Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“In One Door, Out the Other”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
Feeling better about his life than he had in a long time, Tovar went to answer his door. He and Lt. Shelly Marsden had a lot of unanswered questions. And now that he was back from his brief tour of duty on the Shakalak, after thwarting a Vulcan plan to swipe a mind control device from a Siberian storage facility on Earth, they’d finally get their chance to get together, talk, and sort things out.
Tovar felt good about this, as he tapped his doorpanel, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Shelly Marsden was on the other side waiting for him.
The door opened obediently, revealing Commander Prosak.
“Commander, are you busy?” Prosak asked, stepping in.
“N-no,” Tovar said nervously. “Why would I be?”
“You appear apprehensive.”
“Do I? I had not noticed.”
Prosak studied Tovar’s quarters. “Your lighting level has been reduced significantly. Are you expecting a romantic evening?”
“Why would you say that?”
“Because I have studied the Vulcan powers of deduction. And because I have eyes.”
“Yeah,” Tovar said, looking at the ground. “So what do you want?”
“I have come on business, actually. As you know, repairs to the Anomaly are scheduled to be completed within twenty-four hours, at which time we will return to the Federation fleet at the Neutral Zone.”
“You’re right, I already knew that.”
“What you do not know,” Prosak said, stepping toward the windows that overlooked Earth. “Is that my father will be accompanying us.”
“To what end?” Tovar asked.
“To negotiate for peace. The Federation council has ruled that we must attempt to find a diplomatic solution to this conflict.”
“To the Vulcans’ totally illogical behavior?”
“Some members of the council believe we can reach some sort of settlement.”
“A settlement that will move the Vulcans out of Romulan space? I doubt it.”
“It’s not for me, or you, to ask why. These are simply our orders. And we’ve been told that Admiral Larkin will be accompanying us.”
“To make sure that the Captain doesn’t partake in any ‘cowboy diplomacy,’ no doubt.”
“I am not familiar with that term.”
“Something Father told me about. Something that hearkens back to Captain Kirk of the original Enterprise.” Tovar rubbed his chin. “Starfleet thinks Captain Bain is not as much of a diplomat as he is a warrior.”
“My own empirical evidence would support that.”
“Starfleet is constantly underestimating Father. But that, I think, is the way he likes it.”
Prosak nodded. “Indeed. Now then, I won’t disturb you further. I am sure you have an…exciting evening planned with Lieutenant Marsden.” Prosak turned toward the door, stepping up until the sensor was activated and the door slid open.
Marsden stood there, holding a bottle of wine. “Tovar, I thought we’d….” She narrowed her eyes. “Prosak.”
Prosak bowed, edging past Marsden. “Official ship’s business, I assure you.”
“Right,” Marsden said, watching Prosak as she walked off, and the doors closed. She turned back toward Tovar. “Care to tell me what that was all about?”
“As she said, official ship’s business,” Tovar said.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Marsden said. “I’m still not so comfortable with you and Commander Prosak.”
“No reason you should be, Lieuten…Shelly.” Tovar’s shoulders sagged a bit as he felt relaxation ebb down his back. Suddenly, he felt at ease with Marsden, unlike anyone else on the ship, except possibly Bain. “Matters between Commander Prosak and I will be tense for some time, I think.”
“They’d probably be less tense if you hadn’t…melded with her.”
“You have a singular wit, Shelly.”
Marsden crinkled her nose. “I like to think so.” She held up her bottle. “Wine?”
“Please,” Tovar said. “I think, after the events of the last few days, I could certainly use a drink.”
Just then, the comm trilled. “Bain to all senior staff, please report to the bridge conference room on the double.”
“Father’s timing is impeccable,” Tovar groaned. “I just came from speaking with him. Why couldn’t he have informed me about this then?”
“Maybe there are new developments,” Marsden suggested, slinging her arm around Tovar’s and leading him toward the door. “Whatever the case, we’d better go see what he wants.”
“You are wise, Shelly.”
“We can hold off on the relationship talk for now,” Marsden said. “There’s plenty of time for that.”
“There’s no time,” Admiral Kristen Larkin said, addressing the senior staff in the Anomaly’s seldom-used conference room, just off the bridge. Those assembled included Bain, Prosak, Tovar, Marsden, Dr. Natalia Kasyov, Romulan crewmembers Vioxx and Remax, as well as Ambassador Rorshak.
Bain always appreciated the informality of his Captain’s Lounge, or just holding briefings on the bridge, whenever possible. Larkin had other things in mind, however.
“Care to elaborate, Larks?” Bain asked, standing beside Larkin as she leaned against the conference table.
“I intend to do just that,” Larkin said. She pointed to the center of the table, and a holographic diagram of the Romulan/Federation neutral zone, and the border territories of each, appeared. “This is a diagram indicating the position of every ship in our fleet, and the opposing buildup of combined Vulcan and Romulan forces.”
“Those are a lot of ships,” Marsden said with a low whistle.
“Hence our cause for concern. It seems the build up was not just a distraction to allow the Vulcans to steal the mind control device.”
“We’ve got to get back to the fray quickly, then,” Bain said.
“Indeed,” Larkin said. “If we are to avert a full-scale war, we must act quickly to diffuse the growing conflict. Captain Dax reports a few minor skirmishes have already broken out between Federation and Vulcan forces. This soup is quickly coming to a boil.”
“Your metaphor program is working perfectly, as always, Larks,” Bain said, patting the android on the back. “I’m sure Marsden here can have us out of spacedock well ahead of schedule. I’ll have to cancel dinner with the missus, but I’m sure she’ll understand.”
“I am, of course, gratified to hear that,” Larkin said. “We leave as soon as possible. Lieutenant Marsden, you may draw on whatever Starfleet resources you need to step up repairs to the Anomaly. But we must leave by tomorrow morning, at the latest.”
“It won’t be easy,” Marsden said. “There are about a thousand diffused connections in the polaron generator alone. Not to mention the anti- sing drive, which was fried virtually beyond recognition from our little stint at Warp X. Let’s try not to do that again, shall we?”
“I offer my services,” Tovar said stiffly, seated beside Marsden. Bain notice Prosak, almost imperceptably, glance at Tovar.
“I was planning to take them whether you offered them or not,” Marsden countered with a small smile.
Bain rubbed his hands together. “All right then. We all know our jobs. Let’s get to work so we can give the Vulcans a good old-fashioned thrash…” He glanced sidelong at Larkin. “Talking to.”
“Quite,” Larkin said, and left the room. Gradually, the rest of the staff filed out as well, until only Bain and Vioxx were left.
“It appears the command area has grown even more crowded,” Vioxx said. “I wouldn’t think that possible.”
“Admiral Larkin is well within her rights to take direct control of the fleet.”
Vioxx shook his head. “If my superior on Romulus did likewise, I would seriously consider putting him out an airlock.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have that luxury,” Bain said. “Larkin doesn’t breathe, so that would hardly phase her.”
Vioxx gave a small smile. “I believe I misjudged you at first blush, Captain Bain. I thought you were a loose cannon, an unknown, a maverick. I thought I would have a hard time bringing you under control, making sure you adequately served Romulan interests. Now I see that fear was unfounded. After seeing you bend to Admiral Larkin’s will, it’s quite obvious that you are adept at following orders, and the chain of command. I am truly impressed.”
With that, Vioxx stepped out of the room, leaving Bain alone with his thoughts.
Then he followed Vioxx out. “Wait one second! I am a loose canon! I AM a bloody maverick!”
Natalia Kasyov fell in line next to Marsden in the corridor as the engineer made her way down to engineering.
“You really think you can pull this off, Shell?”
“I guess I’ll have to,” Marsden said.
“Where did Tovar go?”
“To gather a few of his security people to help with the repairs.”
“How’s everything in that area going?”
Marsden shrugged. “I really have to have a look. I haven’t gotten an update from Starfleet Engineering since we put into space dock.”
“No,” Kasyov said. “I’m talking about you and Tovar.”
“Oh,” Marsden said. “Too early to tell. We really didn’t get time to talk.”
“Maybe you’ll have some time while you work on repairs?”
“Doubtful,” Marsden said. “For the next twelve hours, I don’t plan on saying much more than “Pass the coil spanner,” to him.
“But you feel good about…things?”
“Give us space, Nat. Tovar and I will work things out, but we need some space to do it in.”
“Sure,” Kasyov said. “I can appreciate that.”
Marsden turned a sly smile onto Kasyov. “But enough about us. What about you and Cabral?”
Kasyov’s face noticeably reddened. “I wondered how long it would take you to bring that up.”
“Don’t worry, Nat. We’re not going to judge you. Whatever you feel for Cabral, it’s perfectly natural. You spend a lot of time with him. It’s understandable you’d develop some… feelings.”
“We’re not going to pursue a relationship, Shelly. That much should be obvious to you.”
“What?” Marsden asked, her eyes widening as she stepped into the turbolift.
Kasyov stood outside the lift, folding her arms. “It’s easier this way. A relationship with a living brain…it’d just be so complicated. It makes my own brain hurt just thinking about it.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile,” Marsden said. “As a matter of fact, in my book, it makes it worthwhile.”
“It’s just easier this way,” Kasyov said. “If you’d seen him around my parents–their reaction. Trust me, it’s just easier.”
“That should be the first sign that you’ve made a mistake,” Marsden said with a smile, and called out, “Engineering,” and the lift closed up and descended.
Bain walked up to the set of doors and tapped the doorchime panel.
“Yes?” the even voice of Admiral Kristen Larkin responded.
“It’s me, Larks. I need to speak with you.”
“Of course.” The door slid open, revealing Larkin standing right in the doorframe, inches from Bain’s face.
Bain hopped back a bit. “Great Bird hereafter, Larks, that’s enough to give a man a heart attack!”
“I apologize,” Larkin said, gesturing Bain in. “I was organizing my files.”
“Right in your doorway?”
“It’s just where I happened to be standing.” Larkin followed Bain with her eyes as he walked into the executive cabin where she’d taken up residence. “Now then, how may I be of service?”
Bain turned on a heel. “Why are you here, Admiral?”
Larkin cocked her head. “Was that not explained fully in the briefing I sent you?”
“Bugger it, Larkin, you know I’m talking about more than your briefing. WHY are you here? Does Starfleet not feel I can handle the Romulans? Do you not feel I can?”
“My feelings are irrelevant, and generated by a multipositron cospectral gigadrive.”
“Well,” Bain said, turning toward the windows and staring at the stars. “Be that as it may, I feel I’m due an explanation. We’ve known each other far too long.”
“Indeed, we have,” Larkin said. “That does not change the nature, or the danger of this mission.”
Bain’s eyebrows raised. “Danger?”
“Once we arrive at the Neutral Zone, I’m to assume direct command of the Anomaly, and the fleet.”
“I see. Reg Bain has damned his last torpedo, then, eh? The brass hats at Starfleet feel like I’m a liability, eh? One reckless maneuver, and suddenly I’m a threat? Blast it, Krissers, why didn’t you go to bat for me?”
“You misunderstand,” Larkin said, turning Bain to face her. “I’m taking command of the Anomaly so that you can command the Navigator on an important mission. One more important, even, than the fleet build-up in the neutral zone.”
“I’m listening,” Bain said, a smile spreading across his face.
“Modulate! Modulate! We’re losing cohesion.”
“That is because your elbow is in my ribcage,” Tovar said calmly to Marsden, as they sat squeezed in a Jefferies tube, among open panels and splayed-out circuits, fusing yet another diffused connection in the Anomaly’s polaron drive.
“Would you prefer I moved farther away?” Marsden asked coyly, nudging back against Tovar as they stood, back to back, in the vertical Jefferies tube.
“No,” Tovar said, a little too quickly, as he restored yet another connection.
“At this rate, we’ll be done well ahead of schedule,” Marsden said, and began the climb to the next landing, where another row of circuits were waiting to be fused.
Tovar climbed up behind her, climbing up to the landing beside her and flipping open yet another access panel. “Are you….are you pleased, Shelly?”
“No. I think Devix and Mullins should be finished with the anti- sing pulse monitors by now.”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant…with us. Are you satisfied with this outcome?”
Marsden tossed some blonde hair over her shoulder, pushing it out of her way as she hit another circuit. “I wasn’t aware there was any outcome yet.”
“Perhaps I was in error.”
Marsden glanced over her shoulder. “Jumping to conclusions, as usual, Tovar. We’ve got to do something about your sense of humor.”
“I wasn’t aware I had one.”
“There’s the problem,” Marsden said, snapping her fingers.
“Do not make fun of me, Shelly. I’m trying to be honest with you.”
“Haven’t we both had enough of brutal honesty for one day? Let’s play pretend for a while. Maybe we can pretend we’re on a nice date, at an Italian place on New Rome, overlooking the salt falls of Tortellini City….”
“Instead of stuck together in a hot, sweaty Jefferies tube?”
“Yeah,” Marsden said, turning toward Tovar. “Because, really, where’s the fun in that?”
“Still feel like fantasizing?” Tovar asked breathlessly.
“Not at all,” Marsden said, leaning in and kissing Tovar, pressing him against the back of the Jefferies tube.
Both their coil spanners clattered to the deck.
Captain Bain stuck his head through the access hatch and glanced up through the tall tube. “Tovar, son! You up there?”
“Oh, sh**. Get your clothes on!”
Bain squinted up at the upper levels of the vertical tube. It looked like one bare leg dangled over the edge of the upper landing. “Whatever you’re doing, get some other engineers on it. I need to meet with you and Marsden post haste.”
“We’ll be with you in just a moment,” Tovar said. “Here, Shelly…give me your, now wait…don’t….now you’ve dropped it!”
“What in blazes is going on up there?” Bain demanded, as suddenly he saw a grey uniform jacket come flapping down the tube, landing right on his face. “Bugger this,” he said, voice muffled. “I’ll wait outside.”
Moments later, Tovar and Marsden hopped out of the access hatch, Marsden wearing only her golden undershirt.
Bain frowned, handing the uniform jacket to Marsden. “For Pete’s sake. In the Jefferies tube?”
“Sir, I assure you, nothing untoward happened in there.”
“That must mean they did it backward, if you know what I mean,” Selex, the Romulan Engineer, chimed in from behind Bain.
“That’s enough out of you,” Marsden said, gathering up her jacket and shaking a warning hand at Selex.
Bain couldn’t help but grin. “Tovar, old boy, if this were any other time I’d send you back in there with a few pointers.” Marsden noticeably blanched. “But there’s work to be done. And I need you and Prosak to join me in the Captain’s Lounge immediately.”
“What about me?” Marsden asked.
Bain looked her up and down. “Finish up repairs. And…for the love of all that’s holy, pull your trousers the rest of the way up.”
Marsden looked down at her pants. “Oh. Whoops.”
“I’ll comm you,” Tovar called over his shoulder as he followed Bain out of Engineering.
“You sicken me,” Selex said flatly, and went back to work.
Marsden glanced around at the other engineers, who all stared at her. “Well, what are you all staring at? Get back to work!”
Bain leaned against the windowframe that overlooked the stars, and Earth, as Prosak and Ambassador Rorshak sat on the couch in his lounge, and Tovar occupied the wingback chair. All eyes were on him.
“I guess you all are wondering why I’ve called you here.”
“I’m not,” Rorshak said. “Larkin’s already briefed me. You’re going to Vulcan.”
Bain blinked. “Well, damn it man, don’t just blurt it out like that. I was building toward a dramatic reveal.”
“I fail to see the point in that,” Rorshak said, glancing away.
“To what purpose are we going to Vulcan?” Prosak asked.
“Glad you asked, Commander,” Bain said. He handed a padd to Rorshak, Prosak, and Tovar. “Looks like Starfleet Intelligence has uncovered some information about Sh’rak, the leader of the Vulcan people.”
“Their former PR coordinator,” Tovar said, rubbing his chin. “Yes, I remember.”
“He invaded my mind,” Prosak said. “He would be difficult to forget.”
“Starfleet thinks Sh’rak is not all that he seems,” Bain said. “Think about it. Have any of the Vulcans’ actions since Sh’rak took control been at all logical?”
“Logic is powerful, sir,” Prosak said, staring at the padd. “It can be warped to serve just about any purpose.”
“Exactly what Sh’rak is doing,” Bain said. “And Starfleet wants to know why.”
“Do they suspect that Sh’rak is not who he says he is?” Tovar asked.
“More like not WHAT he says he is.”
“Do they think he may be a changeling infiltrator?” Rorshak said. “That seems unlikely, as we haven’t had contact with the Dominion for over seventy years.”
“No. But he may be under some sort of mind control. Or perhaps he’s just a mad Vulcan exerting his own kind of mind control over his people.”
“So we’re going in to…remove him?” Tovar asked.
“Yes. Hence your involvement in this caper. We need to make it a clean extraction.”
“I assume I’m on this mission because I’ve infiltrated Vulcan before,” Prosak said.
“Actually, it’s in spite of that,” Bain said. “I had to talk Larkin into letting you go with me, considering the last time you went to Vulcan your mind got taken over by Sh’rak and you nearly assassinated the Romulan Praetor.”
“Could have happened to anybody,” Prosak said with a shrug.
“And, respectfully, Captain, why have you been chosen for this assignment?” Rorshak asked.
“Simple,” Bain said, and smiled. “Only Bain can go to Vulcan.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Rorshak said.
“Nor should you, I suppose,” Bain said. “Regardless, you’ll be staying aboard the Anomaly. Your involvement here is purely for informational purposes. The Strike Team will be made up of Prosak, Tovar, and myself. Small, maneuverable, hard to track. That’s Reg Bain style.”
“Sir,” Tovar said, standing, and leaning toward Bain. “With all due respect, I think the timing of this is somewhat…”
“We go where we’re sent, son,” Bain said. “Regardless of our…entanglements. You know that.”
Tovar nodded. “Of course. I’ll get the necessary supplies from the armory.”
“The Navigator will depart for Vulcan as soon as we reach the Romulan front,” Bain said, as Prosak and Tovar stood up and headed out. Bain glanced at Rorshak. “Ambassador, I give you my word. I’ll return your daughter to you in perfect working order.”
“Nice of you to say,” Rorshak said. “But uncessary. Romulans find that there’s no more worthy death than a death during subterfuge.”
Bain nodded. “I knew there was something I liked about your people, Ambassador.”
“It’s done,” Cabral said, his casing humming slightly as the engines came online. “Lieutenant Marsden has completed repairs in record time.”
“That’s my Shelly,” Kasyov said distantly, leaning over a console opposite Cabral, studying his readings. “You’ll be glad to know your self- repair systems have completely regenerated the dead tissue that resulted from our trip at Warp X.”
“I expect nothing less from myself,” Cabral said.
“We should be getting underway soon.”
“We will,” Cabral said. “Captain Bain just stepped out onto the bridge. Ahh, he’s sitting in his command chair. He’s talking to Commander Vioxx. Yes, now he’s speaking to the helmsman, Mister Nott.”
“You can see all that?”
“My sensors are tied into the bridge visual relays,” Cabral said. “During our recent layover, I’ve infiltrated all the ship’s major systems, more fully than ever before, in an attempt to have better control of shipboard functions during an emergency. You may be interested to know that Lieutenant Casey has been in the Deck Five lavatory for more than two hours…”
Kasyov wrinkled her nose. “That’s, er, a little too detailed, Cabral.”
“I enjoyed meeting your parents.”
“Where did that come from?”
“Multitasking. Ah, Captain Bain has given the order to enter Warp.” Cabral thrummed faster. “Warp R at your command, Captain. Engaging anti-sing drives….”
Kasyov blinked. “But what…?”
“But your parents seemed as though they didn’t know what to make of me.”
“Subspace instability ahead, zero-four-two mark one-one-five. Adjusting course. I think your parents are concerned that you may be missing out on career and personal opportunities while you ‘waste time’ with me. I feel that’s an unfair assessment, considering the close and rewarding interpersonal relationship both of us have developed.”
Kasyov rubbed the bridge of her nose, leaning back from her console. “Let’s hold off on this conversation until we reach the Neutral Zone. Maybe you can multitask, but I can’t.”
“Should I increase speed?”
“Not unless the Captain tells you to,” Kasyov said, then leaned forward, patting the thrumming brain. “You know I love you, Cabral, right?”
“And I you, Natalia.”
“But you know, also, that a relationship between us almost certainly would never work.”
The Anomaly shuddered.
“Losing anti-sing field stability,” Cabral reported.
“I’m sorry…Cabral, I didn’t mean to…”
“I cannot speak with you right now,” Cabral said distractedly. “We have become lodged in a substrata of subspace. Our velocity is out of control, and none of our navigational systems are responding.”
“What? Damn it, Cabral, I thought you could multitask!” Kasyov snapped as she turned back toward her console, monitoring the Anomaly’s plight.
“I was in error,” Cabral said. “I underestimated the amount of computing resources you take up. It’s more considerable than I’d thought.”
“That’s the nicest thing a guy has ever said to me,” Kasyov said, watching Cabral thrum faster as he struggled to get the Anomaly under control.
“Bain to Science Lab Four. What the bloody blue blazes is going on down there?”
“Stand by, Captain,” Cabral reported.
“I’m in love with this brain, Captain,” Kasyov said, staring long and hard at Cabral, running her hands over his smooth, warm surface.
“Good show! Now would you kindly prevent us from flying into oblivion?”
“On it, Captain!” Cabral said, and the shuddering suddenly stopped. “All systems are normal. Regular course at Warp R has resumed.”
“Cabral, I….” Kasyov said in a whisper.
“Please, Natalia,” Cabral said, a little coldly. “I believe it would be better if you left me alone for the duration of this trip. The entirety of my resources are needed for the tasks at hand. I’m sure you understand.”
Kasyov stood up, backed toward the door. “Um….okay.”
“It’s for the best.”
As she left, Kasyov wondered what that meant.
Several hours later, the Anomaly dropped out of Warp, still several parsecs from the Romulan Neutral Zone.
“Good show, Cabral,” Bain said, leaning out of his chair. “I appreciate you avoiding…potholes…for the rest of the trip.”
“I had good motivation, Captain,” Cabral said cryptically, and closed the channel.
“Form your away team, Reginald,” Larkin said, stepping up to the command chair, hands draped behind her back. “And please, do be careful.”
“I promise nothing,” Bain said with a winning smile, pointing at Prosak and Tovar. “You two, with me.”
Vioxx picked up step next to Bain as he walked toward the turbolift. “This is madness, Bain. You’re flying blindly into the nest of our enemies.”
“Yes,” Bain said, as he, Prosak, and Tovar ducked into the turbolift.
“Is that all you’ve got to say?”
“Oh, one other thing,” Bain said. “I’m borrowing Centurion Nortal. Hope you don’t mind.”
“This is all very ill-advised. We should be focusing on liberating Romulus.”
“Cut off a snake’s head, and the snake dies, Commander,” Bain said, winking at Vioxx as the doors closed.
“What the bloody hell does that mean?” Vioxx asked. “And why did I just say ‘bloody hell’? I’ve been around that man too long already.”
“PROSAK?” Marsden demanded, pacing Tovar’s quarters as he quickly packed a bag.
“Yes. And Captain Bain. And, I believe, Centurion Nortal.”
Tovar stopped, looked at Marsden. “Is that a problem?”
“It would only be a problem if you’d slept with her. Which you did!”
“All of which is in the past.”
“Of course it is,” Marsden said, visibly calming. “I’m being ridiculous.”
“I’m glad you can see that,” Tovar said, hitching his satchel over his shoulder. “Now then, would you like to walk me to the shuttlebay?”
“Will Prosak be there?”
“I assume so.”
Marsden sighed. “Fine. I’m not going to let this bother me.”
“You’re acting very strange.”
“Our relationship is entirely different now. We’ve had sex. It changes everything.”
“I’m not sure I understand how.”
“That’s because you don’t understand women,” Marsden said with a small grin.
“I’m well aware of that,” Tovar said, stepping out into the corridor. “Maybe you can provide me with an education.”
“Get back here in one piece, and we’ll start your lessons immediately,” Marsden said, leaning over and kissing Tovar’s cheek.
“Tut-tut, there’ll be no more clothes-removing on this mission,” Bain said with a chuckle, walking up behind Tovar and Marsden. Prosak was with him, looking uncomfortable. Marsden leapt almost a foot in the air.
She whirled. “Captain. Commander.”
Prosak nodded. “Lieutenant.”
“I was just…” Marsden thumbed over her shoulder. “Headed back down to Engineering.”
“Good show, Marsie. Keep the old girl in one piece till we get back.”
“Will do,” Marsden said, locking eyes with Tovar as she walked off down the corridor.
Tovar watched her go, then looked at Bain and Prosak. “I am ready.”
Prosak nodded. “I am not. But I’m apparently going anyway.”
“Chin up, you two. This mission will go off without a hitch. Now then, lad, point me to the shuttlebay. Reginald Bain has some killing to do.”
Bain, Prosak and Tovar stepped into the main shuttlebay, where the U.S.S. Navigator was stored (tightly, Bain thought, since there wasn’t much more than two meters of space on any given side–the Anomaly’s shuttle bay was never designed for a Lincoln-class scout ship).
On arrival, they were greeted by Engineer Selex and Centurion Nortal. Both stood rigidly at the access plank that led up into the underside of the flat, vaguely semicircular, starship.
“The ship is prepared!” Nortal announced. “We await your arrival and departure command! All stands in readiness!”
“Top shelf,” Bain said, and ambled toward the plank. Selex took up step next to him.
“I’ve made the…alterations…you requested, and logged my objections with Commander Vioxx,” Selex said. “The Federation has no business with that technology installed on one of their starships. Not on the Anomaly, and not on the Navigator.”
“I appreciate your patriotism, lad, but we need the Anomaly’s cloaking device to get safely in and out of Vulcan space.”
“Should our resources not be aimed at freeing the Romulan Empire?” Selex asked hotly.
“That is quite enough,” Prosak spoke up, stepping in between Bain and Selex. “The Captain does not require your approval or acceptance of his plan.”
“You belong in a Federation uniform,” Selex grimaced, and turned on a heel, walking out.
“I agree, Prosak,” Bain said, and stepped up the plank into the Navigator. “And nice of the lad to say so.”
“I don’t think….” Prosak began, following Bain.
“Don’t bother trying to explain it to him,” Tovar said protectively, taking up step behind Prosak.
Nortal brought up the rear. “I for one am eager for a mission of infiltration and combat. I stand ready to enter the fray!”
“That’s the spirit,” Tovar said, closing the hatch.
“Navigator is away,” Lieutenant Gworos announced from the tac- ops station, behind the command area, where Larkin and Vioxx sat, looking at the viewscreen, and the vast starscape. Out there, just a few parsecs ahead, was a phalanx of Vulcan ships, just waiting to break into Federation space and spread their brand of logical conquest. It made Vioxx’s blood boil to think they were already doing much of the same on his beloved Romulan soil.
“Resume our course to the Neutral Zone,” Larkin ordered. “Warp R.”
“Resuming course, Warp R,” Ensign Nott reported from the helm. “We’ll arrive at the coordinates in under an hour.”
“Excellent,” Larkin said, and punched a control on the command chair. “All hands, go to Yellow Alert. Battle readiness. Weapons systems on standby. Larkin out.”
“Is all that really necessary?” Vioxx said. “I thought we were going on a ‘diplomatic misson.’”
“According to Captain Dax, who right now is heading up the fleet, the situation with the Vulcans is quickly deteriorating. We must work quickly to reach a diplomatic solution to this crisis before this escalates into all-out war.”
“Isn’t it war already?” Remax asked, stepping down from the science console. “The Vulcans have invaded the home territory of one of your allies, the Romulans. The Federation has formally declared war. What more do you need to know that it’s time to fight?”
“Go back to your station,” Larkin said flatly, and turned to Vioxx. “Where is Doctor Kasyov?”
“She’s…below,” Vioxx said, instead of telling Larkin the truth, which was that he really had no idea. He didn’t make a habit of supervising Federation crew, or tracking their whereabouts.
“Find her,” Larkin said. “We may require her services.”
Vioxx stood up and headed for the turbolift, feeling Remax’s glare on him.
“As for you, Sub-Commander,” Larkin said, her eyes still on the viewscreen. “You may get your wish for war very soon if we’re not successful.”
“Thanks,” Remax said.
“Cloaking device engaged,” Tovar said from the helm/tac/ops panel at the front of the Navigator’s bridge, as Bain leaned forward in his chair, watching the stars stretch forward on the smallish, viewscreen.
The lights dimmed to a bluish hue all around. Behind Bain, Prosak and Nortal looked on, nodding appreciatively.
“Good show, Tovar,” Bain said. “Remind me to thank Mr. Selex for his handiwork.”
“I doubt he’d be receptive to your thanks,” Tovar said.
“Success! Now that we’ve cloaked, we will sneak into Vulcan space unannounced, like a predator!” Nortal exclaimed.
“In point of fact, we will not be unannounced if you keep announcing us,” Prosak said neutrally. “And it remains to be seen whether the Vulcans will be able to see through our cloak.”
“Tut-tut, Prosak,” Bain said, leaning his hands on his knees. “If nothing else, you must appreciate Nortal’s thirst for adventure.”
“Her thirst will do us no good if we get captured by the Vulcans,” Prosak said.
“Then we must ensure that doesn’t happen,” Tovar said, checking the Navigator’s sensors.
“Indeed,” Bain said. “Let’s not forget to put our ears on before we disembark.”
“Good point,” Tovar said, and had a small laugh.
“Why are you laughing?” Prosak asked, hands on her hips.
“No reason,” Tovar said, his smile fading. “Just something I think Shelly would have found funny.”
“Shelly,” Prosak muttered.
“Yes,” Bain said, clapping his hands on his thighs. “Safe to say you and the good Lieutenant Marsden have developed quite a rapport.”
“Sir, I’d prefer you not broadcast my personal business to the rest of the crew,” Tovar said, his shoulders stiffening.
“I’d say you did that when Lieutenant Marsden…inspected your injectors…in the Jefferies tube,” Prosak said.
“Just say it, Commander, you’re jealous,” Tovar said, staring down at his console.
“I am a Romma-Vulc. I don’t feel jealousy.”
“Alas! I have not heard the news of a relationship between the bold Tac-Ops Chief and the Engineer Extraordinaire!” Nortal said, walking over to Tovar and clapping him on the back. “Regale us with the tale of your star-crossed romance, my comrade-in-arms!”
“Yes, yes,” Bain said, leaning back. “We have some time until we reach Vulcan. Regale us.”
“I’m going below,” Tovar muttered, standing up and walking off the bridge.
“By the fist! I shall take the helm!” Nortal exclaimed, having already forgotten about Tovar’s story. She slid into the seat at helm.
“I’ve got…stuff to do…” Prosak muttered, heading out the opposite hatch, muttering “…so not logical,” as she left.
“Was it something we said, lass?” Bain asked, leaning back in his chair, now alone with Nortal.
“Not all are bred for war and victory, as are we!” Nortal exclaimed.
“Superb,” Bain said, and turned to read a padd.
“Doctor Kasyov,” Vioxx said, a little reluctantly, as he stood at the door to Kasyov’s quarters. “You’re needed on the bridge.”
“Now’s not a good time, Commander,” Kasyov’s voice replied. “Have Remax handle it.”
“Admiral Larkin requested you specifically,” Vioxx said. “And she’s an Admiral, so… you know.”
“I’m not a commissioned officer,” Kasyov replied. “Get someone else.”
“I suppose I could get Lennum…” Vioxx considered. “No. Larkin requested you. Please, come out.”
“I…I don’t feel like it.”
Vioxx’s brow furrowed. Was that…sniffling he heard?
“Doctor, are you crying?”
“I insist you come out here right now. That’s an order.”
“I said go away!”
“Computer, unlock door, Authorization Vioxx Mu Theta two-two.”
The door slid open, and Vioxx stepped into Kasyov’s quarters, to find her curled on the couch, a fistful of tissues held to her nose, blowing.
“There must be some kind of cultural misunderstanding,” Kasyov said, balling up the tissue and tossing it on the coffee table. “Go away means leave. It doesn’t mean break in.”
Vioxx sat down in the chair opposite Kasyov’s couch. “You are dealing with a personal problem.”
“Ah, I see you’ve heard of them,” Kasyov said, rubbing her red eyes.
“Unfortunately,” Vioxx said. “I find them distasteful.”
Kasyov laughed. “So do I. Believe me.”
“Then stop crying. There’s a war on, and we have a mission to…”
“But he doesn’t love me…” Kasyov said in a small voice.
“I…that is, I um…” Vioxx fumbled with his fingers. Why couldn’t she just mutiny and try to assassinate him? That he could understand. But…crying? He’d never seen one of his officers cry. To his knowledge, they weren’t capable of it. Even if they were, he’d never know. And he liked it that way. “There’s a…mission.”
“Oh, to hell with the mission!” Kasyov snapped, standing up, pulling her robe up around her waist and cinching it. She marched over to Vioxx. “I declared my love to that stupid brain, and what does he do? Rebuffs me!”
“Stupid…brain. Is that a human epithet? Who are your referring to?”
“A brain. Cabral.”
“The alien being who runs the anti-singularity engines?”
Kasyov nodded. “He told me he didn’t have the ‘resources’ to deal with me. That the mission ahead needed his full attention.”
“A wise choice.”
“It’s not wise at all! It’s ridiculous! Human beings can’t turn their feelings off and on!”
“Cabral is not human,” Vioxx said. “Perhaps he’s able to do that.”
“Well, it’s not fair to me, damn it,” Kasyov said, walking in circles around Vioxx. “True, I told him a relationship between us would never work. But damn it, I didn’t expect for the conversation to end there. Of course it didn’t help that we got stuck in a subspace strata at the time…”
“Ah, is that what caused that?” Vioxx asked, rubbing his chin.
“Yeah,” Kasyov said. “And now I’m just supposed to forget I’m in love with him, for the good of the mission.”
“Superb idea!” Vioxx said, clapping his hands together briskly and standing up. “I will see you on the bridge in five…”
“But I can’t do that!” Kasyov said, turning, looking pleadingly at Vioxx. “I…just can’t.”
Vioxx stared at the floor. “Well, I, uh, understand.”
“You don’t understand,” Kasyov said. “Nobody can. I don’t think anybody’s ever fallen in love with a disembodied brain before.”
“There is an amusing Romulan novel about the subject, actually,” Vioxx said, shifting from foot to foot. “‘The Man with More Than One Brain.’ Would you like me to download a copy for you?”
“No,” Kasyov said. “The last thing I need to do is think about my problems. I need a diversion.” She walked toward the door. “If you need me, I’ll be on the bridge.”
“Excellent idea,” Vioxx called after her. “Let me know if I can be of any further help!”
Tovar hunched over a padd in the Navigator’s cramped mess hall, trying to put into words what he felt about Shelly Marsden.
They hadn’t had much time together, had barely discussed their feelings about one another, when Tovar was snatched away for this mission. He wanted to tell her so much, and if this mission was as dangerous as most of the missions Starfleet handed Reginald Bain, then chances were good that Tovar would never return to the Anomaly.
Shelly had to know how he felt.
“Love letters?” a voice asked. Tovar looked up to see Prosak standing in the mess hall doorway, ensconced in shadow.
