Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“The Future of Starfleet”
By Alan Decker and Anthony Butler
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 177630.2. The Anomaly is approaching Earth for a bit of a respite at McKinley Station to deal with the damage we sustained during our run-in with the Lucinda Entity. It feels to me as though the old girl was just in for repairs, yet here we are again. Of course, that last time was after a several-month tour of Andromeda and this time is after the ship took quite a pounding inside and out from Lucinda. Never let it be said that Reginald Bain brings his ship to the shop without cause.
“In the meantime, our Romulan…I almost said guests, but they are more than that now. Command has made Vioxx and his four fellows full members of this crew. After the excitement of the last few days, I’ve ordered them to get some rest. There will be time enough to get them oriented to the way we do things on the Anomaly when we leave Spacedock. This adjustment will be difficult on all of us. Best to take it slow.”
The voice of Commander Vioxx calling to him from down the corridor stopped Bain in mid-stride toward the turbolift. The Romulan Commander quickly closed the gap between them.
“Can I do something for you, Commander?” Bain asked as the turbolift doors opened and Bain stepped inside. “Bridge.”
“You could follow orders,” the younger (at least Bain assumed he was younger. It was hard to tell with Romulans…and Vulcans…and Klingons. Why did all of these races have to be so bloody long-lived?) man replied curtly.
“Excuse me?” Bain said, feeling a flash of anger rising in him.
“You have basically shoved my officers and I into the nearest ketvell and left us to rot!”
“What’s a ketvell?”
“Never mind,” Vioxx continued. “It’s not important. The point is that we are being ignored rather than made to feel like a part of this crew.”
“Commander, I understand that this has been hard on you. A few days ago, you had your own ship, and now you’re stuck here with us. I also commend your gung-ho spirit. You and your folks want to dive right in, but this is going to take some time. Be patient.”
“What about Commander Prosak?”
“What about her?” Bain asked.
“She was to have been demoted, yet for the last several days, you, her, and Lieutenant Commander Tovar have been handling all of the bridge shifts. Like it or not, I am your first officer now.”
“I am aware of that; however, you have not had any bridge training yet.”
“I, as you just pointed out, used to command my own ship. I believe that makes me qualified.”
“You are purposely keeping me off of the bridge so you can keep that…that…RommaVulc by your side.”
“Patience,” Bain repeated.
“Stop telling me to be patient!”
“I’m telling it to myself, so I don’t haul off and slug you again.”
Vioxx blanched and reflexively back up against the turbolift wall to get as far away from Bain as he could.
“I’m not going to hit you,” Bain snapped. “We’re almost to Earth. Once we’re there, you and I are going to meet with Admiral Larkin.”
“What didn’t I know about this before?”
“Because I just received the comm myself, you dolt. Just listen for a moment. We’re meeting with Larkin. After we do, we can set up a plan for getting you and your people oriented. Until then, I want you to relax. I want all of us to relax. We’ve had a rough time of it, and we all deserve a break. You’ll get your precious bridge shifts soon enough.”
“Very well,” Vioxx said, appeased for the moment. “I have ordered my crew to observe your officers, though. I want them to be as acclimated as possible.”
“That’s fine. As long as they don’t get in the way,” Bain said as the turbolift opened out onto the bridge.
“I can’t imagine they would.”
The phase recalibrator once again moved past Lieutenant Shelly Marsden on its way toward the field emitter. In an instant, Marsden lashed out, grabbing the hand holding the recalibrator.
“Selex, move the arm, or I REMOVE it. Understand,” Marsden growled, pushing the Romulan engineer’s limb out of the housing of the containment unit holding the quantum singularity, which made up half of the USS Anomaly’s anti-singularity drive.
“The field emitter is three nanorims out of phase,” Selex replied.
“It’s fine,” Marsden snapped without looking back at the man who was hovering just behind her.
“I would think that you would value the input of someone who has a great deal of experience with Romulan engines and singularity-powered systems.”
Marsden stopped her work, pulled herself out of the containment unit access hatch, and stood to face Selex. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she demanded.
“It means that I have experience with singularities,” Selex replied, somewhat confused.
“So I don’t?”
“You are not Romulan.”
“No, but I’ve spent the last several years of my life designing, building, and maintaining the engines on this ship. I think I know what I’m doing.”
“I was offering my services and years of experience…”
Marsden quickly cut him off. “Offering is one thing. You were actively shoving tools into bits of my engines.”
“I…apologize,” Selex said.
“You’ll get the hang of things around here soon enough,” the Chief Engineer replied, softening a bit.
Selex nodded and walked away. He’d get in there and adjust that emitter when the human was elsewhere.
“You don’t talk much, do you?” Ensign Yonk said, taking a glance at Sub-Lieutenant Zantak, who was seated next to him at the helm observing his movements. Honestly, Yonk wasn’t sure why the Romulan was there. She seemed perfectly capable of handling the helm without his “training sessions.”
Zantak said nothing, not that he really expected her to.
The dwarf Ferengi shifted in his booster seat. “So…how about joining me for a little dinner tonight. If I like you, I might even let you play with my ears.”
At that, the Romulan rolled her eyes. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something to let him know she was in there somewhere. This constant not-talking was just creepy.
Oh yes. This was a wonderful waste of his time. Just what was to be gained by these “observations,” Sub-Commander Remax wondered as he sat in the Anomaly’s holographic mess hall watching Doctor Natalia Kasyov, who was several tables away talking with the hovercam used by the Anomaly’s resident brain, Cabral, to move around the ship. Cabral himself didn’t move, of course. He was a massive brain in a big black sphere housed in Science Lab Four. For her part, Kasyov seemed to be finding her conversation with the hunk of metal fascinating. Undoubtedly, as soon as she finished eating whatever this grey crap was that the holochef was trying to pass off as bread (On this particular day, the holographic mess hall was configured to be a Zalkonian bakery), she’d be heading straight back to the science lab to spend the rest of the day with her brain. There wasn’t exactly a lot of science to be done at the moment beyond analyzing the logs from the Lucinda incident, but couldn’t that woman find something else to do besides talk to that brain? It was borderline disturbing.
And this was to be Remax’s new posting? Serving under a brain-obsessed human and her blowhard captain. Actually, Bain wasn’t so bad, but it was the principle of the thing. How could he call himself a Romulan when he’d been banished not once, but twice now? The deep space assignment had been humiliating enough, but now he was on a Federation ship. If his wife were still alive, she would have divorced him out of pure mortification.
Somehow this was all Vioxx’s fault. Remax wasn’t sure how, but that fool was responsible.
“Is something wrong?” a voice said, breaking Remax from his internal rant. Cabral’s hovercam was now directly in front of him.
“What do you want?” Remax snapped instinctively.
“You have been glaring at Natalia and I for the last several moments. I came to see if something was the matter.”
“Everything I can think of,” Remax said, rising from his seat and storming toward the exit of the Zalkonian bakery. Enough with the observing. When there was actual science to be done, then Remax would work with the humans. Until then, he would be in a holopod in a simulation of Romulus…or at the very least that brothel on Neskivar.
So far, this was not succeeding as well as Tovar would have hoped. Rather than create a collegial bond among the officers who would be manning tac-ops on the bridge, this meeting seemed to be creating fear and distrust. Tovar looked at Lieutenants Gworos and Brazzell, who were currently seated close together on one side of the briefing room table, eyeing the Romulan in their midst warily.
Well, Brazzell and Gworos had at least found a common bond: fear and distrust of Centurion Nortal. That was progress of a sort.
