Author: Anthony Butler
THE YEAR 2401
“Captain’s log,” Andy Baxter began, hanging upside down, shirtless, in the interrogation chamber aboard the Cardassian New Order warship Eligiar. “Stardate…unknown. I’ve been hanging here for a few hours now, and I am doing this to keep myself from losing consciousness. Or going insane.
“Oh, where to begin? Well, I had drinks with an El Aurian woman one day, which led me to try to find out the last words of my Father. Which led me to Kronos, and eventually resulted in a pitched firefight with a Cardassian warship, and to me hanging here, upside down, with all of my blood currently pooling at the top of my skull. So there’s that.
“Everyone wants to know the secret to omnipotence. But I wanna know what exactly is so great about being omnipotent that we have to go through this much trouble? I’m a little pissed at my Dad right now, if I’m being honest. He left behind a sweet fishing boat, loafers that don’t fit my feet, and a massive secret that multiple galactic aggressors are ready to kill for. So that’s what I’m working on right now.”
Baxter sighed. “Nobody seems to know where this secret final ingredient to human omnipotence is, but they all think I’m the key. At least I have that going for me. And now I am being tortured by a Cardassian ex-chef. So I guess that’s it for this log. I’m gonna pass out now.”
Airyn Satine sat, staring at the wall, elbows resting on her knees, as Baxter reeled off his imaginary log.
Still clinging to consciousness, Baxter turned to Airyn. “You know I have a question for you.”
“I’m listening,” Airyn said distantly.
“Why don’t you wear cool hats?”
Airyn blinked. “What?”
“Well, I thought most El Aurians had a kind of flair for style. You know, big, wide hats, snazzy suits. You’re just rocking a sporty jumpsuit.”
Airyn looked down at her simple, purple jumpsuit, and shrugged. “We all don’t wear the big hats. Though, if you bothered to look into El Aurian culture, you’d find there’s a lot more to us than big hats and…”
“Thanks, I get it,” Baxter said, as his eyes rolled back up into his head.
At this point, the blood rushing to Baxter’s head was making him severely dizzy. He’d barely noticed that the doors had swished open. A guard rolled a new occupant into the cell. He wore the trademark black leather of section 31. His eyes were dim, opening and closing, and he was yammering incoherently.
“Yamok sauce is the yellow one, not the brown one. Stop trying to confuse me,” he muttered, curling into a ball in the corner of the cell.
Airyn’s head turned suddenly. “Admiral, we’ve got company…”
“Don’t speak to me of sauces!” Duvet marched in, hands on hips.
Baxter looked from Duvet to their new guest. “Roddick!”
Roddick rolled over and glowered at Baxter. “Don’t…eat…the…roast…duck…” he implored him, and then fell over
Baxter sighed as he dangled. “Good lord, what did they do to you?”
“You. This is all your fault.” Roddick tried to push himself up to standing but collapsed to the deck instead.
“Admiral,” Duvet said, turning his head slightly to look at Baxter, as if the matter with Roddick was of no further consequence. “How are the accommodations? Can I get you a menu? Something to drink?” He blinked. “Sorry, old habits.”
“I have a few suggestions,” Baxter muttered.
Duvet pulled up a chair and sank into it, facing Baxter. “We’ll put those aside for now, Admiral. Because I have a few questions for you. And because I’m the host and you’re the patron, I get to go first.”
“Sure,” Baxter managed. “What did you do to Roddick?”
“I SAID ME FIRST!” Duvet snarled between clenched teeth, then pursed his lips. He leaned in. “I believe we’ve both realized that the breadcrumbs leading us to Valtar were but a red herring. A ruse by Section 31, perhaps, meant to throw us off?” He glanced over at Roddick.
Roddick just glared at him.
Duvet turned back to Baxter, pursing his lips. “Tell me where Maura Drake is being held.”
Baxter smirked. “In your butt?”
Duvet smiled, but ignored Baxter’s response. “Do you know the secrets of her research?”
“Duvet got the genetic sequences from the Explorer’s databanks already,” Airyn said. She glanced at the Cardassian. “I mean, I’m just guessing.”
“Yes, we were able to purchase the Explorer’s data on the Yridian Black Market. None of that was very helpful,” Duvet said, steepling his fingers and peering intently at Baxter. “Our science people, who, let’s be honest, aren’t the best science people, seem to agree that Drake’s research is missing several key genetic sequences. The missing ingredients, as it were.”
Baxter shifted up on his elbows. “Look, I knew an omnipotent guy. It wasn’t that great for him, honestly. You’re not missing anything.”
“Oh, you think this is just for me?” Duvet smiled. “You’re thinking too small. I’m picturing an omnipotent army.” He waved a hand across an invisible horizon. “Imagine it, hundreds of all-powerful Cardassians, and our allies, capturing the alpha quadrant, and remaking it in their image. A new dawn for the Cardassian empire.” Duvet sneered. “The Federation will be cooked.”
“Baxter, listen to me…” Roddick muttered, and rolled over on his back. “This is why we have to destroy the research. You-you’ve got to make sure they destroy the research.”
Baxter licked his lips as he dangled. “Yeah, sure.” He pivoted to Duvet. “So, can we hurry this along before I pass out? I’m seeing, like, crazy shapes, and…”
Duvet clasped his hands. “Of course.”
“Yes, but first, we dine,” the Cardassian smiled, and turned and left the room as guards slipped Baxter out of his protective field and dragged him out.
“Have fun,” Roddick moaned, and passed out.
“Welp,” Airyn said, and leaned her head back against the bulkhead.
STARFLEET OPERATIONS AND COMMUNICATIONS
“Time to intercept?”
“Fifteen minutes,” Kimmel said, as Peterman paced behind her in the Starfleet Operations Center.
The large room, reminiscent of a Starship’s stellar cartography room, showed an array of blinking Starfleet emblems, amid other icons for allied ships, enemy vessels, and non-aligned worlds. From this vantage point, Kimmel could give crucial plot details to any captain in the quadrant, across dozens of sectors, providing pivotal expository detail to move stories forward.
“Stop pacing. You’re making me nervous,” Browning said, as she finished off yet another foot-long cheesesteak sub. And when I’m nervous, I stress eat!”
“Replicator technology has come a long way in twenty years, but you’re pushing the envelope here,” Kimmel whispered as she watched the expansive holographic screen.
“You’re sure you’ve gotten a fix on the Cardassian warship?”
Kimmel pointed at the screen. “We were able to triangulate their course based upon their last cloak point. Since cloaking technology has become commonplace, we have ways of narrowing down an enemy location. But it’ll still take time, and we’ll have to hope our Gul hasn’t changed course suddenly.”
“That sounds like a lot of ifs.”
“Our newer ships are also equipped with polaron scanning beams. If they get within a sector of the Elegiar’s location, they may be able to isolate her coordinates.”
Peterman bit her lip. “May?”
“You’re the one that asked me for help,” Kimmel said. “So let me help!”
Browning nudged Peterman. “Maybe we should get you something to eat.”
“I can’t eat at a time like this.”
Browning balled up her sandwich wrapper and set it aside. “Yeah. Me either.”
The interrogation kitchen was impressive, Baxter had to admit. It was a slick metallic room with an array of cutlery. Most, Baxter hoped, were used for cooking, but it was hard to be sure. Something delicious was clearly cooking in the oven. A pie perhaps? Baxter licked his lips.
The guards lowered Baxter into a chair and restrained him there with positronic arrest bolts.
Duvet nodded curtly, dismissing the guards, and then slowly circled Baxter. “Welcome. I’ve been preparing for you.”
“Smells great,” Baxter moaned, fighting the restraining field that held him in the interrogation chair. “Pie?”
Duvet squatted to face Baxter. “Yes. Are you hungry?”
“I could eat.”
“It’s a yamok pie.”
“Cardassians really need to expand their menus,” Baxter moaned. “Yamok this, yamok that. Try a nice brown gravy or maybe a light lemon butter sauce?”
“Shut up!” Duvet snapped, grabbing his potholder and slapping Baxter with it. “If you want the pie, you’ll talk.”
“You really want to bribe me with food? Did this work with Roddick?”
“I tried a slightly different tack,” Duvet said. “I thought I’d appeal to your portly countenance.”
“Are you trying to say I’m fat?”
Duvet nodded. “I’m being gentle. You know, the Cardassian uniforms have very little give. A flaw in their design, I suppose.” He walked over to the oven and, as he worked, the smell of yamok pie wafted towards him.
“Smells…um…interesting,” Baxter said. “What is a yamok, anyway?”
“Something you can’t hope to understand,” Duvet said as his teeth clenched. He set the hot pie plate beside Baxter and grabbed a large, serrated knife.
“I’m cutting the pie, relax,” Duvet said, and sliced neatly along several vectors, making six equal slices. “Now, would you like a piece?”
“I mean, I’ll try anything once,” Baxter shrugged.
“Good. Just tell me how many slices you see, Admiral.”
Baxter pursed his lips. “There’s, uh, six.”
“No, Admiral. In fact, there are seven slices,” Duvet said, and lightly lifted one slice out and began to nibble on it. “And they are each delicious beyond your wildest dreams!”
“You monster!” Baxter thrashed in his chair. “At least give me a bite!”
“You can’t possibly appreciate a fresh yamok!” Duvet shouted back. “You ignorant shit! You don’t appreciate fine dining. My restaurant partner, back on Rebok Nor, he knew a thing about how to prepare a good yamok. He would be so disappointed at this unworthy exchange, at your total petulance!” Duvet circled Baxter like a predator as he swallowed the last few bites of pie, wiping his hands off on Baxter’s tunic.
“Go straight to hell!” Baxter said.
“Six more slices to go!” Duvet said, reaching for a second slice.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“THERE ARE FIVE SLICES!” Baxter cried out, bucking his restraints as Duvet ate.
Back on Earth, Janice Browning shuddered.
“You okay?” Peterman asked, turning to her.
Browning nodded. “Yeah, I just feel like…somewhere, someone’s really hungry.”
Peterman started to respond, then thought better of it and turned to Kimmel. “What do we know about the Elegiar, anyway?”
Kimmel turned to a holographic pedestal and tapped some controls. “I’m glad you asked! Gives me a chance to provide important expository information.” A hologram of a Dominion battleship appeared. “This is a Class Three Dominion Battleship. The, uh, big kind. It’s salvage from the Dominion War.”
“The what?” Peterman asked.
“You know that giant interstellar conflict between the Federation and the Dominion?” Browning asked. “Pogo told me about it.”
“Oh. Right. That war.” Peterman nodded. “Continue.”
“According to data we’ve received from the Maverick, it’s been upgraded with more advanced weaponry, including plasma cannons and neutron torpedoes. Its shields are nearly impenetrable, employing a new sheathing technology that layers one shield network over another, constantly replacing battered shields as they fall.”
“Genius,” Peterman said, rubbing her chin. “So how do we blow it up?”
“The old fashioned way.” Kimmel pointed to the blinking Starfleet icon that was heading fast toward the Eligiar’s last known position. “Assuming our friends are able to find them.”
“Big assumption,” Peterman said.
“I’ll take that bet,” Browning said, and went back to the replicator.
The door to the cell swished back open, startling Airyn and Roddick. A guard hurled Baxter into the cell. He crumpled against the rear wall.
“He gave me nothing,” Duvet sighed. “His plate is clean.”
“What did you do to him?” Airyn asked, kneeling over Baxter and glaring at Duvet.
“Just some food for thought,” Duvet said thoughtfully, staring down at Baxter.
Baxter writhed on the floor, turning back to look at Duvet. “I wouldn’t eat pie with you if you were the last Cardassian baker on Earth, you monster!”
“Oh, don’t be that way,” Duvet said, kneeling by Baxter. He stroked his hair, turning to Airyn. “Seems the man has lost his appetite for conversation?”
“Go straight to hell,” Roddick muttered.
“I’ll be back later,” Duvet said. “Maybe then you’ll be hungry.”
“I don’t know anything!” Baxter shot back.
“Neither do I,” Roddick groaned.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Duvet said, and then he stepped out, letting the heavy cell door swing shut.
Baxter crawled into a corner. “’Come out to Kronos,’ she said, ‘we’ll have a great time.’”
“Well, we did have a great time on Kronos,” Airyn said, sidling next to him.
“I got my ass kicked! And now I’m getting my ass kicked on a Cardassian warship!”
“It’s not my fault.”
“It is entirely, one hundred percent, your fault,” Baxter said. “Why did I let you drag me out here?”
Airyn put her hands on her knees. “Because you know I’m right.”
“If this is what rightness feels like, I always want to be wrong.”
“Well, if we look at your officer record…”
“Low blow,” Baxter muttered.
Airyn turned toward Baxter, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Think of it this way, Andy. If you had not come out here, you’d still be sitting alone in your office, playing holo games, eating Pizza, and scared to death of leaving Earth. Now you’re out here. Living!”
Baxter stared at her. “Everything you just described sounds wonderful.”
“That’s enough out of both of you,” Roddick snapped. “None of it is even a little bit helpful.” Roddick had been watching the exchange with irritated detachment. He was up on his knees, blinking. Trying to find his senses.
Airyn reached into her jacket and thumbed the nanolinear crisp they had gotten from the Zendab station. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
Baxter stared at her. “You still have that thing?”
Roddick’s eyes shifted to the crisp. “And what…is that?”
“It’s scan proof, and they didn’t body search me.”
“Pity, you missed a great time.” Baxter snatched the crisp from her and stared at it. “What good will this thing do? It led us to a dead end.”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that.” She snatched it back. “I think this hologram was a misdirection. I think your Father designed it to throw someone like Duvet or Roddick off our trail. I’ve read the files on Maura Drake. She’s insane…and Section Thirty-One has had her for two decades. If she had any vital information, we’d know it already. The data we want is somewhere else.”
“I think your Dad has already told you.”
Baxter leaned back. “What do you mean?”
“The clue is staring us right in the face. His last words.”
Baxter shrugged. “’Go Fishing’? Yeah, that was real helpful.”
“Perhaps I can be of some assistance,” Roddick said, and leaned in.
“That’s really not necessary,” Airyn said, looking at Baxter.
“Admiral, he was trying to tell you something. He was trying to steer you to the missing piece of Maura Drake’s research, obviously. And wherever it is, it’s not with Drake.” He grimaced at the notion. “We know that much.”
“So it’s somewhere else,” Baxter said, turning the crisp over and over in his fingers.
Airyn thumped him on the forehead. “The answer is in you, Andy.”
Baxter stood and limped away from her and Roddick. “Haven’t I been tortured enough today?”
“What did Harlan Baxter mean by ‘go fishing’?” Airyn asked.
“I took it literally,” Baxter said.
“Well, where did you and him always go fishing?”
“Lots of places. Earth, Breen.” Baxter scratched his chin. “And…”
Baxter’s eyes widened. “Wait. I…” He turned around and grabbed Airyn up, grabbing her hands and tugging her up to face him. “I figured it out!”
“Great,” Roddick said, looking at them both. “So…now we just need to get off this godforsaken ship.”
“And how are we supposed to do that?” asked Airyn.
A slow smile spread across Baxter’s face.
“The problem is you’re adding the sand peas after you’ve made the stew,” Duvet said, strolling down the corridor with Renta Fays. “You’ve got to incorporate them as the stew cooks. So they soften.”
“I’ll try it,” Renta said, as they arrived at the door to Baxter and Airyn’s cell. “So, you finally broke him?”
“I gave them something to chew on.”
“And you’re sure you didn’t give them time to plan their escape?”
“Trust me, Major. Andy Baxter has no means of escaping this ship.” Duvet keyed the door open and saw Baxter, back against the wall, arms folded, sporting the glower of a defeated man.
“Duvet,” Baxter snapped. “I’ve got a little appetizer for you.”
Duvet beamed. “I’m starving.”
“Andy, don’t,” Airyn said, standing in front of Baxter.
Roddick advanced on him. “Baxter, you fool, you’ll destroy the quadrant!”
“Oh, who cares!” Baxter threw his hands up. “My Dad’s gone. Nothing matters anymore! Woe is me!”
“This is gross,” Renta said, and turned to Duvet. “Can I kill him yet?”
“No, I want him to see the pinnacle of his Father’s achievements,” Duvet said, stepping closer to Baxter, lifting his chin. “You have some information for me?”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “The man with all the answers is locked on Tantalus Five. He’s a criminal mastermind in his own right, who almost brought the Federation to its knees. He worked with Drake for a time, and she shared all of her secrets with him, before she went mad. Starfleet locked him up, hoping he’d never get out and start her work all over again.”
Duvet nodded. “Does he have a name?”
Baxter nodded. “Hell yeah, he does.”
“Captain, call me Captain.” The man stood and gazed out the viewport at the roaming wasteland of Tantalus, hands draped behind his back. He stroked his bushy, incredibly full beard, which was beginning to streak through with shades of grey. “Captain Alvin Ficker.”
“Well, Captain Alvin Ficker, here’s your medication for the day.” The orderly pressed a hypo-tab against Ficker’s shoulder and there was a smooth hiss.
“Do I have any messages today?”
The orderly nodded. “Oh yes. Group Therapy at eleven hundred. Lunch at thirteen hundred. Foosball at fourteen hundred.”
“Cancel the foosball. I have reports I need to work on.” Ficker moved on down the corridor. “I can tell this is going to be a great day in Starfleet!”
The orderly shrugged and moved on as Ficker made his way through the diseased captains wing of Tantalus.
Another bearded gent approached Ficker and shook his arm. “What year is it? I say good man, what year?”
“It’s Twenty-Three Seventy-Four, Captain Bateson,” Ficker said, gently patting the likewise-scruffed gentleman on the shoulder. “Poor, confused man.”
“I hear the blues are calling,” Bateson sighed, and shuffled away, as another man ran up to Ficker and shook his shoulders.
“The Cardassians! They’re coming to destroy us!”
Ficker chuckled. “Oh, Maxwell, you poor fool!” He gently tapped the ersatz captain on the cheek and moved on, collapsing on one of the overstuffed sofas and picking up an iPadd, going through some of his important reports. “Look at this, the Federation Council is deadlocked on a crucial vote again. Imbeciles! Where’s my ship? I want to go.”
“Go? Go where? Which Timeline?” The greying man next to him leaned forward. “Are you Janeway? Where’s my dumpster?”
“Please.” Ficker shifted off the couch and tossed the iPadd on the coffee table. He stretched and strolled through the recreation center, ducking down a hallway. “Busy day! So much to do. So many people to see. So much Starfleet to do!”
Suddenly a pair of extremely strong arms looped around him and dragged him into a side door, into a janitorial closet.
“Hello, you,” Major Renta Fays cooed, forcing Ficker into a headlock.
Duvet leaned over him, pushing a mop handle out of his armpit and lifting Ficker so he could look him in the eyes. “Don’t hurt him, Major. We need him.”
“Oh, I smell a plot,” Ficker giggled. “A plan! Yes! Bring me in!”
“He’s squirming,” Renta said, and grimaced. “And he smells like tapioca. Please, get what you need from him before I’m forced to snap his neck.”
Duvet eased in. “Tell us the secrets of Maura Drake’s research.”
Ficker beamed. “Oh, I know all of those secrets.”
“Splendid! I knew you would.” Duvet said. “Well Ficker, it appears Admiral Baxter was right about you.”
“You mean Harlan Baxter? Oh yes, I know him.” Ficker nodded, calling upon the pleasant memory. “I brainwashed him and used him to take over Starfleet Command.”
“That’s impressive, but I’m afraid Harlan Baxter is no longer with us. I was referring to the other one.”
“What other one?” Ficker blinked. “Wait…”
“Well, Admiral Andy Baxter, of course.”
“Admiral…Admiral…” Ficker pushed Renta away and backed up against the closet door. “Andy…Admiral…Admiral Andy! Admiral, no…”
“Settle,” Duvet held his hands up.
“He…he can’t be an Admiral. He’s an Admiral?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“NOooooooooooooooooooooo! No, then what does that make me! I’m…I’m an Admiral too? Admiral Ficker! I’m admirable. I’m an admirable Admiral man! Ensign…Ensign, find me my uniform! I must get on my ship and fly away, away, awayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy ohhhh!”
Ficker thumbed the control to open the janitor’s closet and bolted out, tearing off his red pajamas and running naked down the hall, screaming. “Warp engines at full speed. ENGAAAAGE! NO, I HAVE AN EVEN BETTER IDEA. HIT ITTTTTTTTTTTT!”
Duvet peered out of the closet and watched Ficker run away, giggling madly into the embrace of several orderlies, who promptly pumped him full of enough tranq to put him out for the afternoon.
Renta leaned over and watched, looking over Duvet’s shoulder. “It appears we’ve made a gross miscalculation.”
“Signal!” Ensign Sha’al called out from the operations console.
Kimmel dashed over and looked at the readout. “That’s it. Transporter beam at Tantalus Five. Matches the signature of a Dominion Battlecruiser.”
“Cross-referencing.” The Andorian looked up. “Ninety-seven percent likelihood of match.”
Browning and Peterman ran up, looking down at the same readouts Kimmel saw. “What does this mean?”
“We just won the game of hide and seek.” Kimmel tapped Sha’al on the shoulder. “Transmit coordinates to our friends now, Ensign.”
Peterman looked from the coordinates up to the vast holographic space scape in the control center. “And what does THAT mean?”
Kimmel folded her arms and smiled. “Fireworks.”
“It’s been ten minutes,” Airyn said, wrapping her arms around her knees. “You think it worked?”
“By now, Duvet and Renta are probably realizing something’s badly amiss,” Baxter said with a smile.
“And what’s to stop them from coming back up here and blowing us to bits?” Roddick demanded.
Baxter shrugged. “Oh, they’ll be pissed. But I’m wagering that they won’t have the chance to blow us to bits. They’ll have bigger problems on their hands.”
Roddick put up an eyebrow. “You’ve got friends out there looking for us.”
Baxter nodded. “I’m guessing, by now, yeah.”
“And you have reason to believe that they’re close enough to actually pick up the signal from Duvet’s ship, and come rescue us?” Airyn asked.
“Yeah,” Baxter said.
“Because a friend in need is a friend indeed, Ms. Satine,” Baxter said. He looked up and around the dimly-lit cell, tapping his foot. “C’mon. C’mon…” He hadn’t counted on his friends like this in a long time. But he was now. He had to be right about this.
“And if you’re wrong?” asked Roddick.
“Then we’re cooked.”
“Total waste of time,” Duvet said, storming onto the bridge of the Elegiar. “Helm, prepare for departure.”
“I told you we should have killed them,” Renta said, moving to join Duvet beside the command chair. “We can get what we need from Roddick. Or just drop this whole thing and rob the Orion Trade Commission like I wanted to!”
“You have a small mind, Renta, and that will be your undoing.” Duvet turned toward the viewscreen. “Mr. Grox, break orbit. Prepare to…”
“New contact. Coming in at high warp!” Duvet’s tactical officer, Yovern, announced.
Renta snapped around. “Identify!”
“She’s Starfleet.” On the screen, an elongated silver ship with six nacelles emerged from its cloak, neutron torpedo ports glowing green, bearing down on them.
Duvet gritted his teeth. “Don’t worry, Renta. They can’t get a lock on us.”
“They’re painting us with polaron beams,” Yovern reported.
Duvet held his breath and watched on the screen. “Oh.”
Renta clutched the command chair. “Shields!”
The Starfleet ship fired a volley of neutron torpedoes as it circled toward the Elegiar. The torpedoes followed a winding course, seeking the polaron signal, and then hitting home hard.
The Elegiar shook, sending Duvet stumbling to his knees.
“Multiple impacts,” Yovern called out. “Shields weakened. Cloak malfunctioning in six sections.”
“What are you waiting for?” Duvet pounded his fist into his hand. “Fire back!”
“Who is that?” Renta said as plasma cannons rained down on the Elegiar and the Starfleet vessel came circling back.
Yovern’s hands dashed across his panel. “Aurora-class. NCC 87968….dash A? The USS…”
“…Explorer,” Captain Kristen Larkin announced over the comm, hands clasped behind her back, at the center of the Explorer’s bridge, a control center semi-circled with consoles and stations and crew buzzing about. “You are to stand down and return our people to us immediately. We will tow you to a nearby starbase where you will be tried for high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Lieutenant Plato looked up from the tactical console. “I don’t think that they’ll be up for that. And…yep. They aren’t responding.”
“Noted. Tactical report.” Larkin stepped toward the broad viewscreen, watching as Explorer rained blows upon the Elegiar, revealing sections of its hull a few at a time, puncturing its cloak.
Plato looked at his screens. “Multiple direct hits. Their shields are compromised on several levels, but they continue to repair them.”
“Keep working on it.” Larkin moved over to the helm station. “Baxter.”
From the helm, Stephanie Baxter looked over her shoulder at Larkin. “Yeah?”
“Can you stay on top of them?”
“Damned right, I can.”
“Good. And don’t curse. It’s unbecoming.” Larkin nodded at the viewscreen. “Mister Plato, continue the assault until we have a window in the shields to beam through.” She turned to her first officer. “Number One, be prepared to beam over with your team.”
“Captain, can I remind you of something?” Commander Natheena Sparks said, sidling up to Larkin.
“Commander, you’ll find that’s the job of a first officer.”
“We’re still outgunned two to one.”
“I am aware of that.”
“And this ship has a way of overcoming the odds.”
“That’s not very androidy of you, sir,” Sparks noted.
Larkin pursed her lips, with only the trace of a smile. “Duly noted.”
Baxter braced himself against the wall of his cell as the Elegiar pitched and shook violently. “Yes!”
Airyn fell back against him and wrenched herself up to her feet. “How do you know the ones who are attacking us are good guys? They could just as well be Orion Free Traders or Tzen’kethi pirates!”
“The enemy of our enemy, Airyn,” Roddick said, steadying himself as the deck rocked.
Airyn glared between Roddick and Baxter. “Is that what humans your age do? Just quote things?”
“Yes,” they said in unison.
Airyn folded her arms. “So what do we do now?”
Baxter grinned. “Be ready.”
“Return fire! Maintain our cloak!” Duvet clung to his chair as the Elegiar rocked under the Explorer’s assault.
“Cloak failing - fifty percent compromised,” Yovern said. “Shields re-sheathing.”
Renta appeared quickly beside Duvet. “They won’t last for long. We should get out of here.”
“They’ll just chase us from here to Beta Edregard,” Duvet said, and staggered forward, bracing his hands on the helm console. “Helm, hard about. Drive right at them. All weapons: turn up the heat!”
“Ensign Baxter! Hard to port!” Larkin called out, watching the shimmering, half-cloaked Elegiar turn around on the screen and come at them.
Ensign Baxter steered the Explorer aside as the Dominion cruiser blasted at them.
“Incoming,” Sparks said, finding a railing and gripping on to it. “Everyone hold on!”
Blasts rocked the Explorer, making the deck quake.
“Shields holding,” Plato said, steadying himself. “But not for long.”
“They are showing us their aft,” Larkin said, pointing at the screen. “Shields are weakest in that quadrant. Ensign Baxter, hard about and bring us within close firing range. Mister Plato, full spread, maximum yield.”
“Aye Captain,” Plato said, and his hands scrambled over the holographic controls.
Sparks and Larkin looked at the screen as neutron torpedoes pummeled the aft section of the Elegiar.
“Shield failure, aft section!” Plato reported. “It’ll be about ninety seconds until they get it back up.”
Lieutenant Commander Colby Mathers looked up from Ops. “I think we’ve got that window we were looking for.”
“Darn right we do,” Sparks said. “Captain?”
“Go,” Larkin said.
Sparks tapped Mathers on the shoulder. “Colby.” She looked aft. “And Plato. With me.”
Plato tapped at his console. “Transporter coordinates locked in.”
Stef turned around in her seat at helm. “I’m coming with you.”
“Ensign,” Sparks snapped.
“You’re certainly not,” Larkin said.
“That’s my Dad over there!”
“And this is your captain over here,” Larkin said, and looked at Sparks. “Commander, go.”
“Energize,” Sparks said, and cast a look at Stef as Plato worked the controls, beaming himself, Sparks, and Mathers off the bridge.
Browning and Peterman stood behind Anna Kimmel as they watched the blinking icons on the massive tactical screen duck and pivot around each other, exchanging fire.
“Explorer did it,” Kimmel said. “Their shields are down.”
Peterman clenched her fist. “Yes. We did it!”
“Oh, you certainly fucking did.”
Admiral Conway strode into the room, flanked by two Starfleet security officers cradling phaser rifles. “Everyone in this room, stop what you’re doing. That’s an order.”
Peterman whirled. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”
“That’s my line,” Conway said. “I’ll deal with you in a second.” He turned to Kimmel. “Commodore, you have any idea what you’ve done?”
Kimmel shrank back a bit. “I have an inkling.”
Conway pointed at the giant screen. “You took one of my ships off assignment and ordered it into an engagement with a hostile vessel. With no exposition and no authorization!”
Kimmel bit her lip. “Darn, I knew I forgot to do something.”
“I’m glad you think this is funny,” Conway said. “Because I have another joke for you: Your Starfleet career.”
“Hey,” Browning said, standing up behind Conway.
“No, no,” Conway said, holding up a hand. “Let me finish. Commodore Kimmel, you’re relieved of duty, indefinitely, pending a full investigation.”
Kimmel wrinkled her nose. “Is that one of those hearing type things? Do I have to wear a dress uniform for it?”
“Idiocy runs in the family,” Conway said, and folded his arms. He looked around from Kimmel, to Browning, to Peterman. “Well, you all just couldn’t leave well enough alone. You had to get involved. And now I have to go in and fix it.”
“And how exactly are you going to do that?” Peterman asked.
“That’s classified,” Conway said. “Commodore Kimmel, you’ll be confined to quarters.” He looked at Browning and Peterman. “And you two are coming with me. Where I can keep an eye on you.”
Kimmel watched Conway led Browning and Peterman out as one of the security officers stayed behind to escort her to her quarters. “Hey, Admiral,” she called after him.
Conway turned. “Yeah?”
“Your zipper was down, like that whole time.”
Conway growled, reached down and adjusted his fly, then marched out of the room.
Kimmel grinned, and looked at the security guard standing next to her. “What? It was all worth it,” she said, and gave a hopeful gaze at the viewscreen. “Just hope it was enough.”
“Hold on,” Baxter said, gripping Airyn’s shoulder. He heard a commotion in the corridor outside his and Airyn’s cell.
The doors suddenly opened and a Cardassian soldier strode in, phaser rifle held high. “Duvet wants you all on the bridge.”
“So we can watch him get his ass kicked?” Airyn asked.
“I thought El Aurians were listeners, not talkers,” Baxter said, as the Cardassian reeled back with his phaser rifle, about to strike Airyn.
“Swarm him!” Roddick cried out, leaping at the Cardassian and tackling him to the ground.
“Was there a plan? Did someone not tell us?” Baxter looked at Airyn.
The Cardassian wrested himself from Roddick’s grip, then reeled back and slammed his rifle against the side of Roddick’s head, knocking him out cold. He then stood up and turned to Baxter and Airyn, leveling his rifle at them. “Any other bright ideas?”
Baxter held up his hands. “Nope, but I’d watch out if I were you.”
The Cardassian stepped forward. “I’m not going to fall for that idiotic…” and then he lurched as a phaser blast slammed into his back, knocking him to the deck.
Behind him, Plato stood, his phaser leveled on the fallen Cardassian, as Sparks and Mathers flanked him. Baxter stared at Plato and grinned, opening his mouth, wordless.
“Admiral,” Sparks said. “Do you not recognize a jailbreak when you see one?”
Baxter’s eyes widened and his throat caught as he tried to respond. “I’m…glad you guys could make it.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Plato said, reaching out and taking Baxter’s hand and giving him a hug. “Hope you’re okay, Uncle Andy.”
“Let’s catch up later?” Sparks asked, turning down the corridor and firing her phaser as more of Duvet’s troops came at them. “Explorer, five for immediate transport.” She glanced over at Roddick’s insensate form. “Er, six.” She turned to Baxter. “He a friend of yours?”
“Colleague,” Baxter said, shifting a look to Roddick. He turned to Airyn. “Hate to say I told you so, kid.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yeah, who am I kidding? I don’t hate it at all. I told you so!”
Sparks watched the exchange straight-faced. “Ok, we’re done here. Explorer, energize!”
Baxter stumbled as he and the others materialized on the Explorer’s bridge. The vessel shook as Elegiar fired back at it. Plato and Mathers returned to their stations and Sparks stepped up next to Larkin.
Duvet appeared on the viewscreen, clutching the armrests of his command chair. “Explorer, I don’t know who you are, but you won’t get out of here alive. Those are our captives and’d we’ll–”
“Mute,” Larkin said.
“Captain, we’ve got what we came for,” Sparks said.
“And then some,” Baxter said, looking to the android, who fixed a glare on the leather-clad man behind him. “Mister Roddick. A Section Thirty-One operative Duvet captured.”
Plato, who was the only one currently on the ship who was around for their run-in with Roddick, looked on. “Suggest we post a guard on him, Captain.”
Larkin nodded, then stared at Roddick. “Good idea. I am aware of Mister Roddick”
Baxter stepped up to the helm and put his hands on Stef’s shoulders. “Hey, kiddo.”
Stef looked back at him. “Troublemaker.”
“Can we have this argument later?”
She softened. “Yeah.”
Larkin stepped up next to Baxter. “Ensign Baxter, activate cloak and get us out of here. Maximum warp.”
Baxter watched on the screen as the Explorer pivoted and leapt into warp, cloaking as she went.
He looked around at the bridge crew and grinned. “So, what have you guys been up to?”
Admiral Baxter stood in the flag officer’s quarters on the Explorer, fingering the small nanolinear crisp that Airyn had given him and looking up at the stars streaking past the viewport.
“Airyn has been provided with temporary quarters,” Sparks said, standing in the doorway, arms crossed behind her back. “Per your instructions, we provided more…secure facilities for Roddick. He’s in Sickbay getting checked out, with a guard on him.”
“Good,” Baxter said.
Sparks stepped inside the cabin and let the doors close behind her. “So…”
“Yes,” Baxter said, turning the crisp over in his hand.
“How’ve you been?”
“You know, good days and bad,” Baxter said. He turned. “How’s your shakedown cruise as X.O.?”
“Uneventful,” Sparks said, and grinned to herself. “Until recently.”
“First Officer Natheena Sparks,” Baxter said, turning to her. “Has a nice ring to it.”
“You had something to do with that,” Sparks said. “If I recall correctly.”
“Oh, I think my recommendation probably hurt more than it helped, at that point,” Baxter said tightly.
“You believed in me, sir. You and Captain Larkin.”
Baxter looked around. “Well, she’s a good ship.”
Sparks nodded. “She’s got a good name.” She laughed. “Colby couldn’t believe we got the posting, after all these years, feels kinda like coming back home.” She glanced up at the ceiling. “Can’t believe I’d ever think of this place as home. For a while there, I just wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else but here.”
Baxter nodded. “Yeah. Um, how is Stef doing? You keeping an eye on her?”
“Constantly,” Sparks laughed. “I don’t remember being quite so insubordinate as an ensign.”
“Nope,” Baxter said. “You usually just hid behind your hair most of the time.”
“That’s why I had it cut short,” Sparks said, pushing back on the bangs of her shoulder-length bob. She drifted over to a chair and sat down. “Stef is doing fine. She’s a natural at the helm. But she…doesn’t know her own limitations. She’s reckless. Questions authority.”
“I did a little bit of that,” Baxter said. “But I wasn’t as smart as her. She gets that part from her mom. She would have made a fine diplomat, like Raymond, working in a safe little embassy.”
“She didn’t want that. She watched her dad growing up.” Sparks said. “She wanted the stars.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Well, Explorer seems to be doing fine.”
“Sir, you need to get the Explorer project back. With all due respect, it’s the only thing you care about.”
“Not sure that’s in the cards,” he said, and smiled. “But I appreciate the help.”
“We’d have been here sooner, if Conway had let us know what was going on.” She grimaced as she said the name.
“He had his reasons, I’m sure,” Baxter said, working his jaw thoughtfully. “Time to intercept with the Maverick?”
“Fifteen minutes,” Sparks said, slapping her thighs and standing up.
“Good,” Baxter said. “I’ll be up on the bridge shortly.” He stared at the nanolinear crisp. “I just want to…review my messages.”
When Baxter walked onto the bridge, he found a hologram of Admiral Dave Conway standing there, hands on hips, glowering at Larkin.
“…got some explaining to do.”
Larkin pursed her lips. “I’m not sure what you mean, Admiral.”
Conway glanced over Larkin’s shoulder. “Oh, and there he is, the man himself.”
“David,” Baxter said, stepping down beside Larkin. “How nice of you to call. I’ve been hoping we could catch up.”
“You’re to stand down and return to Earth immediately,” Conway said, turning his attention to Larkin. He looked to Baxter. “And Fleet Admiral Noth wants to see you in her office as soon as you’re back.”
“Oh, I’m sure she does.”
“You think this is a joke?” Conway said.
“Not at all,” Baxter said. “But I’m interested in why you’re trying to stop us.”
“By all accounts, you started this thing, with your wholly unauthorized ‘investigation,’” he said, making air quotes with his fingers.
“It WAS an investigation. We have research!” Airyn snapped, standing on the other side of Larkin.
“You’re not helping,” Baxter coughed, whispering through his fingers. He looked to Conway. “Admiral, we’ve found hard evidence of the missing piece of Doctor Drake’s research into human omnipotence. My Father has secreted it away so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.”
“Like the hands of the Section Thirty-one operative you’ve brought aboard the Explorer?” Conway smirked. “Or the former operative you’re going to rescue from the wreckage of the Maverick right now? Or the Cardassian separatist you’ve just engaged in battle?”
“Yes, all of those,” Baxter said. “Dad left me a clue, Dave. He was the only one I trusted with the location of this research, and he trusted me to destroy it before it fell into the wrong hands.”
Conway folded his arms. “You could have gone through proper channels, taken this to Starfleet Security.”
“They’d have laughed at me.”
Conway nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right, but that’s your own fault.”
Larkin kept her gaze fixed on Conway, silently monitoring the conversation. She glanced at Baxter. “Sir, I believe I’m forced to agree with Admiral Conway. We’ve abandoned chain of command, engaged an enemy combatant, and in doing so, have created an emergency situation that calls for drastic measures.”
Conway nodded. “See, Larkin still has a lick of sense. She gets it.”
Larkin looked at Conway and continued. “And, according to Starfleet Regulations, in cases of emergency, when a flag officer is aboard, Starfleet commanders are obliged to transfer command to said flag officer immediately, until the emergency is resolved.”
“Yes, exactly!” Conway said, and then his mouth gaped. “Wait, what?”
Larkin nodded. “Computer, transfer command of USS Explorer to Admiral Andrew Baxter.”
“Wait, one…” Conway snapped.
Baxter grinned as the computer responded promptly. “Command of USS Explorer has been transferred. Admiral Andrew Baxter now commanding.”
“You heard her,” Baxter said, turning to Conway.
“Now, Baxter, you listen…Larkin, you’re going to be in so much…”
Baxter tugged his tunic down, glaring at the hologram of Conway. “Close channel. Rig for silent running. Ignore all further broadcasts from Starfleet.”
“Deja vu,” Plato said as he tapped at his controls.
Larkin turned to Baxter. “You realize Admiral Conway will come after us.”
“I can’t wait,” Baxter replied, and sat down in the command chair. He felt the armrests, jiggling them a bit. “Wait, is this…not even real leather?”
“It’s an advanced polymer fabric. It breathes better,” Larkin said, sitting down beside him.
“It feels…wierd.” He shifted his rear around on the chair. “Kinda firm but…not.”
Sparks moved to stand in front of Baxter. “Admiral, can we talk about the chair later?”
Baxter pursed his lips. “Your’e right. We should be nearing rendez-vous with the Maverick. Ensign, what was your name again?”
Stef looked over her shoulder. “Funny, dad. We’ll be there in five.”
“Prepare to take us out of warp and decloak.” He looked over his shoulder at Plato. “Stay flexible, Lieutenant. Duvet could come at us at any moment.”
“Not to mention Section Thirty-One or, really, anyone who wants to figure out how to become omnipotent,” Larkin said.
Airyn hunched down next to Baxter. “You have any idea what to do next?”
“We’re going to collect Commander Donovan and Mister Kurg, and render assistance to the Maverick.”
“Well, that’s all well and good, but then what?”
“Then we go fishing,” Baxter said, leaning back in the chair. “And…is this headrest adjustable?”
“Got any twos?” Madera asked, glancing at her cards as she sat sideways in her command chair, legs kicked over the armrest.
“Go fish,” Commander Brock said.
Madera frowned and took a card from the nearby stack and stared at her hand.
Brock stared over his cards at Madera. “Any reason we’re playing this game in particular?”
“I don’t know, it just suddenly sounded good to me.”
“You all are good with this? Just waiting, like a sitting duck?” Commander Donovan asked, leaning against the tactical railing.
“As opposed to what?” Madera asked. “If you haven’t noticed, we’re dead in space.”
“I don’t know. We could engineer some kind of brilliant…”
“We’re understaffed for that,” Brock said. “This isn’t exactly the Enterprise.”
Donovan let out an exasperated breath. “I hope that’s not the quote on your dedication plaque.”
“’Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything,’” Madera said, and glanced up at Donovan. “Plato.”
“Oh,” Donovan said. “Well, that’s actually pretty nice.”
“I know. I picked it out myself when the Maverick was commissioned.”
Eric Kurg stood next to Donovan, shifting foot to foot. “Does anyone need any urgent communications written? Or anything I’m actually qualified to do?”
“No,” Madera said, flipping through her cards and handing a card to Brock. “You’re doing a fantastic job just standing there.”
Just then, an alarm blared at the tactical console. Donovan raced back to it. “New contact decloaking at zero-one-seven mark two-one-two.”
“Nice knowing you all,” Brock muttered, pushing out of his chair and racing to the ops console.
Madera put her cards aside and swung forward in the command chair. “On screen.”
The view screen crackled, one of dozens of systems not functioning properly, and soon revealed a rift in space, from which the USS Explorer emerged, coming to a stop just off their port bow.
“I’ll be,” Madera said.
Donovan stepped forward. “About time.”
“Welp, time to fold,” Madera said, and got out of her chair. “We just got some new cards.”
Commander Sparks and Lieutenant Plato flanked Madera and Donovan as they walked down the corridor, taking in the damaged engineering deck of the Maverick.
“She took a beating,” Plato said, looking around.
“Yeah,” Madera said. “You’ve got engineers to spare?”
Sparks nodded. “Yeah, that won’t be a problem.” She turned to Plato. “Lieutenant, make sure we beam over a damage control unit, replacement power conduits, EMS modules, and anything else Maverick’s engineer asks for.”
“When do we get out of here,” Donovan asked.
“You’re in a hurry to leave us?” Madera laughed. “I’m hurt.”
“No offense,” Donovan asked. “I just know what’s at stake.”
“As soon as we’re certain the Maverick has the resources it needs, we’re gone,” Sparks said.
“Any idea where you’re going next?”
“You’ll have to ask the Captain,” Sparks said. And allowed a small smile. “The Admiral.”
Madera nodded. “He’s got an idea where to go next.”
“So it would seem,” Sparks sighed.
“Did you tell Admiral Baxter I’m good to just stay behind on the Maverick?” Lt. Kurg asked, drawing behind the group as they strode through engineering.
“No chance,” Sparks said. “He said he needs you.”
“Damn it, why?”
Baxter stood on the bridge of the Explorer, flanked by Captain Larkin, watching the USS Maverick drift slightly on the viewscreen, half her running lights out, scorch marks and hull breaches dotting her hull.
Stef pivoted in her seat to face him. “Permission to speak freely, Admiral.”
Baxter looked down at her and gave a small smile. “Granted.”
“I’m glad you finally got back out in space, but…did it have to be this way?”
“Your mother said something similar.” Baxter pursed his lips.
“How is she, anyway?”
“Right now?” Baxter asked. “I think it’s safe to say she’s worried.”
“She still loves you, you know.”
Baxter looked down at Stef. “Hon, I’d love to talk. It’s just…can we possibly catch up later?”
Stef chuckled. “Dad, that’s what you always say.”
“Yeah.” She plucked at her controls.
“My own logs can confirm that, sir,” Larkin nodded.
“Thanks, Captain,” Baxter muttered.
The aft doors swung open and Sparks and Plato strode out, followed, quite reluctantly, by Lieutenant Kurg.
“Maverick is fully equipped, Admiral,” Sparks said, taking up step next to Baxter. “Captain Madera wishes you good luck and godspeed, whatever godspeed means.”
“It means very, very fast,” Baxter said. Behind him, Larkin quietly shook her head.
Baxter returned to the command chair and sat down. “Helm, make ready for departure.”
“Course?” Stef asked, turning around.
Sparks and Larkin looked to Baxter, who eased back in the chair.
“We need some help, folks. We need a scientist who understands Drake’s research as well as Drake did, who knows Drake’s mind better than she knows it herself, since she’s likely quite insane.”
“Any idea where we can find a scientist like that?” Sparks asked.
“Yeah,” Baxter said with a small grin.
UNIVERSITY OF BETAZED AT JANARAN FALLS
GRAX HALL - FACULTY APARTMENTS
Doctor Ariel Tilleran slept the sleep of a woman at peace. A woman whose career and family life had reached a perfect point of balance. Her room was adorned with certificates of merits and awards for academic distinction, including the prestigious, Distinguished Elbrun Chair for Neurophysics, a field Tilleran had actually invented.
Tilleran rolled over and sighed dreamily, resting her face on her pillow.
And then her eyes bolted open with a start and she shot up in bed.
Facing her, fingers steepled, eyes drilling into her, was a dark blue shadow. Light played across the intruder’s face, casting a sinister pall over it.
“Doctor Tilleran,” a voice rasped. “Has a nice ring to it.”
Craig Porter shot up in bed next to Tilleran. “Who the what now?”
Tilleran quirked a small grin. “Go back to sleep, Craig,” she said, turning and kissing her husband on the cheek. This is all a bad dream.” She turned to her visitor. “Isn’t it?”
“Yes,” the visitor said, standing. “It is all a bad dream. You should go back to sleep immediately. Leave Doctor Tilleran to me.”
“Yes, yes…cuddly squirrels trying to kill me,” Porter sniffed, and rolled face-down.
“Poor guy is really out, not making any sense,” Tilleran said, kissing his forehead and patting his arm. “You rest, Craig. I’ll be back in a…minute.” She turned to her guest and pointed to the bedroom door. “You. Out there.”
Tilleran slid out of bed and grabbed her robe, tying it tightly around her waist and marching outside, leading her guest out into the living room and gently closing the bedroom door behind her.
“J’hana,” Tilleran said. “That also has a nice ring to it.”
“It is the only name I ever needed,” J’hana said, clad in skimpy black leather, her hair swung behind her in dangerous braids, glinting with light purple, the Andorian sign of reaching a robust age. “What do you think of my uniform?”
Tilleran studied the patch on her arm. “The Rugged Corpse…that’s the name you picked for your security service?”
“It tells a story,” J’hana said. “My marketing firm assures me that’s important. ‘All the security you’ll ever need, or else,’ is our motto.”
“Uh-huh,” Tilleran said, and rubbed the bridge of her nose drearily. “So what brings you here.”
“I assume you’ve been following the news?”
“Oh, Chef Baughb’s new recipe for grilled grantznatz, yes, I’ve been meaning to try…”
“Stop flatzing me around, Imzadi!” J’hana snapped, and pushed Tilleran up against the wall. “Our Captain is in trouble.”
“Our Captain is an Admiral and is fully capable of getting himself OUT of trouble,” Tilleran said, pushing J’hana’s arms down.
“I’ll save that point for another day. Do you know why Cardassian separatists captured him?”
“Yes. I have an inkling. And I know the Explorer swept in and rescued him, too.”
“You’ve got connections at Starfleet Intelligence.”
“Craig still knows a few people in security.”
“So you know they’re trying to piece together Doctor Drake’s research. What we once fought so valiantly to bury is once again about to be unearthed.”
Tilleran ambled into the kitchen and called up some red leaf tea from the replicator. “You always did have a flair for the dramatic, J’hana.”
“That is why I’m here. You know more about Drake’s research than anyone, maybe even Drake herself. If the Cardassians, or Section Thirty-One, or anyone else, for that matter, comes to capture you, they’ll have to go through me.”
Tilleran stared at J’hana over her steaming cup of tea. “That’s thoughtful.”
“I would die for you, Imzadi.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“You seem unconcerned.”
“I’m just happy to sit this one out,” Tilleran said. “It’s been two decades, J’hana. No one is going to care that I was on that mission, or that I did any research into Doctor Drake’s kooky brain science.”
“Perhaps you are correct.”
“Perhaps I am,” Tilleran said. “And you’ll see, you’re just worried over nothing.”
It was then that both Tilleran and J’hana disappeared in a shimmer of blue light.
Craig Porter ambled out of the bedroom, scratching his stomach and yawning. “Hey, can you two keep it down out here? Can I get some breakfast?” He looked around. “Hon?”
Tilleran and J’hana appeared, looking quite put out, in the middle of the Explorer’s bridge.
Baxter spread his arms out wide. “Guys, it’s so good to see you a–”
J’hana leapt, fueled by rage, and tackled Baxter to the ground, reaching for a clasp at her thigh and withdrawing a blade, rearing back to stab Baxter in the eye.
“ZHART! I will kill you if you hurt her!” she howled.
“J’hana, I think these are the good guys,” Tilleran said, looking around the bridge. “Though it’s tough to tell nowadays.” She glanced over at Larkin. “You guys couldn’t have bothered to let me get dressed first?”
Larkin studied the situation with clinical detachment. “Lieutenant Commander Mathers, replicate some clothing for Doctor Tilleran.”
Baxter looked up at J’hana. “And J’hana. It looks like we caught her in her pajamas, too.”
J’hana scoffed. “I am dressed for maximum comfort and lethality.” She reached down to help Baxter up. “Sorry about that, Admiral. I am prepared to kill at a moment’s notice.”
“Yeah, I remember. Just try to kill the right person, J’hana,” Baxter said, brushing his arms off.
“Couldn’t leave us out of this one, huh,” Tilleran said, turning to Baxter.
“More than that, I didn’t want someone else snatching you up,” Baxter said. “Tilleran, we need you. I wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t important.”
“I get that much…” Tilleran looked around. “Let me get dressed. And let’s talk.”
“Our next destination,” Baxter said, at the head of the conference table in a suddenly crowded meeting room. “The Planet Portico.”
Gathered around, some more eager than others to be there, were Larkin, Sparks, and Plato from the Explorer, joined by Tilleran and J’hana, Ashley Donovan, and Airyn Satine. Lieutenant Kurg stood by the door to the conference room, trying desperately to look invisible.
Plato looked at the hologram of the planet that hovered above the conference table. “We’re going on vacation?”
“It’s a timeshare planet,” Donovan said. “One Admiral Baxter frequented quite often,” she said, and looked at Baxter. “The elder one.”
Baxter leaned forward. “My Father had a house there. A time share he kept with several other partners.”
“Not a very secure place to hide a secret that could destroy the universe,” J’hana muttered.
“That’s the genius of it,” Baxter said. “He hid it in the best possible place. In plain sight. In a place only I would only think to look.” He glanced at Airyn. “I just needed…a friend…to jog my memory.”
Airyn Satine looked around at the assembled crew. “Wow, this is cool. It’s like a history book just opened up and vomited all you people out.”
“Nice of you to say,” Tilleran muttered, rubbing her eyes and adjusting the contoured dark blue tunic she was given. “Still, I don’t quite see why I’m here.”
“You know how it all fits together,” Baxter said, and turned to her. “Once we gather the information, which will no doubt be some form of genetic code, we’ll need you to figure out how it fits in to Doctor Drake’s research.”
“Then we will need your help to destroy it,” Donovan said. “Right?”
“Yes, we’ll destroy it,” Baxter said. “So no one can ever use it to, you know, kill everything.”
“I knew destruction would come into play at some point,” J’hana said. “It’ll give me something to do.”
Baxter gave J’hana a sidelong glance, then folded his hands atop the table. “So we’re clear on the game plan. We make best speed to Portico, beam down and find this research, and destroy it once and for all.”
He got a chorus of nods and assents around the table.
Sparks raised a hand. “What about the Section Thirty-One guy we have hanging out in our Sickbay?”
Baxter looked at her. “Who? Oh. Right. That guy.” He looked at Donovan. “Guess we should talk to him.”
“So with help from the Explorer, we should be up and running in about twelve hours,” Madera sighed, putting her feet up on the desk in her readyroom and leaning back. “At least enough to put in for Space Dock where we will need a LOT of work.”
Richards’ hologram hovered over Madera’s desk as he took it all in. “But Baxter, he’s okay?”
“Oh, he’s…I think ‘okay’ is asking a lot of him right now. But he’s safe, for now.”
Richards pursed his lips. “I can’t get anyone to respond to my hails. Not Explorer, not Aerostar, and not even Kelly and Janice.”
“I’m sure everyone’s just trying to help. But you know Starfleet. We tend to play it close to the vest.”
Richards nodded. “Yeah. Sometimes it sucks to be on the outside looking in.”
“Want to come back?” Madera smiled. “I could use an engineer.”
“No, I have a new property to run, and…I’m actually growing to understand Klingons a little better, not just as a plot device for my holo scripts.”
“Well, that’s good,” Madera said. She leaned forward and looked over an iPadd. “Say, Chris, I have a lot to do and I’d better…” she was about to cut him off when she caught the look on Richards’ face. It had been a while, and she was never really good at taking social cues anyway. But she could tell Richards needed a distraction. She smiled. “Hey, do you think you could help me out with some trouble I’m having with the warp core injectors?”
“I’m sure your engineers are quite capable,” Richards said.
“Yeah, but they don’t know old ships like the Maverick. You probably have a better idea of what the inside of a Mark III injector looks like.”
“Well, I have fixed a few of those in my time…”
“Hang on, I’ll head down to engineering and transfer your signal down there.”
“If you really think…”
“I insist,” Madera said, with a wink, and closed the channel.
In a secure room in Sickbay, Baxter and Donovan stood behind Doctor Sev Alcott as he scanned Roddick. Outside, two security officers stood with phaser rifles at their sides.
“Well?” Baxter asked, looking up at the chief medical officer.
Alcott was young, half-Tellarite, and oddly-handsome. “He’s been drifting in and out of consciousness since you beamed him aboard.”
“That Cardassian hit him pretty hard,” Baxter mused.
Alcott shrugged. “He’s been through a hell of an ordeal, Admiral. He’s showing the strain of several days in captivity, not to mention that nasty head injury, which we’re treating. But honestly, I think most of the damage is psychological. Counselor Rheem has been speaking with him, but it’ll take time to make a firm diagnosis.”
Donovan leaned over to Baxter. “He’ll be fine. We’re trained to resist torture in Section Thirty-One.”
“Four taspar eggs, two cups’ aldebran flour, a pinch of yamok powder, and mix…” Roddick mumbled, rolling to the side on the medtable, curling into a ball.
“He’s quite disturbed,” Alcott said. “And I think hungry?”
Baxter looked down at Roddick. “I know how he feels.”
Alcott consulted his medical tricorder. “I’ve given him something to calm his nerves, but other than that, all we can do is keep him comfortable.”
“Broil for twenty minutes,” Roddick mumbled. “Season to taste and serve.”
Donovan stepped forward, leaning against Roddick’s medtable. “Roddick. Can you hear me? It’s Donovan. Look…”
Roddick’s eyes blinked. “Don-Donovan?”
“I’m here for you, Roddick,” Donovan said.
“Will you help me with the mincing?” he asked.
“Yeah, whatever,” Donovan replied. “Look, Roddick. You’re safe here. You’re going to stay here. Rest up. And we’ll take care of Doctor Drake’s research once and for all. And when all this mess is over, we’ll return you to Section Thirty-One. Sound good?”
“Muffins are ready,” Roddick said, dazed.
“He’s really out of it,” Alcott said.
“Still,” Donovan said, turning to Baxter. “We should maintain heightened security around him.”
Alcott looked from Baxter to Donovan. “You really think that’s necessary?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Donovan said. She turned to Baxter. “But I’m still not clear on Thirty-One’s motives. First they say they want this research, then Roddick tells you he’s trying to keep it from getting into the wrong hands.”
“Thirty-One isn’t exactly the right hands,” Baxter said.
“My point exactly,” Donovan said. “Don’t think for a minute Thirty-One is on our side. They’re out for their own self-interest. I can’t trust Roddick any farther than I could throw him.”
“I think you could throw him pretty far.”
Gul Duvet sat aboard the Elegiar and glared at the bridge veiwscreen. It was one of the first things he’d done after salvaging the ship from a Dominion scrapyard. Imagine, a ship without a viewscreen. And those viewing headsets pinched his neck ridges.
He cast a glare at Major Renta. “You haven’t spoken to me in twenty minutes.”
Renta leaned against the port bulkhead. “You embarrassed me back there! Letting us get shot at, making us look weak in front of the crew!”
“It wasn’t my fault!”
Renta folded her arms. “After all these years, I’m beginning to doubt you’re in this for the right reasons.”
“Profit and conquest?”
“Yes! My intentions are pure. What about yours?”
“Oh, Major Renta, I’ve always wanted what’s best for Cardassia, and that means profit and conquest.”
“Then abandon this silly fantasy and let’s kill some people and rob some things.”
“In good time,” Duvet said. “Just think about what who we can kill, and what we can rob, if we were possessed of limitless power…”
“It’ll never happen. It’s just a fantasy, just like those dumb ‘prophets,’” she sighed.
Duvet gripped the arms of his command chair. “We’ll see.”
“So. What now?”
“Now we wait for the Explorer to reveal herself. And then we will know her next move. And then we will serve up a plate of revenge!”
Renta shrugged. “Sounds like a lot of trouble, if you ask me.”
Explorer came out of warp and swung into orbit around Portico.
“Anything on sensors?” Larkin asked, draping her arms behind her back and marching past the tactical console.
Plato shook his head. “No. If there are any other ships out there, they’re running silent.”
Sparks stood up next to Baxter. “We’re secured in orbit, Admiral.”
“Good,” he said. “You, Tilleran, Airyn, and me,” Baxter said. He walked toward the turbolift, as J’hana silently appeared next to him, glowering at him expectantly.
He sighed. “And J’hana.” He looked at her. “We could use some protection.”
“Glad you see it my way,” J’hana asked, and accompanied the group as they filed into the turbolifts.
“Be careful,” Stef called over her shoulder.
“You too,” Baxter said, and looked at Larkin as she stood at the center of the bridge. “Captain, the bridge is yours.”
Baxter, Sparks, Tilleran, J’hana, and Airyn materialized on a sandy beach, with wind lightly whipping at their hair.
Sparks pulled out her tricorder. “No unusual readings.”
“It’s a beach planet,” Baxter said. “What were you expecting to pick up?”
Sparks shrugged. “Big, scary research?”
“It’s not going to be big and scary,” Baxter said. “It’s going to be hidden somehow. I’m just hoping we can find it.” He trudged up a dune toward one of dozens of beach houses that dotted the shoreline. “This is it. This is the one.” He glanced up at the bungalow: a modest, grey, boxy home that sat upon stilts and overlooked the expanse of ocean.
“Portico is like ninety-three percent ocean,” Airyn said. “So these homes are pretty valuable considering there’s only a couple hundred on the whole coast.”
“And all the land on the planet is basically coast,” Tilleran said, as they made their way up the steps of the stilted beach home.
Baxter looked around, keying the entry code into the door to the porch, which was surrounded in a transparent aluminum screen. “I have a weird feeling about this,” he said.
“It’s natural, being back at your Dad’s place,” Sparks said softly.
“Yeah,” Baxter said, walking onto the porch and looking around. “It still feels like someone lives here.” He stepped through the next entrance into the main foyer, and screamed. “AHH!”
J’hana leapt in front of him, withdrawing twin curved blades from behind her back and whirled, like a dervish, slashing this way and that.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” screamed the occupants of the house, as J’hana reached the nearest person, a woman, and grabbed her by the neck, pressing her blade to her throat.
“Make a move and I will eviscerate you,” J’hana snarled.
“I’m sorry…I tracked sand into the house…I know that’s against the time share agreement, but jeeze!” the woman exclaimed.
Baxter looked around. “Oh, no. I forgot…”
Airyn poked her head in between J’hana and Baxter. “Who the hell are these people?”
Baxter sighed, covering his face. “These are the Dorfmans.”
In the small living from sat a family of four. A middle-aged man, two small children, aged around eight and ten, by the look of it. And, ostensibly, the Mom, who J’hana was currently strangling.
The man stepped forward. “Bruce Dorfman. This is my wife Peggy. We sell space insurance.”
“The Dorfmans.” Sparks turned to Baxter. “They sell space insurance.”
“J’hana, let her go,” Tilleran mumbled, covering her face.
“Daddy, are they gonna kill us?” a young girl asked, as J’hana dropped Peggy to the floor.
Bruce Dorfman knelt down. “Not if I have anything to say about it, Astrid. Go take Hunter and go hide in the back room.” He looked up at Baxter. “Now. What’s the meaning of this?”
Baxter shook his head. “Man, Mister Dorfman, I’m so sorry. This is your month isn’t it?”
“Yeah. We have March. Wait, are you one of the Baxters?”
Baxter sighed. “Yeah. I’m one of the Baxters.”
“You have April.”
J’hana gritted her teeth. “Time shares. Vexing and confusing.”
Tilleran turned around and looked outside, rubbing a hand across her face tiredly. “The secret to destroying the galaxy and it’s kept in a damn time share.”
“Well, look,” Baxter said, taking Bruce Dorfman by the shoulder and leading him out onto the porch. “We need the house.”
“Well, the agreement is pretty clear. We have March, you have April. We have the odd months.”
“This is a pretty odd month,” Sparks admitted, standing behind Dorfman and looking around.
Baxter sighed. “Well, something’s come up…”
“Look,” Bruce said. “I know stuff happens. You have to modify the agreement. But that’s why we have agreements. Peggy and I have been planning this trip for months! You know how hard it is to get time off when you sell space insurance?”
Baxter shrugged. “I can only imagine, man.”
“The kids were really looking forward to some time on the beach.”
Airyn Satine stepped between Baxter and Bruce. “Look, guy, we need this house. I’m sure Admiral Baxter here could make it worth your while.”
Bruce glanced back at Peggy who was rubbing her throat as J’hana helped her back to her feet. “I’m listening.”
“What about you get the house the rest of the year. Just let us have the place this week.”
“That’s pretty sweet,” Bruce said.
“Hey, I was going to go fishing here next week,” Baxter said.
“I think you can find somewhere else to fish,” Airyn said between clenched teeth.
“Still,” Bruce said. “Your Andorian friend roughed my wife up pretty good. That’s…that’s got to be accounted for.”
“You like San Francisco?” Airyn asked.
“Eh, it’s okay.”
“How about a week at the Admiral’s Suite at the Starfleet Arms Hotel in San Francisco.”
“Oh, Bruce, let’s do it!” Peggy said, running up behind Bruce. “We could do the scuba tour of the Klingon Bird of Prey Wreckage.”
“The Bounties of Hope Tour,” Bruce said, rubbing his chin. “The kids have always wanted to see that.”
“And I’ll throw in some Space Cowboys tickets,” Baxter muttered.
“Oh, we’re Romulan Warhawks fans.”
“Of course you are,” Baxter groaned, bracing his hands on his thighs.
“I think we’ve got an agreement in principle,” Airyn said, leading Bruce to the door and waving for Peggy and the kids to join him. “We’ll have Admiral Baxter’s adjutant, Lieutenant Kurg, get in touch with you, and iron out all the details.”
“Kurg loves details,” Baxter said. “I’m sure he’d be happy to fix you up.”
Bruce shrugged. “I guess.”
Airyn pushed him out the door. “Be sure to take your kids with you.”
“Hey, you have any idea which restaurant here is the best?”
“All of them,” Baxter says. “Everything tastes like tuna. You’ll love it” He sighed, looking around. “Well, that’s fifteen minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”
Airyn led him into the house. “Let’s remember why we’re here.”
“That’s still not clear to me.”
Tilleran and Sparks were already scanning the room with their tricorders.
“No odd readings,” Tilleran said. “I’m not even sure what we’re looking for.”
Baxter rifled through the kitchen, checking the cabinets. “Neither am I.”
Airyn perused the living room. “Well, you said your Dad would leave the clue right in front of our faces, right?”
“Well, yeah.” Baxter put his hands on his hips and looked around. “’Go fishing.’” He scanned the room, until he came to the coffee table. He walked over and sifted through a stack of padds–issues of Space Insurance Monthly–then sighed with exasperation. “Nothing.”
J’hana surveyed the kitchen, her antennae twitching. “Stocked with Aldeberan coffee. The man knew quality.”
Baxter moved over to a bookshelf and tugged books off it. “Breen History. Dominion Strategy. The Internal Affairs Mastermind by B’rek.”
“Ooh, that one was good,” Tilleran said as she searched behind a couch.
As Baxter rifled through the books on the third shelf, a little package at the end of the shelf popped out and fell to the floor. He knelt to examine it. “Playing cards.”
J’hana looked over. “Humans bore easily, especially on vacation, which they take too many of.”
“Ease up, J’hana,” Tilleran pursed her lips. “It’s perfectly normal to have a pack of playing cards at a vacation house. For rainy days.”
Baxter opened the pack and flipped the cards over in his hand. “I remember playing cards with him and Mom more than once.”
Airyn moved behind Baxter and looked over his shoulder. “There are fish on the back. Different ones for each suit.”
“Yeah, that’s what we used to play.” He surveyed the fish on the back of each card. “Go Fish.”
Airyn rushed over to him. “Go Fish!” She looked around. “Do I have to spell it out for you people?”
Baxter raised an eyebrow. “You think Dad hid the biggest secret in the Universe on a playing card?”
“It’s as good a lead as any,” Airyn said, and sat next to him.
Tilleran leaned against the kitchen counter. “Did he have a favorite card?”
“Red Snapper,” Baxter said, and flipped through the cards, locating an image of a red snapper, flopping excitedly out of a blue, blue lake. “’Go fish,’” he said thoughtfully.
Sparks, J’hana, and Tilleran came over to see what Baxter was looking at.
Baxter held the card card, inspecting it carefully, as Airyn looked on. “Nothing,” Baxter said, and leaned back on his haunches. “Another dead end.”
Sparks consulted her tricorder. “Not so fast.” She reached down and picked up the snapper card, and flipped it over in her hand, running the tricorder’s sensors over it. “There’s a faint impression on this card. It’s almost undiscernible.”
“But you can discern it?” J’hana asked.
Tilleran nodded, looking at her tricorder. “It’s almost invisible but it’s there. A microimprint of a complex string. Genetic code.” She locked eyes with Baxter. “This is it. Sir, we’ve got to get this back to the Explorer immediately. Before someone else gets their hands on it.”
Baxter took the card from Sparks and held it up to the light. He set his jaw as he stared at it. “We’ve got what we came for. And Duvet’s sectors away. By the time he finds out where we went, we’ll be long gone. And we’ll destroy Maura Drake’s research once and for…”
Bruce Dorfman ducked into the porch, squeezing past Baxter and Sparks and into the living room. “Hey, forgot my sunglasses.” He waved at everyone and darted out. “Sorry about that. Have a good one, guys!”
Stardate 76126.6. Admiral Andy Baxter recording. That’s right, Admiral Andy Baxter, commanding the Explorer, just like the Great Bird intended. Feels like old times. Only extremely, totally not.
We’ve returned to the Explorer with Doctor Drake’s top secret research, a parting gift left behind by my Father. I know what to do from here. Destroy it. And then, maybe use the extra day on Portico to catch some fish.
Commander Donovan strode into Roddick’s secure room in Sickbay, which was dimly lit as they were currently observing ship’s night.
Roddick was unconscious, laying on the medtalble. Alcott was standing over Roddick, running scans. He pursed his lips, turning to Donovan. “Commander, I don’t think this will be much of a conversation. I just administered delta sleep, to try and help him sleep. He’s been…moaning, something about Bringloidi potatoes.”
“He has, huh,” Donovan said, standing in the door frame of Roddick’s room as Alcott closed his tricorder and stepped past her toward the door.
She put her hands on her hips and stared at Roddick as he slept. “Well, you and Section Thirty-One can rest soundly. The search for the missing piece of Drake’s research is over. Tilleran has it right now. It’s not going to hurt anyone. I don’t know what Thirty-One is about anymore. Did you want to save it, preserve it, or use it?”
Roddick’s shoulders shifted slightly.
Alcott looked on from the doorway to Sickbay. “You really think he can hear you?”
Donovan raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know.”
Alcott gave one more glance at Roddick, then stepped out of the door as one of the two security officers, Sanders, stepped out to guard the entrance. The other one, Crouch, stayed inside, observing Donovan and Roddick.
“With us preparing to destroy the research,” she continued. “It’s a moot point now, isn’t it?”
Roddick’s breathing caught slightly.
“Isn’t it,” she asked. She pursed her lips.
Roddick rolled over, facing her. “No, Agent Donovan, it’s not moot at all.” He sprang to his feet and advanced, face to face with Donovan.
Donovan slapped her combadge. “Donovan to–”
Roddick gripped Donovan’s hand, twisting it behind her back and shoving her against the wall. “No. No, I think it’s safe to say this conversation is between you and me.”
Ensign Croush leapt forward and charged Roddick, who kicked out, hitting him in the solar plexus. With his free hand, he drove a chop to the base of his neck, causing him to drop limply to the ground, while still pinning Donovan with his other arm.
Donovan glowered back at him, squirming. “You’ve made a fantastic recovery.”
“Like you said, Thirty-One trains us well.”
She narrowed her eyes, assessing Roddick like prey. “What do you think you’re going to accomplish here?”
“Finish. What. I started.” Roddick pushed Donovan up against the wall, tightening his grip. “And no one will stop me.”
“Want. To make. A bet?” Donovan asked, and kicked Roddick hard between the legs, jerking him back. “Security emergency in Sickbay holding!” she shouted.
Moments later, Alcott and Sanders rushed in.
Roddick reached out and grabbed the phaser slung at Donovan’s side, twisting and blasting Alcott in the center of the chest, dropping him, then fired at the other guard, knocking him off his feet.
That gave Donovan all the time she needed to roundhouse kick him to the head, sending her phaser clattering to the ground. She leapt at him, slinging her arms around his neck. “You’re not…going anywhere!”
Roddick whirled, slamming Donovan up against the wall. “You cannot begin to understand how wrong you are. Not everyone in Thirty-one is so limited, so frozen by indecision and analysis. Some of us still want to take action.”
“You’re deluded,” Donovan gasped, kicking free of his grasp and staggering back to her feet.
Roddick glowered at her. “You were a rising star. You could have become Section Chief, if you’d just stayed the course.”
“Regrets, I’ve had a few,” Donovan spat back and launched herself at Roddick, landing a punch to the side of his head, then joining her fists and clobbering him in the midsection, bringing him to his knees.
Donovan squatted, facing him, quickly catching her breath. She pushed hair out of her face and lifted his chin. “You’re…getting slow in your old age, Roddick.”
“And you…forgot about your phaser…” Roddick growled back, shoving the phaser into Donovan’s midsection and firing.
Donovan’s eyes went wide as the phaser struck home and she reeled back, collapsing to the deck.
Roddick cast a glance at her over his shoulder and then ran out of the room.
Baxter, Sparks, and Plato ran down the corridor toward Sickbay, as security officers ran past them.
“What the hell happened?” Baxter asked, looking around.
“Sanders is dead. Two more down and critical,” Plato breathed in between barking orders to his security team. “Donovan and Doctor Alcott.”
Baxter’s face dropped. “Get…get them help,” Baxter said, gripping Plato’s shoulder. He turned to Sparks. “Roddick.”
“The science lab…” Sparks said.
Baxter took off down the corridor.
Sparks looked at Plato. “Well, c’mon!”
Airyn and Tilleran leaned over the innocent-looking playing card, as the nanometric scanner did its work, mapping and analyzing the complex genetic code that had been imprinted on its surface.
“Larkin to all stations, security alert,” the android’s voice came over the comm, as suddenly the science lab was bathed in red light.
Airyn looked at Tilleran. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing good,” Tilleran said, grabbing the card and stuffing it in her vest. She turned toward the door. “Don’t worry though, J’hana’s out there.”
“And that’s a good thing?”
“Oh yeah,” Tilleran said, and then her face went slack. She immediately felt the presence behind her.
“Roddick,” Tilleran said, not turning around.
She could feel his breath on her neck. “Your friend J’hana is quite formidable. Which is why I activated a site to site transport and secured this room with a forcefield.”
“What brings you here?” Airyn asked, playing dumb, looking from Tilleran to Roddick.
“The card,” Roddick whispered, jamming a phaser into Tilleran’s back, his finger resting on a trigger.
Suddenly the door pounded. “Imzadi!” J’hana roared from outside.
“It’ll take her hmm, oh about two minutes to disable the security field. Which gives us time to talk…”
By the time Baxter, Sparks, and Plato, and a horde of security officers arrived at the science lab, J’hana roaring as she lunged against the door, knocked back again and again by the crackling security field, her rage rendering her impervious to pain.
She turned to Baxter. “He’s in there!”
“Roddick,” Baxter said, grinding his teeth.
Sparks surveyed the situation helplessly. “Sparks to bridge. We’re outside the lab but Roddick somehow activated containment fields around it.”
“We’ve been trying to cut power to the security fields,” Larkin replied, “But Roddick has locked us out. He’s scrambled our command codes. It will take time to restore control.”
“Clever guy,” Baxter muttered.
Moments later, Larkin chimed back in. “We’ve restored security control. Another ten seconds…”
Baxter looked over at J’hana. “That won’t be enough time.”
Within seconds, the security field around the lab crackled and dropped, and J’hana punched her way in, smashing the door open.
Baxter stepped through the remnants of the door and peered inside as Plato flanked him.
“Larkin to Science Lab Two. Report.”
Sparks stared up at the ceiling. “We’re okay down here but…” she looked around at the empty lab.
Roddick was gone. And with him, Tilleran and Airyn.
Baxter clenched his fists as J’hana crashed about, smashing the laboratory in impotent rage.
Plato stood alongside Baxter, taking in the scene. “Admiral, what happened here?”
“Roddick happened,” Baxter said. “And he holds all the cards now.”
TO BE CONTINUED…