Author: Anthony Butler
“Captain!” Conway’s voice cried over the comm system. There was a great clamor throughout Deck Nine of the Starship Aerostar, right outside Baxter’s quarters. It sounded almost like there was a riot going on outside his quarters. What the hell was going on?
“What is it Conway?” Baxter called out, throwing his uniform on.
“We’ve found a wormhole!” The captain could hardly hear the message over the clamor of the red alert klaxon, but he understood it nonetheless.
Baxter couldn’t believe it. They had found a way home.
By the time Baxter had weaved his way through running, screaming people and arrived at the turbolift, he could actually feel the pull of the wormhole’s gravity as it sucked his ship inside.
Baxter exploded out onto the bridge and saw utter chaos.
“Our shields are holding!” J’hana cried out, grabbing on to her tactical console for support.
“Inertial dampeners failing on all decks. We are about to lose our gravitational field.” Larkin stated calmly as usual from ops.
Baxter ran over to Conway, who was grabbing onto Larkin’s chair for support.
“What the hell is happening, Commander?”
“The thing came from out of nowhere. Before we knew it we were sucked in!” Conway replied. “Engines are holding at warp nine just to keep our position.”
“At this rate the ship will be torn apart in thirty minutes.” Larkin added helpfully from ops.
“Any idea where this thing leads?” Baxter asked, dragging himself up the railing to the science console.
“No idea!” Tilleran said, trying to steady herself. “I’m not even sure if it’s in this universe.”
“Great.” Baxter replied, trying to find a relatively stable place to stand. “I need some suggestions.”
“For getting out of here or going through?” Conway replied.
“Um,” was all Baxter could think of to say. “Good question.”
“I need an answer now!” Conway said.
“Richards to Bridge. Warp engines will blow in ten minutes at this rate. Are we going to go forwards or backwards?”
“I don’t know!” Baxter replied. “I need more information, I need more time!”
“You don’t have either.” A voice said from behind him. Who the hell was that? He didn’t recognize it as one of his people.
It was Alexander Rydell, his old Captain. “And, as my first officer might say, an incorrect decision is strictly forbidden by starfleet regulations.”
“Rydell?” Baxter asked, incredulously.
“No. The tooth fairy. Who the hell did you expect?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m not really Rydell. I’m a loosely veiled attempt by your subconscious to warn you that if you keep second guessing yourself, you could end up dead.”
“You’re right. I have to make the right decision, no matter what,” Baxter stated. “Ensign Fresca…take us through the wormhole.”
“Wrong decision!” Rydell said, laughing and disappearing in a cloud of smoke.
“It’s too late…she’s gonna blow!” Richards’ voice screamed.
“Boy, you’re stupid.” Conway muttered, as the Aerostar exploded in a bright ball of flame.
Baxter woke up in a cold sweat, breathing heavily, his heart beating a million times a minute.
What a terrible dream. What the hell could it mean?
Still a little groggy, Baxter didn’t notice the beeping of his door chime right away.
“Come,” Baxter said groggily, falling back onto his soft bed.
“Hi, Andy…sorry to bother you,” Counselor Peterman said, peeking in the doorway.
“Oh. Kelly…come on in,” Baxter said, sitting up and trying to look as composed as he could managed.
Peterman came in and sat down on the edge of his bed. “Did we have a bad dweam?”
“Something like that,” Baxter said, his eyes still half open.
“Well, I think I have just the thing to make you feel better.”
“That so?” Baxter asked groggily.
“Yep,” Peterman replied, jumping on top of Baxter and kissing him passionately, pulling the covers up over both of them.
“Oh, Kelly,” Baxter said, the initial surprise beginning to ebb away, “I love you so much it hurts…”
“That’s quite a nice sentiment, Captain, but I’m sorry to say I don’t feel the same way about you,” came Conway’s sarcastic voice over the comm system.
Baxter shot up in bed, quickly noticing that the ship’s counselor was nowhere to be found. A dream within a dream. How corny.
“Oh. Ignore that last remark, Commander. I was…uh…dreaming.”
“No!” Conway replied sarcastically.
“Just get to the point, Conway, I’m in no mood for games.”
“Didn’t sound like that a minute ago, sir. What’s the matter, don’t you still love me?”
“AARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!” Baxter cried.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, that was a pretty low blow.”
“Do you have something to report, Mister?”
“Oh, yeah. We’ll be at the coordinates of the Inspiration’s distress call in thirty minutes. I just thought you’d like to know.”
“Thanks a bundle,” Baxter replied. “Hey, Commander?”
“You didn’t by chance hear the name I called out in my sleep too, did you?”
“Of course not. But you really should tell Counselor Peterman how you feel about her.”
“Conway…please tell me you were talking to me in the readyroom when I said that.”
“Sorry,” Conway said.
It was then that Baxter heard Fresca’s voice in the background, “I think it’s very sweet.” And then J’hana’s, “Cursed human emotions.”
“Does the entire bridge crew know about this?” Baxter asked, annoyed.
“No, the ensign at the engineering station was in the bathroom at the time. Does that make you feel better?”
Baxter jumped out of bed and went to wash his face. “I’ll be up there in a few minutes. Try to keep this latest little rumor to yourselves.”
“Oh, of course,” Conway said, laughing.
“It was nice knowing you guys,” Hartley said, as the runabout Washita descended toward the surface of Malox like a flaming meteor.
“We’ve lost all engines. I managed to drop the core just in time, but the entire rear section is a twisted wreck,” Ford managed to cry out, as the runabout burned through the atmosphere.
Mirk wrestled with the bulkhead as if it were attacking him, holding on for dear life. “Try to use thrusters to level our descent. We’re coming in too steep.”
“Really?” Ford replied. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Fine time to be a smartass!” Mirk said.
“We’re dead!” Hartley cried, falling back into her chair.
“Maybe I can separate the command pod!” Mirk said, trying to pull himself toward the back of the ship.
“The controls are fused!” Ford shouted over his shoulder.
“Isn’t there a manual override?” Mirk asked, pulling twisted metal back to reveal his planet’s atmosphere, rushing by the ship at hundreds of miles an hour. The entire rear end of the runabout was blown off by that last torpedo.
“I doubt you’ll be able to reach it.” Ford replied.
Mirk looked across what used to be the lounge area of the runabout. It was now just a few sheets of duranium, stretching uselessly toward the sky as the runabout descended.
At the center of what was left of the floor lie a hatch. Underneath that lie a lever. Pulling that would separate the cockpit module manually.
Mirk tried very hard not to curse starfleet engineers for putting the hatch where they had put it, and instead concentrated on a way to actually reach the thing.
Mirk reached out with his hand, but it was at least four meters away…there was just no way he could reach it. No matter how hard he wanted to.
And he wanted to reach it very bad. So bad he could feel it. He could feel it.
Mirk could feel the handle of the hatch as if it were in his hand.
“What the hell?” Mirk said. Must be those blossoming telepathic powers again. Perfect timing.
Mirk concentrated on the hatch with his mind, and it flew open. Then he concentrated on the lever. This was harder–the lever was a much heavier piece of metal that was attached to the entire ship.
“Come on, dammit,” Mirk cursed. Suddenly the lever snapped back. Mirk could hear the magnetic latches breaking. Small explosions went off around the perimeter of the seal that joined the cockpit module with the rest of the runabout. Before he could move, the chunk of twisted metal that used to be the bulk of the Washita was stripped away. It twisted through the air, hurtling toward the ground.
Thankfully, Mirk had grabbed hold of a railing attached to the cockpit module just before the rest of the Washita blew free.
Mirk pulled himself back into the cockpit, pumping another lever that shut the door behind him.
“There’s one problem solved,” Mirk gasped, sitting down and wiping his forehead.
“Great Job, Mirk. Now I can get the ship level. It’s still going to be a rough ride. Everybody get their seatbelts on.”
“I hope this thing has airbags!” Hartley exclaimed, sliding into the seat beside Ford.
Mirk took his place and quickly threw the restraints over himself.
“Okay, everyone, I’ve found us a spot to land in some relatively deep water.”
“Um.” Mirk stated. “That’s not such a good idea, Ford.”
“Well, it sounds a hell of a lot better than hitting rock.”
“Trust me. You don’t know what the water is like on this planet.”
“Let me guess. The water is toxic and it will kill us.”
Mirk thought a moment. “Well, the water won’t kill you.”
Hartley smacked herself on the forehead. “I don’t want to know. It’s just better if you don’t tell me.”
“Well…” Ford said, as the small pod plunged toward the water’s shimmering green surface. “I think we’re all about to find out.”
“Direct hit, Seeker.” Cridis said calmly, looking to Jum for further orders. “As you ordered, we targeted their engines. I do not think they were destroyed.”
Jum lept out of his command chair. “You don’t think they were destroyed?” Don’t you know?”
“Well. I’m pretty sure they weren’t destroyed.”
“I trust you traced their signal as they fell toward the planet.”
Jum’s face became red with rage. “KIND OF?”
“Well, we lost contact with them shortly before they hit the surface. I believe we can narrow down the search parameters to a couple hundred limaks.”
“Fine. I’m going down there to find my son. He will soon realize the error of his ways, accept his punishment, and return to the loving arms of his people.”
“Yes, Seeker. What about the Sstarfleet ship?”
“The Aerostar? When they arrive, you will attempt to disable them, board them, and capture their crew. It should not be difficult, if Ronan’s people were successful.”
“What if I fail, Jum?”
“A device has been planted in their engine room. If they defeat you, you will blow up their ship.”
“Now…have a team of our best men meet me in the shuttle bay. We will take care of Mirk. If he is alive, that is.”
It was bad enough that the entire bridge crew had seen Baxter in his pajamas. Now they also had heard him ranting and raving about Counselor Peterman in his sleep. Baxter couldn’t think of one more way to screw up.
When he arrived on the bridge, the entire crew, save Larkin and J’hana, stared at him, large smiles on their faces.
“Good morning, Captain.” Conway said, smiling as well, holding a cup of coffee and staring at the tactical readouts on the panel next to his chair. “I trust you…ha ha…slept well?”
The entire bridge crew broke out into laughter.
“As you were!” Baxter barked, slumping into the command chair.
“Captain,” Fresca said, turning toward him and trying to appear serious, “on behalf of the entire bridge crew, I’d like you to know how much we respect you, despite this incident. As a matter of fact…hee hee..we respect you so much it hurts!!!!!”
The bridge crew once again broke into hysteria.
“STOP IT!” Baxter fumed, storming into his readyroom.
“You have to admit, Captain, it’s pretty funny.” Dr. Browning said over the comm.
“It’s hysterical. Now, what do you have to report?” Baxter replied, staring out at the stars as they flew by his readyroom window.
“Nothing good. I’ve put Charlie into stasis to stop the spread of the toxin that’s in his blood stream.”
“Have you been able to identify the toxin?”
“No, but I scanned Counselor Peterman when she came back in a few minutes ago. She has the toxin in her blood stream as well. I also took a reading of myself. Same thing. Although for some reason, it seems to be traveling faster through Charlie’s system than ours.”
“Do you have an antidote?” Baxter said, becoming concerned.
“No, I can’t begin to come up with an antitoxin without first finding out where the toxin came from.”
“Great. Keep me posted.”
“Sure thing. Browning out.”
Ensign Ryan Stuart whistled a happy tune as he worked on the shield frequency modulator. He was attempting to get the shields up to a more efficient power consumption ratio for Lieutenant Commander Richards. It never hurt to get some extra points with your supervisor.
As if on cue, Richards stuck his head out of his office door. “Hey, Stuart, how are those shields coming?”
“Just fine, sir.” Stuart replied. “Almost done. How’s that stomach ache?”
“Terrible. I think I’m going to puke!” Richards complained, withdrawing back into his office.
Stuart shrugged and continued to work, adjusting the modulation ever so slightly on the main control board. “Hmm. That’s odd. Where the hell is that power consumption coming from? It’s as if someone has tapped directly into the main shield control systems.”
Stuart bent down and removed the shield control access panel. “What in the world?” he said, staring at the blinking control box that was attached to the main shield control conduit. It was definitely not a starfleet design.
He heard some footsteps on the carpet behind him.
“Commander Richards,” he said, not looking back. “There’s some strange box attached to the main shield control, and I have no idea how it got on here. Maybe one of the technicians from Dilus put it here.”
“I think you are right.” a voice said. It wasn’t Richards.
Stuart turned around to see who it was. Hmm. It was a fist, and it seemed bent on knocking the hell out of him. Oh well, who was he to argue?
“Conway to Baxter. You’ll never guess where the signal is coming from.”
“Surprise me.” Baxter said, stacking yet another card on top of his ever-growing house of cards.
“It’s an Ambassador class vessel in the Malox system. Right where all this started.”
“How ironic.” Baxter replied disinterestedly, looking at his house of cards with pride. “How about the wreckage of the Washita? Any survivors?”
“We’re too far away to tell for sure right now. But we’ll be in communication range in five minutes.”
“Understood. I’ll be right out.”
“Okay. I love you. Conway out.”
Baxter pounded his desk with anger, then frantically moved to steady the shaking house of cards before it toppled over.
He would never live this down.
“You clumsy fool, what are we going to do now?” Danel asked impatiently.
“Don’t get short with me, Danel.” Brin replied, “it’s not my fault the starfleet engineer found the shield controller. At least he did not find the bomb.”
“Small comfort. In any case, we’re going to have a hard time hiding now–we just wholloped one of their crewmen.”
“We’re going to be wholloping many more soon,” Brin muttered.
Brin huffed as he pushed Stuart’s unconscious form into the Jefferies tube that they had been hiding in. “Do not worry about that. We should be at the coordinates any minute. Once we arrive, the luck of the Starfleet crew will run out. Just like this pathetic engineer’s.”
“If you say so. I just hope we get a chance to see Mirk.”
“Don’t tell me you still have a thing for him.”
“Well, we were childhood friends.”
“Well, Danel, you’re fifteen now. It’s time to act like an woman, instead of a little girl.”
“Shut up Brin.”
“No, you shut up.”
Once he was sure his house of cards was stable again, Captain Baxter stepped onto the bridge.
“We are in visual range now, Captain.” Larkin stated.
There was no doubt now. The ship that was on the viewscreen was a Starfleet vessel.
“Magnify.” Baxter said.
Commander Conway stepped closer to the viewscreen so he could see the ship’s name and registry numbers.
“USS Inspiration. Registry NCC-25792. Ambassador Class…” Conway said, almost to himself.
“Commanded by Captain James Stevens. Lost in the Bermuda Expanse on stardate 50103. More than a year ago.” Larkin said, completing Conway’s thought.
“I knew Stevens.” Conway said, returning to his chair. “I served as his Chief of Operations aboard the Garrison several years ago. He was an erratic man to say the least. Some even thought he was insane. Not exactly Starfleet’s finest.”
“Like we are.” Fresca laughed from the helm. “I bet if Pike, Kirk, or Picard had gotten caught up in the Bermuda Expanse, they’d find a way out.”
Baxter turned on Fresca angrily. “Well, I guess I’m just not cool enough to get crippled by radiation, fall off a cliff, get blown up by Romulan Warbirds, or crash my ship into a planet, huh?”
Fresca was silent a moment.
“Hah! I rest my case.” Baxter said triumphantly. “I’m no worse off than any of those guys.”
“But they were more popular with the ladies.”
The argument between Fresca and Baxter was interrupted by Lt. J’hana. “Captain. We are now within communication range.”
Baxter turned around and took his command chair. “Very well. Open hailing frequencies.”
“This is Captain Andy Baxter of the Federation Starship Aerostar. We’ve received your distress call. You don’t know how good it is to see a friendly face.”
“We’re receiving a response, sir. Audio only.” J’hana reported.
Baxter looked over at Conway. “That sounds a little suspicious.”
“I don’t know,” Conway replied, “their transmitter could be damaged.”
“Scan the ship, J’hana…what’s their condition?”
“They have a damaged warp core, which is emitting an incredible amount of radiation. The radiation is blocking any further scans.”
“Damn strange.” Baxter said. “Put their response on speakers.”
“This is Inspiration. Thank goodness you are here. We were… um…worried about your runabout. It crashed on the planet below a short while ago.
Baxter’s brow creased with worry. “Damn. Well, we’ll get a team down there to investigate shortly. How about you guys? Do you require assistance?”
While Baxter chatted with the other ship, Tilleran couldn’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable. Something was wrong. The man over on that ship was lying!
Commander Richards’ stomach was really hurting now. He shouldn’t have eaten so much salad. That had to be it.
He decided to try and take his mind off it, leaving his office to go check on Stuart’s progress.
“Hey, Stuart…” Richards said, sticking his head out of his office.
Suddenly, a disruptor beam lanced out from out of nowhere and hit the wall right above Richards’ head.
He jumped behind the main diagnostic table, slapping his comm badge.
“Richards to security! Intruder Alert!”
Under half impulse, the Aerostar creeped closer to the Inspiration.
“Do you know what caused the runabout’s destruction?” Baxter asked, fearing the attackers might return.
“I am sorry, we do not. We were in the area when we received their distress call,” responded the creepy voice from the Inspiration.
“I’m really wondering why we haven’t seen you guys around here before.” Conway said suspiciously. Baxter shot him a dirty look.
“We have been all over the sector. Looking for…um…things.”
“I see.” Baxter said.
“Captain!” Tilleran whispered, leaning over her science console. “He’s lying through his teeth.”
“How would you know?” Baxter responded.
“I’m a Betazoid, for Rixx’s sake.”
“Captain, I recommend we go to yellow alert, just in case.” Conway said, adding in a hushed tone, “that doesn’t sound like Captain Stevens over there.”
“Are you still there, Aerostar?”
Baxter tried to maintain his calm. “Yes, Inspiration…we’re experiencing some technical difficulties.”
Baxter turned back toward the tactical console. “J’hana, what are the chances that they’re faking that ruptured warp core?”
“It wouldn’t be hard to fool our sensors, if they knew how to-“ J’hana said, cut off by a beeping at her console. “Captain, I’m reading a security alert on Deck Twenty-six. Engineering.”
“Send Mr. Gellar down there to find out what’s going on.” Baxter said, tapping his fingers nervously.
“Captain, I know that’s not Stevens over there,” Conway said. “Something isn’t kosher, sir.”
“I agree. Go to Red Alert and get those shields up.” Baxter said, standing up. “Hey, Inspiration, do you mind telling us who you really are?”
There was silence a moment. “That’s not important. What is important is that you surrender your ship to us immediately.”
“Fat chance. J’hana…”
“Um…” J’hana said, uneasily.
Baxter and Conway both turned back to look at J’hana. “What do you mean ‘um’?” Baxter asked.
“I mean…‘Um, I can’t get the shields up.’”
“Oh.” Baxter replied. He looked towards the viewscreen. The Ambassador-class starship turned toward them, its photon tubes gleaming ominously.
“I’m beginning to get the feeling we’ve been set up.” Conway said.
“J’hana. Those shields…” Baxter said. He could see the photon tubes of the other vessel start to turn bright red.
“Conway to Engineering…what the hell is going on down there!”
“Can’t talk now, sir. BZZZT. Kind of under attack now, sir. BZZZZT.”
“Was that disruptor fire?” Baxter asked.
“It sure as hell wasn’t the doorbell, Captain.” Conway said sarcastically.
“Evasive maneuvers, Ensign Fresca. Back us off!”
The Aerostar shifted into reverse as Inspiration bore down on her.
Dr. Browning had taken a hypo for the pains in her stomach, but that didn’t seem to help much. She was now almost certain that anyone who had eaten at space station Dilus was being attacked by the same toxin. She was going down to Engineering to check on Richards when the Red Alert klaxon began.
Browning rounded the corner into engineering to find Richards crouched behind the main systems table. “What the heck are you doing down–” she said, but was interrupted as Richards grabbed her wrist, jerking her down to the deck just as another disruptor blast seared the air she had previously occupied.
Browning hit the floor next to the engineer. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. There’s someone over on the other side of Engineering shooting at me. And I can’t find Stuart or Spencer.”
“Oh. How’s your stomach?” she asked casually.
“My stomach? Me and you were almost ventilated by a disruptor pistol, and you’re worried about my stomach?”
“Well, it was bothering you, wasn’t it?”
Another blast hit the main systems display unit, sending sparks into the air as the panel exploded.
“You have to get out of here, Janice!” Richards said, trying to find a clear, safe path out of Engineering.
“What are you going to do?”
“I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
“Baxter to Richards. I need shields, now!”
“Richards here. I’m a little busy right now!”
“Well, you’re about to get a lot busier.”
Just then, Lt. Gellar poked his head around one of the corridors leading into engineering. “Hey guys…” he whispered. “Are you alright?”
Richards stuck his head up from behind the console. “Do we LOOK alright?” He had to duck quickly again as the blast came close to giving him a crew cut.
Gellar thought a moment. “Just hold on. I’ll take care of ‘em.”
The security officer lept through the air, hit the ground rolling, and came up in the middle of engineering, spraying phaser fire about the room.
“Careful what you hit out there!” he heard Richards yell from behind the console.
“I need those freaking shields!” Baxter screamed over the comm. He would just have to wait.
Gellar jumped through the air again and landed by Dr. Browning and Commander Richards. “Hi, guys. I don’t think I hit anyone.”
“Well, it was a good effort all the same.” Browning said encouragingly.
“I don’t guess you brought another phaser with you, did you?” Richards asked.
“As a matter of fact, I did.” Gellar said, pulling a small Type I phaser out of his pocket. “Here ya go.”
Richards looked at the tiny phaser. “Gee, thanks. Maybe I can shave him to death.”
“Baxter to Inspiration. I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I assure you, we’re your friends. I’m sure we can work this out.”
“Shut up and power down, before I have to start blowing you apart!”
“Oh, boy, we’re dead.” Conway moaned.
“Richards, where are my shields?” Baxter asked, punching the comm button. What the hell was going on down there?
“Captain!” J’hana shouted, pointing at the viewscreen.
Two photon torpedoes blazed toward them.
Baxter pressed a button, sounding the allcall. “All hands…BRACE FOR IMPACT!”
Conway looked back at J’hana’s panel. “I don’t guess we have those shields up yet, do we?”
The first torpedo hit, blowing a hole in the Aerostar’s saucer section, spraying duranium bits, sending a shudder down the length of the ship’s superstructure.
The other torpedo seemed like it was heading toward the bridge.
“To be…or not to be…” Baxter said solemnly, grabbing onto his chair.
Sirens and klaxons began going off in Engineering as the torpedoes hit.
Richards shoved Janice toward the exit corridor. “Janice, you have to get out of here. Quick, I’ll cover you.”
“What the heck am I supposed to do?” Browning asked worriedly.
“Go back to sickbay…and do sickbay kinds of things. We are under attack, you know.”
“Oh, yeah. Okay. I love you.” she said, getting ready to run like hell.
“I love you too. Now go!” Richards said, giving her a push and running across engineering in front of her as she made her escape, trying to find the people that were shooting at him.
Just as Browning lept into an open turbolift, Richards saw an unfamiliar gray-suited figure hop out from behind a wall.
He fired his phaser, knocking the figure to the ground.
Richards kneeled by the unconcious figure, a freckled girl that looked to be in her teens. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another streak of grey bound past him. “There’s another one, Gellar! Go after him!”
“Right.” Gellar said, jumping out from behind the main systems console.
Richards looked the girl over carefully. She looked quite a bit like Mirk–same age, same slightly freckled Maloxian appearance. Richards idly wondered if she really was Maloxian.
No. That wouldn’t make sense. Why would Maloxians attack the Aerostar?
“We have sustained major hull damage. Hull integrity has been compromised on decks two, eight, eleven, thirteen, twenty…” Larkin announced from ops.
“Return fire!” Baxter screamed, struggling to stay on his feet as the deck rocked under him.
“Firing phasers! Negligible effects on their shields.” J’hana replied.
“Screw the phasers. Load all quantum torpedo launchers and fire a full spread!”
J’hana grunted with pleasure. “Now you’re talking, sir.”
Another torpedo hit. The bridge had erupted into chaos in a matter of minutes.
“Hull breaches on decks two, six, eight, and twelve.” Larkin said from ops, checking her panel. “Erecting force fields to compensate.”
“Oh, boy.” Baxter said, rubbing his head. That last torpedo came dangerously close to the bridge, causing panels and circuit boards all over the room to explode.
“Hold on!” J’hana shouted as two more torpedoes slammed into the ship.
“What are we going to do!” Fresca cried helplessly.
“Blow up the ship and die with honor?” J’hana offered.
“We will not surrender,” Baxter growled, “I’m open to other suggestions.”
“The Crebius Cluster is nearby,” Larkin announced over shouts of crewmen and red alert sirens. “I recommend we attempt to take shelter there. The gravometric disturbances may disrupt the other vessel’s sensors.”
“Fine, engage at full impulse, Fresca.”
The Aerostar lurched around like a wounded bird, barrelling toward the Crebius Cluster at full impulse.
“We’re sinking.” Mirk said calmly, clambering out from underneath the debris that had fallen on top of him during the crash.
Ford struggled with the helm controls. “I thought these things were airtight.”
“Obviously not.” Hartley grumbled, trying to wriggle out from underneath the wreckage.
Water and bubbles floated past the front windshield of the Washita. Under different circumstances, Mirk would have found the whole thing extremely beautiful.
“We have to get those thrusters working before we run out of oxygen.” Hartley commanded.
“I’m working on it.” Ford said, pounding on the controls.
Mirk studied the flickering science panel, trying his best to get a fix on their position. It looked like they were only a few limaks from his home island of Oka. That was good to know. It also seemed like…
“Ford! Get us out of here now!” Mirk suddenly yelled.
“What do you think I’m…”
Suddenly the little pod shook, as Hartley stared on in horror at the huge tentacle that wrapped around the front viewport.
“What the hell is that?” Hartley asked, although she had a feeling she didn’t want to ask.
“That,” Mirk said, “is a hiru. Similar, I believe to Earth’s giant squid.”
Mirk, Hartley, and Ford struggled to maintain their balance as the pod rocked about, strung along by the hiru.
“I’ve got an idea!” Hartley shouted, slithering out from under the beam that was pushing down on her. She picked up a long piece of duranium tubing that lay on the deck at her feet and started beating it against the windshield of the runabout.
“What are you trying to do?” Mirk asked.
“Well, my sister works in a pet shop. The cardinal rule of pet fish is ‘don’t tap on the glass’. It sounds like huge explosions to them.”
Ford continued to wrestle with the controls. “I think it’s actually working. He’s starting to loosen his grip.”
“That’s dandy,” Mirk said, “but how about those engines?”
“Oh.” Ford said, returning his attention to the thrusters. “I’ve managed to reroute power to the auxiliary thrusters.”
“Punch it, already, Ford!” Hartley yelled.
“Pushy, pushy.” Ford said, “You like to take your sweet old time whenever we need to send down an away team.”
“This is not the time to argue!” Mirk exclaimed, looking at the hiru on the scanners. It was coming around for another pass. “That thing is coming back toward us!”
“Well, maybe if you didn’t always hit on me, I’d be more accommodating!” Hartley shouted back at him.
“I can’t help it if I think you’re cute. Maybe you should learn to take a compliment.”
“Maybe you should learn to take a hint!” Hartley screamed.
Mirk gave up and jumped in front of Ford, slammed his fist down on the thruster fire button. “Hold on everyone, we’re getting out of here!”
“So soon?” Hartley asked, falling back into her seat as the tiny pod took off through the water.
“I’m going back to find some weapons. We’re going to need them.” Mirk said roughly, getting off Ford’s lap and walking back to the rear storage compartment.
“Jeeze, what’s his problem?” Ford asked.
“Come here, you little…” Lt. Gellar said, trying to run after the gray-suited intruder and keep the phaser trained on him at the same time. That was difficult since the Aerostar felt like a soda machine being slammed into because the customer hadn’t gotten any change.
The grey-suited figure disappeared through a jeffries tube hatch, and Gellar followed, scrambling through the endless maze of winding tunnels.
Gellar found his way out into a small cargo bay. The intruder had taken refuge behind the loading door control console.
Neither immediately noticed Ensign Spencer quietly working on one of the maintenance drones that had broken down.
“Don’t move, or I’ll blow the hatch!” the intruder shouted, pointing his disruptor squarely at Gellar, who in turn had him targeted with his phaser.
“This is a no win situation, buddy. Put your weapon down and surrender!”
“Never!” the boy shouted, firing his weapon and hitting the hatch control.
Gellar hurled himself through the air and grabbed for the ladder that led to the bay’s second level.
The security officer had barely grabbed the ladder when the cargo door began to rise.
“Hey guys, what’s…” Ensign Spencer said, looking up from the workbee he was repairing.
“Spencer!” Gellar called out. But it was too late. The ensign was sucked right out of the cargo bay and into empty space.
Holding his breath as all of the loose tools and barrels spiraled out of the cargo bay along with the oxygen, Gellar took the time to see the ship that was attacking them through the cargo bay. It came around and started firing its phasers. Then, suddenly, the black, starry space outside the ship became purple, twirling energy.
“Captain, sensors detect an emergency depressurization on deck twenty-seven,” Larkin announced. “That is cargo bay ten. I am repressurizing the bay.”
“Is there anyone in there?” Baxter asked, crawling over to. Larkin’s station.
“I am reading two lifeforms.” Larkin replied. “One is Lieutenant Gellar. The other is not registered on our crew manifest.
“Our intruder?” Baxter mused.
“Quite likely. I am also reading a comm badge outside our ship.”
“Outside?” Conway asked, pulling himself up.
“That is correct.” Larkin said, tapping a few more buttons.
On the screen, twisting helplessly through space, was Ensign Spencer.
“Is he…” Baxter asked quietly.
“He is, in a word, dead.” Larkin stated.
“I’ll be damned. Janice was right.” Baxter said to himself, recalling how earlier he’d wished Spencer would be sucked out an airlock. Well, this was a cargo bay door, so he couldn’t feel too responsible for it.
Ensign Fresca sighed and pulled a small padd out of her uniform pocket, tapping some information into it. “Well, I guess he’s out of the picture. He was kind of nice too.”
“What are you talking about, Fresca?” Conway asked.
“Nothing. Are you busy tonight? Suddenly, my social calendar has an opening.”
“Get it together, would you?” Conway said angrily. “We’re under attack, you know!”
“We have entered the Crebius Cluster, if anyone is still interested.” J’hana remarked.
Baxter returned to his command chair. “What about our friends on the Inspiration?”
“They are pursuing us.”
“Well, what’s the next step?” Baxter asked woefully.
“The next step is getting the hell out of here.” Conway said, still looking with disapproval at Fresca.
“I disagree. We have to get those shields up.” Baxter replied, pressing the comm button on his command chair. “Mr. Richards, I hate to ask, but…would it be too much trouble to get our freaking shields up?”
“Working on it, sir.” Richards replied.
“Well please hurry!”
Baxter wondered what could be so pressing that the ship’s shields could wait?
“Well please hurry!”
Richards would have gladly worked on restoring shields, however, he was presently an angry looking female intruder was standing in front of the shield control console. She trained Richards’ phaser on him, her hand shaking nervously.
He hadn’t thought she’d be much of a threat–she couldn’t have been 17 years old. She was a girl. And she had taken him by surprise. Oh, well. He’d never make that mistake again.
“Come on, Miss…whatever you’re name is. I promise I won’t hurt you. I just need to get those shields up.”
“The name’s Danel,” she replied, “and I can’t let you do that. I’m sorry.”
“Danel. Where have I heard that name before?”
“Probably from Mirk.”
“Yeah, that’s it. How do you know Mirk?” Richards asked.
Danel looked down at the shield status. Still down. The device was working. But for some reason, the ship had stopped shaking. The bridge crew must have been coming up with some kind of plan to save them. She wasn’t worried, though. Everything would be fine. She looked back at Richards. “I…grew up with him, as if it’s any business of yours.”
“So you guys are Maloxians.”
“Of course we are.”
“You know, Mirk’s not even here.”
“No. He’s down on Malox. He may even be dead.”
Danel thought a moment, consoling herself by the fact that this was just a Starfleet trick. She was so busy consoling herself that she was taken completely off guard by the panel at her feet busting open and knocking her down.
Ensign Stuart hopped up and looked down with satisfaction at the unconscious intruder lying on the ground.
“Hi there, Commander.”
Richards grabbed the phaser. “Good job, Ryan. Now let’s see about getting those shields back up.”
“The last time we were here, we were almost destroyed by the Flarn.” Conway said, looking at the swirling purple mass of the Crebius Cluster on the viewscreen.
“And here we are about to get destroyed again. How nice.” Baxter replied.
“At least there’s some symmetry to it.”
“Here.” J’hana said, handing type II phasers to Baxter and Conway.
“Thanks a bunch.” Baxter said. “Why are you giving us these?”
“Because. If they mean to take over our ship, and our shields are down, then logically…” J’hana waited for Baxter or Conway to finish her statement.
Baxter looked at J’hana blankly. “What?”
Conway snapped his fingers. “Of course, they’re going to send over boarding parties!”
“Yeah, right.” Baxter said, holstering his phaser.
At the same time, blue transporter beams coalesced all around the bridge.
“We’re being boarded!” J’hana shouted, grabbing the first figure that appeared and ramming his head into a nearby bulkhead. “EVERY OFFICER FOR HERSELF!”
The former runabout Washita coasted along the surface of Malox’s slippery green sea.
“Is that thing still after us?” Hartley asked, looking back at Mirk worriedly.
Mirk studied his panel. “The scanners were slightly damaged in the crash, but I think we’re clear.”
“That’s good.” Ford said. “I’ve set a course for the nearest island. This thing was never meant to be a pleasure boat. The thrusters won’t hold out for long in these conditions.
“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” Hartley began.
“Don’t start!” Ford said. He was tired of the Lieutenant’s mouth.
“Shut up. I outrank you.”
“Both of you shut up.” Mirk ordered. “We’re almost to the island.”
“When will we be there?” Hartley asked, turning around to face Mirk.
Suddenly the cockpit jerked as it hit land.
“Now.” Mirk stated matter-of-factly.
Hartley popped the escape hatch and hopped out of the wrecked runabout. “Finally. I never thought I’d be so glad to touch solid ground again.”
Ford jumped out behind her, toting his phaser rifle and a backpack full of rations and supplies. “I just want to get back to the Aerostar. I want this whole miserable mission to be overwith.”
“You can say that again.”
“We’re not done yet.” Mirk said, hopping out of the hatch with two phaser rifles. He threw one to Hartley. “Here, you’re going to need this.”
“Why?” She asked. “What’s so dangerous on this planet?”
“Well, right now, my father,” Mirk said calmly.
As if to punctuate that statement, a rocket flew through the air and connected with the small pod, blowing it up and sending Mirk, Ford, and Hartley flying through the air.
Dr. Browning returned to Sickbay to find Counselor Peterman, Nurse Bailey and Nurse Luntley hard at work. Peterman had been there to check on her dog when all hell broke lose, and now she was helping the injured to some free biobeds.
“What’s happening?” Peterman asked frantically as Browning made her way into the crowded sickbay.
“I don’t know,” Browning replied. “I think we’re being attacked.”
“That’s just great. What about my dog?”
“We’ll worry about the dog later. Right now we need to get everyone here taken care of.”
“Well, that’s just fine, but what about Charl–”
Peterman was interrupted by the whine of a transporter beam, as a boarding party materialized and added attacking Maloxians to the already crowded sickbay.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Doctor Browning shouted, ducking a swinging fist.
Browning ran into her office and punched her communicator. “Browning to Security. I have intruders in Sickbay. I need some help here!”
A group of intruders cornered her in her office.
Thinking fast, Browning set the huge pizza oven that dominated her office on overload and jumped through the Plexiglass window that led out to the waiting room.
Browning ducked behind a couch as her office exploded. Well, so much for that homebaked pizza taste.
Meanwhile, Peterman had managed to grab a couple phasers from a nearby storage cabinet. She tossed one to Bailey. “I’ll hold ‘em off, Brenna, you just move the injured people to the operating room in the rear and lock the door.”
Nurse Bailey did as she was told and began lugging people back toward the lab. “This was not in my contract,” she said, smacking her gum loudly.
“Come on, jerks! Let’s fight!” Peterman cried, jumpkicking the first intruder that approached her and begging for more.
This was just what she needed to take her mind off Spencer.
As soon as gravity returned in the cargo bay, Gellar lept on top of the intruder. Actually, he more or less fell on top of him.
In any case, Gellar had knocked the intruder out cold.
After lugging his victim back to Engineering, he found Commander Richards and Ensign Stuart hunched over the shield control panel.
“Well, I have our other intruder,” Gellar said with pride.
Richards didn’t look up from his work. “Great. Lay him over there with the other one, will ya?”
Gellar did as he was told. “Are we still in a battle?”
“I don’t think so.” Richards replied, “I haven’t had time to check with the bridge. We’ve been fighting with these two the last half hour. I haven’t even had time to check on the warp core. For all I know it may be about to explode.”
“That’s comforting,” Gellar said, turning around to look at the pulsing warp core. “It looks fine to me, though.”
“Well, it won’t for long unless we get these shields up.”
Suddenly several beams of light appeared all around engineering, materializing into screaming attackers.
“What the-“ Gellar said, as a new intruder lunged for him. Gellar thought quick and grabbed the man’s fist, using his own momentum to pull him over the railing, sending him ten decks down to the bottom of the warp core.
“Hold ‘em off, Stuart…I have to get these shields up!” Richards yelled, elbowing one of his attackers into the stomach and bashing the other into a bulkhead.
“Oh, give me the easy job.” Stuart groaned, bringing a fist down on the apex of the fallen man’s neck, knocking him out.
Two more came his way. Good thing he was tri-sector wrestling champ at Starfleet Academy.
Stuart grabbed the two and slammed their heads together, then pushed them back into a bulkhead.
“Hey, Commander, where’s that phaser of yours?” he asked, as three more attackers approached him.
“Take it,” Richards said, throwing the phaser behind him as he worked.
“Thank you,” Stuart said, blowing away three onrushing attackers.
Gellar, on the other hand, wasn’t doing as well. Two of the intruders were trying to dump him over the railing of the warp core.
“I’ve got your back, Lieutenant!” Stuart said, firing the phaser at the two invaders.
They fell over the railing as Gellar righted himself.
He saw one of the attackers coming up behind Stuart.
“Stuart, behind you!” he cried.
Stuart reached behind him and flipped his attacker over his shoulder, smashing him into the deck before him.
“This is getting tiring,” Gellar said, staring at the unconscious bodies all over engineering.
“You’re telling me. We can’t hold out like this for long.”
“We won’t have to.” Richards said, throwing a dented metal box out from the shield access panel and jumping up to his feet. “I just got the shields working again.”
“Thank Goodness,” Stuart sighed, sitting back.
“Security to Lieutenant Gellar. We have a situation in Sickbay. I think you’d better get up there.” the comm system rattled.
Richards tapped his comm badge. “Richards to bridge. You now have shield control. Enjoy!”
As Gellar turned to leave for Sickbay, Richards put a hand on his shoulder. “Let me go with you. I’ve got a…friend…up in sickbay.”
“Right, Commander.” Gellar replied.
Richards looked to Stuart. “Ryan, you have Engineering. Hold things together.”
“I’ll do my best, considering the situation,” Stuart said worriedly.
Baxter winced as his head was pounded into the viewscreen. The world became a steady gush of pretty flowing colors as he felt brain cells he never knew he had die.
Commander Conway, for his part, jumped on top of the tactical console, beckoning the attackers toward him.
“Arrrrggh, die!” J’hana cried, flying through the air with her ceremonial Andorian knife clutched in her mouth and a phaser in her hand.
The three Maloxians she was aiming for never knew what hit them.
“The Inspiration has continued its phaser attack. As Lt. J’hana is currently busy, I will return fire.” Larkin reported to no one in particular as she tapped away at ops.
Suddenly, her proximity sensors detected someone approaching fast behind her. She casually brought a fist up and caught her assailant in the face.
“I would advise you to attack from a different angle next time. I will anticipate whatever move you make.” Larkin said. It wasn’t gloating, it was a simple statement of fact.
Baxter shook his head, as a phaser hit from J’hana knocked his attacker off his back, and stood up, surveying the chaos that was now his bridge.
The Captain retreated to his readyroom, surprised to see his house of cards still standing. An invader pursued him, smashing him into his desk.
“NO!” Baxter cried, throwing his fist back into the attacker’s face, who fell backward into his couch. That was close. The house of cards teetered dangerously.
Stunned, the attacker got up and shook his head.
Thinking fast, Baxter lept behind his desk and picked up the Starfleet issued “chunk of rock” that seemed to litter every readyroom desk. He had always thought that thing was useless.
“I guess it has a use after all,” Baxter remarked, flinging the rock into his attacker’s face, which was smashed up against the wall.
“Oooo…” Baxter teased. “That’s going to leave a mark.”
Meanwhile, Commander Conway had one of the invaders pushed up against a bulkhead. Another attacker came up from behind him, so Conway clasped his hands together and hit him across the face and then knocked him upside the jaw, in the traditional Starfleet combat style.
Lt. Tilleran ducked under the science console as a body flew her way, disposed of by Lt. J’hana. Another attacker came towards her. “I can sense all those hostile intentions….not good!” she said matter-of-factly, phasering him and knocking him back.
“You fight well, Commander.” J’hana remarked, stabbing her knife into the man Conway was currently strangling.
Conway stared down at the limp body. “Is that a compliment?”
“Merely a fact. Do not get carried away. You use the traditional Starfleet combat style effectively.” J’hana turned to face another attacker, clasping her hands and hitting him in the gut.
“They just keep coming!” Fresca shrieked, cowering behind Lt. Tilleran’s post.
“Oh, grow up, Jenel.” Tilleran huffed, bringing the butt of her phaser down on yet another attacker’s head. “This is Starfleet, not kindergarten.”
Baxter then lept out of his readyroom, carrying a large, bloody rock. “BANZAAAAAAAI!”
“Shelat!” J’hana cursed in amazement, watching Baxter clobber warrior after warrior with his rock. “What has gotten into the Captain?”
“My guess,” Conway said, phasering another attacker. “They went after his tower of cards. He loves that thing.”
“How odd,” J’hana said, swinging her knife and hitting an attacker in the stomach.
“Intriguing. I am detecting a high level of EM activity within the cluster,” Larkin remarked, still keeping her post. An invader jumped on top of her. “This is highly unacceptable. I suggest you remove yourself before I am forced to use deadly force on you.”
“Arrgh!” the attacker grunted, pounding on Larkin’s shoulders.
“This is not productive,” Larkin said, standing up and swinging the man around by his arm. “Be gone.”
The man flew across the bridge, slamming up against the rear wall.
“Nice shot, Larkin,” Conway stated, looking down at the man’s unconscious body.
“Richards to Bridge. You now have shield control. Enjoy.”
“Finally.” J’hana grunted, clearing a body off the tactical console. “Permission to go on the offensive, Captain.”
Baxter rammed a Maloxian into the command chair. “By all means, Lieutenant!”
“Firing all weapons!” J’hana screamed with glee. “Bring us about, Larkin!”
“Their shields are back up, Cridis!” Temin, the second officer, shouted. “And our landing parties are stranded aboard the ship. “I recommend retreat. You must use the device!”
Cridis steadied himself in the command chair of the Inspiration. “I refuse to give up this easy. They have led us to the Crebius Cluster, the sacred residence of our gods and our former gateway to the Alpha Quadrant. We must not back down under the watchful eye of the Directors.”
“Whatever you say, sir.” Temin replied.
“The rocket came from somewhere up on that cliff!” Hartley said, squinting through the sand that covered her face as she stared at her tricorder.
“It was from my father. He’s going to hunt us down.” Mirk said. “Come on, we have to keep moving.”
“Gee, thanks dad!” Ford said sarcastically.
The group made their way through a dense jungle. “This is a small island, but it has dense jungle foliage on its outer perimeters. We should be safe here until the Aerostar finds us.”
“What makes you think they’ll find us?” Hartley said, gripping her phaser tightly and looking around for attackers.
“It could happen,” Mirk replied, pushing through the dense brush.
The bridge was once again relatively quiet. Smoke, sparks, and dead and unconscious bodies littered it.
Lt. Larkin finished scanning one of the fallen attackers with her tricorder. “The tricorder scans are complete. The attackers are without a doubt Maloxian.”
Baxter wiped a hand over his face, feeling suddenly very hot. “The Maloxians? Why the hell would they attack us?”
“Revenge.” Conway muttered. “Because of us, they have been hunted all over the sector by the Flarn.”
Baxter fell into his command chair, exhausted. “Whew…I don’t feel so good.”
“A…little…exertion…and…you…wimp…” J’hana grunted, steadying herself by holding on to her console.
“What’s wrong with you guys?” Conway asked.
“Well,” Baxter began, “I might as well let you know now. Not only were we sabotaged by the folks at Space Station Dilus, but we were also poisoned by them.”
Conway smiled. “That’s funny. I feel fine.”
“It must have been the salad.” J’hana growled
“Damn. I knew it,” Baxter said. “At any rate, we’re going to be dead soon if we don’t find an antidote.”
“I told you guys not to eat that salad,” Conway laughed, sizing up Baxter’s command chair. It would be a perfect fit.
“Shut up, Conway.” Baxter growled, trying to push himself up as the ship shook. “Lt. Larkin, I want you to take over helm and tactical from your station. Get the Inspiration off our backs.”
“We have to combat this…poison.” J’hana gasped.
Larkin turned around in her chair to face the rest of the bridge crew. “If there is an antitoxin, it would stand to reason that it lies on Malox. Perhaps Mr. Mirk…”
“Mirk is dead!” J’hana growled.
“Perhaps, Lieutenant, but there is a chance that Mirk and his team survived. If so, they must be rescued so Mirk can help us find the antidote.”
Baxter wiped his face. Things were getting worse all around. “I agree. Mr. Conway, I want you to take a runabout to Malox. Try to find Mirk and the rest. And see if you can find us an antidote.”
“Now wait just a damn minute!” Conway replied, backing up. “As soon as we leave the shuttlebay, that ship out there will blow us to hell!”
“We’ll cover you.” Baxter grunted, standing up shakily and leaning against his chair. “Now go. That’s an order.”
“Tilleran, Fresca, with me.” Conway barked. “See you in hell, Captain.”
Baxter groaned as Conway started out the turbolift door. “Remember. I love you.”
He could hear Conway curse as the turbolift doors closed.
When Richards and Gellar reached sickbay, they found it relatively quiet.
“Where is everyone?” Gellar asked, looking around.
“Beats me.” Richards replied. “Janice!” he called, looking around fearfully.
“In here, Christopher,” a weak voice replied.
“Conway to Gellar. Assemble a security team and meet me in Shuttlebay One.”
Gellar tapped his comm badge. “Acknowledged. Mr. Richards, I see no reason to stick around here.”
Richards didn’t reply as he pushed through the rubble to get to the source of Doctor Browning’s voice.
He found Dr. Browning draped on a couch in what used to be the waiting room. The Maloxians had done some redecorating.
Browning’s eyes fluttered open. “Oh, there you are. A little late, aren’t you?”
“Are you okay?” He asked, kneeling beside her.
“Do I look okay? It’s this darn poison. It had to be that salad. You’re probably not feeling so hot yourself.”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact,” Richards replied. “I guess it’s more than a little Mylanta can take care of.”
“We’re dying,” Browning said flatly.
“Hi, everyone,” Peterman said, stumbling in and falling onto the other couch, covering herself with pillows “Everyone’s safely tucked away in the OR. Bailey is telling them a bedtime story. Man, I feel like crap.”
“Well, at least we’ll die together.” Richards said, cuddling Dr. Browning into his arms.
Peterman looked at the two and gagged. “How sappy. Why don’t I have anyone that loves me to die with?”
“Are you blind?” Richards asked.
“Yeah,” Browning added, “There’s someone on this ship who’s crazy about you.”
Peterman looked up from the pillows. “What?”
“Right through here. We’re almost to the caves.” Mirk called out, waving Hartley and Ford forward through the thick brush. “Once we find some shelter, we’ll be safe…at least for a while.”
“Oh, shit,” Ford moaned.
“What is it?” Hartley asked, turning around. Ford was pointing to one of the cliffs that towered above them.
Another missile hit the jungle, sending a blast that knocked the group off their feet.
Mirk picked himself up and looked around. The jungle was in flames, smoke pouring into the sky. The route to the caves was now cut off.
“I want you guys to get back to the runabout and take shelter. I’m going to finish this.”
“What the heck are you going to do?” Hartley yelled, “Make them a martini?”
“Shut up, Hartley. Ford, get her and yourself out of here.”
“Darn right.” Ford said, grabbing Hartley and jerking her through the jungle back toward the beach.
“Put me down! Put me down!” Hartley cried defiantly.
“I love it when you get rough with me,” Ford said wryly.
“Arrrrggh!” Hartley screamed, biting down on Ford’s hand.
Mirk, meanwhile, began to think happy thoughts, lifting off the ground.
“Did we get them, Jum?” one of the military officers asked, looking down into the dense, smoky jungle.
“I don’t know. I can’t see through all the smoke.” Jum replied.
Suddenly, a figure emerged from the thick cloud of smoke and kicked Jum’s lieutenant back, causing the rocket launcher to fly back as well.
It was Mirk.
“Mirk, son, what the hell…” Jum exclaimed.
“No time to explain.” Mirk said. “I can fly now, Dad. Now will you stop this foolishness!”
“This isn’t foolishness. I have to stop the Flarn. But you can join me…”
“I can’t do that. My place is on the Aerostar now. I just want you all to understand.”
“I don’t understand anything about you anymore. You must be a demon. No Maloxian can fly like that.”
Mirk shook his head. “It’s not like that at all. I think the Directors have sent me with a message. Only I’m not sure what that is, yet.”
“You don’t know anything about the Directors!” Jum’s lieutenant cried, firing another rocket directly at Mirk.
“Yikes!” Mirk cried.
Suddenly time stopped.
The rocket was perched right in front of him, barely touching his chest.
“How did that happen?” Mirk asked, still floating there in midair, touching the rocket, looking at Jum and his followers’ shocked faces.
“Your powers are limitless.” a slightly squeaky voice said from behind Mirk. He turned around to find a lanky, awkward looking, slightly older boy in a red starfleet uniform.
“Who the hell are you?” Mirk asked.
“I used to be Wesley Crusher. An ensign on the USS Enterprise.”
“Oh. And I care because…” Mirk said sarcastically.
“Because you and I are kindred spirits.”
“Yeah, right. What do you mean?”
“We are more than just troublesome kids, you and I. We have powers that defy imagination. There are forces at work here that you haven’t realized yet.”
“I’m sure. So why did time stop?”
“You’ll realize all that soon.” Crusher said mysteriously. “It will be a long, hard road for you, kid. All I can say to encourage you is, don’t stop learning. Don’t stop growing. And however misguided he may be, your father loves you.”
“But how do I stop him?” Mirk asked, looking at his father’s unmoving form.
“You can’t. He has to follow his own path. Just like you have to follow yours. You’ll see.”
And just like that, Crusher disappeared.
“Weird.” Mirk said. Then he disappeared.
“What the hell happened to him? Why did you try to kill him?” Jum asked, looking over the cliff in search of his son.
“The demon disappeared. Let him go off and join the Underseekers. He is lost to you, Jum.” Jum’s lieutenant replied.
“Let me decide that, Loros. You almost killed my son!”
“He is a spoiled, demon-possessed brat!”
“But he is still my son.”
“We should stop arguing and try to find those other Starfleet people.”
Jum shrugged. “You are right, Loros. But if you try to kill Mirk without my authorization again, you will be banished from the resistance.”
“As you wish.”
Jum sighed. “Kids today.”
Despite Hartley’s rather sharp teeth, Ford ran like hell out of the burning jungle, toward the remains of the Washita.
Ford threw Hartley behind the runabout and sat down, heaving a deep breath. “Well, that was fun.”
Hartley looked up with anger in her eyes. “What about Mirk? Thanks to you, he’s probably dead. Freaking coward.”
“Hey, he wanted us out of there.”
“If he dies, I’m going to kill him.” Hartley growled.
“Gee, that makes sense.” Mirk said, poking his head around the side of the runabout.
“Mirk!” Hartley exclaimed. “Where did you come from?”
“Long story. Boy am I confused.”
“You’re not the only one.” Ford complained, rubbing his aching head.
“The runabout Potomac has left the shuttlebay.” Larkin reported. “The Inspiration is making a run for it.”
Baxter was slowly losing conciousness. “Bring us around to…uh…”
“Bringing us between the runabout and the Inspiration, sir.”
“Thank you, Larkin,” Baxter groaned.
Baxter could feel the hull of the Aerostar shake as the Inspiration hit it with its phasers.
“Return fire.” Baxter muttered. He looked back at J’hana, who was fluttering in and out of conciousness. Larkin had assumed total control of the ship, in light of the fact that the rest of the bridge crew was either on assignment with Conway or dying.
“Shields are failing, sir.” Larkin stated. “I am diverting emergency life support power to shields and weapons.”
“Thanks.” Baxter said tiredly. He was starting to lose focus. He could almost swear that he was floating around in space now.
“Destroy that runabout before it gets to Malox!” Cridis yelled.
“Impossible, sir. The Aerostar is blocking us.” Temin replied.
“Then destroy them!” Cridis said, clenching his fist with anger.
“As you wish, Cridis.”
Stuart sat alone in engineering twiddling his thumbs as the ship was pounded to a pulp around him. He had put stabilizers on the main power conduits and rerouted power to the cooling system. All he could do now was wait.
Stuart peeked in Richards’ office. He had piled all of the unconscious intruders in there for safe keeping and erected a security field to keep them from escaping. They were all unconscious and not making a peep.
Engineering seemed awfully quiet, except for the pounding sounds of the ship being attacked. And of course, the beeping sound.
What the hell was that beeping sound?
Stuart looked all around Engineering for the source of that beeping. He finally tracked the sound down to the warp core.
The sound was kind of muffled…as if it was coming from inside.
Inside the dilithium crystal chamber! That was it, it had to be!
The dilithium crystal chamber.
“Oh, no.” Stuart said, pulling the door open. His worst fears came true as he looked at the beeping device that was secured firmly to the wall of the chamber.
Two minutes, thirty seconds.
“Stuart to bridge.”
“Larkin here.” Lt. Larkin said, tapping a control on the ops panel. “I am rather busy right now, Ensign.”
“Well, would you mind telling me how to diffuse a bomb?”
“Why would you want to know that?”
“Well, say, um, hypothetically, a bomb was attached to our dilithium crystal chamber. How would you diffuse it?”
“I suppose I would cut its main power source, making sure to eliminate any redundant backup systems in the process.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. You have been most helpful.”
“Do not mention it.” Larkin turned towards Captain Baxter. “Captain, I do not wish to panic you, but I believe there is a bomb attached to our dilithium cr-“ She stopped. Baxter couldn’t hear what she was saying, he was sprawled out in his chair, eyes wide open, drool dripping from his mouth.
“Ah, I see you are off-duty now, Captain. Very well.” Larkin said, continuing to attack the Inspiration.
Baxter opened his eyes and yawned. He felt refreshed, like he had just awaken from a peaceful sleep.
He looked around. Hmm. This was unusual. He was floating aimlessly about inside the Crebius Cluster, the green and purple gasses pushing him as gently as the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico back on Earth.
<Hello there.> A voice said. It seemed somewhat familiar.
Baxter looked up, to find a giant eyeball staring back at him. “Huh?”
<You may be confused as to why we have summoned you,> the eye said calmly.
<You may remember us as the Directors. If we are not mistaken, at our last encounter, we were about to tell you why you are here in the Delta Quadrant.>
“Oh, yeah, that’s right. Go on.”
<We cannot tell you everything right now. But there are some things you must be made aware of. For instance, your vessel is quite close to being destroyed. This must not happen.>
“Mmmm hmmm.” Baxter said. “What do you expect me to do about it?”
<Stop it, you numbskull.>
“Hey, that’s not very nice!”
<We are sorry. Dealing with corporeal life has that effect on us sometimes. Listen closely, alone, you and your ship might be quite worthless…>
<…but, in the big picture, you have a very important role, not only in the affairs of this part of space, but in much of the rest of the galaxy as well.>
<You bet. What we really need to tell you, and we can’t stress this enough, is that we don’t think you’re doing that good of a job.>
<Please, don’t take this the wrong way–take it as constructive criticism from beings who care. Don’t you think you could…uh…try a little bit harder? You know, put in a little more effort?>
Baxter was starting to feel a little dejected. “What do you mean?”
<Well, to begin with, stop beating yourself up so much. You have such a low self esteem. Whenever someone questions your authority, you back down. Now is that any way to act?>
“Of course not.”
<Okay. Now, we want you to get out there and show the quadrant what you’re made of, got it?>
<And stop obsessing over that Peterman girl. Really, isn’t that kind of pathetic? Downright embarrassing is what it is.>
Baxter still didn’t get what was going on, but he nodded at the eyeball anyway. “I’ll keep that in mind. Oh, and do you think you could cure me of this poison while I’m out here?”
<Sorry, You’ll have to find a way around that problem on your own.>
“Thanks anyway. Can I go back to my ship now?”
<Of course. It was a pleasure talking to you. Bye bye then.>
Baxter shot up in his command chair.
Larkin turned around and looked at him. “Aaah. You have finally awakened. I have managed to protect the runabout, but I fear that our ship will be blown up in a matter of minutes. I am not altogether sure what has transpired, but I believe Ensign Stuart is trying to diffuse a bomb that is attached to our warp core.”
“No kidding.” Baxter said. He thought of what the Directors told him. Be strong. Make important decisions and don’t back down. Right.
“Tell him to diffuse that damn bomb. I won’t take no for an answer.” Baxter said sternly.
“Yes, sir.” Larkin replied, slightly confused.
“So what do we do now, Mirk?” Ford asked, lying in the sand behind the runabout, trying to at least get a suntan out of this deal.
“I don’t know.” Mirk said with confusion. “I really don’t know anymore.”
Suddenly there was a rustling noise in the jungle brush, and then several thundering battle cries.
“Look out!” Ford shouted, looking up at the shapes emerging from the brush. “Get your rifles everyone! They’re coming at us!”
“‘Be an entymologist, Megan,’ my mom said,” Hartley moaned, getting up and checking the charge on her phaser rifle. “‘It’s much safer than Starfleet’. Why didn’t I listen???”
“Here they come!” Mirk cried, looking around the side of the runabout.
“You guys stay here. I’ve got things under control.” Ford said, bringing his rifle up to bear and charging out into the open.
“What the hell is he doing?” Hartley asked.
“Getting himself killed, if he isn’t careful.” Mirk said, incredulously.
“Take that!” Ford yelled at the onrushing attackers, firing his rifle into the crowd.
A blaze of phaser fire, and the entire brigade seemed to be blown away.
“Wow, that was cool.” Ford said, staring at his rifle in amazement.
“Uh, Zack!” Hartley said, suddenly covered in a huge shadow.
Ford turned around. “The cavalry!” he yelled, staring at the runabout Potomac as it hovered behind the wreckage of the Washita.
“Are you guys okay?” Commander Conway said through the runabout’s loudspeakers.
“We’re just fine.” Hartley said sarcastically as she stared up at the huge runabout. “How about beaming us up there, dammit!”
“Nice to see you again too, Megan.” Conway laughed as Hartley, Ford, and Mirk disappeared.
Stuart’s fingers shook slightly as he switched on the phaser-cutter. There were three wires, a green, a red, and an orange. Which one should he cut? Why did it always come down to this?
The counter now read forty-five seconds. Great. He had better make a decision quick.
“It’s green or nothing!” Stuart cried, closing his eyes and snipping the wire. The counter continued to count down.
“Okay, it’s red or nothing!” Stuart cried, closing his eyes and snipping the wire. The counter counted down faster.
“Screw it!” Stuart finally said, snipping the orange wire.
The timer stopped at two seconds.
Stuart sighed and sat down, leaning up against the warp core railing. “Stuart to bridge. Situation under control. These guys know nothing about building bombs.”
“Let’s be glad they don’t, Mister Stuart, or we’d all be dead.” Baxter’s voice croaked weakly.
“Good thing we found you guys.” Conway said blandly through sips of coffee at his seat next to Fresca in the runabout cockpit.
Hartley collapsed into the seat behind Fresca and put her head down on the panel tiredly. It had been a long day.
“We have quite a little situation onboard the Aerostar,” Conley muttered.
“What do you mean?” Mirk asked.
“Your people sabotaged our ship, poisoned the command crew, and attacked us.”
“My father.” Mirk growled angrily.
“It’s a long story. What did they poison everyone with?”
“Some kind of salad.” Conway replied.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Ford moaned, leaning up against the runabout’s bulkhead.
Hartley just groaned, not looking up.
“Larmak.” Mirk said with ire. “Mr. Conway…we don’t have much time. You must take us to the mountain on the north end of that island immediately.”
“You can find us an antidote?” Conway asked, surprised.
“Yes, but it won’t be easy to get.”
“Surprise, surprise.” Fresca muttered.
“You heard him, Fresca. Move it!”
The Potomac turned from its course along the green Maloxian ocean and headed toward the mountain.
“Regroup, regroup!” Jum called to his scrambling forces as they ran through the jungle.
“They have defeated us!” Loros cried.
“Not yet. Mirk will find out about the poisoning of his friends. Then he will head for the mountain to find the antidote. We will defeat them there.” Jum said, leading what was left of his men into the caves.
“We disabled your bomb, Inspiration, the battle is over!” Baxter called out over the hailing frequency. “Surrender while you still have the chance.”
The Aerostar shook with another torpedo hit.
“Shields down to thirteen percent. We cannot withstand another hit, sir.” Larkin reported.
“Emergency power. Fire all weapons!” Baxter said, stumbling into his command chair. “I will not back down. I am a good person and I’m worth fighting for!”
Larkin looked back at the Captain. “Have you been listening to those self help tapes again, sir?”
“Shut up and shoot, Larkin!” Baxter cried drunkenly as the toxin continued to attack his nervous system.
“If we ever get through this,” Peterman cried, cradling her head in her hands, “I’ll be good to him. I’ll tell Captain Baxter that I love him too. I’ll do things right. If we only live through this.”
Richards looked around the dimly lit waiting room, hearing the thundering of torpedo hits as they connected with the hull.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Kelly.”
Browning just buried her head in Richards’ arms. “My poor poor pizza oven!”
Mirk, Conway, and Ford appeared in the dark caves, followed by Gellar and two other security officers.
The away team began switching on their wrist beacons, lights bouncing all around the huge cavern.
“Are you sure that animal is around here?” Conway asked suspiciously, glancing around the caves with his beacon.
“This is the only place they live.” Mirk said, leading the party down a narrow path. “The roots grow naturally here, and they evolved a natural immunity to the toxins.”
“Why do monsters always live in caves like this?” Ford whined.
“Don’t worry about the nogath, leave him up to me.” Mirk said bravely as he led the way.
“Mr. Gellar,” Conway said, looking over his shoulder. “I want you and your men ready for anything, be it nogath or Maloxian. Shoot first and ask questions later, got it?”
“Are you sure you didn’t escape from some cheesy twentieth century Earth cop movie?” Gellar asked.
“Shut up and move, Gellar.” Conway replied. Did people really think he sounded that way? Well, at least Earth cops knew a thing or two about coffee.
“Shields have failed.” Larkin reported calmly. “We are about to lose hull integrity.”
Baxter leaned his head back against his chair. Even that small movement hurt. “Do you have any good news?”
“It shall be a quick death sir.”
Baxter swore he could hear J’hana laugh weakly behind him.
“Sir,” Larkin said. “I am reading another vessel outside of the Crebius Cluster.”
“What kind of vessel?” Baxter asked.
“I am not sure. The gravometric disturbances within the cluster are making sensor readings difficult.”
Baxter looked up. “It could be a Flarn or Maloxian ship come to blow us all to hell.”
“Yes, sir.” Larkin replied.
“Or some other ship that just wants to blow us up for the hell of it.”
“I guess there isn’t much probability that it’s a friendly vessel.”
“Not very likely, sir.”
Baxter leaned up and pushed himself up with everything he had. “Well, we’ll just have to take that chance. If we stay here, we’re dead anyway.”
“Captain, are you sure?”
“Do it, Larkin, full impulse.”
“Aye, sir.” Larkin replied, bringing the ship around.
“They are leaving the Cluster, sir.” Temin reported.
“Well, you idiot, follow them!” Cridis yelled. Things were not going according to plan. Besides that, the Aerostar should have exploded by this time.
The viewscreen showed the rear of the Aerostar as it cleared the cluster. Suddenly, Cridis found his vessel face to face with a big, ugly looking vessel.
It wasn’t Maloxian. That he knew for sure.
“Enemy vessel. This is Captain Herwan of the Sulani Warship Rangar. You are ordered to stand down and withdraw from this sector.”
“Who are they talking to?” Cridis asked, becoming confused.
Suddenly, the Inspiration rocked as a beam from the Rangar connected with its saucer section.
“I would guess they were talking to us.” Temin said helpfully.
“GET US OUT OF HERE!” Cridis screamed with rage.
“The Inspiration is withdrawing.” Larkin noted, glancing at her ops panel.
Baxter stared at the Sulani warship on the viewscreen with wonder. “I’ll be damned.”
“We are receiving a communication from the Sulani vessel, Captain.”
“By all means, put ‘em onscreen.”
A familiar Sulani face appeared on the viewscreen. The Sulani looked human for the most part, except, unsurprisingly, for bumpy heads.
“Aerostar. This is Captain Herwan. Captain Baxter, are you okay?”
Baxter walked over to the helm and ops stations and tried to steady himself between them. “Herwan, it’s so good to hear a friendly voice. But how-?”
“Since our last meeting I was promoted to the Sulani Protectorate. This vessel’s mission is to patrol the sectors surrounding Malox in search of encroaching rebels. Our long range sensors picked up your runabout’s distress call, and we came to provide assistance. It seems your own vessel has taken quite a bit of damage.”
“We’ve seen better days.” Baxter said wryly. “Thank you, Herwan. I owe you one.”
“On the contrary, we are even. I believe you saved my science vessel from an energy ribbon some time back?”
“Right. Well, in that case, I’m about to owe you one. Hang around.” Baxter replied.
“Of course. We are at your service.”
“Thank you, Herwan. Lieutenant Larkin, best speed to Malox.” Baxter said, collapsing into his chair. He hoped there would be time to save him and his officers from the dreaded salad.
“There!” Mirk whispered, shining his light on the nogath.
“Oh, man.” Ford said, pounding his head into the rock.
“That’s a nogath?” Conway said incredulously.
Mirk stared at the small, fuzzy creature. “Yeah. You expected maybe a big monster?”
Ford refused to look at the thing. “Yeah, we did, as a matter of fact.”
Conway was becoming annoyed. “Look, Mirk, just grab the thing and let’s get back to the runabout.”
Mirk responded by cornering the animal and trying to grab it. It squeaked with fright as he neared it.
“Come on, Mirk!” Conway said.
“Shhhh!” Mirk whispered, getting nearer. “I almost have it.”
Gellar leaned back against the cave wall. “Boy, I’m sure glad we came to protect you from the big–”
Suddenly a disruptor beam lanced through the air, knocking one of the security officers off the path and into the deep crevasse below.
“We’ve got company!” Gellar said, ducking down and firing his phaser into the darkness. “Puckett, I want you to take a position behind that rock over there and cover me.”
“Suit yourself.” Ensign Puckett said, hiding behind a rock.
“Shit.” Conway said, pulling his phaser out. “You got that damn rat yet?” he asked.
“Hold on!” Mirk cried, pouncing on the nogath. It slipped out from under his hands and ran behind a pair of legs.
Mirk looked up at the legs. They were attached to his father.
“So, the demon crawls around in the dark. Loros was right.”
“I’m not a demon, dad!” Mirk cried. He couldn’t imagine any other teenage kids having discussions like this with their parents.
“I’ve got you, you furry bastard!” Conway said, reaching for the tittering little rodent, losing his balance and falling over the edge of the crevasse. He held on to the edge with all his might.
“Someone help me!” he cried. What a ridiculous situation for a first officer to get into. It just wasn’t fair. As if to make the situation worse, the nogath waddled up and began to bite and gnaw at his fingers.
“I’ve got you, Commander!” Ford yelled, grabbing Conway’s hand, “Boy, you’re heavy!”
“Shut up, Ford, and pull me up!”
More disruptor blasts.
“Everyone move back–they’re advancing!” Gellar shouted, jumping over Ford.
“Come on, Commander,” Ford grunted, pulling on Conway with all his might.
Jum looked down at his son. After all this struggle, he had finally done it. “Well, Mirk, you’re about to learn your lesson for betraying the Directors.”
Jum reached down to grab Mirk, when suddenly he and the other attackers were enveloped by the blue glow of the Inspiration’s transporters.
Mirk ran over and grabbed the Nogath off Conway’s fingers and stabbed his communicator badge. “Fresca: Get me, Ford, and Conway back to the runabout!”
Jum stormed onto the bridge of the Inspiration. “What have you done, Cridis? We are ruined!”
Cridis stood up from the command chair. “I am sorry, Jum. We have lost this round. If we remain here, we will be destroyed.” Cridis indicated the viewscreen. It showed the Aerostar and a Sulani warship approaching the planet.
“I knew we should have destroyed them when we had the chance. Prepare to break orbit and get us out of here!” Jum yelled.
Temin spoke up from his console. “Seeker Jum, we are receiving a message from the Aerostar.”
“I’m sure they’ve called to gloat. Put them onscreen.”
The two ships were replaced by a very haggard looking Captain Baxter. “Inspiration. This is Captain Baxter of the Aerostar. I suggest you withdraw from this sector immediately while I’m in a good mood. We are also being nice enough to transport over all the bodies, dead and alive, of your people. Maybe next time you will be a little nicer to us.”
“Sickbay reports we have received the dead and injured. It does not look good, sir.” Temin reported.
Jum stared disapprovingly at Cridis. “Get us out of here, Temin.”
“What happened, Fresca?” Conway asked, dusting himself off.
“The Inspiration came and beamed their people back to the ship. Now the Aerostar and an unfamiliar vessel are in orbit.”
“Great. See if you can contact them.” Conway replied.
Fresca pressed a few buttons.
“Commander, am I glad to hear from you.” Baxter’s voice said weakly over the speakers. “Please tell us you have an antidote.”
Conway sighed. “Yes, we do. Why, do you want it?”
“Of course I do. Have Mr. Mirk and Lt. Tilleran beam directly to Sickbay with the antidote immediately, then return to the ship. Good work, Commander.”
“Don’t mention it.” Conway muttered, gesturing to Tilleran and Mirk. “Get moving.”
Just before the two stepped on the transporter pad, Gellar and Puckett appeared.
“Took your time getting us up here, huh Fresca?” Gellar asked, rubbing the bruise on his elbow.
“I’ll try my best to make it up to you.” Fresca purred.
“No thank you.” Gellar said, heading toward the back of the runabout.
When Mirk and Tilleran (and the nogath) appeared in sickbay, they found Richards, Browning, and Peterman laid out on biobeds. Debris had been cleared away in order to provide a place for all of them to lie down.
“There you guys are. We’ve been waiting.” Nurse Bailey said, walking out of the office.
“Boy, this place sure is a mess.” Mirk remarked, handing the tittering nogath to Tilleran.
“You should see the rest of the ship.” Tilleran replied. “Nurse, I need a hypospray immediately.”
Tilleran cleared some debris off of a workstation and held the little nogath still. “Come on, be still, little guy,” she cooed, holding it down. Bailey handed her a hypospray and she carefully extracted some blood.
“Okay,” Tilleran said. What do we do with this stuff now?”
“Just mix it with a standard antibiotic and inject it into the affected patients.” Mirk said.
Just then, Larkin entered sickbay, J’hana draped over one shoulder and Baxter draped over the other. “I have two more patients for you, Lieutenant. And I am pleased to report that the Sulani vessel has agreed to escort us to the safety of Sulani space.”
“That’s a relief.” Tilleran said, sitting back in her chair and taking a deep, relaxing breath.
Larkin set Baxter and J’hana down on the two biobeds, noting that she had placed Baxter next to Peterman. She thought he would approve.
“If no one else requires my help, I will return to the bridge.” Larkin said, heading for the door.
“We better try this out on an experimental subject first,” Mirk said, holding the hypospray that carried the antidote carefully.
“We can try it on Charlie. He was affected too.” Bailey said, leading Mirk over to the biobed where Charlie still lie in stasis.
“Gee, are you sure you want me to?”
“Errrrr.” he heard Peterman growl from her bed.
Fearing for his life, Mirk plunged the hypospray into Charlie’s neck.
“I took him out of stasis. Lifesigns are slowly returning to normal.” Bailey said, looking at the biobed readout.
“Thank the Directors.” Mirk said, taking the hypospray over to the other patients.
One by one, Mirk administered the antidote to Richards, Browning, Peterman, and finally Baxter.
“Oh, my God, my head hurts.” Richards groaned.
“I’m hungry.” Browning said, turning to face Richards. “I guess I won’t be having pizza.” she whined.
“I’ll build you another oven.” Richards replied soothingly. “And it will be bigger and better than the last one.”
As the antidote began to work, Peterman sighed. It sickened her to see the others so happy. She turned her head away from the direction of Richards and Browning and found Captain Baxter, lying back on the biobed and moaning as Mirk poked the hypospray into him.
Hearing the sigh, Baxter turned his head toward the Counselor.
“Kelly,” he said, weakly.
“Don’t say anything.” He said, grabbing for her hand. “Just hold my hand.”
She put her hand in his and closed her eyes, falling peacefully asleep for the first time in days.