Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: TOSsed
“Back to the Well”
by Alan Decker
For over 100 years, the men, women, and other non or multi-gendered beings of Starfleet have been dedicating their lives to defending the United Federation of Planets while also expanding our knowledge of the universe through their efforts to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life and new civilizations. Like the brochure says, they’ve been boldly going where no man has gone before for more than a century (Although, we hear that they may be changing the wording of the mission statement at some point. That “all-inclusive” use of the word “man” has some folks up in arms…and some of those folks have a lot of arms.).
The early years of Starfleet and the Federation may have been a bit rocky with the drab gray ships, equally drab blue jumpsuit uniforms, and the near-constant getting your ass kicked by whatever new alien you happened to meet, but the 23rd Century is an entirely different story. The Federation is a big deal now. We’ve got planets everywhere, and, more importantly, we’ve got color! Forget that gray on gray with a touch of gray, we’re ready to bring you vibrant reds, soothing blues, glowing greens, and every other shade imaginable set against the bold black of a nice sleek starship console.
And when our starships aren’t trekking across the cosmos in style, they’re enjoying layovers at one of the Federation’s many state-of-the-art starbases. Here is Starbase 6, for example. Sure on the outside it looks a bit like a metallic mushroom, but inside you’ll find the same swinging design choices and professional personnel that you’ve come to expect from the military and exploration arm of the UFP. Starbase 6 is chock full of Starfleet people doing Starfleet-y things in that classic Starfleet kind of way, and that holds true from the lowest maintenance technician to the man at the top of the heap: Commodore Scott Enwright. Here he is now in his office. Look at the commanding way he sits at his desk. The steady gaze he has leveled at the padd in front of him. That freighter captain seated across the desk from him is obviously in good hands. Let’s listen in, shall we?
“I can’t help you,” Commodore Enwright said, handing the padd back to its owner, Mike Harper, who was also the owner of the SS Clydesdale, a beat-up Tellarite freighter that had limped its way up to one of Starbase 6’s docking arms a couple of hours earlier.
“You…can’t?” Mike said.
“Well…I could, but you couldn’t pay for it.”
“You’re Starfleet. This is the Federation. You don’t pay for anything.”
“That’s not true. We have credits.”
“I don’t have any.”
“Which is at the root of your problem, Captain Harper. But…”
“Oh, here it comes.”
“…we might be able to come to some arrangement.”
“We already came to an arrangement! That’s how I ended up with that convict on my ship!”
“Doctor Corbair was fully rehabilitated,” Enwright said.
“Then why didn’t you keep her?”
“We didn’t have room. And your laudable choice to take her on covered your last bit of needed repairs. This is an entirely new transaction.”
Mike let out a long sigh. “What is it this time?”
“Nothing at all really. I just need you to go check on a planet occasionally.”
“Check on a planet.”
“Exactly. There’s nothing to it. Zip by the Ceti Alpha Five, check on the residents, file a report, and that’s it,” Enwright explained.
“Woah woah woah. Now there are residents involved. What residents?”
“A small group of settlers the Enterprise dropped off there about a week ago. Captain Kirk promised Mister Singh that we’d check in on them from time to time to make sure that they’re getting on okay. It hardly seems worth sending a whole starship out there, which makes it a perfect opportunity for you.”
“And this Mister Singh won’t be annoyed that Starfleet is pawning its responsibilities on to other people?”
Enwright thought about this for a moment. “You know. He might actually. Captain Kirk did say that Khan could be a bit nasty. Maybe we’ll give you some uniforms to wear when you visit. How would you like that? You could pretend to be in Starfleet once every six months.”
“If I wanted to be in Starfleet, I’d be in Starfleet,” Mike said. “And I don’t like the idea of lying to this Khan Singh guy.” Something clicked into place in Mike’s memory. “Hang on a second. Khan Singh? As in Khan Noonian Singh! You want me to go visit the superpowered madman you idiots thawed out!”
“So you heard about that, huh?”
“Yeah. Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but stories about mystery ships filled with evil genetic supermen tend to get around.”
“I’m not the one here with the ship in need of repair, Captain Harper. I think I’m making you a very generous offer.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Mike said, getting up from his chair.
“I’ll give you some time to think it over, Captain. It’s not like you’ll be going anywhere.”
Mike chose to ignore the dig and left the office. Now Starfleet Commodore Enwright can get back to doing his important Starfleet duties like…all of that Starfleet paperwork. Tell you what, we’re going to leave Commodore Enwright to his very important Starfleet business and stick with Captain Mike Harper instead.
Mike passed through Enwright’s outer office, giving the Commodore’s pretty brunette yeoman a nod, and headed out into the corridors of Starbase 6. Leaning on the wall across from the Commodore’s office suite waited his ship’s pilot. Said pilot was also Mike’s sister and not one to be overly deferential to her captain.
“What happened?” she demanded.
“I can see the face. Tell me what happened in there?”
“Nothing. As in he is giving us nothing.”
“Did he make you an offer?” Ronnie asked, falling into step beside Mike as they started down the corridor.
“I need to break the news to Bork.”
“Don’t try to talk past me, Mike. Enwright always makes you an offer. He made you an offer, didn’t he?”
“I wouldn’t call it that.”
“What would you call it?”
“A suicide mission.”
“Come on, Mike. This is Starfleet we’re talking about. They’re not going to actively try to get us killed.”
“Could have fooled me,” Mike said.
“What was the job?”
“Pretend to be Starfleet Officers and go check up on a bunch of homicidal maniacs.”
“Where do we have homicidal maniacs around here?”
“Ceti Alpha Five, evidently. Remember that stuff we heard from Welker about your old boyfriend Kirk waking up Khan Noonian Singh and a bunch of his friends? It was all true. Kirk dumped him on Ceti Alpha Five to start a colony or something. Now Enwright wants us to drop by for a visit every six months and send in a report.”
“Kirk wasn’t my boyfriend. And I don’t even want to see him this time.”
“This time?” Mike asked. “Is he here?”
“The Enterprise showed up while you were in with Enwright. They just got back from rescuing some colonists from happy spores or something.”
“Happy spores?” Mike asked skeptically.
“That’s what I heard!”
“Whatever. Just stay away from him.”
“Take the job.”
“Then maybe I won’t be listening to you either.”
“When did you ever?” Mike said. “I’ll be on the ship.” He headed down a junction corridor leading out to the station’s docking arms.
“Starfleet is not out to get you, you know!” Ronnie called after him.
“Why are you still sticking up for those guys?”
“I can still like them!”
“And I can still think you’re a crazy person!” Mike shouted back before disappearing around the corner.
Like the species that built them, Tellarite freighters were not known for their looks. Even without the cargo modules attached, they couldn’t be described as sleek, and the SS Clydesdale was no exception. Instead it was just a long thin rectangular hull with a couple of warp nacelle mounted below the aft section and a stubby angular section rising above the forward end to provide a bit more living and work space for the crew. With the six cargo modules in place, it became a fat rectangular hull with a couple of warp nacelles on the butt end and an ugly angular living module up on top of the front. Most likely your first reaction upon seeing one would not be, “I have GOT to own one of those!”
As was true of most captains, though, Mike Harper loved his ship. He’d spent three years commanding her on cargo runs for the Tellarite firm of Gravit & Yurtz, who owned the Clydesdale at the time (Of course then they were calling it the SS Reliable, loosely translated from the Tellarite, in keeping with the other ships in their small cargo fleet, also loosely translated from the Tellarite, the SS Dependable, the SS Responsible, the SS Reputable, and the SS Uninsurable), before his employers decided that it was time to decommission it and buy a newer ship. Mike saw his opportunity to strike out on his own, so he bought the Reliable with credits he’d saved up over the years. His first act as owner was to give the ship a new name, Clydesdale, which Mike felt embodied grace, power, and the ability to haul large loads. The second was to sign up with Gravit & Yurtz as an independent contractor.
That was a year ago, and Mike had quickly learned that running a ship was a very different proposition when you were the one responsible for providing or paying for any needed parts and repairs. He’d been caught short on credits a couple of times now, leading to conversations such as the one he’d just had with Commodore Enwright. He didn’t mind taking on a job in exchange for the repair work. He’d done it before, and now was as good a time as any, since the Clydesdale’s cargo modules were empty and they were on their way back to Tellar Prime looking for another load. But there were lines. Putting himself and his crew in danger was a big one. If he wanted a life of drama and danger, he would have joined Starfleet like Ronnie (not that that had worked out for her). Taking on Dr. Corbair had been as far toward that end of things as Mike wanted to go. He was not messing with a genetically altered super-man and his super friends. They’d just have to find another way to get their hands on a new plasma distribution node.
Mike knew, however, that his engineer was not going to be happy about it.
“When did you become a moron?” Bork snapped at him once Mike had delivered the news. As this was fairly close to the norm for the Tellarite’s greetings, Mike wasn’t sure exactly how upset he was. Even knowing that all Tellarites insulted each other and other beings on a regular basis, Mike spent the first couple of years of their time together on the Reliable (Bork was already the engineer when Gravit & Yurtz gave Mike command of the ship) believing that Bork disliked him intensely. But then when Mike bought the ship, Bork asked to stay on, giving Mike the belief that Bork might actually consider him to be a friend in some way. Either that or he loved the ship enough to tolerate Mike.
“Does your tiny Terran brain have any concept of how a warp drive actually works?” Bork went on, striding (well, his relatively stubby Tellarite legs made it kind of a half-stride/half-waddle) across the Clydesdale’s engine room to the warp core, a horizontal cylinder that was about twice as long as Mike was tall and just wide enough for him to get shoved into if Bork were ever so inclined. Currently said core was running at low power, just enough to keep the ship’s systems operating. Engines, however, were out of the question.
“I know, Bork,” Mike said. “We’ll figure something out.”
“The high energy plasma created by the matter/anti-matter detonation inside the warp core has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is usually to the warp drive systems. However, as we do not have a functioning primary plasma distribution node, we cannot send said drive plasma to the warp nacelles without risking an out-of-control reaction that would very likely end with us dead either due to a massive explosion or being wrenched in ways no humanoid should ever be forced to experience when our warp field destabilizes and turns the ship into a very large piece of taffy. Look up Kraz’s early warp experiments in the archives next time we’re at Tellar. Her second prototype, the JJ-23, experienced a warp field destabilization, and her pace ship was there to catch the whole thing. Warp physics is a lot more complicated than you think, Mike. If you think. I’m still not convinced on that last part.”
“Are you finished?” Mike snapped. There was something about the combination of Bork’s not-so-vaguely porcine features and the fact that he was a good foot shorter than Mike that made his lecturing (something Bork did a lot) seem even more condescending.
“That depends on what stupidity comes out of your mouth next.”
“Can you cobble something together to keep the old node running until we can get back to Tellar? It would be a month max.”
“I can’t cobble, whatever the hell that means, something that will last for five minutes. You’re talking about a highly-complex device that is able to withstand enormous temperatures and forces while regulating plasma flow at incredibly fine rates. The early distribution nodes were clunky affairs, but a modern warp drive…and I’m including ours in that, since it was made in the last quarter century, requires a node that…”
“OKAY!” Mike said, raising his hands in surrender. “I get it! We need a proper node.”
“You’d better get it, or this ship is going to become a permanent fixture at Starbase 6…unless you want to try to get somewhere on impulse drive. I’m not exactly sure of the cartography around here, but I think the nearest Class M world is what…five years away at sublight?”
“Seventeen,” Mike said. “I checked.”
“If you decide to go that route, let me know in advance. I’ll be disembarking here.”
“All right. I’ll get you a node…somehow.”
“Let me know when you do. Until then, I’m on vacation. You know where you can find me.” Bork pushed past Mike and trundled out of the engine room, muttering under his breath as he went.
Mike watched the swirling energies of the warp core for a few moments. At this low power level, the core, which Mike considered to be the heart of his ship, just looked…sick. “I’ll get you what you need, baby,” he said, patting the side of the intermix chamber. “I promise.” Now all he needed what a clue how he could do it without his head ending up mounted on a stick in Khan’s front yard.
“I mean, we’re in trouble here, right?” Ronnie said after finishing a long swig of her beer. “The ship can’t go anywhere, so how can he be refusing work? And it was easy work!”
Across the table from her, Dr. Janet Corbair swirled her finger in her drink idly and said…something. Ronnie couldn’t quite hear her over the din of the other patrons in “Six of One,” the starbase’s most popular bar and lounge.
“What?” Ronnie said.
“I said, wipe your mouth!”
Ronnie swiped her sleeve across her face to get the bit of foam that had coated her upper lip. “But you agree with me?”
“I don’t care.”
“Listen to this,” Ronnie continued, ignoring Dr. Corbair’s lack of interest. “Jim…er…Starfleet dropped a bunch of guys they thawed out from a sleeper ship onto Ceti Alpha Five, and Commodore Enwright wanted us to check in on them every six months then file a report. Easy stuff!”
“Fine. I’ll bite. Why did Mike say no?”
“Oh, he’s freaked out because it’s Khan Noonian Singh and a bunch of his followers. I mean, who cares? The guy’s a relic. Where’s the danger?”
“Beyond Khan torturing all of you to death and then stealing our ship in order to start a new reign of terror across the galaxy?”
“Oh like that could happen,” Ronnie said. “And what do you mean ‘all of you’? You’d be with us.”
“Yes, but I’m sure he and I would come to a mutually-beneficial arrangement.”
“Thanks a lot. Not that it matters. Mike already said no to Enwright, which means we don’t get a new plasma distribution node, which means we’re stuck here.”
“It could be worse,” Dr. Corbair remarked before taking another sip of her drink.
“Oh, Great Bird!” Ronnie exclaimed suddenly.
“He just walked in.”
“He who? Mike?”
“I don’t know a Jim, and I don’t feel like playing this game. Give me a complete answer, or I’m leaving.”
“Jim Kirk. He’s captain of the Enterprise. He’s over there.” Ronnie gestured her head toward the lounge entrance where two brown-haired men were standing. The one wearing the gold of command, presumably Kirk, surveyed the room with a cocky smirk, exchanging head nods and the occasional wink with several of the bar’s female patrons. As his eyes landed on Ronnie and Dr. Corbair’s table, Ronnie quickly looked in the opposite direction. Corbair just stared back blankly, which seemed to throw Kirk for a moment before he moved. His companion, a warm-faced human male laughed, clapped Kirk on the shoulder, then steered him over to a table on the opposite side of the lounge.
“Did you see that? I can’t believe that man,” Ronnie said.
“I take it this is the part where I’m supposed to ask if you two know each other.”
“We had an amazing night a few weeks before you came on board. He took me out to dinner, we talked for hours, he showed me around the Enterprise, we went back to his cabin. And the next morning he asked me what my name was!”
Dr. Corbair chuckled.
“You think that’s funny?” Ronnie snapped.
“Yep. Sure do.”
“Thanks a lot. I should go over there and give him a piece of my mind.”
“You do that.”
“You think I should?”
“Sure. Why not?” At the very least it’d be entertaining, Corbair thought.
“You’re right. I don’t care who he is, he can’t treat people like that!” Ronnie said, jumping up from her chair. She snatched her beer up off the table, downed the whole thing in one long chug, then slammed the mug back down on the table. “I’ll be right back!” she said, storming off through the maze of tables.
“To arms!” Corbair called after her laughing. She watched Ronnie arrive at Kirk’s table, but her efforts to watch what happened next were interrupted by the words “Excuse me,” which had been said by a male voice with a bit of a British accent standing behind her. A moment later, the man slid into Ronnie’s vacated seat. Corbair looked the newcomer up and down. Stupid smile, nondescript blue suit, hair in need of a comb. Not bad looking, but that grin made her want to smack him.
“I’m not looking for a date,” Corbair said.
“That’s handy. Neither am I. Doctor John Smith. Pleasure to meet you, miss?” He extended a hand to her in greeting.
“DOCTOR Janet Corbair,” she replied, ignoring the offered hand.
“Ah, a fellow student of the sciences. Fantastic. What’s your field of expertise?”
“I am a student of many disciplines.”
“What an amazing coincidence. I’m a practitioner of this and that myself,” Dr. Smith said, his grin widening.
“You don’t seem like a woman who’s big on chit-chat, so I’ll come right to the point. I think that we might be able to help each other.”
“Oh really?” Corbair asked skeptically.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your friend,” Dr. Smith said, glancing over at Ronnie. He paused for a second. “Is that Captain Kirk?”
“So I hear. Were you saying something, or would you prefer to moon over the Starfleet Officers?”
“Looks just like him,” Dr. Smith muttered. “Now where was I? Right. You need some help from Commodore Enwright.”
Corbair nodded, keeping her expression neutral. She didn’t know what this guy’s angle was, but she wasn’t about to give him an opening. “Well, as it happens, our friend the Commodore has promised that he’d arrange transport for me, but he has yet to follow through on that promise,” Dr. Smith continued. “Frankly, I don’t think that he feels I’m worth diverting an entire starship for.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
“Touché, Janet,” Dr. Smith said. “But do you think your captain might be interested in taking on a passenger?”
“Perhaps. And you think you can get Commodore Enwright to repair our ship in exchange for giving you a ride?”
“Janet, I guarantee it.”
“I’ll talk to Mike.”
“Thank you. The Commodore will be in touch.”
And with that, he flashed another big grin, slid back of out the chair, and disappeared into the crowd.
Dr. Corbair was already at what passed for a science console on the Clydesdale’s small bridge when Ronnie trudged in the next morning, still wearing her clothes from the night before and looking quite disheveled.
Corbair glanced up from her screen. “You slept with him again, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Ronnie moaned dejectedly.
“Did he remember your name this time?”
“Thanks a bunch, Janet.”
“You’re a big girl.”
“What the hell are you working on over there?” Ronnie asked, throwing herself into her seat at the conn. “It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”
“We might be.”
“We might be what?” Mike asked, stepping out of the turbolift (Although, calling it a turbolift was something of an overstatement. It got you where you were going eventually, but there was nothing turbo about it). He took another bite of the muffin he was carrying. “Wulh?” he added, through full cheeks.
“A man approached me last night,” Corbair said.
“A man?” Mike asked after swallowing hard. “Did he have a death wish?”
“He said that he could help us with Enwright,” Corbair said, ignoring Mike’s comment.
Mike was suddenly interested. “Help us? How? What’s the catch?”
“He wants a ride.”
“He didn’t say.”
“Well, who is he?”
“Doctor John Smith.”
“Who’s that?” Ronnie asked.
“I’m not sure. That’s what I was researching. There are a lot of Doctor John Smiths in the Federation’s records.”
“Do you trust him?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know enough about him,” Corbair said. “But I did get the sense that there was something he wasn’t telling me. He just seemed too…eager. It was kind of annoying really.”
“If he’s not trying to get us killed, I’m willing to hear him out,” Mike said.
“If he was even serious about talking to Enwright,” Corbair said.
“He will,” Ronnie said. “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”
“Oh great. Now we’re really screwed,” Mike muttered.
“Good to see you again, Captain Harper,” Commodore Enwright said, shaking Mike’s hand then gesturing for him to sit down in the chair across the desk from him. Mike tried to focus on the Commodore, but his attention kept getting drawn to the man in the blue suit leaning casually against the office wall. He smiled back at Mike and waved. Mike gave him a hesitant half-wave back as Enwright settled back into his own seat.
“Captain, allow me to introduce Doctor John Smith of the…”
“Alonsy Science Institute,” Dr. Smith said quickly, pulling an ID wallet out of his coat pocket and flashing it at Mike. Mike had no clue why a science institute of all places would use an old-style printed card ID, but it looked official enough. Dr. Smith shook Mike’s hand vigorously. “Pleasure to meet you, Captain.”
“Um…sure,” Mike said. He turned his attention back to Enwright. “You wanted to see me about something, Commodore?” Hopefully his voice didn’t let on that he already knew what this was going to be about. Better to let Enwright think that he was holding all the cards here. Starfleet-types were much easier to deal with that way.
“I’ve been thinking about your situation,” Enwright said, steepling his fingers as he leaned back in his chair. “And quite frankly, I’m not certain that a vessel with the…issues yours has experienced over the last several months is cut out for an important extended assignment like the Ceti Alpha Five mission. Wouldn’t you agree, Captain Harper?”
“Absolutely,” Mike replied, forcing a smile. Issues? So the Clydesdale needed some minor repairs. That happened to every ship at one time or another. It was just bad luck that they’d been in the vicinity of Starbase 6 for a couple of those problems. And why was he getting upset about this? He didn’t want the Khan job of death anyway!
“Fortunately, another opportunity has presented itself,” Enwright continued. “This one should be more in line with your ship’s capabilities, I believe.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Mike said, keeping the smile plastered on his face. “I can’t wait to hear about it.”
“Doctor Smith?” Enwright said, gesturing for the scientist to leap into the conversation.
“Thank you, Commodore. To put it bluntly, I need a ride, and Starfleet doesn’t have anything heading to where I want to go.”
“Where’s that?” Mike asked hesitantly. Starfleet didn’t want to go his way? Where was he trying to go? If he mentioned anything near the Klingons, Romulans, or worse, the Orions, Mike was not going to be pleased. And he’d also be leaving Enwright’s office without a plasma distribution node yet again because there was no way that he was getting anywhere near those places.
“It’s a quantastital multi-phasic spatial anomaly with pan-dimensional and temporal rifting properties. But thanks to the gravometric shearing in the region, it’s colloquially known as The Well,” Doctor Smith replied.
“You want to go to The Well? On purpose?” Okay, so it wasn’t as bad as the Klingons, Romulans, or Orions, but spatial anomalies were also on Mike’s ‘Stay The Hell Away From’ list. In the early days of travel through that sector, The Well was responsible for the disappearance of at least a dozen ships. But it was now completely charted and sitting near heavily-traveled routes deep inside Federation space. This wasn’t exactly the frontier he was talking about. And if Enwright was willing to repair the Clydesdale in exchange, it would be worth the fairly limited risk.
“I know it’s an odd request, Captain Harper,” Dr. Smith said. “But I need to retrieve a very valuable piece of equipment that is currently stranded there.”
And suddenly it had gotten risky.
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but there’s no way my ship can enter The Well safely.” Hell, a full-sized starship couldn’t enter the well safely. No wonder Enwright was pawning this off on the Clydesdale. It was another suicide mission.
“Enter it? No no no, Captain,” Dr. Smith said. “There’s no way that I would ask you to go in there. I can retrieve my equipment without putting you in harm’s way at all. You have my word on that.”
“Excellent!” Enwright said, seizing control of the conversation. “Sounds like we’re all agreed, then. I’ll have my engineering crew get your ship back in working order. Dr. Smith can collect his things. And we’ll get you all underway.” The Commodore stood up from his desk and reached across to shake Mike’s hand, a sure sign that the discussion was at an end. “I’m so glad that we could come to a satisfactory conclusion for everyone in this. Good day, gentlemen. And I wish you safe travels.”
“Thank you for your hospitality, Commodore,” Dr. Smith said.
“Certainly. Anything for our friends at the…”
“Alonsy Science Institute.”
“…Alonsy Science Institute. Exactly!”
Enwright ushered Mike and Dr. Smith from his office suite and out into the corridor. The doors closed cutting them off from Enwright before Mike could manage to form a coherent goodbye.
“I suppose I’ll be seeing you soon,” Dr. Smith said jauntily. “It’s a pleasure to be joining your crew, Captain.”
“Docking Arm Two, isn’t it? I’ll be there as soon as Enwright’s men have finished their work. No sense getting in their way. I’ve noticed these Starfleet folks don’t tend to appreciate outside help. It’s bit of a waste, if you ask me. I can certainly handle the maintenance and repair of a basic space warp drive system. I’ve seen thousands of the things in every configuration you can imagine. Oh well. They want to do it themselves, so I’ll let them. But my resources are completely at your disposal, Captain. Well…maybe not completely,” Dr. Smith said, scratching his head thoughtfully. “Depends on what situation we’re in. But it probably won’t even come up on a milk run like this, right?”
“Never mind. Until we meet again, Captain!” Dr. Smith bounded off down the corridor, leaving Mike unsure what had just happened. Had he actually agreed to anything? Apparently that didn’t matter at this point. He was taking Dr. Smith to The Well.
There were no turbolifts between the Clydesdale’s bridge and engineering sections. If you wanted to get to Bork’s domain, you had to take the lift down to Deck Four and then walk along the wide corridor that ran past the six large airlocks leading into the cargo modules. As usual, the corridor was cluttered with anti-grav sleds in various states of repair, a couple of forklifts, and other odds and ends used by the Clydesdale’s cargo supervisor, Unesh Wourl, and his two subordinates as Mike made his way toward engineering. Just before the engineering entrance, the corridor narrowed due to the cargo supervisor’s office. At least it was designed to be an office. Unesh, whom everyone just called “Smash,” and his guys used it more as a lounge/game room/nap room when they had time to kill, and with the Clydesdale stuck at Starbase 6, there was plenty of time to kill.
Mike was just about past the office when Smash ducked out onto the corridor…and there was literal ducking involved. Smash was hulking even by the standards of his people, the Rigellans, and stood a good two meters tall and close to a meter wide. Most of the time he didn’t even bother using the anti-grav sleds to load and unload cargo (They didn’t get along with him anyway, hence his nickname).
“Hey, bossman,” Smash said. “You heading to see Bork?”
“Just checking on the repairs. The Starfleet guys are in there, right?” Mike asked.
“Yeah. And you might not want be.”
“Bork giving them a hard time?”
“He’s been out twice already asking me to throw them off the ship.”
“Wonderful. That’s a great way to ensure that they’re willing to help us the next time around,” Mike said.
“Maybe there won’t be a next time.”
“You keep thinking those happy thoughts, Smash.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier for Starfleet to just give us the parts we need and let Bork handle the repairs? They get to do less work, and Bork stops being so angry.”
“Yeah, but that’s not how Starfleet does things. They’re into customer service and all that.”
“Too bad for them.”
“Yep. I should try and rescue them from Bork, I guess. Or…not. He yelled at me enough yesterday. But since I’ve got you here, we’re going to be taking on a passenger.”
“Yeah, I heard. Another big brain, right?”
“He is a scientist. I can’t say anything about his brain, though. But he’s going to have some science…stuff to load aboard.”
“We’ll take care of it.”
The door to engineering suddenly slid open, and two red shirted Starfleet engineers dashed out, tool kits in hand.
“All done, fellas?” Mike asked.
“You’re all set. Installation’s complete. Have a safe trip. Bye!” the lead engineer said without so much as slowing down or looking back.
“Thank you!” Mike called after them.
Bork stalked out a moment later. “What the hell are they teaching at Starfleet Academy? Those two had no clue how to handle a basic Lant-Kraz model engine, much less one with my customizations. Come here and look at this!”
“Um…I’d love to, Bork, but we’re going to be getting underway soon. I’ve really got to get to the bridge for final flight prep,” Mike said, backing away quickly. “You can show me next time I’m down here. I promise.”
Bork, however, had already grabbed Smash’s sleeve (the cuff of which was about as high as he could reach) and was tugging him toward engineering. “A Lant-Kraz doesn’t work like a Cochrane-based engine,” Bork was saying. “Maybe the Cochrane’s use of dilithium gives it a bit more power, but the Lant-Kraz can’t be beat for stability. You ever hear of a warp field destabilization in a Lant-Kraz with properly-installed plasma distribution node?” He had Smash into engineering at that point and closed the door to cut off the Rigellan’s escape. Mike, meanwhile, jogged back to the turbolift and returned to the bridge.
As the turbolift opened, Mike saw that their passenger had already arrived, and he was currently racing around the Clydesdale’s bridge like an excited child.
“I love this! It looks so…lived in!” Dr. Smith exclaimed upon spotting Mike.
“That could be because we live here,” Dr. Corbair said. She was seated in her chair with her arms crossed, clearly not amused or impressed by Dr. Smith’s eagerness.
“Home sweet home, eh, Captain?”
“That’s right,” Mike said, sliding into the navigator’s seat next to Ronnie at the helm. The long console containing their positions was the only thing in the center area of the bridge. The place where a captain’s chair would be on a normal bridge was empty.
“If you don’t mind my asking, where’s your command chair?” Dr. Smith said.
“I don’t have one,” Mike replied “Don’t want one. And I don’t need one,” he added as he started the system checks to get the Clydesdale ready for departure.
Just to his left, Ronnie was doing the same. “Looks like the warp system is back online,” she said.
“Maybe it will stay that way this time,” Dr. Corbair said.
“Should I just take a seat then?” Dr. Smith asked, moving toward the operations/engineering console on the port side of the bridge.
“Didn’t you have some equipment to be brought on board?” Mike asked.
“Yes, I certainly did. It’s at the end of the gangplank, and…”
“Our cargo supervisor is on Deck Four at the aft end of the ship. He’s probably in engineering right now, which is also on Deck Four aft. He’ll get your belongings aboard.”
“Ah…so I should go talk to him then. Right now.”
“We’re undocking in about ten minutes whether your stuff’s aboard or not. Your call.”
“I’ll just go take care of that then,” Dr. Smith said, bounding into the turbolift.
“I don’t like him,” Dr. Corbair said once Dr. Smith was gone.
“I don’t know. He’s fun. We could use some energy around here,” Ronnie said.
“He’s like a puppy on stimulants after a couple of jolts of electricity.”
“Are you saying that from experience?” Mike asked. Dr. Corbair locked an icy glare onto him. “Just asking,” he said.
“Youthful experimentation is important for developing scientific curiosity and methodology,” Dr. Corbair said. “I have an inquisitive mind.”
“But…puppies?” Ronnie said in horror.
“Could we please focus on the current situation?” Dr. Corbair snapped. “We have a strange man taking us to a dangerous region of space for unknown purposes. I want to know what he’s really up to.”
“You’re going to have plenty of time to ask him,” Mike said. “The Well is a good four days from here.”
“There is another option,” Dr. Corbair said.
“We could dump him somewhere and forget the whole thing.”
“And when Starfleet finds out? What do we do then?” Mike asked.
“How about we dump him well enough that Starfleet doesn’t find out?” Dr. Corbair said, an unspoken “duh” hanging in the air.
“Well, I don’t want to kill anyone,” Ronnie said firmly.
“Who said anything about killing him?” Dr. Corbair said. “I mean we certainly can, but I’m okay with just marooning him on some undeveloped world.”
“I’m sure he’d be touched, but just in case, we’re going to take Doctor Smith where he wants to go. I’d rather stay on Starfleet’s good side. We’ll just be careful around The Well,” Mike said, aiming the last comment at his sister.
“I can handle it,” Ronnie said. “It’s not like I want to take us right up to the edge just to see how close we can get.”
“It’s exactly like that,” Mike said. “Let’s just get this done as quickly and safely as possible, so we can get back to jobs that don’t involve nasty spatial anomalies, okay?”
“Okay,” Ronnie said with a bit of a pout. “But I could handle it, couldn’t I, Janet?”
Dr. Corbair rolled her eyes and spun her chair back to the sensor console.
“See,” Ronnie said. “It was such a ridiculous question, she rolled her eyes and didn’t stoop to answering.”
“Yeah. That’s what happened there,” Mike said.
“It was. Just ask her.”
“I’m not talking to either of you,” Dr. Corbair said.
“And I’m halfway to peace and quiet,” Mike said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ronnie said.
“That I’d be all the way there if you’d shut…OW!” He rubbed his left arm that Ronnie had just punched. “No hitting the captain!”
“Then the captain needs to stop being an ass.”
“Just stay on your side of the damn console.”
Ronnie placed her finger on the navigation side of the console. “What? Is this bugging you?”
“It’s better than the rehabilitation colony,” Dr. Corbair muttered to herself. “It’s better than the rehabilitation colony.”
Dr. Corbair was ready to launch into her inquisition of Dr. Smith and his plans almost as soon as the Clydesdale undocked from Starbase 6 and jumped into warp. That evening at dinner would be the perfect time. They would all be gathered in the Clydesdale’s mess. The mood would be light and casual, and she’d be able to slip in her questions without putting Smith on the defensive.
Then the man had the nerve not to show up for dinner.
“Maybe he brought his own food,” Smash suggested after Dr. Corbair expressed her annoyance at Smith’s absence.
“Did he bring a lot on board?” Mike asked from the end of the table. With Ronnie manning the bridge and Smith missing, the table, which could seat ten, was sporting four open chairs.
“Nah. Just a couple of boxes. No luggage. Pafal didn’t get to even carry anything, did you, Paf?” Pafal-Sris, a Grazerite and one of the two deckhands working under Smash, just shook his head without even lifting it up from his plate of the Carpelian noodle surprise that Smash had fixed for the evening meal.
“No luggage at all?” Dr. Corbair asked.
“Unless it was in the boxes, but we just stuck them in Module One.”
“Do we really care about his packing methodology?” Bork asked. “The ship is repaired, and he’s staying out of the way. I’d call those positives.”
“I don’t like it,” Dr. Corbair said.
“You didn’t like it when he was around either,” Mike said.
“No, but at least then we could keep an eye on him. A few hours ago, he was hanging out on the bridge like he was our new best friend. Now he’s suddenly a loner. It doesn’t fit.”
“So are we supposed to hunt him down now?”
“No, but you’re the captain. Invite him to join you for dinner at the captain’s table tomorrow.”
“But this is our only table,” Mike said confused.
“Then it should be easy for him to find.”
Dr. Smith was equally scarce during day two of the journey to The Well. At some point during the previous night, he’d slipped down to Module One, put his boxes on an anti-grav sled, and moved them up to his guest quarters on Deck Three, a fact that Dr. Corbair discovered when she snuck into Module One to get a look in said boxes. And since the Clydesdale’s internal sensors were borderline non-existent, she couldn’t snoop on his activities remotely.
Fortunately, Mike actually did what she’d told him to for once, and Dr. Smith was there at dinner, all smiles, as Ronnie put the finishing touches on that evening’s entree, a fairly decent approximation of country fried steak, in the adjoining galley.
“Did Bork upset you today?” Mike asked Ronnie when he went over to the galley’s pass-through counter fill his plate.
“You know this is his favorite, and you make it on a night he’s got bridge duty.”
“I promised him I’d save plenty for him,” Ronnie said. “No one wants a cranky engineer…um…a crankier engineer.”
“Looks lovely!” Dr. Smith said, joining the pair with plate in hand. “So you all cook?”
“We trade off to keep it fair,” Mike said. “Everybody has picked up a couple of specialties over the years.”
“I just meant that I thought you’d use food synthesizers like…”
“Like on the starbase?” Mike said. “We’ve got one, but it’s a little finicky unless you like Tellarite. We mainly use it to create the ingredients, and then handle the cooking ourselves.”
“Nice to see that it’s not a completely lost art.”
“It will be if we ever get better equipment,” Dr. Corbair said as she walked up to get her meal. “Hell, I’d take a couple of old protein resequencers at this point.”
“But then we’d never get to have your grandmother’s special meatloaf again,” Ronnie said.
“I’ll give you the recipe,” Dr. Corbair said. That would be easy enough. She’d found it in a recipe database anyway and just made up the grandmother crap to satisfy Ronnie’s insistence that everyone participate in her Old Family Recipe theme week.
“You should really keep that sort of thing in the family,” Dr. Smith said, returning to the table with Dr. Corbair as Smash and his guys went to get their food. “Your grandmother might not want you passing it about.”
“I’ll ask her next time we chat,” Dr. Corbair replied. Yeah, I’ll talk to the woman who pretends we’re not related about a recipe that she knows nothing about. Actually, that could be kind of fun.
“So, Doctor Smith,” Mike said, sitting down at the end of the table. “What got you interested in The Well?”
Dr. Corbair shot Mike an angry look. What the hell was he doing? This was her interrogation!
“Well…it’s just so interesting, isn’t it? How often do you run across a stable quantastital multi-phasic spatial anomaly with pan-dimensional and temporal rifting properties.”
“You just like saying that, don’t you?” Mike said.
“Yes. I kind of do.”
“But The Well is in an area of Federation space that has been charted for ages,” Dr. Corbair said. “We’re not talking about some new phenomenon here. Scientists have been poking and prodding that thing for decades. What do you hope to learn?”
“Ah…that’s an excellent question,” Dr. Smith said. “The equipment that I lost track of there will open doorways to aspects of The Well that have not been considered before. Or at least not heavily considered.”
“Such as…confirmation of the Oofridel-Galginard Theory of Dimensional Structures with possible evidence for Angizok’s Corollary of Increasing Diversion With Increasing Brane Distance.”
“Oh yeah. Those,” Mike said.
“Like you have any idea what he just said,” Dr. Corbair snapped.
“I understood the ‘such as’ and I think there were a few ‘of’s and ‘with’s in there.”
“Could we talk about something that isn’t going to give me a headache?” Ronnie asked, joining the group with her plate of food.
“I’m good with that,” Smash said.
“All right,” Dr. Smith said, clapping his hands together. “What’s big in sports now?”
“I wasn’t finished!” Dr. Corbair said.
“Come on, Janet. You can’t run the whole conversation,” Ronnie said.
“Why the hell not?”
“I think you lost this round, Doctor,” Mike said.
Dr. Corbair leaned back with a huff. Fine. Let them babble about the Andorian Curling team and the like. She’d be ready for Smith tomorrow night.
“WHERE IS HE?”
“Woah woah who?” Smash asked after almost choking on the hunk of bread that had been in his mouth when Dr. Corbair started screaming and scared the crap out of him.
“Mike didn’t invite him again, did he?”
“I don’t know,” Ronnie said with a shrug. “Mike’s got the bridge tonight.”
This was it. Her last chance for any real information. They’d be at The Well in the morning, and by then Dr. Smith would probably have the crew so busy with whatever his little scheme was that they’d have no clue whether he was leading them to their dooms.
Now it wasn’t that Dr. Corbair thought Dr. Smith was up to anything nefarious. That was more her modus operandi. At least it was before her “rehabilitation.” No, Smith just seemed…incompetent. Or possibly insane. She really just couldn’t shake the feeling that he was making all of this up as he went along.
She’d tried to look up the theories he’d mentioned at dinner the other night, but didn’t have any luck. Of course, with the Clydesdale’s limited library computer and even more limited access to remote information sources, she couldn’t be sure that they weren’t real.
Tonight, assuming Mike remembered to invite Smith to dinner, Dr. Corbair planned to try a less confrontational tactic. And to enlist Mike’s help whether he wanted to or not.
It was also unfortunately her night to cook. She didn’t feel like fooling with it, so she’d just thrown a bunch of meat, potatoes, and vegetables into a pot with some water several hours earlier and set it to cook. She wasn’t sure that was how you made a stew, but that’s what she was calling it. And if anyone had anything to say about it, she’d just tell them it was her favorite uncle’s recipe.
Smith was back at dinner, but, with Smash on the bridge, his two buddies were gone as well, leaving just Mike, Ronnie, Bork, and Dr. Corbair to dine with their passenger.
Dr. Smith took a slurp of his stew and swished it around is mouth a bit. “Ah, the minimalist approach. Really brings out the natural flavors.”
“Could use some salt,” Mike remarked.
“It’s bad for your heart,” Dr. Corbair snapped.
“Still? I thought we dealt with that over a century ago.”
“You know she’s touchy about her cooking,” Ronnie said. “It’s very good, Janet.”
“So, big day tomorrow,” Dr. Corbair said, ignoring Ronnie.
“I suppose so,” Dr. Smith said. “But really I hope it won’t be any trouble. We’ll find my box, get it aboard, and that will be that.”
“Not quite,” Dr. Corbair said.
“Well, you’re not staying with us after that.”
“No. I’m not.”
“She’s got a point,” Mike said. “We never really discussed where we’re taking you once we’re done here. Back to Starbase 6, I assume. Unless you want to go to Tellar.”
“Oh, either one is fine with me,” Dr. Smith said. “I honestly hadn’t really thought about it.”
“You hadn’t thought about the return trip?” Dr. Corbair asked.
“I’ve been a bit focused on getting my box back.”
“If you don’t mind Tellar, we’ll take you there,” Mike said.
“That’s not the point,” Dr. Corbair said.
“There was a point?”
“I’m just making sure that he’s thought things through.”
“Oh, I have, Doctor Corbair. And I assure you that no one is dying tomorrow.”
“Dying?” Mike said anxiously. “Who said anything about dying?”
“He did!” Dr. Corbair said.
“Only because you seem to believe that I’m going to get you killed,” Dr. Smith said.
“Prove to me that you aren’t.”
“The only way I can do that is to not kill anyone tomorrow.”
“Exactly. Just wait until tomorrow. We’ll see who’s dead!”
“No one is dying!” Mike insisted.
“Well…not tomorrow anyway,” Dr. Smith said.
“Why do I eat with you people?” Bork muttered.
“The great conversation?” Ronnie offered.
Bork just groaned.
Mike made no effort the stifle a giant yawn then reached for his coffee mug that sat in the makeshift dual cup holder Bork had bolted on to the Clydesdale’s helm and navigational console. The ensuing sip tasted like liquid sugar that had been held near a coffee pot for a few seconds.
“Euaghh!” he spat. While it wasn’t a hit of caffeine, the shock of the sugar was enough to shake off his fatigue and clear his vision. What he saw was a pink mug in his hand.
“That’s mine!” Ronnie said, snatching it away from him. She grabbed his out of the cup holder and slammed it into his hand, sloshing a bit of the hot liquid onto his fingers. “Here!”
“Sorry!” Mike said.
“You should be!”
“I am. How can you drink that stuff?”
“It’s like dessert for breakfast.”
“But it’s not coffee.”
“You use cream and sugar, too.”
“Yes, but I still leave room for the actual coffee.”
“Morning!” the boisterous voice of Dr. Smith called out from behind them, startling both Harpers into sloshing coffee on themselves.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Dr. Smith said, realizing what he’d inadvertently caused. “Should I get you a towel?”
“Thanks,” Mike said. “The head is the door to the right of the viewscreen.”
“Got it,” Dr. Smith said, disappearing into the small bathroom for a moment, then returning with a couple of towels. “There you are. Good as new. So how are we doing? Almost there?”
“Very close,” Mike said. “Another couple of minutes.”
“Fantastic. But since we have a minute, I was having breakfast this morning, and I ran into a rather quiet bald fellow in the mess. Wears a breathing mask and a big necklace. I assume he’s supposed to be here?”
“That’s Noov,” Mike said. “He’s the late shift.”
“Ah. So the rest of the time?”
“He’s not really the social type. And he breathes fluorine, so he tends to keep to his quarters.”
“Fluorine? Really? And he lives here?”
“He likes us,” Ronnie said. “We think. He doesn’t talk to us, but he sticks around, so he probably likes us to some extent.”
“Or likes that we leave him alone,” Mike said. Something on his console caught his eye. “Hey, Ronnie, slow us down a bit. I’m not sure where the outer perimeter of The Well’s effects really start.”
“Do you mind if I take a look?” Dr. Smith asked, gesturing toward Dr. Corbair’s vacant sensor console.
“Please do. You know more about this thing than any of us.”
Dr. Smith quickly took a seat and began familiarizing himself with the console. “All right. Yes. Good. And that would be…there! Aha! This is excellent, Ronnie. Just keep us steady. I’ll let you know when to stop.”
The bridge was silent for several moments, as Mike, Ronnie, and Dr. Smith watched the slowly growing maelstrom of The Well on the viewscreen. Tendrils of purple energy crackled around what appeared to be a patch of empty space, but any vessel caught up in The Well’s pull would fall into that space never to return.
Mike really didn’t like having matters like this out of this hands. The Clydesdale was his ship, but all he could do now was hope that Dr. Smith knew where to stop and that Ronnie would react in time.
“Steady,” Dr. Smith said, checking the sensor readings.
More silence. Then…
“YOU!” Dr. Corbair bellowed, storming onto the bridge from the turbolift. At least it sounded like her. It was hard to tell behind the pile of junk she was cradling in her arms.
“What?” Dr. Smith exclaimed, leaping up from his chair in alarm.
“What’s the problem, Corbair?” Mike said, rising from his chair as Dr. Corbair stalked down to Dr. Smith and shoved the junk in his arms. From what Mike could tell, it was a random-looking collection of wires, power packs, isolinear chips, bits of other electronics, and an old key all connected together in a tangle.
“Be careful with that!” Dr. Smith said, gently setting the…whatever it was down on the chair he’d just vacated.
“That’s what was in those crates he brought on board!” Dr. Corbair said. “Junk! What did you do? Run around Starbase 6 looking for every bit of trash you could find?”
“Guys,” Ronnie said from the helm.
“It’s not like that,” Dr. Smith said, ignoring (or more likely not hearing) Ronnie. “Well, it was kind of like that. They didn’t need the parts. I did.”
“Is this what you call science?” Dr. Corbair demanded. “You’re a kook!”
“I still don’t get what’s going on here,” Mike said.
“Mike,” Ronnie said.
“Hang on a second,” Mike said. “Somebody start talking.”
“I don’t know who this man really is or what he’s really up to, but there’s no way he’s affiliated with any kind of proper institution of scientific research,” Dr. Corbair said.
“You’ve had it in for me since I came on board,” Dr. Smith said.
“With good reason. Look at that thing! What is it supposed to be? You attached some junk together to do what? I don’t know if you’re dangerous or just nuts. Either way, you’re no scientist.”
“But I saw his ID,” Mike said.
“IDs can be faked. Is that how you fooled Enwright?” Dr. Corbair said.
“GUYS!” Ronnie shouted.
“NOT NOW!” Mike shouted back.
“We don’t have time for this,” Dr. Smith said.
“Then answer her question,” Mike said.
Dr. Smith opened his mouth to speak, but was suddenly knocked to the deck along with everyone else as the Clydesdale was hit by a violent jolt. The entire ship began shaking, making it very difficult for Mike to scramble back to his feet. “What’s happening?” he shouted.
“We’re caught in The Well!” Dr. Corbair said.
“I was going steady!” Ronnie said.
“You didn’t stop?!?”
“NOBODY TOLD ME TO!”
“Don’t panic!” Dr. Smith said, scooping up his…whatever it was and turning it on. It hummed and bleeped as lights blinked across it. “Go to course…297 Mark 44.”
“I don’t have any control!” Ronnie said.
“Just put it in!”
“Mike?” Ronnie said.
“Don’t listen to him!” Dr. Corbair said.
“Captain Harper, please. If you value our lives, please do what I say,” Dr. Smith said.
“Punch it in,” Mike said, struggling back into his seat at the navigation console. From what he could tell, Ronnie was right. A course change wasn’t going to do a thing while they were caught it The Well. It was pulling them in…
…and then suddenly it was pulling them in faster.
“Doctor Smith!” Mike shouted.
“I told you!” Dr. Corbair said.
“You can’t fight the pull,” Dr. Smith said. “Trust me on this!”
It was too late to do anything but trust. The Clydesdale was aimed right at the heart of The Well, and then suddenly it was inside. Mike was overcome by a feeling of dizziness, and grabbed onto the sides of his head in a futile effort to restore equilibrium. Then just like that, it was all over. The ship was still except for the slightly grating thrum of the engines.
Mike noticed the indicator light on the comm panel at the top center of the helm/navigation console blinking. That would probably be Bork waiting to scream at him over what had just happened. He could wait.
“I don’t feel so good,” Ronnie said.
“You’re alive, though,” Dr. Smith said.
“But where?” Dr. Corbair said, pushing past Dr. Smith to get to her console. After a few moments, she said, “The computer doesn’t have a damn clue where we are.”
Mike rushed over to her. “We’re LOST?”
“In Space!” Dr. Smith said, drawing glares from both Mike and Dr. Corbair. “See we’re Lost in Space. And I’m Doctor Smith. No? Oh, never mind.”
Dr. Corbair looked at her readings again. “Ronnie, bring up the aft view.”
“Unnh…okay,” Ronnie said, sounding quite nauseous. She did as she was told, then rushed into the head from which the sound of violent gagging could be heard moments later.
“If she didn’t make it to the toilet, she’s cleaning it up,” Dr. Corbair said.
“No arguments here,” Mike said. He turned to look at the viewscreen. “Wait. That’s…”
“…The Well,” Dr. Corbair finished.
“But you said we were lost.”
“We are. We’re looking at the other end.”
“Another end,” Dr. Smith corrected.
“So it’s a wormhole?” Mike asked. “That means we can just go back through it to get home, right?”
“I don’t think it’s that simple,” Dr. Corbair said, still looking into the view on her console. “I’m not exactly sure what I’m seeing on these readings, but there are a lot of things here that are very wrong.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Have you ever heard of universal constants?”
“Either they’re not universal, or…” Dr. Corbair turned to look at Mike. “We’re not in our universe anymore.”
“It’s okay,” Dr. Smith said. “I will you get you home.”
“And why should we listen to you?” Dr. Corbair said. “You’re the one who got us into this mess.”
“Wait. You’ll get us home?” Mike said. “What about you? This is your universe, isn’t it? You used us to get back here!”
“It wasn’t like that,” Dr. Smith said. “I had no intention of bringing you through The Well with me.”
“Then what were you going to do?” Dr. Corbair said. “Jump?”
“I have transport.”
“Check the sensors. Is there another ship around?” Mike said nervously.
“I’m not picking up anything,” Dr. Corbair said.
“Check everything. This is another universe. Their ships could be made of the bones of people they’ve murdered for all we know.”
“Your mind goes to some really dark places sometimes, doesn’t it?” Dr. Smith said. “And we use metal, thank you very much. Mostly.”
“I don’t want to find out,” Mike said. “You said you could get us home. Do it!”
“I’m working on it,” Dr. Smith said, checking his makeshift device. Suddenly, the key started to glow. “Ah ha! There you are! Come on back!”
“What? What’s there?”
“My transportation,” Dr. Smith said.
“He’s not going to help us, Mike,” Dr. Corbair said. “He doesn’t care. I say we kill him now and head back into The Well.”
“NO!” Dr. Smith said. “There’s no way of telling what could happen to you.”
“I don’t know about that. You seem to have survived the trip at least twice with no problems.”
“You don’t understand. The Well is like…a junction between universes. It has end points in many different ones at many different times. Possibly all of them. I fell in by accident and ended up in your universe. My transport got somehow linked to The Well and was snapped back like a rubber band shortly after I’d disembarked at Starbase 6. That link will be broken once I bring it back into this universe, and I’ll be able to go on my way.”
“That’s nice and all, but it doesn’t get us home,” Mike said. “How do we find our way through this junction?”
“Coordinates,” Dr. Smith said. “It’s all about the course that you set once you’re in The Well. You just have to dial up your universe.”
“And if we don’t set a course?”
“You could wind up literally anywhere. Our universes are at least fairly close. Imagine one where the Big Bang never happened. You emerge from The Well into an ultradense speck and are immediately crushed smaller than anything ever has been before. Of course, that might trigger a Big Bang. You’d start up your own universe.”
“Only we’d be too dead to see it,” Dr. Corbair said.
“What about the coordinates?” Mike said.
“I can give you those,” Dr. Smith said, checking his device. “743 Mark 36. All I ask is that you give me a moment for my transport to arrive.”
“Don’t do it, Mike,” Dr. Corbair said. “Let’s get out of here now.”
“What are we doing?” Ronnie asked emerging from the head but still clutching her stomach.
“Leaving,” Dr. Corbair said. “We’re going home, and we’re taking him with us.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Dr. Smith said.
“Who said anything about need? Think about it, Mike. This man is the resident of another universe. Another universe! Think of his value to Federation science! You hand him over to Starfleet, and you’ll never have to worry about another repair bill again. And Ronnie, you want back in Starfleet? They’ll reinstate you for this. All forgiven.”
“Really?” Ronnie said, her mood brightening.
“You’re talking about kidnapping,” Mike said.
“So? He did it to us!”
“This was an accident!” Dr. Smith said. The glowing key in his device began to pulse slowly, then faster.
“We don’t owe him anything,” Dr. Corbair said. “And it’s not like they’d dissect him or anything.”
“But he’d spend the rest of his life as a lab rat,” Mike said. “I know he’s not from our universe. But he’s still a person, and I don’t think I can…HEY!”
Dr. Smith, still clutching his device, suddenly dashed by Mike and rushed into the turbolift.
“Sorry! Gotta go!” he said as the doors slid shut.
“I didn’t get to finish,” Mike said.
“I’m sure it would have been a very moving speech,” Ronnie said, patting his arm consolingly.
“We should have killed him as soon as he gave us the coordinates,” Dr. Corbair said. “Starfleet still could have learned a lot from his corpse.”
Mike stabbed his thumb down on the all-call. “Guys, Doctor Smith just ran away from the bridge. See if you can find him and bring him back here, please.” He closed the channel and started punching the coordinates into the navigation console. “Ronnie, head back into The Well. As soon as we’re in, switch to the heading I just entered.” He jogged back to the turbolift, Dr. Corbair right on his heels. “You’re not armed, are you?” Mike asked as they stepped into the turbolift.
“Maybe,” Dr. Corbair said.
“We’re not killing him.”
“That depends entirely on him.”
“Hey, Mike,” the voice of Smash said over the turbolift’s comm panel.
Mike pushed the button to activate it. “Yeah, Smash. Go ahead.”
“We just saw him run into Module Two.”
“Thanks. We’re on our way,” Mike said.
He and Dr. Corbair exited onto Deck Four then ran down the corridor to the large cargo doors leading into the module. Smash, Pafal-Sris, and Wondak, the Clydesdale’s other cargo handler, were already there along with Bork, who had the access panel to the door controls open and was poking around inside.
“What’s going on?” Mike said.
“He locked himself in,” Smash said.
“How the hell did he do that?”
Smash just shrugged.
“He fused a couple of circuits,” Bork shouted from within the panel. “It’s not quantum physics here, folks. The door mechanism may currently run via electronics and motors, but once upon a time we opened doors using our hands. It’s called a manual override. And…there! You should be able to push it open.”
Smash stepped up, wedged his fingers between the doors and shoved them aside revealing the darkness of the cargo module within.
Mike cautiously entered and fumbled around to activate the lighting panel beside the door frame. An instant later, the lights flared to life, revealing a completely empty module.
“He came in here, huh?” Dr. Corbair said angrily. “Then where the hell is he?”
Smash, Pafal-Sris, and Wondak just looked at each other blankly.
“Idiots,” Dr. Corbair growled then stalked out of the module.
“That locking mechanism was sabotaged from inside this module,” Bork said to Mike. “He was in here.”
“I believe it,” Mike said. “He said he was waiting for his ship. They probably just beamed him out. It doesn’t matter.”
The ship’s all-call whistled. “It’s Ronnie from the bridge, everyone. We’re about to go back through The Well, so hold onto something!”
“Not again,” Bork said, rushing out of the module to get back to engineering.
A sudden jolt hit the ship throwing Mike toward the deck. Smash grabbed him by the back of his shirt before he could hit, though, and held him up in the air. “Woah there. You okay?” Smash asked. The Clydesdale’s shaking didn’t seem to be affecting his balance at all.
“Yeah. Thanks,” Mike said.
“Want me to take you to the bridge?”
“Um…just the closest chair would be fine.”
“You got it, bossman.”
Smash strolled back to his office with Mike in hand, arriving just as the Clydesdale stopped rattling. The all-call whistled again. “We made it!” Ronnie’s voice said. “I think. We’re checking now, and we’ll get back to you.”
“Game of hrasnik?” Smash asked.
“Maybe later,” Mike said. “I’d better get back up there.”
Mike was back on the bridge a minute later. From what he could tell, the space on the viewscreen looked like normal space, but that wasn’t any kind of confirmation.
“Everything looks right,” Dr. Corbair said, glancing up from the viewer at the sensor console. “He might not have lied to us.”
“Why would he lie?” Ronnie asked.
“Why wouldn’t he?”
Mike slid into his chair at the navigation console. “The star charts match up to where we were before The Well sucked us in, so I’m saying we’re home.”
“Or a near-duplicate universe filled with murderous copies of everyone ready to swoop in and kill us at any moment,” Dr. Corbair said.
“Why would you even say that?” Ronnie asked.
“Ehhh…it could happen.”
But it didn’t. And since death did not descend upon them, Mike set a course for Tellar Prime ready to put Dr. Smith and, more importantly, The Well far behind them.
With two days of distance between the Clydesdale and the anomaly that had sent them to another universe, the crew finally felt like the danger had completely passed. Ronnie arrived on the bridge, coffee and toast in hand, to find Dr. Corbair already seated at her console and fiddling with a box-like device that looked suspiciously like…
“Is that a tricorder?” Ronnie asked as she sat down at the helm.
“Where did you get that?”
“It was in the bottom of one of those boxes of junk that Smith brought on board.”
“What was with all that stuff?”
“I’m not sure. My guess is that, since he wasn’t really supposed to be on Starbase 6 at all, he just went around scavenging anything he could and then used the stuff on the way to The Well to build his …whatever it was. He was resourceful. I have to give him that. Makes me wonder what kind of trouble Bork and I could get into with time and a stack of spare parts.”
“You’d have to spend a lot of time in the same room with him.”
“That is one of the drawbacks of the idea.”
“So does the tricorder actually work?”
“It’s an older model and pretty banged up, but it’s mostly functional.”
“That makes it better than the nothing we had before,” Ronnie said.
“Yeah, but do me a favor and don’t tell anyone…especially your brother. I don’t think he’d be too pleased to find out there’s Starfleet equipment on board.”
“No, he wouldn’t.” Ronnie noticed an indicator on her console. “Did we get a message?”
“It’s just Starfleet.”
“Hopefully they’re not wondering what we did with Doctor Smith.”
“I doubt it,” Dr. Corbair said as Ronnie played back the message.
“This is Starbase 6. Lieutenant Germaine of Commodore Enwright’s office speaking. The Commodore thanks you for your report detailing the successful recovery of Doctor John Smith’s scientific equipment and his subsequent return home via a passing transport vessel.”
“Wow. Mike filed the report already? He’s never that quick,” Ronnie said. “Good for him.”
“Shhh. He’s still talking,” Dr. Corbair said.
“…your acceptance of our Ceti Alpha Five monitoring request. We expect your first report in six months’ time. Your willingness to assist in this matter will not go unnoticed by the Commodore. Starbase 6 out.”
Ronnie’s eyes widened in surprise. “And he accepted the Khan job?”
“Not him exactly,” Corbair said.
“Janet! Why would you do that? You know Mike is not going to let us get within a couple of light years of Khan Noonian Singh!”
“And I completely agree with him,” Dr. Corbair said.
Ronnie looked confused. “Wait. You do?”
“I have no intention of getting us anywhere close to Ceti Alpha Five.”
“But you took the job.”
“And I’ll file the reports. They’ll just be…”
“Some creativity will be involved.”
“I don’t know. I’m not big on the idea of lying to Starfleet.”
“Come on, Ronnie. Starfleet didn’t want to deal with this anyway. That’s why Enwright offered us the job.”
Ronnie thought this over. “You may have a point.”
“I do. This way Starfleet gets their reports, and we have some credit with Enwright next time we’re at Starbase 6.”
“Stop worrying so much,” Dr. Corbair said.
“You know what? You’re right,” Ronnie said. “So we don’t actually go see Khan. Big deal. No one is ever going to care.”