finding the chairs on the bridge of this damned Pakled freighter to be as uncomfortable as Phul did. At least Dr. Lenik had had the sense to install a phase cloaking device on this derelict to prevent them from being detected in the Neutral Zone.
“Kill Bain!” Damm, the decidedly psychotic Ferengi member of their group, shouted impatiently, slamming her fists against the side of her head.
“We will soon enough,” Dr. Lenik said cooly as she stood up from the helm. While they were the ones sitting in the command chairs, Gridloo and Pridloo, the twin Pakled owners of the now- cloak-equipped freighter and also members of FOBBER, obviously looked to the Romulan geneticist as their leader.
“She does things to make us happy,” Gridloo said adoringly.
“Hrrmmph,” Rear Admiral Delk grumbled, crossing his arms and sinking deeper in his chair. “Not even a military officer.”
“So far your military tactics have proven ineffective against Bain,” Dr. Lenik said, surprising Delk that she’d heard him. “Have they not?”
“Up until now,” Delk admitted.
“He blew up my ship…TWICE!” Phul said bitterly.
“Kill Bain!” Damm seethed.
“Patience, my large eared friend,” Lenik said calmly, almost serenely. Thot-Phul found the effect fairly creepy. This was not the Dr. Lenik he’d known for the last several months. She’d always said that she had a plan in the works to deal with Bain once and for all, but to look at her now, you’d think Bain was already dead.
“I’ve had quite enough of patience,” Rear Admiral Delk said, rising from his seat. “We’ve gathered on this freighter at your request…at great risk to some of our careers, I might add, and you’ve brought us out to the literal middle of nowhere. Now I demand an explanation.”
“Very well,” Lenik said, stepping toward the viewscreen and gesturing at the planet rotating below the freighter. “This is Dulcolax Three, a world in the Neutral Zone which, up to now, has been ignored by both the Romulan Star Empire and the United Federation of Planets.”
“I wonder why,” Delk muttered sarcastically.
“Let me stress, the ‘up to now’ portion of my last statement,” Dr. Lenik said, ignoring Delk. “A few short minutes from now, this will become the flashpoint of hostilities between Romulus and the Federation.”
“What century are you living in, Lenik?” Thot-Phul demanded. “I may not get out of Breen Space much, but I follow the news. Since the Romulan/Federation Alliance, the Neutral Zone has been little more than a formality, a remnant of aggression that no longer exists. Why would either group care about this ball of mud?”
“We’re going to make them care,” Lenik said.
“And how do you propose to accomplish that?” Rear Admiral Delk asked.
“Two simple steps,” Lenik replied. “First, we watch.” She tapped a control on a small device on her wrist.
Suddenly, the viewscreen glowed white with a blinding light as a plume of energy erupted from the surface of Dulcolax Three. Turning his head to shield his eyes from the glare, Phul caught a look at the Pakled freighter’s sensor console, which was currently going nuts as various energies and particles flared from the planet below.
“Ooooooooooooooooooooooooh. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah,” Gridloo and Pridloo said amazed.
“Very impressive,” Delk said once the blast had died down. “But what is this next step?”
Lenik smiled. “We wait.”
“This really isn’t a good time, Kawafura,” Lieutenant Shelly Marsden said, making no attempt to hide her irritation as she made a delicate calibration inside the USS Anomaly’s singularity core. The Anomaly’s stopover at Starbase 342 was finally giving her the chance to track down a slight variance that had been bugging her since she detected it two weeks ago, so the last thing she needed was some bureaucratic nonsense slowing her down.
Martin Kawafura, the Anomaly’s Chief Comptroller, didn’t budge. “Property Control schedules are not made for the convenience of others, Lieutenant. My office learned a long time ago that it is never convenient.”
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe we just don’t like Inventory?” Marsden shot back.
“Oh get over it,” Marsden continued. “You can hide behind that fancy Chief Comptroller name, but I’ve read the history texts. I know what you are and what your office evolved from. You’re just a new face on a old demon. The Inventory Demon. Now begone foul creature, before I perform my own version of an exorcism.”
“Please, Lieutenant,” Kawafura said. “I have ways of making this Property Control Audit happen, but I really don’t want to have to use them on you.”
“I’m petrified….truly,” Marsden said as she caught a glimpse of Lieutenant Polnuc entering engineering with a human male in civilian clothes walking by his side, a human male she was quite familiar with.
“Excuse me,” she said distractedly, making two final adjustments inside the core, then walking away from Kawafura.
“Does this mean I can finally put a property tag on this singularity?”
“Go for it,” Marsden said, stepping over to Polnuc and the human as a smile spread across her face. “Well well well,” she said. “This starbase will just let anyone in, won’t they?”
“Guess so,” Cole Anfibon, Lieutenant Marsden’s boyfriend, for lack of a better term (and she did hate that term, but ‘significant other’ sounded so formal), replied grinning.
“Mister Anfibon said he spoke to Captain Bain,” Polnuc explained.
“Bain said I could drop by. I hope that’s okay,” Cole said.
“Ummm…” Marsden said, thinking for a moment. She suddenly jumped at him, smothering him with a kiss.