Nortal, meanwhile, seemed to be having trouble keeping still. Her eyes were continually darting back and forth from one door to the other as though she expected to be ambushed at any moment.
Ignoring her paranoia, if that was even what it was, Tovar pushed ahead with his meeting.
“Next, we should discuss bridge shifts,” the Yynsian said. “Under the current three-shift system, each of us should be able to have every fourth day off. However, Captain Bain is considering adding a delta shift and going to a six-hour rotation. Should this occur, we will all…Brazzell, what is the problem?”
“She’s…eyeing me,” Lieutenant Bre’zan Brazzell replied nervously, one hand gripped around a can of spray sanitizer should Nortal make a move toward him.
“I do not like her either,” Gworos said, crossing his arms unhappily. Frankly, Tovar was somewhat amazed that the Klingon hadn’t attempted to gut Nortal yet.
“By Jenichai, you WILL like me or die wriggling at the end of my blade! This I swear!” Nortal cried, pointing accusingly at Gworos and Brazzell. Brazzell had his can up in a flash and sprayed the offending digit.
“Poison! You dare…”
“You’re not poisoned,” Tovar said firmly. Maybe he just should have taken Captain Bain’s advice and dealt with Nortal after the Anomaly was repaired. After stopping Polnuc’s attempt at sabotage, battling Lucinda, and the “incident” with Lieutenant Marsden, he was in no mood to deal with the vagaries of his subordinates’ personalities. He would much rather skip ahead to his dinner with Shelly. No! Not Shelly. He meant Jamie! Jamie Torgerson. His girlfriend. NOT Shelly Marsden.
Despite his internal protests, Tovar’s mind still wandered back to the jefferies tube junction and the kiss he and Marsden had shared a few days ago. Actually, it was several kisses, but that wasn’t the point.
The point was…
…Nortal was attempting to throttle Gworos, who was very close to pulling some blade or another out of a hidden spot in his uniform, undoubtedly with the intention of plunging it somewhere in the Romulan. Brazzell was backed against the wall, spraying down the battling pair with everything he had on his supply belt.
“DISMISSED!” Tovar shouted.
Gworos and Nortal instantly stopped flailing at each other. “Until our next staff meeting,” the Klingon said darkly.
“Your bloodied corpse will lay among the doughnuts and coffee,” Nortal replied. “We will have doughnuts and coffee, I trust. I demand doughnuts and coffee, or you will all feel the terrible power of my wrath!”
“I will claim the doughnuts and coffee as evidence of my victory after my bat’leth rips your head from your shoulders,” Gworos said.
“I laugh at your threats.”
“I will add our death battle to the agenda of the next meeting.”
“Tremble until that day, Klingon.” The two combatants turned on their respective heels and charged out opposite doors.
“If those two end up in bed together, I am going to vomit,” Brazzell said. He instantly turned green. “Gross! How could I even say that?” He whipped a small spray bottle of something off of his belt and squirted several shots into his mouth as he made for the exit. “Bah! No vomit! No vomit! I am not cleaning vomit! Well, I would to get rid of it, but I don’t want to be in that position. No vomit!”
With his subordinates gone, Tovar put his head down on the table and wondered how many years in a rehabilitation colony he’d get for wiping all three of them from the face of the cosmos.
After the tac-off staff meeting, Lieutenant Commander Tovar returned to his quarters hoping for a bit of peace. Most of the crew would be busy planning for the Anomaly’s return to Earth, which was due within the next hour, so most likely Tovar would not be required by anyone.
The silence of his quarters was shattered by the piercing chirp of his door chime. Making a mental note to have his door tone changed, Tovar rose from the sofa, where he’d been attempting an old Yynsian meditation technique. Meditation had never been his strong suit, but if it helped him forget about Gworos, Nortal, and Brazzell for a bit, he was all for trying.
Tovar opened the door, fully expecting to find Gworos standing there with Nortal’s head on a stick or vice versa.
Instead, he saw the smiling face of Lieutenant Jamie Torgerson. Her look immediately turned to one of concern as she saw her boyfriend. “Rough day?” she asked, stepping into Tovar’s quarters.
“Gworos, Brazzell, and Nortal in the same room,” Tovar said simply, following Torgerson over to the sofa. She sat down and patted her lap. Tovar took the suggestion and lay down on the sofa, resting his head on her legs as she began to soothingly rub his temples.
“So how many of them did you have to send to Doctor Nooney before it was over?” Torgerson asked.
“Surprisingly, none, but Nortal and Gworos have sworn to eviscerate each other at the next staff meeting. They want it made an agenda item.”
“Oooooh. That’s a tough one. Do you put it at the end of the meeting, so that they’re present for most of it? Or do you stick it at the beginning, so there are fewer people to object to your motions?”
“You are talking about wiping out several members of my staff,” Tovar said.
“Which is the same thing you’ve been thinking about all afternoon,” Torgerson replied with a smile.
The couple sat in silence for a couple of moments.
“That Nortal is…unique,” Torgerson said finally.
“You’ve met her?”
“She came by the theater group last night. And she brought a play that she wants us to perform.”
Tovar chuckled. “I’m sure it was…dramatic.”
“To say the least. We also need a cast of about five hundred people to pull it off. Oh, and about one thousand liters of fake blood.”
“I wonder why Vioxx kept her around,” Tovar said.
“She’s the daughter of a senator,” Torgerson replied matter- of-factly.
“She is?” Tovar said surprised.
“And you’re supposed to be in charge of security around here,” Torgerson scoffed mockingly, running her fingernails along Tovar’s scalp and sending pleasurable chills down his spine.
“How did you learn this?”
“She told us…kind of.”
“When she brought the script to us, she said something along the lines of, ‘I, Nortal, fruit of Mueslix’s loins, demand that you produce my play.’ I got curious afterwards and looked up Mueslix. Turns out he’s a senator,” Torgerson explained.
“We have some Romulans with high-powered parents on this ship. Nortal’s got a senator. Prosak has an ambassador. If anything ever happens to them, we’re going to have some mighty pissed off Romulans.”
“Not as much as you might think,” Tovar said. “Commander Prosak and her father are not speaking much at the moment.”
“And how do you know this?” Torgerson asked.
“She told me at the pub last night while you were at your theater group. At least I believe that’s what she said. She was somewhat intoxicated and sobbing on my shoulder at the time.”
“On your shoulder, huh?” Torgerson said with a bemused grin. “I see how it is. Little Miss Prosak is making her move.”
“I was simply the closest shoulder,” Tovar replied. He thought back to last night for a moment. Actually, that wasn’t true. Prosak had to stumble past several tables and knock over a tray of drinks before she made it to Tovar’s table. Best not to tell that to Torgerson, though.
“Uh huh,” Torgerson said unconvincingly.
“My relationship with the commander is strictly professional,” Tovar said defensively. It’s Shelly Marsden you have to worry about, he added to himself.
“Well, I can’t fault her for having good taste,” Torgerson replied, leaning down and kissing Tovar on the forehead. “Just don’t end up in any dark rooms alone with her.”
“I do not believe that will be a problem.” And with those words, Tovar had just made certain that someway, somehow, the galaxy would see to it that that’s exactly what would happen at some point in the future.
“There she is,” Captain Bain said proudly as Earth lay before them in all of its glory. The clouds were perfectly wispy today, adding the capping touch to the sun-drenched side of the globe. “What do you think?”
“It’s a planet,” Commander Vioxx replied, standing next to Bain on the bridge as the pair looked at the viewscreen.
