Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS VI:
The More Things Change…
by Alan Decker
The United Federation of Planets’ Legal Affairs Facility Rigus IX
“All rise. This hearing is now in session. The Honorable Julia W. Prescott presiding.” Judge Prescott took her seat just as the bailiff finished speaking. The small audience gathered in the courtroom sat down, waiting to hear the judge’s decision.
“Will the defendant please rise?” Prescott said. At the defense table, Paul Morris nudged his client. Said client, the man known only as Zero, did not acknowledge his attorney, but slowly stood up with an air of dignity.
“Before I announce my ruling, do you have anything to say?” Prescott said.
“I have nothing to say to this farcical gathering,” Zero replied. “You have no jurisdiction over me; although, I have jurisdiction over many of you. Isn’t that right, Number 38.2?” Zero turned around, glaring at one particular man in the audience.
Captain Alexander Rydell groaned and sank lower in his seat. It was bad enough that Zero had kidnapped him in the first place, but now Rydell had been obliged to testify against the ruler and sole occupant of The Suburb. Zero’s delusion of having hundreds of prisoners, Rydell being one of them, was still running rampant. If Zero called him Number 38.2 one more time, Rydell was going to have to kill him.
“That’s enough,” Prescott said.
“Your honor,” Mr. Morris said. “I object to this entire proceeding against my client. I have shown that he was fully in his rights as supreme sovereign and ruler of The Suburb to kidnap and torture anyone he wanted.”
“Forget it, Counselor,” Prescott replied. “This court does not recognize your so-called defense. Now then, after reviewing this case, in particular the testimony of Captain Alex Rydell and Karina Durham, who were kidnapped my Mister Zero.”
“That’s Zero! Just plain Zero!” Zero demanded.
“He certainly was,” Rydell whispered to his first officer, Commander Travis Dillon, who was sitting beside him.
“Zero, it is the decision of this court that you be sent to the Psychological Rehabilitation Colony at Tantalus Five until you are deemed fit to re-enter society. Court is adjourned.” Before the bailiff could react, Prescott had stormed back into her chambers.
Two bailiffs grabbed Zero and dragged him toward the courtroom doors.
“I am not happy!” Zero shouted.
“I object to you handling my client in this fashion,” Morris called after them.
“Shut up, Morris! This is your fault.” Zero said.
“I’m sorry, Zero. I tried everything,” Morris said, chasing his client. “Nude pictures of the prosecutor, bribing jurors, everything!”
“Hey, Zero,” Rydell said as Zero was pushed past him. “Look at it this way, at least you already have your prison number.”
“It’s a psychological rehabilitation colony!” Morris said.
“I will avenge myself, Number 38.2!” Zero said.
“Right,” Rydell replied. In a flash, Zero produced a light pen out of his jacket and threw it at Rydell. Commander Dillon reacted instantly, pushing Rydell to the floor and diving into the path of the incoming projectile.
“Get down, sir! I’ll handle…MMMPH!” The light pen sailed right into Dillon’s open mouth. Zero laughed and was bustled out of the courtroom.
“Hey, Dillon,” Rydell said, picking himself up.
“I can see light coming out of both of your ears.”
Psychological Rehabilitation Colony Tantalus V
Rebecca Singer, former chief medical officer of the starship Secondprize and all-around nutcase, sat in her room idly ripping the stuffing out of a voodoo doll she had made in crafts class. The doll was of the Secondprize’s new chief medical officer, Dr. Elizabeth Aldridge. Singer was sure that Aldridge had stolen her Alex away from her. Aldridge would pay.
“I’ll get you back, Alex,” Singer said to the empty room. “You know I will. Alex. Alex. Alex.”
Outside of Singer’s room, Drs. Helen Cole and Kulas Drakor watched her activities.
“She’s been like this ever since she met Doctor Aldridge,” Cole said.
“Who is this Alex she mentioned?” Drakor asked.
“Her former commander, Captain Alexander Rydell,” Cole said. Drakor started laughing.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Rydell?”
“Yeah. So?” Cole said.
“You know that guy Zero who was brought here almost two years ago?”
“Yeah. Wasn’t he the one obsessed with the number 38.2?”
“Close. Number 38.2 is a person. Captain Rydell to be precise. I just found that out last week.”
“At least you’ve made some progress,” Cole said.
“Well, Zero has devoted himself to the computer programming and repair classes we offer. They’ve helped his recovery considerably. At least he’s finally gotten this 38.2 thing out of his system.”
“Maybe we should get them together,” Cole said as she watched Singer slam her voodoo doll repeatedly against the wall.
“Zero and her? Now I know you’re kidding,” Drakor said.
“Not at all. Both of them have fixated on the same person. One of them is making progress working through that fixation; the other is not. Zero might be able to help her.”
“Or their psychoses could reinforce each other,” Drakor said.
“Come on. If you do this for me, next time we’re on leave, I’ll buy you dinner,” Cole said.
“You expect me to put the well-being of my patient in jeopardy for a lousy dinner?”
“We can go anywhere you want.”
“Even the Kulinary Klingon?”
“You got it,” Cole said.
“Where are we going?” Rebecca Singer asked as Dr. Cole led her down the corridors of Tantalus V.
“I want you to meet somebody,” Cole replied.
“Is this somebody I’m going to like? I don’t want to meet anyone like…”
“LIKE ELIZABETH ALDRIDGE!” Singer screamed. “SHE WILL DIE! SHE WILL DIE!” Singer began pounding the wall violently as she chanted for Aldridge’s death.
“Rebecca! Rebecca! This person is not like that,” Cole said. “Please calm down.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor Cole,” Singer said, ceasing her assault on the wall. “Let’s go.”
Cole led Singer into a small, living-room-like conference room where Dr. Drakor and Zero were waiting.
“Is this her?” Zero asked, sizing up Singer.
“Rebecca, this is Zero.”
“Doctor Rebecca Singer,” Singer said, extending her hand to Zero. “Chief Medical Officer of the Starship Secondprize.”
“Secondprize!” Zero said. “Rydell!”
“You know my Alex?” Singer said, her face lighting up.
“We’ll just leave you two alone now,” Cole said, pushing a concerned Dr. Drakor out of the room.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Drakor asked.
“Trust me,” Cole said, locking the door to the conference room. “They’ll be fine. Let’s go get some lunch.”
“Captain Rydell is one of my residents,” Zero said. “I must find him and take him home to his rightful place in The Suburb.”
“Oh. I know you. You’re the man who kidnapped Alex away from me a couple of years ago,” Singer said smiling warmly.
“Yes. I am Zero.” Singer slapped him, sending Zero staggering backwards and tripping over the coffee table. The smile never left Singer’s face.
“I don’t like it when people try to take Alex away from me,” Singer said. The smile began to fade as tears welled up in her eyes. “I get very upset without him. We’re meant to be together.” Singer slumped into a chair, tears flowing freely.
“You can be with him in The Suburb,” Zero said comfortingly. “Once I escape from our captors, I will reclaim Rydell and return him to The Suburb.”
“I can go too?” Singer said hopefully, wiping tears away.
“You may become one of The Suburb’s many residents. But first, I must have Rydell,” Zero said.
“OK,” Singer said happily. “I’ll help you, but I need you to do something for me too.”
“What is that, my dear lady?”
“I’ll help you get Alex, if you kill Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge for me. They will both be on the Secondprize.”
“Then, all we need is to get out of here and find a ship,” Zero said.
“That is, as my darling Alex would say, not a problem, but the ship we escape here in can’t be the one we use to go after the Secondprize. There’s nothing here that can match a starship.”
“Then, we’ll just have to get a starship,” Zero said. “I think I have the perfect place in mind.”
“We’re going to need some help.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I have made the acquaintance of someone whose skills are ideally suited to the task.”
Dr. Drakor approached the conference room door with trepidation. He had a sinking feeling that putting Zero and Singer together was a monumentally bad idea. Singer was dangerous. She could kill Zero or something. Behind Drakor, Cole whistled, completely unconcerned. Zero would be fine. Singer wouldn’t hurt him. If anything, she’d stop talking to him and sulk in a chair. Nothing more.
Neither of them were prepared for the sight that awaited them when they reached the conference room. Singer and Zero were seated around the conference table, talking like old friends. They laughed and smiled.
“I guess you were right,” Drakor said. “He did help her.”
“I told you.” Cole unlocked the conference room and walked in with Drakor. “Time’s up, you two.” Zero and Singer ignored them.
“Come on,” Drakor said, walking over to get Zero as Cole walked over to Singer. “You can continued this later.”
“We’d prefer to stay together,” Zero said. In one quick movement, he grabbed the back of Drakor’s head and slammed it into the coffee table. Cole didn’t even have time to scream before Singer did the same to her.
Five minutes later, Singer and Zero stepped out of the conference room fully decked out as Tantalus V doctors and leaving the unconscious and naked bodies of Cole and Drakor laying wedged between the back of a sofa and the wall.
“That was even easier than I had imagined,” Zero said, as he and Singer stopped at one of the access terminals located in the corridor. “Now let me make sure that the third member of our party is available to travel.” Zero started to work on the terminal, expertly navigating his way through the security programs of the Tantalus V computer system. “There. Let’s go.”
“Who is this friend of yours?” Singer asked.
“Just wait and see.”
The maximum security ward was deserted when Singer and Zero arrived, just as Zero had planned it. He had programmed the computer to send all of the staff on their lunch break at the same time. Then, using Cole and Drakor’s pass cards, he and Singer were able to enter the ward.
“He’s right down here.” Zero led Singer to the last room in the hall. Inside on the bed sat a small, pig-faced man, a Tellarite. Zero opened the door. The Tellarite turned to them, a big smile spreading across his face.
“Hello, boys and girls! It’s Piggly Wiggly time!” the Tellarite said. He jumped up and started dancing wildly around the room.
“Gruver thinks he’s a children’s holovision show host, but other than that, he’s fine,” Zero said. “He’s also the best engineer I’ve ever met.”
“Can you say matter-antimatter intermix ratio?” Gruver asked.
“Gruver, it’s me, Zero. We’re going away now. Come on.”
“Away? And I get to come too?”
“Yes,” Singer said. “We need you to help us with a ship.”
“I love ships. Do you love ships? We can love ships together.” Gruver skipped happily out of the room followed by Zero and Singer.
Singer led the two of them to a custodial access hatch she had discovered when she escaped to attack Elizabeth Aldridge during Aldridge’s visit a year earlier. This hatch led to an access tunnel between the mental facility and the staff habitat building. In this tunnel, she opened another hatch leading to the landing field outside. A small cargo freighter sat in the field waiting for its crew. Singer and the others quickly ran up the freighter’s gangplank and prepared for lift-off.
“Let this be a lesson to all the boys and girls out there,” Gruver said, as he powered up the engines. “Never leave your vehicle unlocked and unattended.” Gruver piloted the ship up towards the force field surrounding the facility.
“Freighter Lokaloc. You have not received departure clearance,” a voice said over the comm system. “Return to the landing field immediately.”
“Lokaloc to control,” Singer said. “After careful deliberation, we’ve decided that we’d rather not.” She armed the freighter’s phasers and fired at the field. The phasers, while weak compared with those of a starship, were enough to overload the force field, which was only designed to prevent patients from running away from the facility. They hadn’t counted on anyone blasting their way out in a ship.
“Well done,” Zero said, patting Singer on the shoulder. “Now let’s go get a real ship.”
“Just how are we going to do that?” Singer asked.
“Oh, there should be one available. I believe her name is…the Defiant!”
“Personal log of Lieutenant Commander Jaroch. Entry number one thousand two hundred seventy-seven. I fear that the growing instability in my mind is becoming noticeable. Despite Counselor Webber’s success in quieting the voices of my previous incarnations, the underlying problem remains. My performance on the bridge is beginning to suffer, and I am afraid that my colleagues are starting to realize that something is wrong. This morning Commander Dillon, of all people, corrected me on a math error. Nothing overt has been said to me about my degrading performance, but Captain Rydell has invited me to join him for some recreational activity on the holodeck. I am not sure that this is a good thing.”
“Computer, run program Rydell Twelve,” Captain Alexander Rydell said as he and Jaroch stood outside of Holodeck Two.
“Program complete. Enter when ready,” the computer replied.
“What are we doing here exactly?” Jaroch asked.
“Relaxing,” Rydell replied taking a step forward. The holodeck doors slid aside allowing the two officers to enter. Jaroch found himself in a large room with many long wooden strips running down to an area where ten small white objects stood. Several individuals were flinging black spheres along the wooden strips in an apparent attempt to knock down the white objects.
“How is this activity relaxing?”
“It’s called bowling. Trust me, it’s fun,” Rydell said.
“But the white objects…”
“They’re called pins,” Rydell interrupted.
“Very well. I do not see the challenge. The pins cannot even avoid the sphere that is coming toward them.”
“It’s harder than it looks. Come on.” Rydell led Jaroch over to a counter, where a large balding man sat on a stool watching an ancient television and smoking the foulest smelling thing Jaroch had ever encountered.
“We need a lane and two pairs of shoes,” Rydell said to the man.
“What sizes?” the man asked, standing up and scratching his belly underneath his lime green shirt.
“Ten and a half and…what’s your shoe size, Jaroch?”
“How is this relevant?”
“Just tell me!” Rydell demanded.
“What measuring system are you using?”
“You told the man ten and a half. Ten and a half what?”
“Inches, Jaroch. This is a representation of a bowling alley on twentieth century Earth in the United States. They use inches,” Rydell said, getting frustrated.
“Could they not grasp the metric system?”
“Jaroch! Shoe size! In inches! NOW!”
“Size ten, sir, and if you do not mind my saying so, for a program that is supposed to induce relaxation, it seems to be rather ineffective.”
“The program isn’t the problem, Jaroch,” Rydell said. The man placed two incredibly ugly pairs of shoes on the counter. Rydell thrust a pair at Jaroch and stalked off to their lane.
“Does this activity have anything to do with clowns?” Jaroch said, following Rydell.
“Well, these shoes…”
“Are bowling shoes.”
“Why does this activity require special shoes?”
“It just does.”
“Could they have found a color scheme other than pink and yellow?”
“No. Put them on,” Rydell said. Rydell and Jaroch sat down and changed their footwear. “OK. Bowling is fairly simple. Pick up a ball; roll it at the pins. The computer handles the scoring.”
Jaroch walked over to the ball return and examined the various bowling balls there attempting to find one he felt most comfortable with. Finally satisfied with his selection, he walked calmly up to the end of his lane, watched the form of several of the bowlers around him, then made his attempt. He backed up several steps, made his run, released the ball, then watched in horror as it rolled straight into the gutter on the left side of the lane, passing harmlessly by the pins.
“That should have worked,” Jaroch said, turning back to Rydell, who was suppressing a chuckle. “I double-checked my calculations.”
“Bowling is a bit more complicated than that,” Rydell said, selecting a ball for himself. After a quick run up, he released the ball, throwing a perfect strike down the lane. “There’s a certain amount of technique involved.”
“But my calculations…” Jaroch sat down in his chair, looking defeated. Rydell walked over and sat down next to him.
“Is something on your mind, Jaroch?” Rydell asked.
“I…I am fine,” Jaroch replied.
“You haven’t been fine for the last two months. Counselor Webber told me about your visit to her two months ago. She thought that she had helped you somewhat, but she was concerned that you were still having problems. What is going on?”
“I must bowl,” Jaroch said, getting up to go get his ball.
“This isn’t going to just go away on its own,” Rydell said. “I’m you commanding officer, and I’m your friend. I want to know what’s wrong; I want to help you.”
Jaroch looked down the lane at the pins, preparing his shot. He appreciated Rydell’s concern, but this was a personal matter. He couldn’t inconvenience his shipmates with his personal problems.
“Jaroch! Talk to me.”
“I am fine, sir,” Jaroch replied. The world around him wavered. Beside him, the man about to bowl turned green and changed slowly into a giant, hideous creature with four arms and sharp teeth.
Rydell was about to get up and walk over to Jaroch when the Yynsian started screaming and pointing at the holographic man in the lane next to him. The man turned toward Jaroch, looking at him confused. Jaroch screamed again and threw his bowling ball at the man, which he barely dodged, allowing the ball to fly past him and slam into the ball return at his lane. Smoke flew out of the device as the ball return kicked into high gear, lobbing balls across the facility.
Jaroch saw monsters all around him. He had to run, had to escape, had to avoid this projectile heading straight at him. Oh no. Too late.
“Computer, end program,” Rydell shouted as he saw an out of control ball heading for Jaroch’s head. The ball smacked into Jaroch, then winked out of existence along with the rest of the bowling alley. “Are you alright, Jaroch?”
Jaroch hit the ground unconscious a moment later, suggesting to Rydell that he was most likely not alright.
Jaroch woke up in sickbay with absolutely no idea of how he had gotten there.
Noticing that her patient was stirring, Dr. Elizabeth Aldridge walked over to Jaroch and pressed a hypospray against his neck.
“It’s just a light pain killer,” Aldridge said. “Otherwise, you’re going to be feeling one hell of a headache.”
Captain Rydell walked into sickbay a few seconds later as Jaroch was attempting to sit up.
“How is he, Doctor?” Rydell asked.
“Well, superficially, he has a concussion, but that will pass in time.”
“What do you mean superficially?” Rydell said.
“Jaroch is also exhibiting a heightened level of synapse and neurotransmitter activity, and his parietal lobe is producing some energy patterns that I’ve never seen before. Of course, I’m not Yynsian.”
“Is this normal for Yynsians?” Rydell asked, turning to Jaroch.
“I would hesitate to use the word normal,” Jaroch replied.
“So would I,” Aldridge said. “But I checked the medical database on the subject. It appears that Jaroch is experiencing a period the Yynsians call…”
“Doctor, please. This is a personal matter,” Jaroch said.
“Not anymore,” Aldridge shot back. “Your condition has gotten to the point where it is not only endangering your life, but the rest of ours as well. Captain, if Jaroch does not return to Yyns within the next week, he will die.”
“Die! Jaroch! Why didn’t you say something?” Rydell shouted.
“I did not want to let a personal matter affect the normal operation of this vessel.”
“You could have requested a shore leave or something,” Rydell said. “What is it? Do you have the Yynsian version of Pon farr, and you have to go mate or something?”
“It’s nothing like that,” Aldridge replied.
“It is called the Seratch,” Jaroch said. “It means that a previously unknown past life is making its presence known to me. It is a traumatic experience when it occurs this late in life. I must return to Yyns, so that a priest of the Temple of Mi Clane can guide me through it.”
“Fine, you leave immediately,” Rydell said. “Take a runabout and get going.” He headed toward the doors.
“Captain, I think I should go with him,” Aldridge said, stopping Rydell. “His condition is extremely unstable, and the priests aren’t going to be able to do a lot of good if Jaroch doesn’t make it to Yyns alive.”
“Good point, Doctor. Have a good trip,” Rydell said, turning to leave again.
“I would also like Counselor Webber to accompany us,” Jaroch said. Rydell stopped again, sighed, and turned back to the two officers.
“Not a problem. Is there anyone else you’d like to take?”
“That should be sufficient,” Jaroch said.
“Good. Now get off my ship!” Rydell said, running out of sickbay before any other requests could stop him.
The freighter Lokaloc sat dead in space, floating among the asteroids of the Verolas asteroid belt. For the last six years, this belt had been the home of a small scout vessel owned by Zero, the Centrum. He kept it floating in the belt in case he ever needed to leave The Suburb in a hurry. Now, even though The Suburb was no more, the ship still had waited for its owner. Zero had come to claim it, and now, he, Rebecca Singer, and Gruver sped out of the asteroid belt leaving the Lokaloc in the Centrum’s place.
“We’re entering the Bajoran system now,” Singer reported several hours later. She was piloting the Centrum while Gruver manned the co-pilot’s seat. Zero sat behind them reading up on Rydell’s exploits over the last two years.
“Good, open a channel to Deep Space Nine, Gruver,” Zero ordered.
“Hi, boys and girls. This is the Centrum. Can we come dock with you?” Gruver said into the comm system.
Major Kira Nerys shook her head hoping that she just hadn’t heard what she thought she heard.
“Is something wrong, Major?” Captain Benjamin Sisko asked, walking down the steps from his office.
“I wouldn’t say wrong, sir. Just odd. A scout ship just requested permission to dock.”
“Well, their request was phrased oddly. Wait, they’re hailing us again.”
“Put them on speakers,” Sisko said.
“This is the Centrum requesting permission to dock. Please respond.”
“They sound pretty normal to me, Major,” Sisko said.
“They’re first hail was not like this,” Kira replied. “It was more…childlike.”
“Is there any reason we should deny them docking clearance?”
“No, sir. It was just…odd.”
“So you’ve said. Centrum, this is Deep Space Nine. You are cleared for docking at airlock six,” Sisko said.
“Thank you, Deep Space Nine. Centrum out.”
“Now, Major, should I have Odo look into our new arrivals?”
“No. There’s no reason for that. They’re hail was just…”
“Odd. Yes, I know,” Sisko said.
“I see that I am going to have to handle all subspace communications from now on,” Zero said after he closed the channel with Deep Space Nine. He had taken over for Gruver as soon as the Tellarite had finished his first hail.
“I’m sorry,” Gruver said, bowing his head.
“Don’t take it so hard, my friend,” Zero said. “We have better tasks for you. In fact, there it is.”
As the Centrum closed in on Deep Space Nine, the Defiant, the heavily armed starship assigned to the space station, came into view.
“That should be more than enough to take care of Rydell and the Secondprize,” Zero said.
“We aren’t going to hurt my Alex remember,” Singer said. “Only Aldridge dies. My Alex and I get to live together forever at the Suburb.”
“Precisely,” Zero said. “And don’t you worry, Doctor Singer, I will live up to my part of the bargain. You get me Rydell, and Elizabeth Aldridge will die.”
Dr. Julian Bashir took another sip of his drink as Garak continued to explain why Cardassian cinema far outclassed anything ever produced by humans. He and the Cardassian tailor’s lunches often turned into debates about which culture was superior, discussions which Bashir would have been quite content to avoid were it not for Garak. Despite his fondness for debate, Garak was a wonderful and fascinating lunch companion. Over the years, Bashir had come to look forward to these lunches as a highlight of his day.
“…so I just cannot see how you could ever begin to compare an artist such as Rogath with the so-called filmmakers of your precious Earth, Doctor.”
“I guess you will just have to show me one of Rogath’s…” Bashir trailed off as a woman caught his eye. He could swear that he recognized her from somewhere, but Bashir was fairly sure that he had never seen the other human and Tellarite she was with.
“Is something wrong, Doctor?” Garak asked, watching Bashir intently, his eyes bulging a bit more than usual.
“What? No. That woman just looks familiar,” Bashir replied. Garak followed Bashir’s gaze to the thin, dark haired woman walking along the Promenade.
“One of your past exploits perhaps?”
“Well, Doctor, you do sometimes present yourself as a bit of a ladies man. I thought perhaps you had just forgotten one.”
“I never forget.”
“I am positive that I have seen that woman before,” Bashir said, irritated that he couldn’t place her. “I’m sure that I’ll remember eventually.”
“No doubt,” Garak said just before taking another bite of his food.
“Have we put in enough of a public appearance yet?” Zero said, growing frustrated as he, Singer, and Gruver walked aimlessly along the Promenade. Gruver was contentedly licking his glop on a stick, but Zero wanted to take action.
“Trust me. I know Starfleet procedures,” Singer replied. “If we docked, then promptly disappeared, suspicions would be aroused. We’ll get to the Defiant soon, so stop bugging me. I’m starting to get upset!”
“I bow to your expertise,” Zero said.
“Thank you.” A few more seconds passed. “Now we can leave.” Singer walked off toward a turbolift followed by an exasperated Zero and a content Gruver.
A short time later, the trio emerged on the docking ring.
“This way,” Singer said, leading them to the Defiant’s berth. They soon found their path blocked by a closed security door.
“Please state access clearance,” the computer said.
“Clearance Alpha Two,” Singer replied.
“State access code for verification.”
“Singer Epsilon Omega Phi Beta.”
“Access verified,” the computer said. A force field winked out of existence, then the security door slid open.
“It is a good thing Starfleet did not remove you from their computer system,” Zero said.
“I am just on extended leave,” Singer said angrily. “Why would they have removed me?”
“Never mind,” Zero said. They walked down the corridor to the airlock leading to the Defiant. “Well, here we are. Gruver and I can take it from here, Doctor. We won’t act until you have left in the Centrum.”
“I’ll meet you at the rendezvous point soon. Then, we can go get my Alex,” Singer said happily. She turned around and started skipping down the hall.
“Now then, Gruver, if you would be so kind as to disconnect the airlock’s entry warning system, I will see about getting the docking clamps under our control,” Zero said, stepping up to the computer panel next to the airlock. Gruver removed the engineering access panel and looked inside.
“Ooh, isn’t this pretty, boys and girls,” Gruver said, admiring the colored lights and wires that made up the airlock’s inner workings.
“I’m sure it is,” Zero said. “Why don’t you make it prettier by seeing to it that no one notices when we open the door?”
“You got it,” Gruver said happily. He started humming a sprightly tune and manipulating the circuitry, leaving Zero wondering if perhaps teaming up with Singer and Gruver was going to turn out to be a horrible mistake.
Operations was having a fairly quiet day. The only event of interest had been Kira’s supposed talk with a child on a scout ship. She had just about pushed the incident with the Centrum out of her mind, when she noticed an incoming communication on her status board. The Centrum was requesting clearance for departure.
“Well, that was a short visit,” Major Kira said.
“Excuse me, Major?” Chief Miles O’Brien asked from the operations console.
“Never mind, Chief,” Kira said. “Centrum, this is Deep Space Nine. You are clear for departure. Have a safe trip.”
“Thank you, Deep Space Nine,” a female voice replied. “Centrum out.”
“Are they playing musical pilots?” Kira muttered.
“Was that directed at me?” O’Brien asked.
“No,” Kira said as she watched the Centrum on her scopes pull away from the station and warp away. Captain Sisko walked out of his office a few moments later.
“How is everything?” he asked, stifling a yawn.
“Slow and quiet, sir,” O’Brien said.
“How about you, Major? Any more children requesting docking clearance?” Sisko asked smiling.
“No. In fact, the Centrum just left,” Kira said. A flashing light on her console suddenly caught her attention. “Sir, the Defiant’s docking clamps are releasing!”
“What?!?” Sisko demanded.
“Confirmed, sir!” O’Brien said.
“Override!” Sisko ordered.
“I can’t!” O’Brien said.
“What the hell is going on?” Kira shouted. The turbolift rose up into ops, and Dr. Bashir ran out.
“Sir, I believe we have a problem,” Bashir said.
“Not now, Doctor,” Sisko said.
“But sir, there’s a deranged woman on the station. I saw her on the promenade at lunch with two other men, one human, one tellarite.”
“The Defiant has cleared the docking ring,” O’Brien said.
“Locking phasers,” Kira said. Suddenly, the Defiant’s image disappeared off of her scope. “Damn! They’ve cloaked.”
“Captain, what is happening?” Bashir asked.
“You said we have a lunatic on board?” Sisko said.
“Who is she?”
“Doctor Rebecca Singer. I met her at a medical convention a couple of years ago. Shortly after that she had a breakdown and was sent to the Tantalus Five rehabilitation colony.”
“I have the feeling that I may bringing old news,” Odo said as he stepped off the turbolift.
“What is it, Constable?” Sisko asked.
“I just received a report from the Tantalus Five colony. A Doctor Rebecca Singer escaped yesterday with two other patients: a human computer expert and a Tellarite engineer. All three of them are considered very dangerous and very insane,” Odo said.
“And they’re on the station,” Bashir said.
“Correction, Doctor. They were on the station,” Sisko said. “My guess is that they’re the ones who just stole the Defiant.”
“We really should get a garage for that thing,” O’Brien said.
Lieutenant Commander Jaroch shifted in his seat uneasily as Counselor Claire Webber dropped the runabout out of warp.
“You don’t look too happy about this,” Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge said from the chair beside him.
“I was not aware that I was supposed to be jubilant,” Jaroch replied.
“You’re going home. We don’t get to do that very often in our line of work,” Aldridge said.
“Yes, that is one of its draws,” Jaroch said.
“Bad home life?”
“No. I just find the majority of my people to be…undisciplined. My years at the Vulcan Science Academy showed me that.”
“So you were a laid-back fun-loving guy before those Vulcans got a hold of you?” Aldridge said. Jaroch turned to her, the slightest hint of a smirk crossing his face.
