You've got some Star Trek for us to move? Well, sure. Just sign here acknowledging that it is the property of CBS, Paramount, and Viacom. But you can take that Star Traks and Star Traks: TOSsed somewhere else. It belongs to Alan Decker, and we want no part of it.

Author: Alan Decker
Copyright: 2022


“The Khan Job”

by Alan Decker

Starfleet Officers and civilians alike stepped aside, clearing his path as he strode through the corridors of Starbase 6, each person greeting him with a “Good morning,” which he responded to in kind, returning their gestures with a smile and nod. These were Commodore Scott Enwright’s people (well…beings), those he commanded and those he protected. When the drudgery of dealing with Starfleet bureaucracy started getting to him, there was nothing like a stroll like this to remind him why he was doing the job.

This morning, though, he had a more specific destination in mind. Overnight, a Tellarite freighter, the SS Clydesdale, had arrived at Docking Arm Two, and Enwright needed to have a word with her captain. The freighter’s hatch was wide open at the end of the gangplank, but no crew was in sight. That wasn’t all that surprising, considering the late hour of their arrival and the relatively small personnel compliment a vessel of that size would hold. Protocol was to wait for permission to come aboard, but, as Enwright considered any ship docked at his station to be an extension of his station, he just went on inside, stepping into one of the craft’s six cargo modules, which was empty at the moment. Continuing forward to the inner airlock, he opened it and almost walked straight into a man…well, his stomach at any rate.

“Woah there,” the giant Rigellan said with a laugh. “Can I help you?”

“I was looking for your captain.”

“I don’t think he’s up yet, but I can try to get him.”

“Thank you. If he seems hesitant, tell him Commodore Enwright is waiting in his engine room.”

“He is?” the Rigellan said, looking down the corridor toward the door leading into the freighter’s engine compartment.

“I will be,” Enwright replied.

“Ohhh. You’re Enwright. Gotcha…sir.”

Not surprisingly, the message got a response, and less than five minutes later the Clydesdale’s captain, Mike Harper, burst into the engine room looking like he’d just leapt out of bed, which was the truth. A Tellarite was following close behind. Enwright turned away from the mass of circuit boards and cabling that had been jury-rigged up next to the freighter’s warp core.

“Good morning, Captain Harper,” he said, extending his hand to the Clydesdale’s commander. “Nice to see you again.”

“You too, Commodore. I’m kind of surprised to be meeting you here, though.”

“Me too,” the Tellarite groused.

“Oh, this is my engineer, Bork. Say hi to the Commodore, Bork.”

“Hi,” Bork said flatly.

“I know it’s unusual,” Enwright said, “but then so was the story that you gave our docking control officer when you arrived. But it checked out, right down to the damage from Orion weaponry on your hull. You were really saved by a First Federation vessel?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And they gave you these parts to repair your ship?”

“Some of them,” Mike said. He decided not to mention that they weren’t really given the parts. Instead, they’d scavenged them from a First Federation satellite that was secretly monitoring a primitive world…a world that the Clydesdale accidentally conquered for a little while, but that was another story (the previous story, actually).

“I don’t know if you realize it, but this is the first piece of First Federation technology to ever fall into Federation hands,” Enwright said.

“Isn’t that just the opposite of interesting?” Bork said.

“Please excuse him, Commodore,” Mike said. “He went through a lot of effort to turn those parts into a functioning intermix regulator for our warp core. Ours was destroyed in our run-in with the Orions after we delivered those supplies to the Parandis Colony for you.”

“I see. Look, Harper, we could dance around for a while here, but I’ve got things to do. Here’s the deal: you hand over the tech, and I’ll get you a replacement intermix regulator.”

“Two regulators,” Bork said. “Every ship should have a spare.”

“Agreed. Two it is. The Federation thanks you for your assistance.”

“We’re happy to be of service,” Mike said.

“Uh huh. I’ll send someone over to handle the exchange later today.” Enwright started for the exit, but stopped after a couple of steps. “Oh, Captain Harper, don’t forget that your report on the Ceti Alpha Five settlers is due next week. Damaged ship or no, you accepted the job. I’m curious to hear how they’re doing six months in.”

Mike’s first reaction to this news was to start screaming in protest. He hadn’t accepted that job. Actually, he’d flat out turned it down. “Ceti Alpha Five settlers” made them sound so innocent, but it was Khan Noonian Singh and his pack of genetically-engineered madmen. Mike had no intention of going anywhere near that bunch. Normally, he’d think there had been a mistake, but Enwright didn’t make mistakes. Something else had happened, and Mike had a pretty good idea what that something was.

“Oh good. You’re both here,” Mike said with a smile as he entered the Clydesdale’s mess hall.

Dr. Janet Corbair glanced across the table at Mike’s sister, Ronnie. “It’s way too early in the morning for him to be that happy,” she said.

“He’s not happy,” Ronnie said. “That’s his ‘I’m so furious that I can’t help smiling’ face.”

“He should get that checked. It’s not normal.”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll get it checked. Maybe I could see someone on our way to CETI ALPHA FIVE!”

“Oh,” Corbair said, putting her fork down.

“We really didn’t want you to find out this way,” Ronnie said. “Or at all. Wait. How did you find out?”

“Commodore Enwright just gave us a friendly reminder that our report is due next week!” Mike said.

“Don’t worry. We’re almost done with it,” Corbair said.

“Done? How could you even start? We haven’t been there!”

“That was kind of the point. We don’t go there, we make up a report, and Starfleet sends us our credits. It’s perfect.”

“Oh yeah. Perfect. Except for the lying our asses off part!”

“So you want to go hang out with a superhuman genocidal maniac?”

“NO! That’s why I didn’t take the job in the first place!” Mike screamed.

“You could at least read what we’ve got before you start yelling at us,” Ronnie said. “Show him, Janet.”

Janet pulled a file up on her tablet and handed the device over to Mike. He began reading aloud. “‘Khan strolled through the orchard, hand in hand with his lady love, stopping along the way to pick a fresh piece of fruit from a nearby tree, its branches nearly touching the ground below from the weight of its bounty. He put the fruit to her mouth, a luscious crimson orb against equally luscious ruby lips. She took a bite, her eyes never leaving his, as she ripped…’ WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?”

“Regular reports are so boring,” Ronnie said. “I wanted to add some depth to his character. Show that he’s more than just…”

Mike turned on Corbair. “You were going to let her send this crap?”

“Why not? I don’t think anyone’s going to read it anyway,” Corbair replied.

“But…I worked so hard on it,” Ronnie said.

“We’re not sending this,” Mike said. “And, since you took the job, now we have to go to the Ceti Alpha system. Thanks a lot.”

“You could tell the Commodore that you quit,” Corbair said.

“No way. We’re doing the job, and we’re doing it right. I want to stay on Enwright’s good side, so that we don’t get sent on any cargo runs near the Orions again.”

“Because Khan is so much better than the Orions.”

“You two had better hope so,” Mike snapped before storming out of the mess hall.

“All that work for nothing,” Ronnie said. “No. I’m not just tossing it out. I’m going to turn it into a novel! This is actually better. I can put the sex scenes back in.”

“Back…in?” Corbair said.

“There was this one with Khan and three…”

“No no!” Corbair said, leaping out of her chair. “Don’t spoil it for me.”

“Ooooh. Good point. I’m not saying anything more.”

“Great. Now I’m going to go pretend we never had this conversation.”

While not exactly on the frontier, the Ceti Alpha system was not a heavily-visited destination. It was off of the main space lanes, and, while the star had 14 planets orbiting it, only one of them, Ceti Alpha V, was in the Class M range…just barely. The atmosphere was thin, the soil sandy, and water scarce. Unsurprisingly, no intelligent life had evolved there, and only the most hardy of vegetation could survive the wide temperature swings the planet was subjected to every day in its course around its sun.

With a plethora of more hospitable worlds in the general region, no one had bothered to establish a colony on Ceti Alpha V, which was what made it the perfect place to maroon…er…establish Khan Noonian Singh and his followers. Their genetically-engineered superiority would be challenged by the planet’s harsh conditions, and they wouldn’t be able to interfere with (attack, maim, slaughter, conquer, enslave, etc.) anyone else.

In Mike’s opinion, a few more precautions should have been taken, though.

“How are there no warning buoys around this system?” he said, watching the readouts on the navigation console as the Clydesdale made its approach to Ceti Alpha. “Not a one. You’ve got a genocidal maniac and his best buds all just itching to get out and wreak havoc, and Starfleet doesn’t bother with so much as a ‘No Trespassing’ sign? This is how people get into trouble.” He turned toward Dr. Corbair, who was sitting at the bridge science console. “If the First Federation had put up one around Dirt, we could have saved a lot of hassle.”

“Sure. Bring that up,” Corbair said. “And we still would have needed to find the parts for the ship.”

“Let’s not talk about that anymore,” Ronnie said. “Janet was really upset.”

“Yes, I’m so sorry that she couldn’t stay and be Empress, but look at it this way. Now she gets to come along to visit Khan, which is appropriate, since SHE GOT US INTO THIS!”

“I helped,” Ronnie said.

“Fine. I’ll blame both of you.”

“Huh,” Dr Corbair said, watching her sensor readouts.

“Huh what?” Mike said anxiously. “Is it Khan?”

“Would you please calm down?” Corbair said. “The man was dropped on a planet with what was left of a 300 year old cargo ship. I don’t think he was able to start up a space program in six months.”

“Then why did you ‘huh’?”

“Nothing really. Ceti Alpha Six’s orbit is fairly close to Ceti Alpha Five’s. It must almost look like a small moon to Khan and friends.”

“Fascinating,” Mike deadpanned. “Let’s get this over with and go home. Bring us into orbit, Ronnie.”

“Orbiting…and I’ll keep a look out in case Khan is floating around out there in a spacesuit just waiting to pounce,” Ronnie said.

“Ha ha,” Mike said flatly. “So who’s going down there?”

“Down there? You’re not serious,” Corbair said.

“We’re supposed to provide a detailed report on how Khan and his followers are doing. You can’t honestly tell me that you can provide that with our sensors.”

“You had to throw that ‘honestly’ in there, didn’t you?”

“And I’ll also remind you that I didn’t want to take this job. You two did, so you can deal with the consequences.”

“Consequences? You’re talking about our potential deaths. If we beam down and say ‘Hi, we’re just here to check on you,’ we’ll end up with our throats cut. Or at the very least Khan might take us hostage and try to force you to hand over the ship in exchange for our lives.”

“We could try and infiltrate them,” Ronnie suggested.

“How?” Corbair demanded. “There’s less than 80 people down there. I think they’d notice a couple of new faces wandering around.”

“Oookay,” Ronnie said. “What if we stayed hidden and scanned them more closely with better equipment. You’ve got that tricorder…”

“Tricorder?” Mike asked surprised. “When did you get a tricorder?”

“Thanks, Ronnie,” Corbair muttered. “I got it from a friend on Antares.”

“You told me it was surplus,” Ronnie said.

“Same difference.”

“No, not the same difference,” Mike said. “If that’s stolen Starfleet property…”

“It’s not,” Corbair said. That was technically true. She had no idea if it was stolen or not, since she’d gotten it on Antares in exchange for the Light being. But rather than let Mike start probing, she steered the conversation back to the issue at hand. “And even with the tricorder, I’d have to get fairly close to Khan’s settlement. Do you expect me to hide behind a tree and hope they don’t see me?”

“Don’t worry,” Mike said smiling. “I’ve got a better idea.”

While Ceti Alpha V wasn’t the most hospitable of environments, the crew of the USS Enterprise had done their best to put the SS Botany Bay and its inhabitants down in as viable of a location as possible for a settlement. Considering that Khan and friends had just tried to take over their ship and murder their captain, the Enterprise crew deserved points for not dropping the Botany Bay into the nearest volcano.

As it was, the Botany Bay was now nestled in a relatively lush valley, with ample space for crops and a small river flowing nearby to provide drinking water and irrigation. Captain Kirk had sent along several different plants and trees from the Enterprise’s arboretum to help get a bit of agriculture started. Other native trees and brush remained in the valley to provide a bit of extra shade and greenery (or greenish-brownery really) for the settlers.

On this particular morning, Khan rose at dawn, as he did every day, his genetically-engineered body requiring far less sleep than his wife and former Enterprise officer, Marla McGivers, who was still deeply asleep. She was an amazing woman, but, despite her efforts, she just could not keep up with the superior humans surrounding her. Khan slipped silently from their bed, dressed, and stepped out into Botany Bay’s main living area, where many of his followers had already begun to gather. There was, as always, much work to be done to keep the settlement going. Already they were moving past just surviving and heading toward thriving. The environment of Ceti Alpha V would be conquered. It was only a matter of time.

Khan and company left the ship to begin their daily duties. Even with their superior minds, though, not a single one noticed that something about their surroundings had changed overnight.

“This is the stupidest idea ever,” Dr. Corbair groused as she scanned the augmented humans with her tricorder. It was a bit cramped, seeing as how she was currently stuffed inside a fake bush that Mike, Bork and Ronnie had put together overnight from plant samples beamed up from other places on the surface of Ceti Alpha V. It was thick enough with leaves to hide the small chamber at its center where Corbair was currently confined with her tricorder and only a small hole to provide light and a view outside.

“Have they seen you?” Mike’s voice asked through her wrist communicator.


“Then it isn’t stupid.”

“Trade places with me then.”

“Oooh! I will!” Ronnie’s voice said over the comm. “I love visiting new planets.”

“You don’t know how to work a tricorder,” Mike said.

“I do so! We used them at the Academy…once or twice.”

“I’m convinced,” Corbair said. “Beam me up and send her down.”

“We need usable scans,” Mike said.

“I scanned. Now get me out of here.”

“How long are you going to make her stay down there?” Ronnie asked as she and Mike watched the sensor readouts on the Clydesdale’s bridge. In actuality, Bork was the one doing the watching, since he and the currently-sleeping Noov were the only ones other than Dr. Corbair who understood the things. Mike had dragged him out of the engine room to keep an eye on Corbair while Mike and Ronnie stood behind him generally being useless.

“She’s fine,” Mike said. “Wodak is keeping a lock on her. He can beam her up at a moment’s notice.”

“Who the hell is that?” Bork said, peering at one of the readouts.

“Is somebody getting close to Janet?” Ronnie asked concerned.

“She’s on that screen,” Bork said, pointing to a monitor to his right. “This screen is the long-range sensors. And that blip is coming this way.”

“Another ship?” Mike said, rushing over to the navigation console and sliding into his seat. “Confirmed. It’s another ship.”

“Did you think I was making it up?” Bork snapped.

“Just get me an ID.”

“I’m trying. Not reading a transponder. It’s not matching up to anything we have in the computer.”

“We’re deep in Federation space. We updated the ident database before we left Starbase Six. Anybody flying around this region should be in there,” Mike said.

“Well they’re not,” Bork said. “Do you want to take a shot at it?”

He switched the image on the viewscreen to the approaching vessel. It was all black except for the slight blue glow emanating from of each of the two nacelles mounted above the ship’s hull. The hull itself looked like an elongated diamond. Mike couldn’t make out a single marking on the vessel indicating who it belonged to.

“How big?” he asked.

“About half our size…”

“That’s a relief.”

“…but heavily armed. They’re heading right toward us. ETA five minutes.”

“And that’s our cue to get out of here.”

“Janet’s still down there!” Ronnie said.

“I didn’t say we were leaving without her,” Mike replied. “Mike to Wodak. We’ve got company. Get Corbair out of there.”

“Energizing now,” Wodak’s voice replied over the comm. “Uh…that’s weird.”

“What’s weird, Wodak?”

“She’s not there anymore.”

“Not there? Where did she go?!?” Mike demanded.

“You got me.”

Bork pulled his attention away from the scans of the incoming vessel to the monitor keeping an eye on Khan’s colony and Corbair. Her wristcomm signal was indeed gone, and Bork wasn’t reading any lifesigns from the fake bush.

“She’s gone, all right,” Bork reported. While the Clydesdale’s sensors weren’t great, they could distinguish humanoid lifesigns from other readings on the surface. There was one less than there should have been. “I don’t think she’s on the planet anymore. I’ll give you one guess where she probably went.”

Mike looked back at the incoming unknown vessel on the viewscreen. “Anybody else want to be captain?”

When she felt the tingle of a transporter starting to dematerialize her, Dr. Corbair assumed that the Clydesdale had finally decided that she’d done enough scanning. So rematerializing in a blank gray room that was unmistakably a brig was a bit of a surprise…and more than a bit disconcerting.

A forcefield buzzed into existence, blocking the one exit from her cell as soon as the materialization sequence completed. Beyond it, she could see another austere room, this one containing just a console and chair. And just a bit past that was a set of closed black doors.

Corbair took a moment to think. If her captors were expecting panic and screaming, they weren’t going to get it. But she needed information. She checked her tricorder. If the forcefield only covered the door, she could possibly scan in other directions and…

No. Nothing was showing up outside of the room. Smart design.

Ok. Other than the soft buzz of the forcefield, she could hear the thrum of engines. And the floor did seem to be vibrating slightly under her feet. So she was on a ship then. But whose?

The design, such as it was, was too colorless to be Starfleet, yet it didn’t have anything about it that suggested any of the other major powers. This was strictly utilitarian.

Before she could ponder much further, the doors of the room opened, admitting a middle-aged male who at least appeared to be human. He was dressed entirely in black, but his outfit bore no other insignia or other distinguishing features that she could make out.

“Are you here to take my dinner order?” Corbair asked. For a brief moment, she’d considered being completely silent, but decided better of it. If this man was here to threaten her, best to let him know right up front that she wasn’t the least bit scared or impressed by whatever the hell this was.

“Doctor Janet Corbair,” the man said flatly.

Ok. Now she was a bit impressed, and, while not exactly scared, she was definitely concerned. Maybe she hadn’t been taken randomly after all.

“What would bring someone with your…reputation to a place like Ceti Alpha Five?” the man continued.

“I’m on official Starfleet business,” Corbair said, forcing a big smile. “As for my reputation, that’s all in the past. I’ve been rehabilitated.”

“I sincerely doubt that nine months in Conformity Acres changed you that much, Doctor.”

“Candelar Acres,” Corbair corrected, her smile wavering slightly. How the hell did this guy know her nickname for the rehabilitation facility she’d been sentenced to?

“So you’re honestly telling me that you haven’t come here with whatever band of miscreants is on that freighter out there in the hopes of continuing your experiments on some of the genetically augmented people on the planet below?”

“No. I haven’t,” Corbair said. “We were sent here by Starfleet to check up on Khan and friends. That’s it.”

“I can confirm that, you know.”

“Go for it,” Corbair shot back as her interrogator moved over to the room’s lone console. Did that mean he was Starfleet? No. No way. Not with that outfit.

Based on his questions, though, he wasn’t here especially for her. He didn’t know about the Clydesdale, if he thought they were working for her.

“You didn’t expect to find me here, did you?” she asked.

“The presence of another ship was unanticipated.” He looked at his console. “Huh. You’re telling the truth.”

“Sure am. And now that we’ve gotten that established, why don’t you tell me who the hell you are and what you’re doing here?”

“Give me one good reason why I should.”

“Because you want to. If you didn’t want to talk to me, you could have just scattered my atoms with the transporter instead of beaming me aboard. But you took the time to figure out who I was and confirm my story. Now’s the part where you either just kill me, send me back to my ship, or explain yourself. You’re not doing either of the first two, so spill it and stop wasting my time.”

Her captor laughed. “I am so glad we found you. When I read your file, you sounded impressive, but meeting you is so much better than I could have imagined. Fine. My name is Talbot…”

“Is that your real name?” Corbair asked skeptically.

“Does it matter?”

Corbair shrugged. “I guess not. I probably wouldn’t believe you if you’d said yes.”

“And that would probably be wise of you. I work for an organization dedicated to preserving the Federation and protecting it from threats known and otherwise.”


“They have limits that we do not,” Talbot said.

“And I’ve just gone from annoyed to intrigued. Go on.”

“We are here to take Khan and his compatriots for training. They will be a tremendous asset to our organization.”

“Wait. You want to take Khan Noonian Singh, a genetically-enhanced megalomaniacal genius who already tried to subjugate the Earth once, and try to get him to work for you? Are you nuts? That is possibly the worst idea that I have ever heard!”

“Now that I hear it out loud, I see your point,” Talbot said.

“He’d kill you in a second, take over this ship, and…”

“Okay! I get it!”

“Now that that’s settled, could you beam me back to my ship, so we can be on our way?” Corbair said.

“I really can’t. You know more than you should.”

“Only because you told me!”

“You asked.”

“So you’re going to kill us?”

“It’s regrettable. I don’t like killing Federation citizens, since I am supposed to be protecting you. But the secrecy of Section Thirty-one must be maintained. And it really is a waste. You were so close to being right.”

Corbair was about to start screaming a number of obscenities at Talbot, but his last sentence stopped her entirely. “What do you mean I was close?”

“All of your work. All of the unauthorized experiments that got you sent to that rehabilitation facility. You were trying to enhance the abilities of humans with high Esper ratings. And by humans, I mean your lab assistants…without telling them.”

“If the Federation Science Council had minded its own damn business…”

“It didn’t matter. None of your experiments were successful, and now the Federation has moved away from Esper ratings entirely. Amazing how fast they’ve fallen out of favor.”

“Are you saying that was my fault?” Corbair said.

“No, that was us. We didn’t like that it was giving people like you dangerous ideas.”

“Dangerous? It was SCIENCE! The Vulcans have well-documented psychic abilities. And there are plenty of other species with abilities of their own. Why not humans? I just needed more time.”

“And the galactic barrier,” Talbot said.

“What does that mean?”

“About a year ago, while you were being rehabilitated, the USS Enterprise was attempting to leave the galaxy when it encountered an energy barrier. What happened after that isn’t entirely clear. The ship’s captain is terse in his logs, but it’s apparent that the barrier affected two members of the crew, the two with the highest Esper ratings on the ship. They both died, but, before that, our sources indicate that they manifested incredible powers. So, as I said, you were close. I hope that brings you some comfort in your final moments.”

“It doesn’t,” Corbair said. “But I think you’re being incredibly short-sighted here.”

“Oh really?” Talbot replied amused.

“You came all this way and are going home empty-handed, assuming that you’re not going to let the super-strong mad genius onto your ship.”

“I wasn’t.”

“But what if you went back with someone even better: me?”

Talbot started laughing again.

“And a super-powered human who would love to protect the Federation,” Corbair finished.

Talbot’s laugh vanished. “OK, Doctor. Now I’m intrigued.”

“There’s a woman on my ship with a very high Esper rating. I don’t know if she was ever tested. She’s ex-Starfleet, so maybe she was. It doesn’t matter because I’ve got the scans to prove it right here,” Corbair said, holding up her tricorder. “You give me her, a few things from my ship, and everything you have about that energy barrier, and I’ll give you a super-powered human who won’t murder you first chance she gets.”

“And you’re sure she’d be willing to help you?”

“She thinks we’re best friends. I guarantee you that she’s over there right now frantically trying to figure out a way to rescue me.”

“I really don’t like this,” Mike said as the unknown ship made its approach to Ceti Alpha V and took up a position directly in front of the Clydesdale.

“That makes all of us,” Bork said.

“Do you think they have Janet? They’ve got to have Janet,” Ronnie said. “I’m going to hail them.”

“Hang on a second,” Mike said, putting a hand on his sister’s arm before she could activate the comm system on the helm console. “Bork, do you have an ID yet?”

“They are just as not in our database now as they were five minutes ago. They do, however, have their shields up.”

“We should do the same…not that it will help against that thing.”

“If we have our shields up, we can’t beam Janet back!” Ronnie protested.

“We can’t beam her out through theirs anyway!” Mike snapped.

“They could lower them.”

“They aren’t going to lower their…”

“They’re lowering shields,” Bork said.

“HA! See!” Ronnie gloated. “Now all we have to do is find Janet, and…”

Ronnie was unable to finish her thought due to being unexpectedly dematerialized by a transporter beam.

“AUGGGHH!” Mike screamed, frantically slamming the controls to raise the Clydesdale’s shields.

“Are they just planning to take us one by one?” Bork said.

“I don’t know!”

“What are you going to do about it?”


“This is what you wanted?” Talbot asked, looking around distastefully at the piles of what appeared to be cobbled-together garbage that now littered his ship’s science lab.

“I’ve spent months recreating my equipment from whatever pieces I could get my hands on,” Corbair said. “Be glad I did, or this project of ours could take months instead of hours.”

“So you were already planning to resume your experiments on that woman?”

“You sound surprised.”

“Honestly, I thought I was just humoring you in some pathetic attempt to save your skin. It was worth the small chance of success, since, as you pointed out, I will be going back to headquarters with nothing otherwise. Now I’m wondering if maybe I underestimated you.”

“That depends on how good this galactic barrier data is that you’ve brought me…and if you got my test subject.”

“Rhododendron Harper is safely in our brig, as promised.”

“Rhododendron?” Corbair said, grimacing. “No wonder she went by Ronnie.”

“I’ll have her brought to you when you’re ready. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have her ship destroyed.”

“What? Why?”

“Considering how willing you are to use one of its crew as a lab animal, I’m surprised you care,” Talbot said.

“You said killing them would be regrettable. If I’m successful, you won’t need to. Ronnie will be able to erase all of their memories of this with a wave of her hand.”

As it happened, Corbair believed this to be true. She also wanted to keep an escape route handy in case things went south. She wasn’t exactly sure how she’d A) Get back to the Clydesdale; and B) Manage to use it to flee successfully from this Section 31 ship, but she was leaving her options open.

“Very well, but if you fail…”

“…we all die. I know.”

Two hours had passed. Two entire hours. And the ship on the Clydesdale’s viewscreen had done nothing but sit there and look menacing. Admittedly, it was doing a very good job of that last part.

Mike had gone through his options what seemed like a thousand times. He couldn’t beam aboard the mystery ship to rescue Ronnie and Dr. Corbair because it had its shields up. Attacking them wouldn’t do anything because, based on Bork’s scans, the ship had really good shields, and the Clydesdale’s phasers were barely capable of frying an egg. They couldn’t call for help because the other ship was somehow jamming their comm traffic. They couldn’t comm the mystery ship to talk for that same reason. And they couldn’t run for it because that was his sister trapped over there.

He tried not to think about the fact that whoever was over there had taken the two women from his ship. But if women was why they were here…

“Bork, are all of Khan’s people still on the surface?”

Bork, who really wished that Mike would let him go back to the engine room, checked the sensors.

“Yes. Same number of lifesigns down there as before.”

“Huh.” So much for that theory.

“Did that put you any closer to a plan?” Bork asked.

“Not so much.”

“You’re a real man of action there, Harper.”

Ronnie Harper’s face was stern as she was lead into the lab by two of Talbot’s Section 31 agents, but she brightened immediately upon seeing Dr. Corbair.

“Janet! I’m so glad you’re ok!” She struggled to get away from her two captors, but they kept a firm grip on her.

“Just put her in there,” Corbair said, ignoring Ronnie and nodding toward the cylindrical structure near the center of the room. With the help of one of Talbot’s engineers (Or maybe his only one. Corbair was unsure how large the Section 31 ship was.), she had been able to construct the frame and attach her equipment at certain points around the cylinder, aiming the various emitters at the interior. The frame had also been fitted with wrist and ankle restraints to prevent her subject from escaping, damaging the equipment, or hurting herself in case of thrashing. And, based on Corbair’s previous attempts, there would likely be thrashing.

Ronnie gaped in shock as she was dragged to the cylinder, but then a half-smile crossed her face. Without the Section 31 agents noticing, she gave Corbair a knowing wink. Soon she was imprisoned in Corbair’s test chamber and left alone with Corbair as the agents made their exit from the lab.

“Ok. They’re gone,” Ronnie said excitedly. “What’s the plan now? Did you build us an escape transporter? Is that what this is? I bet that’s what this is!”

“This will go a lot faster if you’re quiet,” Corbair said, without looking up from the console she was currently focused on.

“Oh. Sorry.”

After a few minutes of silence, Corbair finally let out a triumphant, “There!”

“What’s there?” Ronnie asked.

“Brace yourself.” Corbair typed in a quick set of commands.

“Why? What’s going…AUGGHHHHHHHH!”

Ronnie screamed as a force field zapped into existence around the chamber and the components inside it flared to life, flooding her body with agonizing energies.

And just as abruptly, it ended.

“What the hell was that?” Ronnie demanded.

Corbair looked at the readouts on her console and smiled. “Only the beginning. But don’t worry. By the time this is all over, you will have become so much more.”


There’s a common belief that twins share a kind of psychic connection. One can supposedly feel the pain of the other from a great distance away. Well, Mike and Ronnie Harper were not twins, so, even if it were true, it wasn’t going to help him know the torture his sister was currently experiencing. And if Ronnie had and could focus her latent Esper abilities, she was a bit too busy screaming to reach out to her brother for help.

Not that he would be able to do much.

He was still on the Clydesdale’s bridge waiting for something…anything to give him an idea of what action he could possibly take to get out of this situation.

Bork was finding ways to stave off boredom. Watching Khan and his minions move about their little colony had gotten old, so he started trying to do what he could with the readings taken by the Clydesdale’s woefully inadequate internal sensors when Ronnie was transported away.

So far he’d determined that, yep, it was a transporter that took her. Same as the one that snatched Dr. Corbair off of Ceti Alpha V. He also had Wodak beam the fake bush away from Khan’s colony while no one was looking. No sense leaving that kind of evidence behind. Otherwise, he wasn’t getting very far. That was until he noticed one small detail:

Ronnie wasn’t the only thing removed from the Clydesdale.

“Do you have any idea what Corbair kept in her quarters?” Bork asked Mike, breaking the silence.

“Her stuff, I guess,” Mike said with a shrug.

“Can you think of any reason our friends out there would want it?”

“Um…no. They took her stuff?”

“Looks like it. There was transporter activity in her quarters at the same time Ronnie was taken.”

“Did Corbair plan this?”

“Why now? Why grab Ronnie? Why stick around?” Bork said. “If I was going to go through all of this trouble to mount an escape, I’d get with the escaping already. There’s absolutely no reason for her…”

Bork’s treatise on the subject was interrupted by a flashing new contact on the long range sensors.

“Who in the name of Grozit is this?” he said, annoyed, as he tried to get the sensors to ID the newcomer. This time he was successful…although, he wasn’t happy about it. “Looks like an Andorian battle cruiser. It’s coming in with shields up and weapons hot.”

“Is this good news? It could be good news. They might help us,” Mike said.

“I don’t know. Nothing that’s happened today has made a damn bit of sense.”

Over on the Section 31 Vessel Deogen, Agent Talbot was equally confused. “What in the name of the Great Bird are the Andorians doing here?” he asked from his command chair on the Deogen’s small bridge as the Andorian battle cruiser approached Ceti Alpha V.

“Maybe they want to fight Khan?” his helm agent, Laghari, replied. “It sounds like something they’d do. But that ship is at least fifty years old.”

“This mission does not need more complications.”

“They’re trying to hail us…and the freighter. It’s pretty much just a wide band broadcast,” Laghari said.

“Fine. Let’s hear what they have to say.”

“Deactivating the jamming field,” Laghari said, quickly moving her hands across her console.

“We’re being hailed!” Mike exclaimed in surprise.

“Why would our mystery ship shut down the jamming field?”

“Would you stop asking questions?” Mike snapped. “This is the first anything that’s happened in hours!” He smacked the control on his console to open the channel. The image on the bridge viewscreen switched from the black vessel looming in front of the Clydesdale to show the interior of the Andorian battle cruiser. Surprisingly, the bridge was completely lacking in actual Andorians. Instead, they all appeared to be human. The woman in the command chair stood up and walked closer to the camera, her face soon filling the screen. Mike couldn’t look away from her eyes. They were wide and focused with a particular crazed intensity that made him want to close the channel as fast as possible.

“Who dares defile this sacred space?” she demanded. “You have no right to be here, for this is the domain of our Great Lord. Flee or be destroyed by the true believing followers of The Path of Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!”

Laghari turned to face Talbot, “Did she say…”


“Do we know them?”

“No. At least I don’t think so. They don’t ring a bell as a danger to the Federation, at least.”

“We have followed his words for centuries, and now, in this blessed time, our obedience has been rewarded. He has come to lead us, but you…YOU!” She pointed accusingly. “…have tried to hide his return from his devoted legions. But you have failed…FAILED! We have learned of your treachery and are here to collect our Lord, so that he may once again lead us on The Path of Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!”

“I’ve had enough of this,” Talbot said. “Open a channel.”

“Open, sir.”

“This is Ag…Captain Talbot of the SS Smith. You are not authorized to be here and are interrupting a completely normal business transaction between two regular commercial vessels. Leave this space immediately and never return, or you will be destroyed.”

“We are going to die,” Bork muttered as he and Mike watched the exchange in split-screen on the Clydesdale’s viewscreen.

“Do you think they’d noticed if we just slowly backed away?” Mike asked.

“What happened to ‘that’s my sister over there’?”

“Maybe Mom and Dad will be happy that one of their kids survived this.”

Meanwhile, the “discussion” was continuing.

“I am Igdora, First Acolyte of The Path of Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan. We do not recognize your claim on this space or your very existence. Our Lord will grind you beneath his boot.”

Talbot rolled his eyes. “Look, lady. I don’t give a damn about you or your Path of Khan.”

“Show some respect and say it right! It’s Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan.”

“I’m…not going to do that.”

Igdora’s eyes widened even more, if that was possible. Talbot either didn’t notice or care and continued on. “You have no idea what you’ve blundered into here, and if you think for one second that I’m going to let a bunch of nutjobs take one of the most dangerous people in Earth’s history and his band of genetically-modified minions off of that dirtball, you have…”

Igdora interrupted Talbot with a furious yell and closed the channel.

“Who the hell does she think…?”

“Incoming!” Agent Lagathi cried, a split-second before the ship bucked under several impacts. “Multiple hits. Shields at eighty percent. They’re on the move…swinging back around…”

“Evasive maneuvers!”

“We’re at full stop.”

“Then start going and evade!”

“Shall I return fire?”

“Yes! That too!”

“What are those morons doing up there?” Corbair muttered as the ship jolted, then surged forward.

Ronnie, meanwhile, was absolutely dripping with sweat as she panted, trying to recover from the last round of whatever the hell Corbair was doing to her. Speaking of, since she wasn’t screaming in agony at the moment, she thought she’d better take the opportunity to try to find out.

“Janet,” she gasped. “What…do they…want? Are they…forcing…you…to do…this?”

Corbair just chuckled as she checked readouts on her console and adjusted settings, which Ronnie took as a bad sign.


“Did I ever tell you about my work, Ronnie?” Corbair asked. “The work that landed me in that rehabilitation colony? I don’t think I did, and I’m pretty certain you never asked.”

“I didn’t want…to pry.”

“Sweet of you. Stupid, but sweet. I was trying to make humans better. The Federation Science Council frowns on research on live subjects, but there was no other way. When you’re blazing a new trail, you’re going to have to cut through a bit of the underbrush. And sometimes you hit some dead ends. I was at a dead end when I was arrested. But now…now I have a whole new path! The only question is whether you’re going to be underbrush or the route to the promised land.”

“That analogy doesn’t really…”

“I didn’t ask your opinion!” Corbair snapped as she activated the cylinder again.

With the respite over, Ronnie was back to screaming.

“Are we getting out of here?” Bork demanded while the other two ships were battling it out uncomfortably close to Clydesdale.

Mike’s mind raced, unable to decide. Did he try to run and abandon his sister? Comm for help and hope that someone else got there before Talbot or Igdora blew the Clydesdale to smithereens? Try to hide and hope that both ships blasted each other enough that Wodak could beam Ronnie and Corbair back aboard?

“Mike…now is not the time for you to lock up on us,” Bork said.

“We’re in a freighter!” Mike exclaimed, nearing hysteria. “I’m not Starfleet! I didn’t sign up for this! What are we supposed to do?”

“Something other than sitting here waiting to get shot would be nice.”

Mike took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself. “You’re right. We’ve got to move.” He checked his readouts. Ceti Alpha VI wasn’t that far. At impulse they’d be there quickly and could hopefully stay out of the way until Talbot and Igdora finished their business. And if they could comm for help, so much the better.

He engaged the impulse engines at low power, edging the Clydesdale forward. Nice and easy. No need to draw attention to themselves.

“The freighter is on the move,” Lagathi said.

“Course?” Talbot asked, gripping onto the armrests of his command chair as the Path of Khan battlecruiser sent another volley against the Section 31 ship.

“Ceti Alpha Six, I think. No sign that they’re leaving the system.”

“Of course not. We have their people. Reactivate the jamming field. Maximum range. We’ll take care of them once we finish with our current annoyance.”

“My Lady! The freighter is trying to flee!”

Igdora smacked her fist down on the command chair. “NO! They will not escape. They will feel my…” She searched her brain for a moment, looking for the right word. Anger wasn’t strong enough. She needed one that meant something like retributory punishment for an offense or a crime.

Oh well. It wasn’t coming, and the pause had now gotten to a weird rather than dramatic length.

“…FURY! They will feel my fury! Make another attack run on our current quarry and then pursue! Bring them to heel!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Mike shouted as he watched the tactical readout. Talbot and Igdora were supposed to be fighting each other; not coming after him! Why couldn’t anyone just do what he wanted them to do?

But no! They had to bring the battle to him, a battle the Clydesdale was incredibly ill-equipped to fight. Minimal phasers. No torpedoes. Just a lumbering cargo freighter. There was nothing they could do.


“Get to engineering,” Mike said suddenly.


“Go. I need you there.”

“Fine with me,” Bork said with a shrug then retreated into the turbolift as Mike activated the intraship comm.

“I hope everybody can hear me. I’m going to leave this on, so we can communicate quickly. Noov. I’m sorry, buddy, but I’ve got to wake you. Get up here as fast as you can.”

“AFFIRMATIVE,” the voice synthesizer of the Clydesdale’s Zaranite night watch crewman replied.


“What’s up, bossman?” Smash’s voice replied.

“Get the guys on standby. We’re going to need to move fast.”

Corbair had to admit that the silver eyes were a bit disconcerting. Yes, it likely meant she was on the right track, but still they gave her the creeps.

And the continuing sudden jolts and abrupt changes in direction weren’t helping her nerves.

“We are under attack,” Ronnie said placidly, her voice echoing for no reason Corbair could determine.

“No kidding.”

“I am in here and out there. I can see all three vessels and those within them. I can…”

“Three? Who else is here?”

“I don’t think you care, Janet.”

“You’re right. I don’t. I just need them to stop shooting at us. This is delicate work.”

“You could stop,” Ronnie said.

“If you can read my mind, you know I’m not going to do that.”

“I can’t…yet. But I also can’t believe that our friendship meant nothing to you.”

Corbair snapped up from her console, eyes blazing. “We were never friends! I was trapped on that ship with you idiots. I don’t care what the Federation called it, I was in prison! So, yeah, I made the best of it, but if I hadn’t realized that you had Esper potential, I would have just been waiting until the day my probation was over and I could get as far away from you as possible!”

“We had good times.”

“We had…times. And if you had just been able to leave me on Dirt, this wouldn’t be happening. But it is. You’re going to be the culmination of years of my work, and you’ll be able to help the Federation more than you ever could have in Starfleet. You should be thanking me!”

“I do not think your rehabilitation was successful.”

“Now I know you’re psychic,” Corbair remarked. “But just to be sure…” She finished her adjustments and activated the cylinder once again. Ronnie convulsed as a new round of energies assaulted her.

At least she wasn’t screaming this time, Corbair thought. That was an improvement. Time to really pour it on, though. Once she showed Talbot what Ronnie could do after Corbair finished with her, these Section 31 folks would be begging for her to come work for them.

By the time the Clydesdale made it to Ceti Alpha VI and Mike slid the ship into orbit, Noov had arrived on the bridge and, at Mike’s request, taken over at the science console. With much grumbling, Bork had started the preparations Mike wanted. The Tellarite wasn’t happy with the plan, but, as he didn’t have any better ideas, he decided to go along with it.

Mike, meanwhile, needed the two ships out there to see each other as the real threat and not his lumbering freighter. For one thing, that was the truth. For another, he was going to be lucky to survive one of them. Both was certain death.

Fortunately, Talbot’s ship caught up with the Path of Khan vessel and rejoined the battle well before either of them could threaten the Clydesdale. Mike watched the tactical readout as the slower Andorian battle cruiser attempted to deal with the much more nimble craft Talbot commanded. Both ships were scoring devastating blows on the other, but Mike could tell that the Path of Khan was taking the worst of it. He just hoped they could last a while longer.

“Mike,” Bork’s voice said over the comm. “I finished your ridiculous requests. Smash and the guys are getting everything positioned now…for all the good it will do. I’m no expert in tactics, but then neither are you. I don’t see how you expect for us to do much of anything against an experienced military commander.”

“I don’t think anyone out there is actual military,” Mike said. “And we don’t have to do much. Just enough.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“Get ready to give me all the speed you can. I don’t care what you have to do. Fry the entire impulse system if you have to. It doesn’t have to be long, but it needs to be fast.”

“Ok, but I still think we’re all going to die.”

The Section 31 ship took another pass, battering the Andorian battlecruiser’s rear shields relentlessly until they gave way, the shield emitters exploding violently. The battered Path of Khan vessel returned fire as Talbot’s craft passed by, taking out its shields as well, but that was all it could manage before their adversary hit them with another torpedo, knocking out all power on board.

“They’re dead in space,” Lagathi said with satisfaction.

“How are we?” Talbot asked.

“Shield emitters offline. We have 2/3rds impulse…but all weapon systems are fully operational,” she finished with a smile.

“That should be more than sufficient to deal with Doctor Corbair’s friends in the freighter,” Talbot said. “Let’s end this. Move to intercept and destroy. Corbair can either get over it or die with them.”

“THEY APPROACH,” Noov reported.

“I see them,” Mike said, watching the tactical readout on the helm console. “Smash, it’s time.”

“All right, bossman. We’re on it.”

“What the hell are they doing?” Talbot said as he watched the image of the Clydesdale on the viewscreen. The freighter was now at a full stop, and its six cargo modules, three on each side, were starting to drift away from the ship.

“Cutting loose extra weight?” Lagathi offered.

“That thing is a monstrosity. Letting go of the cargo modules isn’t going to make it any more maneuverable. What kind of idiot is in command over there?”

“A freighter captain?”

“I guess. Scan the modules. Make sure they aren’t full of explosives or something.”

“Negative. They are all empty.”

“So they’re just making space litter. Real nice.”

“We are planning to reduce them to debris as well.”

“You have a point.”

“Any idea what their phaser range is?” Mike asked.

“NEGATIVE,” Noov replied.

“I was afraid of that.” Mike tapped his fingers on the edge of the helm console anxiously. He needed them close but not so close that they started shooting. At least the cargo modules had drifted far enough away to clear a path.


“I was afraid of that, too.”

Talbot’s ship approached Ceti Alpha VI, positioning itself to come in behind the Clydesdale.


“Just do it,” the Tellarite snapped, cutting Mike off.

“Hang on.” Mike activated the impulse engines. For a brief moment, nothing happened, sending a wave of panic through his body, but then the Clydesdale shot forward.

Talbot watched in shock as the freighter that was supposed to be a sitting duck zipped forward and around Ceti Alpha VI.

“No no NO! Get them!” Talbot shouted. “They can’t…”

The ship lurched violently as phaser fire slammed into their defenseless hull. On the viewscreen, the Clydesdale passed by.

“Did they go all the way around the planet and attack us?”

“Yes, Agent Talbot,” Lagathi said. “Engines at…”


“Here they come,” Mike said, watching his tactical readout. “How are we doing, Bork?”

“Engines holding…for now.”

“We just need a little bit more.”

He finished another tight orbit of Ceti Alpha VI and maneuvered the Clydesdale in the middle of the abandoned cargo modules, slowing as much as he could as he did so.


“Already on it. Not so rough, Paf! Just a sec more…and…done!”

“Going,” Mike said. He already had the Clydesdale on the move again as he saw their pursuers starting to round the planet on his scope.

“They aren’t going to keep chasing us like this,” Bork said.

“I know! I just need to piss him off a little more.”

“I hate this plan!”

Surely the freighter wasn’t going to try to go around Ceti Alpha VI again. Yes, it prevented Lagathi from getting a clear shot, but it wasn’t sustainable. Even with damaged engines, the Section 31 ship was making up ground. This was just delaying the inevitable.

Lagathi continued the chase, taking the ship around to the far side of the planet from the cargo modules and…

…the Clydesdale was coming right at them!

“Fire! FIRE!” Talbot screamed as the freighter let loose another phaser barrage and kept right on going.

“Now he’s pissed,” Mike said. On the scopes, Talbot’s ship turned around and resumed their pursuit. So far, the Clydesdale’s shields had barely been touched, but that was about to change. “Noov, put everything you can in the rear shields. This may get toasty.”


Talbot’s ship was closing fast. Mike tried to evade, but there wasn’t much that the Clydesdale was capable of doing. The ship rocked as a phaser blast connected.

“We’ve got him now!” Talbot said. “Keep on him!”

Another hit.

“75 PERCENT,” Noov said.

“Now or never,” Mike muttered. He took the Clydesdale back through the gap between the cargo modules and kept going into open space.

Talbot followed move for move, slipping between the empty modules.

“Now, Bork!”


The cluster of ten anti-matter storage canisters that Smash and his guys had pushed out of the airlock into the space between the modules on the Clydesdale’s previous pass all detonated after Bork remotely shut off their internal force fields. The violent matter-antimatter explosion buffeted Talbot’s ship. Power flickered, then shut off entirely, as the vessel drifted helplessly.

Mike smacked the edge of his console victoriously. “Wodak, get to the transporter. Try to lock on to Corbair and Ronnie! I…” He drifted off as something on his tactical scope caught his eye. “Oh no.”

They were wounded. Fatally so. But they would fight to the last. Igdora gripped the armrests of her command chair as smoke swirled around her. Half the ship was ablaze. What little power they’d been able to restore had all been put to the engines and sensors. They had minutes of life support left, but it would be enough.

On the bridge’s static-filled viewscreen, Igdora could see their enemy, now also laid low.

“Ready phasers.”

“Offline, my Lady.”

“Torpedoes then.”

“The launchers have been destroyed.”

Igdora let out one long breath. “Ramming speed it is then. From Hades’ depths, I put a knife into you!”

They had emergency lighting, but not much else.

“Get me something!” Talbot ordered. He pulled a communicator out of the emergency kit stowed inside one of the bridge’s side panels. “Talbot to anyone. If you can hear me, I need a status. If I can’t see what’s happening, we…

Suddenly, Talbot flew across the bridge as the ship was slammed into by the oncoming Andorian battle cruiser. Both ships continued onward, straight toward Ceti Alpha VI.

“Wodak!” Mike shouted.

“I’m sorry, Mike. I can’t get a lock on anything. There’s some kind of interference over there.”

“Interference? How? From what? They don’t have any power.”

Dr. Corbair picked herself up off the deck, blood dripping out of a gash on her head. The cylinder had survived, though, and Ronnie was positively glowing.

No seriously. She was glowing. Her entire body seemed to be emanating light.

“Are you still with me?” Corbair asked, stumbling back over to her console. Not surprisingly, it was dead. She’d hit Ronnie with a massive dose of the energies matching those from the galactic barrier. Now she was worried that she’d achieved this incredible accomplishment just in time to get blown up.

“For now,” Ronnie’s voice said, echoing all around the lab. Was she getting brighter?

“Good,” Corbair said. “You’re going to need to do what I tell you, or this will end badly for both of us.”

“We are so far beyond that now.”

“I just gave you a gift, and you’re going to use that gift to help the Federation,” Corbair said, stalking over to the cylinder. “Isn’t that what you wanted to do when you joined Starfleet? I’m going to get Captain Talbot, and you’re going to read his mind. After that, maybe lift him into the air with a thought or something. Can you do that? Can you do anything but glow? I wasn’t trying to make a nightlight here.”

“None of that is going to happen.”

“Now you listen here, you…”

Corbair suddenly flew backward, slamming against the rear wall of the lab.

“What…have you done?” she gasped, unable to move.

Ronnie stepped out of the cylinder, phasing straight through its structure. Her body no longer just glowed. She instead seemed to be made of white blinding light that was just getting more intense.

“Not me. Gravity.”

Mike willed the Clydesdale to go faster as he pursued the two powerless and plummeting ships. The freighter was not designed to operate in a planet’s atmosphere, as the shaking and groaning all around him let him know in no uncertain terms.


“Still nothing. There’s too much interference.”

“Mike!” Bork shouted. “We can’t keep this up.”

“I’m going to try the tractor beam.”

“We have a low-end beam designed to drag a cargo module around in space. You cannot expect it to perform rescue maneuvers in an atmosphere, especially when what you’re trying to rescue is a large space craft that is out of control and crashing at…”

Mike had already activated the tractor beam before Bork had gotten three words out of his mouth. It tried to latch on to Talbot’s vessel, struggling to show its descent. At the point Bork reached “crashing at,” there was a…


The tractor beam shut down.

“I told you!” Bork shouted. Talbot’s ship, and Ronnie inside it, continued to fall toward the surface of Ceti Alpha VI.

“I can’t hold this much longer,” Ronnie said. At least it sounded like Ronnie. Corbair couldn’t see her mouth move…or if she even still had a mouth…or even directly look at her at all. Instead her voice seemed to be inside Corbair’s mind.

“Then stop holding me and let me down!”

“I already told you, I’m not doing that. It’s gravity.”

“Gravity…like a planet’s. Are we crashing?!?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, Janet. I’m sorry you never talked to me honestly. I’m sorry you felt you had to do this.”

“This isn’t the time for therapy. DO SOMETHING!”

“I am. Goodbye, Janet.”

And then all was white.

There was nothing he could do. He’d tried everything he could think of. Instead, Mike could only watch helplessly as the ships hit the surface. The resulting explosion was massive, white energy expanded outward from the site, ravaging the surface and extending upward…toward them.

Mike shook himself out of his shock at what had just happened and quickly tried to get the Clydesdale out of the atmosphere of Ceti Alpha VI. It felt like the ship was being pulled back, but finally he was able to get them out into space.

“THE PLANET!” Noov exclaimed.

Mike shifted the image on the viewscreen to the planet below them. Ceti Alpha VI was visibly shuddering under the assault of the blast from Talbot’s ship, which was expanding across its surface with impossible speed.

And then Ceti Alpha VI exploded.

“Oh SHIT!” Mike cried as he put the Clydesdale into full impulse. But it was too late. In an instant, the Clydesdale was overtaken, and everything went white.

Mike expected death by exploding planet to be a bit more painful. Rocky debris ripping through the ship, fire everywhere, his body smashed, burned, and torn apart all at once with an added bit of suffocation for good measure when the Clydesdale was opened up to the vacuum of space.

Instead, he was still in his seat at the helm. He blinked his eyes a few times, trying to clear his vision from the blinding whiteness of a few moments earlier.

“Hi, Mike.”

He spun to his right. Ronnie was there seated at the navigation console like always. He leapt up and grabbed her. “You’re alive! How…? Wait…was I asleep just now?” He let go of Ronnie and sat back down. “I drifted off again, didn’t I?”

“Are you okay?” Ronnie asked.

“Yeah. Sorry. I just had this dream…It doesn’t matter.”

Were they still on the way to Ceti Alpha V? He checked his readouts. The ship was stopped. That was weird. And they were nowhere near the Ceti Alpha system.

“Do you need a minute?” Ronnie asked.

Mike looked around the bridge. It was just him and Ronnie. No Noov, no Bork, and no Dr. Corbair.

“Ronnie, what’s going on?”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Your ship crashed, and then the planet blew up. But that was a dream, right?”

Ronnie shook her head. “No. That was me becoming. It made a bit of a mess.”

“Becoming? Becoming who?”

“What I am now.”

“I don’t understand. Are you…dead?”

Ronnie laughed. “Not even close. I don’t know if I even can die now. I’m not sure if the word ‘alive’ really fits either.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

She waved her arm, and the viewscreen flared to life, showing empty space outside. With another wave, the image shifted to a swirling nebula. Mike checked his readouts. The ship had moved hundreds of light years in an instant.

“You did that?” Mike asked stunned.

Ronnie nodded and waved again, putting the Clydesdale back in its original position. Mike noticed something else on the readouts: the cargo modules were showing as connected again. “Did you put the ship back together, too?”

“Good as new…well, good as it was. I had to leave Bork something to complain about.”

“So you’re what…magic?”

“I have become more,” Ronnie said.

“Did it hurt?”

“Yes. A lot. But Janet was right. She did give me a gift, even if it was for her own self-serving reasons.”

“Corbair did this to you?!? Where the hell is she? I’m going to…”

“Mike, she is not your problem anymore,” Ronnie said firmly.


“Mike! Listen to me, for once. She is not your problem.”

Tears began to well in Mike’s eyes. “I’m so sorry.”

“For what?” Ronnie asked kindly.

“I was supposed to protect you.”

“We both know it was the other way around. Why do you think I left Starfleet?”

“You got kicked out.”

“Well…yeah. But it meant that I could be here with you. I loved spending time with my big brother.”


“I can’t stay, Mike.”


“No offense, but I can literally destroy planets. This existence isn’t me anymore.”

“But I’m here,” Mike said.

“I’m not sure this existence is you either,” Ronnie replied, standing up. She walked around the bridge, taking it all in for the last time. “You could do so much more and really help people.”

“I move cargo. That’s the way I like it.”

“You sent a freighter up against a heavily-armed starship and won. You rescued me from another heavily-armed starship and saved that ship’s entire crew. Don’t give me that ‘I move cargo’ crap. I know you too well. And now, I know EVERYTHING,” Ronnie said, her last word echoing all around the bridge.

“I don’t know.”

“Just think about it,” Ronnie said firmly.

“Ok. I will. Don’t blink me out of existence or whatever,” Mike said, holding his hands up defensively. “But what about you? What are you going to do?”

“See the galaxy. Or a few of them. Maybe start a civilization. There are so many possibilities.”

“I guess there are.” He was silent for a few moments. “If you’re really doing this, I’m going to have to tell people something. Oh god. I’m going to have to tell Mom and Dad.” Mike said in horror.

Ronnie rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Mike? I’ve ascended to omnipotence, and you’re worried about that?”

“They’re going to kill me!”

“Fine. I’ll go tell them myself. But that’s it. Everyone else needs to think I’m dead. Just tell Starfleet that everything went fine.”

“What about those other ships?” Mike asked.

“They’re not your problem either. And no one is going to come looking for them. Janet’s work died with Ceti Alpha Six. It’s safer for the universe that way.”

“Ok,” Mike said, nodding numbly. “I…I just can’t believe you’re leaving.”

“Come here,” Ronnie said, holding her arms open.

Mike got up and walked into her waiting hug. “I’m going to miss you, you absolute pain in the ass,” he said, holding her tight.

“I love you, too, you uptight jerk. Goodbye, Mike.”

“Goodbye.” Mike hugged her closer, and then she was gone.

His eyes shot open. “You vanished during a hug?” he shouted at the empty bridge. “Seriously?!? You drama queen!”

She’d blown up.

Wait. No. That wasn’t right.

She’d crashed, and THEN blown up. Neither had felt great. Actually, it had been a horribly agonizing way to die. At least it was quick, though.

But now Dr. Corbair was pretty sure she was in a bed.

She hesitantly opened her eyes and looked around. Yep, it was a bed. And she was in a simple bedroom.

Hang on. She knew this room!

Corbair leapt out of bed. “No no no no NO!” she said, looking around in a panic. This was her room at the rehabilitation colony. How the hell was she back at Candelar Acres?

She ran out of the door, not caring that she was in pajamas (When did she put on pajamas?), out into the hallway, and raced over to the attendant station sitting in the middle of this cluster of resident rooms. Corbair knew the Efrosian woman sitting there. Crap. What was her name? Corbair always called her “The Grinning Freak” in her head, but now she couldn’t remember her real name.

“Well, good morning, Janet,” the attendant said warmly. “You’re up early.”

“What am I doing back here?” Corbair demanded.

“Back? What do you mean?”

“I was released from here months ago! Starfleet put me on that damn freighter for my parole.”

“I don’t think so, Janet,” the attendant said, no longer grinning. “You’ve got…” She typed a few commands on her console, looked at her monitor, then let out a low whistle. “…forty-one more years in your rehabilitation plan.”

Corbair sank to the floor, forcing the attendant to look over her station to see her. “Are you ok, Janet?” she asked.

Corbair just shook her head. She’d given Ronnie unbelievable abilities, and this is how that ungrateful bitch chose to repay her. Ronnie was going to regret this. Corbair would find a way out, she’d rebuild her equipment, and then she’d…

What did she do to make it work? And she had equipment, but for the life of her, she couldn’t remember how it worked or even what it looked like. Maybe she’d left it on the freighter. What was it called again? It didn’t matter. She’d find its captain. His name was… Nope. Gone.

Was she mad at someone? No, that didn’t seem right. Who could she have to be mad at?

She picked herself up off of the floor.

“Do you want to go back to your room?”

Corbair nodded and wandered back. She needed some more sleep before breakfast, and then there’d be today’s sessions with the counselors. Then lunch. And after that, some free time. Maybe she could find someone who wanted to play cards. She hadn’t done that in ages.

“They’re both just…gone?” Smash asked as he and what was left of the crew of the Clydesdale sat gathered in the mess hall.

“Yeah. That’s it,” Mike said. He’d called the all-hands meeting shortly after Ronnie vanished.

“But we’re supposed to say Ronnie is dead?”

“That’s what she told me.”

“I don’t know, bossman. This feels wrong.”

“I’m not happy about it either…for a lot of reasons,” Mike said. “And I hope no one will dig too deeply into our cover story…when we come up with one.”

“She already took care of it,” Bork said.

“What do you mean?”

“Before you called us up here, I noticed the engineering log now has an entry about a plasma conduit rupture destroying Ronnie’s quarters while she was inside. I’m guessing our other logs now corroborate it.”

“What about Doctor Corbair?” Wodak asked. Beside him Pafal-Sris nodded emphatically.

“Ronnie said she is not our problem. I’m not sure what that means.”

Bork got up from his seat and went over to the small computer terminal mounted in the wall of the mess hall. “It means Corbair was never here,” he said a few minutes later. “I can’t find a single mention of her in any system we have.” He plopped back down in his chair.

The room was silent for a few moments.

“Wow,” Smash said finally.

“Yeah,” Mike said.

“Do you need some time, Mike?” Smash asked gently. It was the first time in possibly ever that Mike could remember the big Rigellan calling him anything other than “bossman.” “I know she’s not really dead, but she’s gone. No one would blame you for needing some time before you decide what to do next.”

“I think I already know,” Mike replied, looking around the table at his crew. “Anybody want a freighter?”

“I was very sorry to hear about your sister,” Commodore Scott Enwright said, as he motioned for Mike to take a seat across the desk from him in his office on Starbase 6. “We think we’ve conquered space, but something like this is a reminder that even the most routine of trips out here has its dangers. I know that doesn’t help.”

“Not really,” Mike said, handing Enwright a data card before sitting down in the offered chair. “I just hope wherever she is now, she’s happy.”

“I do appreciate you finishing your assignment despite the tragedy,” Enwright inserted the card into his desk terminal and scanned through the report on Khan Noonian Singh and his followers and their efforts to tame Ceti Alpha V. “This is a relief to read. We half-expected Khan to be building a starship out of palm trees and coconuts with plans to take over the quadrant.”

“As you can see, the landscape is a bit short on both of those items. They’re just trying to get by down there. I’m sure the Clydesdale can check in on them again in six months, if you’d like. The new owner was one of my cargo handlers, so he knows the history.”

“You sold your ship?” Enwright said surprised.

“Yeah. It was time. And Wodak had had a good run at the casino on Tellar our last time there. He’s keeping the crew together and carrying on without me…as long as he doesn’t gamble the ship away.”

“Here’s hoping, but I don’t think I’ll need to trouble them with this Khan surveillance anymore. He and his followers can live out their lives on Ceti Alpha Five in peace. Honestly, the less attention we draw to them, the better.”

“You couldn’t have figured that out sooner?” Mike thought.

“But what about you?” Enwright continued. “I’m guessing you didn’t come up here just to deliver this report in person.”

Mike took a deep breath. No turning back now. “I don’t know if you know this, but Ronnie, my sister, was in Starfleet for a little while. Things didn’t work out, but she loved it. And she thought it was important. I know I’m a bit old to go to the Academy, but I’m hoping my experience counts for something.”

“You want to join Starfleet?”

“Before she…went, Ronnie told me that I could do more with my life and really help people. I want to see if she was right.”


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