Polnuc rolled his eyes. “A simple yes would have been sufficient,” the Moglodin grumbled, stalking away.
Kawafura suddenly flew backwards from the singularity core and slammed into the wall. “Ohhhh,” he moaned, curling up into a heap.
“I see you found my forcefield,” Marsden called over. “Maybe you should try to tag that too.”
“Did I come at a bad time?” Cole asked amused.
“Nah. I’m finished for now,” Marsden replied, wrapping her arm around his. “How about some lunch?” She led Cole out of engineering as Kawafura pulled himself to his feet and Polnuc looked on chuckling.
“I…I need to audit the equipment you have stored in Jefferies Tube Junction C-45,” Kawafura said weakly.
The smile on Polnuc’s face immediately vanished. “You know about that?”
“I’m the Chief Comptroller. It’s my job to know.”
“Goody,” Polnuc mumbled as Kawafura led the way into the Jefferies tubes. The Moglodin idly wondered if anyone would notice if Kawafura never made it back out of the tubes. Some of those drops could be AWFULLY steep.
Ensign Hector Arroyo took a deep breath and let it out with a satisfied smile as he stood in the middle of Starbase 342’s promenade. “So where are we headed?” he asked, turning to Lieutenant Commander Tovar.
“I didn’t realize there was a ‘we’ involved here,” the Anomaly’s Yynsian tac-ops officer replied. “I, however, am planning on having lunch at the Hytellan restaurant. It comes highly recommended.”
“Sounds good to me,” Arroyo said.
“Is there a particular reason you’re following me all over this starbase?” Tovar asked testily.
“I thought we should hang out together. Get to know one another better. Hell. We’ve been on the same ship for two years now and have barely exchanged a word off of the bridge, and I think it’s important for us to be closer friends.”
“Oh really,” Tovar replied skeptically. “And why is that?”
“When we’re in a fight, you and I have to work almost as one to keep the ship smoothly dealing with the threat. We’re practically a unit, and we don’t know a thing about each other.”
“I fail to see why this is a problem.” Tovar began walking away.
“Hang on!” Arroyo said, jogging to catch up. “Doesn’t it bother you at all that outside of Captain Bain and Lieutenant Torgerson, you don’t spend time with anyone?”
“Commander Prosak and I occasionally have dinner together to discuss ship’s business. Don’t you have anything better to do than pester me?”
Tovar smiled slightly as a light dawned. “This is not about me at all. Your usual playmate is busy.”
“Exactly,” Tovar said smugly. “Lieutenant Marsden is occupied, so you have come looking for a second string friend.”
“That’s not how I’d describe it.”
“But you admit I’m not your first choice.”
“Look, Tovar. We’re both bridge officers. We’re close in age. I thought we could be friends. Now if you’ll quit with the interrogation, we have a good chance of spending a nice lunch with those two ladies smiling at us over there.”
Tovar’s head whipped around toward where Arroyo had indicated. Much to his surprise, the Ensign was correct.
“Looks like they come as a pair, so we’d better be a pair as well,” Arroyo said.
“I thought you were engaged.”
“Not as much as you’d think. How about you and Torgerson?”
“There are obstacles,” Tovar said, his face darkening.
“Then let’s go have lunch.”
“Now that’s more like it,” Arroyo said smiling as he and Tovar headed over to meet their soon-to-be lunch dates.
“What?” Commander Prosak snapped, looking up from her padd.
“Thirty-seven across. The answer is ‘zamboni,’” Cabral said as his hovercam floated just over the Anomaly’s first officer’s shoulder. Prosak sighed and turned back to her crossword puzzle as she sat at the bar in one of Starbase 342’s many drinking establishments. This particular one was a dim, wood-paneled affair with several gaming tables positioned in a back corner of the room.
Captain Reginald Bain stalked over to the bar, clearly annoyed. “Bah!” he spat. “It’s all that bloody domjot. Not a single snooker table to be found.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Cabral said as Bain plopped his stout frame down on a stool next to Prosak. “What have you got there, Prosak?” he asked, looking over at the padd.
“Word games,” Cabral said.
“They are activities designed to improve my logic skills,” Prosak said defensively.
“You’d think after what they put you through, you’d be a bit disenchanted with our Vulcan friends by now,” Bain said.
“The actions of Sh’rak should not reflect on all Vulcans.”
“He’s in charge of the Vulcans.”
“That will change, and I’m going to work on my logic!” Prosak snapped.
“Okay there, Prosak. No worries.”
“Would you preferred I worked on my neck pinches…or mind melds?”
“Logic games will be fine,” Bain said. “Minestrone.”
“Eight down. The answer is ‘minestrone.’”
“That’s it! I’m switching to word scrambles. At least those I can do without help!”
“Beer?” Bain said.
“Stop giving me answers!”
“No. Would you like another beer?”
“Oh! Yes, please. Thank you, sir,” Prosak said brightly. Bain ordered two more lagers from the bartender, which were promptly delivered.
“Thank you for inviting me along, Captain,” Cabral said as Prosak turned back to her padd.
“No trouble at all,” Bain said, patting Cabral’s hovercam. “Least I could do with Dr. Kasyov indisposed. What was the matter with her again?”
“Conference holocomm with the Neptune Research Facility. Evidently, a few of the brains there were demanding to speak with her about their living conditions. I don’t think they’ve quite accepted that she’s not coming back to them,” Cabral replied.
“Just as well. It gives me a chance to show you around, which is a lot easier to do now that you’re mobile. In any case, this is a pub…well, not a proper pub. A proper pub would have a bloody snooker table. This is simply a bar, a mediocre one at that. But let’s not dwell on the negative,” Bain said, putting his drink to his lips. “I can’t say I’ve seen you around the ship much even though you can move about as you please. Where have you been keeping yourself?”
“The science lab mostly. Although, I join Natalia for meals quite a bit, and she likes to take walks in the arboretum.”
“Seems you two are joined at the hip…not that you’ve got hips, my boy.”
“I get by,” Cabral replied.
“Now what do we have here?” Bain said, looking over at a pair of Starfleet security officers entering the bar. “Looks like someone’s in for a spot of trouble.”
The officers suddenly headed straight for Bain, flanking him on either side. “Captain Reginald Bain?”
“I am,” Bain said stiffening in his seat.
“We need you to come with us, sir.”
“What’s all this about?” Bain demanded.
“You’ll need to come with us.”
Cabral noticed Bain’s fists tighten, then slowly unclench as the captain reconsidered his next action. “There damn well better be a good explanation for this,” Bain said, hopping off of his stool.
“This way, Captain.” Bain followed the security officers out of the bar, leaving Cabral and Prosak alone.
“Did Captain Bain have to leave?” Prosak asked, without looking up from her word scramble.
“Evidently he had a spot of trouble.”
“Fascinating,” Prosak replied distractedly.
“The unscrambled words are Zephram Cochrane.”
“Oh butt out.”
“But I don’t have a…”
“You’re awfully rude when you’re drunk.”
“Doesn’t that thing have an off switch?”
After several minutes of being led through the corridors of the starbase by the two silent security officers, Captain Bain was brought to a door and told to step inside.
“Not until you tell me what the devil is going on here!” he said firmly.
“Enter the room, sir,” one of the security officers said tiredly. “Everything will be explained.”
Bain glared at the man. “It damn well better be,” he said before charging inside in a huff.
The room turned out to be tiny. Only about two meters in any direction. Bain looked at the grid on the walls. “Holopod?” he muttered confused as the door closed behind him. A moment later, he found himself standing in front of a table at Starfleet Headquarters. Seated across from him were Admiral Kristen Larkin and two other admirals Bain had had occasional dealings with: Admiral Th’ril, an Andorian, and Admiral Khalid Haddad, a human. Both Th’ril and Haddad were bigwigs with Starfleet Tactical Operations, which immediately tipped Bain off that something big was in the offing.
“Krissers!” Bain said.
“Good afternoon, Reginald,” Admiral Larkin said with a slight head bow.
“Your brutes just could have told me I was needed for a holocomm. Why the cloak and dagger?”
“This is a classified meeting, Captain Bain,” Admiral Haddad said. “Why would we announce it to anyone? Even you?”
“Can we get to the matter at hand?” Th’ril said impatiently. He turned toward Bain. “You are to go to the Neutral Zone.”
“No offense to you gents, but last time I checked the Anomaly was still attached to the Explorer project. That means I take my marching orders from Admiral Larkin.”
“And when was the last time you actually explored something?” Haddad asked.
“Now is not the time, Khalid,” Larkin said. Haddad and Th’ril exchanged a look, then gestured for Larkin to proceed.
“This is Dulcolax Three,” Larkin said as a holographic planet materialized over the table. “Two hours ago, one of our monitoring buoys in the Neutral Zone detected a massive explosion there, an odd occurrence considering the world is uninhabited and of no known value to either us or the Romulans.”
“A ship crash?” Bain suggested.
“Weapons testing,” Haddad said.
“We do not know that for sure, Admiral,” Larkin said.
“What more proof do you need? We detected transmetaquantaprotophasic radiation!”
“Beg your pardon?” Bain said.
“Transmetaquanta…oh, look it up!”
“Needless to say, it’s very dangerous and quite against our treaties with the Romulans,” Larkin said.
“Which is why you will go there,” Th’ril said. “If the Romulans are planning to break the alliance and attack us with transmetaquantaprotophasic weapons, we need to know!”
“And I suppose we’re the ship capable of getting there the fastest,” Bain said.
“You are Starfleet’s quick response vessel,” Haddad said. He turned on Larkin. “Which should be under the purview of Tactical Operations.”
“One more comment like that, and I will cancel our dinner for this evening,” Larkin said sternly. Haddad immediately clammed up as Larkin faced Bain again. “There is one more issue before you go, Reginald. Commander Prosak.”
“What about her?”
“What is your impression of her?”
“She’s first rate. We’ve had our differences in the past, but she’s shown herself to be a more than competent first officer. Dedicated, enthusiastic, and quite the Breen blaster. Taken out two of their ships.”
“So placing her in a situation where she’d be head to head with her own people doesn’t concern you?” Th’ril asked.
“Not in the slightest.”
“Even though she was victim of a Vulcan mind control meld several months ago?”
“Now see here! Prosak is first rate, and I won’t stand here and have her loyalty or her ability questioned by you lot, admirals or no!”
“As long as you’re sure,” Larkin said.
“I’d stake my life on it.”
“That may be precisely what you’re doing,” Larkin said. “Take the Anomaly to Dulcolax Three and investigate. If the Romulans intercept you, try to avoid confrontation. This situation must be handled diplomatically.”
“Right. We’ll go, have a look about, and avoid shooting anyone. Simple enough.”
“You have your orders, Captain,” Haddad said as he and Th’ril rose from the table. “We expect a report post haste.”
“You’ll have one as soon as I have something to report,” Bain replied.
“Good luck, Reginald,” Larkin said. “Command out.” The admirals and the table vanished as the holopod deactivated, leaving Bain in an empty room.
He immediately charged out of the holopod, not even noticing the security officer he nailed with the door, and headed off down the corridor, pinching his commpip as he went.
“Bain to Commander Prosak.”
“Yes, Captain,” the Romulan replied tersely.
“We’ve got a mission. Rally the troops and all that hoorah. I’ll meet you on the bridge. Bain out.”
“Shelly Marsden’s Personal Log. Stardate 177534.7. Remind me never to try and go to lunch again. The second Cole and I get comfortable and really start to talk, Prosak comes over the all-call announcing that we’re heading out immediately. I managed to get the anti-sing core back online and ready to go before Bain cleared all moorings, not that he noticed. The man gives no thought to this ship whatsoever.
“I guess I can’t complain too much, though. While I was racing to get the engines back online, Cole found Bain and asked to stay on board. He’s between ‘jobs’ at the moment, which is what brought him to the starbase in the first place. He originally hoped that we could enjoy the Anomaly’s layover together. Of course, now we aren’t having a layover. Gotta love it. But Cole grabbed a bag off of his ship is staying with me.”
“What’s wrong?” Marsden asked as she and Cole sat nestled against each other on the sofa in Marsden’s quarters, a holovid playing in front of them.
“Beg your pardon?”
“You seem fidgety.”
“This is just…strange. I’m used to being the one flying the ship.”
“Consider it a vacation.”
“I wish you could do the same,” Cole replied.
“The place would fall apart without me.
Cole kissed Marsden lightly on the top of her head. “I don’t doubt it.” They were quiet for several moments. “So,” Cole said finally, “what do you Starfleet types do for fun around here?”
“Oh, we recite the Prime Directive, make up songs about regulations, shine our insignia badges, play first contact on the rec deck. You know. The usual,” Marsden replied with a glint in her eye.
“Ooooooh,” Cole said, stifling a laugh. “Sounds invigorating.”
“Okay. What do you want to do?”
“Do you fence?”
“No, but Captain Bain does…when he’s not skeet shooting out of the shuttlebay.”
“I’ll have to keep that in mind,” Cole said. “Fine. How about using your enormous power to get me onto the bridge of a Federation starship? I didn’t get to see it last time I was here.”
“I think we can arrange that, but afterward, I have an idea. Golf!”
“Do you play?”
“Good. That means I’ll win,” Marsden said with a smile as she hopped up off of the sofa.
“I see the Starfleet sense of fair play is alive and well,” Cole said, standing up.
“Let’s hurry this up so I beat the pants off you on the links.”
Cole’s eyebrow arched. “This game suddenly just became more interesting.”
As the Anomaly streaked toward the Neutral Zone at anti-sing speeds, Captain Bain stole another glance at the stoic RommaVulc standing stiffly behind his right shoulder. The silence was actually starting to get to him.
“You all right there, Prosak?” he asked, turning slightly in his command chair.
“This assignment is somewhat troubling…and I must admit to a slight headache from the lager you ordered for me,” his first officer replied.
“I’m sure,” Prosak replied as the turbolift doors opened and Marsden and Cole Anfibon stepped out onto the bridge.
“Giving the tour, Marsie?” Bain asked, turning toward his Chief Engineer.
“Cole didn’t make it up here during his other two visits,” Marsden explained
“It just didn’t cross my mind after being a prisoner of the Breen and the Associates, I guess,” Cole said.
“Imagine that,” Lieutenant Commander Tovar muttered from tac-ops.
“Well, feel free to have a look about,” Bain said. “I’m sure it’s a sight larger than what you’re used to on your ship.”
“Some of us don’t need all of these creature comforts,” Cole replied with a grin as he strolled along the rear of the bridge, stopping in front of Tovar’s station for a moment. The Yynsian frowned and shook his head as a warning to move along, which Cole did quickly.
After looking at Marsden’s engineering console briefly, Cole made his way toward the front of the Anomaly’s wedge-shaped bridge where Ensign Arroyo sat at the helm in front of the viewscreen dominating the bridge’s widest point. “Nice controls,” Cole said appreciatively as he leaned over next to Arroyo.
“I’d love to let you take a crack at them, but we’re at anti-sing at the moment,” Arroyo replied. Was it just Marsden or did Arroyo have a bit of an edge to his voice? He didn’t sound at all like he had any interest in letting Cole near the helm.
“Fair enough,” Cole said unperturbed. He stood up, his eyes locking on the ready room doors. “Ah, the seat of power,” he said, disappearing into the room.
“Um…,” Prosak began.
Cole poked his head back out. “This isn’t a ready room, is it?”
“Those are my quarters,” Prosak replied.
“Yeah. The big Vulcan poster kind of tipped me off. Is that Sponk?”
“It’s Spock. Spock!” Prosak snapped. “Read a history text!”
“Sorry about that,” Cole said, walking quickly out of the quarters and back over to Marsden. “I thought you said he had a lounge up here.”
“Down that hallway,” Marsden said, pointing at the corridor at the rear of the bridge next to the starboard turbolift.
“Captain, we’re approaching the Neutral Zone,” Arroyo reported.
“You’ll have to see the lounge later, Mister Anfibon,” Bain said. “I’ll have you up for a drink once this mess is sorted out. Marsie, if you please.”
“We’re leaving,” Marsden said, wrapping her arm around Cole’s and leading him into the turbolift.
“Capital. Bain to Doctor Kasyov. Report to the bridge.”
“On my way,” Kasyov’s voice replied crisply.
“There,” Bain said, settling into his command chair. “A smoothly-functioning team. Nothing to worry about.”
“I hope not,” Prosak said.
“But if the Romulans are testing this transmetaquantaprotophasic radiation, we may have to take action. You’re aware of that.”
“My one request is that we try not to jump to any conclusions.”
“I can justify every conclusion I’ve ever jumped to,” Bain replied watching the viewscreen intently.
That was not the response Prosak was hoping for. She glanced back at Tovar, who simply mouthed the words “I’ll handle him.” Prosak smiled in return, finding Tovar’s statement oddly reassuring.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Ensign Arroyo. “I can’t believe that guy,” Arroyo exclaimed, then immediately caught himself. “Sorry about that.”
“You have a problem with our good Chief Engineer’s suitor?” Bain asked.
“I believe his problem is commonly known as petty jealousy,” Tovar remarked. “Hector lost his playtime friend.”
“The lad seems to be a good enough sort,” Bain said.
“But look at the way he just came up here and wandered around like he owned the place. He even went into Prosak’s bedroom,” Arroyo continued.
“In all fairness, I gave him permission,” Bain replied. “And that ready room mix-up could have happened to anyone. Buck up, chum.”
“I’m just sick of hearing about Cole Anfibon.”
“Would you prefer to hear about Romulans, because I predict many of them in our future,” Tovar said.
Prosak suddenly let out an anguished cry as she clapped her hands to her head.
“Prosak!” Bain exclaimed, leaping out of his chair. “What’s happened?”
“I…don’t…know,” the Romulan said through gritted teeth. “The pain…” Her heavy breaths eased slowly, then a sudden wave of dizziness struck her. Bain grabbed her arm in a flash, steadying her. “Thank you.”
“Not at all. What the devil was that?”
“My head. All of a sudden, it started pounding. Overwhelming pain.”
“Let’s get you to sickbay.”
“No,” Prosak said, shaking her head emphatically.
“All right. But at least sit down for a bit,” Bain said concerned, leading Prosak to the command chair.
“Coming up on Dulcolax Three,” Arroyo said as Dr. Natalia Kasyov exited a turbolift out onto the bridge.
“Just in time,” Kasyov said, sliding into the chair at the science station.
“Right. Let’s get this over with, Bain said, steeling a glance at Prosak. “Keep a sharp eye out for the Rommies, Tovar.”
“No. I’d like to get blasted out of space today,” Tovar muttered.
“I missed that, my boy.”
“Watching diligently, sir,” Tovar said, absorbing himself in his readouts.
Thot-Phul stepped closer to the cloaked Pakled freighter’s viewscreen as he watched the Anomaly approach Dulcolax Three. “How did you know Bain would come?”
“Timing,” Dr. Lenik replied smugly. “I waited for a time when the Anomaly was in the general region. Since Bain’s ship is used for rapid response to emergency situations, it seemed logical that the Anomaly would be sent to deal with our little explosion.”
“Logic a Vulcan would admire,” Rear Admiral Delk said appreciatively. “But when do we get Bain?”
“Soon, I imagine. There are a few more pieces that need to fall into place.”
“A distraction for Bain and his crew, which I have no doubt my people will unknowingly be providing before too long.”
“Don’t you need to get to engineering?” Cole asked as he and Marsden exited the turbolift into the Anomaly’s corridors on their way toward Marsden’s quarters.
“Not unless they comm me,” Marsden replied. “And I’d at least like to get a couple of holes in before that happens.”
“You’re determined about this golf thing, huh?”
“Practice makes perfect, and right now I’m so far for perfect that there’s not enough practice time in the universe to save me.”
“So why bother?”
“That’s the objection of a man who knows he’s about to get his ass kicked,” Marsden said, stopping in front of a set of quarters that were not hers. “You can use the holopod in here,” she explained.
“The resident won’t mind?”
“The resident moved to the ready room, but Prosak still uses this holopod when she unwinds or meditates or whatever,” Marsden replied ushering Cole into the vacant quarters. “Just get in the holopod and wait for me to start the simulation. I’ll join you shortly.”
Cole stepped into the pod and closed the door. Seconds later, he found himself on a scenic golf course on the edge of a cliff overlooking an ocean. Very scenic.
“You ready?” Marsden asked from behind him. She’d entered her holopod and linked into the simulation. Nearby, a golf cart sat containing two bags of clubs.
“We who are about to die salute you,” Cole said with a grin as he followed Marsden to the cart. They each picked up a bag and headed to the first tee.
“You first,” Marsden said, stepping aside.
“That wouldn’t be very chivalrous of me.”
“You want to see what you’re up against, eh?”
“Bingo,” Marsden said as Cole pushed his tee into the grass and placed a ball on it. After taking a couple of practice swings with his driver, he lined up at the ball and let loose, making solid contact.
The ball sailed off of the tee, slicing hard to the right into the line of trees bordering the fairway on the opposite side from the cliff.
“Fetch, boy,” Marsden said laughing.
“Woof,” Cole said. Before she could stop him, Cole licked Marsden’s cheek, then ran off into the trees.
“You’re paying for that one, Anfibon!” Marsden called after him. She set up her own tee, then took several deeps breaths of the seaside air to relax herself. Several bad shots and a couple of pulled back muscles had taught her that serenity was the key to a decent golf swing. Finally, she took her shot, which arced beautifully above the fairway toward the first green, landing a mere forty meters away from the first hole.
“Beat that, Cole!” she shouted toward the trees. “Cole? Do you need some help?”
“I found my ball,” Cole said, jogging out of the trees several moments later.
“If you’re going to take that long to find it every time you hit a ball into the trees, this could be a long game.”
“I’ll attempt to speed up.”
“You do that,” Marsden said. “Oh, Cole?”
Marsden suddenly leapt at him, licking him up the side of his face. “Gotcha.”
“Yes, you did. Is it my shot?”
“Go for it.”
Cole planted his ball on a new tee and swung, sending a wobbly shot careening along the edge of the fairway. It finally landed thirty meters behind Marsden’s right at the edge of the trees.
“Flirting with disaster, but it stayed in. This may become a game after all.”
“We’ll just have to see.”
Below the Anomaly, Dulcolax Three rotated slowly as Captain Bain paced the bridge, waiting for some word from his science officer.
“There are definite traces of transmetaquantaprotophasic radiation,” Kasyov said finally, looking up from her sensors.
“Source?” Prosak asked through gritted teeth. She steadied herself against the command chair as another wave of pain assaulted her mind.
“I can’t tell exactly. I’m not reading any sort of research or testing installation or anything, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one down there. I’m not thrilled with this idea, but I think I’m going to have to beam down to the surface and take a closer look.”
“Suit up,” Bain said with a nod. “Tovar, send a security officer with her, if you would please.”
“Request permission to go myself.”
“Normally I’d be all for that idea, Tovar, but we’re in possibly hostile waters here. I want your hands at tactical.”
“So do I,” Arroyo said from the helm.
“Very well,” Tovar said, sending a comm for Lieutenant Brazzell to meet Dr. Kasyov in the transporter room.
“I’ll be taking Cabral as well,” Kasyov said, heading toward the turbolift. “This should be a good test for the sensors mounted on his hovercam.”
“Capital idea,” Bain said. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Prosak wince in pain. “But hurry back, if you would.”
“Believe me, I have no intention of sticking around down there. I’ve been on camping trips to Siberia that were more appealing.” The turbolift doors closed as Kasyov descended into the ship.
“Commander,” Bain said, turning toward his first officer. She was back standing ramrod straight, hands clasped behind her back.
“Yes, Captain?” she asked.
“Forget it,” Bain said, deciding not to pursue the issue. If Prosak felt she could handle these headaches or whatever they were, he wasn’t about to countermand her by ordering the Romulan to sickbay. Of course, chances were that the headaches were eminently preferable to an examination by Dr. Nooney.
“How…scenic,” Cabral remarked after his hovercam, Dr. Kasyov, and Lieutenant Bre’zan Brazzell materialized on the surface of Dulcolax Three near the source of the transmetaquantaprotophasic radiation. The planet was barely Class G, with just enough of an atmosphere to register on a quadcorder.
The away team had materialized on the edge of a vast scorched crater over two kilometers in diameter presumably created when whatever produced the transmetaquantaprotophasic radiation detonated.
“It’s filthy!” Brazzell spat distastefully. “Cleaning up these scorch marks could take weeks!”
“Just keep your eyes open for anything dangerous,” Kasyov said.
“Unkempt conditions can be very dangerous.”
“We’ll risk it,” Kasyov said, activating the quadcorder heads-up display integrated in the helmet of her EVA suit. “What are you reading, Cabral?”
“Very little actually. The ambient radiation in this region is scrambling my sensors. I am also finding my hovercam to be moving sluggishly. I have had to appropriate additional transmitter bandwidth in order to remain in control of the device.”
“Maybe you should beam it back to the ship.”
“And leave you down here alone? Absolutely not.”
“Brazzell is here.”
“No offense to his abilities, but I would prefer to remain,” Cabral said, turning toward the security officer, who was currently attempting to scrub a layer of black scorching from the surface of a nearby boulder.
“Oookay,” Kasyov said. “Let’s get to work, then.” She began making her way down the crater wall toward the center. “I’m still not reading much in the way of non-indigenous materials.”
“Were you expecting detect something along those lines?”
“That radiation had to come from somewhere. A weapons-research facility seemed like a likely possibility. Otherwise…” Kasyov trailed off as a new reading on her quadcorder helmet display caught her attention.
“Yes?” Cabral asked.
“Hints of nordalium. It’s an alloy mainly used by the Romulans.”
“There’s only trace molecules left. A transmetaquantaprotophasic blast is destructive, but if there were an entire outpost here, I should still read more than what I’m seeing.”
“Then perhaps an explosive device was purposely detonated here,” Cabral offered.
“That’s what it looks like, but it doesn’t makes sense.”
“And why not?” Cabral asked, sounding mildly hurt.
“This isn’t to slight you any, but look where we are. If you’re going to test a weapon using a type of energy banned in a treaty you have with the Federation, would you perform the test right on the Federation border? Also, if it’s a test, where’s the monitoring equipment? There should be probe satellites, ground stations, and such. Other than this blast crater, there isn’t a damn thing here.”
“This leads us back to our original question, then,” Cabral said. “What happened here?”
Kasyov shook her head as she watched the quadcorder readings scroll by on her helmet display. “I don’t know, but I have a feeling if we stay in the Neutral Zone long enough, we’re going to find out.”
Commander Prosak sank to the deck, clutching her head for dear life as the waves of pain buffeting her seemingly threatened to burst forth from her skull onto the bridge itself.
“Prosak!” Bain cried, rushing to his first officer. “Bain to…”
“UNHAND ME!” Prosak snapped, backhanding Bain with such force that the Anomaly’s captain was knocked back to the deck.
Tovar’s wrist phaser clicked into position in a flash.
“No!” Bain shouted, scrambling back to his feet as Prosak did the same, her eyes blazing with wild fury. “Man your post.”
Tovar stiffened. “My post is to…” His was suddenly distracted by a new contact on his sensor console. “Romulan Warhawk approaching at high warp.”
“Blast! Time to intercept.”
Bain focused his attention back on Prosak. He was going to let her handle this headache business, but enough was enough. “Listen to me, Prosak. We’ve got to get you to sickbay. You’re my best hope of dealing with these Romulan blokes.”
Prosak’s eyes slammed shut as she fought the pain of another attack from the agony blazing through her mind. “Must…leave.”
“Leave? Leave orbit? Is it the radiation?” Bain asked.
“LEAVE!” Prosak screamed, pushing past Bain and charging into the port turbolift.
Bain was immediately on his way to the starboard lift. “Tovar, contact Nooney. I’ll be bringing Prosak to him presently.”
“But the Romulans…”
“Stall them,” Bain snapped. “Prosak’s in distress, and I’m not about to send security after her when what she needs is the intervention of her friend and Captain.”
Bain stepped into the turbolift, which promptly send him chasing after his first officer.
“I’m sure she’ll be touched,” Tovar muttered. “At least until the Romulans blast us to pieces.”
Cabral’s hovercam suddenly dove toward the ground, only recovering at the last second before it would have been smashed to debris.
“Cabral!” Kasyov shouted, scrambling more quickly down the crater slope.
“I’m all right,” Cabral replied. “The interference seems to be growing, though.”
“Growing?” Kasyov said confused. “My radiation readings are stable.”
“Even so, I am finding it more difficult to maintain control of the hovercamera.”
“We’ve got to get you back up to the ship before…” Kasyov stopped as five greenish transporter beams coalesced in front of her and Cabral, their effects distorted strangely in a way Kasyov had only scene once before in footage of a near-warp transport.
The five beams quickly revealed five heavily armed Romulans in EVA suits, each with a weapon trained on Kasyov and Cabral.
“Somehow, I’m guessing they’d like us to stay,” Cabral said.
“Yeah. I’m getting that,” Kasyov said glancing nervously from Romulan to Romulan.
Next time take a bloody quadcorder. Captain Bain cursed his lack of foresight as the computer yet again updated him on Commander Prosak’s position. She’d exited the turbolift on deck seven, which Bain found somewhat heartening. She could be headed to sickbay, but Bain wasn’t taking any chances.
As soon as Bain had left the bridge, Tovar had taken the ship to Yellow Alert. With the crew at battlestations, the corridors were deserted, which was just fine with Bain. The fewer people who saw Prosak in her current condition, the better. Now he just needed to find her, get her cured of whatever ailed her, and get her back on the bridge to help him deal with the Romulans headed their way.
The doors to a bio-lab a short distance down the corridor sat open, drawing Bain’s attention. He cautiously approached the door of the darkened room.
“Prosak?” he called into the shadowed interior.
“Captain…” a raspy voice whispered. “Help…”
“I’m here! Hang on!” Bain said, charging inside. Sudden pain exploded in his head as a heavy object slammed into him from behind. Bain toppled to the floor, struggling to regain his senses.
“Prosak,” he gasped, getting to his knees.
The object hit him again, sending the unconscious captain sprawling to the deck.
“Um…shouldn’t you be in the command chair?” Ensign Arroyo asked from the helm as Tovar stood stoically at tac-ops watching the Romulan Warhawk hovering before the Anomaly. The Romulan vessel had just exited warp after beaming five people down to Dulcolax Three in a rather impressive near-warp transport.
“Brazzell is on the surface, and I would rather not have Gworos’ finger on the fire control when dealing with the Romulans,” Tovar replied.
“Point taken,” Arroyo said. Nothing like a Klingon with a grudge to cause a diplomatic incident.
“Look professional. They are hailing,” Tovar said.
“Hey!” Arroyo protested. “I’m always professional.”
“Of course,” Tovar said distractedly as he watched the sensor readout of the Romulan ship’s status. They had not gone so far as to raise shields, but their weapons were hot. In short, they were ready to fire first if it came to that. Tovar would have been much happier if he had raised the Anomaly’s shields, but such an action could very easily be misconstrued. The Anomaly’s ablative armor would just have to suffice in the event that the Romulans made the first strike.
Tovar opened the comm channel, which caused the viewscreen image to shift to the bridge of the warhawk. The vessel’s commander, a severe-looking Romulan with graying temples immediately began to speak.
“Returned to the scene of the crime, have you?” he spat accusingly. “You humans are so predictable. Your literature allows me to predict your every…” The Romulan paused, looking closer at the Anomaly’s bridge. “Uh…who’s in command over there?”
“I am,” Tovar said. “Lieutenant Commander Tovar of the USS Anomaly. Our captain will be with you momentarily.”
“Where is he now?”
“Dealing with an internal matter.”
“Such as testing another transmetaquantaprotophasic device! Your audacity is exceeded by your disrespect for your alliance with the Romulan Empire!”
“Commander…” Tovar began.
“Commander Potluk, I assure you that we are not responsible for the transmetaquantaprotophasic radiation on Dulcolax Three. And I must say that I find your attempt to blame the Federation for what is quite clearly a Romulan attempt to clean up a mess created during your Empire’s efforts to covertly develop weapons for a future assault against us to be insulting and despicable.”
“I’ve listened to quite enough of your lies,” Potluk said. “Stand down and prepare to be boarded by an inspection team. If you attempt to raise shields, your ship will be attacked and your people on the surface of Dulcolax Three will be immediately executed. If you resist our boarding party, your ship will be attacked and your people on the surface of Dulcolax Three will be immediately executed. And if my inspectors find even a trace of transmetaquantaprotophasic aboard your vessel…”
“Let me guess,” Tovar said humorlessly, “our ship will be attacked and our people on the surface of Dulcolax Three will be immediately executed.”
“Precisely. Your answer, sir?”
“Please hold for Captain Bain,” Tovar said, cutting the comm channel.
“Tovar!” Arroyo exclaimed.
“Relax, Ensign,” Tovar said calmly. “Bridge to Captain Bain.” No response. “Tovar to Bain. Captain Bain, respond!” Nothing.
“Computer, beam Captain Bain directly to the bridge,” Tovar ordered. A transporter beam activated in front of the command chair. Seconds later four commpips fell to the deck.
“Tovar!” Arroyo cried. “Where the hell is he? What are we going to do?”
Tovar looked at the commpips then back up at the Romulan Warhawk floating on the viewscreen. “Off hand, I’d say panic.”
As she and Cole Anfibon walked onto the green of the 3rd hole, Lieutenant Marsden made a mental note to play many many games with Cole in the future. He obviously didn’t mind losing to her, something which couldn’t be said of several past dates and friends. Cole’s grin hadn’t been absent from his face for a single moment since the game began. Needless to say, Marsden was less than thrilled by the sudden chirping of her commpip.
“Engineering to Lieutenant Marsden,” Lieutenant Polnuc’s voice said.
“Go ahead,” Marsden replied crisply as Cole missed a 5 meter putt.
“I know you didn’t want to be disturbed unless it was an emergency, but we’ve gone to Yellow Alert. Is that enough of an emergency?”
Marsden sighed and looked over at Cole, who mouthed, “Go ahead.”
“I’ll be right there,” Marsden replied. “Out.” She strolled over to Cole and wrapped her arms around him. “Saved by the comm, eh?”
“I guess so,” Cole replied.
“I’ll meet you for dinner later. Can you find your way out of the holopod and back to my quarters?”
“I think I can manage,” Cole replied, smiling more broadly now.
“You’d better,” Marsden said. “Computer, deactivate my holopod.” Cole and the golf course simulation vanished as the grid- lined interior of the holopod reappeared around her. She opened the door and stepped out into her darkened quarters.
Dark? Her quarters hadn’t been that dark when she’d gone into the holopod.
She began to order the computer to brighten the room. Suddenly, she was grabbed from behind as a firm hand clamped over her mouth.
Marsden moved to resist.
Her attacker grabbed her tighter.
Then, sharp searing pain as a blade thrust into her back.
To Be Continued…