“I still am a laid-back fun-loving guy,” he replied. “I just pick my moments.”
“Well, let me know next time you pick one. This I’ve got to see.”
“We’re starting our final approach,” Counselor Webber reported. Jaroch stood up and took the co-pilot’s seat beside Webber.
“I had better handle the communications with Yyns Space Control,” Jaroch said.
“If you think you’re up to it,” Webber said.
“Counselor, I am fine. I did not invite you along to constantly harp on my mental condition.”
“Then why am I here?” Webber demanded, hurt.
“You will soon see, but believe me, your presence means a great deal,” Jaroch said.
“Really?” Webber said, brightening up.
“Thank you.” Webber grabbed Jaroch in a bear hug just as he activated the comm system.
“Urrggh,” Jaroch gasped.
“Approaching vessel, this is Yyns Space Control. Please repeat your last transmission,” the comm system barked. Jaroch pried himself out of Webber’s grasp and straightened his uniform.
“Yyns Control, this is the Starfleet Runabout Hudson requesting landing clearance in Cageria,” Jaroch said.
“Negative, Hudson. Cageria docking facility is full unless you have a reserved parking space. Are there any Yynsians on board?”
“Yes,” Jaroch said. “I am Yynsian. My name is Jaroch, son of Tal and P’Ru, resident of Cageria.”
“I am checking our system now,” the control officer said. “No. Jaroch, I am afraid that you do not have a parking space on file.”
“Of course, I do not!” Jaroch said angrily. “I have not been on Yyns in seven years. Why would I have…”
“Wait a second,” the officer interrupted. “It seems that, Jarl, one of your registered past lives, has a space. You have clearance to dock there. Coordinates are being sent. Yyns control out.”
“One of your past lives had a space, and you get to use it?” Aldridge said.
“How long ago did this Jarl live?” Aldridge asked.
“Approximately two hundred years ago,” Jaroch replied. “Docking control is extremely proud of their records system.”
“I guess it’s really hard to get a space at first,” Webber said.
“Unless you inherit one from a past life, it is next to impossible,” Jaroch said.
“Great system,” Aldridge said.
“It works for us,” Jaroch said.
Webber steered the runabout into Yyns’ brownish-orange atmosphere and began descending towards the coordinates Yyns Space Control had transmitted to them. They broke through the planet’s heavy cloud cover revealing the sprawling metropolis of Cageria. The city stretched to the horizon in all directions, but only two buildings stood over four stories tall. One of these was obviously the city’s massive docking facility, a two hundred story tall grey box-like structure dotted with landing lights and docking bays. The other structure consisted of two long, thin spires, one onyx and one ivory, stretching skyward to a height more than twice as high as the docking facility. Structural integrity field and anti-gravity field generators lined the spires, keeping them stable.
“Wow,” Aldridge said softly.
“That is the Temple of Mi Clane,” Jaroch said, pointing at the spires.
“Why is it so tall?” Webber asked.
“It is to symbolize that, through our past lives, our existence stretches toward infinity,” Jaroch replied. “The spires also get great reception of interplanetary holovision broadcasts and distribute the programs throughout the city.” Aldridge stared at Jaroch for a second, trying to figure out if he was kidding or not.
The runabout entered one of the upper docking bays of the landing facility and, after passing by rows and rows of small spacecraft and hovercars, soon touched down in an unoccupied parking space. Jaroch opened the runabout’s hatch and stepped out of the ship followed by Webber and Aldridge. They were met by a small, top-shaped flying robot. The robot hovered over to Aldridge.
“How many lives do you have to declare?” the robot asked.
“Excuse me?” Aldridge said.
“It wants to know how many past lives you have had,” Jaroch said. “It is for population records purposes.”
“I’m just me,” Aldridge said.
“One life. Thank you,” the robot said. It moved over to Webber. “How many lives do you have to declare?”
“One, as far as I know,” Webber replied. “I could have more, but I haven’t encountered them. Of course, I’m not Yynsian, so I may not have them at all. Who knows? I don’t think they have ever proved or disproved that humans have past lives.”
“One life. Thank you,” the robot said. It moved over to Jaroch. “How many lives do you have to declare?”
“Seven,” Jaroch replied. “And a half,” he added.
“Are you experiencing The Seratch?” the robot asked.
“Yes,” Jaroch said. Red and purple flashing lights flared across the robot as a screeching alarm went off. The robot raced away from them.
“What the hell?” Aldridge said. “You aren’t contagious, at least not as far as I could tell.”
“I am not; however, Yynsians experiencing The Seratch are, as you are well aware, physically and psychologically unstable. We are to stay at the temple to avoid injuring ourselves,” Jaroch said.
“What should we do?” Webber asked.
“Stay where we are,” Jaroch replied. “The temple has been informed of my arrival and will be sending a retrieval craft.” As if on cue, a shiny gold hover-vehicle sped around a corner of the parking facility and slammed to a halt in front of Jaroch, Webber, and Aldridge. Two figures covered totally in pale blue robes and hoods emerged from the craft.
“Where is The Seratch?” a deep male voice asked from one of the hoods as he looked back and forth from Webber to Aldridge to Jaroch.
“My name is Jaroch. I am experiencing The Seratch,” Jaroch said, taking a step forward. The hooded figures both pulled small devices out of their robes, aimed them at Jaroch, and activated them. Two white beams hit Jaroch and began surrounded him in a pale glow. The glow then solidified into a white, translucent bubble completely encasing Jaroch.
“What did you do to him?” Aldridge demanded.
“He is in stasis to protect him until we return to the temple. Please accompany us.” The hooded figures gestured to the hover-vehicle. Webber and Aldridge got in uneasily as the hooded figures opened the craft’s rear cargo area and put Jaroch into it. A few moments later, they got into the front of the hover-vehicle and removed their hoods revealing a friendly-looking man and woman.
“Sorry about all the ceremony and theatrics,” the woman, who was driving the vehicle, said.
“It’s temple rules,” the man said. “Your friend will be fine.”
“My name is P’Guk and this is T’Wer,” the woman said. “Welcome to Yyns.”
Back in Yyns Space Control, Control Officer Truk looked at his monitor again. The Starfleet ship he had just given landing clearance to was bugging him for some reason. He called up the file on Jaroch and re-read the list of registered past lives. His eyes fixed upon the name J’Ter. J’Ter. The name resonated through all of his beings, past and present. Truk’s eyes glazed over as another life took control. A moment later, Truk was gone, replace by T’Mak, warrior-prince.
“My enemy is here!” T’Mak said. “At last, after thousands of years, I shall have my vengeance!”
“Are you alright, Truk?” P’Gee asked from the console next to him.
“I am fine,” T’Mak said, standing up to leave. “Puny mortal.” T’Mak strode confidently out of Yyns Space Control. The final confrontation had begun. This time, J’Ter must die.
A Hell of a Long Time Before Stardates Wegan Field, Planet Yyns
Two mighty armies stood across from each other. Astride his warhorse, J’Ter, Crown Prince of the Cagelands, looked out at the forces of his enemy, T’Mak.
“Many warriors will fall today,” he said to himself. A smile spread across his aquiline feature. “Fortunately, most of them will be T’Mak’s.”
J’Ter’s father, King T’Rix, had been saddened that his youngest son, T’Mak, had chosen the path of war to unseat his brother J’Ter as crown prince. The two brothers had been at odds with each other since childhood, when they fought over possession of a set of toy blocks. That battle had escalated to include food, clothes, sporting equipment, girlfriends, and, finally, the throne of Cageria itself.
Unsatisfied with the system of first-born inheritance, T’Mak had left Cageria in search of an army. Somewhere, on the uncivilized plains of Yyns’ wastelands, he found men and women willing to die for him. Now, he had returned to take Cageria and the throne once and for all.
“We are ready, J’Ter,” J’Ter’s first lieutenant and wife, P’Fer said from beside him.
“I will not be the one to attack,” J’Ter said. “If T’Mak wants a battle, he will have to come to us to get it.”
Across the field, T’Mak sat on his warhorse waiting impatiently for his brother to attack.
“Damn cocky bastard,” T’Mak mumbled. He sat up a little higher. “Are you afraid to fight me?” he shouted across the field.
“I was going to ask you the same question, brother,” J’Ter shouted back, a hint of a laugh in his voice. New rage bubbled in T’Mak’s chest.
“Soon, you will be no one’s brother!”
“I already am,” J’Ter said. T’Mak let out a scream of rage, then raised his arm to signal his warriors to attack. The warriors bellowed a battle cry and charged forward towards J’Ter’s army.
“Wait until they have almost reached us,” J’Ter said to his troops. T’Mak’s army had to run almost two hundred yards to reach J’Ter’s line. They would be tired and easily crushed. T’Mak’s troops advanced raising their scythe-like hytao swords into the air.
“NOW!” J’Ter shouted, kicking his mount in the sides. J’Ter’s army charged forward into T’Mak’s winded troops and attacked.
From the opposite side of the field, T’Mak watched helplessly as the force he had worked long and hard to amass was slaughtered by his brother’s forces. Then, through the cloud of dirt and blur of flailing bodies, a man on horseback broke through, headed straight towards T’Mak.
“It is time for you to die, puny mortal!” J’Ter shouted above the rumbling of his horse’s hooves.
“You are mistaken. The death will be YOURS, puny mortal!” T’Mak said. He urged his horse forward and soon was in a full gallop heading toward a collision with J’Ter. T’Mak unsheathed his hytao and prepared to slice. Before he could swing, J’Ter threw something at him. Several small, hard objects hit him in the face. Staggered, T’Mak fell off of his horse. Gathering his strength, he grabbed one of the objects laying on the ground next to him. It was one of their toy blocks from childhood.
“Appropriate, isn’t it?” J’Ter said from behind him. T’Mak jumped to his feet and whirled around to face his brother, who had dismounted from his horse.
“So, you wish to face me one on one,” T’Mak said, backing up to his sword, which he had dropped in his fall.
“I wish to slice you up like the dumb slab of meat you are,” J’Ter said, drawing his hytao. T’Mak dove to the ground beside his weapon, grabbed it, and jumped back up in one fluid motion. He found that his brother was right in front of him.
“Goodbye, brother,” J’Ter said. He swung, but was blocked by T’Mak’s quick parry.
“It is not that easy, brother,” T’Mak said. The two brothers swung at each other, beginning a furious sword battle. Both men fought with all of their skill, but soon T’Mak found himself being forced back by his brother’s superior speed and strength. Hoping to take advantage of J’Ter’s tendency for cockiness, T’Mak allowed himself to be pushed back even farther. A smile spread across J’Ter’s face.
“This is very easy,” J’Ter said laughing. Then, T’Mak saw his opening. His pulled his sword back to deliver the fatal blow only to feel it sink into something soft directly behind him. His warhorse whinnied angrily and kicked its legs out. A speeding hoof slammed into the back of T’Mak’s head.
Lurching forward, T’Mak was met by J’Ter’s sword. In one slash, J’Ter cut through T’Mak’s neck, severing his head from the rest of him.
“So very easy,” T’Mak heard J’Ter say, then all was silent.
Commander Travis Dillon staggered sleepily out of Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins’s quarters at about three o’clock in the morning. The halls were deserted during this portion of the ship’s night watch, at least they usually were. This particular night, Commander Dillon almost slammed straight into Captain Rydell.
“It’s a little late for you to be up, isn’t it, Number One?” Rydell said.
“Tired. Need sleep,” Dillon mumbled.
“I take it you were with Lieutenant Hawkins,” Rydell continued.
“Yes. Need sleep. Collapse soon.”
“You two have been together for over a year now. Is it still going well?”
“Me need sleep. Why you talk to me?”
“Because you’re here, and I’ve got insomnia,” Rydell replied. “Now talk.”
“Me and Patricia fine. You need help. Goodnight.” They had arrived at Commander Dillon’s quarters. He entered his quarters leaving Rydell alone in the hallway.
Before lapsing into unconsciousness, Dillon decided that he would have to find a different time to return to his rooms from Patricia’s quarters.
Eight hours later, Commander Dillon walked onto the bridge wide awake and smiling happily. He’d come to a decision that morning, a decision he would talk to Patricia about as soon as their shift was over.
“Morning, Lieutenant,” Dillon said to Hawkins as he headed down to his seat.
“Good morning, Commander,” she replied. A quick look and a smile was all they would allow themselves on the bridge.
“Status, Ensign,” Dillon ordered as he sat down in the command chair.
“We are maintaining our course to Ikanol Four,” Ensign Andrea Carr reported from the operations console. “All departments report normal status. No comms have been received in the last twelve hours.”
“Where is Captain Rydell?”
“Most likely unconscious in the ready room,” Carr said. “At least that’s where he was when I came on for my shift, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t leave.”
“Thank you, Ensign,” Dillon said smiling. He stood up and walked over to the captain’s ready room. He thought about ringing the door chime, but thought better of it. Instead, he knocked…loudly.
Captain Rydell was jolted awake by several extremely loud booms. At first, he thought the ship was under attack, but the red alert lights were not flashing. The booming sounded again. Rydell managed to triangulate its source to his door.
“What?” he shouted groggily. Commander Dillon walked in with a slight spring in his step.
“Good morning. Good morning. Good morning,” Dillon said happily. “How are you this fine morning?”
“Eleven hundred hours,” Dillon replied.
“Uggh. Need more sleep.”
“Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, from me…last night, and someone kept bothering me. Who was that? Oh, I remember. It was you.”
“Go to hell, Dillon,” Rydell mumbled. “Up all night. No sleep until nine.” Rydell put his head back down on his desk.
“Why don’t you go back to your quarters and get some real sleep?” Dillon asked.
“Comfy right here.”
“I can have Lieutenant Vaughn beam you there. I’m sure she’d even take your uniform off of you in transit.”
“Close mouth. Get out.”
“Bridge to ready room,” Lieutenant Hawkins’s voice said over the comm system.
“Dillon here. Go ahead, Patricia…I mean, Lieutenant.”
“I think you and the captain had better get in here,” Hawkins said.
“Not now,” Rydell said.
“This is pretty important.”
“We’re on our way,” Dillon said. He walked behind the desk to Rydell and helped the captain get out of his chair. Dillon draped Rydell’s arm around his neck and walked him out of the ready room onto the bridge, attempting to keep Rydell steady as he went. Unfortunately, he wasn’t succeeding. Rydell kept slipping out of his grip towards the floor. Finally, he wrapped both of Rydell’s arms around his neck and hefted him onto his back. Staggering under Rydell’s weight, Dillon waddled out onto the bridge to the confused stares of the bridge crew.
“He’s asleep. Give him a break,” Dillon said. He maneuvered Rydell over to the command chair and dropped him into it before collapsing into his own chair. “What is it, Lieutenant?”
“We just received three messages right in a row,” Hawkins said. “The first one is from Counselor Webber saying that they arrived safely on Yyns. I’m going to play the other two for you.” Hawkins activated the playback on her console.
“This is the Tantalus Five Psychological Rehabilitation Colony. Yesterday afternoon, three patients escaped from our facility. These three are identified as Gruver, a Tellarite engineer; Rebecca Singer, a human doctor.” Rydell snapped wide awake and sat up in the command chair. “…and Zero, a human with advanced computing skills. They are all three considered to be dangerous and highly unstable. Two of these patients have exhibited a fixation on Captain Alexander Rydell of the Federation Starship Secondprize. Be on the lookout for these escapees.”
Rydell sank back down in his chair.
“Oh God,” he mumbled softly. “This is not good.”
“What was the third message?” Dillon asked. Hawkins hit another button.
“This message was specifically for you, Captain,” Hawkins said.
“This is Captain Benjamin Sisko of the Federation outpost Deep Space Nine. Captain Rydell, I am sorry to inform you that earlier today, the starship Defiant was stolen from Deep Space Nine by three escaped mental patients. Our information suggests that they may be searching for you. I hope this message gets to you in time, Captain. Good luck, and please try to get our ship back to us undamaged. Sisko out.”
“So, three psychos have a heavily-armed starship, and they are looking for me,” Rydell said.
“That’s about the size of it, sir,” Hawkins replied.
“Can I request a transfer now?” Lieutenant Emily Sullivan asked from the conn console.
“Captain, we have a ship decloaking directly ahead,” Hawkins shouted suddenly. “It’s the Defiant!”
“Talk about timing,” Sullivan said.
“I think it’s a little late for that transfer,” Dillon said.
“We’re being hailed,” Hawkins said.
“On screen,” Rydell said, standing up and straightening his uniform. He was not looking forward to this. The Defiant’s image was replaced by the scowling face of Rebecca Singer. As soon as she saw Rydell, she broke into a big smile.
“Hi, Alex,” Singer said happily. “I’ve come for you, just like I always said I would.”
“You never said that, Rebecca,” Rydell replied. Singer thought for a moment, then shrugged.
“Well, I always meant to say it. Come away with me now, Alex. I’ve found us a nice place to live.”
“And where would that be?” Rydell asked, trying to force a smile. Maybe he could talk to her enough that she wouldn’t use the Defiant against them.
“Oh, it’s a place that you’re familiar with, Captain,” an uncomfortably familiar male voice said from off-screen. Zero stepped into view beside Singer. “It’s called The Suburb.”
“Zero tells me that it’s very nice,” Singer said.
“You don’t really want to live there,” Rydell said. “It’s so…empty. But I’ve heard there are some lovely accommodations on Tantalus Five that you would absolutely adore.”
“No, Alex dear. I want us to live in The Suburb,” Singer said.
“You really should listen to your beloved, Rydell,” Zero said, clearly enjoying the situation.
“She’s not my beloved,” Rydell said angrily.
“He’s just maintaining an image in front of the rest of the crew,” Singer said to Zero. “You don’t have to pretend anymore. I know you love me, and I love you. And there’s nothing that evil Elizabeth Aldridge can do about it.” As she said her last sentence, Singer’s voice went from congenial to full hatred and malice.
“There’s nothing between us, Rebecca,” Rydell said, trying to maintain his calm. “You were a colleague, nothing more.”
“He’s such a professional in front of his crew,” Singer said. “That why I love him.”
“Rebecca, you don’t love me,” Rydell said. “Now please, turn the Defiant over to me and let me take you back to Tantalus Five.”
“And why should she listen to you?” Zero said. “You’re trying to keep her away from her one true love.”
“Stay out of this, Zero,” Rydell said.
“Be nice, Alex,” Singer said. “He’s supplying our new home, dear. Without him, how would we start our new life together?”
“There’s not going to be any new life together, Rebecca,” Rydell said. “This man is a dangerous…”
“Psychopath?” Zero finished. “Well, what a coincidence. So is the good doctor here. Maybe that’s why we get along so well.”
“Zero,” Rydell said. “I’m warning you…”
“No, Rydell, I am warning you. If you and Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge do not beam over to the Defiant within the next three minutes, I will open fire, and you will all die.”
The temple hovercar twisted and turned through the streets of Cageria as Aldridge and Webber looked out the windows at the Yynsian city. Residential and commercial districts flashed by. Then they passed a large university campus followed by several research labs and medical facilities. All in all, it was just like any number of Federation worlds except for the two giant buildings looming over the city.
“How was your trip?” P’Guk asked.
“Fine,” Aldridge said. “Just your average journey.”
“Glad to hear it, not that you should have had anything too eventful happen around this area of space. It’s pretty quiet around here.”
“Hey, are you two hungry?” T’Wer asked.
“Actually, I haven’t eaten since we left the Secondprize ten hours ago,” Webber said.
“We could stop and get something,” P’Guk said. “There’s a great restaurant just a little ways ahead.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, there’s a man in your trunk,” Aldridge said irritated.
“He’s not going anywhere,” P’Guk said. “And if it makes you more comfortable, we can sit him at the table with us.”
“I don’t believe this,” Aldridge said.
“If you don’t want to eat, we can head straight to the temple,” T’Wer said. “But I’m warning you, the bread and soup there leaves much to be desired.”
“Come on, Beth. This may be the only chance we’re going to get,” Webber said.
“Claire, you’re supposed to be the one caring about Jaroch’s psychological welfare here,” Aldridge said.
“At the moment, Jaroch isn’t thinking about much of anything, but I am thinking about getting some food. We haven’t eaten in hours. At this rate, our psychological welfare is going to be in danger.”
“Fine. Fine,” Aldridge said. “But let’s make this quick.”
“No problems there. Yynsian cafes are known for their speed,” P’Guk said. She turned down a side street and pulled up beside a small sidewalk cafe. Only a couple of the café’s fifteen tables were occupied with patrons enjoying a late lunch. Upon sighting the temple vehicle, they all stood up and extended their hands, holding up different numbers of fingers.
“What are they doing?” Aldridge asked.
“Oh, they’re just showing us how many past lives they have registered. It’s one of those ceremony things,” T’Wer said. “It’s show time.” He and P’Guk pulled their hoods up and exited the hover-vehicle followed by Aldridge and Webber.
“Return to your repasts, multiple ones, so that you may nourish yourself and the many souls that reside within you,” P’Guk announced solemnly. The crowd briefly applauded, then sat down to return to their meals. P’Guk and T’Wer led Webber and Aldridge to a table, sat down, and removed their hoods.
“What about that whole ceremony thing?” Aldridge said.
“It’s over now,” T’Wer said. A man walked over to the table and placed his hand on T’Wer’s shoulder.
“Did you catch the kerdis match last night?” the man said.
“Are you kidding?” T’Wer replied. “Of course, I saw it.”
“Damn, I was hoping you missed it.”
“What? And not be able to collect on our bet? I don’t think so,” T’Wer said. The man sighed and handed T’Wer a small credit tube. T’Wer pulled his own credit tube out of his robe and quickly preformed the transaction.
“I’ll get you next time,” the man said.
“Not likely,” T’Wer said smiling. “I haven’t lost a bet this season.” The man groaned and returned to his seat.
“Your society has developed a very clear separation of religious and social functions,” Webber commented.
“Thank you,” T’Wer said smiling.
T’Mak walked the streets of Cageria trying to come up with a plan to locate his nemesis. Finding J’Ter’s current body in a city of ten million people was going to be a bit of a challenge. He had to think clearly. Pushing aside his millennia-old rage, T’Mak allowed Truk’s mind to regain a portion of control. This Jaroch that J’Ter’s life force was housed in was a Starfleet officer. Why would a Starfleet officer come to Yyns? There were many possibilities. What about family? Truk tried to recall the information on Jaroch. Parents…lived in the Farderas Mountains. Sister…Priestess of the Temple of Mi Clane. Perhaps Jaroch was headed there. At the very least, the sister could be persuaded to divulge her brother’s travel plans. Satisfied with his course of action, T’Mak walked on, headed towards the two great spires looming over Cageria.
“So, I take it neither of you have been to Yyns before,” T’Wer said after swallowing the last bit of his lunch.
“Correct,” Aldridge said, poking through the strangely shaped bits of food in her meal in an attempt to find something that she recognized.
“But we’re really enjoying it,” Webber said, her mouth still half-full. She was digging in to the Yynsian cuisine with no hesitation.
“I don’t suppose this place serves steak,” Aldridge said.
“The Yynsian diet is rather light on meat,” P’Guk said. “Many of us find it disturbing to eat creatures that we could have been related to in a past life.”
“What about replicated meat?” Aldridge asked. “It never lived.”
“We don’t use replicators for food really,” P’Guk said. “It just doesn’t taste as good. I can go talk to the chef if you’d like. They probably have a replicator back there for plates and such. I’m sure we could whip up something more…Earth-like.”
“Thanks,” Aldridge said. P’Guk finished the last of her drink and walked into the kitchen area of the cafe.
“So this is why you never get invited to diplomatic dinners,” Webber said.
“Captain Rydell and I have an understanding,” Aldridge said. “He doesn’t make me go to events where I’d have to eat strange food, and I make sure that no unfortunate medical accidents befall him.”
“Sounds like extortion to me,” T’Wer said smiling.
“That’s because it is,” Aldridge said. A few moments later, P’Guk emerged from the kitchen empty handed.
“They can’t help you,” she said. “But we have a replicator at the temple you can use.”
“That would be fine,” Aldridge said. “I’d like to get Jaroch out of stasis soon anyway.” The group of four returned to the hovercar and set off for the temple.
“This is a really long walk,” Truk’s mind said.
“Quiet, puny mortal,” T’Mak said. “It builds character.”
The hovercar descended into an underground parking facility beneath the Temple of Mi Clane a few minutes later. T’Wer and P’Guk put their hoods back on and got Jaroch out of the trunk with an anti-grav unit. Aldridge and Webber followed the two acolytes as they pushed the bubble-encased Jaroch towards a small elevator.
After a short ascent, the group emerged in a small, chapel-like room. A dark haired woman in flowing white robes trimmed with gold was standing at the front of the chapel with her back to them. Her arms were raised toward the ceiling as she spoke softly. After a short time, she completed her ritual and turned around. Upon seeing the newcomers, she broke into a run.
“Shut it off,” she yelled.
“Yes, Priestess,” P’Guk and T’Wer said in unison. They quickly pulled their stasis controls out of their robes and deactivated the stasis field surrounding Jaroch. The last vestige of the bubble dematerialized just as the woman reached Jaroch, throwing her arms around him, her face full of delight.
“Oh, brother, you’ve come home! I’ve wanted this for so long,” she said. Jaroch was too stunned to speak at first. He blinked several times and shook his head as he regained his faculties after the time in stasis.
“I am glad to see you as well, P’Tal,” Jaroch said.
“Who are your friends?” P’Tal asked.
“This is Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge and Counselor Claire Webber, two of my colleagues from the Secondprize. I have asked them here to assist in The Seratch,” Jaroch said.
“Which one will serve as your Tersu?”
“Counselor Webber…if she agrees,” Jaroch replied. Webber’s eyes widened in surprise and confusion.
“I…I guess,” she said.
“Thank you, Counselor,” Jaroch said. “Doctor Aldridge will monitor my health.”
“Very good,” P’Tal said. “T’Wer, P’Guk, show Jaroch’s friends to their rooms and take care of any needs that they may have.”
“Yes, Priestess,” the acolytes said, bowing. “Please follow us.” They led Aldridge and Webber out of the chapel.
“So, tell me, Jaroch, what brought this on?” P’Tal asked.
“This visit? I am experiencing The Seratch. Without your assistance in the emergence of this new past life, I could die.”
“Cut the avoiding the issue with facts crap,” P’Tal said. “What happened to you that started a Seratch?”
“I do not know what you are talking about.”
“You’ve become incredibly annoying since you left Yyns.”
“Insults will do nothing to help my situation,” Jaroch said.
“And avoiding my question won’t help you any either,” P’Tal retorted. “The Seratch is only brought on by some kind of mental trauma. When you were nervous about passing your entrance exam to the Vulcan Science Academy, Jarl emerged. Before that, T’Mer emerged when you were taking your physics proficiency tests. Before that…”
“You have made your point, sister,” Jaroch said.
“Good. Now what is going on, Jaroch? I am your sister and your priestess. I can help you.”
“Captain Rydell said something very similar to me recently,” Jaroch said.
“You are avoiding the question again,” P’Tal said.
“All right,” Jaroch said, taking a deep breath and walking over to one of the pews to sit down. P’Tal sat down next to him, taking his hands in hers.
“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” she said, smiling kindly.
“Well, there is this woman…”
The ominous image of the Defiant hovered menacingly on the Secondprize’s viewscreen. Zero had cut off communications as soon as he delivered his ultimatum to Captain Rydell. They now had just under three minutes to do something.
“I don’t suppose they’d just leave if we told them that Doctor Aldridge was not on board,” Commander Dillon said.
“Probably not,” Rydell said. He turned to Lieutenant Hawkins. “How would we do in a fire-fight against the Defiant?”
“Assuming that all of their weapons are on line and we stay at this range, our shields would be down in less than a minute…if they even gave us an opportunity to raise our shields.”
“Never mind,” Rydell said. “Bridge to engineering.”
“Baird here,” Commander Scott Baird, the Secondprize’s chief engineer replied.
“We are about to get blasted by the Defiant, Commander,” Rydell said. “I need some options.”
“Aren’t they on our side?” Baird said, obviously annoyed at the thought of being blown up by another Federation ship.
“It’s been hijacked by Doctor Singer,” Rydell replied.
“Fuck! How did she…”
“We really don’t have time for this,” Rydell said quickly. “We can’t out-fight them at this range, and if we try to move away, they’ll open fire. I need options.”
“What do they want?”
“Me and Doctor Aldridge,” Rydell replied.
“Well, beam yourself over there and take directions to Yyns with you,” Baird said. “Otherwise, we’re dead.”
“There’s got to be something we can do,” Rydell said. “Can’t we…” An idea suddenly presented itself to Rydell. It was bizarre, but maybe… “Commander Baird, can we go to warp in reverse?”
“I need warp one backwards in two minutes, or we’re all dead,” Rydell said.
“Somebody up there assume command,” Baird said. “The captain’s gone bonkers.”
“Can it be done?”
“Yeah, if we put the nacelles on backwards,” Baird said.
“Okay. Okay. Let me think. Got it! I am the fucking man!”
“Not until you get us out of this,” Rydell said. “Get to it.”
“I’ll let you know when I’m ready. Baird out.”
“I sure hope he knows what he’s doing,” Lieutenant Hawkins said.
“Now, Doctor, we have a lot of work to do and very little time in which to accomplish it,” Zero said, walking over to a console on the left side of the Defiant’s bridge.
“What do you mean?” Singer asked, confused.
“If there is one thing I have learned in my prior dealings with Rydell, it is not to underestimate the resourcefulness of him or his crew,” Zero said. “Therefore, as a precaution, I want to break into the Secondprize’s computer system, ascertain the exact positions of Rydell and Doctor Aldridge, and be prepared to beam them out if Rydell tries anything.”
“Why not just take him now?” Singer asked. Zero looked at her and smiled.
“That wouldn’t be fair, my dear,” he replied. “We villains have to have a certain code of conduct.”
“Oh…okay,” Singer said.
“Now then, I need you to tell me everything you know about the Secondprize’s computer.”
Another minute ticked by. Rydell was starting to fear that he was going to have to give in to Zero and Singer’s demands. Of course, he still couldn’t produce Dr. Aldridge.
“Uh…Captain?” Ensign Carr said hesitantly from the operations console.
“What is it, Ensign?” Rydell asked testily.
“I think something’s wrong.”
“There are a lot of somethings wrong right now,” Rydell said. “Could you be a bit less vague?”
“Well, I’m monitoring some strange activity in the computer core,” Carr said.
“What kind of activity?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, you had better figure it out in a hurry,” Rydell said. “In another minute or so, it’s not going to matter.”
“We’re in,” Zero said. “Captain Rydell is on the bridge. Surprise, surprise. And Doctor Aldridge is…not on the Secondprize.”
“No!” Singer screamed. “Where is she?”
“I don’t know,” Zero said. “Rydell could just be hiding her. Don’t panic. But start downloading everything you can from their logs from the past couple of weeks. We will find her.”
After what seemed like an eternity, the turbolift doors at the rear of the bridge slid open, and Commander Baird rushed out and over to the deactivated engineering console along the bridge’s rear wall.
“Computer, transfer engineering control to this station,” Baird said. The console lit up, showing several schematics of the Secondprize and its warp field.
“What are you doing up here?” Rydell asked.
“I felt like getting out,” Baird said. “I don’t come up here very often. Besides, if we’re about to get blown to hell, I want to see the fight.”
“Captain, the Defiant is hailing us,” Hawkins said.
“Time’s up, Commander,” Rydell said to Baird. “Please tell me you’re ready.”
“Anytime, but all this is going to do is get us out of here and majorly fuck up the deflector dish. I’ve got a crew standing by to begin repairs on the dish as soon as we activate it, but until it’s fixed, we have to run with shields up at all times,” Baird said.
“I don’t think that will be a problem, Commander,” Rydell replied. “Hawkins, as soon as we hit reverse, arm all weapons and raise the shields.”
“Aye, sir,” Hawkins said.
“Let’s give this a shot. Open a channel, Lieutenant,” Rydell said. Zero’s face appeared on the viewscreen.
“Well, Captain, have you come to grips with the inevitable?” Zero asked. “Or would you prefer it if I went back to calling you Number 38.2?”
“Captain is fine,” Rydell said.
“Beam yourself and Aldridge over now,” Zero said.
“Nah, I don’t feel like it,” Rydell said. “Now, Commander.”
Almost immediately, the deflector dish emitted a blinding flash as it produced a static warp bubble between the two ships. Zero’s image vanished from the viewscreen.
“The Defiant is preparing to fire!” Hawkins screamed.
“Hold on!” Baird shouted. The warp bubble exploded, bombarding both ships with its effects. The crew of the Secondprize was thrown forward as the ship sailed backwards at warp speed. A moment later, it was over.
“Status on the Defiant,” Rydell ordered.
“They are now two light years away from us,” Hawkins said. “They appear to have been shaken up a bit.”
“I would hope so,” Rydell said. “How are we?”
“The deflector dish is toast, but other than that, we’re fine,” Baird said. “The effects of the explosion hit them more than us.”
“Good work, Commander,” Rydell said. “Weapons status.”
“All weapons are armed and ready. Shields are up,” Hawkins said.
“What the hell did he do?” Zero shouted.
“We didn’t catch the ball,” Gruver said from the helm console.
“The bad man threw a static warp ball at us, and we didn’t catch it, so it blew up,” Gruver replied.
“Shields are weaky-peaky and phasers are only halfy-wafy, but photons and engines are finey-winey.”
“Goody-woody,” Zero said. “Full ahead. We’re still more than a match for them.” Suddenly, Singer screamed. “What is it?” Zero snapped.
“The bitch is gone!” Singer replied. “She left yesterday to go to Yyns.”
“The Defiant is heading our way,” Hawkins reported.
“Captain, I just figured out what was wrong with the computer,” Carr said. “Somebody on the Defiant was accessing it.”
“Perfect!” Rydell shouted. “What’d they get?” Zero could have discovered their prefix code by now which would give him control of the Secondprize.
“They checked where you and Doctor Aldridge were, then downloaded log files,” Carr said.
“Because they couldn’t find, Aldridge,” Rydell said. “Hawkins, send a message to Yyns warning Doctor Aldridge of the situation.”
“It’s on its way.”
“Uh, Captain, I hate to interrupt,” Commander Dillon said. “But the Defiant’s still closing.”
“Believe me, I know. Hawkins, put the tactical display up on the viewscreen and stand by to fire.” A grid showing the relative positions of the Secondprize and the Defiant appeared on the screen. Rydell watched the distance between the two ships shrink rapidly.
“Ahead full impulse,” Rydell ordered suddenly. “Commence firing.” The Secondprize’s engines hummed a little louder as the ship shot forward. A barrage of phaser fire and photon torpedoes streaked away in front of the ship.
“Several impacts on the Defiant’s shields,” Hawkins reported.
“Should I slow down?” Lieutenant Sullivan asked.
“Definitely not,” Rydell said. “Hawkins, as soon as we’re passed them, fire another volley.” On the viewscreen, the Secondprize’s symbol passed right over the Defiant’s and continued onward.
“They’re returning fire,” Hawkins reported. “Photons only.”
“Sixty degree ascent,” Rydell ordered. Sullivan quickly punched in the command. Everyone was pulled back as the ship strained to execute the sharp climb. Then, the Secondprize rocked violently.
“One impact, five misses,” Hawkins said. “Shields are holding.”
“Damn!” Zero screamed as the Secondprize avoided his torpedo volley. “I hate you, Rydell!”
“Zero, cool it,” Singer said, uncharacteristically calm. Zero saw a vacant, slightly demonic look in her eyes. “I will handle this.”
“But the Secondprize is right here?” Zero insisted.
“And they are pummeling the crap out of us,” Singer said. “Aren’t they, Gruver?”
“Yes, Rebecca. One hundred percent correct. Very good. You get a gold star.”
“Cloak and get us back to the Verolas belt,” Singer ordered. “We’re going to have to take a different approach.”
“And what approach is that?” Zero said.
“We’re going to take care of Alex’s problems at the source,” Singer said smiling as she sat down in the command chair. “Don’t worry, Alex baby, Doctor Rebecca knows what’s wrong and just how to fix it.”
Counselor Claire Webber sat uncomfortably on the bed in the room that had been assigned to her as T’Wer busied himself tidying and checking the dressers. Webber hated just sitting there while someone else did everything for her, especially since she didn’t know what exactly was being done. Jaroch’s request for her to be his Tersu has caught her off guard. For one thing, she had no idea what a Tersu was or what it was she was supposed to do in the Seratch.
“That should do it,” T’Wer said finally. “You will find the appropriate attire for the ceremony in the top drawer of the dresser. There are more casual garments in the other drawers. Would you like me to assist you in changing clothes?”
“As a Tersu, you are assigned an acolyte to see to your needs. I was assigned to you.”
“I see. Well, thanks, but I think I’ll get dressed on my own. No offense, but we just haven’t known each other long enough yet,” Webber said.
“Fair enough,” T’Wer said. “I will be right outside if you need anything.”
“I’m serious. Anything at all, and I’ll come running.”
“Don’t hesitate to ask.”
“All right,” T’Wer said, moving toward the door. “I’m right out here.”
“Just making sure,” T’Wer said, then he left, leaving Webber in peace.
Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge said on her bed munching happily on a sandwich that P’Guk had gotten for her.
“Does that satisfy your human palette a bit more?” P’Guk asked.
“Yes! Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Aldridge said.
“Good. Enjoy your room. There’s some clothes in the dresser if you feel like changing,” P’Guk said. She headed out of the door.
“Wait,” Aldridge said. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” P’Guk said. “You aren’t actually involved in the ceremony, so you serve no purpose. I’m sure that you’ll find some way to keep busy, though. Take a nap or something.” With that, P’Guk left Aldridge alone in a strange room with no idea where her friends were.
Webber had just about gotten into the layers of robes that were considered casual wear when there was a knock on the door.
“I’m fine, T’Wer. Just leave me alone,” she said. Actually, despite their bulk, the robes were very comfortable and easy to move about in. She never would have guessed that from the amount of trouble she went through to get into them.
“I am not T’Wer,” Jaroch said as he entered the room.
“Jaroch! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…”
“That is quite all right,” Jaroch replied, taking a seat in a chair on the far side of the room. “Yynsian apparel suits you.”
“Thank you,” Webber replied, smiling at the unexpected compliment from Jaroch. “I like them.”
“Was there something in particular you needed?” Webber asked.
“I thought that now would be a good time to explain your role in The Seratch.”
“Definitely,” Webber said, sitting down on the bed.
“As Tersu, you are to accompany my mind as it travels.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The priestess, my sister, will be leading my mind through the past in order to discover where the breach is that my undiscovered past existence is trying push through. This can be a traumatic experience as unfamiliar images flood my mind in no particular order. The Tersu is there to provide stability and comfort to the mind experiencing the Seratch while my sister guides the journey.”
“Wow, Jaroch, this is…”
“Very important to me,” Jaroch interrupted. “You have assisted me in the past, and I have found your efforts to be both helpful and comforting. That is why I have asked you to help me now.”
“I would be honored,” Webber said, genuinely flattered. “That is so sweet that you would ask me.” She leapt off of the bed and picked Jaroch up out of his chair in a big bear hug.
“Think nothing of it,” Jaroch gasped.
T’Mak stood outside of the Temple of Mi Clane deliberating his next course of action. The odds of finding one person inside the massive temple were slim at best. Truk’s estimates of the odds did not concern T’Mak, however. He pushed Truk’s consciousness back down and surveyed the structure again. It was not a question of whether or not he would find the sister of Jaroch; it was just a question of which door he would enter the building through. At the moment, the front door looked as good as any of them.
The large golden doors moved aside automatically at T’Mak’s approach. He walked inside and found himself in a large lobby area with doors leading off in every direction. A robed acolyte seated at a desk in the lobby stood up and walked over to him.
“Welcome to the Temple of Mi Clane. How may I assist you?”
“I am looking for someone,” T’Mak replied.
“Interior or exterior.”
“Is this person a past life that you wish to contact, or are you looking for a presently living individual?”
“I am looking for a priestess!” T’Mak said, his patience wearing thin.
“I believe that all of our priestesses are busy right now, but I may be able to get you in to see a priest. I believe that Polem Teek is free. What shall I say that this is about?”
“I want J’Ter!” T’Mak shouted. “You will take me to his sister!”
“I’m afraid that I have absolutely no clue who you are talking about. There is no J’Ter here.”
“Of course there isn’t, you stupid mortal! J’Ter is long dead. I seek his current body.”
“Shut up! You will take me to the sister of Jaroch. She is a priestess here!”
“Do you know her name by any chance?”
“Then, I don’t think I can help you. Come back when you…”
Not waiting for the desk clerk to finish his sentence, T’Mak picked the man up and hurled him into the wall.
“That was unnecessary,” the man gasped, then fell into unconsciousness.
“That’s your opinion, puny mortal,” T’Mak said. He then randomly chose a door and opened it, revealing a staircase. Deciding that this was as good of a place to start as any, T’Mak began climbing.
“That’s it!” Aldridge said to her empty room. She had been sitting alone and bored for the better part of an hour, and she had had enough. Determined to find something to keep her occupied, she walked out into the hallway.
The staircase led T’Mak up to a short hallway. Down the hall, was another set of stairs leading farther upward. He was about to head toward the other stairs when a door opened along the hallway, and a woman walked out. She was dressed in strange clothing that T’Mak did not recognize. He allowed Truk’s mind back up for a moment to identify it.
“It is a Starfleet uniform,” Truk’s mind told him. “Jaroch is in Starfleet.”
“Then perhaps he is with her,” T’Mak thought. This was turning out better that he had hoped. The woman spotted him standing at the top of the stairs and walked over to him.
“Hey, is there anything to do in this place?” she asked him.
“What do you mean?” T’Mak asked, caught off guard.
“I am bored. Oh, never mind.” The woman pushed past him and headed down the stairs. Seizing his opportunity, T’Mak ran into the room that the woman just exited. It was empty except for a grey case sitting on the bed. T’Mak opened it, spilling out its contents. Several unfamiliar devices fell onto the bed.
“What are these?” he asked Truk’s mind as he picked the items up one by one.
“Medical tools,” Truk replied. “Except for this one,” he added when T’Mak had picked up a small, rectangular object. “This is a weapon called a phaser.”
“A weapon?” T’Mak said. “But it is so small.”
“Yes, but it fires a powerful beam of energy that destroys anything in its path.”
“Phaser. I like it,” T’Mak said. He quickly threw the other items back in the case, closed it, and left the room.
Doctor Aldridge walked down the long staircase and out into a lobby area. At first, she thought it was deserted, then she noticed a man slumped against the far wall. Cursing herself for leaving her med-kit up in her room, she rushed over to help him. He was unconscious and bleeding slightly from a gash in the back of his head, but he would be all right for the short time it would take her to get her med-kit.
Aldridge ran upstairs to her room, quickly grabbed her kit, and raced back downstairs. She opened the case beside the unconscious man and found everything in disarray.
“What the hell?” she said angrily. The man groaned painfully, drawing her attention away from what had happened to her med-kit. Aldridge rummaged through the mess in her case until she found the necessary equipment and set to work dealing with his injuries. Several minutes later, he had regained consciousness and, despite a mild concussion, seemed to be doing fine.
“What happened?” Aldridge asked.
“A man…he was looking for the sister of someone named J’Ter. I could not help him, so he attacked me.”
Aldridge remembered the man she saw on the stairs and feared the worst. He hadn’t been dressed in temple robes, and he was near her room. Maybe he had been the one who messed up her med-kit, but why? A sudden realization shot a cold flash through her entire body. She quickly emptied out her case and rummaged frantically through the equipment. It wasn’t there!
“Aldridge to Jaroch,” she said, tapping her commbadge.
“Jaroch here, Doctor.”
“We’ve got a problem. There’s a man in the temple looking for your sister, but I think he may be after you.”
“He attacked the guy in the lobby demanding to see J’Ter’s sister. He didn’t know her name, though.”
“This could be very bad.”
“It already is very bad. He went into my room while I was out and took my phaser out of my med-kit,” Aldridge said.
“Thank you for the information, Doctor,” Jaroch said.
“What are you going to do?” Aldridge demanded.
“Go to my sister. The Seratch is scheduled to begin in less than an hour, and it cannot be delayed. We will go ahead as planned, and if this man shows himself, we will deal with him.”
“You’re awfully calm considering some guy may be trying to kill you,” Aldridge said.
“Would you prefer that I panic and run away screaming in fear?”
“No, but a little concern wouldn’t hurt.”
“If this man is looking to kill J’Ter, he is the one who should be concerned. Jaroch out.”
“Damn cocky bastard,” Aldridge muttered.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 51545.9. We have been searching for the Defiant for the last several hours. Normally, attempting to find a cloaked ship would be pretty close to hopeless, but fortunately, we damaged the Defiant’s cloak during our brief skirmish. It was not enough to render the cloak ineffective, but it is now leaking intermittent bursts of ions from the ship’s engines. From this ion trail, we have been able to track the Defiant’s movements while we continue repairs to our deflector dish, but we are still a long way from discovering the Defiant’s exact position.”
“Lieutenant, how long have you been on the bridge?” Commander Dillon asked Lieutenant Hawkins.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“How many hours straight have you been on shift?”
“I don’t know…six.”
“Try nine and a half,” Dillon said. “Go get some rest.”
“We’re just following bread-crumbs right now. We need you to be fully alert when we actually catch up to the Defiant. The Captain went to bed; so should you.”
“I agree, but you’ve been up here almost as long as I have. Shouldn’t you get some rest yourself?” Hawkins asked.
“Good point,” Dillon said. Dillon looked around the bridge, trying to decide who to leave in command. A moment later, Lieutenant Emily Sullivan, who was just coming back on shift after a seven hour break, walked out of a turbolift. “Lieutenant Sullivan, you have the bridge. Let me know if anything happens.” Dillon got out of the command chair and followed Hawkins to the turbolift.
“Where are you two going?” Sullivan asked.
“To sleep,” Hawkins said.
“We’ve been on shift for almost ten hours straight,” Dillon added. “We have to rest too.” The turbolift doors closed, cutting off the conversation.
“You think they’re going to sleep?” Sullivan asked Ensign Kreiger, who was on shift at operations.
“Not a chance,” Kreiger replied.
The turbolift stopped on deck seven, and Dillon and Hawkins exited to head towards their individual quarters.
“Well, I’ll see you in a few hours, Travis,” Hawkins said.
“Yeah, see you then,” Dillon replied. Neither of them moved.
“This is so childish!” Hawkins said finally.
“Definitely,” Dillon said.
“We are two adults here. We have separate quarters, but we do not have to always feel obligated to stay in them.”
“Exactly,” Dillon said. “So…would you like to come to my room and sleep over?”
“I’d love to,” Hawkins said smiling. She wrapped her arm around Dillon’s, and the two of them walked back to his quarters.
The Defiant entered the Verolas asteroid belt and slowed to a stop next to the Lokaloc and the Centrum. On the bridge, Singer walked over to the engineering console where Gruver sat humming happily.
“What is our condition?”
“Okey-dokey,” Gruver said.
“Define okey-dokey,” Zero said from across the bridge.
“Everything’s exactly the way it was when we stopped fighting.”
“You haven’t fixed anything!” Singer shouted. “What have you been doing over here for the last several hours?”
“Keeping everything okey-dokey. I can’t make the ship better without bigger tools.”
“So we’re still fighting at half strength?”
“Yes, but the engines are perfecto,” Gruver said smiling.
“Good enough. Where we’re going, we probably won’t be getting in many fights anyway,” Singer said. “Now then, Zero, it is time for you to hold up your part of our deal.”
“What do you mean?” Zero said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. He was not sure that he liked this more assertive Singer. She was better unstable. At least then he was in control.
“You said you’d kill Elizabeth Aldridge for me. She’s on Yyns, so you have to go to Yyns,” Singer said.
“What about Rydell?”
“Alex will be mine. Don’t you worry. I won’t let anything stop me. By the time you get back, he and I will be ready to live together in The Suburb.”
“What makes you so sure?” Zero said.
“Just call it…women’s intuition,” Singer said smiling.
Captain Rydell walked onto the bridge feeling like a new man. As soon as the crisis with the Defiant had been diverted, his fatigue slammed into him like a freighter. He’d gone back to his quarters to get some sleep, and now, after several hours, was feeling much better.
He stepped out of the turbolift and found Lieutenant Sullivan sitting in the command chair. Ensigns were monitoring the helm and the tactical consoles.
“Where is everybody?” Rydell asked.
“Commander Dillon and Lieutenant Hawkins went to get some rest, so that they would be awake and refreshed when we found the Defiant,” Sullivan said.
“Is that sarcasm I’m detecting in your voice?” Rydell asked.
“From me? Never,” Sullivan said. “The bridge is yours.” She went back to the helm allowing Rydell to take the command chair.
“I’ve got another ion emission matching the Defiant’s engine signature,” Ensign Kreiger reported from ops. “It’s in the same position as the last one.”
“The same? They must have stopped,” Rydell said. “Where is it?”
“The Verolas asteroid belt,” Kreiger said. “Wait! A ship just decloaked in that position. It’s got to be them.”
“We’re on a course there now,” Sullivan said. “ETA…twenty minutes.”
“Red alert,” Rydell said. “All senior officers to the bridge.”
The red alert klaxon went off, shaking Dillon out of a very sound sleep. He snapped to attention the second that he realized what had awakened him. Cursing himself, Dillon raced to throw his uniform on. He must be getting old. A year ago, when a red alert sounded, he was halfway to the bridge before he woke up fully. It was a reflex. Now…now was different. Turning back to his bed, he remembered why: Patricia Hawkins.
“Patricia, get up,” Dillon said, shaking her gently.
“Five more minutes,” she mumbled.
“Sorry, no can do.”
“Oh God. Red alert,” Hawkins said, sitting up in bed suddenly.
“Bingo,” Dillon said. “I’ll meet you on the bridge.” He finished straightening his uniform and raced out of the room. Hawkins sighed and started pulling herself together. Duty called, and Dillon didn’t have the common decency to wait for her.
“What’s going on?” Dillon asked as he walked onto the bridge.
“Have a nice nap?” Rydell asked.
“Slept like a rock,” Dillon said.
“Heavy exertion will do that to you,” Sullivan said.
“Never mind, Commander,” Rydell said. “We’re getting very close to the Defiant.” The turbolift doors opened again, and Lieutenant Hawkins charged out onto the bridge.
“What’s going on?” she said.
“Time for the instant replay,” Sullivan said. “Do you want it with the smart comments or without?”
“Without,” Hawkins said.
“Okay, but it’s not nearly as interesting this way,” Sullivan said.
“I’ll suffer,” Hawkins replied.
“Considering who you’re dating, I’m sure you already are,” Sullivan muttered.
“What?” Hawkins and Dillon said.
“Nothing,” Sullivan said innocently.
“We’re closing in on the Defiant,” Dillon said.
“Thank you,” Hawkins said.
“Well, now that the floor show’s over, can we get ready for battle?” Rydell said.
“Do we have to? This is more fun,” Sullivan said.
“Aye, sir,” Sullivan said. “But I guarantee that combat won’t be nearly as entertaining.”
“I’m ready for departure,” Zero’s voice reported over the comm system. Singer almost didn’t hear him as she watched the Secondprize’s approach on the scanners.
“Understood,” Singer said. “Wait until we fire to leave.”
“Fire? What are you firing at?”
“I’m trying to cover your departure, so Alex won’t notice,” Singer said.
“Got it,” Zero said. “Centrum out.”
“Fire a volley of torpedoes, full spread,” Singer ordered.
“Bye bye, little torpedoes,” Gruver said as he pressed the fire button.
“The Defiant is launching torpedoes,” Hawkins said.
“At what? We’re way out of range,” Rydell said.
“I have no idea,” Hawkins said not noticing the sensor contact quickly speeding out of range.
“The Centrum is gone,” Gruver said. “Have a nice trip, Zero.”
“Get us out of here,” Singer said.
“Sector zero zero one.”
“Isn’t that where Earth is?”
“Very good, Gruver”
“What are we going to do there?”
“Take care of Alex’s reluctance to be with me once and for all,” Singer said.
“The Defiant is making a break for it,” Hawkins said. “And they aren’t activating their cloak.”
“What the hell?”
“It does use up a lot of power, sir,” Dillon said.
“Well, if Singer and Zero think they’re going to outrun us, they’ve got another thing coming,” Rydell said. “After them!”
Doctor Aldridge entered the small chapel where The Seratch was to take place and was surprised to find the room empty. Jaroch had said that the ceremony was going to begin shortly. Where the hell were they?
A blur of movement off to her left told her that the chapel wasn’t quite as deserted as she thought. She turned her head slowly, hoping that someone friendly was standing over there. No such luck. It was the man she had seen on the stairs.
“Nice day, isn’t it?” she said, trying to not sound like she was in fear of her life.
“Not yet,” the man replied, an evil smile spreading across his face.
“I don’t believe we’ve met. My name’s Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge,” she said. “I’m in Starfleet. You know, Starfleet. The organization that severely prosecutes anyone who harms any of their personnel. And you are?”
“T’Mak,” the man replied. “Now please leave me in peace.”
“Just making conversation.”
“It aggravates me.”
“Well, excuse me. Just who the hell do you think you are?”
“I would ask you the same question, puny mortal.”
“Hey, we all have to die sometime,” Aldridge said.
“Death is only a temporary setback,” T’Mak said drawing the phaser out of his pocket and aiming it at Aldridge. “At least it is for Yynsians. How about humans?”
“I’m leaving. No need to get testy,” Aldridge said, backing up.
“You had better stay,” T’Mak said.
“Thanks for the invite, but no,” Aldridge said.
“I must insist,” T’Mak said. Aldridge’s instincts took over as she dove sideways between two rows of pews, narrowly avoiding a phaser blast. “This will be quicker for you if you just accept it.”
“Humans have a very hard time accepting death,” Aldridge replied. She crawled forward underneath several of the pews trying to get into a position where she could attack T’Mak.
“There’s no acceptance involved. It just happens,” T’Mak said as he searched for Aldridge.
“That’s one theory,” Aldridge said. This was not working. She needed a distraction. Suddenly, the main doors to the chapel opened, and P’Guk and T’Wer walked in leading P’Tal, Webber, and Jaroch. T’Mak whirled around and fired, nailing T’Wer, who slumped to the ground. The phaser was still set on stun at least. Of course, once T’Mak figured that out, things could get worse.
The group entering the chapel scattered for cover as T’Mak started firing wildly. Aldridge figured that this was going to be the only chance she’d get. She silently stood up, maneuvered herself behind T’Mak and leapt. T’Mak, sensing something behind him, turned at the exact moment Aldridge was in the air. She slammed into him, sending them both to the floor. The phaser fired as it hit, stunning P’Guk. T’Mak screamed with rage and kicked Aldridge off of him. She flew over him, skidding painfully along the stone floor when she landed. She lay there hurting.
“Enough of this!” T’Mak shouted. “Face me, J’Ter! I tire of your weak minions.”
“I am Jaroch,” Jaroch said, standing up. “J’Ter resides within me, but he is not in control right now.”
“Who should I say is calling?” Jaroch said.
“His brother, T’Mak.”
“I will check, but I do not believe he will want to speak with you.”
“Then I will kill everyone in this room one by one until he shows himself.” He walked over to Aldridge, lifted her off the floor with one hand, then pressed the phaser against the side of her head roughly. “What will it be?”
In her pained state, Aldridge realized she was in trouble. Even on stun, a phaser at this range would do some major damage.
“T’Mak, please listen to me,” P’Tal said. “Jaroch is not in good health. J’Ter’s emergence could kill him.”
“That’s the idea,” T’Mak said.
“Are you sure that this is what you want?” Webber asked. “This is your brother that you want to kill. He’s family. Doesn’t that mean anything?”
“I was family. It didn’t stop him from killing me,” T’Mak said.
“If I recall J’Ter’s memories correctly, you were going to kill him in an attempt to become crown prince,” Jaroch said.
“Details, details. I want vengeance! Produce J’Ter, or this puny mortal dies.” He pressed the phaser even harder against Aldridge’s already throbbing skull. Jaroch looked to Webber and P’Tal. Both of them shrugged their shoulders signaling that they had no clue how to get out of this.
“I will attempt to comply,” Jaroch said. “But you must first put Doctor Aldridge down.”
“Agreed, but if anyone tries anything, she dies.” He flung Aldridge across the room. She landed on T’Wer’s body with a thud. Jaroch closed his eyes and concentrated. This would be difficult. Bringing past lives to the surface at will was usually not possible without a great deal of training. Once the past lives were in control, it was simple for them to summon his consciousness back to the surface. Getting them to the surface in the first place was the problem.
Nothing was happening. In his weakened mental and physical condition, he did not have anywhere near enough control to find J’Ter. He would have to try another approach.
“Counselor, could you assist me please?” Jaroch asked.
“I guess,” Webber replied, walking over to him. “What can I do?”
“Inflict a great deal of pain upon me very quickly,” Jaroch said.
“Hey, that’s my job,” T’Mak said.
“Wait your turn,” Jaroch said. “Counselor, please do this, or we may have no hope of saving Doctor Aldridge.”
“Whatever you say,” Webber said. “I hate to do this.” She looked Jaroch deeply in the eyes, placed her hands gently on the sides of his face, then quickly slammed her knee into his groin.
“Thank you,” Jaroch gasped, falling to the floor. The change was taking place. Less than a moment later, he was on his feet again and very angry.
“T’MAK! You spineless piece of logarn droppings!” J’Ter shouted. “This is a cowardly way to seek revenge. A true warrior would not threaten innocents.”
“It was necessary to convince you to show yourself, brother,” T’Mak replied. “You were the one hiding from me.”
“I have no need to hide from you,” J’Ter said. “I will fight you anytime.”
“So I had hoped,” T’Mak said. “Although, you will not last very long.” He fired the phaser at J’Ter, sending a stun bolt slamming into his chest. J’Ter hit the ground with a dull thud. “That was very easy, yet satisfying,” T’Mak gloated.
“This is not over yet,” J’Ter said, standing back up.
“What? How is this possible?”
“You do not understand the weapon which you hold, T’Mak. You cannot harm me with it.” The knowledge Jaroch had given him about the operation of phasers was coming in handy after all. Hopefully, T’Mak would take him at his word and not figure out how to adjust the weapon’s setting any higher.
“You lie!” T’Mak said. “Look at the others. They have fallen at a blast from my weapon and so shall you.” He started hitting buttons on the phaser. Jaroch’s consciousness told J’Ter that the setting was being raised and lowered quickly. When T’Mak finally stopped fiddling with the phaser, Jaroch had calculated from the mix of high and low toned chirps that the phaser was now set on level six. This was the lowest level necessary to kill, but it would still kill.
As all of this was going on, Doctor Aldridge regained enough feeling in her body to notice that something was jabbing painfully into her stomach. She slowly moved her arm underneath of her to find out what it was. A few seconds later, she pulled out T’Wer’s stasis device. Aldridge was about to put it aside and continued laying very still when the small part of her mind that was not occupied with the extreme pain she was feeling realized the implications of what she had found.
“T’Mak, we should settle this in a fair duel,” J’Ter said. “Using the phaser weapon is a cowardly way to settle our battle.”
“Perhaps, but it assures my victory,” T’Mak said, aiming at J’Ter.
“Think again,” Aldridge gasped, firing the stasis device. The beam lanced out, surrounding T’Mak. He screamed angrily and pushed himself out of the field forming around him.
“That only works with two beams shot simultaneously,” P’Tal called from across the room. “Nice try, though.”
“Thanks,” Aldridge said as T’Mak whirled to face her.
“You die for that,” he said aiming the weapon.
With his enemy momentarily distracted, J’Ter leapt. The two brothers hit the ground and wrestled furiously for control of the phaser. Webber and P’Tal took the opportunity to rush over to Aldridge and T’Wer and drag them behind some cover.
“Shouldn’t we help them?” Aldridge said.
“No. It’s a guy thing,” P’Tal said. “Let them settle it.”
“But Jaroch could be killed,” Webber said.
“Do you want to be the one to interrupt J’Ter when he’s in the middle of a fight?” P’Tal asked.
“Well, when you put it that way…”
J’Ter managed to get control of the phaser and immediately threw it aside. The weapon slammed into one of the chapel’s stone walls and shattered.
“Now, we will settle this fairly,” J’Ter said, pushing away from his brother.
“You always spoil my fun!” T’Mak said angrily. “Why can’t things ever go my way?”
“Because you are evil and my younger brother. Those two states see to it that you will never have your way.”
“I hate you!” T’Mak screamed, launching toward J’Ter with a furious barrage of punches. J’Ter blocked his brother’s attack and landed a couple of hits of his own to T’Mak’s stomach. T’Mak gasped in pain and staggered backwards.
“You have no discipline,” J’Ter said.
“Discipline is not everything,” T’Mak said, landing a roundhouse kick against the side of J’Ter head.
“That does it,” J’Ter said. He rushed forward, picking T’Mak up off of his feet. Raising his brother helplessly into the air, J’Ter walked up to the altar at the front of the chapel then slammed T’Mak onto the stone slab. He quickly grabbed T’Mak by the hair and began bashin his head against the slab repeatedly.
“J’Ter, stop!” P’Tal shouted.
“You will never ever do this again!” J’Ter shouted, each word punctuated by T’Mak’s head hitting the slab. “Do you understand me?”
“Jaroch, that’s enough,” Webber said. “J’Ter has won. You can come back out now.” J’Ter let T’Mak’s head fall to the stone.
“I do not want the weak mortal to come back,” J’Ter said.
“This is his body,” Webber said. “If you usurp it from him, you are no better than T’Mak.”
“Do not compare me to this weak…”
“You have brought the comparison upon yourself,” P’Tal said. “Give Jaroch control. You know that you can come out again.”
“Yes. And I do not have to deal with his petty work and woman problems,” J’Ter said.
“What’s he talking about?” Webber asked.
“Not now,” P’Tal said.
“Farewell…puny mortals.” J’Ter laughed, then fell silent.
“Jaroch, are you there?” Webber asked.
“Are you all right?” Aldridge asked.
“No.” Jaroch barely finished the word before he collapsed, falling across T’Mak’s limp body.
Captain Rydell stepped out of his ready room. No one on the bridge looked like they had moved in the last three hours.
“I don’t suppose we’ve gained any ground on the Defiant,” Rydell said.
“Nope,” Dillon said, sitting in the command chair with his head in his hands and elbows on his knees.
“They’ve been making erratic turns like they’re trying to throw us off their track,” Sullivan reported.
“But we’re still with them, right?” Rydell asked.
“Of course. Who do you think you have flying here?” Sullivan replied.
“My apologies, Lieutenant,” Rydell said, walking over to the command chair. Dillon didn’t budge.
“Yes, sir,” Dillon said.
“Move your ass.”
“Oh, sorry,” Dillon moved over a chair and let Rydell sit down.
“Commander Dillon, I’ve finished analyzing the Defiant’s movements like you ordered,” Ensign Carr said. “I think I’ve got an idea where they’re headed, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
“It would be keeping with the pattern of today’s events,” Rydell said. “I haven’t liked much of anything that’s happened today.”
“Where are they going?” Dillon asked.
“Sector zero zero one.”
“Earth,” the rest of the bridge said in unison.
“Well, yeah,” Carr said.
“Hawkins, contact Starfleet Command,” Rydell said. “Hurry.”
“Why would they be going to Earth?” Dillon asked. “The orbital defense systems would blast the Defiant to atoms in a second.”
“You are assuming that we are dealing with sane, rational people here,” Rydell replied. “Which I think we can safely say that we’re not.”
“Good point,” Dillon said.
“I’ve got Starfleet,” Hawkins said.
“On screen,” Rydell said, standing up. The face of Admiral Thomas Wagner appeared on the viewscreen.
“Hello, Alex. What can I do for you?” Wagner asked.
“Admiral, are you aware that the Defiant is on a heading directly for Earth?” Rydell asked.
“Well, not directly,” Dillon said. “They’re kind of twisting and turning…”
“Dillon, shut up!” Rydell said. “This is my story to tell. You can inform Starfleet next time a group of wackos shows up!”
“Sorry,” Dillon said.
“The Defiant’s headed here?” Wagner said. “I thought you were the one they wanted dead.”
“Well, I fought them off, and they’re coming to you,” Rydell said. “So sue me.”
“Alex, I don’t need to tell you how valuable the Defiant is. We will hold off firing on it as long as it takes no aggressive action.”
“Understood. We’ll be right behind them to take care of things.”
“Good luck. We need that ship back in one piece.”
“I’ll do my best. Uh, Admiral, have you noticed that we always seem to talk to you whenever we contact Starfleet?”
“It’s just kind of weird.”
“Not really,” Wagner said. “I’m the only one willing to take comms from the Secondprize. The other admirals are scared of you.”
“Us? Why?” Dillon asked.
“There’s a perfect example,” Wagner said, pointing at Dillon.
“Gotcha,” Rydell said. “We’ll contact you when we have anything new to report, Admiral. Rydell out.”
“I get the distinct feeling that he doesn’t like me,” Dillon said.
“That’s okay,” Sullivan said. “Neither does anyone else.”
“We’re getting warmer,” Gruver said.
“What?” Singer asked.
“We’re getting close to where you wanted to be,” Gruver said. “We’re getting warmer.”
“I see.” Singer walked up to the helm and checked their position. “Perfect, I’ll take over here. Go start making the calculations for time warp.”
“Time warp! When are we going?”
“As soon as you finished making the calculations.”
“No, silly. When are we going to? What time?”
“Late twentieth century Earth. Old calendar year 1993 to be exact,” Singer said.
“Why are we going there?”
“To get Alex. A couple of years ago, Alex was zapped by something and switched minds with a twentieth century college student also named Alex Rydell. Before that happened, everything was fine between us, but when we rescued him…” She started to cry. “He had me sent to Tantalus pretty soon thereafter.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t think that it was actually him we rescued. You saw how he treated us when we tried to whisk him away to the paradise of the Suburb and save him from having to endure Aldridge the bitch. My poor Alex is still trapped in the twentieth century, but I’ll save him.”
“If that’s true, who did you rescue from the past?”
“Some evil twin from another universe probably,” Singer said.
“Oooh, that’s bad,” Gruver said. “But don’t worry, Doctor Rebecca, I’ll help you get your Alex back.”
“We’re now entering sector zero zero one,” Lieutenant Sullivan reported.
“The Defiant is still maintaining its course and speed,” Hawkins said. “No, never mind, it’s speeding up and heading straight for the sun.”
“The sun?” Dillon said. “They’re not going to commit suicide are they?”
“At this point, anything’s possible,” Rydell said.
“We’ve got an incoming message from Starfleet,” Hawkins said.
“On screen,” Rydell said. Admiral Wagner’s face appeared looking concerned.
“Alex, are you monitoring the Defiant’s course?”
“Yes, Admiral. We aren’t sure what they’re up to.”
“Well, we are,” Wagner said. “According to our computer simulations, they’re on a trajectory for the slingshot maneuver.”
“Time travel! Oh great!” Rydell said.
“Based on their current course and speed, we have projected their destination as the late twentieth century,” Wagner said.
“Why would they…” Rydell trailed off. “Oh shit,” he said softly.
“What is it, Captain?” Dillon asked.
“I think I know what they’re after,” Rydell said. “Me!”
“Oh no,” Ensign Carr said. “You mean that time when you got switched and you ran into all of those twentieth century versions of people on this ship and we had to find a way to get you back and Commander Baird went back as a hologram to help you and…”
“Yes, Ensign,” Rydell said, cutting her off. “We’re going after them, Admiral. Rydell out. Carr, start the calculations for time warp.”
“Uh…I’m not really sure how to do that. Jaroch would normally…”
“We’ve got a program to help you. Just hurry,” Rydell said.
Carr went back to the science console and sat down nervously.
“Computer, please load time travel program,” Carr said. A moment later, the screen went blank, then the words “Warpin’ 3.1” appeared.
“Welcome to Warpin’,” a happy voice said. “Please input destination time.”
“This shouldn’t be bad at all,” Carr thought.
The turbolift doors opened, and Commander Baird walked out onto the bridge.
“I’m back,” he said. “Did I miss much?”
“The Defiant is preparing for time warp to go back to the twentieth century, and we think that they’re going to do something to Captain Rydell’s twentieth century ancestor, so were going after them,” Commander Dillon said.
“Woah! We’re doing what?!”
“Preparing to slingshot around the sun.” Rydell said. “Please tell me that the deflector dish is working.”
“It’s fine, but time warp?”
“Yes,” Rydell said.
“The Defiant is beginning their warp,” Hawkins said.
“Are we ready, Ensign?” Rydell said.
“Just a second,” Carr replied.
“There you are. Have a nice warp,” the computer said cheerily. “And remember, don’t cause any paradoxes! Thank you for using Warpin’ 3.1.”
“All set,” Carr said.
“Wait. We’re doing the time warp based on a happy fucking computer program?” Baird said.
“Well, we’d prefer to use a partially insane Yynsian, but he’s not on board right now,” Rydell said. “All decks, this is the captain. We are about to attempt to slingshot around the sun. Brace yourselves; things could get a bit bumpy. Punch it, Sullivan.”
“Beginning slingshot maneuver now,” Sullivan said. The ship shot forward, headed toward the sun. A few moments later, the turbolift doors opened, and Trinian, the hostess in the Seven Backward Lounge stepped out onto the bridge.
“Captain, I need to talk to you,” she said.
“I’m a little busy right now,” Rydell said as the Secondprize began to shake from encountering the sun’s gravitational field.
“This is pretty important,” Trinian said. “It’s about Alex.”
“What? I’m Alex. Who are you talking to?”
“You, but it’s about the other Alex,” Trinian said.
“We can handle this, Captain,” Dillon said. “It’s all automated anyway.”
“All right. Let’s go into my ready room, Trinian,” Rydell said. The two of them walked off of the bridge.
“Now, what’s this all about?” Rydell asked once the two of them were seated in the ready room.
“I hear that we’re going to the twentieth century to prevent anything from happening to Alex,” Trinian said.
“How did you know? We just decided that a minute ago!” Rydell said.
“News travels,” Trinian said.
“Okay, so what about us going to the twentieth century?”
“Be careful about who you let know that you’re there,” Trinian said. “I have no memory of anything else strange happening after you and Alex switched minds.”
“And you two were together the whole time.”
“Yes, Alex and I dated all through college. If anything else happened to him, I would have known about it.”
“In other words, we can’t let the younger you know that we’re there,” Rydell said.
“But if you don’t remember it, that means we don’t screw up, right?”
“Not necessarily. Time is a funny thing.”
“Got it. We’ll be careful.”
“Don’t let those psychos do anything to him.”
“I won’t.” Rydell fell silent for a moment. “Trinian, I’ve been wanting to ask you something for a while now.”
“If you married Alex Rydell in the twentieth century, and he’s my ancestor, doesn’t that mean that you’re like my great great great great great great grandmother or something.”
“Something like that,” Trinian replied smiling as she stood up. “I wouldn’t think about it too much if I were you, though. Thanks for listening to the blatherings of an old woman, sonny boy.” She walked out of the ready room.
The ship suddenly began to shake more violently, then everything went white. Rydell saw flashes of faces and places, all of them somewhat familiar. The images flashed faster and faster until he couldn’t take it anymore and lost consciousness.
“Bridge to Captain,” Dillon’s voice said. Rydell lifted his head up off of his desk. Only a moment had passed since the temporal disorientation had grabbed him.
“I’m here, Commander. Is everyone okay in there?”
“Other than the usual disorientation, everything’s fine,” Dillon said. “We’ve have arrived at the last part of the twentieth century.”
“I’m on my way,” Rydell said, standing up and walking out onto the bridge. The blue and white globe of Earth hovered on the viewscreen. “Scan for ion particles.”
“Nothing, sir,” Carr said a few moments later. “I don’t think anyone from our century has been here for almost a decade.”
“Well, if I remember my history correctly, Captain James T. Kirk visited this era back in 2286.”
“Oh yeah, I remember. The whale thing,” Rydell said. “Well, in any case, we’ve arrived before the Defiant. That gives us some time to prepare. I’m going to beam down to find my twentieth century counterpart and keep an eye on him. Commander Dillon, I want you to take the Secondprize to the far side of the moon and wait for me. Put a comm buoy between here and there, so I can stay in contact with you.”
“Sir, I want to go with you,” Dillon said.
“I’ve made this era in history a hobby. I understand that you spent a week here, but I still think that I could be useful.”
“Fine, but you’re it. The fewer of us that go down there, the better. Lieutenant Sullivan, you have the bridge. Hawkins, keep a close eye on the scanners for when the Defiant shows up.”
“Aye, sir,” Hawkins and Sullivan said in unison.
“Keep things together up here. I’ve been stuck in the twentieth century before, and I have no desire to do it again,” Rydell said. “We’ll be in college if you need us.”
Zero brought the Centrum out of warp and went into orbit over Yyns. Almost immediately the comm system started flashing that a message had been received. Zero went through his cover story again, then activated the system.
“Unidentified craft, this is Yyns Space Control. Please identify yourself and state your business,” the voice of a control officer said.
“This is the scout ship Centrum of the Lokaloc trading consortium. I’m here to see about opening some trade accounts with your planet,” Zero said. He looked over at the scanners, which were searching for Starfleet commbadge signals. It had located three clustered together in a building in the city of Cageria.
“Do you have an appointment?” the control officer said. This could be trouble.
“Actually, no, but…”
“I’ve got an aunt who owns this store in Cageria. She might be interested in checking into some off-world opportunities,” the officer said. Zero smiled. Sometimes, things just sorted themselves out so perfectly that it amazed him.
“That sounds wonderful,” Zero replied. “I would appreciate getting her name and address.”
“I’m sending them now, but I can’t clear you for parking in Cageria. The lot is full.”
“Can I land outside of the city?”
“Uh, sure I guess. It’s a bit of a hike, but I might be able to arrange some transportation for you…since you’re going to talk to my aunt.”
“Why, thank you,” Zero replied. “That would be perfect.”
Counselor Webber shifted uncomfortably in her seat by the altar that Jaroch was current laying while P’Tal sat at his head, speaking softly to him. Nearby Dr. Aldridge monitored Jaroch’s vital signs. This had been going on for the last six hours, ever since they had sent T’Mak to the Past Life Sorting Center and begun The Seratch. Jaroch was deep in a meditative trance, but, so far, P’Tal had not been having much luck breaking through to his emerging past life. She was about to make another attempt.
“Jaroch…Jaroch…are you here?” P’Tal asked.
“I am here,” Jaroch replied. Webber gave his hand a comforting squeeze.
“Jaroch, there are many life forces within you…many minds, and another is trying to join them. Can you feel that mind?”
“Can you locate it?”
“So many…too much…demons!” Jaroch’s grip strengthened on Webber’s hand.
“His pulse is rising again,” Aldridge said, looking at her tricorder. “It’s at twenty percent above normal.”
“You are not alone, Jaroch,” P’Tal said.
“I’m here, Jaroch. Tell us what’s happening,” Webber said.
“Demons…so many demons…must keep fighting.”
“Can you leave?” Webber asked.
“No, must fight the demons.”
“I don’t think I even want to know what past life this is,” Aldridge said.
“I believe that it is part of the new one,” P’Tal said. “But I’m worried about Jaroch. If this life is as traumatic as it sounds, bringing it to the surface too quickly could be dangerous.”
“But if we don’t bring it to the surface, he’ll go insane or maybe die,” Webber said.
“Remind me to beat the hell out of him when this is all over,” Aldridge said.
Zero touched down in an empty field about ten miles west of Cageria. A small hovercar was already waiting for him with a young man in the pilot’s seat. Zero grabbed his bag and stepped out of the ship.
“Are you the trader?” the driver asked.
“Yes, that would be me,” Zero said, walking up and extending his hand to the driver. “Mister Leroy Harris. Just call me Leroy.”
“All right, Leroy, my name’s Twil, hop in.” Zero climbed into the hovercar, and they were soon on their way to town.
“So, Leroy,” Twil said, about five minutes into the drive. “What kind of work do you do exactly?”
“Oh, acquisitions mostly,” Zero replied, reaching into his bag. The metropolis of Cageria was approaching quickly, but they were still out in the country.
“What kind of stuff do you acquire?”
“This and that. For instance, now I’m going to acquire this vehicle.” Zero pulled a phaser out of his bag and blasted Twil before the Yynsian could even register a look of surprise. Zero opened the door of the craft and shoved Twil out of it. “Have a nice walk,” Zero said. He steered the hovercar towards Cageria and the coordinates where the three commbadges were.
“DEMONS!” Jaroch sat straight up and began screaming. Webber was up in an instant. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close to her.
“You’re all right. There are no demons here. You’re fine.”
“Thank you, beautiful,” Jaroch said.
“Was he talking to me?” Webber asked, taken aback.
“No offense, Counselor, but I doubt it,” P’Tal said. “He’s still deep in the trance.”
“Where is T’Mak!” Jaroch shouted suddenly, his voice full of fury.
“I get the feeling that he’s jumped lives again…to J’Ter,” Aldridge said.
“I’m afraid so,” P’Tal said.
“Release me, puny mortal,” J’Ter bellowed.
“Don’t do it, Claire,” Aldridge said. Webber clenched Jaroch more tightly.
“Cannot move,” J’Ter gasped. “Must find T’Mak.”
“You have defeated T’Mak, oh great warrior-prince,” P’Tal said. “He is no more.”
“If you are lying, your death will be more painful than you could possibly imagine.”
“Would we lie to you?” Aldridge said.
“We’re your friends here,” Webber said. “Now, please give us Jaroch back.”
“I will consent to this request because you are friends of Jaroch, but if T’Mak returns…”
“We all die. We know. We know,” Aldridge said. Jaroch’s body fell limp in Webber’s arms. She gently lay him back onto the altar. A moment later, Jaroch’s eyes fluttered open.
“We appear to be encountering some difficulties,” he said.
“You could say that,” P’Tal said “I have never, in my entire career as a priestess, had this much trouble in The Seratch.”
“Would the fact that you two are related have anything to do with it?” Aldridge asked.
“No. If anything, it should help,” P’Tal said. “I just don’t understand it.”
Jaroch groaned and clutched the sides of his head.
“Well, we had better figure something out soon, or he’s going to be in some real trouble,” Aldridge said, watching Jaroch’s vital signs fluctuate on her tricorder.
“Can The Seratch be performed if Jaroch is under sedation?” Webber asked.
“I don’t know. It’s never been necessary,” P’Tal said.
“Whatever drug was used would have to allow my mind to stay alert while sedating my body,” Jaroch said. “Otherwise, I will not have the faculties necessary to reach my past selves.”
“I can use nephodopaline,” Aldridge said, pulling a hypospray out of her bag and loading it with the drug. “You won’t be able to move, but it will keep your vitals stable.”
“Do you think that this will work, sister?” Jaroch asked.
“I certainly hope so,” P’Tal said. “It’s worth a shot anyway.”
“Go ahead,” Jaroch said reaching for Webber’s hand. “I will hopefully not be quite as violent this time around, Counselor.” Aldridge placed the hypospray against the side of Jaroch’s neck and injected the drug into his system. Jaroch began to lose sensation in his limbs, slowly spreading inward. Soon, he was motionless. P’Tal took a deep breath and put her hands against the sides of Jaroch’s head.
“Let’s try this again,” she said. “Jaroch, I need you to focus on the ceiling. Watch the design…how the red lines curve in and out of the gold…” Jaroch felt his mind slipping into the trance.
Zero checked his “borrowed” tricorder again. The commbadge signals hadn’t moved for a long time, and he was growing surer and surer as to the origin of the signal. He stopped the hovercar across the street from the giant spires of the Temple of Mi Clane. They had to be in there. He pocketed his phaser and stepped out of the hovercar.
“What do you see, Jaroch?” P’Tal asked.
“White. Lots of white. And the demons. They’re right in front of me. I must stop them. Must get to the end. Kill them all.”
“This sure sounds like a fun place,” Aldridge muttered.
“Everything’s fine,” Webber said soothingly. “The demons can’t hurt you.”
“Where are you?” P’Tal asked. Suddenly, a phaser blast seared by them. Webber, P’Tal, and Aldridge dove for the floor.
“Dammit, Jaroch!” Aldridge shouted. “How many people are trying to kill you?”
“I am not here for Mister Jaroch,” Zero said, stepping into the room.
“Who the hell are you?” Aldridge said.
“My name is Zero.”
“Oh no,” Webber said.
“Do you know this guy?” Aldridge asked.
“He kidnapped Captain Rydell a couple of years ago,” Webber said.
“Then, what does he want here?” P’Tal asked.
“I’m glad you asked,” Zero said, walking closer. “I here for Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge.”
“What do you want me for?” Aldridge said, trying to crawl unnoticed to her med-kit which she’d put the phaser T’Mak had taken from her back into.
“To kill you, of course,” Zero said laughing. Then he started firing.
“All right,” Captain Rydell said as he and Dillon descended in the turbolift. “We need to get a couple of twentieth-century outfits and something to carry them in.”
“Okay. Two suitcases, and watches and wallets with identification inside.”
“Preferably with names other than our own,” Rydell said. “If I remember correctly, there is a hotel very close to Old Dominion that we can check into. The only problem is that we need money.”
“Taken care of,” Dillon said. “I’ve got a ton of twentieth century currency.”
“How did you get that?”
“It’s just worthless paper now. I found it at an antique store. I picked up two hundred thousand United States dollars from this time period for two credits.”
“We’re rich!” Rydell said. “But we are not going to waste it. Even what we buy could affect the time stream if we’re not careful.”
The turbolift slowed to a stop, and the two officers walked out into the corridor headed for the main replicator facility. Once there, they started gathering their supplies.
“Computer, load the database of late twentieth century fashion,” Rydell said.
“The United States.” The computer flashed several images across the screen, most of which looked extremely bizarre. Finally, Rydell saw some clothes that he recognized. “This looks about like the stuff people on campus were wearing.”
“All right. Computer. This is Commander Dillon. Access my clothes replication size file and create these outfits for me.” Dillon touched the images of a suit and several casual outfits. “Also, create one black leather wallet and one digital wrist watch, black band.” The replicator hummed, then produced the requested items. Rydell then placed his request, and the two agreed to meet back in the transporter room once they had changed into the proper attire.
Rydell entered the transporter room ten minutes later carrying his suitcase. Commander Dillon hadn’t arrived yet.
“Well well well,” Lieutenant Monica Vaughn said walking toward him. “Don’t you look spiffy?” She ran her hands along the front of Rydell’s suit coat. “Very sophisticated and sexy.”
“Thank you, Vaughn,” Rydell said, backing away. He bumped right into Commander Dillon, who was just walking into the room. Vaughn took one look at Dillon and fell to the floor laughing hysterically. Rydell didn’t know what was wrong, but he was pretty sure that he didn’t want to turn around to find out. He did anyway, and started laughing.
Dillon was dressed in a suit much like Rydell’s, but he had a large furry mass of brown hair perched on his upper lip.
“What the hell is that?” Rydell demanded, pointing at the clump of hair.
“It’s a mustache,” Dillon replied, placing his hand on it defensively.
“I know that, but why do you have it?”
“You said that there were people at Old Dominion who looked a bit like us, so I decided that I would disguise my appearance. I just used a follicle stimulator to quickly grow a mustache and voila.”
“Well, it looks like something curled up on your lip and died. Get rid of it,” Rydell ordered.
“All right,” Dillon said. He opened his suitcase, pulled out a shaver, and quickly removed his mustache. “I can’t believe that you didn’t like it.”
“Believe it,” Rydell said.
“I loved it,” Vaughn laughed. “It made you look so rugged and wild, kind of like a badger.” She started laughing so hard she had to support herself against the transporter console.
“Just beam us down,” Dillon said, marching angrily up onto the transporter pad. Rydell walked over to the console and programmed in the coordinates.
“That should put us in a clump of woods near the hotel,” Rydell said. “We’ll be fine from there, but keep a lock on us just in case. We’ll contact you ten minutes after we beam down to check in. After that, Lieutenant Sullivan is to take the Secondprize out of orbit.”
“Yes, sir,” Vaughn said as Rydell stepped up onto the pad. “Don’t let Commander Cool hit on too many women.”
“Hey…,” Dillon said. The rest of his protest was drowned out as the transporter beam engulfed him.
He and Rydell rematerialized moments later exactly where Rydell had said: in the middle of some woods. Besides the trees, there were also several clumps of papers and scattered bottles.
“Lovely,” Dillon said.
“Welcome to the twentieth century,” Rydell said. “What did you expect?”
“I don’t know. It just looked a bit cleaner in the movies.”
“Come on.” Rydell walked out of the forest towards a tall, red brick building. The building had a sign in front reading “Old Dominion Inn. The two officers entered and walked up to the front desk.
“We need a room,” Dillon said to the elderly clerk who seated behind the desk. She was clearly more interested in her television than them. Begrudgingly, she pulled herself up out of her chair and walked over to the desk.
“Will that be one room or two?” she asked.
“One will be fine,” Rydell said.
“Single or double?” she asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
“Double,” they both said quickly.
“Of course. That will be $39.95 a night. Check out is at eleven. Will that be cash or charge?”
“Cash,” Dillon said, pulling a few of $100 bills out of his wallet. “We’d like to pay for a week up front.”
At the sight of the bills, the woman perked up.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “If you need anything else at all, just call the front desk.” She handed Dillon a key.
“Thank you,” Rydell said. He and Dillon walked down the hall to find their room.
“So, where do we start?” Dillon asked once they had entered their room.
“Well, we need to find out what the date is,” Rydell replied. “I know that when I was here it was the fall of 1993. From the looks of things outside, it could be fall, but as for the year, I have no clue. I mean, for all we know, we got here too early, and Alex hasn’t graduated from high school yet or too late and he’s married and living somewhere else. The only thing we do know is that we beat the Defiant here.”
“At least that’s something,” Dillon said. He walked over to the television and switched it on. A man with grey hair and glasses was talking excitedly to a large audience about some people sitting on the stage.
“What the hell is this?” Rydell asked.
“I believe it was known as a talk show,” Dillon replied. “Pathetic people went on these shows to display how miserable and screwed up they were.”
“And this was entertainment?”
“They thought so.”
“Turn it off, and let’s go. I can’t take this anymore,” Rydell said. He and Dillon left their room and headed toward campus.
Old Dominion was almost how Rydell remembered it, but there were a few things that were different. A decorative brick wall was being constructed around the school for one thing.
They continued on, past the tall building where Rydell had had to go to attend some of his twentieth century counterpart’s classes, and through a large parking lot. It definitely felt strange to Rydell to be back here again. The whole experience of spending a week in the twentieth century seemed more like a bizarre dream at this point rather than something that had actually happened. But here he was, back again, something that he never expected to happen. At least he still remembered his way around.
“Where are we headed?” Dillon asked.
“The student center,” Rydell replied. “There’s a store in there that sells newspapers.”
“Hey, guys,” a voice said from behind them. A second later, a man with long, dark hair sped by them on a pair of wheeled shoes. The man turned to look at them. “Sorry,” he said. “I thought you were somebody else.” Then, he sped off.
“That guy looked at lot like Commander Baird,” Dillon said.
“Sure did,” Rydell said.
“That’s really weird.”
“I told you.”
They entered the student center and found themselves in a crowd of students. Many of them were in line at various food stands.
“Yep, this is definitely later than last time I was here,” Rydell said. “This food court wasn’t even open yet.”
“Food court? What did the food do to be put on trial?”
“That’s just what they called it,” Rydell replied. He led Dillon into the bookstore and headed for the newspapers.
“November 7, 1995,” Rydell said. “Well, we overshot just a little bit.”
“Alex will still be here, though, right?” Dillon asked.
“He should be,” Rydell said. “And so should Travis Dillon. I just hope that they’re living in the same place, so we can find them.”
“What are you guys so dressed up for?” a female voice asked from behind them. Rydell and Dillon turned around and saw a woman who looked a lot like Ensign Carr. “Oh, sorry. I thought…”
“That we looked like someone else?” Dillon said.
“We get that a lot,” Rydell said.
“Hey, Andrea,” a voice called from across the store. She turned around to see who it was.
“Oh no,” Rydell whispered, spotting the origin of the voice. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Who is it?” Dillon asked.
“You. Well, the twentieth century you anyway. Come on.” Rydell grabbed Dillon’s arm and pulled him back into one of the rows of books where they could still listen in on the conversation.
Andrea turned back around and saw that the two men in suits who had looked kind of like Travis and Alex were gone.
“What’s wrong?” Travis Dillon asked, walking over.
“Nothing really,” Andrea said. “There were these two guys here that I thought were you and Alex, but they weren’t and now they’re gone.”
“Never mind. Let’s go get something to eat. I was just coming in here to get a Mountain Dew anyway.”
“Okay. Alex, Trina, and Craig are sitting in the cafeteria. I’ll be there as soon as I check on a book,” Travis said. Andrea went to pay for her drink while Travis headed back towards the bookshelves. More specifically, he headed straight toward Rydell and Dillon.
“Look inconspicuous,” Rydell said. He and Dillon separated a couple of feet and grabbed a textbook to read. Travis walked down the aisle they were standing in and stopped right between them.
“Damn,” he muttered. “It’s still not in.” He looked at the men in suits to his right and left. They must have been the guys Andrea was talking about. One of them did kind of look like Alex. As for the other, Travis didn’t think he looked anything like him. They sure were reading those textbooks intently, though. Travis shrugged and walked out of the aisle.
“That was not good,” Rydell said.
“Why? It’s not like he’s going to recognize you,” Dillon said. “You were in somebody else’s body last time.”
“Yes, but now Travis and this version of Carr have both taken notice of us. That is going to make it a lot harder for us to observe their movements inconspicuously.”
“Maybe they won’t say anything to Alex. He’s the one we really have to watch anyway.”
“But Alex and Travis spend a lot of time together. They’re roommates. If we try and watch Alex, Travis will eventually show up.”
“Can’t he get a life of his own?” Dillon said.
“Why should he? You can’t,” Rydell said.
“This is no time to abuse me,” Dillon said.
“Anytime is a good time to abuse you,” Rydell said.
“Captain, what are we going to do?”
“We’re just going to have to watch Alex as best we can,” Rydell said. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
“To have some lunch,” Rydell said.
Jaroch snapped back to himself almost as soon as Zero’s phaser blast soared over his head. He found himself desperately wishing that he were still in a trance. As it stood, there was a madman with a phaser in the room, and Jaroch couldn’t move a muscle below his neck. This was generally a very bad thing, especially if Zero decided to shoot him. Thus far, Zero had been keeping his shots aimed toward Dr. Aldridge’s position on the floor.
“I don’t suppose that you’d be willing to talk this over,” Aldridge shouted.
“What is there to discuss?” Zero said.
“Why you’re trying to kill me, for one thing. I didn’t know who you were until just now.”
“I’ve been sent by a poor maiden whom you have much offended,” Zero replied. “Stealing another woman’s man is not very nice, Doctor Aldridge.”
“Rebecca Singer sent you?” Aldridge said. Singer was the only one crazy enough to think that she’d taken her boyfriend.
“That’s correct,” Zero said. “Now, if you would just hold still so I can vaporize you, I’ll be on my way.”
“Then how are you going to prove to her that Doctor Aldridge is dead?” Webber asked. “I mean, a phaser blast doesn’t leave a lot in the way of identifiable remains.”
“Claire, you’re supposed to be talking him out of killing me, not suggesting better ways to do it,” Aldridge said. Zero stopped shooting. While he was distracted, Aldridge headed back towards P’Tal. Her med-kit was just too far away for her to get without Zero seeing her.
“You know, you may have a point, Ms…?”
“Webber, Counselor Claire Webber,” Webber said.
“That you for the suggestion, Ms. Webber,” Zero said. “I’m not used to doing this type of thing on my own. I had subordinates for this sort of work thing back in The Suburb.”
“Is there another way out of here?” Aldridge asked while Webber talked to Zero about the difficulties of having to kill someone yourself.
“There’s a tube up to the meditation point through that panel,” P’Tal replied, pointing at one of the wood panels on the front wall of the chapel.
“I guess that I really should cut off Doctor Aldridge’s head and take it to Rebecca, shouldn’t I?” Zero said, abruptly drawing Aldridge back into the conversation.
“Cut off my what? I don’t think so!” Aldridge shouted.
“But you’ll be dead,” Zero said. “In that condition, the procedure shouldn’t bother you at all.”
“It’s the dead part that bothers me,” Aldridge said.
Jaroch felt his toes beginning to tingle. Perhaps the drug was wearing off, or maybe his mind was just fooling him. With all that had gone on in the last few hours, he wouldn’t have been surprised either way.
“Now do be reasonable, Doctor,” Zero said.
“Reasonable? I am being reasonable. I don’t want to die, and you’re outnumbered four to one; therefore, we win.”
“But I am the one holding the phaser.”
“Yeah, I know,” Aldridge said. “You’re the second one today.”
“My my, you are quite the popular one. I’m so glad that the other interested party didn’t get a chance to kill you first.”
“Look, this witty repartee is great and all, but I’ve got to split,” Aldridge said. She leapt up, hurled her tricorder at Zero, and made a break for the panel. It didn’t open.
“It’s the next one!” P’Tal shouted. Aldridge tried the one to her left. “No, the other one!” Aldridge dove back to her right, just as a phaser blast seared into the wood panel she was standing in front of a second before. She pulled the panel open and ran into a small circular chamber. The door closed behind her leaving her trapped. She was just in a round tube leading upward as far as she could see. There was not ladder or control panel or anything. Suddenly, she heard a faint, but growing whooshing sound. Her hair was gradually starting to be pulled upward. She heard pounding on the door of the chamber.
“You cannot run from me, Aldridge!” Zero shouted through the wall. The pull upward was getting stronger. Her feet were lifting off of the floor. Suddenly, she was rocketing upward. The tube just seemed to keep going and going, then the top came into view. It was closed. Aldridge started panicking. At the last moment, the top opened and Aldridge was launched into a small room. The tube cover closed underneath of her just before her feet touched back down on it.
Taking deep breaths to calm herself down, Aldridge looked around to see where she’d been sent. She was in a small open observation deck near the top of the spire. The very tip of the spire extended above her, and all of Cageria was laid out below her. The view would have been breathtaking if there had been walls or a railing or something to make her feel a bit safer. As it was, the small room was just open to the air. One wrong step, and it would all be over.
At the edge of hearing, Aldridge detected another slight whooshing sound coming from underneath of her. The tube was activating again. Someone, probably Zero, was coming up. Aldridge looked around frantically for a way out of there. She saw another circular patch on the floor just like the one she was standing on. Hopefully, it was the tube to go down. She hopped onto it. Nothing happened. The whoosh was growing louder.
“Work dammit!” Aldridge shouted. Nothing. She jumped up and down angrily. “Oh please, please, please.” The whoosh became a roar, then the cover over the up tube opened, sending Zero up into the observation deck.
“Oh yes, this is much more scenic,” Zero said, aiming his phaser at Aldridge.
“I thought you were going to cut my head off,” Aldridge said.
“I still am…after I stun you,” Zero said. Aldridge decided that she really only had one course of action. She dove at Zero, slamming her whole body into him. Surprised, Zero staggered backwards, his feet stopping right on the edge of the platform, but he held onto Aldridge.
“Let me go,” she said.
“Not a chance.”
Aldridge stomped her foot down on top of Zero’s and tried to wiggle away from him. He wasn’t letting go, but her stomp caused him to take a tiny hop back. Unfortunately for him, there was nowhere to hop to. Zero started falling, taking Aldridge with him. She was able to grab onto the edge of the platform and hold on before they both fell to their deaths.
“We seemed to have gotten into a bit of mess,” Zero said, clutching onto Aldridge’s legs.
“No kidding,” Aldridge grunted. The feeling was starting to slip out of her fingers.
“Can you pull us up?” Zero asked. Aldridge laughed weakly. “I’ll take that as a no. How about if I climb up you?”
“So you can kill me? I don’t think so.” Her fingers were completely numb and starting to slip.
“Then, we will both die.”
“One less psycho in the world,” Aldridge said.
“But what about me?” Zero said.
“Funny,” Aldridge said. Her fingers finished their slide. Aldridge and Zero began plummeting downward.
Zero screamed. Aldridge was in a complete and total panic. This was it. She was going to die a horrible death with a nutcase. She was going to be a gooey puddle. They kept on falling. Aldridge finally managed to come back to her senses. The ground was approaching fast, but she still had a little time. There had to be a way out. There was always a way out. She slammed her hand against her commbadge.
“Aldridge to runabout. Lock onto to my signal and energize transporter!”
“Please stand still. Your location is changing rapidly,” the computer replied. Aldridge was barely able to hear it over the rush of wind past her ears.
“Just do it! Now!” Aldridge screamed. The ground was getting very VERY close. A split second before Zero would have hit, the transporter grabbed them both.
They reappeared inside the runabout safe and sound and immediately collapsed to the floor in relief.
“That was…invigorating,” Zero said.
“Is that what you’d call it?” Aldridge said. “We almost died.”
“But the fact is that we did not die,” Zero replied. “Thanks to your quick thinking, we are both quite safe. At least, I’m quite safe.” He aimed the phaser at her.
“Please tell me that you aren’t about to start that again,” Aldridge said.
“Start it again? I never stopped the first time. Despite my gratitude to you for saving my life, I still have to kill you. A deal is a deal.”
“Yes, but you made the deal with a psychopath. Just what is Rebecca Singer doing for you?”
“Getting Rydell back for me. She and Number 38.2 are going to live out the rest of their lives in The Suburb as my guests.”
“Prisoners is more like it.”
“You say tomato…”
“Look, if that was your deal, you might as well go home.”
“What do you mean?”
“Singer will never be able to get Captain Rydell. He has a whole starship behind him crewed by…lots of people.” She just couldn’t bring herself to call the weirdos on the Secondprize experts or anything.
“That may very well be, but, as I said before, numbers are meaningless when confronted with superior firepower. Here, I have a phaser and you have nothing. Out there, Rydell may have the Secondprize, but Rebecca has the Defiant.” A cold chill went through Aldridge. If Singer had somehow gotten control of the Defiant, Captain Rydell could be in real trouble. She had to warn them…after she saved herself.
“Now then, Doctor,” Zero said as he stood up, keeping the phaser aimed at Aldridge. “If you will just lie there and hold still, I’ll try to make this as painless as possible.”
Aldridge really started wishing that she had a plan.
Rydell and Dillon entered the cafeteria of Webb Student Center carrying their lunch trays. They spotted Travis and Andrea seated at a table with three other people. One of them looked a lot like Lieutenant Craig Porter, who was now stationed at Waystation. Another looked exactly like Trinian. And the third was unmistakably Alex Rydell.
“This is very weird,” Rydell said. “I was in that body.”
“Sounds kind of gross to me,” Dillon said.
“Can we just sit down?” Rydell led Dillon over to a table a ways away from where Alex and the others were sitting, where they sat down and started in on their lunch.
“This is real meat, isn’t it?” Dillon said, chewing on his hamburger.
“Sure is. Replicators haven’t been invented yet.”
“It’s kind of yummy.”
“That’s a dead animal you’re eating, and all you can say is yummy.”
“Uh…would you prefer tasty?”
“Just eat.” Rydell looked around the cafeteria expectantly.
“Calm down, sir. The Defiant hasn’t even arrived yet.”
“Sorry, this whole situation has got me on edge. The last time I was here, I almost erased myself from existence. I don’t want it to happen again.”
“So, are we just going to follow Alex around?”
“I don’t think that’s going to be feasible over long periods of time. Besides, we can’t watch him when he’s in his apartment.”
“I don’t suppose that we could just take him into protective custody until we capture the Defiant.”
“No.” Rydell though for a moment. “We may be able to keep a better watch over Alex, though. Find a secluded place and tell the Secondprize to beam you down a suitcase of surveillance equipment. Then all we’ll have to do is get it into their apartment.”
“Can’t you just go tell Travis what’s going on? He’s knows who you really are anyway, doesn’t he? He just doesn’t know what you really look like.”
“True, but he knows too much about the future as it is. If we can avoid polluting the time stream any more than we already have, I’d be very happy.”
“You’re really making this difficult.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll think of something,” Rydell said. “Just go get the stuff.” Dillon shrugged, swallowed another bite of hamburger, and left.
Travis watched Dillon leave the cafeteria. There was just something strange about that guy and his friend.
“There’s those two weird guys in the suits,” Andrea said.
“What guys?” Alex asked.
“Oh, they were in the bookstore earlier. They were looking through some of the textbooks,” Travis said.
“A little light reading, I guess,” Craig Porter said.
“But doesn’t that guy over there look a lot like Alex from the back?” Andrea asked. They all looked over at Rydell, who was turned away from them.
“Yeah, he does,” Trina said.
“Not really,” Alex said.
“Do you examine the back of your head very often, Alex?” Craig said.
Commander Dillon entered the men’s room cautiously, checking to make sure that it was unoccupied. Satisfied that he was alone, Dillon entered a stall and pulled his commbadge out of his pocket.
“Dillon to Secondprize.”
“Secondprize here,” Lieutenant Hawkins’s voice said. “How are things going?”
“Fine, so far,” Dillon said, trying to sound professional, something he was finding it harder and harder to do around Hawkins. He heard the main door to the bathroom open and footsteps enter.
“Have you located the twentieth century Alex?”
“Yes, but we need some surveillance gear.” Dillon said softly. “Have a standard kit beamed down to these coordinates.”
“We’re bringing the Secondprize back into orbit now. Are you all right?”
“Yes, but there’s someone else in here so I have to talk softly.”
“Gotcha. We’re energizing now.” A moment later, a brown briefcase materialized in front of him.
“Thanks, Patricia. I’ll contact you as soon as I can talk more freely.
“Okay. Be careful, Travis.”
“I will. I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. Dillon out.” Dillon grabbed the briefcase and walked out of the stall. A student wearing faded blue jeans, a ratty black t-shirt, and a baseball cap was standing at the sink.
“You’re fucked up, man,” the guy said. “You think you’re some space man or something, trek dork?”
“I am dealing with a matter of temporal security with implications that you cannot possibly imagine, so, until you grow a brain, shut the hell up,” Dillon said.
“That’s it, pal,” the guy turned to Dillon and swung, catching Dillon right across the side of his face. Dillon hit the floor holding his jaw.
“You’re going to regret that,” Dillon said, unobtrusively pulling his phaser out of his pocket.
“You going to talk me into submission? Or are you carrying a ray gun, space guy?”
“Okay, you figured me out,” Dillon said. “I am carrying a ray gun.”
“Yeah right,” the guy laughed. Dillon fired, knocking the guy to the floor with a stun blast.
“Guess you messed with the wrong space man, dirt bag,” Dillon said. He straightened his suit and walked out of the men’s room feeling rather satisfied with himself.
Alex looked at his watch. “Well, it’s been fun as always, but class beckons.”
“Yee haa,” Andrea said, unenthusiastically. She, Alex, and Trina gathered their lunch trash together, put on their backpacks, and started to leave.
Dillon walked into the cafeteria just as Alex and the others were starting to go. He hurried over to the table where Rydell was waiting.
“Are we going to follow them?” Dillon asked.
“Yes, in a minute. Travis and that other guy are still sitting at the table. If we hop up to follow Alex, they might get a bit suspicious,” Rydell said. Dillon sat down and tried to be patient. He knew that every second they waited was more time Alex had to get away from them. Finally, Rydell got up. Dillon jumped up and headed toward the door.
“Calm down!” Rydell said. Dillon slowed down and headed out into the hall followed by Rydell.
“Who the hell are those two?” Travis asked, watching Rydell and Dillon leave.
“I have no idea,” Craig said.
“They’re acting really strange.”
“They’re probably just terrorists preparing to take over campus,” Craig said. Travis laughed.
“One of these days, you’re going to say something like that, and it’s going to turn out to be right,” Travis said.
“Hopefully, we’ll have graduated before it happens.”
“Yes, Old Dominion gets invaded, and we’re far away enjoying our lives.”
“At least I’ll be enjoying mine,” Craig said. “You’ll be married. Once you walk down that aisle in December, it’s all over.”
“You’re just bitter because you’re alone, and I’ve got someone,” Travis replied.
“Perhaps,” Craig said smiling.
“You know I’m right. Come on. Let’s get out of here.” The two of them got up to leave.
Rydell and Dillon stayed a discrete distance away from Alex as he walked out of Webb with Trina and Andrea. Trina and Alex kissed then went their separate ways. Alone, Alex headed into a building a short distance away from Webb Center. Rydell and Dillon followed him inside. As they entered the glass doors, Dillon looked back at Webb Center and saw Travis and the other man who looked like Craig Porter walking out of the student center and heading away from the main part of campus.
“Captain, what is over that way?” Dillon asked. Rydell turned and saw Travis.
“They must be headed toward the dormitories,” Rydell said.
“But to whose? Travis’s or the other guy’s?”
“I don’t know, but I think one of us should follow them just in case.”
“I’ll go,” Dillon said.
“Good. Now, last time I was here, Alex and Travis lived in apartment AA6. If they head there, I’m going to assume that’s still the case.”
“I’ll let you know shortly,” Dillon said. He headed out of the building following Travis and Craig.
Alex was still in sight down a hallway when Rydell resumed his surveillance. He quickly closed the distance between himself and Alex. A few seconds later, Alex entered a classroom where a teacher was talking.
“This lab will probably take you the full two hours,” the instructor was saying. Less than thrilled, Rydell entered an empty classroom across the hall and sat down. Two hours of sitting there doing nothing. Joy.
Travis and Craig entered building AA of the Powhatan apartment complex and walked up the stairs to apartment 6, where Travis and Alex had lived for the last three years. Dillon sat down on a bench outside of the apartment building and watched the window of the third floor apartment. A moment later, he saw Travis pass by the window.
“Dillon to Rydell,” Dillon said, tapping his commbadge.
“Report, Commander,” Rydell replied.
“Travis just entered apartment AA6.”
“Great, now all we have to do is get in there. Alex’s in a lab right now, which is going to last for the next two hours.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just sit tight for now. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“But what about the surveillance?”
“I think he’ll be pretty safe in class,” Rydell said, not willing to sit around bored for two hours. “Besides, the Secondprize will inform us as soon as the Defiant shows up. We should take this time to set up the equipment.”
“How are we going to get them to leave?”
“I don’t know. We’ll think of something when I get there. Rydell out.”
“Hey, Travis,” Craig said, looking out of the window. “One of those guys in the suits is sitting downstairs.”
“What?” Travis said walking over to the window. “What the hell?”
“I have no idea,” Craig said. “You haven’t pissed off the government lately, have you?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Travis said. He shook his head. “This is all probably just some stupid coincidence, but I’m starting to feel like I’m being followed.”
“And paranoia begins to set in,” Craig said.
“I wonder where his friend went,” Travis said.
“He’s probably stalking Alex or something,” Craig said.
“You aren’t helping,” Travis said. But what if they were after him and Alex. He couldn’t think of any reason why, but those two guys did seem to have an inordinate amount of interest in them. That would also explain their strange behavior in the bookstore. “Let’s go,” Travis said, heading toward the door.
“Where are we going?”
“To find Alex.”
“Your imagination is sending you off the deep end here,” Craig said.
“Probably yes, but indulge me. I don’t get a lot of excitement in my life,” Travis said.
“Okay,” Craig said. “It’s a nice day for a walk anyway.” The two of them left the apartment.
Dillon saw Travis and the other guy exit the building. Trying to look inconspicuous, he started examining his shoelaces very closely.
“You want to go a bit faster, Craig?” Travis said as they passed by Dillon.
“Pushy. Pushy,” Craig said. Dillon watched them head off toward campus and panicked. They were sure to run into Rydell.
“Dillon to Rydell.”
“What?” Rydell replied.
“Travis and the other guy, who is named Craig by the way. I thought that he looked a lot like Lieutenant Porter.”
“Get on with it, Commander.”
“Well, they just left the apartment, and they’re headed your way.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Rydell said. “I’ll keep out of sight until they pass by.”
A few minutes later, Dillon saw Rydell approaching. Rydell looked around, once again feeling deja vu. Two years ago, this was his home for a week.
“Is anything wrong, sir?” Dillon asked.
“Just checking out the old neighborhood,” Rydell said. “Let’s hurry up and take care of this.”
He and Dillon walked up to AA6 and, with the help of a twenty-fourth century version of a lock-pick, entered the apartment. Dillon looked around at the various movie posters spread across the walls of the apartment.
“Nice collection,” he said admiringly.
“Like yourself, Travis is a movie buff,” Rydell said.
“I still don’t like him,” Dillon said.
“Hey, respect your elders,” Rydell said.
“He’s what? Twenty? Twenty-one?”
“Yeah, but he’s still probably one of your ancestors,” Rydell said.
“That doesn’t mean I have to like him,” Dillon said.
“What don’t you like about him?”
“He’s too…suspicious. He keeps looking at us like we’re up to something.”
“We are up to something,” Rydell said.
“Yeah, but he’s annoying. He looks like a smug, nerdy dweeb. I can’t stand even looking at him.”
“What the hell is your problem?” Rydell said.
“Can we just drop it and get to work?” Dillon asked. Rydell would probably laugh at him if he told him the real reason he didn’t like his twentieth century counterpart. Rydell had told him that Travis was engaged to be married. He was going to be together forever with someone who loved him. Dillon was jealous. He wanted something like that, but it would probably never happen. He couldn’t even get up the nerve to ask Patricia to spend a whole night in his quarters, much less ask her to marry him. She’d probably just say no anyway.
Pushing those thoughts away, Dillon set the briefcase down on the white kitchen counter and opened it. Inside was a standard surveillance kit consisting of several tiny sensing devices.
Dillon and Rydell set to work, placing sensors in the living area, the kitchen, the bathroom, the hallway, just outside the front door, and back in the bedroom. An hour later, just as they were placing the last one in the bedroom, they heard the front door close.
“Somebody’s here,” they heard Travis’s voice say. A second later, Travis and Alex rushed into the bedroom.
“I knew it!” Travis said upon spotting Rydell and Dillon. “They were following us!”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Alex demanded angrily.
Dillon and Rydell looked at each other, hoping that one of them could come up with something quickly.
After watching Zero chase Aldridge out of the chapel, Jaroch felt a bit better about his chances of actually surviving their encounter with Zero. Of course, he still couldn’t move, but feeling was definitely returning to his arms and legs.
“Where did you send her?” Webber asked.
“The observation deck at the top of the spire,” P’Tal replied. “I just hope she figures out how to activate the descent tube before Zero gets up to her.”
“I believe that one of you should probably pursue Zero then,” Jaroch said. “Leaving her alone with him does not sound like a wise thing to do.”
“Good point,” Webber said. She grabbed a heavy, brass candlestick off of a table beside the altar and opened the wood panel to go after Aldridge.
“I’m going to go over to the descent tube’s exit point and wait for your friend there,” P’Tal said.
“Excellent. And I will continue to lie here completely useless,” Jaroch said.
“Doing what you do best,” P’Tal said.
“I love you, too, sister,” Jaroch said. The next several minutes were excruciating for him. He could do nothing but lie there and wait to regain mobility while his sister, Doctor Aldridge, and Counselor Webber faced the possibility of being killed by a psychopath.
Trying to push thoughts of violent death out of his mind, Jaroch thought back to his earlier conversation with his sister. She had one piece of advice for him: tell Counselor Webber what was going on. She was a counselor; she could help him. Of course, she could also currently be a charred pile of flesh on the observation deck. Uggh. He wasn’t supposed to think about that.
A moment later, Webber and P’Tal ran back into the chapel, relieving Jaroch’s concern, well most of it anyway. Dr. Aldridge was not with them.
“We couldn’t find her,” Webber said.
“Obviously,” Jaroch replied.
“But we’ve got to find her!”
“Yes, that would be prudent,” Jaroch said. “Contact the runabout computer. Perhaps it can lock onto her commbadge and give us her current location. I would do it myself, but I cannot move my arm.”
“Webber to runabout. Where is Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge?”
“Doctor Aldridge is on the runabout,” the computer replied.
“Thank goodness,” Webber said.
“Let us not jump to any conclusions, Counselor,” Jaroch said. “Computer, how many life forms are on the runabout at the current time?”
“Two. Doctor Elizabeth Aldridge and one other.”
“Can’t we just beam in and rescue her?” P’Tal asked.
“I believe that that would be a monumentally bad idea,” Jaroch said.
“Why?” P’Tal demanded hurt.
“Since Doctor Aldridge has not contacted us, we must assume that for some reason, she is unable to contact us.”
“Because Zero is about to kill her most likely,” Webber said.
“So why can’t we save her?” P’Tal said.
“Beaming in would give Zero plenty of time to blast us while we were still trapped in the transporter effect,” Jaroch said.
“So we should beam her out,” Webber said.
“No,” Jaroch said. “That would leave Zero alone in an armed Starfleet vessel, which he could then use to blast Cageria to atoms.”
“So we beam him out, right?” P’Tal asked.
“This would also be dangerous, since he could conceivably fire the phaser at Aldridge as soon as he begins to feel the transporter grabbing him,” Jaroch said. “Zero, while crazy, is extremely intelligent. He would know what was happening to him and react accordingly.”
“Then what do you have in mind, brother dear?” P’Tal asked angrily.
“It is quite simple really,” Jaroch said smugly. “Computer, activate intruder control system. Authorization Jaroch Lamda Psi Theta.”
“That ought to hold them until we get there.”
“I almost hate to do this,” Zero said, holding his phaser on Aldridge. “Saving my life has given me a soft spot for you.”
“How touching,” Aldridge said. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that the runabout’s comm panel was flashing erratically indicating that someone was in communication with the ship’s computer. Hopefully, it was Jaroch and Webber trying to get her out of this mess. She just hoped that Zero hadn’t noticed what was drawing her attention away.
“I wish I could take you to The Suburb as well,” Zero continued. Obviously, he hadn’t noticed. “I don’t suppose that dear Rebecca would be too pleased to have you there, though. I mean, you and Rydell might rekindle your romance, and that wouldn’t make Rebecca too happy.”
“We never had a romance,” Aldridge said.
“Of course, you didn’t,” Zero said patronizingly. “Rebecca is just a deluded woman out for revenge for something that never happened.”
“Yeah. The fact that she was in a mental institution should have tipped you off there.”
“Now you’ve done it! I was in that hospital too, you know? Surely you don’t mean to imply that I, the great Zero, am insane.”
“Am I implying that?” Aldridge said. “Zero, you are insane. Now, I’ve flat out told you. Is that better?” She heard a faint hissing behind her. What was it? Gas! Zero hadn’t detected it yet, though. Hopefully, he’d be knocked out before he realized what was happening. She was about to lose consciousness herself.
“I’ve now lost my reservations about killing you,” Zero said. “Goodbye, Doctor Aldridge.” He took aim, then collapsed to the floor. Aldridge saw him fall, then lost consciousness herself.
“Jaroch, you have really got to lose some weight,” P’Tal said as she and Webber struggled to carry Jaroch to the hovercar in the parking area.
“I am at the optimum weight for my age and height,” Jaroch replied.
“Maybe it’s all those extra lives he’s carrying around,” Webber said.
“Maybe you two need to work out,” Jaroch said. “Now, hurry up. The anesthezine is not going to last forever, and Zero is probably going to be very upset when he wakes up.”
Ten minutes later, the hovercar entered the main parking facility of Cageria. By this time, Jaroch had regained full movement in his left hand and right leg. The rest of him was still immobile, but tingling, indicating that the medication was wearing off.
After several twists and turns through the facility, the hovercar finally reached the runabout. Externally, everything about the runabout seemed fine.
“Tricorder,” Jaroch said. Webber put a tricorder in Jaroch’s one movable hand and aimed him at the runabout. “I am still detecting two life signs.”
“Good, she’s still alive,” Webber said. “Let’s go in and get her.”
“Wait,” Jaroch said. “Something is moving inside.”
Zero discovered that he was laying on a hard surface in the dark. This was rather confusing for him, since he was pretty sure that he was just in a runabout about to kill someone. He opened his eyes and squinted as they adjusted to the light all around him. Gradually, his vision cleared. He was in a runabout, and Dr. Aldridge was laying right beside him. It was time to end this. Now, where was his phaser?
Aldridge woke up wondering how she’d fallen out of bed during the night without waking herself. Then she remembered why she was laying on a floor. She opened her eyes and saw a large moving blur beside her. She couldn’t see it clearly, but it had to be Zero. She kicked out as hard as she could, hoping that the after-effects of the anesthezine weren’t messing with her depth perception like it was with the rest of her. Her foot collided with something soft.
“Hey!” Zero screamed. “That was my stomach.”
“Good,” Aldridge replied. Her vision was clearing now, and Zero was trying to get to his feet. He stood up wobbily, but hit the floor a second later after Aldridge kicked his legs out from under him. On the way down, Zero spotted his phaser. It was about five feet behind him. Aldridge spotted it too and started pulling herself toward it. Zero grabbed her leg and yanked her backwards. Aldridge kicked out with her other leg and hit Zero in the head. With a furious growl, Zero pounced on top of her and slammed his elbow into the back of her head. Dazed and reeling, Aldridge lay motionless on the floor. Zero laughed and crawled over her to the phaser.
“I really can’t tell you how much I can’t wait for this to be finished,” Zero said, aiming the phaser back toward Aldridge. The hiss of the runabout hatch opening grabbed both of their attention. Zero and Aldridge turned and saw Webber and P’Tal holding Jaroch up in the doorway. “Go away!” Zero shouted, firing at them. Webber and P’Tal dropped Jaroch and dove for cover outside of the runabout.
“Thank you!” Jaroch shouted, laying helpless in the doorfram. Aldridge used the opportunity to leap at Zero. The two of them furiously bashed one another with fists and elbows, cursing violently. Jaroch used his one movable leg to turn his body and push himself towards Aldridge and Zero.
Zero managed to get his right arm free and put the phaser against the side of Aldridge’s head. Aldridge froze. This was not good.
“Playtime is over, Doctor,” Zero gasped. “I have won.” Suddenly, the phaser was snatched out of his hand.
“But it is just getting interesting,” Jaroch said, clutching the phaser in his left hand. His arm was only able to move in jerky motions, but had been enough to grab the phaser. “Step away, Doctor.”
“Gladly,” Aldridge said. She crawled off of Zero, giving him a violent knee to the groin to remember her by as she departed. A moment later, Webber and P’Tal rushed into the runabout.
“Is everyone okay? All of the noise stopped,” Webber said.
“We are fine,” Jaroch said.
“I’m not,” Zero squeaked.
“Who asked you?” Aldridge said.
“I would like to thank you both for dropping me so heroically,” Jaroch said.
“Sorry,” Webber and P’Tal said. “But it did get you out of the line of fire.”
“Exactly how you planned it, I am sure,” Jaroch said. “Now then, P’Tal, if you would so kind as to contact Yynsian Security to take Zero into custody, we can return to the temple to continue The Seratch.”
“Jaroch, there’s a message waiting here for us,” Webber said, looking at the runabout control console.
“Play it, please, Counselor,” Jaroch said.
“Runabout Hudson, this is the Secondprize,” Lieutenant Hawkins’s voice said. “We just wanted to warn you that Rebecca Singer and a man named Zero have escaped from Tantalus Five and stolen the Defiant. They want Doctor Aldridge dead, so stay alert in case one of them comes after you. Secondprize out.”
“Well, that was useful,” Aldridge said.
“Better late than never,” Webber said.
“Yes, but the fact that Singer has the Defiant does not bode well for our colleagues on the Secondprize,” Jaroch said. “We must finish The Seratch so that we can assist them.”
“Fine,” Aldridge said. “But before we get back I have to know, is anybody else expecting a psychopath to come try to kill them? I’ve had enough for one day.”
Travis and Alex looked more than angry. Dillon put his hand in his pocket and fingered his phaser nervously. He’d hate to have to use it under these circumstances, but if he had to, he had to. It would just make it a hell of a lot harder to observe Alex. Rydell was facing an equally bad decision. He didn’t want to have to do what he was about to do, but he couldn’t see any other choice.
“Travis!” he said warmly, walking over to Travis. “How are you doing? It’s been too long!”
“You know him?” Alex asked Travis.
“I know you?” Travis asked Rydell.
“It’s been so long, I’m not surprised that you don’t remember,” Rydell said. “I looked different then anyway. We met about two years ago. I was only in town for about a week. You helped me out a lot.”
“I don’t remember…”
“I’d become separated from my friends and had to get back to them. You helped me out and helped save a relationship in the process. Yes, it was a fine job. Worthy of a captain. You would have at least won second prize.”
Travis looked at Rydell confused. What the hell was this guy talking about? Two years ago? Captain? Second prize? Secondprize! Captain! It all fell into place. Travis’s eyes widened in shock.
“You!” he exclaimed. It had to be Captain Rydell from the future. Travis had almost convinced himself that the week in which Rydell and Alex switched bodies didn’t happen.
Alex spent the whole week unconscious in the future, so he didn’t know a thing about it. He’d convinced himself that he was actually here that week and had just blocked it out because it almost cost him his relationship with Trina.
Travis, on the other hand, had figured out that something was wrong and learned the truth. It was so bizarre though, that over time and with no one to reinforce that it actually had happened, Travis was almost convinced it was a weird dream. Not anymore though. Rydell was back and someone was with him. Someone who Andrea though had thought looked kind of like him. He looked past Rydell to Dillon. Was this his future self?
“So, who is this guy?” Alex asked, bringing Travis back to the situation at hand.
“What? Oh! This is…”
“Tavian Rogers,” Rydell said quickly, extending his hand to Alex. Shaking hands with the body he had been in at one point sent an involuntary shudder down Rydell’s spine. The whole situation was very bizarre. “And this is my associate, Jim Williams,” Rydell continued.
“Charmed,” Dillon said coldly as he shook hands with his twentieth century counterpart.
“So what are you doing in town?” Travis asked.
“And in our apartment?” Alex added.
“We’re building inspectors,” Rydell said. “Just checking to make sure that everything is fine, so that nothing happens to you.” A cold chill shot through Travis.
“Are we in any danger?” Travis asked.
“That’s what we’re here to prevent,” Rydell said. “We’ll be around if you need us. Come on, Jim.” He and Dillon quickly left the bedroom, grabbed their briefcase out of the living room where Craig was sitting listening to the whole conversation, and exited the apartment.
“That was weird,” Alex said. “And just what the hell are building inspectors going to do anyway? They’ll be around if we need them. Big deal. Travis. Travis? Are you in there?”
“Yeah. I’ll be right back. I need to ask Tavian something.”
“What did you do for that guy?” Alex asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” Travis said, walking out of the room. He’d think up some story while he was out.
“Building inspectors?” Craig asked as Travis walked into the living room.
“Yep,” Travis said. “And I know one of them, too. Go figure.” He raced out of the apartment and ran to catch up with Dillon and Rydell, who were walking back toward the main part of campus. “Tavian. Wait up.” Rydell and Dillon stopped and turned around. “What’s going on?” Travis asked. “Why are we in danger?”
“You’re not,” Dillon said. “Alex is.”
“Travis, this is Commander Travis Dillon,” Rydell said.
“So, you are me,” Travis said.
“Thankfully not,” Dillon snapped.
“He’s your descendant,” Rydell told Travis while glaring angrily at Dillon. “But he is correct. Alex is in danger.”
“A woman named Rebecca Singer who used to be on my crew. She’s gone wacko and thinks she’s in love with me. She attacked the Secondprize and then, when that failed, decided to go back in time to do…something. What that is, we’re not sure yet, but since she came to this time, we think it has to do with Alex. In any case, we’re keeping an eye on him.”
“Let me get this straight. A crazy woman from the future is going to kill my best friend and roommate because you won’t go out with her,” Travis said.
“Pretty much,” Rydell said.
“Then take her to dinner or something! Aren’t our lives worth more than your dating preferences?”
“She’s a psycho, you moron,” Dillon said. “We’re trying to protect Alex. If you don’t like it, we can leave and let her kill him.”
“No, we can’t,” Rydell said.
“Oh yeah. That would kill you, too, wouldn’t it?” Dillon said.
“Yes!” Rydell said. “Now, Travis, I’d love to stay and chat, but the less time you spend with us, the better. Alex is bound to get suspicious.”
“So, what can I do?” Travis asked.
“Go the hell home and let us do our jobs,” Dillon said.
“Hey, I can erase you from existence, pal,” Travis said, pointing at his crotch. “Snip snip, no kids, no you!”
“Enough, you two,” Rydell said. “Travis, please go home, and Dillon, shut up!”
“Yes, sir,” the both said grudgingly. Travis turned and headed back to his apartment.
“If you keep this up, I going to send you back to the ship,” Rydell said as he and Dillon continued back towards their hotel room.
“Sorry, he just gets on my nerves,” Dillon said.
“Yeah, and I’m sure that he’s real fond of you too,” Rydell said.
“Excuse me, Gentlemen,” a male voice said from behind them. Dillon and Rydell turned and saw a man dressed in a police uniform. “May I ask what you two have been doing on campus today?”
“This is a public facility,” Rydell said. “Do we need permission to be here?”
“We’ve had reports all day of two men matching your descriptions acting suspiciously.”
“Suspiciously?” Dillon asked.
“Lurking outside of apartments, following students, and there one man was assaulted in a restroom in Webb by a man in a suit.” Rydell shot a quick look at Dillon. Dillon hadn’t mentioned assaulting anyone.
“Officer, I assure you that my colleague and I have done nothing illegal,” Rydell said.
“That’s true,” Dillon said. “We’ve been on campus today as part of our mission.” Rydell glared at him. Mission! What the hell was Dillon doing?
“What kind of mission?” the officer asked incredulously.
“Our holy mission assigned to us from God above!” Dillon said throwing his arms up into the air. “We’re saving souls! Right brother, Rogers?”
“Right,” Rydell said, trying to sound enthusiastically. “Amen, brother Williams.”
“Now, when was the last time you were in church?” Dillon asked the officer.
“Sunday,” the officer said, backing up a bit.
“You were there physically, but where was your mind? Where was your soul?” Dillon said. “Probably off watching television.”
“That’s not true,” the officer said.
“Watch what you say, my brother. The lord knows when you lie,” Dillon said.
“He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake,” Rydell added, remembering the lyrics to a twentieth century song that he hoped was about God. He was pretty sure it was about some kind of supernaturally powerful creature.
“Think about that next time you’re in church,” Dillon said. “Think about why you’re there. Now, go home and read some scripture. God bless you.”
“And bless you,” the officer said walking quickly away. What a couple of quacks!
“Where the hell did that come from?” Rydell asked once the officer was out of earshot.
“Bad television shows,” Dillon replied. “It seemed like as good of an idea as any.”
“I can’t believe it worked, but I won’t argue with results. Unfortunately, this means we’re going to have to watch ourselves on campus. We’ve been attracting way too much attention.”
“I think the suits may be the problem,” Dillon said. “We need to look more casual, so we blend in better.”
“Good idea. And now that we’ve got Alex’s apartment wired, we can limit our surveillance to times when Alex is out and about.”
“At least until the Defiant arrives,” Dillon said. “Then this place could become a shooting gallery.”
“Pleasant thought,” Rydell said.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate…irrelevant. Earth date November 10, 1995. We have been conducting our surveillance of Alex and Travis’s apartment for four days now. So far we have learned three things.
“One, Alex and Travis play a hell of a lot of games. They spend long hours attached to a device called a Super Nintendo.
“Two, they eat a hell of a lot of pizza at strange hours. If I went to sleep with the stuff in my stomach that they do, I’d be a real mess. It’s a wonder that they don’t have severe medical problems.
“Three, Alex’s girlfriend, Trina, is going home to visit her parents this weekend. Of course, Alex does not know that his girlfriend is actually a long-lived alien life-form called Trinian, and she does not know that people from the future are here. I have to wonder, though, if she’s an alien, who are her parents? Are others of her species here on Earth, or is she not really their daughter? Oh well, that’s not my concern.
“But since she is gone this weekend, and Trinian said that she did not remember anything else strange happening to Alex, I am going to conclude that the Defiant shows up this weekend. Otherwise, we’re getting outside of the time frame we calculated for the Defiant’s arrival. Based on their speed and trajectory, the Defiant should arrive by Sunday or not at all.
“If they don’t show up, I have to assume that they screwed something up in their time warp calculations and were destroyed. Starfleet will be extremely upset if this is the case, but it will have made my life a hell of a lot easier. I’m sure they’re going to show up, though. I’m just not lucky enough for them not to come.”
“You know, this trip to the twentieth century would be a lot more exciting if we actually got off campus once in a while,” Commander Dillon said as he and Captain Rydell sat in Webb cafeteria watching Alex, Travis, Craig, and Andrea have lunch.
“But Alex hasn’t gone anywhere,” Rydell said.
“Exactly, that’s the problem,” Dillon replied. “They’ve spent all week going to class and studying.”
“Well, it is college.”
“Exactly! Shouldn’t they be running around doing irresponsible stuff?”
“Did you do anything irresponsible at the Academy?” Rydell asked.
“Of course not. I was top of…”
“Your class. Yes, I know,” Rydell said. “But my point is that there’s no reason these kids should…”
“…be any different,” Rydell finished. He suddenly realized that he was not where he was when he started that sentence. He was sitting at the table with Travis, Craig, Andrea, and…
“Any different than what, Alex?” Travis asked. Rydell looked down at himself, except it wasn’t himself he was looking at. Somehow, the mind switch had happened again. He looked over at the table where his body and Commander Dillon were sitting. His body, presumably with Alex in it, looked back at him, face filled with shock and confusion.
Then, he was staring at Alex’s body from across the room where he should have been all along. He looked down at himself. Yes, he was back in his own body.
“Are you all right, sir?” Dillon asked. “One second you were talking about Alex and Travis, and the next you were talking about someone called Spider-Man.
“I’m fine,” Rydell said. “But I think we may have a new problem developing.”
“Lovely,” Dillon mumbled.
Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins walked into Seven Backward and sat down at a table near the viewports. The view wasn’t all that great considering that the ship wasn’t moving and hiding behind Earth’s moon. But she wasn’t there for the scenery. She sat staring out into space not really seeing any of it. A moment later, Trinian placed a drink down in front of her.
“I didn’t order anything,” Hawkins said.
“No, but I reserve the right to force drinks on anyone I think needs one,” Trinian replied, taking a seat across the table from her.
“I guess a drink will work,” Hawkins said. She picked up the glass of purple liquid and took a sip. “This is really good! What is it?”
“Aldaxian cider. Now what’s wrong with you?”
“You aren’t much for just letting your customers work their way around to telling you their problems, are you?”
“Takes too much time,” Trinian said. “So spill it.” Hawkins took a deep breath and leaned back in her chair.
“There’s a surprise,” Trinian said. “Sorry, keep going.”
“Anyway, we’ve been seeing each other for about a year now, and both of us think it’s time to take the next step. The problem is neither one of us has had the guts to do it.”
“Woah, this is getting way too personal. Your sex life is none of my business.”
“Okay. Here’s what you do. Go to his quarters when he’s on duty. Get into his bed and wait for him to get back. Wear something appropriately provocative and…well, you can handle the rest.”
“I’m not talking about sex here. We’re thinking about moving in together.”
“Oh. In that case, use the same plan, but take all of your stuff with you.”
“Thanks, Trinian,” Hawkins said, finishing her drink. “You make it all sound so simple.”
“That’s because it is simple. You’re just moving in together. No big deal. It’s not like you’re getting married or anything.”
“You’re right. It’s not a big deal,” Hawkins said. She started to leave, then turned back to Trinian. “But why do I have to move all of my stuff to his place?”
“I don’t care which one of you moves. Just do it!” Trinian said.
“Fine,” Hawkins said. “No big deal.” She left Seven Backward mumbling ideas to herself.
“She used to be so normal,” Trinian said.
Commander Scott Baird stepped out of the turbolift onto the mostly deserted bridge. Two ensigns were monitoring operations and tactical, and Lieutenant Sullivan was sitting in the command chair.
“Have you even left the bridge since Captain Rydell gave you command?” Baird asked walking down the ramp to the command area.
“What the hell do you want?” Sullivan said.
“I just asked a question,” Baird said. “I can’t even do that without you starting a fight?”
“Well, after dating you for three months, I know that almost everything you say is an attack. Now answer my question. What are you doing up here?”
“I came to tell whoever was in command that all of the damage we sustained during our encounter with the Defiant has been repaired.”
“I’m in command, and thank you for the information. Dismissed,” Sullivan said.
“Now, wait a second! I am the chief engineer and a commander in Starfleet. As such, you will treat me with respect, Lieutenant.”
“I sure as hell can’t respect you for anything else,” Sullivan said.
“Can we please not do this? I just wanted to know how long you’ve been up here.”
“A couple of hours. So, no, I do not spend all of my time on the bridge.”
“Good, because when the Defiant shows up, we’re going to need an awake and alert commanding officer. If that officer is you, so be it.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s the rest of the crew I’m worried about. They’re bored out of their minds.”
“Tell me about it,” Baird said, sitting down in Commander Dillon’s chair. “They’ve even been taking shore leave on the moon, and it’s not exactly excitement central.”
“What are they doing down there?”
“Moonball. It’s kind of like volleyball, I think. We’ve had to beam down six balls already today. They keep hitting them too hard and knocking them out of the moon’s gravity.”
“This is the exciting life of a Starfleet officer. Your commanders get to romp around on interesting planets while you sit on the ship waiting for your mind to slowly rot.”
“It’s not all bad,” Baird said. “Stellar cartography is getting some great scans of the galaxy in this time period.”
“Good for them,” Sullivan said. “Meanwhile, I sit on the bridge listening to the constant din of beeps and blips and chirps and bleeps from the computers. The only time I don’t have to listen to it is when I’m in my quarters or when Carr is on duty because she spends her entire shift writing and reciting poetry.”
“Or now,” Baird said.
“What about now?”
“You aren’t listening to the beeps and blips now.”
“True,” Sullivan said. “But this isn’t going to get you back on my good side.”
“I’m not trying,” Baird said, standing up. “If you want to be a bitch, you’re more than welcome to it. I have no desire to get in your way.” He walked into a turbolift and was gone.
“You could have at least said goodbye, you bastard,” Sullivan mumbled.
Zero was arrested by the very surprised Yynsian Security force soon after Webber commed them. There hadn’t been much excitement on Yyns for a while, and then in one day, three Starfleet officers and a priestess capture two would-be-murderers.
“Do you people always attract this much trouble?” one of the officers asked as she led Zero away.
“I’m afraid so,” Aldridge said.
“It does seem to happen to us at an alarming rate,” Jaroch said.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” P’Tal said. “My life’s normally pretty boring.”
“I hate you all,” Zero said angrily.
“I’m sure you do,” the officer said. “But the nice folks from Tantalus are going to be here soon to take you home.”
“Goody,” Zero said unenthusiastically as he was put into the back of the security hovervan. “Tell Singer that the deal’s off!” he shouted just before he was shut inside.
“Well, that’s one problem taken care of,” Webber said.
“Yes, unfortunately a significant number of problems remain,” Jaroch said.
“And the top of the list is dealing with your Seratch,” P’Tal said. “Let’s get you back to the temple and resume our efforts. If there are no more interruptions, we should be able to finish this.”
“The sooner, the better. With Rebecca Singer in command of the Defiant, we have no idea what kind of danger the Secondprize is in right now,” Jaroch said.
They raced back to the temple in the hovercar and were soon seated in the chapel again. Jaroch lay down on the altar as Dr. Aldridge prepared another hypospray of nephodopaline.
“I do not wish to have the drug this time, Doctor,” Jaroch said. “I found its paralyzing effects to be disquieting to say the least.”
“All right, then,” P’Tal said. “Jaroch, close your eyes, lie still, and relax. Take the hand of your Tersu, Counselor Webber. She will always be there for you as the hand of comfort on your journey. Now, I want you to let your mind wander back among the life forces of those within you. See their lives and accomplishments, feel their joys and sorrows. Are any of these new to you?”
“Yes,” Jaroch said slowly.
“Describe what you see slowly and calmly. Remember, you are no longer a part of the events you are witnessing,” P’Tal said.
“Long dark hallways. Maze-like. Demons everywhere. Must destroy them to survive.”
“This sounds familiar,” Aldridge said, sitting back in a pew trying to make herself comfortable while she monitored Jaroch’s vital signs on her tricorder.
“Yes, which is good,” P’Tal said. “We were able to get to these memories much more easily this time. We are breaking through to the life, and soon it will be free.”
“P’Tal, he starting to grab my hand tighter,” Webber said. Jaroch was breathing harder, and his head was turning quickly back and forth.
“Calm down, Jaroch. You are detached from these events. They cannot harm you,” P’Tal said.
“I’m right here with you, Jaroch,” Webber said.
“Is there anything else that you can describe for me about your surroundings?” P’Tal asked.
“Small white room,” Jaroch said.
“If he’s seeing demons, it’s probably a padded cell,” Aldridge said.
“Continue, Jaroch,” P’Tal said.
“Small, white room. Screen. Demons everywhere.”
“How can he be in long, dark hallways and a small, white room at the same time?” Aldridge asked.
“Can I talk to him?” Webber said. “I think I’ve got an idea.”
“Go ahead,” P’Tal said. “At this point, I have no idea where he is or how he got there.”
“Jaroch, you said that you can see a screen. Describe it,” Webber said.
“Long, dark hallways. Demons. Lot of demons!”
“Are these on the screen?”
“So, you are actually in the small, white room.”
“Yes. Fighting demons.”
“Are you watching the fight or participating in it?”
“Fighting. Must keep fighting. Almost to the end,” Jaroch said.
“How are you controlling the fight?”
“You…have a pet mouse who fights demons for you?” P’Tal asked, thoroughly confused now.
“And keyboard,” Jaroch added.
“He’s on a damn computer!” Aldridge said. “This isn’t any past life. This is Jaroch remembering some stupid game he was playing.”
“What is your name in this life?” P’Tal asked.
“See, I told you,” Aldridge said. “We haven’t gotten anywhere. He probably just blocked this out because the computer beat him so badly.”
“Carl Jaroch,” Jaroch finished. Webber, Aldridge, and P’Tal looked at Jaroch in shock.
“You were saying, Doctor?” P’Tal said.
“Never mind,” Aldridge said.
Carl Jaroch hadn’t looked at a clock in at least an hour. He knew it was late, but beyond that he didn’t know or didn’t care. He was flying through this game faster than he ever had before.
“Jaroch, are you coming to bed?” his wife, Lisa, asked from the doorway.
“Just a minute, beautiful,” Jaroch said without turning to look at her.
“What game is this?” Lisa asked
“Doom,” Jaroch said.
“Haven’t you beaten this already?”
“Yes, but I’m doing it again. It’s going really well. I’ve almost finished the whole game.”
“I’m very happy for you, but save it and come to bed. It’s Friday night, and we’ve hardly spent any time together.”
“We were together earlier.”
“We were watching The X-Files,” Lisa said. “That doesn’t exactly count. I have to work all day tomorrow. Aren’t you planning to spend that time playing video games with Alex and Travis until your eyes fall out?”
Jaroch turned to look at his wife of seven months. He hadn’t noticed what she was wearing. His stunned silence told Lisa that the outfit had had its desired effect.
“Good point,” he said quickly.
“Now, come to bed,” she said seductively, walking over to him in her skin-tight black leather cat-suit. “Or I’m going to get very upset.”
Jaroch switched off the computer without even looking at it, much less bothering to save his game.
Captain Rydell woke up feeling like hell, which was not exactly anything new. He found that the entire idea of waking up was extremely overrated. Attempting to pull himself together, he rolled over and surveyed his surroundings. It was light outside, and Dillon was sitting in a chair across their hotel room from him watching television with the volume almost all the way down.
“What’s going on?” Rydell asked.
“I found out who that Spider-Man person that Alex mentioned yesterday is,” Dillon said pointing at the television. A cartoon was on showing a figure in red and blue tights swinging around a city. “He’s some kind of superhero.”
“Thanks for that vital news flash,” Rydell said, climbing out of bed. “How are Alex and Travis this fine morning?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t checked,” Dillon said.
“If they have any sense, they’re still asleep,” Rydell said, walking over to the surveillance equipment. Travis and Alex were not in their beds. Rydell quickly checked the other monitors. Travis and Alex weren’t anywhere in the apartment.
“Are they sleeping?” Dillon asked.
“They’re gone,” Rydell said.
“What? Where did they go?” Dillon said, rushing over to Rydell.
“I don’t know. I’m checking the logs, though.” Images of the empty apartment flashed by, then Travis and Alex walked into the apartment backwards, took off their coats, and went back to their bedroom. Rydell let the recording play.
“Alex, we’re going to be late,” Travis said.
“I’m almost ready,” Alex replied.
“You’re the one who wanted to get there before Spider-Man started.”
“All right. All right.” The two of them walked out into the living room and put their coats on.
“Who’s driving?” Travis asked.
“I will,” Alex said. “Did Carl want us to bring anything with us?”
“I don’t think so.”
“All right. Let’s roll.” Alex and Travis walked out of the apartment.
“Great. They went to Jaroch’s” Rydell said, switching off the recording.
“They went to Jaroch’s? How…”
“There’s a Jaroch in this century, too,” Rydell said, cutting Dillon off. “His name’s Carl Jaroch.”
“And Alex and Travis are there now. What are we going to do?”
“Take Travis’s car and go after them,” Rydell said. “Come on. We’ve got to get over to Alex and Travis’s apartment.”
Fifteen minutes later, Rydell and Dillon rushed into apartment AA6 completely out of breath. Rydell staggered back to the bedroom and switched on Alex’s computer.
“What are you doing?” Dillon asked.
“I’m going to access the university computer network to get Jaroch’s address. See if Travis has spare keys to his car anywhere.”
“Why would he have spare keys?” Dillon said.
“Just start looking.”
“Do it!” During this shouting, neither man noticed the slight chirping of their commbadges in their pants pockets.
Dillon pulled out his tricorder and started scanning for metal while Rydell used his tricorder and Alex’s modem to access the school’s computer system. Very quickly, he was able to download Jaroch’s address.
“Got it,” Rydell said standing up from the computer.
“Got them,” Dillon said, pulling a set of keys out of Travis’s top dresser drawer.
“Good. The tricorder will cross-reference Jaroch’s address with the map of Norfolk and show us how to get there.”
“Not to mess up a great plan or anything, but how are we going to find Travis’s car?” Dillon asked. “All we know from these keys is that it’s got something to do with Ford. Now, if I remember correctly, Ford was a manufacturer of automobiles, but we still don’t know what the car looks like or what color it is or…”
“Okay okay,” Rydell said. “Let’s see…everyone on campus has a parking tag hanging from their rear-view mirror, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so. So what?”
“Well, if they all have these tags, there’s probably some record system of who has cars on campus, which should include information about the vehicle,” Rydell explained as he sat back down at Alex’s computer and got to work. A few moments later, he had the information.
“Now all we have to do is search the parking lot until we find a Ford Escort, whatever that is, with a Maryland tag and this license plate number,” Dillon said.
“There’s no easier way?”
“I’m afraid not,” Rydell said. “Let’s go.”
“Report, Ensign,” Lieutenant Sullivan said as she nervously ran her hands along the armrests of the command chair.
“The temporal disturbance is definitely getting stronger,” Ensign Carr said as an image of the sun shone on the viewscreen. “It certainly seems to be the result of a slingshot maneuver.”
“Damn. Any response to our hail, Lieutenant Hawkins?”
“Not yet,” Hawkins replied from tactical.
“Lieutenant Sullivan, there’s a ship coming out of the disturbance,” Carr said.
“Guess who,” Sullivan mumbled. At that moment, Commander Baird stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge.
“It’s the Defiant,” Carr said.
“No shit,” Baird said.
“If you’re up here to do something, do it and shut the hell up,” Sullivan snapped at Baird.
“Excuse the fuck out of me,” Baird said as he activated the engineering console at the rear of the bridge. “I’ll just stay back here out of the way.”
“Hawkins, recall any crewmembers still on the moon back to the ship,” Sullivan said. “Hopefully, the Defiant won’t notice us until we’ve contacted the captain.”
“You haven’t told the captain yet!” Baird exclaimed.
“We haven’t been able to reach him,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to tell him as soon as we can. Until then, we’re going to stay here and not give ourselves away. I am not taking the Secondprize into combat with the Defiant without explicit orders from Captain Rydell.”
“Hey, fine by me. I don’t think you have the combat skills to swat flies much less coordinate a battle in space,” Baird said.
“I’ll kick your ass any day,” Sullivan said.
“Could you two have this fight later?” Hawkins asked. “We kind of have to worry about psychopaths flying heavily armed spaceships right now.”
“Fine,” Sullivan said. “What’s the Defiant’s status?”
“They’re entering Earth’s orbit,” Carr replied.
“None of their shields or weapons systems are activated,” Hawkins said. “They aren’t showing any sign that they’ve noticed us.”
“Good. Let’s hope it stays that way,” Sullivan said. “Bridge to transporter room.”
“Vaughn here. What’s up, Emily?” Lieutenant Monica Vaughn asked.
“Is everyone back on board?”
“Well, except for Captain Rydell, Commander Dillon, yes.”
“Is everything okay up there?” Vaughn asked.
“We may all be about to die,” Sullivan replied. “I’ll keep you informed. Bridge out.”
“So now what do we do?” Carr asked.
“We wait,” Sullivan, Hawkins, and Baird said in unison.
“So, Doctor Rebecca, how are you going to find your Alex?” Gruver asked once the Defiant had established orbit.
“That’s the easy part,” Singer replied walking over to one of the computer consoles on the Defiant’s bridge. “See, two years ago when Captain Rydell was sent back to the twentieth century, the twentieth century version of him was sent to our time. I performed scans of his brain waves, which should still be a part of the mission log.” Singer scanned through the information the Defiant downloaded from the Secondprize until she found what she was after.
“See. There it is,” she said, pointing at the chart of wavy lines that she brought up onto the monitor. “Now, since we sent this Alex back into a body where my Alex already was, these probably became the dominant wave signature, trapping my poor Alex inside him while some evil duplicate masqueraded as him in our time. Are you following me?”
“No. Not at all,” Gruver said happily.
“It doesn’t matter,” Singer said. “I’m just going to go grab this Alex, bring him back here, and wipe his mind until I find my Alex.”
“Okay,” Gruver said.
“Stay here and keep an eye on things,” Singer said, walking toward a turbolift. “I’m taking a shuttle down to the surface.”
“If the Secondprize shows up, destroy it.”
Lieutenant Commander Jaroch lay still on the altar as he allowed his faculties to come fully into focus. P’Tal had brought him out of The Seratch trance only a few moments before, and the flood of memories and feelings associated with this newly-discovered past life were still assimilating themselves into his consciousness. It was a lot to take in.
“This is unprecedented,” P’Tal said, pacing back and forth in front of the altar. “Never in the history of Yyns has a past life from another planet been found. This is extraordinary. Unbelievable! That would also explain why we had so much trouble bringing that life to the surface. The cross-species nature of The Seratch caused…”
“We must leave,” Jaroch said, sitting up quickly.
“Jaroch, this is important,” P’Tal said. “I’m trying to understand how what just happened is possible.”
“Right now, I do not care,” Jaroch said. “You can figure it out after we leave. Counselor Webber, Doctor Aldridge, and I must be on our way now! Come on.” He leapt off the altar and raced out of the chapel.
“Thanks for all your help,” Webber said to P’Tal as she chased after Jaroch.
“Yeah, it’s been great,” Aldridge added as she pursued the others.
“Ungrateful idiot,” P’Tal mumbled.
“Jaroch! Jaroch! Wait up,” Webber called as she ran to catch up. Jaroch stopped and turned around to face her. “What’s wrong?”
“I will explain later,” Jaroch said. “You just need to trust me that it is urgent that we get underway now.”
“All right,” Webber said.
“You are not going to argue with me?” Jaroch asked.
“Why would I?”
“I do not know. I am just used to it considering that is what almost everyone else does.”
“I trust you,” Webber said. “I’ll meet you downstairs in five minutes.”
True to her word, Webber was in the parking facility below the temple five minutes later. Jaroch was already there when she arrived, and P’Tal and Dr. Aldridge showed up very soon thereafter.
They were all quiet on the drive back to the main parking facility where the runabout was waiting. Jaroch seemed lost in thought and concerned about something. Webber wanted to take his hand again and assure him that everything was all right, but, if the look on Jaroch’s face was any indication, things were not all right.
Once they arrived at the runabout, Webber and Aldridge entered the craft while P’Tal held Jaroch back to talk to him.
“I am sorry that we must race off like this, sister,” Jaroch said before P’Tal could speak. “But the situation is such that…”
“It does not matter,” P’Tal said. “I understand that you value the lives of your friends on the Secondprize. But Jaroch, you must talk to your friend, Counselor Webber, about the woman you told me about. She can help you.”
“I am not accustomed to revealing my feelings to my crewmates,” Jaroch said.
“I think in this case you should make an exception.”
“Counselor Webber has been helpful to me in the past. I will talk to her,” Jaroch said.
“Good. Deal with this problem before you bring on another Seratch or a heart attack or worse,” P’Tal said. “Goodbye, my brother.”
“Goodbye, my sister. Give my regards to our parents.”
“They’re going to be really upset that you didn’t stop by to see them.”
“I will visit the next time I am on Yyns. I promise.”
“Yeah, well try not to be such a stranger,” P’Tal said. “We miss you…even though you act like a stuck up Vulcan most of the time.”
“I love you, too, sister,” Jaroch said. “Goodbye.” He walked into the runabout and closed the hatch. A few moments later, the vessel lifted up from the parking area and moved away from P’Tal.
“We’ve cleared the Yyns system,” Counselor Webber reported from the pilot’s chair.
“Good,” Jaroch said. “Set a course for sector zero zero one and engage at maximum warp.”
“Why are we going to Earth?” Dr. Aldridge demanded.
“I will tell you shortly,” Jaroch said. “But first, would you be so kind as to take over piloting duties so that I may talk to Counselor Webber?”
“Sure. I guess,” Aldridge said, moving into the pilot’s seat that Webber vacated.
“Counselor, could you join me in the conference area?” Jaroch asked.
“Hey, you two aren’t having a party without me, are you?” Aldridge asked.
“No, Doctor. I just require Counselor Webber’s advice,” Jaroch said.
“I can give advice,” Aldridge replied.
“Yes, but I would put the usefulness of that advice somewhere just in front of that of Commander Dillon’s or Commander Baird’s.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“You are a bit abrasive and cynical,” Jaroch said.
“I am, aren’t I?” Aldridge said smiling.
“What can I do for you, Jaroch?” Webber asked once she and Jaroch had sat down in the conference are at the rear of the runabout.
“Several months ago, you assisted me in returning my past lives to their appropriate place in my consciousness when I was dealing with a problem. I did not, however, tell you what that problem was. I believe that that decision was in error.”
“Jaroch, if you weren’t comfortable talking to me about it, that’s fine,” Webber said.
“Thank you, but I now feel that I need to talk to someone I trust. You are that person.”
“I’d be honored, Jaroch,” Webber said. “If I can help you in any way, I will.”
“Well…I…this is difficult. I have found that over the past year I have developed…feelings for a member of the Secondprize crew.”
“Jaroch! That’s wonderful!”
“Not really. She is currently in a relationship with the most annoying, officious ignoramus that I have ever had the misfortune of encountering.”
“You’re in love with Patricia Hawkins!” Webber exclaimed.
“Love may be too strong of a term, but the general conclusion is correct,” Jaroch said.
“How did this happen?”
“I believe that it first started when she, without my assistance, was able to find Captain Rydell after he was kidnapped by Zero. I respect intelligence and ingenuity. After that, we have been together on various missions and in various situations. Throughout all of these, my admiration of her has grown.”
“And you haven’t told her,” Webber said.
“No. I have not. I have wanted to, but deciding whether or not it would be appropriate has been difficult. It was this very dilemma which caused my past lives to express their opinions so forcefully in your office a couple of months ago.”
“So you feel that if you tell her, she may reject you in favor of Commander Dillon.”
“An indignity that I could not bear,” Jaroch said. “To think that Dillon could end up with such a woman as Patricia Hawkins is appalling.”
“We’ve been saying that ever since they started seeing each other,” Webber said. “But the fact is that they seem to love each other very much. Patricia sees something in him that the rest of us don’t.”
“She must,” Jaroch said.
“And you’re jealous.”
“Jealous. Me…jealous of Commander Dillon. Unfortunately, that is the horrifying truth. My dislike of him has grown into an intense hatred because she is with him and not with me.”
“Then you had better get this out into the open soon before you haul off and kill Dillon. Patricia would not be too pleased if you did that.”
“You do have a point, but what if she rejects me?”
“Then you go on with your life. There are many other women out there, Jaroch.”
“But to lose to Dillon…”
“This isn’t about losing to Dillon. Patricia is not a prize to be won. She is a person that you presumably care about. If you want her just because Dillon’s got her, you’ve got some major problems to deal with.”
“Very true. I am sorry, Claire. Thank you.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“That remains to be seen, but I do think that it is time that I informed Doctor Aldridge and yourself as to our destination.” Jaroch stood up and walked to the cockpit followed by Webber.
“My most recent past life is that of a man named Carl Jaroch, who lived from the latter part of the twentieth century through about half of the twenty-first century,” Jaroch said as Webber and Aldridge listened.
“Yeah, we know all this,” Aldridge said.
“Additionally, Carl Jaroch attended college at a place called Old Dominion University.”
“Oh no,” Webber said.
“What? What am I missing here?” Aldridge said.
“Two years ago, Captain Rydell was involved in an accident which caused him to swap bodies with an Alex Rydell, who was a college student at Old Dominion University in the late twentieth century,” Jaroch explained. “In fact, Carl Jaroch’s work is what caused the body swap to occur.”
“So your past life knew that Alex Rydell?” Webber asked.
“Yes, they were good friends,” Jaroch said. “And that is why we must go to the twentieth century ourselves.”
“Wait a minute,” Aldridge said. “I missed a link in the logic somewhere.”
“I have Carl Jaroch’s memories,” Jaroch said. “And I have seen what happens in the past. Carl Jaroch, Alex Rydell, and Travis Dillon are in great danger from the Rebecca Singer of our time.”
“Singer! Oh great!” Aldridge said. “It’s bad enough that she…”
“You can rant later, Doctor,” Jaroch interrupted. “There is more. Our Captain Rydell and Commander Dillon are there as well, and they are equally in danger. If we do not go to the past and rescue them, they will all die. And their future, our present, will be radically altered.”
“That wouldn’t be good,” Aldridge said.
“Definitely not,” Webber said.
“Once we arrive at sector zero zero one, we will slingshot around Earth’s sun and attempt to rescue our colleagues,” Jaroch said.
“Is that safe in a runabout?” Webber asked.
“Probably not, but we will deal with that when we get there.”
“If we get there,” Aldridge said solemnly.
Dillon and Rydell walked past yet another row of automobiles in their search for Travis’s car, the elusive Ford Escort. They were starting to run out of options. As it was, they were in an unpaved parking lot fairly far away from the apartments.
“I don’t believe it,” Rydell said, looking at a small, grey car.
“What is it?” Dillon asked.
“This is the right car.”
“Thank goodness,” Dillon said, pulling the keys out of his pocket and walking to the driver’s side.
“What are you doing?” Rydell said.
“I thought we were going after Alex and Travis,” Dillon said confused.
“We are, but you aren’t driving.”
“Why not? I believe that I have studied the twentieth century and its forms of transportation more than you have,” Dillon said.
“That may be, but have you ever actually driven?”
“In a holodeck.”
“But not in reality.”
“I have. Give me the keys, Commander.”
“Yes, sir,” Dillon said, grudgingly as he put the keys into Rydell’s hand.
Rydell unlocked his door, got inside the car, and let Dillon in. It had been two years since he had to drive to a place called the mall in Alex’s car, but he still thought he could do it. He looked around at the dashboard and gearshift. This could be a problem; the gearshift was completely different. Commander Baird had taught him how to drive a stick shift car, but this was apparently a different type.
“It’s an automatic transmission,” Dillon said, noticing Rydell’s look of confusion.
“Should I drive?”
“I can do it. Just tell me how it works. I drove a stick shift before.”
“Well, this is easier,” Dillon said. “You don’t have to change gears. All you do is put the gearshift in the appropriate place and go.”
“So what do these letters mean?” Rydell asked, pointing at the letters alongside the gearshift.
“P is park, R is reverse, N is neutral, D is forward, and I have no idea about the two and the one.”
“Wait a minute. D is forward?”
“Yes,” Dillon said firmly.
“Okay. I’ll take your word for it,” Rydell said, putting the key in the ignition and starting the motor.
Alone on the Defiant, Gruver started looking for something to keep him busy. He checked the damage control system again to see if perhaps there was anything he could fix. The cloaking device was slightly damaged, but way beyond his expertise. The phasers, on the other hand, weren’t as bad off as he thought. All he’d have to do is make a few minor repairs down in the phaser control room, and they’d be good as new. The Defiant would have full weapons capability back. Doctor Rebecca would be so pleased.
Rebecca Singer steered the Defiant’s microshuttle in for a landing in a secluded area on the outskirts of Norfolk. Once on the ground, she rechecked her scans. A brainwave signature matching those of Alex Rydell was nearby. She just needed to get an exact lock on the position.
The shuttle’s scanners soon obliged her by providing the coordinates that she needed. Alex Rydell was very close by and seemed to be staying in one place.
Singer grabbed one of the emergency transporter armbands from the shuttle’s survival kit and programmed the shuttle’s escape transporter with the proper coordinates. Soon, Alex would be hers again.
Gruver returned to the Defiant’s bridge feeling very pleased with himself. The phaser repair had taken even less time than he thought it would. Playing with the pretty colored wires was so fun that it went real fast.
On the viewscreen, the image of Earth’s moon was rolling lazily by. Suddenly, Gruver noticed something that looked like light glinting off of metal.
“Who is our new friend?” Gruver said, sitting down at the science console and focusing the ship’s sensors on the spot. It was a comm buoy. And not anything that humans would have had in this timeframe. “Well hello there, little guy! Are you lost?” he exclaimed. He did a sweep with the sensors. Nothing was around Earth, but by the planet’s moon he spotted several small spheres. According to the sensors, they were…
“Balls?” Gruver said confused.
Somebody was having playtime without him, and he had a pretty good idea who. The Secondprize was playing hide and seek behind the moon, but Gruver had found it. Remembering Doctor Rebecca’s orders, he broke orbit and prepared to attack.
Rydell and Dillon had been on the road for almost twenty minutes without either of them saying a word.
“You know, that D could stand for drive,” Dillon said, breaking the silence.
“Or dunce,” Rydell said. They both heard a faint chirping coming from their pants pockets. “Could you answer that, Dillon? I’m trying to drive.”
“No problem,” Dillon said, pulling his commbadge out of his pocket. “Dillon here,” he said, tapping the badge.
“Travis, thank God,” Lieutenant Hawkins’s voice said. “We’ve been trying to get a hold of you for almost an hour.”
“We didn’t hear anything,” Dillon said.
“We were trying,” Hawkins said. “If you didn’t hear it…”
“What’s the problem, Lieutenant?” Rydell asked, interrupting them.
“Oh yeah, the Defiant’s here,” Hawkins said.
“Shit!” Rydell said. “How long ago did they arrive?”
“Almost an hour ago,” Hawkins said. “That’s why we tried to contact you. A microshuttle left the Defiant several minutes ago headed for the surface. Our scans showed one human life-form on board.”
“Let me guess…Singer,” Rydell said.
“That’s our guess,” Hawkins replied.
“Joy. Lieutenant Sullivan, what is your status?” Rydell asked.
“The Secondprize is still holding position behind the moon,” Sullivan said. “So far, the Defiant doesn’t appear to have seen us, but…Oh no.”
“What’s oh no?” Rydell demanded.
“The Defiant is headed this way,” Sullivan said. “Shields up, Lieutenant. Bring all weapons on line. Carr, take the helm. We’re going to need an experienced pilot. Captain, I’ve got to go. We’ll contact you when we can. Secondprize out.”
“I should be up there,” Rydell said.
“There’s not a lot we can do now,” Dillon said. “Besides, Singer is now down here and probably looking for Alex.”
“Let’s just hope that she doesn’t find him before we do,” Rydell said.
“Then drive faster.”
Weekends were the true joy of any college student. Two days off with nothing to do other than the occasional bit of homework. But homework was a matter to be dealt with on Sundays. Saturdays, however, were a time to do absolutely nothing constructive.
This was exactly what Alex, Travis, and Carl Jaroch were doing with their Saturday. The three of them sat huddled around the television in Jaroch’s living room playing video games and uttering obscenities as things didn’t go their way.
“No! Dammit! You were supposed to block!” Travis yelled at the uncaring remains of his on-screen fighter.
“You want to go for another round?” Carl Jaroch asked happily. He had just soundly trounced Travis in a game of Battle Arena Toshinden.
“Only if it’s Mortal Kombat,” Travis said.
“But you always win that one.”
“Exactly,” Travis said.
“I’ll fight you, Carl,” Alex said, taking Travis’s place and game controller.
“Hey, feel free,” Travis said, standing up. “Have you got anything to drink around here?”
“Check the fridge,” Carl said without looking away from the television screen. Travis picked his way through the papers and books scattered about the living room of Carl’s apartment and entered the small kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, he didn’t see anything that looked too enticing.
“Find anything?” Carl called from the other room.
“I think I’ll just have some water,” Travis said.
“Suit yourself, but the water around here taste really salty,” Carl said.
“Never mind,” Travis said. He was about to walk out of the kitchen when he heard a soft hum that was quickly increasing in volume. Suddenly, a cascade of blue particles appeared in front of him, blocking his path to the living room.
“Uh…guys,” Travis said nervously.
The particles formed themselves into a woman holding a device that looked remarkably like a weapon. Rebecca Singer had arrived and found her beloved Alex.
“Bring all engines on line,” Sullivan ordered as she watched the image of the Defiant growing larger on the viewscreen. “Get us out of here.”
“What course?” Carr asked.
“Head towards the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter,” Sullivan said. The Secondprize rocked violently as a phaser barrage from the Defiant slammed into the shields.
“Shields holding,” Hawkins said.
“Good. Send them a couple of photon torpedoes in response,” Sullivan ordered. Hawkins activated the Secondprize’s rear photon torpedo tubes as the starship headed away from the moon.
“We missed. The Defiant is in pursuit,” Hawkins said.
“You’re going to get us fucking killed!” Baird said.
“Shouldn’t you be in engineering or something?” Sullivan said.
“And leave you alone up here to kill us? I don’t think so,” Baird said.
“Carr, whip us around Mars so that we’re heading straight toward the Defiant,” Sullivan said.
“You’re going to attack them head on?” Baird said.
“Shut up,” Sullivan said. The Secondprize, using Mars’ gravity well as a slingshot, sailed around Mars and was soon headed straight towards the rapidly approaching Defiant. “Fire all weapons!”
A barrage of phasers and photons erupted from both ships, pounding their shields mercilessly.
“Shields down to seventy-five percent!” Hawkins said. “Light damage to the sensors and comm system.”
“What about the Defiant?”
“I don’t know,” Hawkins said. The ship rocked again from more weapons fire.
“I think they’re doing just fine,” Baird said.
“Playtime’s over boys,” Singer said, taking a step toward Alex and Carl. She didn’t notice Travis behind her. He attempted to sneak forward and grab her from behind, but tripped over a shoe on the floor. He fell past Singer and hit the floor with a thud.
“Hi,” Travis said weakly as Singer aimed the phaser down at him.
“Get over there with the others,” Singer said, gesturing toward Alex and Carl.
“No problem,” Travis said, crawling quickly over to his friends.
“Nice form,” Alex mumbled.
“The landing was great,” Carl said.
“I hate you both,” Travis said.
Captain Rydell pulled the car off of the main road into The Birches apartment complex.
“According to the tricorder, Carl’s apartment should be just off to the right here,” Dillon said.
“Not a problem,” Rydell said. Suddenly, his eyes widened with fear, and his hands clenched the steering wheel tightly. “What the fuck?!?” he screamed. Dillon grabbed the wheel to prevent them from slamming into a parked car. A second later, Rydell was fine again.
“What happened?” Dillon asked, gasping.
“Mind swap,” Rydell said. “I was in Carl’s apartment. Singer is there, and she’s got Alex, Travis, and Carl.”
“Well, Alex was a bit surprised to find himself behind the wheel of a car, I guess,” Dillon said. “He almost killed us.”
“We’ve got bigger problems right now. We have to get into that apartment before Singer does anything.” Rydell pulled Travis’s Escort into a parking space in front of Carl’s apartment and got out of the car cautiously.
“There are four life forms inside,” Dillon said, scanning the apartment with his tricorder. “Three are near the window over there, and one is a bit farther back into the room.”
“We’re going in,” Rydell said, pulling out his phaser. Dillon put the tricorder away and drew his phaser as well. They crept up to the front door, and Rydell slowly tested the doorknob. It was unlocked.
“On three,” he whispered. “One…two…three.” Rydell threw the door open and charged inside at the same time as Dillon. The two of them banged into each other as they tried to get through the door frame and fell to the floor in a heap.
Singer turned quickly and saw Rydell and Dillon by the front door trying to pull themselves to their feet.
“I don’t want you here,” Singer said, firing her phaser. Rydell and Dillon dove to opposite sides of the small entrance hall, just avoiding the phaser blast. They returned fire, forcing Singer to retreat into the kitchen.
“Are you guys all right?” Rydell shouted.
“Yes,” Travis said. A phaser blast from Singer flew just over Travis’s head. “But not for long!” Rydell and Dillon cautiously moved forward into the living room. Suddenly, Singer dove out of the kitchen firing her phaser. A bolt slammed into Rydell’s chest, knocking him to the floor.
“Shit!” Travis, Alex, and Carl shouted in unison. Frightened, they ran for the front door, knocking Dillon out of the way as they made their escape.
“Come back here, Alex,” Singer called, running over Dillon. “I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to wipe your mind.”
Rushing out into the parking lot, Travis’s attention was grabbed by something in that he wasn’t expecting.
“Hey! That’s my car!” he said, pointing at his Escort.
“We really don’t have time for this now,” Alex said, grabbing him by his sleeve and pulling him toward Alex’s car.
“What the hell is going on?” Carl demanded.
“I don’t know!” Alex shouted back as he fumbled for his keys to unlock the car. Singer ran out of the apartment and fired, missing Alex by a centimeter.
“Run!” Alex screamed. He, Travis, and Jaroch took off at top speed across the parking lot.
“I think she wants to kill us!” Carl said.
“Obviously,” Alex said. “Travis, what’s going on?”
“Those two guys and the crazy woman are from the future. They’re here to prevent her from killing you!” Travis said.
“Did you hit your head on the way outside?” Carl said.
“I’m not kidding. How would you explain the transporters and phasers? We’re in a damn Star Trek episode!”
“Come back here!” Singer shouted from behind them. “I love you, Alex!”
“Head to the mall!” Carl shouted, as they left the parking lot and entered a wooded area. “It’s just through here.”
“Yeah, there’s a lot of people there. She’ll never be able to get us,” Alex said.
“Unless she shoots everybody,” Travis said. A phaser blast slammed into the tree he was running past. “Which may be a distinct possibility.”
Dillon picked himself up off of the floor and rushed over to Rydell’s fallen body. Rydell was still breathing, thankfully. Singer had just stunned him.
“Captain. Captain,” Dillon said, slapping Rydell on the sides of his face. “Wake up. We’ve got to go.”
“Captain!” Dillon slapped Rydell as hard as he could.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Rydell shouted, snapping awake and holding his jaw.
“I had to get you up. Alex and the others ran for it. Singer is right behind them.”
“Great,” Rydell said as Dillon helped him up. They raced out into the parking lot. Alex, Carl, Travis, and Singer were nowhere in sight.
“Where’d they go?” Dillon asked.
“I have no idea,” Rydell said in disgust.
Suddenly, he was running toward a large building that looked familiar. It was the mall that he and Dillon had passed as they were driving to Jaroch’s.
“I sure hope she slows down soon,” Travis gasped beside him. “I can’t keep this up much longer.”
Then, Rydell was back beside Dillon again. He ran to Travis’s car and leapt inside.
“Come on!” Rydell shouted.
“Where are we going?” Dillon asked, climbing into the car beside Alex.
“The mall. They’re headed toward the mall.” Rydell started the engine and peeled out of the parking lot as fast as the little Escort would go.
“This isn’t looking good,” Hawkins said, holding desperately onto the tactical console to keep from falling. The ship lurched to port again.
“The Defiant’s still right behind us,” Carr said. “I can’t lose them.”
“How long until we get to the asteroid belt?” Sullivan said.
“Twenty seconds,” Carr said. The ship lurched again as the power flickered.
“Shields at twenty five percent,” Hawkins said. “The Defiant’s shields are still holding.”
“Return fire,” Sullivan said. She had to do something and fast. This old Excelsior class starship was no match for the Defiant. In a conventional exchange of weapons fire, the Defiant would blast them to atoms before they could even get the Defiant’s shields down.
The asteroid belt was their only hope right now. It would give them a chance to evade the Defiant’s weapons and, hopefully, come up with a way to defeat them.
Alex, Travis, and Carl ran into Greenbriar Mall and started frantically searching for a security guard. They found one standing near a bank down a corridor on the lower level of the mall.
“Officer…officer,” Alex gasped.
“Help,” Carl said.
“Woman chasing us,” Travis finished.
“What the hell are you boys talking about?” the guard asked, annoyed that he was being bothered by three lunatics. His annoyance was quickly ended as a stun blast from down the corridor knocked him unconscious.
“You can’t keep running from me like this!” Singer shouted.
“We’re sure going to try!” Alex replied as he, Travis, and Carl took off running again.
Rydell and Dillon ran into the mall, looking around for any sign of Alex and the others. A scream a little ways away told them that they were getting closer. They rushed out into the main concourse of the mall just as a phaser blast down the way slammed into a store window. Rydell could just make out Singer pushing her way through the crowd with Alex, Travis, and Carl just a short distance ahead of her.
“This is not going to be easy,” Dillon said.
“No kidding,” Rydell said. “Let’s just hope we get to Singer before this century’s law enforcement does. I’d hate to have to get her and a phaser away from them before the Prime Directive is too badly screwed.”
“I think it’s pretty badly screwed already,” Dillon said as he and Rydell charged forward into the crowd.
“Now entering the asteroid field,” Carr reported. Sullivan stood up from the command chair and started pacing the bridge.
“Get us behind some cover,” Sullivan said. “Keep asteroids between us and the Defiant.” She had to think. Several floating chunks of rock were all that was standing between the Secondprize and destruction.
“The Defiant has also entered the asteroid field,” Lieutenant Hawkins said. Great, now both ships were weaving their way through large, dangerous chunks of rock. Wait a minute. That could be the answer.
“Hawkins, stand-by on the tractor beam,” Sullivan ordered. “Carr, bring us in beside the Defiant if you can.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Carr said. The Secondprize moved around until the side of the Defiant was in view.
“They’re turning toward us,” Hawkins said.
“Lock tractor beam on the nearest asteroid and throw it at them,” Sullivan said.
“What?” Hawkins said.
“You heard me. Just do it.”
“All right.” Hawkins activated the tractor beam and pulled an asteroid three times the Defiant’s size directly into the Defiant’s path. “Collision,” Hawkins reported. “Their shields have weakened.”
“But so have our power reserves,” Baird said from the rear of the bridge. “We can’t do this too many more times without blowing some major power conduits or completely overloading the tractor beam.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sullivan said.
“The Defiant is closing,” Hawkins said.
“Full reverse. Pull another asteroid in front of us.” The Secondprize’s tractor beam moved an asteroid directly in front of the Defiant, completely obscuring the bridge crew’s view of the approaching vessel. The asteroid suddenly exploded, throwing debris everywhere.
“They blew it up,” Hawkins said. “We sustained minor damage, but the Defiant took the brunt of the blast.”
“Well, that’s good news.”
“Not really. They’re now right on top of us,” Hawkins said.
“Get us out of here!” Sullivan shouted.
“Okay! Okay!” Carr screamed. “I’m trying!” The Secondprize slowly moved between two large asteroids, cutting off the Defiant’s chances to attack them. Carr noticed a minor flashing in the upper corner of her console. While steering the Secondprize with one hand, she checked into the flashing light with the other.
“Use another asteroid to block off the Defiant’s path,” Sullivan ordered as Carr discovered what was the monitor was detecting.
“I’m already working on it,” Hawkins said.
“What is it, Ensign?” Sullivan snapped.
“There’s another temporal disturbance building up near the sun,” Carr said
“It looks like it could be,” Carr said.
“Who else would be coming here?” Hawkins asked.
“I don’t know, but I sure hope they’re on our side,” Baird said. “We need the help.”
“You aren’t being very positive here,” Sullivan said.
“Well, I’m sorry, but the forward tractor beam just went out, and the rear one is close to overloading as well.” The ship shook again as the asteroid in front of them exploded.
“Shields down to fifteen percent,” Hawkins said. The clearing dust cloud of the asteroid remains revealed the Defiant headed straight toward them.
“Get us out of here,” Sullivan said. “Lay in a course towards the sun. Full impulse.” That ship entering this time period had better be friendly, or this was going to be one short escape.
Singer blasted a few more annoying shoppers blocking her path and looked ahead for Alex. He was running up an escalator followed by his two friends.
“Rebecca! Rebecca! Stop! We can talk about this,” Rydell’s voice called from behind her.
“There’s nothing to talk about, you evil twisted monster!” Singer shouted, firing a few blasts behind her. She raced for the escalator before Alex ran out of view.
Rydell and Dillon dodged the phaser blasts and raced forward towards the escalator.
“Why the hell are they going upstairs?” Dillon said. “There’s nowhere to run to up there.”
“You’re talking about a bunch of scared civilians,” Rydell said. “They probably aren’t planning their next move. They just don’t want to get shot.”
“Why the hell did we come up here?” Alex shouted once they were at the top of the escalator.
“Hey, we were following you,” Carl said.
“Do I look like I’m in command here?” Alex said. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
“Neither do we,” Travis said. “But I suggest we move. She’s gaining on us fast.” On cue, a phaser blast ripped past Travis’s head.
“We’ve got to find a place to hide,” Alex said.
“Come on,” Carl said, running off down the mall. “I’ve got an idea.” Carl led them to what looked like a solid bit of wall. A sign on it said “Coming Soon Just For You: Another Fabulous Store.” Jaroch went to the edge of the wall section and pulled up the edge enough for a person to pass through.
“Come on,” Carl said urgently waiving Alex and Travis forward. They went through the space and found themselves in a store under construction. “There’s got to be a back way out of here.” Carl ran back to the rear of the unfinished store. There was a door frame all right, but it was sealed up with plaster. About two feet to the left, pencil lines had been drawn on the wall showing where a new door was going to be.
“I think I’m going to cry now,” Travis said.
“That’s just really annoying,” Carl added, forcing a laugh.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and she won’t have noticed where we disappeared to,” Alex said. Suddenly, they heard banging on the wall section they had just come through.
“Or maybe she did notice and is getting even more pissed off because she can’t figure out how to get in,” Carl said.
“What the hell is she doing?” Dillon asked. He and Rydell could see Singer pounding furiously on a wall section about fifty feet away from them. Finally, she evidently had found what she was looking for. She pulled back a section of wall and went inside of it.
“After her!” Rydell said, running forward.
Singer found Alex, Travis, and Carl pressing themselves up against the side wall of the unfinished store as she entered. They obviously hoped that the shadows would hide them.
“Nice try, boys,” Singer said. “Now move over there and sit down.” She gestured over to the rear wall of the store. Alex, Travis, and Carl quickly obeyed, hoping that she wouldn’t blast any of their heads off.
Singer backed up until she was right in the front corner of the store almost completely obscured in shadow. As soon as she was in place, Rydell and Dillon pulled aside the wall section and, seeing that Alex, Carl, and Travis were all right, ran into the store.
“Are you guys all right?” Rydell asked.
“How did you get rid of Singer?” Dillon said.
“Uh…we didn’t,” Travis said, pointing past Rydell and Dillon. Rydell and Dillon looked at each other, then, fearing the worst, slowly turned around. Singer stepped out of the darkness holding a phaser on the group.
“How nice,” she said. “All of my annoyances are gathered in one place. That should make eliminating them so wonderfully easy.” Happy tears started spilling down Singer’s face as she took another step forward.
“This woman is psycho,” Alex said softly.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Rydell said.
“And soon,” Singer said, her tears turning to laughter. “He won’t know anything at all, and I’ll have my real Alex back.”
“Rebecca, think about what you’re doing here,” Rydell said stepping back beside Alex. “It’s me you want, not him.”
“You aren’t my Alex!” Rebecca screamed. “You’re evil!”
“I am the same Alex Rydell that you served with on the Secondprize for all those years,” Rydell said.
“You’re name’s Alex Rydell?” Alex asked in amazement.
“It’s a long story,” Rydell said quickly.
“I’ll tell you later,” Travis said.
“If we live until later,” Carl said.
“Wait a minute,” Alex said, turning on Travis. “You knew about this?”
“Yeah,” Travis said weakly.
“And you didn’t tell me!”
“I couldn’t. He told me not to,” Travis said, pointing at Rydell. “It could destroy the future.”
“Oh, and us all getting killed here isn’t going to destroy the future?” Alex said.
“Enough!” Singer said. “Alex, you’re coming with me.”
“You’ll have to get through me first,” Travis and Dillon said in unison as they stepped in front of their respective Alex Rydells. They looked at each other for a moment, understanding that they maybe weren’t so different after all.
“Okay,” Singer said. She fired twice. Dillon and Travis hit the floor unconscious. “Any other objections?” she asked, pointing the phaser at Carl. Carl shook his head quickly. Alex and Rydell backed up against the wall.
A photon torpedo sailed past the Secondprize, missing the ship by a matter of meters. On the bridge, all eyes were on the image of the sun displayed on the viewscreen. Soon, a ship would be appearing that could either save them or sign their death certificates.
“The Defiant is gaining on us again,” Hawkins reported.
“Fire another volley of torpedoes. Full spread,” Sullivan said. Hawkins activated the aft torpedo launcher and watched the tactical display as the torpedoes spread out into a wall of weapons streaking towards the Defiant. Two exploded against the Defiant’s shields, slowing the ship approach slightly.
“There’s something appearing out there,” Carr said. “It’s definitely a ship!”
The runabout Hudson rocked violently as it completed the slingshot maneuver. Jaroch, Aldridge, and Webber struggled to regain consciousness after the disorienting effects of the time warp. A panel at the rear of the cockpit exploded sending a shower of sparks cascading across the room.
“Status,” Jaroch said.
“Not good,” Aldridge said looking at the runabout controls. “The engines are practically overloaded and the warp core is dangerously unstable.”
“Jaroch, there are two ships headed this way,” Webber said from the co-pilot’s seat.
“It’s the Secondprize and the Defiant,” Webber said. “They both look pretty beat up.”
“I will take over now, Doctor,” Jaroch said. Aldridge let him take the pilot’s chair.
“The Secondprize is hailing us,” Webber said.
“On screen,” Jaroch said as he raised what was left of the runabout’s shields and brought the weapons on line.
Lieutenant Sullivan appeared on the viewscreen. “Jaroch! Thank God! We’re getting the hell blasted out of us!” Sullivan said. As if to stress her point, the bridge suddenly shook violently.
“Shields at five percent!” Hawkins shouted from behind Sullivan.
“Jaroch, we’ve got maybe two minutes until the core goes critical,” Aldridge said, checking the engineering console behind Webber.
“We will endeavor to assist, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said. “But we will require an emergency transport very soon.”
“We’ll worry about that if we all survive this,” Sullivan said. “Secondprize out.”
Jaroch flew the runabout forward, over the Secondprize, and took up a position between it and the Defiant.
“What are you doing, Jaroch?” Aldridge shouted.
“Trust me, Doctor,” Jaroch replied. He fired two photon torpedoes at the Defiant.
“You missed!” Aldridge said as she watched the photons streak under the Defiant. The torpedoes exploded in a bright flash just underneath the rear of the Defiant. The Defiant’s exterior lights flickered as the ship lurched to starboard.
“I did not miss,” Jaroch said.
“They’re still coming, Jaroch,” Webber said, pointing at the Defiant, which had recovered and was moving toward their position.
“I believe that it is time for our departure,” Jaroch said, tapping several buttons on the control panel.
“Warp core breach in ten seconds…nine,” the computer said.
“Jaroch to Secondprize. Beam us out now.”
“But we’ll have to lower our shields,” Sullivan’s voice protested.
“Do it. That is an order, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said urgently.
“All right. Energizing now.” Jaroch and the others felt the transporter beam grab them just as the computer’s countdown reached one.
Gruver was just about to fire all weapons at the small ship that had just attacked him when the runabout saved him the effort by exploding all on its own. The Defiant was engulfed in the resulting blast, knocking out the shields and the ship’s main power. Gruver was left sitting on a dark bridge.
“Uh oh. I’m in trouble,” Gruver said. Not only that, but he was afraid of the dark, too. He sure hoped that Dr. Rebecca would get back soon. He didn’t like this anymore.
Jaroch, Aldridge, and Webber rushed onto the Secondprize bridge as the Defiant drifted lifelessly on the viewscreen.
“Have a security team beam over and secure the Defiant,” Sullivan was saying.
“They’re on their way,” Hawkins said.
“It appears that my plan was successful,” Jaroch said.
“Yes it certainly was, sir,” Lieutenant Sullivan said walking over to greet them.
“Yeah, somebody had to save our ass,” Baird said. “Sullivan here wasn’t doing us much good.”
“She kept you alive long enough for us to arrive,” Jaroch said. “I believe that should count for something.”
“The ship is yours, Commander,” Sullivan said.
“What’s left of it,” Baird muttered.
“I am leaving you in command, Lieutenant Sullivan, but we must return to Earth immediately. Lieutenant Hawkins, I shall require your assistance on the surface.”
“What’s going on?” Sullivan asked.
“I believe that the captain is in grave danger.”
“What about Dillon?” Hawkins asked.
“Him too,” Jaroch said. “Doctor, you may want to return to sickbay in case there are casualties.” Jaroch walked back into the turbolift followed by Hawkins.
“You heard the man,” Sullivan said to Carr. “Get us back to Earth. Commander Baird, could I see you in the captain’s ready room for a moment?”
“Whatever,” Baird said. The two of them walked into the ready room leaving the bridge crew wondering how big the fight was going to be.
“Am I in trouble or something?” Baird said sarcastically as soon as the doors had closed behind them. Sullivan stood right in front of him seething with anger.
“You bet you are. You’ve been a complete and total bastard from the moment Captain Rydell left this ship,” Sullivan said angrily.
“I’m always a complete and total bastard,” Baird said. “It’s my trademark.”
“Well, I’m fucking sick of it!” Sullivan said. “I was left in command, and you’ve done nothing but undermine my authority.”
“And what the hell was that crap you said to Jaroch? I didn’t hear you coming up with any great ideas to save our asses, so what is your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem,” Baird said.
“Oh yes you do. I am your problem,” Sullivan said. “Admit it. Since we broke up, you’ve done nothing but take jabs at me every chance you’ve gotten.”
“You haven’t exactly been Miss Congeniality towards me either, bitch!” Baird shouted.
“Why should I be, asshole?” Sullivan shouted back. The two of them looked into the other person’s flaring eyes. In one frenzied movement, they dove for each other and hit the floor, kissing passionately.
“Rebecca, you’ve got to listen to me,” Rydell said. “There’s absolutely no reason for this.” Suddenly, Singer seemed to shift about three feet to the left. Glancing sideways quickly and seeing his own body standing next to him, Rydell realized that another mind swap had occurred.
“Calm down and let us get you some help,” he continued. He switched back to his own body.
“No one needs to get hurt.”
“You two work really well together,” Singer said. “It’s too bad that I’m going to have to break up the team. She stepped over Travis’s body and grabbed Alex.
“Let him go,” a voice said from behind her. Lieutenant Commander Jaroch and Lieutenant Hawkins stepped forward, phasers drawn.
“Damn it!” Singer said, throwing her arms in the air in defeat. “I almost had him!”
“Not in this lifetime,” Rydell said, snatching the phaser away from her.
Jaroch saw Carl Jaroch standing against the side wall looking astonished. At the same time, he could recall Carl Jaroch’s memory of this exact moment, so that, in effect, he was seeing the scene from two different points of view.
“This is rather bizarre and disorienting,” Jaroch said addressing his past self. “I am Lieutenant Commander Jaroch. Your life force resides within me.”
“Yeah, right,” Carl Jaroch said smiling weakly as he backed up against the wall. This guy was nuts.
“Travis, are you all right?” Hawkins said, rushing over to help Dillon.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Travis said from behind her.
“Not you,” she snapped. Dillon slowly started to regain consciousness.
“Patricia?” he mumbled.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“Thank goodness,” he said, using what energy he had to wrap his arms around her.
“I can’t take it anymore!” Jaroch suddenly screamed. “Damn it, Patricia, I love you! Why are you with this insignificant twit who is not fit to clean toilets, much less be a Starfleet officer?!?”
“Jaroch…I…” Hawkins stammered, truly stunned. Jaroch was in love with her. She thought he hated her.
“And you!” Jaroch said, grabbing Dillon and yanking him off the floor. “You disgust me, you sniveling moron. Do you know how many times I have wanted to pluck your eyeballs out and feed them to you? You are a complete git!” He lifted Dillon up into the air and slammed him against the rear wall of the store, knocking a human-sized hole in the plaster. No one except Singer noticed Dillon’s phaser clatter to the floor.
“I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” Jaroch screamed.
“Can’t we talk about this?” Dillon gasped.
“Release him. That’s an order,” Rydell said.
“Put him down, Jaroch,” Hawkins said. Jaroch stopped and turned to look at her. There was a mix of anger and disappointment in her eyes that made Jaroch wince inside. This was exactly the kind of thing Counselor Webber had warned him against. And seeing Carl’s perspective on the scene in his memories wasn’t helping his growing humiliation.
While everyone was paying attention to Jaroch, Hawkins, and Dillon, Singer quickly leaned down and grabbed Dillon’s fallen phaser.
“Everybody stay back!” Singer shouted, holding the phaser on the group. She grabbed Alex around his neck and pulled him through the hole that Dillon’s body had put into the rear wall.
“Rebecca, stop!” Rydell shouted. Suddenly, he found himself choking. He was in Alex’s body again, and Singer was squeezing the life out of him.
“You’re going back Tantalus Five,” he managed to gasp. Singer stopped dragging him.
“How did you know about that?” Singer demanded.
“Because I put you there,” Rydell said.
“You couldn’t have,” Singer said, tears welling up in her eyes. “You were here in the twentieth century. You’re my Alex. You’d never do anything like that to me.”
“I did it, Rebecca,” Rydell said. “You were unstable and dangerous to yourself and the Secondprize crew. I had no choice.”
“But I loved you!”
“You never told me that,” Rydell said. Singer’s grip was loosening, and Rydell slipped slowly out of her grasp. “You were in need of help. I was your friend, so I got you that help. I did it for you, Rebecca.”
“Do not move,” Jaroch’s voice shouted from down the hall.
“Stay back, Jaroch,” Rydell said, hoping that Jaroch would follow his orders even though they were coming from Alex’s body.
“You did it for me?” Singer said, tears flowing freely now.
“Yes,” Rydell said. “Just for you. And now I’m going to take you back because you still need help.”
“Will you come visit?” Singer broke down in tears and fell into Rydell’s arms.
“I will. I promise,” Rydell said softly.
Rydell led Singer back into the main section of the store just as his mind leapt again. Back in his own body, he took Singer from Alex and sat her down in the corner of the store.
“Is she going to try and kill us again?” Travis asked, looking at Singer’s sobbing form.
“No,” Rydell said.
“Good. I’m glad that’s over,” Alex said.
“I’m afraid not,” Rydell said. “We’ve got to take care of something first.”
“What?” Alex asked.
“You’re memories,” Rydell said. “You three know way too much about the future now. I would have wiped Travis’ memory two years ago, but there was no way for me to.”
“You’ve known for two years!” Alex said, turning on Travis.
“Sorry,” Travis said.
“Rydell to Secondprize. Eight to beam up.”
“Hey, wait a second,” Carl protested.
“This is so cool,” Travis said.
“I’m going to get you for this,” Alex said. The transporter beam dematerialized them before they could say another word.
Alex, Travis, and Carl Jaroch almost had to be dragged to sickbay by Rydell and Dillon as Hawkins and Jaroch saw to Singer. The three college students gaped at their surroundings. Travis kept trying to get away and play with the computer panels.
“Come on, guys,” Travis whined. “I’ve wanted to see a spaceship my entire life.”
“Too bad,” Dillon said. “You have to get your memory erased.”
“You are a thoroughly unpleasant person,” Travis said.
Rydell and Dillon led them into sickbay where Dr. Aldridge was waiting.
“So it’s my elusive boyfriend,” Aldridge said smiling. “At least, according to Rebecca Singer.”
“Please don’t start,” Rydell said. “We’ve had a rough day.”
“You’ve had a rough day! Your friend Zero tried to kill me!”
“And Jaroch tried to kill me,” Dillon said.
“I did not!” Carl Jaroch said.
“Not you,” Dillon said.
“Shut up, Dillon,” Rydell said. “Doctor, we need these three guys’ minds erased.”
“There’s only two,” Aldridge said. Rydell and Dillon quickly looked around. Travis was missing. Rydell raced out into the hall and saw Travis sneaking away.
“Get back here,” Rydell said.
“Yes, sir,” Travis said glumly. He trudged back to sickbay with his head bowed.
“Anyway,” Rydell said once they were back inside. “We need to make sure that they don’t remember anything about us.” He pushed Travis forward. “And see to it that this one doesn’t remember my visit here two years ago.”
“Three wipe and swipes coming right up,” Aldridge said reaching for her hypospray. “Don’t worry boys. This won’t hurt a bit…unless you try to get away from me. If you do that, I may have to use the less comfortable method. Now are you going to give me any trouble?”
“No ma’am,” Alex, Travis, and Carl replied nervously.
Hawkins and Jaroch led Singer down to the brig. She wasn’t showing any fight at all. All she did was repeatedly mumble, “He’s going to come visit. He’s going to come visit.”
Once they had secured Singer in a cell next to Gruver’s, Jaroch and Hawkins headed out of the security block. They walked in silence for a long time, then Jaroch finally worked up the courage to speak.
“I would like to apologize for my actions earlier,” he said. “It was completely uncalled for.”
“Okay,” Hawkins said flatly. This was not a good sign.
“Patricia, I am sorry that you had to find out about my feelings for you in this way. I have wanted to tell you for a long time now.”
“Then why didn’t you?” Hawkins demanded, turning on him.
“I did not know how,” Jaroch said. “And then, you were with Commander Dillon.”
“And I still am with Travis,” Hawkins said.
“I see,” Jaroch said. “I am sorry that I bothered you.”
“Jaroch, look. I’m flattered. I really am. Honestly, I thought that you hated me. But I’m afraid that I can’t return those feelings.”
“You love Commander Dillon.”
“Yes, I do,” Hawkins said. “But I’m glad to know that you don’t hate me.”
“I could never hate you,” Jaroch said.
“Good,” Hawkins said. She gave him a hug. “I’ll see you later, Jaroch.” She smiled at him, then rushed off down the hall leaving Jaroch alone. He stepped into the nearest turbolift.
“Deck six,” Jaroch said. It was definitely time to talk to Counselor Webber.
Hawkins raced to Dillon’s quarters, hoping to get there before he did. She rang the door chime at his door. There was no answer. “Security override. Authorization Hawkins Omega Tau Alpha.” The doors slid open. She went in and sat down in her tall, wicker chair to wait for Dillon.
She didn’t have to wait long. Less than five minutes later, he walked into his quarters and stopped in his tracks. His quarters had changed somewhat. There was suddenly a lot of stuff scattered around that was not his.
“Surprise,” Hawkins said getting out of the chair.
“Patricia…” Dillon said. “This is…”
“Yes?” Hawkins said, starting to fear that this was not what Travis had wanted.
“Wonderful,” Dillon finished as a huge smile spread across his face. “This is definitely wonderful.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 51552.3. We returned Alex, Travis, and Carl off at Carl’s apartment with fresh memory wipes and spent a few days patching the ships up enough to survive the return to the twenty-fourth century. During that time, we did our best to remove any evidence of our presence in 1995, including putting Travis’ car back in the parking lot at Old Dominion, returning his keys to his bedroom, removing our surveillance equipment, and retrieving several volleyballs from the vicinity of the moon. With that all done, we have returned to our own time closely followed by the Defiant.
“In Doctor Aldridge’s opinion, the mind swaps between Alex and myself were the result of having our minds switched once before. We each retained enough of the other person that, since we were in temporal proximity again, occasionally, the minds would leap to the other body. I don’t fully understand it, but I am glad that it’s not happening anymore. Returning to our own time has stopped the phenomenon.
“The Defiant and Rebecca Singer are being returned to their proper locations, and the Secondprize has docked at Earth’s McKinley Station for additional repairs. The battles with the Defiant and the stress of two slingshot maneuvers have taken their toll on the Secondprize, but Starfleet assures me that we’ll be back on duty in less than a month.
“In the meantime, the crew is taking some well-deserved shore leave. I have decided to spend mine in the city of Norfolk checking out the old neighborhood. I bet that it’s changed a lot in four hundred years.”
Captain Rydell stepped out of the hovercar and walked into the large botanical gardens sitting along Norfolk’s Elizabeth River. Four hundred years earlier, an apartment complex had stood on this spot. Now, the building that Alex and Travis had lived in was just a patch of grass.
Rydell walked across the street over towards what used to be the main part of Old Dominion University’s campus. This area was now a commercial district. Rydell found a coffee shop sitting about where the Webb student center used to be and went inside for a drink.
“What can I get you?” the proprietor of the shop asked.
“Something strong,” Rydell said.
“Do you live in the area?” the man asked as he busied himself preparing Rydell’s coffee.
“No. I’m just visiting,” Rydell replied. “I’ve been here before though.”
“It’s a nice place. I moved here ten years ago, and I haven’t regretted it at all.”
“It’s a bit different now than when I was here.”
“Things change,” the man said, turning back to Rydell and handing him his coffee.
“They certainly do,” Rydell said, a hint of sadness creeping into his voice. He took a sip of the coffee. It was strong and bitter, exactly what he wanted.
“Are you okay? You look like you lost your best friend.”
“No,” Rydell said. “Just a piece of my past.”
Two Months Later
Rydell looked out at the assembly gathered in Seven Backward, and a great feeling of happiness washed over him. This was where and when he belonged and who he belonged with. He opened the book in front of him and began to speak.
“Since the days of sailing vessels, it has been the honor and privilege of every captain to unite couples in matrimony. We are gathered here today for just such an occasion. And now, without further ado…” He turned to the groom.
“Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife. To have and to hold from this day forward for as long as you both shall live.”
Rydell turned to the bride.
“And do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband. To have and to hold from this day forward for as long as you both shall live.”
“Then I now pronounce you married. You may kiss,” Rydell said smiling. A great cheer went up through the room as Commander Scott Baird and Lieutenant Emily Sullivan shared their first kiss as husband and wife.
Later, at the wedding reception, Seven Backward was filled with the sounds of music and conversations. Ensign Andrea Carr and Trinian stood by the bar surveying the gathering of party-goers.
“I don’t believe it,” Trinian said.
“What?” Carr asked.
“Baird and Sullivan. I thought they would kill each other before anything like this happened. And the rest of the crew is pairing off faster than flies during mating season. Look, there’s Dillon and Hawkins. And Jaroch’s over there with Webber.”
“Jaroch and Webber aren’t dating as far as I know,” Carr said.
“We’ll see how long that lasts,” Trinian said.
“You could find someone instead of standing here complaining,” Carr said.
“You mean like the captain?”
“He is single.”
“And I’m like his great grandmother to the fifth power,” Trinian said. “That’s too weird. Anyway, I have a feeling that he’s not going to be single for long either.”
“What do you mean?” Carr asked.
“Look,” Trinian said, pointing over at where Rydell was standing with Doctor Aldridge.
“I think things have turned out pretty well,” Captain Rydell said, watching his crew.
“I guess so,” Aldridge said. “Everyone seems to be finding someone to be with…except you.”
“These things take time,” Rydell said.
“Do you even know what you should be looking for?” Aldridge asked.
“What do you mean ‘should be’?” Rydell asked.
“Take a look at Jaroch and Webber. He’s a thinker and she’s a feeler. They complement each other. Dillon and Hawkins. He’s a pompous jerk and she’s not. They complement each other.”
“What about Sullivan and Baird?” Rydell asked.
“They need each other just for the arguments. It works.”
“So I need to be looking for my opposite?”
“Something like that,” Aldridge said.
“What qualities should I be keeping a sharp eye out for?”
“Well, you’re diplomatic, so you need someone who’s more authoritarian. You’re compassionate, but you can’t be compassionate all the time, so you need someone who can be compassionate to you.”
“Is that all?” Rydell asked smiling.
“That covers the basics,” Aldridge said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go order around some nurses and care for some sick people. I’ll see you in my quarters for dinner at nine.”
Aldridge weaved her way through the crowd to leave Seven Backwards. Just before the doors closed behind her, she looked back and smiled at Rydell.
“I’ll be there,” Rydell said to himself. He lifted his drink to his lips and gave a silent toast to the future.
The Secondprize sailed on.