Author: Anthony Butler
THE ROMULAN WARBIRD TERMINIX
“Hi there.” Captain Andy Baxter said, smiling broadly and offering his hand to the Maloxian security officer.
“Stay back…and put your hands up!” The officer replied, causing Baxter to step back a bit.
Baxter raised his hands. “It’s okay, we don’t want to hurt you.”
“Speak for yourself.” J’hana muttered from behind him.
“You’re turning yourselves in?” the confused Maloxian asked.
“Exactly.” Baxter said, smiling more broadly. “I’d like to talk to Colonel T’Phil.”
“And that you will.” The guard said, ordering two other guards to retrieve the phasers, tricorders, and comm badges of Baxter, J’hana, Tilleran, Ford, Saral, and Gellar. He also took J’hana’s batleth, after a bit of coaxing. “Come with us.”
“See?” Baxter said, winking at J’hana. “My plan is foolproof.”
“I must admit,” J’hana sighed, whispering, “You are a genius, Captain.”
Lt. Commander Prescott piloted the shuttlecraft Nezmith out of the Nantucket’s shuttlebay, jerking it immediately to starboard in order to avoid a Borg cutting beam.
“So far so good.” Richards said uneasily from between Prescott and Larkin’s chairs.
Richards glanced out the front window, gasping at the immense firefight going on outside. Ships of all types pounded on the Borg ship, overwhelming its defenses.
“We will reach the perimeter of the Borg ship’s shields in thirteen seconds.” Larkin reported, as the tiny shuttlecraft weaved about, just barely evading the cutting beam. “I am modulating our shields so we can pass through the shield perimeter.”
Richards checked his kit one more time and slung it over his shoulder, next checking the modulator on his phaser and holstering it. “Make it quick, Larkin.”
“I am working at peak capacity, Commander.” Larkin said.
“Hold on!” Commander Prescott cried suddenly, sending the shuttle into a climb just in time to avoid the exploding Ferengi Marauder that hurtled towards them.
“See if you can cut that closer next time, Commander.” Richards said wryly, holding onto Larkin’s chair for support.
“I’ll do my best.” Prescott said, smiling.
“We have reached the Borg defense field.” Larkin reported, her hands dancing across her panel. “Our shield modulation is having no effect.”
“Try another one!” Richards ordered.
“Acknowledged.” Larkin said, looking at the readings on her panel. “Sir, the Borg seem to be modulating their shields to compensate for our changes.”
“Damn.” Prescott said, “They knew we would try this. They have all of Chris’ memories.”
“Never thought of that.” Richards said, rubbing his chin. “We’ll just have to do the unpredictable, then.” With that, the engineer ran toward the back of the shuttle and began yanking out isolinear chips.
“Mind telling me what you’re up to?” Prescott asked nervously.
“I’m creating a disruptive static field around our warp nacelles.” Richards replied, matter-of-factly.
“Oh.” Prescott said. “Great.”
“Alright…try it now!” Richards cried.
Commander Prescott gunned the engines, sending the tiny shuttlecraft through the field and hurtling towards the Borg ship.
“What now?” Prescott asked fearfully.
Richards climbed up towards front of the shuttlecraft. “Put on the brakes!”
The Nezmith came to an abrupt stop, right next to the hull of the massive Borg ship.
“Excellent work, Commander.” Larkin said, getting up from her panel and walking over to the transporter console. “We have successfully penetrated the defense field.”
“Now if we can only rely on this shuttle’s transporter system to get us over there.” Prescott said, checking her phaser and holstering it.
“We should have no problems.” Richards said, as Larkin programmed in the coordinates. “I think.”
“You think?” Prescott asked, as the group dissolved.
“Get in there.” The Maloxian guard said, pushing Baxter and the rest of his team onto the bridge.
T’Phil turned in his chair. “Well, well, well. Now this is a surprise.”
Counselor Peterman tried to pull herself away from the guards that held her and Danel. “Andy!”
Baxter picked himself up off the deck, brushing off his uniform. “Fancy meeting you here, T’Phil!”
“The pleasure is all mine.” T’Phil said wickedly. “I suspect you came to save this little flower?” The Romulan indicated Counselor Peterman.
“Actually,” Baxter said. “I came here to give you an ass whupping that you won’t soon forget.” He leaned his elbow up against the bulkhead casually. “See, I figure I owe you one.”
“Is that so?” T’Phil asked.
Jelo stepped forward, eyeing Baxter’s group angrily. “You should kill all of them now, T’Phil. We have no use for them.”
“Shut up.” T’Phil said through clenched teeth. “Now, if I’m not mistaken, Captain, you have a lot of information on the Federation stored in that little runabout you have parked outside our ship.”
“I might.” Baxter said, folding his arms. “You wouldn’t be interested, would you?”
“I might.” T’Phil replied, turning to look at the guard holding Counselor Peterman. “Danid, perhaps the Counselor would like a perm.”
Danid gave the Romulan a quizzical look. “A what?”
“A perm. As in a permanent…headache.” T’Phil said coldly.
Danid smiled, laughing. “I see what you’re saying.” The Maloxian yanked at Peterman’s hair, causing her to screech.
“Stop it, you big jerk!” Peterman shrieked.
Baxter didn’t even flinch. “I suppose I could give you the codes. But then I’d have to destroy this entire vessel. And you wouldn’t want me to do that, would you?”
“I’ll risk it.” T’Phil said eagerly. “Now transfer that information.”
“We don’t have time for this…” Jelo said angrily.
Mirk tried to reach back and scratch the itch on his left shoulder blade, but it was no use. After the Directors returned him to the Terminix, he had managed to squirm his way into the ventilation system and find the bridge. Now he was stuck in that cramped little area, and he couldn’t do a thing but watch as Peterman, Baxter, and the rest of his friends were toyed with by that evil shmuck T’Phil.
The Maloxian bartender shifted positions, in a vain attempt to get a better view out of the tiny vent.
“I’ll be the judge of what we have time for and what we do not.” T’Phil replied. “Now, the codes, if you please, Captain.”
Baxter stretched his arms and yawned. “I’ll give you the codes, Colonel. It doesn’t really matter to me who gets the credit. As long as I get home, I could care less.”
“You’re a man after my own heart after all…” T’Phil snickered. “Taylor, patch in a signal to the runabout’s computer.”
“Y-yes, sir.” Taylor said, glancing at Baxter over his shoulder.
“Here…I’ll show young Mister Taylor here exactly how to get the information.” Baxter said, walking over to the science console.
Danid shoved his weapon up against Peterman’s head. “No funny stuff, Captain Buttmunch.”
“Right.” Baxter said, staring angrily at Taylor. “It sure is nice to see you again, Ensign. The guys back home were worried about you. I mean, you were the life of the party, after all.”
“What are you trying to say?” Taylor replied.
“Well, just that you liked to swing both ways from time to time,” Baxter cast a glance back at T’Phil. “If ya get my drift.”
T’Phil smirked at Taylor. “Really, Ensign, I’m terribly surprised.”
“And Lt. Atkinson over there wets his bed,” Peterman said with a laugh. “And Taylor lusts after his mom.” That remark earned a quick smack upside the head by Danid’s disruptor.
“That’s enough out of you, girl.”
“Watch it, buddy,” Peterman said scoldingly. “My boyfriend’s here to save me now.”
“I’d like to see him try.” Danid chuckled.
“You will.” Peterman said confidently.
Meanwhile, Captain Baxter tapped his code into the science console. “Baxter to Pocomoke. Computer. Access the computer core and transfer all classified Federation information to this vessel’s computer core, authorization Baxter Alpha one one zero.”
“Please state security codeword.”
Baxter looked around the bridge sheepishly.
“Go ahead, Captain.” T’Phil said with anticipation.
Baxter sighed. “Oh, all right. Computer, enter security code…‘honeybunny.’”
“How cute.” T’Phil said, steepling his fingers.
“Transfer in progress.” The Pocomoke’s computer replied.
“Quite nice, Captain.” T’Phil said, walking over and putting a hand on Baxter’s shoulder. “Almost makes me wish we could have been friends. I suspect that there is a lot I could learn from you.”
“There sure is.” Baxter smiled. “Now, the question is, do you want the really, really, really secret stuff?”
“You mean there’s more?” T’Phil said with glee.
Baxter nodded. “You bet. It’s kept within a nested subcommand processor that only me and a few select officers know about.”
“Captain, you can’t be serious!” J’hana shouted. “Not the Power Node!”
“The one and only, J’hana.” Baxter said.
“Captain, you know that giving the secrets of the Power Node over to an enemy force is one of Starfleet’s greatest offenses,” Lt. Tilleran said gravely.
“Stand down, Lieutenant.” Baxter barked. “I’ve made up my mind.”
“Power Node?” Peterman said quietly to herself. “What the hell is a Power Node?”
“Just a word from me, Colonel, and that information is yours as well.” Baxter said enthusiastically.
“Sounds intriguing.” T’Phil said. “You certainly know the way into an old spy’s heart.”
Baxter shrugged. “What can I say. Baxter to Pocomoke. Computer…access program Charlie-six-six-six.”
“Working.” The computer responded.
“Six-six-six?” T’Phil asked with amusement. “Ingenious.”
Baxter looked at Taylor’s science console, then turned back to Colonel T’Phil. “Here it comes, T’Phil.”
“Sir…” Cridis suddenly said from the tactical console.
“We’re picking up some activity from the Pocomoke.”
T’Phil turned to look at the Maloxian. “What kind of activity?”
“This kind!” Baxter shouted, ramming his elbow into T’Phil’s stomach and bringing his fist up into the Romulan’s face. “Now, J’hana!”
“I’m on it, Captain!” J’hana said, grabbing the nearest guard’s weapon and using it to flip him over her shoulder, then bringing it up and firing at the guard that held Counselor Peterman, causing him to fly back against the wall.
“Hold on everyone!” Baxter shouted, when suddenly the Pocomoke collided with the Terminix’s bridge, causing both vessels to list back in opposite directions, and in the process, causing the ventilation shaft Mirk was hiding in to spilt open, spilling the bartender out onto a very surprised Cridis.
Chaos ensued on the damaged bridge, as T’Phil pulled himself up, ramming his fist into Baxter’s stomach, bringing him down to his knees. The two men proceeded to roll about on the floor, grappling at each other in a mad attempt to kill one another.
“I’ve got a score to settle with you, spanky!” Gellar cried out, leaping across the bridge and ramming his shoulder into Ensign Taylor’s face, causing him to be mashed against the science console.
“Where did you come from, devil-boy?” Cridis asked, as he grabbed Mirk by the front of his now charred blazer.
“I came from hell, you two bit good for nothing, perpetrating, half assed, poor excuse for a freighter pilot!” Mirk shouted, butting Cridis with his forehead, sending the Maloxian reeling back into the viewscreen. “And now its time to show you some serious satanic wrath.”
Mirk clasped his hands together and rammed them into Cridis’ face, then brought them down on his back.
“You were the worst Domjat player I ever met, you traitorous bastard!” Lt. Gellar cried out, ramming Ensign Taylor’s head into the ruined science console. “And worse than that, you have a thing for your mom!”
“I do not! Peterman lied!” Taylor protested.
“This is for hurting me!” Peterman cried, kicking Danid roughly in the crotch. “And this is for being ugly! And this is for being rude!”
“I’ll kill you this time, Andorian!” Jelo cried, as his arm extended across the bridge to wrap around J’hana’s throat.
“Never!” J’hana croaked, grabbing her betleth from where one of the guard’s had dropped it and slicing through Jelo’s arm.
She took that moment of confusion to fire at him, but the changeling merely made a hole in his chest where she fired.
“You can’t kill me!” he said, as suddenly his dismembered arm flew back to join his body, which immediately expanded towards the ceiling and slingshotted itself into the open ventilation tube.
“I am not finished with you!” J’hana cried, firing her disruptor at him as he disappeared.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Tilleran was busy trying to contact the badly damaged Pocomoke, in order to transport the team to safety. “Captain,” Tilleran said. “The Pocomoke is severely damaged–I can’t seem to engage its transporters.”
Baxter stopped punching T’Phil long enough to look up. “Then try to access the Terminix’s transporters so you can do a site-to-site. Try to get us to a safe location.”
“Good idea, Captain.” Tilleran replied, as suddenly a guard lept at her.
Before the Betazoid could react, a hand grabbed onto her attacker’s neck and squeezed, sending him crashing to the deck, unconcious.
“Continue working, Lieutenant,” Ensign Saral said. “I will take care of any attackers.”
“Thanks, Saral.” Tilleran said, continuing to try to route power to the transporter.
“You punch like a girl, Taylor!” Gellar cried, slamming Ensign Taylor up against the wall. “And you smell like one too! Ha ha!”
Lt. Atkinson lept towards J’hana, which was probably, upon further consideration, a big mistake.
J’hana grabbed the former engineering officer by his hair and slung him across the bridge. “Betray your oath to Starfleet, will you, you filthy scoundrel!”
Mirk rammed Cridis’ head into a panel repeatedly until he fell limp. “Call me a demon boy, will you, punk?” he asked, kicking the unconcious Maloxian.
Danel ran over to Mirk and gave him a big hug. “We’re saved, Mirk!”
“Not quite yet, Danel,” Mirk said, holding Danel close to him and looking around the bridge at all of the damage he and Baxter and the rest of the Starfleet crew had caused. For some reason, that amount of damage made him proud to be a part of that crew.
Captain Baxter threw T’Phil’s half conscious form to the deck and ran over to Counselor Peterman, who was still beating the living heck out of Danid.
“Kelly!” he cried, pulling her close to him.
Peterman slung her arms around Baxter’s neck, burying her face in his chest. “It’s about time you got here, Andy!”
“Sorry, honey, I came as fast as I could.” Baxter said, calling over his shoulder to Tilleran. “How is that transporter coming, Lieutenant?”
Tilleran entered a few more quick commands. “We’re ready now, Captain.”
“Then do it.” Baxter said, clearing strands of hair out of Peterman’s face and staring into her eyes.
At Tilleran’s command, she, Mirk, Danel, Gellar, Ford, J’hana, Saral, Baxter, and Peterman began to dissolve in a green shimmer.
“Not so fast!” T’Phil cried, lunging towards Baxter and grabbing his ankles as he disappeared. “I’m not finished with you!”
And suddenly, the bridge was a lot emptier, and a lot quieter.
“Get off me, you bumbling oaf!” Cridis shouted, as Brin struggled to help him. “We have to find out where they went!”
Lt. Atkinson pulled himself up, rubbing his aching head and staring at the engineering console. “We’ve got bigger problems than that, right now, Cridis.”
“What do you mean?” Cridis asked angrily.
“Well, it looks like the collision with the runabout caused a power feedback loop to occur, causing a buildup in the quantum singularity core.”
“And what the hell does that mean?”
Ensign Taylor climbed to his feet and looked at the readings. “It means this ship’s about to blow up, you fool!”
Beams lashed out from the Borg vessel, cutting deeply into the surface of Flarn Prime, destroying hundreds of square kilometers of the huge planet in minutes.
Five kilometers below the planet’s surface, in a cramped bunker, Emperor Mordrid stared at the report on his terminal screen in dismay.
“This is Silva again, live with an on-location report from Flarn space.” The Garibid newswoman said. “Well, sort of on-location. We’re in the Flarn system, but our pilot has been instructed to keep well away from the combat area. From our long range scans, it appears that most of the inhabited worlds of this system have been obliterated, and, as we speak, the Borg vessel is carving up Flarn Prime like a big roasted hordat.”
“Thisssssss isss unbearable.” Mordrid said, covering his face with his claw.
“The most amazing thing about this conflict, however, is probably the fact that a huge fleet of Maloxian and Sulani starships are engaging this Borg vessel, in a somewhat ironic attempt to rescue the Flarn from certain demise.”
“It’ssssss not that ironic.” Mordrid replied, shutting off the terminal. “Any worthwhile newssss, Drak?”
Drak shook his head. “No, sssssir, as far asss we can tell, the fleet is not having much luck.”
“How unfortunate for ussssss.” Mordrid said woefully.
The Sulani and Maloxian ships darted around the massive Borg vessel like insects, trying in to somehow stop the giant juggernaut from tearing apart the Flarn homeworld.
“Divert more power to shields!” Commander Conway shouted, grabbing onto the tactical railing for support as the Nantucket took its beating from the Borg.
“We don’t have any more power to divert!” Ronan replied.
“I’m fresh out of ideas, Commander.” Jum said, trying desperately to hold on to the command chair.
Commander Conway tried to bring himself around the front of the bridge as the Nantucket was pounded. “We definitely won’t hold out long at this rate.”
“Over twenty percent of the fleet has been obliterated, Seeker.” Ronan said. “Perhaps we should consider pulling back…consolidating our forces.”
“No.” Jum said. “We’ve got to make our stand here. If Conway’s people don’t succeed, we’re all doomed.”
“In that case.” Ronan said wryly. “We’re all doomed.”
“We’ve got company!” Commander Prescott shouted, firing her phaser at the mass of Borg that attacked them.
“The main data control relay is this way…” Larkin indicated, heaving a Borg over her shoulder as she looked at her tricorder.
“Then let’s get moving.” Richards said. “I have a feeling our welcome won’t get any warmer.”
“They’ve come for you and your friend.” The hive mind said, as Beevus of Borg watched the away team’s progress on a huge projection screen. “Do they pose a threat?”
“No.” Beevus said coldly. “They are attempting the same maneuver that Lt. Commander Data and Lieutenant Worf of the Enterprise attempted on Stardate 43993. Little do they know that the Borg have since updated their data transfer systems. The primitive android will not succeed in breaching our programming. Private Henricks built that android. Therefore, we know its capabilities. It is not a threat, nor are the others.”
“But is it not true that one of those humans was a former consort of Private Henricks?”
Beevus thought a moment. “That is not relevant.”
“Your transformation is not complete. Is it possible that Private Henricks’ feelings might interfere with your performance?”
“Negative.” Beevus replied. “Those feelings no longer exist.”
“Excellent. Then proceed to their position and kill them all.”
Lt. Hartley leaned over the railing around the new warp core and nodded approvingly. It was unlike the old warp core in that it was prism shaped, as opposed to cylindrical, and it was bright blue, thrumming with pretty, bright green lights as the matter and antimatter pumped through it.
“Well, it looks good,” she said, turning back to Ensign Stuart. “But does it work?”
“We’ll know as soon as we enter warp.” Stuart said. “We didn’t have time to test it or anything. I’ll tell you though, those Sulani sure are efficient workers. This kind of job would have taken our staff four days at least.”
“Well, the Sulani don’t sing.” Hartley said, walking over to the main systems display and looking at a schematic of the new warp nacelles. “What about these new nacelles? I mean, are you sure they’ll work?”
“Nope.” Stuart said, tapping some commands into the panel. “For all we know they’ll shear right off as soon as we go to warp.”
“How nice.” Hartley replied. She didn’t think the new nacelles quite matched the ship–they extended out like wings from the engineering section and were almost canoe-shaped, making the Aerostar look more like a big pontoon boat than anything else. “So, in other words, we’re flying on a nacelle and a prayer.”
“You could say that.” Stuart said. “I just hope these things don’t tear the ship apart.”
“But let me guess, you didn’t do any tests.”
“The Captain wanted us to be finished as soon as possible, and this is as soon as possible.”
Hartley looked around the scarred walls and decks of Engineering, feeling an inward shiver at the fact that yesterday, this entire compartment was ventilated into space by a Borg cutting beam. She noted the huge chunk of duranium that dominated the other side of engineering; it had been quickly welded to the ship’s superstructure like a huge band-aid. And this was supposed to be the ship that was going to defeat the Borg. Yeah, right.
“Browning to Hartley,” came Browning’s voice over the come system.
Hartley continued to stare skeptically at the new warp core as it thrummed noisily. “Yeah?”
“We’re short on people up here. I was wondering if you could come up and fill in at tactical.”
“It’s been a while since I worked at tactical, Doctor.” Hartley said uncertainly.
“Well, I’ve never been a Captain, so you’re one up on me.”
“True.” Hartley replied. “I’ll be right up.” She nodded at Stuart. “Keep her together down here, Ryan.”
“That’ll be a full time job in itself,” Stuart replied.
“They are nearing your position.” The hive mind said, as twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty- three of thirty thousand worked on Borgifying Crewman Wilcox.
Twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-three of thirty thousand looked up. “And we are not inhibiting their progress?”
“Beevus is on his way to aid you. He insures us that this team is not a threat to us.”
“And we trust him?”
“Trust is irrelevant. He is a Borg now. What of Crewman Wilcox?”
“There are problems.” Twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-three of thirty thousand replied, looking down at Wilcox as he lay on the table.
“What kind of problems?”
“Well, for one thing, he is braindead.”
“That is not possible. Your readings are faulty.”
“We will try again. But we cannot link a mind to the hive if that mind does not function.”
“He would not be alive if it did not function.”
“Of course, we are correct.”
“Yes, we are.” The hive mind said. “Now get to work.”
Twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-three of thirty thousand continued trying to hook Wilcox up to the Borg hive mind, wondering what would happen if they tried to access a brain that was void of knowledge and completely non-functional. Something bad, no doubt.
“Where are we going?” Peterman asked, as Baxter dragged her through the corridors of the Terminix.
“I beamed us to an area near the shuttlebay.” Tilleran replied. “Which seemed like a good idea at the time, since the Captain’s plan had the anticipated effect.”
“What effect?” Peterman asked nervously.
“Well,” Baxter said, “I…”
“The ship’s about to blow up.” Ford said sarcastically. “Yay, Captain.”
“Hey, I didn’t hear you piping up with suggestions.” Baxter replied.
“You all should shut up. At least you do not have to carry this unconscious Romulan.” J’hana grunted, shifting T’Phil’s weight on her shoulders.
“Well, no one said you had to kick him in the head.” Gellar said.
“Would you rather we left him conscious?” Saral asked.
“I would rather have vaporized him.” J’hana grunted.
“A quick death is too good for that son of a bitch.” Baxter said, rounding the corner and leading everyone into the shuttlebay. “We’ll take care of him when we get back to the Aerostar.”
The team quickly filed into the open hatch of a waiting Romulan scout ship.
“You were right, J’hana.” Baxter said, as he sealed off the hatch. “T’Phil had an escape vessel waiting, just in case his plan didn’t pan out.”
J’hana heaved T’Phil off her shoulders and onto the deck. “What can I say? I know scum.”
“I trust you know how to fly one of these things, Mr. Ford?” Mirk asked, as Ford slid in behind the pilot’s console.
“Um, well, I flew some simulations.” Ford replied uneasily, looking at the controls.
“You don’t know how much better that makes me feel.” Gellar said, sliding into the chair next to Ford.
“Whatever the case…” Tilleran said hurriedly. “You’d better get us out of here quick. These sensor readings indicate the ship will blow up any minute.”
“I’m trying, I’m trying.” Ford said. “Get the doors open, Gellar.”
“Um…doors.” Gellar said with uncertainty, looking at the panels around him. “What would that look like in Romulan?”
“Like that, Lieutenant.” Saral said, pressing down on one of the buttons at Gellar’s station. She then turned to where Ford was seated. “And those are the thruster controls.”
“Oh,” Ford said, hitting the control and sending the scout ship soaring out of the shuttlebay. “I knew that.”
“Doesn’t anyone know anything about Romulan ships?” Cridis asked frantically, as Atkinson and Taylor worked at the engineering panel.
“Only enough to know that this one’s about to blow up.” Taylor said. “Kiss your butt goodbye, Cridis.”
“No…” Cridis said. “It can’t end this way. Mirk will not win…Baxter won’t succeed. We won’t die!”
Lt. Atkinson stared down uneasily at the engine readings. “I can say with certainty that one of those statements is pretty darn false…” “Oh boy…” Ensign Taylor said, as parts of the ship suddenly exploded, in a chain reaction that sent it reeling forward, tumbling through the Crebius Cluster and breaking apart. “I want my mommy!”
“We know you do!” Cridis and Atkinson said in unison as the bridge exploded.
The Romulan scout ship soared out of the Crebius cluster, just as the Terminix blew apart, barely escaping the shock wave.
“Bye bye, Cridis.” Mirk said happily, pulling Danel into his lap. “And hello Danel.”
“Take us back to Sulan, Ensign Ford.” Baxter said, his arm around Counselor Peterman. “Maximum Warp.”
“Yes sir.” Ford said.
“Is that where the Aerostar is?” Peterman asked.
J’hana looked at Baxter expectantly. “You might as well tell her, Captain.”
Baxter sighed. “Kelly, there are a few things I need to tell you…and Mirk and Mister Gellar for that matter. A lot has happened since you guys were kidnapped. A whole lot.”
“Okay.” Dr. Browning sighed. “I guess we’d better get going.”
“Do we have to?” Ensign Madera asked fearfully from the helm. “I mean, we don’t know what these new engines and new systems will do. We could all die.”
Lt. Hartley laughed wickedly from tactical. “We could all die anyway. It’s just a matter of when and how.”
“Right.” Browning said. “Let’s just give them a try, Ensign Madera. Maybe just full impulse to start with.”
Hartley rolled her eyes. “We don’t have time for this!”
“Well, we won’t do much good if the ship breaks apart before we get there.” Browning said defensively. “Now lay in a course for Flarn Prime, full impulse.”
“Okay…” Madera said uneasily, hitting a button.
The Sulani engines made a soft chugging sound as the Aerostar lurched forward.
“Are you sure this is safe?” Browning asked, as the ship chugged along.
“I’m sure this is normal for Sulani engines.” Hartley replied. “We’re just breaking them in right now.”
“Should we go to warp?” Browning asked, rapping her fingers along the armrests.
“Yes alrady!” Hartley said impatiently. “The engines will work fine, trust me.”
“Okay, okay.” Browning said. “Increase our speed to warp seven, Miss Madera.”
Madera crossed her fingers and shut her eyes. “Okay…here goes nothing…!”
The Aerostar’s engines began making a new sound, this time almost like the high pitched squeal of a pig, and suddenly it stretched forward, blazing through space and disappearing in a flash of light.
“They did it!” Hartley shouted, hanging onto the tactical console for dear life. “They really did it!”
Dr. Browning tried in vain to lift her head up, which was now plastered against the headrest. “Yeah, but aren’t we supposed to have inertial dampers or something?”
“They’re not quite as good as the old ones.” Ensign Dawson said from ops. “I’m trying to increase them, but they won’t budge.”
“So we have to ride like this the whole way.” Browning said. “I can’t move.”
“Just think of it as being on one of those rides at the amusement park that uses centrifugal force.” Hartley said reassuringly as she dug her nails into the tactical console. “It’s fun!”
“Tell that to my stomach!” Browning shouted. She could feel the hot chocolate and marshmallows rising.
“Hello there!” Lt. Commander Prescott said pleasantly, knocking Twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-three of thirty thousand to the ground with one shot of her remodulated phaser.
Lt. Commander Richards walked over to where Crewman Wilcox lie and opened up his engineering kit. “What do we have here?”
“Borgnine?” Wilcox asked. “Borgten? Borgeleven?”
“Just be quiet, Dean. This will all be over soon.” Richards said, running an instrument over the crewman. “Hopefully.”
Larkin scanned the area with her tricorder. “I am attempting to find the primary data access node.”
“It is over there.” Beevus of Borg said, pointing to the far side of the room. “But you will not reach it. Huh-huh. You will all be destroyed.”
Lt. Commander Prescott turned around, staring up into Beevus’ eyes. “You wouldn’t kill me, Christopher! You love me!”
“Christopher Henricks no longer exists. There is only Beevus. And he has no feelings for you.”
“I won’t accept that.” Prescott replied.
“You must. Huh-huh.”
“Thank you for your assistance, Beevus.” Larkin said, inserting the optical cable jack into her forehead and plugging it into the data node. “This will expedite our mission.”
“My job is not to expedite your mission. I have been assigned to kill you all.” Beevus said, pushing Prescott aside and approaching Larkin.
“No you don’t, old buddy!” Richards said, lunging toward Beevus and knocking him backward. Beevus momentarily lost his balance, then tossed Richards across the room, right on top of Wilcox.
“Who?” Wilcox asked.
As he rolled off the operating table, Richards accidentally brushed up against a control. With a shril **bleep***, the data processing device that twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-three of thirty thousand had plugged up to Wilcox’s head hummed to life.
The science officer shot up in the bed as the Borg hive mind attempted to connect with his mind.
“Who-he-ho-ha-what-oo-oh-ouch-me-mi-mo-woah-uh-oh-“ Wilcox said, rolling around the room, the cord still attached to his neck.
“What’s happening to him?” Prescott asked, horrified.
Larkin cocked her head as her mind joined with the Borg hivemind. “Uncertain. Accessing. Accessing. Accessing.”
“You must stop…” Beevus said, approaching Larkin. Suddenly he stopped. “You must stop…listen…what’s that sound…everybody… look…what’s going down?”
“What the hell is happening?” Prescott asked, looking at Beevus as his eyes glazed over. “Chris? Can you hear me?”
“Me my mo, fee fi fo, fee fi fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!” Beevus said, confused.
“Something is wrong with the Borg hivemenind,” Larkin said. “Stand by.”
Meanwhile, Crewman Wilcox writhed on the ground. “Beeboppaloo booppa I boppa you boppa me boppa boo boppa bee bopppa boo!”
“Ssssir!” Drak cried, running into Mordrid’s chamber. “The Borg have stopped firing…they’re jussssst ssssitting there!”
“Impossssssible.” Mordrid said, switching on his viewer to confirm what his adjutant had said. “I’ll be a sssssson of a….”
“They’ve what?” Jum asked, turning around incredulously.
“I said…” Ronan said with annoyance. “They’ve stopped firing.”
Conway watched the Borg ship on the viewscreen. “I don’t believe it…”
“Listen to me, Christopher, you have to fight your way out of there! Somewhere in there is the Chris Henricks I know and love!” Prescott screamed, shaking Beevus with all her might.
“Somewhere, out there, love will see us through…” Henricks mumbled.
“They must be having a bad reaction to Wilcox’s damaged brain.” Richards said, looking down at Wilcox as he spasmed on the floor. “It’s disrupting their whole network!”
“I believe you are right, Commander.” Larkin said, as she continued to access the information. “His mind is a defiance of all laws of science and nature, and as such, they are causing the Borg mainframe to malfunction.”
“Can we use this to our advantage?” Richards asked, as Dean continued to flail around on the floor.
“I believe so.” Larkin replied. “Stand by.”
“SHUT HIM OFF! SHUT HIM OFF!” The Borg hive mind cried as Dean spread throughout their consciousness. “HURRY!”
But Beevus of Borg wasn’t responding, and, as time continued to pass, fewer and fewer of the Borg were responding. They were filled with ghastly, haunting images of human decay and ignorance, and, as such, they seemed to be reverting to a mindless, childlike, Deanlike state.
“There must be a way to combat this repulsive occurrence,” the hivemind called out in anguish, accessing the greater hivemind.
“There is…” the greater hivemind replied. “We must, to use a human aphorism, nip this in the bud.”
“NOOOO!!!!” The hivemind cried, as it was cut off from the rest of the Borg consciousness. Suddenly, Dean had overwhelmed them.
“Humma?” The Borg hivemind asked happily. “Humma humma?”
“Christopher!” Prescott cried, as Henricks fell limp.
“Spam.” Henricks mumbled, falling into Prescott’s arms.
“He must be starving.” Richards said, looking at Henricks.
“Perhaps.” Larkin said, disengaging herself from the Borg access panel. “But if I may suggest, according to what I know of the Borg hivemind, I believe the word ‘Spam’ may have been used to signify a giant explosion.”
“What?” Prescott said, trying to shift Henricks’s weight as he lay on her. “What are you saying Larkin?”
“She’s saying we’d better get the hell out of here!” Richards said, ripping the optical cable out of Dean’s neck and slinging him over his shoulder. “Come on, fella. We’re getting out of here.”
“Humma?” Dean asked confusedly.
“You bet.” Richards replied, tapping his comm badge. “Richards to Nantucket. Get us out of here!”
“What do you mean they’re gone?” Baxter asked incredulously, staring at Wujan on the Romulan scout ship’s tiny viewscreen.
“I mean just that. We completed repairs and sent them on their way.”
“This I’ve got to see.” Ford said. “You can’t repair a ship that badly damaged in less than a day.”
“We’ll see.” Baxter said. “Where did they go?”
“To the sight of our last stand.” Wujan said. “Flarn Prime.”
“Great.” Baxter said, switching off the viewer. “Mr. Ford, take us to Flarn Prime as fast as you can.”
“I still can’t believe it. The nerve of him bringing the Borg here.” Peterman said, crossing her arms. “That was really insensitive.”
“I’m sure sensitivity was foremost on the man’s mind.” Baxter said, returning to sit next to Peterman.
“I still can’t believe the Aerostar was almost destroyed.” Gellar said incredulously. “I mean, it must have been really cool to watch the nacelle getting blown off.”
“Oh, yeah,” Baxter deadpanned. “It was really cool.”
“I just hope the repairs went all right.” Peterman said worriedly.
“That can’t be the sound this thing is supposed to make!” Dr. Browning shouted, over the deafenining chugging of the Aerostar’s new engines.
“At least they work, Doc.” Lt. Hartley said.
“I’m getting a headache.” Ensign Madera said in annoyance.
“Just keep driving, Ensign. We should be there soon.” Browning said, watching the stars as they rushed by on the viewscreen.
“Richards to Nantucket. Get us out of here!”
Parts of the immense Borg vessel began exploding, as it descended through Flarn Prime’s atmosphere, its engines failing.
“Get them out of there!” Commander Conway cried.
“It’s no use!” Ronan replied. “The transporters just aren’t working. I guess the human scum will die!”
Conway walked over to the tactical panel. “What are you talking about?”
“See for yourself…” Ronan said, smiling.
Conway looked down at the panel. “You sabotaged these systems, didn’t you, you Maloxian bitch?”
“Now, now, Commander, our people are cooperating, aren’t they?” Jum asked.
“No, they’re not.” Ronan said, pulling out her phaser and shooting Jum square in the chest.
Conway knocked the disruptor away from Ronan and slugged her with a vicious right punch, causing her to fall to the deck with a thud.
“Damn that felt good!” he said as he went to work at the tactical console, desperately trying to get the transporters operational.
“We represent the lollypop guild, the lollypop guild, the lollypop guild…” The Borg chanted as Richards and his team ran through the exploding Borg ship.
“We’re trying to get a transporter lock on you guys,” Commander Conley said over the crackling comm channel.
“Now would be a good time, Commander!” Lt. Commander Richards cried, dragging Crewman Wilcox behind him.
“There’s a wee problem there, Richards. It seems one of Jum’s people didn’t like the idea of helping us out, and well, um…”
“Great. Just great.” Lt. Commander Prescott shouted, lugging Henricks behind her. “What are we going to do now?”
“After evaluating the situation, I believe the proper human response would be to lose all bladder control and panic.” Larkin said calmly, bringing up the rear.
“Done and done.” Richards replied.
“Entering the Flarn system.” Madera reported.
“What?” Browning asked over the noise.
“I said we’re entering the system!” Madera shouted.
“Oh.” Browning said. “Take us out of warp!”
Suddenly everyone fell forward as the Aerostar slowed.
“Doctor…” Lt. Hartley said, pulling herself to her feet and looking at the tactical console. “This system is in ruins, and half the Sulani and Maloxian fleet has been destroyed!”
“Oh, no!” Browning cried.
“And the Borg ship is blowing apart and crashing into Flarn Prime!”
“But Richards’ team is on board!”
“And I’m going to try and beam them out!”
“Oh.” Browning said. “I guess that’s good.”
“Don’t sound so enthusiastic.” Hartley said, as her hands danced across the tactical console and Flarn Prime came into view.
“Just please, please, Megan, please don’t mess up! My boyfriend’s life depends on it.”
Hartley folded her arms. “What, you doubt my abilities?”
Browning pounded her fists on the command chair. “Darn it, Megan, just do it! Bring them over here now!”
“All you had to do was say please!” Hartley said, as suddenly Richards, Prescott, Larkin, Henricks, and Crewman Wilcox appeared on the bridge.
Doctor Browning ran over to Richards and cradled him in her arms. “We saved you, honey! We saved you! You’re safe, safe from those evil Borg!”
“You’re crushing me!” Richards gasped.
“Why can’t you treat me like that, Chris?” Commander Prescott asked her unconscious Borgified ex- boyfriend, nudging him playfully as he lay motionless on the deck.
“Come and knock on our door, we’ve been waiting for you…” The Borg chanted, as their immense starship sunk through Flarn Prime’s atmosphere.
“Ssssir, the Borg sssship hassss indeed been defeated.” Drak said, peeking his head inside Mordrid’s chambers.
“That’sssss excellent newssssss, Drak old boy.” Mordrid said. “Today we will celebrate the desssssstruction of thosssse pitiful Borg. Then we’ll eat those Sulani and humanssssss for the favor!”
Drak twiddled his claws idly. “Um, there’ssss ssssssssomething else I should tell you, ssssssssssir.”
“What issss it?” Mordrid asked, wrapping his huge arm around Drak. “Why ssssso glum?”
“Well, Emperor, that Borg ssssssssship I wasss telling you about?”
“Well, it’s kind of crasssshing into the planet.”
“And not jussssst any old random ssssssssspot on the planet either.”
“It’sssss crassssshing right here.”
“Oh, ssssssssssssssssssshit!” Mordrid said, squeezing Drak’s shoulder until he was crushing it.
“Sssorry, ssssir.” Drak said meekly, as the Borg ship plunged through the thick crust of Flarn Prime and smashed through Emporer Mordrid’s bunker.
“What happened?” Ronan asked, lifting her head up dizzily.
“To coin a human phrase,” Jum said, standing over her. “You’ve been busted up.”
“And the humans?” Ronan asked, pulling herself to her feet.
“The Aerostar arrived and they were transported safely aboard.”
“I see.” Ronan said softly. “You know those Federations are scum, Jum. You know what I did was right.”
“I know that you’ll be spending the rest of your life in the Gesin mines of Argon Six, Ronan.” Jum said, inclining his head toward the Maloxian guards, who dragged Ronan into the turbolift.
“You’ll regret this, Seeker. You’ll see I’m right. You and your demon son!”
“Dreadfully sorry about that, Commander.” Jum said, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He still felt a little weak from Ronan’s phaser stun.
“Don’t mention it, Jum.” Conway said. “Now, I think it’s time you were reunited with that demon son of yours.”
“Yes,” Jum said, smiling. “I think it is.”
Acting Captain’s Log,
Supplemental. We’re holding position near Flarn Prime in order to render assistance to both the Flarn and the Sulani and Maloxian fleet. Captain Herwan assures me that we should be able to get underway within the next few hours.
“Well?” Dr. Browning asked, as she hit a button on the arm of the command chair that closed the log.
“Sounded very professional, if you ask me.” Lt. Hartley said. “I especially like the way you said, ‘supplemental.’”
“Yeah, me too.” Browning said, giggling.
Commander Conway stepped out of the turbolift and lead Jum onto the bridge. He had to admit–it felt good to be back. But he couldn’t help but be annoyed by the sounds the new engines were making. Those sounds couldn’t be right, could they?
“Report, Lieutenant,” Conway said, hovering over Hartley’s shoulder at tactical.
“The Borg ship is gone, and we haven’t heard anything from Captain Baxter’s team,” Lt. Hartley replied. “For all we know they could have all been killed.”
“Don’t be so optimistic.” Conway muttered, leading Jum over to the command area.
“Hello, Commander.” Dr. Browning said, looking up happily. “Did you have fun fighting the Borg?”
“Tons.” Conway said, glaring down at the Doctor. “Now get out of my chair.”
“My, my.” Browning said. “You’d never tell that to Captain Baxter.”
“Captain Baxter isn’t here.” Conway said, as Jum took Counselor Peterman’s usual seat to Browning’s left and watched the exchange between the Doctor and the First Officer with delight.
“You’re right. But Cap’n Browning is here. Now avast, ye scurvy scallywag.” Browning said, scrunching up her face in a piratish sneer.
“Listen,” Conway said, putting a menacing hand on the command chair. “I’ve spent half the day being pummeled by the Borg, and the last week wasn’t much better. Now if you don’t mind, pretty please, with sugar on top, get out of my fucking chair.”
“Why, Commander, are you relieving me of command?” Browning asked, fluttering her eyes.
“Yes.” Conway said, through gritted teeth. “Now get back down to sickbay and…sutre something.”
Browning was about to throw Conway another witty comeback when Lt. Hartley’s console beeped.
“Uh, one of you guys…there’s a Romulan vessel heading this way…at maximum warp. They’ll be within weapons range in about two minutes.” Hartley said.
Browning jumped out of the command chair hurriedly and hopped into the one next to it, where Conway usually sat. “Chair’s all yours, Commander.”
“Gee, thanks.” Conway said, sitting down. “Is it the Warbird we faced near Jurin Four?”
“Negative…” Hartley said, looking at the sensor scans. “It’s a light scout vessel. D type.”
“Go to Red Alert.” Commander Conway said, leaning back in the chair. “Get the shields up.”
“Aye, Commander.” Hartley replied.
“What if it’s Captain Baxter and my son?” Jum asked, leaning towards Conway. “Surely we’re not going to fire on them?”
“We’ll know if that ship is friendly or not in about sixty seconds.” Conway said, staring at the ship as it approached on the viewscreen.
Another beep from tactical. “They’re hailing us, Commander.” Hartley reported.
“Or sooner.” Conway corrected. “Put ‘em onscreen.”
The approaching scout ship was suddenly replaced by, well, by blackness.
“What the hell are we seeing, Lieutenant?” Conway asked, standing up and approaching the viewscreen.
“Not sure, sir. We’re getting a clear signal, though.” Hartley replied.
“Well,” Conway said, taking a deep breath. “I…”
Suddenly the picture shifted, and a large hand flew by on the screen, which suddenly became filled with Captain Baxter’s face.
“Move it, Mr. Gellar. You’re standing in front of the transmitter.” Baxter suddenly looked up. “Oh, hi, guys! We’re back. What’s going on?”
Stardate 51991.2. After helping repair some of the damaged Sulani and Maloxian ships, we’re heading back to the Sulani system to muster up a salvage operation, although it seems, by the sound of our engines, that we’re the ones that are going to need salvaging. Anyway, it will no doubt take the Delta Quadrant quite a while to recover from this crisis, but on the bright side, the Flarn Empire is deader than disco, and Flarn Prime just got a huge facelift. Hee hee.Ooh, Computer, better strike that last remark.
“…and until I can get us to a spacedock, I’m afraid we’ll just have to live with the noise.” Lt. Commander Richards said firmly, addressing the rest of the officers gathered around the conference table. “From what I can tell, whatever bozo installed the new warp core didn’t properly align it to our inertial hull matrix.”
“A small price to pay, considering this ship saved you and the others.” J’hana muttered from across the table.
“Ya got me there, J’hana.” Richards admitted.
“I wish we had not missed all the action.” J’hana continued. “It seems unfair that we had to go off and rescue Counselor Peterman and the others, when there was a truly awesome battle to be fought.”
“Hey!” Peterman said, from her seat beside Baxter. “I for one am damn glad you guys missed out on the action.”
“Me too.” Baxter said, putting his hand on top of Peterman’s and turning to look at the officers gathered around the conference table. “I just wanted to take this chance to tell you all how proud I am of you. I told you at the beginning of this ordeal that we would overcome the odds, and we did. I want each and every one of you to know that I’m placing a Starfleet citation for honor in each of your records. You’ve all performed above and beyond the call of duty.”
“Does this mean we all get promotions?” Ensign Ford asked hopefully.
“No.” Baxter replied flatly. “However, according to the rulebook, you all will receive a week’s paid vacation on Risa.”
“Yay.” Lt. Hartley said sarcastically. “I’d like to know how the hell we’re going to get there.”
“What about the Crebius Cluster, Captain?” Lt. Larkin asked. “You never told us whether or not you found a way back to the Alpha Quadrant during your mission in there.”
Baxter shook his head. “To be honest, Lieutenant, I don’t know what I found in there. All I do know, is…”
“Gellar to conference lounge. Captain Baxter, we’re getting a priority one message from Sulan. The Prime Minister says its very important that he talks to you.”
Baxter sighed and stood up, walking over to the viewer at the front of the lounge. Thankfully, it was one of the things not destroyed in the fight with the Borg. “Pipe it in here, Mister Gellar.”
“Captain, thank the Directors we were able to track you down.” Wujan said hurriedly on the viewscreen.
Baxter rubbed his eyes tiredly. “What’s the crisis today, Wujan?”
“I don’t know if you’d call it a crisis or not, Captain, but we sent a patrol vessel to the Crebius Cluster to recover the wreckage of the Romulan Warbird you destroyed, and well…”
“Spit it out, Wujan…” Conway said impatiently, earning an angry glare from Baxter.
Baxter turned back to face the Sulani Prime Minister. “Go on…”
“Well, the cluster…is kind of…collapsing.”
“Oh boy.” Baxter said, resting a hand against the bulkhead. “How fast?”
“About thirteen centrads per hour.”
Baxter looked to Larkin, who quickly did the calculations.
“At that rate, the phenomenon will be totally gone within forty-five minutes.”
“Baxter to bridge.” Baxter said, quickly tapping his comm badge. “Lay in a course for the Crebius Cluster. Maximum warp. And I mean MAXIMUM.”
“Acknowledged.” Lt. Gellar replied.
Suddenly the chugging sound of the engines increased drastically, accompanied by a disturbing rattling.
Baxter looked back up at Wujan. “Thank you, Wujan. For everything.”
“Then you believe that you can still make it home? That the Directors would allow you passage after denying it to you all this time?” Wujan asked with concern.
“I don’t know.” Baxter said, standing up. “But there’s only one way to find out.”
“I understand.” Wujan replied. “If you succeed, I wish you well on your journey.”
“Thank you, Wujan.” Baxter said, pressing a button
that closed the channel.
“All right, everyone. To your stations.” Commander Conway barked, rising from his seat and leading the senior staff out onto the bridge.
Captain Baxter remained a few moments, staring outside the conference room windows as the stars streaked by.
Counselor Peterman put a hand on his shoulder. “What is it, Andy?”
“‘We don’t have much time…’” Baxter repeated, almost to himself. “‘Correction. You don’t have much time.’ Damn it, Kelly,” Baxter said, turning to face the Counselor. “I should have realized what they were trying to tell me!”
“Who?” Peterman said with confusion, following Baxter as he rushed out onto the bridge.
“The giant eyeball!” Baxter shouted. “Who else?”
“We need to have a little chat sometime soon,” Peterman said worriedly, hurrying onto the bridge and taking a seat beside Baxter’s command chair.
Jum looked around the Starlight Lounge with wonder. “This is all yours, son?”
Mirk patted the bar lovingly. After all, it was his bar, wasn’t it? “Yep, Dad. It’s all mine. I’m the head bartender and proprietor.”
“You’ve done quite nice for yourself, then.” Jum said, taking a seat at the bar as Mirk relieved the Bolian bartender from his duties.
“I try.” Mirk said, smiling as he served up a drink for his father. “You didn’t do a bad job yourself. Raising a fleet, fighting us, Colonel T’Phil, and the Borg. You’re a regular war hero.”
Jum looked down into his drink. “But we’re not a warlike people, son.”
“Not if we don’t want to be.” Mirk said. “Remember what you always told me? The Maloxians would always adapt, always serve the purpose at hand.”
“Just like the Borg.” Jum said sadly.
“No, not like the Borg.” Mirk replied. “We’re people, Dad. We feel, and think. We’ve been scavengers, slaves, and soldiers. Now maybe its time we were something more.”
“Sounds like your running for office, son.” Jum said, looking up at Mirk.
“No, but maybe you should.” Mirk said, suddenly distracted by the figure that just entered the lounge. And what a figure it was.
“Mirk!” Danel said, running over to the bar and sitting down next to Jum. “I knew I’d find you here. So you really do have your own bar!”
“Yep.” Mirk said, serving up a drink for Danel.
“Listen.” Danel said, running her finger along the rim of the glass thoughtfully. “I wanted…well, I wanted to thank you for saving me.”
“I didn’t really save you,” Mirk said sheepishly. “I just fell on top of Cridis. It was really…”
Suddenly Danel lept across the bar and engulfed Mirk in a long, passionate, kiss.
“Well, it’s been nice, but I’d better go…” Jum said quickly, sliding off the barstool.
Suddenly Mirk’s comm badge beeped. “Baxter to Mirk. You’d better come up to the bridge. And bring Jum and Danel with you.”
“He’s going to be fine, Jennifer.” Dr. Browning said, as she ran the medical scanner over Private Henricks. “I’ve removed the Borg implants and repaired the damage they did to his nervous system. He’ll be perfectly fine within the next couple days.”
Lt. Commander Prescott leaned forward, peering into Henricks’s closed eyes as he lay on the biobed. “When will he be able to talk?”
“I can bring him around right now if you like.” Browning said, preparing a hypospray. “But I’d rather he didn’t run any marathons quite yet.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Prescott said, as Browning injected the hypospray into Henricks’s neck.
“Don’t mention it.” Browning replied, turning to check on her other patient as Henricks began to come around. “And how are we feeling today?” Browning asked, as Crewman Wilcox played happily with a Rubix cube.
“It’s as if nothing ever happened to him, Doc.” Nurse Carter said from beside Wilcox. “The only symptom of his encounter with the Borg that I can find is that he has taken a real liking to Rubix cubes.”
“He doesn’t even realize that he saved us all.” Browning said with wonder.
“If he did, I don’t think he’d care.” Carter said, playfully tickling Wilcox’s nose.
“Love humma!” Dean said happily.
“Baxter to Browning. You and Commander Prescott better come up here.”
Browning shrugged. “Okay, we’ll be right up.”
“We are entering the Sulan system.” Lt. Larkin reported from ops, just as Mirk, Jum, and Danel emptied out onto the bridge from the turbolift next to the viewscreen.
At about the same time, Dr. Browning and Lt. Commander Prescott helped Private Henricks off the turbolift at the rear of the bridge.
“I said I’ll be fine!” Henricks protested, as he stepped off the turbolift. “Never been better.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Prescott said playfully.
“What’s all this about, Captain?” Dr. Browning asked, taking up a position next to Richards at the engineering console.
Captain Baxter simply stood up and walked to the front of the bridge, so that he could address everyone. “As many of you already know, the Crebius Cluster is collapsing. After a recent talk with the entities that reside there, known by many races in this quadrant as ‘The Directors’, I believe that there may be a way for us to use the phenomenon to get back home, despite the fact that the portal was destroyed nearly a year ago. If I’m right, then we don’t have much time to get back home.”
“We should go to the Crebius Cluster as soon as possible, then,” Mirk said urgently.
“WE aren’t going to do anything, Mr. Mirk.” Baxter said, returning to his chair. “You belong with your people.”
“But, Captain, you’ll need a guide to get you through the portal.” Mirk protested. “Besides, when I’m done helping you get back, I can use the other portal in your quadrant to get back here.”
“There’s no guarantee that the Bermuda Expanse’s portal won’t collapse just like the Crebius Cluster.” Lt. Tilleran said from the science station. “You may be stranded in the Alpha Quadrant.”
“Oh.” Mirk said quietly.
“We’re prepared to beam the three of you to Sulan before heading for the Crebius Cluster, but we don’t have much time. You’ll need to say your good-byes quickly, Mr. Mirk.”
Mirk thought a moment. It all seemed to come down to this. He prepared to say his good-byes.
He turned to Jum and hugged him tightly. “Goodbye, Dad.”
“But, son…” Jum said. “You can’t go…”
“Yes, I can, Dad.” Mirk protested. “I have to. Don’t you see, you have a destiny here. You’re going to lead our people to glory. But that’s not my destiny. I have to help these people get back to their quadrant. I think the answers to a lot of questions lie over there. And I’ll never know if I don’t go with them.”
“But, Mirk, what if I never see you again?” Danel said tearfully.
Mirk brushed Danel’s hair back gently and kissed her. “You will. I promise.” He said finally. “I’ll be back before you guys even realize I’m gone.”
“Mirk, you realize you’ll be our people’s only representative over there.” Jum said worriedly. “You’ll have to make a good impression.”
“I will, Dad.” Mirk said. “You have my word.”
“Then that’s all I need. Come Danel.”
“Are you guys almost through?” Baxter asked. “We’ve kind of got a flight to catch.”
Mirk quickly hugged Jum and Danel, then turned to the Captain and nodded. “Yes, sir. We’re done.”
“Good, then, without further-“ Baxter said, about to give the order for Jum and Danel to be transported.
“Wait.” Commander Prescott said uncertainly, looking to Henricks, then back to Baxter. “Transport us too.”
“What the hell are you saying?” Henricks asked, turning toward Prescott.
“Think about it, Chris.” Prescott said. “You infiltrated a Federation Starship, whether under orders from a high up Admiral or not, and you’ll serve at least ten years in a penal colony for it. Let’s face it, we could never be together in the Alpha Quadrant. We’re leading two very different lives over there.”
“She’s got a point, Captain.” Conway chimed in. “Starfleet doesn’t like Federation Marines to begin with. The only way they could ever be together is if they stayed here.”
“We could begin a new human civilization here.” Prescott said, smiling and looking into Henricks’ eyes.
“Well, when you put it that way…” Henricks replied. “Transport us to Sulan, too.”
“Okay,” Baxter said, taking a deep breath. “You guys can go. Lt. Larkin, how much time now until the Cluster is gone?”
“I would estimate twenty minutes until it grows too small to admit the Aerostar.” Larkin reported.
“What about the Wicomico, Lt. J’hana?” Baxter asked, approaching tactical. “Any word from Stevens or Dwanok?”
“Negative.” J’hana replied. “I cannot locate the Wicomico, or either of its crewmembers.”
“Maybe we’ll find them.” Henricks said.
“I feel a spin-off coming on.” Conway sighed, rubbing his head.
“Don’t even joke about that.” Baxter said, returning his gaze to Prescott and Henricks. “Okay, guys. I’ll tell Starfleet that you both are officially Missing in Action. Consider it a favor for helping us defeat the Borg.”
“We’re even.” Prescott said, shaking Baxter’s hand. “Oh, and sorry again for ramming my tongue in your mouth.”
“I wish you’d stop bringing that up.” Henricks said angrily.
“Oh, stop your whining.” Prescott said.
Richards and Browning quickly walked over to say their good-byes.
“Well, you messed with my brain and stole one of my creations, but I’ll never see you again, so I don’t feel all that bitter.” Richards said, shaking Henricks’s hand vigorously.
“Uh, likewise.” Henricks replied.
“Um, it was a pleasure being lied to.” Browning said, hugging Lt. Commander Prescott. “Whenever I see a bitchy Bajoran female, I’ll think of you.”
“You don’t know how much that means to me.” Prescott replied, turning quickly to address the rest of the bridge crew. “It was a pleasure lying to you all.”
“It was nothing.” Conway said blandly. “Just try to remember all the tactics I taught you.”
Prescott laughed. “I already knew half of them.”
“Okay, okay.” Baxter said. “It’s time we wrapped this up. Time’s a wastin’.”
“Goodbye, Private Henricks.” Larkin said from ops. “I will always think of you as the Father I never had. Thank you for giving me life.”
“Well, perversion is the mother of invention.” Henricks admitted.
“Okay, Lt. J’hana.” Baxter said, walking over and regarding Jum, Danel, Henricks, and Prescott. “Have Lt. Hartley beam them directly from here to Wujan’s palace.”
“Understood.” J’hana said, tapping her comm badge.
Baxter quickly shook the hand of each of the departing visitors. “May each of you find what you’re looking for. Okay, J’hana. Get them out of here.”
And as quickly as that, (okay, so it wasn’t that quick) Jum, Danel, Henricks, and Prescott began to disappear.
“I really wish I could have made out with you!” Ensign Ford shouted at Commander Prescott as she dissolved.
Fortunately for Ford, Prescott had completely disappeared before she had realized what he said.
“May I, Captain?” Larkin said, standing up and approaching Ensign Ford.
“By all means, Lieutenant.” Baxter said, returning to the command chair.
Without further ado, Lt. Larkin slapped Ford upside the head.
“Okay now, let’s haul ass.” Baxter said. “Don’t make me beg, Mister Ford!”
“Yes, sir.” Ford said dejectedly, engaging the warp engines.
<Wat took you so long?> The eyeball asked, floating aimlessly at the front of the Aerostar’s bridge.
“Traffic.” Baxter said from the command chair. He was the only crewmember on the bridge, with the exception of Mirk, that wasn’t at all alarmed at the appearance of the eyeball as the ship entered the rapidly shrinking cluster.
<Likely story. I guess you want to be transported back to your little quadrant now, don’t you?>
“Damn right.” Baxter said. “Our work is done here, as far as I’m concerned. Now would you please send us back?” <What do you mean, ‘send us back’? We’ve never tried to stop you.>
“Bull shit!” Baxter said angrily.
“Careful,” Mirk whispered, from beside J’hana at tactical. “You’re talking to gods, you know.”
“I know very damn well who I’m talking to, Mirk.” Baxter said, returning his gaze to the eyeball. “If we could go back at any time, what was with all this ‘fulfill your destiny’ crap? Didn’t we have to do something special before leaving here? Weren’t we supposed to be part of some ‘grander scheme’?”
<Not really, but it was a pleasant thought, wasn’t it?>
“Errrrrgggh!” Baxter grunted, squeezing the armrests of his command chair angrily. “I don’t believe it! We’ve been stuck here all year for absolutely no reason!”
“Be calm, Andy.” Peterman said reassuringly. “Count to ten!”
“So you mean we could have gone back to the Alpha Quadrant at any time.” Commander Conway said in disbelief. “Is that what you’re trying to tell us?”
<Exactly. It’s just like…oh, what’s that story you all used to love so much?>
“I believe they are referring to ‘The Wizard of Oz.’” Larkin said. “Fascinating.”
<Yes, that’s the one!>
“So we just click our heels together?” Dr. Browning asked incredulously. “And that’s it?”
<Yep. But you’d better hurry. We’re, um, moving. And we’ll be gone in…um…>
“Three minutes.” Larkin offered helpfully.
<Yes, what she said.>
“And you guys won’t give us any clue as to where you came from? Or where you’re going? Or who you are, what you are?” Richards asked.
<Not yet. But don’t worry, you haven’t seen the last of us. Right, Mirk?>
“Who, me?” Mirk said, looking around. “What are you talking about?”
<Oh, you’ll find out. But you’ll have to excuse us for finding a little irony in this.>
“I’m getting the feeling we’re being jerked around,” Conway said.
“I think we’ve been jerked around since day one,” Baxter muttered angrily.
<Aw, now Captain, let’s not have any hard feelings. I’d like to think you all had a wonderful time here in the Delta Quadrant.>
“Like hell we have!” Ford said.
<You be quiet, or I’ll tell them all about the biomemetic gel incident!> the eye said threateningly.
“I can’t believe you know about that!” Ford exclaimed. “You must really be gods!” <Yes, we certainly are. Now get out of here, before it’s too late.>
“Okay, okay.” Baxter said. “Mister Ford…set a course for, um…”
The eyeball rolled itself and sighed in annoyance. <Two-two-four mark five.>
“What the eyeball said.” Baxter said.
“Aye aye, sir.” Ford said, punching the commands into his panel.
<Now repeat it over and over again, guys!> The eyeball said with glee.
“No…” Baxter said, growing very fearful.
<Yes. Quickly now.>
“I believe the expression is, ‘there is no place like home’, sir.” Larkin offered helpfully.
“You heard the eyeball, guys.” Baxter said, leading the bridge crew in a loud, enthusiastic chant of “There’s no place like home!”
<We’ll see you all, as they say, in the funny papers!> The eyeball said, disappearing with a bright flash.
“Engage, Mister Ford!” Baxter shouted, in the midst of the chanting.
“There’s no place like home, yes sir, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!” Ford said, tapping in the commands.
The Aerostar’s new engines surged and chugged and thrummed as it shot into warp, tearing through the shrinking Crebius cluster.
Captain Baxter looked around fearfully as lights dimmed all around the bridge and the ship shook violently. The Captain was immediately put in mind of the feeling of being on an oceangoing vessel traveling at high speeds through a tropical storm.
“We’ve breached normal space!” Lt. Tilleran shouted from the science console. “We’re traveling through some kind of subspace conduit!”
“Put it onscreen!” Baxter shouted over the chugging of the Sulani engines.
The screen suddenly became filled with a bright blue and white sparkling tunnel, through which Baxter assumed the Aerostar was now traveling.
“What’s the status on the engines, Richards?” Conway asked, as he tried to hold onto his chair.
“The new engines are fine, but hull stress is off the scale. We’re about to be torn apart.”
“This is Captain Baxter to all hands.” Baxter said, pressing a control on his armrest. “We’ve encountered some slight…turbulence. You’re all asked to report to your assigned escape pods as a safety precaution, just in case we happen to break apart or blow up or something.”
“Slight turbulence?” Conway asked incredulously.
“Shut up.” Baxter replied.
“The hull stress is increasing.” Lt. Larkin reported. “Microfractures are forming all over the hull.”
“Increase power to the shields and the structural integrity field.” Commander Conway ordered. “That should compensate.”
“I’m doing my best, Commander.” Richards said. “But everything is dumped into the engines right now.”
“We are going to break apart!” J’hana shouted over the din. “What is the use in returning to the Alpha Quadrant if we are dead!”
“Good question.” Peterman said, grabbing Baxter’s hand and squeezing it. “We’re not going to die, are we Andy?”
“Couldn’t tell you, honey. Ask the eyeball.” Baxter said, pulling Peterman closer as the ship convulsed. “So are we going to die?” Counselor Peterman asked the eyeball. “Is this how it’s going to end for us?” As if on cue, the eyeball reappeared on the bridge. <Oh, it’s not over for your crew,> the eyeball said mystically. <Not by a long shot. As a matter of fact…you’ve barely begun!>
And with that, the eyeball was gone again.
“Hull stress at maximum tolerable levels!” Richards shouted, trying to work his console and hold on to Dr. Browning at the same time. “We’re going to break apart any minute!”
“We are losing life support!” Larkin said.
“The phenomenon is increasing in its intensity!” Lt. Tilleran shouted.
“Our shields are failing!” J’hana called out.
“Helm control is offline!” Ford cried.
“We’re going to break apart, Captain!” Conway shouted. “See you in hell, right?”
Baxter ignored Conway and wrapped his arm tighter around Peterman.
“I love you, Andy.” Peterman whispered, nestling against Baxter’s chest.
“I love you, too.” Baxter said quietly, staring at the viewscreen as a dark patch at the end of the tunnel grew nearer and nearer.
Then, suddenly, panels blew up all around the bridge, sending sparks shooting everywhere.
The Aerostar gave off one last, huge, deafening, earth shaking rattle, just as the viewscreen exploded in another shower of sparks.
And then everything went dark.
“That’s odd,” Lt. Thomas Eugene Paris said, checking his console again before he said anything.
After all, what he saw was impossible.
“Is something wrong, Lieutenant?” Commander Chakotay asked, approaching Paris’ station.
“I don’t know,” Paris said, his brow creasing in confusion.
“Explain,” Captain Kathryn Janeway said, getting up from her chair and joining Chakotay.
Paris shook his head in disbelief. “It appeared, for a moment, that I picked up a Starfleet warp signature, Captain.”
Janeway looked back to Lt. Commander Tuvok, as if to ask for confirmation.
“I am uncertain, Captain.” Tuvok said, reexamining the readings on his panel. “We did detect a sudden increase in neutrino emissions in a neighboring star system, followed by what appeared to be a warp eddy.”
“A warp eddy?” Janeway said, rubbing her chin.
“Any vessel with warp capabilities would leave a similar trace.” Chakotay said, looking over Paris’ shoulder.
“That may be,” Paris said, “but this signature had a modulation unlike any we’ve seen in the Delta Quadrant. It was the exact modulation of a Nebula class starship.”
“Maybe its a rescue effort…” Ensign Kim offered from ops.
“Don’t celebrate yet, Mr. Kim.” Janeway said, returning to her chair. “Janeway to Neelix.”
“Neelix here. What can I do for you, Captain?”
“What do you know about the neighboring star system?”
“The Malox system? Oh, very little, Captain. Just enough to know to stay away from it. That entire corner of the quadrant is guarded by a vicious race that would make the Kazon seem like teddy bears. We’re not going there, are we?”
“I haven’t decided yet. Mr. Paris thought he may have detected a Starfleet signature coming from that system.”
“Oh, highly unlikely, Captain. Any outside ship that had the misfortune to wander into that territory wouldn’t have long to regret their mistake.”
“You’re not adding to our optimism, Mr. Neelix.” Janeway said dryly.
“I just call ‘em like I see ‘em, Captain.”
“Very well.” Janeway said, standing up again. “Janeway out.”
“What are we going to do Captain?” Chakotay asked, turning to face the Captain.
“I’m not going to risk Voyager on a hunch, Commander.” Janeway said finally. “We’ll continue on our course for home and make a note never to go anywhere near the Malox system.”
“What if that was a Starfleet ship, Captain?” Ensign Kim asked. “Then may God have mercy on their souls,” Janeway said, settling back into her chair.
Captain Baxter pulled himself to his feet, rubbing his aching head. The first thing he thought to do was check to make sure Counselor Peterman was okay.
“Kelly?” he whispered, nudging her gently.
“Are we home?” Peterman asked tiredly, rubbing her eyes.
Baxter looked around the dark, smoky bridge. It seemed as if all main power had failed, and the viewscreen was totally destroyed.
“I honestly don’t know.” Baxter said, hobbling over to the operations console. “Status, Lieutenant Larkin?”
“I am running a self diagnostic, now, Captain. I believe my systems were disrupted by the portal’s energies.” Larkin said, cocking her head. “I believe my systems were disrupted by the portal’s energies. I believe…”
“Okay, I get it.” Baxter said, crawling over wreckage to get to the tactical console. “Is anyone else around here conscious?”
“No.” Commander Conway grunted from his position on the floor.
“I am presently being crushed by a beam, Captain.” J’hana said. “I think my third cervical vertebrae is fractured, but I may be able to drag myself…”
“Don’t worry about it, Lieutenant.” Baxter said, ripping open the tactical console and pulling out the emergency transponder kit within. He laid the transponder on the tactical railing, flipped it open, and switched it on.
“Is anyone out there?” he asked fearfully, wondering if they’d actually made it back. “Is this the Alpha Quadrant?”
Baxter sat there for several moments, drumming his fingers on the transponder, hearing nothing but static in response.
“Well?” Peterman asked, dragging herself up and sticking her head underneath the tactical railing to face Baxter. “Are we home or not?”
“I don’t…” Baxter said, when suddenly the transponder crackled to life.
“This is Waystation, Lt. Commander Walter Morales speaking, and you are indeed in the Alpha Quadrant. Now who the hell is this? And where the hell did you come from?”
“That’s a long story, Commander.” Baxter said, smiling. He grabbed Peterman’s hand and squeezed it tightly.