We've made our disclaimer DISAPPEAR!!! Aren't you impressed? What? You mean I have to say this stuff? Oh all right. CBS, Paramount, and Viacom own Star Trek. Alan Decker created and ostensibly owns Star Traks.

Author: Alan Decker
Copyright: 2002

Star Traks: The Lost Years #15

Now You See It…


Alan Decker

One of the first things the professor of Captain Alexander Rydell’s Introduction to Diplomacy class had rammed into her students’ heads was the undeniable truth that diplomacy was not an exact science. Any number of factors could take a perfectly pleasant dialogue and push it to the brink of armed conflict in a matter of seconds.

Rydell just never expected one of those factors to be his girlfriend.

“You know, all of these blasters are REALLY bad for my digestion,” Rydell said, looking around nervously as every guard in the State Dining Room aimed their weapon in Rydell’s general direction. Actually, they were directly pointed at Karina Durham, who was sitting beside him doing an excellent job of keeping her composure.

The Prime Grenii of Fresielia leaned across the table, narrowing his eyes at Rydell and Karina as his Minister of Enforcement stood just behind the Prime Grenii’s chair glaring disapprovingly at Karina specifically. “I must admit that I am rather surprised that a Starfleet Captain of all people would be consorting with a known criminal.”

“Hey, that criminal happens to be my girlfriend,” Rydell said.

“She was your girlfriend,” the Minister of Enforcement said, turning her piercing gaze on Rydell. “She has been sentenced to death.”

“What?” Karina shouted. “When?”

“A year ago, after your initial offense.”

“Well, nobody told me!”

Rydell put a calming hand on Karina’s knee. “I’m sure we can handle this without killing anyone,” Rydell said. “Now what was this offense?”

“Transport of a contraband substance, it would seem,” the Prime Grenii said, referring to the report the Minister of Enforcement had handed him just minutes ago when she had charged into the State Dining Room with her platoon of armed shock troops, interrupting what had actually been a fairly pleasant meal up until that point.

“It was a case of Kronky holovids!” Karina insisted.

“So you admit it!” the Minister exclaimed.

“Come on,” Rydell said. “Are you seriously considering killing someone over vids of a stupid kids show with some guy in a targ suit?”

“It’s creepy!” the Minister retorted. “He’s got that plate of worms he always talks to.”

“That’s the Gagh Guys! They’re great!” Karina said.

“Captain Rydell, the Minister of Enforcement is well within her bounds to declare illegal anything she finds dangerous.”

“What’s dangerous about Kronky?” Rydell asked.

“He has big tusks!” the Minister said firmly.

“They’re foam.”

“It’s the image that counts. How do I know that the children of Freiselia won’t start emulating Kronky and begin mauling each other on school playgrounds?”

Rydell almost blurted out “This is ridiculous,” but he once again thought back to that Intro to Diplomacy class. Never call another planet’s views ridiculous. Instead he said, “Surely we can find some sort of middle ground that will allow Karina Durham to live while still providing satisfaction to your justice system.”

The Prime Grenii thought for a moment, then slowly smiled. “Actually, I think there is.”

“The words ‘Criminal Misuse of Starfleet Resources’ come to mind,” Commander Travis Dillon grumbled as he slunk deeper into his chair on the bridge.

“A deal’s a deal,” Captain Rydell replied from beside him. “Take us out of orbit, Sullivan. Then you can go see to your own travel plans.”

“Aye, sir,” Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan said quickly steering the USS Secondprize away from Freiselia as Karina Durham stepped out of a turbolift onto the bridge.

“Everything stowed away?” Rydell asked, turning to Durham.

“Yes,” Karina said sourly.

“Buck up, little camper,” Rydell said. “I told you I’d do it for you.”

“No. You already saved my life. I think I can handle the rest,” Karina said.

“Couldn’t you just take a runabout or something to Bramilis?” Commander Dillon asked. “There’s no reason we should have to divert an entire starship to deliver a birthday present.”

“Like I said, a deal’s a deal,” Rydell replied. “And if this is what we have to do to get the Freiselians off of Karina’s back, that’s what we’re doing.”

“Are you at least going to recommend that the Federation Council reject the Freiselians application for membership?” Dillon said.

“Why would he do that?” Karina asked.

“They wanted to kill you!” Dillon insisted.

“Occupational hazard,” Karina replied. “Former occupation, anyway.”

Sullivan stood up from the helm. “Our course to Bramilis is plotted, laid in, and engaged, which means I am out of here.”

“You and Scott have a good time,” Rydell said.

“We will,” Sullivan called, already halfway into the turbolift.

“I don’t suppose I can take the helm,” Karina said, slipping into Counselor Webber’s usual chair to Rydell’s left as Lieutenant Carr shifted seats to helm while Ensign Bill Woodville exited another turbolift to take ops.

“Definitely not,” Dillon stated, drawing a glare from Rydell.

The captain looked back at Karina. “Sorry, honey. There are certain regs that even I’m not allowed to break. No one other than Starfleet personnel can fly the ship.”

“Hey. Didn’t the Enterprise have some kid at the helm years ago?” Karina asked.

“That’s exactly why no one else can fly the ship,” Rydell replied.

Karina rose from her chair and headed back to the turbolift. “I can take a hint. I’ll see you later.”

After the turbolift closed, Commander Dillon leaned over to Rydell. “That’s never a good sign.”

“What would you know about picking up signs?” Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins snapped from the tactical console behind them.


“Take it easy on him, Hawkins,” Rydell said with a sigh. “I think he’s right this time.”

Rydell leaned back in his chair to watch space sail by as he considered how to head off a potential relationship catastrophe.

Commander Scott Baird was just finishing his pre-flight inspection of the exterior of the Shuttlecraft Consolationprize when Sullivan rushed into the shuttlebay carrying a small travel bag over her shoulder.

“About damn time,” Baird grumbled.

“Sorry. Guess I should have just sent the Secondprize on some random course just to speed things up.”

“Carr can handle leaving a f***ing planet,” Baird said, stepping into the shuttle. “Let’s go.”

“Just a sec,” Sullivan said, looking over the shuttle.

“What the f*** are you doing?”

“Pre-flight check,” Sullivan replied.

“I just did it.”

“You did the engineering check. Now I’m doing the pilot’s check.”

“Whatever,” Baird muttered, heading into the shuttle.

Sullivan entered a couple of minutes later and tossed her pack into the back. “All set.”

“You sure this time?” Baird asked from the co-pilot’s chair.

“Positive, darlin’,” Sullivan replied, giving Baird a quick peck on the forehead as she slid into the pilot’s seat. “The Deneria Express is ready to get underway.”


Sullivan cleared the shuttle for departure with the bridge, then gently lifted the craft off of the deck as the shuttlebay door slid open revealing space beyond.

“Did you bring the disk for your dress uniform?” Sullivan asked.

“No,” Baird said.

“Do you want this post or not?”

“I’m an engineer. I don’t think the people at the dry dock give a damn whether or not I wear a dress uniform to the interview.”

“Your call,” Sullivan said as the shuttle cleared the Secondprize and turned toward the Deneria Cluster.

“Damn right.”

The two sat in silence for a moment while Sullivan programmed in their flight plan.

“So…” she said finally.

“So what?” Baird asked.

“It’s just the two of us,” she said with a glint in her eye.

Baird slowly started to smile. “And a whole shuttle.”

“Now you’re getting it.”

“I sure hope so,” Baird said, suddenly grabbing Sullivan, scooping her out of her chair, and tossing her over his shoulder as though she weighed nothing.

Actually, that gave her an idea.

But she could always save turning off the gravity for later.

“The shuttle’s away,” Hawkins reported.

“I’m not sure if I should be wishing them luck or not,” Rydell said.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Dillon said. “I can’t imagine that anyone in their right mind would make Scott Baird the Supervising Refit and Repair Officer of an entire dry dock.” Suddenly, Dillon noticed that everyone on the bridge was glaring at him.

“Well…I mean, he’s a competent engineer and all,” Dillon continued, backpedaling furiously. “But his attitude…”

“I’d just leave it there, Commander,” Rydell said, rising from his seat. “You have the bridge, but I suggest you enjoy it quietly.”

“Should we be wishing you luck as well, sir?” Lieutenant Andrea Carr asked.

“Wouldn’t hurt,” Rydell said with a weak smile as he stepped into the turbolift.

Rydell found Karina Durham in the quarters they now shared looking at the living room monitor as it flashed through holopics she’d taken during their recent trip to The Suburb to check on the remodeling job going on there.

“Must be nice,” Karina said as Rydell sat down beside her on the couch.

“What?” Rydell asked, smiling at a picture of him and Karina waving in front of the Green Dome, the building that would soon become the control center of Rydell’s new resort there.

“To have a plan. You’ve got it all figured out. Be a captain, then go run a resort. Simple as that.”

“If you can call that a plan,” Rydell said. “I’ve just kind of been doing what I want to do. Is that a problem?”

“Not for you, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what the hell I’m doing. Do you have an answer for that one? Come on, Alex, what the hell am I doing on this ship?”

“Staying with me, I thought.”

Karina leapt up off the sofa and started pacing the room in frustration. “But what do I DO here? I have no purpose on this ship.”

Rydell winced inwardly. “Well…I always thought this was a vacation for you.”

“Yeah, but I’ve been on this vacation for four months now. I’m going stir crazy here!”

“Do you want to leave? To get another ship?” Rydell asked.

Karina collapsed into the chair across from the sofa. “I don’t know. Who knows how many other races like the Freiselians there are out there just waiting to put a death warrant out on me?”

“I took care of it,” Rydell said comfortingly.

“That’s part of the problem. YOU took care of it. Since when did I need anyone taking care of anything for me? But this is your ship, and a Starfleet one at that.”

“I see,” Rydell said solemnly. And he did. On her own ship, she’d been in control of everything; now she was in control of nothing. “Well…I could…”

“Don’t,” Karina said quickly. “I don’t want you to fix this for me. I can handle it myself.”

“I have absolutely no doubt of that,” Rydell said, getting up from the sofa and stepping behind her chair. He began working her shoulder muscles with his hands. “But I’m always here to listen when you want to talk.”

“I know,” Karina said with a soft smile as she placed her hand on Rydell’s.

“Bridge to Captain Rydell,” Commander Dillon’s voice broke in suddenly.

Rydell closed his eyes and sighed. “What is it, Commander?”

“Sir, we may have a slight problem with the Consolationprize.”

“What sort of problem?” Rydell demanded, snapping alert.

“It’s gone.”

To be perfectly honest, Lieutenant Commander Sullivan and Commander Baird were far too busy for the next several minutes to notice that shortly after they left the Secondprize, their surroundings altered radically.

But finally, as they lay in each other’s arms in the back of the shuttle, Sullivan happened to glance toward the front of the shuttle.

“Honey?” Sullivan ventured.

“Unnh,” Baird mumbled.

“Where’s space?”

“What are you…” Baird trailed off as he followed Sullivan’s gaze to the front of the ship. Sure enough, instead of the inky blackness dotted with stars that he was used to, all that was visible to Baird outside of the ship was a smoky, swirling dark grey nothingness.

“F*** me!”

“We already tried that and look where it got us,” Sullivan quipped, reaching for her uniform.

Nothing in the universe switched Captain Rydell back into full Starfleet Officer mode faster than the possibility that someone under his command was in danger.

“Report,” he snapped as he raced out of the turbolift onto the bridge with Karina close behind. Commander Dillon barely had time to clear the command chair before Rydell got to him.

“The shuttle left the Secondprize and was on course for the Deneria Dry Dock, then suddenly it vanished from sensors,” Dillon said.

“Jaroch?” Rydell said, turning to his science officer.

“That is essentially correct,” Commander Jaroch replied from the science console.

“So what happened to them?”


“All right. Carr, alter course. I want to retrace their route exactly. One quarter impulse. Jaroch…”

“I will watch the sensors closely.”

Rydell sat down in the command chair. “All right, people. This one may take a while, but we’re not slacking off. That’s Emily and Scott out there.”

“Are we even going anywhere?” Sullivan asked more to herself than anyone else as she peered into the nothing outside of the Consolationprize.

“Got me,” Baird said. “But the shuttle’s fine. Not a damn thing wrong with it.”

“I didn’t think there was, honey. We must have hit some kind of spatial anomaly. Or it could be that some sort of alien entity has snatched us.”

“I don’t like either of those,” Baird said. “What about trying a reverse course?”

“We’ve been going in reverse for the last hour…supposedly.”


“Any other ideas?”

“I’m just an engineer. You’re supposed to be the one on the command track.”

“Hey, spatial anomalies are not my department.”

“Then we’re just going to have to wait for the Secondprize to come find us.”

Sullivan rolled her eyes. “We’re doomed.”

“STOP!” Jaroch shouted suddenly, breaking the intense silence on the bridge and scaring the living hell out of everyone.

“AHHHHHH!” Carr screamed as she starting banging her hands against the helm frantically. The Secondprize shuttered to a abrupt halt, jolting everyone forward violently. Woodville slammed painfully into the ops console and flipped over it, landing in a heap in front of the viewscreen.

“Sorry,” Carr squeaked.

Woodville gasped for breath. “It’s…okay.”

“I’m assuming there was a good reason for that,” Rydell said.

“There is a spatial…irregularity…directly ahead,” Jaroch said.

“Irregularity. What the heck is that supposed to mean?” Dillon asked.

“Something that is not regular,” Jaroch replied. “Such as your mental processes.”

“Far be it from me to come across like Dillon, but could you be a little more specific about this irregular thing?” Rydell asked.

“For lack of a better term, the small region of space ahead of us appears to be weak. My hypothesis is that the Consolationprize entered this weak patch.”

“And went where?”

“Nowhere. They are currently not in space.”

Dillon’s eyebrows furrowed. “Hold on. They have to be somewhere.”

“True. They are not in space.”

“So they’re on a planet?”

“No. They’re nowhere.”

“But you just said they’re somewhere. Nowhere can’t be somewhere.”

“Actually, nowhere is precisely the somewhere where they currently are,” Jaroch said, relishing Dillon’s growing confusion.

“So they’re not in space?” Dillon said.


“And they’re not on a planet?”


“Are they in the universe?”

“They are not in space.”

“So they’re in subspace!” Dillon said confidently.

“No,” Jaroch replied simply.

Rydell put his hands up. “Enough! I officially have a headache.”

“But they have to be somewhere!” Dillon protested.

“Don’t make me order you off the bridge,” Rydell warned. “Now what do we do about it, Jaroch?”

“I need to gather more data,” Jaroch replied.

Rydell nodded. “Fine. We’ll park here for as long as it takes.”








“WAKE UP, YOU LOUD ASS BASTARD!” Sullivan cried, smacking Baird on the side of the head and sending him toppling out of the co-pilot’s seat into the console beside him.

“F***, WOMAN!” Baird shouted, clasping his hand to his face. “What the f*** did you do that for?”

“You were damaging hull integrity.”

“Ha ha. How long have we been in here?”

“Five hours.”

“F***. I’m hungry. You want anything,” Baird said, heading to the replicator in the back.

“A ticket back to normal space.”

“Do you want fries with that?”

Despite the fact that the Secondprize was currently in a fairly well-traveled area of space, they were still near non- Federation worlds, which tended to make Lieutenant Commander Hawkins nervous, particularly since they were stopped and sitting ducks at the moment. Any crackpot with a grudge who happened by would have the perfect opportunity to take a few shots at a shiny Excelsior class starship.

That was the reason she was none too happy to see the sensor blip pop up on her console.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” she muttered to the blip, which was currently on an intercept course.

“Problem?” Rydell asked from the command chair.

“Company,” Hawkins replied. “Coming in fast.” The sensors gradually were able to make out further details about the approaching craft. “It’s a small freighter. The registry is Alpha Centaurian.”

“Such a craft should have minimal weaponry,” Jaroch said. “I seriously doubt that they intend any malice towards us.”

Hawkins glared at Jaroch. “Yeah. Well, why don’t you let me be the judge of that one? You just go back to your sensors.”

“Far be it from me to intrude on your area of expertise,” Jaroch said, oddly sincerely.

Hawkins shrugged it off and looked back at her scopes for any signs of unusual energy signatures or other possible dangers. Her console then registered an incoming hail from the freighter. “Looks like they want to talk to us.”

“My social calendar seems to be free at the moment,” Rydell said, standing up and straightening his uniform. “Let’s see what they want.”

“Okay, but if they’re trying to sell us anything, I’m cutting them off,” Hawkins said. “We still haven’t gotten the smell out of our quarters from that Aromas of the Galaxy machine Travis bought last month.”

“I thought it would add something nice to our place,” Dillon replied.

“Yeah. The charming smell of burnt Mugato and Cardassian hair gel.”

Rydell stole a glance at Karina, who had a bemused smile on her face. “When you two are done, could I talk to whoever you’ve got on hold?” Rydell said.

“Yes, sir,” Hawkins said quickly as she activated the viewscreen revealing the freighter’s bridge. In the background, a man stood in an elaborate emerald green cape, eyeing the crew imperiously. It was a bit hard to see him, though, due to the large Ferengi head dominating most of the viewscreen.

“This is Captain Alexander Rydell of the USS Secondprize. How can I help you gentlemen?”

“You can go somewhere else,” the Ferengi replied testily. “Is there anywhere you Federation types don’t stick your noses?”

“I’m sorry, Mister…”

“Frakk. But you’re probably more familiar with my client, the Astounding Aromanchi.” The man in the cape raised his hands in the air, produced two glowing spheres, caused them to circle around each other, then he caught them and took a low bow.

“Woah,” Dillon said.

“Okay,” Rydell said confused. “What problem do you and your magician friend back there have with us?”

The Ferengi agent’s eyes bulged. “Problem? My problem is that you are sitting right in the way of the Astounding Aromanchi’s greatest illusion ever!”

“The illusion you’re referring to seems to be a naturally occurring spatial anomaly,” Jaroch said.

Frakk’s eyes widened even further. “You haven’t told anybody on Freiselia about the hole, have you?”

“We’re more concerned about the shuttle we lost in it,” Rydell said. “Do you know a way to retrieve it?”

“What goes in doesn’t come out,” Frakk said. “Just write them off and scurry along now. We have work to do.”

Rydell’s voice harshened slightly. “We will not just…”

Exasperated, Frakk broke in. “Do you know how long it took me to convince the Freiselians to let the Astounding Aromanchi perform? I’ve got a whole lot of latinum riding on this, Captain, and I’m not going to let you screw it up over a shuttle that is gone. You hear me? G-O-N-E GONE!”

“Jeeze. I thought you guys were under new management,” Rydell said.

Frakk winced. “I’m going to try to forget you said that, hew-mon. Despite what Grand Nagus Rom may try to do, many of my people still have their lobes set firmly on profit.”

“Evidently,” Rydell said. “However, I’m sure we can resolve this to everyone’s satisfaction. Allow me to invite you both to the Secondprize for…”

“Hang on,” Frakk said. The channel went mute, but Frakk could be seen stepping back to his client and discussing things. Frakk returned to the foreground and reactivated the sound. “We’ll beam over, but the Astounding Aromanchi will not perform or sign autographs.”

“We’ll try to control our tears,” Rydell said. “Secondprize out.” He immediately turned to Dillon. “Call down and see about getting the buffet stocked. Include something Ferengi and Alpha Centaurian. I’m going to meet our guests in the transporter room.”

Rydell was most of the way to the turbolift when he realized that Karina was right behind him. “Had enough of the bridge?” he asked as the turbolift doors closed. “Deck four.”

“I can help you with this,” Karina said. “I probably understand Frakk and his type a lot better than you do.”

Rydell thought for a moment. “You know, you do have a point. And the presence of someone else non-Starfleet may reduce any possible tension.”

“Good,” Karina said satisfied.

Rydell smiled. “The Ferengi don’t have any death warrants out on you, do they?”

Somehow the punch in the arm and vicious glare Rydell received after that comment gave him the idea that Karina didn’t find it very funny.

Sullivan’s eyes blazed as she faced down her husband. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she demanded.

“You heard me,” Baird retorted.

“So you’re resorting to ultimatums? Real mature.”

“That’s the way it is.”

“Move to Deneria with you or get a divorce? How about we just speed things up and get the divorce right now!”

“Fine by me,” Baird said, turning on his heel and heading back to the front of the shuttle.

“AAAARRRG!” Sullivan screamed in frustration, lobbing a stray padd at Baird. It narrowly missed him, slammed into the front viewport, and fell on the control console, activating a medley of Cardassian show tunes as it did so.

“GET ME OUT OF THIS SHUTTLE!” she shouted.

“AND AWAY FROM YOU!” Baird shot back.

The couple charged, stopping just millimeters away from each other.

Sullivan had had enough. “You’re a selfish, insensitive…”

But Baird had already started his counterattack. “…nagging, nosy…”

“…crude, vulgar…”

“…overbearing, backstabbing…”

“…unambitious, antisocial…”


“…mean-spirited son of a…”

“BITCH!” they both screamed.

As usual, what Commander Dillon lacked in social graces, he made up for in efficiency. The buffet in the conference room had been completely laid out by the time Rydell and Karina entered with Frakk and the Astounding Aromanchi.

The Ferengi’s nose immediately started sniffing the air. A split second later, Frakk had practically dived at the buffet.

“Is this beetle casserole?” He sniffed again. “Oooh! Beetle Delki Casserole!”

The Astounding Aromanchi, meanwhile, had, without a word, scooped up a large helping of some sort of purplish glop and dropped it on his plate. Rydell could only assume that the dish was Alpha Centaurian and that the magician recognized it.

“I have to hand it to you, Rydell,” Frakk said between rapid bites. “This isn’t the type of poor treatment Starfleet’s usually known for.”

“Well, I run my ship a little differently,” Rydell replied. “But I’m glad you’re enjoying it.”

“Yes, but it doesn’t change our reason for being here,” Frakk said pointedly. “You have to go!”

“Now Mr. Frakk, this is open space. We have just as much right to be here as anyone,” Karina said.

“Why should I be speaking to you, female? You are not Starfleet.”

“No. My name is Karina Durham. I’m an independent transport operator.”

“Smuggler,” Frakk snapped quickly.

“You said it. Not me. But I certainly know the ropes. I also know there’s no profit to be had in empty space or from an anomaly that just sucks stuff in and doesn’t spit it back out.”

Frakk smiled with his sharpened teeth. “That depends on your line of work. My client here is a magician. He makes things disappear. And this evening he will be amazing and astounding the populace of Freiselia by making an entire asteroid…an asteroid that is at this very moment hurtling toward their planet, mind you…yes, he will make that entire asteroid DISAPPEAR!”

“So it’s going to sail into the anomaly,” Rydell said.

“Exactly. And don’t you DARE tell the Freiselians…or anyone else for that matter, or I’ll have every lawyer on Ferenginar after you for obstruction of free trade! I’ve got Krinokor sponsoring this show in exchange for exclusive broadcast rights, and they have sunk a ton of latinum into that asteroid.”

“He wouldn’t dream of it,” Karina said. “But we do need to get our people out of the hole first if there’s an asteroid heading toward them.”

“Hold on a second,” Rydell said. “We haven’t detected an asteroid. The show can’t possibly be tonight.”

Frakk smiled again. “It’s warping in now. We sped things up just a tad for drama.”

“Then you can slow them down again until we rescue our shuttle crew,” Karina said.

“Did you miss the bit about the show tonight? The live show? Broadcast on KRINOKOR!” Frakk said.

“We’re talking about two people’s lives here!”

“And I’m talking about a 15 percent commission on a great deal of latinum! The asteroid isn’t due for another three hours. Get them out before then, and everything will be fine.”

Karina stood up from the conference table, leaning over to Frakk threateningly. “Listen, pal, you launched an asteroid at a populated world. That alone could land you and Magic Guy over there in a penal colony oh…FOREVER!”

“The asteroid will go into the hole, and Freiselia is not a Federation world,” Frakk said smugly. He was suddenly hoisted out of his seat as Karina grabbed him by the collar and yanked upward.

“Woah woah woah!” Rydell said, quickly stepping in and loosening Karina’s grip on the Ferengi. “That’s enough, honey.”

“You’re damn right it is!” Frakk said, rising angrily from his seat. “Come on, Aromanchi, we’ve got a show to get to.” He turned back on Rydell and Karina. “You’ve got three hours. After that, you’re part of the show!”

In a huff, Frakk charged out of the conference room. For his part, the Astounding Aromanchi produced a bouquet of flowers out of thin air, handed them to Rydell, bowed deeply, then left the room.”

“I think he likes me,” Rydell said. Karina just glared. “Relax.”

“Relax? I blew it!”

Rydell shook his head. “I don’t think we were going to get anywhere with Frakk no matter how we went about it. You had the best shot of anyone, though.”

“And I lost it.”

“Yeah, but I did get a kick out of the look of terror in his eyes when you came at him,” Rydell said.

Karina couldn’t help but grin. “Yeah. That was fun.”

“And with you doing it, I get all of the pleasure, but none of the court martial,” Rydell said as they both headed out of the other conference room door leading to the bridge.

“Any progress, Jaroch?” Rydell asked.

“Regrettably no,” the Yynsian science officer replied, looking up from his console. “The anomaly has thus far resisted all of my attempts to scan its interior or send a message inside.”

“We’re just going to have to skip that part then,” Rydell said, heading down to the command area. “Good job on the food,” he said, nodding at Dillon, which caused the first officer to sit up even straighter in his chair.

Jaroch groaned. “How many times do I have to tell you, sir? Please don’t feed the ego.”

“Hey. I got something done, which is more than you’ve managed today,” Dillon snapped.

“You ordered food. I am attempting to probe the mysteries of the cosmos.”

“Well, probe faster,” Rydell said. “We’ve got three hours until that anomaly becomes part of a galactic game of billiards.” He quickly explained about the Astounding Aromanchi’s trick and the approaching asteroid.

“So I’m guessing that asteroid just isn’t going to conveniently miss our shuttle,” Rydell finished.

“Most likely not,” Jaroch said.

“Why don’t we just destroy the asteroid?” Dillon asked.

“How are we supposed to do that?” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins said.

Dillon searched his memory a moment. There was a reference somewhere. Ah! “Captain Kirk did it with the Constitution class Enterprise,” Dillon said victoriously. “We’re far more powerful than they were.”

Jaroch quickly pulled the incident up on his monitor. “They had the benefit of a large, planet-based canon developed by the Preservers, which we, quite obviously, do not.”

Dillon stammered for a moment. “Well…um…we could land a shuttle on the asteroid, dig a deep shaft into it, then put an explosive in the shaft and blow up the asteroid!”

Jaroch’s eyes narrowed. “That is the most ludicrous idea I have heard in any of my lives.”

“The asteroid is coming, whether we like it or not,” Rydell said. “We won’t be altering its course because I do not want to be responsible for some rogue rock slamming into somebody else’s ship or planet. That leaves us with one alternative: get the shuttle out!”

“I can’t lock on a tractor beam unless I know where they are,” Hawkins said.

“We could attempt to disrupt the anomaly briefly and bring the shuttle back into normal space,” Jaroch said.

“Is that even possible?” Karina asked.

“Perhaps. It would require firing a beam of highly-charged neutrinos along the perimeter of the phenomenon. Their quantum fluctuations may be enough to briefly phase the region back into normal space, at which point we could grab the shuttle with a tractor beam.”

“Let’s do it,” Rydell said.

“These beams will need to be very precise. I recommend using two runabouts.”

“You’re up, Lieutenant Carr,” Rydell said.

“I’ll take the other one,” Karina offered, drawing a dark glance from Dillon.

“Karina…” Rydell began.

“You said I couldn’t fly the Secondprize. You didn’t say a thing about a runabout.”

Rydell shrugged. “She’s got a point. Is there anything in the regs, Commander?” Rydell asked.

The first officer thought for a moment. “Well…no, but…”

“Then that settles it,” Rydell broke in.

“Using Miss Durham would be logical,” Jaroch said. “She is an excellent pilot.”

“You’re hired,” Rydell said with a smile. “Now go get our people back.”

“I guarantee it,” Karina replied, wrapping an arm around Carr’s shoulder and leading her to the turbolift.

“Um…we’ll be back,” Carr said hesitantly. “Hopefully with them.” She and Karina disappeared into the turbolift a moment later.

Commander Baird and Lieutenant Commander Sullivan are not speaking to each other at the moment, so rather than waste time showing you a scene of two people sitting in a shuttlecraft glaring at each other, we’ll just move on.

“Runabout Chickahominy to Runabout Patapsco. I’m in position.”

Karina shook her head as she activated the control on the Patapsco’s control console to respond to the hail. “Andrea, it’s me. I don’t need all the Starfleet formality stuff. Besides, I can see you out my window.”

“Oh…sorry, Miss Durham,” Lieutenant Carr’s voice replied.

“And it’s Karina. Jeeze. How many times do I have to tell you people?”


“And quit apologizing.”



“I know! I know! I can’t help it,” Carr exclaimed.

“Just relax. I’m ready with the neutrino beam whenever you are.”

“All right. This is going to be tight. Jaroch calculates we need to stay within ten meters of the anomaly barrier at all times. If this works, we should be able to see the shuttle. The Secondprize will grab them, pull them out, and we’ll be home free.”

Karina chuckled. “Like it will be that easy.”

“You never know. It could.” Carr paused for a second. “Oh, who am I kidding?”

“Certainly not me.”

“All right. Let’s give it a shot. Engage neutrino beams in three…two…one…fire!”

The two runabouts activated the neutrino beams, sending a focused stream of particles at the border of the phenomenon. Almost immediately, they began to see the effects.

It started as a brief flicker in the center of the phenomenon.

Then another.

Then another, this time lasting long enough for Karina to realize that the flicker was actually the shuttle.

“Got them!” she shouted.

“Where?” Carr replied. Another, even longer flicker. “OH! Carr to Secondprize.”

“We see it, Lieutenant,” Captain Rydell’s voice cut in.

“Well, stop looking and pull them out!” Karina snapped.

“It’s not that easy. Jaroch says the shuttle is still in a state of flux. We can’t get a clean tractor beam lock before they phase out again.”

Karina watched the shuttle flicker into existence again, this time for a good five seconds. “Then tell Hawkins she needs to be a bit faster on the draw.”


“Hang on, Alex,” Karina said quickly, as the shuttle appeared again. She quickly stabbed the tractor beam control on her console, sending a beam shooting out from the runabout at the shuttle. It latched on, jolting the runabout briefly.

“You’re getting off track!” Carr’s voice called.

“Compensating,” Karina said testily, her hands dashing across the controls. The runabout suddenly lurched again as the shuttle vanished. Her beam still seemed to be locked onto something, though…and it was dragging her in.

“Shut it down!” Rydell’s voice shouted.

“I can get them!” She slammed the runabout’s engines into full reverse just as the nose of the craft crossed the threshold of the phenomenon. A moment later, the cockpit viewport crossed in as well. For a split second, Karina could make out the Consolationprize in front of her.

Then her tractor beam emitter overloaded, rocking the runabout again with an explosion. Before she could react, Karina was launched forward by the force of the runabout jerking backwards. A few seconds later, the front of the craft cleared the anomaly and sat in open space as Carr shut down the tractor beam from the Chickahominy.

“Are you all right?” Rydell’s voice said urgently.

“Fine,” Karina said flatly. “Everything’s okay.”

“It damn near wasn’t. You were halfway into that thing before Carr could maneuver around and get a tractor beam on you.”

“I could see them, Alex. They were right in front of me.”

“I’m glad to hear it, but it wouldn’t have done us much good if you’d ended up stuck in there with them. Hang on a sec…” Rydell’s voice was a bit muffled as he talked to someone else on the Secondprize.

“Jaroch’s got an idea,” he said finally. “Return to the ship.”



“Are you mad?”


“What can I say? I live on the edge a bit more than your average Starfleet Officer.”

“That’s why you seem to keep needing us to bail you out, honey,” Rydell said with a laugh.

“You’ve got a point there,” Karina said, unable to keep a smile from spreading across her face. “I guess I need to find a less dangerous line of work.”

“I may have some thoughts on that one. Rydell out.”

“I swear we were moving!” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan exclaimed, poring over the sensor console.

“Oh you’re talking to me now?” Commander Baird said from the bench in the rear of the shuttle he was lounging on.

“This is serious!”

“And our marriage isn’t?”

“Don’t you turn things back on me now. You started this in the first place!”

“Me? What the f*** did I do?” Baird demanded.

“We did move! Sensors detected a tractor beam briefly.”

“Well maybe if you’d been looking outside instead of glaring at me, you would have gotten a look at whoever locked onto us.”

“You’re on this shuttle, too, you know.”

“All too f***ing well,” Baird groused. “And how did I start this?”

“That whole you have to move to Deneria or else sh**,” Sullivan snapped.

“I don’t want to you quit Starfleet, you freak. I just think we should have a place that’s ours somewhere, and Deneria is more stable than a starship. And once you start moving higher in the ranks, you’re going to end up getting transferred to other ships anyway. You want to be a first officer, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah,” Sullivan admitted.

Baird got up from the bench and headed to the front of the cockpit, where he sat down in the seat across from Sullivan. “Then odds are it won’t be on the Secondprize. Rydell’s retiring soon. He isn’t exactly keeping it a secret. That means Dillon and Jaroch will vying for center seat, and the loser will end up as first officer. I really don’t think either of them are going anywhere soon. That means your best shot is on another ship.”

“You really mean this, don’t you?” Sullivan said, somewhat surprised.

“Yeah. What’s the big deal?”

“You…you never talked about my career like this before. And when you started talking about Deneria, I thought you didn’t think it mattered.”

“I just want someplace stable to keep my sh**, and if I get the Deneria post, I’m not going anywhere for a long-ass time. As for you…” Baird trailed off and kind of looked at the floor. It was the same thing he always did whenever he was about to say something sweet. It went against his nature so much that he couldn’t help it. It was just one of Baird’s little quirks that Sullivan found so endearing. “You’ve saved our asses a few times,” he said a few moments later. “You’re good, and you deserve your shot at center seat someday.”

Sullivan smiled and hopped into Baird’s lap, wrapping her arms around him. “Now I remember why I married you.”

“To make my life a living hell,” Baird said with a smirk.

His wife’s smile broadened. “Absolutely. Every damn minute of it.” She moved her head in and kissed him, their other problems forgotten.

The Secondprize bridge officers and Karina Durham gathered in the Secondprize’s conference room a few minutes later for a briefing on Jaroch’s new plan…and to eat what was left on the buffet from earlier in the day. Oddly enough, the Beetle Delki Casserole remained untouched.

“While reckless and inadvisable,” Jaroch began as the group sat down with their plates. “Miss Durham’s actions have had the side effect of illuminating several aspects of the anomaly’s structure.”

“Uh oh. He’s in all-out-stuffy mode,” Hawkins muttered.

“I am endeavoring to be scientific.”

“And the rest of us are endeavoring to stay awake. Move it along, Jaroch,” Dillon said, causing a flash of fury on the Yynsian’s face.

“Okay. That’s Dillon’s point for the year,” Rydell said. “But his point’s well taken. Suck it up, Jaroch, and tell us the plan.”

“Very well,” Jaroch replied icily. “Since the Patapsco was able to cross the border of the anomaly, entering it while still remaining partially in normal space, and not suffer any damage, we may be able to get a probe into the phenomenon.”

“But we haven’t been able to receive any signals from the shuttle,” Hawkins said. “How is a probe supposed to get a signal out?”

“This will not be an ordinary probe,” Jaroch said, rising from his chair and stepping over to the conference room monitor. He activated it, displaying the image of a standard probe with a long cable extending off of it. “The probe will, in effect, be hard-wired to a runabout. The probe will then fly into the anomaly, while the runabout remains just outside. With the hard-wired probe acting as a relay, we will hopefully be able to establish contact with the shuttle.”

“Sounds good to me,” Rydell said. “How long until you can have it ready?”

“Lieutenant Commander Vaughn has already started work. She estimates two hours to modify a probe, prepare the cabling, and interface it with a runabout.”

Rydell winced. “And how long until the asteroid gets here?” he asked, not wanting to hear the answer.

“About two hours, twenty minutes,” Hawkins said.

“Ouch,” Karina said.

“That pretty much sums it up,” Rydell said. “Dismissed.”

After several hours of being alone and trapped in nothingness with no one but each other for company, Sullivan and Baird had pretty much adjusted to the situation. Of course, the fact that they no longer wanted to kill each other helped quite a bit too.

As it was, they lay once again in the back of the runabout after a fulfilling session of what’s known as make-up sex when a soft beeping wormed its way into their bliss.

“Are you hearing that?” Sullivan asked.

“Yeah. Shut it off,” Baird muttered.

“Always the gallant one, aren’t you?”

“Oh all right,” Baird said, getting up and stumbling to the front of the shuttle, scratching a bare butt cheek as he went. He looked at the console. “It’s a comm. You want me to get it?”

“A comm?” Sullivan exclaimed, jumping up and racing toward the front of the craft.

Baird craned his neck to peer out the viewport. “I hope that doesn’t mean someone else is trapped in here, too.”

Sullivan activated the comm link. A split second later, Lieutenant Carr’s face appeared on the viewscreen from inside a runabout. “Andrea!” Sullivan exclaimed.

“Commanders!” Andrea replied happily. Suddenly, it registered to her that neither Baird nor Sullivan was dressed. “OH! I didn’t know…” Carr slammed her eyes shut and turned away from the screen.

“Sorry about that, Andrea,” Sullivan said, waving for Baird to go to the back of the shuttle. “We weren’t expecting any calls.” Baird tossed Sullivan her uniform top and pants, which she quickly slid on while Baird idly spun her bra on his finger.

“Put some damn pants on!” Sullivan shouted playfully.

“Should I comm back later?” Carr asked, recovered enough for her brain to put together a bit of a play on words.

“Definitely not,” Sullivan said, moving to the sensor console. “Did you get trapped in here as well? I can’t see your runabout.”

“I’m outside of the thing you fell into. Commander Jaroch’s calling it a weakness in the fabric of space. The rest of us just call it a space hole. Anyway, we tried pulling you out with a tractor beam, but that didn’t work. But we did manage to figure out how to send a probe in without losing contact.”

“What the f*** did you attach to that probe?” Baird demanded, looking over Sullivan’s shoulder at the sensor readout.

“It’s a cable. The probe is attached to my runabout. Hard wiring is the only way we can maintain contact and pull it out,” Carr replied.

“Pull it out? What about us?” Sullivan asked.

Carr looked down sheepishly. “Well…we need to figure out how to do that. Soon.”

“How soon?” Baird said irritated.

“In the next ten minutes. There’s an asteroid heading this way.”

“Right this way?” Sullivan said.

“Yeah. It’s a long story. We wanted to send the probe in to see if we could learn enough about the space hole to get you out.”

“F*** that,” Baird said, sliding into the co-pilot’s seat. “We’re getting out of here right now.”

Sullivan turned on her husband. “We can’t do that until the Secondprize…” She trailed off as the same idea that had obviously already occurred to Baird struck her. “Where the hell is that probe?”

Ignoring Carr’s confused questions, Sullivan hit the shuttle’s thrusters, spinning the ship slowly until she could see the probe, its cable seemingly extending off into nowhere, floating nearby.

“We’re going to have to grab it physically somehow,” Baird said.

“I’ve got it covered,” Sullivan replied, sending the runabout forward with a gentle thruster burst and maneuvering it past the probe itself and over the cable. Another burst from the upper thrusters forced the shuttle down onto the cable, hooking it under the warp nacelle. The jerk on the cable knocked the probe toward the shuttle. Sullivan shifted the craft’s position just enough that the probe flew by, now wrapping the cable around the nacelle as the probe ran out of slack.

“Full reverse, Andrea,” Sullivan said.

“But the cable…”

“Just do it!” Baird shouted.

“Fine!” Carr snapped more forcefully than she expected to, a fact that obviously surprised her a bit. “Full reverse,” she said softly. The cable suddenly went taut, jerking the shuttle forward. Sullivan compensated with another small burst from the thrusters designed to overcome inertia without causing the cable around the nacelle to unravel.

On the bridge of the Secondprize, the crew watched in confusion as the Runabout Patapsco started backing up.

“What the hell is she doing?” Commander Dillon demanded.

“What about the probe?” Rydell asked, turning to Jaroch.

“I have lost telemetry,” Jaroch replied.

“Dammit!” Rydell looked closer at the viewscreen. “That cable is awfully tight.”

“Something’s pulling her in!” Dillon exclaimed.

“I don’t think so,” Hawkins said. “Look!”

Suddenly, out of the seemingly-empty space that the probe had vanished into, the nose of a shuttle emerged, followed soon thereafter by the rest of the ship.

“They damaged the probe,” Jaroch said disapprovingly.

“Better it than them,” Rydell replied. “Where’s our asteroid?”

“Eight minutes away,” Jaroch replied, checking his readouts which displayed the massive chunk of warp-propelled rock. Jaroch had to hand it to Frakk. Outfitting a huge asteroid with warp drive was quite a feat. He had attached a large engineering section (basically just a big metal room containing multiple intermix chambers ) to the rear of the asteroid, then run conduit to strategically-placed nacelles. If the Ferengi ever decided to dump his current vocation, Jaroch thought, Starfleet should recruit him as an engineer.

Jaroch looked a bit closer at the warp field being created around the asteroid. “Hmmm…”

“Hmmm?” Rydell said.

“I believe that the Astounding Aromanchi’s illusion is not going to go exactly as planned.”

“Is that something I should be worried about?”

“No, but we may wish to remain in the area…strictly for our own amusement.”

“All righty,” Rydell said with a relaxed smile. “Who wants popcorn?”

Just off stage, Frakk rubbed his hands together greedily as the Astounding Aromanchi finished up his quadrant-famous disintegration trick. To be honest, Frakk had no idea how the magician pulled it off. Frakk had examined the disrupter himself. It was real Romulan issue. Yet the Astounding Aromanchi reappeared after being vaporized every single time.

All that was child’s play, though. The audience was impressed, but they personally were never in any danger.

But it was different this time. Frakk was almost giddy as he watched the Freiselians in the audience look up nervously at the holographic projector in the ceiling showing the asteroid’s approach, bright red numbers ticked away the minutes their planet had left until impact.

The Astounding Aromanchi took his requisite bows, then gestured for Frakk to step back on stage. One of the perks of working for a performer who refused to speak was that it let Frakk be part of the act.

“Wasn’t that ASTOUNDING, ladies and gentlemen?” Frakk exclaimed. “But as you may have noticed by now, your planet has a small problem. Actually, it’s a really big problem. A planet killer!

“For three days now, a team of Freiselian officials has been traveling on a Krinokor vessel alongside the incoming asteroid to verify the reality of the horrible danger to your world. You’ve seen their reports on your nightly news. You’ve woken up in cold sweats wondering if you’d live to see the end of this show. Many of you have escape ships standing by.

You’re waiting. You’re hoping. You’re absolutely desperate for the Astounding Aromanchi to save your planet. Which he will do, but first let’s check in with Vice-Grenii Okeldo on board the Krinokor Broadcaster Craft Ratings Conquest. Vice-Grenii, are you there?”

A massive screen on stage behind Frakk and the Astounding Aromanchi flared to life, showing an image of a very VERY nervous looking Freiselian seated amidst several other Freiselians and two of Krinokor’s top news anchors.

“I’m here,” the Vice Grenii squeaked, sweat beading on his brow, his hands wringing madly.

“And how is the asteroid? Big enough for you?”

“Yes! Make it STOP!”

“Very soon,” Frakk replied with a toothy grin.

“But you will make it stop, won’t you? There’s a Federation ship ahead, but they just seem to be sitting there!”

Frakk tensed inwardly, but didn’t let it show. If the Secondprize wanted to hang around, so be it…just so long as they didn’t mess with his rock.

“The Astounding Aromanchi has heard your plea,” Frakk said with a bow. “And he will now assist your world in its hour of need.”

“I can’t believe we’re watching this drivel,” Commander Dillon mumbled, sinking lower in his seat. “The real thing is right outside.”

“Yeah, but I like the drama,” Rydell replied from the command chair. He handed his bucket over to Dillon. “Popcorn?”

“Sure.” Without taking his eyes away from the viewscreen, Dillon dug out a big handful and started munching.

Meanwhile, on the viewscreen, Frakk pumped the audience for applause as the Astounding Aromanchi levitated into the air towards the holographic asteroid, eliciting various ooohs and aaaahs from the gathered throng.

“Are you prepared, your Astoundingness?” Frakk called.

The Astounding Aromanchi nodded gravely, then pressed his eyes closed and raised his arms to the ceiling, straining as though he was attempting to stop something really really REALLY big.

At the rear of the bridge, Jaroch spoke up. “The asteroid will reach the anomaly boundary in five…four…three…two…one.”

In an instant, the asteroid reached the hole…

…and stopped dead in its tracks, half of it seemingly-gone while the rest, including the engine compartment, hovered motionless in space. The effect was so abrupt that the Krinokor chase craft made it another half a million miles before they realized they needed to turn around and come back.

“What the hell was that?” Rydell exclaimed as, on the viewscreen, it was Frakk’s turn to sweat.

Jaroch smiled. “While Mr. Frakk may be quite the engineer, he is a bit lacking in his knowledge of warp physics, at least in relation to warp effects on spatial phenomena.”

“The point, Jaroch,” Hawkins said firmly. “The point!”

“After looking over our readings from the anomaly and the asteroid’s rather large warp field, I realized that their interaction would cause the anomaly’s opening to constrict as space warped around it with the arrival of the asteroid.”

Frakk, meanwhile, was performing some frantic verbal tap- dancing. “Ladies and gentlemen! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! What we have seen here tonight is beyond Astounding! It’s completely miraculous. The Astounding Aromanchi has defied the very laws of physics to bring an entire asteroid to a complete and total STOP!”

“Where’d the rest of it go?” a woman’s voice from the crowd shouted.

“Ah…well…that’s the mystery of magic,” Frakk said.

“Bullsh**, you f***ing fraud!” a man’s voice shouted.

Dillon frowned. “Maybe getting Sullivan and Baird tickets to the show wasn’t such a good idea.”

“I’m just amazed they managed to get from here to the show in five minutes,” Karina Durham said.

“Emily can really push it when she needs to,” Hawkins replied.

“Well, they sound like they’re having fun to me,” Rydell said with a grin. “Besides, we had to do something to make up for Scott’s missed interview.”

“Deneria Dry Dock rescheduled it by one day. I don’t see the problem,” Dillon said.

“Shhh…I’m watching the show,” Rydell said, putting his finger to his lips as the Freiselians, smelling a rat…or whatever the Freiselian equivalent of a rat was, stormed the stage to get their hands on the rapidly-fleeing Ferengi.

“Captain’s Log. Stardate 54352.9. Astoundingly, Frakk and the Astounding Aromanchi were able to escape Freiselia without too much harm done. Of course, they were rescued by Krinokor’s Camera Crew Warriors, who are taking the pair back to Qo’nos to discuss yesterday’s fiasco. I have a feeling they would have been better off with the Freiselians.

Meanwhile, the asteroid’s warp engines eventually overloaded, sending the giant rock dropping into the hole like an expertly-shot pool ball. The Freiselians have, predictably enough, discovered the anomaly sitting right in their own backyard and have quickly claimed it as their property. Now all they have to do is figure out how to make it a decent tourist attraction.

With all of the excitement of the Astounding Physics- Defying Asteroid, we almost forgot our obligation to the Prime Grenii. So we quickly proceeded to Bramilis, where Karina Durham has officially removed the death warrant against her by delivering the Prime Grenii’s birthday present to the Chancellor of Bramilis.

And finally, Commander Baird and Lieutenant Commander Sullivan have left once again for Deneria Dry Dock for Baird’s interview and a short vacation. I know this post would be good for Baird’s career, and hell, I probably won’t be around here too much longer myself, but I can’t help feeling a sense of sadness about him possibly leaving the Secondprize. Therefore, I think I’m going to do something guaranteed to make me much much happier.”

Decisions, decisions. But then most of Rydell’s job came down to decisions. Of course, most of them didn’t have such long- term personal ramifications. He’d already decided on this course of action, though. All he needed was a little alone time to psychologically prepare himself.

Normally, he’d use his ready room for this, but Carr’s dog hadn’t quite made it to the restroom during her last training shift with Jaroch. Morgaine le Fur may have been able to speak, and she was picking up the sciences amazingly well, but her potty training still left a bit to be desired.

So instead, Rydell headed into the conference room, where he found Commander Dillon seated at the head of the briefing table, a large plate of some kind of Tellarite pasta in front of him along with something else.

A small, square box.

Rydell recognized it immediately, especially since he had a similar box feeling like a neutronium weight in his pocket at that particular moment.

“Mind if I join you?” Rydell said.

Dillon looked up surprised, three noodles draping down his chin.

“No, sir,” he mumbled as he quickly tried to stuff the pasta into his mouth. “Did you want to go over the personnel reports now?”

“Not really,” Rydell said, sitting down in the chair to Dillon’s right. He slipped the box out of his pocket and set it down in front of him. “It would appear that we are pursuing similar goals.”

Dillon glanced at his box quickly. “I hope your pursuit is shorter than mine.”

“You and Hawkins live together. What’s the problem?” Rydell asked confused.

“Timing mostly,” Dillon replied with a sigh. “It just…hasn’t been right. Every time I try to plan out how to do it, something screws up.”

Rydell put a hand on Dillon’s shoulder. “This is one of those areas of life where all the planning in the universe isn’t going to help. Proposals happen when they happen. One of my Academy buddies proposed while he was in the middle of a fight with his girlfriend. Ended up lobbing the ring right at her.”

“Oh, that’s romantic.”

“It worked. They’ve been together for eleven years now.”

“So I should just go ahead and do it?” Dillon asked.

“Absolutely. If she wants to marry you, how you ask isn’t going to be that big of a deal. Hell, if you screw it up, you’ll have a funny memory to look back on later.”

“But I don’t want to screw it up!” Dillon said.

Rydell chuckled. “No offense, Commander, but the odds aren’t exactly in your favor.” Rydell scooped up his ring box and rose from his seat. “Good luck to you, Travis. I mean that.” He gave his first officer a couple of quick pats on the shoulder, then headed off to heed his own advice.

Dillon remained, sitting alone. “Computer, douse the lights,” he said, wanting to watch the stars out the viewport. A few minutes later, the doors slid open.

“There you are,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins said as she stood silhouetted in the doorway.

“Patricia!” Dillon exclaimed, scrambling to move the ring box. He hit it, sending it tumbling onto his plate. Before he could retrieve it, Hawkins had slipped into the chair Rydell had recently vacated.

“You having dinner without me?” she asked.

“Someone’s got to eat it,” Dillon replied. “But I’m done. Let’s go.” He said quickly, getting up from his seat and practically pulling Hawkins out of hers. Now for the plan. Get her to the door, say you forgot to clear your plate, run back for the ring, dump the plate in the waste reclamator, then get a clean, new ring box.

“Jeeze, Travis. At least clean up after yourself,” Hawkins snapped. In an instant, she whirled around, picked up his plate, and chucked it into the open waste reclamator bin at the end of the buffet. A quick zap later, and everything on the plate, including the ring, had been reduced to its component molecules.

“AHHH!” Dillon cried.

“You said you were done.”


“You can get more back in our quarters.”


“Oh lighten up.”


Hawkins grabbed Dillon’s arm and yanked him bodily out of the conference room.

The lights in the quarters she shared with Captain Rydell were dim when Karina Durham trudged back inside.

“Alex?” she called out. “Are you in here?”

“Sure am,” Rydell replied. As her eyes adjusted, she saw Rydell sitting leisurely on the sofa. “How’d it go?”

“As well as it could, I guess, considering I was a giant chicken,” Karina replied, tossing the large feathered mask from her costume onto the dining table.

“Now now. You were the Sacred Khilki, the most holy fowl on all of Bramilis.”

“It’s a giant chicken, and I don’t see how singing Happy Birthday while wearing this outfit made for much of a birthday present.”

“Ours is not to judge alien cultures,” Rydell replied.

“Yeah, well you didn’t have to do it.”

“I offered.”

“Thanks, but like I said, I needed to handle this one myself.”

“Your choice,” Rydell said with a shrug as Karina kicked out of the rest of costume leaving her in one of her normal flight jumpsuits.

“You certainly look pleased with yourself,” she said, plopping down on the sofa beside Rydell.

“I’ve been thinking about your position here, and I have a proposal for you.”

“Oh really?” Karina said warily. “What kind of proposal?”

“Follow me,” Rydell replied, getting up from the sofa.

“Oh come on. Those big bird feet were killing me,” Karina moaned.

“Too bad,” Rydell said, pulling Karina up. “Let’s go.”

A short time later, the couple stepped into Seven Backward. “You’re proposing dinner?” Karina said.

“Not quite.” Rydell looked around the lounge quickly, suddenly wondering if this was such a good idea. She could hate it. “Er…I was thinking…that maybe…you could run this place.”

“What do you mean run it?” Karina asked. “It’s managed by Guinanco.”

“That’s why we need someone like you in charge.”

“To save you from Guinanco.”


Karina glanced around her new domain. “Well, I have had this urge to order people around lately. And it would be nice to find out what you see in this whole ‘serving the public’ crap.”

“See. You’re a natural. We just need to handle one minor detail.”


“Him,” Rydell replied, pointing at Jemmy Fisk, the current lounge manager, who was making a beeline for the pair.

“Captain Rydell!” Jemmy said, trying to pretend that he was happy to see Rydell. He wasn’t exactly doing a good job. “What can I do for you this evening?”

Rydell smiled and wrapped an arm around the soon-to-be-ex-lounge manager’s shoulder. “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. You’ve been demoted.”

“Demoted?” Jemmy exclaimed. “You can’t do that! I work for Guinanco.”

“And how would Guinanco feel if they knew you had non-standard party lighting installed in your ceiling?” Rydell said.

“But YOU put that in!”

“And how you tried to deny service to Commander Dillon last year.”

“He had an unauthorized creature stuck to his head!”

Karina, now getting the gist of Rydell’s plan, stepped in. “That was a neural symbiont, and you discriminated against him.”

“I was following the rules,” Jemmy insisted.

“Fine. Then deny this one,” Rydell spat. “You give crappy advice!”

“NO!” Jemmy gasped.


“You heartless bastard!”

“And now you’ve just insulted a customer,” Karina said.

Jemmy clamped his hands over his mouth, completely aghast. “Oh no,” he said, his voice muffled behind his hands. “I’m a bad manager. I’ve besmirched the good name of Guinanco. I…”

“You’re demoted. Bye bye now,” Karina said, waving Jemmy away.

“Does that mean you’ll take the job?” Rydell asked.

“For now,” Karina said. “But I’m not starting until tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Rydell replied. “Let’s go home.”

Rydell let Karina get a step or two ahead of him as they approached their quarters. She activated the door panel and headed inside. It took her about three steps to realize that things were a bit different than when she left.

The quarters were now almost bursting with bouquets of flowers. Roses, lilies, pansies, hyacinths, and other varieties from worlds across the Alpha Quadrant.

Karina stopped dead in her tracks in stunned shock as Rydell said a silent thank you to Lieutenant Commander Vaughn for pulling this stunt off perfectly.

“What is this?” Karina gaped.

“To be honest,” Rydell said from behind her. “I had one more proposal.”

Karina turned to find Rydell down on one knee, holding a small, open box in his hand, the diamond ring inside it glistening.

“Will you marry me?”

Karina continued gaping for approximately three more seconds, just long enough for Rydell to get nervous, then she dove at him, almost knocking the ring box out of his hand as she tackled him to the floor with kisses.

“Is that a ‘yes’?” Rydell gasped between kisses.

“You’re damn right it is,” Karina replied pulling her head away slightly and looking at Rydell with a wry grin. “If you think you can handle it.”

Rydell was sure he’d manage just fine.