Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“What A Ripper!”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 178024.6. Following the Vulcan withdrawal from Romulan space, the Anomaly has been asked to remain in the Empire to provide assistance wherever we can and security until the Romulans get their space fleet repaired, regrouped, reorganized, and redistributed in case the Vulcans change their minds and come back, which they’d bloody well better not! We’ll see how logical they think everything is when they’re little piles of cinders and ashes! Sorry about that. The war is over now, and the Vulcans are our friends again. The whole thing wasn’t even really their fault. They were manipulated. It’s time to put petty hostilities aside, but I swear that if they so much as raise an eyebrow at me wrong, they’re going to feel the fist of Reginald Bain smash right into their… Sorry. Sorry. Got carried away there again.
“Back to the mission at hand, the Anomaly is currently in orbit of Romulus, where the Praetor has been working to reassemble her government. For now, all is quiet, and I’ve allowed small groups from the ship to visit the surface for a bit of shore leave. But if our sensors detect even the smallest Vulcan ship, then we’ll be breaking orbit and intercepting at anti-sing speeds faster than…
“Sorry. I’m sorry. Computer, just end the bloody log!”
“There are going to be opportunities. That’s all I’m saying,” Commander Vioxx remarked as he strolled through the newly-reopened open-air market in the Kanthor Segment of the planet’s capital city. Since this was their homeworld, the Romulan officers on board the Anomaly had been given first consideration for Shore Leave, which Vioxx had to admit was rather decent of Captain Bain. The idea of being back on Romulus and around throngs of his own people was too enticing to pass up. And, considering recent events, there were, as he had just mentioned to Sub-Commander Remax, other possible opportunities.
Remax narrowed his eyes at the younger officer. “There were opportunities even before the Vulcans swarmed in here. That didn’t mean anything for us then, and it’s not going to help us now.”
“But they’re going to need experienced crews,” Vioxx protested. “They have to give us a ship! A warhawk! I’ve already shown I can command them in combat…twice! We deserve our own warhawk!”
“By Jenichai, they will obey!” Centurion Nortal bellowed from off to Vioxx’s left.
“That’s a nice thought, but I don’t think the High Command responds well to that kind of talk,” Vioxx said.
“She wasn’t speaking to you,” Remax said, pointing off to the left where Nortal had yanked a merchant over the counter of his stall and was currently shaking him violently.
“If I demand fuchsia, YOU WILL GIVE ME FUCHSIA!”
“But it doesn’t come in that color,” the merchant squeaked in terror.
“What kind of holster doesn’t come in fuchsia?”
“That…one,” the merchant gasped before falling into unconsciousness.
“You are a disgrace to the good name of weapons’ dealers across the vastness of this universe and every other!” Nortal cried. She dropped the merchant’s limp body, then stormed over to Vioxx and Remax. “My thirst for commerce has not been sated!” she announced before charging back into the shopping fray.
“Is it scary that I’m actually starting to get used to her?” Vioxx said.
“No. What’s scary is that she’ll probably command a warhawk before you do,” Remax said. “Her father is a senator after all.”
“Damn elitist nepotistic unfair…”
“It’s the Romulan way,” Remax said proudly.
“Rah rah. Yea us,” Vioxx grumbled.
“Smile when you say that. You never know who is watching. And someone is always watching.”
Farther down the market, Nortal stalked forward like a hunter looking for prey.
“You!” a voice called from a shadowy side alley, drawing her attention.
“Who dares address me in such a way?” Nortal demanded, spinning toward the source of the voice, her body crouched and ready to pounce.
“Me!” the voice called back.
“Oh. That’s okay then,” she said, standing back up. “Who is ‘me’?”
“You are Nortal, assigned to the Earth ship.”
“I know which me I am! Who are you, ‘me’? Answer me or face my wrath!”
“A simple purveyor of the unique and unusual,” the voice in the alley replied. “I have something for you.” The voice said. A Romulan male stepped into the light of the main street of the market for a moment, then waved Nortal to follow him into the shadows.
“That way lies doom!” Nortal exclaimed.
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Yes, it does! What kind of fool would I be to follow you into a dark alley? You could have gathered all of my worst foes into one place to strike against me!”
“You have foes?”
“Many! Two or three. Well, really just the one, but she will rue the day she cut ahead of me in the cafeteria line at Doborath Primary in my ninth year of life! Tell me what you want of me, or you will be joining her on the list!”
“As I said, I have something for you,” the man said. He disappeared into the shadows for a moment, then returned with a box. “Normally, I would sell such a treasure for a very nice profit, but I have decided to present this to you in honor of your valiant efforts to free our Empire from Vulcan villainy.”
“Yes. Vulcan villainy. I like that. Cease your Vulcan villainy, foul…Vulcans!”
“Most authoritative,” the man said, pressing the box, a small white container measuring no more than 20 centimeters on a side, into Nortal’s arms. “Take it with my eternal gratitude.” The man quickly retreated into the shadows, leaving Nortal alone.
Unable to deal with the suspense, she eagerly opened the lid and peered at the box’s contents.
Inside was an opaque dark green gem that almost filled the container. Sunlight struck the object’s crystalline faces, dazzling her.
“Ooooooh! It sparkles with the glow of the heavens!” she exclaimed happily. “Yet these heavens are mine! And even better, they were FREE!”
She slammed the box shut and clutched it to her side possessively. Anyone who dared approach her prize would get a heaping helping of wrath with a side order of fury, that was for damn sure!
Centurion Nortal was already ripping her prize out of its box as she ran into her quarters back on the Anomaly that evening. She tossed the box aside like so much rubbish and caressed the oval gem in her hands. It was magnificent!
The Romulan frowned slightly as her hand brushed against a small note affixed to the bottom of the gem.
FOR OPTIMUM SHINE AND BRILLIANCE, SUBMERGE IN WATER FOR 10 SECONDS DAILY.
OOOOOOH! It got shinier!
Nortal rushed the gem into the bathroom and turned on the faucet to fill the sink.
“Flow faster!” she demanded impatiently. “Faster, I say!”
At last the sink was full, and she reverently placed her wondrous possession into it and began to count.
The gem! It had split in two!
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHH!” Nortal cried in abject horror.
And then she realized that something was moving inside the split halves of the shattered gem. A coal black, lizard-like creature covered in spiny scales emerged, violently smashing the remnants of the gem with whips of its long tail. In a blur, it leapt out of the sink, landing on the floor on its two thick rear legs as it let out a high-pitched growl at Nortal, waving its front appendages at her.
“I have no desire for a pet!” she cried, raising her boot and slamming it down on the uninvited creature. To her shock, it caught the incoming foot and stopped her leg with a jolt. The Centurion was toppled backward to the deck as the creature suddenly began to grow, quickly expanding to almost three meters in height. It crouched over, using its front appendages as legs, and stalked toward the fallen Romulan, its elongated snout full of razor sharp pointed teeth.
Nortal scurried backwards into the living room, then rolled onto her front and leapt to her feet, moving quickly toward the twin long swords mounted on her wall. Her hands wrapped around the hilt of each sword, and she spun back around, ripping the weapons from their mounts, to face her attacker.
“You will die by my…AUGGGGHHHHH!”
The creature was on her in a flash, teeth ripping at her as its head thrashed about. She struggled to counter-attack, but there was no room for her to maneuver the blades.
She let out an anguished cry as the creature mouth’s clamped down on her shoulder, its teeth piercing her flesh. It thrashed once, slamming her head against the nearby wall and knocking her unconscious. In all honestly, though, that was something of a relief because she really didn’t need to be awake for the whole being ripped to meaty shreds part.
The Anomaly bridge was quiet, which wasn’t all that surprising considering that the ship was in orbit over a now-peaceful world. It also helped that Captain Bain was off duty. The man’s voice tended to carry. At present, though, the only sounds were the occasional blips and chirps of the bridge consoles as Commander Prosak sat in the Anomaly’s command chair, watching her home planet rotate by on the viewscreen.
She seemed somehow entranced by it, Lieutenant Commander Tovar thought as he watched her from his post at the tac-ops console at the rear of the bridge. Of course, people tended to appreciate things more when they come close to losing them, and the Romulans had come very close to losing their entire way of life to the Vulcans. It was only natural that Prosak would want to spend some time communing, if that was even the word for it, with the planet of her birth.
Tovar was pulled away from watching Prosak watch Romulus by a flashing indicator on his console. He reflexively tensed, ready to spring into action, but quickly realized that it was just an incoming message.
An incoming text message.
WHEN DO YOU GET OFF? - SHELLY
Tovar looked at the message quizzically. Surely she didn’t mean…
OFF DUTY! I MEAN OFF DUTY! - SHELLY.
Ah. Of course. While his relationship with Lieutenant Shelly Marsden had progressed significantly (which wasn’t difficult considering that, at their lowest point, she was basically not speaking to him), he was fairly certain that they were not yet at the point of freely passing innuendos back and forth. Or maybe they were. They were certainly free enough with each other in private. And that intimacy was…something he really didn’t need to be thinking about while he was on duty. At any rate, she had asked a perfectly reasonable, innuendo-free question that required a response.
TWO HOURS SEVENTEEN MINUTES - TOVAR
WANNA DO SOMETHING? - SHELLY
YES. DINNER? - TOVAR
ALREADY HAD DINNER - SHELLY
LATE SNACK? - TOVAR
MAYBE - SHELLY
Before Tovar could type in another suggestion (Actually, before he could even think of another suggestion. Holopods? Boring, and they really couldn’t even be in the same space, unless they were going to get really close, which would lead to…activities he really didn’t need to be thinking about while on duty. Hmmm…they could watch a vid in one of their quarters? Oh wait. There was an implication that something was about to happen before this parenthetical started. Let’s get back to that, shall we?), an actual alert began flashing. The sensors in the doors of Centurion Nortal’s quarters were indicating massive damage to the door assembly. Tovar quickly brought up a view of the corridor outside her quarters and saw that the doors were now bending outward, the metal jagged and torn.
TOVAR? - SHELLY
Tovar glanced over at Marsden’s message and quickly typed back.
PROBLEM. MUST GO. - TOVAR
“Commander Prosak,” he said, quickly moving out from behind his console. “We may have a situation on Deck Eleven.”
“What kind of situation?” the Romma-Vulc asked, spinning in her chair to face him.
“I don’t know yet. Bridge to Nortal.”
“Bridge to Centurion Nortal.”
“She never ignores a comm,” Prosak said.
“As I said, we may have a situation. Tovar to Security. Meet me on Deck Eleven outside of Centurion Nortal’s quarters,” Tovar said, racing into the turbolift.
He emerged onto Deck Eleven a short time later and arrived outside of Nortal’s quarters just as Lieutenant Lara Randall and Lieutenant Gworos jogged up from the opposite direction.
“Looks like someone really wanted out,” Randall said, surveying the damaged doorway.
“Phasers on heavy stun,” Tovar said, clicking his weapon into position. “Stay out here, Gworos. In case whoever or whatever did this comes back.”
“It will not get past me.”
“Good to know,” Tovar said, carefully moving past the jagged metal of the doors into Nortal’s cabin. It didn’t take long to find the room’s owner. All he had to do was follow the large, green blood splatter on the wall down to the floor.
“Tovar to Sickbay. Medical emergency in Centurion Nortal’s quarters!”
“Is somebody hurt?” Dr. Fred Nooney’s voice called back concerned.
“No, it’s the nice kind of emergency!” Tovar snapped. “Of course someone is hurt!”
“I’ll be there in a nonce!” Nooney said, cutting the channel.
“You have been hanging out with Lieutenant Marsden, haven’t you?” Randall said.
“Why do you say that?”
“‘The nice kind of emergency’?”
“I was irritated.”
“Yes, but you don’t usually…”
Randall shut up instantly as they heard the high-pitched scream from out in the corridor. They raced out of the room, where Gworos was crouched, looking for an attack.
“Was that you?” Randall asked.
“Klingons do not scream like that,” Gworos snapped, obviously offended.
“You will be gutted for your insolence.”
“Try it, buddy.”
“No one will be gutting anyone,” Tovar said just as a black monstrosity rounded the corner at the end of the corridor and barreled toward them with long strides of its powerful clawed legs as it bared a seemingly-endless mouthful of sharp teeth.
“I seem to have spoken too soon,” Tovar said. His screams soon joined those of Gworos and Randall.
Dr. Fred Nooney bounded out of the turbolift and immediately noticed that the air was filled with the sound of screaming, which wasn’t something you heard on a starship all that often. Curious, he jogged off to investigate and rounded the corner into the corridor where Centurion Nortal’s quarters were located.
Well, that explained the screaming. Tovar, Gworos, and Randall dove to the sides of the corridor, firing their wrist phasers at something black and nasty-looking running right at them. The phaser blasts glanced off the creatures scaly hide, seeming not to affect it in the slightest. Instead, it continued on down the hallway, heading straight toward Nooney.
Not wanting to be left out, Nooney did the first thing that came to mind.
Nooney would have to arrive now, of course, Tovar thought ruefully as he leapt back to his feet after avoiding the charge of the raging whatever-the-hell-it-was. He had to do something or that thing was going to do to Nooney what it had done to Nortal.
“Evacuate the deck,” Tovar ordered Randall and Gworos, who dashed off down the corridor as Tovar ripped off his wrist phaser. He set the device to a rapid overload and flung it down the corridor. It passed over the monster’s front haunches, hitting the ground right in front of it and exploding in a powerful burst.
The creature reared back then thundered back toward Tovar. The Yynsian dove for Nortal’s quarters, tearing his uniform on one of the ripped doors as he sailed inside. Less than a second later, the creature rumbled past, then rounded the corner at the other end of the corridor, leaving the hallway quiet. Tovar poked his head back out of Nortal’s quarters just as Dr. Nooney was picking himself up from the deck after having been knocked over by the force of the exploding phaser.
“Hurry!” Tovar called urgently. Nooney pulled himself together and ran to Nortal’s quarters, moving gingerly past the damaged doors before he reached the injured Romulan.
“Ewwwwww!” Nooney exclaimed. “How icky!”
“Can you help her?” Tovar demanded.
Nooney slipped on his medical quadcorder and looked over Nortal. “Whew! She’s still alive. Nooney to Transporter Control. Please be a wonderful computer and beam Nortal and myself to Sickbay.”
“Yes, it will be my pleasure, Doctor,” the transporter control computer replied sweetly. Nooney and Nortal vanished a second later.
“It never talks like that to me,” Tovar muttered.
“That’s because you never ask nicely,” the transporter control computer snapped before closing the comm channel far more loudly than necessary.
“Tovar to bridge,” Tovar said, wondering if it would ever be safe for him to beam anywhere again.
“We definitely have a situation. There is some kind of hostile lifeform on board. It mauled Nortal and is now rampaging through Deck Eleven.”
“We are not detecting anything on the sensors,” Prosak said confused.
“But it is here. Believe me.”
“What do you need from me?”
“We’re evacuating the deck. As soon as we’re finished, seal it off. Hopefully that will hold the thing for now.”
“‘The thing’? Have you tried communicating with it? Perhaps it is merely a lost and confused sentient being who…”
“You can come down and talk to it if you’d like,” Tovar said, cutting Prosak off. “In the meantime, I will be trying to make sure it does not kill me before we get this deck cleared.”
“I will defer to your judgement,” Prosak said, deciding that being mauled wasn’t on her list of things to do today.
“Thank you. Oh, someone had better notify the captain.”
“Someone meaning me, I presume.”
“You are in command.”
“True. Hopefully I won’t be catching him at a bad time.”
Captain Reginald Bain fired off two quick shots from the old-fashioned projectile rifle in his hands as the target discs zoomed off into the sky in front of him. Both discs almost instantly exploded as Bain’s bullets struck them.
Normally, Bain wasn’t much for spending his free time in a holopod. He’d much rather be sitting in one of the comfy armchairs in the Captain’s Lounge enjoying a brandy and a good book or tending to his petunias in the ship’s arboretum. Sometimes, though, a man needed to let off some steam, and for Reginald Bain, that meant shooting things. Still, he hated doing it in a holopod. It just seemed so artificial.
He wanted a real gun and real targets and real grass beneath his boots. But the last time he tried doing the real thing in the arboretum, Lieutenant Marsden made several rather strenuous objections. And there was that unfortunate incident with the plasma conduit. In all honesty, though, Starfleet really should make vital systems more resistant to bullets.
“Move to level two,” Bain ordered. “Pull.”
He quickly took out the flying discs, then whipped the gun down and fired at the two charging armed Vulcans emerging from the treeline, dropping them both to the ground with two rapid shots.
Well, there were a few advantages to using the holopod, Bain thought with a satisfied smile.
“Bridge to Captain Bain,” Commander Prosak’s voice said suddenly over the comm system.
“Yes, Commander. What is it?” Bain replied.
“We have what Lieutenant Commander Tovar has termed a situation.”
“A situation! Bloody hell! I’ll be right there!”
Bain spun around and charged away from the shooting range. He’d gotten about forty meters away when he remembered one minor detail.
“Computer! Give me the blasted exit!”
“All right. What have we got?” Captain Bain demanded as he charged out of the turbolift onto the bridge. Commander Vioxx and Dr. Natalia Kasyov were there along with Commander Prosak, but one person was conspicuously absent. “And where the devil is Tovar?”
“Completing the evacuation of Deck Eleven,” Commander Prosak said.
“Evacuation! What the…”
“I will explain,” Prosak said. “A short time ago, we detected a disturbance in the area of Centurion Nortal’s quarters on Deck Eleven. We discovered that somehow a dangerous lifeform has gotten on board. It is resistant to phaser fire and does not show up on sensors. Centurion Nortal was injured and is currently in Sickbay.”
Bain rubbed his chin as he considered this information. “Can’t shoot it, eh? I suppose we’ll have to blow it up.”
“I tried that,” Tovar said, emerging from the turbolift. “All I managed to do was crack off a bit of scale,” he added, holding up a tiny black shard.
“Think we can use that to get an ID on this thing, Kassie?” Bain asked, turning to Dr. Kasyov.
“We can try,” Kasyov said, taking the bit from Tovar, who then went back to the tac-ops console.
“The creature is very strong and fast,” he said. “And with being as large as it is, I have a hard time believing that it’s been on board for long. Nortal may have just acquired it.”
“She was with you,” Bain said to Vioxx. “Did you see anything?”
“Not any animals,” Vioxx said. “And really I wasn’t paying much attention to her at the market.”
“A market. I see,” Bain said thoughtfully. “Do Romulan markets sell a lot of dangerous creatures?”
“Don’t make this a Romulan thing, Bain,” Vioxx said. “I don’t know where she got it or from whom. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Would you like to see what we are dealing with?” Tovar asked.
“Capital idea,” Bain said. Tovar switched the image on the viewscreen to show the security recording from Nortal’s quarters. As the playback began, Nortal raced into the room and tossed aside a box, inside of which was a egg-shaped jewel that she seemed very happy to have. She soon disappeared from view as she went into the bathroom area. She was back soon, though, and being chased by a dark nightmarish monster.
“That’s it,” Tovar said, freezing a good profile view of the creature and magnifying it on the screen.
“Vioxx?” Bain asked.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Vioxx replied, shaking his head. “It’s certainly not native to Romulus.”
“And it isn’t native to Deck Eleven either,” Bain snapped. “I want it dealt with. Kassie, get me something we can use. I’ll go down there and stuff a grenade down that bugger’s throat myself if I have to, but I’d prefer to know more about it first. Preferably how to kill it without killing myself in the process.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Kasyov said, heading toward the turbolift.
“Spot on,” Bain said. “What about Deck Eleven?”
“Cleared and sealed up tight,” Tovar replied.
“Okay then,” Bain said, clapping his hands together. “In that case, I guess…we wait.” He rocked back and forth on his heels. “Yes, indeed. We wait. Wait wait wait.”
“I don’t believe it!” Vioxx exclaimed suddenly.
“You want to go down there and face that thing, don’t you?”
“Reginald Bain is not one to run from a fight. But he’s also not one to stroll blindly into a massacre. I can wait for now. And THEN I’m going to go down there and give that blighter a good what for!”
“Hmmm…” Tovar muttered, staring at his console.
“You’ve got something, Tovar?” Bain asked excitedly.
“It may be nothing,” he said.
“What may be nothing?”
Tovar put the recording of Nortal’s quarters back onto the main viewscreen. This time during the playback, he zoomed in on the box Nortal tossed aside as she entered the cabin. Just as the box hit the ground, something small bounced out. He tightened and enhanced the image a bit more, and the blurred tiny object came into focus.
“It looks like a Romulan data cylinder,” Vioxx said.
“Tovar,” Bain said. The Yynsian tac-ops officer was already on the move and halfway to the turbolift.
Genetics was not exactly Dr. Kasyov’s field of expertise, but she knew enough to breakdown a sample and put it in the proper equipment to be analyzed. With any luck, the computer would find a match in its vast databases.
So much for the luck idea.
Not a single match was found. Reading farther into the results, though, Kasyov soon found out why. There was evidence of splicing, forced mutation, an artificially accelerated life cycle, and host of other bits and pieces that all pointed to the same conclusion: somebody designed this creature.
Knowing that didn’t bring her any close to having the information Captain Bain wanted, though. How would you capture or kill something like this without blowing up half of the ship in the process?
She pulled up the recording from Nortal’s quarters on one of the consoles in Science Lab Three and froze an image of the creature. Something about its head looked familiar. It was almost like…a crocodile.
Her home region of Siberia was not exactly the kind of place where crocodiles liked to live, but she saw some on a field trip to an Australian nature preserve while in high school. Her memory wasn’t much to go on, though.
Kasyov pulled up pictures of several varieties of crocodiles and compared them to the intruder. There was definitely a resemblance.
For lack of any better ideas, she began researching crocodiles. Could there actually be crocodile DNA inside of whatever was rampaging around Deck Eleven? She put the computer to work comparing the creature’s DNA with crocodile DNA. It soon came back with an affirmative response. Whoever created this monster used a bit of Earth crocodile.
It was a place to start. Surely someone on Earth had learned something about crocodiles. Maybe there were techniques for catching a crocodile that would work on their problem creature.
Very quickly, though, she found something even better than that.
She found an expert.
The bridge viewscreen was now showing a continual view of Deck Eleven, rotating through the various security cameras mounted throughout the deck…the ones that were still operating anyway.
The creature would show itself every now and then, usually as it ripped through another wall section or crashed into a set of quarters. The last time Bain had seen that kind of damage inside a starship, it had been while running to an escape pod before the ship in question blew up.
He didn’t like it.
He didn’t like it at all.
But there wasn’t a thing he could do about it yet.
The sound of the turbolift doors opening and closing pulled him out of his growing anger. Seeing Dr. Kasyov, his face brightened considerably.
“You’re back! Splendid! How do we kill it?” he asked eagerly.
“I’m still gathering information,” Kasyov said. “I’m waiting for some files to be transferred from Earth.”
“Earth? Does Starfleet know about this creature?”
“I don’t believe so.”
The turbolift doors opened again, and Tovar emerged, data cylinder in hand.
“Brilliant!” Bain exclaimed. “Did that blighter see you slipping in and out of Nortal’s quarters?”
“Why would I go there when I did not have to?” Tovar said.
“Oh. Good idea.”
“I thought so,” Tovar replied, taking the cylinder back to his station.
“Sorry, Kassie. Do continue,” Bain said, turning his attention back to his science officer.
“This isn’t a natural animal,” Kasyov said. “It was designed. Somebody created this thing on purpose.”
“Why the devil would anyone want to do that?”
“I believe I know,” Tovar said, pointing at the viewscreen. “This is what was on the data cylinder.”
The viewscreen displayed a simple bit of text…
SHE MAY BE GONE
BUT HER VENGEANCE LIVES ON
“Oh,” Bain said. “It’s her.”
“Who?” Kasyov said.
“Doctor Lenik,” Tovar said.
“Who?” Bain asked confused.
“Doctor Lenik,” Tovar repeated. Bain’s face showed no hint of recognition. “The Romulan geneticist. The one who created Cole Anfibon.”
“OHHH! Her! This would be right up her alley, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes. Who did you think it was?”
“That Muridel woman. She really had it out for me.”
“True; however, you cut her in half ten years ago. And the celebratory feast her freed subjects threw in your honor afterwards lasted three weeks. I don’t believe anyone would be looking for vengeance for her.”
“Lenik it is then,” Bain said nodding. “We did blow her up, though, right?”
“Yes. However, it is not inconceivable that someone with the drive and patience to come up with something like the Cole Anfibon scheme would have a backup plan,” Tovar said.
“That would explain its behavior with Nortal,” Kasyov said.
“What do you mean?” Bain asked.
“I spoke with Doctor Nooney. He said that Nortal is recovering, and that it appeared that she was only bitten once. That one bite is damaging in itself, but from the ferocity of the attack we saw in the recording, it seemed strange to me that it would just bite once and then let go. Perhaps it has been designed to dislike the taste of Romulan blood.”
“That’s a bit of a leap, Doctor,” Tovar said. “The creature could have been distracted by a noise in the corridor.”
“Possibly. However, I would still recommend that Romulans make up the team we send to Deck Eleven to deal with this thing,” Kasyov said.
“Now wait a second!” Vioxx and Prosak, both of whom who had been quiet up until now listening to the reports from Tovar and Kasyov, exclaimed.
“Absolutely not,” Bain said. “This is my ship this bugger is shredding, and I’m going to be the one to send him packing.”
“Captain,” Tovar said as Kasyov headed to the science console. “I am the…”
“I know who you are,” Bain snapped. “But I want to do this.”
“Can I at least get you some help?” Kasyov said. The files she’d requested from Earth had arrived, so now she could put her idea into motion.
“What kind of help?”
“I noticed a passing similarity in the cranial structure of the creature to the cranial structure of Earth crocodiles. I did a DNA comparison and found that there is a bit of crocodile DNA in the creature.”
“Hmm…this is interesting stuff, Kassie, but I don’t see how it helps.”
“I’ve found an expert on crocodiles to help us,” Kasyov said. She activated a program from her console, taking over the bridge holoemitters, which were generally only used when an Emergency Medical Hologram was required on the bridge.
A human male with sandy brown hair and wide, excited eyes formed in front of Bain. He was dressed in khaki shorts, a matching khaki shirt, and a pair of boots, but that was it. No rifles. No rocket launchers. No phaser cannons.
“He’s going to help?” Bain asked skeptically, eyeing the frozen hologram.
“Yes. His name is Steve Irwin. He specialized in capturing crocodiles in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He was famous for it.”
“But a hologram?” Bain said unhappily.
“I promise he won’t try to take over the ship,” Kasyov said.
“I’m holding you to that,” Bain said. “All right. Let’s see what’s he got. Turn him on, Kassie. What? Why are you all looking at me like that?”
“Computer, activate hologram,” Kasyov said, rolling her eyes.
The Steve Irwin hologram looked around the bridge rapidly, his eyes going even wider.
“Crikey!” he exclaimed suddenly.
“Mister Irwin,” Bain said, extending a hand to the hologram. “Welcome to the USS Anomaly. I’m Captain Reginald Bain.”
“Steve,” the hologram replied, shaking Bain’s hand energetically. “But what am I doing here? I reckon this is a long way from Australia Zoo.”
“A very long way,” Bain said. “You’re on a starship in the…” He turned to Kasyov. “Do I really need to go through all this? Can you just fill him in?”
Kasyov nodded and tapped a few commands into her console.
Steve’s eyes widened even more. “CRIKEY!” he shouted just before his head exploded. What remained of the hologram quickly fizzled out of existence.
“Bloody hell!” Bain cried. “What did you tell him?”
“You said to fill him in. I downloaded everything that’s happened in the last 500 years into his program.”
“I think it was a bit much, Kassie. Bring him back with just the essentials.”
“Paring it down,” Kasyov said. An instant later, Steve Irwin reappeared with big grin restored. He looked around the bridge in wonder.
“Crikey!” he said.
“Do you know where you are?” Captain Bain asked.
“On a space ship, but what am I doing here?”
“We need your help. Dr. Kasyov here says you’re an expert.”
“You’ve got a croc?” Steve asked surprised.
“Sort of…we think,” Bain said. “It’s loose on my ship, and I want it taken care of.”
“You got it, mate! There isn’t a croc in this world that I cannot capture.”
“I sincerely hope you’re right. This thing is impervious to our weapons…”
“You shot it!” Steve cried.
“Not effectively,” Tovar muttered.
“But you shot it! You have the honor to share territory with one of nature’s most beautiful creatures, and you shot it! I need to give the mess of you a good bit of Steve-O education. Crocodiles aren’t vicious monsters. They’re apex predators. Right at the top of the food chain. We have to protect them and the roll they play in our environment! Without crocodiles, the whole eco- system would collapse!”
“This is a starship. We don’t have an eco-system,” Tovar said, clearly displeased by the lecture.
“We’ll give him a chance,” Bain said, holding up a hand to silence Tovar. “If Kassie thinks he can handle our intruder, I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt. IF he can catch the crocodile.”
“I can catch it,” Steve said. “IF you stop trying to shoot it.”
“I won’t shoot it, if I don’t have to,” Bain said. “So what does an expert use to catch a crocodile?”
“Rope and a flashlight?” Bain cried as he and Steve descended in the turbolift toward Deck Eleven. “Rope and a bloomin’ flashlight!”
“We’ll also need a big wooden box at some point, but I want to get a look at the size of this croc first,” Steve said.
“A wooden box? This monster rips through metal walls like they’re tissue paper!”
“She’s not eating the metal is she?” Steve asked, suddenly very concerned. “Crocs can’t digest metal. Even a little will kill them!”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bain said as the turbolift slowed to a stop and the doors opened onto the ravaged remains of Deck Eleven.
“Rips through metal,” Steve said smiling as he surveyed the damage before them. “This croc must be a stunner.”
“I think it’s set only on kill.”
Steve did as he was told and turned his complete focus to examining the damage to the corridor. “She’s close,” he said after several moments. “Real close.”
“How can you tell?” Bain asked.
Steve pointed at a pile of something sitting on the deck near his position. “Poo.”
“Charming,” Bain muttered.
“We’d best keep moving.”
A voice, loud and feminine, suddenly boomed from the deck’s speakers all around them. “Be careful, Steve!”
“Who in blazes was that?” Bain demanded.
“Oh that was me mate, Terri.”
“What is she doing here?”
“She always narrates my adventures,” Steve replied cheerily.
“Of course. How silly of me,” Bain said thoughtfully. Maybe he should look into getting someone to narrate his adventures. It was an appealing notion, but it seemed a bit pompous somehow.
“This way,” Steve said, making a left into an intersecting hallway.
“How do you…GOOD LORD!” Bain dove to the side of the corridor as the croc-thing burst out through a wall in front of them and locked eyes on the duo.
“She’s going to strike!” Steve said.
“No really?” Bain snapped back as he locked his wrist phaser into position. He really should have brought his shotgun.
Steve leapt back just as the creature charged, narrowly avoiding being struck, not that the hit would have affected him. Bain, however, would have felt the impact a bit more strongly. Fortunately, the enraged monster was more interested in the holographic crocodile hunter than the Starfleet captain wielding the wrist phaser.
“Don’t!” Steve cried at Bain, holding his hands up warningly. “She’s already really grumpy. Let’s not make it worse.”
“Grumpy! You call this grumpy!”
“That’s right,” Steve said soothingly, his attention focused on the croc-thing, which was currently staring him down. “You’re a grumpy girl. A dead set gorgeous grumpy girl.” Bain noticed that Steve was tying a loop into his rope. “That’s a girl,” Steve said. “That’s it. You’re a beautiful sheila. Yes, you are.” Steve’s arm moved in a flash, slinging the rope into the creature’s mouth and top jaw. He quickly yanked the loop tight and tried to get to the rear of the croc-thing.
“Jump on its back!” Steve yelled at Bain.
“Are you mad?” Bain shouted back.
“Get your weight on its…” Steve trailed off as the croc-thing slammed its jaws together, slicing through the rope, which fell to the deck. Enraged, it snapped at Steve.
“Crikey!” Steve cried, dodging the massive teeth coming his way, before the croc-thing rushed off down the corridor and around a corner.
“She’s onto us,” Steve said. “She knows we’re here to catch her.”
“And you really think that scared her…it off?” Bain said in disbelief.
“Oh yeah. If the rope had held, we would have had her. She’s not going to make it easy on us now. She’s going to strike out even harder if she feels cornered. We’ve got to catch this croc before she hurts herself or anyone else.”
“Be careful, Steve!” Terri’s voice called over the speakers.
“I will, babe. Don’t you worry,” Steve said to the ceiling.
“This is insane,” Bain said.
“Steve has been doing this since he was a boy,” Terri said. “But attempting to capture a crocodile of this size is always very dangerous!”
“Well that’s bloody obvious,” Bain said. “I wouldn’t be down here if it wasn’t dangerous. But now that our rope’s been chomped in two, let’s get something with a bit more punch down here.”
Steve shook his head emphatically. “No way. I reckon we just need better rope. Can you get us some?”
Bain sighed. “I suppose. A gun would be faster, though.”
“Somebody’s sounding like he needs a bit of Steve-O education.”
“Is that a threat?”
“I’m not a bloke you want to muck with.”
“Nor am I,” Bain said. “But we have larger concerns. I don’t want to be in the middle of a tussle with you if that monster comes back. Bain to Marsden.”
“Marsden here,” the voice of his Chief Engineer replied over the comm.
“I need something in the way of indestructible rope.”
“It’s got to withstand the bite of this bugger.”
“You’re trying to tie it up?” Marsden asked confused.
“It’s not my idea, I assure you,” Bain said. “Can you come up with something, Marsie?”
“We’ve got some seralium alloy cabling around here that should do the trick. If it can withstand the forces inside the nacelles, it can probably handle an alligator.”
“Crocodile!” Steve interjected.
“Whatever. It will be there soon. Marsden out.”
True to Marsden’s word, Bain had the bundle of seralium cabling in his hands in less than ten minutes. It was delivered by a very nervous ensign who only poked his hand out of the turbolift long enough to hand the replacement rope to Bain before he retreated back to Engineering and away from the rampaging croc-thing.
“All right!” Steve exclaimed. “Back to our adventure!”
At least the man had something of the right attitude, Bain thought as Steve bounded off down the corridor, pausing here and there to examine damage or other traces left by the croc-thing. It was true that Bain preferred to go on his exploits with a trusty weapon by side, but being down here tracking a monster did get the old blood pumping. He quickly caught up with the holographic crocodile expert, trying to see the clues that Steve seemed to be following effortlessly.
“Ahhh. This way, mate,” Steve said, his voice soft, as he led Bain around another corner.
The damage in this section was even worse than the other areas, which Bain didn’t think was possible. Whole sections of bulkhead had been torn from the walls and shredded. Lights hung from the exposed ceiling flickering, and even Steve himself seemed to go transparent at times.
At last, they approached an opening in the wall, leading into a dark set of quarters.
“In here,” Steve said. “She’s cornered.”
“Didn’t you say cornering her would make her angry?” Bain said.
“Oh yes. She’s going to be really grumpy about this. We have to be quick.”
“We’re agreed on that at least,” Bain said.
Steve put his finger to his lips, signaling Bain to be silent, then took a step forward into the darkness…
…and promptly vanished.
He reappeared next to Bain a few moments later.
“Never had that happen before,” Steve said confused.
“The holoemitters in that room must have been destroyed,” Bain said.
“So I can’t go get the croc?”
“You could say that.”
“I reckon you’re going to have to go in then, mate,” Steve said, clapping Bain on the shoulder. “Try and run it out here. If that doesn’t work, jump on its back and try to get a top jaw rope on it.”
Bain looked down at the coil of seralium cabling in his hands. “Right,” he said. On the surface, this seemed somewhat suicidal, but he was Reginald Bain! If some holographic 500-year-old Aussie could do this, a 26th century flesh-and-blood Brit certainly could as well. This dragon was about to meet his St. George!
Bain charged ahead into the darkness, then feinted to the left, pressing himself against what remained of the interior wall as he let his eyes adjust.
He heard the croc-thing long before he could see it, its breathing a guttural, rhythmic growl coming from the center of the room. Still Bain’s eyes fought the darkness. He thought he could just make out a hulking shape near the floor of the room, but he wasn’t certain. The image seemed to come and go.
The sound remained, though. And abruptly it changed. A snort. A rustling.
Moving on instinct, Bain threw himself to the left just as a rush of wind blew past him followed by a deck-rattling thud as the croc-thing slammed into the wall where he had been standing moments before. Bain threw caution to the proverbial wind and leapt at the creature, landing firmly on its back as he wrapped his arms around its neck.
The croc-thing roared hoarsely and tried to buck the Starfleet captain, but Bain was not going anywhere. In a rage or a panic (Bain wasn’t sure which), the croc-thing raced out of its pitch black den into the corridor, where Steve was waiting.
“Good on you, mate!” Steve exclaimed. “You’ve got him!”
“Tell that to him!” Bain shouted back as the creature took off down the corridor.
“Throw me the rope!” Steve called, running to keep up with Bain-ladened croc-thing. Bain awkwardly flung the seralium cabling aside as he continued clinging to the creature. Steve caught the cabling without missing a step and began swinging the looped end around like an old cowhand with a lasso. He threw the loop and bounced it off of the long snout of the croc-thing.
“Steve!” Bain cried, wondering if the monster would actually make the turn at the corner they were barreling toward. Bain didn’t relish the idea of smacking into the wall ahead of them if the croc-thing decided against the turn.
“Almost got it,” Steve said, his face a mask of concentration.
He threw the lasso again, and landed the loop right around the top jaw of the croc-thing’s open mouth. Steve yanked back hard, tightening the lasso and sending the croc-thing into another bout of enraged fury. Steve dodged as the creature turned on him, then leapt on top of Bain on top of the creature’s back. The croc-thing, already weighed down carrying Bain, dropped to the deck as Steve hit.
“Cover his eyes!” Steve cried, scrambling up Bain and wrapping the cabling several times around the croc-thing’s mouth and pulling it shut. Bain did as he was told, moving his hands over the croc-thing’s eyes. The effect was almost instantaneous. With its mouth tied shut and eyes covered, the creature’s breathing calmed, and it actually seemed to relax a little. Not much, but a little.
“What do we do now?” Bain asked.
“Get it into the box.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 178027.3. With Marsie’s help, we obtained a suitable container, and with the assistance of several members of Tovar’s security staff and the Anomaly’s bodybuilding club, we were able to get our unwelcome guest stowed away and ready for transport. Now we have one more question to answer: Transport where?”
“You’ve got to relocate this croc into something like its natural habitat,” Steve insisted as he stood on the bridge with the Anomaly’s command officers.
“Why are we still listening to a hologram?” Commander Vioxx asked.
“This is his area,” Bain said.
“We caught the thing. His job is done,” Vioxx said.
“I’m not going to let you just turn it into a pair of boots,” Steve snapped. “It’s got to go back to its natural environment.”
“It’s a genetic creation. It doesn’t have a natural environment,” Dr. Kasyov said.
“Maybe, but it’s still a croc,” Steve said. “It deserves our respect.”
“Fine,” Bain said. “Where is the respectful place to put it?”
“Nortal found it in a market on Romulus. We could send it back there,” Tovar said.
“NO!” Vioxx and Commander Prosak shouted.
“We could put it in a cage,” Tovar said.
“This croc doesn’t belong in a cage in the middle of a city,” Steve said. “Only in its natural…”
“We’ll find a good home for it. I promise,” Bain said.
“This is an apex predator. Right at the top of the food chain. And we have to treat it with dignity and respect. Without crocs, the entire ecosystem would…”
“Computer, end program!” Bain cried. Steve vanished in mid-sentence.
“Thank you,” Vioxx said. “Now can we just kill the thing and be done with it.”
“No. When Reginald Bain make a promise, he keeps it,” Bain said. “There has to be a suitable place where we can release this bugger.”
“What about Navoli Four?” Kasyov asked, looking over the display on her console.
“Where the devil is that?” Bain asked.
“The Navoli system. Its one of Romulus’ neighboring stars. Navoli Four is uninhabited and covered with large swamps and rivers chock full of small tasty animals.”
“Good show!” Bain said, slapping his leg. “Sounds perfect. Get us underway, Ensign Yonk. Best speed to Navoli Four!”
Dark dark dark dark dark dark dark dark dark dark.
The croc-thing jumped forward out of the enclosure holding it into the light ahead and found itself on a spongy bank beside a tree-lined river.
Smells of life were all around, but most of all it felt the call of the water. The creature lowered itself onto its belly and slid into the river, sinking down into the welcoming waters until only its eyes were visible, scanning the bank for its next meal.
“The little bugger looks happy,” Bain said with a satisfied grin as he and the other officers sat on the Anomaly’s bridge watching the video feed from the camera mounted to the top of the now-empty box resting on the surface of Novali Four.
“Mister Irwin appears to have been correct about getting the creature to a more natural habitat,” Dr. Kasyov said.
“That he was. And now the thing can live out the rest of its life somewhere where it can’t harm anyone.”
“Hmmm…I wonder if there’s anything on Novali Four that it could mate with,” Kasyov said.
Bain chuckled, then fell silent as he pondered this possibility. His eyes suddenly widened.