“Of a sort,” Tovar said, not looking up. “I am writing to Shelly.”
“I assumed as much,” Prosak said, stepping in. “I will not inquire further. I understand how such things must be of a…private nature.”
“I appreciate that,” Tovar said, and continued working on his padd.
“You are right, you know.”
Tovar looked up. “About?”
“I am jealous of you and Lieutenant Marsden. It is an unfortunate, nasty little emotion, but I feel it nevertheless.”
“I see.” Tovar slid the padd aside and folded his hands. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Prosak studied a nearby replicator. “Not particularly. Our relationship is clear and well defined. The one you have with Shelly Marsden is…”
“Not,” Tovar said, finishing her thought.
“There’s something to be said for having a life with blurred borders. Logic…stability… sensibility. These things can only get you so far, until you decide you need to shake things up a bit.”
Tovar gave a small smile. “Like you did with me a few weeks ago?”
“That was an error in judgment.”
“I thought it was…”
“Fulfilling,” Prosak finished his thought.
“Yes,” Tovar said. “Are you still wishing to ‘shake things up’?”
“You are in a relationship,” Prosak said flatly.
“Not yet,” Tovar said. “But that’s not what I was talking about.” He glanced up at Prosak, locked eyes with her. “What do you want, Commander? I mean, what do you really want?”
“I will let you know as soon as I know,” Prosak said. “At any rate, I came here to apologize. Having done that, I will now return to the bridge. We’ll be at Vulcan shortly.”
Tovar stared after Prosak as she walked out of the mess hall. He decided against pointing out that she never actually apologized.
Commander Sokor surveyed the conference room with narrowed eyes. “What is the point of my presence here?”
“We were hoping you could tell us,” Vioxx said from beside Admiral Larkin. The android held up a hand, silencing him. Other than two Vulcan lieutenants behind the commander, they were alone in the conference room.
“What my colleague means to say is that you are in blatant defiance of interstellar law. The Khitomer Accords, the Zanzsibon Concordance…”
“All of those are meaningless now,” Sokor said, steepling his fingers. He was tall for a Vulcan; his grayish hair indicated he must have been ancient…easily over two hundred years. His face was slightly lined, his jaw square and set. The inscrutable stare of a practiced logician. Vulcan’s best, Larkin thought. A Vulcan Reginald Bain? Perhaps.
“How can you say that?” Larkin asked. “That hardly seems logical.”
“Logic guides us in all we do, Admiral,” Sokor said. “In this case, logic guides us toward conquest. Is that so hard to understand?”
“Yes it is,” Larkin said. “And my brain is capable of performing millions of calculations per nanosecond.”
“Then you should have no problem grasping our need to unify with the Romulan Empire and impose order there.”
“But where does it stop?” Larkin asked. “Once the Romulans are conqured, where do you go next?”
“To the next logical target,” Sokor said blandly. If Larkin’s emotion program was running, she’d have felt a chill.
“Commander, do you plan on invading the Federation?” Larkin asked.
“I’m not authorized to give you that information.”
“Admiral, he’s obviously stalling for time. We should act now, before he can move his ships into position for an attack!” Vioxx said.
“You’re dismissed,” Larkin said without looking at Vioxx. She stood up and walked aruond the table, looming over Sokor as Vioxx stormed out. “And listen to me, Sokor. You take this back to your Vulcan commanders: The Federation is not weak. We are prepared for your invasion. We know it’s coming. And you’ll find it a lot harder than you may think to simply overtake us. You’ll find us an implacable foe.”
“Are you quite finished?” Sokor asked.
“You may leave,” Larkin said, and gestured toward the door. “Give my regards to Chancellor Sh’rak, wherever he may be.”
Sokor stopped. Didn’t turn around, just stopped, facing the door. “He is safe from Federation attack, Admiral. That’s where he is.”
“Fascinating,” Larkin said, as Sokor walked out.
“That was productive,” Vioxx said, stepping back into the conference room.
“You were not helpful,” Larkin said. “Nothing is gained by antagonizing the Vulcans further.”
“Aren’t they the ones antagonizing us?”
“I believe they haven’t yet begun to antagonize,” Larkin said thoughtfully. “Open up a channel to Captain Bain. I just got a very bad feeling about this whole mission.”
“You have feelings?”
“Yes. I activated them just now. Now move!”
Captain Bain, Lt. Commander Tovar, Commander Prosak, and Centurion Nortal appeared, dressed in Vulcan robes (and the former in fabricated pointy ears), on the surface of Vulcan, at the heart of Selaya City, the world’s capital.
“Damn hot, if you ask me,” Bain rumbled, stepping down across the crowded town square as wind and red dust whipped past his face.
“A foul wind blows, but it will not prevent us from staying our appointed rounds!” Nortal announced.
Tovar cocked his head. “My subcoutaneous communicator just picked up something. It’s a coded signal from the Anomaly.”
Bain nodded. “Good show, Larkin. Probably calling to tell us the whole war’s called off.”
Tovar nodded, as he seemed to be listening to a far-off voice. “Not exactly, sir. She advises us to proceed with caution. She suspects Vulcan authorities may be aware of our location.”
“Blast it,” Bain said. “Why are they always one step ahead of us?
“Enemies abound! They close in from all sides!” Nortal announced.
“Would you be quiet!” Prosak said tightly. “All your pronouncements are not exactly helping matters.”
“Still, she has a point,” Bain said, nodding at Tovar. “Take point, my boy. Keep vigilant. It’s a cold day when a bunch of Vulcans get the best of Reginald Bain.”
“And a cold day it definitely isn’t,” Tovar pointed out.
Kasyov sat on the bridge, thumping her hand on the science console aimlessly as she thought about Cabral. She had tried for hours to work. To study Vulcan mind-meld techniques, to try and prepare a report for Admiral Larkin on ion disturbances in the Neutral Zone. Anything to make herself feel useful. But all she ended up doing was staring at a blurry screen while Larkin and Vioxx met about who knew what in Vioxx’s adjacent office.
“My sentiments exactly,” Shelly Marsden said from behind Kasyov, resting a hand on the back of her chair, thumping her hand on the headrest.
“You’re worried about Tovar,” Kasyov observed.
“You’re worried about Cabral.”
“All told, I’d rather be me than you,” Kasyov said in a low voice. “At least I know Cabral’s not in immediate danger.”
“I think we’re all in danger,” Marsden said. “And I figured that would help, you know, take our minds off things.”
“That’s a healthy attitude. The ‘impending doom’ coping strategy. I’ll have to remember that one.”
“But it’s not helping,” Marsden said. “Because, whatever happens here, I’d feel better if Tovar was here with me.”
“I’m sure he feels the same way,” Kasyov said.
“No. He’d want me out of danger, at all costs. Idiot.”
“What a jerk,” Kasyov said, and smiled. She put her hand on Marsden’s. “Want to get some coffee?”
Marsden shrugged. “Might as well. There’s nothing going on up here.”
“We’re here,” Tovar said, a little winded, as he and the others reached the top of the steps to Mount Selaya. They looked upon the grand, gated entrance to the Vulcan Grand Hall, just adjacent to the Assembly Center atop Mount Selaya. This was, and had been for some time now, the seat of power on Vulcan. Of course, Vulcans weren’t power hungry, so this was purely an appellation the Federation used.
Then again, matters had changed somewhat, and Bain figured none of the commonly held notions about the Vulcans were quite safe anymore. For all he knew, it was all a ruse. If that was so, it was a ruse that had been executed masterfully over a number of centuries.
But he didn’t put anything past the Vulcans, even that. They were a crafty bunch, and Bain had always had an inkling that they were more emotional than they’d let on.
A broad-shouldered, helmeted guard stood at the gate as Tovar and the others approached.
“State your business,” the guard said in a basso voice.
“We are…archivists from Spock City. We are here to study the historical vaults,” Prosak said, reaching inside her robe and handing a padd to the guard. “All of our permissions are in order, you’ll see.” She said a silent thank you to Remax, who’d done a few turns at the Vulcan consulate. It wasn’t hard to fabricate such documents, if one knew what one was doing.
The guard looked over the padd. “Your permissions are in order. Proceed.” He keyed a code on the massive gate, and it swung open.
“After you,” Bain said, gesturing to Prosak. Tovar and Nortal brought up the rear.
“On to victory!” Nortal bellowed.
“Victory over old documents, yes,” Tovar said, throwing his hand over Nortal’s mouth. “Would you shut up?”
“Mmph mm hm mhhhmmmph!” Notal protested, and then, as Tovar took his hand away “With great dignity!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tovar said, and gazed around the lobby of the spartan, earth-toned Grand Hall as he and the group made their way to the lift that would take them to the vaults. Not for the first time, Tovar marveled at the way the Vulcans were able to move about in a crowd, never bump into each other, never say “excuse me,” and never make more than the most cursory eye contact. That never really made sense to him.
“You’re sure your maps are correct, boy?” Bain said in a low voice as the group approached a pair of heavy metal doors in an anteroom off the main chamber.
“Yes,” Tovar whispered, keying the lift open, and gesturing the others in.
“A preemptive strike, Kristen. It’s the only way,” Barnum Dax said, his hologram standing on Vioxx’s desk, shaking his fist for emphasis. “Strike now and strike hard, before they have a chance to make their move!”
“Far be it from me to disagree, Captain, but I cannot authorize such an action at this time,” Larkin said, as, behind his desk, Vioxx fumed.
“How much do you want to bet that the Vulcans cross that line within the next ten hours?” Vioxx asked.
“I fail to see the usefulness in that,” Larkin said.
“I fail to see the usefulness in any of this,” Vioxx said. “What are we waiting for?”
“For word from Captain Bain,” Larkin said. “If he can get to Sh’rak, he may be able to convince the Vulcan Chancellor to call off the war.”
“Or else kill him, which would either prevent a war or more likely cause a full scale conflict.”
“I expect both scenarios are equally likely,” Larkin said thoughtfully.
“Hello!” Dax waved from the desktop. “I’m still here!”
“I know,” Larkin said.
“Well, don’t you want to know what I think?”
“I think I have a general idea.”
“You’re the boss, of course, Kristen, but I think we’re making a mistake.”
“You are welcomed to your opinion, but it’s irrelevant,” Larkin said flatly, and closed the channel. She looked out the readyroom window. “Come on, Reginald…”
“Come on, Tovar,” Bain said, leaning over Tovar as Prosak and Nortal stood guard at the door to the maintenance room, where Tovar was currently trying to get access to an air duct.
“I have several security fields to disable first,” Tovar said, poking the door to the hatch with his articulation plaser.
“How’d you get so deft at disabling Vulcan security fields, anyway?” Bain said, occasionally glancing over his shoulder.
Your wife taught me everything, Tovar thought wryly. “Starfleet Academy,” he said.
“Good show.” He tapped an old jig out with his foot. “Alacrity would be much appreciated, my boy!”
“Got it!” Tovar suddenly said, and the hatch whooshed open.
“By all means, Tovar, inside!” Bain said, gesturing Tovar into the hatch and waving for Prosak and Nortal to join them.
As they shimmied along the angled shaft, Bain chuckled.
“Sir?” Tovar grunted as he belly-crawled.
“I bet you preferred the company you had in the last maintenance shaft you were in.”
“There’s something to be said for Shelly’s…agility with a hyperspanner.”
“The exit hatch is just ahead, another fifteen meters.”
“Brilliant, Tovar,” Bain said. “Leave it to the Vulcans, logical to the end. They wouldn’t put the Chancellor’s chambers at the top of their Grand Hall. No, no, put it in the base of the mountain, and it’s more defensible to attack.”
“Unless of course you have Romulan Intelligence on your side,” Prosak piped up, her voice echoing from the back of the shaft.
Tovar blinked twice, activating the mini-quadcorder lenses that had been put in over his eyes. They displayed a schematic of the adjacent room, Sh’rak’s chamber. “I’m picking up one occupant in the room. A Vulcan male.”
“Is it Sh’rak?” Bain asked.
“I believe so.”
“That’ll have to be good enough. Blow the hatch, son. Let’s get on with this!”
“Yes, father,” Tovar said, and kicked the exit hatch open, sliding out.
He landed with a small thud, a couple meters down, facing Sh’rak, who sat behind his desk calmly looking at him. Tovar felt his stomach sink the moment he saw the expression on Sh’rak’s face.
The Vulcan had been expecting him.
“Mister Tovar, Captain Bain. Prosak…and you,” Sh’rak said to Nortal, as the group hopped out of the hatch and faced him. “I’m…pleased you could join me here.”
“Funny thing for a Vulcan to say,” Bain said, his instincts screaming that this thing was about to go very, very bad.
Sh’rak touched a panel on his desk. “Unfortunately, it’s all for naught. I have fifty guards on their way in, which I would estimate is more than enough to put down your little…assault.”
“Listen to reason, man,” Bain said, approaching Sh’rak’s desk. “We didn’t come here to assault you.” Okay, so that wasn’t entirely true. “We came here to reason with you! There’s no reason for this. This conquest…it’s not your style. Let’s be reasonable folk and just talk this thing out like gentlemen.”
“Or else do what?” Sh’rak said, rising from his desk and stepping around it, to face Bain. “Perhaps settle this like a true Terran would? Fisticuffs?”
Bain felt his temper flaring. “If need be.”
“You disappoint me, Captain. Here we thought the Terrans had developed somewhat over the last few centuries. But in the end, you’re just as backward as you were when we first came upon you that fateful day in Montana.”
“If you’re looking for a fight, lad, you’ll get one.”
“I’m looking for total domination, ‘lad,’ Sh’rak said. “I’ll settle for nothing less.”
Bain opened his mouth to say something, but for the first time, found himself without words.
“Tovar to Navigator. Request immediate extraction,” Tovar said. All he got was static.
Just then, the doors to Sh’rak’s office opened, and fifty Vulcan warriors filed in neatly and orderly, all brandishing curved “lirpa,” the weapon of choice for ritual battle on Vulcan.
“I do so love the old ways,” Sh’rak said, and stepped back around his desk. “Slaughter them, my good men.” Sh’rak smiled. “But do it logically.”
The Vulcans closed in on Bain and his team.
“Thoughts?” Bain asked Tovar.
“None at the moment, Father,” Tovar said quietly.
“You all know your orders,” Bain said in a low voice to the others. “Whoever makes it back to the Navigator heads full steam for the Anomaly. Tell them….tell them we’re definitely at war. No doubt about it now.”
“Any grand exaltations?” Prosak said, with raised brow, looking at Nortal.
Nortal just shrugged.
“Now!” Bain shouted, and leapt into the fray, throwing his fist at the jaw of the first available Vulcan.
The Vulcans swarmed on them, and Bain suddenly found himself spread out on his back, leveled by a sweep kick, with a gleaming lirpa hoisted high above him. He heard the grunts of Tovar and the others fighting, but right now couldn’t do much about it.
The blade came down, and a hand reached out and grabbed it, twisted it out of the hand of whatever Vulcan was holding it.
THWOK! THWOK! THWOK! The weapon’s new owner slammed the butt end of it against the heads of several Vulcans, immediately felling them.
By the time Bain got to his feet, his knees felt weak again.
There, moving through the crowd of Vulcans, was his wife. Rosalyn Bain.
She moved like a tiger. Crouched, then pounced, then skipped sideways off a wall, somersaulting in mid air, lashing out with kicks so fast Bain could barely count them.
Prosak, Tovar, and Nortal, stunned by this development, stopped fighting and just watched as Rosalyn moved through the room, a black- clad tornado, swinging her lirpa like an expert Vulcan warrior..
SLASH! SLASH! SLASH! She felled Vulcan after Vulcan efficiently and ruthlessly. Some she knocked out, some weren’t so lucky.
Bain staggered over to the corner where Tovar and the others stood. “I…I don’t understand!”
Tovar smiled. “I do.”
Bain resisted the urge to call out to her, not wanting to distract Rosalyn from fighting. Where’d she come from? And how did she learn to fight like that?
Sh’rak stood, a horrified look crossing his face as Rosalyn turned toward him, his entire column of guards now completely dispatched.
She pointed the lirpa at him, and marched toward him. “I’m quite cross with you, young fellow!”
“I’d love to hear more, really,” Sh’rak said. “But I’ve got to go!”
Rosalyn reeled back, hurled the lirpa, and it smashed uselessly into the wall behind Sh’rak. He’d transported away in a green flurry just before it hit.
“Rosalyn,” Bain gasped, stepping over felled guards to get to Rosalyn. “What…what in creation are you doing here?”
Rosalyn reached out, touched Bain’s face. “I do so want to tell you everything, Reggie. But I’m afraid I can’t. Too much at stake. Too many irons in the fire.” She sighed, withdrew a penlike device from her belt, and aimed it at Bain. His face immediately went stone cold blank. She zapped it at Nortal and Prosak, too, and their eyes likewise went glassy.
“Mum,” Tovar said. “We’ve got to leave. No doubt there are more guards on the way.”
“Go back the way you came,” Rosalyn said. “I’ll make sure you have a clear path out. I wish I could offer you a ship, but I’m afraid mine was…confiscated.”
“How are you going to get off the planet, then?” Tovar asked, as Bain looked on, glazed.
“Don’t worry about me. A mother has her secrets. Now go!” And Rosalyn brandished her lirpa, dashing out the main doors to Sh’rak’s office.
Moments later, as if a switch had been thrown, Bain, Prosak, and Nortal all snapped back to reality.
Bain looked around. “Good show, people! We managed to take out that entire column without a single casualty!”
“That remains to be seen,” Tovar said thoughtfully, then pointed toward the air shaft. “I think we’d better go back the way we came.”
“Excellent idea,” Bain said. “I’m glad you thought of it.”
“Me too,” Tovar said.
The trip out of the Grand Hall had been easier than Tovar had thought it would be. The hardest part was, once they got out in the open, having to walk along in slow, measured steps, with impassive faces, after all they’d just been through.
Tovar especially didn’t feel very impassive at the moment, but he figured he’d feel a lot better when he got back aboard the Navigator and headed back to the Anomaly, and Shelly.
“Hurry now,” Bain said, and pointed ahead. “As soon as we reach that dividing wall, we’ll duck behind it and request beamout.”
“We will retreat with all due valor!” Nortal exhalted.
“Here we go again,” sighed Prosak.
Tovar looked over his shoulder as the group walked briskly toward the wall. He saw several robed Vulcans breaking off and following them. Before he could say anything, the nearby Vulcans threw off their cloaks, revealing themselves to be a cadre of guards. This time, though, they didn’t wield lirpa. Instead, they were all holding convection phaser rifles.
“Whatever we did last time, let’s do it again,” Bain said.
“Not sure that’s possible,” Tovar said. “You may want to call for that beamout now, Captain.”
“Good idea,” Bain said. “Bain to Navigator. Four to…” That’s when he saw the orange streak in the dusky sky. The black trail of smoke. The gleaming silver shape barreling toward a nearby mountain range, its fuel pods exploding around it as it streaked by. “…definitely not beam up! Four to definitely not beam up!” Bain corrected, wincing as the Navigator smashed against the far-off mountain, exploding in a great orange ball.
Bain balled up his fists. “Now you’ve gone and done it! That was a fine ship, you pointy-eared buggers!”
“Resist!” Bain ordered his team. “Resist until you…” But, before he could finish his sentence, he felt the familiar tug of a transporter beam, and realized he was being beamed away. Whether or not that was a good thing was anyone’s guess.
“Open a coded channel to the fleet,” Larkin said, as she and Vioxx filed out of the readyroom.
Remax had once again resumed the science post. “I take it we’re finally taking action?”
“Silence,” Larkin said. “Mister Gworos?”
“Channel open,” Gworos grunted.
“Attention, Federation Fleet,” Larkin said. “As you all may well know, we have been waiting to take action, hoping to hear from a group of operatives who are making one last ditch effort to end this war. Having failed to check in at the appointed time, we must assume these operatives have not succeeded in their mission. Therefore, I’m issuing the order to attack. All battlegroups assemble at coordinates zero seven zero mark…”
“Admiral!” Gworos broke in.
Larkin turned to face the Klingon. “I am addressing the fleet, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, but I thought you’d like to know…”
“A fleet of Romulan Warhawks just decloaked behind us. In Federation space!”
“Red alert!” Vioxx called out. “All hands to battle stations. Raise shields and arm weapons.”
“Warhawks?” Larkin stepped down toward the viewscreen. “On screen!”
Vioxx gasped behind Larkin as the screen showed dozens of Romulan Warhawks decloaking and heading toward them. Several of them were already opening fire. Larkin gasped, then quickly deactivated her emotions, as she saw the first volleys smash into nearby Federation starships.
“We’ve been lured into a trap,” Vioxx said over Larkin’s shoulder. “They’ve been moving us around like pawns this whole time, and we fell for it. Now we’re surrounded on both sides by markedly superior numbers. They’re using Romulan vessels, and for all we know, Romulan troops. We’re fighting a war on two fronts. And the Federation has been invaded without us even knowing it!”
“Yes,” Larkin said grimly. “But you forget one important detail, Commander. Those are Romulan ships in Federation space. Technically, the Vulcans have not crossed our lines yet. And I plan on winning that bet of ours.”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .