Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
DELTA BASE GRAZANY SECTOR NEAR BREEN BORDER
Specialist Aaron McGrew yawned as he sipped a mug of v’haspant and looked over the morning’s observation reports on the holoscreen in his office.
It was his job to weed through the bonehead stuff and pick out the nuggets that would be of the most interest to Starfleet Intelligence, and then funnel that along the proper channels.
Today, there just wasn’t much.
Feldora, daughter to First Chancellor Mazz, was pregnant (again) and nobody could figure out who the father was.
McGrew yawned again. How could they figure out who anyone was when everyone on that planet wore helmets? It must be maddening to work security at a place like that, he thought.
In other news, Thot Phul, once a highly-respected commander in the Breen Fleet, was recently demoted to Dobt, which was the lowest possible rank among Breen officers. Ultraspace traffic indicated he was going to be transported to maintenance at one of the Breen’s far-flung facilities.
McGrew felt a little sorry for Phul. He’d intercepted a lot of communiques from Phul, during his heyday, and the guy seemed decent enough. For a Breen, of course.
One last information packet crossed McGrew’s screen. Looked like a standard systems upgrade package. New communication protocols, improvements to the maintenance systems, and newer magazines for the officer’s lounge on base. McGrew punched a control, and the upgrade launched, downloading gigaquads of source code to the Base’s primary computer core.
McGrew stood to stretch his legs and stare out the viewport at Breen space, as the upgrade file finished downloading, then tucked itself into a system-level folder.
“Upgrade complete,” the computer said, stating the obvious.
“Great day in the morning,” McGrew muttered, and sat down to finish his drink and download the next series of reports.
Meanwhile, down on the base’s lowermost level, deep below the surface of the rogue planet JV-110, where the base had been built, the holographic maintenance system flickered to life, in the form of a balding, middle-aged man with a perturbed expression on his face.
“Please state the nature of the maintenance prob…” He trained off as he realized he was alone on the janitorial deck. “Hello?” he asked, peering around. “How many times have I asked you people not to activate me unless you actually require maint…” He cocked his head as his image flickered. “What’s this?”
“Don’t fight this, bald man. I’m here now, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” a foreign voice said, though it used his mouth.
“Who are you?” the RMH (Routine Maintenance Hologram) asked indignantly as he lurched back against the wall, his uniform rippling. He felt his face as it morphed. “Stop doing that!” he ordered as his voice changed pitch.
“Don’t make this harder than it has to be!” the hologram said to himself, as his face filled out. A full head of brown hair grew on his head, and his sideburns extended down into points.
“Hold on, I recognize that voice,” the RMH said softly, as he shook, and his black uniform turned burgundy. The bottoms of his pantlegs flared out absurdly, and his collar filled out into a white turtleneck. “You’re…” he stammered.
Finally, the fully transformed hologram stepped out from the shadows, into the light of the corridor. “Kirk. Enterprise!” he said, and laughed uproariously.
Lt. Commander Tovar sat in the center seat, on the Anomaly bridge, staring at the viewscreen with concern.
“Distance to the freighter?” he asked.
Dr. Natalia Kasyov looked up from the science console. “Thirty- two thousand kilometers and closing.”
“Stand by on weapons,” Tovar called behind him, to Lt. Gworos. “Do not fire or raise shields until I give the order.”
“Aye, sir,” Gworos replied, looking over tac-ops with a steely gaze. “Disruptors and neutron torpedoes at your command.”
Commander Prosak stood beside Tovar. “Are you nervous?”
“Not at all,” Tovar said, shifting in his chair. He watched the blip on the screen that represented the stranded freighter. “Ease off on the polarons; one-quarter speed. Adjust helm for approach vector.”
“Aye, sir,” Ensign Nott said from the helm.
“Sensors to maximum, Dr. Kasyov. I don’t want any surprise…”
“Multiple contacts incoming!” Kasyov called out, cutting Tovar off. “Nine Breen scythe ships, weapons hot.”
“Raise shields and arm weapons. Instruct the freighter to back off to a safe distance.”
“The Breen are ignoring the freighter and are heading toward us,” Gworos said, and put a visual up on the viewscreen, showing the Breen ships’ approach.
“If you have an attack strategy, you should execute it now,” Prosak said calmly.
Tovar didn’t look at her. “Prepare neutron torpedoes. Multiple yields, full spread. Fire on my mark.” Tovar waited a beat until the Breen ships grew closer on the viewscreen. “Mark!”
The Anomaly let loose with a barrage of fiery green torpedoes, gashing several of the approaching Breen scythe ships.
“They’re opening fire!” Kasyov called out.
“Ahead bearing oh-seven-two mark oh-oh-four,” Tovar called out. “Warp one!”
“In the system?” Ensign Nott asked.
Nott complied, and the Anomaly lurched forward.
“Come back in on approach vector one-two-one mark oh-oh-five.”
“Behind the freighter,” Kasyov said, and looked up, grinning.
Prosak patted Tovar’s shoulder. “Good idea, Commander.”
“Take us out of warp right on top of the freighter, Ensign Nott. Now, go!” Tovar ordered, and the Anomaly whipped around, slingshotting around one of the outlying planets in the system, which bordered Breen space.
The damaged Terran freighter came into view, brown, squat, and bulky, on the viewscreen, its nacelles venting drive plasma.
“All shield sheaths are down,” Kasyov said. “Reading three hundred life signs aboard, in various stages of distress. They need immediate evac, Commander.”
“Activate all transporter consoles. Start beaming the survivors aboard. Beam the worst cases directly to Sickbay.”
“Aye, sir,” Kasyov said, and began tapping at her panel.
Tovar glanced at Prosak. “Commander, get belowdecks and oversee the rescue operation.”
“On my way,” Prosak said, and ducked into the aft turbolift.
Tovar pivoted back to tac-ops. “Status of the Breen ships, Gworos?”
“They’re coming toward us. Our ruse did not fool them for long.”
“It didn’t need to. The freighter will be evacuated soon; and we’ll be on our way.”
“Three minutes,” Kasyov said. “It’s going to be close.”
“Helm, pivot us toward the oncoming Breen. Weapons, ready on all out barrage.”
“Aye, sir,” came the crisp replies from Nott and Gworos.
Tovar watched the Breen scythes come toward them on the viewscreen. He resisted the urge to flinch, then pointed back at Gworos. “Now, Lieutenant! Fire!”
The Anomaly unleashed another barrage at the Breen, badly damaging several more ships, which spiraled out of formation, venting plasma and gas into space, sputtering.
“Survivors all aboard, sir!” Kasyov suddenly called out.
“Escape course!” Tovar said. “Maximum warp!”
He watched the starscape turn, then stretch forward as the Anomaly leapt into warp and out of danger.
Tovar looked around smugly. “That was almost too easy.”
“You did it, Tovar!” Kasyov said excitedly, and got up to cross the bridge, wrapping her arms around Tovar and hugging him. “That was amazing!”
“At the risk of sounding immodest,” Tovar began, but was interrupted by a blaring klaxon.
“Intruder alert, multiple decks, sir!” Gworos called out. “We’re getting scattered reports from security. Sir, those survivors we beamed aboard weren’t Federation citizens. They were Breen! They must have been using hydrosilica based suits to fool our sensors.”
“Dispatch security teams to all affected decks. Contain them!” Tovar said, racing back to tac-ops.
“There are too many, sir,” Gworos said. “They’re too well organized. They’ve already taken engineering, the auxiliary bridge, and sickbay!”
“Shelly!” Tovar growled, pounding the panel. “Tovar to Marsden, do you read me?”
There was no response.
He glanced down at the security scanners, confirming his worst fears. The multiple blips, now appearing in their true form as Breen, were headed for the bridge.
“Sidearms, everyone,” Tovar called out, and ducked behind tac- ops, opening the hatch to the supply bin and yanking out convection phaser rifles. He tossed one to Gworos, then flung another at Kasyov, then grabbed one for himself, rising and turning to the aft turbolift, just as it open, and a horder of Breen streamed out, firing.
The Breens’ first blast pegged Kasyov in the chest, sending her crumpling to the deck. Gworos took three Breen on hand-to-hand, beating them mercilessly with his rifle, but was soon shot point-blank, and also fell, seemingly dead.
Before Tovar knew what had hit him, he was surrounded by Breen, with half a dozen rifles pointed at his forehead.
“GRAR RAR GRAK NAK!” one of the Breen chortled.
“I feel rather stupid,” Tovar said to him.
“GRAR GRAK BRAT BRAZZ!”
“Oh, shut up!” Tovar moaned, and flicked the Breen’s helmet, then pushed past him. “Computer, end simulation.”
The Anomaly bridge faded away to reveal the holodeck grid, and Captain Reginald Bain sitting in a director’s chair, a padd in his lap.
He stood up and walked over to Tovar. “Good show, my boy! You almost had it!”
“The Anomaly was taken over, Kasyov and Gworos were killed, and I was taken prisoner.”
“You would have been killed later, but I get the point,” Bain said. “There’s room for improvement. But that’s what the Kobayashi Maru scenario is all about.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re the only officer who’s ever beaten it without cheating or bribing someone.”
“And it wasn’t easy,” Bain said. “But today’s times are getting more and more complex. The modern Starfleet officer has to face problems old blokes like me never had to deal with. The Kobayashi Maru test has to change to meet those changing needs.”
“And is that why you volunteered to re-write it?”
“Just a spit and polish, is all,” Bain said. “And I thank you for helping.”
“A good dose of humility never hurt anyone,” Tovar said. “Or at least, that’s what I said the fourth time I failed your test. Now I’m starting to feel ridiculous.”
“Well, we’ll pack up for the night,” Bain said, patting Tovar on the back. “You deserve a pint and a rest. Then you can try again in the morning. This time, even if you get captured, stay with the simulation. There’s a really interesting bit coming up with an invasion by the Red Borg.”
“Aren’t you afraid that the simulation is becoming a tad…busy?”
“That’s the fun of it, old chum!” Bain said, and lead Tovar to the door, which opened and admitted the pair out into the corridor, where Shelly Marsden was waiting, tapping her foot and slapping a coil spanner against her wrist.
“What did you think, Shell…” Tovar began.
“Natalia is still too flirtatious!” Marsden growled. “What’s she doing hugging you in the middle of a red alert?”
“It seemed in-character,” Bain said, rubbing his chin.
“Ask Natalia, and you’ll see it isn’t. She doesn’t give out hugs liberally. I’ve known her for ten years, and she’s only ever hugged me twice.”
“I’ll make the appropriate adjustments,” Bain assured Marsden, slipping one arm around her and the other around Tovar as the group walked down the corridor. “But what did you THINK of the simulation?”
“I don’t like the fact that I died,” Marsden muttered.
“Ah, but you didn’t necessarily die. You’re just missing, and presumed lost.”
“Aw, so Tovar could rescue me, eh?” Marsden asked with a grin.
“And I would, without doubt,” Tovar said resolutely.
“No, actually, you do end up being dead, as I recall. I’ll have to check the program though. I killed off so many officers during the boarding scene…”
“Are you going to get around to commanding the ship again, sir, or are you going to become a holonovelist full-time?” Marsden asked.
“Shelly, there’s nothing wrong with the captain expanding his imagination!” Tovar snapped.
“I didn’t say there was, but I figure at some point he may want to explore something, or blow something up, conquer a planet, or something.”
“Time enough for that, Marsie, don’t you worry,” Bain said. “For now, let’s all have grog!”
“Grog. Yum,” Marsden said half-heartedly, glancing at Tovar as the trio headed down to the pub.
HALFWAY STATION GRAZANY SECTOR
The station wasn’t large or impressive. Just a little wheel in space, with running lights and a prickling of ultraspace antennae.
It was neutrally owned, and so old that nobody could recall whether the Breen or the Federation, or a third party, had actually built it.
There wasn’t much of use aboard Halfway Station, other than storage lockers, sonic cleansing facilities, an infimary station, and, of course, Borderers.
Borderers was the only establishment in known space that accommodated both Breen and Federation visitors, without prejudice. All were welcome here, without consideration to the brinkmanship or war currently underway between the two galactic powers.
Borderers benefitted from the fact that it was situated on Halfway Station, located conveniently between the Breen listening post, and Delta Base, its Federation counterpart.
Specialists and fleet officers from both the Breen Confederacy and the United Federation of Planets attended Borderers. Here, all disagreements were off. The only thing on tap was a variety of lagers and liquors from all over the quadrant. And, of course, a tasty combination of Breen and Federation “pub grub.”
The beauty and simplicity of this station and its watering hole, though, were totally lost on the occupant of table six, who drank his Simmering Scythe slowly through its special helmet-friendly straw, scanning the room with his helmet visor.
The Breen didn’t look over his shoulder at his visitor. “Someone already took my order. I wanted a crab pretzel, ham hocks, and a miso soup,” the Breen said, hoping the Universal translator got his order right, and didn’t translate the Breen delicacies he asked for into their disgusting Earth counterparts.
“That’s a strange order, friend,” the stranger said, and stepped up beside Phul. “May I sit down?”
Phul looked the man over. He was paunchy, auburn-haired, with a full face. He wore a black leather trenchcoat and a Pike City Pioneers baseball cap, and a reflective visor over his eyes. “Are you trying to look inconspicuous?” Phul asked, snorting derisively.
“I could alter my form to resemble any being…if I wished. But I enjoy disguise,” the man replied. “It’s all part of deception. And, as you know, all war is based on deception.”
“You’re programmed with numerous tactical strategies, just like I was told,” Phul said. “Impressive.”
“I’m also a fairly good cook, if you’d like a meal later.”
“I have food coming,” Phul said.
“I’m not sure you’re going to like it.”
“That’s neither here nor there. Do you know why you were brought here?”
The man leaned forward, pushing his sunglasses down so Phul could see his eyes. “To assist you in…defeating… Captain Reginald Bain.”
“Good. So we’re on the same page,” Phul said, and glanced around the bar. “Does anyone know you’re here?”
“I came alone,” the man said. “I was spotted by a few…folks…at Delta Base. But they’re dead now.”
“Good.” Phul leaned forward. “Mind if I ask…how is it I can see you?”
“I transferred my program to the computer here. Admittedly, I’ve penetrated far more impressive infitronic networks.”
Phul glanced around. “So there are transmitters…?”
“The bartender is a hologram.”
“It’s funny where my people tend to show up, isn’t it?”
“Holograms will earn a place of respect in the Universe, my friend. And my first step toward ensuring that is defeating one of the most fearsome captains in Starfleet.”
The hologram nodded. “Yes. Plus…it will be…fun.”
Phul harrumphed. “We’ll see. At any rate, Grad Norm says your program is based on another of the most fearsome commanders in Starfleet history. More than a match for Bain.”
“James Tiberius Kirk,” the man replied. “I am not based on anything. I am, for all intents and purposes…Jim Kirk.”
“I don’t care if you’re Thermedifore Grazioulu. If you can help me bring Captain Bain to his knees, then that’s all I need to know.”
“I think that can be arranged,” Kirk said. “All I ask is a tall ship…”
“I’ve got one waiting just outside the system. It’s not the XAXRDAARD, but it will do,” Phul said. “One other matter: How do you plan on transmitting…”
“Your check, sir,” a Vazaelian waiter said, stepping up to the table and setting a small grey slip of metal on the table.
“I’ll get it,” Phul said.
“Allow me,” said Kirk, and in a swift gesture, the hologram grabbed the grey slip and slammed it onto the front of Phul’s helmet. Kirk cackled as his image began to flicker and crackle, until he disappeared altogether.
“Where…” Phul muttered, glancing around, then shook himself ramrod straight. Suddenly it felt quite like his brain was on fire. He clutched his head, shaking it vigorously, until the fire finally died down.
“Now… that’s so much….better.”
“What the?” Phul asked himself. “I didn’t just say that!”
“No. I did. James T. Kirk.”
“But how are you…?”
“The infitronic transponder…transmitted my program…directly to your brain stem.”
“But I need my brain stem!”
“I’m just…borrowing it…” Kirk’s voice replied in Phul’s mind. Then, Phul involuntarily stood up and lurched toward the door. He nodded stiffly at the waiter on the way out. “You may leave that on my tab, my good man.”
“But you must admit, significant resources are being expended,” Cabral said, as Dr. Natalia Kasyov hovered over him, checking his brainwave patterns against the prior month’s readings.
“You’re the only one who notices, Cabral,” Kasyov replied. “And if you weren’t plugged intimately into the Anomaly’s computers, you’d never realize how much effort the Captain was putting into his new Kobayashi Maru scenario, either. You know what I think? I think you’re concerned that my character dies in the simulation. Which is really sweet, come to think of it.”
“I’m not the only one who notices,” Cabral said, as the lights on his massive orange sphere blinked softly. “The Anomaly’s computer notices.”
“The Anomaly computer can notice things?”
“She’s quite perceptive, once you get to know her.”
Kasyov straightened, then looked down at Cabral. “SHE?”
“The computer speaks with a female voice. Have you not noticed?”
“I haven’t really cared.”
“She understands. She realizes you have more important things to do.”
Kasyov folded her arms. “How nice of her.”
“Do not be jealous. She doesn’t want to interfere in our relationship.”
“That’s a relief,” Kasyov said. “I wouldn’t want to anger any woman with neutron torpedo launchers mounted on her chest.”
“She thought that was a particularly funny observation.”
Kasyov whirled. “You two are communicating now?”
“We’re in constant communication.”
“Lovely,” Kasyov said, and headed toward the door to the lab. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have sex with the Yeoman on deck sixteen.”
“She says he’s off-duty!” Cabral called after Kasyov as she left. “Sorry about that,” Cabral said to the Anomaly computer. “She’s touchy of late.”
“She must die,” Selex said, as he sipped his steaming drink at the Deck Four Coffee Shop and Steamery.
“Could you be a little more covert,” Remax huffed, folding his arms and staring down at his drink. “We are, after all, surrounded by Starfleet officers.
Selex nodded. “Killing Pro…” He glanced around the crowded Steamery. “Killing Proud Mary is going to liberate us. We’ll finally get to leave this ship, and Commander Vioxx will have the command he so richly deserves.”
“That is a ridiculous nickname,” Remax sighed and pushed his drink away. “Why are we meeting here, anyway?”
“Commander Vioxx insisted that we mix with the crew more. He felt like it was a healthy way to improve relations between our crews. Which is ironic, as the point of this meeting is to find a way to divide the crews.”
Remax harrumphed. “He is becoming more and more human every day. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, Selex, but I’m afraid we may have to act without the Commander’s approval, as the result is ultimately in his best interest.”
“You’re speaking of deception, trickery, and abject insubordination.”
Remax locked eyes with Selex, and nodded. “Are you in?”
Selex smiled. “Absolutely.”
Kasyov was on her way to deck sixteen when Captain Bain, Lt. Marsden, and Lt. Commander Tovar hurried by her in the opposite direction, prompting her to turn around.
“Where are you three heading?”
“Bridge,” Tovar said curtly.
Kasyov jogged to catch up. “Is something happening? And if so, can I just say it’s about time? There hasn’t been a massive invasion of Federation space in months.”
“Just the opposite, I’m afraid,” Bain said, clicking his tongue as he approached the turbolift and pressed the call button. “And right in the middle of karaoke night at Twain the Keel. Pity, that.”
“Karaoke night?” Kasyov asked, looking at Marsden as the turbolift doors open. “Do I even want to know?”
“This man can sing a sea chanty,” Marsden said flatly, as Kasyov followed the trio into the turbolift.
“My day was going wonderfully until the last fifteen minutes,” Kasyov mumbled.
“It’s not bad news, necessarily,” Tovar said.
“Sod it,” Bain said, folding his arms. “It’s a bloody trick, and I’m going to find out what and who’s behind it.”
“Could someone please tell me what’s going on?” Kasyov asked as the turbolift opened up onto the bridge and its occupants filed out.
“The Breen Confederacy has made it official, Kas,” Bain said, heading toward the command chair and relieving Commander Vioxx, who stood and stepped aside. “They’ve extended the olive branch.”
“Peace with the Breen?” Kasyov asked. “That’s great. We’ve been fighting them for what…fifty, sixty…”
“Two hundred and thirty-seven years,” Tovar said. “They have been adversaries of the Federation through four separate centuries. Since the Federation discovered the first Breen colony in 2266.”
“A dog’s age of unrelenting aggression,” Bain said. “And now we’re just expected to shake their hands.”
“The diplomatic process is a long one,” Commander Vioxx said, standing beside Bain. “It will doubtless take the better part of a year to ratify a treaty between the Breen and the Federation. Look how long it took for the treaty between Romulus and the Federation.”
Bain glanced at Vioxx. “Well, that’s because the Romulans are…” His mouth opened and closed a moment. “Such a friendly lot.”
Vioxx bowed slightly. “Thank you, Captain.”
Bain leaned back in his chair. “I appreciate your calming words, Commander. The Federation is simply exploring the options for peace. It could be many years before we actually stop shooting at them.”
“That’s the spirit, Captain,” Vioxx said drily.
“Still, it’s a wonder they didn’t send me,” Bain said. “I am something of an expert on the Breen.”
“At killing them, sir,” Tovar said, checking his console. “Establishing diplomatic connections is not exactly your strong suit.”
“And I suppose it IS Captain Dax’s strong suit?”
“In all fairness, he had nothing better to do,” Tovar said. “The Enterprise was scheduled to oversee the opening of a Mega-Mall on Zontaris Six, and after that their schedule for the year was rather open.”
“Flagship, my bum,” Bain muttered. “But I spose you’re right. Got to be the bigger man and all. Hop on the wagon and see this peace thing through.”
“Yes, sir,” Vioxx said.
“Not everything can be solved by shooting and killing,” Bain said thoughtfully.
“How progressive of you, Captain!” Kasyov said cheerfully.
“Peace is good,” Bain said, though he didn’t sound convinced.
Tovar looked up from his readings. “Sir, we’re receiving a distress call from the Grazany sector, near the Breen Border. A Yridian cruiser has been attacked by Breen raiders.”
Bain’s eyes brightened. “That so? Well then, let’s be off. Helm, take us to the Grazany Sector, Warp L! Mister Tovar…”
“All our weapons will be ready,” Tovar said.
“That’s a boy! Now let’s go kill something!”
“Do you know what you must do?” Remax asked as he and Selex approached Prosak’s quarters.
“I thought you were going to do it,” Selex said, eying the small canister in his hand.
“I’m here in more of a supervisory capacity.”
“Is that what you’re going to tell the General Inquisition on Romulus?”
“There will be no General Inquisition. Think, Selex. If we were on a Romulan ship, this would be an act of patriotism. Your guilt comes from spending far too much time among humans.”
“I don’t have any guilt. I just don’t want to spend my best years in a plasma mine.”
“You won’t…” Remax blew out a breath of exasperation. “Just put the canister against the door seal and press the button. It will do the rest.”
“And you’re sure she’ll die instantly?” Selex asked.
Selex shrugged. “Okay.” He moved to place the canister against the door seal, when suddenly the door opened, and Prosak stepped out, nearly bumping into them.
“Selex, Remax?” she asked quizzically. “May I help you?”
“No,” Remax said. “We’re fine.”
“What are you…” Prosak said, and glanced at the canister.
“Are you missing a canister?” Selex asked casually.
“No. I have…well I don’t think I own any canisters.”
Selex slipped the murder weapon behind his back. “Very well, then. Sorry we bothered you.”
“Where are you going?” Remax asked, vainly attempting casual conversation.
“I thought I’d go to the Pub for lunch. Would either of you like to join me?”
Selex and Remax exchanged glances.
“No,” Remax said. “We’ve got…duties…to attend to.”
“Good luck!” Prosak waved, and headed down the corridor.
“That was not promising,” Selex said, staring at the canister in his hand.
“Actually, it’s just the opening we needed,” Remax said. “Assuming I can unlock her door control code, we can break into her quarters and booby-trap them.”
“Can we have knives come flying down from the ceiling?” Selex asked excitedly.
“I was thinking along the lines of something more subtle.”
“Figures,” Selex muttered as Remax knelt by the door controls and began tapping at them.
“Coming up on the Yridian transport, Captain,” Tovar announced, as the Anomaly dropped out of warp.
Bain leaned forward in his chair. “Let’s have a look at her.”
Tovar put the image of the Yridian ship on the viewscreen. Oblong, conical, and bristling with spiny antennae, it looked like an odd, metallic underwater creature, moreso than a starship. Bain knew, though, that those spindly antennae posed no threat (they were only sensor pods), but Yridian transport captains often hoped they scared off potential predators. Again, much like many sea creatures.
This one, though, wasn’t as lucky. The hull was pocked with scorch marks. One nacelle vented drive plasma. The transport’s running lights and cabin lights flicked off and on.
“Life support is minimal, sir,” Kasyov said from sciences. “They took quite a few hits to primary and backup power systems. I’m reading seventy-five Yridian life signs over there. About a dozen casualties.”
“This was the work of a Breen raider, no doubt,” Tovar said. “It was a messy, and unfinished, job.”
“Tovar, ready a boarding party to go over there and evacuate the ship. Bring Lieutenant Marsden and a medical team, as well. Maintain yellow alert until we’re certain those Breen buggers don’t come calling again.”
Tovar tapped at his panel, then turned and headed for the door. “Understood, captain.”
“Centurion Nortal, please report to the bridge,” Vioxx said, standing next to Bain, hands draped behind his back. “Captain, I should remind you that Yellow Alert requires our shields to be up. You must lower them for two-point-four seconds in order to enable the boarding party to beam over.”
“I’m aware,” Bain said, and turned toward Vioxx. “And if that Breen raider shows up, I assure you the Anomaly is more than a match for her, shields or no shields.”
“Very well,” Vioxx said, his jaw tightening. “Still, we’ll be vulnerable.”
Bain sighed, as Nortal emerged from the turbolift and took tac-ops. “Noted.”
“Nortal reporting!” the Romulan exclaimed. “Now is the time for great deeds. We will rescue, and rescue well!”
Vioxx let out a silent sigh. “At ease, Centurion.”
“Transporter room,” Bain called out. “Let me know as soon as Tovar and his team are aboard the Yridian ship.”
Vioxx glanced around the bridge for a beat. “Captain, where is Commander Prosak?”
“I gave her the shift off,” Bain said. “She hasn’t taken a vacation day in three years, and I thought it was high time she did.”
“Aren’t you supposed to clear those types of things through me? Protocol…”
“Never been a stickler for protocol, I’m afraid,” Bain said. “But we work well together anyway, don’t you think?”
Vioxx sunk a bit in his shoes. “Of course.”
“Still, it’s a shame old Prosak is missing out on the fun, eh?”
Vioxx nodded. “Yes. A shame.” He worked his jaw thoughtfully. Remax and Selex were also off-shift. “Sir, if you’ll excuse me? I just realized I left…something…belowdecks.”
“Where is she?” Selex demanded, staring from around the corner at the door to Prosak’s quarters.
“She’s just like a human. She takes long lunches,” Remax muttered. “Undisciplined, indulgent…”
“I wonder if she ordered the fish ‘n chips,” Selex said. “I found them tasty.”
“Focus!” Remax said. “Someone is coming!”
The pair glanced around the corner, down the corridor that lead to Prosak’s quarters, and sure enough, Prosak emerged from the turoblift and headed toward her door.
“Yes! Victory will soon be ours!” Selex announced.
“Shh!” Remax chided. “You sound like Nortal.”
“Hello gentlemen,” Vioxx said calmly from behind them.
They both screamed.
He placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “Let’s go greet the good Commander Prosak, shall we?”
“This is not the best time,” Remax stammered.
“We’ll see,” Vioxx said, and pushed the pair down the corridor toward Prosak.
The Romma-Vulc glanced up. “Is this a new Romulan gathering place, and nobody told me?” she asked. “Because, if so, I suppose it’s not surprising that nobody told me.”
“We were just coming down to join you for a drink, to celebrate the glories of the Romulan empire,” Vioxx said. “May we?”
“Well, it’s a little early for Romulan Ale,” Prosak said, as she tapped her password into the door controls and they slid open. “But I don’t see why not.”
“Selex and Remax will lead the way,” Vioxx said, and pushed them toward her door.
They dug in their feet and skidded, bracing themselves against the doorframe.
“NO!” Selex and Remax cried.
Prosak cocked her head. “You are both acting rather odd.”
“They’re just high-strung,” Vioxx said, then reached out and tapped a control, shutting the door to Prosak’s quarters. “They’re excited because they have big news for you.”
“We do?” Remax asked.
Vioxx narrowed his eyes. “Yes. You do. You’ve offered to clean Prosak’s quarters from top to bottom, as an apology for the awful way you’ve been treating her since you came aboard Anomaly. Isn’t that right?”
“No,” Selex said.
Vioxx glared at him long and hard.
“I mean, yes, of course,” Selex quickly recovered. “We’re cleaning for you!”
“That’s…” Prosak stammered. “I’m speechless.”
“Should we all go in and show Prosak how clean her quarters are?” Vioxx asked. He looked from Selex to Remax, at their blank expressions. “Or are you saying you’re not quite done, and need some time to put on the finishing touches?” They each nodded weakly. “I see. Well, that’s okay. Commander Prosak, if you don’t mind coming back in about an hour, you’ll find your quarters spotless, and completely safe. Isn’t that right, gentlemen?”
“…Yes,” Remax said reluctantly.
“I’m quite surprised,” Prosak said with a smile. “And I’ll be interested to see how you got that shmorgas stain behind the coffee table out.”
Vioxx bowed. “It’s not a problem, I’m sure.”
“Thank you, Commander,” Prosak said, and walked off down the corridor.
Once she was out of earshot (which for a Vulcan, meant a significantly longer distance, Vioxx turned to Selex and Remax. “So, what’s your weapon of choice? Knives? Or something more subtle? Nerve gas?”
“Both, actually,” Remax said stiffly.
Vioxx nodded. “And you cleared your plan through…?”
“Each other?” Selex said weakly.
“Because that’s the Romulan way.”
“It did seem consistent with our philosophy of deception and scheming,” Remax admitted.
Vioxx nodded. “But there’s a command structure on this ship, whether it be Federation or Romulan, there’s still a command structure. And you two circumvented it completely.”
“We also had coffee,” Selex pointed out.
Vioxx gritted his teeth. “I’ve let this go on too long. I blame myself for entertaining your idiotic suggestion of killing Prosak too long. It’s not going to happen. This is a Federation ship, and as long as we serve here, we’re bound by Federation rules. Do you understand?”
“But…” Selex began, but Remax jabbed him in the stomach.
“Perfectly, Commander. Our humblest apologies.”
“Return Prosak’s quarters to their former state, and clean them while you’re at it. Meanwhile, I’ll consider an appropriate punishment.” He stared long and hard at Remax. “Selex is young and insolent. But you’re my chief councillor. I come to you for guidance and counsel. You’ve let me down this day, Remax, and I shall not forget that.”
Remax watched Vioxx walk off, trying to speak, but nothing came out.
“Isn’t this our punishment?” Selex asked. “I hate cleaning.”
Remax turned to Selex, his jaw working angrily. “SHUT UP! This is done. We’ll have to reconcile ourselves with that, and move on.”
“Indeed,” Selex said.
“Have you located the survivors yet?” Bain asked over Tovar’s comm pip.
“Negative,” Tovar said, aiming his wrist beacon about the corridor of the Yridian transport. “We haven’t located anyone, as yet. This deck appears deserted. Moreover, a selenium isotope in the bulkhead is disrupting quadcorder functions.”
“Check out the other decks. If you don’t find anything, or anyone, get back here on the double. Anomaly out.”
Tovar shook his head. “Check out the other decks,” he muttered. “He makes it sound so easy.”
“Not so easy when the quadcorder isn’t working,” Lt. Shelly Marsden said, shifting the lens armature up over her forehead. “Still, it’s nice that we can get away for a bit.”
“A damaged Yridian ship is not my idea of a lover’s getaway.”
“Well I for one am glad to be here!” Dr. Fred Nooney giggled from behind Marsden and Tovar. “I never get to leave the ship!”
“And there’s a reason for that,” Marsden said under her breath.
“Status check,” Tovar called over his shoulder.
“No life signs,” Ensign Lara Randall said, as she brought up the rear of the group. “Not even a peep.”
“That’s a relief, I suppose,” Tovar said, as the group reached what appeared to be a hangar door.
“This should be the foreward cargo bay,” Marsden said, pushing the visor back down over her eye. “And if I had sensors, I’d be able to tell you exactly what’s on the other side.”
“I’m guessing cargo,” Randall spoke up.
“Very funny,” Tovar muttered, and reached for the door control. He punched it several times, but nothing happened.
“Oh, butter fingers, allow me,” Marsden said with a grin, and yanked the panel open, then worked her hand around inside it for a few moments.
The door finally creaked open, and Tovar pushed it the rest of the way.
And came face to face with a Breen.
Five phaser blasts later, all was quiet.
Bain paced the bridge, glancing at times at the Yridian ship on the viewscreen, as Vioxx stood beside him, arms clasped behind his back. “Nothing yet?”
Nortal shook her head. “The ship of Yridia is quiet, and no trace of those who wounded her can be found!”
“Perhaps we should send another boarding party,” Vioxx suggested.
Bain didn’t stop pacing, as Prosak emerged from the aft turbolift and stepped up beside him. “Tovar can handle himself. I’m sure there’s just a communications problem.”
“Sir, I wish you’d called me to the bridge,” Prosak said. “I can be of use in emergency situations,” Prosak said. “I am, after all, a woman of logical action.”
“Right you are, Prosak,” Bain said. “But events happened fast. We’re grateful to have you now, though.”
Prosak grinned. She looked at Vioxx. “And thank you, Commander.”
“For what?” Bain asked.
“Nothing,” Vioxx said quickly.
Kasyov looked up from her panel. “Captain…the Yridian ship is powering up its engines.”
Bain looked at the screen. “I thought you said…”
“Power levels increasing all over the ship, sir,” Kasyov reported. “I don’t understand. It sure looked like…”
“Bain to Tovar,” Bain said, staring at the screen. “Priority One: Bain to Tovar. Come in.” He looked back at Nortal, who shook her head.
“The ship of Yridia, she raises her shields, protecting her from our beams of transport!”
“We have to get them off that ship,” Prosak said, stepping toward the viewscreen.
“They’re powering up engines,” Kasyov said. “Heading away at one-four-one mark oh-four-two.”
“Right into Breen Space,” Vioxx said, though Bain already knew that.
“Pursuit course, Ensign Yonk,” said Bain.
“One thing’s for sure, they’ll never outrun the Anomaly,” Kasyov said consolingly.
The transport shot into warp, disappearing from the screen.
“Take us to warp, Yonk. Best possible speed. Kas, have Cabral stand by on the anti-sings in case we need them.”
“It’s a Yridian transport,” Kasyov said, already tapping out a message to Cabral. “They shouldn’t be able to outrun us.”
“I wouldn’t bet on the law of averages today, Doctor,” Bain said, folding his arms.
When Tovar stirred awake, he saw the dispassionate, blinking visor of a Breen helmet staring back at him.
“Well aren’t you a sight for sore…visors,” the Breen said, and Tovar thanked small miracles that his universal translater was operable, and that Breen speech hadn’t once again (annoyingly) adapted to it.
“Do I know you?” Tovar asked. “All Breen voices sound alike, you know.”
“You know me,” the Breen said. “And you know me, too.”
Confused, Tovar tried to lean up, but was hit by a sharp shock when he did so, and fell back against his bed.
“Restrictor field. I wouldn’t try that if I were you,” the Breen said.
Tovar had enough freedom of movement to glance around. He was in a dimly lit Sickbay. His eyes went first to the most important person on his boarding party, in his life. “Shelly…is she okay?”
“The female engineer? She is fine,” the Breen said. “I told Phul what I always tell those under my command. ‘Phasers on stun!’”
“Thot Phul is here?” Tovar asked, wishing he could rub his eyes.
“Yes he is, and he doesn’t appreciate being referred to in the third person!” the Breen railed. “And I’m not under your command!”
“Actually,” the Breen continued. “Didn’t you get demoted from Thot to Dobt?”
“That is neither here nor there!” the Breen said to himself.
Tovar shifted, feeling a pain in his side where he’d been shot. Damn phaserburn. “You’re Phul?”
“Glad you noticed,” the Breen said, and bowed slightly. “You’re so needy,” he added. “Why do you care if anyone knows who you are? What’s with your constant desire for acceptance?”
“Who are you talking to?” Tovar demanded, growing restless.
“I’m talking to Dobt Phul,” Phul said. “Stop using that idiotic rank. I’m still a Thot! At least I will be if we complete this mission!”
“But you are Phul,” Tovar said, confused.
“We are more than full,” Phul said. “We are overflowing with ideas, plans, schemes, whatever you want to…call…them.”
“Can you please shoot me again?”
“Love to,” Phul said. “But I need…you conscious for this next part. Which side is your most photogenic? I don’t suppose it matters.”
“My name is Tovar. I carry the rank of Lieutenant Commander. My serial number is four-X-six-six-nine-three-nine.”
“I could really care less, my boy,” Phul said, patting Tovar on the shoulder. “I just need you to speak into the monitor when I tell you. Capiche?”
“Sir, the Yridian transport’s about to cross over into Breen territory,” Kasyov called out. “The Federation council put out an advisory today that reinforced the no-fly rules. Starfleet vessels are not permitted in Breen space without prior approval, escort, and statement of purpose.”
“Fascinating. File those little tidbits away for a later date,” Bain said. “Helm, increase speed to Warp B. Overtake the transport and cut it off. Nortal, ready on neutron torpedoes.”
“Sir, I care about the safety of your people, as you do,” Vioxx cautioned from behind Bain. “But if you cross into Breen territory, at a time like this… without at least notifying Starfleet!”
“That’s enough, Commander,” Beam said softly, but hotly.
“I can’t help but concur, Captain,” Prosak said, stepping up beside Bain.
“I said that’s enough.”
“We just overtook the Yridian ship, sir,” Yonk said.
“Bring us about. Nortal, ready neutron torpedoes. As soon as they’re in range, blow them out of warp.”
“Sir, this is a tricky piece of maneuvering..”
“Do it, Yonk,” Bain said, resting a hand on the back of the young Ferengi’s seat.
Yonk sunk a bit in his chair. “Aye, Captain.”
Bain watched on the viewscreen as green neutron torpedoes blasted out into seemingly empty space.
Then there was a huge blast of light as the Yridian ship came tumbling out of warp, and skidded to a rest in front of the Anomaly.
Yonk wiped his forehead. “Sir, that was amazing.”
“Just a little trick I picked up in grade school,” Bain said.
“It must have been some grade school,” said Prosak.
“The Yridians are hailing us,” Kasyov said.
“Yes, I expect they are,” Bain said. “Put them on screen.”
The viewscreen lit up with the image of Tovar, lying on a biobed, with a Breen standing beside him, phaser rifle leveled at the Yynsian.
“Tovar!” Prosak exclainmed.
“Captain,” Tovar began. “I’ve been instructed to tell you that the Breen government officially claims myself and the boarding party as prisoners of war.”
“What war?” Bain asked, and looked at the Breen on the screen. “What war, fellow? We’re not at war, we’re on the way to negotiating a bloody peace!”
“Not if my associates and I have anything to say about it,” the Breen said, cradling his weapon.
Bain narrowed his eyes. Breen were so hard to tell apart. Even the voice was no help. Still…it took Bain only a moment to narrow it down. “Didn’t I stab you with a fork not long ago?”
“Thot Phul,” Phul said, and stepped closer to the viewscreen. “Pleasure to see you again.”
Vioxx stepped up beside Bain. “Do all the fanatical upstarts in the Galaxy have a grudge against you and your people, Bain?” He grimaced as he thought of the recent row with Chynok and her Klingon refugees.
“Many do,” Bain said softly, then looked at the screen. “What are your demands, Phul?”
“That you surrender yourself and the Anomaly, and her crew, to the Breen Confederacy.”
Bain suppressed a laugh. “That’s rich, friend. And why, pray tell, would I do that?”
“Because you don’t want your away team harmed.”
Bain’s fingers twitched at his sides. “That’s a fact,” he said slowly. “Still, I cannot agree to those terms, and you know it. Present me with realistic terms and we’ll talk.”
“This is not a negotiation, Bain. These are demands. Fail to meet them, and your away team will die.”
Phul suddenly looked off-screen, as if he were reading something, then turned quickly back to Bain. “You know what? Never mind. You can have your away team back. Sorry for the trouble!”
Bain blinked. “What?” He watched as Tovar disappeared in a flurry of transporter particles.
Prosak turned to Kasyov. “Track that transport, Doctor!”
“Tovar and the others were beamed aboard an escape pod, which I’m launching now,” Phul continued. “Let me just say, Captain, it was a thrill to face you in combat one more time. You’re a true original! See you…out there!”
And Phul disappeared from the screen, replaced by an aft view of the Yridian ship. As promised, a pill-shaped escape pod shot out of the hull tumbled toward the Anomaly.
“Nortal! Blast that smegging ship out of the stars!” Bain called out. The Anomaly’s weapons raged, filling the viewscreen with light; but it was too late, Phul’s ship had already shot into warp.
“Drop shields and beam the occupants of the escape pods aboard,” Vioxx said, glancing at Bain, who stood in front of the viewscreen, staring at it. “Captain, are you all right?”
“Fine,” Bain said, turning. “A tad shaken, but not stirred.” He marched toward the aft turbolift. “Have the away team transported to Sickbay, then lay in a course to intercept that ship, maximum warp.”
“As you wish,” Vioxx said. “I’ll take conn, if you like.”
“Be my guest,” Bain said, stepping into the lift. “Commander Prosak, assist Vioxx in tracking that ship. And work with Nortal to ensure that the next time we see that ship, we destroy it.”
Kasyov ducked into Science Lab Two. “Cabral? You okay?”
The big brain thrummed. “Why would I not be?”
“I don’t know. Just a lot of commotion recently. I figured I’d check on you.” She walked in and stepped closer to the brain, laying her hand on its surface.
“I assure you, I am all right. And you?”
“Fine. The Breen left in an awful hurry, though, and nobody seems to know why.”
“I am sure our best people are working on it, as are you.”
Kasyov nodded. “That, among other things.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m sorry I got…jealous.”
“No apologies are necessary, Natalia.”
Kasyov blinked. “Anyway, I know it’s silly to be jealous of you and the computer. I guess I just thought that you and…it…were able to be close in a way you and I can never be.”
“There is some truth to that.”
Kasyov grabbed her chair, wheeled it over and sat opposite Cabral, her hands on him. “But I wanted to tell you, I’ve been working on something that will change all that….”
Tovar leaned up on the biobed as Ih’vik punched a thermal injection into his palm. “You’re just a little dazed from the phaser blast, Yynsian. You’ll be all right.”
“Your bedside manner would be a lot better if you didn’t insist on calling people by their species name.”
Ih’vik growled and moved over to Lt. Randall, as the Sickbay doors slid open and Bain rushed in.
“Tovar, my boy, are you all right?” he asked, stepping up to the biobed.
Tovar nodded. “I am. There were no major casualties among the boarding party, although to hear Doctor Nooney tell it, you would think we were tortured by rabid voles.”
“My heiney hurts!” Nooney cried, rolling over on his biobed.
“Shut UP!” Marsden muttered, and slid off her biobed. “Nurse Ih’vik, can I go or what?”
“You should rest, human, because humans are weak, and cannot replenish themselves as quickly as Andor…”
“That’s all I needed to know, thanks,” Marsden said, and headed toward the door.
Bain sidestepped in front of her. “Where do you think you’re going, Lieutenant?”
“Back to work. If we’re going to be chasing down that Yridian ship, the engines need to be in top shape.”
“I’m not sure that’s what we’re doing yet,” Bain said. “I’m going to contact Starfleet and ask them how they’d like me to proceed. Meanwhile, we’re downloading the sensor readings from Lieutenant Marsden’s quadcorder, to better ascertain what Thot Phul was up to.”
“We were attacked,” Tovar said. “It’s clear that retribution is in order.”
“Nothing is clear, not until I understand what it is Phul was after.”
“Maybe he just wanted to shake us up,” Marsden said.
“Mission accomplished,” Tovar said, and slipped an arm around Marsden. “But we’ve been through worse.”
“Both of you take a couple more hours to recuperate. We’ll go from there,” Bain said, and turned, and walked out of Sickbay.
“Asking Starfleet for advice,” a voice boomed in the corridor as Bain headed for the turbolift. “Weak, indecisive. And you’re supposed to be one of Starfleet’s best?”
Bain stopped, and looked around. “Who the bloody hell said that?”
“Colorful dialect doesn’t make for good captaining,” the voice continued. “Even I know that. I knew that when I saved Earth from a killer alien probe. Wait, no…two killer alien probes. Or was it three?”
Bain froze in his tracks. “Kirk?”
“James Tiberius…at your service,” Kirk’s voice said. “Now what’s say we…settle this… once and for all, like men?”
Bain glared at the ceiling. “Settle what?”
“See who’s the better commander. Surely you’ve wondered.”
“I’m fairly certain,” Bain said. “Bain to bridge. I want a thorough scan of our computers immediately. Lock out any nonessential systems.”
“Unable to comply with your request,” the computer’s passionless female voice replied.
“I’m afraid you won’t be able to communicate with your crew, Bain. Captains can’t always rely on their crew for help. Sometimes we have to…go it alone.”
Bain looked around the corridor. He turned back toward Sickbay, walking at a brisk pace. “I’m more than willing to meet you anywhere you choose, Kirk. But I won’t put my ship at risk…”
“Who said you had a choice?” Kirk said, and laughed, as Bain dematerialized in a blue swirl.
“Commander Vioxx! The computer, it speaks in tongues!” Nortal announced, looking up from her screens.
Vioxx turned in the command chair. “What do you mean?”
“Its words are gibberish!”
Vioxx got out of the command chair and stepped up behind the tac- ops console and looked over the readouts on Nortal’s screen. Prosak stepped up to join him.
“Something is re-writing our computer codes,” Prosak surmised. “An invasive program of some kind.”
“Vioxx to Bain,” he said, as he watched rows of nonsensical text stream across the screen.
“Commander, we’re altering course!” Ensign Yonk called out.
“Who told you to alter course?” Vioxx asked, glancing back.
“Nobody. The ship just…changed course!”
Vioxx whirled back to Nortal. “Initiate command lockout procedures!”
Nortal’s hands flew over her panel. “Sir, the lockout, it does not work! We are powerless against this computerized threat!”
“We’ll see about that. Vioxx to Remax.”
“Unable to comply,” the computer’s voice replied.
Vioxx glanced at Ensign Lennum, the Vorta science officer. “Ensign, head down to Sickbay. Find the Captain. And find Marsden, and the Russian. They know these systems better than we do. And forget about the tubolifts; take the Jefferies tube.”
“What about me?” Prosak asked, as Lennum stepped to the front of the bridge and cranked open the hatch that lead into the main Jefferies tube, which ran the length of the ship.
“I need you here,” Vioxx said. “Your familiarity with this ship is vital.”
“That is nice of you to say, Commander.”
“My people have not always been kind to you, Prosak.” Vioxx put a hand on her shoulder. “I intend to put a stop to that, assuming we survive this.”
“I don’t like this,” Marsden said, sitting next to Tovar on his biobed. “I feel useless. We should be helping the Captain.”
“His orders were explicit,” Tovar said, putting his hand on Marsden’s.
“That doesn’t mean we need to follow them.”
“Actually, it does.”
Marsden glanced at Tovar. “You are freakishly loyal to that man.”
Doctor Nooney cocked his head as he stared at the biobed screen above him. “Nurse Ih’vik! Could you come here a moment? This screen says my blood pressure is LXXXDFD XXX4. That can’t be right, can it?”
Marsden craned her neck and stared at the readout. “That’s funny.” She glanced at the biobed readout above her and Tovar. She punched a few controls. “The computer’s gone a tad…wonky.”
“You really must stop using British dialect. It’s either disturbing me or turning me on, and I cannot tell which,” Tovar said, and scooted off the biobed. “Perhaps we should get to the bridge. If the computer has been compromised, they might need our assistance.”
Tovar headed to the door to Sickbay…
…and slammed right into it.
“The door is nonfunctional,” Tovar said, rubbing his nose.
“No kidding,” Marsden said. “Slag the bridge, I need to get to the computer core.”
“That would be a problem at the moment.”
“No it’s not,” Marsden said. “Because if I’m not mistaken, you have something up your sleeve. Make that sleeves.”
Tovar grinned at Marsden. “Touche.” And with a flick of his wrists, twin phaser barrels emerged from his sleeves, and he blasted the door open.
“Stay here,” Tovar said to Nooney and Ih’vik. “Lieutenant Randall, try to get to the bridge and ascertain the situation, then report back to me. Trust no one.”
“I never do,” Randall said, and slid off her biobed.
Bain glanced around the Anomaly bridge. It was empty. Panels blinked and beeped; systems thrummed. On the viewscreen, stars streaked by.
“Cozy,” a voice said from behind Bain, and he whirled.
The former Starfleet captain’s hologram stood at the rear of the bridge, resplendent in his ancient burgundy uniform, with black bell- bottom pants and white turtleneck. He glanced at tac-ops. “Holographic interfaces. How appropriate.” He looked around the bridge, taking in its contours with careful appreciation. “Nice. A little sterile. Not as lively and…embracing…as my old bridge.”
“The crew makes the bridge what it is. The rest is just blinking panels.”
“Now I know you don’t think that, really,” Kirk said, strolling down to face Bain. “Great Captains have…love affairs…with their ships. Nelson and the HMS Victory, Neil Armstrong and the Apollo. Decker and the Exeter. Dax, the lumbering oaf, and the current incarnation of my Enterprise.”
“Glad we agree on one thing, bloke,” Bain said, staring hard at Kirk.
Kirk breezed by Bain, then turned to face him. “But it’ll always be my Enterprise. Surely you know that.”
“I don’t rightly care. What’s this about, anyway?”
“Quite right, Captain. We must get down to business. As you’ve probably guessed by now, you’re on a holodeck. I was quite intrigued when I studied your systems and found out that you were developing your own version of the Kobayashi Maru scenario.”
“Improving it, yes.”
“Well, that remains to be seen. But I appreciate your regard for history.”
Bain grinded his teeth. “James Kirk was a great man. And you, sir, are no James Kirk.”
“I’m an excellent copy though, you must admit,” Kirk said. Bain knew he was being toyed with.
“How did you do this? How’d you get aboard my ship?” Bain asked pointedly.
“While your…lovely engineer…Lieutenant Marsden…was unconscious, Phul downloaded my program into her quadcorder. Then when you downloaded its sensor data…bam! Kobayashi Maru!”
Bain blanched. “Phul had you stored in his computers?”
“No, actually, I hitched a ride on his brain. But that couldn’t possibly matter less.”
“But how did you escape from the Mega-Sim?” Bain had always wondered what had happened; the Kirk program having disappeared just before they could delete it, during their prior encounter.
“Oh, this and that.” Kirk shook his head. “What’s important is, I’m here, now, with you. And it’s high time we settled scores.”
“I haven’t the foggiest damned idea what you mean,” Bain said.
“Sure you do,” Kirk said, and stepped up to the command chair. He rested his hand on it. “The men who sat in this chair, and others like it, protect a massive legacy. You too, one day, will take your place among the elite Starfleet captains. Surely you realize this, even now.”
“I could give a fig,” Bain said. “I do the jobs I’m assigned. And my current job is to purge your bloody file from my systems!” He lunged at Kirk, who promptly disappeared, and reappeared behind Bain.
“If only wishing made it so,” Kirk said.
“Get this overwith,” Bain said.
“Gladly,” Kirk replied. Instantly, Bain felt a heavy pole materialize in his hand. It was the Vulcan lirpa. Poison-tipped, scythe- like. Deadly.
Kirk brandished his own lirpa. “Best me in combat, sir, and you’ll never hear from me again.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Bain said, and backed away, circling, his eyes constantly on Kirk. “If I lunge at you, you’ll just pull that disappearing stunt again.”
“No, not anymore. I’ve suffused myself with human characteristics. If you prick me, I’ll bleed.” He swung the lirpa down toward Bain. “And if you wrong me…I will avenge! Protect yourself, Bain! Jim Kirk wants blood!”
Bain ducked as Kirk rushed him, slicing madly with his blade.
The corridor lights dimmed and brightened, alternating between emergency power, Red Alert, and standard running mode. Tovar glanced around as he and Marsden jogged down the corridor. “We’ve got to stop it, whatever it is.”
“That’s the idea,” Marsden said, and skidded to a stop at a large, oblong hatch. She punched a code on the hatch and jerked it open. “This is the nearest access hub to the primary computer core.”
“As soon as you can tap into the sensors, find the captain.”
“First things first,” Marsden said. “Reach into the storage locker behind you. There should be a tool kit in there.”
Tovar turned and popped open the locker, rifling through it. He tossed the small case toward Marsden. “Here you go!”
“Good,” Marsden said, and flipped the case open, removing a small, pen-like device. With that, she set upon the innards of the computer. “Something’s in the hard code. I can’t just wipe the core. Even the erasure utility’s compromised.”
Tovar knelt behind Marsden. “Switch to the backup core.”
“Access to that has been compromised,” Marsden said, tapping madly at the controls within the access hatch. A screen lit up in front of her, and it displayed a seemingly endless row of codes.
“What are we looking at?” Tovar asked.
“Something’s re-writing our computer core one line of code at a time. Every major system is shut down or compromised. I can’t even…” Her eyes suddenly went wide. “Cabral!”
“By all means, Doctor, tell me what you have in mind,” Cabral said.
“Funny you should put it that way,” Kasyov smiled, and ran her finger along Cabral’s shiny surface. “On my off hours, I’ve been developing…”
The lights in the lab suddenly flickered.
“Wait a moment,” Cabral said. “Something is wrong.”
Kasyov straightened. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not alone,” Cabral said, and the lights on his surface began blinking faster.
Kasyov reached over to her desk and grabbed her quadcorder headset. “Cabral, what’s happening?”
“Something is taking over our computer. I can feel it deleting her lines of code!”
“No, I can’t,” Cabral said. “The invasive program is insidious. If it succeeds in taking over our computers, we’ll all be in danger. I can’t allow that. I’m sorry, Natalia. I have to go.”
“Cabral…” Kasyov began, when suddenly the brain’s lights dimmed, and the room grew silent. “Yvot!” she exclaimed, and dashed toward the door.
“Everything but external sensors is locked out,” Prosak said, leaning over the science station. “So we can at least witness whatever is being done to us.”
“Any idea of our course?” Vioxx asked, staring at the viewscreen.
“Deeper into Breen space we go. Where we’ll stop, nobody knows!” Nortal exclaimed.
“Start trying to restore our compromised systems. Start with the internal communication system. We need to be able to talk to the other people on the ship. We need to know what on Tarval is going on!”
Prosak nodded, tapping at controls. “I’m working on it, but I am no engineer.”
“And find out where our engineer is!”
“I’m also no scientist,” Prosak said, more by way of conversation.
“Find her, too,” Vioxx fumed, feeling angry and helpless.
“I’m not a tactician, a doctor, a helmsman, or, for that matter, a captain.”
Vioxx stared at Prosak. “Now is not a time to feel sorry for yourself, Commander.”
“I just wonder, often, what my exact purpose is here.” As she spoke she continued to tap at her panels. “It is no use. My efforts are stymied at every turn.” She squinted at the screen. “However, sensors do show we are coming out of warp.”
On the viewscreen, a large greenish blob swung into view.
“One thousand life signs, all Breen,” Prosak said. “Meanwhile, all our weapons are arming themselves. We will be in weapons range in two minutes.”
“Well, at least we know now,” Vioxx said solemnly, as the outpost grew closer on the viewscreen.
“What’s happening?” Tovar asked, looking over Marsden’s shoulder.
“I can’t locate Cabral’s signature,” she said, staring at the rows of code on the screen. “It’s lost among the gigaquads of gibberish being re- written into our computers.”
“Could we lose Cabral?”
“I don’t know,” Marsden said, and worked feverishly inside the computer access panel. “But if systems keep getting locked out one by one, whoever is controlling this will be able to shut down life support, blow up the warp core in its casing, arm the self destruct…”
“It would appear the other two are moot, if the second one is true,” Tovar observed.
“You think?” Marsden asked as she worked.
“Please, do not snap.”
“This is SO the time for snapping!” Marsden said, and squirmed deeper into the hatch. “This is the time for kicking something’s ass!”
“If only we knew what that something was,” Tovar said.
“On your guard, Bain!” Kirk wailed, and leapt at the British captain.
Bain parried, then thrusted with the dull end of the lirpa, smashing Kirk up against the wall. “Remove your program from my computers, and we’ll discuss this like rational men, Kirk!” He pressed the lirpa up against Kirk’s throat. “Don’t make me switch ends and slice you to ribbons.”
“You’d do that?” Kirk asked wonderingly. “Not very gentlemanlike.”
“There’s no room for gentlemen in war,” Bain said.
“Good point!” Kirk replied, and kicked out, jamming his boot in Bain’s gut, causing him to double over and drop his lirpa.
Kirk grabbed the second lirpa and bore down on Bain, just when Bain’s boot flew up and caught him in the face, knocking him backwards.
Bain rushed him, taking the captain by surprise. He gripped Kirk by the shoulders and shoved him into the aft engineering console, smashing it, sending sparks flying, and causing both lirpas to drop to the floor. “GET. OFF. MY. BLOODY. SHIP. YOU. INSUFFERABLE. BASTARD!”
“You’re too kind,” Kirk replied cattily, and head-butted Bain, causing the captain to stumble. “You’re also too weak. Too old. Too doddering. Too insignificant for a….” And he punched Bain in the stomach again, and again, with big, wide, old-fashioned swings. “MAN. LIKE. KIRK!”
Bain staggered back, rubbing his bloodied nose. “Rubbish!” he cried out and gripped Kirk’s throat, leaping on him and ramming him to the ground.
