Author: Anthony Butler
STARFLEET ACADEMY TWENTY YEARS AGO
Cadet Andy Baxter stared across the crowded quadrangle at the students walking by, and one in particular, who was easiest to miss, due to her diminutive size.
“Anna Kimmel,” he said in a low voice.
Cadet Alvin Ficker slapped him on the back. “Forget about her, man. She’s a lost cause. You’re not getting within hailing range of her, and that’s that.”
Ficker was just posturing; but he didn’t realize how true his words were. Just a few weeks ago, Baxter’s father had told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was not to get involved with Cadet Anna Kimmel. But what business was it of his? Shouldn’t he have a say in the matter?
Captain Harlan Baxter was a rising star in the Fleet. He’d moved through the ranks at Internal Affairs rather swiftly, perhaps due to his dogged determination and pursuit of the truth. The younger Baxter had never asked why his father was so passionate about protecting Starfleet’s integrity, and was only ever told, in clipped tones, by his father, that “that was his job.” Who was he to argue?
But now the man with that “job,” who had spent far more time on his Starfleet career than the raising of young Andy was suddenly quite interested in his son’s personal life. Because of something to do with Anna Kimmel.
“You’ve got a one track mind, buddy,” Ficker muttered as Baxter’s eyes followed Kimmel across the quad, as she tripped over her own boots and fell face down on the sidewalk.
Ficker’s voice had become interminable chatter in Baxter’s ears as he raced across the quad to help Kimmel up.
But that scraggled old man had beat him to it.
Boothby knelt by Kimmel, easing her up to her feet. “Are you all right, young lady?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll be…” She glanced at Baxter. “Fine.”
“Hi,” Baxter said with a sheepish grin.
“Do I know you?” Kimmel asked, the sun glinting in her eyes. “Oh, wait. You were the guy I used to study with. Who I went on the camping trip with, then crashed down the hill with! How could I have forgotten? Oh, I know why. Because you’ve been avoiding me!”
“Can I explain?”
“Does it matter?”
“I’ve missed you,” Ficker said from behind Baxter. How’d he sneak up so quick?
“That’s nice. Aren’t you the one who pushed us down the cliff?” Kimmel asked, cocking her head.
“Well, not…exactly. I uh, just…my hand slipped and…”
“Save it,” Kimmel said, turning and walking off. “I’ve got to get to class anyway.”
“Can I make it up to you?” Baxter called after her.
“Can you?” she asked over her shoulder. “Hmmm…let me think.”
“Offer to buy her dinner,” Boothby whispered.
“Can I get you dinner?” Baxter called out.
“I’ll sleep on it.”
She musn’t have slept long, and she must have slept in class. Because after Baxter’s organic biochemistry class (during which he failed yet another quiz) a message was waiting for him on the terminal in his room.
The message was brief and to the point: “I’ll meet you at your place tonight. Don’t worry about dinner. I’ll bring it.”
“You need to find somewhere else to be tonight, Ficker,” Baxter said as he stared at the words on his terminal.
“Why?” Ficker asked, rushing up to see what Baxter was looking at.
Baxter swiftly tapped the terminal screen off and turned around. “Study group. Computer Core Procedures One-Eleven.”
“Ick,” Ficker said. “That doesn’t sound like fun at all.”
“It’s going to be a very in-depth discussion. Cadet Felch will be there, and you know how he likes to talk.”
“The Tellarite? Wow, could your plans for tonight GET any worse?”
Baxter smiled coyly. “You know, I understand that the Junior Redshirts are having an interest meeting at Spock Library tonight. Seems I remember something about Cadet Kimmel being interested in the Redshirts.”
Ficker grinned, then looked at Baxter askance. “This wouldn’t be a trick, would it? Don’t you want Kimmel too?”
“That starship has sailed, my friend,” Baxter said. “I know when to admit defeat.” He put out his hand. “Anyway, we’re Starfleet cadets.
We’re future captains. Who are we to let a woman come between us?”
Ficker stared down at his hand. “Well, when you’re right, you’re right.” He shook Baxter’s hand. “You’re not a bad sort, Baxter.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Now run along. You don’t want to miss the meeting!”
“I’ll tell Anna you said hi!” Ficker said as he walked out.
“Bring flowers!” Baxter suggested as the doors closed.
Less than an hour later, candles lit all around his room, Cadet Baxter flopped down on his bed and picked up a padd, the latest lesson from Tuvok’s leadership class. Not exactly what he was in the mood to read at the moment, but he had to do something to busy himself while he waited for Kimmel, and he might as well be productive with his time.
Predictably, just as he’d become engrossed in Chapter Four: “Away Missions Gone Awry,” the doorchime rang, and Baxter was on his feet in an instant. He keyed the door open, and Kimmel was there.
She was in her Starfleet Academy red sweats and black t-shirt. Gosh, she looked adorable in a t-shirt. Hair down about her ears, which just slightly poked through the hair, giving her that elfen look Baxter enjoyed so much.
“Hey,” she said. “Mind if I come in?”
Baxter gestured her in. “Please. I was just…studying.”
“Look, we really really need to talk,” Kimmel said, and sat down on the bed. Baxter plopped down next to her, trying to look natural.
“I’m all for talking,” Baxter said. “What do you want to know?”
Kimmel turned toward him. “It’s more like something you should know.”
Baxter leaned in closer. “Good. Because I have something to tell you too.”
“I think I should go first.”
Baxter nodded. “By all means…”
“See…” Kimmel began with a deep breath. “I’m not what I seem.”
“Are any of us?” Baxter asked, raising his eyebrows.
“I mean, I…jeeze this is hard.” She looked up at the ceiling.
“Just spit it out, Anna…I’m listening.”
“I found out something. When my parents found out that I’d been on that trip with you, they demanded that I not see you again…”
“Weird. My Dad did the same.”
“I stormed out of the room, more surprised than annoyed, because my parents have never tried to run my life that way, and it was unnerving. Well…they got on the comm link after I walked out on them, but they didn’t realize I was in the other room listening.”
Baxter just nodded dumbly.
“I don’t pretend to know all the particulars. But one thing they said came in loud and clear. They’re not my parents, Andy.”
By this point, Baxter had stopped paying attention. He leaned in to kiss Kimmel.
She pulled back. “Andy…I’m your sister!”
Baxter’s eyes went wide. “YARRRRRRRRRGGGGHHH!”
Baxter shot up on his shelf-bed in the dimly lit holding cell aboard the Orion frigate Salazar. Sweat streamed down his face, and his chest rose and fell as he tried to catch his breath.
The moment Kimmel told him she was his sister shook him to the core. It wasn’t a moment one easily forgot. That so much about his upbringing could have been a lie. That there was so much his parents hadn’t told him, just as there was so much Kimmel’s parents hadn’t told her.
No wonder he was reliving it now. Now that Kimmel was almost certainly being abducted by Alvin Ficker, to be brought back to the Orions. To be poked, prodded, experimented on, until they realized her secret.
Baxter sighed. At this rate, he’d never fall back asleep. He was surprised he had in the first place, but evidently physical and mental exhaustion had caught up with him. Well, that and the fact that he’d been knocked unconscious when he’d thrown himself at the security field, yelling at the Orion boss, Potsran.
Now he just felt spent. Spent, and useless, and pretty much at total loose ends.
There was only so much surprise a guy could take.
“I’d forgotten you were a screamer in bed,” a low, sultry voice said in the room, and Baxter swung his legs over, his feet hitting the floor. He looked into the darkness outside his cell and saw the shapely figure step into the light cast from the nearby viewport. Her every curve was hugged by snug leather. Her shoulder-length blonde hair was pulled back in a utilitarian ponytail. And she wore a familiar and easy grin.
“A-Ashley?” Baxter asked, astonished.
Ashley Donovan pressed a gloved finger to her lips. “Quiet, boy. I’m busting you out of here.”
Baxter stepped toward the security field. “But…how did you…why are you…?”
“Your father insisted. I tried to tell him there were more important things to deal with right now, but you know how he can be…”
“My father? Is with YOU?”
Ashley nodded. “I can see now where you get your good looks.” She gave a small giggle. “But your father has a much better sense of humor. One more Breen fishing joke and I swear I’ll wet myself.” She glanced around. “But that’s neither here nor there. As I said, the goal here is to break you out.”
“Thank God,” Baxter said. “Is the Explorer here too?”
“They don’t have a clue where you are right now, I’m afraid. But they’re needed elsewhere.”
“The Tracker,” Baxter said, figuring Ashley knew everything he knew.
“Your crew will be getting an anonymous tip any minute now. I only hope they’re smart enough to follow it.”
“If it’s so important to stop Ficker before he delivers Kimmel here, why aren’t you the ones going after him?”
“That’s exactly what I told your Father. But he’s a stubborn man, as you know. When he learned of your capture, he brought the Idlewild here. There really wasn’t any choice in the matter.”
“A Section Thirty-One ship, but let’s leave it at that. The less you know the better, don’t you think?”
“Probably. So what, my father’s in league with Section Thirty- One, with you in particular, to…to do what?”
“It’s complicated. But safe to say, it doesn’t involve you in the slightest.”
Baxter’s shoulders fell. “I think it involves me a little bit.”
“Only by the weakest connection of DNA. Your half-sister.”
“Half-shmaff, Ashley. She’s my sister, and I’m going to be damned if I’ll let Ficker get a hold of her.”
“Don’t worry. The Explorer’s on the case. You do trust your people, don’t you?”
Baxter shifted from foot to foot. “Well…yes…”
“Good, then shut up while I get this field knocked down. Then we’ll be on our…”
Just then, the doors to the cell slid open, an Orion guard stepping in with a tray of food.
Ashley’s phaser was out and pointed behind her in one swift, almost invisible motion. She never took her eyes off Baxter.
“Time for your morning sludge “ the guard began, but was blasted unconscious before he could finish his sentence.
She never even checked to see if her shot had been on target. She just lowered her weapon. “Looks like time’s of the essence. And it’s damn sure now that people know we’re here.” She blasted the field controls next to Baxter’s cell, and they exploded with a shower of sparks as the field dissipated.
“Move,” she said, and ducked into the corridor, firing madly.
Not knowing what else to do, Baxter did as he was told.
He only hoped they’d get off the ship in time to help Kimmel.
HOURS EARLIER. . .
Captain Anna Kimmel leaned back in her command chair.
“Was your interview with Ficker as bad as you thought it’d be, Captain?” Commander Arthur Lowenthal asked from beside her.
Kimmel glanced over at her first officer. She’d known the thin, angular man, almost as long as she’d known Baxter. He served with her on her first assignment, the U.S.S. Edmonton. Unlike Kimmel, Lowenthal was analytical. Almost too much so. She wondered if he ever took time to socialize. She valued his insights, but secretly wished the man would get out some more. Then again, more often then not, she was likely to stay in her quarters and read, so she wasn’t really one to talk.
Still, despite all her flaws, the only reason the Tracker operated half as soundly as it did, was because Lowenthal had always been around to keep Kimmel on course. She had a way of spacing out from time to time. It still irked her that Commodore Woodall referred to her as “flighty” during his last communique, but he was right.
Kimmel often wondered how she rose to the rank of captain. It’d happened almost seamlessly. Just one day, poof, Captain. Baxter told her it was because she deserved it. Or at least deserved it as much as HE did (and Kimmel knew there was just as weird a story behind his promotion). Still, Kimmel worked hard to show Starfleet that her promotion was deserved.
Problem was, events often conspired against that.
“Captain?” Lowenthal asked again, nudging Kimmel.
“Oh, what?” Kimmel asked. “Sorry. Spaced out again, eh?”
Lowenthal nodded. “Ficker must’ve given you a lot of food for thought.”
“Not really. His questions were pretty straight-forward. How I get along with the crew. How I delegate. The Nyadi incident.”
“Oh, they’ve always got to bring that one up,” Lowenthal muttered.
“He brought up a lot of the…incidents…” Kimmel shifted in the command chair reluctantly. “But the good news is, it’s over. Ficker is a nice enough guy, but I for one am glad we won’t have to see him again for a good, long…”
Suddenly the Red Alert klaxons roared. And another klaxon that Kimmel didn’t recognize was layered on top of the first one.
She looked to Lowenthal. “That’s the abandon ship call,” Lowenthal said, his eyes going wide. He glanced back at Lieutenant Chan at tactical. “Chan, you know anything about a drill?”
Chan shrugged. “No sir, didn’t schedule one. But you know how the engineering people love to play practical jokes.”
On the viewscreen, Kimmel watched as lifepods shot out of the Tracker, spiraling toward the nearby planet.
“I don’t think this is a joke,” Kimmel said, standing.
Her first officer walked up to the auxiliary engineering console. “Lowenthal to engineering. Engineering, respond!”
“We’ve got to go. Even if this is a false alarm, better safe than sorry!” Kimmel looked around the bridge. “Y-you heard me,” she stammered. “Everybody out!”
Lowenthal led the engineers and tactical specialists into the aft turbolift, and Kimmel took the helm and ops officers into the foreward one. She nodded in Lowenthal’s direction as the lift doors closed.
She hoped this was like the last time, when someone had accidentally downloaded an alien computer virus into the ship’s core and made the ship’s computer think the Tracker was blowing up.
Kimmel considered the run of weird luck she’d had, and decided that wasn’t very lucky. More likely, this might be the Tracker’s final screw-up. This might prove that the padd-pushers at Starfleet were right, and that she never should have been Captain. These kinds of things probably never happened to Picard or Ramirez.
The lift came to a stop at one of the outside corridors on deck three, where a row of escape pods were located. She waved her people out, feeling more calm about this then she’d ever thought possible. Maybe she was a better commander than she’d given herself credit for.
The hatches whisked up, and her people ducked in. Kimmel saw the final hatch at the end of the corridor open, and hurried toward it as the rest of the hatches sealed closed, crewmembers safely tucked inside.
She ducked halfway in, then felt herself pulled back, turning to find, to her surprise, Alvin Ficker staring back at her.
“Leaving so soon?” he asked, and punched a control on the escape hatch.
Kimmel pushed hair out of her eyes. “We’ve got to get out of here, Alvin. The ship’s going to blow. This pod fits two, so come on…”
“That sounds romantic and lovely,” Ficker said, gripping Kimmel’s arm tighter and pulling her down the corridor back toward the turbolift. “But I’m afraid I’ve got other plans at the moment.”
“Plans that don’t include escaping from the massive explosion?”
“What massive explosion?” Ficker asked with a laugh, pushing Kimmel into the opening turbolift doors.
She stared at him as he stepped in and the doors closed.
“The ship isn’t going to blow up, is it?”
“No. But it is going to strand your people and their escape pods right here.”
“You…” Kimmel said, balling her hands up into fists.
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Ficker said, waving a dismissive hand. “Bridge.” He glanced at her as the turbolift shot upward. “I haven’t harmed your crew. I don’t need them. All I need is this ship, and you.”
“I don’t know why you’re doing this. What pathetic idea or scheme you have in mind, but I can tell you that it’ll never work…”
“It’s a grander scheme than you could possibly imagine,” Ficker said. “And you’re a huge part of its success. You should be thrilled, Anna. For once in your life, you’re actually important. And you doubtless have no idea how important…”
NOW. . .
“‘Tracker in danger. May be under enemy control. Utmost importance you intercept and disarm. Starfleet doesn’t understand scope of situation. Act immediately or Universe will come to end.’” Lieutenant J’hana looked up from the written message on her console screen. “Message repeats.”
Richards angled around in the command chair, still feeling a twinge of stiffness in his back from that spine replacement a few days earlier. “Does it give coordinates?”
“No,” J’hana said. “But they’re not necessary. We know the Tracker’s last known position. They were in the Kyatra sector studying subspace anomalies.”
“Andy’s father and Captain Kimmel are involved in this somehow,” Peterman said, from her chair beside Richards. “Chances are, that’s a message from Admiral Baxter.”
“It’s definitely abrupt enough,” Richards said, rubbing his chin.
“And what was that about the universe ending?” Peterman asked. “Was that put in just for dramatic effect?”
“Or is the whole thing a diversion to prevent us from finding the Orions?” Browning suggested.
“The Orions are doing a good enough job of that as it is,” Tilleran said, looking up from her console. “We’ve been chasing sensor ghosts for hours.”
Peterman glanced at Richards. “It’s your decision, Chris. What do you think?”
“Set a course for the Kyatra sector, Lieutenant Madera,” Richards said, pulling his pajama top down a bit. “Warp Nine.”
“Course laid in.”
“Energize.” Richards blinked. “I mean engage. Damn, it’s been a while.”
“Don’t feel bad. Andy was having trouble with his alphas and thetas,” Peterman said, putting a reassuring hand on Richards’s shoulder as she turned to watch the stars streak toward them on the viewscreen.
“I’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we get some answers, and we find the Orion ship that took Andy,” Richards said, easing back in the command chair. “And when Janice gets me another muscle relaxer. My back feels like it’s in a damn vice!”
Baxter clung close behind Ashley Donovan as the pair ran down the corridor of the Orion ship, alert klaxons booming around them.
“I don’t guess you care to tell me how you got mixed up in all this?” Baxter asked breathlessly.
“This isn’t the time or the place,” Ashley said. “Suffice it to say, this is bigger than you.”
“Not the first time I’ve heard that,” Baxter mused. “Hey, shoot that guy!”
“I really should have brought two phasers,” Ashley muttered as she pointed and shot at an oncoming Orion.
“I could pick up one of their weapons,” Baxter suggested as they ran by several of the fallen Orion thugs.
“Do you know how to fire an Orion Oh-Thirty-Eight shooter?”
“Maybe,” Baxter said with a shrug.
“Just shut up, keep your head down, and follow me.”
“Wouldn’t this be a good time to beam out?”
“Don’t you think we’d have beamed out if it was?”
Baxter ducked a phaser blast from another Orion thug as Ashley dragged him down a side corridor and shoved him against the wall.
“I’m sure you’re well on top of the situation.”
She tapped her ear. “I’ve been in contact with the Idlewild this whole time. Apparently, the Orions were able to see through her cloak. Or else your father decloaked and started firing. He’s an impulsive, brutish man.” She licked her lips. “But damn, he’s sexy.”
Baxter clutched his stomach. “Please…no more…”
Ashley dragged him down to the deck just as two more phaser blasts soared over his head and she fired back. “This is not a defensible position. We need to get off-ship.”
“I’m in total agreement,” Baxter said, inching against the bulkhead. “Can’t the Idlewild beam us through its shields?”
“Under normal circumstances, yes. But not through these Orion shields. This ship is sophisticated. Potsran is one of the highest-ranking bosses in the Orion Syndicate. Thirty-One has been trying to bring him down for years.”
Baxter nodded as more Orions came tumbling out of an adjacent turbolift and Ashley tossed him her phaser. “Shoot!” she ordered, and set into the Orion crowd with a flurry of spin-kicks and roundhouses, following up with punch after punch, her ponytail bobbing behind her as she ducked and weaved, and Baxter took potshots into the crowd, careful to avoid hitting Ashley.
“So that’s why you’re involved in this?” Baxter called out to her as she swung a particularly bulky Orion over her shoulder. “To bring down Potsran?”
“To stop Potsran before he becomes infinitely more powerful, which is what he’s planning on using Kimmel for.”
“Even if he knows what she is, he’ll have no way to make it work!”
Ashley grunted as she jabbed an elbow into one Orion’s gut, then shot her fists forward into another Orion’s neck, bringing them both down in one quick move. “He will if he gets a hold of a certain scientist.”
“Maura Drake,” Baxter said with a deep breath, turning and firing at a couple more Orions. “That’s who Dad’s looking for, isn’t it?”
“Better he find her before the Orions do, yes,” Ashley said, and kicked another Orion up against the bulkhead, dragging him to the deck and chopping the back of his neck, knocking him out cold. She glanced up as if listening to something. “They’ve knocked out shields on the port dorsal quarter. We’ve got to get down there so they can beam us out.”
“Do you have any idea where that is?
Ashley grinned. “You don’t really think I’d have beamed on this ship without memorizing the layout first, do you?”
“Come on. There are more Orions on their way.”
“You mean we haven’t knocked them all out yet?”
“It’s a big ship.”
“Entering Kyatra sector,” J’hana announced.
Richards leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees. “Helm, take us out of warp. Commander Tilleran?”
“Picking up recent warp activity,” Tilleran said. “Ion trail, subspace wake. I’m feeding coordinates to the helm.”
“Adjusting course; full impulse,” Madera said. To her credit, she hadn’t mentioned anything else about Richards leaving her at the altar. Then again, it wasn’t really his fault. There was time travel involved, after all.
“I’m picking up something else,” Tilleran said. “Life pods. About a hundred of them. They’ve all soft-landed on the planet Breken Four.”
“Can you identify what ship they’re from? Is it Starfleet?”
“Yes,” Tilleran said, looking up. “Definitely from the Tracker.”
“Take us to Breken Four, Lieutenant Madera,” Richards said. “Meanwhile, Tilleran, see if you can figure out where the Tracker was headed.”
“The ion trail from the Tracker won’t last long,” Peterman said.
“Well, we could have injured crew from the Tracker down there on Breken,” Richards said.
Peterman nodded. “You’re right, of course, Commander.”
“You have other ideas?” Richards asked.
“Just that we’d better find the Tracker sooner rather than later.”
Richards rubbed his chin. “You’re right.” He pushed a control on his chair arm. “Richards to Sickbay. Doctor Wilcox. Report to Transporter Room Two immediately.” He glanced back at J’hana. “Lieutenant, send a contingent of security with the doctor.”
J’hana nodded. “Aye, sir. J’hana to Keefler…”
Browning leaned over and grabbed Richards’s hand. “You’re sounding SO professional, Chris.”
“Yeah,” Peterman said. “Other than the fact you’re wearing your pajamas.”
“I’d better do something about that,” Richards said. “Especially if we go into combat.”
“I’ll go to the readyroom and replicate you a uniform,” Browning said as she got up and walked back to the readyroom door. “Still a thirty-three waist?”
“Um, thirty-four,” Richards said, shifting in his seat a little.
Browning grinned. “Thirty-four. Got it.”
“You two are doing well,” Peterman said.
“Well…we’re taking things slow this time.”
“That’s not what Andy told me.”
“Oh. That. Well, that was a one time thing. We got, uh, carried away.”
“Care to talk about it?”
“Like you said before, now’s not really the time.”
“But you’re feeling like maybe you and Janice should be together.”
Richards nodded. “Was there ever any doubt?”
“I’ve sensed some from you.”
“Well, you’re not Betazoid.”
“Actually, I…” Tilleran piped up.
Peterman held up a hand. “Shhh. Listen, Chris. This has been a bad year for Janice. Doctor Leonardo turned out to be insane. Bradley Dillon turned out to be manipulating her and lied to all of us. Then Andy kissed her and…and whatnot. In her absence, her son went from being a boy to a young man, and it’s like they don’t even know each other anymore. Things have not gone Janice’s way for some time now. If you want to be with her again, good…but this time, it better be for real. Otherwise, I will hurt you. Really.”
Richards nodded. “I, uh, understand.”
Peterman smiled. “Good. I’m so happy for you two.”
The doors to the readyroom opened. “C’mon, Christopher! I’ll help you get dressed.”
Richards shifted out of his seat and hobbled up to the upper deck.
“Approaching Breken Four,” Madera announced.
He glanced over from the door to the readyroom. “Standard orbit. Beam down Doctor Wilcox and the security team, and then lay in a course for the last known direction of the Tracker. I’ll be taking off my jammies if anyone needs me. Kelly, you’ve got the bridge.”
Peterman moved over to the center seat. “Aye-aye!”
“This is vaguely reminiscent of the last time you and I were in a Jefferies tube, isn’t it?” Baxter asked idly, shimmying down the ladder below Ashley Donovan as they made their way down several decks of the Orion frigate.
“Except it’s not a Starfleet ship, we’re being closed in on all sides by enemy forces, and we’re not having sex.”
“I said reminiscent, not exactly the same,” Baxter muttered. “How much farther?”
“You’re frigging kidding me.”
“Who’s doing the rescuing here? Shut up and keep moving!”
Baxter considered the state of affairs as he worked his way down the latter. “You know what? I just thought of something.”
“Why does that statement bother me so?”
“The Betazoids! Potsran used Betazoids to read my mind. That’s how he found out that Kimmel’s the key to this thing.”
Ashley stopped climbing. She sighed, staring up at Baxter. “Well, that explains that.”
“We’ve got to break them out of here.”
“Section Thirty-One is not the Starfleet Rescue Team, Andy,” Ashley said. “The Betazoids made a deal with the proverbial devil. They’ve got to deal with the consequences.”
“Well, I’m not in Section Thirty-One. I’m in Starfleet. And I’m going to bust those Betazoids out of here.”
“Without my help, and with no weapon?”
“Yeah. See ya!” Baxter said, and scrambled back up the ladder, already out of breath.
“Your father will kill me if I don’t come back with you in tow, and I’m not even sure I mean figuratively!”
“Not my problem,” Baxter huffed.
“Damn it,” Ashley said, grabbing one of the upper rungs and making her way upward, gaining fast on Baxter. “If this ruins our mission, I’m telling your father.”
“Ooooh…I’m shaking in my boots!”
“Status report,” Richards asked, zipping up his newly-replicated uniform jacket as he stepped out of the readyroom and made his way down to the command chair, walking with a slight limp.
“The ion trail is definitely getting stronger,” Tilleran said.
“Any better idea of where the Tracker’s headed?” Browning asked, as she and Richards took their seats, Peterman yielding the command chair to Richards and moving over to the left seat.
“Not yet,” Peterman said. “Although they will be passing through some of the less friendly systems outside the Federation. Nutspam, The Berengian Corridor, and the Falkath system.”
Richards rubbed his chin. “The outskirts of Orion space.”
“That’s what I’m thinking,” Peterman said. “And whoever has the Tracker is more than likely delivering it into Orion custody.”
“Which is why we’re going to stop them before they have the chance.”
“Glad you have a plan,” Peterman said encouragingly.
“I did more than get dressed in there.”
“We made plans,” Browning said.
“Plans for…the two of you?” Peterman asked, leaning over Richards’s lap to talk to Browning.
Browning giggled. “No. It’s nothing like that. We haven’t gotten that far yet. We’re keeping things really casual right now. You know, taking it slow.”
Richards glanced fro Peterman to Browning. “Are you two almost finished? We do kind of have a situation on our hands.”
“Relax,” Peterman said. “It may be some time before the Tracker even gets into…”
“Tracker coming into range now,” J’hana spoke up from tactical. “Bearing dead ahead, traveling at Warp Nine.”
“Have they spotted us yet?” Richards asked.
“Unknown. We are just on the edge of their sensor range.”
“Madera, increase speed. Make our presence known.”
Madera nodded and tapped at the helm, sending the Explorer surging forward.
“Red Alert,” Richards called out. “Shields and weapons ready. I’m not taking any chances.”
“A prudent move,” J’hana said. “You studied the Khan scenario, I take it.”
“It was required reading at the Academy. The old ‘Trojan ship’ idea.”
“Trojan horse,” Browning corrected.
“It was a Trojan horse.”
“Khan did not attack Captain Kirk on a horse. That’s the silliest…”
“Tracker is changing directions!” J’hana piped up. “Now bearing zero zero four mark one zero eight. Increasing speed to nine point three. It would appear our presence is known!”
“Match speed and increase to overtake,” Richards said, leaning forward. “Target phasers. Engines only.”
“We’re really going to fire on another Federation ship?” Peterman asked.
“I have all the proof I need. The Tracker lost her crew, and the Great Bird only knows who might be at the helm.”
Alvin Ficker sat in the command chair on the mostly empty bridge of the Tracker, as Anna Kimmel looked on from the first officer’s chair beside him, roped down to the chair by glowing blue bands of isolytic cable.
He looked down at the panel on the command chair arm, tapping a control. All helm and weapon functions were routed to his chair. “How exciting,” he said with a grin, as the gleaming silver vessel appeared on the viewscreen. “The Explorer’s come calling. Wonder what she wants.”
Kimmel glared at him. “Hail them and you’ll find out.”
Ficker wasn’t even listening. “They want to talk to you, I imagine. Although I’m not about to let do that. By the way, are those isolytic restraints comfy? Sorry if they chafe. Orion technology can be a bit…barbaric.”
Kimmel just looked away, not wishing to give Ficker the satisfaction of a response.
Ficker looked up at the viewscreen, a reverse view of the Explorer gaining. “At any rate, this will all be over shortly. Come and get me,” he sneered. “Eat my warp wake.”
Kimmel lashed out with a foot, kicking Ficker’s shin hard.
He winced and grabbed it, cursing at the ceiling. “F****! You little…Just wait until we rendez-vous with the Orions. I’ll make sure they take their time experimenting on you.”
A pleased expression passed over Kimmel’s face. “You won’t make it that far. The Explorer’s going to stop you.”
“Want to make a bet?”
“Hail them,” Richards said, narrowing his eyes at the aft section of the Nova-class Tracker as she veered away on the screen, darting into a nearby star system.
“No response,” J’hana said. “Did you really expect one?”
“Now entering the Falkath system,” Tilleran said. “The Tracker’s coming out of warp.”
Richards sighed. “Come out of warp right on top of them, Madera. J’hana, prepare to fire.”
“Engines targeted. Firing solution ready.”
Browning leaned forward, hands on her knees. “Why does it feel like it’s taking longer than usual to fire?”
“Because we don’t usually fire at Starfleet vessels,” Richards said.
“You’re doing the right thing, Alvin,” Peterman said, not sure if it was reassuring or not.
“Fire,” Richards said.
Phasers lanced out from their emitters and slammed into the Tracker’s shields. The shields didn’t even flicker.
“No effect,” J’hana said. “They must have altered their shield geometry.”
“I see your bet, and call it, Tracker,” Richardson said. “Quantum torpedoes. Low yield. Engines only.”
“Firing!” J’hana announced, punching a control. Blue quantum torps slammed into the Tracker’s hull. And bounced harmlessly off her shields. Then they reversed course and headed back toward the Explorer.
“Brace for impact!” Richards called out, gripping the arms of the command chair.
The Explorer pitched; sparks showered from the vacant engineering console. The deck thundered under Richards’s feet.
Richards spun back toward J’hana. “Report!”
“ZHRAT!” J’hana said. “It appears the Tracker’s shields were altered by someone who’s well acquainted with our quantum torpedo guidance systems. Recommend we DON’T fire torpedoes again.”
“Try the phasers again,” Richards said. “All emitters, rapid fire!”
Phaser blasts, machine-gun style and beams alike, lashed out from the Explorer.
“It’s not working. I’m rotating phaser frequency to compensate,” J’hana said, running her hands along her console.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Peterman said.
“It doesn’t make sense!” Richards replied. “That’s a Nova-class starship. She has one-third of the firepower of the Explorer. This battle should be over in minutes.”
“I think it will be,” Peterman said, and her meaning was clear.
Richards looked down at the panel on the chair arm, tapping quickly on the controls. “We’ll see about that.”
“What are you doing, Christopher?” Browning asked, touching his arm.
“I’m remembering that I used to be an engineer. Madera, I’m routing new coordinates to your console. Engage on my mark. Everybody hold on to something! Mark!”
Madera punched a control, and the Explorer shot forward, latching onto the Tracker with a tractor beam at the last minute and swinging around, dragging it toward Falkath, the nearby sun.
“We’ll be in the sun’s gravity well in three minutes,” J’hana reported.
“Chris, I hope you know what you’re doing,” Peterman said, gripping the sides of her chair.
“We’ll know very shortly,” Richards said.
“Tracker’s shields are rotating to try and dislodge the beam. They didn’t expect us to use the tractor.”
Richards’s hands moved quickly over the controls on the chair arm. “They may know our technology, but odds are I know it better. I’m remodulating the tractor beams.”
“They’re arming weapons. Firing!”
The Explorer shook.
“Steady, Madera. Hold course!”
“Gravity well in one minute….”
J’hana looked up from her screens. “They’re locking a tractor beam on us!”
“They’re reversing polarity. Trying to repel us off them,” Tilleran said.
“Shields!” Richards called out.
“Gravity well in thirty-seconds.” The sun loomed huge on the viewscreen, bathing the bridge in orange light. The ambient temperature went up noticably.
“Tracker is activating her warp engines!”
Richards gasped. “Oh, shi….”
On the screen, the ship shot into warp. In less than a millisecond, the Explorer was dragged along behind her, away from the looming sun.
Blasts echoed outside the conference room, as six Betazoid “contractors” milled about, muttering nervously among themselves.
Laraphi Imbrego stood staring out the viewport as a flat, stingray- looking Federation starship cloaked and decloaked, raining fire on the lumbering Orion vessel.
The ship barely shook; given probably to its size more than its armament. Laraphi knew nothing about starships, or their armaments, so she had no way of judging just how much damage the Starfleet ship was doing, if any.
More to the point, she got the distinct impression that the deal she and the other Betazoids had made with Noyo Potsran had gone sour very quickly.
Just then, the door burst open, and a Starfleet officer stood framed in it. The blasts outside seemed measurably louder and closer now.
“Captain Andy Baxter, U.S.S. Explorer,” the man said. “Come with us. You’re all in a great deal of danger.”
“We know that,” Sonphin, a Betazoid female, said.
“We knew you’d come,” Garson, yet another Betazoid, this one male, piped up.
“Well isn’t that just great for you guys,” Baxter said. “I’m so happy for you. Now, if you’re all finished being smug, we’ve got an escape to make. And we need to hurry, because there’s an innocent person about to be kidnapped and exploited, and it’s all your fault.”
“We knew that too,” Sonphin said.
“And yet somehow, some way, you weren’t able to figure out that Noyo Potsran is insanely evil. Amazing how that works,” Baxter said, and waved toward the doorway. “Come on, people. Move!”
“We knew he’d say that too,” Garson said.
“Shut up and move,” Larahi moaned. “Can’t you see we’re in enough trouble as it is?”
“I knew she’d say that.”
“SHUT THE HELL UP!” Baxter barked.
“Phasers!” Richards called out. “Knock out their tractor emitter!”
“Phasers have thus far been ineffective,” J’hana replied. “However, if you’d like me to start throwing rocks…”
“Hartley to bridge…”
“Here it comes.” Richards sighed. “Hello, Megan. What do you want?”
“Yes. I’m in command.”
“Go figure. So it’s you I should be yelling at for getting us blasted to bits a second time in one day!”
“Megan, I don’t have time for this.”
“Then make time, because the structural integrity field’s shot, the engines are pushed to the max to try to keep up with that starship dragging us along like an anchor, and shields are next to nothing. Get us out of this, and ASAP, or we’re going to be space dust!”
“Thanks for your comments, Hartley. Richards out.”
“Way to handle her,” Peterman said.
“Although I’m afraid she’s probably right,” Browning mumbled, as suddenly the ship shook again.
Tilleran looked up from her scans. “Folks, I’ve got good news and bad news.”
“Let’s here both,” Richards muttered, covering his face.
“We’re decelerating. And the Tracker has released her tractor beam.”
Richards looked up. “What’s the bad news?”
“That,” Tilleran said, and pointed to the viewscreen. The Tracker sped away, joining two of those bulky, rusty orange Orion ships that looked so familiar to Peterman.
“Those are the ships that attacked us and took Andy.”
“And they’ve had time to reload,” Richards said, taking a deep breath.
“Sir!” J’hana called out. “Federation starship decloaking aft! She’s firing on the Orions, and the Tracker!”
Richards rubbed his eyes. “Could this get any wierder?”
“We’re being hailed by the Tracker,” J’hana said. She looked up. “It’s Alvin Ficker.”
“You really shouldn’t have asked that,” Browning muttered.
Richards grimaced. “No kidding.”
Ficker appeared on the viewscreen, smiling broadly. “Commander Richards. How nice to see you again.”
“Ficker, what the hell are you doing out here? And so help me, if you say you’re doing a piece for your talk show…”
“Nothing of the sort,” Ficker said, and glanced to his left, where the petite Anna Kimmel was bound tightly by glowing bonds and glared angrily at him. “As a matter of fact, I’ve left the talk show circuit far behind.”
“You need help,” Peterman said, leaning forward. “Lower your shields and beam over with Captain Kimmel and we can talk all about it.”
Ficker sneered. “Don’t try to counsel me, Peterman. You were never very good at that.”
“As a crazy person, you’re not a very credible source,” Peterman shot back.
“On the contrary, I’m the MOST credible source. Who better to judge good counseling then a crazy person?”
“Can we get back on task here?” Richards asked. “Let’s talk about letting Kimmel go, before somebody gets hurt.”
“Somebody like you?” Ficker asked, and laughed. “You do realize you’re outgunned by me and the Orions. And my alterations to this ship make it nearly impervious to your weaponry. And your leverage is what?”
Richards clenched his fists. “Ficker…”
“I’d love to chat. But I have more important things to see to. Enjoy the pretty explosion of your ship blowing apart!”
“C’mon! The Jefferies tube is this way!” Baxter said, waving the six Betazoids toward the open hatch in the wall. There, Ashley Donovan was planted, leaning over the lip of the hatch, taking potshots at the Orion footsoldiers chasing Baxter and the others.
Baxter flattened himself against the left bulkhead, waving the Betazoids into the tube one at a time. As soon as the last one got though, he turned to follow, joining Ashley as a nearby door slid open.
“I agree. There’s nothing better than a stiff raktageeno to start the…”
The voice was unmistakable. Dark and slithery.
Baxter’s eyes went wide.
The immensely muscular Harth, Predator-in-Chief of the Gorn Confederacy, stood there with a steaming cup of rakateeno, his golf ball eyes bulging as he saw Baxter, frozen as a deer in headlights.
“Manthra Farker!” he cried out in Gorn. “Baxter!”
“Run!” Baxter squeaked, diving into the tube.
Ashley moved to fire, but the Gorn kicked her weapon out of her hands, and she heard it tumble and clatter at the bottom of the tube, many decks below.
She raised an eyebrow at the Gorn. “You’re going to make things difficult, aren’t you?
He advanced on Ashley as Baxter poked his head up from behind her, staring at him fearfully.
“Get him, Ashley!” he said, his voice shaking as she crawled out of the tube, putting up her arms in a fighting stance.
“You’re standing between me and my revenge, little doll, so you can be sure I will make things difficult,” Harth hissed. “That man imprisoned me, took me away from my beloved Sirron, then badly damaged my ship, and embarrassed me in front of the entire Confederacy. I was stripped of my rank, my titles. My place in the Gorn Warrior Ranks. My private table at the All-You-Can-Eat restaurant in Logos City. I lost everything. Until I found an ally in the Orions.” He stepped closer to Ashley, and she stiffened. His nostrils flared. “They have given me what the Gorn refused to provide. What, in their blind efforts for peace, eludes them. A vehicle for revenge.”
“We REALLY don’t have time for this,” Ashley said, blowing stray blonde hairs out of her face.
“And I’d planned, once my ship was up and running, to chase Baxter down and destroy him. But, as fate would have it, these Orions captured him. And I had the singular opportunity to come here and gloat.” He drew a long, multi-pronged blade from his leather belt. “And gut him. Although don’t tell the Orions that. That was never in our deal.”
“Kill him!” Baxter called out.
“You shut up!” Ashley said, not taking her eyes off Harth. He lashed out with a foot, which she easily gripped and lifted, slamming him on his back.
“Human Vermin!” Harth growled, lurching to his feet. “If only you knew the depth of my hatred, the breadth of ferocity of my need for vengeance, then you’d understand why–”
“The time for talk is over,” Ashley said simply, and drove a fist into Harth’s hand. The blade fell. She snapped it up before it hit the deck and drove it in one smooth motion into Harth’s chest, driving him back into the floor.
“Urk!” Harth gurgled, his eyes lolling, dark green blood sputtering from the wound in his chest.
Ashley dragged the blade out from Harth’s chest, wiped it off on his loincloth, and turned toward Baxter, flipping her phaser to him. “So much for him. Now can we PLEASE get off this ship?”
Baxter stared at the immobile Harth. “Wow. You did that…quck.”
“The bigger they are, yadda yadda…” Ashley said, winking at Baxter and following him down the tube.
Richards was still seething about Alvin Ficker as he watched the Idlewild lay into the Orion frigates with its weaponry.
“They’re on our side!” Browning exclaimed, watching the sleek starship bob and weave on the screen, raining fire on the Gorn frigates and the Tracker.
“How novel, seeing as they’re a Starfleet ship,” Richards said.
Tilleran looked up from her station. “They’re not on the active registry.”
Tilleran continued to scan. “Hold on. U.S.S. Idlewild. Destroyed in the Dominion War on Stardate 51405.”
“Huh,” Richards said. “And yet she’s here, remarkably intact.”
“Section Thirty-One is known to build its fleet from Starfleet ships supposedly ‘lost,’” J’hana said. “That’s why my sources tell me their fleet grew tremendously after the Dominion War. All those excuses for destroyed ships.”
Richards glanced back at J’hana.
“Or so I’ve, uh, heard. Really, it’s all rumor and conjecture.”
“Whatever the case, we have an ally,” Richards said. “And I don’t really care if it is Section 31. The point is, they’re helping us. Which is what we should be doing right now. Madera, take us in. J’hana, fire at will!”
“More blissful words, I’ve never heard. Take this, Orion scum!” J’hana cried out, her eyes blazing, as she set upon the tactical controls.
”–will we be able to transport?” as Baxter finished his question, he found he’d just as quickly been beamed aboard another ship. One look around told him it was a Starfleet ship, but the black uniform on the transporter operator told him the ship, in fact, belonged to Section Thirty-One.
“Good work, Bruce. Have security take these Betazoids belowdecks. I want them questioned after this…skirmish.”
“Aye, Commander,” Bruce nodded.
“We need to get to the bridge,” Ashley said, taking Baxter’s arm, bracing as the Idlewild shook.
“Sooner, rather than later, I’d guess.”
“One of the frigates has taken heavy damage,” Tilleran said, looking from one scan to the other. “The other is more or less untouched.”
“Concentrate your fire on the less damaged ship, J’hana,” Richards ordered. “Don’t give either Orion ship the chance to slip out of the fight!”
“Tilleran, try to find Andy,” Peterman said.
She closed her eyes. “I…can feel him out there.”
Peterman leapt from her chair and crossed to Tilleran’s console. “What do you feel?”
“He’s not on either Orion ship. He’s on the Idlewild!”
Peterman sighed. “Finally, some good news!”
On the viewscreen, a stream of torpedoes from the Orion frigates slammed amidships of the Idlewild, knocking the ship off-kilter, sending it spinning.
“We’ve GOT to learn to stop saying things like that!” Browning exclaimed.
“The Tracker is moving off,” J’hana noted. “Idlewild is heavily damaged. Power systems fluctuating. Shields are down!”
“Pursuit course,” Richards said. “Target the Tracker.”
“The Tracker is taking cover,” Tilleran said. “Ficker always was a coward at heart.”
“A dangerous coward,” Peterman said. “We’ve got to find out why he’s here.”
“To give Captain Kimmel to the Orions, it would seem,” Browning said. “But why?”
“We’re going to find out,” Richards said, leaning forward.
“What about the Idlewild?” Peterman asked.
“She’s going to have to fend for herself,” Richards said, then tapped a control on the chair arm. “Engineering.”
“Hartley’s Repair Shop, how may we fix your busted starship?”
Richards sighed. “Commander, I need your help.”
“Could you wait till after we’re blown up? Because after that my schedule REALLY opens up.”
“Shut up and listen: We need a way to beam someone through the Tracker’s shields.”
“Oh, is that all?”
“You can’t do it?”
There was a brief pause. “Well, sure I can.”
“Then do it!”
“And just who, pray tell, are we sending over there?”
Richards glanced back at J’hana. “A one man fighting force.”
“Doesn’t he mean woman?” Browning asked in a whisper.
“No,” Peterman said, grinning.
Baxter and Ashley spilled out of the turbolift shortly after the Idlewild was blasted into its tailspin.
Baxter took a few seconds to take in the bridge. Compact, rudimentary. A circle of stations, and a command chair in the center. Not luxurious at all. This was a fighting ship.
The command chair spun, and Baxter wasn’t at all surprised to see who was in it.
“God damn, boy, you’ve gained weight,” Harlan Baxter said, holding his smouldering cigar as sparks rained down all around him.
“Nice to see you too, dad.”
Ashley bent over the engineering console. “We’ve taken a hell of a lot of hits.”
Harlan stuffed the cigar in his mouth. “Bt gt mboy back.”
“That’s what matters, I guess,” Ashley said, rolling her eyes. “We’ve stabilized the impulse gyros, but shields are gone. And it’s going to be at least an hour before we get them back up.”
“Grafter the Tracker,” Harlan ordered.
The helmsman, a slim blonde man, obediently brought the Idlewild about.
“They understand him!” Baxter exclaimed.
“We’re Section Thirty-One,” Ashley said proudly. “Mumbling is no obstacle to us.”
“I’m amazed,” Baxter said, watching on the viewscreen as the Tracker came into view. Above it, and just behind, the Explorer bore down. “Hey! There’s the Explorer!”
“Orion frigates trailing fast,” Ashley said, slipping behind the tactical console and hurriedly firing weapons.
“Holdemoff!” Harlan ordered, gripping the command chair. “Boyah, yrsistrs in trouble!”
“I know, Dad,” Baxter said. “Ashley explained everything.”
Harlan glared over at Ashley.
“I had to tell him, or the boy’d be bugging me with questions during the whole rescue.”
“Grt that right,” Harlan mumbled.
“It’s nice to be loved,” Baxter said. “Are we close to snagging the Tracker?”
“Drmn right we are,” Harlan said.
“I really should be down in engineering,” Hartley muttered as she jabbed a coil spanner into the open access port of the transporter console in Room Two.
“Do you not find it nostalgic and fulfilling that you’re back at the site of your former post?” J’hana said, slipping her bat’leth into the sleeve behind her back, then checking the setting on her phaser.
“Not at all,” Hartley said, reaching in and yanking at circuits. “Now you do realize that there’s about a fifty-fifty chance you’ll either beam aboard the Tracker or be killed in one of those heinous melty transporter accidents.”
“Fifty-fifty,” J’hana considered. “I suppose that’s satisfactory. Although I’d prefer a higher risk.”
“I’ll do my best to screw this up,” Hartley muttered.
“See that you do,” J’hana said.
Just then, the doors to the transporter room slid open and Peterman rushed in. “Can you fit in one more?”
“Yes,” Hartley said. “Hop on the pad. I hear it’s going to be a great shoreleave!”
“You’re seriously insane. I can’t promise this will work.”
“It’s got to,” Peterman said. “And I”ve got to be there, to get through to Ficker if brute force fails.”
“Brute force will not fail,” J’hana bristled.
“Humor me,” Peterman said, hopping up onto the transporter pad.
“You two are both touched in the head.”
“Agreeably so,” J’hana said. “Now energize!”
“I haven’t finished making the alterations!”
The figures of Harlan and Andy Baxter, along with Ashley Donovan, materialized in the aft conference room, just off the Tracker’s bridge.
“That was too easy,” Baxter said. “I can’t believe you guys can beam through shields.”
“It’s handy,” Ashley said. “In time, when Starfleet’s ready, we’ll give them the enhanced technology, so that they can…”
Just then, J’hana and Peterman materialized a couple meters away. For some reason, J’hana looked disappointed.
Peterman’s face lit up. “Andy!”
Baxter rushed to her, pulled her into his arms, and hugged her, then kissed her deeply on the mouth.
“Grdam time for this later,” Harlan muttered, chewing on his cigar.
“Honey,” Peterman whispered. “Why is your father here?”
“Long story,” Baxter said.
“Don’t we have a rescue to get to?” Ashley pointed out.
“Of course,” Baxter said, drawing his phaser and setting out into the corridor that connected the conference room and the bridge.
“Nice outfit,” J’hana said, grinning at Ashley and patting her buttocks as they left the conference room.
“Do that again and I kill you. I mean it.”
“I’m counting on it.”
The doors to the bridge opened and Baxter froze in his tracks.
He stopped so suddenly that Harlan and Peterman slammed into him.
“Whrthfcks wrong with you boy?” Harlan asked, then looked over Baxter’s shoulder. “Fck!”
“They’re gone!” Ashley exclaimed, glancing around the bridge.
J’hana raced to the nearby tactical console. “I’ll see if I can use the internal sensors to…” She looked up. “Good news, or bad news?”
“Bad news,” Baxter muttered, walking up to join J’hana.
“Ficker and Kimmel are not on the ship. But thirty-six people were just beamed to Cargo Bay Two.”
“That’s the complement of the Idlewild…” Ashley said, and locked glances with Harlan.
“What’s the good news?” Baxter asked hopefully.
J’hana pointed to a ruddy Browning planet on the viewscreen that suddenly loomed larger and closer on the screen.
“We’re on a collision course with Falkath Three, and I can’t seem to undo it.”
“And that’s GOOD news?” Ashley exclaimed.
“Honorable death,” Peterman explained. “It’s all the rage on Andor.”
“Baxter to Idlewild,” Harlan Baxter said, shoving his cigar in his mouth. “Grt us the hll outta here!”
“Communications jammed!” J’hana replied, her hands racing over the tactical panel. She pounded it . “Bridge command is totally locked out!”
“Well, we’ve come too far, gone through too much, to let this deter us,” Baxter said. “I swear to all of you, we’ll find a way out of this!”
And the Tracker angled down, plunging toward the planet below.
“Ten seconds to impact!” J’hana shouted, as Peterman glared at Baxter.
“Well, then again…” Baxter said softly. “God help us…”
“I’m a genius,” Ficker said, pacing the bridge of the Idlewild, staring at the viewscreen, as a bound and angry Anna Kimmel sat curled in the chair behind the tactical console. “Computer, establish a subspace connection with the Salazar.”
The viewscreen crackled to life, shifting from a starscape to the image of Noyo Potsran, broad, green, and dapper dressed, big hands folded in front of him.
“You got some news for me, Ficker?”
Ficker stepped toward the screen. “I have news, all right. I’m now in control of the Idlewild.”
“And that’s supposed to impress me?”
“It’s the ship that’s been hounding you, matching you step for step in your efforts to acquire…” He angled his head back at Kimmel. “Her.”
“Section Thirty-One,” Potsran said, immediately understanding. “And you say you have control of the ship?”
“Yes. And it’s yours, along with Kimmel, if you promise me control of one of your holding companies. I want to be on top, Potsran. And I know you can do it for me. And I’m sure you’re willing to pay my asking price.”
“The ship is a nice bonus, but it’s immaterial compared to that girl,” Potsran said, stepping toward the screen. “You have no idea what she’s worth to us. Beam over with her immediately.”
A smile spread across Ficker’s face as he paced the bridge. “Just one more bit of news, Potsran. The Explorer people that beamed aboard the Tracker, as well as Admiral Baxter and his Section Thirty-One lackey…:”
“Before I abandoned ship, I put them on a collision course with a nearby planet. They’ll all be gone within the next few minutes.”
Potsran laughed. “Good job, Ficker. You’re a lot nastier than I gave you credit for.”
“With a prize as big as the Orion Syndicate, I figured I had better prove my worth to you.”
“You’ve done well, Ficker. You…watch your back!” Potsran’s eyes went wide with alarm.
“I know, I know,” Ficker nodded. “Nobody in the Syndicate is to be trusted. I’ve heard that spiel before. Don’t…”
Then he realized the bridge was filled with a bright, golden glow.
He turned slowly, reluctantly, to see Anna Kimmel standing behind him, still pixie small, but now surrounded by a blinding halo of white light.
“You triggered it, you fool!” Potsran cried.
“T-triggered what?” Ficker asked, staggering backwards as Kimmel stepped toward him.
“A hell of a god complex,” Potsran said, then turned toward his helmsman. “Get us out of here! Maximum warp!”
Ficker turned toward the screen. “What about me?”
Potsran shrugged. “Say your prayers, Ficker!” And he disappeared from the viewscreen, as Kimmel stalked toward him, flames licking from her fingertips…
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
Everybody’s in a compromising situation as the Explorer races to save the Tracker from an imminent crash into a planet, while Anna Kimmel vents her frustrations at Alvin Ficker. Will anybody get out of this thing in one piece, or would it just be better to Track and Flee?