“True, but this is my planet, and she’s gorgeous. Reggie’s home, dear. Have you ever been here before, Vioxx?”
“No. I’ve spent my career entirely inside the Empire.”
“Except for that part where they banished you to deep space, eh?” Bain added.
“Yes,” Vioxx admitted unhappily.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Bain said jovially, clapping the Romulan on the back and almost knocking him into Ensign Yonk and Sub-Lieutenant Zantak at the conn. “Deep space is where the adventure is! Just think of what you encountered!”
The doors of what should have been Bain’s ready room opened, and Commander Prosak stepped out onto the bridge, freshly pressed and dressed for the day. “Captain,” she said with a nod of greeting. “Commander,” she added, her voice cold.
“You’re just in time,” Bain said. “Admiral Larkin wants to see Vioxx and myself post haste, so we’ll be transporting down to headquarters. Will you get our repair orders and such straightened out with the McKinley Station blokes?”
“Of course, sir,” Prosak said, taking a seat in the command chair as Bain headed toward the rear of the bridge and into a turbolift, followed by Vioxx.
“Are you mad at someone?” Ensign Yonk asked once Bain and Vioxx were gone.
“My mood is no business of yours,” Prosak said. She was quiet for a few moments. “Did I come across as mad?”
“You didn’t even tell them to have a nice trip,” Yonk replied.
“I did not feel like engaging in pleasantries.”
“Look, Commander. I know this demotion to executive officer has upset you, but you have to look at the bright side,” the diminutive Ferengi said.
“There’s a bright side?”
“Hey. I’m a Ferengi. If there’s a bright side, I’ll find it.” Yonk did have something of a point. As Ferengi society slowly moved away from the single-minded pursuit of profit in the late 24th and 25th centuries, a societal belief in what could only be called “accentuating the positive” had developed. Yonk wasn’t always the best at this. In fact, at times his attitude could be considered downright negative, but at least he tried.
“What is this bright side?” Prosak asked, growing impatient.
“You’re not one of the big two anymore, so the pressure’s off. You can relax a bit. Have some fun. The XO isn’t the one who gets called to meetings with the captain at the Admiralty. The XO isn’t buried in paperwork all the time. You’ll be getting huge chunks of your life back.”
Prosak considered this. The Ferengi did have a point. Freed from her first officer duties, Prosak could spend more time on her studies of Vulcan rituals and techniques. She could improve her golf swing so as to be more of a challenge to Lieutenant Marsden in the holopods. She could even…date.
As much as it pained Commander Vioxx to admit it, they just didn’t have days like this on Romulus. He and Captain Bain had materialized on the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters just along the shoreline near where the Golden Gate Bridge extended toward the city of San Francisco. A gentle breeze was blowing off of the water as the sun shone down through a perfect blue sky. It was as though Earth was putting on her best face for the visiting Romulan.
“You should see it when it gets foggy,” Bain said wistfully from beside Vioxx. “It’s almost thick enough to rival England.”
“You like the fog?” Vioxx said surprised.
“Absolutely. Reminds me of home. Come on. The admiral will be waiting for us.”
Admiral Kristen Larkin was indeed waiting for the pair when they arrived in her outer office as evidenced by the disapproving look on her assistant’s face.
“The Admiral will see you now,” the attache said. “Actually, she was ready to see you almost fifteen minutes ago.”
“We took the long way,” Bain replied jovially before bounding into Admiral Larkin’s private office. “Krissers!” he exclaimed. “It’s good to see you, old girl. You’re as ravishing as ever.”
“That much is certain,” the android admiral replied. “I trust you had an uneventful trip back to Earth?”
“Smooth as silk,” Bain said. “Ack! Manners, Reg. Commander Vioxx, this is the esteemed Admiral Kristen Larkin.”
“Commander,” Larkin said, shaking hands with the Romulan across her desk. “Please sit down, gentlemen.” Bain and Vioxx took the offered seats as Larkin settled back into her chair. “I understand from both of your reports that the full melding of the crews has yet to occur.”
“That is true,” Vioxx said pointedly. “Captain Bain wanted us to rest.”
“A wise idea,” Larkin replied, surprising Vioxx.
“I thought so as well,” Bain said. “No sense in rushing the Roms to their posts when we’re only heading back to spacedock. I’ll get them trained soon enough.”
“About that, we would actually like to provide an orientation for Vioxx and his officers here at headquarters. Today.”
“Do you want my command staff here as well?” Bain asked.
“No. You have business elsewhere.”
“Business!” Bain said eagerly. “You’ve got a mission for us?”
“Of a sort. We need you to do a bit of P.R. for us.”
“P.R.!” Bain exclaimed. “Dammit, Krissers! I’m not your bloody mascot. You know I don’t like doing these gladhand trips!”
“This one is different. We need you to go to Riverside, Iowa,” Larkin said.
“Riverside. What the devil is there?”
“James T. Kirk High School. Riverside was Kirk’s hometown.”
“I’m still not getting the full picture here, Krissers.”
“Kirk, one of the biggest heroes in Starfleet history, came from Riverside, yet out of this year’s graduating class, not a single student at the high school named for Kirk is planning to follow his footsteps into Starfleet. Recruitment is down, Reg. Starfleet isn’t the draw it once was, but to not have a single student from Kirk High come to us is unacceptable. We’re putting our best face forward at the Kirk High Career Night tonight, and, thanks to your successes in Andromeda and with the Romulans, that face is you. We would also like you to take Lieutenant Commander Tovar and Lieutenant Marsden for a bit of diversity.”
“If it’s diversity you want, I’ll take Prosak along as well.”
“What is it about that woman that bothers you so?” Bain demanded. “You haven’t given her a fair shake since we headed out on our first mission.”
Larkin’s eyes narrowed at Bain. “I have nothing against Commander Prosak.”
“Bollocks,” Bain said.
“Do you normally talk to your admirals like this?” Vioxx asked.
“No,” Larkin said flatly.
“Come now, Krissers. I know you too well. What’s your problem with Prosak?”
“She just strikes me as…unprofessional.”
Bain burst out laughing. “Come off it, Krissers! Have you looked at your service record lately? Do you remember who you served with?”
“I remember everything,” Larkin replied.
“Who did she serve with?” Vioxx asked.
“Never mind,” Larkin snapped firmly. She turned back to Bain. “Take Prosak if you must, but I’m expecting you to put yourself into this assignment with the same force that you use to attack your other missions. Am I understood?”
“Clear as crystal, Krissers. I’ll have the little buggers lining up to apply to the Academy,” Bain said, getting up from his chair. “If you need us, we’ll be in Iowa,” Bain announced, charging out of the office.
Admiral Larkin focused her attention on Vioxx. “What do you think of him?”
“Bain? He’s…interesting. To be honest, I have not spent much time around humans, so I am not sure how to take his personality.”
“I don’t know if this will help, but Reginald Bain is a force of nature. Starfleet directs him as best it can, but he generally just blasts his way through whatever is in his path, be it Borg, Breen, or even the Lucinda Entity you encountered.”
Larkin did have a point. Despite having the Anomaly at a disadvantage at first, Lucinda soon found itself seconds away from total destruction. Only the intervention of Bain’s conn officer, Ensign Hector Arroyo, had prevented Bain from ending Lucinda’s existence.
“He will take some getting used to,” Vioxx said.
“I would imagine that serving on a Starfleet vessel at all will take some getting used to.”
“It was my understanding that the Anomaly is to be shared by our governments.”
“That is basically true; however, we would like for you to be able to handle Federation matters in a Starfleet way when they arise. To that end, we’d like you and your crew to have, as I said earlier, a little orientation. After that is complete, the Romulan Ambassador has extended an invitation for you and your officers to join him at a gathering tonight at the Romulan embassy.”
“A party?” Vioxx asked, trying to hide his shock. He was being invited to an official party?
“I believe so,” Larkin said. “Ambassador Rorshak did ask me to make sure that you dressed appropriately. But first, we should get to the orientation. Actually, don’t think of it as an orientation. It’s more of a chance for us to see what you can do.”
“This is just ludicrous,” Sub-Commander Remax groused as he sat in front of the science console on the all-too-sterile white bridge of a Federation starship. At least it looked like a Federation starship. In actuality, he and the other former members of the Romulan Scoutship Tyvek’s crew were inside a holodeck simulation of a starship bridge somewhere in the bowels of Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco.
“Just play along, Sub-Commander,” Vioxx said, sitting in the all-too-comfortable command chair. “Zantak, have you picked up enough to fly one of these monstrosities.”
“I can fly anything,” the conn officer replied simply. In theory, she was correct. For generations, Zantak’s family had been renown as the best helm officers in the Empire. Judging by Zantak’s usual efforts, though, the abilities must have skipped her generation.
“Don’t worry. We can’t crash,” Vioxx said, reassuring himself. “Weapons, Nortal?”
“Our enemies real and imagined will face my wrath as I smite them with my mighty…”
“I’m taking that as a ‘yes,’” Vioxx interrupted. “Engineering status?”
“I would prefer to be in an engine room, of course,” Engineer Selex stated from the engineering console at the rear of the bridge. “However, I will do my best to serve you from this post.”
“That will be fine,” Vioxx replied, tapping a switch on the command chair armrest. “Vioxx to Admiral Larkin. We are ready.”
“Very well,” the android’s voice replied. “You will face three scenarios. Please handle them as you would in reality. The simulation begins…now.”
Instantly, the blank viewscreen activated, showing a starfield streaking by. A moment later, Remax spoke. “They’re sending a ship at us.”
“Play along,” Vioxx warned.
“Oh in the name of the Praetor,” the elder man grumbled. “Fine. I’m detecting a vessel approaching.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know. They don’t seem to match anything in the Federation or Romulan databases.”
“Hmmm…” Vioxx said thoughtfully. A new species entering their area of space. No problem. Time to pull out the old first contact directives.
“Nortal, raise shields and lock weapons. Get me a channel.”
“They are heeding our call,” Nortal reported. “Would you like to see the face of our quivering adversary?”
“Thank you,” Vioxx said. “Just put him on the screen.”
Nortal tapped a command, shifting the image on the viewscreen from the starfield to a plump three-eyed creature with dark green skin.
“Kobblfax nikklido eckik kopprad?” it stated, spreading its two stumpy arms wide.
“Remax?” Vioxx asked.
“The universal translator is working on it. There. We have a translation matrix.”
“Good. Alien vessel. This is Commander Vioxx. You have violated the sovereign space of the Romulan Empire…”
“Commander, if I may,” Selex said. “We are not…”
“You’re right,” Vioxx said quickly. “My mistake. Alien vessel, you have violated the sovereign space of the United Federation of Planets. Turn back now or be destroyed. Any hesitation on your part will be considered an act of war.” Vioxx turned to his tac-ops officer. “Nortal, standby on weapons.”
“They will taste my rays of doom!”
“And WAIT for the order to ‘fire’ this time!” Vioxx warned.
“By your command.”
Remax broke in. “I think chubby wants to talk,” he said, pointing at the viewscreen.
“What have you decided?” Vioxx said.
“We’ve come on a mission of peace. Please do not fire.”
On the viewscreen, the alien’s bridge rocked violently and filled with sparks and smoke as it buckled under the assault of weapons blasts. Vioxx turned on his tac-ops officer. “What was that?” he demanded.
“He said ‘fire.’” Nortal replied, crossing her arms victoriously.
“I didn’t like him anyway,” Remax said. “Too puffy.”
“And he did say ‘fire,’” Nortal repeated.
“Okay. You got me there,” Vioxx admitted. “But next time, let’s try waiting until I say ‘fire.’”
Commander Vioxx looked over at his Chief Scientist impatiently. “Is there anything yet? Anything at all?”
“A whole lot of space,” Remax replied. “As soon as I see whatever this next simulated encounter is supposed to be, I’ll tell you…and here it is.”
“Just tell me where to aim by blasts of doom,” Nortal stated, hands confidently on her hips.
“How about at your head?” Remax said.
“What’s out there?” Vioxx asked, attempting to bring the conversation back to the simulation at hand. The sooner they got through these, the sooner they could get to that party at the embassy.
“I’m not certain. It appears to be a spatial anomaly of some sort,” Remax replied.
“Turn us around,” Vioxx said instantly.
“Commander?” Zantak asked, surprised into an uncharacteristic outburst.
“You think I’m sticking around after what happened the last time? Absolutely not. Losing one ship to a spatial anomaly is enough for one career. I don’t need another Lucinda incident. Turn us around.”
Zantak did as she was ordered without further comment.
“So much for the thrill of scientific discovery,” Remax remarked.
“Do you care?” Vioxx asked.
“I didn’t think so,” Vioxx said, settling back into his chair.
Negotiations with planetary leaders was not something Vioxx had a lot of experience with, but so far he felt this one was going quite well.
“We’re pleased to encounter other enlightened species in the galaxy,” the image of Prefect Lod’Hein of the Pallanari on the viewscreen said as she sat behind her impressively large desk. “Our spacefaring is still in its infancy, but we look forward to learning more about your Federation.”
“Of course,” Vioxx said. “I would like to invite you and your governmental leaders to visit our vessel and join us for dinner. We can transport you aboard from the surface of your world at any time.”
“Thank you, Commander. I am most interested to see your ship. I will gather my cabinet ministers and contact you soon. Good bye for now.”
“Until later, Prefect,” Vioxx replied with a slight bow of his head. The channel closed, returning the view on the screen to the serene blue-green world they were currently orbiting.
“I’m actually almost impressed,” Remax said.
“I’m not done yet,” Vioxx said, turning to Nortal. “Have an armed detail meet them in the transport them to the brig. We’ll hold them until they surrender their world to Federation control then turn them over to the occupation force.”
“They will kneel before me as slaves,” Nortal said, brandishing her disruptor.
“Don’t get too carried away,” Vioxx said as Nortal headed toward the turbolift. “And remember, we’re supposed to be acting like Starfleet now. If anyone gives you trouble or tries to fight, just go for the kneecaps.”
In a nearby observation room, Admiral Kristen Larkin involuntarily twitched as somewhere deep in her positronic brain, three neural pathways shorted out.
The James T. Kirk High School gymnasium wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Like most high school gyms, it had basketball goals on either end, anti-grav generators in the floor for the days when the students were allowed to play zero-gee football, and several batteries of holographic generators for simulating the outdoors on days when the weather was scheduled to be inclement.
Tonight, though, the gym simply appeared to be a gym with various colleges, employers and organizations setting up their tables in hopes of catching the eyes of the students and parents that would be parading through later in the evening.
Captain Bain noted that his officers were oddly subdued. Granted, this wasn’t exactly fighting the Associates or anything, but he’d hoped they would try to show a bit more enthusiasm. That meant it was time to lead by example.
“Are you ready for this, my lad?” Bain asked, wrapping a fatherly arm around Tovar’s shoulder as the Yynsian placed a box of Starfleet insignia pins on the table.
“I wasn’t aware that this required getting ready,” Tovar replied as Lieutenant Marsden brought the holographic generator for the display backdrop over to the table. Her and Tovar’s eyes met for a moment, a moment which ended up becoming several moments.
“…that’s all I’m saying,” Bain finished.
“Excuse me?” Tovar said, breaking his look at Marsden to focus on his captain as he realized that Bain had evidently made some sort of additional comment.
“Dog and pony show,” Bain said. “We have to put one on. Show these blighters what they’re missing by not joining the fleet. We can’t let them lose out on the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“Indeed,” Tovar said distractedly as he watched Marsden lean over the holographic backdrop generator.
“I get the sense that your heart isn’t really in this,” Bain said.
“Much the opposite,” Tovar replied.
“There! That’s the spirit!” Bain said, clapping Tovar on the back and almost launching the unprepared tac-ops officer across the table. “Now let’s see who else has their eyes set on our recruits,” Bain added moving off to survey the other tables.
“You all right?” Marsden asked, standing up from the holo- projector as it began displaying a 3-D rotating Starfleet delta followed soon after by the usual parade of smiling cadets, sun-drenched Academy building, planetary vistas, and starship fly-bys.
“Fine,” Tovar said through a cough. “He just caught me off- guard.”
“Was something distracting you?” the engineer replied with a slight grin.
“I know. We said we wouldn’t do this. How is Jamie anyway?”
“She is well,” Tovar replied. Ah yes, this would be an entire evening chock full of awkwardness with Shelly Marsden. As soon as he’d learned that Marsden was also coming to this event, Tovar should have found a way to excuse himself. He never seriously entertained the thought, though. Despite his feelings for Jamie Torgerson, he was not about to pass up an evening in Marsden’s company. He’d feel guilty about it and there would most definitely be awkwardness, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to be there.
Tovar and Marsden had returned to looking at each other, neither sure what to say next when Commander Prosak approached the table empty-handed.
“I thought you were bringing the padds in from the shuttle,” Marsden said.
“I am having difficulties with the anti-grav unit on the crate,” Prosak replied.
“I can take a look at it,” Marsden replied.
“This event is due to start very soon,” Prosak said. “I thought that Mister Tovar and I could just carry the crate in to save time.”
“All right. I’ll try to look at that unit before we leave,” Marsden said, busying herself arranging the insignia pins they planned to give away.
Prosak headed toward the exit without another word. “I suppose I am to follow,” Tovar remarked. “I guess it is too much to actually ask for my assistance directly.”
“Maybe it’s a RommaVulc efficiency thing,” Marsden said, grateful for the change to conversational topic. This evening was obviously going to be very awkward between her and Tovar, so sticking to safe topics was the way to go.
Tovar exited the gym and made his way through the rows of various hovercars, shuttles, and other transports parked outside until he arrived at the Anomaly’s shuttle, which Captain Bain had insisted on landing in a spot off to itself. He said it was to help them stand out and get the sleek white shuttle noticed by the families heading into the gym, but Tovar suspected that Bain was really just trying to protect the shuttle’s hull from any potential dings and scrapes from other vehicles.
The shuttle’s rear hatch was open with the crate of informational padds about Starfleet and the Academy resting right at the edge of the opening as Prosak stood nearby, shifting from foot to foot looking as though she was attempting to keep warm. Tovar was surprised to see these mild temperatures affecting the Romulan so much.
As he approached, Tovar observed the status lights on the anti-grav unit and quickly deduced why the unit was not functioning.
“I apologize for bringing you out here for this,” Prosak said as Tovar leaned down to examine the anti-grav unit. As he suspected, it had been put into a diagnostic mode. Correcting the situation would be a simple matter.
“The unit needs to be reset,” Tovar said, tapping the necessary controls. “The source of the problem was easy to miss.”
He stood up and turned around. Prosak was right in front of him. As in right in front of him. As in mere inches away.
“I’m not good at this sort of thing,” the RommaVulc said.
“Anti-grav units can be complex,” Tovar replied nervously as Prosak made no move to step away.
“I see clarification is required.”
“We have a manual for…”
Tovar’s words were instantly cut off as Prosak’s lips met his.
Entering the Romulan Embassy was like finding an oasis of home nestled in the alien environment of San Francisco. Commander Vioxx felt his body instantly relax as he and his officers stepped through the embassy’s stately foyer into the ballroom where the evening’s gathering was being held.
The group was greeted at the entrance by the expected cadre of Romulan Centurions who quickly and efficiently scanned them for any illicit listening devices or weapons. They were soon joined by the embassy’s Security Attache.
“Good evening. You are Commander Vioxx, I presume,” the attache said to Remax.
“He is,” the older man said, pointing at Vioxx.
“Of course. My apologies, Commander. I am Dalik. Ambassador Rorshak will be pleased that you and your officers accepted his invitation.”
“Not as pleased as we were to be invited,” Vioxx said. “It’s nice to see some fellow Romulans after all this time.”
“Yes. Too much time among the Earthers and the other assorted Federation types can be trying. I try to stay in the embassy as much as I can. The ambassador takes a different view, however. He seems to enjoy this planet.”
“This city certainly has its scenic points.”
“And you should try the Dungeness crab!” Dalik said, his detached veneer slipping for a moment. “Er…right this way,” he added, quickly recovering and gesturing for the group to follow him to where a well-dressed man that Vioxx assumed was Ambassador Rorshak stood conversing with another Romulan.
“Ambassador, may I present Commander Vioxx and officers,” Dalik said with a brief bow before moving off toward the door.
“A pleasure, Commander,” Rorshak said with a slight nod of his head. “How is life aboard the Anomaly?”
“It is…an adjustment for all of us. Oh yes. This is Sub- Commander Remax, my Chief Scientist; Centurion Nortal, my Tactical Officer; Sub-Lieutenant Zantak, my Helm Officer; and Engineer Selex.”
“Welcome. May I introduce Sorel of Vulcan,” Rorshak said, gesturing to his companion. So the other man was not a Romulan after all.
“A Vulcan?” Remax said surprised. “I thought all Vulcans had left Earth after the Vulcan secession from the Federation.”
Sorel nodded sagely. “For the most part, this is correct; however, since official ties have yet to be established between Romulus and Vulcan, we have long used this location for non- official diplomatic meetings.”
“But tonight is a night to enjoy yourselves,” Rorshak interjected. “Please help yourselves to refreshments, and welcome back to civilization. I’m sure it will be a welcome change after so long in deep space.”
“Very much so,” Remax said as the former Tyvek officers all laid in a direct course for the buffet.
An outside observer would have been hard pressed to differentiate Tovar from a Borg drone as he re-entered the gym, his face bearing a blank, stunned expression. Well, perhaps that’s going a tad far. Tovar wasn’t sporting any implants, but he certainly wasn’t giving off much in the way of facial expressions either while he mechanically pushed the floating crate of informational padds over to the Starfleet table.
“Guess you didn’t need me after all,” Lieutenant Marsden said as Tovar brought the crate to rest and shut off the anti-grav unit.
“It was nothing,” Tovar said. He spotted Prosak entering the gym. “Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Nothing’s wrong in the slightest.”
“Oookay,” Marsden said, starting to unload the crate and trying to place the padds in something of an artistic manner. “I’m getting that you had it covered.”
“What was covered?” Prosak asked, looking from Marsden to Tovar.
“Nothing. You two covered it,” Marsden said, oblivious to the glare that Prosak had now locked on Tovar.
“The crate! We covered the crate problem,” Tovar said quickly.
“Of course,” Prosak said.
“Was there another problem?” Marsden asked confused.
“What other problem could there possibly be?” Tovar asked, forcing a smile.
Captain Bain stormed back to the table, fists clenched. “I’m as much for the environment as the next bloke, but those wankers can take my…”
“Captain, your language,” Tovar warned, grateful for the interruption.
Bain’s anger was unabated. “My language is…” The captain suddenly stopped himself, remembering where he was. “Right you are, lad. The future will be coming through that door soon, and the last thing they need to walk in on is the vocal stylings of this old space dog. We got some recruiting to do. Orions be damned.”
“Was there a specific problem with the Orions?” Prosak asked calmly.
“Bunch of self-righteous blowhards,” Bain spat. “They seem to think that all the kids here are going to sign up for their Orion Environ Movement instead of Starfleet.”
“I suspect that you will both be proven wrong,” Prosak said.
Bain’s eyes locked on his former first officer. “What kind of attitude is that, Commander?” he demanded.
“Um…er…a realistic one?” Prosak said, resisting the urge to take a step backwards.
“I don’t…” Bain thought for a moment. “Well, all right. You’ve got a point there, Prosak, but don’t expect me to stand by while those Orions snap up all the prime choices. Starfleet will get its cut.”
The school principal flickered the gym lights indicating that 1800 hours had hit. The students and their families would begin entering any moment now.
“Posts, everyone!” Bain ordered. “No one gets by us without an insignia pin! The line must be formed here!”
Outside of helming a spacecraft, eating had to be the greatest pleasure in Sub-Lieutenant Zantak’s life. It was not something she discussed with others, not that she discussed much of anything with others, but the banishment of her and her shipmates to the Anomaly had actually done wonders for her culinary explorations. Between the ever-changing holographic mess hall and the selections available from the replicator in her quarters, Zantak had already been able to sample foods that she’d only read about in travel guides.
Even so, it was nice to get a real taste of home. From the texture, flavor, and consistency of the dishes on the buffet, Zantak suspected that these foods had been prepared by hand.
“Good evening, Sub-Lieutenant,” Sorel said, stepping up beside her. “I trust that you are enjoying this time among your own people.”
Zantak acknowledged the Vulcan with a single nod while her eating continued unabated.
“I see,” Sorel said after waiting several futile moments for a verbalized response. “As you may be aware, the Romulan and Vulcan peoples are distantly related.”
Zantak did not even bother with a nod this time. Sorel was forced to assume that she was still listening to him as he continued. “As related species, it would seem logical that we should one day reconnect. For centuries now, the Federation has stood in the way of such a move; however, with our recent secession, that obstacle has been put aside…almost.”
The Romulan turned her head slightly to look at Sorel, waiting for him to continue. “The Federation has designs on both of our worlds. Of that we are sure. What we lack is information. You are in a prime position to provide that to us, and in doing so, you would be serving both of our worlds. You would…”
Zantak picked up a large spoonful of haldik casserole, then very deliberately dumped it on Sorel’s shoe, her eyes locked with his all the while. In another fluid motion, she slid the serving spoon back into the casserole, turned on her heel, and walked away to find a quieter place to dine.
A forcefield. That would explain it, Captain Bain thought as he fought the urge to slump down in a chair behind their table. That bloody Orion Environ Movement must have put a forcefield up between the students and the Starfleet table. Why else would they be giving Bain and his officers such a wide berth?
“Jeeze,” Lieutenant Marsden grumbled. “These kids would be happier to see the Borg.”
“They are,” Tovar replied, pointing across the room to a pair of students standing at the White Borg recruiting table.
“When did we officially become lepers?” Marsden asked.
“Perhaps your youth now consider Starfleet duty to be boring,” Prosak said. “The galaxy is relatively peaceful, and the vast majority of it has been explored. They may not realize that adventure is still involved.”
“We have adventure,” Tovar said. “And our lives can get very exciting at times.”
“Damn right,” Marsden said.
“I agree,” Prosak replied. “We just need to get that across to these students.”
“And we will!” Bain said. “If any of them decide to come over here.”
“At this point, that appears to be a rather large ‘if,’” Prosak said.
Bain nodded unhappily. “True. This would be a lot easier if that blasted principal hadn’t stopped me from intercepting the buggers on the open floor. What do these kids know about choosing which tables to visit on their own?”
“They seem to know enough to not visit ours,” Tovar said. “I am going to find that refreshment stand that is supposedly operating in the main corridor. Would anyone like anything?”
“I’ll go with you,” Prosak said quickly, practically leaping up from her chair.
“That’s not necessary.”
“I want to go.”
“I can handle it alone.”
“Good lord, Tovar!” Bain cried. “The woman wants a drink and to stretch her legs. Leave her alone.”
“Of course,” Tovar said with a stiff nod of his head just before he strode away from the table with Prosak following close behind.
“I would, of course, need to get approval from my commander,” Engineer Selex said to the Vulcan standing before him. “This is a bit out of my area, but if Commander Vioxx feels that it would be in the best interest of the Romulan Empire, I will attempt to be the best spy possible.”
“This is not about your commander’s wishes,” Sorel said. “Your work for us would require absolute secrecy.”
“Then I will have to decline. I cannot keep such a thing from my commander.”
“Even if your efforts will help Vulcan and, therefore, the Empire.”
“I have no interest in helping Vulcan, and I cannot say if helping Vulcan would help the Empire. That is a decision best left to Commander Vioxx. Would you like me to wave him over?” Selex asked, setting his plate of food down on a table.
“That will not be necessary,” Sorel replied quickly. “Thank you for your time.”
“Hand me one of those insignia pins, Marsie,” Bain said, tracking the movements of the people manning Orion Environ Movement table.
“Why?” Marsden asked warily.
“I think I can nail that bugger right between the eyes.”
“Oh all right, but if one of those green-skinned…”
“What? There’s no one around to hear me. That’s the whole problem, isn’t it? And what’s taking Tovar so long with my tea?”
“You never asked him for tea,” Marsden replied.
“I didn’t? Blast! I could really go for a cuppa right about now.”
Marsden got up from her chair and yawned lazily, stretching her body out as she did so. “Do you want me to go tell Tovar your order?”
“Please,” Bain said, taking up a central position behind the table and watching the proceedings on the gym floor like a general surveying a battlefield.
“Can I trust you not to kill, maim, or otherwise harm anyone while I’m gone?” Marsden asked with a chuckle.
“Not a soul…even if they deserve it,” Bain said.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, sir, you’re taking this awfully seriously.”
“This is serious, Marsie! The honor of Starfleet is at stake here. Like it or not, those kids are our future, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that future slip away because these little bastards don’t think Starfleet is ‘phased’ enough for them.”
Marsden quickly stifled a snort.
“What?” Bain said.
“‘Phased’? No offense, sir, but no one’s said that in about fifty years.”
“You got it, Captain,” Marsden said, chuckling as she headed out into the main corridor of the school and toward the snack bar. She completely missed the two people standing down a dim side corridor engaged in a quiet, intense conversation, their recently-purchased drinks sitting ignored in their hands.
“I do not think this is a wise location for this,” Commander Prosak said.
“No!” Tovar replied firmly. “We talk here and now.”
“Ah. You wish to talk.”
“What did you think… Never mind. What the hell was that?”
“That! In the parking area! Are you possessed again? That I can deal with.”
“I am very much myself,” Prosak said, putting a cold edge on her usually emotionless demeanor.
“So that was intentional.”
“Indeed it was,” Prosak replied.
Tovar tried to run a hand through his hair and almost succeeded in coating himself in root beer. He quickly set the drink down a safe distance away and proceeded to run both hands through his hair until he finally grabbed onto a couple of clumps and tugged gently.
“Prosak, I… Where…”
“We spend a great deal of time working in close proximity with each other,” Prosak said, her voice quivering ever so slightly despite her best efforts to feign perfect Vulcan detachment. “And you have many admirable qualities and traits. It seems only logical that I would find myself attracted to you.”
“In truth, there was very little logic involved. I believe I first noticed your strong cheekbones. Soon after that, your intense eyes that can change to love and compassion in the presence of your adopted family. After that, your muscle definition under your uniform made me…”
“Thank you,” Tovar said quickly, holding up his hand to make her stop. “I’m flattered. Really. But I am in a relationship. Lieutenant Torgerson.” Why was he suddenly having to give variations on this speech on a regular basis? And why was it always to women that he found attractive?
“I am aware of that; however, I thought you might find my offer more intriguing.”
“I’m not for sale, Prosak. Jamie and I enjoy being together.” But if Jamie weren’t around, that would be another story. Of course there was Lieutenant Marsden to consider as well.
“Oh?” Prosak said.
“You sound surprised.”
“You do not appear to have much in common. Tac-ops versus anthropology. Weapons training versus costume design.”
“Don’t try to logic me out of my relationship, Prosak,” Tovar said. “It’s not going to work.”
“I did not mean to offend you,” Prosak replied.
“I’m not offended,” Tovar said, placing his hand on her arm gently. He found himself having to resist the urge to kiss her again. “Really. I was just very surprised when you kissed me.”
“YOU DID WHAT?”
Tovar and Prosak spun around toward the source of the new voice. On her way back from the refreshment stand with Captain Bain’s tea in hand, Lieutenant Marsden had noticed the pair down the corridor. Now Tovar was cursing the Great Bird and every deity in the Yynsian and Earth pantheons for her timing.
Just to make matters worse, Prosak decided to speak up. “Not to be rude, Lieutenant, but our personal lives and any kissing we may engage in is our business.”
The look of pure hatred that crossed Lieutenant Shelly Marsden’s face in the split second before she stormed away made Tovar glad that she wasn’t carrying a weapon at that particular moment. The ideal thing to do would be to let her cool down on her own and then discuss the situation rationally.
Of course, this meant that Tovar immediately chased after her.
Much like Sub-Lieutenant Zantak, Centurion Nortal was seemingly incapable of actually looking at the person speaking to her, which in its own way was disconcerting to Sorel, not that he would ever admit to such a thing.
Instead, he stood behind the Centurion making his pitch as she sat hunched over her meal at a small table off to herself in the corner of the room.
“…therefore, your efforts could lead to a new day of peace, cooperation, and perhaps even reunification between Vulcan and Romulus. Will you consider our offer?”
“Begone!” Nortal exclaimed.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Nay, you shall not move me!” the Centurion continued.
“Thou shalt be slain!”
“Do your worst!”
“Have at you! Clang! Clang!”
Undeniably curious, Sorel peered over Nortal’s shoulder. The Centurion was holding a jorr’nel sausage in each hand. Each sausage had a toothpick extending from it. At present, Nortal was banging the toothpicks against each other as the sausages battled to the death.
“Have you listened to me at all?” Sorel asked placidly.
Nortal’s head whipped toward him, her eyes wild. “Begone, foul tempter! Nortal of Romulus will not serve thee!”
“Very well,” Sorel said, backing away with all due haste, and in this case quite a bit of haste was due.
“Shelly, wait!” Tovar called, racing into the gym after Lieutenant Marsden. He could hear Commander Prosak close behind, but she was not exactly his primary concern at the moment. Marsden, still clutching Bain’s tea, stopped in the middle of the gym floor and spun around to face her pursuer.
“Wait? For what? For you to find someone else’s face to suck? What about her?” Marsden snapped, pointing at one of the admissions officers visiting from the University of Iowa. “She looks fun. Or what about our friendly Orions back there?”
“Hold that thought,” Tovar said, quickly taking Bain’s tea from her and running it over to the Captain. “Here you are, sir.”
“Is there a bit of trouble brewing?” Bain asked.
“I believe so. I would recommend keeping your head low.”
“Good luck, son. And thank you for saving my tea.”
“Of course,” Tovar said, then quickly jogged back into the combat zone to face Marsden. “I didn’t kiss anyone.”
“You kissed me,” Prosak said.
“No, I did not. You kissed me.”
“So it’s all right if some other woman kisses you,” Marsden snapped. By this point, all other activity in the gym had stopped to focus on the drama being played out at center court. “But when it’s me, suddenly you’ve got a girlfriend.”
“I do have a girlfriend,” Tovar protested.
“You kissed Mister Tovar?” Prosak asked.
“Yes. Long before you did,” Marsden said.
“I was not aware of this.”
“Was I supposed to put it in the ship’s log?” Tovar said angrily.
“What about Torgerson?” Marsden asked.
“What about her?”
“You didn’t seem to be thinking about her when you were off smacking lips with Prosak!”
“That’s not what happened. She caught me by surprise.”
“In a kiss ambush.”
“I prefer to think of it as an efficient way to make a point,” Prosak said. “And you didn’t seem to mind at the time.”
“Could you stay out of this?” Marsden said.
“I seem to be very much in this. At least as much as you are.”
“Neither of you are in anything with me!” Tovar cried. “I’m dating Jamie Torgerson. Okay?”
“Then explain what happened in that jefferies tube junction,” Marsden shot back.
“We’ve been through this.”
“What jefferies tube junction?” Prosak asked. “What were you doing with each other in a jefferies tube junction?”
“If you weren’t off being possessed by Lucinda, maybe you’d know,” Marsden said.
“No, she wouldn’t,” Tovar said.
“Oh that’s right,” Marsden said. “We can’t let the big secret out. Just imagine what could happen if anybody found out we’d been making out in a jefferies tube!”
“I see your relationship with Lieutenant Torgerson is quite solid,” Prosak remarked.
“You’re not helping!” Tovar said.
“Was I supposed to be?”
“Just leave Torgerson out of this.”
“I don’t see how we can,” Prosak said. “Is she what you truly want?”
“I’ve had enough of this crap,” Marsden said, turning on Tovar. “You don’t have a damn clue what you want. Until you figure it out, stay the hell away from me.” Marsden stormed out the door as students and parents scrambled to get out of her path.
Tovar quickly found himself face-to-face with Prosak. “You are not the man I thought you were,” she said flatly. The RommaVulc spun around and followed in Marsden’s wake.
“But you kissed me!” Tovar shouted after her. Somehow, though, Tovar had the sense that that wasn’t the point.
“Sub-Commander Remax,” Sorel said, approaching the elder scientist who was currently finishing off his second glass of Romulan ale while he enjoyed the view of a particularly shapely trio of ladies standing nearby as they engaged in a lively conversation which involved a lot of gesturing and moving about in clingy dresses.
“I don’t talk to Vulcans,” Remax replied, sneering derisively at the intruder.
“I said I don’t talk to Vulcans.”
“Surely you can put aside your illogical biases to engage in a mutually-beneficial discussion,” Sorel said.
“What part of ‘I don’t talk to Vulcans’ aren’t you getting?”
“All of it, I’m afraid. I can see no reason why you should harbor any resentment toward me or my planet of origin.”
“You wouldn’t,” Remax shot back, trying to focus on the women in front of him instead of the pest beside him.
“I am still unclear…”
“Could you just go away? I don’t have the slightest interest in listening to you or your prattle about logic as you waltz around with your supposedly-emotionless self when in reality your sitting there feeling smug with your intellectual superiority over the rest of us. Well here’s an alert for you, Vulcan. You aren’t superior. Not even close. I don’t care how many worlds you and your little secessionist group rounds up. The Romulan Empire will still destroy you. We’ll keep coming until the streets of Vulcan run green!”
“I gather then that you would not be interested in helping us…”
“Help! HA! Find some other moron. I need a refill.” Remax raised his empty glass in the air and charged toward the bar.
Feeling somewhat as though he’d just gone ten rounds with a mugatu, Tovar staggered over to the Starfleet table where Captain Bain had finally given in and sat down, cradling his cup of tea gingerly in his hands.
“Request permission to commit ritual suicide, sir,” Tovar said, plopping down into a chair beside Bain.
“What?” Tovar asked surprised.
“That might actually get the little blighters attention,” Bain muttered.
“It seems I may not have to go that far,” Tovar replied as a cluster of four young men hesitantly approached the table.
“Good evening, gentlemen!” Bain said, instantly bouncing back to his usual buoyant self. “You’ve come for information!”
“Yeah, actually,” one of the boys said, looking at Tovar. “Um…does that happen a lot?”
“What precisely?” Tovar asked.
“The women fighting over you.”
“I wouldn’t say…”
“The ladies love a man in uniform,” Bain said quickly, cutting Tovar off. “Take a look at this.” The captain pulled the boys to the other end of the table and shoved a padd into each of their hands.
Tovar put his head down on the table. At least the captain was able to turn his misery into a recruitment opportunity.
“Um…excuse me,” a soft female voice said. Tovar looked up and saw a thin wisp of a girl standing in front of him. She couldn’t have been any more than 160 centimeters tall and couldn’t have weighed more than 45 kilograms.
“Yes,” Tovar said tiredly.
“Um…she really kind of kicked your ass, didn’t she?”
“Yes, I suppose she did in a verbal sense,” Tovar said.
“I liked it. Can Starfleet teach me to do that?”
“All that and more,” Tovar said flatly. “Take a padd.”
“Thanks! Oh, if it’s any consolation, my friends and I all think you’re really plasma. Bye!” She rushed off, seemingly embarrassed by the ‘plasma’ comment, leading Tovar to the conclusion that it was some human slang for attractive. Oh no. She was coming back…with her friends!
“Good work, Tovar!” Bain said spotting the incoming prospective cadets. “It looks like that thrashing Marsie and Prosak gave you was just the kick in the pants these kids needed!”
“I’m soooo glad I could help,” Tovar replied, smacking his head back down on the table.
Normally Commander Vioxx had a hard time getting along with the upper caste types in Romulan society. The dislike was mutual. The upper caste looked down on him because of the level of his birth, and he wasn’t real thrilled with them because he blamed them for ending the one real loving relationship he’d ever been involved in. She’d been from an upper caste family and had eventually returned to that life, leaving the Imperial Academy and Vioxx in the process.
Tonight, however, had been a different story. No one here knew him, and they were all curious about his adventures in the Delta Quadrant. Despite being engaged in various conversations for most of the evening, Vioxx had noticed that the Vulcan, Sorel, had approached his officers one by one, so it was no surprise to him when Sorel stepped up beside Vioxx once the Romulan commander had broken away from his latest conversational partner.
“Good evening to you, Commander,” Sorel said. “I trust you are enjoying yourself.”
“As a Vulcan, do you care? Isn’t enjoyment an emotion?”
“Politeness would seem to demand an inquiry as to your state of being.”
“Currently my bladder has reached the state of full. Otherwise, I’m fine. If you’ll excuse me.” Vioxx continued on his path toward the facilities, but Sorel quickly fell into step beside him as the pair moved into a hallway leading to the bathroom.
“I had planned on doing this alone,” Vioxx said.
“And I shall try not to delay you, Commander Vioxx; however, I wish to discuss a matter of great importance,” Sorel replied, launching into his spiel again. “As related species, it would seem logical that Vulcans and Romulans should one day reconnect. For centuries now, the Federation has stood in the way of such a move; however, with our recent secession, that issue can now be dealt with. The Federation has designs on both of our worlds. Of that we are sure. What we lack is information. You are in a prime position to provide that to us, and in doing so, you would be…”
“You’re looking for spies,” Vioxx said, stopping in mid-stride and turning on the Vulcan angrily. “That’s why you’ve been harassing my crew!”
“I wouldn’t call it harassing,” Sorel said.
“No?” Vioxx said. In a sudden move, he slammed the Vulcan back against the hallway wall and moved his face within centimeters of Sorel’s. “We may both have the same ears, but we are nothing alike. Romulans will never serve Vulcans as spies or anything else.” He backed off a little. “You know what I think? You’re scared. The Romulans and the Federation are working together while you’re out in the cold. The Anomaly is the pride of Romulus, and I won’t do anything to jeopardize that.” Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but it seemed appropriate under the circumstances. “So, I suggest that you take your leave of the Ambassador and get the hell out of here because if I come out of that bathroom and see that you’re still skulking around here, I’m going to tell him exactly what you’ve been doing here tonight.”
Vioxx smacked Sorel against the wall one more time for good measure, then strode into the bathroom to take care of some other business. Sorel, meanwhile, decided to follow Commander Vioxx’s suggestion to the letter.
Captain Bain was waiting outside of the transporter room when Vioxx and his officers returned to the Anomaly later that evening.
“So how was it?” Bain asked immediately, cornering Vioxx as Remax, Nortal, Selex, and Zantak made their escapes to their respective quarters.
“It was a party,” Vioxx replied.
“Not a bit. I imagine my evening was as dull as yours.”
“Dull?” Bain exclaimed. “Nonsense! It was a hell of an evening. Things were a bit shaky at the start, but once Tovar, Prosak, and Marsden had their big to-do, we practically had to break out the phasers to keep the kids away.”
“To-do?” Vioxx asked confused.
“That doesn’t help.”
“Let’s just say there’s nothing like a fight to draw in that teenage audience,” Bain said with a grin. He clapped Vioxx on the shoulder. “Glad you had a good time, Commander.” With that, Bain strolled off down the corridor.
Several thousand miles away from both San Francisco and Iowa in a house in the English countryside, Rosalyn Bain was awakened by a soft vibration emanating from the signal chip she’d placed behind her ear before retiring for the evening.
She reached over and grabbed the arm of the Section 31 black uniform laying across the wing chair next to the bed and activated the vidi-comm unit on the sleeve. The image of Sorel, better known to her as Agent Ted Merrin, flashed onto the unit’s screen.
“Good evening, Ted,” Rosalyn said warmly. “All went well, I trust.”
“I was able to make contact with all five officers, Agent Bain,” Merrin replied. “I do not believe that any of them are working or would ever work for the Vulcans. Most are far too loyal to Romulus or their commander.”
“What do you mean most?”
“Centurion Nortal is quite possibly insane, so she did not answer definitely. She did, however, seem to take a great deal of offense to my offer.”
“I’m relieved to hear it,” Rosalyn said. “Thank you for looking into that for me. Good night.”
“Agent Bain,” Merrin said quickly.
“I was wondering…why did you call this Operation Slugworth?”
Rosalyn smiled. “Remind me sometime to tell you a story about a little boy and a chocolate factory.”