Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
There was a time not so many years ago when the prospect of being in a room surrounded by Vulcans would not have bothered Lieutenant Commander Tovar in the least. Even if said Vulcans were all holding rather large phaser rifles, he would not have been troubled. Vulcans were one of the founding races of the Federation, a loyal ally for centuries, and generally non-violent and logical.
“Were” was definitely the word to stress in that particular statement as currently Tovar and Section 31 Agent Audrey Bain, who was holographically disguised as a Romulan named Nural, were in a cargo bay on the Romulan Warhawk Shakalak surrounded by twenty rather well-armed Vulcans, who had just materialized after being stored in a transporter buffer hidden inside a cargo crate in the Shakalak’s hold.
The commander of the Vulcan troops (at least Tovar assumed he was the commander because his body armor was black as opposed to the bland gray the others were wearing) glanced at the tiny display monitor on the sleeve of his uniform then stepped forward, peering at Tovar and Audrey/Nural with cold eyes.
“The fact that our transporter was activated ahead of schedule and the presence here of a Starfleet Officer would usually indicate that our plans have been discovered; however, since only two of you are here and you both appear to be experiencing the emotion of surprise, logic suggests that you have instead accidentally triggered the proximity alert built into our transporter buffer, which led to our early rematerialization. Is that correct?”
Tovar and Audrey exchanged a glance, but said nothing.
“Ah. That is informative in itself. Corporal Shemp, scan for other vessels in the space surrounding this ship.”
A solder wearing a sleek quadcorder smoothly moved his head around, scanning. “The local region is clear of other vessels, Colonel.”
“As I expected. Very well. Since our operation has not been compromised, we will proceed as planned. The unexpected presence of a Starfleet Officer does not change our course of action. Now then, Lieutenant Commander, which I believe is the rank indicated by your pips, please tell me who you are and why you are on this vessel.”
“Lieutenant Commander Tovar,” Tovar replied stiffly. “And I am currently a member of this crew.”
“That is true,” Audrey said. “Mister Tovar is part of an officer exchange program.”
“And you are?”
“Sub-Commander Nural. The Shakalak’s First Officer.”
“Colonel Strep,” the Vulcan officer said flatly. “This vessel is now under the control of the Vulcan Alliance. Any attempt to fight this fact would be illogical.”
“Resistance is futile?” Tovar said.
“We try to avoid that particular turn of phrase. It tends to provoke emotional responses in those we are attempting to subdue.”
“I can see how it might.”
“Be that as it may, I can assure you that this crew will resist until each and every one of you has been terminated,” Audrey said. “You cannot hope to overwhelm 100 Romulan soldiers with this puny force.”
“I believe that you will find that assessment to be in error,” Colonel Strep replied. “They will be surprised and unprepared for our assault.”
“We will raise the alarm,” Audrey said, wrapping an arm around Tovar and pulling him close. “There is solidarity between Romulus and the Federation.”
“You are our prisoners, and these antagonistic displays will not change that state of affairs. Our conversation is at an end. You will both remain here under guard until the ship has been taken.”
“And that will not be as easy as you think,” Audrey said. She suddenly grabbed her belt buckle, and in an instant, she and Tovar dematerialized.
Strep arched his left eyebrow. “That was also unexpected,” he observed placidly.
“So there we were. Venting plasma as the five Breen scythe ships closed in,” Captain Bain said grandly, waving his mug of lager around as he sat across from Sub-Commander Remax and Commander Vioxx in Twain the Keel, the Anomaly’s pub. “We’d been able to give them a pretty good what for up to that point, but my poor Maladventure had taken a pounding. I thought that was going to be the end of Reginald Bain, but I wasn’t going to go out without taking those Breen blighters with me. But just as I was about to give the order to set the self-destruct, I got an idea. I had Tovar launch every shuttle, raceabout, and what-have-you out of the shuttlebays and send them barreling directly into the Breen ships by remote pilot. They may have had small warp cores, but there was enough of a wallop in them to send those Breen ships on a direct flight to hell courtesy of Reginald Bain!”
“Very nice,” Remax said, nodding appreciatively. He elbowed Vioxx in the ribs. “Take note, Vioxx. This is how a captain gets a nickname like ‘The Butcher of Breen.’”
“The one and only,” Bain said proudly.
“See,” Remax said.
“I’ll work on finding a species to slaughter,” Vioxx muttered, staring into his dwindling drink. Why had he decided to sit with Bain and Remax? Their entire conversation was going to be nothing but a parade of their greatest battles. Meanwhile, they all sat and did nothing about the battle they should be fighting at the moment: the retaking of the Romulan Empire. Of course, Bain’s hands were tied. Starfleet had ordered him to back off. And even if Bain disobeyed that order, one ship could not take on the entire Vulcan fleet, even with “The Butcher of Breen” in command.
“That reminds me of time in my youth,” Remax began. “I was a sub-lieutenant serving on the…”
Vioxx resisted the urge to bang his head against the table. Another bit of ancient history. When would the night end?
“Hang on a tick,” Bain said, as he watched the entrance. “Marsie just arrived for the festivities.” Bain got to his feet as Lieutenant Shelly Marsden, the Anomaly’s chief engineer, stepped into the pub.
“Glad you could join us,” Bain said warmly. “Get a drink and enjoy yourself.”
“No arguments here,” Marsden said, heading to the bar.
“And now that Marsden has joined us, I’d like to say a few words,” Bain announced. “I’ve had word from Admiral Larkin that Lieutenant Marsden and Commander Prosak’s foray into Romulan space was a complete success and that Starfleet is currently receiving loads of data concerning the Vulcans’ movements. We’re still not being allowed to go in and kick the lot of them back to Mount Selaya, but the Admiralty assures me that progress in the war is being made.
“Commander Prosak could not join us, since this is her bridge shift, but we all owe a bit thanks to her and Marsden. They did a hell of a job and put us on the path of victory over the Vulcans. I have every confidence in that. For right now, Starfleet has asked us to sit tight, so that’s what we’ll do. Personally, I have every intention of sitting tight in this pub while I engage in some much deserved celebration, and I invite you all to join me. So belly up to the bar, ladies and gents, the drinks are on me.”
“Aren’t they free anyway?” Vioxx whispered to Remax.
“It’s called morale boosting. You should look into it sometime,” Remax shot back as Bain turned his attention back to the other occupants at his table.
“Sorry to interrupt your story there, Remax,” Bain said. “Let me refresh those drinks for you gents, and you can get back to it.”
“You have a deal,” Remax replied, swiping up his and Vioxx’s mugs and handing them to Bain.
“Capital. I’ll be back in a jiff.”
“We’ll be here,” Vioxx said without a hint of pleasure in his voice, not that Bain noticed as he strode toward the bar. The man didn’t do anything small. That was for sure.
“And what exactly is your problem?” Remax said, fixing a cold stare on Vioxx.
“Who says I have a problem?”
“You haven’t approached anything close to congenial all night. I thought this was the sort of thing you loved.”
“What? Listening to you two recount your greatest hits? No thanks. And just when did you become so chummy with Bain? What happened to that good old-fashioned Romulan disdain for humans?”
“I am not chummy with Bain,” Remax snapped, drawing a snort from Vioxx. “I’m not! He and I do see eye to eye on some issues, but he’s still a human. I would never prefer a human to a Romulan. I’ve led a long life without making friends with anyone other than Romulans, and I see no reason to change that now…even if Bain is the only human I’ve ever met who understands how to fight a war.”
“So you do like him,” Vioxx said.
“I never said that.”
“You obviously respect him.”
“More than I respect you,” the Romulan scientist said. “You don’t even have a proper nickname.”
“And you do?”
“My shipmates on the Boflex many years ago used to call me ‘The Great Scannus.’”
“What?” Remax demanded.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
The pair was silent for a moment.
“Nice nickname,” Vioxx said, his eyes twinkling.
“I take it back. I do like humans better than you.”
“Marsie! Settling back in?” Bain said, stepping up to the bar beside his Chief Engineer.
“We were only gone for a few hours,” Marsden said as the holographic bartender set a rum and soda in front of her. Bain signaled for refills of the three mugs he’d brought with him.
“Right. Right. Fantastic work, though. I’m proud of you and Prosak. You went in, worked together, and came out all right.”
“You sent the two of us on purpose, didn’t you?” Marsden said.
“So you knew about her, me, and Tovar.”
Bain’s eyes suddenly bulged.
“NO! Not like that,” Marsden said quickly.
“Of course not,” Bain said, recovering. “And it’s not my place to meddle in the personal lives of my crew.”
“You mean like sending Prosak and I off together.”
“That may have been a tad bit of meddling, but it came out all right. And I’m certainly not going to stand here and talk to you about whatever feelings you may or may not be having right now toward Tovar. I appreciate that you feel like you can come to me, but I am practically, and really legally, the boy’s father.”
“But I didn’t come to you…”
“What’s happened between you and Tovar or Tovar and Prosak or Tovar and Lt. Torgerson or Tovar and any other lady he’s wooed is none of my affair. My only concern is that whatever is happening does not impact the smooth functioning of this vessel, and I know you would never let that happen. You love the Anomaly almost as much as I do.”
“Almost? I designed this…”
“A captain and his ship have a bond, Marsie. You’ll understand when you sit in the big chair one day, which I’m sure you will. You’ve got that commanding spark in you. I’ve seen it. You may think you want to spend the rest of your career hiding in some grimy engine room, but destiny has bigger things in store for you, Michelle Marsden.”
“Oh, please don’t call me, Michelle…”
“That’s right! I said destiny! We all have our destinies, Marsie. I’m heading toward mine right now, and for that right now, you’re coming with me! But someday your destiny will split from mine, and I firmly believe that when that happens, you will be sitting in the center seat of your own bridge, and you will be magnificent! Ahh…the drinks are here.” Bain clapped her on the shoulder, then scooped up the filled mugs the bartender had just placed on the bar. “Good chatting with you, Marsie. Glad we can open up to each other like this.”
And with that, Bain was off. Off to his table anyway. Marsden was fairly certain the man was off altogether. She shook her head and looked around the pub until she spotted Dr. Natalia Kasyov seated at a small, round table in a dim corner. Marsden could just make out the soft blinking lights of Cabral’s hovercam floating beside her. Anxious now to talk to someone (anyone) other than Reginald Bain, Marsden grabbed her drink and wound her way through the other crew-filled tables until she reached Kasyov and Cabral.
“Pardon me while I get drunk,” Marsden said, plopping down into a chair across from Kasyov. The Anomaly’s science officer abruptly pulled her attention away from the hovercam beside her, obviously surprised by Marsden’s sudden arrival.
“Shelly. Hi,” Kasyov said in clipped tones. “I didn’t see you walk over.”
Marsden glanced from Kasyov to Cabral’s device. “Am I interrupting?” she asked hesitantly. As much as Marsden liked Cabral, there were many many times that she thought Kasyov got a little too involved in her dealings with the Anomaly’s resident disembodied brain. Maybe a lot too involved. The pair was together constantly. When Kasyov wasn’t actually in Science Lab Four, where Cabral and his spherical housing stayed, Cabral’s hovercam was usually with her. Did his hovercam stay in her quarters at night? Uccck. Okay. This was just getting creepy.
“Not at all,” Cabral replied pleasantly.
“How was the mission?” Kasyov asked.
“Fine. We got the job done,” Marsden said.
