Author: Anthony Butler
Head Bartender’s Personal Log,
Stardate 51985.5. I am accompanying Lieutenant Gellar and Ensign Taylor on an expedition to the planet Jurin Four just outside the Malox system, where I’ve heard we can find a race of nomads that may know the secrets of the Crebius Cluster. I must admit, it feels strange being this close to my home system again, and the idea of finding a way to access this mysterious cluster and getting my friends from the Aerostar back home sounds almost too good to be true.
Mirk ducked out of the hatch of the shuttlecraft Pathfinder. “Mmm mmm, smells like home cooking!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Lt. Gellar said with a look of disgust, as he and Ensign Sam Taylor followed Mirk out of the shuttle and into the deep forest where they had landed. “It smells like rigor mortis has set in to me.”
Taylor looked at his tricorder and scanned the huge, three meter long land beast that rotted on the ground near the shuttle. “It has set in, Brian.”
“All the better.” Mirk said, rubbing his hands together. “I’ll break out the grill.”
“I’m not eating this, Mirk!” Gellar called back as Mirk disappeared back into the shuttlecraft.
“With my delicious barbecue sauce, you’d think you were eating a juicy schtik.” Mirk said, as Gellar heard the clanging of pots and pans within the shuttlecraft.
“Steak, Mirk, it’s called steak.” Gellar corrected, shaking his head. Mirk still had a lot to learn about Earth cooking.
“Whatever. Listen, I need you guys to go and pick me some fresh gumva fruit to go along with this. There should be some around here somewhere, if I remember right.”
“Right.” Taylor said, pocketing his tricorder. “Let’s go, Brian.”
“When are we going to start looking for those nomads?” Gellar asked, following Taylor into the brush.
“As soon as we’ve had a decent meal and a good night’s sleep!” Mirk called from within the shuttlecraft.
“I thought this assignment would be fun.” Gellar said, as he searched for the elusive gumva fruit. “You know, a chance to get off the ship. But I seriously don’t think I can eat a rotten…whatever they call that thing.”
“You know Mirk had us land near that thing on purpose.” Taylor said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “Oh, well. It’s better than being on the Aerostar. At least we know that idiot Baxter won’t get us into some new predicament.”
“What do you mean?” Gellar asked, running his tricorder over some of the trees. He didn’t even really know what a gumva fruit looked like.
“I mean, Baxter is an incompetent oaf. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Gellar thought a moment. “I think he’s done okay with the situation so far. I mean I doubt any captain would be able to find an easy way out of the predicament we’re in.”
Taylor stopped a moment. “What if I told you that there was another way. Someone who actually had a head on his shoulders and that could lead us out of this quadrant. Would you follow him?”
“Are you talking about mutiny, Sam?” Gellar asked with concern.
Taylor continued scanning. “Of course not. I’m just talking hypothetically.”
“Well, hypothetically speaking, I’d say that you better not let anyone else hear you talk like that, or you’re liable to be thrown in the brig.”
Taylor smiled, his back to Gellar. “Of course.”
“Everybody move!” Captain Baxter called out. His men were outnumbered, and the situation looked grim. If they weren’t careful, all could be lost. And he wasn’t about to let that happen.
Tactics and strategies ran through Baxter’s head as he hurled the projectile and ducked.
Lieutenant Commander Richards ran as hard as he could as soon as the projectile was in the air. It soared towards him, and he dove to the ground, clutching the projectile close.
“Woo hoo! Go Chris!” Dr. Janice Browning cried from the sidelines.
“Touchdown.” Lt. Larkin said mildly, making a notation on her padd. “The score is now fourteen to thirteen.”
“Nice moves, hotshot.” Ensign Ford said, helping Richards up.
“Huddle!” Captain Baxter called, motioning to his team members.
Counselor Kelly Peterman sat back in the grass and yawned as Baxter, Richards, Ensign Stuart and Lieutenant Hartley lined up near the endzone. “What are they talking about now, Janice?”
“Beats me,” Browning said, shielding her eyes from the bright Texas sun as she watched the combatants murmur among their separate factions. She cursed Baxter for holding the First Annual Delta Quadrant Touch Football Game in a holographic representation of Texas Stadium. “I just wish we could get out of this heat.”
“It’s not just the heat,” Peterman said, smiling.
“It’s the humidity.” Both women said with a laugh.
“Exactly.” Browning said, watching as the groups moved back into formation. “What are they doing now, Lt. Larkin?”
Larkin was dressed in a customary twentieth century referee’s uniform, standing by Browning and Peterman’s near the Fifty-yard sideline. “According to the rules of the late twentieth century, Captain Baxter has called for a two point conversion.”
“Is that good?” Peterman asked with confusion.
“In this situation, the Captain is opting for a win as opposed to a stalemate. If he had chosen to kick for an extra point, he would have been settling for a tie.”
“Andy, going in for the kill,” Browning said, smiling. “That’s a new one.”
“This sport is way to complicated for me.” Peterman said, resting her arms on her knees. “So many rules and options.”
“Come on, Kelly,” Browning said. “How many times did Andy go horseback riding with you?”
“Point taken.” Peterman said, reaching over into the picnic basket she and Browning had brought and taking an apple out.
“Besides, I bet you’re still ticked that the Captain wouldn’t let you participate because of your little experience with Lt. Henson.” Browning said, reaching over for a banana.
“Oh, the crotch thing?” Peterman laughed. “I’m completely over that.”
“Could we have a little quiet?” Commander Conway shouted, as his defense dug in and prepared for Baxter’s conversion attempt.
“What’s the matter, Conway?” Baxter taunted. “Are you scared? If this was a real game, there would be thousands of people shouting and screaming.”
“This game is real enough for me, Captain.” Conway replied, bending down. “Now hike the goddamn ball.”
“Remember Ford…” Hartley warned, staring across the line at Ensign Ford. “This is two hand touch…not tackle football.”
Ford smiled. “I remember. I’ve already planned where my two hands are going to touch.”
Hartley winked at Ford. “Me too.”
“I’m not scared of you, J’hana.” Richards said, staring the Andorian in the eye.
“You should be, Commander.” J’hana growled. “You should be very scared.”
Richards gulped, as Baxter cried out, “HIKE!”
Conway lept forward, and Baxter dove beneath him in a quarterback sneak, leaping for the endzone.
J’hana saw the move coming and moved to intercept.
Richards quickly grabbed at the tactical officer’s feet, dragging her down. “Not so fast, J’hana!”
Ford, for his part, immediately set a course for Hartley’s chest, and was immediately sent reeling backwards by a furious knee blow to the crotch. Lieutenant Fresca lept on top of Ensign Stuart and began ravenously making out with him.
“Hey, this isn’t in the rulebook!” Stuart protested in between tongue-jams.
“Just consider it a forward tackle,” Fresca said impishly.
Baxter strode proudly into the endzone, spiking the ball and doing a little victory dance. “Can ya feel it, huh? Can you feel it?” He said, making thrusting motions with his crotch.
“Yay, Andy!” Peterman called out, running over and hugging the Captain.
“Give me a break.” Conway said, covering his face.
“We are not yet finished.” J’hana said, frowning as Larkin adjusted the score on her padd. “We can still score in the time remaining.”
Suddenly the holodeck images began to flicker as the entire ship was shaken.
“What the hell was that?” Conway asked, looking around. The ship suddenly shook again.
“Bridge to Holodeck Two. Red Alert. All senior officers report to the bridge.” Lt. Tilleran said over the comm system.
“Damn.” Baxter said, grabbing a towel and heading for the holodeck exit. “And I was just starting to have fun.”
“Someone help me…” Ensign Stuart moaned, still in Fresca’s grip, as everyone else left.
Conway followed Baxter and Peterman out of the holodeck, the rest of the group following after him. “This isn’t over by a long shot, Captain.”
“Ooh, I’m scared!” Baxter said, as he and the other bridge officers piled into the turbolift.
“The Flarn vessel was hiding within the Nodori Nebula, Captain, she took us by surprise.” Lt. Tilleran said, vacating the command chair and heading back to her station as the senior officers filed onto the bridge. She momentarily raised an eyebrow at the group’s strange attire: the football jerseys and Larkin’s referee’s uniform, but quickly decided that there was a logical explanation for the whole thing.
“This is the fifth sneak attack in a month.” Conway said angrily, taking his seat.
“Our shields are down to sixty-five percent.” J’hana reported from tactical.
“They’re coming around for another pass.” Ford said, tapping away at the helm console.
“Evasive maneuvers.” Baxter ordered. “J’hana, return fire… attack pattern theta.”
“Affirmative.” J’hana said, entering the commands into her panel.
The ship shook again.
“Shields are now at fifty percent.” J’hana said. “The Flarn vessel has sustained minor damage.”
“Continuous fire on phasers and photons, Lieutenant.” Baxter ordered. “Try to take out their antiproton weapons cluster.”
“Understood, Captain.” J’hana replied.
“The hits just keep on coming!” Richards said, holding onto the engineering console for support. “If we don’t get out of here, we’ll lose the shields. And that will NOT be good!”
“Noted, Commander.” Baxter said. “Mister Ford, can we outrun them?”
“Not at impulse sir.” Ford said.
“We have to get out of here, Andy.” Peterman said from her seat next to Baxter.
“I agree.” Baxter said. “Chris, can we go to warp?”
Richards shook his head. “Give me a minute.”
The ship shook again.
“Thirty percent!” J’hana barked. “And falling.”
“You don’t have a minute, Commander!” Baxter shouted.
Another blast hit, causing one of the bridge panels to explode.
“Hull damage on decks two and seven.” Larkin reported from her panel.
“The intermix is still unstable, Captain!” Richards said from engineering. “I need more time.”
“Talk to the intermix, sort out its feelings…tell it you like it, and that you appreciate it!” Peterman called out frantically. “Just get us the hell out of here!”
The ship shook again.
“Try to shake them, Ensign Ford.” Baxter commanded. “Be creative.”
“You want me to write them a story?” Ford cried, madly punching at the helm controls. “How freaking creative can I get?”
The ship shook again.
“Shields down to sixteen percent.” J’hana called out.
“Hull breach on deck six.” Larkin said.
“Damage control to Deck Six!” Conway shouted, bracing himself on the tactical railing. “How much longer on the warp drive, Richards?”
“Um…” Richards said, looking down at his panel. “Now! Do it now Mr. Ford!”
“You don’t have to tell me twice!” Ford cried, slamming his hand down on his panel.
The Aerostar shot into warp, just as the Flarn ship was about to bear down on it. The ship immediately changed course to pursue.
“Take us back toward Sulani home territory.” Baxter ordered. “See if that jerk is so willing to take on the whole Sulani fleet.”
“They are pursuing us, Captain.” Larkin reported. “At a speed of Warp Seven.”
“Punch it up to Warp Nine, Ensign.” Baxter commanded.
“Aye, sir.” Ford replied.
“They are matching our speed.” Larkin said. “I would estimate their engine capabilities to be equal to our own.”
“Captain…” Tilleran said from the science console. “There is a convoy of Sulani warships patrolling the Crandab system. That’s not too far from our position.”
“Very well, Mister Ford, change course to the Crandab system, maximum warp.”
“I think we can hold Warp 9.7 for a little while, Captain, but I wouldn’t push the engines too much farther.” Richards reported.
“If they can get us to the Crandab system, I’ll be quite satisfied, Mister Richards.” Baxter said, leaning forward in the command chair. “After that, they can blow up for all I care.”
That earned Baxter some surprised glances from among the bridge crew.
“Well,” Baxter said, looking around. “Maybe not.”
Stardate 51986.4. Upon our arrival in the Crandab system, the Flarn ship broke off its pursuit. Although I am pleased that we escaped this latest attack in one piece, something about the nature of the attack worries me.
“It’s obvious, Captain, there’s a traitor among us!” Commander Conway said, pounding his fist on the table in the conference lounge.
“Let’s not start jumping to…” Baxter said.
J’hana cut him off. “He’s right. We were on secret maneuvers in a system far from the Flarn’s normal patrol routes. Not even the Sulani were aware of what we were doing. Someone is leaking information.”
“But who would betray us to the Flarn…” Peterman said. “I can’t believe anyone on this ship would be so stupid. What would that gain them? They’d be eaten after their usefulness had ended.”
“Maybe someone has betrayed us to another race, and they’re selling the information to the highest bidder…” Tilleran suggested.
“Which just happened to be the Flarn.” Conway said, annoyed. “Any way you look at it, someone’s royally screwing us.”
“I don’t know, Commander. That’s a tough accusation.” Baxter said. “Until I get stronger proof, I can’t…”
“Captain…” Conway protested. “If the Flarn attack us again, we may not be so lucky. They could destroy this ship.”
“I’m aware of that Conway.” Baxter sighed. “Lt. J’hana, I want you to begin an investigation.” Baxter said, adding, “a discreet one.”
“Discretion is my middle name.” J’hana said proudly.
“You don’t even have a last name.” Baxter replied dryly.
“Perhaps not.” J’hana said. “But still, I shall endeavor to be as quiet about my investigations as possible.”
“Okay.” Baxter said. “I guess that’s all. We’ll remain here under the protection of the Sulani warships until our shields and systems have been repaired.”
Everyone stood up and began to file out of the room, just as Baxter added, “Oh, yes, and my team’s victory party is scheduled for 0800 tonight.”
Conway sneered as he left the conference room. “Enjoy it while it lasts, Baxter.”
“Oh, I plan to.” Baxter said, turning to Peterman and taking her hand. “How about some lunch, Counselor?”
“Sounds like fun.” Peterman smiled, following Baxter out of the conference room.
“Morning boys.” Mirk said, looking up and smiling as Taylor and Gellar emerged from the shuttle. He was bent over a campfire and frying up some nondescript pieces of meat. “How about some howarsh bacon?”
Lt. Gellar rubbed his eyes. “If howarsh is what you call that thing we snacked on last night, I think I’ll pass.”
“How about some coffee then?” Mirk asked cheerfully.
“No objections.” Ensign Taylor said, sitting down across the campfire from Mirk.
“You guys ready to put in a day’s work?” Mirk asked, pouring coffee for the two officers and looking at a padd. “I figured we’d start with the underground caves we found just north of here. They expand about four hundred kilometers throughout the southern continent.”
Mirk handed the padd to Ensign Taylor, who looked over the information and nodded. “I agree. The shuttle’s sensors can’t penetrate the rock, and based on this planet’s genomorphology, I’d have to guess that these nomads were underground dwellers.”
“I still don’t understand something.” Gellar said, sipping at his coffee. “I thought the portal inside the Crebius Cluster was destroyed when we sent the Flarn ship through it.”
“It was.” Mirk said, chewing on a piece of howarsh bacon. “But if we find these nomads, the ‘Assistants’ as my people’s legend refers to them, we may find a way to bring back the portal.”
“But what would a bunch of spelunkers know about a space phenomenon?” Gellar asked.
“Spelunkers?” Mirk asked, confused.
“Cave-dwellers.” Taylor said.
“Oh,” Mirk replied. “I don’t know. It’s just a legend.”
“Well, I missed the touch football competition to go on this trip, Mr. Mirk.” Gellar said, standing up and stretching. “It better be more than just a legend.”
“Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.” Mirk said. “Now let’s gear up. There’s a lot of cave out there.”
“Just what the hell are you trying to say, J’hana?” Lt. Megan Hartley asked in annoyance as she worked at the transporter console, updating the biofilter catalogs.
“I inferred nothing, Lieutenant. I was merely noting that, on several occasions, you showed blatant disrespect for Captain Baxter and Commander Conway, as well as a complete disregard for the chain of command.”
“Listen,” Hartley said, her anger growing more intense. “If you want to make a list of the people on this ship that I have showed blatant disrespect for, it would take you forever. And as far as the chain of command goes, there’s one fucking person in my chain of command, and that’s me. Got it?”
J’hana made some notations on her padd. “I see. What about your assignment to the Cardassian DMZ?”
“What about it?”
J’hana looked at the padd, then back to Hartley. “The Cardassian Demilitarized Zone is the home of the Maquis. One might think that such a close proximity to that group might lead to a certain…understanding …of their philosophy.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Hartley said, folding her arms. “And if you have any accusations to make, you better make them, and duck pretty damn quick.”
“I have no accusations, Lieutenant. Simply questions. Now, about the Maquis supply raid on stardate 49545.3. You were the duty officer at outpost 371 at that time, were you not?”
“Listen, Lieutenant.” Hartley said angrily. “I have a lot of work to do. I can’t sit around with you all day and reminisce. I don’t know what this is all about, but I do know that I have acted true to my oath as a Starfleet officer. I may be disrespectful at times, but I get the job done.”
“That remains to be seen.” J’hana said, turning on a heel and leaving the transporter room.
