I am the Guardian of Star Traks. Many journeys into stupidity are possible through me. This is one of them. And, just so you know, Star Traks is owned by Alan Decker just as it always has been reaching back through the murky mists of the past. Likewise, Star Trek is owned by Viacom, which bought Paramount, who bought Desliu, and then split Star Trek between CBS and Paramount, but now it's all back together again. And now, on with the stupidity.

Author: Alan Decker
Copyright: 1997

STAR TRAKS:

PLEASE HOLD FOR OBLIVION

By Alan Decker




THE PROLOGUE ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER


“Captain’s Log. Stardate 52014.6. The Secondprize has spent the last week tracing the source of some anomalous temporal fluctuations picked up by a Federation science probe that was launched towards the center of the galaxy. I’m not sure why they sent us, but Admiral Wagner told me that it had something to do with the sheer amount of time we’ve spent mucking with time. I truly resent the implication. We only messed with time on purpose once. All the others have been accidents. Admittedly, there have been a lot of accidents, but that still doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong. In any case, we’re out here until we figure out what’s going on. At least they didn’t send anyone from Temporal Investigations with us.

“On the downside, we’re short a bartender. For the first time in as long as I’ve known her, Trinian has taken a vacation. Her staff is fine and all, but no one beats Trinian’s ability to slam you back into your place after you think you’ve done something really great. We’ll just have to muddle through without her biting verbal jabs and threats of physical violence for a few weeks.”


“Captain Rydell to the bridge,” Lieutenant Commander Jaroch’s voice said over the comm system interrupting Rydell’s nap. This search duty was Jaroch’s forte, so Rydell had taken an informal vacation until something important happened. Obviously, it had. Rydell just hoped they’d have it wrapped up before his scheduled holodeck time at 1800 hours. He was deep into a quest in the Xanth program he’d created. Sure, Starfleet was fun and all, but there was nothing like trying to outwit a few angry mythological beasts on the holodeck.

Rydell pulled himself together and strolled out onto the bridge. Jaroch immediately vacated the command chair and headed back to his position at the science console.

“What’s up?” Rydell asked.

“I have a fix on the source of the temporal phenomenon,” Jaroch reported. “And a hypothesis as to its origin.”

“Sounds like you hit the jackpot, Jaroch,” Rydell said, settling into his chair. “Let’s see it.”

Jaroch brought a diagram of the star system they were approaching up on the viewscreen. It seemed ordinary enough. A star, twelve planets, three Class M.

“This is the Batonis System,” Jaroch reported. “As far as we know, it is a barren wasteland. What life there is has not advanced much beyond elementary forms…certainly nothing of sentience.”

“Okay…so?”

“I am getting to that, sir. Please do not interrupt my lead-in.”

“Sorry. Continue.”

“Whilst these scans…”

“Whilst?”

“It is a word.”

“Not one that anyone uses,” Rydell said.

“I just did.”

“Never mind. Go on.” If Jaroch didn’t wrap this up soon, Rydell definitely would miss his holodeck appointment…and a certain nymph he’d been developing a relationship with.

“Thank you,” Jaroch said. “Now then, my scans continued to detect temporal disturbances; however, they were very faint. Focusing in on the fourth moon of Batonis Six, I, as you said, hit the jackpot. The source of the disturbances is there.”

“Good work, Jaroch. Ensign Bailey, set a course for Batonis Six. Take us into orbit as soon as you can.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Sir, you did not let me finish,” Jaroch said.

“There’s more?”

“I told you that I had a hypothesis as to the…”

“Oh yeah,” Rydell said quickly. “What have you got?”

Jaroch changed the image on the viewscreen to a couple of sets of identical scans.

“The top scan was taken by the Secondprize,” Jaroch said. “As you can see, various forms of temporal energy are present in high degrees.”

“Uh huh,” Rydell said.

“The bottom, nearly-identical set of scans was taken by a Federation science team doing research at an artifact known as the Guardian of Forever.”

“Oh sh**.”

“I see that you have heard of it.”

“It’s way up there in the ‘Places You Should Avoid’ manual Starfleet gives all new captains,” Rydell said. “Right between the embryonic star clusters of the Cyresias Belt and the Intergalactic House of Pancakes on Mars. Very scary place.”

“Correct me if I am wrong, sir, but is that not the very restaurant you recommended to Commander Dillon when he had that conference on Mars last year?”

“Was it?” Rydell replied smiling.

“Yes, I believe he came down with dysentery soon after,” Jaroch said.

“Oops. My mistake.”

“Now about the Guardian.”

“Oh yeah. Where did we leave off?”

“You had just said ‘oh sh**.’”

“Right. Got it. I’ve read the reports on the Guardian. Not exactly a place I want to hang out. So what do you think, Jaroch? Is this another one?”

“If it is, it is several times more powerful. The source of the temporal emissions is deep within the moon, yet the probe was able to detect them from parsecs away.”

“I guess we’d better check it out.” Rydell turned to the officer manning tactical. “Send a message to Starfleet reporting our position and situation.”

“Aye.”

“I guess CiCi’s going to have to wait.”

“Excuse me, sir?” Jaroch asked.

“Just a nymph.”

“Rather than pursue this and risk a headache, I am going to let the matter drop,” Jaroch said, turning back to his console.

“Good plan.”


Commander Scott Baird paced the living room of his quarters like a caged animal.

“Would you relax?” his wife of three months, Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan, said as she emerged from the bedroom having just finished getting ready.

“Why are we doing this?” Baird said for about the eighty millionth time that evening.

“Patricia is our friend. This is the least we can do. Now, what do you think?” Sullivan did a quick spin, showing off the suit she’d picked up on their last shore leave.

“You look great,” Baird replied distractedly.

“Thanks,” Sullivan said annoyed. “Can you just get past this one tiny detail and enjoy dinner?”

“Tiny detail? Emily, we’re having dinner with Commander Dillon. Dinner implies conversation. I don’t want to talk to him.”

“How many times have you two ever had to talk to each other?” Sullivan demanded. “Other than staff meetings, how often do you even see each other? I sit on the bridge with him every single day; you can make it through one lousy meal.”

“I didn’t realize that being married would mean that I had to spend time with every asshole on the ship just because I’m your husband.”

“I guess you should have read the fine print,” Sullivan said, heading towards the door. “Now come on.”

“Hey, just because you got promoted…again…doesn’t mean you can order me around like this. I still outrank you.”

“Are we jealous?” Sullivan asked, turning around to face her husband.

“No. But you only had to spend two years at lieutenant. I was one for at least four.”

“I guess Starfleet just recognized my superior abilities,” Sullivan said smiling. “So let’s go before my congratulatory dinner gets cold.”


“Why do we have to do this again?” Commander Travis Dillon asked as he set the dining table in the quarters he shared with Lieutenant Patricia Hawkins.

“Emily and Scott are the only people we know who live on this deck. They’re our neighbors. We can at least have them over for dinner.”

“We didn’t have to move down to the couples and families deck,” Dillon replied. “Things weren’t that cramped in my quarters.”

Hawkins just glared at him.

“Okay, fine. Just so long we don’t have to talk about Sullivan’s promotion.”

“This dinner is kind of in her honor.”

“Oh God.”

“What’s the problem, Travis?”

“She gets two promotions in two years, and I’m still stuck at commander. It’s not fair!”

“You were a captain for a while.”

“Yeah, three days. Big deal. I just don’t want to listen to her gloat for hours upon end.”

The door chime sounded rescuing Hawkins from any further tirades from Dillon.

“I’ll get it,” Hawkins said, heading for the living room. “Go check on dinner.”

“It’s programmed into the replicator. What’s to check?”

“Just go!”

“All right. All right.” Dillon wandered over to the replicator unit while Hawkins answered the door. He could hear the sound of their voices from the other room.

“Hi!”

“Hi!”

“I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Like it was a long walk.” Commander Baird sounded as amiable as ever.

“Travis, we’ve got company,” Hawkins called. What was she doing? Of course, they had company. But she sounded so…perky. Scary. After straightening his uniform, which Hawkins wasn’t happy about him wearing anyway, Dillon entered the living room. Baird had planted himself on the sofa while Hawkins and Sullivan were admiring the Elasyian crystals Hawkins had purchased during her last shore leave.

“Hi,” Dillon said, for lack of any better conversation openers.

“Evening, sir,” Sullivan said then turned right back to Hawkins. Baird just nodded in Dillon’s general direction. Dillon took a seat in the armchair across from the sofa and wondered what the hell he was supposed to do now.

“You have got to see this sword I just got. It came in on the last courier ship,” Hawkins said, leading Sullivan back to Dillon and Hawkins’s bedroom. Dillon and Baird were now alone in the living room. An uncomfortable silence, interrupted only by the low, rhythmic thrum of the ship’s engines, settled over the room.

Baird stared off into space.

Dillon rearranged duty rosters in his mind.

Baird still stared.

Dillon wondered where the hell his dumbbell set had disappeared to.

Stare.

Man, it’s quiet.

Stare.

99 bottles of beer on the wall. 99 bottles…

Stare.

Too quiet.

Stare.

“So…” Dillon’s voice shattered the quiet.

“Sir, don’t,” Baird said quickly.

“Excuse me?”

“You have nothing to say to me. I have nothing to say to you. Let’s not even bother.”

“Oh thank god,” Dillon said, relieved. “I mean, just because our significant others are friends doesn’t mean that we have to be.”

“Exactly.”

“You don’t know what a load off my mind that is.”

“Good.”

“I couldn’t think of a single thing to talk about.”

“Shut up.”

“Got it.”

“And how are the men doing?” Sullivan asked, as she and Hawkins re-entered the room.

“Peachy,” Baird replied.

“Couldn’t be better,” Dillon added.

“Right,” Hawkins said, eying the two men suspiciously. “Why don’t we just go ahead and eat?”

“Great idea,” Baird said, getting up from the sofa.

“I hope you like this evening’s menu,” Dillon said as he followed the group into the dining room. “I scoured the culinary databases looking for interesting yet tasty selections.”

“Oh boy,” Sullivan said, unsure if this was a good thing or not.

“It’s wonderful, trust me,” Hawkins said. “I made him try all the dishes out on me before serving them to innocent victims. Actually, Travis’ got good taste in food. He usually selects our meals.”

“A hidden talent, Commander?” Sullivan asked.

“Years and years of eating,” Dillon replied.

“Enough banter. Let’s get to it,” Baird said. He had already firmly planted himself at the table.

“No arguments here,” Hawkins said.

“Fine. Computer, initiate Culinary Program Dillon 36,” Dillon said. The replicator flashed to life just as the shipwide comm signal sounded.

“All senior officers to the bridge,” Captain Rydell’s voice said.

“I guess I’ll have to eat alone,” Baird said smiling, as he watched the food begin to materialize.

“And that includes you, Commander Baird,” Rydell finished as if psychically detecting his chief engineer’s remark.

“What? I never have to go to the bridge!”

“First time for everything, hon,” Sullivan said.

“This is why I stayed in uniform,” Dillon said heading toward the door.

“Damn, I hate it when he’s right. It just encourages him,” Hawkins said.


Trinian strolled leisurely through the outdoor market on Betazed wondering why she hadn’t taken a vacation sooner. Sure, bartending on the Secondprize wasn’t exactly the highest stress job in the world. In fact, for a being of her power and capabilities, it was downright mundane, but she knew she was doing valuable work. In any case, it was nice to get away for a while and spend some time just for herself. If 600 years of life had taught her anything, it was that you just had to give yourself a little present every now and then.

“THEY’RE HERE!” a familiar voice boomed in her head.

“Guardian?” Trinian asked. It’d been so long since she’d been contacted that she wasn’t really sure anymore.

“THEY’RE HERE. YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO STOP THEM.”

“But I’ve only been gone three days. Why did they have to show up now?”

“YOU HAVE FAILED. ACTION MUST BE TAKEN.”

“God damn it! This was my one vacation. My only one. Alex would have to go there now!”

“STOP WHINING. ACTION IS BEING TAKEN.”

“Wait! Let me get to a comm system. I can stop them.”

“THERE IS NO TIME. ACTION HAS BEEN TAKEN. THAT IS ALL.”

“Sh**.”


“It’s a rock,” Dillon said, looking at the desolate moon slowly rotating by on the viewscreen.

“That is exactly what the simple-minded are supposed to see,” Jaroch said from his position at the science console.

“So what’s the big deal?” Baird asked gruffly. He was sitting at the seldom-used bridge engineering station with his arms crossed and looking surly.

“This,” Jaroch said, pressing a couple of buttons on his console. The image of the moon was obscured behind a huge amount a wavy lines, numerical readouts, and flashing lights.

“What the hell?” Baird said, leaning forward in his chair.

“What are we looking at?” Hawkins asked from tactical.

“Well, if there’s a central storehouse of temporal energy in the galaxy, this is probably it,” Rydell said, lounging in his command chair.

“Time central station,” Dillon said.

“In a matter of speaking,” Jaroch replied.

“By all appearances, this place is similar to the Guardian of Forever only much much more powerful,” Rydell said.

“We have detected a large series of caverns within the moon where the energy readings seem to be focused,” Jaroch added.

“So we’re going in?” Baird said.

“Absolutely,” Rydell replied. “You, Jaroch, Hawkins, and Dillon, because I know he’ll throw a fit if he doesn’t get to see the ‘time thingy,’ will accompany me down to the moon. Lieutenant Commander Sullivan will have the conn.”

“The joys of promotion,” Sullivan said.

“Someone has to watch the ship while we’re gone,” Rydell said.

“Exactly,” Sullivan said. “And by the way, we’re entering the Batonis system now.”

“Take us into orbit around the moon,” Rydell said as he activated the shipwide intercom from the control on his chair’s armrest. “All hands, this is your Captain speaking. Just wanted to let you all know that we’re taking up orbit around a moon that’s emitting extreme temporal disturbances. Time will no longer be a constant, and almost anything can happen. Although these distortions are for the most part harmless, they have been known to cause mild nausea, headaches, vomiting, and, on occasion, time rippling. Should any of these effects occur, report immediately to sickbay. And please, remember that each cabin on board the Secondprize is equipped with a barf bag for your comfort and convenience. Rydell out.”

“Most inspiring, sir,” Jaroch said.

“I try,” Rydell replied smiling as he stood up and headed towards the turbolift. “Hold things together up here, Sullivan.”

“Not a problem,” Sullivan replied.

“Hey, find your own trademark line,” Rydell said.

“Righty-O.”

“But not that one,” Rydell added as the turbolift doors closed.

“Alright, everybody, musical chairs!” Sullivan shouted. She moved back to the command chair as Ensign Andrea Carr, the operations officer but also the second best pilot on the ship, hopped over from the ops console to helm. Ensign Bill Woodville moved down from monitoring the environmental systems console at the rear of the bridge to take over at ops.

“Nothing like a change of scenery, huh guys?” Sullivan said.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Carr replied..


“Why did I have to come to Betazed?” Trinian wondered as she searched for a subspace transmitter station. While the inhabitants couldn’t read her mind, she’d already been stopped by at least thirty people who could sense emotional distress coming from her. Next time, no telepaths…if there was a next time. She just had to make it to a transmitter and contact the Secondprize before Rydell could screw anything up. If she didn’t reach him in time, she was going to have the bad vacation story to end all bad vacation stories. Actually, it’d be the end of everything period. Where the hell was a comm unit?


Rydell and company materialized in a surprisingly well lit cavern. The walls of the place itself glowed with some type of energy. Jaroch immediately pulled out his tricorder and started scanning.

“It is chronometric,” Jaroch reported. “This entire chamber is literally charged with it.”

Commander Baird performed a few scans of his own and let out a low whistle.

“The cavern is constructed of the same materials as the Guardian found by Captain Kirk,” Baird said. “The readings here are almost off the scale, though.”

“I believe this is the central area,” Jaroch said, pointing to a ring of perfectly conical stalagmites jutting up from the floor of the cave. Each of them glowed brightly with the same yellowish energy being emitted from the walls.

“I really don’t like this,” Hawkins said, fingering her phaser.

“I am not detecting any life signs,” Jaroch replied. “I see little cause for alarm.”

“But this is just one big time machine,” Hawkins said. “Who knows what sort of mess it could cause?”

“A QUESTION! I HAVE WAITED EONS FOR A QUESTION!”

“Oh boy,” Rydell said softly.

“What’d I do?” Hawkins said.

“You appear to have awakened it,” Jaroch said.

“I COULD CAUSE A BIG MESS. ASK ME ANOTHER ONE.”

“What should I do, Captain?” Hawkins said.

“ASK ME A QUESTION…AND DON’T CALL ME CAPTAIN. I AM FOREVER.”

“You’ve made a friend, Lieutenant,” Rydell said.

“I thought you were the Guardian of Forever,” Dillon said.

“ALL QUESTIONS MUST BE IN THE FORM OF A QUESTION.”

“Aren’t you the Guardian of Forever?” Dillon asked, annoyed.

“NO. I AM FOREVER. THERE ARE OTHERS THAT GUARD ME.”

“F*** me,” Baird said.

“NOW ASK ME A REAL QUESTION!!!”

“Let me handle this,” Dillon said.

“Gladly,” Hawkins replied.

“When was the Battle of Hastings?”

“1066”

“He’s good,” Dillon said.

“I have one,” Jaroch said.

“Go for it,” Rydell said.

“When will the universe end?”

“WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO?”

“Only occasionally,” Baird remarked.

“I CAN DO IT.”

“You can end the universe?” Rydell asked.

“EASILY. WATCH.”

“No!!!!” Hawkins, Dillon, Jaroch, Baird, and Rydell screamed.


Lieutenant Commander Sullivan gripped the armrests of the command chair as another wave of temporal disturbances rocked the ship.

“Our orbit is stable,” Ensign Carr reported from the helm.

“That one was 3% larger than the last,” Ensign Woodville added from ops.

“Something’s going on down there,” Sullivan muttered.

“I am reminded of Lodek’s theory of event exponentiality,” Woodville said. “Lodek postulated that…”

“Not now, Woodville,” Sullivan said. “I still haven’t made it through that comparative study of Hitchcock and Einstein you handed me last shift.”

“Eisenstein!” Woodville said. “He was a film director.”

“Whatever,” Carr snapped. “Can we just sit quietly and watch the sensors?”

“But talking passes the time so much more quickly,” Woodville said.

“Depends on who you’re talking to,” Sullivan muttered.

“We’re being hailed, ma’am,” Lieutenant Prescott said from tactical, providing a welcome topic shift. “And it’s Trinian.”

“No. It’s Eisenstein,” Woodville said, growing flustered. “I’ve seen every single one of his films.”

“The hail is from Trinian,” Sullivan said slowly so Woodville’s mind would catch it. He was certifiably brilliant, but sometimes the little, obvious things just took a while to sink in. “On screen.”

“Captain!” Trinian said.

“He’s on an away mission right now, Trinian,” Sullivan said. “How’s the vacation going?”

“Sh**ty. Now where’s Alex?”

“Is something wrong?”

“Yes! Get Alex and get away from there.”

“Commander, we’re being hailed from the surface,” Prescott reported.

“Hold on a second, Trinian. I’m going to have to mute you a second. Sullivan here.”

“We may have a bit of a situation down here,” Rydell’s voice said.

“What kind of situation?”

“The thing we found says it’s going to end the universe. We’ll see what we can do, but keep the engines hot. We may have to get out of here in a hurry.”

“How are we going to outrun the destruction of the universe?” Sullivan asked.

“I have no idea. If it happens, I’ll think of something. Rydell out.”

“Great. Trinian?”

“What?”

“Can I call you back? The captain seems to have started the end of the universe.”

“SH**! I’m too late. Get your shields up now. Somebody’s coming after you.”

“But we can’t beam…”

“It won’t matter if she destroys you. Raise the shields.”

“You heard the lady,” Sullivan said to Prescott.

“Aye, raising shields on orders from the bartender.”

“Can it, Prescott.”

“It’s been nice knowing you,” Trinian said. “I’m going to go get drunk now.”

“Have fun,” Sullivan replied, feeling a bit confused by the entire exchange. “Secondprize out.” Just as the starfield reappeared on the viewscreen, the ship rocked again, this time much more violently.

“That wasn’t a temporal disturbance,” Sullivan said, fearing the worst.

“Negative,” Woodville said. “I’m detecting plasma residue against the shields. Somebody shot at us.”

“But who?” Sullivan said.

“Nothing’s on sensors,” Prescott said. Another blast rocked the ship. “Wait. I’ve got a trajectory. These things are coming in from a long way off.”

“Anything on long range sensors?”

“Maybe,” Woodville said. “I’m getting some energy readings at the very edge of our range and moving in fast.”

“Carr, take us to the other side of the moon.”

“But we won’t be able to get clear readings until whatever that thing is is almost on top of us,” Woodville objected.

“So you prefer being shot at,” Carr said.

“Not really.”

“Then I’m moving the ship.”

“Excuse me, when did we become a democracy?” Sullivan asked.

“The captain leaves for five minutes, and you already think you’re a god,” Carr said.

“I’ll ignore that, Ensign. And please refer to me as ‘Your worship’ from now on,” Sullivan replied smiling.


“THEY HAVE MOVED AWAY,” Guardian of Forever #492 said anxiously. “OUR ATTACK WAS INSUFFICIENT.”

Morticent, commander of the Seatellan Starship Mitgogae, looked over at the glowing obelisk of rock standing to the right of her command chair.

“We’ll be on them soon enough,” Morticent said, trying to ease the Guardian’s nerves. For a piece of rock, it sure was jumpy.

“FIRING FROM THIS DISTANCE WAS A TACTICAL ERROR.”

“Let me command the ship,” Morticent said. “And I’d like to remind you that if you’d assigned me rather than Trinian to the Rydell situation, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.”

“TRINIAN WAS THE BEST CHOICE DUE TO HER PRIOR RELATIONSHIP WITH RYDELL’S ANCESTORS.”

“That relationship is exactly the reason she got sloppy,” Morticent replied.

“We’re approaching Forever,” the flight officer reported.

“Deactivate distortion field and raise shields,” Morticent ordered.

“THIS HAD BETTER WORK.”

“At least if it doesn’t, you won’t be around to complain about it.”


“TEN MINUTES UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION. YOU’RE GOING TO BE REALLY IMPRESSED WITH THIS ONE.”

“I can’t believe you destroyed the universe,” Dillon said.

“I did not!” Rydell shouted. “I just asked it a question.”

“Yes, and now look where we are,” Dillon said.

“I believe that we should be looking for a solution rather than arguing,” Jaroch said calmly.

“You think?” Baird said. “I’d rather just sit here and wait to get f***ed! Of course, we need a f***ing solution.”

“No need to get excited, Commander,” Jaroch said.

“Captain, maybe we should try our phasers,” Hawkins suggested, reaching for her weapon. “We could get lucky and disable it.”

“Such an action could speed our destruction,” Jaroch said.

“Well, it’s better than doing nothing,” Baird said, pulling out his phaser. “I’m with Hawkins.”

“Hold on, people,” Rydell said. “We aren’t dead yet. We can fix this.”

“I would love to hear your suggestion on the subject,” Jaroch said.

“Hawkins, it likes you. Ask it to stop,” Rydell said.

“It likes me?” Hawkins said. “Where did you get that?”

“WELL, I DO LIKE YOU.”

“Great.”

“Just ask the damn question!” Rydell said.

“Can you please not destroy the universe?” Hawkins asked.

“TOO LATE. I’VE ALREADY STARTED.”

“This is not going to look good on my report to Starfleet,” Dillon muttered.

“Will you please shut up?” Rydell said.

“I concur,” Jaroch said.

“I WILL NOT SHUT UP. I AM FOREVER.”

“I wasn’t talking to you!” Rydell snapped.

“UNLESS YOU ASK ME A QUESTION, I WON’T LISTEN TO YOU. SO THERE!”

“You sure we can’t just shoot this thing?” Baird said.

“DON’T F*** WITH FOREVER.”

“Wow, he catches on quick,” Baird said.


“Sensors are clearing,” Woodville reported. “It’s definitely some kind of ship, but I am getting massive energy readings… most likely lots of powerful weapons capable of slicing us to ribbons.”

“Prescott, hail them.”

“They’re responding.” The image of a beautiful young woman with long, straight black hair and slightly menacing green eyes appeared on the screen. She sat in what looked like a standard bridge command chair while a glowing obelisk pulsated just to the right of her chair.

“Leave this place at once,” the woman said.

“Hello to you, too,” Sullivan said.

“I have no time for social niceties.”

“Too bad. They tend to go a lot farther with me than unexplained demands.”

“I am Morticent, First Monitor of Forever and commander of the Starship Mitgogae. In the name of Forever and the people of Seatella, I order you to leave this moon.”

“Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan in command of the Federation Starship Secondprize. Delighted to meet you. I’d love to leave, but members of our crew are in the moon as we speak.”

“They haven’t started the destruction of the universe yet, have they?” Morticent asked.

“Uh…yeah. Now that you mention it. Do you know how to stop it by any chance?”

“DIE!!!” a deep voice boomed. From the rapid flashing of the rock beside Morticent, Sullivan concluded that it had just spoken.

“Damn you! Why did you have to come here?” Morticent shouted.

“Orders are orders,” Sullivan said. “Now, if you’ve finished accosting us, we’ll just fix the whole universe thing and be on our way.”

“You must be stopped before you make things worse.”

“Worse than the destruction of the universe?”

“Shut up!”

“Your species doesn’t go much for diplomacy, I take it,” Sullivan said.

“I will obliterate you all!!!” Morticent slammed her fist down on the armrest of her command chair, closing the comm channel.

“Great. Why do I always have to fight the super battlecruisers?” Sullivan muttered. “Sullivan to away team.”

“Rydell here.”

“Uh…we’re about to be attacked up here. You guys might want to beam back to the ship now.”

“No can do. We can’t leave if this thing’s going to end the universe,” Rydell replied.

“Okay. Well then, I suggest you throw up some kind of interference field or something so that our new friend doesn’t beam you to her ship.”

“Her? Who is she?”

“She says her name’s Morticent of the Seatella.”

“Never heard of them. Just take care of it. We’re kind of busy. Rydell out.”

“Gee, you’d think the world was coming to an end,” Carr quipped.

“That’s not funny,” Sullivan said.


“I should be up there,” Hawkins said.

“All of us should,” Rydell replied. “But we’ve got a few things to do down here first. Baird, Jaroch what about blocking any transporters?”

“THAT’S NOT MY DEPARTMENT.”

“That’s why he didn’t ask you,” Hawkins said.

“Give me a minute,” Baird said. “I’m going to need everyone’s phaser.”

“My phaser,” Hawkins said, clutching it closer to her chest.

“It’s either that or BOOM.”

“All right. All right.” Hawkins handed her phaser to Baird followed by the other members of the away team.

“You are attempting to connect them in series to emit an interference field,” Jaroch said.

“No kidding.”

“I would recommend using a tricorder to control the field harmonics and stability.”

“Way ahead of you,” Baird said, popping open the back of his tricorder to reveal the circuitry.

“FIVE MINUTES TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”


“The Mitgogae is closing,” Prescott reported.

“Arm all weapons. Andrea, she’s going to have to come around one side of the moon or the other to get a shot at us.”

“So, as soon as she does, you want me to make a run for it?”

“No, I want you to whip around the moon behind her and blast her ass off.”

“You got it.”

“Isn’t that against Starfleet policy?” Woodville asked.

“Why? We played nice. She shot at us first. Now, we get to kick some ass,” Sullivan said. “Where is she?”

“One hundred thousand kilometers and closing.”

“Ready, Prescott?”

“Prepared to commence ass kicking,” Prescott replied.

“She’s headed toward the moon’s south pole,” Woodville reported. She’s trying to come up under us.”

“Now, Andrea!”

Carr slammed the Secondprize into a full impulse tight turn for just the seconds needed to zip around behind the Mitgogae. As soon as the rear of the alien vessel came into view, Prescott let loose a barrage of phaser and quantum torpedo fire.


“THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET COCKY!” Guardian #492 bellowed as sparks flew across the Mitgogae’s bridge. The blasts from the Secondprize had been enough to topple his obelisk onto the deck. If he had a face, he’d have been staring at the floor.

“Damage report!” Morticent shouted, ignoring the criticism.

“It felt worse than it was,” her flight officer reported. “Minor damage to the power distribution network. A few system overloads. That’s about it.”

“Teleporter?”

“Just fine.”

“Get a lock on the Federation people in Forever and bring them up here.”

“WHAT ABOUT THE SECONDPRIZE?”

“Just let them think we’re dead in space.”


“Well, that was easy,” Sullivan said, relaxing in the command chair.

“I don’t know, Lieutenant,” Woodville said, looking over the readings on his console. “Most of the damage appears to be superficial.”

“Impossible,” Prescott said. “We hit them with half of the arsenal.”

“I could be reading the sensors wrong, I guess, but I really think that they’re okay out there.”

“What do you think, Emily?” Carr asked. Sullivan thought for a few moments.

“Back us off a bit, but stay in weapons range. If they so much as twitch, blast them.”

“So we just sit here,” Carr said.

“Hey, as long as they aren’t doing anything to stop the captain, I’m content to leave them alone over there.”


“Nobody’s beaming us out of here,” Commander Baird said, as he activated the interference field.

“Great. Back to the universal upheaval at hand,” Rydell said as he turned his attention back to Forever.

“THREE MINUTES TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“Captain, if you’ve got a plan, now’s the time,” Dillon said nervously.

“Forever, are you sure you can’t stop this?” Rydell asked.

“WHY WOULD I WANT TO DO THAT?”

“Would it help if I begged?”

“NO.”

“Couldn’t you just wait until we’ve had time to tell our families?” Hawkins asked.

“THAT WOULD BE ACCEPTABLE.”

“Excellent work, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said.

“TWO MINUTES, FORTY-FIVE SECONDS TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“Why the f*** aren’t you waiting?” Baird screamed.

“NO TIME PERIOD HAS BEEN SPECIFIED.”

“How about forever?” Dillon said.

“WHAT ABOUT ME?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific, I think,” Rydell said.

“Can you wait for 20 billion years?” Jaroch asked.

“YOU WON’T BE ALIVE TO ENJOY IT IF I DO THAT.”

“That is the general idea,” Jaroch said.


Morticent slammed her fist down angrily on her command chair at the news from her flight officer.

“What do you mean we can’t teleport them?!”

“I TOLD YOU YOU WERE TOO COCKY.”

“Shut up!!! Energize all rear weapon systems and fire!”


“Uh, Lieutenant, I’m reading an energy surge on the alien vessel.”

“That’s a twitch,” Sullivan said.

“Firing,” Prescott said. The Secondprize weapons streaked ahead just as several blasts lanced out of the Mitgogae. The Mitgogae weapons detonated the Secondprize’s quantum torpedoes and kept right on coming at the Secondprize itself.

“Full reverse,” Sullivan said.

“Too late,” Carr said. The ship rocked violently from the impacts. Lights flickered around the bridge as systems blinked on and off.

“That was not good,” Prescott said. “Shields down 30%.”

“So much for that,” Sullivan muttered. “Keep us away from them as much as you can, Carr.” She turned toward Prescott. “And if you get an open shot, take it.”


“We really have to pick something in our lifetimes,” Dillon whined.

“Looks that way,” Rydell replied.

“Talk about delaying the inevitable,” Hawkins quipped.

“That was not funny, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said.

“TWO MINUTES TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“We’re running out of time here,” Hawkins said.

“No sh**,” Baird said.

“We can’t just randomly pick a number,” Dillon said. “The lives of…well, everybody are at stake here.”

“Jaroch,” Rydell said, hoping for some intelligent guidance.

“The situation would seem to call for to highest number possible, so that the greatest number of us are already dead when the universe ends.”

“So, your idea is just for most of us not to be alive when it happens.”

“I am afraid so, sir. May I recommend 100 years. That should be just on the outside of my life span, and I have always wanted to go out with a bang.”

“As much as I appreciate your sacrifice and gallows humor, I can’t allow that,” Rydell said. “There’s got to be some loophole we’re missing. Some way to stop this.”

“Let me check,” Jaroch said. “Guardian, is there a loophole we’re missing here?”

“NOPE.”

“Thank you.”

“YOU’RE WELCOME. OH, BY THE WAY, ONE MINUTE FIFTEEN SECONDS UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“I so love these irregular updates,” Rydell said.

“Time’s almost up,” Hawkins said. “Literally.”

“F*** it! What about ten years?” Baird said.

“THAT WOULD BE ACCEPTABLE.”

“Ten years!” Rydell shouted. “Baird!”

“Sorry, it’s the first thing that came to mind!”


“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, Ensign,” Sullivan said, gripping tightly to her chair as the Secondprize made another tight loop around the moon. She could almost hear the inertial dampeners screaming as they struggled to compensate.

“It’s working, isn’t it?” Carr snapped.

“This is worse than that Kirk’s Careening Career ride at FedWorld!” Woodville said, trying to control his nausea.

Sullivan watched the tactical display on the viewscreen as the two ships went around and around Forever’s moon. She had to hand it to Carr; there was no way Morticent was going to get a clear shot at them this way.


Morticent closed her eyes and tried to pretend that her world wasn’t spinning. As it was, she’d already covered Guardian #492 with today’s lunch.

“They’re reacting too quickly every time I change speed,” the flight officer said, irritated. “I can’t hit them.”

“They can’t keep this up forever,” Morticent said. “We will catch them.”

“OR THE UNIVERSE WILL END,” Guardian #492 said.

“At this point, I wouldn’t mind,” Morticent replied.

“CAN I GET A TOWEL?”


“UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION WILL BE PUT ON HOLD FOR TEN YEARS.”

“At least I stopped it!” Baird said.

“ONE MINUTE UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“What?” Rydell, Dillon, Baird, Hawkins, and Jaroch shouted.

“PLEASE CHOOSE AN ACCESS CODE TO INITIATE HOLD SEQUENCE.”

“Just do it!” they all screamed.

“…you f***ing rock,” Baird added.

“CODE SELECTED. SHUTTING DOWN.”

“Wait! What do we do now?” Rydell said.

“COME BACK IN 10 YEARS. YOUR ACCESS CODE IS…” Forever then played back the five Secondprize crewmembers screaming “Just do it!” and Baird’s “you f***ing rock.”

“Does that mean we have to all have to say that in unison again?” Hawkins asked.

“AFRAID SO. GOODBYE TILL LATER.”

“What does the access code do?” Dillon asked. There was no response. Jaroch scanned the cavern with his tricorder.

“I believe he has shut down,” Jaroch reported.

“I guess that’s a good thing,” Rydell said. “We’re safe anyway.”

“Temporarily,” Hawkins said.

“TWO SECONDS UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“F***!!!” Baird screamed as everyone dove to the cavern floor for something resembling cover…not that it would help if the universe was being destroyed.

“JUST KIDDING. I’M REALLY SHUTTING DOWN THIS TIME. BYE BYE.”

“I hate that f***ing thing,” Baird muttered.

“I concur,” Jaroch said.


“IT’S OVER,” Guardian #492 said simply.

“What?” Morticent demanded. The Mitgogae was still racing around and around the moon trying to blast the Secondprize.

“UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION HAS BEEN AVERTED.”

“But the time streams showed Rydell destroying the universe,” Morticent said. “What went wrong?”

“WE MONITOR ALL OF THE MANY POSSIBLE OUTCOMES.”

“We’re safe. Great. I went through all this for nothing.”

“NOT NOTHING. UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION WILL COMMENCE IN 10 STANDARD EARTH YEARS.”

“Damn that Rydell! I’ll kill him! I’ll remove every bone in his body with a shrimp fork. I’ll…”

“YOU WILL DO NOTHING. HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN STOP THE DESTRUCTION.”

“What do I do now?”

“ENJOY YOURSELF FOR TEN YEARS AND HOPE THAT HE IS SUCCESSFUL IN STOPPING UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION THEN.”

“Basically you’re telling me I’ve got ten years to live.”

“YES. MOST LIKELY.”

“Get us out of here. Time’s a wasting, and I’ve got a lot of living to do. Set course for the Lindus IV Luxury Resort. Maximum warp.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the flight officer said, pulling the Mitgogae away from Forever.

“And somebody get some booze up here!”


“They’re retreating!” Prescott said.

“From what?” Sullivan said. “Did they just get too dizzy?”

“Unknown.”

“I wasn’t being serious. Open a channel to the captain.”

“Aye.”

“Rydell here,” the captain’s voice said over the comm system. “We’re ready for beam out.”

“So I take it we’re not all about to become crispy critters.”

“Not today,” Rydell replied. “But I wouldn’t make any long term plans.”

“Sir?”

“I’ll explain later. Beam us up.”


“IT HAS BEEN AVERTED,” the voice in Trinian’s mind boomed. Trinian jolted awake, fighting to free herself from the drunken stupor she’d sunk into.

“HELLO?”

“Turn it down!” she screamed.

“WHAT?”

“You’re too damn loud,” Trinian thought back angrily. “Can’t you see I’m drunk here? The universe is about to end.”

“NOT ANYMORE. THE SECONDPRIZE FIVE WERE SUCCESSFUL.”

“Secondprize five? What the hell are you babbling about?”

“YOU MAKE IT VERY HARD FOR ME TO SPEAK IN COOL CRYPTIC PHRASES.”

“Forget the evasive crap and tell me what’s going on.”

“RYDELL AND FOUR OTHERS POSTPONED ANNIHILATION.”

“Postponed! For how long?”

“TEN STANDARD EARTH YEARS.”

“Goody.” Trinian took another drink.

“ARE YOU PLANNING ON STAYING DRUNK UNTIL THEN?”

“If I’m lucky.”


Dillon, Jaroch, Hawkins, Sullivan, and Baird had gathered in the conference room as Captain Rydell had requested. As usual, he was running late. The mood in the room was decidedly somber considering that they now knew the exact date everything was going to end. The only one remotely cheerful was Commander Baird, who now had the perfect counter-argument to Sullivan’s occasional hints that she wanted to have kids.

“Fun looking group,” Rydell said as he finally entered the room.

“Would you prefer that we broke out in song?” Jaroch said.

“Probably not, but it’d be good for a laugh. I just can’t imagine you singing,” Rydell said.

“Your loss. I have an excellent voice,” Jaroch said.

“Are we getting court-martialed or what?” Dillon demanded, unable to take the suspense anymore.

“No,” Rydell replied. “Starfleet would have preferred a bit more time to deal with the problem, but, otherwise, we’re off the hook.”

“Thank the great bird,” Dillon said, sinking back into his seat.

“You and your f***ing career,” Baird snapped. “It ain’t going to matter in ten years when we’re all space dust.”

“Calm down, Commander,” Rydell said. “Starfleet assures me that this is now first priority. The top minds in the Federation will be working on it.”

“Who?” Jaroch asked.

“Top minds,” Rydell said. “Don’t worry. Starfleet will have this all fixed long before the ten years are up.



TEN YEARS LATER


CHAPTER ONE

“Bureaucracy and Other Threats to the Universe”


Admiral Lisa Beck looked around her empty office deciding how she should decorate. Most of her belongings were still en route to Earth from Waystation, so brightening up the place would have to wait for a bit. Normally, this wouldn’t even be a concern, but, so far, her first day on the job after her promotion to admiral had been incredibly boring. Basically, no one seemed to know exactly what her duties were. She had an attache, but he was just sitting out at his desk playing Conquest of the Cosmos over subspace with the operations officer at Starbase 26. So, after trying to make work for herself for a couple of hours, Beck had settled in to her desk chair and started figuring out how she wanted the place to look.

“I wonder if they’d let me paint,” she muttered to herself as she considered the neutral white walls.

“Admiral Morrison to see you, ma’am.” Her attache’s voice over the comm system destroyed the quiet of her office.

“Send him in, Keenan.”

Beck stood up and straightened her uniform, trying to look as admiral-like as possible. Fleet Admiral Dick Morrison wandered in a few seconds later carrying a padd. His eyes slowly took in the room, coming to rest for a few seconds here and there, then finally settling on Beck.

“Good morning, sir,” Beck said after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.

“Morning. How is everything?”

“Fine. Fine. Just getting adjusted.” Morrison looked at her a bit longer as if waiting for something more from her answer.

“Well, I need to pull you away from whatever you’re doing for a bit.”

“Really?” Beck said a little too enthusiastically. Perhaps the boredom was about to end.

“The computer spat this out this morning,” Morrison said, gesturing with the padd. “It’s a decade old, but there was a flag on it to alert someone on this date.”

“Ten years later?” Beck asked.

“Looks like it. Although, judging by the content of the material, I wish they’d let us know sooner. Anyway, since it involves some former colleagues of yours, I thought I’d let you handle it.”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” Beck said, taking the padd from Morrison.

“No doubt. Hopefully, it won’t be too much trouble. Send me a report when you’ve taken care of the situation.”

Beck sat back down at her desk and started reading the information on the padd. It was a transcript of Captain Rydell’s reports concerning an entity known as Forever…and the possible destruction of the universe.

“Is this correct, sir?” Beck stammered.

“Afraid so. I have faith in you, though.”

“What kind of resources can you give me?” Beck asked. Morrison was quiet for a moment as he formulated his response.

“Ah…see, there’s the tricky part. We’d prefer that you handled this quietly. Avoid subspace communication. The usual. No need to cause a panic.”

“How quietly?” Beck said, not liking the sound of this.

“Just you, the Secondprize crewmembers involved, and a scientist. I took the liberty of informing Commander Porter in the Sciences Division to expect a call from you. You two were on Waystation together a while back, weren’t you?”

“Until about three years ago when he got sent to Sciences Division.”

“Great. Then you already have a working relationship. I’ll let you get to it then.”

Morrison headed back towards the door at his usual leisurely pace. “Glad to see things are going well. So long.”

“But, sir. What about a ship?” Beck said.

“The Secondprize will meet you at the Deneria Cluster,” Morrison said as he walked out of the office. Beck couldn’t help marveling that this man could ever have made it in Starfleet. He just seemed too…laid back. More like on tranquilizers.


“Let me get this straight,” Commander Craig Porter, the head of Starfleet Sciences’ temporal physics department, said. “The universe is going to end in two weeks?”

“According to the report,” Beck said as she talked to Porter’s holographic image that was being projected into her office.

“And the Secondprize is responsible.”

“Yep.”

“That is just so them.”

“Tell me about it.”

“The computer just came back with the info. Forever, as near as Jaroch was able to ascertain, is a focal point of chronometric energy. He believes that the Guardian of Forever the Federation knows about is somehow linked to it. Anyway, Forever started a countdown to destroy the universe that Rydell and the others stopped at the last moment. And only they can enter the access code to talk to Forever.”

“So, we’ll just get Jaroch there and…”

“No. It has to be all five of them.”

“Oh hell. This ain’t going to be easy.”

“Hell of a first day on the job, huh?”

“This is no time for sarcasm, Craig.”

“Seems perfect to me. I just love imminent doom.”

“How the hell did this slip by?” Beck asked.

“Whoever filed the report must have decided it could wait,” Porter replied. “That’s bureaucracy for you.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Well, Lisa, the ball’s in your court. What are you going to do?”

“First off, you’re going to Forever.”

“Great. I’ll alert my team.”

“No team. Just you. We’re under orders to keep this quiet.”

“Oh goody,” Porter said joylessly. “An all-expense paid vacation, and I can’t even take anyone. I just love all this crap.”

“Sorry, but this comes from way over my head. Just see if Forever’s really a threat and if you can get access to it. Don’t do anything too risky.”

“No ma’am. Relaxation all the way. I’m packing my swim trunks and sunscreen now. What about you?”

“What else can I do? I’m going to have to find Rydell and the others.”

“Suddenly it looks like I got the better end of this deal. Good luck, Admiral.”

“Same to you, Craig. And be careful. You’ll be alone with that thing until we can get there.”

Beck switched off the holographic projection unit and leaned back in her chair, trying to relax. She found it amazing how quickly life could put things in perspective for you. Five minutes ago, she was ready to paint the office lavender. Now, it just didn’t seem that important.



CHAPTER TWO

“Mandatory Un-Retirement”


Alexander Rydell had to admit that the stars really were beautiful tonight. They just seemed to be twinkling especially brightly this evening. And the reds and blues of the gasses of the nearby Ceranos Nebula also seemed more vibrant than usual. He lay back on the grass, resting his head in his hands. Up here, on the highest hill overlooking The Suburb Cottages and Spa, was about the only place on the entire planetoid Rydell could be alone with space.

“You’re wishing you were still up there again,” a female voice said from behind him. Karina Durham, Rydell’s wife and business partner, sat down next to him in the grass.

“Not even close,” Rydell said. “What brings you up to my little sanctum sanctorum?”

“Prince Jefoz in Cottage 6 wants to see about renting out the entire Suburb for his son’s wedding next year. Problem is we’re already booked up for the weekend he wants.”

“I swear command was easier than this.”

“I knew you were thinking about it.”

“I left Starfleet with no regrets. I’d boldly gone about as far as I wanted to go.”

“Can’t say that I was disappointed. The smuggling business was getting a bit old, too.”

“Sure it wasn’t that issue with the Shelliak?” Rydell said.

“You were all too pleased to charge to my rescue,” Karina said.

“Hey, I was just glad to run into you again.”

“And now look what’s happened,” Karina said, kissing Rydell softly. “You’re stuck with me.”

“Not exactly the word I’d choose, but I’m more than happy with the turn of events.” He returned the kiss, then added a few more for good measure. Soon, as is bound to happen in such exchanges, the situation quickly escalated.


The next morning, Rydell entered the control room of the Suburb ready to face another day in the harrowing world of resort management.

“Status report,” he said as soon as he walked through the door.

“The chlorination problem with the swimming pool has been stabilized,” Rydell’s assistant, Uhydel, reported. “We are expecting 24 check-outs and 17 check-ins today. That meteor swarm we’ve been monitoring should miss us by a good hundred thousand kilometers.”

“Good. Good. Sounds like everything’s under control.”

“One more thing, sir. There’s an Admiral Beck waiting for you in your office. She arrived in a Starfleet raceabout this morning.”

Rydell couldn’t help the large smile spreading across his face.

“Old friend, I take it,” Uhydel said.

“Yes, indeedy.”

Rydell almost ran the rest of the way to his office. Beck was inside admiring the various holographs hanging on the walls and resting on his desk.

“So it’s admiral now, huh?” Rydell said, as he entered. “Who’s idea was that?”

“Mine, I’m afraid,” Beck replied, turning to face Rydell. “Just started two days ago, and I’ve spent just about all of my time on a ship trying to come see you.”

“Don’t tell me you need command advice again.”

“Are you ever going to give me a hug? Or am I just going to have to come grab you?”

“I like the sound of that last one,” Rydell said. He wrapped his arms around Beck and hugged her tightly. “Damn, it’s good to see you.”

“You too, sir.” Beck said, pulling him closer.

“Would you please stop calling me that?” Rydell said, finally releasing the hug. “I’m retired, and you’d outrank me anyway.”

“You’re looking pretty good for an old retired guy.”

“Yeah, I guess I’m still pretty spry for a 46-year-old. But it’s not much of a retirement. This place keeps me plenty busy.”

“I’d imagine. From everything I’ve been hearing, you’ve got a nice little set up here.”

“We’ve certainly tried.”

“Oh yeah. How is Karina?”

“Fine. Just fine. She really seems to have found her calling.”

“That’s good. I wasn’t sure at the wedding if she’d be happy away from her smuggling and border-hopping and law breaking and…”

“I get the idea, Lisa.”

“Sorry. I’m really glad everything’s worked out, though.”

“Eight years and still going strong. But enough about me. What brings a powerful Starfleet official like yourself out to my establishment? I’m getting the feeling it’s not for a vacation.”

“I wish it was,” Beck said. She picked up the padd she brought with her off of Rydell’s desk and handed it to him. “Our computers just alerted us to this situation. Judging from the data, though, you’re the only one who can stop it.”

Rydell read through the report with growing disbelief. Starfleet hadn’t done a damn thing. They hadn’t even set up one of those “Keep the Hell Away from Here!!!” buoys in orbit around Forever.

“They were supposed to fix this!” Rydell exclaimed.

“Bureaucratic oversight,” Beck replied. “As soon as I find out who, I’m personally going to kill him.”

“If there’s anything or anyone left,” Rydell said.

“I’ve already got Craig Porter on his way to Forever to gather data on the situation. You and I are heading to the fleet-yards in the Deneria Cluster to start assembling the rest of the team.”

“Team? Oh god, it’s going to take all five of us, isn’t it?”

“That’s what your report suggests. Scott Baird and Jaroch will be at Deneria. We’re still trying to locate Patricia Hawkins. And Commander Dillon…is being seen to.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“I’ll fill you in when we get there. Starfleet’s been keeping it on a need to know basis. Come on. I’ve got the ship waiting.”

“Hold on a second, Lisa. I’ve got a life here. I can’t just go running off. Surely you guys can just fake my voice or something for the access code. After that, you don’t need me. I don’t do that stuff anymore. I’m a businessman.”

“I’m sorry to have to do this to you, Alex, but under regulation 564, subparagraph C, I’m reactivating your commission. Your orders are to do whatever you have to do to save the universe.”

“Jesus! No pressure or anything.”

“I’d love to be able to take care of this myself without disturbing anybody, but the stakes are too big,” Beck said. “We’re talking about the end of everything. You have to do this.”

“Just when I thought my universe saving days were over,” Rydell said, resigned to his fate. “Let me talk to Karina and grab a couple of things. I’ll contact you shortly.”

“Good enough. Welcome back.”

“Yeah. Yeah.”

Beck tapped her thumb and forefinger together, activating the sub-dermal communicator. “Beck to Columbia. Energize.” She vanished in a streak of energy as Rydell collapsed into his desk chair. His door chime sounded a few seconds later, and Karina poked her head into the office.

“Uhydel told me you had a visitor,” she said.

“Remember that old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for…’”

“Starfleet wants you back?”

“Not permanently, I hope. Just one more mission.”

“This could be just the thing for you. Let you get Starfleet fully out of your system. What sort of mission is it?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Alex, I’m your wife. I want to know.”

“Unless I can fix a mistake my crew and I made ten years ago, the universe is going to end in less than two weeks.”

Karina stared at him, dumbfounded.

“You aren’t serious,” she said finally.

Rydell just nodded.

“F***!!!”

“Yeah. That’s about the size of it.”

“Get going then! Move!” Karina shouted.

“You don’t mind me leaving?”

“Not for that! And don’t come back unless you saved us.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Rydell said humorlessly as he got up from his desk. He headed for the door, but stopped just before he got there. “I want you to know that I didn’t do this on purpose. I had no idea…”

“I don’t care,” Karina said. “It’s not like you cheated on me or something.”

“Mental note. Adultery is worse than galactic destruction.”

“Would you just go?” Karina said, wrapping her arms around him. “And be careful.”

“I will,” Rydell said. He kissed her. “I love you.”

“I love you, too….but there’s going to be a real strain on our marriage if you kill everyone.”



CHAPTER THREE

“Time to Reflect”


Commander Porter was blasted awake by the clang of someone pounding on his door. He groggily rolled out of bed and stumbled over to the door of his cabin…if the room could really be called that. The freighter Starfleet had conned into taking Porter to Forever was not equipped for passengers. The crew had cleaned out an old refrigerated compartment that was once used for transporting real meat to Klingon out-colonies. The smell still lingered a bit, but the mattress the crew had found for him was comfortable enough.

The pounding started again just as Porter reached the door and threw it open.

“What?” Porter demanded angrily. The eight-foot tall Jsinzi trader just stared down at him; an amused grin spread across both of his mouths.

“Time to go.”

Porter looked over at the chronometer by his bunk.

“It’s three hundred hours.”

“We’re here. Time for you to go…now!”

“All right. All right.” Porter pulled together his belongings as quickly as he could and followed the Jsinzi out into the corridor.

“What about my equipment?” Porter asked.

“Already beamed to coordinates. Now you beam to coordinates.”

“Why are you guys in such a hurry? You scared of something?”

The Jsinzi stopped in his tracks, almost causing Porter to run into the back of him. He turned to face the Starfleet officer, his face deadly serious.

“This is the space of time demons. No one comes here…cheaply.”

“Time demons? What the hell…” Before Porter could finish, the Jsinzi grabbed him by the front of his uniform and tossed him into their transporter chamber where another, equally-friendly-looking Jsinzi waited.

“Time to go,” the new Jsinzi said.

“I know. I know. But you guys are not getting a good review in Space Cruises Unlimited.”

The Jsinzi just stared at Porter confused.

“Great species,” Porter muttered as he stepped up on the transporter pad. “Big, ugly, and no sense of humor.”

About then, the Jsinzi unceremoniously beamed him off their ship and got the hell out of the solar system as fast as they could.


“Personal Log. Stardate 62004.8. I would just like to lodge a really freakin’ huge complaint against Starfleet Command, the Federation, and the universe at large for putting me in this mess. Oh sure, send Craig to the boring moon. Trap him inside a few miles of rock with nothing but some blipping computers for company. That’s just great. Well, this is that last time! Actually, if we don’t figure out some way to stop the end of the universe, it will be the last time.”


Commander Porter shut off his log recorder and took another bite of his dinner. At least Starfleet had had the decency to send a mini-replicator along with him. Rations always made him cranky.

“How did I get myself into this mess?” he muttered.

“YOU OBEYED ORDERS,” a deep voice boomed from all around him. Suddenly, the dark rocks and outcroppings lining the chamber of Forever began to sparkle with an eerie glow. Porter leapt up from his seat and activated his scanning equipment.

“Holy…! Are you Forever?”

“I AM. REACTIVATION SEQUENCE COMPLETE. TEN YEAR DORMANCY HAS ENDED. TEN DAYS UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“Already? Can’t you hit the snooze button for a few millennia or something?”

“WHERE ARE THE SECONDPRIZE FIVE?”

“On their way,” Porter replied. “I hope.”

“I’D HATE FOR THEM TO MISS THIS.”

“Yep. It’d be a sin and a shame.”

“HAS THE UNIVERSE PREPARED ITSELF?”

“Uh…I’m not sure what you mean.”

“IS YOUR SPECIES READY FOR UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION?”

“Can’t say that we are. Like I said, check back in a few millennia. Actually, we’re kind of slow. Make it a couple of eons.”

“WHY HAVEN’T YOU PREPARED?”

“Honestly, I just found out. Nobody told us.”

“SO YOU’VE JUST BEEN LIVING YOUR LIFE AS NORMAL FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS.”

“Afraid so.”

“BUMMER. MIND IF I ASK YOU A PERSONAL QUESTION?”

“Sure. Why the hell not?”

“WOULD YOU HAVE DONE ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY IF YOU’D KNOWN?”

“Yikes. Tough one.” Porter sat back down on a rock to consider. “I probably wouldn’t have worried so much about taking extra helpings at meals. Maybe gotten married. Had kids. No wait…no kids. They’d just be blown up. Nope. I guess I just would have had a lot more meaningless tawdry sex.”

“ADMIRABLE. PEOPLE NEVER TAKE ENOUGH TIME FOR PLEASURE. YOU ONLY GET TO DO THIS LIFE THING ONCE, YOU KNOW.”

“Unless you’re Yynsian.”

“OH YES. THOSE REINCARNATED PEOPLE. WEIRD BUNCH. I’LL BE GLAD TO GET RID OF THEM. BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU?”

“What about me?”

“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULDN’T DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT. WHAT ABOUT THIS?”

One of walls of the cavern suddenly started showing an image of the operations center of Waystation from many years ago…and a much younger Craig Porter. He was working at his console along with another officer. Porter immediately recognized her. Lieutenant Tilleran from the Explorer.

“WHAT ABOUT HER? SHE WAS QUITE FOND OF YOU.”

“We had different postings. It wouldn’t have worked.”

“YOU DIDN’T EVEN TRY. AND LOOK AT HER NOW.”

The image changed to show Tilleran, still looking beautiful, but a bit older, playing in a park with two kids. A tall, dark-haired man walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.

“THAT COULD HAVE BEEN YOU WITH HER.”

“Thanks for telling me.”

“SHAME SHE DOESN’T KNOW THE UNIVERSE IS ABOUT TO END.” Forever was quiet for a moment. “HEY, YOU WANT TO SEE HER NAKED?”

“No!!!” Porter shouted.

“JUST TRYING TO HELP, BUT LET’S MOVE ON.”

“Please.”

“WHAT ABOUT YOUR SHIP DESIGN? YOU COULD HAVE SOLD A MILLION OF THOSE.” The image shifted to show Porter’s prototype spaceship design he’d spent years building speeding through the stars. “IT WAS A GOOD DESIGN. WHAT HAPPENED?”

“Well…”

“YOU DIDN’T FOLLOW THROUGH!” Forever snapped, cutting him off. “YOU HAVEN’T FOLLOWED THROUGH ON MUCH OF ANYTHING, HAVE YOU? AND WHEN YOU DO, YOU GO THE WRONG WAY. LIKE THIS FOOTBALL GAME…”

The image changed again to show an 11-year-old Porter running down field, trying to avoid a tackle, then getting clobbered by two other guys.

“WHY IN THE COSMOS DID YOU TRY TO DODGE RIGHT? YOU SHOULD HAVE GONE LEFT! YOUR WHOLE LIFE IS JUST A LIST OF ONE BAD CHOICE RIGHT AFTER ANOTHER. NO WONDER YOU’RE 43 AND STILL ALONE.”

“You think maybe we could speed up this end of the universe thing?”



CHAPTER FOUR

“Last One Out Gets Stuck With the Check”


Morticent let out another tiny moan of pleasure as the Loifred masseuse continued working on her back. So far, the Breen Seven Spa and Gardens was turning out to be everything the brochure claimed and more. Morticent wondered why she’d waited so long to come check the place out. Of course, she really couldn’t regret those months in the Pleasure Pools of Heunica Prime.

“Those seven arms really come in handy in this line of work,” she mumbled happily.

“Yes, ma’am,” the Loifred replied. Using three of his arms, he hoisted her body up into the air, while he used the other four to work on both the front and back of her legs at the same time.

“Oh gods, this is heavenly.”

“NO DOUBT,” the voice of Guardian #492 said, interrupting her revelry.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” Morticent said. “You’re getting too good at that.”

“PRACTICE,” the Guardian replied as he walked over to her. As soon as she could find someone to do it, Morticent had an android body constructed to house the obelisk of Guardian #492. Now, he was a dashing, dark-haired, dark-eyed adonis…and a fully-functional one at that. The price had been hefty, but Morticent figured that’s why credit tubes were invented. Buy now and pay later. Right now, though, Guardian #492’s face looked positively grim.

“Is there a problem?”

“OUR TIME IS UP. FOREVER HAS REACTIVATED, AND STARFLEET IS THERE.”

“Rydell?”

“NOT YET. THIS ONE IS NOT OF THE SECONDPRIZE FIVE.”

“But they’ll be there soon enough.”

“WHAT WILL WE DO?”

“Rydell and the others will try to save the universe. What can we do? We have to stop them.”

“SOME WOULD FIND IT IRONIC THAT TEN YEARS AGO WE WERE DETERMINED TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE AND NOW WE JUST WANT IT DESTROYED.”

“Yeah, well those people haven’t seen my credit card bills. Let’s get back to the ship.”

“Shall I stop the massage?” the Loifred asked.

“In a few minutes, beautiful creature. I need a bit more work on my back. Guardian, honey, get the Mitgogae ready to go. We’ll leave as soon as I’m done here. And send the boys to my quarters. I’m in the mood for a little exercise after all this relaxing.”

“WOULD YOU LIKE THEM OILED?”

“Of course! What kind of stupid question is that?”

“MY APOLOGIES. I WILL SEE YOU BACK ON THE SHIP ONCE YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR IMPORTANT BUSINESS.”

“Are you jealous?”

“THAT IS RIDICULOUS. I AM INCAPABLE OF JEALOUSY. I SERVE FOREVER.”

“Oh yeah sure. That’s why you’re helping destroy the universe.”

“I WILL NOT DIGNIFY THAT WITH A RESPONSE.”

“I adore you, too, Guardy,” Morticent cooed. “Give me some love.”

Guardian #492 leaned down and kissed her, an action he always found extremely pleasant…even if Morticent always insisted on thrusting her tongue into his mouth.

“Oil yourself up too, baby. You need some relaxation.”

“RETURN QUICKLY,” Guardian #492 replied, unsuccessfully trying to hide the eagerness in his voice, then headed for the door.

As Guardian #492 left, the Loifred flipped Morticent onto her back and started using all seven hands to work on her front.

“You want a new employer?” Morticent asked dreamily. “I could let you do this forever…however long that is.”


“Beautiful,” Trinian said to herself softly as she finished watching the sunrise over the Great Ocean of Galinys Twelve. The synchronized sunrise of five separate suns created unbelievable light displays in the sky and on the water of the planet, and, from her perch on top of Mount Kilodee, Trinian had the best seat in the house. She pulled a padd and a thermos out of her pack and poured herself a steaming cup of coffee while she scrolled down the contents of the padd.

“Sunrise on Galinys Twelve. Check.” She marked off that item on her list of things to see in the galaxy before it ended. So far, she was well into the “s” range, which wasn’t bad considering how much stuff there really was to see.

“ENJOYING YOURSELF?”

The voice suddenly booming in her mind was the absolute last thing Trinian wanted to hear right now.

“Leave me alone, Guardian Control.”

“I’M AFRAID WE CAN’T DO THAT. FOREVER HAS REACTIVATED.”

“And now the universe is going to end. I know. That’s why I’m here.”

“RYDELL CAN SAVE IT. YOU MUST HELP HIM.”

“Alex is going? I thought he was retired.”

“THE SECONDPRIZE FIVE WILL RETURN TO FOREVER. YOU MUST PROTECT THEM.”

“From what? And isn’t Morticent assigned to this now?”

“WE HAVE LOST CONTACT WITH HER AND GUARDIAN #492. WE FEAR THAT SHE HAS SUFFERED A MILD CASE OF CHANGED PRIORITIES.”

“Meaning what exactly?”

“WELL…SHE AND GUARDIAN #492 MAY BE LESS THAN OPPOSED TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“Would you just tell me what’s going on?” Trinian snapped angrily.

“THEY’RE GOING TO TRY TO STOP THE SECONDPRIZE FIVE. THEY WANT TO END IT ALL. THEY’VE GONE MAD, I TELL YOU! MAD!!!”

“All right. All right. I’ve got it. I’ll see what I can do.”

“GOOD LUCK, TRINIAN. YOU CAN FIND RYDELL IN THE DENERIA CLUSTER.”

“That’s light years from here!”

“HOPEFULLY TRAFFIC WILL BE LIGHT. I’LL BE IN TOUCH.”

“So, I’m just supposed to race off and stop Morticent on my own?”

“THAT’S ABOUT THE SIZE OF IT.”

“Goody.”


Morticent strolled languidly through the corridors of the improved Mitgogae towards the bridge. The ship had become a streamlined spear of pleasure and pain rocketing through the cosmos. She’d had luxuries like the galaxy had never seen installed on board. There were devices that specialized in manicures, pedicures, massages (even though Morticent always preferred the hands, tentacles, or paws of a living being), and gourmet cuisine that would put the finest replicators Starfleet had to shame. She had holodecks stocked with the most relaxing or arousing programs the imagination could think of.

And Morticent used it all. She brought beings she found intriguing in some way on board, gave them the experience of their lives, then dumped the off somewhere when she’d grown bored. Through it all, though, Guardian #492 had been there. He’d never admit to loving her, but she was sure that he did, especially once she had a body constructed for him. And despite all of the other beings she’d been with in the last 10 years, she was going to oblivion with Guardian #492. If that meant she loved him, so be it.

“I HAVE SET A COURSE FOR FOREVER,” Guardian #492 reported as Morticent walked onto the bridge. He sat at the lone console on the massive bridge. Everything else had been automated over the years as the crew had either been dumped or converted for other uses. Now, Guardian #492 could run the ship from the console, if necessary, while Morticent sat in the command chair. Well, it was really more of throne now, with ornately-carved armrests upholstered in the plushiest fabric she could find. The seat cushion of the same material could be set for various massage and heat functions as could the chair back. When needed, the whole assembly flipped back and transformed into a bed, with additional sections rising out of the floor should guests be expected.

“We aren’t going to Forever,” Morticent said, easing herself into her most wonderful of chairs. “We’ve got a few errands to run first.”

“SURELY YOU HAVEN’T RUN OUT OF KYNELLIAN BON-BONS ALREADY?”

“That’s not the kind of errand I meant,” Morticent replied. “We need to recruit some assistance.”

“AGAINST THE SECONDPRIZE FIVE? WE HAVE ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL VESSELS IN THE QUADRANT.”

“I’m not taking any chances. There’s far too much at stake. I don’t want there to be any possibility that Rydell could accidentally go and save the universe. We’re all going to die, dammit! Now look, you’ve gotten me all tense.”

“DO YOU REQUIRE ASSISTANCE?”

“You read my mind,” Morticent said with a wicked grin as she walked up beside Guardian #492 and typed in some coordinates. The engines roared to life, snapping the ship into warp. “Why don’t we take a little stroll back to my chambers and see what you can do to help out your captain?”

“IF THAT IS WHAT MY DUTY REQUIRES,” Guardian #492 replied getting up from his seat. Moments like this made him feel so sorry for the Guardians still stuck as rocks. Sure, he used to be jealous of the upper level Guardians that could actually access Forever, but they sat as empty rings of stone on barren worlds waiting for someone to drop by and ask them a question. Boring!

Guardian #492 was mobile. He was seeing the galaxy. He was feeling things the other Guardians could only dream of. Of course, in exchange, he had to destroy the universe, but that seemed like such a small price to pay next to ten years of hedonism with Morticent. Screw the cosmos! He had more important people to do.



CHAPTER FIVE

“Wedded Bliss and Other Universal Improbabilities”


Rydell and Beck checked the numbers on the cabins on either side of the corridor as they moved through the residential area of the Deneria Dry Dock facility. While conveniently being the closest Federation docking facility to the moon of Forever, Deneria was also home to Captain Scott Baird, who currently served as Supervising Refit and Repair Officer for the dock. In effect, he ran the place, but Starfleet had assigned an administrator to act as facility commander due to a years-old restriction in Baird’s file prohibiting him from ever being in total command of any Starfleet outpost, ship, or mission. While some people might have been upset by this, Baird couldn’t have cared less. Let someone else handle the administrative crap; his place was on the ships.

At least it usually was. Right now, the station computer was telling Rydell and Beck that he was in his quarters.

“Think he’ll be happy to see us?” Beck asked casually as they stopped outside of Cabin H-444.

“Was he ever happy to see anyone?” Rydell asked. He noticed some writing below the cabin number and squinted to read it. Karina kept telling him that he needed to see someone about his eyes, but he’d never gotten around to it. Besides, even though Tantalus V had assured him that Dr. Rebecca Singer was completely cured when they recommended (No ordered. They had made some vague threats about asking Starfleet to annex his planetoid.) that he hire her on as the physician for The Suburb, she still gave him the creeps. Of course, considering she’d tried to kill him, Rydell felt his attitude was perfectly understandable.

The writing below the cabin number resolved itself into SULLIVAN/BAIRD.

“There’s a surprise,” Rydell muttered. Hell, Scott Baird and Emily Sullivan’s entire relationship had been a surprise. The fact that they’d gotten married and stayed together for ten years was down-right shocking.

“It takes all kinds,” Beck said, echoing Rydell’s thoughts. “Shall we get this over with?”

“Might as well,” Rydell said, straightening his suit. Even though Beck had shanghaied him back into service, at least she hadn’t made him get back into uniform. He absolutely despised those things.

Beck pressed the door chime, immediately evoking a series of deep roars from inside the cabin.

“Damn,” Beck muttered. “I knew Emily said his snoring was bad, but…”

The doors opened, cutting her off. Before she or Rydell could react, a giant black monster leapt out of the room, tackling Rydell with another demonic blast of sound. Beck tried to grab the thing and pull it off of Rydell, but the beast was too strong for her. Finally, Scott Baird, unshaven and dressed in a bathrobe, strolled casually out of the cabin, grabbed the furry hell-spawn by its hind legs, and dragged it back into his quarters.

“You coming or not?” he shouted back at Beck and Rydell. Beck helped Rydell, who was now practically drenched in the saliva of the beast, up, and the two of them entered the cabin. Baird himself had gone to the back, presumably to close up the four-legged horror in the back leaving Rydell and Beck to survey their surroundings. Despite Baird’s initial appearance, he was actually the messiest thing about the quarters. The living room was decorated simply except for the intricate metal sculptures that sat in various corners, and the giant metallic castle that hung on the far wall of the room.

“Dang mutt,” Baird grumbled, re-emerging for the back hallway of the cabin. He looked at Rydell and Beck, taking in who they were for the first time. “This doesn’t look like a social visit. I’m not going to be happy about this, am I?” he said simply.

“Probably not,” Rydell said, extending his hand to Baird, who shook it unenthusiastically. Baird and Beck simply exchanged a nod of recognition.

“Figures,” Baird said, slumping down on the sofa and waving Rydell and Beck to the two armchairs opposite it.

“Who was at the door?” Emily Sullivan’s voice called from the back. Moments later, she walked into the living room, straightening the pips on her uniform.

“Captain Sullivan, I presume,” Rydell said, standing up and smiling.

“Oh my God!” Sullivan exclaimed happily, racing over to Beck and Rydell, each of whom she hugged in turn.

“Them,” Baird muttered.

“What are you two doing here?” Sullivan said.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to borrow Scott,” Beck said. “Official business.”

“Official business you can’t tell me about?” Sullivan said, turning serious.

“Afraid not, Emily,” Rydell said.

“They pulled you out of retirement, didn’t they?” Sullivan said, coming to understand the import of what was happening.

“Mister Rydell is not at liberty to discuss that,” Beck said. “Please don’t push me on this, Emily.”

Sullivan looked between Rydell and Beck, then turned to her husband. “You’d better get my ship finished.”

“Whatever,” Baird said. Another unearthly roar emanated from down the hallway.

“What is that thing?” Rydell asked.

“Compromise,” Sullivan said. Rydell and Beck looked at her confused. “I wanted kids; he didn’t. So we got a dog.”

“And he’s named Compromise?” Beck asked.

“Cute, huh?” Baird said disdainfully.

“Well, I need to see how the repairs are going. You guys can talk about your secret stuff until I get back,” Sullivan said.

“You wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t hit that comet,” Baird said.

“But if I didn’t hit things, how would I come back to see you, sweetums?” Sullivan replied playfully, then planted a kiss on his forehead. “I’ll see you later.”

“Absolutely,” Baird said, pulling her in for a kiss on the lips. Sullivan, after finishing the kiss, straightened her uniform again and headed for the door.

“If you’re still here later, we should have dinner.”

“That’d be great,” Beck said. “Jaroch should be here by then.”

“Jaroch too? What’s this? A reunion, and I wasn’t invited?”

“Emily,” Rydell said.

“I know. I know. Just be careful with him,” she said.

“We will. I promise,” Rydell replied as Sullivan left.

“So what’s this about?” Baird said, once Sullivan had left. Beck and Rydell retook their seats and explained the situation. During the course of it, Baird sat up, his eyes widening with alarm. Once Rydell and Beck finished, Baird struggled for words. He almost seemed to be going into a seizure as he tried to form the syllables.

“Fu…fu…he…sh…crap! I thought they were supposed to fix that?”

“Are you all right?” Rydell asked.

“Yeah. It’s this da…darn profanity filter,” Baird said. “Starfleet made me put one in or else they wouldn’t give me the position here.”

“You wanted it that badly?”

“Fu…Yes!” Baird said, fury evident on his face. “But I can’t stand not being able to talk normally. Bunch of bulls….cowdung…if you ask me.”

“It does take away a bit of your charm,” Beck said.

“No kidding. So what are we doing about this Forever situation?”

“What else can we do?” Rydell said. “We’re going to get the team that initially went down there together and see if we can stop it.”

“All of us?” Baird asked, concerned.

“Yeah,” Rydell replied confused. “Why wouldn’t we?”

“Even Dillon?” Baird said. Beck shot him a warning glance that Rydell missed.

“Of course,” Rydell replied. “He may have been a bit of a dork, but he was there.” Baird and Beck exchanged glances. “Is there something you aren’t telling me?” Beck and Baird shifted in an uncomfortable silence.

“Spacedock Control to Admiral Beck,” a voice broke in suddenly over the comm system.

“Beck here,” she said, obviously relieved.

“The Secondprize is preparing to dock.”

“Thank you. Beck out. Go get dressed, Captain,” Beck said to Baird. “We’ll meet you at the airlock.”


“Would you like to tell me what that was about?” Rydell said as he and Beck headed towards the turbolift down the corridor from Baird’s cabin.

“Not really,” Beck said as she stepped into the lift followed by Rydell. “Deck Nineteen.” The turbolift smoothly eased upwards.

“Is this some more classified crap?” Rydell demanded testily.

“Dillon is…on assignment,” Beck said. “I can’t tell you any more right now.”

“Oh don’t tell me someone made him Starfleet Intelligence.”

“I really can’t talk about it right now,” Beck said. The turbolift slowed to a halt, and the doors opened revealing a vast set of windows looking out into the dry dock facility. The windows had to be three stories high, providing a fantastic view of the various ships gathered there for repairs and refits.

On the far side of the dock, Rydell could see the giant space doors slowly open, allowing a view of the stars beyond. Then, a familiar ship silhouette filled the space, a thick saucer sitting on a squat hull. Two long nacelles stretching back into the void beyond. Even though they were years behind state of the art, Rydell still felt the Excelsior class starship was one of the most beautiful designs Starfleet had ever come up with.

“She looks great,” he said softly.

“Oldest ship still in active use,” Beck said. “No matter what people may have said about your methods, or Jaroch’s for that matter, you two have kept her in one piece.”

“Yep. Sure did,” Rydell said. Beck didn’t need to know about that minor issue with the Next Federation.

The Secondprize, operating on maneuvering thrusters only, pulled into a docking slot near the observation room Beck and Rydell were in. Beck was about to suggest that they go meet the ship, but Rydell was already halfway out the door. He looked back at her, his eyes sparkling happily as his mouth spread into an uncontrollable grin.

“Guess I missed her more than I thought,” he said with a chuckle.

“Not a problem,” Beck said, returning the smile as she caught up with him.



CHAPTER SIX

“Dinner of the Darned”


The ensign who opened the Secondprize airlock looked like she’d just gotten out of bed. Her uniform was a wrinkled mess, and her hair was standing up in directions Rydell was pretty sure were a physical impossibility. She was in the midst of stifling a yawn when her eyes locked on Beck’s admiral’s uniform and widened in terror.

“Surprise inspection!” she screamed, running off down the corridor as if the Devil himself was after her.

Beck couldn’t help laughing. “I think I pulled that same maneuver a few weeks after I came on board.”

“You learned quick,” Rydell replied, looking around. The ship had obviously been through at least one major refit in the eight years since he’d last been on board. The hallways were newer, sleeker, with shiny black computer interface panels lining the walls. The lighting, though, was as bright and cheery and ever. It was nice to see that the Secondprize hadn’t given in to Starfleet’s moody lighting phase.

Beck grabbed a passing lieutenant who seemed spectacularly unconcerned by her presence or her rank. “Inform Captain Jaroch that he has guests,” she ordered.

“Sure,” the lieutenant replied snidely. “You want me to pick you up some lunch while I’m at it? Maybe do your nails? Jeeze. Some people.” He stormed off, but Beck did hear him contact the bridge and tell Jaroch about his impending visitors.

“Jaroch seems to be carrying on the high standards on crew conduct you established,” Beck said.

“Why mess with what works?” Rydell said as they entered a turbolift. “Bridge.”

“You do not have access to that level,” the computer voice replied flatly.

“Ouch,” Rydell muttered.

“Sorry about that,” Beck said. “But you’re the one who decided to go civilian. Bridge.” The lift immediately rocketed upwards, soon stopping at the nerve center of the ship.

As the doors opened, Rydell and Beck were surprised to find the room dark except for the glow of the consoles.

“Hello?” Beck said as she and Rydell stepped tentatively out of the turbolift. Voices suddenly filled the air.


For she’s a jolly good admiral,

For she’s a jolly good admiral,

For she’s a jolly good admiral!

Which nobody can deny!


The lights flicked on and seven officers jumped out from behind chairs and consoles shouting, “SURPRISE!”

“Uh…thanks,” Beck said. “But you’re supposed to surprise me, then sing.”

“I wanted to do the song first,” a dark-haired woman said, stepping to the head of the group. Rydell suddenly realized that this was Andrea Carr. She’d cut her hair short and she was a bit older, but it was her. She now had the pips of a commander on her collar. Andrea had done well for herself. When Rydell retired, she’d only been a lieutenant for about a year and a half.

Carr seemed to recognize Rydell about the same time as he’d gathered her identity. “Captain!” she exclaimed, rushing over to hug him. “Wow! I’ve missed you!”

“I’ve missed you too, Andrea,” Rydell replied. Damn, this woman could almost hug as tightly as Counselor Webber.

“I didn’t know you were coming, or I would have had a song ready for you as well.”

“Your presence is a surprise,” a familiar male voice said. Jaroch had just entered the bridge from his ready room. Rydell didn’t think he’d aged a bit. “But not an unpleasant one.” Jaroch turned to Admiral Beck. “I apologize for your welcome, Admiral, but my first officer thought it would be…nice.”

“It was great, Jaroch. Really,” Beck replied.

Rydell gaped at Carr. “You’re the first officer?”

“Yes, sir,” Carr replied, straightening to attention.

“And a very competent one at that,” Jaroch replied. “We make an excellent team.”

“Thank you, sir,” Carr said, almost blushing. In fact, she’d only been first officer for about six months. In the eight years between the time Rydell retired and Carr was appointed to the position, Starfleet had posted nineteen other first officers to the Secondprize. All of them had left after a short stay. Jaroch had tried to explain to Starfleet that the Secondprize was a unique environment, and, therefore, they should promote someone from the Secondprize crew to the job. Starfleet, however, didn’t believe that a starship could or should be a unique environment, so they kept bringing in poor saps from other ships. Eight years and one extended visit from an admiral that ended with her commitment to Tantalus V convinced Starfleet to take Jaroch’s advice.

“Am I to assume that our summons here is due to more than social reasons?” Jaroch asked.

“Afraid so,” Beck said. Rydell had to admit that it was nice being on a mission with someone else in charge for a change. Of course, being on a mission at all was a change compared to what he’d been doing since he retired. But even at The Suburb, he was still in charge. Here, he could kind of relax…except for that imminent destruction of the universe part.

“Can we use your conference room?” Beck asked.

Jaroch looked at her unsure for a moment. “Of course,” he said finally.

“Andrea, Scott Baird’s going to come looking for us in a moment,” Beck said. “Just send him in.”

“Sure,” Carr replied. “But, I don’t…”

“We’re all going to have dinner together later if you want to come,” Rydell said, jumping in diplomatically before Beck had to tell Carr she wasn’t allowed in the meeting.

“Sounds great,” Carr said, brightening as the others entered the conference room. She was a bit irked about not being invited to the meeting, but she figured Jaroch would explain it all to her eventually. She WAS his first officer.


Rydell immediately noticed some changes in the conference room. First off, the pool table that sat where the conference table used to be was a big tip off. On the far side of the room, a simple bar had been set up, and the inner wall off the room, opposite the large windows looking out into space, had a buffet sitting in front of it. Now Rydell had added the buffet himself; it increased attendance at staff meetings. But the rest of it was new. He and Beck looked at Jaroch questioningly.

“We find that it helps our productivity,” Jaroch said. “And I am quite good.” In one fluid motion, he snatched a cue stick out of the rack on the wall and slammed it into the cue ball on the table, sending the white orb flying into the perfectly racked assembly of balls at the other end. After a bit of clacking and rolling, three striped balls dropped into various pockets.

“Nice,” Rydell said, taking the stick from Jaroch. He sized up the situation on the table, then hit the cue ball, which obediently ricocheted of a side and knocked a couple of solids into pockets.

“I am assuming, judging by the stardate, that you are here concerning Forever,” Jaroch said. Rydell and Beck looked at him in surprise. “I have kept tabs on Starfleet’s progress on the matter over the years.”

“What progress?” Beck muttered.

“Exactly,” Jaroch said. “And now we must return to Forever to attempt to stop the destruction of the universe…again.”

“Well, that was easy,” Beck said. Just then, Captain Baird entered the room.

“Well, if it ain’t Jaroch,” Baird said, more jovially than usual. He shook hands with Jaroch, then looked at the table. “You ain’t going to turn into J’Ter and kick my a…butt when I stomp you, are you?”

“You have my word on it,” Jaroch said, re-racking the balls.

“Good.”

“J’Ter’s word is another matter entirely,” Jaroch said, looking up at Baird with a devilish grin.

“This looks like a perfect place to assign teams,” Beck said.

“For the game?” Baird asked.

“That and this mission,” Beck replied. “Tomorrow, you and I are going to take my raceabout and get Patricia Hawkins.”

“That should be cute,” Baird said.

“Meanwhile, you two will go get Dillon,” Beck said to Rydell and Jaroch.

“As you say, this will be cute,” Jaroch replied. “Has the captain been informed of Dillon’s status?”

“No,” Beck said. “And he won’t be until you get there. Understood?”

“Absolutely,” Jaroch said. “I take it I am just supposed to order the crew to cart us around the galaxy without explaining why.”

“Is that a problem?” Beck asked.

“It should not be. They do not ask where we are headed most of the time.”

“Good, then I’ll leave Dillon’s arrangements up to you.”

“Yee haa,” Jaroch said flatly. “I get to make his bed and tuck him in. I am so looking forward to seeing him again.”

“I’m sure,” Beck said, taking a stick off of the rack on the wall. “But you can worry about that after Scott and I demolish you.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” Jaroch replied.

“Just finish racking the balls,” Beck said.

“Ooh. Sounds kinky,” Rydell said.

“You wish,” Beck said. “I could take all three of you.”

“Great. You name the place; I’ll bring the lemon meringue,” Rydell replied. Beck ignored him and aimed her pool cue. With a sadistic grin, she hit the cue ball into the racked group with all of her might. “Game on, boys.”


The group of Secondprize officers, both past and present, gathered for dinner in one of the spacedock restaurants overlooking the repair facility. Every facility like Deneria that Rydell had ever been in had one of these restaurants. Starfleet knew what the big attraction was. Everyone wanted to look out at the ships. Therefore, the lighting was dim, allowing the diners a glare-free look at the mighty starships in the docking bay.

In the low light, Rydell could almost imagine that he was still assigned to the Secondprize and having dinner with his crew. The voices he heard were the same, but he knew each of them had a gained a wrinkle or two, or perhaps a little weight. And maybe they’d lost a bit of hair…or even a bit of eyesight.

Rydell berated himself for his thoughts. He wasn’t even fifty yet, and he was talking as though his life were winding to a close. Sure, he wasn’t out wandering the stars anymore, but he had a very full life at The Suburb. And, most importantly, he had Karina. Running into her again eight years ago had been the decisive moment in his life. He knew then that he’d had enough of the lonely life of a starship captain. He wanted to settle down in one place with one person and see what adventures marriage had to offer. Luckily, time proved that Karina felt the same way. Their time together had been and was still the most fulfilling he had ever known. Yes, occasionally, he yearned for the stars, but they could always go tool around in their own ship. He had no desire to climb back in the center seat of a starship. Let the others have that life.

He looked around the table at his former colleagues…his friends. The feeling was a bit strange. In some ways, it was like he’d never left. They fell right back in talking and laughing together as they had been when they were all on the same ship.

But then, he could also feel the great gulf between them. Of the six people seated at that table, five of them were in Starfleet uniforms. Only Rydell had left. The others, while still his friends, talked about things he didn’t really understand, technologies he didn’t know, alien races he’d never heard of, and Starfleet politics involving admirals he’d never met.

As wonderful as it was to see them all again, Rydell knew that he wasn’t a part of their lives anymore. He’d finish this mission and leave or die trying. Either way, he doubted that he’d ever be back with them in a group like this again.

He was snapped back to reality as Beck placed her hand on his shoulder. “Come on,” she said, gesturing her head away from the table.

“Where are we going?” Rydell asked confused.

“To dance,” Beck said, grabbing his arms and pulling him out of his chair. “You looked a bit too serious,” she continued, dragging him to the dance floor as some bouncy rhythm played in the background. He recognized the music playing. Actually, he’d written the music that was playing. It was one of his parents’ big hits from back when they preformed.

Rydell smiled, drawing a smile from Beck. So, they had their own lives. He had one as well. Beck had no idea that the melody her body moved to had been penned years ago by the man dancing in front of her. She had no idea that the duo Fabe and Mabe were actually his parents. She didn’t even know that, at the tender age of thirteen, he’d written eight of the songs that were to become their biggest smashes.

Inwardly, Rydell thanked whoever had put that song on. It was just the kick in the rear he needed to remind himself that there was a lot more to life than Starfleet. These people were his friends; they always would be. But their lives were moving different ways. He’d enjoy the days they had together. And, somehow, he couldn’t even begin to believe that they’d be his last. After that, maybe they’d come visit him at The Suburb. Maybe he’d pull Karina away for a week or two and go visit some of them. It was his life; he could do what he wanted with it…as could any of them.

Most likely, the only one who felt there was any tension between them because Rydell left Starfleet was Rydell himself. Well, Karina always told him that he could get moody at times. Best to just relax and dance.

Tomorrow, he could worry about saving the galaxy.



CHAPTER SEVEN

“The Pitstops on the Way to Forever”


After spending a couple of days there, Commander Porter was of the opinion that Forever wasn’t too bad as far as roommates went. Generally, Forever just was. He didn’t say much or flash his glowing rocks when Porter was trying to sleep.

On the downside, he wasn’t very forthcoming with information. All of Porter’s scans had done little more than confirm what Jaroch had concluded ten years earlier. Yes, Forever seemed to be a major convergence point for chronometric energy. Yes, Forever was obviously sentient. Yes, Forever seemed intent on destroying the universe. No, Porter couldn’t stop it.

“YOU MIND IF I ASK YOU SOMETHING?” Forever said as Porter poured over the latest series of chronometric readouts he’d taken. It was the first time either of them had spoken in several hours.

“Sure,” Porter replied distractedly.

“YOU EVER THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE?”

“Of course. Everybody does. I don’t really dwell on it. I always just figured it’d happen when it got here…unless you blow up everything.”

“I AM NOT GOING TO BLOW UP EVERYTHING,” Forever said.

“You’re not?” Porter said, getting excited.

“NO. IT’S GOING TO BE MORE OF A TEMPORAL TIDAL WAVE CRASHING THROUGH THE UNIVERSE OBLITERATING EVERYTHING IN ITS PATH.”

“Gee. Great. Much better,” Porter replied, turning back to his readouts.

“I THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE.”

“No surprise there. You already know it.”

“NOT REALLY. I KNOW THE POSSIBLE FUTURES. AND BOY ARE THERE A LOT OF THOSE. DO YOU REALIZE THAT IF YOU HAVE TOAST THIS MORNING INSTEAD OF EGGS, I HAVE TO TRACK OUT AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT TIMELINE? TRY DOING THAT FOR EVERY BEING IN THE UNIVERSE. OY! WHAT A HEADACHE!”

“Sorry about that.”

“I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO ENDING IT ALL. MAYBE NEXT TIME THEY’LL BUILD SOMETHING SIMPLER. FIVE OR TEN PLANETS WOULD BE PERFECT, NOT BILLIONS.”

“I hope that all works out for you,” Porter muttered. “Meanwhile, the rest of us will be wiped out of existence.”

“OH DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. I HEAR OBLIVION IS LOVELY THIS TIME OF YEAR.”

Porter just glared.

“THAT WAS A JOKE. LIGHTEN UP, BUDDY. YOU’RE TAKING THIS UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION STUFF MUCH TOO HARD.”


Light years away, Trinian sat in the galactic equivalent of a bus station waiting to catch a transport. The Ollekon next to her was sound asleep, snoring out of one mouth and drooling out of the other. He also smelled like he hadn’t showered in a couple of hundred years. Trinian sighed and tried to focus on the holovision show playing across the room. Of course, the sound was completely down, so she couldn’t hear a thing. Why bother showing anything if you weren’t going to let anyone hear it?

Her stomach rumbled and did a slight twist as it tried to digest the bacon and eggs she’d had for breakfast in the spaceport cafeteria. The meal had sounded appealing at the time, since the spaceport actually had a cook. The woman claimed to be from Earth, so Trinian took her up on the offer of a traditional Terran breakfast. She hadn’t eaten good Earth food since she lived on the planet back in the late 20th/early 21st century.

But now she regretted it. Just as she was regretting a lot of things. Why did she have to go on vacation at the exact time Rydell encountered Forever? Why didn’t she just honestly tell Rydell ahead of time why she was really on board? Surely attempting to prevent the end of the universe warranted affecting the timeline just a tad. That’s what she would have ended up doing anyway if she’d been on board at the time. But her goal as a First Monitor of Forever was to prevent the destruction without letting Rydell and the others know that she knew the future…sort of.

Now, here she was ten years later, stuck in a rat hole somewhere in the Beta Quadrant. Having to use public transit was annoying, but she knew her tiny ship really couldn’t handle the speeds she was flying at in her efforts to get to Rydell before Morticent did. Sure enough, the entire warp core had overloaded a couple of light years from where she was now. Fortunately, a freighter was passing by about that time as well. At least something was sort of looking out for her.

“Now boarding Transport 592 bound for Waystation, Multekia Prime, and Bradley Dillon’s Pleasure Globe Casinoworld.” Trinian stood up and got in line with the hordes of tourists out to lose their latinum in the overpriced shops of Multekia or at Bradley Dillon’s gaming tables. Luckily, this wasn’t the return trip where all of these folks would be broke and depressed. The Multeks and Bradley Dillon certainly seemed to be raking in the bucks. Perhaps, if the universe didn’t end, she’d see if Bradley needed a bartender.


After seeing to it that her secret weapon against Rydell had been safely loaded on board, Morticent sauntered down the Mitgogae’s main corridor towards her playroom, her lithe body clad in a red leather outfit that clung to her every curve.

All of these preparations to deal with Rydell just made her feel positively evil.

And the sensation was positively delicious.

Perhaps she’d head to the holodeck and give some exquisite torture to a dungeon full of helpless Orions. Their green skin always marked so beautifully under her whip. Or maybe she’d just let a bevy of obedient slaves bathe her then indulge her every whim.

Decisions decisions.

“GUARDIAN TO MORTICENT.”

“What is it, my precious?” she asked distractedly. Her mind was far too busy picturing a couple of well-muscled Klingons rubbing oil into her back before giving her the kind of deep massage that only a warrior was capable of.

“WE SHOULD DEPART BEFORE ANYONE NOTIFIES STARFLEET.”

“Yes, yes. Get us to Forever…and quickly.”

“OF COURSE. WE CANNOT BE LATE FOR THE END OF EVERYTHING.”

“True, but I’m more concerned that I’m liable to go play with our new toy before we have a chance to use it on Alexander Rydell,” Morticent said. Too bad Guardian #492 couldn’t see the sadistic grin on her face. He always loved them so much.

“I WILL TRY TO KEEP YOU OTHERWISE OCCUPIED,” Guardian #492 replied with just a hint of lust in his voice. Most other people wouldn’t be able to detect it, and Guardian #492 himself would deny it to the bitter end, but Morticent knew. Oddly enough, they were the perfect couple. To think that she would find her life-companion in a big chunk of rock. Oh well, what was that Vulcan saying…oh yes. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. If this didn’t count, Morticent had no clue what would. She found herself hoping that there was some sort of afterlife where she and Guardian #492 could be reunited far from the adversities that forced them to destroy this universe.

But just in case, she’d better get her good times in while she could.

“That’s what I was hoping you’d say,” Morticent said. “Why don’t you come occupy me in my playroom for a while?”

“I AM ALREADY HERE.”

Morticent smiled and picked up her pace a bit to get to her special room. What a love. She’d have to reward him somehow.



CHAPTER EIGHT

“Enter the Dillon”


Normally, being kept in the dark about something drove Rydell nuts. He’d never been big on surprise parties as a kid, and he certainly didn’t like having details that could have some bearing on his destruction held from him, but being back on the Secondprize distracted him enough from Jaroch’s vague answers about Dillon to keep him content.

Carr had spent a good portion of the morning giving him a tour and introducing him to some of the new crewmen. Most of the command staff had been on the Secondprize in one capacity or another during Rydell’s tenure as captain, albeit in much lower positions. Now they all looked so much older and more confident.

Walking down the corridor towards engineering, Rydell spotted one woman he remembered particularly well. Every time he sang on talent night, she pushed her way to the edge of the stage and threw her underwear at him. Friendly sort.

As she walked by, she smiled at him and blushed a bit. Obviously, she recognized him. Ah memories. Rydell returned the smile and kept on walking. Two seconds later, something soft smacked him in the back of the head then fell to the carpet. He quickly realized the purple, lacy object was a pair of panties. The officer who threw them was nowhere in sight.

“Neat trick,” Rydell said as Carr gawked in astonishment. “Don’t worry about it, Commander. Happens all the time,” Rydell lied.

“No offense, sir, but you can’t have any of mine,” Carr said, a hint of nervousness in her voice.

“I’m kidding, Andrea.”

“But the…”

“Long story. Don’t worry about it,” Rydell said. Carr shrugged and led the way into engineering. This room seemed to have changed the least of any on the ship. Sure, the consoles looked a bit more advanced, but it still had your basic warp core, plasma injectors, and dilithium crystal chamber.

The engineers on duty glanced up briefly as Carr and Rydell entered, but then returned to their monitoring of the various ship’s systems while the core pulsed with energy in the center of the room.

Suddenly, two feminine hands reached around from behind and clamped over Rydell’s eyes.

“Guess who, handsome,” a sultry voice whispered in his ear, her lips just brushing against his lobe sending a shiver down his spine. “Or would you prefer I take you into my office and help jog your memory?”

“No need there. You are positively unforgettable,” Rydell replied. It was true. Monica Vaughn, the transporter chief under his command, had made quite an impression on him. Of course, the fact that she’d spent the better part of five years trying to seduce him probably had something to do with that.

“Smooth talker,” Vaughn said, letting go and whirling Rydell around. Before he could even say hi, she thrust her tongue into his mouth for one of the deepest French kisses he’d ever experienced.

“Wow, this does happen all the time,” Carr said. Vaughn finished her probe of Rydell’s esophagus and pushed him away playfully.

“I sure hope not,” Vaughn said. “He’s mine.”

“I think my wife may have something to say about that,” Rydell replied after regaining his composure.

“I won’t tell her if you won’t tell my husband,” Vaughn said.

“You’re married?” Rydell gasped in shock. Now that was unbelievable. “Anybody I know?”

“Why? Jealous?”

“Just curious.”

“No. He’s a Nuphelian I met a couple of years ago.”

“Nuphelians,” Rydell said, searching his memory. He’d heard of that species before. The knowledge clicked into place. “Aren’t they the ones with the three…”

“Yep,” Vaughn said, cutting him off.

“Commander Vaughn is our chief engineer,” Carr said in a valiant attempt to change the subject.

“Congratulations,” Rydell said, taking the hint.

“Thanks. Jaroch doesn’t appreciate me like you did, but I still enjoy my work,” Vaughn replied.

“Maybe you should just beam into his quarters naked like you did to me that time,” Rydell suggested.

“It didn’t work with you; why would it be any more effective on Jaroch?”

“Just a thought.”

“Jaroch to Carr,” the captain’s voice said over the comm system.

“Carr here.”

“Please bring Mister Rydell to the bridge. We have reached our destination.”

“We’re on our way,” Carr said.

“We’ll have to get together later,” Vaughn said. “Make up for lost time.”

“Right,” Rydell said non-committally as he followed Carr out of engineering. Had it really been eight years since he’d seen Vaughn? Some things just hadn’t changed a bit…well, except for the fact that she was married to that Nuphelian.


Emerging onto the bridge, Rydell saw that the Secondprize was now hovering over a small asteroid in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

“Mister Rydell and I shall be beaming down alone,” Jaroch said to Carr. “You have the conn.”

“Aye, sir,” she said, walking down and taking a seat in the command chair as Jaroch headed into the turbolift Rydell and Carr had just exited.

“Are you coming?” Jaroch asked. Confused, Rydell took another look at the desolate rock on the viewscreen then stepped back into the turbolift.

“Deck four,” Jaroch said, then stood silently as the lift made its brief decent.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what this is all about yet,” Rydell said.

“Not until we have left the ship. The matter in question is of a somewhat sensitive nature still, and I do not wish it to become common knowledge among the crew.”

“Okey-doke,” Rydell said. He was still unsatisfied but figured he could wait for a couple of more minutes to resolve the mystery of Dillon’s whereabouts.

He and Jaroch beamed down to a man-made facility inside of the asteroid. The interior basically looked like a set of simple living quarters with a living area, replicators, and a hallway leading back to what Rydell assumed was a bathroom and a bedroom. The only odd thing about the quarters was the large set of doors dominating one wall. If Rydell didn’t know any better, he’d swear that they led to a holodeck. The panel softly blinking next to the doors even looked like a holodeck access panel, but Rydell assumed that it must lead to some sort of classified project.

Dillon working on a classified project. Just how low had Starfleet sunk?

Then a balding, bearded man emerged from the rear hallway wearing a Starfleet medical uniform. This couldn’t be Dillon, Rydell thought. Could it? Nah? The face was completely wrong.

“Hello,” the man said, extending his hand to Rydell, who shook it. “Dr. Ray Miller at your service.”

“Alexander Rydell.”

“How nice to finally meet you?” Miller said.

“You have received the communique, I presume,” Jaroch said.

“Absolutely, but I really think this is a bad idea. We’re at a critical stage right now,” Miller replied.

“Just tell him to drop whatever he’s doing and come with us,” Rydell said. Miller looked at Jaroch questioningly.

“Due to the nature of the project, I felt that Mister Rydell should see things for himself rather than try to explain it to him,” Jaroch said. “May we go in?”

“Of course,” Miller said heading over to the panel by the large doors. He punched in a couple of controls, and the doors opened revealing a lush, woodland landscape. So it was a holodeck, Rydell thought as he, Jaroch and Miller stepped inside.

“This is Commander Dillon’s home,” Miller said. “I would simply ask that you treat it with respect.”

“Wait a second!” Rydell said. “He lives in here?”

“You do remember that Commander Dillon took Patricia Hawkins’ departure from the Secondprize rather badly, do you not?” Jaroch said.

“Oh yeah. She ran off with that Klingon. Dillon was a complete and total wreck. I never really thought much about it. He’d had enough of those types of things happen to him that I just figured he’d get over it,” Rydell said.

“He did not,” Jaroch said. “After your retirement, he threw everything he had into a bid to become captain of the Secondprize. Starfleet opted to promote me instead. They felt that Dillon’s record indicated a distinct inability to lead or inspire loyalty.”

“I can see their point.”

“This disaster removed the final shred of Dillon’s sanity. He quickly slipped into madness, continually ranting about killing you.”

“Me? What did I do?” Rydell exclaimed. “Why is it that all the psychopaths blame me for everything?”

“That is why Dillon is here. I have noticed that people we send to Tantalus V tend to come back for revenge with an annoying frequency. Instead, I pulled a few strings to get this arranged.”

“Everything is really very nice,” Miller explained. “He’s not sitting in some hospital somewhere letting his resentment of you build. Instead, we’re letting him live out his fantasies in a safe, loving environment.”

“And Starfleet approved this?” Rydell said in disbelief.

“This asteroid had already been constructed,” Jaroch explained. “A particularly anti-social admiral had designed it to be her retirement home, but she died before she could use it. It was a simple matter for Admiral Wagner to take it over and have a counselor assigned. You are now one of only seven people who know Dillon’s true whereabouts.”

“So how nuts is he?” Rydell asked.

“Completely off his rocker,” Miller said. “The man’s ego has grown exponentially to take up the space where his sanity used to reside.”

“Doctor Ray! Doctor Ray!” two female voices shouted excitedly, interrupting the conversation. Two gorgeous, young women dressed in skimpy outfits made from leaves ran over and hugged Dr. Miller tightly. “Have you come to play with us?”

“Dillon created them?” Rydell asked. That seemed a bit out of character for Dillon. Of course, he was insane now, so who knew.

“Uh…no,” Miller said guiltily. “These are mine.”

“Uh huh,” Rydell replied.

“Hey! A guy gets lonely here by himself. I’m sorry, darlings, but I have to take these travelers to the castle.”

“Ooooooh,” they said fearfully. “The Dark Lord is in a foul mood today.”

“Oh, give me a break,” Rydell said. “Can we just get on with this, Miller?”

“All right.” He gave each wood nymph a peck on the cheek and led Rydell and Jaroch through the trees. Gradually, a giant, black castle came into view, its towers rising skyward to impossible heights.

“Do you like it?” Miller asked. “Dillon designed it himself and just finished programming it.”

“So he knows he’s in a holodeck,” Rydell said.

“In a way,” Miller replied. “He is aware that he has complete control of his universe, which he feels is exactly as it should be. I don’t think the idea that it could all be artificial has even occurred to him.”

Miller led the way across the castle drawbridge, which stretched across a vast bubbling moat of some greenish liquid Rydell assumed was probably acid, and into the structure itself. Hundreds of guards, nobles, servants, and other citizens moved through the halls, all nodding respectfully upon seeing Miller.

Finally, they reached a set of immense black steel doors that rose upwards at least five stories. Two guards in black metallic armor stood in front of the doors armed with guns as large as six phaser rifles bonded together. At their sides, a nasty, jagged-edged sword hung from each hip. They said nothing and made no effort to move as Miller approached.

“We have come for an audience with his majesty, the supreme ruler of the cosmos, president of the galaxy, fleet admiral of the universe, and all-around lovable guy, the magnificent Travis Michael Dillon.”

“Password,” the guards intoned flatly. Miller started to sing.


Travis is a really cool guy,

Doo dah, Doo dah

He’s so awesome, I want to cry.

Oh, de doo dah day.


“You may proceed,” the Guards said as the giant doors swung open.

“I really hate that part,” Miller whispered. “But Dillon insists upon it.”

“You know, you could try actually counseling him and getting him through some of this stuff,” Rydell said.

“Oh no. I don’t think he’d like that at all,” Miller said.

“He is much happier here,” Jaroch said.

“And completely removed from society,” Rydell said.

“There is that benefit,” Jaroch conceded.

The trio walked into the castle throne room, another gigantic chamber filled with a strange mix of medieval furnishings and modern computer consoles. At the head of the room, sitting on a throne in front of a vast wall of monitors showing different regions of the galaxy and starships that Rydell didn’t recognize, was Travis Michael Dillon. A group of holographic admirals and officers stood in front of his throne, kneeling, awaiting his orders.

“Move the fleet to the Gobis Sector,” Dillon said rising from his throne. He was dressed entirely in black except for a red cape that impressively billowed out behind him despite the lack of wind in the room. Dillon himself looked like he could bench-press a small moon. His shoulders had to be four feet wide and connected to equally impressive arms. “I want every life form there obliterated.”

“He’s been working out,” Rydell said stunned.

“No. It’s just the outfit,” Miller said. “Don’t worry.”

Dillon finished giving his commands for galactic conquest then waved his minions away. They scurried off obediently as Dillon locked his gaze on Counselor Miller. Pressing a button on the cuff of his sleeve, Dillon floated up into the air and flew over to Miller, Rydell and Jaroch, his boots pulsing with an anti-grav field.

“And what can I do for you, Chief Minister?” Dillon asked. He glanced briefly at Rydell and Jaroch but gave no hint of recognition.

“Your wisdom is needed elsewhere, your majesty,” Miller said. “These men have traveled far to seek your assistance.”

“Oh brother,” Rydell muttered.

“And what is it that you need?” Dillon said, floating over to Jaroch.

“Travis, we’ve got to go fix the universe. Turn the silly boots off and come with us,” Rydell said. Dillon turned on Rydell, his eyes wide with fury.

“You dare use my name with such disrespect!” Dillon bellowed. “I shall have you flayed alive!”

“It’s me. Alexander Rydell. Captain Rydell.”

Dillon’s fury grew as he recognized the man in front of him. “Guards! Kill them all!” Suddenly, from out of nowhere, dozens of the armored guards poured into the room, brandishing one of the nasty looking blades in each hand.

“Come on, Dillon. This is ridiculous,” Rydell said.

“I wonder if I turned the holodeck safeties back on?” Miller said, lost in thought.

“On?” Rydell said, suddenly realizing that their lives could be in mortal danger. “On! Why the hell were they off?”

“I like to play rough sometimes,” Miller said sheepishly.

“Just end the damn program!” Rydell shouted as the guards advanced.

“What? Do you realize the kind of damage that could do to this man’s psyche?” Miller protested.

“I’m more concerned about the damage those knives could do to us!” Rydell replied.

“Jaroch to Secondprize,” Jaroch said, tapping his thumb and forefinger together to activate the communicator.

“Secondprize,” Carr said.

“Is the holodeck program running?”

“Yes, sir. Mind telling me what it is?”

“Not at this time,” Jaroch said. “Lock onto everyone in this room and energize.”

“I am a god!” Dillon screamed, raising his arms into the air as the guards moved in on Rydell. His revelry turned to confusion as a transporter locked onto him. Moments later, he and his three would-be victims materialized on the bridge of a starship. He knew this place, the room that still haunted him in his nightmares occasionally.

“Welcome to the Secondprize,” Jaroch said.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Dillon cried. The Dark Lord collapsed to the deck of the holographic Secondprize bridge and began sobbing uncontrollably. Occasionally, through the blubbering, Rydell could hear a soft “this can’t be happening” or an “I killed them all.”

“We should probably let him get adjusted,” Jaroch said. “Take care of this, will you, Counselor?”

“Sure. Piece of cake,” Miller said aggravated. He knelt down beside Dillon, rubbing his head as Jaroch and Rydell slipped quietly out of the holodeck. “There there, Travis. It’s going to be okay.”

“This is just beautiful,” Rydell said once they were out in the corridor. “If he doesn’t recover soon, we’re all screwed.” He noticed the smirk on Jaroch’s face. “What the hell are you so happy about?”

“I just realized that I’ve been able to ruin Commander Dillon’s life twice, and I didn’t even have to try,” Jaroch replied.

“You can be a real bastard sometimes. You know that?”

“I prefer to think of it as living life to the fullest,” Jaroch said.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Oh no. The real fun begins with Patricia Hawkins arrives,” Jaroch replied. “Commander Dillon will be just thrilled to see her.”

“I can’t wait,” Rydell muttered unenthusiastically.



CHAPTER NINE

“Hell Hath No Fury Like A Bowser Scorned”


Patricia Hawkins surveyed the gathered crowd searching for the slightest hint that one of the beings in this horde could be a threat to her client. If it were her decision to make, they wouldn’t even be out here today, but L’nas Kol had other plans. Kol was a former staff member of the incredibly popular galactic holovision program Bowden’s Moon. Normally, that alone was enough to ensure that he was mobbed by rabid “Bowsers” wherever he went. But he’d just written an unflattering tell-all book about Bowden’s creator, Clephsus Grenenenenenenenen, affectionately known as “The Lord of the Moon,” by his loyal viewers. Kol had lifted the lid off of the trash dumpster, though, and revealed all of Clephsus’ dark secrets: the budgets he cut, the actors he fought with, the fans he slept with, all of it. But to a group as devoted as the Bowsers, such treachery had only one possible punishment: DEATH!

And that was the reason Kol had hired a private security firm for his book signing appearance here at the fabulous Mall of Antares, the largest shopping arena in the known universe.

As co-head of that private security firm, Patricia Hawkins had taken it upon herself to personally oversee the team handling Kol’s signing. Of course, she would have preferred that someone with 36 death threats against them just stay in hiding, but this way her company got some high-profile work.

Her fellow firm founder and husband was stationed at the signing table next to Kol, while Hawkins watched the crowd as best she could from the rear of the room. The blue twinkling of two transporter beams off to her left caught her attention.

“Hawkins to Mookow,” she said, slapping her comm-pin to contact her husband.

“Go ahead,” the deep voice of her Klingon spouse intoned.

“We’ve got the beaming shield up around this room, don’t we?”

“Affirmative. All transporter activity must flow through the main transporter lounge on the mall security level.”

“Somebody has some other ideas,” Hawkins said. “Watch Kol. I’m on it.” She could see people being brushed aside as the newcomers pushed their way towards the front. Pulling her hand phaser, Hawkins surged into the crowd in front of her, racing to cut them off.

“Mookow to Hawkins. Do you have them?”

“Almost,” Hawkins said, grunting as she pushed between two particularly obese people. She could see the movement at the head of the mob. They were almost to the ropes where the line started in front of Kol’s table, but she was right on their tails. This was going to be close.

“DO YOU HAVE THEM?”

“Hang on.”

“Patricia…”

Hawkins stopped paying attention. For a Klingon, Mookow sure worried a lot. Hawkins could see the backs of the people pushing towards Kol. They appeared to be a man and a woman in Starfleet uniforms. Very clever. What better way to stave off suspicion?

Just as the two broke clear of the mob and had a clear shot at the table, Hawkins let out a Klingon battle cry and dove, causing the would-be-assassins to freeze in their tracks just before she slammed into them, knocking them to the floor.

“Everybody back!” Mookow bellowed, firing his phaser into the air. Kol dove for cover under the table while the calm group of gathered fans dissolved into a chaotic horde of frantic, screaming bodies trying to get out of the bookstore.

Hawkins scrambled to her feet, aiming her phaser down at the two prone figures on the floor. “Just stay right there!” she shouted. “One twitch and I vaporize your f***ing asses!”

“Hello to you too, Patricia,” the woman said. That voice! Why did she know…oh hell. Hawkins nudged the woman with her foot, signaling her to roll over.

“Lisa!” Patricia said in astonishment as she recognized Lisa Beck. Of course. She should have guessed. How many other tall redheads in Starfleet uniforms did she know? But were those admiral’s bars on her collar?

“How the heck are ya?” the man said, not waiting for anyone to tell him it was all right to turn over. Scott Baird. Now this was an odd pair.

“What are you doing here?” Hawkins asked.

“You know these two?” Kol said, peeking his head up from under the table.

“They’re old associates,” Hawkins explained as Beck and Baird picked themselves up off the floor.

“This is a restricted area,” Mookow said, obviously displeased. “If you wished to visit Patricia, you should have arrived through the appropriate checkpoints.”

“We didn’t have time for the da…dang appropriate checkpoints,” Baird said. “And that was one lousy shield you guys put up.”

“You said it’d be top-of-the-line!” Kol said angrily, as he faced Mookow. Mookow turned on Hawkins.

“I told you we should have bought the Dillon Enterprises model. Your silly desire to avoid any and all things associated with your former lover…”

“You bought cheap equipment because of her ex-boyfriend?” Kol screamed. “This is intolerable!”

“Sorry to cause a fuss, but your office told us where you were,” Beck said pulling Hawkins aside as Kol raved at Mookow. “We’ve got a situation we need to discuss.”

“What situation?”

“Remember Forever?”

“Huh?”

“That thing that threatened to destroy the universe,” Baird said, breaking into the conversation. “We went down there with Captain Rydell and…”

“Oh yeah. What about it?”

“Nobody fixed the fu…” Baird’s face twisted in rage at the words he couldn’t get out. “Sh….sh…SHUCKY-DARN!”

Beck and Hawkins stared at him. “Shucky-darn?”

“Forget it,” Baird said.

“The point is that no one did anything about Forever,” Beck continued. “We’re sending the five Secondprize crewmembers who were there originally back to try and stop the end of everything.”

“Including Captain Rydell?” Hawkins asked.

“Yes.”

“And Travis?”

Beck and Baird were silent for a moment, looking at each other. “He’ll be there, too,” Beck said finally.

“Great,” Hawkins said. “I can’t believe that you would…”

A young Andorian, she looked about twelve, walked up and pulled on Hawkins’s sleeve, interrupting her. “Can I talk to Kol now?”

“Yeah. Sure sure,” Hawkins replied distractedly. “Am I going to have to see him?”

“Probably not,” Beck said. “Dillon’s…not well.”

“THIS IS FOR CLEPHSUS!” the Andorian child screamed suddenly. Hawkins and the others whirled around in time to see the girl aim something at a petrified Kol and press a button.

“No!” Mookow shouted, trying to dive in the way, but it was too late. A blast of red ink splattered all over Kol’s face, staining his yellow skin. Mookow was on the child in a second as she giggled, gleefully chanting “I got him! I got him!” over and over again. He looked up, glaring at his wife, who could just shrug.

“Yeah, okay,” Hawkins said to Beck. “Getting away for a few days sounds like a good idea.”


On the raceabout trip back to Deneria, Hawkins started having second thoughts about the whole thing. Sure, it was clearly important that she try and stop the destruction of the universe. And it would be wonderful to see Captain Rydell and the others again, but Mookow obviously wasn’t pleased about her running off with little explanation.

Now, being a Klingon, he understood the parts of her excuse about her duty to Starfleet and maintaining her honor. He just would have liked a bit more information, such as where she was going. And did that wretch Travis Dillon have anything to do with it? Dillon himself was a harmless pitakh, but Hawkins’ reaction, even after eight years, to the mere mention of his name was unsettling to say the least.

For Hawkins, this trip meant having to face Dillon again after running out on him. That whole thing just hadn’t been like her. Normally, she faced her problems head on, but after falling for Mookow when he was guarding a representative traveling on the Secondprize to a ceremony, she just hadn’t had the nerve to tell Dillon. He was always so attached to her; she was his one emotional outlet. Over the four plus years they dated, she realized he wasn’t fulfilling her needs completely. He was doing his best, but she’d just fallen out of love with him. Mookow had made her face all of those feelings. And then, rather than discuss the situation with Dillon and try and end things cleanly, she secretly submitted her resignation to Rydell and left to be with Mookow and enter the exciting world of private security.

She really wasn’t sure what had happened to Dillon after that. He hadn’t been at Rydell’s wedding for reasons no one would explain. And her closest friend on the Secondprize, Emily Sullivan, had been careful never to mention Dillon’s name when they talked. So, for eight years, she just really hadn’t had to think about him.

But that reprieve was coming to an end, and, to make things worse, now Dillon was sick. Beck hadn’t been specific as to what exactly was wrong with Dillon, but Hawkins couldn’t help but think she was partially to blame (which she was, even though she didn’t know it yet).

She should have said no. She should have just stayed home. But then there was that whole end of everything mess. Life sure had a way of forcing people into things. It was time to face Dillon and clear the air.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, she thought finally, as Baird steered the raceabout into the Deneria Cluster. Maybe Dillon didn’t hold a grudge, and it would turn out that she’d felt guilty for all these years over nothing. She’d mend fences with him, see Rydell and Jaroch, then they’d all go save the galaxy.

Hawkins smiled as she leaned back in her chair to relax for the first time since the trip began. It’d been eight years. No one could stay mad for that long. She’d gone on with her life, and Dillon had gone on with his. He might even be married by now. Or he could have made captain and been out cruising the galaxy in his own ship. That’s what he’d always really wanted anyway.

This would be a pleasant reunion. She was sure of it.



CHAPTER TEN

“Same As It Ever Was…Sort Of”


Trinian actually ran into a stroke of luck at Waystation. The station’s first officer, Commander Sean Russell, had been on the Secondprize and was more than happy to point her in the direction of someone who could get her a ship. That someone turned out to be galactic mogul and former Federation President Bradley Dillon himself. Dillon Enterprises kept their main offices on Waystation, and Bradley happened to be there rather than off visiting one of his many holdings.

Bradley was far more charming than Trinian was expecting. He had a quick wit and a keen fashion sense that caught her off-guard. Sure, rumor had it that his business practices could be a tad…cut-throat, but he was in business to make money, a task he was extremely good at.

Their talk was brief and to the point. She needed a ship; he had a ship to lend. The only issue was what price he would exact for it.

In the end, she ended up agreeing to serve as bartender on his casinoworld for five years. It would have only been three, but Bradley got a bit edgy when Trinian wouldn’t tell him where she was going. But two more years was a small price to pay as far as she was concerned.

They signed the contracts, and Trinian was quickly racing away from Waystation. She just didn’t have the heart to tell Bradley that she might not be able to fulfill the contract…or that his ship might get a bit beat up as the universe ended. Why worry the guy?

Her big concern now was to get to Deneria to intercept Rydell.


Unfortunately for Trinian, the Secondprize took off for Forever as soon as it and Beck’s raceabout rendezvoused. There was a slight delay as Baird did a final check on the repairs being made to his wife’s ship, but after that, the group raced away at top speed, just hours before Trinian arrived at Deneria.

Time was definitely not on their side in more ways than one. The trips to retrieve Dillon and Hawkins had taken valuable days away from their effort, leaving them with only a couple of hours to stop Forever once they arrived.

And Forever itself was the big question. Could they stop it at all?

But watching the crew on the Secondprize bridge, you never would have known that the universe was possibly days away from coming to a sudden and violent end. For the purposes of security, Jaroch had ordered all of his crew away from the bridge except for Commander Carr, who Beck had filled in on the mission objectives. Instead, the former Secondprize crewmembers were manning the major bridge stations as they set their course for Forever and leapt into warp.

Rydell knew it was more out of nostalgia than anything else when Jaroch motioned for him to sit down in the command chair, but it still felt good settling into the center seat. Hawkins was back at tactical just as she’d always been. Carr had the helm, while Baird took care of ops. Jaroch was back at the science console pulling up everything he could from the Secondprize’s initial encounter with Forever, leaving Beck in the counselor’s seat to Rydell’s left.

“Welcome back, Captain,” she said softly, noticing the huge grin on Rydell’s face.

“Thanks,” Rydell replied. “I want to blow something up just to feel the power of this ship again.”

“I’d be happy to blast some rocks for you, sir,” Hawkins said. She didn’t even have to think about adding that “sir.” It just came naturally out of her mouth.

“Jaroch?”

“You are in command of this vessel,” Jaroch replied distractedly as he worked.

“Admiral?” Rydell said.

“It’s your show now,” Beck said, holding her hands up. “Blast away.”

“Hawkins, heat up those weapons systems and let’s have some fireworks,” Rydell said, leaning forward in his chair to watch the show. Over the next couple of moments, Hawkins and Carr locked in on a bit of spacejunk and coordinated their attack. With a sudden surge of power, the Secondprize dove in towards the debris, executing a beautiful banking roll as Hawkins let loose a volley of phaser blasts, completely decimating the flotsam.

“I feel better,” Rydell said simply. His eyes locked on the empty seat to his right; the seat that would normally be occupied by the fifth member of their team.

“Can I see him?” Hawkins asked, her eyes following Rydell’s gaze to the chair.

“I will take her,” Jaroch said, looking up from his console. “The computer is busy with some data.”

“Fine by me,” Rydell said. He didn’t really care to re-enter Dillon’s Realm of Insanity anyway. Let Jaroch deal with it.


Jaroch led Hawkins to Holodeck Four, where Counselor Miller had set up temporary quarters for Dillon, giving her a quick run-down of Dillon’s condition as they walked. Jaroch couldn’t help but find the situation a bit ironic. He had once been so infatuated with Patricia Hawkins that he did little else in his spare time but wish harm on Dillon. He just couldn’t understand a cosmos that would allow Hawkins to choose Dillon over him.

Now, ten years later, she wasn’t with either of them. But Jaroch felt some of the old stirrings coming back, stirrings that had almost driven him out of his mind years ago as his past lives fought over whether to tell Hawkins of his feelings or not.

How many women could say they’d driven two men to the brink of insanity? Jaroch had been able to pull back, but Dillon, with one more push, had fallen into the abyss.

“Do you think he’ll even remember?” Hawkins asked after Jaroch had finished his explanations.

“That is hard to say,” Jaroch replied. His gaze lingered on her a bit longer than he’d intended. She was still very attractive with a thin, petite figure and green eyes that positively sparkled with spirit. Her hair was longer now than the close-cropped cut she had as a Secondprize officer, with golden strands that glinted under the artificial ship’s lighting.

“You alright, Jaroch?” Hawkins asked.

“My apologies,” Jaroch said, quickly averting his stare. “I was lost in thought for a few moments.”

“Understandable considering we’re facing the end of everything,” Hawkins said.

And there is so much I never did, Jaroch thought as they arrived at the holodeck doors and stepped inside.

They entered a simple lobby equipped with a sofa and a small desk, where Counselor Miller sat reading a padd. He looked up upon hearing the newcomers enter.

“Come to cause more damage to my patient, I see,” Miller said, glaring at Jaroch. He looked at Hawkins and visibly softened. “Hello, madam,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it before Hawkins could react. “Doctor Raymond Miller, at your service.”

“Patricia Hawkins,” she said, pulling her hand away. Miller looked up at her in surprise.

“Patricia Hawkins?” Miller turned on Jaroch angrily. “What the hell are you trying to do? Next you’ll be bringing his parents by!”

“I am trying to prevent the biggest catastrophe the cosmos has ever experienced,” Jaroch said flatly. “What is Dillon’s condition?”

“Overall, I’d say he’s settling in nicely. I’ve explained to him what is happening, and he seems to understand,” Miller said, looking at Hawkins again with concern.

“Can I talk to him?” Hawkins asked.

“Of course,” Jaroch said before Miller could respond.

“Just please don’t push him,” Miller said. “He may react badly.”

“I will take that under advisement,” Jaroch said. And if he attempts to harm Patricia Hawkins, he will die, Jaroch added to himself.

Miller activated a switch on his desk, causing the wall behind him to shimmer revealing two huge mahogany doors. “In there.”

A look of determination crossed Hawkins face as she strode towards the doors and pushed them open, Jaroch following close behind.

The room they stepped into could have come straight out of a Victorian novel. Wood paneling lined the walls broken only by the numerous bookshelves all around the room. The chamber was dark except for the warm glow of a fire roaring in the fireplace against the rear wall.

In a plush red armchair, dressed in a burgundy robe, sat Travis Dillon. He had his legs crossed and smoked a pipe as he read a large book sitting in his lap.

At first, he seemed totally engrossed in his reading, but then he looked up at his guests, a broad smile stretching across his face. He put the book aside and stood up.

“Ah, capital! Capital!” he said, taking the pipe from between his lips. He walked over and shook Jaroch’s hand, leaving the Yynsian a bit confused. “I’m delighted to see you, old boy. Have a seat.” Dillon waved his arm to the empty armchair across from the one he’d been sitting in.

“Do you know who I am?” Jaroch asked.

“Of course, Jaroch,” Dillon said, wrapping his arm around Jaroch’s shoulder in a chummy manner. “We served together on the Secondprize for years. How could I forget? I remember that time you singlehandedly saved us from that anomaly in the Krosalis Belt. Excellent piece of work that. But you always were a wizard.”

“Thank you,” Jaroch said, genuinely flattered. Who knew that Dillon felt that way? He appreciated Jaroch after all.

“He’s insane. Remember?” Hawkins whispered before Jaroch could get too full of himself.

“So. Even the mad make sense occasionally.”

“Have you just come for a chat?” Dillon said, moving to the bar and pulling out two glasses. “Or is it about this blasted Forever business. Terrible bother. Someone really dropped the ball.”

“I am here with Patricia Hawkins,” Jaroch said. “She wished to see you.” Jaroch could see Dillon tense briefly, but then continue pouring the two bourbons. When he turned back to face Jaroch, he was all smiles.

“Terrible bother,” Dillon said again, handing a bourbon to Jaroch. “We really should have handled that blighter the first go round.”

“Travis,” Hawkins said. “It’s me. Patricia.’

“Now we’ve got this awful mess to clean up,” Dillon continued without missing a beat. “But with you on the team, I know we’ll come through it all right.”

“Patricia Hawkins is on this team as well,” Jaroch said.

“You got yourself a plan yet?” Dillon said.

“God dammit, Travis, look at me!” Hawkins said, grabbing Dillon by the robe and violently turning him towards her.

“I personally think we may just have to kill it,” Dillon said, looking right through Hawkins towards Jaroch. Hawkins’s eyes burned with fury as she tossed Dillon to the floor, his robe sending him sliding along the lovely wood grain.

“I came down here to apologize to you, you bastard,” Hawkins seethed, as Dillon nonchalantly picked himself up and dusted himself off. “I’m sorry! You got it? Sorry. I was wrong to just run off.”

“Do you need a refill, old boy?” Dillon said, reaching for Jaroch’s mostly empty glass of bourbon. Jaroch declined. Shrugging, Dillon walked over the bar to refresh his own beverage. Hawkins followed him over there.

“I thought about you a lot,” Hawkins said more softly, placing her hand on his shoulder as Dillon continued to ignore her. “I wondered how you were. I…”

“To shattered trust,” Dillon said, raising his glass in the air solemnly. He emptied the liquid into his mouth, then whirled around suddenly, throwing the glass as hard as he could against the fireplace, where it exploded into a million shards. Without another word, he went back to his armchair and returned to his book.

“Let’s go, Jaroch,” Hawkins said.

“Come by anytime, old boy,” Dillon said as Jaroch rose to leave. “It was a delight seeing you again. Perhaps next time we’ll toast to the end.”

“The end?” Jaroch asked.

“The end of this interminable Forever,” Dillon said.

“Are you speaking of the entity or of time itself?” Jaroch asked, growing concerned. Dillon just lit his pipe and puffed away. Jaroch turned on his heel and practically ran from the holodeck, brushing past Counselor Miller without so much as a thank you.

Hawkins jogged up to Jaroch several feet down the corridor.

“What’s going on?” Hawkins asked.

“I do not believe Commander Dillon wishes us to succeed in this endeavor,” Jaroch said as the pair stepped into a turbolift.

“Why? We’ll all be killed otherwise.”

“I do not think he will mind. You did take note of what he was reading?”

“No, I was too busy making an ass of myself,” Hawkins replied. Jaroch faced her for a moment, his eyes tender.

“You did nothing of the kind,” he said sincerely. “Do not let the vagaries of a madman convince you otherwise. I saw nothing but the best of intentions on your part.”

“Thank you,” Hawkins replied, touched. She was at a loss for anything else to say to him. Obviously, even after all this time he still had feelings for her, which was flattering in itself, but she had never really seen the more emotional side of this man.

“Hamlet,” Jaroch said.

“Excuse me?” Hawkins said, confused by the sudden conversational turn.

“Dillon was reading Hamlet. The ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy to be precise. It is a rumination on death. He is preparing himself for it. I have no doubt that at this very moment he is formulating some plan to bring about our destruction.”

“Come on, Jaroch. You’ve never worried about Travis before. You’re millions of times smarter than him.”

“But I refuse to underestimate him,” Jaroch replied. “Insanity has a disturbing tendency to sharpen the intellect. Of course, intellect is not even required in this situation, since all Dillon has to do to succeed is not cooperate with us when we confront Forever.”

“So how do we deal with that?”

“I am hoping Captain Rydell will have some thoughts on the matter,” Jaroch said.

“You have no clue.”

“Exactly.”

“Lovely.”


Counselor Miller entered the holodeck cautiously, unsure of what mood Dillon would be in after seeing Patricia Hawkins again. Miller had never even been able to broach the subject with Dillon; Dillon completely refused to acknowledge that she’d even existed. Rydell he’d discuss, and the hatred he had for his former captain sprung from the very core of Dillon’s being. Rydell was to blame for every misfortune Dillon had ever experienced, but Hawkins just wasn’t there.

Dillon was seated in his armchair, smoking and reading a book as Miller stepped inside the library.

“Ah, capital! Capital!” Dillon said, taking the pipe from between his lips. He walked over and shook Miller’s hand. “I’m delighted to see you, old boy. Have a seat.” Dillon waved his arm to the empty armchair across from the one he’d been sitting in.

“How did everything go?” Miller asked.

“With what exactly?”

“Jaroch and Patricia Hawkins.”

“Jaroch was a joy as always,” Dillon replied. “A top-notch fellow.”

“And Patricia?”

“I’m very pleased to be working with Jaroch again,” Dillon continued without missing a beat. “Well, I think I may retire for the evening. Feel free to amuse yourself, Doctor. The ship’s lounge is the main gathering spot should you wish to meet someone of the opposite sex…or you could always just program one here in my little prison.”

“Prison? This is gorgeous,” Miller said. “You’ve created a wonderful haven for yourself.”

“Yes, but HE is keeping me in here,” Dillon said angrily. “HE stole me away from my universe and dragged me back here. HE wants to control me again. Well, it’s not going to happen that way this time.” Dillon rose from his chair, gesturing defiantly. “I know the score. I know what HE needs from me. And I know the price HE is going to have to pay to get it. I may be imprisoned now, Doctor, but I will be the one in charge soon enough!” Dillon said.

He abruptly stopped his rant and smiled at Miller. “Well, good night.” Dillon casually strolled back through the rear doors of the library to his bed chamber leaving Miller alone with his thoughts. To be honest, Miller had tuned Dillon out, as he usually did. He was thinking more about what sort of woman to program for tonight.

Breen, he decided finally. Miller then noticed Dillon had left. Good. The man needed some sleep, and Miller needed some lovin’.



CHAPTER ELEVEN

“And to Further Complicate Matters…”


Trinian had dropped every name she could think of to convince the docking control officer at Deneria to give her permission to dock and come aboard the station. However, the fact that she used to serve with Alexander Rydell meant nothing to the young woman on the other end of the comm line. Most likely, the girl wasn’t even in the academy yet when Rydell retired. The names Travis Dillon, Jaroch, Lisa Beck, and Emily Sullivan had all led to dead ends. Only Scott Baird’s name had elicited a response, which was just a refusal to believe that Baird had friends. The only way Trinian had been able to bypass the officer was by promising her two all-expense paid trips to Bradley Dillon’s Pleasure Globe Casinoworld. Sure, it was probably overstepping her authority as a just-hired bartender to offer such a thing, but Trinian figured saving the universe was worth risking getting fired before she even went to work.

Once she’d safely docked and gone through a security check, Trinian set out to find Rydell and the others. Guardian Control had said he would be on Deneria, but Trinian sure wasn’t having much luck locating him. The computer didn’t even recognize Rydell’s name. Of course, he wasn’t Starfleet personnel anymore. Maybe one of the others…

“Computer, locate Jaroch,” Trinian said, standing in front of an information panel in one of the main corridors of the station.

“There are five hundred Jarochs currently located on this starbase,” the computer replied. “Please specify.”

“Jaroch of the Secondprize.”

“Captain Jaroch’s vessel is not docked at Deneria.”

Okay, so much for that.

“Locate Patricia Hawkins.”

“Unable to comply. Unknown name.”

“Locate Scott Baird.”

“Captain Baird is not on Deneria.”

He was gone? Was she too late? Had she missed them?

“Trinian?” a female voice said questioningly. She turned and saw Emily Sullivan racing towards her. She slammed into Trinian, wrapping her in a big hug. “Wow! I’m just seeing everybody this week. It’s been years.”

“Ten of them to be exact. Is Alex here?” Trinian asked.

“You just missed him. He left with Lisa Beck and a few others on the Secondprize just a couple of hours ago,” Sullivan said. Trinian grabbed Sullivan’s arm and started dragging her towards the docking bay.

“We’ve got to go after them!” Trinian said. “Do you have a ship, or are those captain’s pips just for show?”

“What’s going on?”

“They’re in grave danger.”

“But they didn’t tell me where they were headed,” Sullivan said. “It’s classified.”

“They’re going back to Forever,” Trinian said. “And unless we get there to help, Morticent is going to blast them to bits before they can prevent the destruction of the universe.”

“Morticent? Oh sh**! That psycho bitch in the supership?”

“That’s her,” Trinian said. “We’re running out of time.”

“Okay. Okay,” Sullivan said, breaking into a jog, with Trinian running close behind. “Captain Sullivan to docking control.”

“Go ahead, ma’am,” the voice of the officer who gave Trinian so much trouble earlier said.

“Recall my crew to the Inevitable. We’re going to need permission for an emergency departure.”

“Emergency? What’s going on?”

“Just do it, Ensign!” Sullivan snapped as she and Trinian ran into the docking arm connecting to her ship, a three-nacelled, Shogun-class vessel equipped with enough firepower to make the Secondprize look like a pea-shooter. This time, Sullivan was determined that Morticent would have a much bigger fight on her hands.

“So, I’m guessing Starfleet didn’t take care of the Forever problem like they said they would,” Sullivan said as she and Trinian rode up to the bridge in a turbolift. Trinian just shook her head. “Typical.”

“The Secondprize Five have to find some way to convince Forever not to go ahead with universal annihilation,” Trinian said.

“The Secondprize Five?”

“I know. I know. It’s just what Guardian Control calls them.”

“Guardian Control?”

“Long story. Just forget it. The point is that even if we can keep Morticent out of the way, Rydell and the others could still fail. The universe may only have a little over two days left to live.”

“Is that why you just up and left ten years ago?” Sullivan asked.

“I wanted to see the sights before I died.”

“Nice to know you have so much faith in us.”

“Nothing personal. I just know our track record.”

“So do I,” Sullivan replied as the turbolift slowed to a halt. “That’s what worries me.”


“FORTY-EIGHT HOURS TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION,” Forever said, jolting Porter awake. He’d drifted off while staring futilely at another set of power readouts from Forever. So far, the best idea he’d come up with to stop Forever was wait until it destroyed itself in the annihilation of the universe.

“That long? Can’t we step it up a bit?” Porter replied sarcastically.

“I WOULD, BUT I DO NOT WANT THE SECONDPRIZE FIVE TO MISS THE SHOW. YOU’RE SURE THEY ARE ON THEIR WAY?”

“Positive,” Porter said, stretching his tired muscles out.

“IT CAN BE SO HARD TO TELL WITH ALL OF THESE COMPETING POSSIBLE TIMELINES. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN UNTIL ALMOST THE MOMENT IT OCCURS. FOR INSTANCE, YOU WERE EITHER GOING TO COME HERE OR CHOKE TO DEATH ON AN OVERCOOKED PIECE OF STEAK. I DIDN’T KNOW FOR SURE UNTIL YOU LEFT EARTH.”

“I guess I won’t complain about being here anymore,” Porter said, a bit stunned at the news of his almost demise.

“WHY COMPLAIN? AREN’T I GOOD COMPANY?”

“Not bad. You’d be better if you’d give up this silly ‘destroy everything’ idea of yours,” Porter said.

“IT WASN’T MY IDEA. IT WAS RYDELL’S. YOU’D HAVE TO TALK TO HIM,” Forever replied.

“I’ll do that,” Porter said. “In the meantime, let’s just assume that he’s going to want you to not destroy the universe. Just to be on the safe side, you should stop the countdown.”

“DO YOU HAVE THE ACCESS CODE?”

“Well, no.”

“THEN NO CAN DO.”

“Now, look, we can talk about this rationally…”

“YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO LEAVE,” Forever said, interrupting the beginning of Porter’s brilliant defense of life in the universe.

“Leave? Where the hell do you expect me to go?” Porter protested. “It’s not like I can just…” Suddenly, he dematerialized in the flickering of a transporter beam.

“NO. I MEANT YOU’RE GOING TO BE FORCED TO LEAVE.”


Porter rematerialized on the bridge of an unfamiliar starship. In the captain’s chair, well throne really, sat a positively-gorgeous dark haired woman aiming a disruptor in his general direction. Off to her left stood a massive hulk of a man. The guy had to be at least seven feet tall and built like a mugatu on steroids.

“This doesn’t look like the kelcite caves of Teol Six,” Porter said irritated as he looked around the room. He quickly noted that the only exit was behind the dynamic duo in front of him. The only control console in sight was behind him, but he was pretty sure he’d be atomized before he was able to take a step towards it.

“I’m afraid there’s been a slight change of itinerary,” the woman said, rising lazily from her chair. She handed the weapon to hulk-boy then sauntered over to Porter, sizing him up as she approached. “Surely you must want some company after being all alone on that rock for days.”

“Nah. I’m real big on personal space,” Porter replied. “Clears the mind, Miss…?”

“Morticent. Welcome aboard.”

“Thank you, but I can’t stay. I had some franks and beans on the fire.”

“Sounds lovely. Say, you’ve been down there a while; you haven’t found out anything about…oh…Forever?”

“Only that it’s a really long time,” Porter replied.

“FOREVER’S STATUS IS UNCHANGED,” the hulk said, his voice booming.

“Thank you, Guardian,” Morticent said. “Why don’t you show our guest to his quarters?”

“OF COURSE.”

“I’ll come visit soon, darling,” Morticent said, running both hands along Porter’s cheeks. “And don’t worry. I’ll make sure you enjoy your stay.”

“How considerate,” Porter quipped, as Guardian #492’s hand locked an iron grip around his upper arm and pulled him towards the door.

Guardian #492 returned to the bridge moments later. “THE HUMAN HAS BEEN SECURED.”

“You took his commbadge?”

“OF COURSE.”

“Good. The last thing we need is for him to alert Rydell when he arrives. I want to be able to see the look on his face when he recognizes us from ten years ago.”

“BUT WE DIDN’T SEE HIM TEN YEARS AGO. HE WAS DOWN ON THE PLANET.”

“Dammit! I wanted to see fearful recognition.”

“MAYBE SOMEONE ELSE WILL REMEMBER US.”

“I hope so; otherwise, I’m going to be really upset. Hide us behind the third planet of the system until Rydell arrives. Then, we can go relax.”

“YES, MORTICENT,” Guardian #492 replied eagerly.


Porter had been taken captive quite a few times in his Starfleet career, and it never got less irritating. But he had to admit that these were the nicest accommodations he’d ever been given. The bed had to be at least a king-size, and he just sunk right into the plush mattress. Compared to the port-a-sleeper he’d been using down in Forever, this was heaven. Even better, Morticent and pals obviously hadn’t kept abreast of Starfleet’s technological developments. So they had his insignia pin? Big deal. As long as they didn’t cut the fingers of his left hand off, he could contact any approaching Federation ships.

He activated the sub-dermal communicator and programmed in a repeating warning message. The only trick was that a ship had to get close enough to receive his signal. And by that time, Morticent would have detected their approach. But hey, that’s the type of thing that made this line of work exciting.



CHAPTER TWELVE

“Quiet Time”


Captain Sullivan wasn’t exactly surprised to find Trinian sitting in the Rashoman sushi bar and karaoke lounge on the Inevitable. This was the exact sort of environment Trinian had spent most of her years on the Secondprize in…well, except for the bad singing and raw fish parts. In any case, a starship’s lounge probably felt more like home to Trinian than anywhere else.

Sullivan walked over to the table where Trinian was seated and staring out the viewports as the Inevitable raced towards Forever at maximum warp.

“If you block out the singing, it could almost be Seven Backward,” Sullivan said.

“I never served sushi,” Trinian replied, waving Sullivan to the chair across from her. “And I never would have allowed that guy who just sang ‘I Will Survive’ anywhere near a microphone.”

“True, but you should hear Lieutenant Cole’s ‘L’ksssanz Boogie.’ Always a showstopper.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Trinian said. A kimono-clad waitress brought over a pot of hot tea and two cups.

“Thanks,” Sullivan said, shaking her head as the waitress scurried away. “I really can’t believe they did this to me.”

“What? Leave you behind while they try to save the universe?”

“No. I can’t believe Starfleet stuck me with a sushi bar. This theme lounge trend has just gone too far. The Lancelot lounge staff runs around in medieval outfits saying ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’ and occasionally one of them will challenge you to a joust over your dinner.”

“Emily, why are you telling me this? I don’t care,” Trinian said. “I’m a bit more concerned about the universe ending.”

“Just trying to take your mind off of things,” Sullivan said as she watched a couple of ensigns from engineering take the karaoke stage. “Besides, Captain Rydell has always come through in the past. I’m sure he’ll find a way to hang on until the cavalry arrives.”

The ensigns programmed in their song selection, then, after a couple of quick drum beats, started to sing.


That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes,

an airplane -

Lenny Bruce is not afraid. Eye of a hurricane,

listen to yourself churn -


“I don’t know. I really don’t,” Trinian said. “The whole reason I was assigned to the Secondprize by Guardian Control was to prevent Alex from getting near Forever, and I blew it. I leave for a few days, and of course he has to start the end of the universe. We knew he was going to do it, but even we couldn’t prevent it.”

“You can’t blame yourself really,” Sullivan said. “If it’s his destiny to blow up everything, he’s going to blow up everything.”

“You’re awfully calm about this, considering you could be dead tomorrow,” Trinian said irritated.

“The universe has been around for billions of years. I refuse to believe that a couple of people could say the wrong thing and destroy the place. Talk about your design flaws. I mean, come on. It’s just not going to happen. I’m sure of it.”

“I hope you’re right,” Trinian said, looking out the windows again. “I sincerely do.”


It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.



At first, Commander Porter had no intention of giving in to Morticent’s sexual advances. He’d gotten himself all psyched-up for the traditional “I’m a Starfleet Officer, and I will not give in to your charms” speech when he remembered what he’d told Forever a few days earlier. If he’d known the universe was going to end, he’d have had a lot more meaningless, tawdry sex. So, instead of spending the hours until Rydell and the others arrived sitting locked in this room alone, Porter had a extremely pleasurable time with Morticent. If the universe was coming to an end, he was a least going to have some fun first.


Late into ship’s night, Rydell walked into the billiards lounge/buffet behind the bridge of the Secondprize looking for a place to be alone with his thoughts. Of course, he was alone in his quarters, but it was that big empty bed that was causing him problems in the first place.

The lounge was dark and deserted except for one lone figure standing at the viewport staring at the stars streaking past the ship. Jaroch turned to face Rydell as soon as he heard the doors open and close.

“Sorry,” Rydell said. “I’ll go find another window to stare pensively out of.”

“There seems to be a bit of it going around this evening,” Jaroch said. “And you are more than welcome to stay.”

“Thanks.” Rydell walked over to the viewport at the opposite end of the room from Jaroch’s. For a few moments, they both stood silently contemplating.

“Some reunion, huh?” Rydell said finally, breaking the silence.

“Indeed,” Jaroch replied.

“Too bad I had to leave Karina behind. She would have liked to see all of you again. But this isn’t exactly a vacation.”

“No, it is not.”

“She was upset and all about me leaving, but we really didn’t say much of a goodbye. Not a final ‘this is the last time I’m ever going to see you’ goodbye anyway. She was almost flippant. Yeah, sure. The universe is in danger, but Alex can fix it. But what if I can’t?”

“Then we all perish in a cataclysm like the universe has never seen…and will never see again,” Jaroch replied.

“I’m starting to remember why we never had deep philosophical conversations with each other,” Rydell said.

“I believe my pragmatism disturbed you.”

“Pragmatism…fatalism. Whatever you’d prefer,” Rydell said. The room was silent for a few more moments.

“Have you been…happy?” Jaroch asked.

Rydell turned away from the window and smiled. “Incredibly,” he replied. “I have a very full and wonderful life with Karina. I’m going to treasure every moment I’ve had with her until the day I die, which unfortunately may be tomorrow.”

“And why is she so special? You have known many women.”

“Yes, but Karina and I just work well together. It’s hard to describe. I love talking to her, just sitting quietly watching the stars with her,…doing other things with her.”

“That is sufficient,” Jaroch said.

“What’s going on with you? You always start talking like a robot when you’re upset about something.”

“I am merely examining my past.”

“Ooh. That could take a while. How far back are we talking here?”

“Just this lifetime,” Jaroch said. “There is an old Yynsian saying, ‘If you don’t like this life, catch the next one.’ In this situation, though, there may not be a next one. I may be the final carrier of this life force. I am, therefore, deciding if I am fulfilled.”

“And?”

“The answers are not encouraging. I am noticing certain deficiencies in the companionship arena, deficiencies which have me feeling less than…”

“Fulfilled?”

“Exactly,” Jaroch said.

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain woman from our past who is currently on board this vessel, now would it?”

“It might.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I was not aware that there were options,” Jaroch said.

“Of course there are,” Rydell said, walking over to Jaroch. “You can pine away for her like you’ve been doing for the last twelve years, or you can talk to her about how you feel.”

“You seem to be disregarding the small fact of her marital status.”

“It’s not like you’re going to sleep with her. The idea is to find out if she ever had feelings for you. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing?”

“Why? So that I may torture myself for not acting sooner? I think not,” Jaroch retorted.

“It’s up to you,” Rydell said. “Personally, I’d rather die knowing I’d at least gotten it off my chest. You keep too much to yourself, Jaroch. You’ve got to open up a bit; let someone else in there. Maybe it won’t be Hawkins, but there are a lot of people in the universe. You just never know when that right one may enter your life. It happened to me.”

“Which is exactly why you feel you can express these deluded platitudes,” Jaroch snapped more forcefully than either he or Rydell were expecting. “I…am sorry, sir.”

“It’s okay. That’s exactly the sort of thing you’re free to do around your friends. But it proves that you’ve got a lot rumbling around in there.”

“Perhaps. However, until the Forever crisis is dealt with, my feelings will continue to rumble, as you say. Once this is over, I will re-evaluate the situation and see if I wish to make any adjustments in my life.”

“That’s all I can ask for,” Rydell said. He glanced over at the pool table in the center of the room. “You up for a game?”

“Would you prefer to break or shall I?”

“Hopefully, neither of us will,” Rydell replied with a grim smile.

“Indeed.”


Hawkins stood up from the desk in her quarters for the fourth time without activating the subspace comm system. She knew she should contact Mookow. Even if she couldn’t tell him where she was or what she was doing, they should talk, not that they did much of that anymore. Their sole topic of conversation tended to be their security business. Mookow loved it like a child. He’d created it, nurtured it, and watched it grow. Yes, Hawkins was a big part of his life, too, but she knew where his heart really was. And yes he loved her, but he never looked at her with the same expression of caring and devotion that Dillon had…and Jaroch did today.

Jaroch. Now there was an unexpected development. She could still remember clearly the day that he broke down and announced that he was in love with her over ten years ago, but it seemed to end after that. She’d explained that she was with Dillon; Jaroch accepted it. End of story…or maybe not.

The funny thing to her was that she still couldn’t figure out what the hell he saw in her. He was so intelligent and composed. Why would he fall for an quick-tempered loose cannon like her?

But Hawkins couldn’t deny that he had a certain allure. That intellect also held a sharp wit. She’d had to really control her laughter on more than one occasion when Jaroch had shot some insult at Dillon. Sure, she loved Dillon at the time, but Jaroch could just be too damn funny. And somehow, hearing these jabs come from someone who looked so distinguished made them even more hilarious.

He was quite a guy. Maybe if her relationship with Mookow kept disintegrating, she’d see if Starfleet would reactivate her commission and assign her back to the Secondprize. Standing at the tactical console on the bridge earlier that day had made her miss it a bit.

Or maybe they’d all die tomorrow, which in some sick way, Hawkins thought would make everything easier. She wouldn’t have to make a decision about her future. And she wouldn’t have to keep fighting the urge she had to go find Jaroch, an urge which she felt growing by the second.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

“This Damn Trip is Taking Forever!”


“Status report,” Captain Sullivan said, stepping on the bridge of the Inevitable early the next morning.

“The Secondprize is still not responding to our hails,” her first officer reported. “But we have managed to close the gap somewhat. That old Excelsior-class just can’t outrun the Inevitable.”

“I guess not,” Sullivan said, taking a seat in the command chair. “Keep trying. Otherwise, we’ll just tell them when we get there…assuming they’re still in one piece.”


Alexander Rydell stepped out onto the bridge of the Secondprize the next morning to find Admiral Beck sitting in the command chair and Scott Baird curled up on the carpet in front of the conn console fast asleep. Amazingly enough, not a sound was coming out of him.

“Morning,” Beck said, surprised to see Rydell. “You’re up early.”

“Bad habit I picked up from Karina,” Rydell said, walking over to the replicator and ordering himself a coffee-flavored Icee.

“Nice to see some things haven’t changed,” Beck said as Rydell sat down in the first officer’s seat next to her. Rydell immediately noticed the flashing light on his armrest.

“Are we being hailed?”

“Yes. It’s the Inevitable. Sullivan’s ship. Scott decided that he didn’t want to talk to her. He said she’d probably just try to follow us anyway if she could get a lock on our position. I agreed, so we’re ignoring it. If it were anything urgent, it would come over official admiralty channels.”

“Fine by me,” Rydell said, settling in to watch the stars streak by. He still couldn’t get over the silence in the room.

“Peaceful, isn’t it?” Beck said, voicing what Rydell was thinking.

“Unbelievably so,” Rydell said. “I guess Scott must have gotten that snore fixed when he had the profanity filter installed.”

“Not hardly,” Beck said. “I put up a force field around him. He was starting to shake panels out of their housings. I don’t know how Emily stands it.”

“Maybe she finds it endearing,” Rydell replied. He stood up and wandered over to the conn console to check on their progress.

“We’ve got five hours of travel time to go,” Beck said. “And about two hours to stop Forever after that, assuming it’s going to be really prompt about this ten years thing.”

“Two hours? Yikes. I guess any plans we come up with had better not take a lot of time to execute.”

“Don’t say execute.”

“Sorry.”


Counselor Miller found Dillon outside of the English Manor he’d created for himself jogging along a path running through the dense woods around the stately home. The leaves of the tress were glorious reds and yellows sharply standing out against the grey morning sky. Dillon himself was dressed in a blue sweat suit and jogging briskly, his breath coming out in clouds as it hit the cool, Fall morning air.

“Good morning, Counselor,” Dillon said brightly as he spotted Miller. “Lovely day, don’t you think?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Miller said. “And it’s a very big day, too.”

“Indeed,” Dillon said, wiping a bit of sweat from his brow with a monogrammed burgundy handkerchief he produced from a pocket in his sweat pants. “I can’t think of many bigger.”

“You’re ready to play your part then.”

“I’m always playing my part,” Dillon said. “It’s the only way to survive a universe such as this.”

“I’m not sure I understand you.”

“Don’t worry about it, Counselor,” Dillon said, flashing a charming smile. “I was just waxing philosophical for a moment. I’m more than ready to assist my shipmates. We’ve got to go save the universe, right?”

“Right. Well, I should go. I’ll be back to talk later.”

“So long then,” Dillon said, about to jog away. A thought struck him, and he stopped, turning back to Miller.

“Counselor?”

“Yes?”

“Do you think I’m insane?” The emphasis was more on the “you” than anything else. Miller stiffened. It was a dangerous question. Dillon obviously wanted to know how Miller personally felt about him.

“I think that you and I have much to work out,” Miller said. “You need me.”

“I need you,” Dillon repeated, clearly unsatisfied with the answer. “But if I wished to continue our talks on a starship around others, we could do so?”

“Eventually, perhaps,” Miller said. “But I don’t think that would be in your best interest right now.”

“Yet I’m here,” Dillon said, gesturing to the grey skies. “I’m back with my shipmates, and I am fine.”

“Uh…right,” Miller said. “It’s a complicated issue, Travis. We should discuss it later, after you’ve proved to me that you’re going to help save the universe.”

“Ah, so you still don’t trust me,” Dillon said, smiling again, this time much more disconcertingly. “Why didn’t you just say so? So long, Counselor.” And Dillon jogged away, leaving a shaken Miller in his wake.


The principals involved in the drama to come, minus Dillon, gathered on the Secondprize bridge as Commander Carr steered the ship into orbit around the fourth moon of Batonis Six, better known as Forever. No one spoke for several moments as they watched the barren rock float by on the screen.

“Temporal instability seems to be increasing,” Jaroch said as he watched the readouts on his science console.

“Great,” Rydell said standing up from the command chair. “Any luck, Patricia?”

“Not a word,” Hawkins said from tactical. She’d been trying for the last several minutes to contact Commander Porter, who was supposed to already be here.

“And I am not reading any life signs below,” Jaroch added.

“Sh**,” Beck muttered, cursing under her breath.

“I’ve done what I can do the shields,” Baird said, finishing the modifications he was making at the engineering console. “They should provide a little added protection against the chronometric waves coming off of this fu… bas… thing.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Beck said. “I guess we’d better get this going. Commander Carr and I will remain here to monitor your progress. Carr will be in command.”

“Over you?” Carr said from the conn.

“You have more of a relationship with your crew. We’re going to have to keep a fully manned bridge during this,” Beck replied. “The rest of you will beam down immediately. We’ll send Dillon down as soon as you feel the situation is secure.”

“Wait,” Baird said. “How do we know Dillon’s even going to help us? You heard Jaroch’s report. Dillon plans to kills us all.”

“You guys are just going to have to persuade him otherwise,” Beck said. “By any means necessary.”

“I can handle that,” Baird replied, smiling maliciously.

“I have gathered several items we may need together in Cargo Bay Three. Please have them beamed down as well,” Jaroch said as he moved towards the turbolift.

“Lisa!” Hawkins exclaimed suddenly. She caught herself immediately. “Sorry. Admiral.”

“What is it?” Beck said impatiently.

“I think I found something. We’re receiving a very faint communicator signal from elsewhere in the system. I almost didn’t even notice it, but I was able to catch the word ‘Secondprize.’ Other than that, it’s static.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Beck said, moving back to tactical and pulling up the communications subroutines. It’d been a few years since she’d needed to pull out her former expertise, but what she needed to do came flooding back. “You guys just get down to the surface and take care of business.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rydell said. “We’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

“Or not at all,” Jaroch added.

“Oh that was comforting,” Baird said as the group entered the turbolift and the doors closed.

“I was merely being pragmatic.”

“Just shut up,” Rydell said.

“You cannot say that anymore, sir. You no longer outrank me.”

“Then why did you call me sir?”

“I think he’s got you, Jaroch,” Hawkins said, placing her hand on his arm and squeezing it. The unexpected contact sent a rush of emotion through his body.

“And for once he’s speechless,” Baird said.


“The supplies have been transported,” Lieutenant Commander Bill Woodville reported from ops as Carr paced the bridge. As soon as Rydell and the others had left the bridge, relief officers streamed out of the other turbolift.

“Good,” Carr said. “Transfer temporary shield control to the transporter room. No need to waste time while they tell us to lower and raise the shields.”

“Control transferred.”

“Any luck, Admiral?” Carr asked, turning back to Beck.

“Some. I’m pulling power like crazy to boost the gain, but the signal is still very weak. I’ll let you know when I have something.”

“I am not detecting any other vessels on the sensors,” Woodville said.

“Yeah. How many times have I heard that one before?” Carr said.

“I really couldn’t say,” Woodville said. “I’m not up here all of the time anymore. In fact, I’m supposed to be back in Astrometrics collating data on the Gerebias nova we watched last week, but instead I’m here…not that I’m annoyed or anything.”

“Just stay alert,” Carr said.

“Hey, haven’t we been here before?” Woodville said, staring at the viewscreen.

“Woodville…”

“That’s classified, Commander,” Beck snapped, looking up from her console. “Now shut the hell up!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Woodville said quickly as he busied himself at his console.


Rydell and the others entered the transporter room and found Monica Vaughn standing behind the transporter console.

“I thought you didn’t do this sort of thing anymore,” Rydell said.

“You think I’m going to let some rookie beam you anywhere?” Vaughn replied. “No one gets to play with your molecules but me.”

“I’m touched. Really,” Rydell said as he stepped up onto the transporter pad.

“Not yet,” Vaughn said. “We’ll see how lucky you are when you get back.”

“You got it,” Rydell said, wondering if he’d even be back.

“Be careful down there,” she said with an earnestness that surprised him. “I’m not sure what’s going on exactly, but I’m going to be right here to pull you back at a second’s notice.”

“Thanks, Monica,” Rydell said smiling. “Don’t you worry about us. We’ll be fine.”

“But do stand by just in case,” Jaroch said. “Energize.”

“Energizing,” Vaughn said. She activated the transporter and blew Rydell a kiss just as he dematerialized.


“MORTICENT,” Guardian #492’s voice boomed over the ship’s comm system.

“Unnh,” Morticent groaned sleepily. She rolled over, trying to block out the sound, but ended up hitting Porter’s sleeping body.

“MORTICENT!”

“What?” she shouted back, waking Porter.

“THE SECONDPRIZE HAS ARRIVED.” At those words, both Morticent and Porter snapped awake.

“Gotta run, darling,” Morticent said, leaping out of bed, scooping up her clothes and racing out into the hallway. Porter hit the door just as it closed, locking him in.

“Move us in slowly,” Morticent said as she headed towards the bridge, pulling her outfit on as she went. “I don’t want them to detect us through the distortion field. As soon as we’re in transporter range, grab Rydell and his crew off of Forever.”

“ACKNOWLEDGED,” Guardian #492 replied.


Forever hadn’t changed much in the ten years since Rydell had last been there. The only difference now was the piles of Starfleet equipment scattered around the main cavern. Jaroch immediately pulled out his tricorder and began scanning the empty ration packages strewn near Porter’s vacant port-a-bed.

“DNA residue indicates that no one has been here for at least 36 hours,” Jaroch reported.

“But where did he go?” Hawkins asked.

“A QUESTION! I HAVE WAITED EONS FOR A QUESTION,” Forever suddenly boomed.

“We were just here ten years ago,” Hawkins snapped. “It hasn’t been eons.”

“SORRY. FORCE OF HABIT,” Forever said. “NICE TO SEE YOU ALL, THOUGH. I WAS WORRIED THAT YOU WERE GOING TO MISS THE SHOW.”

“We really would like to see about canceling the show,” Rydell said.

“BUT YOU’RE THE ONE WHO ORDERED IT,” Forever said. “OH, BY THE WAY. ONE HOUR UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“One hour!” Rydell exclaimed. “Beck said we’d have two!”

“While you were at lunch, we had to slow down briefly for a herd of passing space buffalo,” Jaroch said. “Considering the size those herds can achieve, we were quite lucky to only lose the time we did.”


“Can’t we just blast them?” Trinian said impatiently as the seemingly endless mob of purple space-dwellers lumbered by the Inevitable.

“Do you know how much time you get in a penal colony for harming a space buffalo?” Sullivan said.

“I bet they’d make great steaks.”

“These are beautiful creatures.”

“I’m sure they’d be beautiful in medium-rare slabs.”

“Trinian!”


“Got it!” Beck exclaimed from the tactical console, almost scaring Carr completely out of her chair. She’d been busy trying to compose a little sonnet to say just in case the universe should really come to an end. Without waiting for Carr to recover, Beck activated the speakers.

“This message is for Admiral Lisa Beck of Starfleet. Please see that she gets it. Morticent is at Forever. Repeat, Morticent is at Forever. She beamed me right out of the moon. Take precautions…and rescue me if you get a chance. Porter out.”

“Oh poopy,” Carr muttered. “We didn’t detect her last time until she was almost right on top of us.”

“We’d better…”

“Yeah,” Carr said. “Bridge to transporter room. I need a set of transport scramblers sent down to the planet immediately.”

“I’m on it,” Vaughn’s voice replied.


Rydell and the others heard the whine of a transporter and drew their phasers, worried that Carr had beamed down Dillon early for some reason. Instead they saw a set of transport scramblers.

“What the heck?” Baird said.

“Maybe they thought we’d need them,” Rydell said. “But why would we…oh hell.”

“I must concur,” Jaroch said, pulling a padd out of the pile of scramblers and reading it. “Morticent is here. The Secondprize has gone to radio silence for now. We are simply to send a pulse signal when we are ready to receive Commander Dillon. They will beam him down just outside of the scramblers.”

“I thought she’d want to help us,” Hawkins said. “We are trying to save the universe here.”

“We can discuss her motives later,” Rydell said, pulling a scrambler out of the pile. “Right now…”

“We know. We know,” Baird said. The group quickly set up the ring of scramblers and activated it.


“I HAVE A TELEPORT LOCK,” Guardian #492 reported from the Mitgogae’s control console as Morticent waited anxiously in the command chair.

“Energize!” she said.

“OOPS.”

“What do you mean oops?” she demanded.

“I LOST THE LOCK. A SCRAMBLER FIELD JUST WENT UP.”

“Sh**!” she screamed.

“BUT THERE WERE ONLY FOUR LIFE SIGNS ON FOREVER. ONE OF THE FIVE HAS YET TO ARRIVE.”

“Perfect,” Morticent said, pulling a disruptor pistol out of the armrest of her command throne.


“It’s time, Travis,” Miller said, poking his head into Dillon’s bedroom. Dillon stood before a wall of mirrors straightening his Starfleet uniform.

“I would prefer that you address me as Commander Dillon for now on.”

“Of course, Commander,” Miller said.

Dillon turned away from the mirrors and walked purposely over to Miller. “I’m ready to go to the transporter room.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary. They’ll beam you directly out of here,” Miller said.

“I see. Glad to know I’m a valued and trusted member of the team,” Dillon said angrily.

“Bridge to Holodeck Four. They’re ready for him,” Admiral Beck’s voice said over the comm system.

“I am ready, Admiral,” Dillon replied.

“Oh. It’s you, Dillon,” Beck said, a tinge of surprise in her voice.

“Who did you expect?” Dillon asked.

“You know the job you have to do then, Dillon. Starfleet is relying on you.”

“I know,” Dillon said. Miller noticed the wicked grin pulling at Dillon’s lips. “Energize.”


“THE TRANSPORTER HAS BEEN ENGAGED.”

“Get it!” Morticent ordered.


Rydell, Hawkins, and Jaroch watched with phasers drawn as the blue cascade effect of the transporter beam rained down just outside of the scrambler field. Just as Dillon began to materialize, the beam color shifted towards green, crackled a bit, then vanished.

“Jaroch to Secondprize. What happened?”

“Someone intercepted the transporter,” Vaughn replied, the stress evident in her voice.

“Morticent,” Jaroch said.

“This is beyond not good,” Rydell said.

“Captain, this is Carr,” the Secondprize’s first officer’s voice broke in. “We’re scanning the area. We’ll find him, sir.”

“See that you do. Time is of the essence. Jaroch out.”

“FORTY-FIVE MINUTES UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” Rydell said.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“In a Whole New World of Poopy”


Dillon was a bit surprised to rematerialize on the bridge of a ship rather than in the cavern of Forever. He quickly surveyed the situation, looking for a way to use it to his advantage. Let’s see. One: a beautiful woman was pointing a disruptor at him. Two: the only other person on the bridge looked big enough to snap Dillon in half with little effort. Three: the big guy was sitting at the only console on the bridge. Four: the walls were a very nice mauve. He’d always wanted to paint the bridge of his own ship, should he ever get one, more of a salmon, but the mauve worked. Five: his left big toe was starting to itch.

“I am Morticent. Welcome to the Mitgogae,” the woman said with an evil smile, the type of smile Dillon usually reserved for people he was about to execute in his holodeck world.

“Why thank you,” Dillon replied. “I love what you’ve done with the place.”

“But you’ve never been here before.”

“Quite,” Dillon said. “Am I to assume that this has something to do with all of that Forever foolishness going on below?”

“Very perceptive, Mister…”

“Dillon. Travis Michael Dillon. And it’s Commander actually.”

“My apologies, Commander. Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I have to use you as a bargaining chip,” Morticent said, gesturing to the viewscreen Dillon was blocking.

“Oh, by all means,” Dillon replied with a bow as he stepped aside.

“Contact the Secondprize,” Morticent ordered.

“THEY ARE RESPONDING,” Guardian #492 replied. The starfield image on the viewscreen switched to show the bridge of the Secondprize. Commander Carr stood in front of the command chair with Admiral Beck above her behind tactical.

Carr immediately leapt into righteous indignation mode. “This is Commander Andrea Carr of the USS Secondprize. What have you done with Commander…” She spotted Dillon off to Morticent’s right. He gave Carr a little wave. “Oh. Well…we want him back!”

“And why would I want to do that? Without him, Alexander Rydell will fail. That’s all there is to it,” Morticent replied.

“But why would you want that?” Admiral Beck asked. “The universe would be destroyed.”

“I know that,” Morticent said forcefully. “Why do you think I’m doing it?”

“Uh…I really have no clue,” Carr replied.

“Forget it. All I want is Rydell. He’s the one to blame for this whole mess anyway,” Morticent said. Guardian #492 looked back her questioningly. “If he beams himself up here, I will release Commander Dillon.”

“I think you’ve really missed a couple of minor details,” Carr said.

“Morticent, the man you’re holding is deranged,” Beck said. “He requires psychological care. The last thing you need to be doing is trying to use him as a hostage.”

“That’s weak,” Morticent said. “I know how you Starfleet types work. You’ll do anything to rescue your crewpeople. Have Rydell lower the scrambling field or this one dies!” Morticent said, aiming her disruptor right at Dillon. About that time, she noticed the maniacal grin on Dillon’s face.

“Uh…hold on a second,” Morticent said, turning her attention completely to Dillon. Like Trinian, Morticent had the ability to read the inner feelings of others. It wasn’t a skill she found much use for in her line of work, but in this case, it seemed necessary. She concentrated on Dillon, delving into his mind. The darkness she found there made her gasp involuntarily.

“Oh my,” Morticent said, her smile broadening. “All this one wants to do is kill kill kill.”

“I told you,” Beck said. “He’s dangerous!”

“But not to me,” Morticent said. “He just wants to kill Alexander Rydell. I do think we’ve found ourselves an ally, Guardian.”

“GOODY.”

“That being the case, I guess we’re going to have to pull out our surprise to convince Rydell to beam aboard. I’d wanted to wait until we had him to use it, but oh well. Could you get it, Guardian?”

“OF COURSE,” the lumbering hulk said as he got up from his chair and headed off of the bridge.

Morticent walked over to Dillon and ran a hand along his arm. “Ooh. Nice and firm. I think we’re going to get along fabulously.”

“Morticent, don’t…” Beck protested.

Before Morticent could respond, Dillon lashed out with a vicious right, clocking her as he grabbed the disruptor out of her hand. In one fluid movement, he trained the weapon on the Seatellan and blasted her.

“Go Dillon!” Carr cheered. But Dillon ignored her. He immediately went to the control console and started looking over it. Beck and Carr could hear him muttering.

“What’s he saying,” Carr asked, watching Dillon’s movements on the screen.

“Hold on,” Beck said, adjusting the signal gain. Gradually, Dillon’s mutters began to sound like humming, then singing.

“Kill the Rydell. Kill the Rydell. Kill the Rydell. Kill him dead!”

Dillon suddenly looked up at the viewscreen. “Oops. You weren’t supposed to hear that.”

“Commander Dillon…” Beck began, but the signal cut off.

“He isn’t really going to attack us?” Woodville asked in alarm.

“I don’t know,” Carr said. “But I’m not taking any chances.” She charged over to the ensign manning the conn. “Get up and get out.”

“Andrea, what are you doing?” Beck asked.

“I’m the best pilot on this ship.”

“Yeah, but you’re also in command. You have to stay in the center seat.”

“We may not have time for me to give an evasive order, then for someone to follow it. I’m staying here, Admiral. How are you with that console?”

Beck was a bit taken aback by this. She’d never seen Carr so…commanding. Evidently, this was why she’d moved up to first officer. Beck made a mental note never to be on her bad side when command mode kicked in.

“I’ll manage,” Beck said, calling up the weapon controls. “Just try and give me some clear shots.”

“You got it. Now all we’ve got to do is find him.”


After what seemed like an eternity of waiting and listening to Forever tick down the minutes until the end, Rydell and the others were finally contacted by Carr. As they finished listening to the report from Carr about what had just transpired on the Mitgogae, Scott Baird kicked one of Porter’s sensors across the cavern. “Oh, we are so fu…dead!” he said.

“I’m going to kill him,” Hawkins seethed.

“That may be very difficult from down here,” Jaroch said.

“Forever, can we talk about holding off on this universe destruction thing for just a couple of more hours,” Rydell asked pleadingly.

“DO YOU HAVE THE ACCESS CODE?”

“Well, sort of.”

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN SORT OF?”

“We’re missing one person.”

“THEN NO.”

“Thanks for all your help.”

“YOU’RE WELCOME.”


Dillon was seated in Morticent’s throne when Guardian #492 returned to the bridge several minutes later. From the bridge doors, Guardian #492 could not see who was seated. And he was far too occupied with containing his struggling captive to really even consider that someone other than Morticent might be there.

“I APOLOGIZE FOR THE DELAY,” Guardian #492 said. “OUR SECRET WEAPON IS BEING DIFFICULT.”

“That’s quite all right,” Dillon said, springing out of the throne with the disruptor aimed at Guardian #492 and the woman struggling in his arms. A faint memory stirred in Dillon’s warped mind. He knew her. That face. Who was she?

“Commander Dillon?” the woman said, relief replacing fear on her face. “Thank God. Get me out of here!”

She obviously knew him, so he must know her. Wait. It was coming to him. She’d been on the Secondprize years ago and…married the captain! Karina Durham. Oh, this was better than Dillon could have possibly imagined.

“Let her go!” Dillon ordered.

“YOU CANNOT HARM ME WITH THAT PUNY WEAPON,” Guardian #492 said, advancing on Dillon.

“Don’t make me do something you’ll regret,” Dillon said, backing up into the console as the huge figure loomed over him. Dillon fired at the ceiling, drawing Guardian #492’s attention for a moment as Dillon pressed a couple of buttons on the console.

“LIKE WHAT?” Guardian #492 said smiling evilly.

“Like this,” Dillon said slamming his hand down on one of the controls on the console behind him. In an instant, Dillon and Karina Durham dematerialized, leaving Guardian #492 alone with the unconscious form of Morticent he soon spotted behind the console.

“OH.”


Rydell heard the whine of an unfamiliar transporter beam and whirled around in time to see two figures materializing just outside of the scrambling field. He and the others went for their phasers expecting Morticent and friends. When Dillon appeared, Rydell could help but smile. And then he spotted Karina.

“Alex!” Karina exclaimed. “Oh thank God. Those people grabbed me right off of The Suburb. Dillon here rescued me!”

“SHUT UP!” Dillon screamed. He fired, blasting Karina into an unconscious lump on the cavern floor. He kept the weapon trained on her as he looked up at Rydell, his eyes ablaze with fury. “And if you don’t do everything I say, I’m going to bump the power up a couple of notches. Got it!”

“Oh this is getting better all the time,” Baird muttered.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“How Do You Tell Someone They’re A Psycho?”


Rydell’s joy at seeing Karina quickly turned to anger as Dillon held the weapon on her. He was not about to have the love of his life taken away from him by some borderline-incompetent mental case who just happened to get his hands on a disruptor.

“So who’s in command now, cappy-boy?” Dillon taunted. He started doing a little jig, all the while pointing the disruptor at Karina. “I am. I am. I am!”

Rydell felt a presence at his side.

“Let me handle him,” Hawkins whispered. “He refuses to even acknowledge that I exist.”

“If you think…” Rydell was cut off by another blast. Hawkins slumped down to the cavern floor at his feet.

“None of that, thank you very much!” Dillon said.

Jaroch was at Hawkins’ side almost as soon as she hit the ground. “Patricia. Patricia!”

“Get her back,” Rydell said sternly. He eyed Dillon with a cold stare as Jaroch pulled Hawkins out of the way. There was nothing to be gained by angering Dillon. And they couldn’t afford to kill him. He was still needed to access Forever.

“What do you want, Dillon?” Rydell said finally.

“Everyone toss their phasers over there,” Dillon said, pointing to a spot on the cavern floor. “And make sure you get Hers, too!”

Rydell turned back to face the others. Baird was doing a slow burn over by Porter’s scanning equipment, while Jaroch had taken Hawkins to the far side of the chamber and was trying to wake her up.

“Do it,” Rydell said, pulling out his phaser and tossing it over to the spot Dillon indicated. Three others soon joined it. Dillon fired the disruptor, disintegrating all four of them. “Now what do you want, Dillon?”

“What do I want?” Dillon repeated.

“You’ve got all of our attention. What do you want?”

“I want…”

“Get down, Captain,” Baird shouted. Rydell hit the floor as Baird fired a phaser blast at Dillon, who dodged aside just in time to avoid it.

“Nanny nanny boo boo, you can’t hit me,” Dillon shouted. Cackling crazily, he ran off into the maze of caverns.

“Where the hell did you get that?” Rydell demanded.

“Porter’s stuff,” Baird said, tossing the weapon to Rydell. “He had it in with his socks.”

“Let me go after him,” Jaroch said, a look of fury in his eyes.

“J’Ter?” Rydell said nervously.

“No, this is very much me,” Jaroch replied, his voice almost quivering with rage.

“We need him alive,” Rydell said. “I’m going.”

“You want some back-up?” Baird asked.

“No. See if Porter’s scans turned up anything we can use to stop Forever. Jaroch, you help him.”

“But…” Jaroch began.

“I don’t have time for this, Jaroch,” Rydell said, jogging off in the direction Dillon fled. “Just do it.”

“THAT’S ONLY PART OF THE ACCESS CODE,” Forever said.

“And you shut the f*** up!” Rydell snapped, then ran out of sight.

“TOUCHY. TOUCHY.”


Morticent regained consciousness in an incredibly foul mood. Of course, being blasted with her own disruptor tended to do that. She pulled herself up using the console in front of her for support. She ended up face to face with Guardian #492, who was working there.

“YOU ARE AWAKE.”

“Obviously,” Morticent grumbled. “Where is that damn Dillon?”

“WELL…HE’S GONE.”

“Gone! Gone where?”

“TO FOREVER. AND HE TOOK KARINA DURHAM WITH HIM.”

“I don’t suppose we can get a teleport lock.”

“ACTUALLY, I CAN DETECT TWO LIFE SIGNS OUTSIDE OF THE SCRAMBLING FIELD.”

“Then, beam them up!” Morticent ordered.

“I CAN’T. DILLON PROGRAMMED IN SOME SORT OF VIRUS THAT TOOK EFFECT RIGHT AFTER HE TRANSPORTED. THE ENTIRE SYSTEM IS SHOT.”

Morticent’s body just started to shake as she was overwhelmed by rage. “Dead. They’re all dead!” she screamed. “We’re killing every last one of them!”

“I GATHERED THAT FROM THE ‘THEY’RE ALL DEAD’ PART,” Guardian #492 replied. He really hated it when Morticent started getting irrational like this, but what was a love-struck chunk of rock to do?

“Where’s the Secondprize? Have they detected us?”

“ABOUT A THOUSAND KILOMETERS AWAY AND NO.”

“Power up all weapons and lower the distortion field!” Morticent ordered as she sat down on her throne. “We’ll take care of them real fast, then blow up Forever itself. That ought to mess up their day.”

“UH…RIGHT.”


With growing concern, Beck and Carr watched two of the life sign readouts from the moon below move farther and farther away from the scrambling field. “What the hell are they doing?” Beck said.

“I have no idea,” Carr said. “Secondprize to Rydell. Status report.”

“Dillon’s down here, and he’s gone completely bonkers. I’m on it.”

“Do we need to beam him up here?” Carr asked.

“No can do,” Beck said.

“Why not?” Carr asked.

Beck just pointed at the viewscreen where the Mitgogae was fading into view.

“We’ll call you back,” Carr said quickly. “Secondprize out.”

“That ship!” Woodville said suddenly. “I knew we’d been here before! But I don’t remember them being this big.”

“Not now,” Carr said, running down into the conn console. “Just tell me what we’re up against.”

“Shields are up and weapons are online,” Beck said.

“I’m detecting a massive energy build up on the enemy ship,” Woodville said. “I think they are bigger. Look at the size of that torpedo tube. Holy cow! Look at those energy readings! That thing is incredible!”

“Come on, Woodville. Give me some good news,” Carr said.

“They can obliterate us in less than thirty seconds!”

“How is that good news?”

“We won’t suffer long.”

“Sorry, I feel like dragging it out,” Carr said. She put the ship in a sharp dive, narrowly avoiding the first blast of the Mitgogae’s weapons, then made a beeline for one of the other moons of the system. “And I don’t suppose Morticent feels like talking about this.”

“They’re not responding to our hails,” Beck said.

“We could just surrender and hope they don’t kill us,” Woodville offered.

“Nah. Bad idea,” Carr said.

“They’re pursuing,” Beck said.

“Good. As long as they’re worried about us, Captain Rydell can focus on getting Dillon under control.”

“And saving the universe,” Beck said.

“That too.”


Hawkins almost looked peaceful as she lay stunned on the floor of the cavern. Jaroch had made her as comfortable as he could using Porter’s abandoned sleeping roll, but the fact was she was still laying on a bunch of rock. Before he realized what he was doing, Jaroch ran his hand gently through Hawkins’s hair. If she came to any harm, Dillon would pay with his life. As it was, Jaroch felt he owed the insane man a good ass kicking at the very least.

Jaroch brushed his hand through her hair again. He found it sad that the only way he could express his feelings towards her was like this. If she were awake…well, it just wouldn’t happen. Forcing himself to pull away and focus on the matter at hand, Jaroch walked over to where Captain Baird was working.

“Have you made any progress, Captain?” Jaroch asked as he looked over Baird’s shoulder at the readouts scrolling by.

“Not a bit,” Baird replied. “We need to input that access code.”

“Which we will do assuming that Captain Rydell is able to retrieve Dillon and convince him to help us.”

“What are the odds of that happening?”

“I do not believe that you want to know,” Jaroch replied.

“THIRTY MINUTES UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”


“Come on out, Dillon,” Rydell called. Silently, he cursed himself for not bringing a tricorder, so he could at least have some idea where Dillon was.

“No!” Dillon’s voice shouted back from somewhere in the caverns ahead of him. Thanks to Forever’s chronometric energy, the area was very well lit. Unfortunately, there were stalagmites and other outcroppings everywhere for Dillon to use as cover.

“We don’t have time for this!”

“Sure we do,” Dillon said. “We’ve got all the time in the universe.”

“But it’s going to end soon.”

“Exactly.”

A disruptor blast seared above Rydell’s head, missing him by inches. It nicely disintegrated a portion of rock behind Rydell. “Hey!” Rydell shouted. “I thought we were using stun. You’re breaking the rules!”

“What rules?”

So Dillon did still have some elements of his old personality. Hopefully, enough was left for Rydell to capitalize on. “The rules of this game. Didn’t you read up before we beamed down here?”

“No,” Dillon said hesitantly. “Were they important? I thought I was just supposed to do the whole crazed killer thing and…well…try and kill you.”

“No no no. You’ve got to follow the rules, Dillon. Always follow the rules.”

“Why?” Dillon called back. “You never did.” Dillon walked out from behind a large stalagmite, his disruptor trained on Rydell. “You’re the whole reason we’re in this mess, the whole reason I’m in this mess.”

“What’d I ever do to you?”

“You don’t get it, do you? You have no idea,” Dillon said in disbelief.

“I’m afraid I don’t” Rydell said.

“You. You let that damn Klingon on board. And what happened? Patricia left. You even approved her resignation. Gleefully, I’m sure, knowing that you were giving old Travis Dillon another kick in the teeth.”

“Dillon, I…”

“And then you go and resign. That was fine and all. I can’t say I was sad to see you go, but then you recommended Jaroch for command? Are you insane? He’s a freak! I served you loyally for six years. Six years! But no, you had to get in one last shot at Dillon. You did this to me! YOU! And you’re going to have to face the consequences!”

“Dammit, Dillon. This is your same old routine. Of course, it couldn’t be you. You always had to have that scapegoat. News flash, pal. Patricia was unsatisfied and moved on. She needed something you couldn’t give. And shooting her isn’t going to change that. As for command, look at you. You’re completely unstable.”

“Yeah, now!”

“Not just now. Then too. You were living in this fantasy world where you were great and everybody liked you. It wasn’t real, Dillon, any more than those holodeck fantasies you’ve been living in for the last eight years are. You were not and are not ready for command.”

“God damn it, SHUT UP!” Dillon screamed. He fired another blast past Rydell’s arm, so close that it scorched his shirt and seared the flesh underneath.

“You want to kill me? Fine, blast my f***ing head off, but later. Right now we’ve got work to do. I’m the one you want, Dillon. There’s no need to take out everyone and everything.”

“Why not? You just said no one liked me anyway.”

“Because you swore an oath! And you believe in that oath. You’re a Starfleet Officer. It’s all you ever wanted to be. Now start acting like one. We’ve got a duty to protect those that can’t protect themselves. The only thing standing between them and universal annihilation is the five of us. Do you understand that?”

Dillon lowered the weapon a bit as he looked down at the uniform he was wearing. Many years ago, he’d told someone, and he couldn’t even remember who now, but he’d told that person that it was his duty to protect the lives of others. That was part of what it meant to wear the uniform.

“We’ll finish our business when this is over,” Dillon said, holstering the disruptor.

“Looking forward to it,” Rydell replied, putting the phaser away. “Shall we go?”

“After you,” Dillon said, waving Rydell on. Rydell studied Dillon for a moment. Did Rydell really want to leave this psychopath in a position where he could easily shoot him in the back?

“Thanks,” Rydell said warily, then started jogging back towards Forever. He could hear Dillon’s footfalls right behind his as they moved. The feeling was more than a bit disconcerting, but Rydell didn’t see much other choice. Travis Dillon had usually been a man of his word, though. Rydell just had to hope there was still enough of that left in Dillon to make him help them stop Forever.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

“Get Your Red-Hot Ass Kickings!”


Carr pulled herself back into her seat at the conn after another blast from the Mitgogae sent the bridge crew falling around like dominos. Smoke billowed up from one of the environmental control consoles at the rear of the bridge.

“So much for that plan,” Beck said. “We just lost our starboard phaser array.”

“They’re coming back around,” Woodville said as he watched the Mitgogae come into view from behind the second moon of Batonis Six.

“Hang on,” Carr said. She slammed the ship into a climbing roll and, after straightening out, sent the ship into a momentary warp burst towards Batonis Five, a ringed gas giant.

“You aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing in a solar system!” Woodville protested.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Would you rather die instead?” Carr snapped.

“I think you confused them,” Beck said. “They haven’t started to follow yet.”

“What are those rings made of?” Carr asked, as she steered the ship to the far side of the planet from the Mitgogae’s probing sensors.

“Mostly ice chunks,” Woodville reported. “There are a few metallic compounds in various concentrations scattered throughout.”

“Find me a nice, big concentration,” Carr said. Woodville sent a set of coordinates to her console, leading her to a large, asteroid-like rock floating along with the frozen debris around Batonis Five. She pulled the Secondprize up as close to the asteroid as possible and let out a little sigh of relief. “Shut down all unnecessary systems. Try and mask the others as best you can.”

“We can’t stay here forever,” Beck said. “As soon as they figure out we went this way, they’ll find us.”

“But at least we can regroup for a minute,” Carr replied. “Bridge to engineering. Status report.”

“I’ve got the shields back up to forty percent,” Vaughn replied. “But that won’t mean much against those weapon systems.”

“How soon do we get the starboard phasers back?”

“I’m trying to reroute some systems now. I’ll let you know. Vaughn out.”

The drift of the debris ring started to take them around to the side of the planet facing Batonis Six. Now would be the test. If the Mitgogae detected them, they’d know it very soon.

“Oh sh**!” Beck said.

“Well, that was quick,” Carr muttered. She started looking for a clear path to get out of the debris field. Nothing was opening up fast enough.

“I think they may have us this time,” Carr said.

“It’s the Inevitable!” Woodville exclaimed.

“You don’t have to sound so happy about it.”

“No. It’s THE Inevitable. The ship. Starfleet registry…”

“Okay. I get it. I get it,” Carr said. “Open a channel.”

“Captain Sullivan is responding,” Beck said.

“On screen.” The bridge of the Inevitable appeared on the viewscreen with Sullivan sitting in the command chair and Trinian sitting right beside her.

“About time you guys responded,” Sullivan said.

“Sorry. Scott said not too,” Carr replied.

“Bastard.”

“Uh…we’re kind of getting our asses kicked right now. Can you lend a hand?”

“No problem,” Sullivan replied.

“We’re about to be heading your way,” Carr said, spotting a clear line of travel through the ring. “Stand by.” She maneuvered the ship gracefully through the jagged chunks of ice and metal, breaking free just as the Mitgogae was closing within weapons range.

Carr sent the ship into another warp burst back towards Batonis Six and the Inevitable, but this time the Mitgogae was ready, following right behind.

The Secondprize dropped out of warp directly in front of the Inevitable, then veered off, diving behind the moon of Forever for cover. The Mitgogae, not noticing the Inevitable’s entrance onto the scene due to Morticent’s crazed, single-minded pursuit of the Secondprize, dropped out of its warp burst a moment later.

“Uh…what is that?” Morticent asked, looking at the formidable starship that the Mitgogae had found itself in front of.

“A POSSIBLE PROBLEM,” Guardian #492 said. Just then, the Inevitable let loose with all of its weapon systems. Tri-cobalt devices and singularity torpedoes flashed out of a dozen launch tubes, impacting seconds later against the Mitgogae’s shields. The ship rocked like a horse stung by a hornet, tossing Morticent and Guardian #492 around the room like the balls in an zero-gravity pinball game.


Back in the room he’d been locked in for hours, Commander Porter desperately tried to hang on as the ship was jolted about violently. Then, the power blinked out. Figuring he’d never get another chance at this, Porter wedged his fingers in between the doors of his room. With the power off, the magnetic seal would no longer be in place. Of course, if the power came back on, he’d lose few fingers…well, most of them really.

Porter pushed the doors open enough to force his way into the corridor outside just as the power flickered back to life, sealing the entrance to his prison. Free and hopefully undetected, Porter made his way through the Mitgogae searching for the engine room.


“How badly are we damaged?” Morticent demanded as she hovered over Guardian #492’s shoulder.

“SHIELDS ARE AT 75%. WEAPONS UNDAMAGED.”

“Then return fire.”


“I don’t think that did it,” Trinian said, watching the Mitgogae’s exterior lights come back on from the relative safety of the Inevitable’s bridge.

“Evasive maneuvers. Sullivan Theta Four,” Sullivan ordered. The helm officer sent the Inevitable into a sharp dive just as the Secondprize looped around Forever and sent a barrage of its own weaponry slamming into the Mitgogae from the rear. Suddenly, phaser fire lashed out from emitters all over the Mitgogae’s hull, striking both the Secondprize and the Inevitable repeatedly.


“In a word, ouch,” Woodville said as he watched the damage reports flash up on the operations console.

“Get us out of here, Andrea,” Beck said as she watched the Mitgogae make a slow leisurely turn to aim its forward torpedo tubes at the Secondprize.

“I’m working on it!” Carr snapped. “Impulse engines are offline.”

“Oh hell.”

Just as the Mitgogae opened fire with all weapons, the Inevitable zoomed up between the two ships, taking the brunt of the blasts.


“Shields down to fifty percent,” Sullivan’s tactical officer reported as smoke filled the bridge.

“Bring us back around and fire all weapons,” Sullivan said through repeated coughs.


“Fire!” Carr shouted, once the Inevitable had sped past. “Focus on those torpedo tubes.”

“Got it,” Beck said, her hands racing across the tactical console. A moment later, the Secondprize pelted the Mitgogae’s launchers with several well-placed torpedoes and phaser hits. Before the Mitgogae could respond, it was hammered from above by more blasts from the Inevitable.


Porter was reduced to crawling along the deck, but he didn’t see much other choice. Every time he stood up, another weapons hit would just knock him back down. On the bright side, though, engineering turned out to be incredibly well-marked and easy to find. He’d have to thank Morticent for that once this was over.


“THE SECONDPRIZE IS IMMOBILE. THE OTHER VESSEL IS WEAKENED BUT STILL A THREAT,” Guardian #492 reported.

“Even to us?”

“IF LEFT ALONE, YES.”

“Fine, give the Secondprize a goodbye present, then focus all your efforts on that other ship.”

“VERY WISE, MORTICENT.”


The Secondprize bridge crew could do nothing but hit the deck and hold on as the Mitgogae raced towards them and let loose another volley of weapons fire. The ship shook and groaned as it tried to hold itself together under the onslaught. Then, everything went dark followed quickly by the dull glow of the emergency lighting.

Carr picked her head up and looked around. Most of the consoles were either on fire, dark, or flashing on and off. Woodville was already at work under his console rerouting power to his display. Less than a minute later, he had the ship schematic displayed. Almost every region of the ship screamed with flashing red damage reports.

“We’re on auxiliary backups,” Woodville said. “And only about a quarter of those are working.”

“Switch all power to life support,” Carr said. “We’re just going to have to play dead and hope they don’t come around to finish the job.”


Rydell and Dillon jogged back into the main cavern of Forever where Jaroch, Baird, and the now-conscious Hawkins stood pouring over the sensor readouts. In a corner, Karina slept soundly.

“About damn time,” Baird said, leaping up from the scanner.

“FIFTEEN MINUTES UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“See what I mean.”

“Then let’s do this,” Dillon said.

“You can shut the hell up,” Hawkins snapped.

“And preferably die,” Jaroch added,

“Later, people,” Rydell said. His gaze fell on Karina. “Is she all right?”

“I gave her a sedative from Porter’s medkit to keep her under,” Jaroch said. “I saw no need for her to be awake should we fail.”

“Good point,” Rydell said. “All right. What do we need to do?”

“Presumably, we just say the access code exactly as we did ten years ago,” Jaroch replied checking the report from their first encounter with Forever on his tricorder. “All five of us will shout ‘Just do it’ and then Captain Baird will say ‘you f***ing rock.’” Jaroch stopped for a moment, realizing what he had just said.

“Oh no,” Jaroch said softly.

Baird’s eyes widened in horror. “Oh fu…dookie!”



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

“This Universe Will Self Destruct in Five Seconds”


“Oh this is just perfect,” Hawkins said, looking at Baird in exasperation. “I can’t believe we’re going to get killed because you can’t cuss.”

“There is a certain amount of irony here,” Jaroch said. Dillon suddenly fell to the floor and started rolling around, laughing hysterically.

“This isn’t funny, you fu…sh…crap!” Baird screamed.

“Just calm down,” Rydell said. “Jaroch, see if you can disable the profanity filter. We’ve got fifteen minutes. There’s no problem yet.”


Sullivan watched the dark form of the Secondprize drift lifelessly on the viewscreen. Just in front of the crippled Excelsior-class vessel, the Mitgogae was making a slow charge towards the Inevitable.

“I don’t suppose your people’s ships have any neat weaknesses we could exploit right now,” Sullivan said grimly.

“Afraid not,” Trinian said. “We believe in beta testing.”

“Just checking. Helm, try and keep us out of the line of fire as much as possible. Our first concern is survival for the next…” Sullivan turned to Trinian. “How much time do we have left?”

“Let me check,” Trinian said, establishing a mental link to Guardian Control.

“AT THE SOUND OF THE TONE, THE TIME TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION WILL BE FOURTEEN MINUTES. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.”

“Not long,” Trinian said. “We’ve got…”

BOOOOOOOOOOOM!

The Inevitable was almost blasted onto its side by the force of the assault from the Mitgogae. The entire crew was sent hurtling into the port side wall of the bridge.

“I said keep us OUT of the line of fire,” Sullivan gasped, pushing Trinian off of her and struggling back to her seat.

“Sorry,” the conn officer whimpered.

“We’ve lost shields,” the tactical officer reported. “Systems are down all over the ship.”

“Great,” Sullivan said. “Another hit like that, and you’ll be able to use us and the Secondprize as the galaxy’s biggest set of bookends.”

“Funny you should mention them,” the conn officer said. “Propulsion’s down, and we’re kind of drifting right towards them.”

“What is working?” Sullivan demanded.

“Life support and the internal Muzak system. After that, it’s sketchy,” operations reported.

“So much for the cavalry,” Sullivan muttered.


Porter had to hand it to the designers of the Mitgogae’s engine room. It was a remarkably simple and efficient system. One person could easily monitor everything that was going on in the tiny power core. Of course, with it being so small and accessible, the core was also incredibly easy to sabotage. He quickly found the tool supply cabinet, grabbed a couple of necessities, and flipped open the access panel of the core. No problem here at all. He just had to make sure he kept enough power going to run life-support. He’d never been a believer in suicide missions, and he wasn’t about to end up on one now. There’d be a little power, but Morticent and that android behemoth wouldn’t be blasting anybody anytime soon.


“THE FEDERATION VESSEL HAS BEEN CRIPPLED,” Guardian #492 reported.

“It’s a shame we don’t have time to stay and introduce ourselves personally to their crew,” Morticent said. “I’m sure they probably have some wonderful specimens I could have played with. Oh well. Obliterate them.”

Guardian #492 fired the Mitgogae’s energy weapons sending a beam lancing out at the Inevitable. Just as it struck the side of the damaged Federation ship, the beam shut down…as did everything else on the Mitgogae.

“I DON’T REMEMBER IT EVER DOING THAT BEFORE,” Guardian #492 said confused.


The gentle strains of an instrumental version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” filtering through the bridge speakers were abruptly silenced as the Inevitable took another hit.

“We’re on emergency power only,” the operations officer reported. “But they kocked us out of the path of the Secondprize,” the officer added helpfully.

“So basically we’re dead,” Trinian said.

“Looks like it,” Sullivan said. “The Mitgogae should be finishing us off right about…now.”

But nothing happened.

“You don’t suppose we’re going to live, do you?” Trinian asked.

“Only one way to find out,” Sullivan replied heading to the rear of the bridge. She opened the Jefferies tube access hatch. “Okay people, first priorities are life support and propulsion. If you can get the warp engines back on line, make a run for it. We’ll catch up.”

“And where are we going?” Trinian asked.

“Just to take a quick peek outside.”


Guardian #492 lumbered back through the bowels of the ship towards engineering wondering how he’d let himself get stuck in this mess. Yes, he understood that the universe had to end. He understood that he wanted to end it with Morticent, but why in the name of the timeline did he allow her to talk him into attacking those Federation ships? They just should have gotten the hell out of there. He still had enough of a link with Forever to know that the Secondprize Five had not succeeded in stopping the countdown. And the odds of them succeeding were infinitesimally low.

He and Morticent should be off somewhere enjoying their last minutes as corporeal beings, not engaging in some senseless fire fight. Now, the ship was malfunctioning, and he had to find the cause before the Federation ships were able to regain power and destroy them. Guardian #492 knew that they’d made a mistake in putting in that new micro-core. The damn thing had probably blown out. At least it was still under warranty.

He rounded the corner towards the engine room and ran smack into Commander Porter, who was knocked to the floor by the sheer mass of Guardian #492’s body.

“YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE LOCKED UP,” Guardian #492 said angrily, quickly piecing together what had actually happened.

“Just out for my evening stroll,” Porter replied, scrambling to his feet. “I was about to head back to my room for another long night of being a prisoner. Don’t mind me.”

“I DO MIND. YOU WILL PROBABLY HAVE TO BE KILLED FOR THIS. MORTICENT WILL DECIDE.” Guardian #492 reached out to grab Porter, but the human dodged backwards and raced back towards the engine room.

“Maybe later,” Porter called back. “I’ve really got to be somewhere right now.”


Carr and Beck waited anxiously at the Jefferies tube access hatch on the Secondprize bridge as Woodville poked his head back up.

“Everyone’s in place. This should work,” he said.

“Great. Bridge to engineering,” Carr said.

“Bridge to engineering,” Woodville repeated. Then, down in the tubes, the phrase moved on, repeated by several different crewman as it descended to the secondary hull. A few minutes later, a reply came. “Vaughn here. Go ahead,” Woodville said.

“This is going to take forever,” Beck muttered.

“Fix the ship!” Carr said.

“Fix the ship!” Woodville repeated.

“That was nice and vague,” Beck said.

“But it gets the point across,” Carr replied. The bridge shook with a sudden thud. “What the hell was that?”

“Uh…” Woodville said, pointing up. Beck and Carr followed his gaze to the transparent dome covering the bridge. Resting on the dome, just outside, was an upside-down raceabout cockpit. Sullivan and Trinian smiled and waved. A second later, Beck and Carr dematerialized in a flurry of blue sparkles.

“Does that mean I’m in charge?” Woodville asked the now empty bridge.


“Sorry about that,” Sullivan said once Beck and Carr were safely on board. “We couldn’t get through to you any other way.”

“No problem at all,” Beck replied. “What’s your status?”

“The Inevitable is a slag heap right now. And blasting our way out of the shuttle bay didn’t help any. The good news is that the Mitgogae seems to be non-functional as well. And I’m only reading six life signs over there.”

“I think we can take them,” Beck said. She turned to Trinian. “And I expect a full explanation of what you have to do with all this when we finish over there.”

“Yeah!” Carr seconded. She suddenly gave Trinian a big hug. “It’s great to see you, by the way.”

“Likewise,” Trinian muttered as the Mitgogae loomed ahead of them.

Beck grabbed four phasers out of the supply locker and distributed them accordingly. “Keep your eyes open for Craig Porter. He’s on this ship somewhere”

“You three can find him,” Trinian said. “I need to have a few words with Morticent.”

“I’d like to have a few myself,” Sullivan said. “But you can have first crack at her. Energizing.”

The four women rematerialized in a dim corridor. Trinian quickly looked around to get her bearings. “Looks like they kept the basic floorplan intact,” she said. She noted the lighting. Some internal power was obviously flowing. That could be a problem if the security systems were still on. No time to worry about that now. “Quarters are that way,” Trinian said, pointing down the hall. “Be careful.”

“You too,” Sullivan said. Trinian checked the power level on her phaser and moved off towards the bridge.

“So, anybody got a plan here?” Carr asked.

“Lisa’s the ranking officer,” Sullivan replied.

“We go that-a-way,” Beck said, pointing in the direction Trinian had just indicated.


Morticent heard someone enter the bridge through the doors Guardian #492 had wedged open. The footsteps were far too light to be his, though. Perhaps one of her boys had left the playroom to look for her.

She turned around in her throne prepared to deal with one of her beautiful boy toys. The sight she came upon was a bit of a shock.

“Gotcha,” Trinian said, aiming a phaser at her.

“Bridge to Guardian #492. Intruder alert. Boys, you’re needed!”

“Your power’s mostly out,” Trinian said. “The comm system doesn’t work.”

“ACKNOWLEDGED,” Guardian #492’s voice said through the bridge speakers.

“Then again,” Trinian said.

“You should be somewhere preparing your last rites,” Morticent said. “There’s only four minutes left.”

“Alex will stop it.”

“Don’t be so sure. We’re all going to die.”

“And why are you so happy about it? Why are you doing this?”

“Do you know how much it costs to live in complete luxury for ten years? Do you have any idea how much I paid to have this ship altered to my standards? Guardian Control doesn’t pay that kind of latinum.”

“And?”

“And?” Morticent said angrily. “You have no clue how much debt I’m in! You could buy a planet with the interest alone! Galactic Collections is already looking for me. I narrowly dodged a repo fleet in the Sentilis Sector last month. I’m not giving it up, Trinian. I’m going out with the most toys!”

“You’re insane!” Trinian said.

“Just motivated,” Morticent replied. Before Trinian could react, Morticent dove at her, sending them both to the deck and Trinian’s phaser clattering across the room. “Who’s got who now, Trinian?”

Trinian connected a left to Morticent’s nose.

“Ow!!! Fine. I’ll gloat later. You don’t have to be so mean about it.”

“Sorry. Where are my manners?” Trinian quipped, kneeing Morticent in the stomach.


Beck, Sullivan, and Carr heard Morticent’s message across the ship’s comm system, thus ending any hope they had of taking Morticent’s crew by surprise. Now it was just a matter of dealing with these “boys” that were coming to find them.

Up ahead of them in the corridor, the three officers could hear a door being wedged open. Five glistening, beautifully built men strode out into the corridor wearing nothing but shimmering golden bikini briefs and determined looks.

“The mistress sent us to stop you,” the lead hunk said.

“Five of them and three of us. This isn’t fair,” Beck said smiling. “One of us only gets one playmate.”

“I’m married,” Sullivan said. “I’ll make the sacrifice.”

“Very noble of you,” Carr said.

“So, you fellas are going to stop us?” Beck said.

“That’s right, ma’am,” the men all said, nodding courteously.

“Oooh. Fun.”


Craig Porter was, at that moment, definitely not having any fun. The engine room hadn’t given him anywhere to run really. As it was, he was huddled between a status console and the wall, trying to stay calm as Guardian #492 worked to rip the console out of the floor, thus giving him an open shot at Porter.

Porter cursed himself for leaving his phaser on Forever. Of course, it would have helped if he’d known he was going to be kidnapped in the first place. He only had one option that he could think of. Trying to remain calm and steady, he worked to shut down the repeating message his sub-dermal communicator had been sending out all this time and restore the device to normal functioning. Maybe someone would be able to beam him out of there in time.

A horrible groaning sound as metal separated from metal pulled him away from his work. Guardian #492 loomed above, holding the dislodged console over his head.

“Could I have about five more minutes?” Porter said weakly.

“NOPE,” Guardian #492 replied. A smile crossed the android’s face. “NO OFFENSE, BUT I’M GOING TO ENJOY THIS.”

“Yippee,” Porter replied.


“ONE MINUTE UNTIL UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION,” Forever said. Jaroch was still scanning Baird, checking his tricorder, and muttering to himself. Rydell couldn’t take it anymore.

“Jaroch, we’ve got to go here. You’ve been at this way too long,” Rydell said.

“And there is nothing I can do,” Jaroch said, slamming his tricorder shut. “Short-circuiting the device will also short-circuit Captain Baird’s brain. He is of no use to us dead.”

“Oh this isn’t happening,” Rydell said, putting his head in his hands.

“I could try cutting it out, but, again, the damage to Captain Baird would be severe. It is fairly close to the surface, though.”

“How close?” Hawkins asked.

“Just inside the skull cap by his left temple.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Now hold on a second,” Baird said, backing up. “What are you going to do?”

“Just turn around and look at that wall,” Hawkins said.

“Come on, Scott,” Rydell said, grabbing Baird and spinning him around. “There’s no choice here. It’s this, or we’re dead.”

“Okay, but I don’t want her…” Before he could finish, Hawkins lashed out with a spinning kick that connected right on his left temple. “F*** ME!” Baird shouted, then collapsed to the floor unconscious.

On the other side of the cavern, Dillon fell down in another fit of laughter.

“Too hard!” Rydell shouted.

“Sorry,” Hawkins said. “I didn’t know he’d knock out that easily.”

“THIRTY SECONDS TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“Come on, Scott,” Rydell said, leaning over Baird’s prone body and slapping his face gently. “You’ve got to wake up. Scott. Scott!” Rydell slapped Baird a little harder than he meant to.

“Unnh,” Baird moaned.

“Scott, get up,” Rydell said, trying to pull the engineer to his feet.

“Wanna stay in bed. No school today,” Baird babbled.

“You are not in bed,” Jaroch said, grabbing Baird’s other arm to hold him up. “We are in Forever.”

“And that’s a long long time,” Baird said.

“TWENTY SECONDS TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION.”

“Scott. We need to you scream now. Scream ‘Just do it.’ Can you do that?” Rydell asked pleadingly.

“Just do it!” Baird shouted groggily.

“Do it on cue. Can you do that?” Rydell asked.

Scott thought for a couple of seconds. “Uh…okay.”

“TEN SECONDS TO UNIVERSAL ANNIHILATION …NINE.”

“Ready. Go.”

“EIGHT.”

“Just do it!” the Secondprize Five shouted in unison.

“SEVEN”

“You f***ing rock!” Baird said smiling. “Yea me!!!!!!”

“SIX.”

“You remembered!” Hawkins said, shaking Baird’s shoulders excitedly. “Thank the Great Bird.” Baird slumped back over unconscious. “Oops.”

“ACCESS CODE ACCEPTED,” Forever said. “FIVE.”

“Stupid dumb luck,” Dillon said.

“FOUR.”

“Will you please not destroy the universe?” Rydell begged.

“WHY NOT? THREE.”

“Because we want to live.”

“SORRY. NO CAN DO. TWO.”

“Wait!!!!” Rydell screamed.

“NOPE. ONE. WIPEOUT!



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

“Uh…Aren’t We Supposed To Be Dead Now?”


Four blazing pillars of chronometric energy erupted out of the top, bottom and sides of Forever, then curled around, enveloping the moon with a sparkling golden glow. Gradually, the glow built and built as more and more energy poured out of the moon onto the surface. Finally, after enough energy had built up, the moon shot out a wave of temporal destruction in every direction, blasting away at an incredible rate and enveloping the entire universe in a matter of milliseconds.


Commander Porter watched Guardian #492 raise the console above his head and waited for the inevitable. He imagined that being crushed like this would hurt a lot, but generally he just tried to focus on the idea that it would be over quickly.

But then a miracle occurred.

Guardian #492 froze in place, his eyes staring forward vacantly.

“WIPEOUT,” Guardian #492 said flatly.

“What the hell does that mean?” Porter asked.

Then, he found out.


Trinian was too busy slamming Morticent’s head into the Mitgogae’s control console to notice that time had run out. Suddenly, both women froze in mid-movement, their bodies possessed by another power.

“Wipeout,” they both said. And it was.


Beck, Carr, and Sullivan were too busy “subduing” Morticent’s little helpers to notice anything amiss. Nobody even bothered to say “wipeout” to them, so the event itself was a bit of a surprise.


“What’s happening?” Rydell demanded, watching the huge cylinder of yellow energy that was now pouring up from the circle of stalagmites that made up the core of Forever. Forever made no response. “Forever? Are you listening, Forever? Jaroch, can you get anything?”

“I cannot be certain,” Jaroch said, scanning the flow with his tricorder. “The tricorder is having difficulty scanning the interior of the phenomenon.

“Maybe the Secondprize can get a reading,” Hawkins suggested.

“Good idea,” Rydell said, activating the sub-dermal communicator he’d been given on the ship. “Rydell to Secondprize.” Nothing. Not even static. “Secondprize, come in please.” Jaroch aimed his tricorder at the ceiling and immediately started frowning.

“Oh boy,” Hawkins said. “I don’t like that look.”

“We may have a serious problem,” Jaroch said.

“Something you can’t fix, wonder boy,” Dillon said striding over happily.

“What are you so pleased about?” Rydell said.

“You failed!” Dillon said, then started laughing again. “For once, you failed!”

“Just ignore him,” Hawkins said. “What’s going on, Jaroch?”

“Everything outside of this moon appears to be in an extreme state of temporal flux,” Jaroch said. “Timelines are shifting at a rapid pace.”

“What does that mean?” Rydell said.

“If I had to guess, which I suppose I do, I would say that time is unraveling. In the process, every possibility is being played out for every single being’s life.”

“That’s some hypothesis,” Rydell said. “You got all of that from a quick tricorder scan?”

“I am good,” Jaroch said simply.

“If you’re so good,” Dillon said, “how do we stop it?”

“That is the big question, Jaroch,” Rydell said. “What do we have to do?”

“I have no idea,” Jaroch said, clearly finding the words distasteful.

“What? You mean that’s it?” Hawkins demanded angrily. “We just sit here and wait for time to come unravel around us?”

“I am afraid so.”

Rydell, stunned by Jaroch’s words, staggered backwards until he found a stalagmite to slump against. “I did it,” Rydell muttered softly. “I destroyed the universe. Oh God. I killed…everybody.”

“I know I’m impressed,” Dillon said, walking over to Rydell so he could gloat some more. “I didn’t think you had it in you.” Rydell just stared up at him blankly.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Rydell said finally.

“Who cares? It’s not like you can go put time back together.”

Rydell looked at the pillar of energy again, then back at Dillon. “Time. That’s it.”

“What are you babbling about?” Dillon said.

“Who built Forever?”

“I don’t know,” Dillon said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Sure it matters,” Rydell said. “Whoever or whatever built it could control time itself. Maybe they even built the whole universe.”

“You’re talking about a god,” Dillon said. “The universe wasn’t ‘built’ by anybody. It just is.”

“There may be some corroboration for what Captain Rydell is saying,” Jaroch said, breaking into the conversation. “As I recall, in one of the conversations Commander Porter recorded in his logs that Captain Baird and I were going over earlier, Forever says that he hopes ‘they’ will build something simpler next time.”

“So there is someone else,” Rydell said, leaping back to his feet re-energized.

“I still don’t see how this changes the fact that you failed,” Dillon said.

“Maybe it doesn’t,” Rydell said. “Or maybe it does. We won’t know until I get back.”

“Back?” Hawkins said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m not sure. I’m just going to have to see what happens,” Rydell said. He walked over to where Karina was sleeping and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “I’ll be right back, gorgeous,” he whispered to her. Funny, even though he was facing almost certain death, the idea that he might not see her again just wasn’t believable. He’d be back in one way or another. She meant too much for him not to be. Pulling himself away, he approached the column of chronometric energy cascading towards the ceiling of the cavern.

“Are you sure about this?” Hawkins said, stepping up beside him.

“Absolutely,” he replied, handing the lone phaser the group had to Hawkins. “Don’t let your guard down,” Rydell whispered, gesturing to Dillon.

“I think Jaroch and I can handle him,” Hawkins said. She suddenly gave him a quick hug, something Rydell couldn’t remember Hawkins ever doing. “Be careful in there, sir.”

“Trust me. That’s going to be my top priority,” Rydell said.

“Good luck,” Jaroch said, nodding gravely.

“Hasta la vista, baby!” Dillon said waving.

“I promise we won’t kill him until you get back,” Hawkins said.

Rydell smiled weakly. “Thanks. I appreciate it.” He looked at the churning current of time in front of him for a few more seconds, then leapt.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

“Things To Do While Waiting For The Universe To End”


The possible timelines of the universe continued to unravel…


…and Beck was commanding a freighter in the Cardassian sector.

…and Beck was married with three young children.

…and Beck was hosting a holovision variety show.


Dillon looked around at Karina and Baird’s unconscious forms then back at Hawkins and Jaroch. “Well well. Looks like it’s just the three of us now. Very cozy, yet amazingly appropriate, don’t you think?”

“Just stay quiet, Travis,” Hawkins said. “This is not the time.”

“The time? THE TIME?” Dillon laughed again. “But, Patricia, my love, this may be the only time we have left. Don’t you want to know how I’ve suffered without you? Don’t you want to know how you ripped my god damn heart out and crushed it beneath your boot? Don’t you want to know how I stayed up every night imagining creative ways to deal with you if I ever got the chance? Unfortunately, I don’t have any black olives, water guns, or copies of the complete works of John Updike with me right now, so I’m going to have to improvise.”

“Don’t do anything stupid, Travis,” Hawkins said.

“You have said your part of the access code,” Jaroch added. “That makes you officially expendable.”

“Oh, I’ve always been expendable, right Patricia?” Dillon said. “Does Travis have feelings? Who cares? I’m going to run off with some Klingon I just met. Sound familiar?”

“It was a long time ago, Travis. And I already said I’m sorry on the ship, but you were ignoring me at the time.”

“I heard you,” Dillon said. “I heard it all. Nice speech. Did it ease your conscience any?”

“This conversation is pointless,” Jaroch said. “Do not talk to him, Patricia.”

“Oh, so now you’re calling her Patricia?” Dillon said. “Trying to move in again, Jaroch. You didn’t win all those years ago. Why should it be any different now?”

“Because I made a mistake then,” Hawkins said. “I didn’t see the person Jaroch really was. Instead, for some reason I can’t remember any more, I fell for you.”

“Ha! You used me because being with me was better than being alone. There wasn’t any love there, any commitment. You just chewed me up and spat me out when a better meal cart came rolling on by.”

“Mister Dillon, there is really no point to this,” Jaroch said, trying to get his point across again. “The events you speak of happened years ago. We cannot change them.”

“No, but I can get some small bit of revenge,” Dillon said, going for his holstered disruptor. Hawkins had the phaser drawn in a flash. Only the sound of chronometric energy blasting upwards through the room could be heard as Dillon and Hawkins held weapons on each other.

“It won’t work,” Dillon said finally.

“Try me,” Hawkins replied.

“I will. But that phaser is on stun; mine is not.”

Hawkins started to move her finger towards the power adjustment switch. “No no no,” Dillon said quickly. “You do that, and I fire. You don’t have time to adjust the setting and fire back before I vaporize you. Likewise, if you shoot on stun, I fire back, and you die.”

“But then you will be stunned, and I will kill you,” Jaroch said.

“So be it,” Dillon said. “I’ll have taken care of my business. Rydell’s lost in the time stream, and Hawkins will be dead. Besides, the time lines will come collapsing in on us at any moment, right? You said so yourself.”

“Then I challenge you to personal combat,” Jaroch said.


…and Porter was the CEO of his own starship construction firm.

…and Porter was rotting away in a Multek prison.

…and Porter was working as an exotic dancer on Chipendus Four.


Rydell landed on a wooden floor. He heard the soft tinkle of a bell behind him and turned in time to see a door closing and the bell in question ringing above it. Rydell looked around to get some idea of his surroundings.

The place appeared to be a shop of some kind. Clocks of every conceivable description, and even a few that Rydell couldn’t begin to describe, much less understand, sat on every surface and hung on every wall ticking away.

Rydell cautiously stepped forward, weaving his way through the tables and displays up to the large wooden counter at the far end of the room. From the door behind the counter, an elderly man wearing spectacles emerged. He was busily using a screwdriver to fix something in an open timepiece that rested in his left hand.

“Excuse me…” Rydell said warily. The man looked up at Rydell, peering disapprovingly over the rims of his glasses.

“Who the devil are you?” the man asked, his voice strong despite his aged appearance.

“Alexander Rydell. Where am I?”

“Rydell…Rydell…let’s see.” The man placed his work on the counter then pulled a little notebook out of the front pocket of his shirt. “Rydell. Oh yes. You.” The “you” was said with definite disdain. “Come about your clock, I guess.”

“I don’t have a clock. I was in a cave and then…”

“Hang on a sec,” the man said, cutting Rydell off as he rummaged under the counter.

“Sir. Look, I’m really supposed to be saving the universe right now,” Rydell said. “I don’t have time for this.”

The man re-emerged with a mangled specimen Rydell could only assume used to be a clock. It was a wooden case covered in a thick layer of dust. Rydell could just make out the clock’s hands through the grime on the glass face. They spun wildly in opposite directions, while below them, various springs and other metal bits spilled out all over the place. The man rubbed his hand across a brass plate at the top of the clock, clearing the dust away.

The plate read “FOREVER.”


…and Sullivan was teaching tactics at the Academy.

…and Sullivan was a Borg drone.

…and Sullivan was alone in a desert with a fern and two cans of corned beef hash.


“What?” Dillon said, a laugh pulling at his lips. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Far from it. I desire the hand of Patricia Hawkins. You wish to kill her. Therefore, I will fight you for her.”

“Jaroch, that’s sweet and all, but come on,” Hawkins said. “I don’t think he’s…”

“Fine,” Dillon said. “Sounds very chivalrous. But the weapons go bye-bye. Put the phaser on the ground, Patricia.”

“You first,” Hawkins said. Dillon started to lean down, his eyes locked on Hawkins as he bent to place his weapon on the ground. Hawkins followed suit, keeping a close eye on Dillon at the same time.

In a sudden jerk, Dillon fired at Hawkins, sending a blast directly into her chest before she even realized what was happening. Her last thought was something along the lines of, “wow, he’s gotten faster.” Horrified, Jaroch expected the woman to dissolve out of existence from the hit, but she just fell back to the cavern floor. Dillon scooped up her phaser and aimed both weapons at Jaroch.

“You didn’t really think I’d kill her, did you?” Dillon said. “Not her. I couldn’t. I just didn’t want her interfering in our business.” Captain Baird groaned as he started to regain consciousness on the other side of the chamber. Dillon quickly blasted him back to dreamland then tossed the phaser and disruptor a safe distance away from everyone.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Dillon said, crouching into an attack stance.

“As have I,” Jaroch replied, raising his fists.

A grim look of determination in each man’s eyes, they moved in towards each other to settle their dispute.


…and Carr was in a mountain cabin working on her next book.

…and Carr was driving a hoverbus around scenic San Francisco.

…and Carr was wearing a lot of black leather as a man in a Starfleet admiral’s uniform kissed her black, thigh high boot.


Rydell stared at the clock in shock. “That’s…that’s…our universe?”

“Yeah. Real shame about this one, too,” the man said. “It was one of my early efforts, but I guess it was bound to break eventually.” He looked at Rydell, his steel grey eyes darkening. “You didn’t have to help it along, though.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Rydell said. “I tried to stop it. Forever wouldn’t listen to me.”

“Well, no point in arguing about it now.” The man tossed the clock into a trash can behind the counter. “I’ve got plenty more where that came from. You best leave. Can’t have you missing being wiped out of existence.” He turned and headed to the back room.

“Now wait a second!” Rydell said hurdling the counter and charging through the back door. He stopped as he was consumed by complete blackness.

“Can’t you take a hint?” the man’s voice said. “Go away. I’m busy.’

“You’ve got to fix Forever,” Rydell said, peering futilely into the darkness. “There are trillions of intelligent beings there that deserve to live.” In an instant, the man was back in front of Rydell, staring right into his eyes and seemingly beyond.

“Do you have any idea how many ‘intelligent beings’ I go through in a week. You’re raw materials. I’m sorry if that assaults your over-inflated view of your importance, but it’s the truth. Your time has run out Alexander Rydell. Everyone’s does eventually. Just accept it and go home.”

In a flash, Rydell was back out in the store of clocks. The door to the black back room slammed shut and latched. Rydell tried but couldn’t get it to open.

In the trash can next to him lay his universe, his home, his friends, and his wife. He scooped the broken clock up and laid it out on the counter. He knew he was thinking too literally. He knew that this was probably all just how his brain was dealing with the mondo-bizarro stuff that was probably really going on around him, but he didn’t care at this point. Throwing open the drawer of the counter, Rydell found a set of tools. So, he didn’t know a thing about clock repair. He had some basic engineering training, and, dammit, he had to try.

Blowing the rest of the dust off of Forever, Rydell set to work.


…and Trinian was the captain of her own Seatellan starship.

…and Trinian was in chains and cooking meals for a Vorta.

…and Trinian was greeting the guests at her posh nightclub on Raisa.


Jaroch was a bit taken aback when Dillon dodged his first kick then landed a solid right to the Yynsian’s jaw.

“What do you think I’ve been doing for the last eight years?” Dillon said smugly. Jaroch took the opportunity to execute a solid left chop to the midsection followed by a sweeping kick that knocked Dillon to the ground. Dillon rolled with the fall, though, and sprung back to his feet almost instantly. Once again, Jaroch was a tad surprised.

Dillon charged back in with a series of quick jabs and kicks using at least seven different martial arts styles from five different planets that Jaroch was able to recognize. The most disconcerting fact about this was that several hits landed squarely and painfully on Jaroch’s body. Jaroch found himself backing up and just trying to block Dillon’s attacks. Offense wasn’t even an option.

“This is even more satisfying than I could have possibly imagined,” Dillon said. He smashed his boot against the side of Jaroch’s head, sending him sprawling across Karina’s prone form. Jaroch just wanted to rest a second, but Dillon slammed his foot into the small of Jaroch’s back, eliciting a pained grunt from both the Yynsian and Karina.

Jaroch rolled sideways to avoid Dillon’s next blow, which landed harmlessly on the ground between Jaroch and Karina. Jaroch grabbed Dillon’s leg and toppled him backwards, giving himself a couple of seconds to return to his feet before Dillon did the same.

“What’s the matter, Jaroch? Where’s that bad-ass J’Ter now?”

“He will be arriving shortly,” Jaroch replied, hoping that it was the truth. At this moment, the six month sabbatical he took on Yyns to learn to control his past lives a couple of years ago was seeming like a major error in judgement. Right now, he needed the skills of the long-dead warrior prince whose life force resided inside him, but Dillon’s unceasing assaults were not giving him the necessary time to bring him to the surface.

“I can’t wait,” Dillon said, diving in for another exchange of blows, one that was once again incredibly unbalanced as Dillon landed three to four hits for every one of Jaroch’s. Jaroch now realized that his idea to give Dillon his own holodeck to play in for eight years has also been a significant error in judgement. There was a great deal of irony to this situation; however, Jaroch was too busy getting the stuffing kicked out of him to really appreciate it.

“Where’s Alex?” a female voice demanded. Dillon and Jaroch stopped fighting long enough to look over at the source of the noise. Karina had woken up thanks to her run-in with Jaroch and had pulled herself to her feet.

“In there,” Dillon and Jaroch said, pointing at the column of temporal energy.

Karina looked at it nervously. “I take it things haven’t been going well?”

“No, they have not,” Jaroch said.

“I’m having fun,” Dillon said gleefully.

“Uh…well…you boys go back to what you were doing,” Karina said, approaching the column. “I’m just going to go find Alex now.”

“Good luck,” Dillon said smiling and waving as Karina jumped into the chronometric stream. Jaroch took the opportunity to land a hard left to Dillon’s jaw. “You could have waited,” Dillon said, grabbing the hurt side of his face.

“Are you not having fun anymore?” Jaroch said. Dillon lashed out with two slugs to Jaroch’s stomach, then kneed him in the face as the Yynsian doubled over.

“Nope. Still having a blast.”


…and Guardian #492 was the head of Guardian Control.

…and Guardian #492 was about to be executed for his crimes.

…and Guardian #492 was the cornerstone of a new shopping center on Romulus.


The dormant shell of Forever seemed to mock Rydell as he tried to get all of the springs and coils and other bits back inside of its housing. There just didn’t seem to be any way that all of those parts could have come from that tiny box. Deep down, Rydell knew that he was in way over his head, that he’d never be able to rebuild a universe, but he was not about to sit around and do nothing while everything he knew was destroyed.

The soft ringing of the bell at the door snapped him out of his concentration on the clock. Seeing Karina standing there, he threw down the tools and jumped the counter to get to her as she rushed towards him.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” he said softly as they embraced.

“Not a chance,” Karina replied. “You’ve got vows to uphold, pal.” She looked around at her strange surroundings. “What is this place?”

“I’m not sure. It seems to be where universes are made.”

“In a clock shop?”

“I can’t explain it,” Rydell said, leading her back to the counter and showing her the scattered remains of Forever. “But that’s our universe. It’s destroyed. I can’t fix it. I’ve killed us all.”

Karina could hear the sorrow in Rydell’s voice, the waver in it as he struggled to maintain control. She didn’t know what to say. How do you console someone who may have ended life…period?

“I’ve got to keep trying,” he said finally, picking the tools back up.

She placed her hand on his arm. “Don’t,” she said simply. He looked at her confused. “There’s nothing you can do here, Alex. You aren’t a god.”

“If I don’t, it’s all over. No you, no me, no anyone.”

“Then let’s go be together while we still can. If I’m going to Oblivion, I want it to be with you,” Karina said, gazing deeply into Rydell’s eyes..

Rydell smiled weakly and put his arms around her. “You got it.” He kissed her, trying to put everything he ever felt for her and all of those feelings he’d never get to express into this one act.

So, it was over. The universe had had a pretty good run. Hell, he’d had a pretty good run. Captain of a starship, songwriter, resort owner, husband. He’d never been a father, which was something he regretted somewhat, but all in all it’d been a great ride.

The kiss ended, then, hand in hand, Rydell and Karina walked towards the door of the shop.


…and Morticent was a parking lot attendant.

…and Morticent was a millionaire in Bel Air.

…and Morticent was lost somewhere in Paris.



CHAPTER TWENTY

“My Other Universe Is In The Shop”


Jaroch really could not remember a time when he hurt this much. Of course, after the beating he’d been receiving at the hands and feet of Dillon, he was lucky to even remember his name. But, he was still standing. He had no intention of letting Dillon know just how badly he was pounding Jaroch. Getting trounced in a fight was bad enough, but having Dillon doing it was just intolerable.

“Looking a little shaky there, bud,” Dillon said. “Just hold still, and I’ll try to finish you off quickly.”

“You…severely…underestimate…my…stamina,” Jaroch gasped weakly. Dillon dove in with a couple of quick jabs to Jaroch’s face, sending another spurt of orangish blood splattering across the room. Jaroch swung to retaliate, but Dillon caught his slow moving arm and snapped it.

Grimacing in pain, but refusing to cry out, Jaroch staggered backwards. Dillon executed a beautiful roundhouse kick to Jaroch’s chest, which sent the mangled Yynsian flying across the cavern and slamming into the ground next to Hawkins.

“Oh, you two are adorable,” Dillon gloated. “Enjoy your last look at her, Jaroch. She’s mine from now on.”

Jaroch wiped blood and dirt from his eyes to gaze on Hawkins. She seemed so peaceful, so beautiful, so…awake. Jaroch looked again. Her eyes were open, and she was looking at him trying to disguise her horror at his injuries. With an almost imperceptible smile, she moved her hand slightly to touch Jaroch’s.

“I am sorry,” Jaroch mouthed. “I…”

In a flash, Hawkins leapt to her feet and charged a very surprised Dillon. Pulling out her old Starfleet security training and a few Klingon moves she’d learned over the years, she nailed Dillon with a few chops to the face followed up by a vicious kick to the mid-section.

“No one said this was tag team!” Dillon protested.

“Yeah, well no one said anything about you shooting me…twice!”

“You always did like to hold a grudge.” Dillon blocked Hawkins’s next two blows and dodged backwards.

“What’s the matter, Travis? Won’t hit a lady?” Hawkins taunted. Her next kick connected with the side of Dillon’s head, knocking him to the floor. As she moved in for the kill, Dillon rolled and kicked upwards, smashing his boot into the bottom of Hawkins’s chin. Her head jerked back as she reeled from the blow.

“Minor mental block,” Dillon said, springing back to his feet nimbly. “I’ve taken care of it.” He charged Hawkins, and the battle between them began in earnest.

In the corner, Jaroch disconnected himself from the pain wracking his body and focused his mind, employing the Yynsian meditation techniques used to access the life-forces stored within. The effort was difficult, but he could feel J’Ter’s consciousness awakening.

Hawkins was very quickly coming to the same realization that Jaroch had: eight years had given Dillon way too much free time to work on his fighting skills. He seemed to know every move she was going to make.

“Problem, Patricia, darling?” Dillon asked, as he ducked another one of her kicks. “Feeling a bit outmatched, perhaps?”

“Shut up and fight me, you psychotic bastard,” Hawkins said. She jabbed for his face, a move Dillon neatly side-stepped, then slammed his elbow into the back of her head.

“What fight? I’ve been studying your moves for years, hon. I knew this would come someday. There’s no fight here, just your inevitable defeat.”

So he did know everything she was going to do. Not good. Definitely not good. Dillon landed another blow to her head and sent her reeling.

“You will now fight me!” a deep voice bellowed through the cavern. Dillon and Hawkins turned to see Jaroch back on his feet and looking about as pissed as anyone in the history of the universe ever had.

“Welcome back, J’Ter!” Hawkins said happily.

The Yynsian warrior-prince’s gaze did not waiver from Dillon’s face. “Prepare to…”

“Yeah. Yeah. ‘Prepare to die, puny mortal.’ I’ve heard this crap from you before,” Dillon said. “We’ll see just how good you really are.” Dillon lowered back into his battle crouch and approached Jaroch as Hawkins moved to get out of the way. This was one fight she definitely didn’t want to be in the middle of. Besides, she wanted to see if Porter’s abandoned medkit had anything to help her with the pounding headache Dillon had so kindly given her.


“So you’ve given up, eh?” a voice called just before Rydell and Karina reached the door of the clock shop. They turned and saw that the elderly man had re-emerged from the back room.

“Who’s he?” Karina whispered.

“The proprietor,” Rydell replied. He turned his attention to the man. “What choice did we have? I can’t fix Forever.”

The man laughed. “Of course you can’t. You’re not qualified.” He looked down at the work Rydell had done. “Made a royal mess of things, didn’t you?”

“No worse than I already had,” Rydell replied.

“Can’t argue with you there.”

“Can you fix it?” Karina asked.

“I think I’ve already been through this with your hubby. I’ve got too many others to worry about.”

“Well, none of them are standing in your shop right now,” Karina said, striding forward angrily. “And none of them are about to be wiped out of existence.”

“And by faulty craftsmanship no less,” Rydell added.

“Faulty?” the man sputtered. “I’d like to see you try to…oh wait, you already did. And failed miserably.”

“Your product blew up,” Rydell said. “I just want it repaired.”

“Forever wouldn’t have blown up if you hadn’t talked to it,” the man replied.

“You could have put that in the owner’s manual,” Karina said. “You just don’t leave the self-destruct switch out in the open where anybody can find it, then not tell them what it does.”

“I guess I probably should have imbedded Forever in a sun or a black hole or something,” the man said, considering Karina’s argument. “Next time.”

“Next time! What about now? You got us all killed!” Rydell protested. “Or can you not even fix your own creation?”

“Don’t even try that psychobabble with me. I know damn well how my time pieces work. And my craftsmanship is unparalleled. If Forever was a bit unstable, I’m sorry, but I’ve improved over the millennia. You should see the one I’ve got over here,” the man said walking over to a strange grouping of spinning spirals. “It’s a masterpiece.”

“That’s great and all,” Rydell said. “But I’d really just like you to fix Forever.”

“All this just so you two can go home and breed,” the man muttered as he charged back over to Forever. “But it was kind of my fault. Have to move things around a little this time.” He started tinkering in the clock as Karina and Rydell looked at each other.

“Breed?” Karina said. “What did you tell him? I didn’t think you wanted…”

“I didn’t think you did either,” Rydell said. “Do you?”

“Can we use a more romantic word than breed?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, then, yeah. I think I might,” Karina replied smiling. “You?”

“Definitely,” Rydell said, returning the grin. They embraced and kissed deeply, eliciting a snort from the old man.

“Can you please wait until I get this done?” he said. “Bad enough that I let you talk me into this. I’d rather not have to watch you copulate on my floor.” He picked up a tiny screwdriver, adjusted one more piece, that shut Forever’s cabinet. “There. Are you happy now?”

“You fixed it?” Karina exclaimed.

“It’s not exactly a complicated model,” the man said. “It’ll be ticking away as ever in a couple of minutes.”

“Thank you,” Rydell said sincerely. “We can’t begin to show our gratitude.”

“Don’t even try,” the man said, placing Forever back under his counter. “Go back and enjoy your little lives.”

“We will,” Rydell said. “But I need to know one thing.”

“What is it?” the man asked exasperated.

“Are you…God?”

The man looked at Rydell strangely for a moment, then started laughing. “No no, son. I just work here,” he said, then with another burst of laughter walked through the back door.

Rydell and Karina took one last look around the clock shop, then stepped out the front door, causing the bell to ring again softly.


Okay. J’Ter was good. And strong, Dillon noted as the irate warrior-prince picked him up and threw him against the side wall of the cavern. So much for Jaroch’s broken arm slowing J’Ter down at all.

Dillon pulled himself back to his feet just in time to get bashed in the face by Jaroch/J’Ter’s boot. Struggling to shake it off, Dillon retreated a couple of steps, blocked two more blows, then landed a couple of solid hits to Jaroch/J’Ter’s head. Jaroch/J’Ter didn’t even flinch. Instead, he grabbed Dillon by the collar with his broken arm, hoisted him into the air, then merciless started pounding away on Dillon’s body with his free hand.

Dillon kicked and punched and spat and did everything he could to try and free himself, but to no avail. The blows continued to rain down on him until the world started to blur. Finally, Dillon’s eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped over.

“J’Ter is victorious,” Jaroch/J’Ter bellowed, then threw Dillon all the way to the other side of the cavern, where he smashed into the wall, slid to the floor and lay motionless. Jaroch/J’Ter laughed heartily at his fallen foe, then fell silent as Jaroch’s consciousness retook control. The pain returning, Jaroch slumped to the ground. Hawkins was at his side a moment later with the medkit.

“Are you all right?” Jaroch asked.

“Fine,” Hawkins replied. She injected him with a pain killer and started to run the mediscanner over his body. “Looks like you took a lot worse of a pounding than I did. Two broken ribs, broken arm, broken nose and bumps and bruises galore.”

“I will heal,” Jaroch said.

“Assuming the universe doesn’t come crashing in on us soon,” Hawkins replied. “Unless the captain…”

“I am aware of that,” Jaroch replied. He was silent for a few moments. “But I am glad that I am able to spend this time with you.”

Hawkins smiled. “Me too, Jaroch. Me too.” She leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips. As she pulled away, Jaroch seemed surprised. “I just wanted to know what it was like,” she said.

“As do I,” Jaroch said, moving in to return the kiss. Their lips met again, sending a cold flash of emotion through Jaroch’s entire body. This moment he had waited for and dreamt of for song long was finally…

“None…of that,” an unmistakable voice spat weakly. Across the cavern, Dillon pulled himself to his feet, holding the disruptor that he landed on in one hand. “Get up!”

“You had to throw him right on top of the weapons, didn’t you?” Hawkins said as she and Jaroch stood up.

“You could have moved them while he was fighting J’Ter,” Jaroch replied.

“But she didn’t,” Dillon said. “She wanted me to have them, didn’t you, Patricia? You know who your true love is.”

“Certainly not you,” Hawkins retorted. “And so help me, if you shoot me again, I’m going to…”

“Enough!” Dillon said, walking towards them. A low hum started to fill the room. All around them, the walls and ceiling began to glow with the same golden energy rising up from Forever.

“It is collapsing in on us,” Jaroch said, looking around. His eyes stopped on the cylinder of energy Rydell and Karina had leapt into. Dillon followed his gaze and realized what he was thinking.

“Oh no!” Dillon said, stepping in front of the column, blocking Jaroch and Hawkins’s escape.

“Wh…what’s going on?” a weak male voice said. Captain Baird slowly started standing up from the floor a ways behind Jaroch and Hawkins.

“It is the end,” Jaroch said. “Go back to sleep.”

“Travis, are you just going to stand there and let this happen to us all?” Hawkins said.

“Would you rather than I shot you?” Dillon said.

“No, but…”

“But we’re all going out together,” Dillon said. “One big happy…”

Dillon was suddenly knocked to the ground as two figures smashed into him from behind. The disruptor flew from his hand and landed in front of Hawkins. “Oh this is fair!” Dillon cried as he hit the ground under the weight of Rydell and Karina, who had just leapt out of the column of particles.

Dillon then saw who it was who had stopped him. His mouth gaped in horror. “How did you survive in there?” he demanded. His eyes then locked on the glow of particles slowly closing in around them from the ceiling and walls. A slight smile returned to his face.

“It doesn’t matter. Ha ha. You see. It’s over anyway, Rydell. We’re all going to die. We’re all…”

The golden glow suddenly vanished along with the cylinder of chronometric energy that had been shooting from the center of the room.

“NOOOOO!” Dillon screamed, squirming out from under Rydell and jumping to his feet. “You! YOU! You did it to me again! You should be dead! We should all be dead, but no. You…you…” The anger overwhelmed Dillon’s ability to speak. With a cry of rage, he dove at Rydell, wrapping his hands around Rydell’s neck.

“Uh…Patricia,” Rydell gasped. “Little help here.”

“Gladly,” Hawkins replied, stunning Dillon with the disruptor.

“Not fair,” Dillon whimpered weakly, then slumped into unconsciousness.

“I take it your efforts were successful,” Jaroch remarked.

“Yep. There’ll be no galactic annihilation today,” Rydell said as he activated the sub-dermal communicator. “Rydell to Secondprize.”

No response.

Jaroch retrieved his tricorder and scanned outward. “I am detecting normal space-time.”

“Then where the f*** is the ship?” Baird asked.

“An excellent question,” Jaroch replied.

“And could someone tell me what the f*** happened while I was out?”

“Later.”


Back on the Mitgogae, everything returned to exactly the way it was before the universe started to unravel. Trinian resumed slamming Morticent’s head into the control console. Beck, Carr, and Sullivan continued to subdue Morticent’s boys. And Porter continued to wonder when Guardian #492 was going to drop a console on him.

“IT IS OVER,” Guardian #492 said. He threw the console aside and strode out of engineering without giving Porter so much as a glance.

“So, I guess you aren’t killing me then?” Porter called after him. Guardian #492 didn’t reply. “It’s okay. I’m not upset or anything.”

Pulling his frayed nerves back together, Porter left the engine room to see about getting off of the ship. As he expected, the corridors were deserted. Eventually, he passed by a room that seemed to have some activity behind it. Cautiously, he forced the doors opened and peered inside. The sight in that door was going to be hard to get rid of, even with therapy.

Five, mostly naked oily men were rolling around together on the floor while Beck, Carr, and Sullivan lounged on a giant wrap around sofa enjoying a couple of drinks and watching the action.

“What the hell is going on here?” Porter demanded.

“Every man for himself wrestling,” Beck said. “Winner takes all.”

“And this was more important than, oh, I don’t know….RESCUING ME!!!”

“You seem okay,” Sullivan said. “Have a seat. Relax a bit.”

“We probably should see if Trinian’s okay,” Carr said.

“She’s here, too?” Porter said.

“Don’t worry. She’s probably just on the bridge beating the crap out of Morticent,” Beck said.

“Or getting clobbered by that android,” Porter said.

“Oh. Hadn’t thought about that one,” Beck said. The four officers left the wrestlers behind and raced towards the bridge.

When they arrived, the scene was not exactly what they were expecting. Trinian stood at the rear of the bridge looking slightly disheveled, but generally all right. Morticent, however, was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room crying her eyes out. Guardian #492 sat beside her with his arms wrapped around her.

“What happened here?” Beck asked.

“Total abject failure,” Trinian said. “Alex stopped Forever.”

“So what happens now?” Sullivan asked.

“Once we get this ship operational, I’ll take care of them,” Trinian said. “Guardian Control is expecting us.”

“I’m on it,” Porter said, leaving to head back to engineering to fix his sabotage.

“Wait a second,” Beck said. “These two have attacked two Starfleet vessels, endangered their crews, kidnapped people, and attempted to destroy the universe. We’ve got to take them back to…”

“I will handle it!” Trinian said menacingly.

“Or we could do it that way,” Beck said.

“We’re going to lose it all, Guardy,” Morticent said softly, rocking back and forth in his arms. “Our games are over.”

“I’LL STILL BE WITH YOU,” Guardian #492 replied. “I WILL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU.”

Minutes later, the ship’s systems flickered back on, including the viewscreen which showed the Inevitable and the Secondprize drifting outside. Porter returned to the bridge shortly after that.

“That should do it,” he said.

“Thank you, Commander,” Trinian said. “And tell Alex…tell him that…” What should they tell him? There was no easy way for her to explain why she’d been put on the Secondprize in the first place. And she didn’t want to say goodbye. “Tell him I’ll see him around,” she said finally.

“Will do,” Sullivan said, activating her communicator. “Sullivan to Nash Rambler. Four to beam up. Energize.” The four Starfleet officers dematerialized, and Trinian sent the Mitgogae racing back to Seatellan space.


Back on the raceabout, Sullivan quickly noticed that the ship was detecting a comm signal. “Captain Rydell’s team is ready to go,” she reported after listening to it.

“Bring them aboard, Captain,” Beck said smiling. A moment later, Rydell, Jaroch, Hawkins, Baird, Karina, and an unconscious Dillon materialized on the raceabout.

“Good to see you guys,” Rydell said. “We were starting to get a little concerned.”

“Nothing to worry about,” Beck replied. “We had everything under…” She trailed off as she noticed the activity outside the raceabout window. The moon of Forever was surrounded in a pale red glow and shrinking. Finally, it vanished completely.

“What the hell?” Sullivan said.

“It’s being put somewhere safe,” Rydell replied smiling. “Now let’s get out of here.”

“F*** yeah!” Baird said. Sullivan whirled around and glared at him.

“Sorry, Emily,” Hawkins said. “It was unavoidable. But his cussing helped save the universe.”

“I don’t even want to know,” Sullivan said as she guided the raceabout back towards the Secondprize.



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

“Oh, I Guess We Have To Deal With All This, Don’t We?”


“Incident Log. Stardate 62015.2. Admiral Lisa Beck reporting. Incident Classification Code 7992-Alpha-Tau. The Forever situation has been successfully dealt with thanks to Alexander Rydell and the other former and current members of the Secondprize crew. Commendations recommended for Rydell, Jaroch, Hawkins, Baird, Sullivan, Carr, and especially Commander Craig Porter.

“The Secondprize and the Inevitable will both require extensive periods in dry dock to repair the damage inflicted by the Mitgogae. We are returning to Deneria at the best possible speed. As for the Mitgogae itself, I have assurances that it will never trouble us again.

“And finally, it is my opinion that Commander Travis Dillon should immediately be admitted to the Tantalus V mental rehabilitation colony, so that he may receive the care that he should have gotten years ago. He may not find it as enjoyable as the holodeck fantasies he’s been living in for the last eight years, but I have hopes that he can one day be returned to sanity.”


Admiral Beck shut down the log recorder and walked out onto the Secondprize’s bridge. “Thanks for the use of your ready room, Jaroch,” she said, taking a seat beside the Secondprize’s captain.

“Not a problem,” Jaroch replied flatly.

“I think you should leave that line to Captain Rydell,” Beck replied smiling.

“Perhaps,” Jaroch replied.

A few moments later, Commander Carr stepped out of the turbolift. Jaroch almost jumped out of his chair when she arrived.

“Are you that eager to get off shift?” Beck asked.

“I have…an appointment,” Jaroch said, quickly moving towards the lift. “You have the bridge, Commander.” The lift doors closed as Carr took the command chair.

“He’s so cute when he’s in love,” Carr said. Beck just smiled.


“You’ve been quiet,” Karina observed as she watched Rydell pick at the steak and eggs he’d replicated for breakfast.

“Hmm?” Rydell said, looking up from the table in the quarters they’d been given on the Secondprize.

“What’s going on in there?” she asked, walking over and stealing the bite of steak Rydell had on his fork. She popped it into her mouth and sat down across from him.

“I was just thinking,” Rydell said. “I never really considered what it means to save the universe. Literally everyone owes their lives to me.”

“Of course, you’re the one who almost killed them, too,” Karina said.

“That’s the problem. I’m not used to my actions being this…cosmic. There have never really been consequences.”

“They’re part of the fun,” Karina said. “Every shipment I ever smuggled had its consequences.”

“Meanwhile, I sat on my nice, cushy starship and played captain.”

“Hold on, Alex. You were a damn good captain. Any one of the people on this ship would say so.”

“And I’m a pretty good resort manager, too, but I’m feeling this need for consequences.”

“What kind of consequences?” Karina asked, realizing from the glint in Rydell’s eye where this was leading.

“The kind we talked about in the clock shop…if you’re up for it,” Rydell said.

“Well, I need to have a few things checked out before we start in earnest,” Karina said, rising from the table. She grabbed Rydell’s arm and pulled him up. “But I think we can go start practicing. I mean, we want to make sure we get this right.”

“Absolutely,” Rydell replied as Karina led him back to the bedroom.


“Where are you taking me?” Sullivan asked as Baird led her through the corridors of the Inevitable, covering her eyes with his hands.

“Breakfast,” Baird replied. She couldn’t see him, but from the tone in his voice, she could picture the mischievous smirk that was undoubtedly on his face.

Finally, they stopped walking, and she heard him press a couple of controls on a keypad. Of course, since it was her ship and she knew it inside and out, she’d been able to figure out from their trip that they were at a holodeck.

The doors opened, and he led her inside, pulling his hands away to reveal the inside of the kitchen of a wooden cabin. Outside of a huge picture window by the kitchen table, stretched a fantastic view of a jagged snow-covered mountain range.

“What is this?” Sullivan asked.

“Breakfast,” Baird replied. “Computer, initiate Baird one.” Two plates of french toast appeared on the table along with bacon and orange juice, Sullivan’s favorite breakfast. They sat down at the table and started to eat.

“This is really beautiful, Scott,” Sullivan said, enjoying the view out of the window.

“I’m glad you like it,” he said. “It’s ours.” Sullivan smiled and squeezed his hands. “I’m not kidding,” he said. “It’s ours. There’s one just like this waiting for us on Altair Four.”

“You bought us a house!” Sullivan exclaimed. “Without consulting me!”

“Oh f***,” Baird said. “Here it comes.” Sullivan reached across the table and pulled him in for a kiss.

“This is the most romantic thing you’ve ever done,” she said once she let him go. “I love it. And I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Baird replied a bit surprised that he wasn’t currently on the receiving end of one of Sullivan’s tirades. “The terrain around here is fantastic. You want to go biking after breakfast?”

Sullivan gazed at her husband and smiled. “F*** yeah.”


Jaroch waited until the corridors were clear, then pressed the door chime outside of Patricia Hawkins’s temporary quarters. His mind was a torrent of thoughts and emotions right now. On the one hand, he just wanted to take Hawkins into his arms and see what happened. On the other, he had his standing in the eyes of the crew to think about. Not to mention Hawkins’s own status. The situation was difficult.

“Come in,” Hawkins’s voice called. Jaroch stepped forward into the room, where Hawkins stood waiting for him. The sad look in her eyes told Jaroch where this discussion was leading. There was nothing to do but play it out to the end.

She forced a smile. “Would you like to sit down?” She waved him to the sofa.

“Thank you,” Jaroch replied, taking a seat.

She sat down next to him. “Looks like you’re all patched up.”

“The last of the swelling should disappear by tomorrow,” Jaroch replied. “And the bones have knitted satisfactorily.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“Jaroch…” Hawkins began finally.

“You must return to your husband,” Jaroch said before she could finish. He tried to stay as stoic as possible about the statement, but his voice cracked on the last word.

Hawkins was amazed at the emotion she could see in his eyes. Jaroch had always been so hard to read, but now she felt that she could see to his very soul… and he was hurting. Not that she wasn’t.

“I have to go back,” Hawkins said. “Mookow and I have a lot of history. It hasn’t been working lately, but I can’t just run off. I won’t do that to anyone again.”

“I understand,” Jaroch said, rising from his seat to go.

Before he could make it two steps towards the door, Hawkins was on him, grabbing him in her arms and kissing him deeply. Finally, she let him go.

“Don’t give up on me, Jaroch,” Hawkins said. “Not yet. Things may…”

“May?” Jaroch interrupted. “You cannot have us both, Patricia. And I cannot stop my life to wait for you to make up your mind.”

“I’m not saying that,” Hawkins replied. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen right now, but I don’t want to lose this chance.”

“Bridge to Jaroch,” Commander Carr’s voice broke in over the comm system. “We’re entering the Deneria Cluster.”

“I am on my way,” Jaroch said. He turned back to Hawkins. “What I wish for you more than anything is that you find happiness. If that is with Mookow, so be it. But only you know the answer to that. And until you do, I cannot be in your life. It is not fair to you, and it is certainly not fair to me.” Jaroch walked to the doors, which obediently whooshed open. He was waiting for a protest, for tears, for some sort of reaction.

“You’re right,” Hawkins said softly. “Good bye.”

This was not the reaction Jaroch was expecting. And the force of her final two words almost knocked him over. “Good bye,” he managed to croak back, then made a hasty retreat from her quarters.


Dr. Ray Miller entered Holodeck Four and was surprised to see that it wasn’t running any programs. Instead, Dillon was seated in the middle of the floor, his arms wrapped around his knees, and rocking slowly.

“Commander Dillon? Travis? Are you all right?” Miller asked.

Dillon looked up at him, his brown eyes glazed over and vacant. “Gone forever. Forever gone. Forever gone. Gone forever. Gone forever. Gone. Gone. Gone.”



THE EPILOGUE AT THE END OF OBLIVION


ONE YEAR PAST FOREVER –

Rydell smiled and greeted the guests of The Suburb as he walked along the path from his command center in the Green Dome to the guest cabins. Uhydel had programmed a perfect day. The sun was out but not overly oppressive. A cooling breeze flowed between the buildings, making it necessary to wear a light jacket or long sleeves, but it certainly couldn’t be called cold. Just perfect.

After enjoying his morning stroll around the complex, he stopped at the door of one of the cabins and knocked lightly.

“Come in,” a female voice called from inside. Rydell entered and immediately heard the sounds of some familiar music. Fabe and Mabe. Over in the living area, Admiral Beck sat in a bathrobe enjoying one of the fresh grapefruit that The Suburb grew.

“How’s my V.I.P. doing this morning?” Rydell asked smiling.

“Wonderful,” Beck replied languidly. “You have no idea how much I needed this.”

“Is the Admiralty running you ragged?”

“Honestly, I haven’t been out from behind my desk since…well, you know. But I’ve got plenty to do on Earth, and I enjoy my work.”

The music switched from one of Fabe and Mabe’s love duets to a something that rocked a bit more. Rydell smiled; it was one of his compositions.

“You like Fabe and Mabe?” Beck asked.

“I’m pretty well acquainted with their music,” Rydell replied.

“You know, I read somewhere that their son actually wrote most of their hits when he was a teenager.”

“Really?” Rydell asked, trying not to laugh. “Smart kid.”

“Damn genius, if you ask me,” Beck said.

“I’m sure he’d appreciate the compliment.”

Another knock sounded at the door. Beck looked at Rydell confused. He just shrugged. “Come in,” Beck said. Karina entered, pushing a little hover-stroller in front of her.

“We were just out for our morning walk,” Karina said. “And we thought we’d drop in on Auntie Lisa.”

“I just love the sound of that,” Beck said, getting up and walking towards the stroller. “And how’s my niece this morning?”

“A little cranky, actually,” Karina replied. “Alex was up half of the night with her.”

“That’s right,” Beck said, scooping the one month old out of the stroller and cradling her in her arms. “You keep Alex in line for me.”

“My little Ashley’s training me very well,” Rydell said unable to keep the proud grin off of his face.

“She’s got your nose,” Beck said to Karina.

“And her father’s ears,” Karina replied, plucking her husband’s ear.. “Look at those tiny things.”

“Hey!” Rydell said, covering them with his hands. “Leave my ears alone.”

“Touchy. Touchy,” Karina said. “Well, I’ll leave you two to talk Starfleet. How about lunch?”

“Sounds good,” Beck replied, placing Ashley back in the stroller.

“See you in a little while then,” Karina said, heading back out the door.

“You’re certainly content,” Beck said to Rydell once Karina had gone.

“What can I say?” Rydell replied. “I’ve found what I really wanted out of my life. I’m happy.”

“Then you have the secret to existence, my friend,” Beck said.

“I guess I do,” Rydell said smiling. “And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Not even that run in with the testicle nibblers of Xuron Twelve?”

“Well, maybe that.”



EIGHTEEN MONTHS PAST FOREVER –

As usual Starbase 84 was bustling with ships and crews stopped there for minor repairs or just a little R&R before they went back out to do the business of Starfleet. Gracefully, the USS Secondprize slipped into an open docking arm and shut down its systems.

The ship was in for a minor computer upgrade. Nothing serious, but the engineers had estimated the Secondprize would be out of commission for at least two weeks. Captain Jaroch could not understand how a two week operation could qualify as not serious. Additionally, he was annoyed that this upgrade had not been done at Deneria eighteen months ago after they returned from Forever.

However, Jaroch knew that the crew would benefit from the down time. While the Secondprize was a relaxed atmosphere, being stuck on the same ship with the same people for months at a time could be trying. He looked forward to the change of scenery himself, he thought as he walked down the access corridor between the ship and the starbase.

“See you in two weeks, sir,” Commander Carr said, rushing past him hand-in-hand with her significant other, one of the ship’s medical personnel. Jaroch had to admit that the doctor seemed well suited to Carr, and that the addition of romance to her life had improved her poetry immensely.

But now the corridor was silent. Carr and her love were probably the last two people other than Jaroch on the Secondprize. He stepped out into the starbase and closed the access door to the ship, sealing it with his command code until the engineers were ready to begin work.

“Hello, Jaroch,” a voice said from behind him. Jaroch turned already knowing who was standing there. He focused all of his energy on remaining neutral.

“Patricia,” he said, nodding curtly. “This is…a surprise.”

“Hopefully not a bad one,” she said. “How have you been?”

“Acceptable,” Jaroch replied, adding a silent “but lonely” to himself. “And you?” he asked.

“Good,” Hawkins said. She smiled. “Really good.”

“I am gratified to hear it,” Jaroch lied. This conversation was taking an unpleasant turn. Most likely she had reconciled with Mookow and now was here to tell Jaroch how right he’d been. Great.

“I’m divorced,” Hawkins said. Jaroch’s jaw dropped.

“Excuse me?” Jaroch said.

“I tried. So did he. It just didn’t work out. That was a year ago.” Hawkins walked over to the window and looked out at the dormant Secondprize. “After that, I needed some time alone to think. I hadn’t been by myself for a long time. In over ten years.” She turned back to face him. “I want to see what happens, Jaroch.”

“I do not understand.”

“With us, Jaroch,” Hawkins said, taking his hands in hers. “I don’t know how we’ll work it, but I’ve been thinking about you constantly for the last year and a half. I want to try…if you still feel the same way.”

Jaroch was silent as he took all of this in. She was here. She wanted to be with him. And there were no obstacles in their way. It was almost too unbelievable to contemplate. “I would like that very much,” he said with only a slight smile revealing his joy. Hawkins ran over and embraced him. They stood, holding each other for a few moments.

“Uh…so now what do we do?” Hawkins asked.

“May I suggest dinner?” Jaroch said. “I believe there is an excellent eatery on the next level.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Hawkins replied. Hand-in-hand, just as Jaroch had seen Carr and her significant other walking earlier, Jaroch and Hawkins headed off down the corridor.



TWO YEARS PAST FOREVER –

“And how are you feeling today?” Dr. Tavian Cross asked as he entered his office at the Tantalus V Mental Rehabilitation Colony.

The man seated in one of the arm chairs smiled serenely. “I’m doing quite well. Thank you, Doctor,” Travis Dillon replied.

“Excited?”

“A little, I have to admit,” Dillon said. “And a bit afraid.”

“There’s no need to worry,” Cross replied. “People leave here and do quite well. We’ve arranged for an apartment for you on Earth. You’ll have your own place and plenty of time to decide what you’re going to do. And with all of the credits you saved from your time in Starfleet and the ones you’ll receive from your pension, you’ll be able to go pretty much anywhere you want.”

“That sounds lovely,” Dillon replied. “Thank you so much, Doctor Cross. Without you…I don’t know what would have happened.”

“Just doing my job, Travis,” Cross replied. “And you’re all better now.” He smiled. “Rydell!” he blurted suddenly. Dillon didn’t even flinch.

“His baby should be a little over a year old now,” Dillon said. “I wonder if they’ll ever let me visit.”

“I’m sure they will,” Cross said. “But have you given any thought as to what you’re going to do once you leave us?”

“I really don’t know. My whole life has been Starfleet. Now…”

“Well, you have all of these experiences,” Cross said. “Maybe you could write a book.”

Dillon thought for a moment, a smile gradually spreading across his face. “You know, I may just do that,” Dillon said. “I may just do that.”


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