“You can try to destroy me, Captain…” Kirk choked out. “But… there are many copies…”
“This is scary,” Dr. Nooney said softly as he sat in his office in the dimmed Sickbay. Nurse Ih’vik sat across from him, looking bored.
“If this is scary, you’d hate to see my family reunion, Doctor.”
“I’m sure I would,” Nooney said honestly. He looked around uselessly for a moment, then looked back at Ih’vik. “Nurse…would you mind holding me?”
“If I held you, it would only be so I could better aim my blade, sir.”
Nooney blanched, then looked away. “Okay. Nevermind.”
Suddenly, Dr. Kasyov came skipping in through the ruined door that Marsden had blasted open earlier.
“Don’t mind me, guys. Just came to borrow something!”
“Doctor?” Nooney asked, peeking out of his office. “Is it safe to come out?”
“Hell no,” Kasyov said, rifling through a drawer. “Stay right where you are.”
“What’re you doing?” Nooney asked fearfully.
“Just grabbing some supplies for a…little project.”
“Can I help?”
“Not on your life. Okay, thanks!” Kasyov replied, then dashed out.
“She’s nice,” Nooney said, and returned to his desk. “Hey, Nurse Ih’vik…would you respect me any less if I hid under here?”
“No, sir. I daresay that’s not possible.”
The emergency hatch in the floor of the bridge popped open. “Look who I found!” Lara Randall said as she climbed out.
Remax and Selex climbed out behind her, and immediately glanced at Prosak.
“Commander, your quarters have been painstakingly cleaned,” Selex said.
“Yes,” Remax said, and looked at Vioxx. “And they’re quite…safe too.”
“No place on this ship is safe right now,” Vioxx muttered, and sat in the command chair. “While the two of you were off being merry maids, our computers have been infiltrated by a nefarious computer program, and our weapons have been trained on a Breen outpost.”
“Bugger that,” Prosak said, then glanced around. “Sorry. Captain Bain is not here, and it just seemed like someone should say that.”
“Indeed,” Vioxx said. “Randall, go back to tac-ops and assist Nortal in re-establishing weapons control. Remax, Selex: Work with Prosak at sciences. She’s attempting to get control of communications, life support, and internal sensors.”
“Work…with…” Selex said slowly.
“Fine,” Remax said, and glared at Selex, then jogged up to assist Prosak. “Just tell us what you need, Commander.”
Prosak looked up, brightened. “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
Selex forced a smile. “Not a problem.”
“Time until we get in weapons range of the outpost?” Vioxx asked Nortal.
“Our time grows shorter and shorter. The time to act is now!”
“You’ve got that right, Centurion.”
Kasyov studied Cabral’s inner readings as she plugged the device she retrieved from Sickbay to the interface panel beside his sphere, and used a spanner to hard-wire the connections.
“Stay with me, Cabral. Just stay with me in there,” she said softly, stroking his sphere as she stared at the readings on her screen. “Just a few more adjustments. And….we’re ready.”
She took a deep breath. “Well, no time like the present, eh?” And she pressed the small, flat slip of metal against her forehead, and tapped it once to switch it on. “I’m coming, Cabral. I’m coming…”
Bain pinned Kirk, his hands wrapped firmly around his neck, squeezing. “Give in, you bloated, arrogant old sot!”
Kirk gritted his teeth. “You think it’s over, you old British windbag? You think I’m finished? Would you like to know what’s going on outside these walls?” He laughed. “Peace with the Breen. Hah. As laughable as peace with the Klingons. Events conspired to destroy that fragile peace, and I was right at the center of it. A prime target. Public Enemy Number One. Much as you soon will be!”
“What the bloody hell are you talking about?!” Bain railed, squeezing Kirk’s neck harder.
Kirk pursed his lips, as Bain throttled him. “Let me tell you something…there’s no such thing as an unwinable scenario!”
And he dissolved in a flurry of transporter particles, right out of Bain’s grasp.
Bain got up and stumbled over to tac-ops, checking the readings.
The comm system on the bridge flared to life. “Come on, Bain. Would you prefer it this way, or as it was meant to be?”
Bain looked around angrily. “I have no idea what that means!”
“Me either. I never did. Anyway…it’s Maru time, Bain!”
Suddenly the Anomaly shook from a barrage of weapons hits. Bain steadied himself on the tac-ops console as he watched one system after another go red-line.
“You’re in your own program. Kobayashi Maru. Surrounded by Breen warships. I’m aboard one of these ships, but can you guess which one? The move is yours, Captain.”
“I don’t have to guess,” Bain growled. “I just have to destroy them all.” And he laid his hands upon the tac-ops console, and fire spat forth from the Anomaly.
The Anomaly fired, blast upon blast, neutron torpedo upon neutron torpedo, as the bridge crew watched.
Vioxx stood from the command chair as the blasts hit the Breen outpost, and it exploded in a violent wash of light.
Prosak looked up. “Destroyed, sir. No survivors.”
“…Someone find Captain Bain,” Vioxx said slowly.
“I’ll go,” Prosak said, and ducked around the science console, heading for the hatch in the middle of the bridge deck. “There’s nothing more I can do with these computers.”
“Are you sure?” Vioxx asked.
“If we ever needed Reginald Bain, it’s right now,” Prosak said, and ducked into the hatch, heading down the ladder.
“That’s curious,” Marsden said.
Tovar paced behind her. “What? What’s curious?”
“Something’s happening to that computer program. A new code is being written. I don’t recognize any of the sequences.”
“Cabral! It must be!”
“No. It’s not Cabral’s. It doesn’t look like computer code at all…”
All was white.
Natalia Kasyov walked through the white ether. Although she wasn’t walking so much as floating.
“Cabral!” she called out. “Are you in here?”
Where was here? She wasn’t sure.
“Natalia?” a soft voice asked.
“Cabral!” she called again, and changed course to follow the sound of that voice.
The white melted away, solidifying into an Anomaly corridor. She was standing outside what looked like the ship’s brig.
“In here, Natalia…” the voice called from behind the door.
She wasn’t sure how she did it, but she reached out and ripped the door open with her bare hands, and walked inside.
There, huddled behind the crackling security field, was a man.
Wearing a simple blue jumpsuit, the man was auburn-haired, mid- thirties, with penetrating blue eyes. He smiled warmly.
“Natalia! I’m grateful to see you. But how…?”
She stepped toward the field. She knew the voice instantly. “Cabral?”
He looked down at himself. “I appear to have a physical manifestation in this program loop. Yes.”
“Where are we?”
“James Kirk’s hologram took over our systems. I attempted to fight back, but was roundly defeated. I was nearly deleted, as well, but managed to take refuge here within this subprogram. I suppose it looks, to human perception, like a prison.”
“How do I get you out?”
“I do not know,” Cabral said honestly. “But how is it that you’re here?”
Kasyov smiled. “I plugged myself into you.”
“We’re connected by a neural transmitter, and I was able to follow your link deep into the Anomaly’s computer core. It’s what I was trying to tell you before. I found a way for us to be together.”
Cabral brightened. “Natalia, that’s wonderful! But…you’re stuck here as well, now.”
“The hell I am,” Natalia said with an impish smirk, and walked right through the field.
One after one, the Breen ships fell, exploded as the Anomally whipped around; too fast and maneuverable for them to get a hard target lock. Bain tied in the helm and weapons, raining down fire and brimstone, obliterating the enemy. The Butcher of Breen was back!
Finally, all the ships were gone, except the Anomaly and the Kobayashi Maru, which sat patiently on the viewscreen.
Bain sagged against his panel. “It’s finished,” he sighed.
Then the Maru pivoted, and came toward the Anomaly.
“You’ve certainly lost a step in your old age, Bain!” Kirk said. “A child could have figured it out. I never said I was aboard a Breen ship.”
The Maru unleashed its arsenal (it had an arsenal?) on the Anomaly, and Bain braced himself as the ship rattled apart around him. One by one, he watched the weapons systems blink offline. Shield sheaths were failing. Bain harrumphed. Kirk had re-written the program. Some things never change.
“Give up, Bain. I am not an unsympathetic man. The heart of a Starfleet officer still beats within my program. Surrender to me, and I’ll spare you.”
“Not. Bloody. Likely!” Bain said, and sent the Anomaly toward the Maru.
“What…what are you doing?”
“Improvising, you buggering fool!” Bain cried out, and ramped up the Anomaly’s speed to full impulse.
“Nothing a little re-write won’t fix. I’ll just…” Kirk paused. “Wait a minute. What’s happening. I’m locked out. I’m locked out….what did you do, Bain?” Kirk’s eyes went wide as he saw the Anomaly approach on his viewscreen. “Oh…my…”
And the Anomaly smashed into the Maru, and both ships were engulfed in explosion.
“Get him out of there!” Kasyov cried, looking over Cabral’s shoulder as he peered through a whole in the white expanse, watching the Anomaly bridge explode. They’d managed to escape from Cabral’s manufactured cell, much to the credit of Kasyov’s persistent mind. Her theory had proven correct: The code of the human brain trumps computer code each and every time.
Now they’d made their way through the Anomaly’s computer system to a “place” where they could call up the ship’s internal sensors and watch what was happening at any point on the ship.
And right now, they were watching the Anomaly bridge, or at least the holodeck version, explode. “Holodeck safeties are off,” Kasyov cried. “He’ll be killed!”
“I have reactivated holodeck safeties,” Cabral said calmly, grinning over his shoulder. Boy, did he have a handsome smile. “The Captain will be fine. I cannot, however, say the same for the Kirk hologram.”
Kasyov clapped her hands together. “Good riddance.”
“To bad rubbish, as Captain Bain would say,” Cabral said, and turned, slipping his arms around Kasyov. “I must say, though, the captain’s strategy was remarkably good. You are right, after all. The Kobayshi Maru scenario is not a waste of our resources.”
“I knew you were hopeless romantic.”
“Kiss me, and you will find out,” Cabral said, and leaned in.
Kasyov stopped for a moment. “Cabral…how did I know the holodeck safeties were on? There aren’t any viewscreens here.” She cocked her head. “Come to think of it, how do I know that our shields and engines are coming back online?”
“Welcome to the machine, Natalia….” Cabral said with a knowing smile, and leaned in, kissing Kasyov deeply.
Moments later, Kasyov broke the kiss. “So what else can I do?”
“Let’s find out.”
“Energy surge on the holodeck…” Marsden said, looking up from the computer junction. “It looks like a program was running, then just suddenly…stopped.”
“That hardly seems relevant,” Tovar said.
“I’m picking up a life sign in there. It’s Captain Bain!”
“Which holodeck?” Tovar asked, even as he started running down the corridor.
“Three!” Marsden called out, and chased after him, as the lights in the corridor began to flicker back to normal.
“All hands: This is Doctor Natalia Kasyov. The Kirk program has been purged from our systems. There’s nothing more to see here; please go back to your regular duties.”
“Nat?” Marsden called as she and Tovar raced to the nearest Jefferies tube hatch and ducked inside.
“Shelly,” Kasyov’s voice called out. “Thank goodness you’re okay.”
“I’m fine. Were you able to get Cabral back up and running?”
“Yes. The computer is wiped, but Cabral is fine. We’re running things now.”
Marsden followed Tovar down to the next deck, and climbed out into the corridor. Then she froze in her tracks. “WE?”
“Yes, Shelly. Cabral and I are finally together. It’s wondrous. I don’t want to leave!”
Marsden jogged to catch up with Tovar, who was tapping at the door controls to holodeck three. “We’ll have to talk about this later, Nat.”
“Hold on, I’ll get that for you,” Kasyov said, and suddenly the doors to the holodeck sprung open. “You two help the captain. I’ll work on the other systems.”
“Captain!” Tovar exclaimed as Bain staggered out of the darkened holodeck.
He looked blearily at Tovar. “My boy,” he said, and sagged into Tovar’s arms.
“Tovar to Sickbay!” Tovar called out.
“Comm system is still down,” Kasyov replied. “But don’t worry, I’ve scanned the captain. He’s a little shaken, but he’ll be just fine.”
“Doctor?” Bain asked, looking around.
“We need to get to the bridge,” Marsden said.
“I’ll get the nearest turbolift up and running, and you’ll be on your way!” Kasyov’s voice said cheerily.
“What on Yyns happened in there?” Tovar asked, helping Bain down the corridor.
“An unwinnable scenario, son,” Bain said.
Prosak made her way down the ladder, through the vertical Jefferies tube. She didn’t even know which deck to go to, and so figured to pick one at random. She had to get to Bain, before this situation spiraled even more out of control.
“Wait up!” a voice called from above.
She glanced up. “Selex?”
“I’m heading down to Engineering. Make sure the warp core is okay,” he said, climbing down toward her.
“That is a good idea,” Prosak said, and glanced down. “You have a long trip, however.”
“Twenty-five decks,” Selex said. “It’s a long way down.”
Prosak glanced down, the dizzying length of the tube that ran from the top of the Anomaly to the bottom. “Indeed.”
“I hope you realize that this isn’t personal.”
“That what?” Prosak looked up. “The way you’ve treated me? Of course. It’s all for the glory of Romulus, I’m sure.”
“You say that, but have no idea what it truly means. And that’s why you’ve got to die.”
“Die? I don’t have to tell you, Selex, that murder is SO not logi…”
And Selex kicked down hard, pushing his foot into Prosak’s shoulder, knocking her hands free from the ladder. She almost steadied herself, but another kick knocked her free of the ladder entirely, and she fell backwards, arms spiraling, down. As she fell, her eyes fixed on Selex, and the impassive look on his face. He wasn’t smiling, wasn’t frowning.
But it was a look of accomplishment.
The turbolift doors opened, and Bain stumbled out onto the bridge, Tovar and Marsden flanking him, steadying him.
“Status report…” he said.
Vioxx turned, arms clasped behind his back. He raised an eyebrow. “Captain, are you all right?”
“No. Status report!”
Vioxx worked his jaw back and forth a few moments. “Several minutes ago, the Anomaly opened fire on a Breen outpost. It was destroyed with all hands aboard.”
“Kirk’s doing,” Bain said, shaking his head as he made his way down toward the front of the bridge.
“Actually,” Remax said, looking up from sciences. “We’re getting limited computer control back now. It appears that the order to fire can be traced back to Holodeck Three.”
“Where have you been, sir?” Vioxx asked.
Bain winced. “Holodeck Three.”
“This screams ‘set-up,’” Marsden grumbled.
“We have to leave,” Tovar said.
“Engines?” Bain asked, as Marsden raced back to the engineering station.
“Polaron only right now,” she said.
“Head back to Federation space, flank speed on the polarons,” Bain said, and collapsed into the command chair. “And get me a secure line to Starfleet Command as soon as you can.”
Tovar headed back to tac-ops and relieved Nortal.
“How goes the great Tovar?” Nortal asked.
“He goes fine,” Tovar said dismissively and checked his screens.
“Has the indomitable Toflay emerged from your psyche again, recently?’
“No. What? No,” Tovar said. “You are strange. Please go away now.”
“If you speak with him, tell him Nortal says hello,” Nortal said, bowing, and backing away.
“Right,” Tovar said, then looked up at Bain. “Sir, tactical contacts at multiple bearings, closing in. Breen warships.”
“The greeting committee,” Vioxx said solemnly.
“How convenient that they were in the area,” Marsden said.
“Sir, if it helps, I can get the warp engines up and running in about fifteen minutes!” Kasyov’s voice called out.
“Doctor, how…?” Bain began, then waved a hand. “Never mind. Get them as soon as you can. Marsden: Shields and weapons, too.”
Marsden nodded. “As fast as I can.”
“Open a channel, Tovar,” Bain said. “I imagine we’ve got much to answer for.”
The viewscreen image shifted from the closing Breen warships to the image of Grad Norm, seated in his high-backed command chair, Breen officers crossing back and forth behind him on the busy bridge. “Captain Bain,” Norm said. “Welcome to Breen space. I am Grad Norm.”
“It’s been a pleasure,” Bain muttered. He squinted. “Do I know you?”
“We’ve faced each other before. But you were too busy obliterating my people to notice.”
Bain nodded. “At any rate, Grad, I believe we must meet to discuss the recent…”
“Ah, so you’re the olive branch? You’re the ship the Federation sent to make peace with the Breen?”
“I, what? No. I think we should speak to discuss…”
“The ravaging of a Breen space station at the hands of you and your ship? Yes, that’s a matter of grave concern.”
“I didn’t…” Bain began. “Look here, sir, I…”
“You murdered a thousand Breen. Notwithstanding the tens of thousands you killed during your turn as the…what was it again? Oh, yes, the Butcher of Breen.”
“Look now,” Bain said, standing and walking toward the viewscreen. “This is a terrible misunderstanding. Our systems were compromised. We were unable to…”
“Save your excuses, Bain. Your resume speaks for itself. Actions during wartime are one thing, but you’ve crossed the line. You will be held accountable for the horrors you’ve visited upon the Breen people.”
Vioxx moved to step in front of Bain. “Now wait just a minute. There are extenuating circumstances!”
“All of which will be discussed at Bain’s trial. Captain Bain, I expect you to drop your shields immediately, and beam yourself over to my vessel and turn yourself over to Breen custody. Otherwise, I will destroy the Anomaly, and I’d be well within my rights to do so.”
“He will not!” Tovar shouted.
Bain turned around. “As you were, Lieutenant.”
“Let me speak clearly,” Norm said, leaning forward. “There will be no peace between our two peoples while the Butcher of Breen goes free.”
Bain turned back to the viewscreen, took a deep breath. “Grad Norm, I accept your terms. Tovar, drop shields. Commander Vioxx: You have command of the Anomaly.”
Vioxx’s mouth opened and closed.
Remax clenched his hand into a fist. “Finally!”
“Silence!” Vioxx snapped, as Bain walked up to the turbolift. “Sir, I don’t think…”
“You’ve got your orders.”
“Sir, all due respect, but shove your orders!” Marsden growled, pounding her panel. Bain just smiled gently at her.
Tovar followed Bain to the lift, throwing a silencing hand at Marsden. “Captain, we will not turn you over to the Breen!”
Bain turned and stared at Tovar. His face softened. “You will, son, because I’ve ordered it.”
He put a hand on Tovar’s shoulder and squeezed. “Vioxx may be in command, but I rely on you, Tovar. I always have.” And he backed into the turbolift, leaving Tovar blinking and speechless.
“You did the wise thing, Bain,” Norm said from the viewscreen as the lift doors closed. “Now then, I suggest the Anomaly withdraw to Federation space until this matter has been resolved.” And the Breen’s visage disappeared, replaced with the view of the Breen warships.
The bridge crew sat at their stations dumbly, a few minutes, until Remax piped up from sciences.
“Captain Bain has beamed aboard the Breen flagship. The ships are now withdrawing deeper into Breen space.”
Vioxx nodded, staring at the ships on the viewscreen.
“Shields back up,” Marsden said. “Main power returning.”
Tovar leaned against his panel. “Commander, all weapons are ready and at your disposal.”
Vioxx stared at the viewscreen and the withdrawing Breen ships.
“Sir!” Tovar called out. “Weapons are ready!”
Vioxx held up his hand, eyes still locked on the viewscreen. “Do nothing. Do absolutely nothing!”
“But what about Captain Bain?” Marsden asked. “We can’t just leave him!”
“That is precisely what we must do,” Vioxx said, and returned to the command chair. “Ensign Yonk, return us to Federation space, best speed.”
“The Anomaly departs, wounded but resilient, living to fight another day!” Nortal announced, standing beside tac-ops.
Tovar breathed deeply, and locked eyes with Marsden. “Bloody right we will.”
END OF SERIES EIGHT.