“And no one was hurt.”
“It was touch and go there for a bit, but Prosak and I ended up having a nice talk.”
“And you left her alive.”
“I didn’t hit her, Nat. Okay?” Marsden said.
“Just checking. I know this whole situation had you a bit worked up.”
“Yes. But it’s not her fault. I’d already told Tovar we were never going to be having a relationship. He and Prosak were free to do whatever they wanted after that.”
“Even if it wasn’t true.”
“What wasn’t true?”
“That you and Tovar would never get together,” Kasyov said.
“Please, Nat. I’ve beat myself up over this one enough already. I screwed up. I blew whatever chance I had. And now he’s not even on the ship, so it doesn’t matter one damn bit how I feel.”
Marsden fell silent, swirling her drink around in her glass.
“Can you see his ship with the new sensor feed?” she asked softly.
“No,” Kasyov replied. “Captain Bain already asked. The Shakalak is probably running cloaked. If we could see it…”
“Then the Vulcans could see it,” Marsden finished. “I know. I was just curious. I’m sure he’s having a great time over there anyway.”
As soon as he and Audrey materialized, Tovar realized where he was. He looked at his adopted sister quizzically. “My quarters? You had your emergency transporter set to bring you here?”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Audrey said. “If somehow my identity was discovered, the odds were that the crew would be coming for you as well.”
“So you planned to rescue me.”
“Yes,” Audrey said. “Why is that so hard for you to believe?”
“Our past relationship…”
“We may not get along all of the time, but I do not want you dead. Even if you’re not a Bain by blood, you are my brother.”
“I appreciate the sentiment. And, whether you like it or not, I do regard you and Sophie as my sisters.”
“I know,” Audrey said. “And as touching as all of this is, we have a situation to deal with. Nural to Zanex. We have been boarded by Vulcans. They are heavily armed and mean to take over the ship.”
“Are you certain, Sub-Commander?” Commander Zanex, the Shakalak’s captain, replied over the comm system. “We’re seeing nothing on the sensors.”
“Then they must have sensor masks. There were 20 of them in the cargo bay. I saw them myself. They’re probably on the move by now.”
“I don’t see… We have reports coming in now. Zanex out!” the Romulan snapped before cutting the channel.
An instant later, Zanex’s voice boomed over every speaker on the Shakalak. “We have been boarded. Repeat, we have been boarded. All teams, take positions to repel the Vulcan invaders.”
Tovar went to his pack, pulled out his wrist phaser, and slid it on. He’d felt that wandering a Romulan ship while armed was probably not the best idea…until now. Now it seemed completely warranted.
“I assume we will be helping in the defense of the ship.”
“That was my plan,” Audrey replied, sliding a small silver cylinder out of her pocket and tapping a few controls. Two Romulan disruptor rifles materialized on the floor in front of her. “Would you care for something in the way of a bigger gun?”
“Please,” Tovar said, picking up one of the rifles as Audrey grabbed the other.
“I don’t mean to sound selfish, but should I be incapacitated, your first duty is to get me somewhere safe so that my true identity is not discovered. You saw that my belt buckle can get us back here.”
“And I will not be afraid to use it,” Tovar said. He took up a position by the door as Audrey moved to the door panel. Tovar took a deep breath, then gave her a nod. She tapped the panel, causing the doors to whoosh open just as Tovar launched himself forward, dove for the floor, and rolled out into the corridor. Audrey immediately followed, aiming in the opposite direction.
All was clear, but from the sounds of weapons in the distance, it would not be for long. Neither person spoke as Tovar got to his feet and the pair took off at a run toward the source of the disturbance.
Rounding a corner, they found themselves behind a makeshift barricade manned by five of the Shakalak’s crew. They had pulled chairs, a dresser, and whatever else they could move out into the corridor and taken up positions behind it. Farther down the corridor, a pair of Vulcans were ensconced behind the corners at the next intersection. One of the Romulans popped up above the level of the barricade and opened fire wildly. He missed, but the Vulcans return volley did not. A stun blast sent him collapsing to the deck.
One of the other Romulan officers spotted Tovar and Audrey. “Cover us! We can take these two weak logic-mongers.”
Tovar tried to get out a cry to wait, but the four remaining Romulans were up in a flash and diving over the barricade. They quickly hit their feet and charged the Vulcans, firing all the way as Tovar and Audrey took their abandoned positions and laid down the requested cover fire.
Unperturbed, one of the Vulcans popped around the corner and opened fire, hitting two of the Romulans and dropping them to the ground. The other Vulcan then appeared from behind his corner and shot his weapon. But he was shooting it at the Romulans his partner had just brought down.
Tovar was puzzled for a moment until he saw that the second Vulcan was actually firing small projectiles. As soon as they impacted on their targets, the stunned Romulans vanished in the cascade of an orange Vulcan transporter beam.
“Transporter tags!” Audrey shouted, vocalizing Tovar’s thought. “They’re stunning and gathering up the crew.”
“Very logical of them,” Tovar replied grimly as he watched the first Vulcan pop out from behind his corner again. Tovar was ready for him this time and fired his weapon, nailing the Vulcan in the shoulder and dropping him to the deck, but not before the Vulcan was able to hit the third Romulan. The one remaining Romulan in the attack group reached the intersection and looked for the second Vulcan.
She turned back to Tovar and Audrey. “He’s gone,” she announced. “He must have realized we were…” The Romulan suddenly winced in pain and reached for her left leg. She only made it through half of the motion before she vanished in a transporter. No doubt she would be overpowered as soon as the Vulcans at the other end realized that this particular Romulan was not stunned.
“If the other Vulcan teams are having similar success, we may not have much of a crew left,” Tovar said.
“At least we got one of them,” Audrey replied.
“I beg to differ,” Tovar said, pointing off toward the position of the fallen Vulcan, a position that was currently unoccupied by said Vulcan.
“Blasted body armor,” Audrey muttered. “We’ll need to aim for the head from now on.”
“Perhaps we should consider a different approach,” Tovar said.
“By all means, Mister Tactics.”
“The Vulcans have most likely made the bridge and engineering their top priorities. However, if we can reach an auxiliary control center, we may be able to activate the Shakalak’s intruder suppression systems, assuming of course that Romulan vessels have such systems.”
“They don’t,” Audrey replied. “Romulan vessels do not usually get boarded.”
“That’s no reason to be overconfident,” Tovar said annoyed.
“You can submit a suggestion to the Praetor once we get out of this.”
“Even without access to an intruder suppression system, getting to auxiliary control would be to our benefit. We could contact the Anomaly and…”
“No!” Audrey snapped.
“We need assistance!” Tovar said. “The Anomaly could be here in a matter of moments.”
“I am not bringing Father into this. We can deal with the Vulcans ourselves.”
“Maybe so, but…”
“Do you ever plan on standing on your own, Tovar?” Audrey said. “Daddy should not always have to charge in to bail you out of trouble.”
“That is not the point.”
“It is most certainly the point. Rather that dealing with this yourself, you would rather bring a Federation starship deep into Vulcan-controlled territory where it could very likely be destroyed. I will not allow you to take that course of action when the two of us are quite capable of resolving this situation ourselves with a proper plan.”
“We currently seem to be lacking said plan.”
“Then let’s get to a more defensible position so that we can develop one.”
“What did you have in mind?” Tovar asked as Audrey charged back down the corridor.
“The bridge. Even if the Vulcans have taken it, we can catch them by surprise and, with only one turbolift to the bridge, we will know if any Vulcans are heading our way,” Audrey said, leading Tovar into a turbolift.
“Pardon me for bringing this up, but won’t that hold true for the Vulcans as we come up the turbolift?”
“Yes, if we were using the turbolift to go to the bridge.”
A few minutes later as he crawled through the Romulan equivalent of a jefferies tube, Tovar understood what Audrey had in mind. She had stopped the turbolift one deck below the bridge and taken Tovar into the ship’s network of tubes. Now the Section 31 operative had stopped below a small hatch.
“This is it,” Audrey said, pulling out her silver cylinder again. “I’m sending the turbolift to the bridge. Once it gets there, it should draw the attention of anyone up there. That will be our chance. Ready?” She didn’t wait for Tovar to nod in agreement.
“Five…four…three…two…one.” Audrey tapped a control, causing the hatch to slide open, then leapt up through it. Tovar was right behind her, rising to his full height and jumping up onto the floor of the bridge.
Four Vulcans with weapons all aimed in their direction were waiting for them. Audrey and Tovar exchanged a quick glance, then put their hands in the air.
“We have excellent hearing, Sub-Commander Nural,” Colonel Strep said stepping forward. “In the future, you would do well not to discuss your plans right below us.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” Tovar said.
“And before you think of trying anything, Sub-Commander, I must inform you that we have deactivated the ship’s transporter systems,” Strep said, taking a seat at the Shakalak’s helm. “Take the Romulan to join her shipmates in the cargo hold.”
“What about him?” Audrey demanded, gesturing at Tovar.
“Mister Tovar is no longer your concern,” Strep replied. He nodded to his officers, two of whom took Audrey by the arms and led her into a turbolift.
Strep focused his gaze on Tovar. “At first, I found your presence on board to be an unexpected setback; however, upon further consideration, I believe that it may instead be a fortuitous turn of events. Who better than a Starfleet Officer to advise me as we travel through Federation space?”
“I do not think my advice will be to your liking,” Tovar said stiffly.
“That will be a discussion for another time.” Strep gestured to the remaining Vulcan troops. “Put Mister Tovar in the brig. I will wish to speak to him before we reach Earth.”
The two Vulcans grabbed Tovar in a steely grip and headed for the turbolift. That had not exactly gone well. Even worse, with Audrey going to the cargo bay, Tovar would not get the chance to tell her the one thing of which he was certain.
They should have contacted the Anomaly.
“Prosak to Captain Bain.”
“Prosak to Captain Bain,” the Anomaly’s executive officer repeated more forcefully.
“I apologize for the early hour, sir, but Admiral Larkin is insisting that she speak with you.”
Bain rolled over in bed and tried to focus his bleary eyes on the chronometer. “It’s three bloody AM, Prosak.”
“As I said, I apologize for the early hour. However, Admiral Larkin…”
“Needs to learn to bloody sleep! What the devil does she want?”
“To speak with you. Immediately.”
“Very well,” Bain sighed, swinging his legs out of bed and onto the floor as he rubbed the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes. “Put her on.”
“I would, but she has requested a holoconference,” Prosak replied. “I’ve had the comm routed to your holopod.”
Bain ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair. “Between you and me, Prosak, Krissers is starting to try my patience.” He pushed himself to his feet and grabbed the plush royal purple robe his wife, Rosalyn, had given him for his birthday a few years earlier. It was handmade by Risan artisans and exceptionally comfortable.
If Larkin wanted to meet in the middle of the night, she would just have to deal with him looking casual.
Bain shuffled out to his living room and entered the holopod. As he closed the door, the simulation started, but instead of finding himself in Admiral Larkin’s office or apartment in San Francisco, as he expected, Bain was standing in the midst of a three-story high room packed with consoles and Starfleet Officers. In front of it all, rising up the height of all three stories, was a massive viewscreen showing the stars streaking by.
Bain turned toward the command area where Admiral Larkin was standing with a man Bain recognized instantly, Captain Barnum Dax, which meant he was on…
“The bloody Enterprise-J,” Bain muttered to himself.
“Reg!” Dax said warmly, extending his hand to Bain. “It’s a pleasure to see you again. How long has it been? Five years ago on Earth? Well, welcome aboard the Enterprise-J. I don’t think you’ve had a chance to see the place. This is the Ops Center.”
“You mean the bridge,” Bain said.
Dax chuckled. “No no. This is far more than a bridge. From this room, my people can monitor every system on this ship while also scanning the stars for new discoveries.”
“Sounds like my bridge.”
“But your bridge is not on a Juggernaut Class Starship, Captain. We have 120 decks to keep track of, not to mention the other systems. The 20 warp nacelles alone require their own bank of consoles.”
“And it is all very impressive,” Larkin said, interceding. “But we are not here for a size comparison.”
“All too bloody complicated, if you ask me,” Bain said.
“Reginald,” Larkin warned.
“I’m listening, Admiral.”
“Thank you. Judging by your attire and your attitude, I assume that I woke you with the summons to this meeting; therefore, I shall try to keep things brief. Yesterday, a team from the Anomaly was able to enter Romulan space and attach a transmitter to a monitoring station in the Empire, which is now sending information from the Romulan sensor web to us, including the movements of the Vulcan ships throughout the region.”
“Pulled it off without a hitch,” Bain said proudly, smiling at Dax.
“We appear to have gotten this view into the Empire just in time,” Larkin continued. “Two hours ago, a large number of Vulcan vessels broke from their patrol routes and began heading this way. It appears they are rendezvousing on the other side of the Neutral Zone in the region of a planetoid that the Romulans have designated FM-991.”
“An invasion force? Already?” Captain Dax asked. “I have a hard time believing that the Vulcans have completely subdued the Romulans so quickly.”
“That I cannot say,” Larkin replied. “Our information concerning what is happening in Romulan space is limited.”
“And you only have what you have because we went in and got it for you,” Bain said. “But let’s face facts here, Krissers. If the Vulcans are massing on the border, I doubt they have anything pleasant in the offing.”
“Starfleet agrees with you, Captain Bain, which is why we are gathering our own force at Starbase 288.”
“Won’t the Vulcans get suspicious when they see our ships massing?” Dax said. “They’re going to know we have a source of information in the Empire.”
“Actually, that ceased to be an issue the moment their vessels began arriving at FM-991. The planetoid is within range of our standard sensor buoys.”
“They want us to know that they are coming,” Bain said grimly.
“It may be a form of psychological warfare,” Larkin said.
“Well, if they just waltzed into range of our sensors anyway, it doesn’t sound like Reg’s little transmitter did us a whole lot of good. No offense, Reg,” Dax said with a friendly grin.
“None taken,” Bain replied through gritted teeth.
“On the contrary, the advance information provided by the Romulan sensor data allowed us to prepare our response more quickly. The other vessels in the response team are already en route; however, they have not been given a full briefing. I saved that for you gentlemen, since you will be heading up the task force.”
“WE will be heading up the task force?” Dax asked.
“The both of us?” Bain added.
“Not really,” Larkin said. “Captain Bain will be in charge, and Captain Dax will be his second.”
“Second?” Dax exclaimed. “I command a Juggernaut Class Starship! Look around you. Are you seriously telling me that this beautiful vessel is going to follow someone else into this conflict?”
“Captain Bain has crammed more combat experience into one lifetime than you have gathered in all of yours combined. He has also had several engagements with Vulcan ships, and is therefore the officer leading this mission. Is that clear?”
“It is to me,” Bain said. “But if we’re done here, I’ll be getting back to my ship. We can continue this at Starbase 288 once we’ve all arrived.” Larkin nodded her approval.
“By all means, go back to sleep, Reg,” Dax said. “However, if you would be so kind, I appreciate it if the next time you are in my Ops Center, you wear a uniform.”
“That should not be a problem,” Bain said. “If I have my way, there won’t be a next time. End comm.”
Dax’s mouth opened and closed a few times as Bain’s hologram vanished from the Ops Center.
“I hope this is the last sign of conflict between you,” Larkin said. “End comm.”
Dax nodded and dropped into his command chair as Larkin also vanished.
The Trill captain was silent for several moments.
“I dislike that man,” he said finally. “But damn that was a nice robe.”
A good deal of time had passed. Of that Tovar was certain. How much he couldn’t say. The Romulans didn’t bother to put a chronometer near their brig. In all honesty, though, Tovar was glad not to have any kind of clock to stare at during his incarceration. He’d been in a brig on a Bajoran ship many years earlier while assigned to the USS Maladventure (it was a long story involving an Orion trader, a Vedek with an attitude problem, and a case of defective earrings) which had a chronometer on the wall. It was sheer torture watching the minutes slowly tick by, and it didn’t help that the Bajorans have 26 hour days!
If he had to guess, though, Tovar would say that he had been in the brig for three days, possibly even four, and if that was the case, the Shakalak could be closing in on Earth. Perhaps more troubling was the fact that in all this time he had not heard so much as a peep from Audrey. He had to believe that she was still alive. There was no logic in murdering the crew when they were effectively contained. But then there was no logic in keeping them around now that their ship had been taken from them. The Vulcans could go either way. That was one of Tovar’s problems with “logic.” It could be manipulated to support almost anything. One of the lives that had been a part of the Interloping life force that had once occupied his body attended the Vulcan Science Academy and knew that fact all too well.
More than likely, though, Audrey was biding her time in the cargo bay and gathering her all-important “information.” In a way, he couldn’t blame her. Since the container in the cargo bay had held a transporter instead of a super-weapon, Tovar was more than a bit confused as to what the Vulcans were really up to. Audrey had assured him that the Shakalak had only beamed in one container from the Vulcan freighter it ambushed, and Tovar doubted that the small device inside it did any more than store the Vulcan troops in a transporter buffer. That being the case, why go to Earth? What could 20 Vulcans possibly do there, even if they had a cloaked Romulan warhawk under their command?
Were they planning some kind of attack? If so, it would be brief. Due to treaty stipulations, Romulan vessels were still incapable of firing while cloaked, but even if the Vulcans modified the ship to overcome this problem, Earth’s defense net would lock onto the warhawk and obliterate it before it got off more than one shot.
Beyond that, there was they fact that these Vulcans were obviously trained in close-quarters combat. Tovar had to believe that their intention was to beam down to Earth for some reason. An assault on the Federation Council didn’t exactly seem like the Vulcans’ style, but then who knew what their style was anymore? A few days ago, he was willing to believe they were planning to destroy the entire planet.
Maybe it was a kidnapping. The Vulcans could be trying to get their hands on the Federation President. That would make a kind of sense. They could believe that he would sign a surrender in exchange for his release. And even if he didn’t, it would be a serious morale blow to the Federation to have the President snatched right out of the Federation capital where he was supposedly safe. Whatever the Vulcans’ plan was, Tovar was going to do everything he could to stop it. Not that there was much he could do from inside this cell.
Another hour (Maybe two. Who could tell?) went by. Tovar was just debating whether it was time for a nap or to sleep for the night (if it was night) when the doors to the cell block opened and two Vulcans entered, heading directly for Tovar’s cell, not that that was much of a surprise, since he was the only one in the brig currently.
“Colonel Strep will see you now,” the first Vulcan said flatly.
“I didn’t think we had an appointment,” Tovar said, gazing at the ceiling as he lay on his back on the semi-soft slab that served as his bed.
“As a prisoner, you will go where we tell you when we tell you to go there.”
“Is that logic or a threat?”
“Are you threatened by logic?” the second Vulcan asked, arching an eyebrow.
“No. I’m threatened by Vulcans with phaser rifles standing outside my cell.”
“That is an accurate assessment,” the first Vulcan said, aiming his weapon at Tovar as his partner deactivated the cell’s forcefield. “You will come with us now.”
Tovar sat up and slowly got to his feet. “Is Strep serving food at this meeting?”
“I do not believe so.”
“We heard that.”
“I would hope so; otherwise, I would say that you needed to have your hearing checked. Now can we please get this over with, so I may return to my exciting evening of staring at the walls?”
“It is morning.”
“Whatever.” Damn clockless brig.
The two Vulcans led Tovar into a turbolift and then onto the Shakalak’s bridge, where Colonel Strep stood waiting. Two chairs had been placed face to face at the fore of the room just in front of the viewscreen.
“Good morning, Mister Tovar,” Strep said with a slight nod of his head. “I trust that your stay with us has been restful.”
“I didn’t think Vulcans believed in witty banter,” Tovar said.
“I see nothing wrong with making an effort to engage you in conversation before we get to the true reason for your presence here.”
“Thank you for thinking of me, but I’d rather that we just got to the heart of the matter, if you don’t mind.”
“I do not,” Strep said as the two guards who brought Tovar to the bridge continued hovering just behind Tovar’s shoulders. He was doing his best to stay focused, but their presence was somewhat unnerving. “As you may have surmised, I require information from you concerning the defense network around Earth.”
Tovar opened his mouth to begin a rather strenuous refusal to tell Strep anything, but the Vulcan cut him off.
“Logic suggests,” Strep continued, “ that you have no reason to cooperate with me. I am an invader in your space, and, being a loyal Starfleet Officer, you would rather face torture and death than divulge any secrets which may endanger Federation citizens. Therefore, I am faced with a decision. I may banter with you, as you put it, which will most likely lead nowhere, or I may simply bypass this route and take a more direct path to the information I seek. Not unexpectedly, I imagine, I have chosen the latter course of action.”
Strep nodded to the Vulcans behind Tovar, who promptly grabbed him and dragged him over to one of the chairs at the front of the bridge as Strep silently took a seat in the other.
“I am thus far unimpressed,” Tovar said as the Vulcans took up positions behind his chair.
“I was not aware that you were required to be impressed,” Strep said. “I will, however, require that you remain still as I prepare.”
Tovar quickly realized what the Vulcan had in mind. Actually, he planned to go into his mind.
“I am surprised that you would sink to invading my mind with a meld,” Tovar said with a calm that he was finding more and more difficult to maintain. The idea of anyone, particularly an adversary like Strep, messing about in his already crowded brain was unsettling to say the least. “I was under the impression that Vulcans frowned on such actions.”
“As I am sure you are aware, Mister Tovar, we are in a war. During such times, actions must occasionally be taken that are outside of the usual norms and mores of our society. This is one such instance. Beyond that though, I must say that I find the prospect of melding with a Yynsian to be…”
“Don’t say it.”
“You said it,” Tovar muttered.
“If you do not fight me, this will be less uncomfortable for you,” Strep said, placing a hand on Tovar’s face, his fingers pressing in at precise locations. “My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.”
Tovar could feel Strep’s consciousness pressing into his own, like tendrils weaving in and out of his own thoughts and senses. He was sure he couldn’t fight Strep’s advance, but he could retreat. The part of his lifeforce that was Tovar released its grip over his mind and slipped deeper into the energies of the lifeforce, joining the other lives who resided there.
If Strep wanted him, he would have to come in and find him.
“My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.”
Strep felt the last barriers of resistance fall away, allowing him to complete his link with the Yynsian’s mind. He could immediately sense that this would not be a typical meld. In his previous melding experiences, joining with the mind of another immediately presented him with a feeling of the other self involved, much like entering someone’s home that is filled with that person’s possession. The mind is inexorably linked to the self. It is the self.
Entering Tovar’s mind, though, was somewhat like entering an unoccupied house, to continue the analogy. Strep could get a sense of the basic structure; however, the owner’s presence was not to be felt. The sensation was actually somewhat disorienting to the Vulcan as his mind expanded into the vacancy left by Tovar without resistance, without encountering a single stray…
Strep reflexively pulled back a little at the sudden and jarring arrival of another mind. Recovering himself, Strep reached out to entrap the tendrils of this other mind, but just as quickly as it had presented itself, it vanished.
“There is no logic in this evasion,” Strep projected. “Our minds will become one, and I will know what you know.”
“Never! The recipes of Toflay are for Toflay alone! Begone! If you do not feel, how can you hope to create culinary masterpieces such as those made by the great Toflay? Begone, I say! I have no time for you and your so-called ‘logic!’ You cannot use logic in my kitchen!”
One of the Yynsian’s past lives. Fascinating. Strep had read about the species and its beliefs, but to actually encounter one of these other existences was remarkable indeed. It was not, however, the reason he was here.
“I have no wish to disturb you. Direct me to Tovar’s mind, and I will be on my way,” Strep projected.
“Fine! Go there. No one ever wants to talk to me.”
“But you just demanded that I leave your kitchen.”
“AHHHHH! You think I’m Toflay? You…you horrible, horrible man!”
“My apologies. You are?”
“Why should I tell you now? You don’t want to talk to me anyway.”
Something about this newcomer seemed feminine to Strep. Yynsian lifeforces were not tied to one gender as they passed from host to host; therefore, this was entirely possible.
“I have business with Tovar, ma’am. I cannot be distracted by other issues until I have dealt with him.”
“If you find him, tell him that Tarva has seen his quarters, and the next time I get out, I’m cleaning the whole place from top to bottom whether he likes it or not!”
“Can you not tell him yourself?” Strep asked.
“He just ignores me.”
“I see,” Strep said. “I will be sure to pass the message along. Now if you could direct me to…”
“Foul! Delay of game!”
“Who is that?” Strep asked.
“Just ignore him. He’s always doing that,” Tarva replied.
“But you will go no farther,” another life interjected.
“If you think I’m fixing him anything, you’re crazy,” another life said. This one sounded like Toflay again.
“He didn’t ask,” Tarva said testily. “He just wants to find Tovar.”
“And you think helping him is a good idea? If Tovar is hiding from him, there’s probably a damn good reason for it.”
“Now you’re just being paranoid, Totap.”
“Paranoid? He’s in our mind, Tarva! And I’m guessing Tovar didn’t just invite him in here.”
“I didn’t either!” Toflay said. “I want him gone! He’s disturbing my process!”
“Okay! Fine,” Tarva said. “You never let company come over. Who am I cleaning this place for then?”
“There’s no place here to clean,” Totap said.
“SHUT UP!” all three of the other lives screamed.
Strep was quickly feeling overwhelmed. “If I could just…”
“We’re not done yet,” Totap snapped.
“He is rude,” Tarva said. “And to think I was going to help him.”
“You didn’t think. That was the problem,” Totap said.
“None of this is getting me back to my kitchen,” Toflay said.
“Can we do something about him?” Tarva asked exasperated.
Strep was getting nowhere fast. “None of this is relevant to…”
“That’s it,” Totap said.
“I agree,” Tarva said.
“As do I,” Toflay said.
Strep suddenly felt all four minds turning against him.
The two Vulcan guards on the Shakalak’s bridge saw Strep tense suddenly, his eyes widening.
“Get out!” he growled.
The Vulcan guards looked at each other, both arching their eyebrows quizzically.
“I said get out! I demand that you get out! Get out! Get out! GET OUT!!!”
The guards looked to Strep again, back to each other, and then with a curt nod, they both got out, leaving the bridge by turbolift.
Tovar and Strep were alone.
Actually, that was something of a misstatement of facts.
Tovar was nowhere to be found, and Strep was most definitely not alone.
“Get out of my mind!” Step insisted again.
“No! What are your intentions toward our Tovar?” Tarva demanded. This female past life had quickly shifted from Strep’s one sole supporter to his fiercest interrogator.
“Nothing good. I’m sure of that,” Totap said.
“Penalty! Penalty! Penalty!”
Control. Strep had to reestablish control. They were simply minds, just like a hundred others he had melded with during his life.
“I shall preheat my oven for pain!” Toflay cried.
Okay. Perhaps they were not just like the others. The fact remained, though, that he was in charge of this meld, not them. He would establish control. He would…
Strep suddenly felt as though the tendrils of his mind reaching into Tovar’s were suddenly grabbed and tied together into a great ball of brain. An emotion slowly began flooding over him. It was panic. Definitely panic. If he did not do something soon, he would lose himself entirely inside the madness that was the Yynsian mind.
The Vulcan did the only thing he could think to do and yanked the tendrils back into himself in a desperate attempt to break the meld. A little more and he would be free. A little more. A little…
Tovar suddenly snapped back to consciousness. He was still in the chair on the Shakalak’s bridge. In front of him, Strep stared blankly ahead, his body unmoving, his hand frozen in melding position. Tovar waved his own hand in front of Strep’s face.
The Vulcan was catatonic.
Tovar had the bridge to himself, but most likely not for long. He had to move quickly, but what to do?
He could remotely open the cargo bay doors leading into the Shakalak’s corridors, allowing the Romulans and Audrey to escape, but the Vulcan guards might begin slaughtering the crew.
He could try to find Audrey and beam her out of there, so that they could come up with another plan to retake the ship, but Strep had told him that the transporter system had been taken offline. And most likely Audrey’s holographic overlay emitted Romulan lifesigns. He’d never be able to find her among all of the other Romulans even if he did have a working transporter.
There was really only one option: go back to his original plan.
Tovar raced back to the Shakalak’s comm console and began recording a message to his father.
As he was finishing, Tovar saw Strep begin to stir, Quickly, he finished, sent the comm to the Anomaly, and deleted the record of it from the Shakalak’s systems. He then almost threw himself back into the chair opposite Strep, just as the Vulcan’s glazed eyes began to come back to their senses.
“Fascinating,” Strep mumbled.
“I wish you’d stop saying that,” Tovar replied, attempting to make himself look equally dazed.
“Your mind…how do you exist like that? The lack of discipline is…unsettling.”
“It works for me.”
“It does not work for me, however. It is obvious that you will not be as valuable a source of information as I had hoped.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“I doubt that.” Strep looked around. “Where are the guards?”
“I doubt that as well,” the colonel replied, tapping a control on his sleeve. “I would not recommend attempting to assault me while we wait for my colleagues to return you to the brig.”
Tovar just shook his head weakly. There was no need to overplay his hand now. His message had been sent and the records of it erased. With any luck, the cavalry was on the way.
The blighters were still just sitting there! Three days, and the Vulcan ships hadn’t so much as budged. Captain Bain looked over the tactical readout on his command chair armrest in disgust then slammed the display closed as he spun back to face the Anomaly’s tac-ops console.
“Nortal, comm the Vulcans and ask them just how long they plan for us to sit here and stare at each other across the Neutral Zone!”
“The bellowing of my comm shall be deafening,” Nortal replied.
Bain sighed. “No. Belay that. We’ll keep waiting.”
“My mighty comm stands ready.”
“Impatient to go blow something up?” Dr. Kasyov asked from the science console. There was more than a hint of disdain in her voice.
“It’s not that, Kassie,” Bain said. “Although, I don’t mind a good dust up. It’s this sitting around doing nothing that I can’t tolerate.”
“We agree on that,” Commander Vioxx said. “And I’m ready to blow up as many Vulcans as possible.”
“The time will come,” Bain said, putting a calming hand on Vioxx’s shoulder. “And when it does, our fleet is going to kick theirs right out of your space. You have my word on it.”
“Sir,” Ensign Yonk said from the helm. “The Enterprise-J is inching forward again. Their saucer is now sticking out one meter ahead of ours.”
“Does that man not understand the meaning of ‘Lead Ship’?” Bain said. “Get Captain Dax on the comm, Nortal.”
“Can’t we settle this on the playground after preschool?” Kasyov said.
Nortal moved to comply with Bain’s order, but stopped as something else on her console caught her attention. “A message arrives!” she announced.
“Dax,” Bain growled.
“No. Tovar,” Nortal replied. Kasyov immediately looked up from the scan she was studying. If that was Tovar… She quickly used the internal sensors to locate Shelly Marsden.
A broad smile crossed Bain’s face. “Wonderful! I could use a nice chat right now. Put the lad on, if you please.”
“You shall not chat!” Nortal stated, drawing a confused look from Bain. “It is just a recording.”
“Ah,” Bain said, turning his attention back to the viewscreen. “Go ahead and…”
Kasyov located Marsden and activated the transporter. In an instant, the startled Chief Engineer materialized on the bridge.
“What the hell?” Marsden said.
“Ah, Marsie,” Bain said. “Good timing. We’ve just had a comm from Tovar. Would you care to see it?”
Marsden shot a glare over at Kasyov, who smiled innocently. “That would be fine,” Marsden said, taking a seat over at the Anomaly’s seldom-used bridge engineering console.
Satisfied that everyone was now in place, Nortal activated the comm. “The message begins…”
As soon as Tovar’s face appeared on the Anomaly’s viewscreen, Bain could tell that something was amiss. The boy looked agitated. And more than a little flushed. What the devil was happening on that ship?
“Captain Bain, the Shakalak has been taken over by Vulcans,” Tovar said.
Ah. That would explain it.
“We are currently cloaked and on a course for Earth. I do not know exactly what the Vulcans are planning, but when Colonel Strep melded with me in an attempt to extract classified information from me, I was able to pull a set of coordinates out of his mind while my other lives kept him occupied.”
“A meld?” Bain said. “Bloody Vulcans.”
“I have sent the coordinates along with this message. I do not know where they are, or, as I said, what the Vulcans plan to do.” Tovar’s attention was suddenly drawn to something out of the view of the camera. “Colonel Strep is waking. I must go. We will be at Earth soon, Father. Help.”
The message ended abruptly, leaving the Anomaly’s crew watching the starfield on the viewscreen in silence.
The quiet didn’t last long.
“Did we get the coordinates?” Bain said.
“His transmission was successful,” Nortal replied.
“Send them to Kassie. I want to know exactly what they are.”
“Got them,” Kasyov said, typing commands into her console. “It looks like surface coordinates rather than anything in space. Assuming this is a place on Earth and the Vulcans are still using the mapping system agreed to by the Galactic Council of Weights and Measures, which I’m betting they are, since they run the council.”
“No offense, Kassie, but I just need to know where they’re going,” Bain said, fighting the urge to pace in front of his command chair.
“I’m betting San Francisco,” Marsden said. “Attack headquarters.”
“It could be Paris,” Yonk said. “Taking out the Federation capital city would be big for them.”
“Hang on. I’m cross-referencing the coordinates with satellite views of the Earth,” Kasyov said as the image on the viewscreen switched to show the planet from space. The view quickly zoomed in toward the northern hemisphere.”
“That’s Europe,” Yonk said. “It’s Paris.”
“It’s going too far east,” Marsden said.
The view stopped above a collection of farm buildings sitting in a frozen tundra.
“Do you know where this place is?” Bain asked looking back to his science officer, who was staring at the viewscreen in silent horror.
Kasyov nodded numbly. “They’re going to my house.”
TO BE CONTINUED…