Hartley reached over and hurled a nearby padd at the doors just as they closed behind the Andorian.
“Accuse me of having no respect for my superiors, will you?” Hartley asked defiantly, returning to her work.
“I don’t believe it…” Mirk said, leading the way into the caves and searching around with his wrist beacon.
Ensign Taylor scanned around the area with his tricorder, double checking the readings. “I can say with a good amount of certainty that these caves have been vacant for at least one hundred years.”
“But…” Mirk said. “That’s impossible.”
His phaser drawn, Lt. Gellar reached down and poked at a pile of bones. “Well, old rickety bones over here may disagree with you.”
Taylor pointed his tricorder at the skeleton and examined the readings. “It is at least one hundred seventy-two years old. Definitely Maloxian.”
“One of the Assistants…” Mirk said, bending down and touching the bones.
“Gee, Mirk.” Gellar said, looking around with his wrist beacon. “Maybe you should have come calling on your relatives sooner. Looks like we’re a century too late.”
“I guess we’ll never know the secrets of the Cluster now.” Mirk said woefully. “This trip was all for nothing.”
“Maybe not…” Taylor said, walking off further through the cave.
“Where are you going, Ensign?” Mirk asked, following along.
“I think I’ve found something!” Taylor shouted.
Mirk walked up to the spot where Taylor was standing and shined his beacon on the wall. He gasped as he ran the beam across a huge mural style drawing. It seemed like a diagram of the Crebius Cluster.
“By the Directors…” Mirk said with disbelief. “It’s all here.”
“Can we decipher all that?” Gellar asked, walking up behind Taylor and Mirk.
“Are you kidding?” Mirk asked. “The dialect’s a little old, but for all intents and purposes, it’s Maloxian writing.”
Taylor smiled, looking over the complex hieroglyphics.”This is wonderful. This might actually be our way home.” He quickly handed his tricorder to Mirk. “Continue scanning and deciphering the writing. I need to get something out of the shuttle really quick.”
“I’ve never had any problems with my men, Lieutenant.” Lt. Commander Richards said, leaning back in his chair, playing with the small sculptures on his desk idly as Lt. J’hana questioned him. “As a matter of fact, when they’re on key, they do a pretty damn good job.”
“What about you, Commander?” J’hana asked.
“What do you mean?”
“On Stardate 51265, you and Dr. Browning introduced a harmful new lifeform into the ship’s systems, without using proper precautionary routines.”
“So what are you saying, J’hana?” Richards asked, becoming annoyed. “Are you saying me and Janice infected the ship with that lifeform and risked all our lives on purpose?”
“Both of you did escape aboard a shuttlecraft at the time.” J’hana said, paging through some notes on her padd.
“Listen, J’hana, the captain and I go way back, there’s no way I would betray him.”
“Indeed.” J’hana said, standing up. “Thank you for your time.”
“My pleasure.” Richards said dryly as J’hana left and the doors to his office closed behind her.
“Are you sure they are not monitoring your transmission, Ensign?” The Colonel’s voice crackled over the comm channel as Ensign Taylor hunched over the communications console back on the Pathfinder.
“Positive, Colonel. They’re still inside the caves looking at the hieroglyphics.”
“And you are positive that these cave paintings hold the secrets to the Cluster?” The voice asked sternly.
“Yes, sir.” Taylor replied. “How should I proceed?”
“Return to the caves and secure the others. I shall contact our friends and have them pick you up. After that, we will continue with our plans.”
“What about you, Colonel?” Taylor asked with concern. “When will you join us? You can’t be safe there for much longer.”
“I will be with you soon, don’t worry about that. Just make sure you send the information from the caves. I will handle the rest.”
“Yes, Colonel.” Taylor said solemnly, preparing to close the channel. “And Colonel…” Taylor added.
“Jolan true.” Taylor said proudly. With that, he closed the comm channel.
[For those of you that don’t know, “Jolan true” is a Romulan
“Are you sure about this, Lt. Larkin?” Baxter asked, running out of the turbolift and buttoning his uniform top. He had been napping when the call came.
Larkin vacated the command chair and returned to her post at ops. “Positive, Captain.”
“What’s going on?” Commander Conway asked, hurrying out of the opposite turbolift.
“It seems that an old acquaintance of ours wants to have a little chat.” Baxter replied.
“Who?” Conway asked, sitting down next to Baxter.
“Why don’t you tell him, Lt. Larkin.” Baxter said tiredly.
“Ten minutes ago, we received a cryptic message from the Maloxian Warship Gomar, formerly the Federation Starship Inspiration. It seems that Jum has an urgent matter to discuss with us.”
“He wants to blow our ship apart again?” Conway asked with more than a touch of anger.
“Don’t know.” Baxter said. “But I’m going to meet him face to face to discuss the situation.”
“Is that wise?” Conway asked.
“Don’t know.” Baxter replied. “But there’s only one way to find out.”
“Doc?” Lt. Tilleran asked, poking her head into Dr. Phillip Kerridan’s office.
Kerridan turned off his desktop viewer and looked up angrily. “Doesn’t anyone ever knock on this ship?”
“You should be used to it now, Doctor.” Tilleran said, leaning against the door. “Has Lt. J’hana talked to you yet?”
“No.” Kerridan said, returning to some paperwork that he was doing. “Why?”
“I don’t know.” Tilleran said, her brow creased in confusion. “It just seems like this whole ship is becoming super paranoid. J’hana has everyone on edge, accusing everyone of being a traitor. It won’t be long until we’re all pointing the finger at one another.”
Dr. Kerridan continued to study his papers. “Is that so? Well, I’m too busy to be annoyed by that grotesque Andorian. If you don’t mind…”
Tilleran suddenly dropped to her knees, clutching at her head. “Ouch…” she said, rubbing her temples.
“Something wrong, Lieutenant?” Kerridan asked serenely.
“Yeah, it’s just another one of those annoying headaches.” Tilleran said, standing up.
“Is this something that occurs often?” Kerridan asked.
“Yeah.” Tilleran said, still a little shaky. “It’s been like this off and on since I started serving on the Aerostar.”
“Hmmm.” Kerridan said disinterestedly. “Perhaps you should see Dr. Browning.”
“That may not be such a bad idea, Doctor.” Tilleran said, heading for the door to the laboratory.
Captain Baxter covered his nose as he entered the musty atmosphere of “The Nebula.” His sources told him it was the most disreputable establishment in the Delta Quadrant, consisting, for the most part, of the dregs of the galaxy and the slimy film that was left over when productive citizens were scooped out of the jar.
“Over here, Captain.” Jum said drunkenly from a stool at the bar. “Pull up a chair.”
“I took a huge chance coming here, Jum.” Baxter replied, taking a seat and ordering grapefruit juice. At this request, the rotting mound of flesh that Baxter supposed was the Garibid bartender just made a deep gurgling sound, which Baxter figured was a laugh.
“Good for you, Captain. I hope I don’t disappoint you URRRRRRRP.”
Baxter made a face of disgust, looking around. “I trust you left your troops and that starship of yours at home?”
“You mean that starship of yours?” Jum asked. “Yes, Captain. We are alone, you and I. Which is how leaders should be, no?”
“I’m not here to discuss Machiavellian theory with you, Jum.” Baxter said. “Your people ravaged and almost destroyed my ship, not to mention nearly killing me and many people I care very much about. I’m not your biggest fan.”
“I would be shocked if you were.” Jum replied, taking a drink. “I’m left to wonder where I lost control.”
Baxter shrugged. “If you ask me, it was probably somewhere between wanting to destroy all the humans in the quadrant and wanting to kill your own son.”
“I don’t want my son to die, Captain.” Jum said, turning to stare Baxter right in the eye. “Which is exactly why I contacted you. This has gone beyond my powers.”
“What do you mean?” Baxter asked.
“Many of my people have rebelled against me. They follow Cridis now.”
“You’re kidding.” Baxter said. “Who’s Cridis?”
“He was one of the up and coming Maloxians, next to my boy.” Jum replied.
“What went wrong?”
“He was too zealous, too angry, too thirsty for blood. He was also a very bad speller.”
“What’s your point?” Baxter asked.
“He and many of my troops took our repaired Romulan vessel, not to mention two of the Klingon ones. It’s a wonder that I escaped with the Gomar, and that I have any troops at all that are still loyal.”
“So you’re saying that there’s a bloodthirsty killer with a powerful group of cloaked warships and a mass of supporters running around loose out there?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Captain.” Jum replied. “You have to stop him.”
“What would you have me do?” Baxter asked. “He has cloaked ships.”
“But your people have experience chasing cloaked vessels, haven’t they?”
“Sure.” Baxter said. “But our methods aren’t foolproof.”
“Better than our methods, Captain. We have no idea how to detect them. We need you to stop Cridis before he finds my son…before he kills Mirk.”
“Mirk…” Baxter said. “He’s in danger?”
“Cridis hates him.” Jum muttered, “He was always jealous of Mirk.”
“I have to get back to the Aerostar.” Baxter said, rising from the stool. “Listen carefully, Jum…I need you to get your ship and take it to Jurin Four as soon as possible. Wait for us there.”
“Why…what’s on Jurin Four?” Jum asked confusedly.
“With any luck…” Baxter said, heading out the door, “your son. And the answers to a lot of questions.”
“This is amazing…” Mirk said, looking over the tricorder findings. “I have never seen a language so articulate. If this data can be processed by the Aerostar’s computers, we might have a chance of reopening the gateway…”
“And getting home.” Gellar said incredulously. “I don’t believe it.”
“Believe it, Lieutenant.” Ensign Taylor said, walking into the cave and leveling a phaser at Gellar and Mirk.
“What the heck are you doing, Taylor?” Gellar asked, reaching for his phaser.
“What I’ve been ordered to do, Lieutenant. By the man that’s going to get us out of the Delta Quadrant.”
“What are you talking about?” Mirk asked, as Taylor cautiously approached the two.
“You’ll find out soon enough. But suffice it to say, things around here are going to change radically in the next few hours.” Taylor said. “Now give me your phaser, Lt. Gellar.”
“I don’t know what you’ve been told, Ensign.” Gellar said, handing his phaser to Taylor, handle first. “But whatever it is, it’s wrong.”
“I doubt that.” Taylor said confidently.
Mirk stared at Taylor, narrowing his eyes and focusing. Over the months, he had practiced with his psychic powers, and fancied that he had gotten quite good at using them. It was only a matter of…wanting it enough.
Suddenly Taylor’s phaser flew out of his hand and clattered against the cave floor.
“What the?” Taylor asked, but before he knew what had happened, Lt. Gellar rushed him, tackling him into the cave wall.
The two officers grappled for several moments, until finally Gellar flipped Taylor over his shoulder, body slamming him into the cave floor.
“What was that all about?” Mirk asked, looking down at Taylor’s unconscious form.
“I don’t know…” Gellar said, wiping the blood that trickled down his chin from a tiny gash. “But I’d sure as hell like to…”
“Step away from him…” A voice said, as two figures approached Mirk and Gellar.
Mirk peered through the darkness. He could see only silhouettes due to the light filtering in from the cave entrance. But he knew that voice anywhere.
“Cridis?” Mirk asked, amazed. He recognized the figure standing next to Cridis as being Brin, another of his ‘friends’ from Malox. The one that had been on the Aerostar with Danel.
“Aw, you remember your childhood buddy after all.” Cridis said, stepping forward into the light from Mirk’s beacon. “How touching.” The Maloxian held a disruptor rifle up to Mirk’s chest. “Cridis to Terminix. Engage the transporter.”
On that command, Mirk, Gellar, Taylor, Cridis, and Brin all disappeared in a green flash of light.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Lieutenant.” Dr. Browning said, running her medical scanner over Lt. Tilleran. “Your readings are fine, except for a slightly low production of neurotransmitters.”
“So why am I having these headaches?” Tilleran asked, sliding off the biobed.
“I can’t say for sure.” Dr. Browning replied. “Maybe it’s an allergic reaction, or stress, or any number of things.” Browning pushed a hypospray into Tilleran’s neck. “This should take care of the pain. Come back if this continues and I’ll do a more thorough scan.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Tilleran replied, leaving sickbay, chalking up the strange headaches as a mystery.
“What do you mean Captain Baxter left?” J’hana asked angrily, following Commander Conway down to the command area of the bridge.
“What do you think I mean?” Conway asked. “I mean he left. He went away. Go bye bye.”
“Where did he go?” J’hana asked, as Conway sat down.
“Beats me. He’s meeting at a secret location with Jum.” Conway replied.
“Jum??” J’hana asked, becoming angrier. “As in the Jum that tried to kill us a few months ago?”
“One and the same.” Conway said, sipping coffee and tapping some controls on the arm of the command chair.
“That is unacceptable.” J’hana said, stalking back up to the tactical console.
“Commander…” Larkin said, turning around. “I am picking up a shuttle coming out of warp. It is the Windstar.”
“You can take it up with him, J’hana, as soon as he comes aboard.” Conway said.
“I plan on it.” J’hana said, stomping into the turbolift.
J’hana met Captain Baxter in the shuttlebay, as he ducked out of the Windstar’s hatch and proceeded into the corridor outside the bay.
“Hi, J’hana.” Baxter said distractedly as he made his way down the corridor.
J’hana matched speed with the Captain, looking quite confused. “Captain, you undertook a grave security risk. You should have notified me that you were leaving the ship.”
“Captain’s prerogative.” Baxter said, stepping into the turbolift. “Bridge.”
J’hana followed. “Still, we are currently involved in a very sensitive situation, where few people can be trusted. To simply leave without telling anyone…”
“Is pretty darn smart.” Baxter said, smirking slightly.
J’hana thought a moment. “I had never thought of it that way.”
“Neither had I, but it’s a valid point.” Baxter said, tapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Richards. I need us to get underway as soon as possible.”
“We can leave right now, Captain.” Richards replied. “The shields and engines have been repaired. The other systems that were damaged aren’t a big concern.”
“Fantastic.” Baxter said, as the turbolift door opened and he and J’hana emptied out onto the bridge. “Then prepare the engines for an immediate departure.”
“Yes, sir.” Richards replied.
“Larkin…” Baxter said, taking a seat in the command chair. “Recall all main bridge officers and secure all hands for departure from Sulani space. And try and raise Mirk’s team. They’re in grave danger.” He turned to the helm console. “Ensign Ford, lay in a course for Jurin Four. Maximum Warp.”
“Aye, sir.” Ford replied, tapping the commands in at his panel.
“What can I do you for, Lieutenant?” Lt. Hartley asked disinterestedly without taking her eyes off the padd she was reading, or taking her feet off the transporter console.
Lt. Fresca strolled into the transporter room and leaned against the console. “I hear Lt. J’hana has been asking a lot of questions lately.”
Hartley looked up. “Yeah, she has. Why?”
“I don’t know, I just heard through the grapevine that there was a possibility of a traitor on the ship.”
Hartley nodded, returning to her reading. “Yeah, that’s what I hear too.”
“What a load of bullshit.” Fresca said.
“I’ve heard stranger things.” Hartley replied. “Is that all you came down here for, office gossip?”
“I just thought maybe you knew more than I did.”
“Probably.” Hartley replied dryly. “What’s your point.”
“So you do think there is a traitor on board?” Fresca asked.
Hartley sat up and glared at Fresca. “Don’t you have anything better to do, Jenel?”
“Yes, actually.” Fresca said, walking out of the transporter room.
“How many times to I have to tell them?” Hartley asked herself, continuing her reading, “I just work here.”
“Take us out of warp, Ensign.” Captain Baxter said, standing up and approaching the viewscreen. “Lt. Tilleran…commence scanning.”
“Captain…” Lt. Larkin said.
Baxter turned. “What?”
Suddenly the image on the viewscreen changed, to reveal part of Jurin Four, with a small gray blob in orbit.
“Is that what I think it is…” Conway said, approaching the viewscreen, next to Captain Baxter.
“Magnify.” Baxter said slowly, stepping forward.
“USS Inspiration.” Larkin said calmly from her station.
“It’s heavily damaged, Captain.” Lt. Tilleran reported.
Baxter turned back, raising an eyebrow. “I could have told you that.”
The Inspiration listed quietly in space, one nacelle blown clean off, a jagged tear in its engineering section, and almost half its saucer destroyed.
“I guess we’re a little late.” Conway said quietly.
“Report, Doctor.” Commander Conway said, staring over the mauled and darkened bridge, sipping from a cup of coffee.
Dr. Browning stood up and wiped her bloody hands on her pants. “They’re all dead, Commander. The whole crew has been slaughtered.”
“Damn.” Conway replied, looking around.
“Rrrrrrrrrrrggggggghhh…” There was a low moan from over near the viewscreen, or what was left of it.
Browning pulled out her tricorder. “Whoops, I guess I was wrong.”
The survivor was draped in cloaks and curled in a fetal ball, groaning almost imperceptibly.
Commander Conway stared down at the man as Browning worked on him. “That’s Jum!”
“Who?” Browning said, running the neurostabilizer over the man’s forehead.
“The leader of the Maloxians,” Conway said.
Browning shook her head worriedly. “He won’t be leading anything if we don’t get him back to the ship.”
Conway nodded, tapping his comm badge. “Conway to Aerostar, emergency beamout–two directly to sickbay.”
Moments later, Browning and the unconscious man both disappeared.
Lt. J’hana approached Conway, holstering her phaser. “The ship is a loss. All crew are dead and the vessel is dead in space. It is a wonder life support is functioning at all.”
Conway shook his head. “Wonder who was pissed off enough to do this?”
“Whoever it was knew exactly where to hit a Federation starship, Commander.”
“Yikes!” said Captain Baxter, running into sickbay.
“Get me an isometric stabilizer, Holly. And put him on neurological support.” Browning said, moving quickly across sickbay.
Baxter approached the biobed, looking down at its occupant. “What on Earth happened to him, Doctor?”
Browning worked frantically to get the support frame over the man’s body. “He was hit by a large amount of very heavy debris, from the looks of it. His chances of living aren’t exactly stellar.”
“He’s coming around!” Nurse Carter said, staring at the readings on the biobed.
“Don’t worry about that…just prepare to get him into stasis. He’s got too much internal damage to stay conscious for long.” Browning commanded. “We need to operate on him.”
“Who did this, Jum?” Baxter asked, leaning forward. “Who destroyed your ship, killed your crew?”
Jum’s eyes fluttered open briefly, and he looked into Baxter’s eyes. “It was Cridis, Captain. Cridis betrayed us once again…he… has my son, and your people…he’s going to kill them….” Jum coughed violently, blood trickling out of his mouth. “…and he’s going to kill you…” With that, Jum fell limp once again.
“Do what you can, Doctor.” Baxter said, turning on a heel and exiting sickbay.
“How ironic.” Browning said as she worked, looking down at the unconscious Maloxian. “I’m going to save you after your people poisoned us, tried to blow up our ship, and tried to kill our crew.”
“Forgiveness is devine.” Nurse Carter said, as she crossed sickbay to get Browning’s surgical instruments ready.
“Yeah, right.” Browning muttered. “Darn Hippocratic oath.”
“Lt. Tilleran…” Baxter said, marching onto the bridge. “Prepare the scanners for a full tachyon sweep. I want you to cover this whole system. Lieutenant Larkin, get Conway’s team off the Inspiration, and recall the teams from the planet’s surface as well. Ensign Saral…get our shields up as soon as our teams are back aboard and put us on yellow alert.”
“Captain,” Larkin said, approaching Baxter as he took the command chair. “I have some promising news.”
“I don’t believe it,” Baxter said, idly studying the scans on his armrest panel.
“I took the liberty of analyzing our communications traffic of the last two days, in hopes that it might reveal some subterfuge on the part of our supposed traitor.”
“And?” Baxter asked, looking up from the scans.
“I detected normal communications traffic and routine engine interference, as well as some unfocused subspace static.”
“I’m thrilled. What’s so promising about that?”
“Is it not obvious?” Larkin asked. “I detected unfocused subspace static.”
“Right.” Baxter said, looking back up. “If I remember my subspace physics lessons, that’s absolutely normal.”
“Not for the Crandab system, Captain, which is where we were at the time of the so called static’s appearance.”
“Go on…” Baxter said, leaning forward with slightly more interest.
“The Crandab system has a class three White Dwarf star, one with an unusually low ion signature.”
“Which means there should have been no subspace static of note at that time, Captain. The subspace static I detected was obviously used to mask a secret transmission. Or perhaps several secret transmissions.”
Baxter stood up, patting Larkin on the shoulder. “Is this speculation, Lieutenant?”
“Speculation? No, Captain. It is a deduction based on facts and probability. I estimate that the probability of a masked transmission taking place between the times of 1313 hours and 1320 hours is approximately one in three.”
“Sounds like damn good odds to me.” Baxter said, walking around to the science console. “Lt. Tilleran, I trust you have a way of narrowing down the possibilities of where the subspace static could have come from?”
“I can do better than that, Captain.” Tilleran said proudly, handing Baxter a padd with everything she had discovered about the unusual static so far. “I can filter the static through our sensor matrix and pinpoint the transmission.”
“How long will that take?” Baxter said, looking at the padd.
“Approximately forty minutes, sir.”
“Damn.” Baxter replied.
“Well, if you want it done right.” Tilleran said, shrugging and turning to her panel.
“That ship is a total loss, Captain.” Commander Conway said, as he and Lt. J’hana returned to the bridge. “Nothing even worth salvaging. And it was definitely attacked by someone who knew how to take out a Federation vessel. The hits were made with surgical precision.”
“And Ensign Puckett’s team reported back to me.” J’hana added. “There is no sign of Mirk’s team or their shuttlecraft, and the planet’s cave system has been obliterated by what appears to be the disruptors of a Romulan Warbird.”
“Perfect.” Baxter said, walking over to the supply closet and grabbing a phaser and a tricorder. “I want you two to come with me. We’re going to form three search teams based on Larkin and Tilleran’s new findings and we’re going to find the bastard that’s been handing out information if it’s the last thing we do. J’hana, round up your best security officers. And try to keep this quiet, we don’t want our traitor knowing that we’re on to him.”
“Aye sir.” J’hana replied.
“New findings?” Conway asked, as the group entered the turbolift.
“I’ll explain on the way down.” Baxter said. “Larkin…you have the bridge.”
“We need the reaction variance down to two percent, Mr. Atkinson.” Lt. Commander Richards said, staring up at the warp core. “Four percent is unacceptable.”
“Understood.” Lt. Doug Atkinson replied, pulling out the dilithium chamber and going to work.
Richards returned to his office to catch up on some paperwork as Atkinson worked.
Looking over his shoulder to make sure Richards was gone, Lt. Atkinson pulled a small cylinder out of his pocket and pressed a tiny button. “Colonel, this is the Lieutenant. I am in position. Alert the bird.” Atkinson whispered.
“Acknowledged, Lieutenant, wait for my order.” The Colonel responded quietly.
“So what’s the plan?” Conway asked, as he, Baxter, J’hana, and an armed contingent of security guards proceeded down a corridor on Deck Five.
Baxter handed Conway the padd that Tilleran had given him. “Tilleran has narrowed the source of the transmission to three major sections. The residential areas from Decks Five to Twelve, the Science Labs on Decks Fifteen and Sixteen, and the Engineering decks.”
“Sounds simple enough. We just flush out the area with tricorders and try to find the traitor and his or her transmitter. We should be done by next month.” Conway replied sarcastically.
“Then I guess it’s even more important that we get started immediately. Head down to Engineering. I’ll take the labs…J’hana will handle the residential decks.” Baxter replied, gesturing for several of the security officers to follow him.
“You all heard the Captain.” J’hana said sternly. “Divide yourselves into teams and get moving. And Captain…” J’hana added.
“What?” Baxter asked, stopping in mid stride and turning around.
“If we find the traitor, do you want him or her alive?”
Baxter put a hand over his face. “What do you think, J’hana?”
J’hana thought a moment. “I assume you would want the traitor alive so that you can question him.”
“Very good.” Baxter replied, resuming his stride towards the turbolift.
“We have another transmission taking place…” Lt. Tilleran said, plucking controls at the science station. “I’m trying to pinpoint it…but the signal is scattered across the bandwidth. I don’t know how they’re doing this, Lt. Larkin.”
Larkin turned around in the command chair. “That is what we shall find out. Continue to work, Lieutenant, and keep me updated on your progress.”
Captain Baxter moved down the corridor of Deck Fourteen with a determined stride, flanked by four phaser-bearing security guards.
As he rounded a corner, he nearly bumped into Counselor Peterman and Charlie.
The golden retriever jumped onto Baxter, knocking him backwards off his feet.
The security guards moved forward, their phasers trained on Charlie.
“Just say the word, Captain…” Lt. Henson said excitedly.
“Negative, Henson.” Baxter replied. “Keep your men back.”
Baxter pushed Charlie off him, patted him on his fluffy mane and stood, straightening his uniform tunic. “Hey, Kelly.”
Peterman leaned forward and kissed the Captain on the cheek. “Did he give my wittle baby a boo boo?”
“Um, no.” Baxter said sheepishly, feeling the stares of the security officers behind him. “Um, listen, Kelly. I want you to get back to your quarters right now. It’s not really safe to be out and around at the moment.”
Peterman reigned her retriever in, looking slightly worried. “What’s going on? Are you looking for the traitor?”
“We have a lead.” Baxter said gravely. “I’d just feel a lot better if you’d go and stay in your quarters until this whole thing blows over.”
Peterman leaned forward and placed her hand on Baxter’s chest, looking up into his eyes. “I might get lonely if I’m in there for too long, Captain…” Baxter was about to say something else but Peterman interrupted him, adding, “…but if it makes you feel better to know your little cupcake is safe, I’ll go back to my quarters.”
“Thanks, Kell…I just don’t want anything to…” Peterman put a finger to Baxter’s lips.
“I know. Just promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I…” Baxter said, as Peterman kissed Baxter again and dragged her dog towards the turbolift.
“I love you too, Andy.” Peterman replied, pulling Charlie into the turbolift. He was putting up more fight than usual today.
Once the Counselor had disappeared behind the turbolift doors, Henson extended his lower lip. “Awww, poor thing, did the mean doggie give him a wittle boo boo?”
“Come on.” Baxter said with annoyance, heading down the corridor.
ON THE EDGE OF FLARN SPACE. . .
The massive ship drove through space with a fierce, unstoppable determination, as dark and forboding as the black space that surrounded it.
The ship was quiet, each occupant moving with a united sense of purpose, of feeling. They continued on their course, to the homing device.
They were sent to find the source of the signal that beckoned to them, the signal that had no business beyond the Collective. They could not tell who was sending the signal, only that it was being sent by one that was not from the collective. And by the signature of the device’s signal, they reasoned that it was from their lost contingent. It was immediately necessary that they find this device and return the members of their lost contingent to the Collective, for when a group was lost, the whole suffered.
And that suffering would be ended, at any cost.
J’hana nodded dismissively at Counselor Peterman as they passed each other in the hallway.
“Returning to your quarters, Counselor?” J’hana asked blandly.
“Yeah,” Peterman said, dragging Charlie along with her.
“That is wise.” J’hana said, her antennae twitching slightly. “There is danger in the air today.”
Peterman stopped, momentarily sniffing at the air. “I don’t smell anything.”
“Wait.” J’hana said, continuing to lead her contingent of security officers down the corridor.
“Lieutenant…” Tilleran said from the science console. “I think I’ve figured out why these readings are so difficult to resolve.”
“Explain.” Larkin said, turning to look at the science officer.
“I should have realized it earlier.” Tilleran said. “This comm traffic is housing two completely dissimilar transmissions. One is intermittent, only happening at specific times. The other is constantly being broadcast…almost like some sort of distress call.”
“Have you been able to identify either signal?”
“The second one looks familiar…” Tilleran said with uncertainty. “But I’m just not sure.”
“What about the location of the signals?”
“That’s a little easier.” Tilleran replied. “The constant signal is less difficult to track, now that I know what I’m looking for.” Tilleran studied her panel for a moment. “It’s coming from Deck Twenty-nine. The very bottom of the ship.”
“How odd.” Larkin said, walking over to the science console and looking at the readings on Tilleran’s console. The android stared at the readings and cocked her head a moment. “That is not possible.”
“What do you mean?” Tilleran asked.
“We are in extreme danger.” Larkin said, heading for the turbolift. “You have the bridge.”
“Was it something I said?” Tilleran asked, as Larkin disappeared behind the turbolift doors.
“That is not possible.” Larkin said on the terminal screen, moving away from the flight recorder’s field of view.
Lt. Fresca switched the screen off, standing up and stretching. She’d finally found what she was looking for.
She grabbed a phaser and tricorder and headed out her door, wondering momentarily what she would find on Deck 29. She was hoping it wasn’t what she expected to find.
“He’s going to be fine.” Doctor Browning said, removing her gloves and her mask, and putting Jum on life support. “At least for now.”
“I guess that’s good,” Nurse Carter said, rolling Jum’s antigrav
stretcher back into the main area of sickbay.
Dr. Browning removed her red surgical outfit and threw it into the clothing recycler. “Is there something on your mind, Holly?”
“Yeah, Doctor.” Carter said, placing Jum onto a biobed and putting the antigrav away. “It’s this whole traitor thing. Something just doesn’t sit right with me.”
“What do you mean?” Browning asked, ordering a cup of tea from the replicator.
“Well, wouldn’t Lt. Tilleran be able to detect someone betraying us? I mean, she is a Betazoid, isn’t she?”
“Well,” Browning said, sitting down. “Not if someone was able to…”
Suddenly Browning and Carter looked at each other and shouted, “the headaches!”
“Come on, come on. Computer, increase turbolift to emergency speed.” Lt. Fresca said impatiently, tapping her foot nervously as the turbolift descended to Deck Twenty-nine.
“Turbolift is already traveling at maximum safe velocity.” The computer replied.
“Damn.” Fresca said. She just had to get there before Larkin did. Her entire mission depended on it.
“Browning to Tilleran.”
Tilleran tapped her comm badge quickly. “Go ahead.”
“I think we’ve finally figured out what’s been causing those headaches.”
“There are more important things going on right now, Doctor.” Tilleran said impatiently. “Couldn’t this wait?”
“I don’t think so.” Browning replied. “You have to tell me where you were each time your headaches have occurred.”
“Proximity alert. Approaching lifeform. At three hundred meters and closing.” The computer said quietly.
Private First Class Christopher Henricks put his meal ration down and picked up the small, rectangular grey box that served as his screening from ship’s sensors, his means of finding out what was going on on board the Aerostar, and the security system that would alert him in the unlikely event that he was found. Now that event seemed a little more likely. This had happen a couple times before, but this time it felt different. He knew the crew was searching for a traitor. He reasoned that maybe they thought it was him. That was stupid, though. If anything, Henricks was an incredible patriot.
Private Henricks checked the readings on the computer and put it down quickly, grabbing his phaser rifle and pushing his way out of the small cargo container that had been his home for almost ten months. He had always feared that it might come to this.
Peterman stepped into her quarters, dropping to the deck and embracing the onslaught of pets that rushed toward her expectantly. “I missed you too, babies!”
“I know you guys are hungry!” Peterman said, quickly filling the multitude of little individually named bowls as fast as she could. “Din din is almost ready!”
The animals came running, all nipping at Peterman’s toes, or in the case of Ozzie the osprey, pecking at her hair and sitting on her shoulder.
“Tilleran to Baxter,” came Lt. Tilleran’s frantic voice. “I just talked to Dr. Browning. We’ve figured out who the traitor is.”
“You’re kidding.” Baxter said, looking up from the remains of the now completely ruined plant experiment that Ensign Dawson was doing. Baxter looked at Dawson, who seemed extremely distraught. “Well, hee hee, no transmitter here. Carry on Ensign.”
“Aren’t you curious as to who it is, Captain?” Tilleran asked, after a few moment’s silence.
“Oh, yeah.” Baxter said. “Who?”
“What’s wrong, Charlie? Why won’t you eat?” Peterman asked, looking down at her dog. Charlie just whined and scratched at the carpet with frustration.
Suddenly Charlie sat up, baring his teeth and barking.
Peterman looked down at the golden retriever with disapproval. “That’s no way to behave, Mister. Now what in the heck are you barking at?”
Suddenly Peterman’s howler monkey Raphael flew through the air and jumped onto her back, scratching and clawing.
Charlie jumped up and tried to claw at the monkey, baring his teeth and growling fiercely.
“What the hell?????” Peterman screamed, grappling with the insane monkey.
Peterman threw the monkey off and yanked at Charlie’s chain, trying to put some distance between her and Raphael. “What’s gotten into you, Raphael? I swear, you’ve never acted like this before.”
Charlie kept barking at the monkey, and Peterman’s eyes went wide as it began to turn gold, its fur rippling like water. “Oh, hell…” Peterman said, as the monkey grew and expanded into what looked like a human…but with Raphael’s head!
The shapeshifter crossed her quarters in an instant, grabbing her by the wrists. “Surprise, Counselor!’
“Peterman to J’hana! I need-“ Peterman said, as the the monkeyman shoved a hand over her mouth.
“What’s that, Counselor?” J’hana asked, motioning for her team to head back toward Peterman’s quarters. “J’hana to Peterman, respond!” All she heard in response was Charlie’s shrill barking.
The Andorian grimaced, breaking into a run. “Never fear, Counselor. I am coming!”
Lt. Fresca pushed frantically through the opening doors to the bottom deck cargo bay, her phaser at the ready.
“Computer…increase lighting.” Fresca ordered, moving through the darkened cargo bay.
“Unable to comply. Processing error.”
“Damn.” Fresca said, scanning the dark shapes in the bay, suddenly aware that she could be in serious trouble. Whoever was down here was undoubtedly prepared for this confrontation. She however, was not sure that she was.
Suddenly a shadowy figure plunged through the air and landed on top of Fresca, ramming her roughly into the deck.
Private Henricks stood up and turned her over with his boot, shining a flashlight into her face. “That’s enough of–”
Lt. Fresca squinted through the light given off by the flashlight.”Christopher?”
Henricks kneeled down, grabbing Fresca’s hand and pulling her towards him. “Jenny?”
Doctor Kerridan moved quickly through his lab, packing up all the items he would require, sure that he would probably not get the chance to return once he was gone.
Kerridan rifled through the closet in the rear of the lab, trying to find the padds that contained the research on the neurotransmitter. He hadn’t thought of bringing them along with him, but moments ago he had realized that the boys back home might like to look at his results.
Kerridan finally found the padds, holding the pile up with satisfaction. “There you are!”
The doctor was startled by a tap on his shoulder.
He whirled around, finding himself face to face with Captain Baxter.
“Captain,” He said, “to what do I owe this…”
“Can it, Kerridan!” Baxter shouted, slamming his fist into Kerridan’s face, knocking him into his closet, causing all the shelving to fall on top of him.
Baxter reached into the closet and pulled Kerridan out, pushing him up against the wall and holding him up by the throat. “You are under arrest, Doctor Kerridan, for treason against Starfleet and against the United Federation of Planets.”
“I hope you have some proof to back that accusation up, Captain.” Kerridan said uneasily.
“Let me worry about that.” Baxter said, dragging Kerridan towards the door to his lab. “You just worry about how you’re going to spend your golden years in our brig.”
Lt. J’hana burst into Peterman’s quarters, phaser drawn.
“So we meet again, Lieutenant!” Jelo said, standing in the middle of Peterman’s wrecked quarters, dressed in a bland, earth-tone outfit. He had the featureless face of a Changeling. “Though you might remember me differently than I am now.”
The man’s head suddenly bubbled, morphing once again into the head of Raphael, the howler monkey that J’hana had done battle with on more than one occasion.
J’hana held her phaser on the monkey, scowling. “You are a shapeshifter!”
The changeling reverted back to his humanoid shape. “How observant!”
“Where is the Counselor?” J’hana asked angrily.
“She’s taking a nap.” Jelo replied, pointing to Peterman’s couch, where she lay unconscious.
J’hana growled angrily and rushed at the changeling, bouncing painfully off a forcefield inches from the being’s face.
“Sorry, I forgot to mention that I surrounded this half of the counselor’s quarters with a forcefield. Dreadfully sorry about that.”
J’hana stood up and tapped her comm badge. “J’hana to Baxter. We have a hostage situation that I think you should be aware of.”
“What are you doing here, honey?” Private Henricks asked, unsure how to proceed.
“I could ask you the same question.” Fresca replied, standing up and straightening her uniform.
“Well, I’m the one with the gun.” Henricks said, nudging Fresca with his phaser rifle.
“You’d never shoot me.”
“Care to find out?”
“Okay,” Fresca sighed. “I’m here looking for you, if you must know.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Both of you are under arrest, pending an investigation.” Lt. Larkin said sternly, stepping out of the darkness.
“What the–?” Henricks said, turning around and aiming his phaser at Larkin. “This is just too weird.”
“What do you mean?” Fresca and Larkin asked at the same time.
“It would take too long to…” Henricks said, when suddenly what little lighting was in the cargo bay failed.
“We have lost main power.” Larkin said, looking around.
“No kidding.” Fresca said.
Suddenly Henricks grabbed for Larkin’s arm in the darkness, trying to pull the phaser out of her hand.
With mechanical precision and inhuman strength, Larkin twisted Henricks’s arm, until there was an audible crack. She then pulled the phaser rifle out of his hand and let him drop, crying out in pain, to the deck.
The android then leveled the phaser rifle at Henricks and the phaser at Fresca as auxilliary lighting came on, casting a dim red glow on the cargo bay. “Now…both of you explain yourselves.”
Henricks just clutched at his broken arm. “God damn it, you’re not Kristen! You’re not Kristen! You’re the freakin’ robot!”
“What?” Larkin asked, cocking her head.
“He says his name is Jelo. He’s a changeling.” J’hana added, as Baxter stared angrily at Kerridan, who sat serenely in a chair in his laboratory.
“Is she okay…” Baxter said uneasily, his hands trembling as he held the phaser trained on Kerridan. “Tell me she is okay.”
“She is unconscious, but she is alive.” J’hana replied. “What should I do?”
“I’ll get back to you.” Baxter said, looking down at Kerridan. “What is this all about, Kerridan?”
Kerridan smiled. “First of all, my name is not Phil Kerridan. I am Colonel T’Phil of the Tal Shiar.”
“That’s impossible. The Tal Shiar was obliterated along with the Obsidian Order at the battle of the Omarian Nebula.” Baxter said. “No ship escaped.”
“Ah, but one did.” T’Phil said. “The Terminix. She managed to cloak and make her way back to Romulan space. However, the ship experienced a serious malfunction in the warp core which required them to stop for repairs. Evidently, they stopped in the Bermuda Expanse and were caught up in the same phenomenon that brought us here. Which is exactly what I had hoped. It was my job to find out where it had gone and bring it back. The rest, as you say, is history.”
Baxter leaned forward. “What about the changeling?”
“A rebel from the Dominion who offered to help me find our lost ship.”
“So the real Phil Kerridan and Raphael the monkey are…” Baxter said slowly.
“Dead.” T’Phil said, laughing. “But really, Captain, you don’t expect me to tell you everything right now, do you?”
“Mr. Phaser here says that I do.” Baxter said, jabbing the phaser in T’Phil’s face. “You wouldn’t want to argue with him, would you?” “Under normal circumstances, no.” T’Phil replied. “But these are anything but normal circumstances.” T’Phil stood up, rounding his desk. “You’re not going anywhere.” Baxter said, pushing T’Phil back into his chair.
“On the contrary.” T’Phil said, looking up at the chronometer on his wall. “It is you who will not be going anywhere.”
“What do you-“ Baxter said, when suddenly the lights began to flicker.
“We’ve lost main power, and the shields are down!” Ensign Madera said from the ops panel. “Switching to auxiliary systems!”
“Romulan Warbird decloaking off our port bow,” Ensign Saral reported calmly from tactical.
Tilleran stared at the Warbird as it floated ominously on the viewscreen. “Shields,” she said calmly.
“I cannot seem to get them back up, sir.” Saral replid.
“In that case, I’d say we should start kissing our asses goodbye.” Tilleran said.
“Mind if I kissed yours instead?” Ford asked nervously from the helm console.
“Warp power is offline.” The computer said, as Lt. Commander Richards rushed out of his office.
Panels across engineering sizzled as the Aerostar’s systems died out, one by one.
“What’s going on, Atkinson?”
“I’d get moving if I were you.” Atkinson said, smiling. “It’s about to get very cold in here.” Atkinson laughed wickedly as he disappeared in a flash of green.
Richards ran over to the main systems display. He could tell from the readings that the shields were down and all warp power was deactivated. Further, he could tell that the warp core ejection sequence was underway.
“Computer, abort ejection sequence, authorization Richards Theta four four two.” Richards said quickly.
“That authorization is invalid.”
“What the hell is going on?” Richards asked himself.
Suddenly the isolation doors slowly began to fall around the warp core.
“Computer, manual override, end the ejection sequence now.”
“Negative. Ejection sequence is locked in. Please provide the user access code.”
“Code?” Richards asked. He looked over his shoulder, realizing the isolation doors were about to lock him in. He realized what Atkinson was trying to tell him. Once the warp core was dropped, the entire core area would be depressurized and open to space.
Richards dove to the deck and rolled underneath the closing door, pulling himself to his feet just in time to watch the warp core slide out of its housing through the isolation door.
The engineer banged his fist on the door. “Damn. Richards to bridge. We have a problem.”
“Captain, our warp core has been ejected…we are defenseless!” Lt. Tilleran said urgently over the comm system.
Baxter glared at T’Phil. “This is your doing, isn’t it?”
“Once again, my dear Captain, you have figured me out.” T’Phil smiled. “Wish I could stay and chat.” He looked at the chronometer on the wall. “But it’s almost time for me to go.”
“What is the meaning of this!” J’hana shouted as Jelo scooped up Counselor Peterman and slung her over his shoulder. “What do you hope to accomplish?”
“We are going to get home, Lieutenant.” Jelo said, scowling. “And you are not.”
Peterman suddenly began to stir, lifting up her head and looking around. “Where-“
“Hold on, Counselor, help is on the way.” J’hana said, tapping her comm badge. “Ensign Monroe, how long until the field can be dropped?”
“I don’t know, Lieutenant.” Ensign Beth Monroe replied. “The field is not on our main power grid. It would be gone along with warp power if that had been the case. I can’t seem to find its power source.”
J’hana emitted a low growl. “You cannot just kidnap one of our crewmembers and get away with it. We shall stop you.”
“But, my dear, that’s exactly what I plan on doing!” Jelo said, pressing a button on a small cylinder he held in the palm of his hand. “Jelo to Terminix. Engage transporter.”
“Let me go you big mean jerk!” Peterman screamed, pounding on Jelo with all her might. “Let me fucking go!”
“We will get you back, Counselor!” J’hana shouted, as Peterman and Jelo disappeared in the green flash of Romulan transporters.
“She’s gone, Captain.” J’hana muttered. “We did everything we could. I offer to give my life up for my incompetence.”
“Hold that thought.” Baxter said, running his hands through his hair. When did things really start going wrong?
“Well, I must be going, Captain. Really, it has been a pleasure!” T’Phil said happily.
“Over my dead body!” Baxter shouted, pulling out his phaser and firing at T’Phil, just as he began to dissolve in the flicker of the Romulan transporters.
The phaser harmlessly burnt the far wall of the lab.
“Are you okay in there, Captain?” Henson asked, peeking his head into the lab. He had been asked to let Baxter handle the situation alone, but once he heard the phaser fire, he felt like he should see if everything was okay.
Baxter looked down at the empty space where T’Phil had been. “I’m pretty far from okay, Henson. Pretty fucking far.”
THE ROMULAN WARBIRD TERMINIX
“Could you have cut that any closer, Cridis?” T’Phil asked, annoyed, as he stormed onto the bridge.
“My apologies, Colonel. But we have adhered to your schedule.” Cridis said, vacating the command chair.
“That would have been little comfort, had Baxter succeeded in vaporizing me with his phaser.” T’Phil said, pressing a control on the command chair. “T’Phil to Jelo. What is the status on the prisoner?”
“I’m putting her in the brig now.”
“Good. We will have a great bargaining chip, should Baxter be able to follow us.” T’Phil said. “Helm, engage cloak and take us to the Crebius cluster.”
Cridis ran over to the command chair. “Why don’t we just finish the Aerostar off now? Without her shields, she is a sitting duck.”
“Because…” T’Phil said coldly. “I want them to suffer. Let them spend the rest of their miserable lives in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Yes, Colonel.” Cridis said grudgingly, taking the weapons station. “You heard the Colonel, Brin.”
Brin nodded, bringing the Terminix around and engaging their cloak. “Aye, sir.”
Down in the Terminix’s brig, Counselor Peterman banged her head against the wall. “How could I have been so stupid? I should have known that something was wrong the way Charlie always acted around Raphael!”
Mirk laid a reassuring hand on Peterman’s shoulder. “Honestly, Counselor, you couldn’t have known. Anyway, there’s no use crying over spilt mulak.”
Peterman turned around. “Mulak?”
“A Maloxian delicacy, one I’m sure you would…”
“Would you both shut up!” Lt. Gellar shouted. “We’re trapped in this Godforsaken brig while the traitors do who knows what to the Aerostar and we’re helpless to do anything, and all the two of you can do is talk about pets and cocktails!”
“Mulak is not a cocktail, you imbecile.” Mirk said. “It’s more of a warm after dinner beverage.”
“Arrrggggggh!!!!!” Gellar screamed, adding to the dent that Peterman had already created in the wall.
Baxter stood at the front of the conference room, leaning against the conference table for support, as his hurriedly gathered staff waited for him to speak. One seat was noticeably empty.
“I’m going to rely on your accuracy for record keeping, Lt. Larkin,” Baxter said slowly, “and I’m going to ask you to tell me one more time what happened here today.”
Larkin looked at Baxter, cocking her head. “Yes, Captain. At 0600 hours today, Doctor Phillip Kerridan, also known as Colonel T’Phil of the Tal Shiar, along with a changeling known as Jelo and a kidnapped Counselor Peterman, escaped to the Romulan Warbird Terminix, after one of our own rogue officers sabotaged our engines and shields. Further, a Federation Marine by the name of Private Christopher J. Henricks, utilizing a piece of technology taken from a crashed Borg Scout ship, initiated a homing beacon two days ago, a signal which his superiors, a group as yet unknown to us, hoped to use to lure the Borg away from the Alpha Quadrant and back towards their own home quadrant. I have since deactivated the homing beacon, but it would seem that we are too late.”
“What do you mean?” Commander Conway asked.
“Twenty minutes ago, we received a distress call from a Garibid supply vessel in the Trinad system. According to their Captain, they were being attacked by a ‘large, cube-shaped’ vessel with extremely powerful weapons. In short, the Borg are here.”
“Ho boy.” Conway said. “We’re doomed.”
“I am not finished.” Larkin said, looking to the other officers at the table. “I was also informed today by the galley that we are now officially out of bagels.”
“Well,” Baxter said, looking around the table, at Conway, Richards, Browning, J’hana, Larkin, Tilleran, Ford, and Hartley. “It would seem that things could not get worse.”
“We do however have plenty of crullers.” Larkin added quietly.
Baxter glared at the android. “It is all the more important that we act to now unite the forces of the Delta Quadrant together to defeat the Borg. It is, after all, our fault that they’re here.”
“Captain, you’re not suggesting…” Richards said.
“That we fight the Borg? Damn right I am. I want you all to work on formulating a plan to defeat the Borg cube while we reinstall our warp core. Once we’re back up and running, we’re going back to Sulan to rally support against the Borg and drive them away. I also want Lt. Fresca, if that is her
real name, and this marine fellow interrogated. We need to know why he was here and what Fresca has to do with this. Are there any questions?”
“I have a question.” Doctor Browning said. “What about Mirk, Gellar, Taylor, and Peterman? We can’t just let this T’Phil guy take them.”
“We already have, Doctor.” Baxter said sadly, sitting down. “But don’t worry. I promise this to you all. We will get our people back, and we will stop the Borg. I’m not about to let some scrawny Federation marine or some pointy eared Romulan know-it-all finish us after we’ve come this far. We’re not finished. Not by a long shot.”
Baxter looked around at his staff, his face spreading into a weak smile. “This crew may not have looked like much at the beginning. We sure as hell weren’t Starfleet’s finest. But I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve accomplished more over here than another Federation vessel would have in our place. And if there’s a way out of this mess, we’ll find it. Now let’s go to work.”
The group assembled in the conference room slowly began to disperse.
Lt. Larkin grabbed Lt. Commander Richards’s arm as he turned to head out. “Commander, there is someone I think you should meet down in the brig.”
The rest of the staff emptied out of the conference lounge, until only Conway, Browning, and Baxter were left.
Baxter stared out of the viewport as the Jurin system’s star shone through the windows, casting an eerie light over the emergency-lighted conference room.
“We’ll find her, Captain.” Browning said softly, touching Baxter’s shoulder and leaving the conference room.
“Captain…” Conway began, as Baxter continued to look out the viewport. “I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye. But, well, I agree with what you said. And I support you one hundred percent.”
“Thanks.” Baxter said disinterestedly.
“If there’s anything I can do…”
“There isn’t.” Baxter said quickly. “There’s a lot of work to be done, Commander. I suggest we get moving.”
“Yes, sir.” Conway replied quietly. “And sir…”
“What?” Baxter asked, finally looking away from the viewport.
“I think we’ll need that two point conversion now more than ever.”
Baxter nodded, joining Conway in leaving the conference room. “Well said, Commander. Well said.”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .