Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…
“Trial & Error”
By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler
He stood at the bottom of a deep well, surrounded by sensors, blinking lights, and untold instruments of measurement, only half-lit, as shadows loomed over him, looking in. Some spoke in Breen, others spoke in translated Federation Standard. But none of them were friendly.
“That’s right,” the man at the bottom of the deep well said defiantly. “Who wants to know?”
“You are to be tried for crimes against the Breen people, up to and including the recent destruction of our outpost, with one thousand Breen aboard.”
Bain nodded, taking in the announcement from the shadowy figure at the top of the well. “I understand the charges. I wish to defend myself.”
“You’ll have no such opportunity.”
Bain blinked. “What type of cockeyed system is this, lad?”
“When you turned yourself over to Breen custody, Captain Bain, you surrendered yourself to the Breen court system. We make the rules. And we will have our full measure of justice.”
“See here, now,” Bain said, raising a finger.
“Begin the preparations,” the voice said flatly.
Oh well. He’d been in worse scrapes than this.
“Prepare him for intense questioning and check his pain tolerances. We don’t want to accidentally knock him unconscious. That would surely defeat the purpose. Oh, yes, and make sure you burn the uniform…he won’t be needing that anymore.”
Bain chewed his lip thoughtfully. Well, maybe…
EARLIER. . .
“You realize that this isn’t personal.”
“That what?” Prosak looked up at Selex as the pair clung to the ladder at the top of the dizzying length of the Anomaly’s primary Jefferies tube. “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 dislodged her from the ladder entirely. Prosak fell backwards, arms spiraling, down, 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.
And so Prosak fell, out of control, Selex’s smug expression likely the last thing she’d ever see until…
Her descent slowed, and she was suddenly floating.
“Hold on, Prosak. I’ve got you! I switched off the gravity inside the tube. Just kick your feet and you’ll be able to get to the top.”
“Kick my…who are..Natalia?” Prosak stammered, staring at the top of the Jefferies tube as she “swam” toward it, passing a stunned and panic-stricken Selex along the way.
“Yes. I’m starting to get the hang of being inside the computer. Or maybe now I am the computer. I’ve got control of intraship sensors and the environmental settings in the tubes. I detected what happened instantly and reversed gravity for you,” the voice of Natalia Kasyov said over her commpip.
“Well…however you did it, thank you,” Prosak said, as she reached the top of the tube and pushed the hatch open.
“Do you want me to push Selex out there too?”
“You’d better,” Prosak said as she crawled out onto the bridge, dazed.
“Sure thing,” Kasyov replied.
“What? Unhand me. What are you doing?” Selex’s voice cried behind Prosak.
“Shut up and move,” Kasyov said, using the gravitational fields to “shove” Selex up and onto the bridge, where he lay, disconcerted, on the carpet.
Tovar and Vioxx, who were conferring at the center of the bridge, looked at Prosak and Selex, brows knitted with confusion.
“Prosak?” Lieutenant Shelly Marsden asked from the engineering console.
Prosak pulled herself to her feet, walked toward the nearest conveniently placed bridge railing, and leaned on it, breathing heavily.
Selex, for his part, collected himself, rising to his feet and smoothing his uniform.
“One of our ‘peaceful exchange’ visitors just tried to kick me down the turbolift shaft,” Prosak said breathlessly, staring accusingly back at Selex. “I was going to ask you to lunch later, just to clear the air, but reluctantly I must now reconsider.”
“Whew, go easy on him, Prosak,” Marsden said, glaring at Selex as she stepped out from behind her console, balling her fists.
“Back away from him,” Tovar said in a deep, measured voice, stepping toward Selex, the phaser emitter quietly extending from his shirt sleeve. “I am in charge of security here.”
“I’m sure there has been some sort of misunderstanding,” Remax said, likewise stepping out from behind his console.
“No, there isn’t,” Vioxx said, shaking his head. “You two have been conspiring to kill Prosak for some time now.”
“WHAT?” Marsden demanded, and another female voice echoed hers, as if from nowhere.
“WHAT? Sorry, I was listening in,” Kasyov’s voice said over the comm system.
“Remax is complicit. He will answer for that,” Vioxx said, stepping up behind Tovar. He stared at Selex, his jaw working. “But he did not act. He wisely reconsidered his course.” He shook his head. “Selex…you have gone too far.”
Tovar’s shoulders rose and fell. He’d just watched his mentor, his father, the man to whom he’d sworn every allegiance a man can swear, being carted off by the Breen to answer for his crimes.
And now this.
“Commander Vioxx, I hereby request amnesty under the Romulan-Federation treaty,” Selex said, his eyes darting from Vioxx to Tovar, then to Remax, and back to Tovar.
“YOU WON’T HAVE IT!” Tovar growled and launched himself at Selex, shoving him bodily against the forward bulkhead, pinning him there, staring eye to eye with him.
“Is…th-this another past life coming out?” Selex gulped.
“No,” Tovar said. “This is me.” Before Selex or anyone else could open his mouth, Tovar continued. “You’ll be stripped of your position. You’ll be removed from this ship. You will answer for your crime. And you will spend the rest of your life grateful that I was not allowed to exact revenge on you.”
Selex looked desperately at Vioxx.
“I concur,” the Romulan said smoothly. “Mister Tovar, take him to the brig. As roughly as you wish.”
Tovar held Selex there, studying the fear in the Romulan’s eyes. “The next time you want to try killing a member of this crew, it had better be me. But get your affairs in order first.”
“Erm,” Selex began.
“Turbolift,” Tovar said, and the lift doors obediently slid open. The Yynsian, never taking his eyes off Selex, hurled the Engineer into the lift with one fist, then followed him in. “We will be belowdecks,” he muttered.
The bridge was silent for a moment.
“Wow, that was hot,” Marsden said, patting her chest. “I’ve never seen him like that.”
“Agreed,” Prosak said, sharing an uneasy glance with Vioxx. Remax, meanwhile, quietly stepped back behind his panel.
“This is unacceptable,” Larkin fumed, her hologram pacing back and forth on the desk in the ready room. Vioxx sat behind his desk, once again mentally thanking Bain for yielding this room to him. It illustrated quite clearly the captain’s disdain for things official and Vioxx’s love of them. Still, Vioxx pondered, he somewhat missed Bain.
The very notion that he had attached any sentiment to Bain’s presence (or lack thereof) was seriously irritating. Even more irritating were his officers, Remax and Selex, who had conspired to kill a Starfleet officer. And a Romulan one at that. A headache built quickly at Vioxx’s temples, and he thought idly how nice it would be to acquire some kind of pain relief medication.
“Are you listening?” Larkin’s diminutive hologram demanded, hands on her hips.
“Hmm? Oh yes,” Vioxx said. “I agree. Unacceptable.”
“Bain was framed,” Larkin said, putting her fist in her hand. “We have to find a way to prove it.”
“Easier said than done. Our sensors confirm the Anomaly destroyed the space station with all hands aboard.”
“Recheck your sensors.”
“We already have.”
Larkin sighed. “Very well. I’m boarding the Enterprise now and am en route to meet you. Do nothing until I get there. Avoid all contact with the Breen and act ONLY on my orders. Do you understand?”
“And if they initiate war?”
“We’ll respond in kind,” Larkin said swiftly. “However, after the affair with the Vulcans, we’re hardly in any shape to do that. Hold the line, Commander. I’m on my way.”
Vioxx sighed. “Understood, Admiral. Anomaly out.” He turned in his chair and stared out the windows. The Anomaly had returned to Federation space, just outside the Breen borders, and for the moment, all was quiet. His door bleeped.
“Yes,” he said distantly.
The doors opened. “I want answers,” Marsden announced, filling the doorway and stepping forward so the ready room doors could close.
“I want them too!” a voice sounding distinctly similar to Natalia Kasyov’s announced over the comm.
Vioxx turned to Marsden. “Have we figured out a way to separate her from the computer?”
“We haven’t. Besides, our computer’s still somewhat scrambled. Her neural pathways are actually the only thing between us and…look, that’s not why I came in here. I want to know what you’re going to do about what happened to Prosak.”
“Lieutenant Commander Tovar has seen to Selex,” Vioxx said. “He’ll be put off the ship and remanded to Federation custody. What else do you want me to do?”
“Do the same for Remax. He may not have been the one to push Prosak down the shaft, but he was culpable. You can bet he was in on the planning…”
“I do not bet. And I do not know anything beyond the facts of the case, which do not indicate direct involvement by Remax or any other member of my crew. Selex will be made to pay for his crime, but I will not let this incident be the beginning of the end of our partnership here.”
Marsden faltered. “Partnership.”
Vioxx sighed. “I did not want to come here. I still am wary of you, Starfleet, the Federation…and all you represent. But we were brought here for a noble purpose. In the spirit of cooperation.” He shook his head. “After the ordeal with the Vulcans and watching matters deteriorate with the Breen, I can only hope there’s a brighter future ahead for the Federation and Romulus. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Wow,” Kasyov’s voice said.
“I…” Marsden said. “Well, yeah. When you put it that way.”
“Now then, we must be ready in case the Breen engage us or if we are ordered into battle. Please go down to engineering and make sure we’re combat ready.”
“Well, with the computer still at half strength…”
“I’m on it!” Kasyov said cheerily.
“I am grateful,” Vioxx said in a low voice, and watched Marsden go. “Very grateful.”
Bain stood there, stark naked, in the dimly lit, muggy wet room that passed as a court room. Once again the electronic noise that passed for a language on Breen crackled in his ears, along with its translation into New Federation Standard. Once again, he was annoyed at its tone, as if a translation could express such things as tone.
“As I said before, that’s me. Now how about a bathrobe or something…” He folded his arms.
“Criminals do not deserve bathrobes,” the voice boomed. “The Breen people, however, do deserve justice. And that they will receive.”
“Well, now, I’m all for justice, but I’m just saying let a man defend himself with some bloody clothes on!”
There was a long pause. “We’ll see. Do you know why you’re here, Bain?”
“Preposterous…buggery…” he muttered to himself.
“Because I’m accused of blowing up a Breen outpost!”
“Thereby ending the lives of one thousand Breen who were aboard!”
“Objection. Relevance,” a voice said, and a beige-suited, helmeted Breen stepped forward from the shadows.
“Oh, thank the Great Bird,” Bain muttered. “Someone appointed counsel.”
The words crackled from the speakerbox on the Breen’s helmet, and then were once again translated swiftly: “I am Tort Kase. I will be your attorney.”
“Glad to hear it. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to defend myself.”
“You can’t do it alone. I will defend you. That is our way.”
“As long as there is some defense happening,” Bain said. “Now if you’d be so kind as to explain to these people that I didn’t kill…”
“All in good time,” Kase said, putting a hand on Bain’s shoulder. “Please, in the name of decency, get this man a robe.”
“You overstep your bounds, Kase!” the voice from beyond the shadows clamored.
“We must show the restraint and good sense Bain himself did not show in murdering a thousand Breen, sir!”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to…” Bain stopped. “What? Now wait one…”
“Very well. Issue him a bathrobe, steward.”
Moments later, a Breen foot soldier appeared and handed Bain a robe, which he quickly shrugged over his shoulders. “Now then…Mister Kase, the whole point I’m trying to make is that I didn’t kill…”
“A thousand Breen?” Kase asked, approaching Bain. He cocked his head. “Well if you did or you didn’t, you don’t deny you killed thousands more during your tyrannical crusades at the height of the Breen-Federation conflict, do you not?’
“I…do…well of course I don’t deny it. I was there when I…those were war crimes, they were absolved in the treaty we signed after the war…the treaty of…blight it…the Treaty of Chalna!”
“Yes, and we thank the Chalnoth for their help in making sense of those confusing times after the war,” Kase said, pacing around Bain. “But while diplomatically we must observe that you were absolved of those crimes, as humanoids, we must recognize the reprehensible immorality of such mindless slaughter.”
“It was war! You people killed our people too! Of all the…” Bain scrubbed a hand over his face. “Aren’t you supposed to be my defender?”
“Presumably,” Kase said dryly. “But who was there to defend my parents or my nineteen siblings the day you destroyed Voracia base in the Battle of Orodnot!”
“Oh, bugger it. That was your family?”
“Yes. And their neighbors, with whom I was quite close.”
“I’m…” Bain searched for words. “I’m not proud of those conquests, for certain, lad. However they were all part of…”
“All in a day’s work for the Butcher of Breen!” Kase shouted. “Indeed! Continue the questioning, Magistrate! Make the Butcher suffer for his misdeeds. Bring him to his knees!’
Bain cleared his throat. “Could I possibly get another defender?”
“Come,” Prosak said as leaned back from her desk, deactivating her desktop holoviewer.
The doors to her quarters opened, and Tovar stepped in. “Are you busy?”
“Just speaking with my father.”
“I understand. I’m sure he was…concerned.”
“He was not surprised. Romulans are an unscrupulous lot. To be shocked at deception from any of us would be so…not logical.”
“Did he have recommendations on what we should do with Selex?”
“Oh, yes. Strict enforcement of insubordination guidelines. Recognition of extradition treaty. He did sound quite furious as he recited Romulan court martial policies to me.”
“Each father shows his love in his own ways, I suppose,” Tovar said and thought of Bain. “I…wanted to let you know that Selex is secure in the brig. Lieutenant Gworos will make sure he doesn’t go anywhere, just in case the security field is not sufficient impediment.”
“Thank you,” Prosak said. “For everything.”
“I suppose you are right…we should have expected treachery from the Romulans.”
“It isn’t easy to tell the treacherous ones from the…not treacherous ones, though,” Prosak said, and looked thoughtfully at Tovar. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I think I know which Romulans I trust implicitly,” Tovar said. “I wish I could speak longer, but I am needed on the bridge. When you are ready, you should join us. Help me convince Commander Vioxx that we need to intervene and rescue Captain Bain.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Tovar raised an eyebrow. “It won’t?”
“No. Because after our conversation concluded, my Father sent an order through the Romulan consulate, directly to the Praetor. He used every bit of his political influence to obtain an order from Romulan Naval Command.”
Tovar cocked his head. “What…order?”
“The Allegra is to leave the Anomaly and proceed to Breen immediately to rescue Captain Bain at all costs. She’ll be under my command, and I can choose my crew.” She stood up. “Care to join me?”
“Prosak…I…I could hug you!”
“I don’t recommend it. The last time we hugged…”
“Yes.” Tovar nodded. “Still…this is terrific news. And news that will no doubt anger Commander Vioxx.”
“I honestly could care less if he is angry. These are his orders, and he must follow them. While he and Admiral Larkin await a diplomatic solution, we will infiltrate the Breen. We will get Bain back.” She reached out, took Tovar’s hand, and squeezed it. “Agreed?”
Tovar smiled. “Agreed.”
“Hold on there,” Marsden said as she followed Tovar and Prosak down the corridor that lead to the Allegra. “You can’t just…go off half-cocked.”
“I assure you, Lieutenant, I am fully cocked,” Tovar said with a small grin.
“Don’t try to distract me!” Marsden snapped. “You can’t…I mean…with Prosak, I’m saying…”
“She wants to go with you,” Kasyov chimed in through the comm system.
“The Allegra is a small ship,” Prosak said. “Might get crowded.”
“He’s my captain too,” Marsden said.
“And mine,” said Kasyov. “Additionally, according to my schematics, the Allegra can accommodate a crew of forty-five. Wow, did I just say that?”
“You’re needed here,” Marsden shot back. “Besides, you can’t exactly leave right now.”
The group stopped in their tracks when they reached the door to the main shuttlebay, where the Allegra was docked.
“Good point,” Vioxx said flatly, blocking the door.
“You have your orders,” Prosak said, standing close to the Romulan commander. “Do you dispute them?”
“I dispute them wholeheartedly, Commander. I dispute them with every fiber of my being. And if you insist that you are a…” he sighed, “…logical person, then you would dispute them as well.”
“This has nothing to do with logic. It has to do with justice, and with rescuing Captain Bain.”
“A noble cause, to be sure,” Vioxx said, with a deep breath. “Your father’s influence is impressive.”
“He feels a kinship with Captain Bain.”
“And with you, I would imagine.”
“Sometimes,” Prosak said. “Now will you stand aside, so we can be on our way?”
Vioxx nodded. “Unfortunately, you are correct. I can’t stop you. But I had hoped to dissuade you.”
“Well, unless you have planned any further assassination attempts…”
Vioxx’s jaw clenched a bit. “None as yet. At any rate, I presume you’ll be taking Lieutenant Marsden with you?”
“Um…” Prosak said. Tovar looked at Marsden.
“The Breen security nets can be difficult to navigate. An engineer would be helpful.”
“Couldn’t have said so better myself,” Marsden said, flashing a smile at Vioxx. “Let’s go, guys!”
“Very well,” Prosak said, and ducked into the shuttlebay.
“Good luck to you, lad,” Vioxx said, nodding at Tovar as he passed into the shuttlebay.
“In more ways than one,” Tovar murmured.
“Did I just say ‘lad’?” Vioxx shook his head and headed back to the bridge.
“Yes, you did,” Kasyov’s voice offered helpfully.
“Yes, for the love of all…YES, I am Captain BAIN. WHAT OF IT?” Bain snapped, quickly nearing the end of his patience.
“No need to be snippy,” the voice replied from the darkness as Bain stood in the murky, foggy room, clutching his robe around him. “We’re simply trying to get to the bottom of this incident. To unravel your heinous crimes.”
“There’s nothing heinous about it,” Bain snapped back. “If you investigate deeper, you’ll find I committed no crime. Nobody aboard the Anomaly ordered the destruction of that outpost. The outpost was destroyed as the result of a computer infection caused by one James T. Kirk.”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh KIRK!” snarled Bain’s so-called defender, Kase. He stepped up behind Bain so quickly the Captain nearly winced. Nearly.
“Yes. Kirk,” Bain said flatly. “Perhaps you’ve heard of him?”
“We know all about Captain James Tiberius Kirk,” Kase said, strolling in front of Bain. “He was, much like you, a Federation warmonger. Responsible for untold destruction, skirmishes with the Klingons, the Romulans, and so many others, over a long and blood-spattered career.”
“You all do have a flair for the dramatic, don’t you?” Bain sighed.
“So does it matter who ordered the destruction of our outpost?” the voice asked from the darkness. “Your ship fired on the outpost, and isn’t everything that happens aboard the Anomaly your responsibility?”
“Oh, I see what you’re getting at. Well, of course the Anomaly is my responsibility. She’s my ship. Why do you think I surrendered myself and came over here? Surely it wasn’t for my health. I AM responsible for every blasted thing that happens on that ship. And if, by that principle, you determine I should be punished, then by all means, levy your punishments on me.” Bain’s chest heaved defiantly as he stared into the darkness. “Wherever you are, show yourself. Tell me what you wish to do with me. Let’s put an end to this farce of a trial.”
“Big words for a small man,” Kase said from behind Bain. “A small, pathetic man, whose only satisfaction is derived from the murder of my people. You loathsome, insignificant, piddling little…HUMAN!”
“Oh, bollocks the lot of you!” Bain growled and whirled on Kase, punching him flat in the facemask.
Rather than Bain’s fist breaking, which would have been the expected outcome, the mask cracked, oozing air from a fissure that stretched from top to bottom of the Breen’s “face.”
Kase fell to his knees shrieking as the gas escaped his helmet. Two guards raced up and carried Kase off as Bain stalked around the room. “And you…whoever you are…show yourself! Face me like a man!”
A large thunk echoed throughout the chamber, and the whizzing of gears.
A figure stepped out of the darkness, facing Bain, as ordered.
The figure was large and imposing, seven foot, broad in countenance, and suited in gunmetal grey.
The Breen’s facemask glittered as he leaned into Bain’s face. “Grad Norm. At your service, Captain Bain. You will find that I am your judge, your jury, and your executioner.”
“Convenient,” Bain said. “Well then, lad, on with it.”
“Oh, I’m not going to rush something so pleasurable,” Norm said. “This is only the first step in a long, luxurious process. I intend to derive my full satisfaction from this.”
“Egads, do you want to be punched too?” Bain snapped.
“Oh, I assure you, such an act would make your fate on this planet that much worse. And that much more enjoyable for me. I invite you, punch me, hard as you can.”
Bain worked his jaw back and forth as his fists clenched and unclenched. “Perhaps later.”
“That’s what I thought,” Norm said and turned on a heel, marching back toward the room’s exit door.
“One thing,” Bain called after Norm.
Norm stopped, but didn’t turn around.
“Why do you hate me so much?”
“Because for some of us, the war rages on, Captain. I think if you’ll look deep within yourself, if you had a chance to preside over a prominent warlord from our conflict, you would take advantage of the situation as I have here.”
Bain thought about that a moment. “Well, of course I would.”
“Cozy,” Lt. Marsden said, glancing around the small alcove that she and Tovar would call home during their short journey aboard the Allegra.
“As I recall, this crew cabin is not much smaller than the ones aboard the Navigator.”
“But they had that nice Federation smell,” Marsden sighed, sitting down on the buffed grey metal bunk in their cramped quarters. “This is definitely less…homey.”
“I could care less how homey it is,” Tovar said, looking at a padd. “I simply want to find Captain Bain.”
Marsden reached up and took his hand. “And we will.”
“We should reach Breen soon. The Allegra is traveling at maximum warp.”
Marsden craned her neck to look at the padd Tovar was holding. “What are you looking at? Tourist attractions in and around Breen?”
“Schematics of Breen weapon and sensor platforms. As well as potential prison holding facilities. We will have to scan for human life signs when we arrive.”
“Which shouldn’t be so difficult,” Marsden offered.
“Unless of course they are using sensor jammers to conceal Captain Bain’s whereabouts.”
“In which case we’ll…”
“Invade every prison on Breen until we find the right one.”
“That could take a while,” Marsden said thoughtfully, looking up at Tovar. “Plus, once you bust into the first prison, I’d say our cover is pretty much blown.”
“You just have to kill all the witnesses,” Tovar said flatly.
“How…un-Starfleet of you,” Marsden said and gently tugged Tovar down to sit next to her. He sat stiffly. “Could we talk?”
“We are talking now.”
Marsden nodded, taking Tovar’s chin and turning his face toward her. “Yes. I’m talking, but you’re just…fuming.”
“I want Captain Bain back.”
“I realize that. But you realize we’re talking about infiltrating a heavily guarded world full of surly beings who don’t like us.”
“I’m certain there are a few Breen who would like us,” Tovar said distantly.
“Not after you get through with them.”
“Prosak and I have determined that this is the likeliest course of action to retrieve Captain Bain. Diplomacy only buys us time. We must act decisively.”
“Well, I’m glad you and Prosak are on the same page. But allow me to interject. What would Captain Bain want?”
“He would want to be rescued.”
“Yeah. But would he want us to sacrifice the Federation’s efforts at establishing peace with the Breen just in order to save him?”
“I…do not know.”
“I think you do.”
Tovar turned fully to face Marsden. “Are you trying to dissuade me?”
Marsden shook her head. “I’m simply asking you to consider your options. We need to be careful.”
Tovar’s expression softened, and he touched Marsden’s shoulder. “Then I am glad you are with me. I have been known to be…single-minded.”
“Well, not exactly…” Marsden said with a grin and leaned in to kiss Tovar.
Suddenly the comm system bleeped.
“Prosak to Tovar. We have entered the Breen system. We will make orbit in twelve minutes.”
“WE will be right up, Prosak,” Marsden said, clasping Tovar’s hand. “Let’s go get our Captain, honey.”
“Indeed,” Tovar said, and led the way out of the little cabin.
“We grow restless, waiting for resolution that does not come!” Centurion Nortal reported from tac-ops, shaking her fists. “We must act now to rescue the mighty Bain, so that we may all sing legends of him once again, drunk on grog and foggy memories!”
Vioxx pivoted in the command chair to face tac-ops. “Are you quite finished, Centurion?”
“For the moment, she will pause in thoughtful reflection.”
“Thank you,” Vioxx said, and turned back to the viewscreen. “Mister Remax, bring up the Enterprise’s approach.”
Remax nodded, and Vioxx watched the massive, unwieldy Juggernaut-class vessel bull its way toward the Anomaly, which was about the size of one of the Enterprise’s shuttlebays. Not for the first time, Vioxx wondered why Starfleet insisted on building a ship so…big.
“Captain Dax calls on a secure channel, and he calls securely!” Nortal bellowed.
“Oh, I suppose you should put him on screen,” Vioxx muttered with a wave of his hand.
A grim-looking Dax appeared on the screen. “Commander Vioxx. A dark day indeed, isn’t it? Bain was one of our greatest…lesser captains.”
“Lesser?” Vioxx asked, raising his eyebrow.
“Well obviously, there are echelons to these things, and I only mean…well…there isn’t a Reginald Bain Day, is there?”
“That is hardly the point,” Admiral Larkin said, stepping in front of Dax on the Enterprise’s massive bridge. “Please return to your command chair and do not leave it until I instruct you further.”
“Of course, Admiral.”
Larkin grimaced, making a show of collecting her thoughts, even though, in reality, it took the android only a nanosecond to do so. “Commander Vioxx, have you detected any more fleet movement from the Breen?”
“No. Once they picked up Captain Bain, they withdrew to the area surrounding Breen.”
“Any other communication?” Larkin asked.
“If you mean our recent…exploratory mission…no. We haven’t heard from them.”
“Pity,” Larkin said. “Are your science personnel any closer to uncovering the truth behind the Anomaly’s destruction of the Breen outpost?”
“Not as yet,” Vioxx said, glancing at Remax. “Our scans from that time index are garbled. Our computer systems were severely disrupted during that period, and, to make matters worse, our chief science officer is…fused with the computer.”
“Fused?” Larkin asked, puzzled.
“Her mind is…one with Cabral’s. Our computer files were almost completely deleted, so they are operating the ship jointly for the moment.”
“It’s lovely!” Kasyov said. “Now I see why you like being a computer so much, Admiral Larkin!”
“I’m not…” Larkin said, then shook her head. “Let’s table that discussion for now. When will you complete repairs?”
“Well, although our chief engineer went on an…exploratory mission…and our assistant chief is currently in the brig for a…rules infraction…” Vioxx shifted in his chair. “The remaining people are working to get systems back up and running, with the aid of Kasyov and Cabral.”
“RULES infraction?” Kasyov blurted. “He tried to kill Prosak!”
“What?” Larkin asked.
“It’s all in my log,” Vioxx said. “I assure you, Admiral, we have the situation well in hand.”
“I am sure,” Larkin said. “Still, I must ask you to be candid. If you were sent back into Breen space…briefly…would the Anomaly stand up to a fight?”
“Damn right we would,” Kasyov snapped.
“Dear, I believe we should speak about your tact,” Cabral’s voice broke in. “When you are operating as the ship’s computer, discretion is the better part of valor.”
Vioxx looked up, saying a silent “thank you” to Cabral. “Admiral, we believe the Anomaly would stand up well to a fight, if one is required.”
“I hope that will not be the case; however, I believe it’s important to discover what actually happened to that outpost.” Larkin glanced off-screen for a moment. “We have arranged a meeting with the Breen ambassador at the border in three hours. His contingent constitutes the bulk of the Breen security fleet in this area.”
“So we have a bit of time before the meeting to make our own inquiries.”
“Perhaps. However, intelligence informs us that the area surrounding the former location of the outpost is heavily guarded. It will not be easy to slip inside the detection nets.”
“We have good science people here,” Vioxx said, looking again at Remax. “I believe we’re quite capable of ‘slipping inside’ and investigating further into the…accident.”
“I was hoping you would say that. This mission obviously can never be…officially documented. Nor can your exploratory mission. While we work for peace, however, it’s crucial that we work to both exonerate and free Captain Bain.”
“I understand you two have a…long history.”
“You are correct,” Larkin said tersely. “You have your orders. Proceed, and report back on a secured channel as soon as you know more.”
Vioxx nodded. “With pleasure Admiral. Long live Romulus….I mean…Anomaly out.”
Yonk turned around in his seat at the helm. “Still?”
“Old habits are hard to break, Ensign,” Vioxx muttered. “All right, people, we know what we have to do. Let’s move. Warp R.”
“R for Romulan,” Remax said proudly.
“If you must,” Vioxx muttered. “Yonk, engage.”
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER
“So?” Vioxx asked tersely.
“Oh, we definitely blew it up,” Remax said, looking up from his scans. “Impressive job we did of it, too, if I may say so.”
Nortal lifted a jubilant finger. “By Jenichai, the Breen writhed in the scathing fires of a thousand suns, brought low by our indignant fury!”
Vioxx turned slowly to look at Nortal. “That’s not a good thing.”
“But it was what I expected. The Kirk hologram did its work well.”
“So what do we do now?” Remax said.
Vioxx folded his arms. “What any good Romulan would do. We’re going to manufacture evidence.”
“Let’s review the tactical situation,” Tovar said, pacing the Allegra’s small bridge as Prosak sat in the command chair and Marsden manned the conn. “The Breen homeworld is surrounded by multiple automated weapons platforms as well as additional systems on the outer edges of the system. However, the bulk of these outer platforms are positioned on approach vectors leading from Federation space. In addition, most of the Breen fleet has been deployed toward the Federation as well.”
“Which is why I plotted a long looping route bringing us in from the opposite end of the system,” Prosak said.
“And I’ve done everything I can to alter our sensor profile to look like a Yridian freighter,” Marsden said. “We should be okay as long as no one gets a direct look at us.”
“Very well,” Tovar said. “At the very least we should be able to approach Breen without being obliterated. This brings us to our second situation.”
“Searching every single prison on Breen for Captain Bain?”
“The captain is a high profile prisoner. Logically the Breen government would want to trumpet their capture of the Butcher of Breen to their citizenry,” Prosak said.
Tovar stopped his pacing and rushed over to the science console. “They do indeed seem to be trumpeting it, as you said. There is an entire channel devoted to constant trial coverage.”
“What’s happening now?” Marsden asked anxiously.
“Two Breen are debating whether or not Captain Bain’s bathrobe is in fashion.”
“Bathrobe? What the hell?”
“Can you find any information about the trial location?” Prosak asked.
“No. I imagine they are keeping it secret, though. The Breen have to know that we will attempt a rescue,” Tovar said.
“So they hide the location, jam sensors, and generally make our lives difficult,” Marsden said. “What are we going to do about it?”
“Wait for the trial to resume,” Tovar said.
“And hope that their justice is not swift,” Prosak added.
“Oh I would not worry about that,” Tovar replied. “I imagine that the Breen will want to stretch the captain’s agony out for as long as possible.”
“Is there a bloody point to any of this?” Bain thundered at the blackness around him.
“Yes, your point was quite bloody, Captain Bain. That is why you are here,” the voice of Grad Norm replied. Bain could tell Norm was really enjoying this, which was an intolerable state of affairs in Bain’s mind. With limited options at his disposal, though, Bain could only see one thing for it.
“I’ve told you what happened,” Bain said. “You either believe me or you don’t.” And with that, he sat down in the middle of the floor, adjusting his bathrobe to make sure his unmentionables stayed well out of view.
“What are you doing?” Kase demanded.
“Having a seat,” Bain said. “It’s been hell of a day, and I’ve had quite enough of listening to you wankers prattling on.”
“You can’t do that! This is a trial!”
“Why? You and the Great Git out there seem to be doing just fine without me,” Bain replied. “I’m not going to stand here and perform for you lot.”
“But that’s the whole point!” Kase said. “We can’t have a show trial if you don’t put on a show!”
“Find yourselves another trained poodle. Reginald Bain is through jumping through your hoops.”
“SO BE IT!” Norm’s voice thundered. “If that is the end of your voluntary testimony, we will move on to the involuntary! Remove the prisoner! We will resume in the morning after the chamber has been prepared. Sleep if you can, Bain, for tomorrow there will be no rest from your screams!”
Bain stood up and straightened his robe as six Breen soldiers stepped into the light to escort him away. “Good evening to you all,” he said, with a slight nod of his head.
“Did you hear me, Bain?” Norm said.
“How could I not?”
“Even the part about your screams?”
“Yes, yes. I heard you.”
“Right. Okay. Well, try to sleep…if you can.”
“You’ve already said that.”
“Damn you, Bain. I am going to enjoy torturing you.”
“You’re not the first person to say so,” Bain replied. “Good night. And have a couple of pints sent to my cell.”
“No! No pints! Whatever they are, you can’t have any!”
“Oh, now you’re just being uncivilized.”
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Suffer, Bain! SUFFER!”
Bain shook his head. “You poor demented bastard. Now you’ve gone and pissed me off. That’s going to cost you one of these days.” One of the Breen soldiers gave Bain a hard shove in the back, pushing him toward the exit.
After Bain was escorted out of the courtroom, the trial coverage quickly shifted to a helmeted anchor behind a desk. Tovar switched off the viewscreen with a triumphant laugh. “Things are going very well!” he said happily.
“Tomorrow they’re going to torture Captain Bain. How is that good?” Marsden demanded.
“He does very well under torture. If it is screams they want, they will be sorely disappointed.”
“Which means they’ll probably just kill him,” Marsden shot back. “I’m still missing how this is good.”
“It gives us time in which to rescue him,” Prosak said.
“Precisely,” Tovar replied. “Now, as we have stated, the captain is a high-profile prisoner, and the Breen are expecting a rescue attempt; therefore…”
“He’ll be under constant guard in the most heavily fortified prison on the planet,” Marsden said.
“That is exactly what you would expect, yes,” Tovar said. “But these are the Breen. Since they know that we will be expecting them to do that, they will do something else. I have located the primary transmitter of the trial coverage, which is on Breen, but there was a signal traveling to the same facility while the trial itself was in progress, and it has ceased now that the trial is at an end.”
“Can you locate the source of that transmission?” Prosak asked.
“Of course,” Tovar replied. “The planet’s third moon. According to our intelligence data, this moon is used primarily for nercracite mining and winter sports. There should be limited structures on the planet, so determining which are possible sites for the…” Tovar tailed off.
“What?” Marsden said, rushing over to the science console. “What is it?” She looked at the readouts for a moment. “I don’t believe it.”
“Am I going to have to come over there as well?” Prosak asked.
“We found him,” Marsden said in disbelief. “One human lifesign standing right there. No sensor jammers or anything.”
“I told you they expected us to go to the homeworld,” Tovar said smugly.
“Status,” Admiral Larkin said, stepping out into the massive command center that was the Enterprise-J’s bridge.
Barnum Dax turned in the command chair. “Well, the Breen are a nasty bunch, that’s for sure. We’ve been trading pithy barbs across the battle lines for about an hour now.”
“Pithy…” Larkin began. “No, never mind, I do not want to know…”
“It was quite good. The Breen fleet commander insulted my parentage, so I said he had a polar bear for an uncle.”
“That doesn’t even make sense. Really, I don’t want to hear anymore. Just tell me the Breen’s tactical status.”
“Besides being asinine metal-heads?” Dax said. “They haven’t moved a muscle.”
“For that, at least, we can be thankful,” Larkin said wearily.
At helm, Ensign Arthur Apoulous spoke up. “Captain, we’re receiving another hail from Thot Mutch.”
“Ah, he wants to go another round with old Dax, eh. Tell him he’s kin to an iceberg’s…”
“You’re not allowed to speak again for two hours,” Larkin said, as Dax raised a finger in protest. “Say anything else, and it will be three.”
Dax frowned and pursed his lips.
“Put Thot Mutch on screen, please, Ensign,” Larkin said, resting her hands on her hips.
The Breen fleet commander, who looked pretty much like every Breen, complete with fully-obscuring helmet, appeared on the viewscreen.
“Admiral Larkin,” he said in a sharp, metallic voice.
“Thot Mutch,” Larkin said. “It is an honor. I am pleased that advancements in universal translator technology enable us to speak directly.”
“I hardly care,” Mutch said disinterestedly. “What do you want?”
“You commed us,” Larkin said.
“Oh, right,” Mutch said. “About this war thing. Shall we just get it over with and start shooting each other?”
Larkin’s eyes widened. “I should think not!”
“Oh. So you’re being difficult.”
Dax glared at Larkin, pointing at the screen, his face red and angry. Larkin ignored him.
“Are you saying you believe there’s no hope for peace?”
“I’m saying that once this trial is complete, and your Captain Bain is found guilty of heinous crimes against the Breen, it will be open season on Starfleet. My first objective will be to take out that oversized hunk of space trash you call Enterprise.”
“SHUT IT, YOU METHANE-BREATHING, THICK- SKULLED…”
Larkin lifted Dax bodily out of his chair and shoved him to the door. “Quarters. Now.”
“THAT’S THE LAST TIME YOU TRADE BARBS WITH BARNUM DAX, YOU…” Dax’s voice drowned out as the doors mercifully zipped closed in front of him.
“As I was saying,” Larkin said, “I hope we can reach some sort of mutually-acceptable…
“Admiral,” Ensign Apoulous spoke up from his station. “Contact bearing oh-seven-four mark two-one-eight. It’s the Anomaly. And they’re hailing us.”
“Just perfect,” Larkin said. “Mute the Breen and patch in Commander Vioxx.
Thot Mutch disappeared from the viewscreen, replaced with a smiling Vioxx. “Admiral, we bring good news! We have evidence that Captain Bain wasn’t responsible for the destruction of the Breen outpost after all!”
“Really,” Larkin said. “Is this evidence…trustworthy?”
“I stake my reputation as a Romulan on it.”
“Well, be that as it may, you may beam aboard and share your findings,” Larkin said, somewhat reluctantly. Perhaps this day wouldn’t end in a melee after all.
“Yes? What is it?” Grad Norm snapped as his office door chime sounded. Really it wasn’t much of a chime. The sound was more like a cat wailing while scraping its claws along rusty corrugated tin. Norm was really in no mood for the interruption. He had tortures to plan, and the ordering was becoming quite the headache. If Bain passed out from the electo-whip, the day would be ruined, but starting off with the gyuretic eels instead would mean that the floor would be a sloppy mess for the rest of the session unless they stopped for cleaning, which would break the entire flow of the torments.
The doors to Norm’s office slid open, and Dobt Phul entered nervously. “Good…good evening, Grad Norm,” he said.
Norm’s eyes…well, helmet…locked on the former Thot. “What are you doing here? This location is supposed to be secret!”
“Your wife told me where you were.”
Norm grunted. “She always did have a liking for you…and a big mouth. What do you want, Phul?”
“I saw that you have Bain.”
“Well…I am really responsible for it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I was instrumental in getting the Kirk hologram onto Bain’s ship. It was the hologram that led the Anomaly into our space and attacked our outpost.”
“That ridiculous story about the hologram was true?” Norm asked surprised. “Huh? What do you know?”
“So you see, you have Bain because of me.”
“Uh huh. Thanks. Was there something else?”
“Since I did that and all, I was hoping…”
“You’re not getting your rank back, Phul.”
“Oh.” Phul still wasn’t leaving.
“Well…could I see him?”
“Bain? What for?”
“That man has caused me a lot of misery. I just want…”
“To gloat a bit,” Norm said with a smile, not that Phul could see it behind the helmet. “I understand. Come on. I’ll take you to him.” Honestly, Norm could use the break anyway. Maybe getting another look at the human would give him some inspiration as how best to torture and humiliate him the next day.
He led Phul out of his office, down a corridor, and through a thick, duranium door leading into a dimly-lit hallway. Stopping at another door that Phul could barely make out, Norm pulled out a small isolinear rod, inserted it into a practically invisible hole in the wall, and stated his access code.
The door swung open, and Norm gestured for Phul to enter.
“Bain can’t get to me, can he?” Phul asked hesitantly.
Norm pulled a small blaster out of his pocket. “I’ll stun him the instant he makes a move.”
Phul nodded and entered, ready for what would be his final confrontation with the Butcher of Breen and his own personal demon: Reginald Bain.
“Er…where is he?” Phul asked after taking a few steps.
“What?” Norm demanded.
“He’s not here.”
“What do you mean he’s not here? He has to be here!”
“Did we go to the wrong cell perhaps?”
“This is a super-secret facility for very special prisoners! It only has one cell!” Norm shouted, frantically looking around the empty room. “We put in on a completely unremarkable moon! We didn’t even have jamming fields around it, so nothing about it would attract attention! No one could find Bain here! He’s hiding somehow! Guards! LOCK DOWN THE BASE! I WANT BAIN FOUND!”
After twenty minutes of searching, no sign of Reginald Bain was detected, and Grad Norm was forced to face the possibility that the lack of jamming fields wasn’t such a great idea.
Shortly before Grad Norm and Dobt Phul visited Bain’s cell, the cell’s occupant, namely Bain, disappeared in what would have been recognized as a Romulan-style transporter beam, if anyone had been watching. Bain was as surprised by this turn of events as anyone would be in similar circumstances, but quickly recovered as he found himself in the transporter room of the Allegra, where Marsden was manning the transporter console personally rather than letting the computer handle things.
“Marsie!” Bain cried. “You are indeed a sight for sore eyes.”
“It’s good to see you too, sir. Let’s get you to sickbay and…”
“Nonsense! I’m perfectly fine. Those Breen blighters barely laid a hand on me. To the bridge!” Bain started for the door, then stopped, his attention drawn to the prison robe he was wearing. “I’d say a stop at a replicator is in order, first, though. I have to admit feeling a bit exposed in this get-up.”
A short time later, clad in a proper uniform, Bain finished strapping a wrist phaser in place on his arm just as he stepped out onto the bridge of the Allegra with Marsden in tow. Tovar and Prosak immediately got to their feet.
“Good show!” Bain exclaimed, clapping enthusiastically. “Brought yourselves right into the heart of darkness and pulled Reg out! Wonderful!”
“It will be even better if we live to get out of here,” Marsden said, taking a seat at the conn. She didn’t want to make a show of escaping the Breen system, but it took every bit of nerves she had to keep the Allegra on a slow, steady course toward the outer worlds, heading away from Federation space, of course.
“So how did you do it?” Bain asked, taking the command chair that Prosak had vacated for him. “Infiltrated Breen high command? Took turns investigating the planet’s prisons?”
“We traced a holovision broadcast,” Prosak said.
“Ah. Well…the unorthodox works just as well,” Bain said. “And I certainly can’t complain about the end result. Now what have I missed?”
“Very little really,” Tovar said. “You were there in person for the trial. As you would expect, Starfleet and the Breen fleet are posturing a bit…”
“And Selex tried to kill me,” Prosak said.
“Good to see that he failed,” Bain said. “I’ll make sure to have a few words with the little bugger when we get back to the Anomaly. Send word that we’re on our way. Secure channel and all that.”
“Scrambling the message now,” Tovar said, typing commands into his console. “Hmm…”
“Hmmm?” Bain asked.
“The comm system is experiencing technical difficulties,” Tovar said. “I am attempting to diagnose the problem.”
“If we have to tell them about my rescue in person, so much the better,” Bain said.
“We’re changing course!” Marsden cried suddenly.
“Not toward home, I gather,” Bain said.
“I am afraid not,” Prosak said from the Allegra’s science station. “Our new course will take us toward Cardassian space.”
“I can’t say that I care very much where we’re headed at the moment, Prosak,” Bain said. “I want to know who the devil is steering!”
A searing pain suddenly shot through Bain’s body, his muscles contracted, holding him in place, as a constant barrage of electricity coursed through his system. He could see that in front of him, Marsden was suffering the same fate. Bain fought to escape his chair and, hopefully, the assault upon his person, but to no avail.
Just before he lost consciousness, he heard the sound of laughter all around him.
The laughter of James T. Kirk.
Larkin leaned over the science console and studied the readouts Vioxx had brought with him. The Romulan stood next to her, with Remax at his side.
“As you can see,” Remax said smugly, “The Anomaly didn’t really fire on the outpost. An unseen vessel, perhaps cloaked, or operating within a star’s accretion disk, transported the torpedoes into the Anomaly’s firing chamber and launched them from there by remote.”
“Didn’t you try to kill Commander Prosak?” Larkin asked.
“Uh, no, that was the other guy,” Remax said.
“At any rate, this is how the Breen created the illusion that the neutron torpedoes were fired from the Anomaly,” Vioxx said. “That’s also why our records show torpedoes were discharged from our tubes.”
“I see,” Larkin said.
“Well?” Vioxx asked, leaning forward expectantly.
“Aren’t we…I mean the Breen…ingenious?” Remax asked.
“Everything…seems in order…” Larkin said. She had watched the scene of the Anomaly firing on the outpost a dozen times, with Remax’s sensor overlays feeding her data that corroborated what Remax and Vioxx told her. If anyone else’s life had hung in the balance, Larkin would have pressed further to make sure the Romulans’ evidence was legitimate. However, this was different. This was Bain. “We must transmit this information to the Breen fleet commander immediately.”
“I’m sure they’ll be pleased,” Vioxx said eagerly. “By the way, where is Captain Dax?”
“It does not matter,” Larkin said. “Ensign Apoulous, raise Thot Mutch immediately. Prepare to transmit the…”
“Admiral!” Apoulous spoke up. “Receiving new information from Breen planetside transmitters. Captain Bain is missing!”
“Any messages from the Allegra?” Vioxx asked, exchanging glances with Remax. “Perhaps they succeeded!”
Apoulous shook his head. “Nothing.”
“We must assume they killed Captain Bain and are trying to make it look like an escape attempt,” Remax said. He shrugged and looked at Vioxx. “That’s what I would do.”
“Shut up!” Vioxx said, staring daggers at Remax.
“The lead ship is hailing us,” Apoulous said.
Larkin fought back a wave of positronic emotions at the thought of Bain’s demise at the hands of the Breen. She reasoned that she had enough firepower on the Enterprise-J, not to mention the fleet that she commanded, to overwhelm and decimate the Breen phalanx. Embers of vengeance burned and crackled in Larkin’s programming, but she quickly doused them, and instead blinked impassively at the viewscreen. “Put him through,” she said coldly, as Vioxx and Remax stepped up behind her.
“Federation vessel,” Thot Mutch said formally. Larkin could tell he was reading from a prepared statement, and barely cared to do so. “We have reason to believe that a Starfleet rescue team has removed Captain Bain from our custody and is currently en route to return him to your space.” He sighed, as if the very act of reading the statement bored him to tears. “Consequently, we must believe that Captain Bain is in fact complicit in the dastardly acts recently carried out against the Breen people. Moreover, by rescuing Bain, Starfleet has tacitly demonstrated that they support Bain’s actions, and may even be part of a larger conspiracy to land a crippling blow to Breen border defenses…”
Larkin balled her fists as Breen spoke, growing angrier by the nanosecond.
“…therefore, it is my dubious honor to inform you that we will open fire on your fleet forthwith, and with all possible haste. If you have any further questions about this declaration of war, you may contact Dobt Ingtomas at the Breen Office of Wartime Protocol.”
“I do have a question,” Larkin said, marshaling her inner defenses, struggling to remain calm. “How do we know that you haven’t killed Bain just so you could have an excuse to go to war?”
“Admiral Larkin, your question has been noted and will be submitted in a timely manner to the Office of Wartime Protocol,” Mutch said dully, and disappeared from the screen, replaced by the image of the Breen fleet hanging in space.
“So this is it?” Vioxx said. “We’re at war?”
“Not yet,” Larkin said. She turned to Apoulous. “Ensign, instruct all vessels to fire on the Breen fleet until every last one of their ships has turned to ashes.” She turned calmly to Vioxx. “NOW we’re at war.”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .