Star Trek: The Further Voyages

  • "Eyes of Fire"
He wasn't going to take "no" for an answer.

"Captain, I want off this ship. Not later, not when it's convenient for you or for Starfleet. Now." Crewman Douglas Velar's duty aboard the U.S.S. Copernicus was transporter operations. He beamed people up. He beamed people down. But he never saw anyone for very long. For an enlisted man, this was a posh position, since he actually had a task to perform that people depended on, but this didn't accomplish anything in the way of respect or dignity. His father had been an enlisted man as well, but had never risen above positions of mediocrity, such as "guarding stuff" or "third-party away team member" -- in other words, the black hole that was security. Doug had been headed in the same direction until he demonstrated enough technical competence to warrant posting in the more simple engineering utilities.

Captain Robin Matheson's reaction was immediate and authoritative: "Like hell. You are hardly in a position to give orders. I'm the captain. I make the rules. And you aren't playing by them."

"When 'the rules' don't make sense, I think that I shouldn't be expected to follow them. If you were truly worthy of that rank you'd see this. You wouldn't even have gotten us in this situation. I'm not trying to bail. I'm saving myself," Velar explained. If he were being entirely truthful, he'd mention that his friend Derek Parkes, a civilian traveling with the crew as part of a research assignment for the Galactic Times, had influenced his present decision in more than compromising fashion.

"You work in security. You know as well as I do the implications of your tone. Right now I don't have time to debate this. There's a Jem'Hadar ship out there with one goal in mind. If we don't prevent it Starfleet will calling wondering why, and I don't want to tell them that I got mixed up in a petty instance of squeamishness when I should have been fulfilling my mission," Captain Matheson continued.

"Does that mission include the mindless slaughter of innocent lives?" When Parkes had arrived, it was two weeks before the Copernicus had been called upon to defend the inhabitants of Haley Minor, a planet of recent Federation membership application still with a population that was still embroiled in class strife. To Parkes this had been a goldmine of an opportunity; a chance to feature the underbelly of the era's dominant political body by focusing on one of it's most controversial edicts, the notorious Prime Directive. How would it apply in a wartime situation? He had convinced Velar to transport him to Haley Minor for an intimate encounter with the answer, but his timing proved horribly miscalculated. Matheson had ordered a photon shower on the very city he'd elected to visit.

"You know what the situation was. If I hadn't fired on the Pasterns the Jem'Hadar would have had an easier target on the surface to attack," Matheson argued.

"If you hadn't angered the Macrons, we wouldn't have been in that situation to begin with," Velar retorted. When the Copernicus first appraised the Phalli of the imminent Dominion attack, Matheson's approach was to bring representatives of both the Pasterns and the Macrons onboard her ship and inform each at the same time. Parkes, an amateur xenosocial science student, had immediately pointed out that this had been a mistake, but the highest ranking officer he'd been allowed to speak to was Commander Franzoni, who had elected not to relay Parkes' concern to Matheson. Velar was his only confidante within the crew, so the two quietly formed a secret mutiny.

"Command decisions are often hard. They seem confusing to those outside the circle, but that doesn't make them any less valid."

"What about objectivity? Where does that come into play?" In truth, Parkes was the last person to count on for objectivity, and Velar knew it. He also knew that innocent lives were innocent no matter how tough the decision was to eradicate them was. His family had risen from the middle class of 20th century human culture, which had helped to give Velar a perspective the oftentimes elite-born command officers regularly failed to display.

"When you're facing the phaser banks of a Jem'Hadar ship, that's when. If I hadn't acted when I did, the Dominion would have finished with their assault on Haley Minor and moved on to another target."

"The Jem'Hadar ship deserved your attention more that the 'petty squeamishness' of a few mindless natives." Velar had snatched Parkes and a handful of panicking Pasterns with a swift transport soon after Matheson had started her bombardment to scare off the Macrons. The sudden arrival of the Jem'Hadar had thrown them all for a loop, causing the officer at tactical to fire a last round of misplaced fire. In the ensuing hysteria Velar and Parkes made their pact and Matheson damaged the Jem'Hadar vessel bad enough so that both ships had to crawl to safe harbors.

"A Starfleet officer's job is to look out for the well-being of every sentient life form. It's a detail that cannot be overlooked and cannot be undervalued. But when the going gets tough. even the tough are forced to blink before moving forward. Mistakes are made, but if we concentrate on them we'll only create more problems."

Velar stood before the Captain's desk. He wanted nothing more than to get off the ship. Parkes had shown him that there was more than Starfleet or the Federation to live for in the 24th century. His dignity demanded him to stay this course. "Maybe I can't live by your rules anymore," he said.

"Then leave on your own time. You are concerned for the future of the Phalli? Right now there's a war going on that could mean the end of more than just the Pasterns or the Macrons. Haley Minor might not survive long enough to be approved for membership let alone have time to worry about a few mistakes a Starfleet vessel made in defending it. Objectivity demands that we do everything in our power to complete our mission. If you can't handle the messy details then how do you expect to face a world outside Starfleet, Dominion War or otherwise?"

"I..." Parkes had shown him a way of life the Velar family line had never known, but what if wasn't enough? Velar sat down in the chair he had been neglecting for the past five minutes. Behind the Captain was a purview of the stars as seen from Phalli space. So many pricks of light but not one answer to the question he most needed an answer to.

"Stress under extreme pressure?" Matheson offered.

Velar remained silent. He thought of Parkes, of his father, of the Macrons, of the Pasterns. Of the Jem'Hadar ship. "Stress...under extreme pressure. It won't happen again, sir."

"If that is all, you are dismissed. We have a war to win."

  • "Cool Heads (Part 1)"

Keb dreaded this duty above all others. Escort service. As chief of security for the U.S.S. Copernicus, the Bolian lieutenant commander was the first officer Captain Matheson turned to when a visiting dignitary came aboard the ship. He didn't mind it, really. It just wasn't much of a challenge. And it was invariably tasking on his nerves. The Romulan senator the ship was hosting, Tavol, was being as uncooperative as possible, insisting on seeing all the parts of the ship Keb couldn't let him. When shot down, Tavol would offer up a rude remark about "Starfleet hospitality," and Keb would have to use all of his restraint to not knock the senator's pointed-eared head with the pocketed phaser he kept at his hand at all times.

"Take me to Captain Matheson's quarters," Tavol requested.

Keb was astonished. This of all places would seem to be obviously off-limits. "I believe I'll have to pass on that," he replied right away.

"That wasn't a request. It was an order," the Romulan returned, equally promptly. "Admiral Logan was quite clear in his own orders, I believe. If you will not listen to me, perhaps your superiors will pull more weight?"

"Captain Matheson likes her privacy," Keb protested. "She'll be on duty again in just under an hour."

"Then she should already be prepared for visitors. Good," Tavol sneered. "I am to have access to all portions of this ship directly relating to the business at hand. The captain of this vessel would seem to apply."

Robin Matheson was, in fact, hardly ready for visitors. She was a notoriously heavy sleeper, a fact that had kept Admiral Logan from putting her in anything but support positions during the Dominion War. She was cranky, ill-mannered, and generally disagreeable if she got below seven hours of wink, but to be fair, the rest of the day she rivaled the best Starfleet had to offer. She simply needed her rest, and she had earned it the previous day. What Keb was now going through paled to the experience she'd had on Romulus itself. A high brass meeting with every member of the Senate, a private session with the praetors following that, and then a briefing with Logan via subspace. Commander Franzoni had been gracious enough to afford her an extra hour's rest, and even that would need be followed with the strongest cup of Green Leaf Tea she'd have needed since the War ended three years ago.

Tavol reached the door before Keb, and he promptly rang the chime. Matheson froze for a moment, but then called up the computer to find out who it was, and upon finding out, thanked the befumbled system directly that she was already in uniform.

"Come in," she at last allowed.

The Romulan senator found himself blocked by the Bolian, who was determined to establish himself as in command of the situation. Keb motioned the guest in before him, and Matheson extended a far too chipper greeting in turn. That cup of tea she'd gulped down was kicking in with great earnest.

"Senator Tavol, I've been expecting your visit," Matheson said.

"As you should have. Your security chief has been most uncooperative," Tavol replied, to which Keb shuffled a little.

"I don't pay Keb to be a push-over," Matheson returned. "Tell me, what brings you here at this hour?"

"We need to reach Kronos earlier than expected. I've received a communiqué that suggests war may be closer than we'd originally considered."

War?, thought Keb, who was now feeling more on edge than ever. The Soyuz class Copernicus had avoided much of the War for diplomatic missions such as this had first seemed to be. Though perfectly capable of combat, the ship wasn't his first choice to rally into battle, nor the crew one he'd feel comfortable fighting alongside. They were a good crew, sure, but war?

"Care to divulge? Oh my, of course not. You couldn't possibly be at liberty to," Matheson observed.

"You're quick, for a human," Tavol said. "It would seem the influence of the Duras family will not die, as all of its members have, including the recent fatality of young Toral."

"Which the Romulan government had nothing to do with, naturally," Matheson commented.

"The nuisance my own people are burdened with, the exiled Selar, is more likely the cause. Of all our struggles," Tavol replied matter-of-factly. "I wouldn't put it past her to double-cross her own cohorts."

Is that not a Romulan trait?, Keb said to himself.

"Have you any idea of where she is," Matheson inquired.

"We suspect in Klingon space," Tavol began, "where she has instigated more than just a civil war this time. She must be stopped."

"Kronos itself?" Matheson asked of the Romulan senator.

"Far too obvious. We suspect a moon base around one of the sibling worlds," Tavol noted. The Klingons, as one Starfleet commander once noted for himself, never did anything small. They had no less than twelve moon bases within the planets of their empire, half of them suspected of being inhabited by rogue elements.

"Do you have a lucky guess as to which one or do we have to check them all?" Matheson said wryly.

"Fortunately, we've managed to narrow it down to one, yes," Tavol revealed. "Tro'Paq in orbit of Kronos IV."

Tapping her combadge, Matheson reported to the bridge, "Lt. Nelson, set a course for Klingon moon Tro'Paq, warp 5. I'm on my way."

Nelson soon found himself otherwise occupied. A Klingon Bird-of-Prey decloaked in front of the Copernicus, causing Commander Franzoni to order immediate evasive action: "Shake them if you can, Joel, but just buy us some time. I don't want to start a war without the Captain's permission." The Klingon ship, oddly, followed this course of action, pursuing instead of engaging the Starfleet vessel. Nelson was perplexed, but he was an excellent pilot. The chase was on.

At Ops, Lt. Cmdr. Hounsou offered some insight into the situation: "It seems the Klingons can't fire on us because their ship is damaged. They've already seen action today."

"From who?" Franzoni asked.

"There aren't any other ships in the area and I'm not detecting any residual signatures of recent origin," Hounsou reported. "But the Bird-of-Prey has definitely been wounded recently."

"Could it be another cloaked vessel?" Nelson wondered at the con.

"That would imply either another Klingon ship, or Romulans," Franzoni deduced. The ship rocked from phaser fire at that moment, and Matheson arrived simultaneously with Senator Tavol and Keb.

"Report!" Matheson shouted.

"There's a Klingon Bird-of-Prey out there, and another--" Franzoni began before another shot rocked the Copernicus.

"I can help you if its one of Selar's ships," Tavol directed toward Matheson. "But there's no guarantee that the Klingons aren't on that ship as well."

"I don't care; do whatever you can," Matheson replied before following Keb to the tactical station, where he relieved a Trill ensign.

"Damage reports are coming in; Doctor Sokor has twelve wounded. Decks 5 through 7 have hull fractures which Cmdr. Zimmer has already sent teams to repair, and shields are down to 85%, he reported. "Other than that, we could easily host a Dom'Jot tournament without raising too many eyebrows."

At Ops, Hounsou and Tavol had pinpointed a signature. "Its Romulan," Hounsou stated.

Matheson didn't wait long before turning to Tavol, "If there's anything else you can do to be of help here, feel free to volunteer it."

"Unfortunately, anarchists have a slight problem with authority, if you were thinking I could speak to them," Tavol remarked. "I could help you pinpoint the cloak frequency, but that's all."

"Better that than nothing," Franzoni said.

"Do it, then," Matheson barked.

The Romulan did as ordered, with a noticeable frown on his face. Keb meanwhile traced the pattern of the two shots and stated that he had a good idea of where the ship was. Matheson then ordered Nelson to back off from the Klingon ship's pursuit so Keb could have a better shot. Tavol and Hounsou tracked the Romulan ship down and relayed its exact position to Keb, who immediately opened fire. Two quantum torpedo shots later, the Romulan Warbird shimmered into view.

The Warbird fired upon the Bird-of-Prey upon decloaking, and the Klingon ship exploded in a ball of fire. Matheson looked on, shocked at the development, but Tavol seemed to have expected it: "You've reopened the door, Captain. What else did you expect?"

"Hail them!" she barked in return.

After a moment, Hounsou announced: "They aren't responding."

"Just make sure they don't try to run," Franzoni remarked.

For a moment, nothing happened. The Warbird sat in space, as if frozen by its own actions, and Matheson didn't know what else to do. "Try again," she said, finally, to Hounsou.

"It's not likely that--" Tavol began before Hounsou cut him off.

"Connection established. Putting on the main viewer; Praetor Neerok would like to have a word with you."

  • "Cool Heads (Part 2) No Turning Back

"Praetor Neerok, I honestly didn't expect the honor of speaking to you again so soon," Matheson said coyly over subspace.

"Nor did I expect it would be necessary," the Romulan responded from the bridge of the Warbird. "Circumstances obviously dictate otherwise. I suppose you're wondering what exactly has been going on?"

"There'll be time enough later for that," Senator Tavol snarled, coming into view on the Praetor's viewscreen. "The Adjudicates will be...more than willing to hear what you have to say. The Senate will call for nothing less than exile, you can be sure of it. Your ambitions have wrought you your ruin."

"Perhaps so," Neerok replied back. "And perhaps you are on that ship for the precise reason that you are out of the loop. What do you know of what the Senate wants? What do you know of the other three praetors? Far less than Captain Matheson, I'd wager."

"I know more of your fellow praetors than you think. Who do you think orchestrated the petition for them after the war?" Tavol returned in a calm voice.

What lay beyond Tavol's derogatory tone was the fact that Neerok wasn't a Romulan at all, but a Reman. Though technically one and the same race, Romulans and Remans had always existed at odds with each other. Romulans believed that Remans envied them, when in fact Remans looked upon them in disgust. They saw Romulans as nothing but pompous brats, who spoiled every opportunity they had to make a real impact in galactic affairs by not trusting their opponents enough to respect them. The audacity to approach Captain Matheson, for instance, with such a delicate situation as Klingon infidelity to a relationship dating back to more than a century, without so much as a single escort, thus saying beneath "We respect Federation diplomacy," "We spit on your integrity; you'll go at this all yourself." Neerok's own involvement with the Klingon situation was far more enlightened than Tavol could possibly appreciate. He was doing it not only for Remans or Romulans or Klingons, but for them all, and the Federation and every other space-farer as well. He was in fact offended by his Romulan brethren.

"The fact remains, gentlemen," Matheson interjected, "that we've got a situation here."

"That we do," Neerok agreed. "That we do. I've got information the Tal Shiar has died trying to obtain, and I've done it better than they've ever managed. Tell me, Tavol, what advantages do their tactics have over ours?"

"Remans," Tavol scoffed. "They fancy themselves a close link to our...Vulcan cousins. True Romulans know that this is nothing but an insult."

"This has nothing to do," Neerok began before changing thought in mid-sentence. "You Romulans. So pompous. So arrogant. Klingons at least have honor. That's what has brought me here; not to widen an already existing rift, but to seal it at its source. Typical of you, Tavol, to not see this. To charge in and assume all the wrong assumptions."
What wasn't typical aboard the Copernicus was for the com line to suddenly be cut off, which it presently did. Tavol reacted as if he expected no less from Neerok, but Matheson thought differently.

"Why did we lose contact?" she asked Hounsou, who looked baffled himself for a moment before replying, his hands fluttering over the control panel at his station.

"I'm not sure. Its nothing the Warbird Sora did, that's for sure. Its been trying to hail us back, but I can't respond. I don't know what's wrong," he said in a slightly panicked tone.

Commander Franzoni shot an accusing glare at Tavol. "Captain, I think we'd better place Senator Tavol in confinement until we figure this out."

Glancing at the Romulan, Matheson replied, "I am in agreement," before motioning to Keb. The Bolian didn't appear the least conflicted over this duty.

"We meet again, Senator," he said as he escorted Tavol off the bridge along with a human and Bajoran to the Romulan's quarters.

On the turbolift, Tavol turned and addressed Keb: "I hope you realize how grave a mistake you're making."

"I'd worry less about me and more for yourself," the security chief said. "At this point, you've lost our trust, and until we are given reason to the contrary, you'll be treated exactly as you did Praetor Neerok."

"Neerok is a fool, and your captain a bigger one."

The rest of the trip was taken in silence, and the party soon arrived on Deck 12, where the Senator was placed under house arrest. As he left the scene alone, the two officers remaining at the door as guards, Keb warbled a bit to himself, an old habit he'd picked up on lonely nightshifts as an ensign aboard the science vessel Hume. It wasn't so much a triumphant song as it was one of nervousness this time, however. Back inside the turbolift. He hesitated on calling out his destination, brooding, a most uncommon event for a Bolian. He considered the events of the previous half hour, turning them over and over again on his tongue. The nervousness turned into resolve, and he tapped his combadge. "Commander Keb to Crewman Gird, meet me in my quarters."

"If I had a heart for hardship's sake, I would be in revel," Gird said in greeting to Keb when the security chief reached his own quarters.

"That you would," Keb replied, who was now dwelling on the unusual circumstances that had brought the Klingon into Starfleet. "I assume you know why I called you here?"

"You need an expert," Gird stated. "Sisko had Worf in the Klingon/Cardassian conflict. It is only natural."

"I need someone who has a level head. The fact that you're Klingon is an added bonus."

"Then by all means, let's get to the business at hand."

"On the one hand," Keb began, "we have Senator Tavol, who came aboard the ship a trusted guest of the Captain's, an ambassador of peace. On the other we have Praetor Neerok, who appears to be working on the opposite side of the fence, yet events say that Tavol or someone else aboard this vessel is working against us, and Neerok cannot be connected. At least at this time. The display of Neerok and Tavol's mutual animosity is a hanging point. I have security officers as we speak tearing this ship apart for answers, but the only one I could come to is to ask your advice."

"If you want my blessing in approaching the Klingon High Counsel, I'm afraid that I've lost all influence after my parting gift to the Empire," Gird warned.

"I didn't expect such a lofty goal to be met," Keb conceded. "No, what I need is for someone to pay Tavol a house call. We need some headway in this situation, and I'm afraid Captain Matheson is adamant about dealing with Neerok herself. I don't trust myself with Tavol and Franzoni is a proven hothead. You're not my last resort, but you're the best man for the job."

"I see," Gird replied. "I won't coddle him, you realize."

"That's exactly what I'm counting on."

"Have you cleared this with the Captain? She and I...are not exactly on the best of terms. She disapproved of my methods rather strongly," Gird remarked.

"The Captain is a busy person," Keb smirked out. "Besides, even if she doesn't trust you, she's always trusted me, and that's enough I suppose."

"I admire your cunning," Gird remarked. "You are a credit to your kind."


"Starfleet security officers. They are all too often spineless and pedantic."

"Even the best of them?"

"Especially the best of them."

"About Tavol, then."

"I know his kind; if he's guilty of what you suspect, I will soon discover. He's an open book, as you have already discovered. I'll not hesitate to rip off the cover if I must, but the pages will be mine. I only wish he were a Klingon opera, that I could butcher him."

Noticing an uncomfortable shuffle of the Bolian's feet, he added, "Metaphorically speaking, of course."

Keb, understanding that his shuffle had indeed been noted, said, "I was more afraid that you were suddenly less an untypical Klingon than an even more intense one. Only for a minute, though. Let's get moving."

In her ready room, Captain Matheson sat at her desk with a fresh cup of tea at her hand. She had a pensive grip on the handle, which Commander Franzoni across from her took as a sign of either a bombshell about to be dropped or - god forbid - the Captain's buried disappointment in Neerok expressing itself.

"Captain," he began.

"I know what you're thinking," she interjected. "This is Halley Minor all over again. Let me put your fears to rest. It's much worse."

A pause. "Captain," he said again. "You're distraught. This is a personal blow for you. I can't agree that seeing Neerok yourself is in the best interests of this mission. If you want, I can call up Admiral Logan, ask for a third party. Or I could do it."

"I appreciate the offer, Harm," she said. Harm said in almost a patronizing tone. "Logan trusted me for this mission. How could I possibly back down now? Because the going is tough? For all we know, this could all be some sort of gross misunderstanding."

"Optimism is good," Franzoni remarked. It might help us get through this easier."

"I appreciate the thought, Harm," Matheson said. Harm said gently. "I never meant to imply anything insulting."

"Shall we dance?"


The two got up and exited the Captain's ready room, an unspoken agreement on both their minds. Hounsou, who had been in charge in the meantime, stated, "The Sora has given up its attempts at re-establishing a link. However, I took the liberty of using Morse Code to deliver our plan. Neerok is expecting you."

Matheson gave a steely look toward Franzoni. "Very well. I'm on my way. You have the bridge, Commander."

  • "Cool Heads (Part 3) The Cost Builds Steeper"

At the change of shift, Keb was relieved by a Benzite lieutenant. Same color, sure, completely different styles. Keb was never positive he could trust such a dodgy individual to run things as well as he did, but Matheson's support was enough. He'd promised the Captain to stay on call, as it were, for the duration of the crisis, but he'd been on-duty for 12 hours already and he badly needed the rest. By now Gird was already making his house call to Tavol and Matheson aboard the Sora. He found himself once more walking the corridors, which he figured had taken up about 62% of the concluded shift. Once returned to his quarters, Keb sat down with a heavy sigh. Strenuous activity, no matter how low-impact, was not a Bolian's favorite order at the market.

"Captain Matheson," a sub-commander intoned, "I've been instructed to direct you to waiting quarters. Praetor Neerok isn't quite ready for you."

"Lead on," Matheson allowed. The pastel shades of the Sora seemed to her anomalous to the sever Romulan fashion the officers wore. And officers there were, swarming everywhere. Remans, actually, she suspected. Too pale for Romulans, not to mention the other glaring differences. She felt uneasy. On Romulus she had been in the company of more Romulans than Remans - come to think of it, she hadn't really noted any significant Reman presence beside Neerok - and she had felt comfortable enough. Neerok himself exuded a calming influence, but these Reman...Her mind wandered back to what had gone on in that conference with the praetors. The Star Empire had been in dire straits following the Dominion War, though it would hardly admit it. Even the rumors of scandalous Starfleet meddling to get them into the war effort had led to riots upon the conclusion of the conflict. For the Romulans, in fact, the conflict was just beginning. The presiding praetor had lost a vote of conference from within the Senate, but Tavol had drafted a plan to create new leadership. The beginnings of that initiative had proven an embarrassment for Tavol, when the Remans had been admitted into the reform sessions, resulting in Neerok's historic appointment as one of four provisional praetors until the reforms could be fully enacted. Starfleet was given observation privileges, and Matheson had been chosen as its ambassador. Neerok at that meeting, after it had been discovered that a Romulan-Klingon conflict was once more a very real possibility, had proven an eloquent voice for peace.

What was he up to now?

"You admit your pettiness," an incredulous Gird exclaimed, although still in his customarily reserved manner.

"Why should I pretend to hide it?" Tavol sneered, reclined on the sofa in his quarters, seemingly oblivious to his own earlier tawdriness. "There isn't a thing he could do to prove Remans are any less inferior than I hold them to be. He certainly hasn't done so yet."

"I would call confounding Klingons an impressive fete," Gird replied, undeterred.

"Be that as it may," said in such a way as to reveal that he knew on what terms the Starfleet crewman was on with his people, "the Tal Shiar could have easily duplicated his results. Which we aren't sure the nature of yet."

"The fact remains that he did upstage your precious operatives," Gird reminded. "Your problem is an utter lack of recognition as to the finer points of the tapestry. You are a blind, embittered, politician." Politician said without any love lost.

Neerok strolled into Matheson's waiting quarters, unannounced and without request. He had a stern look on his face that the Captain hadn't yet seen on it; even at the conference the Reman had maintained an affable facade, to the faces of the three Romulans provisional praetors (who each featured understated imitations of Tavol's own attitude toward him), even at his most passionate.

"Captain," he started curtly, "you've found yourself in the middle of a tense situation, and I sympathize with whatever ill feelings you may have toward me or toward what you've thus far experienced. There are things you don't know, things you couldn't begin to understand, of the intricacies of Klingon-Romulan relations. I suspect that even Tavol does not fully appreciate them. But although he may be carrying a personal grudge to these events, I am not. That doesn't mean that I'm not guilty of a grave sin. I have someone I'd like you to meet."

The shadows. They are a popular haven for hidden guests, if you can call them guests. The guest Neerok sheathed in the shadows was tall, menacing. Not Romulan or Reman, then. Odorous; Matheson hadn't been surprised to hear that they had a guest, since the smell had given their presence away immediately. And the hair. A dead giveaway. Klingons were never going to win points for stealth. (One suspected that they wouldn't even care to.)

So out from the shadows of the room stepped a Klingon, a young one, his facial hair minimal in the way that screamed inexperience in the ways of the warrior. His features, though hardened with a scowl Matheson figured was etched through years of disappointment, which she would soon learn the culmination of, were nonetheless intimidating. She didn't bait her breath, though. But he was alone, and that was reassuring. Just the three of them.

"Captain," Neerok began, "this is Korath, bastard of the Dominion War. After the ascent of Martok, his Empire...changed almost beyond recognition. He has no prospects on Kronos, and he's willing to do anything to change that. He has already proved quite useful."

"Greetings," Korath offered with a smirk.

"Save it," Matheson suggested.

"That's not very friendly, Captain," the Klingon returned.

"I'm not feeling very friendly," she said.

"I'm afraid I've already vouched for you," Neerok revealed. "You'll have to try a little harder. I haven't spent twelve months of my life on this deal just to see one of its main factors to deal itself out."

"My apologies," Matheson stated. "Korath, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Likewise," Korath said, smirking all the wider. "I've brought something to the table perhaps you'd be interested in finding out about. Something even that Romulan pig Tavol doesn't know about. A surviving Duras."

"That's impossible!" Matheson exclaimed.

"Is it?" Neerok added.

"Before her death at the hands of the Federation starship Enterprise, B'Etor, sister of Duras, gave birth to an heir, who was put into hiding before the news could spread. At the time she and her sister Lursa were far from popular on Kronos. After Toral's death, the child became the last of the Duras family, and it grew up with all the hatred Duras had held against the House of Mogh as a front to his honor," Korath explained.

"But that would make the child eight years old," Matheson mused aloud. "What possible weight could it hold in the Empire?"

"Much," Korath grinned. "Duras did not lose all support after his sisters dishonored themselves. There were those who...still wished to capitalize on his reputation. It required very little honor among these patriots to begin with, and I had the least of them all. When you have nothing to lose, you are willing to give a lot."

"Clearly," Matheson mouthed, her gut doing loops inside her.

"Gird to Keb." This came just as Keb was dozing off. The Bolian was so tired he didn't open his eyes as he fumbled his right hand by the nightstand of the sofa he'd collapsed in.

"Here," he mumbled.

"Tavol has proven cooperative. Despite his better efforts," the Klingon crewman said through the combadge still stuck to the tunic coat Keb had thrown aside. The security chief opened his eyes at that. He sat up.

"Good," he said as he sat up. "I knew I could count on you."

"You won't like what he had to say," Gird warned. "Captain Matheson should be recalled immediately."

This alarmed Keb. What could the Romulan senator have said? Gird was never one for understatement, that much he knew, and that scared him more than whatever Tavol could have revealed. Whatever Matheson was learning aboard the Sora would certainly be of secondary importance, right?

On the bridge, Franzoni was anxious. He didn't like to sit on the sidelines, even if the seat was the captain's seat. When the call came from Keb about the success of his interrogation of Tavol, the commander tasted a bit of melancholy. It used to be him who captured these victories, and it had gotten him the first officer job on the Copernicus. But what had it really gotten him? There was very little glory for the second in command.

"Bring the Senator to the bridge with you," he instructed the Bolian security chief. "Matheson should be back shortly. She says that she has a guest, as well as Praetor Neerok, beaming aboard with her. I want you and Tavol waiting for them when they arrive at Transport Room 2. Bring some back-up."

And where would he be in the meantime? On the bridge. A solitary figure, isolated from his calling, held up by the chain of command. As soon as this mission is over, he began to himself...

And so he sat, pensive as a Cornelian razor beast. Not very, then. He wanted to implore Hounsou at Ops for a status report every other minute, but Franzoni caught himself. When you were holed up on the bridge, away from the main body of activity, life froze in its frame. The helmsman, Nelson, sat in front of him, bobbing every now and again as his duties required. It became a trance-inducing movement for the commander, who counted seconds as if they were minutes, minutes as if they were hours.

That monotony was broken in a fraction of a second. Franzoni's head shot straight up from its stupor, as if some event on the bridge had awakened him, when in fact, nothing at all had occurred.

"Report!" he shouted at the Benzite lieutenant at tactical, whose name was Fonden.

Fonden was as confused as the rest of the bridge for a moment, until she glanced at her panel. A look of consternation flashed across her face. "There's been weapons fire at Transporter Room 2. There's...there's a casualty, sir."

  • "Cool Heads (Part 4) Own the Day"

Just outside of Transporter Room 2, Senator Tavol stood locked in place, as if his feet had been nailed to the deck. The doors to the room were likewise locked in place, open, with Captain Matheson and Praetor Neerok standing just inside and out, respectively, looks of sheer terror on their faces. And Korath stood flanked between two security guards, one a Tellarite and the other a Klingon crewman, Gird. In the corridor...

In the corridor lay the form of Keb, his blue Bolian head stained red from where he'd struck it upon collapsing. It was funny, the blue and the red intertwined, almost in a kind of harmony, each complimenting the other. Lovely to see you, the blue said. It's a pleasure to be here, thank you, replied the red. The yellow of his uniform collar and black and gray of his uniform looked oddly out of place. We want no part of this, they seemed to be saying. But Keb himself wasn't saying anything. He wasn't breathing, either.

"Get a medic!" Matheson pleaded, and the Tellarite tapped his combadge, and a voice responded to the request made, and silence resumed. A hum broke that silence soon enough. It wasn't from Keb, who was beyond any help Doctor Sokor could provide. It was from Gird, who steadily increased his humming until it increased in decibels of such intensity that even Korath looked to want to cover his ears.

Gird let out a cry above their heads so loud that several decks above heard it, despite the soundproofing that was standard on every Starfleet vessel. It was loud, and it seemed to utter a cry of its own. It pierced at the very heart of the Copernicus, so that chief engineer Zimmer later told stories of hearing a ghostly chiming that made the warp core skip a beat. A beat. After that outcry, Transporter Room 2 and its immediate surroundings became a comparative maniacal flurry of activity.

"Korath you fool!" Tavol snarled. "I should have known better than to employ your services."

Neerok was incredulous. "What are you talking-- I should have known. Never trust a Klingon, especially one who is so willing to cooperate."

Korath, still being restrained by Gird and the Tellarite, spat at Neerok. "I'll say this about Remans: they at least know how to take duplicity."

Captain Matheson wasn't pleased with this response, but she was busy hovering over Doctor Sokor's shoulder, whose efforts at reviving Keb were failing, as both knew they would. The captain had the look of someone who was trying to put one face on despite the fact that the other was evident no matter how diligent the effort. She could hardly keep from throwing both Korath and Tavol into the brig that instant. "This," she began, "will not sabotage our efforts. I hope you realize how miserably you've failed, and that it eats at you, since you'll be accompanying us to Tro'Paq. You'll answer for this treachery, and...continue being the agents of your own plan's unraveling."

"Smile," she added emphatically, tauntingly.

"Where do you find this arrogance?" Tavol scoffed. "No matter. You're too late. Sela already has her fleet assembled. One way or another, this day will end in our favor."

"Get them out of my sight," Matheson ordered. It wasn't arrogance fueling her, but fear, fear that Tavol and Korath and Sela indeed held the reigns of power. Fear had motivated her for four years, fear that she would blunder again, fear that this time, the Federation would lose more than just a potential member. Fear that her actions would do what the Dominion had failed to do, bring chaos to the Alpha Quadrant. But was any of this her fault? No, she kept telling herself. But then she thought of the first casualty of this conflict. Halley Minor had started off with one casualty, one diplomat, murdered on his way back from a conference onboard the Copernicus, where she had insisted that everything was under control. One death. One lie to herself. One blunder after another. The pressure had been on then as well.

"Matheson to Franzoni," she said, tapping her combadge. "Get me Admiral Logan in my ready room."

"Robin Matheson only calls when she is feeling particularly concerned, or when she's looking for something else to be concerned about. Which will it be this time, or has she developed a new strategy for rattling my bones?"

"Admiral," she responded, "I appreciate your attempt to brighten my mood, but now's not the time."

"'Now' is always the time," Logan stated, "but I understand your sentiment. I have two ships in the area, the Madison and the Salient, but I assume they won't be enough?"

"At this point, both are unnecessary," Matheson corrected. "What I need is support of a different kind. Gerald, I'm afraid I'm going to fail you."

"Nonsense," Logan dismissed, before his face on Matheson's viewscreen flickered in thought. "Please don't tell me it's Halley Minor that's bugging you. I wouldn't have you out there if there were the slightest doubt in my mind that you weren't as good an officer now as you were before then. In fact, you may very well be better."

"I appreciate your vote of confidence, but I need something more than to have you placate my ego right now."

"And that would be?" Logan wondered aloud.

"All of the files on this Sela," Matheson revealed. "Including the classified ones. I’m talking everything Picard knows level. Senator Tavol is a petty egotist. He's a pawn and he doesn't see it. Korath is an opportunist, the only dreg Sela could find among Martok's new regime to go along with her schemes."

"It's your opinion, then, that she doesn't have any real support?" the admiral questioned.

"I don't know," the captain confessed. "I don't know what she's capable of, not the depth of it. She's been pulling strings as far as I can tell, but what strings and how...That's what I'm hoping you can help me with."

"I'll do the best I can. You know, it's still early in the game," Logan cajoled. "From what I understand, Tavol is under the impression that there's already a fleet assembled, but we haven't been able to detect so much as a parsec of unexplainable activity on the Romulan side of the Neutral Zone. The war did wonders for our understanding of their cloaking technology, and I very much doubt that Sela would possess the most advanced warships available."

"All of which means..." Matheson began. "All of which is to say, expect the unexpected."

"Unfortunately, yes."

Fonden was in shock. Mere hours ago she was a cog in the wheel, just another officer serving aboard the Copernicus, with responsibilities, yes, but authority? No, not in the slightest. But second in line to the title of security chief was huge, a huge step she'd only just cleared in her head. When the call had come over the com system establishing who had been the victim at Transporter Room 2, the Benzite had reeled. Commander Franzoni had remained stolid in front of her, in front of the entire bridge crew, but she, she had nearly crumbled then and there. But she was a Starfleet officer. Death was part of the job, especially in her line of work, and she had experienced plenty of it during the war. She'd hoped to have escaped it here on the Copernicus. No such luck.

"Status on the Sora," she heard Franzoni ask Hounsou. Of course, instinctively, she'd checked her own panel. Of course there was noth--

"Commander, I'm reading a power-up in the warbird's targeting array," she stammered.

"Disable them, then," Franzoni replied calmly.

"Before, sir?" Fonden balked.

"That sounds good to me," the commander responded.

"Aye sir."

"Belay that order," Captain Matheson said as she walked onto the bridge. "That's exactly what they want. For us to start this thing for them. I want shields."

"Shields it is, then," Franzoni acknowledged. Moments later the ship was rocked once more by the Sora. "How did you know?"

"Romulan tactics are easy to anticipate," Matheson said, "once you have an inkling to their method. Sela's been pulling the strings alright. I doubt Praetor Neerok even knew he was being manipulated. Hail them."

"I think I'm confused," Franzoni admitted.

"The Sora is answering," Hounsou stated from Ops. "Putting them onscreen."

"How long did you wait to execute Neerok?" Matheson said in greeting.

"Oh, at least a few minutes," Sela replied on the viewer. "You needn't bother with Tavol and Korath. By now they've taken care of themselves."

"The bodies just keep piling up," Matheson stated. "I suppose I'm next?"

"Please, Captain. You give yourself too much credit."

"Do I? Or is it the other way around?"

"What are you talking about?" Sela questioned, leaning forward in her seat on the Sora's bridge. "At any rate, it doesn't matter. Judging by the fact that we're still alone here and I haven't detected any incoming visitors, I would advise you to stand down. I'll spare you and your crew. You've been most helpful. My sincere gratitude."

"I wouldn't get comfortable if I were you," Matheson advised.

"Are you threatening me?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Matheson said. Tapping her combadge, she then added, "Kobyashi Maru."

Neither Sela nor the others on the Sora's bridge knew what hit them. Crewman Gird and about a dozen other security personnel from the Copernicus materialized, surrounding the now predominantly Romulan officers, who were immediately subdued. Sela was incensed. And just then Neerok strode out from among the Starfleet party.

"I thought I--" Sela began.

On the viewer Matheson smirked. "You've killed a hologram, Sela, an intricately designed, fully program. I'd say that is quite an accomplishment."

"But you were working for me!" Sela blurted out to Neerok.

"Considering what it 'got' me, I'm glad that it wasn't quite like that," Neerok said coolly. "You might also be disappointed to learn that Korath and Tavol both still breathe, and they've agreed to testify against you."

Sela couldn't speak. She burrowed twin beams of hatred into the Reman praetor's skull, but she could not speak. Behind her, Gird was a little more collected. If Keb hadn't already, he'd just won entrance into Sto-Vo-Kor. Yes, Gird was quite cool indeed. He then did something Klingons rarely do in the heat of confrontation, and what he did even more rarely. He smiled.

Fonden had dreaded this duty above all others. The Benzite lieutenant had held the title of security chief for less than a day, and hadn't yet any direct contact to the participants of the crisis that had now passed. Praetor Neerok had departed with the Sora to Romulus, leaving the three chief conspirators, Sela, Korath, and Senator Tavol, to Captain Matheson, who would bring them to Epsilon Station for a Federation hearing. They had been confined to the brig by the Captain herself, with Fonden scheduled to make but a short visit in order to formally charge them.

Tavol, however, had different plans. When Fonden arrived, he was waiting, and with a request for a private audience. That's when he revealed his willingness to testify against both Sela and Korath, and divulge the whole design, with the one hinge being he wanted to meet with Captain Matheson herself to work out the details. So the force field was lowered, the Senator (one assumed he wouldn't be one for long) stepped out, and Fonden placed a restraining lock on his ankle. They exited the brig together, Tavol as prisoner and escort. A glorified escort. Being promoted to security chief should remove her from such duties. It was a waste of her talents. She didn't enjoy it in the least.

She made a mental note to change policy.


  • "Silent Running (Part 1) Fool's Errand"

"I supposed this was to be expected," the Bolian said.

"In our line of work, it is," the Starfleet officer agreed.

"That doesn't make it any easier," the Bolian stated after a pause.

"No," the Starfleet officer added.

"Shove on I guess," the Bolian decided. "It's what I've always done."

"That's a tall order," the Starfleet officer noted.

"All the tough ones are," the Bolian observed.

"That's what makes them tall," the Starfleet officer decided.

"Yah," the Bolian sighed.

"Were you close?" the Starfleet officer asked.

"To merchandise? I make it a policy to never become attached to self-sealing stem-bolts," the Bolian stated.

"I know, but a loss is a loss, is what my grandfather used to say," the Starfleet officer said. "What is your possession, even for a finite amount of time, is a part of you. You are a part of it. So were you close?"

"I suppose so at that, yes," the Bolian said. "The bizarre cargo is always my favorite. And you don't get much more bizarre than self-sealing stem bolts."

"Shadrach," the Starfleet officer began, "have you heard the sad story of Joel Nelson?"

"Only every time I see you," Shadrach sighed.

"Does it get to be that routine?" Nelson inquired.

"Oh yes," Shadrach sighed again. "You can only rely on pity for so long. Sooner or later you'll have to move on, get on with your life."

"Really? I thought that it was something that needed to be addressed anew with each new encounter. At least that's what it has always seemed like," Nelson added.

"Because you make it an issue," Shadrach sighed once more.

"It's an issue because it is an issue," Nelson protested. "Being a novelty, and not a particularly welcome novelty, isn't my idea of a good thing. I certainly never asked for it."

"Didn't you?"

In fact, Nelson had asked for it, in a roundabout way. But not at that moment. At that moment, he was aboard Shadrach's freighter, the Dac Langton, as part of a routine cargo inspection at Epsilon Station. Well, routine only in so much as Shadrach routinely had his cargo inspected by Starfleet, since he had a checkered past in the playing-it-straight department. But he'd been requested to ES1 so that the news could be delivered. His cousin Keb was dead. Nelson had insisted of Captain Matheson that he be the one to inform the Bolian trader, and she'd relented because the Copernicus was due for leave time and that was the only way Nelson could possibly be granted the time to do so.

So Matheson arranged for Shadrach to have an inspection at ES1, despite the fact that it took him several systems away from his normal route. His normal logged route, at any rate. He was more than familiar with the region is what we'll leave it at. After the initial shock of the news, he'd rebounded enough for his usual canny manner to return. That's how he was able to banter with Nelson now. Had it been anyone but Nelson, Shadrach might have not reacted so smoothly. The two shared...a past. A most unsavory past. In fact, Shadrach should not have been joking about Nelson's situation.

What Nelson should have been on guard for was Shadrach's own bombshell. At any rate, he seldom was, so it wouldn't be much different now.

"I'm living on borrowed time," Shadrach stated. "I'm dying."

An excruciating moment passed.

"Your jokes were never funny," Nelson said hopefully.

"This is no joke," Shadrach said. "I've been diagnosed with Orr's Syndrome. I'm fine now, but in a few months..."

"I'm, I'm sorry," Nelson stammered.

"That's alright. I've lived my life, and apparently my life is deciding to conclude itself. Keb's death is the sort of closure...that will make the coming months more bearable."

"This isn't like you, to be so forthcoming," Nelson suddenly realized. "The Shadrach I know would have kept this, even this, to himself."

"A person is allowed to change in the face of death, isn't he?"

"I suppose."


"Exactly," Nelson snapped. "There's always a 'but...' with you. I'm glad that hasn't changed."

"Oh, you might not say that when I tell you what that 'but...' is about," Shadrach warned.

"I think I'm reasonably prepared now."

Shadrach smirked. Nelson was not prepared for this. "I believe I've found our stolen runabout."

Nelson was taken aback. "The Stillwater? Impossible! Starfleet would have retrieved it years ago! No! No way! There's just no way!"

"But there is," Shadrach reassured. "A trader is in the business of making contacts, and I have made some very useful ones in my day. Even on Trill."

"And if Starfleet didn't," Nelson continued, "then one of the Guardians at the caves of Mak'ala would have. I'm sure Starfleet runabouts don't exactly blend in with unjoined symbionts floating around in bubbling pools."

"That's where the cloaking devise I purchased from a certain Ferengi merchant named Hrun would come into play," Shadrach revealed.

"A...a cloaking devise?" Nelson gasped. "But that would mean..."

"I had the cloak onboard long before we were forced to abandon the Stillwater," Shadrach concluded for him. "It was only a matter of engaging the devise, which I was able to by purchasing a remote activator from another Ferengi, this one named Gnit. I went through a lot of trouble to find out where the ship was once I was sure the activator had worked. You should be grateful."

"Stunned. I am very stunned," Nelson stammered. "Does that mean...?"

"Yes, it does. Our treasure awaits."

"So it's been on Trill all this time, hm?" Nelson whispered in wonderment. "Imagine that. Imagine that."

"We should go as soon as possible," Shadrach advised.

"Oh sure," Nelson agreed. "I don't know how I'll clear this, though."

"You can request leave now, can't you?"

"In limited order, yes."

"Then what's the problem?"

"How much time do you think it'll take? A week, since that's all I've got," Nelson revealed.

"A week? I hate limits," Shadrach sighed. (He sighed a lot.)

"Don't worry, we can work it out," Nelson reassured. "I've got one request."

"Name it."

"There's a buddy of mine who could prove rather useful on Trill," Nelson began. "He's had...experience there; a case of mistaken identity. You know the sort."

"Interesting," Shadrach chortled.

"You don't know the half of it," Nelson smirked. "This guy comes as close to making our own past look like a picnic as any you'll find. Aside from Crewman Gird, but that's a whole other story."

"Gird? That Klingon?"

"That Klingon."

"Anyway, call up your friend," Shadrach decided. "I like it when you reveal what's up your sleeve."

"I've got a lot more than just Douglas Velar, trust me," Nelson grinned.

Nelson wasn't expected to check in for another half-hour, so when he came sailing into Captain Matheson's ready room she was forced to do a double take. This sort of thing simply never happened with Nelson. He usually found it difficult reporting on time.

"Lieutenant," she said in greeting, "what a pleasant surprise. I was just saying to Commander Franzoni how much it would please me if you were to turn a fresh start. This is a nice way to begin."

"Naturally," Nelson replied, standing just inside the door.

"Come in," Matheson implored. "Have a seat, by all means. Tell me, what has prompted this sudden change?"

"I need to request a week's leave."

"A week's," Matheson repeated. "That's your whole ration. Is there a problem I should know about?"

"No, but it is a private matter," shuffled Nelson.

"Granted," Matheson said warmly. "You may have it. Franzoni believes you've been working out fine with your new responsibilities. He believes that you should be given full officer privileges."

"The commander is a wise man," Nelson grinned. "One more thing. I'd like Crewman Velar to come along."

"Does he know?"

"Not yet."

"That would seem an important step in the process," Matheson cajoled. "But consider it done. You can tell him yourself; he's due for some down time as well. It's lucky this private matter came up now, isn't it?"

"It sure is, ma'am," Nelson stated, with a polite nod of the head as he got up and left. He never was good for waiting for "Dismissed." Matheson never seemed to mind.

As Nelson and Crewman Velar made their way to Shadrach's freighter at the northwestern port of ES1, Nelson took the time to get his friend up to speed.

"Shadrach's pretending to be dying of an illness," he stated nonchalantly, "so if and when he brings it up, try to act appropriately."

"How do you know he isn't telling the truth?" inquired Velar.

"He's tried this trick before," Nelson revealed. "I guess he's just lost track of whom he's done it to."

"So why are we still going ahead with this? It could mean real trouble," Velar wondered aloud.

"The Stillwater was a good ship," grinned Nelson. "Plus it contains the score from my last run as an intergalactic scoundrel. Naturally, it has sentimental value."

"Naturally," Velar smirked. "Are you afraid about regaining that reputation?"

"Risks are part of the game," Nelson said. "That's the oldest cliché in the book. Come on! Besides, the runabout holds a few surprises Shadrach doesn't know about. He didn't tell me about the cloak (which could have been real useful more than a few times). I didn't tell him about a few of my...tricks. If he was to go ahead without me, and I know he would, he'd find himself in a mess of trouble. That's why."

"How touching," Velar joked. "When should we apply my spots?"

"Let's get on with it," Shadrach urged when Nelson and Velar showed up at his freighter. "We're on limited time, so the sooner we leave the better."

"I agree," Nelson said as he and Velar climbed the Dac Langton's boarding ramp jutting out from its right side, which was encased in the docking clamp that held the ship in place. The bubble around it was a pale red, matching the color of the freighter itself. All either Starfleet individual had was a duffel bag they'd hastily stuffed with rations more edible than the usual Bolian "delicacies" non-Bolians had a hard time stomaching. Bolians were a tad on the eccentric side in all that they did, and foodstuff was no exception.

"Do we have a real plan here or are we making it up as we go?" inquired Velar.

"I was hoping you could help us with that," Shadrach replied. "You're the only one of us that has experience on Trill. You'd better know a whole lot."

"I know a thing or two," Velar winked. "For one, we'll need a really good excuse to get you two into the caves. Outsiders aren't exactly welcome."

"There's precedence, though," Nelson noted.

"If you look hard enough, you'll find precedence for just about anything," Velar observed. "Precedence is overrated."

"True enough," Shadrach said. "Our plan is basically to do it as quietly as possible. It needs a little work."

"I...see..." Velar rolled.

ES1 was Starfleet's attempt to emulate Klingon design; consequently it featured boxy shapes and triangular highlights thrown in to create a revolving version of giant arrow laden with many other arrows thrown into the mix. In description, it might sound ungainly, but in reality it looked not too distant from the normal starbases Starfleet normally employed, if a tad on the abstract side. Shadrach's freighter stuck out from the northwestern arrow as alluded to earlier. It stuck out, that is, right before it shot off into space, as it presently did, with a smooth little twist into the proper direction.

True to their plan, such as it was, the trio aboard the Dac Langton left within ten minutes of Velar's attempt to decipher if they indeed had a plan to follow. Nelson might have noted that that day counted as the first of the ten days he had to play with, so they shot off for a reason. Normal procedure suggested much lower speeds than the warp five (tops for the freighter) they started off with as soon as they cleared the docking port. They had a mission, and a time constraint, so they had very little time to waste on such rules.

Had any of them bothered to ask, Captain Matheson might have told them she had a friend also en route to Trill.

  • "Silent Running (Part 2) Joining You Today"

Another freighter ship departed from ES1. Wynton Keynes, a longtime friend and handyman for Robin Matheson, captained the Clazio. It was rumored that they'd once been on track to be married, and that the Dominion War derailed those plans, but the fact remained that Keynes remained in good standing with Matheson, and vice versa. With a cargo of medical supplies destined for Cardassia Prime, a planet still recovering from its own shake-up during the war, Keynes planned to make a detour to Trill on Matheson's request. Something about a lucrative opportunity awaiting him there. She always was coy with him, until he managed to figure out the game she was playing. He didn't mind. In fact, it was a highlight of his days as a freighter captain, with a crew under him of 47, though only half aboard the Clazio. He suspected the game this time involved the Gnomon, the ideological heirs of the defunct Maquis movement, but then, with Trill as the destination all bets were off.

Without getting into the mathematics of it, the Dac Langton would reach Trill roughly two days before the Clazio. Had he known, or been aware of what was going on, Keynes might have cared. He would certainly have been intrigued, especially considering the connection both journeys shared.

Keynes' hobby was tracking the eyewitness accounts that frequently occurred concerning the infamous Cardassian Gul Pentek, who had disappeared soon after his people joined the Dominion. Pentek had gained a reputation as notorious as that of Gul Dukat from his activities during the Bajoran Occupation, yet he had always claimed it was one he did not deserve. No one believed him, and he developed a cult-like following, whose activities were relegated to radical demonstrations against the Maquis movement. Pentek himself never sanctioned the activities, and grew gradually reclusive, until he vanished altogether, some say out of disgust for his reputation and the shameful politics of his people.

Keynes didn't buy that story. His theory had always been that Pentek was Dukat's secret lieutenant. Dukat had always seemed to act alone; except for his heir-apparent Damar he never collaborated on any of his projects, yet he met with the most spectacular of successes time and time again. Pentek, who had been a great military figure even before the Occupation began, sometimes suggested that he had ties to the shadowy Obsidian Order to his close friends, but nothing was ever able to be confirmed, and the problem with that was that Dukat was a confirmed opponent of the Order. No, Pentek must have been more than he seemed, and Dukat needed a background partner, and so Keynes spent his spare time investigating every rumor, every whisper, of the receded Pentek. With Dukat gone, Pentek could easily resurface and destabilize the delicate progress Cardassia was making in its rebuilding.

So what was Keynes doing going to Trill? The Gnomon were based there, far away from the Maquis' Badlands home base, and the last place Pentek was said to have been seen at. Robin Matheson had heard about it, and had passed it along. Keynes was confident that this would be his big break.

And what was Keynes' history with the Gnomon? Not much. The Gnomon themselves hadn't done a whole lot aside from releasing a mission statement-of-sorts. They claimed a desire to enforce a level playing field for the Alpha Quadrant in the wake of the Dominion War, so that the powers left with more strength than others would not try to assert undue control over their less fortunate neighbors. The Federation was a particular target. It was suspected that this was more out of frustration with the Maquis conflict and the inability to further press the Cardassian issue than it was to pick on the Federation itself, who were always seem as the good guys no matter the stories that had emerged from the war.

Stories amounted to the biggest result of the war. Everyone had a story, and everyone who was forced to listen suspected that they would be listening to those stories for some time to come. Starfleet suddenly had more "name" captains than it knew what to do with. The Klingon Empire experienced a golden age in the songs sung of warriors. The Ferengi exploited every opportunity in publishing it came across. Even the Pakleds boasted tales of astonishment, but most suspected that they were mostly cobbled-together fragments of other races' adventures. The Betazoids...For telepaths, they didn't seem to understand the telltale signs of overkill, though they were granted liberties given the devastation their homeworld experienced during the war. The Andorians, though, didn't win any new admirers when they tried to sell themselves as the ultimate victims of the conflict, but Keynes didn't care for any of that. His was the trade of the underdogs, the races you never heard about, races the legendary Jonathan Archer encountered centuries before yet were never heard from again. Keynes would know of them. Oh yes. His ancestor served under Captain Archer.

Keynes was a boomer true and through. He was a descendent of Travis Mayweather. Keynes was the champion of underdogs, but at the moment, he was also a relief worker, and the decidedly overdog Cardassians were his chief focus, which he would soon get back to after a brief interlude on Trill, which the Clazio was fast approaching.

"This is the Trill Authority: state you business," came the greeting over subspace.

"Parts and cargo run," Keynes replied, calling up his authorization code to his command console, since of course that would be next.

"Please transmit your authorization code," it came, and so he did. It was an older code, but it would check out just fine. He'd inherited it along with the Clazio, from an abandoned Maquis shipyard. Fair and square: Starfleet claimed it and he won it in an auction, or the pale version of an auction the credit-carrying Federation used. You first had to prove that you had used of the item before you could even bid, and then you couldn't enter the bid against persons with greatly differing credit lines. The auction itself was merely an excuse to see how badly you waned the item, and Keynes was lucky enough to have wanted the Clazio more than his fiercest competitor, a Tandaran.

The voice giving him the orders was a familiar one. Douro Jus, the fourteenth joined of his line as he liked to point out, was the senior traffic controller, and he liked to spend as much time on the job as he could, which is why Keynes would recognize his voice and why he would be on duty at this precise moment.

"You are free to dock at platform two," Jus stated. "Wynton Keynes, if I'm not mistaken, and his old Maquis raider."

"Indeed," Keynes replied, always gratified to be acknowledged. "How's it been lately?"

"Relatively slow," Jus' voice said. "The last freighter to come this way was a few days ago. I only remember because they had a few problems with their authorization code."

"Do you suspect foul play?"

"That's always a possibility, but I've made sure that they're monitored."

"We'll be touching down momentarily," Keynes said. "I'll talk to you later."

"Always a pleasure," Jus said in closing.

As was usual, there was no party waiting for the Clazio, and Keynes had long ago quit expecting one to arrive. His mind now lingered on the party Jus had mentioned. Of course it sounded suspicious. Of course he immediately thought of the Gnomon, but they were still laying low and he very much doubted that they would start anything any time soon. His next thought was that Gul Pentek might be on the move, but that passed quickly. It was on to business, or the excuse for business that would provide him with the opportunity to follow-up on his suspicions, so it was a win-win situation all the way around. He liked that kind.

Matheson's hooks usually landed him at the Interplanetary Bar and Grill, so Keynes decided to cut to the chase and go there first. He was seated at a table adjacent to one housing a party of a human, a Bolian, and a Trill, and a noisy party at that. The Trill, for a change, was not the most rambunctious, which seemed odd, even these days, when the Bar and Grill was serving less interplanetary dishes than it had in the past, yet another unfortunate side effect of the war, though it had been years since it ended. Things don't immediately shape up after such a catastrophic occurrence, and here on Trill it was no different.

"I'm hoping for a good Kohlanese stew," he told the waiter, who arrived promptly.

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" she remarked, tellingly. "May I recommend Bolian spice chowder? The party next to you, whom you've no doubt noticed by now, seems to be enjoying it."

"Anything but the local grub," Keynes joked in accepting. "And a glass of Marakaltian seev-ale, if that's possible."

"Certainly," came the much-welcomed reply before the young Trill walked away with the order properly logged. Joined or unjoined, she'd make a fine connection, Keynes thought to himself.

"The Ferengi say a wise man can hear profit in the wind," he overheard the Bolian say. "Right now, I'm smelling something rich indeed," the voice continued. Keynes was mildly intrigued. Profit wasn't often mentioned on Trill, since its people used the Federation credit, which meant that they were not very much interested in monetary gain. What were they up to?

No matter, his food soon arrived, and the chowder indeed was delicious and the ale numbing. The next thing Keynes knew, his fellow patrons were gone from the Bar and Grill. It was time for him to move on as well.

He didn't want to leave just yet, but Keynes couldn't come up with a good reason to stay. Staying in his seat after finishing his meal might come off as loitering. Keynes wasn't that type of guy. He was kicking himself for letting that party elude him, though. Kicking himself hard. An inclination about them was forming about them that he took as a lead to the business with which he had no idea where to begin.

"Grow old with wisdom," a voice said behind him. Turning around he found the waitress who had served him earlier.

"I try to," he grinned back.

"You're still interested in those men, aren't you?" she surmised.

"You must have a very old symbiont," Keynes returned, guessing.

"I don't like to talk about my age," the blonde blushed.

"That's a curse of the joined, isn't it?" Keynes mused.

"How'd you guess? I could have been referring to the exact opposite," she said.

"Joined Trill have a certain flush about them," Keynes noted. "My name's Wynton Keynes."

"Etan Widz," the young Trill returned.

"A pleasure," Keynes said.

"Likewise," Etan said. "I think I can help you with what's occupying your thoughts."

"The caves of Mak'ala, hm? I wonder what their business is there," Keynes remarked after Etan divulged what she'd overheard.

"Well, they did have a guardian with them," Etan said.

"That was a guardian? I'd heard that they never leaves the breeding pools," Wynton stated, beginning to rekindle his suspicions.

"Normally yes, but a lot has changed here on Trill," Etan noted. "In recent years a lot of the old customs have been abandoned, or revamped. The programs for host initiates have been updated to service the greater awareness that has been building ever since the Dax scandal."

"I heard about that, but I had no idea that it'd been made public," Wynton said.

"Not at first it wasn't, but the rumors and suspicions started to pile up until it was impossible to keep the lid on the Joran incident. I owe my own symbiont to it," Etan confessed. "Widz was destined to be retired to the caves since the initiate pool was dwindling, but as soon as the reforms began I...Widz...was given another opportunity to gain a host, and more than willing, whereas before I would have been considered...too weak. At least that's what I was always told."

"Sounds harsh," Wynton smiled.

"It was always hard on my family, but I think we should be moving on to the guardian, and why he was involving himself in that particular crowd," Etan decided.

"Agreed. I'll be on my way," Wynton said. "I'll see you again. Grow old in wisdom."

"You too."

From the Bar and Grill to the caves was about a half hour's walk, and on the way Wynton's mind was racing. The guardian's face was haunting him, taunting him, flaunting its spots, and generally jaunting about. A vague memory was nagging at the same time, something he'd read in the Galactic Times several years ago. The name of the journalist who'd written the piece came to him right away for some reason: Parkes, Derek Parkes. He was sure of that. His mind was playing games with him. Why does the mind always play games like that? Litter about clues but leave the answers just out of reach? He wanted to--

A guardian named Grintal, and just that was odd enough, guardian having a name, a guardian named Grintal had caused some sort of turmoil, surfacing within normal Trill society before it was common for such an event, and challenged the traditional beliefs before it was common to. It was after the Joran revelation began to leak, but before the war had begun, it seemed right before in hindsight. Rumor, Wynton loved rumors, rumor had it afterwards that Grintal wasn't a guardian at all, nor even a Trill, but his name was taken up in the flurry of the changes that lay ahead. He was never heard from again, as usually happens to such figures, like Gul Pentek for instance, but gradually he was forgotten. That last part was Wynton's estimation, if he was able to appear in the Bar and Grill and not be fussed over. That was him wasn't it?

As the urban transformed to the rural, and the rocky became visible, Wynton's mind raced ever harder. He had indeed stumbled on something big. But was it what Matheson had suggested he'd find here? One of these days he was going to ask her what these little excursions were really all about. He had another nagging thought telling him that he was some sort of pawn.

His step stopped in mid-stride. He froze. Over by the bushes to his right... Oh god.

"The guardian..." he whispered.

The body by the bushes stirred at the words. Wynton now knew he wasn't imagining things. He wasn't sure he was quite ready for that prospect.

"Help me," the body managed.

Startled, Wynton made his way to the guardian. Caution.

"I am at your service," he stated with an outreaching hand.

"No, I am at yours," the guardian managed, reaching upward with his own hand. Then the pulling. The guardian was soon on his feet, holding his side. "You may be wondering what happened to me?"

"You could say that," Wynton managed at a start.

"I have been abused," the guardian managed. "I have been used."

Wynton no longer attempted rebuttals.

"And I am not what I seem," the guardian managed. "I am not a guardian."

"That much I assumed," Wynton managed.

"We should be making our way to the caves," the guardian who was not a guardian managed, limping a foot forward. Wynton caught him before he fell.

"I need to know a little more," he managed to say.

"I will tell you more," the guardian who was not a guardian said. "But first we must be on our way."

"That I can do," Wynton half-sighed as he propelled them both forward.

"I am not a guardian," the guardian who was not a guardian stated. "I am a human who was once mistaken for one."

"The stories are true," Wynton said in amazement.

"You have heard? Of course you have," coughed the human who was once mistaken for a guardian. "Starfleet has been very good at tight-lipping this one. To think that they once spied on their own allies..."

Wynton thought he couldn't ask for much more. He was wrong.

"You should know that what I thought was going on and what you're thinking right now are probably the same," the human who was not a guardian noted. "They're both quite wrong. In fact, we should not being headed for the caves any longer."

He might have said this earlier, since they were in fact at the caves now. Wynton sighed and let go of the human who was not a guardian. "The Bolian is in charge, isn't he?"

"You're catching on," the human who was not a guardian remarked. "This was all an elaborate scheme by this Bolian to bring his former partner back into a life he'd left long behind."

"The Gnomon," Wynton snapped. "I should have known all along."

"I see you know more than you thought. First the matter of Grintal then of the last remnants of the Maquis. My name is Doug Velar and I am tired of rascals," the human who had just revealed his name said.

"Nice to meet you, Doug," Wynton said. "Where are we headed now?"

"Oh, we can leave Trill now," Doug stated. "I was the unfortunate victim of a surprise Starfleet intervention. I was astonished that they'd leave me behind like this, but they've taken both the Bolian and his accidental accomplice into custody."

After that, the Clazio departed Trill and headed for Cardassia Prime as scheduled, with an extra passenger aboard and a rather giddy captain. It wasn't often Wynton's excursions for Matheson were so successful. He was also very much in a hurry to see what came about from the Bolian's botched plans.

  • "Silent Running (Part 3) Can't Stop the Blues"

The U.S.S. Akorem was the first ship in the fleet to be commanded by a Bajoran captain. Bridan Muir approached the brig with a flank of security personnel at his side. He wasn't taking any chances, not with this detainee. He'd read the report given by the swat team; if this guy didn't care about his accomplices, he was a threat to everyone else.

"Derek Parkes? A full prisoner transport has arrived to take you," Captain Bridan stated. "I suspect you won't be working for the Galactic Times for much longer."

The human stirred, but did not reply. The shields to the cell were lowered and Bridan's flank moved toward Parkes, and he offered no resistance. He was soon escorted out of the room, leaving Bridan alone with the two remaining detainees in the adjacent cell, Joel Nelson and Shadrach. He wore a weary expression on his face as he turned to Nelson. Bridan had an idea of what the immediate future held for him, and his sympathy surfaced in the form of parted lips before he abruptly turned away and exited the brig.

Nelson turned to Shadrach, or in his general direction. He wore a heavily weary expression on his face. "You had no idea that this Parkes character was manipulating you," he said incredulously.

"You didn't know I was manipulating you," Shadrach noted. "And that Starfleet detachment didn't know Parkes was hiding in their numbers. It happens."

Nelson's head hung. "Okay," he relented. "It's just incredible, I guess. You think you're out, but they try to pull you back in. It's just...incredible. You don't think it's possible...You don't even think...I don't know."

"Incredible," Shadrach worked around in his mouth. "Yah."

Neither said anything for some minutes after that. What had happened was unexpected. They and Doug Velar had searched the caves from top to bottom, found nothing, headed to the Bar and Grill to regroup, and decided to go back so they could try again, once they'd found that Shadrach's cloak activator was just that, an activator and not a de-activator as well. A yard or three away from the caves and they were ambushed by a Starfleet swat team, and although they offered no resistance, Velar had been knocked out by one of the officers, who had turned out to be Parkes, who in turn tried to stun the other swat members. He failed, but attempted to fight his way out of there, resulting in Nelson and Shadrach trying to assist him. They failed, Parkes went down hard, and the swat team brought them all to the Akorem. In the excitement, Velar was left behind.

"Do you reckon the Stillwater really was there?" Nelson finally said.

"Right now, I don't really care," Shadrach smirked.

"May the Prophets be with you," Bridan said in parting over subspace. The Federation transport that now had Derek Parkes soon sped away, with the freighterClazio shadowing it so as to assure safe passage. The Akorem was due to report to Epsilon Station so Nelson and Shadrach could formally be charged, or released, depending how events were viewed. Bridan commanded the new Shamus-class starship as if it were a modern tugboat. It might be small, but it made sure its presence was known. Bridan partially resented the assignment he had at the moment, but he saw what it meant in the long run. The Maquis/Gnomon situation had progressing one step at a time for over a decade. Perhaps the pair he now held would represent a breakthrough.

No matter. Starfleet officers did not grumble about their assignments, at least not out loud. He'd work his way up the ladder the legitimate way.

He thought it would be a good idea to start with softening his prisoners up for their upcoming debriefing.

"Bridan to the brig," he said as he tapped his combadge, "prepare our guests for another visit.

"Yes sir," came the reply.

In a matter of minutes, he was back, and he found that Nelson and Shadrach had been placed in separate cells. All the better.

Bridan felt like a real interrogator. "Tell me the name or names of the individuals you were going to rendezvous with," he ordered Nelson.

I am innocent, Nelson's face said.

"Tell me what your plans were for this runabout," he ordered Shadrach.

I am somewhat guilty, Shadrach's face said.

"Where are the leaders of the Maquis hiding?" he ordered Nelson.

I am innocent, Nelson's face said.

"Are there other units assigned to your mission?" he ordered Shadrach.

I am somewhat guilty, Shadrach's face said.

"Names!" he ordered Nelson again.

I am innocent, Nelson's face said.

"Plans!" he ordered Shadrach.

I am somewhat guilty, Shadrach's face said.

It soon became apparent that he was getting nowhere, so Bridan gave up, reluctantly. The vision of his Cardassian tormentor at the internment camp flashed before him, and suddenly he had a sick feeling crawling up his throat. He exited the brig abruptly once more, and he would not go back again.

Douglas Velar fumed. He had just been told the rest of the story. He thought Derek Parkes was a good man. Despite everything he had overlooked before, despite all of the controversy Derek inevitably caused, Velar had never seen him as a bad man. Never, not once. He had revered him, called him friend. What now?

"There has to be something more to the story," Wynton Keynes said, hopefully, from behind Velar. Velar was slumped over a futon in his guest quarters aboard theClazio, face down. Wynton was not helping.

"What a very nice thought," Velar said staidly. "Perhaps this is one giant misunderstanding."

"This isn't helping," Keynes said. "You need to talk with Derek yourself."

"And say what?" Velar asked. "How about, 'Sorry about your blown mission, old chum'?"

"This is very healthy," Keynes said.

"Neither is being a Torilian weasel," Velar said.

"Work it off on me," Keynes said. "Better to face him with a cool head."

"Awfully presumptuous," Velar said.

"Hopeful," Keynes said. "At any rate, I won't be shadowing them the entire trip. I'm late for Cardassia Prime as it is. You'll have to confront him whether you want to or not."

"Will I?"

"I think you'll find you will."

"Perhaps, and perhaps not."

"That's a start."

"That it is."

"If he really was your friend, you owe him a chance. He won't be receiving many chances from others."


A technician at Epsilon Station happened to look out the port closest to the panel he was tinkering in at the exact moment the Akorem arrived. The tech would have sworn that he heard a ghostly howl as the ship docked, and it shook him momentarily. He, of course, had no idea of the events that had taken place on Trill. The general population never heard about this sort of thing. The Galactic Times sometimes covered such things, but more often than not they simply slipped away into the files of the bureaucrats.

The tech took one last look at the Akorem and turned back to his work.

Had he been watching, he might have seen the panicked struggling of one Bolian through the glassed corridor of the dock as he found out the fate that awaited him, and the nonchalance of one Starfleet officer next to him, who had to contend with the much more daunting stare of a commanding officer, whose disappointment spoke volumes even though she did not.

No, the tech didn't think or care about any of that, nor of Derek Parkes' fate as he arrived at Deep Space Nine for his extradition hearing (the Trill had petitioned to try him themselves, though he technically lay under Federation jurisdiction). The tech's main concern was finishing up his shift so he could return to his suite for a quiet evening alone with his bride. He was quite content to be left out of all that.

That's strange. Why is Lt. Fonden at tactical? This is Keb's shift, and he's never late. I wonder what's going on? If it's something serious, remember to pop in his quarters with that book of poetry you borrowed. It's his favorite. Can't imagine depriving him of it now.

Deprivation. If a fish remains out of water just long enough, what happens?

I don't think I've been getting enough sleep lately. Not feeling very well right about now. My stomach's killing me. Could go for a slice of pecan pie. Pecan pie. Pie in the sky. Lucy in the sky.

'As silent as a mirror is believed / Realities plunge in silence by...'

That is a fine collection. I should get myself a copy. Keb can have his and I can have my own. That sounds good. I wonder why he is so fond of human poetry? Bolian poetry is pretty good. Ramn's Odes are particularly good. I had no idea Bolians thought so much about gradients. Ramn does, anyway.

'Twice and twice / (Again the smoking souvenir, / Bleeding eidolon!) and yet again.'

That poem's sticking there, isn't it? I wonder if it means anything.

Commander Franzoni is looking particularly restrained today. He's just staring ahead. Come to think of it, everyone on the bridge is. I wonder why. Are they wondering what happened to Keb as well?

These two security guards waiting next to me aren't so fixed. They look sort of perturbed. Another wonder. God only knows when I'll find out why. 'Let me in, let me drive.' That's a line from an old song. Don't you start now.

'As silent as a mirror is believed...'

Nelson was standing outside Captain Matheson's ready room, waiting there with security personnel as Bridan Muir of the Akorem reviewed the events of his ride with Nelson and Shadrach to Epsilon Station. Shadrach was already in the hands of Starfleet judicial officers, but Nelson had been brought back to the Copernicusas per Matheson's request. The slight humiliation of standing there, a captured malcontent, on the bridge, for all the bridge to see, was lost on him at that moment. He was in a daze. No doubt it was better off that way.

"Starfleet has invested a lot in your career, Lieutenant," Matheson stated. "No other former Maquis was granted as much lenience aside from the Voyager crewmembers. I'm sure you're aware of all this."

"Very much, sir," Nelson said. It was now rushing upon him, and he felt it. He felt it.

"The Voyager crew," Matheson mused. "How long have they been back now? Three years? I assume it would be an understatement to say that you've been looking forward to reuniting with them."

"Yes sir," Nelson said. It really was an understatement.

"The probation terms you agreed to were perhaps too harsh in this case, weren't they?"

"Yes sir."

"I know. I've been fighting this on your behalf for three years. I've been making significant progress for about a year and a half. Your promotion to chief helmsman was part of that."

"I suspected so, sir."

"But keeping you from your friends was cruel and unusual punishment. Leading them to believe you were dead, that was also. We're going to have explaining to do."

"I...I appreciate whatever you decide to do, sir."

"Stop calling me 'sir'. That's an order."

"I...I don't know where to begin."

"I do. You screwed up, but at least you have a good excuse. And from what I hear, your friend Shadrach is putting in a good word or two on your behalf. You may not realize it, but you have somewhat of a blessed life, though not seeing that at times like these is more than understandable."

"It is difficult at times."

"Regrettable. You deserve better."

"Thank you."

"All that considered, your probation period ends in three months, during which you will serve time--"


"During which you will serve time at a Federation penal colony, in New Zealand. As a security hand. With some old friends."

"Let me guess, a tattooed man and a turtlehead. Whatever are they doing there?"

"Oh, they volunteer there from time to time. It's the tattooed man's idea, a way to give back. They have other friends drop by. The turtlehead's spouse, for instance, who has experience of his own there."

"I sometimes wonder what a Starfleet recruitment poster looks like," Nelson joked. It felt good to joke.

"Oh, nothing special, unless you count a Ferengi in a monkey suit, to sway them from the competition," Matheson joked in return. She felt relieved.

Nelson gave a polite nod before he left an hour or so later. No one on the bridge stared at him as he crossed through it, and the ride in the turbolift was as uneventful. He had a few stray looks in the corridor to his room, but he suspected it had more to do with his sullied civilians than anything the eyes thought about him. He pressed the control panel and the door slid open to his quarters. He addressed the computer about any messages he might have waiting for him. He had three. One from a tattooed man. One from a turtlehead. And one from a Trill guardian. He decided to answer the one from the Trill first. If he was going to start sorting things out in his life, he might as well start at the top.

But in the morning. Right now all he wanted was some rest.

"Computer, lights out."


  • "Benjamin's Lament"

“…The twig on the branch, the branch on the limb, the limb on the bough, the bough on the tree-”

The man on the right was abruptly cut off in his warbling by the man on the left. The man on the left was meditating, or at least attempting to, in his seat, and they were both seated at barstools in the habitat ring of a space station that was doing its own meditating. It was humming, at any rate, humming and spinning, spinning along with all the other objects in that particular region of space and humming to the tune of all the mechanics needed to keep it in space and its inhabitants alive. Not quite meditating, then, but given the right frame of mind, any resident might have mistaken it for such.

The man on the left was, invariably, humming. He held his wrists rested on the bar top, thumbs and pointer fingers united, a glass of Saurian brandy untouched between the hands. The man on the right did not have a glass, but he was attempting to ingratiate and ingrain himself to the atmosphere he’d presumed beforehand that he was likely to find. Perhaps it was the wrong hour. The man on the left had lost his concentration and had snapped ever slightly at his companion.

“Look, before we go I would like to find myself in the proper mindset,” he started, “so I would greatly appreciate it if you would…stop that singing. For the moment.”

The man on the right looked taken aback. “I apologize. I hadn’t anticipated the need for a mindset. I’ll be more cooperative in the future.” He smirked slightly before he went on, “Please state the nature of that alcoholic beverage.”

“Funny, Pocrates,” the man on the left replied, a wry grin spreading across his face. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what it’s made of. It’s tastes good, and it helps soothe me. That’s all I need to know.”

“Being a hologram, I wouldn’t know the pleasures of synthale,’ Pocrates said. “That is synthale, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid it’s the pure stuff,” the man on the right revealed. “Besides, I doubt that the synthoholic version would work the same way. Anyway, I’ve never cared to find out.”

The barkeep, a Ferengi, came by at that moment. “Don’t tell me the drink isn’t to your liking?”

“Doug here hasn’t met a drink that hasn’t been to his liking, as far as I’ve known him,” Pocrates suggested.

“It’s fine,” Doug said for himself. “I just haven’t gotten around to it.”

“Perhaps you’d like something to go with it?” the Ferengi offered. “I’ve gotten another supply of yamok sauce, if you’re interested.”

“No thanks,” Doug said.

“Well, you’d better do something soon. I’m losing customers to you two. Between your friend’s singing and your humming. Agh!” The Ferengi charged off, visibly frustrated.

Pocrates flashed an amused grin. “Ferengi are certainly unique in the galaxy. I’ve seen enough of it to know.”

“That you have,” Doug agreed. “You certainly qualify as a unique being yourself, but at least you’ve decided on a name to help disguise that a bit now.”

“‘Pocrates’ is only temporary. I decided I needed something to distinguish myself in the Alpha Quadrant, after spending my foundling years among all the same group of people. Now I’m here and I intend to thrive.”

“And thriving you are,” Doug remarked.

“Are you surprised?”

“I suppose not,” Doug said, taking his glass in hand at last. “Nothing wrong with it.”

“When does the transport depart for the wormhole?” Pocrates inquired, fidgety now that he was feeling self-conscious.

“In about a half-hour by my clock. Don’t worry; we have plenty of time. I’m packed and you’re…packed.”

“My mobile emitter being in place is hardly what I’d call being packed, but I understand your meaning,” Pocrates quipped. “But as long as we’re on that subject, perhaps we could pay a quick visit to the holosuites. I’ve heard great things about a lounge singer that is supposed to be as autonomous as I am. Only, without the emitter,” he added, motioning with his head to his left arm, where a small metallic patch resided.

“A lounge singer? No good could possibly come from that,” Doug laughed. “Probably wouldn’t be enough time, knowing you. Still, I suppose,” and with that he finished what was left of his brandy and they climbed the stairs to the second level of the bar.

With barely enough time to retrieve Doug’s duffel bag, the pair raced to the docking platform and shrugged the alluring lounge man out of their minds. It was a crowded Bajoran transport, packed with more than a dozen pilgrims, mostly Bajoran, who like Doug and Pocrates were on their way to Benjamin’s Lament, a remote planet in the Gamma Quadrant, which was now open to visitors after the brief embargo imposed by suspicious minds and finally lifted nearly four years ago. Doug noted a trio of Trill he decided he would need avoid for the most part as well as a Vulcan and a Lurian, who seemed to be dressed as the conductor of the escapade, since he (or she) was the most formally attired. Well, besides that Vedek, who was accompanied by a servant, and the Vulcan, who was dressed typically in impeccable robes that rivaled the Vedek’s.

Off the transport lifted, away from the triple-tiered, circular station to the stars beyond it, where it was seemingly met with a cosmic mouth-of-sorts, which opened wide and shut with equal promptness around the ship. That was the wormhole Pocrates had spoke of. To the Bajorans, who lived on a nearby world, it was the home of their gods, the Prophets.

“My name is Yen,” the Lurian suddenly announced, “and I will be your guide for this tour of the planet called Benjamin’s Lament.” All attention was now directed at her. “I hate to do this, but my superiors insist upon it. Roll call. Vedek Laoka?” A nod. “Kolnar?” Another nod, from Laoka’s assistant. “Loren Tal? Chiro Balys? Hadila Kanz? Lakuu Vidin? Pav Uncor?” A succession of nods from the remaining Bajorans. “Oden Shan? Nalani Gez? Lesbek Onsel?” Nods from the Trill contingent. “Sorak?” The Vulcan nodded. “Pocrates? Douglas Velar?” The remaining two acknowledged Yen and they were now free to move on in the proceedings, which went on nearly until they reached the planet. Doug grew the most impatient, but he tried to not show it. The Saurian brandy was making it a bit difficult.

We are all dead.

The first time hearing it was always jarring, Yen had explained. On the jungle world of Benjamin’s Lament, it was either the gloom of the sinuous vegetation that grew at all quarters or the voice that floated among it that echoed the same bewailing - even in the deep voice in which it was whispered the phrase had an unmistakable tinge of sadness about it, which haunted the already haunting curiosity - statement every few minutes or so. One tended to look upward when it occurred, but that was never much good. It was neither up nor down, but rather ingrained in the very movement of the wind. This way and that, lightly, threateningly in its nonplus manner.

According to Yen, after Benjamin Sisko’s departure from Bajor four years earlier in a shroud of mystery, scholars had poured through mounds of ancient prophesies, to learn if there was anything more to the story of the Emissary. Most of it was given to debate, much as that which had accompanied the humble Starfleet religious figure during his life, but one article had caught the eye of a Vedek, a friend of Laoka’s from his days in the monastery. It had been a scroll gnarled by the passage of untold centuries, but the spindly words upon it spoke of the Emissary as returning to his flock when it was in need of him. Debated as that was, it did not prevent the first visit to this world within eighteen months of Benjamin Sisko’s ascent to the Temple. The meaning of his visit here and when it had occurred were lost the moment the voice was heard, and it became the sole reason for an endless stream of pilgrims.

Theories emerged as to the origins of Benjamin’s Lament, which evolved to include linear possibilities when evidence surfaced to disprove visits any earlier than the eighteen months after the Return to the Temple. Many heads grew quite heated over it all, and its legend slowly spread. A Vulcan coming to visit meant that perhaps it was even gaining credibility.

We are all dead.

Velar and Pocrates quickly found an excuse to separate from the pack. Doug was finding it stifling among so many, and Pocrates could never long stay from the center of attention in large groups, so naturally the break was needed.

“You have to admit that it is quite a tall tale,” Pocrates said. “I’ve been far in my travels but I’ve never encountered as zealot a religious spirit as these Bajorans.”

Doug coughed. “What brings you here then? Curiosity?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Pocrates replied. “I’ve been studying a great deal about human religions since I’ve arrived home. Imagine my surprise when I learned that a human had obtained deity status from an alien species. I found one paper, by a Bruce Maddox, which shed some revealing light on the subject.”

“Oh?” Doug said.

“You are no doubt familiar with the Dominion,” Pocrates began. “It seems that the Dominion’s foot soldiers, the Jem’Hadar, were bred to be addicted to a drug called Ketracel-White, which replaced the need for any other manner of refreshment. The catch was that the Jem’Hadar would die without it, but a blip once surfaced in this forced servitude in the form of a commander called Goran’Agar-”

“I’m familiar with him,” Doug stated. “Get to the interesting part.”

“After he was left stranded, it was assumed that he either was killed in his attempt to finish off his troop or accomplished it and died of natural causes years later,” Pocrates stated. “But a Starfleet survey of the planet several years later found no traces of him whatsoever. Only the mock lab remained. This survey immediately preceded the Bajoran expedition to the world, and Maddox postulates that the Bajorans may even have been tipped off by the survey itself. Starfleet didn’t report any strange voices, but…here we are.”

We are all dead.

“Are you saying that this is some sort of ruse?” Doug asked, unbelieving.

“All I’m saying is that there are things that have not been explained. For all we know, the survey may have triggered the voice to begin in the first place,” Pocrates postulated.

“That’s why we have faith,” Doug remarked.

“Forgive me if I don’t associate faith with nonlinear beings that inhabit a galactic subway,” Pocrates quipped. “No offense.”

“I never said that I shared Bajoran beliefs,” Doug said. “That doesn’t mean that I can’t draw from them. They’re all linked, you know.”

“Of course,” Pocrates said. “What have you decided for your interpretation of the words?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Doug sighed. “I’ve read any number of meanings. But I know something that would put a spin on it, even for you. What it comes from, and whose voice it is."

“You mean to say…” Pocrates started.

“It isn’t Ben Sisko’s voice,” Doug said, “but Goran’Agar’s. He’s reciting a Jem’Hadar oath, which always precedes entrance to the battlefield.”

“But wouldn’t Bajorans know the Emissary’s voice?” Pocrates prodded.

“Not necessarily,” Doug said. “If you’ve ever heard a Jem’Hadar’s voice, you would understand where the confusion would arise from.”

“I'm a doctor, not a myth-buster,” Pocrates sighed.

We are all dead.

The Sisko does not know time now. There is no ‘now’ for him other than every moment, and every moment is now. Now he has something disturbing his thoughts, something that a friend of his, two actually, once experienced, when ‘once’ denoted something meaningful. An incident. He knows of loneliness because he has a son, and when he was linear loneliness was chief on his mind when it came to his son. He had always tried to avoid it, and so did his son. A planet sat alone, with a man alone on it, or he would soon be. In linear terms the man was already alone, but The Sisko could see him at a time when he was not, but the pain of loneliness was already heavy on him.

The Sisko saw all times. He saw the man throughout his life as if stretched across a banquet table. The man needed consoling, and The Sisko was in the mood. Strange as it was, he was both inside and out of linear time, and he felt that he should utilize this at the moment the man was both feeling lonely and surrounded by companions to alleviate him. It was a strange sensation to know this was possible.

We are all dead.

Velar and Pocrates found themselves in the freshest part of the jungle, where the vines grew greenest and the trees looked freshest. It was the spot where a lab had once been, a lab that been removed. The others would no doubt visit it soon enough.

  • "Cadavers Part 1 The Remarkable Likeness of Beings"

Grandfather, oh grandfather…

If there was a day that went by in which Harmon Franzoni did not curse his ancestors, he did not know it. It was a rather vain consideration on his part, since he should have been preoccupied with his duties as first officer of the U.S.S. Copernicus, a Soyuz class ship of the grand Starfleet tradition. Still, he could hardly think of a time when it was not on his mind. What should be on his mind at the moment was Ensign Laurie Nicholson, who was presently seated in front of him in his office, sparsely decorated, as were his quarters. It was an innovation of the Copernicus to have an office for the first officer, and Franzoni’s was located adjacent to the Captain’s ready room just off of the bridge. It was smaller and saw less action, but it was there and Franzoni spent much of his time there, brooding.

Nicholson was the next in a long line of officers being reviewed for promotion. She was an able navigator, but was she good enough to warrant elevation in her field? He wondered. In her profile it was listed that her father was Betazoid. Most interesting. Franzoni hadn’t been aware that there were any Betazoids, or even half-Betazoids, onboard. He scrutinized the squirming brunette in front of him, and decided to ask her a question.

“What brought you to join Starfleet?”

“Pardon me, sir?” Ensign Nicholson responded blankly, as if wondering what this had to do with promotions.

“It is a perfectly valid question, Ensign,” he said. “Why did you sign up for the Academy?”

“I sorry, Sir,” she said. “The question caught me off guard.”

“Things can do that in Starfleet,” he noted. “Now?”

“I…suppose it was because my family has a tradition in Starfleet,” Ensign Nicholson began, cautiously. “Four generations. My grandmother attained the rank of admiral, Ida Monroe. You might have heard of her?”

“That is hardly the point…Listen, answer the question,” he urged, suddenly becoming impatient, even though he couldn’t care less about the answer.

Ensign Nicholson squirmed more. She was aware of the impression she was giving. “Other cultures. I wanted to study other cultures.”

“You could easily do that from Byron Archives at Mars Colony. Less dangerous.”

“I’m sure could, Sir. But you couldn’t experience them, feel the thrill of actually meeting the unfamiliar. Earth has a large variety of people, but they all more or less look the same, and act the same once you get down to it.”

“I suppose so. Consider our destination this mission. Are you feeling anxious about these aliens?”

“The Phalli? Anxious…would be one way to put it, Sir.”

“Anxious,” he almost snorted. “You are aware of our history with these people, and what we are going there to work with?”

“The civil war between the Pasterns and Macrons? It concerns me, Sir, but I still consider them worthy of examining.”

“Even if you die there, on that planet?” Much as Franzoni would have liked a reply to that question, he didn’t get the opportunity. The voice of his captain, Robin Matheson, sounded suddenly over the comm system.

Commander Franzoni, Lieutenant Fonden, report to my ready room. There was urgency sapping the words. He excused Nicholson immediately and slid through the sliding doors to the room thusly connected to his own. Fonden was walking through the main entrance and Matheson was pacing the deck plating. A metallic clink clink greeted him, and reminded him of the one area of sparseness Matheson permitted in her ready room. The rest was crammed with mementoes of her career to date, and truth be told it was not an altogether modest collection for a lesser starship commander. A miniatureCopernicus sat next to a miniature Obelisk, the Captain’s previous command, on her desk.

“Commander, Lieutenant. There has been a murder aboard this ship,” Matheson stated as frankly as she could. “Lieutenant Jacobi discovered the body of Crewman Kryx’quarop-id in Jeffries tube 4, section 12 on Deck 6. He reported to me and not you [referring to Fonden] because of the seriousness of the situation. As you both know, this ship has a past with the residents of Haley Minor, and now that we’re headed back there, it is not outside the realm of possibility that an intruder associated with the Phalli has perpetrated this murder. Jacobi is already casing the tube for evidence, but I need you both to work on finding the culprit. Commander, I’ve sealed off the ship from transport beams and runabouts seeking egress, but I need you to coordinate with Commander Hounsou a full inspection of the ship’s security. We need to solve this now.”

Her long summary concluded, Matheson settled down at her desk. Franzoni eyed her and then turned to Fonden. “You have your orders. Dismissed.” And he and Matheson were left alone, “I think you should consider canceling the mission. Get another ship to cover it.”

“That’s more drastic than the situation warrants, Harm.”

“Caution is Starfleet’s unwritten Directive One,” he remarked. “It dictates all other rules. What did Logan say?” referring to the ship’s immediate superior in the admiralty.

“He recommended caution,” she said with a laugh. “I guess that’s why you’re my first officer. Still, he’s putting the Madison on alert, in case she’s needed. In bailing us out, and that’s not something I want on my record.”

“A death on your starship is not exactly a keen selling point,” Franzoni remarked.

“Agreed,” Matheson said. “You’d better get on it.”

And so he did. As Franzoni was consulting with Hounsou, the ship’s chief of operations, he was considering his heritage again. Why? Oh grandfather, you’re going to be the death of me. Everything was secured fairly easily, and Fonden reported to him that Jacobi had made a good start in the investigation. Franzoni had an inclination about it all, and it disturbed him. What disturbed him even more was his grandfather, who had been Betazoid. That wasn’t in Franzoni’s record.

Two days later and nearly arrived at Haley Minor, another death occurred aboard the Copernicus. Another homicide. Fonden wasn’t making any progress in her investigation, and Jacobi had been assigned in the meantime to address security matters immediately involving the Phalli, a delegation of whom had been scheduled to come aboard the ship to begin talks. Things had changed, and now Jacobi would need to find a likely candidate on the planet itself for the talks, in neutral territory. The headaches were beginning to come for Franzoni, who had to coordinate both efforts with the security officers. He began wishing for a different assignment, as had been his other preoccupation for months now. He wondered which would eventually make him unfit for duty.

The second death took place in a cargo bay on Deck 3. The evidence gathered supported the theory of a link between it and the previous murder, that much had been considered obvious as an outcome. But as it had eventually become evident in Jeffries tube 4, the perpetrator had managed to erase their tracks in with a dissolving compound, which had the frustrating work habit of leaving the scene intact only long enough for an initial review before things began to change. Fonden was frustrated. Franzoni was slowly becoming furious. In his mind he saw more than he wanted to see. In his mind he could identify the killer. Oh grandfather. Why did you leave me with this curse?

  • "Cadavers Part 2 Blood for the Leech's Sake"

Xeno Minister Holm of the Phalli Parliament, neither representing the House of Macrons nor the House of Pasterns, though both be codified before the stars and before my people. Extended to you is the sovereign right of entitlement, and with this our gratitude for your patronage, to which you are given full privilege of audience with our government. Thusly sanctioned, I humbly receive your dialogue. All this, Franzoni perceived, delivered with an air of tediousness. He well understood.

“We are approaching your world, Minister Holm,” he spoke into his monitor, “but there are certain concerns you must be made aware of. The Commander was seated in his office again.

“I trust our appointed diplomat is secured?” Minister Holm implored.

“Derek Parkes is,” Franzoni said. “He remains, as he has the entire voyage, inside our brig. There have been several murders aboard the Copernicus. Because of this, as you will see, Starfleet is having concerns that we may not be able to make our appointment.”

“Derek Parkes is secure?” Minister Holm confirmed.

“He is, but the ship is not,” Franzoni reiterated.

“That is not my concern. Our world is not secure, and Derek Parkes is a convicted criminal within your law, yet he remains in my view the best hope to resolve our conflict,” Minister Holm explained. “Of all your Federation minds, his alone has been able to grasp the delicate political grounds we walk on.”

“Parkes is not…” Franzoni began. He meant to say, not representative of the Federation, but in Minister Holm’s mind that hardly mattered. Like many alien races, the Phalli viewed humanity as the Federation. Starfleet hardly helped that image. “Under our law, a breach of law compounded is unheard of. That is not how we operate.”

“Yet you have agreed to our proposal of employing Derek Parkes in this endeavor,” Minister Holm mouthed in puzzlement. “Nevertheless, whatever dangers your ship poses to you and your crew, do not pose any additional danger to my world. You may proceed.”

“We’ve been ordered to wait for an escort along the remainder of the journey,” Franzoni stated. “It’s up to you. Either a Phalli ship could be spared for this engagement, or we would wait seven days for another Starfleet vessel to arrive. The time in between as to the latter would leave our situation time to develop into something that…might eventually concern you.”

“I see,” Minister Holm said. “Unfortunately, all of our starships are held up in the conflict you were meant to alleviate. In order to emancipate them, we would need Derek Parkes, and without your ship…”

“We could arrange alternative transport for Parkes,” Franzoni said. “If that’s what is called for, we could do that. TheCopernicus is not incapacitated, merely compromised at this point.”

“Without Derek Parkes’ presence onboard you vessel,” Minister Holm began, “it would be made vulnerable.”

“That may be true, but we are capable of defending ourselves. I’ll see what I can do,” Franzoni promised before nodding and breaking the communications link. He feared a similarly longwinded salutatory formality would have followed, and he was of the mind that Pomp and Circumstance had altogether been too well named. He sat back in his seat. Two murders had taken place aboard his ship and still no progress, now three days past the first murder, had been made in Lt. Fonden’s investigation. Captain Matheson had begun breathing down his neck by the end of the first day, and it was not the seductive kind of breathing Franzoni sometimes enjoyed. He had become more and more involved in the investigation, until he was joining Fonden and Jacobi in the dirty specifics of the case, calling on Chief Engineer Zimmer and Doctor Chenoweth himself as experts in the eccentricities that continued to crop up.

It had gotten to the point where the Phalli were seriously being considered suspects. The technology they used to enhance their microscopic world for the benefit of the outside world was being scrutinized in the cross-examining of the protean elements left behind by the murderer in the two scenes that continued to baffle them. Franzoni was ordering the clearing of all nonessential personnel to their quarters before long, to decontaminate the ship of any continuing criminal activity, and even that didn’t help progress the investigation in any significant degree. Soon, he was haggling with Matheson over the need to cut the ship’s operations to a bare minimum, to reduce the operating staff to a skeleton crew.

“All of this emergency maneuvering is only cause a bigger headache than it will solve,” Matheson argued. “We’re giving the conspirators exactly the opportunities they need.”

“That’s progressive reasoning for you,” Franzoni ventured boldly. “But the fact remains that there is the truth hiding behind all of this Starfleet clutter, and you’ve ordered me to get to the bottom of it, and that’s what I’m attempting to do. With all due respect, Lt. Fonden is perhaps the weakest link in the whole investigation. She has repeatedly fumbled collaborations with all of my operatives, leaving little breathing room for Ethan to study the remnants of the residual evidence and blocking Zimmer from properly establishing any base with which to work from. She’s too inexperienced, and this is not the time to change that.”

Matheson’s expression soured quickly. “Fonden? The chief of security is the most inept piece of the circle. This is your excuse? Perhaps I should relegate her to guarding of Mr. Parkes?”

“That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Franzoni replied nonchalantly, ignoring his captain’s sarcasm. “I’d recommend you enact that as your first priority in the matter.”

“The first priority is to the Phalli,” Matheson said.

“Funny, I seem to be the only one concerned for the Copernicus,” Franzoni said. “No matter, I’ll continue to play your game.”

“Excused,” Matheson said curtly. The Commander didn’t have to be told twice. He decided that a little excursion to the brig would be in his best interests, laying aside whatever guilt he had from the conversation that had been allowed to become too heated with his captain. He understood the pressure she was under, and the urgency of the situation. These were a few more of the things he wanted to get away from. He was running from her, in a sense, and all the way to Derek Parkes, who sat behind the humming of a faintly visible force field.

“Parkes,” Franzoni intoned. “Captain Matheson has agreed to send you on your way, but before you thank your lucky warp cores, you should know that you are receiving a full security escort for your journey. I won’t be going like I’d hoped, but Lt. Jacobi will, and you do not want to cross him. You understand?”

“Fully,” the barely audible reply. Parkes looked even less present in mind than the last time Franzoni had visited him. It was an eerie feeling, that his eyes gave the Commander, staring both at him and not. There was something else…

“You will not be granted access to the Hall of Congregation as you might have hoped,” Franzoni informed. Minister Holm could not influence the two Houses to that end. Instead, you will be brought to the Chancellery, where Holm and delegations from the two Houses will hear you.”

“What good is it to be heard by the few when the many is whom I hope to influence,” Parkes suggested in a brisk manner.

“You’ll have to work that out with them,” Franzoni said. “Be prepared to leave in an hour’s time.” He would not have said that last line had it been anyone but Parkes, but he did, for the full demeaning effect. The Commander had very little respect for brigands.

Ethan Chenoweth, who was well known among the crew to be Doctor Sokor’s project, had nothing but intrigue to offer Franzoni. The young doctor’s cheery disposition was off-putting to the Commander’s chaffing personage, affected as it was by his constantly irritating mind. What Chenoweth possessed was possibility for Franzoni, the possibility for exploitation, and that was what the Commander was doing now. Parkes, before he, Jacobi, and a pack of security personnel departed aboard the shuttle Alaric, had been fitted with a tracking devise of Franzoni’s conception, implanted by Chenoweth in the sub dermal layer of his right palm. It acted also as a transmitter, so that it acted as a perfect spy for the Commander, who unlike Matheson did not enjoy taking chances.

All this, he realized, was not entirely unique in the annals of history, yet there was something else about Parkes that troubled him. Parkes was not who he seemed to be, that is what Franzoni had read in his eyes. There was an incongruity there, as if the eyes did not match the face they hid behind. No matter, the prisoner-turned-diplomat was now out of his hands, at least for the most part.

Fonden had begun relenting in her stubbornness in the meantime. Franzoni wondered if Matheson had anything to do with this, or in his more cynical mind if the Benzite was finally beginning to crack. He was, naturally, leaning toward the second conclusion. Time, for the murders to be solved, would soon leave the past behind, and so would the unproductive nature of the Phalli disagreement. Things were slowly seeping in favor of Franzoni’s unasked-for thoughts, and the killer was laughing all the while.

  • "Cadavers Part 3 Colors Perverted and Tokens Diverted"

The heavily burdened sound of the two doors sliding open alerted Franzoni to activity at the entrance of the holodeck. Whether it had been a mistake or someone had actually entered, he could not say, as his back was turned away at the moment, and he considered himself too busy to look. The doors labored their way back into sync. He wasn’t engaged in a program of some diversion, but rather with the control panel, whose lid rested beside him in a flat pile atop a kit of equipment the Commander found that he did not need after all. Zimmer had directed him to this outlet in their continuing investigation of the two murders aboard the Copernicus, saying hurriedly as he wanted to pursue another angle he’d uncovered, “Something’s there. You just have to poke around a bit.”

For the first few hours of poking around, Franzoni had found, in fact, nothing at all, but as the third hour approached, he found signs that some of the command codes had been tampered with. Perhaps a crewman or an ensign had wanted to have a go of some adventure without the safety protocols, and had been clever enough to circumvent the codes in some manner. That was his first guess, but it was wrong. There hadn’t been very much holodeck activity in the past twenty-four hours, and as he reviewed what little activity there had been, he decided to widen the search to the preceding days, and found little or nothing there as well. He then began to scrutinize what he’d already gone over, the specific activities logged into the back-up files delinquents rarely consider because incredibly they’re better protected. Someone had spent a great deal of time constructing an image of some kind, and connected into the holodeck control panel a foreign devise for additional utilities.

That was the true beginning of his search, Franzoni had decided. A voice called over his shoulder, “Mind if I take a look?”

Looking around finally, he saw Lt. Fonden, her blue hands held behind her back as she leaned over toward him. “There isn’t much to see, Lt. Be my guest.” She did and it was a rather speedy inspection, the kind that said, he was right. She straightened out. “How is your investigation going?” “I think I finally made a bit of progress,” he intimated, reaching.

Fonden had been relieved from the case a day earlier, to Matheson’s annoyance and reluctance, given her earlier stance. Admiral Logan had insisted upon it, and Matheson rarely second-guessed Logan. Franzoni had allowed himself a brief moment of gloating, but in private, and to himself. Still, it had been worth the wait, even if he would no longer have such luxuries, having been placed in charge of the investigation himself now, with Zimmer and Chenoweth continuing on as his aides.

“I…understand you have Dolan in custody,” she ventured, referring to the Tellarite whom Franzoni had found tampering with the deflection grid on Deck 12 a day before her dismissal. Her own inaction in the event had been the motivation for Logan’s call.
“We gathered enough to nail him,” the Commander replied, before resuming his study of the control panel. “What we don’t know is what he was doing, if he was a part of whatever conspiracy led to the duel casualties. But he’s worried, and it isn’t out of innocence.”

“Why do you say that?”

“The explanation he gave wasn’t fitting well with the pieces of information we’d scrapped together. There’s due concern.”

“I see.” Fonden had nearly decided to walk away when she remembered that she was still curious about what Franzoni had found here. “Is it worth sharing?”

The Commander was not confused at the sudden turn in thought, as others might have been in his shoes. “Someone was designing a holographic image, a fairly specific one. They didn’t make any corrections to the perimeters once they set them in.”

“Maybe they knew what they wanted.”

“Perhaps they had a blueprint to work off of.”

“Well…was it for a program?”

“Not that I’ve been able to determine.” Fonden’s chatter was helping him think, and that was the sole reason he was allowing this conversation to continue. His voice was abnormally high-pitched, thanks to the odd position he was forced to fold into, the control panel being so low to the deck plating.

“Can you recall the image?”

“That’s what I’ve been working on. The only thing the designer made sure to scramble was the codes to the final design, and it was of course the only design. At any rate, that makes it suspicious.”

“Do you think it was simply uploaded?”

“That’s a possibility. There wasn’t that much work done on it, what might amount to a few finishing touches.” He couldn’t take it any more. He uncrouched and stood up. His legs had begun to cramp.

“Do you want me to see what I could do?”

“No,” Franzoni said, “I’ll be fine in a moment. You’ve got other duties?”

“No, I was coming off shift.” She was not facing her dismissal yet, but she knew that when she did, it would be unpleasant, and she was beginning to feel nauseous.

“Get some rest,” Franzoni beckoned, and Fonden seemed to relax after that.

“I will. Thank you, Sir.” The doors performed their grinding task twice and the Commander was once again alone. He went back to work.

A few hours later, he was seated at Matheson’s desk, reporting his discoveries. “Dolan is a security officer. He couldn’t have the expertise for such activities,” he concluded.

“Agreed,” Matheson said. “I’ve heard from Logan again. It seems that another starship was able to make it here with more promptness than we’d calculated. The Salient will be here within the hour.”

“I don’t understand. Why are they necessary?”

“Logan tells me the brass would like a little more supervision a little sooner for Mr. Parkes.”

“But the Phalli have made it clear that the smaller Starfleet presence, the better. Is it wise to tread on their toes like this?”

“Lt. Jacobi has been attempting to carry out his…assignment, and he has run into a few obstacles. That’s our new concern.”

“Can you elaborate?”

“Not at this point,” the Captain sighed. “Besides, you have enough on your mind.”

Franzoni smirked, but not for the reason Matheson might have expected. “You have me there. Another ship might do us all some good.”

Matheson looked away for a moment. “I sorry it ever advanced so far. I never meant to lash out at you.”


“Has Hounsou reported to you yet?”

“No. Why?”

“He’s found certain discrepancies in the crew manifest, including all guests we’re supposed to have aboard.”


“Are you sure he hasn’t? He was left my office several hours ago.”

“I’ve been occupied in the holodeck most of the day, but I’m certain he never approached me there. Only Fonden came to see me.”

“What did she want?”

“I can’t be certain. She didn’t say it outright, but I think she’s disappointed about the dismissal.”

“More than disappointed, I’d warrant.”

“Certainly. We discussed the image for a while.”

“Does she know? It’s not something I would have wanted circulating.”

“It won’t circulate. She was headed for her quarters at the time.”

“That damned image. You couldn’t find a copy of it anywhere?”

“I’ll enlist Zimmer when he’s free. Did he happen to mention to you what he was up to?”

“No, I thought he was reporting to you now,” spoken almost regrettably, like a portion of her power was missing and greatly missed.

“That’s another thing I’ll have to look into, I guess. The Salient won’t arrive soon enough. The lockdown will still be in effect?”

“The comm lines will still be open, Harm.”

“Commander Pritchett will be just as effective. Are we going to advance any closer to Haley when she arrives?”

“That hardly seems necessary.”

Hounsou to Matheson.

“Matheson here,” she stated before whispering to Franzoni, “We’ll soon have some answers, or hopefully so.”

The Salient is within sensor range. Should I open hailing frequencies?

“No, we know who we are. We can wait. Commander, report to my ready room.” Franzoni was going to get his chance to speak with Hounsou now, rather than later.

Fonden had only been asleep for an hour when she sat up, startled out of a dream. Her head felt numb, as if she’d had something to drink recently, even though that was impossible. She never drank. Benzites weren’t able to drink standard liquids; their physiology restricted them to strictly Benzite provisions. It was something that often got in the way of routine living in Federation facilities, as they had to program most of the Benzite varieties into the replicators themselves. She stepped back into uniform as if in a haze and walked blindly to the same holodeck she had encountered the Commander at.

She blinked a few times upon arrival and wondered about, now that she was there, what she was going to do. She was confused.

The Salient ran side parallel to the Copernicus while she considered this, with the urgent message that Derek Parkes needed to be brought back from Haley Minor immediately. There was a medical emergency.

  • "Cadavers Part 4 Basement Instincts"

Ensign Nicholson was concentrating on her drink. It was a Mint Julep, something she’d come across once at the Academy, or while attending it. It was stronger than its name implied. The room was slightly spinning. She giggled, because Fonden was next to her, and the Benzite had told her of feeling dizzy earlier that day. No Mint Julep for the Benzite. Nicholson and Fonden were in Crewman Douglas Velar’s quarters, where Nicholson had found herself when the ship-wide lockdown had been issued. Her interview with Franzoni had left her feeling vulnerable and she was looking for a shoulder to lean on.

At the moment, she was not leaning on Velar’s shoulder. She was on the floor, just in between of his sofa and coffee table, on which sat her Mint Julep and Velar’s paperback version of Contadina’s Trivet, a Trill work concerning Initiate programs. It was weird, Laurie thought, that Doug would have a paperback book. Everything’s computers these days. Books, computers, extraction facilities. They were all the same thing. The Mint Julep, she thought, was having fun with her.

“He doesn’t care about honest work,” she stated, in a slightly slurred exclamation. “He wants to know why I’m here, why I signed up. Would I show up to his office if I didn’t want to? Bolian freighters, that’s probably what he thinks I should be serving on.”

Fonden, who was one of the few officers still allowed free reign over their movements aboard the Copernicus, had shown up looking for a friendly face as well. Franzoni was the means of her torment. Velar sensed a recurring theme. Fonden sensed that it was a good thing that she could not taste Mint Julep.

“His tactics are not uncommon, Laurie,” Velar said, perfectly sober as he was. “Some of the greats have been known to employ them. Picard, for example.”

“Picard? He’s some sort of god,” Nicholson said, half-thinking. “He’s above us. Leave him out of it.”

“The Commander was just trying to make you think,” Fonden noted. Her thoughts were still on the Mint Julep. She sounded and looked too distracted for Nicholson to take her input seriously. This was understood by both parties. Fonden was on the sofa, leaning over. Velar stood just to the side. They were all distracted. It was only natural.

“You’re trying to let him off the hook,” Nicholson decided. “It wasn’t fair. I’ve been doing a decent job.”

“Did you wonder what Ethan might have said to Franzoni?” Velar offered. Ethan was a sore spot in his and Nicholson’s relationship, and Velar liked to drop a negative thought about the young doctor whenever he could. It was thoughtless, cruel…perfectly human in Velar’s estimation. Besides, he wasn’t even sure Laurie was paying attention.

“I’m a navigator. I navigate the ship. Off we go!” Nicholson garbled. Fonden’s hand was slinking towards the Mint Julep.

The flashing blue light above his door caught Velar’s attention. No klaxons for Blue Alert, just the lights blinking on and off. Incessantly. “Parkes is back onboard.”

“How did you know?” Fonden asked hesitantly.

“Ethan may be a scoundrel, but he’s a decent friend all the same,” Velar said. How did that saying go? ‘Keep your enemies closer’? That was his approach, anyway. “Parkes was brought back as soon as the Salient arrived. Funny thing is, he refused treatment.”

Fonden was nervous. With such liberal felony, such as it was, since there was an internal communications ban by all nonessential personnel on top of the lockdown, it should have been impossible for Chenoweth to contact Velar. Especially in the case of such sensitive information. That they were both her friends was beside the point. She wondered if reporting this would put her back in the good graces of Captain Matheson. The Mint Julep momentarily slipped out of mind.

“Your friend?” Nicholson asked, blindly.

“Parkes? He was,” Velar said. He was feeling even more sober now. “But what’s he up to now? That’s all I care about. Fonden…”

“Oh no,” she shouted, “you are not getting me into trouble. I will not help you. I’m sorry.” It was probably the most passionate Velar had ever seen her, or any Benzite for that matter. He visibly backed off, and walked over to his port, where he gazed out to the stars. They were like eyes, scrutinizing the ship that had somehow lost its way.

“How did this happen?” he inquired abstractly of Fonden and Nicholson. “How did we fall into this place? If Picard is a god, then this should be his realm. We’re not prepared for this. These murders…they should have been solved by now. It’s been four days now. At the risk of sounding obvious, something’s not right.”

“That much was obvious,” Nicholson said.

“Get up,” he said. “Mint Juleps will not make this…crisis any better to bear. Fonden, did you ever figure out why you went to the holodeck?”

“No,” she said, suddenly alarming herself. “No. I just don’t know. I don’t even know what I did, if I did anything. I was there, that’s all I know. It’s disturbing to think that I have done something that I cannot explain.”

“Ethan could help, you know,” he offered.

“Doctor Sokor allowed him once to circumvent sickbay’s silence. He won’t allow it a second time,” she reasoned.

“It’s a matter of ship’s security,” Velar stated. “You don’t need to sneak around.”

Fonden felt cornered, and should have been a good thing in this instance, but inside of her a voice was whispering. She couldn’t bring this out in the open, this lapse in consciousness. It wasn’t a matter of being suspected in the murders. Or was it? “I…can’t.”

“What do you mean?” came the incongruous reply. “Fonden…”

“I think she’s right,” Nicholson chimed in. She was standing in between the sofa and the table now. Her head was still spinning now, but Fonden was the only one in the room still considering the glass of Mint Julep. “Frankly, Franzoni should be investigated.”

Velar’s first instinct was to dismiss the remark to the effects of the Mint Julep, but he caught himself. Right now, he didn’t know what to think, so he couldn’t afford to start ignoring anything. He walked back to the sofa and sat down. Nicholson plopped down beside him. Now all three were seated on it, and all three looked uncomfortable, but not because of the sofa. Fonden’s hand crept to the Mint Julep, slowly.

“Franzoni,” Fonden murmured. She didn’t have anything to add to that thought, but she had felt compelled to utter it all the same. “Maybe we should call up Ethan anyway,” she decided, having now seemed to forget her earlier assertion against it.

“Why? What could he do?” Velar wondered, not following Fonden.

“He has access to the medical logs, doesn’t he? Perhaps he has something that might explain why Laurie and I, who both left his company in altered states…” She paused. “It hadn’t occurred to me. I did start feeling strange after leaving the holodeck the first time.”

“You’re seriously accusing Franzoni of being a part of…” Velar started, not knowing how to finish, “a part of whatever is going on here? Something happened to you. Commanding officers do not get ‘possessed.’ Or whatever you’re thinking.”

“I wasn’t implying anything,” Fonden said, frustrated. Her hand withdrew from the Mint Julep. “I told you, I don’t know. I’m grasping at straws here.”

“Perhaps Dolan would know something,” Nicholson offered, “or Ethan could find out something about Dolan. Dolan, seek ye Dolan.”

“So says the wise and all-knowing Laurie,” Velar joked. The sofa became relieved for a moment.

“I am Picard! I am omniscient!” she continued. The moment continued.

“You may actually have something there, Laurie,” Fonden noted.

“About Picard?”

“About Dolan. Whatever is happening, he’s obviously involved somehow. Franzoni had the wisdom to decipher that,” Fonden said with a note of bitterness. Velar nodded in agreement with the current line of thought. It was something to consider. File it next to Franzoni-is-suspicious. Fonden’s hand began to creep toward the Mint Julep again.

“Do either of you know what exactly the Salient is here to do?” Velar decided to throw in.

“I’ve been wondering that myself,” Nicholson said. Her mind was still in a haze, but she was beginning to think straight again. She made a private vow to never again have three Mint Juleps in one sitting. The fourth sat on the table, and Fonden was trying desperately to hide her secret longing, but she feared that it wasn’t working. Velar had seen something in her eye a moment ago.

“Perhaps Ethan could tell us,” Fonden suggested, compounding the already keen interest in the young doctor and perhaps deflecting interest from her own present distraction. “We shouldn’t wait any longer to contact him. How did you manage it before?”

“He did, actually,” Velar stated. “But you’re awfully eager all of a sudden. What happen to that reserve you had? Not afraid to get into trouble now?”

“It’s not that. It seems prudent now, useful,” she argued. A new resolution came upon her. “Perhaps while we have him on the comm, I could ask him what I would have to do to have a taste of this beverage.”

Velar glanced at her again. Something was definitely odd about this. “We’ve got to tell someone something, that’s all I know.” The blue light was on his mind again, but he resisted the urge to look at it. He wanted to turn it off.

Someone did do something. On Haley Minor, Lt. Jacobi had himself arrested, and when Captain Matheson found out, she could hardly contain herself. Captain Rivera of the Salient was summoned to the Copernicus for a conference, and a new resolve was made to settle this matter.

But of course, it was all going as Matheson had planned.

  • "Cadavers Part 5 Citizen Parkes"

Had the investigation not taken a sudden and dramatic turn for the better, Franzoni was going to find himself in a tight spot with the Captain, whose main concern all this time had been Haley Minor and its political turmoil, which had been assisted by herself four years earlier. It had become an obsession of hers to set things right, and unbeknownst to her crew or most of Starfleet, the only reason she had been allowed back was because she had promised Admiral Logan that if she could not succeed she would resign her commission. From a maniacally devoted career officer, this had taken even Logan as extreme, and that is why he was convinced that she was not only serious about it but that she had a plan already worked out on how to accomplish it.

Captain Matheson had orchestrated all that had transpired so far, even the surprise appearance of the criminal Derek Parkes, and the Prime Directive had only been strained by it all, including Lt. Jacobi’s yet unrevealed business on the planet’s surface. Matheson, too, had negotiated the arrival of the Salient, and those who would have thought of it would have recognized Captain Lewis Rivera as Matheson’s previous first officer. What was his real purpose here? To swerve attention away, and that alone, from the far more important events in which Lt. Jacobi was embroiled.

The wild card was of course, the image Franzoni had uncovered in the holodeck. Derek Parkes might have been considered one as well, but he had gone missing, and now the investigation into the two murders was becoming something more. Franzoni hesitated to call it a manhunt, since it was not, but very soon he found another reason to call it such. The two searches suddenly became linked.

Doctor Sokor, who had finally gotten Parkes to at least enter sickbay, the last place Parkes was to have been seen, had closed it off at the Commander’s request. One more cordoned off location, was how the news spread among the sealed crew quarters of the Copernicus. In Douglas Velar’s, speculation continued to be collected, and illegal contact outside of it was achieved. They learned that Chenoweth was even now examining a metallic patch that resembled a holographic emitter; it had been recovered from the bio-bed Parkes had spent all of two minutes on.

That was when the sudden and dramatic turn had taken place. Lt. Cmdr. Hounsou reported that he had found the source of the mysterious blip in life sign readings, a pack of Letheans, and communications had stopped thereafter. When Franzoni headed a party toward Hounsou’s last known location, a section of Jefferies tubes below Engineering, Lt. Cmdr. Zimmer had caught up with them and announced that he had found Hounsou, beaten to within an inch of his life, and no Letheans. Franzoni went in search for the intruders, and was quietly beamed away in the process.

He found himself in Weapons Locker 12, on Deck 4, and was disoriented enough to not immediately recognize whether he were alone or not. A voice from behind him cleared that up rather quickly.

“Commander,” the voice greeted.

Franzoni, who had fallen in the confusion of the moment, lifted his head groggily and tried to concentrate. The voice did not seem familiar, but he knew all the same who it was. The face had already haunted him, and an echo of the voice as well. He took a moment to thank his grandfather for that. He then shook off whatever remained of the debilitation and looked his captor in the eye. “Gul Pentek. Finally ready to play your hand?”

“Aren’t we a little versed in Cardassian personalities,” Pentek replied. “Shall we get on with it or do you require further formalities?”

“Save your Cardassian ******** and get on with it,” Franzoni suggested, standing back up.

“I have a certain amount of vested interest in your Captain’s quandary,” Pentek said. “Rest assured, as you have no doubt realized and your fellow officers will soon discover, Derek Parkes has much in common with myself. Of course, all your crewmates will learn is that the holo-emitter was formerly attached to the arm of a Cardassian. They will not learn on whom by the negligible evidence I left behind for them, thanks to the continued maladies the Empires records are plagued with since the Dominion’s parting gift. But you will.”

“Parkes was never here,” Franzoni surmised.

“Very perceptive,” Pentek commended. “He was not able to show up because he has been dead ever since your last visit to this planet. I have been playing his part that long, or a hologram of my design has until the schematics for holo-emitters fell into my lap recently. Being Parkes held…certain advantages for me. You see, I’m still seen a monster by your Federation and Bajoran friends, since the days of the Occupation. A fugitive’s life quickly lost its appeal, and Parkes presented a most delicious alternative.”

“You still have not gotten to the point,” Franzoni observed. “What part of that brings us to where we are?”

“The Phalli possess technology that could alter my very DNA, which would end this fugitive nonsense for good. That is reason enough,” Pentek said. “So I assumed the persona of Derek Parkes before his absence was noticed, and resumed his life for the next four years. Your captain is far too eager to be manipulated. It was my idea for her to receive her redemption from this whole affair, or it was the suggestion of one Derek Parkes.”

“It seems like a lot of trouble for something any number of other species could provide you,” Franzoni noted. “How are going to achieve this now?”

“As you might have noticed by now, my associates have proven less prudent than I originally anticipated, so I was forced to alter my plans,” Pentek said. “You are going to help me.”

“Is it a common trait, for Cardassians to be delusional?” Franzoni mocked.

“You would benefit from this, I assure you,” Pentek said, ignoring the comment.

“What would you have me do? Captain Matheson would become suspicious fairly easily if I started to act abnormally,” Franzoni said.

“You are too kind. Your reputation precedes you,” Pentek insinuated. “In many ways, you are not unlike Parkes.”

A momentary flash of what that could mean washed over Franzoni. But he quickly rejected the possibility that Pentek would be so crass as to expect a second assumed persona would work. The Commander was becoming intrigued, if truth be told.

“There will be no further casualties aboard this ship,” Pentek stated, quickly clearing up any lingering suspicions on Franzoni’s part. “I wish Matheson to succeed, so that she can remove herself from the picture. All you need do is produce a hologram of a corpse, and make sure the business on the surface concludes amicably.”

Franzoni continued to listen. By then he had figured out how the ruse had been played. Pentek had initially used common holographic projectors to keep Parkes animated, an easy enough task if you were suitably connected, and Franzoni believed Cardassians to have the most connections of any species he had ever come across. When the emitter became an option, Pentek simply placed the holographic Parkes as a shroud around him, allowing him to operate directly in as precise a manner as was needed. He had constructed the final program aboard the Copernicus, and that is what Franzoni had found. No doubt the Letheans had proved useful in facilitating all this. He wondered how Pentek had found himself onto the ship, but that was the least of his concerns now. No doubt the Tellarite, Dolan.

A team of which Crewman Gird was a part finally captured the Letheans. The Klingon enlistee had been granted by Matheson special commission after asking directly for a chance to do so. Leading the disgraced Lt. Fonden and a Denobulan ensign named Okafor, Gird found them in a sensor-free pocket in the junction behind the mess hall on Deck 9. They had achieved the silenced area by a complicated system of radio waves that had scrambled the ship’s detection capabilities, and had no doubt been assisted by Dolan in setting it all up. Gird’s knack for suspecting the unexpected had led him there, and he thought by this he might win some respect from his superiors. But, as Franzoni was the officer he most craved respect from, he might have to wait a while longer.

Hounsou found himself in the medical bay, waking after some time in sedation on a bio bed and being waited on by Dr. Chenoweth. “We were wondering if you were going to make it,” Chenoweth joked. Sokor stood not far away, but his face remained as stolid as ever.

“Your efforts were not entirely in vain,” the Vulcan doctor noted. “The Letheans are now in custody, and we have a lead on an additional accomplice. Lt. Collins is examining your sensor scans as we speak for evidence of Cardassian activity aboard the Copernicus.”

“Cardassian?” Hounsou considered that he had heard Sokor incorrectly. “What would a Cardassian be doing aboard the ship?”

“It is a suggestion of intrigue,” Sokor said. Ever the logic with Vulcans.

“Here’s something that is not a suggestion,” Franzoni’s voice called out. Several heads that swiveled in the direction of the entrance found the Commander, holding the body of Derek Parkes. Pentek had none one but two emitters.

“My god…” Chenoweth exclaimed.

“It would seem that the fatalities have not ended,” Sokor suggested.

“Not so. The Letheans led me to him,” Franzoni suggested. “He’s the last.”

“Does the Captain know yet?” Chenoweth asked, clearing his head.

“She has been informed,” Franzoni said, his ruse being accepted because there was no reason not to. And what was more, he had taken steps to ensure that the hologram would read as human, and if Sokor performed an autopsy, the emitter, camouflaged as it was, would compensate. Pentek’s contacts had been thorough in aiding his preparation, and Franzoni knew his way around the holodeck, including the proper ways of erasing his activity. “Her attention remains on Haley Minor.”

“As it should,” Sokor said. “This situation has been resolved as far it need be at this juncture.” There were times that Franzoni was grateful to have Vulcans available to clean up like this. “We will confirm Hounsou’s health in the meantime.”

That was all, really, except for Matheson’s concluding efforts regarding the Phalli and a final revelation even Franzoni could not anticipate. He needn’t bother. The truth was still haunting him.

  • "Cadavers Part 6 Night Falls"

When the shuttle Alaric had completed the particle shift required of all visitors to Halley Minor, its passengers immediately disembarked, led by an eager Derek Parkes. They had touched down not far from the Chancellery, where the negotiations Parkes had been brought in for were to take place. In waiting as had been related already were Xeno Minister Holm and delegates from both the House of Macrons and the House of Pasterns. Parkes immediately settled in, dismissing Lt. Jacobi and the rest of the security detachment from the proceedings, saying that they were no longer required to be “vigilant Starfleet types.”

Jacobi did not fight it. He had been given specific instructions from Captain Matheson, and as it so happened leaving the general vicinity of Parkes did not interfere with them. Placing the security detachment around the Chancellery, Jacobi wandered off towards the Hall of Congregation, the one place that even Parkes had not been granted access to.

It was not night, so he did not bother skulking. He was not disguised to appear as a native, though in truth not even the Federation had perfected that level of mimicry, so it would have been impossible all the same. Differences in physiology could only be faked to a certain degree. One might be able to fake a solid state from a gelatinous one, but not vise versa. No matter, Jacobi had no intention to hide. The distance between the Chancellery and the Hall of Congregation was a substantial one, and the lieutenant took the opportunity to sightsee. Physiology was not the only things separating him from the Phalli contextually. Culturally, the Phalli were like nothing Jacobi had ever experienced. Even by abstract artists’ standards, Phalli architecture was out there. He supposed it blended in well with the natural surroundings, and so that was a comfort to his eyes, but it wasn’t even anything like dwellings for any primitive societies he’d ever studied. If there was a middle ground between modern and primitive ground, without seeming like either to any significant degree, Jacobi supposed it could be found here on Halley Minor.

But describing it is not the point of this story. In truth, Jacobi observed all of it only half-interestedly, his concentration being reserved for the task at hand. Matheson had been explicit, and to prove her good faith in him, she had revealed every last motivating factor in her decision to do it. Her mentor Admiral Logan knew perhaps seventy-five percent, Commander Franzoni maybe forty-five. Logan was under the false impression that Haley Minor had become personal, but Jacobi knew that it hadn’t. He also knew how much it hurt Matheson for her to know how wrong her closest friend was. But until it was behind her, she couldn’t fully open up to Logan, and even then she had begun to question to appropriateness of it, considering what her solution was.

Jacobi knew. He began to stare straight ahead, steely, determined. He hadn’t bothered to learn the local language, and his motto had always been “if you don’t know the language, don’t use the UT as substitute.” It was an unpopular view, but it was indicative of the kind of character that had attracted Matheson to him as an agent of her solution.

Around looping establishments in the comparatively narrow pathway of the city that had never known automated transportation, Jacobi walked. He was fingering the phaser tucked inside the pouch that attached to his waist in a magnetic-like cling. The contours of the weapon had always strangely excited him. Such an exotic design for a gun. From his studies of history, he knew that Starfleet had not always employed so elegant a design. He had a replicated version of the type James Kirk would have used, itself a modified version of the original phase pistol. God, did that seem a long time ago. So primitive. It brought a smirk to Jacobi’s face just thinking about it, and he imagined he looked quite silly traipsing about the city, an outsider, with a smirk on his face. He then wondered if the natives would even know how to identify a smirk if they saw one. He wondered in Phalli smirked. He knew, however, that they would not be smirking even if they could after he’d accomplished his mission.

Mission. He hesitated to call it that. More of a task, a chore. Maybe not a chore. It was not far off, whatever it was, since Jacobi noticed that he had nearly reached the Hall of Congregation. Access denied, he considered. Had he not already been smirking, he would now be. He found himself hardly taking the matter seriously, and he figured that even in a few moments he would not, even if it jeopardized the task Derek Parkes had before him, or his safety. No matter. The former was the very thing Jacobi was headed to disrupt.

Two options. Disrupting Parkes’ task or jeopardizing his safety. Matheson had chosen the former. Two options. As Matheson had also concluded, the people of Halley Minor had exactly two, and Jacobi was on his way to help them see that.

There. The Hall of Congregation. He had made it. No one approached to greet him, and no one to escort him away. He noted that the Hall was flanked with more security personnel than he’d left for Parkes at the Chancellery. As much as he did not identify with Phalli architecture, Jacobi knew security personnel when he saw them. His curiosity grew as to why Starfleet was denied access to this structure. He supposed that this was a good thing.

Without any regard for the security force, he went for the entrance of the Hall. He felt as if it was nonchalantly, but he gathered that it would make little difference to the Phalli. As he did so, he drew his phaser from its holster and, pointing it at the doorway, fired a single burst.

The reaction was instantaneous. It seemed to Jacobi that every on of the security personnel converged on him, yet he continued toward the door itself, which had been blasted wide open by his phaser burst. He made it just inside before he began to be seized by, it seemed, every last one of them. He peered inside. A host of official-looking types looked at him with what he considered to be sheer apathy, and he wondered once more why access had been denied.

He saw it just as he was turned outside the Hall. An apparatus so convoluted Jacobi took a brief moment to consider all the incongruous events in his life. That’s when it struck him. The planet was miniaturized not as a matter of nature but by design. Matheson’s conclusion that the Phalli and their political troubles were better off united against the Federation than as a member clicked in his mind. When he had heard it he had nearly scoffed, but now it made perfect sense. These people had issues they needed to resolve for themselves, not the least of which included seemingly contradictory opinions as to their future.

He was taken by force, as genial as that sounds when considered with the Phalli gelatinous physiology and if you imagine it to be not unlike childhood roughhousing as Jacobi did, back to the Chancellery, or just to the side, where he was placed inside the facility he gathered to be a holding pen. After a period of time he and his security detachment estimated as at least more than one day, he learned that Derek Parkes was no longer planetside. This was the brunt of speculation for much of the continued stay in the holding pen, though Jacobi had his own suspicions that he kept to himself.

At one feeding time, Jacobi enquired of the server what was happening.

“You have caused harm to Starfleet’s cause here,” was the curt reply.

“What of Derek Parkes, hasn’t he returned yet?”

“Your friend has not,” the still cold Phalli server retorted. “He perhaps realizes that he has failed because of you.”

“That’s hardly fair,” Jacobi said in response. “It isn’t his fault.”

“Blame is not the issue,” the Phalli stated. “Federation cowardness is. You intruded on forbidden ground. For some people, this is unforgivable. Perhaps Parkes realized this.”

“Perhaps,” Jacobi said, dismissively. Even if he had a more substantial return, the Phalli server did not give him the chance to deliver it. He had already overstayed his visit.

So there he had it. A simple action, though admittedly a considerable one, had been all that was needed. If Matheson’s strategy worked up to this point, Jacobi was inclined to believe it would continue to reverberate in other, more productive ways. He had to hand it to her. He now regretted even the thought of scoffing at her. He had converted. He was penitent. The first thing he would do upon returning to the Copernicus would be to admit his sin to the Captain and beg forgiveness.

That is, if he returned. He was beginning to suspect that perhaps he would not, and he wasn’t even speculating yet what the penalty would be for his actions. He hadn’t before and he wasn’t going to start now. It would not be true to his character, and that’s why Matheson had picked him for the job.

Death. That was a thought that concerned him. Had he committed to a plan that effectively meant suicide. He was beginning to consider the consequences. The hours were mounting, and even the days. He had never been a prisoner of war before, not even during the conflict with the Dominion. Torture was not within Phalli inclination, that’s what Jacobi began to consider next. Not desperately, more nonchalantly. He savored each new consideration like a glass of replicated scotch. It was hollow to him. Not real. Inconsequential.

He blocked off fairly quickly the impulse to experience the pathos his security detachment had fallen into. They were weak. He was feeling ashamed again, and this was for Starfleet frailty. If death was to be his fate, then he was going to learn to relish it, on this point alone. He wanted to be alone now, away from this wretched mass of quivering men. Even though he could not read a Phalli’s features, he did not think that he had seen anything but resolve on their faces. Even divided they were filled with resolve, and he now yearned for the day that they could put away their pettiness and add that strength to the Federation. Even if he wouldn’t live to see it.

Jacobi concentrated on Captain Matheson, on how he would relish basking in the sweet glow of her secret victory. He felt ashamed once more, at having considered death an escape from his career in Starfleet. The detachment in this holding pen was not Starfleet. None of its members were. He was Starfleet. His strength, his integrity. His resolve.

He was not going to be confined here much longer.

The events on Haley Minor had gone by as if in a blur. As Jacobi had carried out his assignment, Derek Parkes, or to be more accurate Gul Pentek, had made a sincere effort to resolve the differences of the dominant Phalli political parties. But centuries a conflict would not be resolved around a table, at a discussion, no matter how much each of the factions wanted it to be. Pentek’s selfish designs slipped into his reasoning long enough for him to forget about maintenance of his projected image. An exclamation from Minister Holm had alerted him to a glitch and that had been all he needed to craft a hasty exit.

This occurred after Jacobi’s attempted forced admittance into the Hall of Congregation, but before the Chancellery had been notified. The sincerity of the talks was proven then, and their fall sealed not by Jacobi but by Pentek.

  • "Cadavers Part 7 The Conclusion Voyage from Haley Minor"

Lt. Cmdr. John Zimmer, chief engineer of the U.S.S. Copernicus, was the first person Franzoni came to in his new capacity as Pentek’s errand boy. There were still tracks to cover, and even if Franzoni did not grasp the full picture quite yet, Pentek had made it clear that Zimmer’s independent investigating was not going to help things die quietly in the night. There had been two murders aboard the ship, one act of sabotage revealed, chief of operations Lt. Cmdr. Louis Hounsou wounded, and a gang of Letheans captured. The part that only Franzoni and Pentek knew but that the staff in Sickbay was rapidly making progress on deciphering, was that Derek Parkes, who had come as mediator for the Haley Minor talks, now concluded in failure, was not Derek Parkes at all, but stowaway Cardassian criminal Gul Pentek, who remained the one undiscovered piece of the jigsaw.

“What’re you doing,” Franzoni asked, casually, from behind Zimmer, who was himself now examining the very same panel in the holodeck that the Commander had before.

“No offense, Sir, but you missed some things. I was just finishing up here, but I believe I’ll be able to recall the image created and the image of the person who created it in a matter of minutes,” Zimmer ignorantly revealed.

“I suppose a man of your considerable skills could do that,” Franzoni smirked. “Show me up. Carry on.” He couldn’t reveal his hand, and he gathered that Pentek had a contingency for this as he’d had for every other problem that had cropped up in the past few days.

“Are you going to stick around for the grand unveiling?” Zimmer enquired?

It was tempting. “No,” Franzoni said. “I’ve got other matters to attend to. Even with things falling into place, my job is never done. It’s the curse of ambition!”

Managing a light chuckle, he left the holodeck, and staggered ten feet down the hall. A sharp pain was jabbing at his temples. It was a familiar ailment, one he had always associated with his grandfather’s accursed passing of the Betazoid telepathic genes. Grandfather…Why? You are going to be the death of me. He rested against the corridor, gasping for air without quite understanding why. The pain was intensifying. His hands slapped the sides of his head, and even if he knew that the action made little sense, nothing was making very much of it at the moment. Perception was playing tricks on him. He didn’t know up from down.

Franzoni nearly collapsed. That’s when he pulled himself together and walked on, a latent aching still present, despite his attempts to suppress all of it. He didn’t know where he was going, so when Lt. Fonden inexplicably appeared in front of him, he uttered a terse, “Why are you out of your quarters” while suggesting with his body language that he wanted the Benzite to walk with him.

“The Captain has begun loosening shipwide restrictions,” she noted, taking the initiative to follow the body and not the words. “I was one of the first to be let out.”

“Why wasn’t I told?” he asked aloud, undirected and unintentionally.

“It was announced throughout the whole ship moments ago, Sir,” Fonden noted.

“Of course,” Franzoni breathed.


“The last few days have begun catching up with me,” he allowed as they continued their walk, with a turbolift in sight.

“Understood. Word has it that Dr. Sokor has discovered who had been using the holo-emitter,” Fonden said without thinking, her source having been illegal at the time.

But Franzoni wasn’t concentrating hard enough on the conversation to notice or care. “Oh? And do you know who it was?”

“That’s what we’re on our way to find out,” Fonden stated with a hint of incredulity in her voice. The past few days hadn’t exactly been easy on her, either, having been temporarily removed from active duty, and as her job was chief of security and she had been heading the murder investigation, she had been particularly affected. Still, she was beginning to become suspicious of the Commander. They reached the turbolift, entered, and called for the bridge.

When the lift hopped to a stop, the pair exited and headed for the observation lounge across the way, where they found Matheson, Sokor, Dr. Chenoweth, chief helmsman Lt. Joel Nelson, and Captain Rivera of the Salient waiting.

“Cmdr. Zimmer will be with us shortly and of course Hounsou will not be able to be with us,” Matheson said in greeting. “Good of you to join us.”

“Likewise, Captain,” Franzoni returned and he and Fonden took their seats.

“Dr. Chenoweth and I believe that we have discovered the identity of the chief conspirator in our quandary,” Sokor intoned, standing up and moving towards the monitor behind Matheson. Calling up an image, he continued, “Kaman Pentek, former Gul of the Cardassian Fourth Order and wanted offender by the Bajoran Provisional Government for war crimes during the Occupation.”

“Lt. Dolan has assisted us in some of the finer details,” Matheson chimed in, “confirming that he had been cooperating with the Letheans and an unknown second party, which Pentek, who is now is custody, has graciously revealed to be himself.”

“Who accomplished snaring Pentek?” Franzoni asked.

“I did,” a voice announced from the opening doors of the lounge. It was Zimmer. “After I had repaired the damage Dolan had caused the deflection grid, which had caused a loop in ship’s sensors, it made detecting the presence of whoever I might find out to be the culprit in the holodeck that much easier. You can connect the rest of the dots yourself.”

“But why would Pentek employ Letheans?” Fonden wondered aloud, suspecting that she might be let off the hook by the unraveling of the entire affair.

“We believe that he had been using them to wipe the memories of any officers or crewmen he might have manipulated along the way,” Chenoweth said.

“When we’re several weeks removed from this, I’ll be much happier,” Matheson sighed. “The Phalli have made their decision official. They have withdrawn their petition for membership in the Federation. You can expect a thorough debriefing from Command on all this, but I’m confident we’ll emerge relatively unscathed. Unless there’s anything that any of you might want to add, consider yourselves dismissed and on leave for the trek back to Epsilon Station. Aside from security,” and here she directed a warm face at Fonden, indicating that all was forgiven, “of course.”

A few words shared with Matheson and Franzoni was soon off after the rest of the assembly. Pentek had not revealed their partnership. On the whole, Franzoni almost considered it void anyway, since he hadn’t really done anything besides producing the counterfeit body of Parkes, which he could hardly be found culpable for. He bumped into Crewman Velar, who seemed unusually distraught, on the way back to his quarters, but exchanged the regular curt salutation, their personal differences knowing no holiday.

He should be on the bridge right now, but the headache was returning, and this he’d given Matheson as his excuse. Indeed, he had a history of migraines, and he had always associated it with his grandfather’s curse, even though the one he was now experiencing was several times over more intense than he had ever had before.

He stumbled inside his doorway just in time to hear Matheson and respond. Harm, we’ll need to start on the extradition paperwork soon. Lt. Jacobi and the others have probably had their fill of Haley Minor. Captain Rivera has already agreed to wait in orbit for the orders to come through. Get some rest.

“Aye, Robin,” Franzoni managed. “Franzoni out.” He ordered a drink from the replicators; something the Captain had noted Fonden singing the praises of after the briefing. A Mint Julep. Perhaps that might clear his head, drown his sorrows.

Short answer: it didn’t.

He decided to return to the bridge. If a distraction was what he needed, he knew no better place than the bridge of theCopernicus for it. Hounsou was observing Lt. Collins at the OPS station, which Franzoni observed in a mildly bemused light. Starfleet and its fidelity with duty. Matheson was seated in the command chair and standing to the side was Dr. Sokor, as was his sometimes prerogative, and Zimmer not far away. The three of them made Franzoni sick, but for the first time he did not consider that a bad thing. It distracted him from his other preoccupation for a while, and that’s exactly the sort of thing he wanted at the moment.

Joel Nelson at the helm was turned in his seat and attempting to engage Fonden at tactical in mild flirting. “Looking good there, lieutenant. You might even have a future in that role.” Mild laughter from all.

Franzoni took his seat by Matheson’s side. They exchanged pleasant looks and Zimmer moved off to a terminal on the side, Sokor remaining impassive as always. “Lovely day for a comet shower,” Matheson commented, drawing the Commander’s attention to the viewscreen, where indeed a comet shower was having its day in the sun. It wasn’t really a comet shower, but the view from warp of the stars. The sentiment remained even if the illusion was lost on Franzoni.

“It’s quite breathtaking,” He said at last. He wasn’t the only one who needed something else to concentrate on, after all.

“It is only logical for Pentek to occupy the cell Derek Parkes once did,” Sokor observed, inadvertently breaking the reverie.

“How do we know if Parkes ever occupied it himself,” Zimmer commented from the side. “For all we know, Pentek might have been passing himself off as Parkes for months. Scares the hell out of me.”

“Indeed,” Sokor agreed.

“Pentek won’t be incarcerated at the same facility. He’s got new charges to answer for, and probably a different penalty to serve,” Matheson observed. “But as captain, I order everyone to forget about this mess for a while. We’ll be talking about it in great detail soon enough, and personally, I don’t relish the thought.”

There was a round of cheers then, and Franzoni did not participate in it. Since the start of the mission he had had one goal and one goal alone on returning to ES1, which was to hand in his resignation. He was tired of Starfleet, tired of theCopernicus, and most of all tired of answering to Matheson. He wasn’t going to answer to her now, and he had a feeling that she had a secret that should have been answerable to him, her first officer, that she wasn’t going to divulge. It was his grandfather’s curse, the Betazoid’s third eye, which had been blinded along the way, and that had made all the difference. He was not going to resign now. He was going to stay, and stay here aboard the Copernicus. It was a matter of guilt. He owed it to himself and to certain others. And it was all thanks to his grandfather. One day…one day, he thought.

Commander Harmon Franzoni had two revisions for his Starfleet record, one that indirectly tied into the other, and the other was more likely, if ever found out, to lose him his commission. Neither would ever see the light of day, and at the end of the day it was more this resolve than the guilt that would keep him there. And for this he cursed his grandfather for a final time.


To Baron Waterloo's mind, it had been just the other day when the Clerics at Boreth had resurrected Morath. The new regent was more...methodical than his predecessor had been, less impulsive. This sat well with Waterloo, and he now had a renewed confidence that the Alliance would topple the small ground the Terrans had gained.

His two Agents, Gird and Agog, had already been dispatched to deal with a particular nuisance, which would soon be out of the way. It would be a great day, but not as great as the day the Alliance would resume its dominion over the Alpha Quadrant.

The reports he had heard of strange ships, counterpart ships, appearing, were unsettling, however. The Baron was almost concerned that they might impede his progress, but Morath would know what to do. What concern he had was soon replaced with a blood fever.

More conquering. It was only a sign of greater things to come, and Waterloo laughed. A subordinate approached with news. Waterloo stopped laughing. He struck the subordinate down where he stood. Gird and Agog's ship was falling into a trap. He pitied the thought of losing his two favorite Agents. Perhaps help could be sent, or some other...little surprise...

Agog had never before seen a Romulan ship. In the world of the Alliance, what little contact the Klingons and Cardassians had made with Romulans, in futile attempts at a merger in interests, the seclusive Romulans had never come close enough to transmit images with their communications let alone their ships be seen. Common perception was, they didn't have ships.

Well, there were Romulans out there with ships. Agog was on one at this moment. It was saturated in emerald hues. It was vaguely nauseating. But it was better than the fate Gird had met when their ship had been destroyed in the shockwave. The rebels had played a role in that, Agog was sure of it. He wondered if they had played a role in the shockwave and this sudden merger with the mirror universe. They had been known to dabble in crossovers in the past. It had given them the temporary advantage they now enjoyed. However they had managed this...disaster...this...intersection, Agog suspected that it would backfire on them. Even if they had nothing to do with it.

He was on a Romulan vessel. How his people had longed for this day. Romulans, it turned out, looked remarkably like those Rebellion sympathizers, the Vulcans. But they looked...more cunning. This Agog found most pleasing. Perhaps they would help him in his further plans. That was his hope, and their sudden rescue of him moments before his ship - and Gird - had gone up in cinders had been encouraging.

"I have a proposition to make," he exclaimed to the Romulans surrounding him. They did not shrink back.
Sub-commander Prefal considered what Agog had proposed. The others around him whispered in airs of suspicion, but Prefal saw Agog in a different light. He saw Agog as a way out of the pitfall the Romulans had found themselves in after the recent, ill-conceived campaign from the fallen Tal Shiar.

"You must be first made aware that the Klingons of my reality have tried this before. They failed, but only for lack of foresight. To succeed, you must keep your wits about you."

Agog appeared eager. "We live in interesting times. Perhaps wit will not be all I need. Confusion reigns!"

"Seeking to take advantage of this is a sign of wit all the same." Prefal guided Agog to a terminal, which was a certain indicator of the shape the vessel was in. The screen was flickering, as if forcing itself to remain in working order. Prefal had made sure the engineers pour their efforts into the most vital systems, the cloak and the engines, so he was not concerned about this flickering screen, nor of the precarious position his ship and indeed the entirety of the Star Empire currently found itself in. But a momentary setback.

"Arn Darvin," Agog read after Prefal had punched in some information. An image was displayed, of a human, or so he appeared to be. "I see. It is almost dishonorable to make ourselves appear human, but I have little choice."

"So it seems." Prefal was half-present now in this engagement with the Mirror Klingon. He was allowing himself to be swept away with thoughts of fancy.

"You have the means?"

"We do. It can be done immediately."

After an hour of surprisingly painful surgical alterations, Agog was released from the medic's lab. He walked hazily back toward Sub-commander Prefal's command chamber, attempting to forget the pain that enveloped his head. When Prefal had said his ship had the means, Agog should have confirmed the methods they employed in doing so. Still, it was pain, and Agog supposed that Klingons could endure pain better than any other species, so he laughed as he thought of how others would have reacted to the same procedure.

"What are your plans now? Starfleet, even in its deplorable state, will still require a façade of training before you are granted assignment to one of their starships. You would better choose a Nyberrite cruiser ship as your destination. There has been an influx of humans serving aboard them recently, after the Maquis purge necessitated a new alternative for them." Prefal had been quietly studying Agog's options for the past hour, assuming that the Klingon would not be so precise in his plans as he himself could be. It was in Prefal's best interests now for Agog to succeed, and he had taken it upon himself to see to it that the Klingon would.

"I had been considering placing myself at a space station near some crucial sector, or locating an important negotiation center, but your plan has merit," Agog growled, still unused to the habits of the visage he now bore. He resembled a large human, perhaps one likely for a security posting had he followed through with his initials plans, with cropped auburn hair and a scowl he was going to have to work on. Conspicuousness, the medic had warned, was his true disguise, since humans had long since lost their desire for bulkness for the sake of muscle. He would have to relearn how to move, how to react, and now he wished to barter additional time aboard the Romulan vessel, where a number of other objectives could be met. "But first I must ask you for an extended stay here."

"Of course."

The ship was on its own mission, and perhaps the two would happily overlap.

Baron Waterloo was considering revenge on the Terrans who had in essence murdered his favorite two Agents. The Regent had not been pleased when he'd heard this, probably as a byproduct of the frustration the intersections were causing him. Far from proving lucrative to the renewed dominion of the quadrant that he had probably somewhat overestimated to be a logical end, it was proving to be Morath's first real setback, and at this point any setback at all would likely mean death.

True to form, even Waterloo was considering sharpening his mek'leth. He had called in his Cardassian aid, Pentek, to discuss...things.

"The presence of the alternate Klingons is strong," Pentek noted. "It might not be on the scale of what we have in the Alliance, but they have apparently lulled their Terrans into a sense of security. Shall we discover if that is false?"

"It is all but a foregone conclusion, but yes, send your envoys. Perhaps we could also learn if either of my Agents survived."

"Are you so certain that they would perish so easily?"

Waterloo considered his choice of words. "It does not matter now." Even his own aid need not know everything. "There are no doubt other surprises to learn of from the opportunity these intersections have afforded us. Let's not spoil it."

Pentek bowed and left the Baron's War Room, which Waterloo had long ago ceded to be his chief residence, all too common among the higher offices in the Alliance. He turned around and tapped a button. Agog's human face appeared, and another conversation resumed.

"Romulans. This is a great victory for us."

"There are other things I could tell you. They have been quite extensive in their espionage against the Federation. Prefal has helped set up an... opportunity...that will prove most useful. The Terrans could be here seeking a cloak. I will make certain of their failing if they are."

"Did Gird perish quickly?"

"With honor." That was all they needed to speak. Waterloo did not even need speak of Agog's other objectives, which would unfold as easily as his first had.

This was going to be a good day for the Alliance, or barring that as far as Regent Morath was concerned, for Baron Waterloo...

The Romulan vessel winked away into the starry night as Agog started his new life aboard the Nyberrite cruiser Druck'Dalaq. It was commanded by a Nyberrite, Captain Genfirins, and had a bridge crew that included a human and a Klingon, and to these two Agog was assigned to aggregate himself with the workings of Genfirins' procedures. He had assumed the alias of Adam Ghoeller, and he found himself struggling every moment to remain Ghoeller and not relapse into Agog. Ghoeller walked with a certain shuffle, and that was what he was concentrating on as he made his way to the Klingon's console.

"My name is Gird," the Klingon said in introduction. Agog was taken aback. This was the very last thing he had expected, to meet his partner's counterpart. He momentary lost the shuffle, but Gird did not notice, since he had turned back in his seat to listen to the human, who had brought something to his attention. "Captain, adjust heading point two degrees," he relayed immediately.

"Adam Ghoeller," Agog recovered, with his hand clumsily outreached to Gird. "What am I to do?"

"Watch me for a while. The newbies are always confused for a while. They come expecting standard operating equipment, but the Nyberrites do not have that. You learn on your feet or you find yourself walking them off the ship to another destination."

"Understood," Agog/Ghoeller said cautiously. "Have you been serving on this ship long?"

"Six months," Gird replied, still consulting with the human. "This is Wynton."

The two humans shook hands as the two Klingons had not. "A pleasure to meet you," Wynton stated. "It's really not so bad. If you have any experience working independently, you'll find that working aboard a Nyberrite cruiser isn't so different, only it is. You really need to experience it for yourself."

"Course correction set in," Captain Genfirins confirmed. "This should put us away from the Antarees asteroid belt. Good."

Around the rest of the bridge Agog/Ghoeller could see other units likewise cooperating on different systems, isolated from each other though working as a whole in a semblance of an ordinary bridge operation. It truly was something different, and he thought that it would suit his needs well. Gird and Wynton each had separate consoles, and he could see a third to Gird's right, which would no doubt be his in a short while.

Baron Waterloo would no doubt be pleased with this. Wherever the Terran party was at this point, Agog was sure that he would be able to track it with the Nyberrite resources. Who would suspect this ship to carry such insidious plotting…

The Nyberrite ship arrived in orbit of Draylax and prepared to move its cargo. Adam Ghoeller made sure that he was among the party hauling the cargo to the rendezvous point at Horizon Bay. Gird and Wynton were two others among the seven-man party, but Captain Genfirins stayed behind to oversee ship inspections.

"How long do we have?" Adam/Agog inquired of Gird, to whom he directed most of his many inquiries in the last week.

"Four to six hours," Gird replied. "When you are fortunate enough to run a smooth conduction, four is the preferred duration. We are given a length of time for recreation on planet runs, and these we are keen to relish. Draylax has its...charms. My advice? Become acquainted with them early, for the more time to enjoy them."

Adam nodded in understanding, pushing his antigrav unit loaded with cargo containers ahead of him as they continued to walk toward Justman Relay. None of them noticed a figure shadowing their every move.

Sub-commander Prefal had sent along his own agents to trail Agog. Whatever the Klingon was up to, Prefal was going to find out. The Star Empire could use this very opportunity.

But even then, Baron Waterloo was steps away from locating Prefal's ship, and when he did, there would be a reckoning.

It was in a bar, the Livingston Tavern, which Adam Ghoeller now found himself. He had taken Gird's advice and decided to explore the pleasures of Draylax. Livingston did not serve Blood Wine, but then Adam figured that it would be best that he not order so Klingon a drink anyway.

"Another round of Tarkalian Ale," he ordered. He was at a table with several disreputable-looking souls, a smattering of species from the dregs of the Alpha Quadrant. They were the same in both realities. He believed that one of them was a Pakled.

Over in one of the dark corners sat a Reman. Adam felt offended that one of his three employers did not think highly enough of him. Baron Waterloo, possibly. Prefal, probably. Captain Genfirins? Adam would gain respect for him if it were he.

All the same, the Reman was keeping to himself. In his reality, Remans had their own empire, sister to the fabled Romulan Eclipse Empire, and even more secretive. Would Waterloo really be in league with one? And if this Reman were not under contract by any of the three, was it likely at all that he would need be concerned with him?

The Tarkalian Ale was telling him, yessss...

Adam Ghoeller in fact did go over to the Reman's table, and the Reman proved useful, in a most unexpected way.

I have information you would like, the Reman had said, dispensing with formalities such as introductions. The way he had said this without even looking up sent Adam's newly-acquired human qualities shivering. His true Klingon self,well, his inner Agog, became quite intrigued. There is an unknown faction that has made its presence known. If it hasn't already, this...fleet of warships will soon engage in open hostilities.

What have I done to warrant such friendliness? Adam had replied, forgetting formalities himself. And what will it cost me?

Nothing at all. This is something that someone should know, and that is all you need to know. If the Reman knew Adam's secret, he hadn't yet overtly revealed it.

Why come to me with this? Adam questioned, still suspicious.

You came to me. You tell me why. The Reman was toying with him. This was now beginning to enrage Adam, but he fought to suppress the urge to pull his companion into the air and hurl him across the tavern. If the Reman did not know, then what was his game?

Who do you work for? This question, Adam felt, would provide him with the answer he sought. He was familiar enough with his realities version of Remans, thanks to Baron Waterloo's contacts, that he figured he could gleam any hint of relation to them from whatever was said next.

The face of your enemy is your friend. This is not what Adam had been expecting, and to make matters worse, the Reman, or whatever he was (was now the direction Adam was forced to explore), got up, paid his tab, and walked out of the tavern.

It was several days later, and Captain Genfirins was headed toward a Romulan colony in the outskirts of Klingon space. The very thought sent real shivers down Adam's spine. Prefal would now have even greater access to his movements. And Adam now suspected, feared, that his Reman...informant, was working for the Romulan pa'tagh.

And he had just learn that unknown warships had engaged in open hostilities with Starfleet.

(Starfleet...There was no greater source of animosity in his reality. Not even the Terran resistance...)

He began enquiring of his 'friends' Gird and Wynton as to what he might expect from the Romulans, adding as an excuse for his ignorance that he had spent most of his life on a human (it had taken some effort to refer to himself as human and not Terran) space station as a technician. It was at this time that he learned of what had recently happened in this reality. He smiled an inward smile, as broad as could be.

Baron Waterloo enjoyed thanking his deep cover agents personally, so when the Reman returned to the Mirror Universe, there was a special gift waiting for him. Death. Agog must not get too comfortable, after all. Next on the Baron's agenda: arranging a...friendly...meeting with this Romulan called Prefal...

  • "Rush I"

Onward he ran, faster than he could ever remember running before. He had a purpose, and he supposed that was why he could. As a Mund, Mcquarrie was not predisposed to running fast, as any three-legged, ill-balanced species would be, but he certainly was now. It was awkward, it was precarious, but in its own way, it was almost graceful.

If you squinted very much or had been drinking some of the state liquor fairly hard. The rocky terrain was making it even more difficult to be swift about it, but Mcquarrie was overcoming that as well, throwing himself every now and then forward as if a puppet at the whim of a particularly nasty whelp. It was effective still, as the third leg find itself useful in overcoming the difference in these instances. The leaps might break his pace, but he wasn’t going to break a leg, or anything else, as long as he maintained the distance he enjoyed ahead of his pursuers. In comparison, they were having a considerable time of it, lacking the same motivation, which was to simply stay alive.

That wasn’t really the truth. Mcquarrie stood more a chance of dieing from landing wrong in one of his leaps than from being snagged by his pursuers and facing whatever they in store for him. This was no hostile activity, but rather a perverse form of recreation for the Mund population. To his delight, Mcquarrie found himself less and less interested everyday in continuing his role as the pursued, and thus he calculated that he would become the best at being pursued the Mund had ever experienced. He had motivation.

It was all about motivation, really. To continue appeasing their overseers in the Dominion, the Mund needed to amuse themselves, since a happy oppressed population is one that is still alive. Others had done far worse than to please the Vorta governors seemingly omnipresent in the Gamma Quadrant, or at least what citizens of the Dominion knew of the Gamma Quadrant. They also knew of two other quadrants, but only insomuch as that they had not become territory of the Dominion after a fierce campaign to change that some years ago. What they knew was as important as what they didn’t know, was the lesson every Mund was brought up to live by. Politics were simple as long as the Founders had been in charge, but now that the Vorta ruled the Dominion, life had become more complicated.

Mcquarrie had a choice ahead of him: to jump the small ravine or attempt to run around it, for seemed like a several mile detour? The chase would benefit from either choice, but if he missed the jump and landed in the ravine, he ran the risk of being captured quite early on in the pursuit, only three weeks into it. Fifty feet ahead, and he still could not decide. Thirty and he almost began to panic. Where would he like to be right now? At home, with his thirty children and twelve wives? On a cruise with his friends around the sentry moon? Fifteen feet and he kicked off with his third leg, flailing his two other legs furiously, reaching with his sinewy arms, his head remaining firmly in place, the benefit of having no neck and a hammer-shaped cranium.

With a thud he landed on the other side and nearly fell backward, but the third leg again rescued him from certain awkwardness. He sprang forward once more, without turning around to see how his pursuers would fare. Perhaps they would send their nets across and try to slow him down in the tangling mess that would ensue. No net came over his head, and he continued onward.

Hearing two awkward thuds behind him, then a third and a fourth, Mcquarrie knew that they had made the jump, no doubt with a little assistance from their emergency propulsion units. A voice rang loud and declared, “That’s enough.” It was Lateen, the Vorta governor of Mund. Mcquarrie distinguished a certain amount of agitation in the utterance, which was soon followed up. “Three weeks, and a ravine still does not slow him? I am growing tired of his stamina. Take him away.” Mcquarrie jogged to a still and felt several hands take hold of him. This was it.

  • "Rush II"

There were thirty-eight government officials in the room, an oblong, rounded affair, in which Mcquarrie now found himself, and each of them were talking. All at the same time. And it was perfectly normal for the Mund. The general consensus of the incessant chatter was that Mcquarrie had set a poor example for a runner. He had not been the first, and even now his replacement was being prepped, but if you were to take the possibly emotionless criticisms of the several grades of officials surrounding him at the moment literally enough, you would leave with the impression that even the Great Carnaque, “Carnaque” being a Mund designation for a pitiful creature, who had twelve generations earlier failed in even starting the pursuit without his pursuers having to give him an artificial berth, was a better representative of the Mund spirit.

“The three-legged run need not be so graceless.”

“It appeared that you were letting your pursuers advance on you.”

“Do you possess a perverse need to feel a net’s snare upon you?”

“Had not the pursuers been confused by the coming mist, you might have been captured the very first week.”

“Your skill with the third leg appears to border on the nil.”

“My infant son would have known to avoid the Spiral Vineyard.”

Mcquarrie would have never volunteered had he known his intuition would have come so dreadfully true. Then, he would have been observed through a thick covering of dirt at the Hanging Mausoleum had he not. It might have been a difficult choice, but he was no fool. The promise of relocation to the sentry moon Athan if he had won was enough to have convince him to take the risk and ignore the nagging consideration of later torment, not only from these officials but his twelve wives.

The moment he’d realized that the number of wives he had matched the number of generations past the Great Carnaque had competed in the pursuit, he’d known.

What he knew now was that the chatter from the officials would soon be over. There was the ritual mid-evening hopping to attend, after all. For a brief moment Mcquarrie wondered if he would see his family or friends again, not out of fear that he would be buried in the Hanging Mausoleum, but that he might be forced to lead the hopping, which in his predicament would include all of the post-ritual exercises, which had been known in the past to last some dozen decades. They had a way of entrancing the individual, so that by the end of the first decade he would be moved to a permanent location within the Spiral Vineyard, to become a permanent attraction for the spectacle-obsessed Vorta. It mildly annoyed him, but that was all.

The room he was still trapped in with the thirty-eight elected officials was decorated in doors. This was another consideration for Mcquarrie. Many of these doors were used to dispose of individuals as well. He certainly didn’t know where they led and he had never heard anything of them either. A vague feeling of absurdity came over him when he considered what his people had allowed themselves to become, or how little the Founders had to nudge them for the present result to have come about.

But the Mund were the Mund, as far as he was concerned. The officials soon left, and left him behind in the oblong room. He sat down quietly, arranging his three legs to the customary triangular position, two legs bending to meet each other while the third stood bent, with his arms resting over it. He waited for what had to be twelve days, a calculation that further amused him. When he was led to one of the doors on the far end, he didn’t struggle.

Once through the portal, Mcquarrie found a sort of prison, of which he had only heard rumors. Standing room only, and in this way he stood until some time passed and he was shifted towards the back. The chatter from these Mund during this time had mentioned a special kind of prisoner in the rear of this peculiar arrangement. Indeed, it was a member of a species from the Alpha Quadrant, one long held in awe by the Jem’Hadar. Mcquarrie fairly gawked, which would have been a humorous sight, but only for nonMund.

Starfleet Crewman Gird of the U.S.S. Copernicus made a face of his own in return, letting Mcquarrie know that the Klingon was not so pleased with the discovery as he was. This didn’t really bother Mcquarrie.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said.

“I’m certain that I would share the sentiment,” Gird said in reply. Mcquarrie considered this to be the first step forward he’d taken in a week.

  • "Rush III"

What the Dominion wanted, the Dominion got. Lateen grew quite fond of the new runner, and Mcquarrie was never seen again. During this great absence, Mcquarrie spent some of it in captivity and most of it dead. At the moment, he was still alive, and still standing near Starfleet Crewman Gird in the containment room, as he’d learned it was called.

“Do you suppose we will have many other companions in here?” the Mund asked the Klingon.

“I find it best to not dwell on such things,” Gird said. After a pause, “However, since I have been here, roughly twelve of your years, eleven months of my own, the population has doubled in size twice. Were we to remain here longer…The end result speaks for itself. Being a captive of the Mund is…a matter of endurance.”

“Being a Mund in general is a matter of endurance,” Mcquarrie said. Such a statement from any other species would have been stated with a gloomy quality in the speaker’s voice. Another species might have considered escape. “I suppose it’ll become crowded before long.”

Gird remained silent.

There was ample lighting within the cell, and the company was amiable. You’d hardly suspect it to be what it was. Other Mund facilities featured such accommodation, but of course stopped short of inviting so many Mund in. It was not common for offworlders to appear in these cells, however. The Jem’Hadar had other places, other uses for them, but the end of the war had produced irregularities. Most were on worlds with membership in the Dominion, but some, like the one Gird had found himself in, occurred at checkpoint moons the Federation was busy developing. The Vorta didn’t approve of them, secretly, and frequently sent the Jem’Hadar for “inspections.”

Gird bowed his head.

There was a periodic burst of light that swept the cell of matter Mcquarrie supposed was fickle. Had the regular lighting not begun dimming noticeably for him by his third month (Gird remarked that it had been blinding when he arrived), he might have picked up on another change taking place. His head was changing shape, rounding out, and his third leg…

All around him, there were two-legged Mund, the only such Mund that he was likely to have ever seen. Gird remained unaffected for the most part, aside from his hair falling out and his forehead slowly unwrinkling. There was another metamorphosis happening, and this involved ears. They were becoming quite prominent.

Another year passed, and there was less room to stand in. Mcquarrie still did not question his fate. Gird was unraveling, becoming agitated, as he had very seldom been during his lifetime, but there never was an incident. The light flashes continued, and none of the Mund noticed. Only Gird began to convulse.

Three years and the door opened. Mcquarrie and Gird had perished, not from being suffocated, but from being lost genetically. Mcquarrie was taken to the sentry moon and Gird was brought before a team of Federation scientists.

There had been a complication.

  • "Rush IV"

It was not something he heard very well, but here is what it was: “Remarkable.” The speaker was likewise someone he was not at the moment familiar with. Julian Bashir, visiting from starbase Deep Space Nine, stood before him, examining an instrument in his hand. Had he needed to express himself, even that would be a source of conflict. Klingon or Vorta? He simply wasn’t sure, nor what to think of it. He felt as if he had been forced inside a room filled with cotton, a sensation he was certain he had never felt before. At the moment, he wasn’t even sure if he were standing or seated, or perhaps stretched across a flat surface. He couldn’t trust his eyes.

More words he could not comprehend: “His genetics have been altered at the cellular level, but there’s a complication in the DNA sequencing. That would account for the rapid degradation which is killing him, but what I can’t account for are the sequences which haven’t changed. It’s as if his body is fighting the manipulation.”

Dr. Bashir was not talking to himself, an assumption Gird could not even come to himself, but rather to the crewman’s own physician, Sokor, who remained impassive to his colleague’s declarations.

The only thing Gird knew was that his mind was in turmoil, and this he had not experienced in a decade, since his last experience with genetic manipulation. There was a battle between two forces, two wills, and in the middle, a whispering voice kept his memory of Mcquarrie alive. It was the only memory he had, and as such it was consuming him. Soft moans emitted from his impaired mouth. The two doctors observed this, and had nothing to explain it.

An unintelligible thought: two blurs, whirling around and dashing at each other. This would look to the uncritical observer to symbolize the conflict inside Gird, but it was not, it was another memory. Unhinged, not something he’d witnessed, but a conviction, perhaps a mantra. It was hard to tell, and even if Gird had the slightest possibly of considering it, he could not tell either. Two blurs, in chaos, it seemed. Mcquarrie was a source of strength, but not consciously. Consciously, Gird was practically nonexistent.

More words he could not know: “Doctor, it is in the crewman’s best interests to move him immediately.” The reply: “We may have lost him already. Regardless, I concur.”

The difficulty would be securing Crewman Gird’s release from Dominion custody. By its law, Gird was now subject to it and not to the Federation. This was Lateen’s firmly held position, and Sokor was prepared to accept the logic of this stance. Bashir was not.

  • "Rush V"

“Do you know, the very first species that attracted the Dominion’s attention from the…Alpha Quadrant…were the Klingons.” Lateen was speaking to Mcquarrie, but it was a good bet that Mcquarrie was not paying attention. By the former Mund’s present inclination for pivoting every few minutes, movement which Lateen noticed by the scraping of Mcquarrie’s heal against the metallic flooring, the Vorta governor knew that his, what was he to be called? pupil had not yet settled in. The sessions to eradicate his former considerations were going to have to be sped up. Can’t have him lingering too long on inconsequential matters. “It was said that the Founders,” here Lateen paused out of reverence, though it was uncertain how deep the reverence went, “saw a glimmer of what they had seen in the primitive Vorta. A sense of what really mattered in life.” This is what Lateen wanted for Mcquarrie. “The only problem was, there was an aggressive streak, which the Founders deemed unnecessary. They already had the Jem’Hadar, you see.

“In their infinite wisdom, the Founders set themselves on the only reasonable course there was. They would…adapt…these Klingons.” Such a process was not unheard of. The very program which had produced the facility Mcquarrie had been deposited in came from the fruit of early experimentation. When you engineered entire species, there was the temptation to go one step further, to transfer a body into something completely different. “Had the Klingons possessed a compatible temperament, it would have been infinitely simpler,” Lateen sighed. “Of course, this is a happy failure. Who wants competition?”

It took little contemplation to see what he meant. With Klingons, engineered as they would be, now the Founders’ favorite puppet, the Vorta would find themselves in a diminished role, from the right hand to eating from that hand. It was not a pleasant thought for Lateen. “We have been using these facilities to further our own objective, while the Founders keep their council,” he continued. “Since the cloning banks have been compromised, we had to find a new way to strengthen our numbers and consolidate our power. Mund is testing ground.”

Mcquarrie still did not say a word, nor move in any sort of cooperative gesture, Lateen noted. Time was passing and it was being wasted. This was not to the governor’s great pleasure. He needed an assistant, on the occasion that it would be necessary. Vorta were normally quite independent, but these were not normal times. There was a conception of rebellion itching at the back of the Vorta mind. A need to rule the roost instead of administer it. When the Founders roused, there would be a new order.

“You are to be my adjutant. You should be proud,” Lateen enthused. In a way, he fancied that this new breed of Vorta would replace the Cardassians. They fill that role, and have termination implants. Efficiency this time, no more unchecked treachery. “Not every member of the Dominion is so smiled upon. It is a privilege.

“Do you recall the Klingon who underwent the transformation with you?” he casually enquired. Mcquarrie reacted for the first time. “He is to be your proving ground. When we have secured him, you are to terminate him. He is a failed test, and failure…is not something the Vorta appreciate. Nor can we afford him to reveal more of our plans than we can now afford.” Lateen was no fool. He knew that Mcquarrie wasn’t at this time ready, but he also knew that there were still negotiations to be had, to secure the Klingon in his hands. “What do you say?”

There was a long pause, in which Lateen once again noted Mcquarrie’s restlessness. “I understand,” the former Mund said at last.

  • "Off this Forsaken Rock"

There was a Tribble perched atop the bar. Dawn was approaching and the rabble festering in their own filth were becoming restless. St. John Talbot had his work cut out for him. As a Federation ambassador, he was a perfect cut from the cloth, a shining example of purity and ingenuity, cunning as a fox and holier than thou. He also smoked.

Well, everyone had their faults.

Judging from the shot glasses strewn before him, he had also been drinking, and his hair was a greasy mess, his clothes soiled and frumpy. All this and he fit in just fine. “You wouldn’t know honesty if it walked up to you and introduced itself with a slug of whiskey,” he intoned, charmingly. These were words he meant, and had you seen his even less savory companion, you would have agreed without hesitation. Sitting next to Talbot was a mongrel of an alien, who could best be described as “homely.”

“All the same, I can arrange transport for you,” the alien insisted. “The Federation won’t spring a ride for you off this forsaken rock, I can. Believe it if you want, don’t at your own risk. I would think faith would be your greatest asset.”

“That sort of bullocks is exactly why you’re here and why I wish to leave,” Talbot whispered into his drink. Finishing his swallow, the saint continued, “There’s very little to put your faith in here, even if one were inclined to fling it around so wildly as you would have me.”

“Have it your way,” the alien said, getting up and departing. On the whole, Talbot was pleased to have him leave. A most foul stench. He heard the alien mumble to someone slouched in a seat near the exit. It didn’t concern him. Still, his innocent glance caught their attention, and they made their way to his table.

“Honestly, boys, go home,” Talbot grumbled. The pair did not back off.

“I offered you a ride,” the familiar alien snapped. “The least you could do is show some gratitude.”

“I know your type. I don’t need your ‘help,’” Talbot scoffed. The alien’s friend let off a hardly muffled chuckle, the kind only a Nausicaan can do, and you won’t laugh back at, no matter how silly it sounds. Talbot wanted to laugh in both their faces, perhaps even toss them over the bar. It might knock over the Tribble, however, and the Tribble amused him. No sense dragging it into this scuffle.

“A simple ‘thanks’ will do,” the Nausicaan stated, slapping Talbot on the back. That was enough. Talbot swung around and tossed the Nausicaan over the bar, mindful of the Tribble, of course. His alien “friend” considered for a moment retaliating.

“Some man of peace,” he said in lieu of a physical response, and dashed for the exit, this time actually crossing the threshold.

Talbot gave a quick glance to the stunned Nausicaan, gave a quick nod to the barkeep, downed the rest of his glass, and likewise left. He’d blown his chance tonight at leaving Nimbus III. What could possibly follow?

Some time later Talbot became reacquainted with the Nausicaan. It was ten years later and he was still an ambassador for the Federation and was still on that godforsaken rock. He’d had his shot to leave once, not long after that first encounter in fact, but like a fool, some psychotic hallowed fiend, returned and remained, a realization of his aimlessness prickling the back of his mind. With some sort of stick in hand, the Nausicaan slapped him on the back once more. “Human…play dom-jot?” It was less a request than a very persuasive suggestion.

“Sure thing,” Talbot replied, even though he didn’t have the slightest interest in the game, or in anything else besides drinking nowadays. “I don’t suppose you’re the forgiving kind?”

No reply from the Nausicaan. Ah well, Talbot sighed, on to the game. He lost miserably the first three games, and this amused and did not amuse the Nausicaan. “You are less skilled with your mind than your fist,” he uttered. “Effort.”

This Talbot took as another suggestion. It was just a well; in the last three games he had begun to get the hang of it, and now was confident he could put that effort in and come up with a reasonable amount of success. “Before I go on, is there a scenario where I win and leave with my life intact?”

No reply from the Nausicaan. Talbot put forth the effort, and lost again. “This is all becoming rather mundane,” he sneered, confident in his ability to lose now. He looked around the bar. No one was watching, except for that lone Tribble, which Talbot was surprised to find was still so solitary. It had been some time since he had last gave it consideration. “Look, we can continue on like this forever,” he started.

The Nausicaan cut him off, “Yes, we can.” He let off another of those ridiculous chuckles. “You get what you want.”

Talbot stood frozen on the spot for a moment. “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the insinuation of poetic justice,” he scoffed. “Find yourself another playmate.” Tossing aside his dom-jot stick, he walked over to the bar and ordered a drink. “Round’s on me,” he offered to the Nausicaan, who stayed rooted to the spot. If Talbot could read a Nausicaan face, he might notice a trace of perturbation.

“The Tribble is dead, puny human,” the Nausicaan said, “and so are you.”

“Really,” Talbot calmed stated. “A little less talk would convince me better.” He knew that a single Nausicaan was always less dangerous than a pack of them even in a hole like this. “Now, are you going to have a drink?”

“Dom-jot now,” the Nausicaan said, ignoring Talbot’s offer.

“Sorry friend,” Talbot dismissed, turning to his drink, with a toast to the Tribble. For a moment, he entertained the thought that the Nausicaan would offer up his retaliation at last. This didn’t put Talbot in any kind of rush to finish. It was a good drink, and he took the time to savor it.

Once finished, he paid his tab and turned around. The Nausicaan was nowhere to be seen. All that was left of him was his dom-jot stick, resting in place after a first shot taken. The sun rose on the horizon. Peering out the door, Talbot saw a body and a transport, the cabbie giving him a curt nod. His old friend had come through.

“The fool,” he muttered, and left the forsaken rock at last.

  • "Star Trek: Copernicus - Poseurs in Cold Evening"

On this ship, things were not always as they seemed. This is how they seemed now. Things were bleak. Admiral Gerald Logan had made the unpopular decision to skipper the Copernicus, while Doctor Ethan Chenoweth, who still seemed such a boy to the crew, had taken over his mentor Sokor’s position as chief medical officer. Both were said to be temporary posts, but the present mood indicated that it seemed the two were in for the long haul.

This is something that didn’t just seem a certain way: First Officer Harmon Franzoni’s dejected state. The current gossip had that he was not feeling very secure as commander of the ship, it being no secret that Logan shared little of the love Franzoni’s darkish charm had awarded him from Captain Robin Matheson, who sat in Chenoweth’s sickbay. Every now and again, Franzoni would glance from his perch by Logan’s side on the bridge to Ops, where Lt. Cmdr. Louis Hounsou nodded a conspiratorial agreement at their poor lot. It wasn’t long before the paranoid Logan found a reason to relieve Hounsou of duty and replace him with the more pliable Lt. Dorian Collins.

The Commander’s thought was, how long before I go? Logan, meanwhile, was similarly pensive, though over quite a different set of matters.

“Ambassador, what kind of reception should I be expecting?”

A face turned around from a terminal towards the back of the bridge. It was Vorta, and the man’s name was Mcquarrie. “I wish I could give you a definitive answer,” was all he said, before turning back, further frustrating the Admiral, who seemed to take this as an excuse to put Franzoni to task. These days the only tasks the first officer of the Copernicus could expect were mindless, irrelevant, the kind to keep someone occupied.

“I need a complete diagnostic of the sensor manifold, Commander. We won’t soon be charging into Dominion space without our ship in top shape,” he said, offhandedly. Logan preferred to keep his attention to the main viewer, which he had subjected to a round-the-clock study of the space immediately ahead of them. Many of the crew who had not grown up in space soon grew nauseated, but the life of a space station administrator had long ago dulled the Admiral to his own environment, and the concerns of those around him.

The sentiment he held over the Dominion did not sit well with Mcquarrie, whether because of his present condition or because of what he once was. The Vorta asked to be excused and was granted it without much hesitation. Commander Franzoni took this as an opportunity to relieve himself as well, and Logan held no objections. The two refugees from the bridge shared a turbolift ride, silent because of the awkwardness Mcquarrie seemed to naturally engender. Perhaps a second or two before the shaft was to bring them to Deck Eleven, where the Vorta’s quarters were. Mcquarrie finally breached the waters. “We all run a race, Commander. You will have to make your decisive move sooner or later.”

“Perhaps,” was all Franzoni would allow. With a bow, Mcquarrie departed, and the Commander continued the ride alone. He was headed to Sickbay, where he often found solace now at the foot of Matheson’s bed. Besides Doctor Chenoweth, he knew he would find Crewman Douglas Velar there, serving as specially appointed security for the Captain, who had refused to be treated at Epsilon Station along with the other casualties of the crew’s recent mission, some of which had not survived. “Just here for a brief visit,” he said in greeting as he arrived. His entrance was barely noted by Velar, but Chenoweth rushed to his side like some kind of lap dog.

“Her condition hasn’t improved, I’m afraid, but she’s refused any kind of pain reliever I could proscribe,” he stammered. “Frankly I don’t endorse giving her such liberties. It’s a matter of her personal survival, which I would have a great deal more faith in if she let me do what I thought best.”

“Robin doesn’t work that way, and on this ship, personal opinion still counts,” Franzoni noted. “At least as long as I’m around.” He felt like adding that this development wasn’t really a development at all, but he’d already said everything to Chenoweth that he was inclined to. As far as Chenoweth was concerned, the Commander wasn’t inclined to very much, only to what was strictly necessary. He turned his attention to the stricken captain and stood silent for a moment, which he broke abruptly by turning back around and heading for the exit.

“Commander?” Chenoweth managed.

“I’ve got business to attend to,” Franzoni muttered.

His business, whatever it was, would be the last official activity he pursued as first officer of the Copernicus. Ensign Kit Quintane was waiting for the Commander when he chanced by his quarters, letting Franzoni know immediately that Logan had made his next move. No words were exchanged as Franzoni made the elaborate and unnecessary effort of removing his combadge and giving it to the young security officer before entering his room, where he would serve a voluntary exile. Evidently Quintane’s orders did not include the guarding of these quarters, since he made his exit through a turboshaft the moment Franzoni disappeared behind the sliding doors. This was of no concern to the relieved Commander.

If Logan now had a first officer, that officer would be Chief Engineer John Zimmer, a man who had never showed any particular loyalty to anyone or anything beyond engineering. Zimmer proved to be the recipient of Ambassador Mcquarrie’s sojourn.

“I was told you had retired to your quarters,” Zimmer said in greeting, though not all that interested as he observed a console putting out engine efficiency readings.

“Word travels quickly here?” Mcquarrie replied as he studied the same readings just to the right of Zimmer’s shoulder. “Deck Eleven houses more than just one visitor’s quarters, I believe.”

“So it does.” Lt. Chambers interrupted just then with a report of likely no consequence, giving Zimmer another reason to be distracted. “This looks fine,” he said to Chambers, in a way that also said, next in line please and keep it up.

Mcquarrie persisted. “I do have business here.”

“I’m sure you do. Ensign Riley can help you. She’s just over there.”

“I assumed that the chief engineer would be the one most interested in what I had to say.”

“I am interested. We work as a team here. Whatever you say to one of my engineers, you’re also saying to me, only…you’re not bothering me,” Zimmer said as he walked to a terminal displaying engine readouts.

“There doesn’t seem to be need for this.”

“Need for what?”

“Your rudeness. You’re the chief engineer. You’re the best guess for any visitor to go to.”

“Look, maybe that’s the way it might go with every other chief engineer, every other…Vorta engineer, but that’s not the way it goes with me. Deal with it and go see Ensign Riley. I’m…busy.”

“Does Admiral Logan know you work like this?”

“He should, and come to think of it, so should you, if you’d asked him first. You didn’t, did you?” Zimmer asked as he stopped for the first time and looked his guest in the eye.

“There may be little benefit I can gleam from the Dominion way of operating a ship, but at least its crew members are kept in line. You are extremely arrogant.”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“Admiral Logan is less cooperative than you are. I felt it wise to bring my concerns to you directly.”


“Concerns. The Admiral asked me earlier if there were concerns for the ship as it entered Mund space, and at the time I could not think of any. But there are, and I’m bringing them to you.”

Zimmer spent, or rather wasted in his manner, a moment scrutinizing Mcquarrie. Lt. Chambers came back with another matter, but Zimmer waved him off. Finally, he came to the conclusion that this man was worth his time after all. “Go on.”

The matter Lt. Chambers had been about to bring to Zimmer’s attention was actually a pertinent one. He had been scanning the surrounding region for abnormalities with the Starfleet record, scanty as it was, when he did come up with one. There had been a blip, something many others might have easily overlooked, but that Chambers had latched onto immediately. What he was going to do now was consult Ensign Riley and pray that nothing more would come of it.

Chenoweth stumbled. “I need 20 cc’s” is all he could think of, not what he actually needed. After repeating that in a kind of stutter several times, his nurse gave him what he needed and Captain Matheson earned a further reprieve from the darkness. This display did little to impress Crewman Velar, who continued his silent vigil and watch. The doctor found an immediate excuse to retreat behind closed doors. All he could think of now was, what is wrong with me?


“What is wrong with this situation?” Lt. Chambers absently blurted.

“Excuse me?” Ensign Riley returned, not entirely sure if her reply was strictly necessary.

“Oh, sorry. It was a rhetorical question,” Chambers said, “and what’s more, I didn’t particularly mean to say it aloud. But now that it’s out, what is wrong here? I mean, really.”

“I wasn’t aware that there was a problem.”

“Oh, there is, and not just counting this pa’tagh situation we’re in. I mean the latest one.”

“Someone once said don’t go flying if you’re afraid of the wind.”

“Hah, nice. Okay, more to the point, why are we here?” Literally speaking the answer would be that the pair was at a station in stellar cartography going over the date Chambers had stumbled across. He wasn’t speaking in literal terms, however.

“The Dominion took a lot out of the fleet. That’s why we’re here and not…there.”

“The Dominion…It feels like I got a raise I didn’t want in the first place. We don’t even get paid. And I wouldn’t call this a promotion. More like the dirty work.”

“What would you know about dirty work, Duddy? This is probably the first time you’ve ever had to follow up on one of your own discoveries. Think of it as your world expanding.”

“What a beautiful picture you paint for me. Well, with Zimmer first officer, I guess there’s going to be more where that came from.”

“That’s if the Admiral manages to get him in a cooperative mood anytime soon. Or find him, for that matter. Last I saw, he was cavorting with the Vorta.”

“How long have you been wanting to say that? Anyway, Zimmer can’t be with the Vorta anymore. I heard from Crewman Hycrest that the Vorta is know visiting the Klingon ambassador.”

“We have a Klingon ambassador aboard?”


Dinner time. It was one of the few moments Logan felt spared of the burden he had taken upon himself. Not tonight, however. Tonight he was entertaining Mcquarrie and the aforementioned Klingon ambassador, who went by the name Moztar, and it was going to require him to maintain the guise of someone who had complete control of the situation, something he’d picked up ever since departing Epsilon Station. “Gentlemen,” he said as he raised his glass, “to better horizons.”

“Indeed,” Moztar enjoined, raising a glass he wished was filled with blood wine instead of a human “chateau.” The Klingon wasted precious little effort in manners as he finished the glass in one gulp and set it down, next to a plate filled with food that did not move. “To better horizons,” he muttered as he contemplated whether or not to give his host the courtesy of not throwing his plate to the deck. He instead turned to Mcquarrie. “Does the Dominion still hold grand designs for Klingons?”

“None that they will soon again make so public as their last,” Mcquarrie said as he played with the chicken Alfredo sitting on his own plate. “Remember to keep your respect for Lateen. He is still is some way my counterpart, and I owe him a measure of civility.”

“You Vorta. You would know everything of civility, wouldn’t you,” Moztar challenged. “As your honey-dipped civility comes out your mouth, your true intent is released from the weapon of your Jem’Hadar protectors. I would almost say it was cunning, if there wasn’t so little honor in it.”

“Gentlemen, please,” Logan implored. “This is a mission of diplomacy. You can tear each other apart after we’ve returned if you like, but for now we’re just going to have to get along.”

Moztar gave it consideration with a snort, and replied, “Certainly. We will have it your way.” Mcquarrie remained silent. The dinner proceeded without any further conversation. Moztar’s plate was not emptied at the table.


Chenoweth assigned his nurse to continue the treatments of Captain Matheson before clocking out for the night. It was Velar’s accusing eyes that he couldn’t get over. He wasn’t responsible for this situation, why would the crewman act like he was? The doctor was not going to get any sleep that night.

Someone else didn’t sleep that night. Moztar busied himself composing a record of events. He wasn’t losing sleep; he was merely preoccupied. Here are his words:

“I suppose it all began when I heard that the outcast had been killed, without honor as it stands. There is no reason to bog this record with the offenses the outcast performed in life that led him to such a path; it will suffice to say that the outcast would not have been welcomed even in the home of the lowliest house in my province. I rejoiced, yes rejoiced when I heard the news of his death! It was a day to celebrate for the Empire, though no self-respecting house brought his name up for a toast. The Barge of the Dead carried him to his rightful place as the living breathed a sigh of relief that this…stain was now gone!

“His dishonor had carried him to Starfleet. Klingons no longer hold Starfleet in disdain, yet this does not mean that we will soon offer up our own for their ranks. Let Kahless come before that day! And in Starfleet the outcast was not even given the dignity of a commission as an officer. No, he was denied entrance to their Academy and had instead to enlist. Enlist! Thus he was disposed in the most dishonorable assignments Starfleet could give him.

“That is how he found himself on the Mund home world. No doubt Starfleet knew exactly what it was doing, and was looking to rid itself of garbage. One does not tread Dominion space lightly, not even now. There is…something in the air. I’m not sure what it is. The Empire is not interested.

“He remained a prisoner there for over a year, during which time a Vorta named Lateen performed a procedure on him and others, including a native of that world who is now aboard this Starfleet vessel I’m traveling in. This procedure had the remarkable effect of transforming the physiology of the outcast and the others…into Vorta. This outcome is far from favorable for the Empire, yet the procedure had a high rate of rejection by the subjects’ bodies. The outcast was on the verge of death when Starfleet finally made its entrance.

“It proved to be a mistake. The captain of this vessel and its doctor were both incapacitated when an uprising of the experiment’s subjects, some of whom were dying just like the outcast, disrupted negations between the Starfleet officers and the Vorta Lateen. In a last noble if also futile gesture, the outcast spared his captain and doctor from death, or at least immediate death. Even with an act most Klingons would consider without a moment’s hesitation to be an honorable one, the outcast failed. He brought shame to us all, again and again. It pains me to speak of him. It also pains me to employ this Starfleet ‘log’ method of recording my thoughts.

“The Mund who underwent the procedure with the outcast and was purported to have become his only ally in those months of captivity had been destined to be the final agent of his demise. This man’s name was Mcquarrie, and I will speak of him again. Lateen had taken him under his wing, and his act of trust had been to murder his friend, but the uprising prevented it from occurring. How fitful that Mcquarrie had been ready to perform the act, that he had brought himself to kill his own friend. How fitting that the outcast had been slated to be betrayed by his only friend. How regretful that it was not meant to be.

“Of all the subjects, Mcquarrie was the only one to be truly transformed. He was the only one to make the transition to becoming a Vorta. Out of thousands! This must necessarily weigh on his conscience, but on this mission I have had the opportunity to acquaint myself personally with him, and my conclusion is that he no longer possesses such a thing. He is an automaton! I doubt he even cares what happened! I doubt he even cares that he would have killed his friend!

“He is a man I cannot trust. Earlier today he came to me, requesting conference. I denied him. I have grown to disgust the man. I hesitate to call him such a thing! I was closer to the truth in my earlier statement as to his being. We are going to resume talks with Lateen, and I am to represent the Empire, as if we are in need of reparations! We are the beneficiates of a great favor, in the death of the outcast, but here I am, pressured by Starfleet to attend. It amuses me!”

This record being concluded, Moztar uncorked a bottle of his precious blood wine and drank himself into a stupor.

Evening passed onboard the Copernicus. Chambers and Riley had long turned in their report when the night shift profited from it. Admiral Logan remained on the bridge, refusing sleep while they entered Dominion space. The Mund homeworld loomed even as Ambassador Mcquarrie stole a shuttle while Lt. Collins scrambled to report over Lt. Fonden’s simultaneous exclamation.

“Shuttle launching, sir!”

“Ship waiting in cloak, just as we thought!”

“Damn!” Logan let out. “Get a lock on the shuttle with a tractor beam, and sit on it for now, Lt.”

“Aye,” came the chorus.

Noticeably struggling with his next command, Logan then called for Commander Franzoni to be recalled from the earlier dismissal.

“On my way,” the grim voice of Franzoni came from Collins’ Ops terminal. Logan then called for Zimmer. The Klingon would be left out of it.

“Sir, I’m detecting weapons coming online aboard the Jem’Hadar vessel,” Fonden reported.

“Do we have Mcquarrie yet, Lt. Collins?” Logan deferred.

“He’s proving difficult, Sir. The shuttle is running through all the evasive patterns I’ve ever heard of.”

“Then we can’t raise shields,” Logan replied to Fonden. “The lion lays with the lamb. Nelson,” now calling on the Con officer,” see if you can’t outmaneuver this joker. It’s going to be a helluva day for me at Command if I fail here.”

“Chances are minimal,” Franzoni’s voice from behind Logan replied. The Commander entered the bridge along with Zimmer. “Mcquarrie runs, we catch him. It’s that simple. He isn’t going anywhere, not after letting us know how to track a Vorta of his kind.”

“Besides that,” Zimmer chimed in, “we know how to track the Jem’Hadar.”

“The trouble is, we could end up going to hell in a hand basket before we have a chance for any of that,” Logan said. “That’s Jem’Hadar out there, not the Pakleds.”

“Jem’Hadar ship, not Jem’Hadar,” Franzoni corrected. “Bio readings?”

“One Vorta,” Fonden reported.

“One guess,” Nelson said, still concentrating at the helm. “Any easier now?”

“A little bit,” Collins replied.

“Lateen,” Logan mouthed. “Has our ‘ambassador’ been a double agent all this time? We’re not going to give him such a possibility. Lt. Fonden, ready photon torpedoes.”

“Belay that, Lt,” Franzoni ordered. “We don’t know what he’s going to do.”

“I think it’s reasonable to assume he’s hostile!” Logan shouted. “Don’t make me remove you again! Zimmer, help Collins get a lock on our ambassador’s signature. Get him out of that shuttle if you have to.”

“Too late,” Collins stated. “The Jem’Hadar vessel has gone to warp. Our shuttle is now empty.”

The bridge stood still. “Tow it back,” Logan ordered quietly, amidst the continuing silence. “See if you can’t follow the signature.” Franzoni gave one smart look and then made his way to the turbolift. Zimmer remained, and took his seat by Logan.

Franzoni arrived in sickbay shortly thereafter. Chenoweth remained on duty, but he was now keeping his nurses in charge of monitoring Captain Matheson. Crewman Velar still stood in watch.

“Captain? Robin, I know you can’t hear me. Today was…a difficult one. It might have been the last one Logan spends in command. It might even be the last one he spends as an officer. I don’t know. I know he was your mentor, your friend, but as commander of a starship, he was no friend or mentor of mine, or anyone else onboard this ship. Maybe he’ll still be commanding it tomorrow, but the Copernicus seems like a ship out of water. You have left it rudderless, and Logan has failed to straight it. I know this much: I’ve failed you, failed you in serving your friend as well as I’ve served you. But I can’t leave him. Not now. His evening is cold, and all I am is a poseur, pretending to be second officer. Zimmer is, in practice anyway, but I still have my commission, and am duty-bound to serve my captain. I can’t let you down. I won’t.”

As the ship slowly watched its prey slip into the starry night, course corrections set it back to Epsilon Station, where its crew would regroup and face another day.


  • "Hollen’Das"

I can feel it, the Gathering. I always wonder if the Seeing Stones glow around this time, if there’s any significant difference to their appearance. I’ve never asked. I’ve never thought to. When you live your life as I do, you tend to overlook certain aspects of it in favor of those that seem more important. I think this is the first time I’ve even thought about it. How often does one of my people think of this? We don’t keep records. We never have. Something about the experience itself intrigues us. Other races have always been curious about us. We’re the same way, and this intrigues them further still. We try to counter that we’ve all different in our unique way. They usually shrug this thought off by explaining that we’re as different as they come. My experience has taught me that perhaps they’re right.

I’ve been hard at work observing such differences for some time now. I joined Starfleet just so I could do that. All of the knowledge, the skills other cadets fretted over, it was a mere technicality for me. It’s said my people must have a particular knack for that, a special adaptation, given our manner of living, that gives us an advantage, lets us get on with other things more easily. We aren’t bogged down by the details. Maybe that’s why we study them more intimately. We’re called the Mists. We have no name for ourselves (that’s perhaps another thing we haven’t gotten around to that others might find more important). It’s not that we’re mists when we’re in existence, but more like a description for the period of transition. That’s what I’m in right now.

I can’t ascribe feeling to it. I can’t feel anything, can’t see anything. It’s more like a budding awareness. Sometimes I’m asked whether it’s like being born. I have no reply to that.

“After all these years…”

“Ten,” Doctor Sokor said.

“Ten years. It doesn’t seem that long,” Captain Robin Matheson said. “We’re had our share of rough times. The crew isn’t quite what it was, or has been. But she…was home, throughout it all. I’ve been attached to a starship like I have theCopernicus, not even with my first command.”

“Obelisk had a short life,” Sokor noted.

“Pity a Cardassian couldn’t be present,” Lt. Commander John Zimmer said. “Their kind seems to have had a hand in every other major event in this ship’s life.”

“To the Copernicus,” Lt. Commander Louis Hounsou said, raising his glass, which met the others to a chorus of “here here’s.”

“I’ve been with this crew such a short time,” Commander Eliot Lucas said, after they’d taken a solemn draught. “But the mutual admiration was the first thing I noticed.”

“That was always something…I tried to facilitate,” Matheson said. “To lost sheep.” Another clinking of glasses.

“Epsilon isn’t going to be holding a decommissioning ceremony?” Lt. Commander Joel Nelson asked. “Logan isn’t--”

“He still deserves our respect. It’s Admiral Logan,” Matheson said.

“The Admiral is no longer running things there. You’d think Starfleet would show a little gratitude for this ship’s service,” Nelson continued.

“It is not our place to expect gratitude for doing our duty,” Sokor said.

“Still…” Nelson began, but seemed to lose his thought process. “Copernicus is the only ship I’ve ever served on. You’ll forgive me if I don’t know the usual procedure.”

“I don’t think there is a usual procedure,” Hounsou said.

“If there is, I don’t know about it,” Zimmer said. “But then, I don’t usually bother myself with such things…”

“When will the Salient be rendezvousing with us?” Hounsou enquired.

“In a matter of hours. At least Rivera will be able to say his farewell,” Matheson said. "As I recall, he was always fond of this ship.”

“He believed that its command would one day come to him,” Sokor said. “Curious that he held such an expectation.”

“Oh?” Zimmer said.

“The lifespan of a Starfleet vessel is well-documented,” Sokor noted.

“All the same, Lewis was in love, and love can confuse you,” Matheson said. “I almost wish he weren’t coming.”

“Speaking of arrivals, is Commander Kevles going to be joining us today or tomorrow?” Nelson wondered.

“She said she was busy finishing up her reports,” Matheson said. “Besides, she’s got enough on her hands, deciding on a new assignment.”

“At least she has a choice,” Zimmer said. “The stories I’ve heard about the Planetia Yards…”

“They’d be liable to haunt even your grandkids, without having to be told them, we know,” Nelson joked.

“Vulcan has been invading your dreams, Doctor. I can see it in your eyes,” Matheson said.

“That is a human notion. Nevertheless, you are correct,” Sokor said.

“Has anyone noticed what time of year it is?” Hounsou suddenly said.

“December. On Earth we’d call it--” Nelson began.

“Oh my god. I nearly forgot,” Matheson said. And with that, the impromptu ceremony broke up, the Captain making her way to Deck 12. With any luck, she hadn’t missed it.

“Welcome aboard, Ensign,” the Captain smiled. She was, by all accounts, standing before a perfectly ordinary humanoid individual, one with a bump on its forehead the shape of a whistle. Although the head, by human standards, lacking hair as it did, belied its gender, Matheson knew Hollen’Das to be female. Her skin was the color of finest porcelain, which only further caused those who didn’t understand her kind to consider such a life to be fragile. She wasn’t.

“Captain,” she beamed warmly. “As they say, ‘it’s been awhile.’ Permission to come aboard.”

“Permission granted,” Matheson said. “Hollen, how are you?”

“As fit as I was the last time you saw me. I hope the same is with you and the crew?”

“Oh, we’re managing. Do have many plans for the coming weeks?”

“Same as always. I hope you’ve had those upgrades,” Hollen said. “The last time I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at, much less begin to make productive notes on the microcellular structure. Thank goodness that’s not all I was working on. If you haven’t gotten the upgrades yet, I’m more than willing to see what I can do about that. Oh, there’s so much to do…”

“Come now, I was always under the impression that you experienced your solid days much as anyone else,” Matheson said. “You are never more busy than any other crewmember. And that I mean in the most respectful way.”

“You’re right, Captain,” Hollen said. “But the prospect always seems a little overwhelming. There’s something I’m curious about.”


“I know how I’ve in the past insisted that the Gathering is a private matter.”

“We’ve always tried to keep it that way.”

“And for that I am grateful,” Hollen said. She looked about her quarters for a moment, stalling for time, giving it some thought. One does not ask important questions lightly, and certainly not ones that approach the nature of one’s existence. They only think they do, caught in the immensity of it. “Captain, were you here just now?”

“How do you mean?”

“Were you present when I materialized?”

“I thought you didn’t want that? We keep a detail outside your quarters around this time, especially when there are visitors, but your quarters are always your own,” Matheson said.

“It’s just that…You were standing here when I opened my eyes. I’m wondering if you chanced to see what the Stones looked like.”

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever given a thought to them,” Matheson said. “This whole experience has become so natural. You want to know if anything changes.”

“Exactly,” Hollen said. She walked to the door, watched as the two halves slid open, and paused under the threshold. “It’s nothing, really.”

“It’s got to be something,” Matheson said, following the Ensign into the corridor.

“It’s not, just a passing fancy. There’s always another time.”

“There’s something you should know,” Matheson said. “Perhaps we should go to the Observation Lounge.”


“Life has become a little more complicated.”

It takes a while to get used to it. Anyone who’d worked with her since she first came aboard seven years ago wouldn’t notice it now. Strange as it may seem, they’ve gotten entirely used to their perennial crewmate, oddities and all, despite the long absences. One could say they’d begun to depend on Hollen, as another normalizer in a lifestyle the humans among them still cannot claim as quite normal. Some, it can readily be stated, looked forward to each new season, as they’d come to calling to her visits. Hollen really wasn’t visiting, but this was the one hang-up, and everyone agreed that it was a reasonable one. To expect every difference to be overlooked is to overreach. You could say the crew celebrated this one, actually.

As Captain Matheson and her Mist officer made their way to a turboshaft that would bring them to the appropriate deck onboard the Copernicus, they came upon more than a few personnel who had never before encountered Hollen. Like Commander Lucas, they were recent additions to ship’s complement, and so this was their first glimpse. Some openly gawked.

The reason for this is quite natural. Though it cannot be said that Hollen was physically any different than the next humanoid in uniform, including the absence of a glow that she found intriguing about the Seeing Stones, she did leave behind her a wake, an echo, of such a phenomenon whenever she moved. Matheson was immune to its moth-to-the-fire effects, of course. The Captain barely noticed it now, and had long ceased to think of it in wonder. When Hollen first came aboard she’d had Sokor run a few tests, in a token gesture to appease wary coworkers, and when it was concluded decisively that this remnant was not in the least bit harmful to those who might step into it, Hollen made her first steps into the family, not as an outsider looking in but as a thoroughly welcomed member of it.

“Morning,” Matheson said as they passed one such crew member, Lt. Geffen, who was himself somewhat of an oddity, being one of a handful of Pakleds in Starfleet.

“Wish I had something like that,” he said in reply, before he could help himself. Geffen made an embarrassed nod toward Hollen in hasty apology and scurried past them, almost at a sprint. Hollen found herself amused despite herself, as she’d become accustomed to being at comparable first encounters.

“What does he do?” she asked the Captain.

“Besides annoy Commander Zimmer? Collect samples of the dilithium crystals for efficiency analysis.”

“I remember that was one of the first duties Zimmer assigned me to,” Hollen laughed. And he’s--”

“Lt. Geffen,” Matheson said.

“Lt. Geffen’s a lieutenant.”

“He’s had some trouble with authority, but otherwise he’s a good officer. I’m told he’s applied to Starbase 47 for his next assignment.”

“Well good luck to him! Next assignment…”

Neither spoke for a minute. They’d reached the turboshaft anyway, and as was unusual had to wait for it. The silence became awkward, and Matheson began to experience feelings of guilt, however irrational she knew them to be. “I’m sure your skills will be welcomed anywhere you’re interested in,” she said at last, though she knew she was dodging the real issue. She knew that Hollen had guessed, but was now concerned that her observation had been out of place.

“Captain…” was all Hollen could manage, and just as the turboshaft doors spewed Lt. Quintane, who gave the pair a polite nod, apparently not noticing Hollen’s radiance. The Captain and the ensign entered the turbolift silently.

“Who should I expect to meet?” Hollen asked as the lift buzzed them along.

“I’ve asked for the command team to assemble,” Matheson said. “But I should warn you, there’ve been changes in it since you were last with us.”

“Another security chief? Nothing new there,” Hollen said.

“If only…”

They arrived to a conference room decorated with a viewscreen featuring the face of a familiar individual. He smiled, slightly, but it was evident that the smile was an attempt to divert attention from his frowning eyes. The last time the crew had seen him, and for a good while before that, this had been a man filled with such attempts at concealment. No one was fooled, and now neither was Hollen.

“You’re out of uniform,” she said.

“Have been for a few months now,” the man on the screen said.

Commander Lucas began to say something, but then stopped himself, no doubt at the behest of a different set of eyes, which belonged to the Captain. This was not an easy moment, and did not feature the intimate breathing room the two now in conversation would have liked.

“Come to say goodbye?”

“To all of you, yes,” the man lied.

“It’s good to see you,” Hounsou interjected, and for a moment the room didn’t know whom this was directed to. Very soon the rest of the command crew was offering its own greetings to Hollen, while the man on the screen looked off view absently.

“Long time no see,” Zimmer said, trying to apply his charm, which he believed was a good tension reliever. As a doctor, Sokor was skeptical, and perhaps as a Vulcan, too. The others were in the custom of letting it slide, letting Zimmer believe what he wanted to.

“Seems like just yesterday,” Hollen said, truthfully, and everyone got the joke.

“Ensign Hollen’Das, I am Lieutenant Commander Susan Kevles,” greeted the new chief of security. “I’m sure my predecessors would be happy to be here as well.”

“You enjoy procedure, don’t you Commander?” Kevles was the only one present wearing her dress uniform.

“Yes,” Kevles decided to respond, and then drifted away.

“It’s good to see you again,” Nelson said, with a hug.

“Likewise. It seems you’ve kept yourself out of trouble!”

“Oh, I try from time to time,” Nelson said.

“He’s been good,” Matheson agreed.

“And that’s always good to hear,” Hollen said with a wink.

“I had considerable shoes to fill,” Lucas said.

“That you did,” Hollen said, looking toward the screen.

“I suppose I left them clean,” Harm said, managing to inhabit a gameful spirit. But on the screen he still looked like he was ready to end the transmission at any moment. The room started to not notice.

“For a ship that’s about to decommissioned, there’s still plenty for you to do,” Zimmer said, correctly guessing that Hollen knew. “It seems Starfleet would like us back in one piece, and preferably one that we should all be proud of. Not that we aren’t already.”

“I never knew you to not be proud of her,” Hollen said. “I’ll be in engineering as soon as possible. How long until we reach spacedock?”

“Oh, I think we have a little more time before work,” Matheson said. “You may only have a few weeks, but that’s no reason to spend it recalibrating some instrument or other. Three days and we’ll be saying goodbye to Copernicus.”

“Leisurely pace?” Hollen asked the pilot.

“Leisurely pace,” Nelson said. “There’s no rush.”

“Perhaps you have some final experiments to perform in sickbay?” Sokor inquired.

“I do, actually. Thank you,” Hollen said.

“Some time in the future, then,” Harm said. “I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Of course,” Hollen said, and the man in the viewscreen vanished, replaced by the Starfleet emblem. And for the first time in a long while, Harmon Franzoni dictated the course of action aboard the ship. All but Hollen, Matheson, and Lucas remained behind, the others dispersing to their regular duties. A few words on the status of Copernicus, and Hollen’s career, and soon the Observation Lounge was abandoned.

Hollen’Das began her season.

  • "The Still Imploring Flame"


And in the deafening silence there was a man. He was surrounded by the ghosts of all those he had known, and they were the worst form imaginable. They spoke to him. They were created by him. And they did not leave him alone. The torment he now experienced became unto him as a greater plague than that which had created them.

The last thing Hollen thought she’d spend her time doing was tracking down a Starfleet vessel. Yet that’s precisely what she’d spent the last week doing. Lt. Oliver MacDonald had assisted her when it became clear that Commander Zimmer was not going to give up his maintenance work easily. As far as the chief engineer was concerned, there was a clear priority. Let others wonder about wayward ships. His own ship, however near it was to retirement, needed him.

Hollen and MacDonald were surprised when their efforts led them to Bajoran space. The rest of the fleet had been helpful in pinning down the Salient’s last known assignment (the new first officer, Commander Lucas, allowed Captain Matheson to keep the situation out of Command’s radar by cashing in a few handy favors with a surprisingly abundant source of past shipmates on a number of ships). It had been to the Gamma Quadrant, on a diplomatic mission to Mund, no doubt in another futile effort to smooth over relations. Captain Rivera had been expected back weeks ago, to make his rendezvous with the Copernicus, but when he was tardy (which Matheson claimed he’d never been in all the years she’d known him) those he was meant to meet went in search of him to do the same.

“She’s adrift, Sir,” MacDonald reported.

“At least she’s in one piece,” Matheson said. “Right?”

“She is,” Hollen affirmed.

“Do we have any readings?”

“Commander Hounsou is working on that,” Hollen said. “We should know soon enough.”

“What have you managed to learn of her recent assignment?”

“Captain Rivera was hosting a Romulan I’m told you’re familiar with,” Commander Lucas, also present at the briefing. “Former Senator Tavol.”

“Former,” Matheson mused. “I thought they held that position for life.”

“Usually right up until they’re assassinated,” Lucas said, with an improper grin, which he soon corrected himself on. “In extreme circumstances, they can lose office.”

“Was he acting in service to the Empire?”

“As far as we can tell. With Romulans it’s always hard to nail the specifics.”

“We know a few things,” Matheson said. She had become distant, distracted. It didn’t take long to realize what was troubling her.

“Captain, let’s not assume the worst…” Hollen tried to comfort.

“I could try,” Matheson said with a forced smile. She was alerted by the computer. “Matheson here.”

Hounsou here. We’re got our readings. You’d better come to the bridge.

Joel Nelson at the con had the distinct impression that his captain reported to the bridge in record time on this occasion. He had his own reasons to be eager about Hounsou’s news, but he busied himself at his console, appearing perfectly oblivious to the urgency of the matter. He’d spent a good part of his life downplaying events. When you experienced the sort of things he had lived through, this instinct came in handy. It was insulation from bad news.

“Power is at thirty percent capacity. Warp engines are inoperative. There are numerous hull breaches…There’s only one lifesign,” Hounsou recited, grimly. “She’s got impulse, but for all intents and purposes, the Salient’s dead in the water.”

“Prepare an away team,” Matheson managed.

The blighted man peered as if into the light at the end of the tunnel. Until recently he might have modified by calling it a proverbial one. Yet he had seen death, and it ate at his very soul. In this protracted moment, all his life’s doubts had fled from him. Wynton Keynes, late of his own freighter operation, late of the crew of the Salient, knew not that his friend was the source of this confounding light.

And this friend was not yet aware of this man, who had lived the horrors most could scarcely consider even in their worst nightmares. There were obstructions. Wynton’s crewmates, they were piled atop of him, and they knew not pleasantries of hospitality. They had never expected to host their comrade in such a morbid embrace.

“I will take care of it,” came the voice of one Wynton did not know. But he was amazed at the radiance dancing before him, and was convinced he had let slip this coil.

“Where…are my loved ones,” he murmured, his only thoughts now on those things he had been taught as a child. He had grown up in space; so much of his life had not been what humans would consider normal. But it had been his family tradition, and so it had been normal enough for him. Those things once associated with Earth had been transposed, and right now he held firm his belief, hoping he was not being deceived, through one last, cruel joke on the universe’s part.

“It’s okay,” the luminescent one said.

“Hang in there, buddy,” the one with the other, less natural light reassured. Here was a voice Wynton recognized. Perhaps it was true after all. But the experience was not at all as he’d expected. He felt a certain joy, even a relief. It felt so natural, like he was being born again. He began to relish it, let go of his torment.

He focused on the angel.

“Our sins, those we inherited and carried with us from our fathers and gave to our sons, we offer them up,” he murmured, reciting from memory. “They were our companion and our suffering, yet without them the power and the glory could not have become ours.” It had been a long time since he last meditated on the meaning of those words. Now the power and the glory were truly his. He began to let go.

And opened his eyes again to greater light.

“Stay with me, Wynton,” the familiar voice urged. There was more, but he didn’t hear it. We haven’t come to rescue you just so you could die on us. Emergency transport, two to beam directly to sickbay.

And with that, he made what he thought was his final transition.

“I don’t imagine you’ve had many opportunities to meet one of them, rare as they are in the company of offworlders. Ensign, meet Dr. Qurtz, the second Denobulan I’ve managed to host here onboard the Copernicus,” Matheson said.

“On loan, this time,” Qurtz added.

“Of course,” said the Captain.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Hollen said. There was unpleasant business ahead, sorting out the fate of theSalient crew. They were in sickbay now, Lt. Nelson, Hollen, Wynton Keynes, and Keynes’ deceased shipmates. “Although the circumstances could be better.”

“Nonsense,” Qurtz replied. “There’s a time and place for everything, and meeting new people is one of those rare occasions when that maxim doesn’t apply. You may not have seen a Denobulan before. I’ve never seen one of your kind either. A happy coincidence, and indeed a pleasure.”

“Might I remind present company that this is not a social event?” This was Dr. Sokor, who was in this room the oldest of Matheson’s acquaintances, one of a handful from the ship’s original complement still remaining. He never failed to remind her that he was in fact a Vulcan, though in the Captain’s mind any major differences in culture had long ago faded to the background, and what remained was a dear friend’s endearing forthrightness.

“Thank you, Sokor, but we hadn’t,” she said. Crewman Keynes was stable at the moment, but still in critical shape, both from the psychological trauma he’d experienced and from the effects of whatever had ravaged his ship. The one-hundred-and-eighty-seven bodies filling three cargo bays, all but unidentifiable, were at the moment incapable of shedding any light on the matter. “Ship’s complement was a hundred and eighty-seven, including its Romulan guest” Matheson noted. “How did we end up an additional corpse? If there was an invading force involved, shouldn’t there have been more casualties from it?”

“A logical assumption,” Sokor noted. “However, since the facts do not support the theory, a new one must be found.”

“No offense, but that’s obvious, Sokor,” Joel Nelson said. It was also obvious that Nelson was agitated. His friend was dying, and he was only now beginning to imagine what Wynton’s last thoughts might have been.

“At this point, nothing is obvious,” Hollen interjected.

“Agreed,” Sokor said. “I suggest we proceed.”

“You see to the living, Doctor. I’ll, ah, care for the dead,” Qurtz said. “This particular conundrum is well-suited to my expertise. A handful of assistants is all I ask for.”

“Granted,” Sokor said.

Hollen left with the Captain, leaving behind Sokor, Qurtz’s giddy preparations, and Nelson. “Life aboard a starship can be dangerous,” she said.

“We all know the risks,” Matheson said.

“It can’t become any easier,” Hollen said.

“It doesn’t,” Matheson said. They walked in silence for a while. “During the Dominion War, it became a perverse ritual to pour over the latest casualty lists, picking out old friends and acquaintances, shipmates you’d long ago left behind, people you never expected to see again. And when it sank in that you really weren’t going to, the sadness hit, more so than when you had first read their names. As the weeks went by, the lists seemed to carry more and more familiar names, until it seemed everyone you had ever known had been killed in an increasingly senseless-sounding conflict. It became harder to read the lists, and yet the harder it got the more you wanted to read the latest casualty reports, as if to affirm the sadness, to let it consume you. Soon it wasn’t just the war, but your very life that seemed meaningless.

“That was the worst of the war, the worst grief I ever experienced. And when I look back, I can’t help but realize. Half the grief was a mere figment of my imagination. I had exaggerated the number of familiar names, to justify my own sense of hopelessness.”

Hollen continued to walk alongside the Captain. She didn’t know where they were going, and right now she didn’t care. Some time later she found herself working alongside Qurtz in his efforts to identify the bodies.

“You’d think Starfleet life was one disaster after another, to examine this ship’s history,” Qurtz said. “I don’t mean to make light of the crew’s misfortunes, mind you.”

“Until now, I seem to have avoided them,” Hollen said.

“They were infrequent enough,” Qurtz said. “It’s not surprising, really. One moment the crew is just another in a fleet, off on some mundane mission cataloguing scientific curios, and the next they’re caught in something bigger than themselves. They were a casualty of the times.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘casualty,’ exactly.”

“Humans are very rarely that, I suppose.”

“Tell that to Wynton Keynes.”

“I see no reason why Mr. Keynes shouldn’t make a full recovery. And this crew has certainly been resilient.”

“To a point,” Hollen said.

“Then it’s a good thing that one way or another the Copernicus will be retired after this,” Qurtz said. “Two cargo bays down, one to go.” Hollen’s time was drawing near. She had spent another half a week going through the first two bays with Qurtz. One way or another, like her ship, Hollen was soon going to meet an end.

Hounsou was seated at a console on the pallid bridge of the U.S.S. Salient. He was staring at the screen, his fingers passively resting on buttons he’d been using to call up ship’s logs. He had Ensigns Del Solar and Manigua working with him, and given the state of things, they’d been at it for as long as Hollen and Qurtz as the ship’s former occupants slowly became identified. Strictly speaking, the mystery was still mysterious, but not for lack of trying. Progress didn’t happen all at once.

“You’d think someone meant to do this,” he said to neither of the two ensigns.

“Well, maybe someone did,” Del Solar said. “I mean, stranger things have happened. It’s already a strange situation.”

“Don’t encourage him,” Manigua said.

“And who was that directed to, Ensign?” Hounsou asked.

“Take your pick,” Manigua replied. “All I know is, I’ve got a job to do, so one way or another, whatever the results, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“And the human equation is thrown into imbalance,” Del Solar said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Manigua asked with more force than he meant.

“It means, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t impose irrational speculation, impressions, into any given scenario,” Del Solar orated. “I think it’s that Mund slash Vorta we tangled with. He left us high and dry, and we’ve never gotten any answers about where he went, what he ended up doing, why he did what he did. But there’s plenty of other possibilities. An impartial entity, for instance. And meanwhile, it’s tedious work. Why not voice exactly what we think?”

“Because it puts us – or at the very least me – in a state of agitation,” Manigua said.

“Everything is in a state of agitation, everyone is in a state of agitation,” Del Solar reasoned. He said this as he and Manigua worked on various dormant consoles, so they were periodically sitting down, getting up, moving to other stations, all while debating the finer points of reality.

“Mind your work,” Hounsou remarked.

“We are,” Del Solar said.

“Of course we are,” Manigua agreed. There was a beep. Hounsou tapped his combadge.

Bridge team. This is Engineering team.

“Bridge team here,” Hounsou replied.

Hounsou, we’ve got something interesting down here. The voice belonged to Commander Lucas, who was working alongside Ensign Riley and Lt. Chambers, whom Zimmer had deemed expendable in his continuing efforts to perfect his niche aboard the Copernicus. Lucas had once been an engineer, and already talked to Copernicus Crewman Douglas Velar about his own experiences by way of encouragement. Though being the third first officer of any starship was never good luck, Eliot Lucas was fast making himself at home. Even though that home would soon be gone and the family split up.

None of this was going through Hounsou’s mind, however. After making sure his charges were set in their work, he made his way to Engineering.

“I think we’ve made a breakthrough,” Lucas said in greeting. “And it’s not inside the ship, but out.”

“The Salient took aboard another passenger,” Hounsou reported to Captain Matheson. “Ship’s logs have been able to confirm what Dr. Qurtz has discovered. What’s more, we know the narrative.”

Matheson sat at the head of the briefing table in the Observation Lounge. Seated around her were Hounsou, Commander Lucas, Dr. Qurtz, Hollen, and Dr. Sokor. As was usual, Lt. Commander Kevles was on her way, this time delayed by unusually necessary business. “I don’t mean to be crass, but it’s about time,” the Captain enthused.

“Indeed,” Qurtz said. “Ensign Hollen and I have completed our registry, and our stray body has been accounted for. I can’t think of a better way for our toil to reach its end.”

“Let’s have it, then,” Matheson said.

“Shortly after arriving in the Gamma Quadrant, Captain Rivera received a transmission from Mund stating that the talks would not be taking place on the home world, but on a moon the Mund, through the Vorta, had taken over as a colony some months ago. He grew somewhat cautious after this development, since Ner is inhabited, its natives part of quadrant lore. They’re called the Ziph-Abish, and what little is known of them is this: the Dominion approached them during the war in search of adding to their military forces, but was turned down. The Ziph-Abish are isolationists. Though they never supported the Dominion, the Founders were always keen for it. Why is not known.

“Their reputation was thus, until the end of the war. They apparently cut themselves off entirely from offworlders. So when the Vorta, in their recent efforts to expand the Dominion, effectively annexed their world, everyone was expecting some kind of conflict. It never came,” Hounsou reported.

“That’s all very fascinating,” Matheson said,” but what does it have to do with the fate of the Salient?”

“The Mund sent along an emissary to direct her to Ner. To Rivera’s surprise, this emissary turned out to be human. His name was Giorgio Jacobi.”

“You should, ah, see him now,” Qurtz said. "Aside from DNA taken from the walls of his left ventricle, you’d hardly recognize him.”

“The narrative continues,” Hounsou said. “Through Rivera’s logs, we were able to trace the events that led to the incident which decimated the Salient. He was at first puzzled that Mr. Jacobi and Tavol would get along so well. In fact, the entire trip to Ner, they spent in the mess hall, regaling each other and diners who happened to be there at the same time with stories that had the whole ship talking within a day. Rivera remarked that he’d ‘never seen the crew in such good spirits. You’d think we were headed to shore leave instead of on a diplomatic mission in potentially hostile territory.’ There was no way to suspect what was coming next. When they reached Ner, Jacobi insisted on taking Tavol and Rivera with him as he made the initial contact with the Mund governor. Rivera returned to the ship soon afterward, complained in his log that something didn't seem right, but then greeted Jacobi, Tavol, and the Mund governor aboard the Salient.”

“Why do I have the feeling that they were directed into a trap?” the Captain mused.

“Because they were,” Hounsou said. “A few more log entries, and Rivera ceased to be our main source of the narrative. The Salient’s main computer was able to provide us with the rest.”

“That’s where I come in,” Lucas said. “In Engineering, we discovered anomalous readings on the ship’s hull, as we reported to you. They turned out to be a trail left behind by visitors from the missing Ziph-Abish population, which we were able to confirm after cross-referencing biological information Starfleet has been able to collect on them. We eventually decided to scan the interior of the ship, in hopes of picking up the same trail marks, whatever trace that might still remain.”

“The hull acted as a better preserver because of the vacuum of space,” Hollen noted.

“Exactly,” Lucas said. “And we found them. Based on that, we were able to make sense of several other logs left behind by assorted crewmembers referencing what they thought were apparitions, demons. You have to understand. They had no idea what hit them.

“A Crewman Burro makes note of a conversation he overheard between Tavol and Jacobi about a plague they had intended to loose on the Federation. A Lt. Commander Esters gives us an accurate description, as far as we’ve been able to piece together, of at least one Ziph-Abish onboard the Salient. The rest sort of spells itself out.”

The room was given a moment to absorb this information. Kevles arrived shortly and informed the Captain of shield upgrades her team was working on to counter the threat these aliens obviously still posed. The briefing was dismissed, and once again Matheson found herself consulting with Hollen.

“There might be some things you need to know about the particulars of what we’ve learned,” Matheson started.

“I’m familiar with the ship’s history,” Hollen said. “Following Picard’s successful defeat of a Reman coup of the Star Empire, you found yourself in the midst of a power struggle between one of the provisional praetors, a Reman named Neerok, and then-Senator Tavol. Tavol lost his seat as a result of your actions then. Some weeks later, when you were completing your Phalli Prime mission, Mr. Jacobi experienced what he considered to be a traumatic event in the midst of considerable turmoil. This eventually led to his resignation from Starfleet. Understandably, each held a grudge against you.”

“You make it sound so dramatic,” Matheson drawled.

“You’re taking all of this rather well,” Hollen said.

“Sometimes the appearance of that is the only way you can keep your head,” the Captain said.

He’d been putting in routine maintenance work on a panel in a corridor when it happened. And Wynton never saw them coming. The aliens swept through the ship like it was a tin can, unencumbered by the business they accomplished along the way. The bodies they left behind, they’d slipped through like phantoms, as if the bodies had never been anything more than doorways. Wynton, by some degrees, had been lucky. They hadn’t killed him, hadn’t finished the job. They had only slipped past him, skimming him. As if he wasn’t worth their time.

By Starfleet standards, he’d always felt that way, from the day he enlisted onward. What good was a crewman when there were officers to carry on with all the important work? He was the manual labor, a hired hand. He had once worked for himself, too. But those days seemed long gone. Now he was just another cog in a greater, impersonal, cold machine.

“You going to eat that?” The question was posed by Douglas Velar. The intent was to have at Wynton’s untouched soufflé, which had sat there at the pair’s table in the mess hall for fifteen minutes now. Velar had developed an appetite, and didn’t seem to be letting his dining mate’s glum spirits upset it.

“Go on,” Wynton said.

“You know, there are a lot worse things that could have happened,” Velar offered as he slid the plate his way. “Imagine having to spend your assignment at a Klingon karaoke.” He feared for a moment that his attempt at levity was ill placed. But Wynton cracked a smile.

“There’s an old Earth program I hope they never get their hands on,” Wynton enjoined. “Klingon Idol.”

“Imagine wannabe opera singers! The thought is too painful,” Velar laughed.

“The rejects would be cut down where they stood,” Wynton returned. Then he realized what he had just said. He became sober once more, a moment’s respite spent. “Joel tried comforting me, tried to say he understood. I snapped back at him, told him a few dead Maquis never made anyone cry. I haven’t talked to him since.”

“He understands,” Velar said.


“He does,” Velar said. “Trust me.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. I just don’t want to think about it. Yet I can’t escape it. It’ll be with me the rest of my life.”

“Joel said the same thing,” Velar said.

“I wish I could find comfort in that, in this moment. Right now, I just…”

“You’ll learn to live with it. You have to,” Velar said. Wynton had nothing more to say. Velar finished his soufflé, and the two, despite there being others in the mess hall at that time, were alone.

Someone gasped. It was an odd, chirping sort of gasp, from an alien crewmember Velar couldn’t immediately identify. But Wynton across from him had no such trouble with the thing that had made them gasp. Everyone present looked out toward the stars, where the Salient took its resting-place. The stars were being blocked out, as if they weren’t there. Velar might have assumed that they were blinking out of existence, except they were vanishing and then reappearing, with a cascade effect, rolling along away from the cask of the Starfleet vessel. He peered more intently, saw the pattern possessed tentacles, which waved rhythmically as the phenomenon went on its way.

Although he could not identify by sight what he was seeing, Velar knew he was looking at a Ziph-Abish. Across from him, Wynton grew faint, and the Copernicus went to Red Alert.

It was now Hollen’s final day. The Federation would no doubt always be grateful for her efforts these past few weeks, even they alone could not accomplish all that had needed to be done. There would be a service, somewhere, in her honor, attended by all who had known and grown to love her.

“Where do you expect she’ll be off to?” Qurtz asked politely.

“Oh, hopefully to a better place,” Captain Matheson said, her voiced filled with melancholy. “The great ones always seem with you for too short a season.”

“I expect your new assignment will suit you,” Sokor said.

“New frontiers, new faces,” Matheson began, “and a new ship. I never thought the boys at Utopia Planetia had a sense of humor, however inappropriate. But after learning it was called the Styx, I’ll believe anything.”

“From what I’ve seen of him, Zimmer will fit right in,” Qurtz noted.

“Indeed,” Sokor said.

Matheson laughed. “I hope Ensign ’Das is equally happy aboard the Karamchand.”

“As she should. Her captain is an efficient officer,” Sokor said.

“Ethan? As long as his own command hasn’t changed him,” Matheson said. “Where are my manners, we’re referring to an old colleague of ours, Doctor Ethan Chenoweth.”

“So I gathered,” Qurtz said. “A science vessel isn’t as demanding as other Starfleet assignments, but if you have faith in Mr. Chenoweth, then he has my respect as well. I understand he left under unpleasant circumstances. I shouldn’t expect to be meeting up with you two again, should I?”

“Despite what you may have heard, Ethan’s a good man,” Matheson said.

“I should note, as per our last experience, Starfleet Medical has been working on the polyps I was able to harvest from Crewman Keynes, and it reports progress toward a vaccine.”

“Good news,” Matheson said. “But I don’t know how soon we’ll need such a thing. They were after only one thing. They were misled, manipulated. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about them again.”

“An excellent point, and entirely logical,” Sokor said.

“If that is all, Captain,” Qurtz said.

“It is,” Matheson said. “It has been a pleasure working with you, despite the circumstances.”

“Nonsense. Anytime you have the good fortune to make a friend, the extenuating details are just that,” Qurtz said. “Details. I hope to see you again soon. Perhaps we may even work together again.”

“We can agree on that,” Matheson said.


“Goodbye…old friend.” This was uttered as the Captain slowly separated from her home of ten years, as she left in a shuttlecraft from the U.S.S. Copernicus for the last time.

“She was a good ship,” Douglas Velar beside her said.

There was just one thing left to do. After all the good-byes had been said, all the arrangements set, I prepared to end my season. I must have sat there for two hours. I never realized how long it took. Meditation had always occupied my thoughts, and that had only been natural, since it was tradition for my people. The events we had experienced, they would need to be purged, if our slumber was going to come as it always had. It is a different existence, as foreign to humanoid life as linear time is to nonlinear beings. To be troubled by one way in the other would no doubt cause imbalance. So the toils are set aside.

But this time, I allowed them to remain with me. There was one thing left to do. I had heard that greater experience could help correct the imbalance deviation from the traditional ways, through greater understanding. Perhaps it has something to do with confidence, inner calm. You learn you can step away from safety when you’ve grown past the need for constant reminder of it. Perhaps that is called maturity.

I let my time wash away, fade to the recesses of my mind, and let the Stones in all their glory wash over me. It was true that they are beautiful.


  • "Pi Divided…"

6 years earlier:

The Copernicus was grounded. Starfleet might have opted simply to place a new commander in charge, even a temporary one. It would have been the obvious choice, given the Dominion War was raging and every ship counted. But this was no ordinary circumstance. Her captain, Robin Matheson, had screwed up, and now the whole ship was being punished. Nobody said there was justice in mind.

“If there was any other way, you know I would have pursued it,” Admiral Gerald Logan said.

“Sometimes you can’t beat the beat,” Captain Matheson said. Still, she looked defeated, sitting at her desk, in her ready room, in the ship that was still hers, but barely. “Just one mission?”

“Just one,” Logan confirmed, “and I’m sure you’ll have your command back.”

“What’s to happen to my crew?”

“You know battlefield commanders. They’ll accept anyone for any mission,” Logan said. “No matter the breadth of commitment. These officers made a commitment of their own. They’ll do what they’re told, and be home in no time.”

“You make it sound so easy,” Matheson said. She didn’t normally drink the stuff, but coffee was a source of solace at this moment, and the cup it steamed in had a hand that was trying not to seem like it had such a solid grip around it. “I have a few companions, as I understand.”

“Lt. Keb is one,” Logan said. “He’s on your shortlist to replace Strynn as chief of security. Think of this as a chance to bond with him. Then there’s Ahiqar.”

“The Klingon ambassador? Forgive me for saying, but this doesn’t seem like an olive branch situation. And Ahiqar of all people…!”

“Your prior experiences with him notwithstanding, Ahiqar will prove to be an asset,” Logan said. “Besides, heading into Dominion-controlled territory, you can use all the advantages you can get.”

“Agreed,” Matheson said, “but not on Ahiqar. Still, I’m willing to keep an open mind.”

“That’ll be an asset for you personally,” Logan said. “Considering everything, if you can get through this in one piece, you might just get your ship back, no questions, no more hassles.”

“Not to put any pressure,” Matheson laughed.

When he found out, Ahiqar did not laugh. Almost immediately, he sought out his father, the wise elder dahar master Moztar, perhaps with the intent to find a reason to decline. He had little interest in leaving Kronos, where his posh comforts somehow outshone anything he might have found at the Klingon embassy in San Francisco. Though he was one of a handful of his people who found it easy to associate with humans, he usually preferred to keep his time among them limited. He may have been an ambassador, but for a Klingon, such a term is as equally interchangeable as “warrior,” “statesman,” or “head of house.” It was a relative term. There had been a time, when his culture might have averted becoming so singular, but that time was gone, forgotten. He looked on Worf, son of Starfleet, with as much scorn as anyone else he knew.

He had counted the days until this burden would be his. He had worked with this Starfleet officer before, had set up the permits that allowed the permanent base of Epsilon Station 1 to be created. This captain’s superior he found weak, despicable, but as long as the captain was answerable to him, Ahiqar put up with him. This captain, though in every way exemplary of her people, perhaps even a full step above the average, was still human, was still an echo of the past, and the Klingons had begun to consider the past one long decline in honor for nearly a century now. It was because of humans. He might have respected her, but he never let her know it, because respect was far from a word of praise for a Klingon.

And yet he would be spending more time with her than he ever had before. He considered asking for as much solitude as could be reasonable, yet he knew what such ill wind could breed. It would be far worse than open hostility, because each would be waiting for the air to erupt, and that was neither productive nor beneficial. Instead he would concentrate his time on his work, to achieve the most efficient means of operation the mission could afford. He wasn’t invited to work out his differences with Robin Matheson, but to assist Starfleet, allies of the Klingons in peacetime and during this difficult war, in winning a small victory that could very well lead to the greater one.

Ahiqar was not a warrior, not in the usual sense, but he possessed a warrior’s instincts. Victory was all that mattered to him. “Let us be on our way,” he said to Matheson and Keb, and just like that the runabout Rio Atoyac was on its way to rendezvous with the U.S.S. Kirchoff.

“I should warn you, there’s portions of my crew who display a distinct lack of sympathy,” Captain Devin Rea reported.

“And I’m sure that’s putting it mildly,” Matheson replied. “You forget that I’ve already met Comdr. Mamaji.”

“If there was any way that could have been avoided,” Rea said, “you know I would have taken it. But this assignment is one of those you have to keep an eye on. Negotiations with the Cardassian spy Pentek have, however, proven fruitful.”

“The Pentek? I wasn’t aware he had the liberty for such activity.”

“Inter arma enim silent leges, Robin. It’s one of those necessary evils.”

“Maybe so.”

“Regardless of whatever moral qualms we may have, Pentek is providing us with all the information we need. You wouldn’t believe how cooperative a Cardassian can be until you’ve actually met him,” Rea said. “So naturally, that is impossible.”

“How did you incur such favor?” Matheson inquired. “Just what have you been up to since the Academy?”

“The short of it is that some of the dimmer corners of Starfleet has taken an interest in me ever since, well, our days together on the Harbinger,” Rea said.

“And just a handful of days at that,” Matheson laughed at the memory. “I’d almost completely forgotten about my first brush with doom. Who would have thought that an experimental steamrunner could malfunction that badly…!”

“I know the engineers didn’t,” Rea said. “And they were right to doubt it. How the Romulans ever convinced Starfleet that they really weren’t up to no good…”

“You can bet the Tal Shiar had something to do with it,” Matheson said.

“As a matter of fact…” Rea said.

“So that’s what you’ve been up to. And no doubt you managed to run into the Obsidian Order as well,” Matheson said. “And that explains--”

“Pentek,” Rea said. “But this really isn’t something I should be talking about. Speaking of which, it would be best not to tell our friend Ahiqar about Pentek.”

“Understood,” Matheson said. “What should we tell him instead?”

“The Klingons have no reason to doubt Starfleet Intelligence,” Rea said. “I doubt he’ll be that curious anyway. Subtly is one of those things lost on a warrior.”

“Not true,” Matheson said. “In battle, technique is everything.”

“You know what I mean,” Rea said.

“You know I do,” Matheson said.

“Same old Robin.”

“Is there any reason to change?”

“As a matter of fact, I can think of one,” Commander Ravi Mamaji interjected. The two captains turned around, surprised. Suddenly the Kirchoff’s Ready Room seemed smaller.

“You could have announced your arrival,” Rea said. “How long have you been standing there?”

“I find that the door chime does quite well at that,” Ravi said. “Not long.”

“As I understand it, protocol states you wait for admittance,” Matheson said.

“Protocol…Interesting subject,” Ravi said.

“Not now, Ravi,” Rea said. “What’ve you got for us?”

“A report from Lt. Staenberg. She’s set our course; now we await your command.”

“Very well then. The word is given,” Rea said. “And that’s our cue as well, Robin.”

“Ready when you are, Devin,” Matheson said. The bridge of the Kirchoff, onto which the Ready Room atypically was set off the right from, the Observation Lounge adjacently connected off of the Ready Room, was miniature as compared to just about every other design in the fleet. The lack of breathing room was already threatening to trigger Matheson’s claustrophobia when she noted Staenberg at the helm gave her a scornful glance upon admittance. She was feeling unwelcome, this despite the first face she’d seen when coming aboard with Keb and Ahiqar was that of Ensign Geffen, the odd Pakled in Starfleet uniform. With Keb off discussing security measures with a Lt. Comdr. Sidpode, Matheson was alone, save old friend Captain Rea, in hostile territory, if all indications were to be believed. Right now she was a believer…

There was definitely a Bolian somewhere in this room. The trick now was to make a quick scan without making it look too obvious that he was Bolian Hunting. When he was younger, Sam Chabon had made a sport of it indeed. His teachers spent half their time trying to make his studies more interesting than the blue aliens who always seemed more exotic, more interesting, more fascinating to the young Sam Chabon than whatever he was supposed to be studying. His parents, who had watched him progress through each grade, and heard from each teacher the same reports of what really caught young Sam Chabon’s fancy, were all the more concerned the day young Sam Chabon brought home his new best friend. For most children, this experience would have been bringing home some variety of canine, which would then spend all its time pretending to be house-broken, long enough to make a bigger mess than could ever be anticipated, each one more spectacular than the last. Young Sam Chabon, however, he brought home a Bolian classmate, the first he’d actually had the nerve to introduce himself to, a lad by the name of Omri. Like a normal child’s newly acquired pet, young Sam Chabon’s parents had tried to pretend everything was perfectly normal, arranging all the pertinent appointments with the psychiatrists the way they would purchase and then hide Christmas gifts, like they were members of some secret government organization. (No one really says so, but such agents are recruited based on reports of how well they’ve hidden their kid’s Christmas gifts in a given recruiting year.) That was young Sam Chabon.

The growing Sam Chabon attended Starfleet Academy, finally receiving his parents’ blessings when he promised that it wasn’t with the express interest of a free pass to Bolius itself, and attained his medical license, with a specialty in xenobiology (it had been the craze with his graduating class, he’d unsuccessfully argued). He was headed to the stars. He had even begun to convince himself his early interest in Bolians had been nothing but the impetus to get him into the smart outfit of Starfleet. For years he pursued whatever course he was set on by his superiors, and Sam Chabon, MD, never complained, not for the distinct lack of Bolians, not for the distinct majority of humans, he found himself regularly in contact with. The post to the Kirchoff had been just another in what had become a routine of monotonous transfer from one assignment to another, not because he was incompetent but because his skills were generic enough that he had found himself in the regular stream of personnel rotation. He was not annoyed by this constant uprooting; rather he embraced it. If the new faces he was going to continue meeting were all going to be the same, and not exactly the ones he wanted to see, at least they would keep coming and he could forever let fate tease the possibility of what he wanted before him. Besides, Sam Chabon had long ago learned he could make friends easily, once he tried.

But the one thing on his mind at this moment wasn’t his co-worker having a drink beside him, but the presence of a Bolian somewhere in the mess hall.

“Let me guess,” Lt. Hugo Boyd began. “You finally had a look at the personnel list and realized who was among our guests for this mission.”

“Bugger off,” Sam said. He knew Hugo was only joking with him, but he wasn’t in the mood. He wasn’t in the mood to be distracted, to be specific. “Haven’t you got anything better to do besides pester me? Grow up already!”

“Easy there,” Hugo said, before nursing his drink, some ungodly lukewarm tea Sam had seen him replicate for months now, every day, after every end of shift. “You’re getting blue under the collar.”


“You want me to help, or is this one of your personal quests?”

“What’s it to you, anyway?” These words came out with a little more force than Sam had intended, and so he meekly nursed his own drink, synthetic Bolian Ale he would have not admitted to even under the sharpest of sessions with a holodeck Nausicaan wrestling program, for a good long minute. If there really was a Bolian somewhere in the mess, he found himself losing interest.

“And now you’re losing interest,” Hugo said, laughing.

“Laugh all you want,” Sam said. “I know of a certain Lt. Cmdr. Rygiel who could stand to learn something of why you keep her waiting every time you two are supposed to practice phaser drills together.”

“Ellen? She knows,” Hugo said, “Mr. Big Shot with Blanks.”

“Well fine, what about Sidpode?”

“What about Sidpode?”

“Then drop it,” Sam said.

“Fine! Fine,” Hugo relented. “Someone’s touchy. As long as we’re on the subject of our guests, what’s your opinion?”

“About what?”

“About what,” Hugo repeated, indicating that Sam should and probably did know what he meant. As for himself, Hugo was another of the more vocal detractors, and he wanted to know if he could count his friend among them. Not that anything was being planned.

“We have a mission,” Sam dodged. “That’s all I know, and all I care to know. I have other things to occupy myself with.”

“It’s a part of this mission, a concern for its outcome,” Hugo said, trying to control his voice. “Don’t you think Captain Rea hasn’t thought of it? It’s about whether or not you think Starfleet made one of the all-time bonehead calls bringing her in on this. Or even keeping her in uniform.”

“I don’t think it means one thing or another whether I have an opinion about it,” Sam said. “I mean, what’re you going to do about it. Mutiny?”

It was the silence that greeted this outrageous thought that really got Sam Chabon. He looked at Hugo, finished his drink, and left without another word. On his way out, he saw Lt. Keb, the elephant in the room, at the bar conversing with a Klingon.

That conversation went something like this:

“You Federation types. You see only one notion of the Klingon culture, and call us uncivilized for it,” Ahiqar said. “Imagine what that does to our relations.”

“I was under the impression that we had resolved our relations,” Keb said.

“And that is a fool’s impression, brought on by the necessity of war,” Ahiqar said. “One advantage of the Klingon barbarity is that we are well versed in such terms. You might say it is our first language.”

“First, second,” Keb said.

“Comfort yourself with your cleverness,” Ahiqar said. “It’s what your kind is best at. Looking around myself, all I see is the illusion of your civilized world. The dull sheen of the bulkhead, even in a hall such as this. You claim privacy as much as you do civilization.”

“Well…I wouldn’t exactly call the walls here shiny,” Keb said. “At least not to the extent you seem to be implying.”

“That’s because you’re not looking at them in that regard in this instant,” Ahiqar said. “But try as I might, I cannot ignore what I see.”

“Let’s hope that clear vision helps us in the days ahead,” Keb said.

Ahiqar grunted. “It does not take much to outwit the Dominion, and especially not a single Vorta.”

“Even guarded by a legion of Jem’Hadar?” Keb said. “I’ve heard of Klingon blustery, but this might be taking the cake.”

“What the Dominion possesses in strength,” Ahiqar said, “it lacks in subtly, in strategy. What we do here now is effectively cut off their brilliant defensive tactic in enemy territory. Cut off from its one advantage, the Dominion exposes itself. They’ve proven themselves sightless combatants.”

“Spoken with true overconfidence,” Keb said. “Not to mention a severe underestimation of the enemy.”

“Let me see your true colors,” Ahiqar said. “Ah, yes. They are changing. The Vorta we hunt today is no more important than any other of his kind, and he is no different. Weak, toothless. He may have cunning, but he cannot back it up. The mark of a truly unworthy prey.”

“Lack of respect leads to underestimation,” Keb said. He was becoming more annoyed by the minute, but there was something about this Klingon that didn’t make an appearance in his words, but was nonetheless conveyed, almost like suggestion. What was it? It was becoming frustrating, which only compounded the Bolian’s poor mood.

“Please, save me your platitudes,” Ahiqar said. “Were you able to, you could see a man in the bulkhead, seated directly behind us as he is. He is looking around; searching for something like a man lost amid perfectly understood surroundings. He is the very image of a Vorta. Given access to his thoughts, you would no doubt find that he was feeling insecure, in one of the many forms your kind has developed. He is in need of something. Need is not something you would find on a Klingon’s mind. It is desire that is the satiation of honor, and desire alone that brings fulfillment to a worthwhile life. Need is pitiable. Desire…Is it not in the Federation dialect, this word “desirable”? To which one is considered a positive term, “needful” or “desirable”? Tell me.”

Keb did not like to be badgered. And he considered such a trait to be common among his lot, the security officers of Starfleet. He now felt as if Ahiqar was testing him, and he had no desire (the irony of which was fully realized) to fail. “I see your lost man, and I also see that he is seated with someone. He may have a bewildered look about him, but he also looks engaged with his companion, with whatever they are discussing. Perhaps he is agitated, and that is what you are detecting. Is agitation something Klingons wait long enough for?”

“Once again you fall back on your cleverness,” Ahiqar said. “To avoid a thing is only to invite criticism, and that is a weakness. The weak die, by the hand of the strong.”

“Or by a weak hand finding itself with an advantage,” Keb said, “earned or otherwise. He’s leaving now. Any new observation?”

“I will agree with your observation of agitation now,” Ahiqar said, “but this does not mean I was wrong otherwise. He betrays bewilderment, and his companion bears spite.”

“Which could mean his companion lost the argument,” Keb said.

“Or that he held a strong hand to a weak one,” Ahiqar said.

“Well, believe what you like,” Keb said. “And believe whatever you like about that attitude.”

“A fine attitude,” Ahiqar said. “I respect such a firm opinion.”

“You’re not married, are you?”

“Federation humor,” was Ahiqar’s telling reply. This time it was a statement of defeat more than an extension of his beliefs. Keb knew he was beginning to crack the Klingon’s code, and he smiled ever slightly into his drink, something he’d found prevalent at the Academy called root beer. Not then, when he’d had his first taste, and not now, was he going to admit to drinking the stuff.

When the Bolian had moved along, Ahiqar turned his thoughts to what was really on his mind. He had wanted to inform Keb about the true state of affairs, about the nature of conflicted loyalties, and where the Klingons really stood alongside their Federation allies. The Orias system was fast approaching, and he contemplated too the true reason why he had been brought along for this mission, and what the unintended implications he understood meant for it. He had been there a little more than a year earlier, during the conflict with the Cardassians. At that time, the Empire had intended to deal the finishing blow to an old foe, a common one with the Federation, though this fact did little to persuade brighter minds to good judgment. The Cardassians survived, and betrayed the Alpha and Beta quadrants to invaders from the Gamma. What fools had been the Empire’s supposed allies! And yet not a moment’s hesitation when this ugly union was unveiled, and the Klingons and the Federation blossomed into their most cordial courtship, as if centuries of blood feud had simply vanished.

The Orias system, where Ahiqar had previously waged an offensive against new fleets that didn’t exist, was fast approaching him once again. The first time he had met the malcontent Pentek, and forged an unlikely truce. He was well aware of Pentek’s present involvement now, and it pleased him to know that his partners now thought him ignorant. Always too well is character known, all pretensions aside. Now he was headed to meet a Vorta. Ahiqar was there for his experience, and his experience ran deep. There was a tale he knew, about lost sheep in a misbegotten partnership between the Cardassians and Romulans. It was an obvious failure; one that fully foreshadowed what would follow. Some liked to blame Dukat and his consuming mania, but he was nothing more than the excuse Cardassia needed. There had been others responsible for its misdeeds, and they were all acting under the guiding principle they shared: a burning desire for survival. It was something to be admired, however ineptly followed. It was more paranoia that ran these people than the iron hand that resulted from it. They were children, and Klingons liked their children disciplined, not merely equipped with the semblance of it.

So here he went, headed toward teaching them another lesson, once more held back by circumstances beyond his control. Someday the Federation would be shown the error of its ways, but as always, not today. Today he hunted Vorta, with the intent of disabling a poorly planned strategy. It was a good day for that. A drink was placed beside him, and soon Ahiqar felt the presence of a body accompanying it. He did not bother to look.

“What do you know of loyalties?” Hugo Boyd began.

Somewhere else, Keb whistled, as he always did when he felt uneasy. The Kirchoff prepared to rendezvous with the Ocelot and the Claimant, and very soon now it would penetrate the heart of a Dominion laboratory, and get on with its mission. The mood of the ship mirrored Keb’s.

The extenuating conversation had long since faded, but Rea’s final contribution had always remained with him: “I’ve seen my share of war.” And that, incredibly, had been ten years earlier, before the costly Borg invasion, before Wolf 359. He flexed his bionic limb instinctively. Robert Canaan, who had been his wizened captain then, looked back from the holo-image on his desk. His eyes seemed to say, “Not yet have you tasted your bitter drink.”

Jada Staenberg at the helm acknowledged the flight path of the three ships, three little Starfleet ships, as the special unit entered the Orias system. She peered around her shoulder after doing so, and saw three standing figures, two captains and a Klingon, behind her. Only Ravi Mamaji sat, resigned to the third seat. His attention seemed elsewhere. Jada felt a slight buckle as turbulence momentarily took hold of the Kirchoff, but this did not deter her from expertly plotting the intended coordinates. When Sidpode announced the presence of three Jem’Hadar cruisers, three deer unaware of the hunters who had already decided their fates, she was similarly unaffected. A clear mind knew no distraction. The course was set.

Sidpode had already designated the extraction duty to Keb and his own charges, Lts. Monger and Hugo Boyd, and these three were sitting in their shuttle even now, ready to go about their business. No words were exchanged; none needed as far as Boy was concerned. He knew what both of his associates thought.

In sickbay, Sam Chabon was similarly prepared. The Vorta was not going to be given up without a fight, not by the Jem’Hadar pledged with their lives to preserve him, and not by himself. Chabon had heard the stories, both about the suicide implants and the telekinetic powers. Neither were a Vorta’s first choices, but both were favorite resorts. He had an inhibitor for one, nothing but faith for the other, and he prayed he didn’t confuse the two.

Three ships suddenly met three others, and a firefight broke out. The Starfleet variety were concerned with jamming communications, and had been at that long before the six ships met. As consoles exploded, this work was kept at, reminding perhaps a few officers of the ancient mailman creed. Except this wasn’t a matter of honor, but rather of survival, advantage, and victory, the keys of war. Ahiqar reveled, but vicariously. He was not here in a military capacity. No one asked for his assistance now, and he was not above hoarding it, so his task was to take it in, and in this he relished. One Jem’Hadar had the notion of repeating the suicide tactics that had been an early Dominion favorite, but was quickly shot down. It was the second to fall. The lead ship had been the first, and now the weakest was the sole remaining adversary. The Starfleet ships had sustained a certain amount of damage, but hardly enough to warrant concern about a single enemy, however stirred and roused for death it might now be. The last target extended its claws even as the extraction team went on its way, confident as any runner with a clear lead.

The last ship lost in this battle also offered the most spectacular explosion. Hardly any of it was left to gloat over, but that didn’t stop certain members of the victors from doing so. This, too, did Ahiqar join in, though not with those he was among. Had the vanquished foe’s companions known of this loss, there would have been ample opportunity to retest this now-vaunted mettle, and it was precisely because of this the Klingon privately loathed those who shared his glee. A small victory was still a victory, but there could have easily been more. He took no pride in having led them to this point, no pride in what this small victory might possibly accomplish, because it had not yet been accomplished.

Keb, Monger, and Boyd had little trouble collecting the Vorta, and were soon back along their way, signaling success to the lead ship, their destination, and the twin architects of this plan, Rea and Matheson. As the three ships began their departure from the Orias system, the shuttle whose cargo was the point of this run made its landing, and Lateen was in Starfleet captivity.

Now these four waited as four more made their way to meet them. The two captains, Rea and Matheson, as well as the Klingon Ahiqar and first officer Ravi walked to the launch bay, the bridge having been left in the hands of Sidpode, trusted as he was. The minutes ticked by, and Sam Chabon in sickbay wondered why he was not being called upon, why he had been left behind.

The launch bay doors slid open, and the scene of four waiting men and a gleaming shuttle greeted four decorated individuals. Captains Rea and Matheson each acknowledged the security team and turned their attention to Lateen. Ahiqar made no such gesture, and Ravi seemed preoccupied. “Greetings,” Rea extended to the captive Vorta, whose hands were tied in front of him. No reply came from the smug face, enshrined by hair and ears in a haughty display. The Klingon growled, the first officer frowned, and Rea said they could be on their way.

So they were. Sam Chabon in sickbay left on his own, intending to intercept them, now believing he had all along been meant to act of his own accord. He met the eight just as he thought, and saw that he was already too late. Lateen had activated his suicide implant.

Confusion. Clatter. Calamity had taken over. He rushed to the Vorta’s side, ordered them both beamed to sickbay, and immediately took steps to try and reverse the process, or at least slow it. Not moments later was Matheson already there, demanding things of the dying man. “You humor me,” was all he’d say, and soon enough he was dead.

“There are clones,” Ahiqar scowled in realization, Sam Chabon just now realizing the whole entourage had arrived somewhat later.

“Failure,” was all Ravi said.

“Order the destruction of the laboratory,” was Matheson’s fervent suggestion, and Rea looked as if he agreed as he tapped his combadge and walked out of sickbay. “We can still stop this here!”

Sam Chabon had his doubts as he observed the maniacal grin on the dead Vorta’s face, triumph written all over it. He happened to turn then and see the first officer, who had a most astonishing look upon his own face. What should have been the same horror as everyone else’s was…glee. What was the meaning of this? He couldn’t know now; he was still engaged in the futile process of salvaging the mission’s original hope.

Captain Rea could feel the others trailing behind him, and all he could think about was the failure. Even if they destroyed the laboratory, could he find redemption? Was that even possible? Was it necessary? Questions whirled in his head, and in the midst of them he caught sight of his friend, who he knew to be not ten feet away. She was saying something. The priccccccce…

Three soon detached from this parade. The first officer, the Klingon, and Hugo Boyd. “What is to happen next?” “It matters not.” “This was the only way it could end.” “But this is not the end.”

“We write the end.”

Monger found himself ordered to the launch bay, to review the shuttle’s sensor information. He would be meeting Ellen Rygiel, ship’s chief engineer, there, and was told Lt. Keb would be joining them soon. “Now’s not the time to be losing your head,” he told himself. An efficient officer, the Alpha Centauri native had always been told he worked well under pressure, but he knew better. He’d always been good at keeping a cool demeanor, and keeping everything else to himself. He sometimes let the truth steam outward with uttered comments his co-workers had come to label “Monger Asides.” They never gave much thought to what was actually said, because Monger was in the habit of talking out of his head on just about every topic of interest out there. Indiscrimatory, that was his way.

Rygiel was there as promised, and she coughed in acknowledgement of his arrival. The two had worked together before, and didn’t have much else to say to one another. It didn’t matter that they were of two completely different minds about the most important topic, aside from the mission, of the day. They worked together in silence until Keb arrived.

“They’re not going to look kindly,” Monger said in greeting.

“That’s the general idea of Klingon upbringing,” Keb replied.

“He’s not talking about Ahiqar,” Rygiel said. “They say she had a moment of uncertainty. And that she covered this up with an errant call that cost the lives of thousands.”

“That’s not how it happened,” Keb said.

“I’m afraid you’re going to need to be more specific with the lady,” Monger said.

“Firing on civilian Phalli, noncombatants, was a necessary call,” Keb said.

“Necessary? Necessary?” Rygiel asked. “When is a call like that justifiable?”

“When it would save millions more lives,” Keb said. “It was the only way to prevent an even greater bloodbath. They weren’t innocents to begin with!”

“Who are you to make that call? Are you Phalli?” Rygiel asked.

“They were going to bring about their planet’s annihilation because they didn’t believe interference was justifiable,” Keb said. “But Starfleet’s only interest was in this planet’s preservation, a planet that had asked for this assistance, a planet wanting admission in the Federation. What more can be said?”

“What could the dead say? What can your own crew say?” Rygiel asked. “There is a problem with her actions because there was a problem with her actions. At the very least she violated the Prime Directive, and that alone is worth demanding what so many are.”

“We’re at war even now,” Monger said.

“And that doesn’t justify anything,” Rygiel said. “Not even orders she may have had. There hasn’t been a hearing because of the war. She’s on this mission because of the war.”

“She’s on this mission because she is still a capable officer, and because there is a hearing going on,” Keb said. “They attempted to mollify her here, and all she’s finding is condemnation.”

“As she should,” Rygiel said. “And no one’s saying so, but her presence has damned us all.”


“Authorization,” Rea said.

“Give the authorization,” Rea demanded. “We need those cloaks.”

“I provided them because I thought they wouldn’t be necessary,” Ahiqar said. “They are not even fully compatible, and can’t be made to be so quickly.”

“Regardless,” Matheson said, “we need them. Starfleet has capable engineers. They know how to work under pressure. We need them to, and we need those cloaks now.

“Very well,” Ahiqar relented. He paused before adding, “There is a reason why the Romulans never extended their program with you after the Defiant experiment. And it has nothing to do with the competence of your engineers.”

“Save it,” Rea said. “I—We don’t have time for this. Without those cloaks, we’ll be facing down the barrel of a hundred Jem’Hadar ships, with the might of…three Starfleet ships. All I care about is need.”

“It will be your undoing,” Ahiqar said.

“Thank you as always,” Matheson said, “for the vote of confidence.”

“Where you are concerned, as usual,” Ahiqar said. With that, the Klingon made his exit from the Captains’ Ready Room.

“I hold great concern for him,” Matheson said. “And for your first officer as well.”

“That would be nothing new,” Rea said.

“Why was Dr. Chabon left behind in all this? He should have been in the original away team,” Matheson said.

“He was supposed to be,” Rea said.

“A fool’s errand,” Matheson said. “That’s what they’ll be calling this.”

“Rotten news, then,” said Keb. “The word’s already out. But it can’t hurt to try.”

“Prevent Alpha Quadrant Jem’Hadar from being bred?” Matheson said. “Hell yes. Any day. But at what price? It seems we were sent in cockeyed. I don’t fancy the implications.”

“This is war,” Keb said. “If you think mistakes can’t be made here when they’re hand in hand with success in peacetime, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Then explain why I’ve been made a pariah,” Matheson said.

“That’s the way of things,” Keb said. “At least as far as my experience goes.”

“I’m valuing your experience more and more, Lt.” Matheson said. “You’re exactly the kind of officer I look for.”

“No offense, Ma’am, but I should think you’d want someone to challenge you,” Keb said. “It’s what all the books say is best for the best advice, the best insight.”

“All the books are written by all the people who don’t make the tough calls,” Matheson said. “There’s a difference between theory and practice. I should think that would have been learned in grade school.”

“Scientific method,” Keb offered. “But it’s not like you’ve shied away from dissenting officers. There’s Strynn, who walked out on you, and Cmdr. Franzoni. If you don’t mind my saying so. I’m only offering all this with the impression that we were speaking freely. We are, aren’t we?”

“This isn’t my ship, this isn’t my jurisdiction,” Matheson said. “The way I see it, we free as can be. Strynn was strong-willed. Of course I knew that coming in. He knows how I feel. As for the commander, he’s not so different from me as he might like to think. Sometimes appearance is as different as theory when it comes to the reality of a thing. He offers a sounding board, and a firm hand. I can’t think of a better definition of a first officer. And I can trust him. The crew has his respect, and mine.”

“All of which doesn’t explain this conflicting opinion about dissention,” Keb said. “You’re very good at explaining things away.”

“That’s what the charge says, anyway,” Matheson said.

“Regardless of what your own crew thinks of you, what about the Kirchoff’s? You haven’t had the chance to hear the same word-about-ship as I have,” Keb said.

“Don’t be so sure,” Matheson said. “But I asked to have you along so I could have just such an opportunity. Not to mention at least two sympathetic shoulders.”

“Captain Rea being the other,” Keb said. “You don’t think Starfleet was trying to kill two birds with one stone, do you?”

“How do you mean?”

“This whole mission is obviously a test for you,” Keb began. “But what about Captain Rea? Ever since he went missing on that Orion Syndicate operation, there’s been almost as much doubt about him…”

“That’s all right,” Matheson said. “I’m not under any pretensions. I know I’ve lost the confidence of the fleet. And that’s not an easy thing to get over, not for someone at my level. My troubles have only begun. Devin, on the other hand, is not in such a precarious position. I think we’re meant to think that, but it simply isn’t true.”

“Now it’s my turn,” Keb said. “What do you mean?”

“I wish I could say,” Matheson said. “But Starfleet isn’t the pristine outfit it appears to be. There are certain…shades of gray you couldn’t begin to fathom. I’ve been around long enough to see them. You, you’d do well to not think about them. Dwell on other concerns. I could think of a few.”

“Such as this mission,” Keb said. “Everything returns to the present concerns. And the present concerns never really go away.”

“The Klingons, I’ve seen enough of their kind stationed at Epsilon to know better about our friend Ahiqar,” Matheson said. “Our little alliance is a fragile one. Which reminds me about the Romulans. There’s unbelievable pressure even as we speak to bring them into our side of the war. I have a few contacts within the Star Empire. I don’t know if we would want to risk that. Who knows what the cost would be?”

“It’d be the first time the Klingons and Romulans cooperated since Kirk’s day,” Keb said. “Officially, anyway. I agree about the Romulans. You can’t trust them.”

“I didn’t say quite that,” Matheson said.

“Well then, I’ll say it,” Keb said. “You can trust them less than Klingons.”

“Barring talk of the complications involved,” Matheson said, “I’ll agree to that. Even my friend would agree with that. Especially my friend. That’s a present concern, one I have equal fear about.”

“Too many concerns,” Keb said.

“It’s a part of the job,” Matheson said.

The job and the concern for Sidpode, meanwhile, were intertwined, and he planned to do something more about it. And the way to go about it was this: An interview with Captain Rea.

“I’ve come to understand, from Ambassador Ahiqar,” he began, “that we have been impeded on this mission.”

“If this is about Captain Matheson…”

“It is not,” Sidpode said. “It is about another Klingon. One called Korath.”

“I’m listening,” Rea said.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The Bolian was becoming paranoid. Who among this crew, among its passengers, among the task force, could he trust? Only Captain Matheson, was the answer he was, more and more, leaning toward. There were elements, growing elements, which Keb saw as growing dangerously mutinous in their opinions of Matheson. The conversation with Rygiel had only been one in at least a dozen more such encounters, experiences becoming the norm rather than the exception. Even the Klingon concerned him. Keb was slowly becoming crippled by his sense of encroaching dread, and his worst fear was that there wasn’t a thing he could do about it, let alone approach Matheson or Captain Rea. And when you even fear bringing concerns of this nature to the person they are most directly related to, it didn’t take a Bolian shrink to tell Keb that awful news that he would soon have to resign his post. And that, above all, scared him the most.

He had not been a member of the Copernicus crew long when the Phalli mission disintegrated it, polarizing it in the very same fashion that was now gripping the Kirchoff. Contrary to Matheson’s claims, the term grace under fire was not something that might have applied in the weeks immediately following. There had never been such tension between herself and first officer Harmon Franzoni, and her already difficult Andorian chief of security, Strynn, had made life excessively difficult before resigning. Keb remembers those weeks well. He’d remained mostly neutral, not perceiving a personal stake in the matters, only a cursory blemish on his record. He’d been working under Strynn then, had seen his downward spiral, had even noted in the weeks leading up to the disaster a negative tilt, adversarial remarks. He’d remarked about this “insubordination” in his personal logs, which were reviewed as evidence during the Andorian’s court martial. He never felt as if his captain ought to suffer the same fate.

Some had, and some of these had friends in this detail he was now mired in. He knew Lt. Boyd to have been acquaintances with a civilian passenger at the time, Derek Parkes, who had made it his personal charge to champion the Phalli people. Boyd had mostly avoided Keb on the Kirchoff, but one brush still rang loudly in his ears. A minor assignment overlap inspecting Klingon equipment associated with the borrowed cloak led to an uncomfortable amount of gossip about Ambassador Ahiqar. Some of what he heard made Keb believe that Boyd was perhaps intimately acquainted with the Klingon in question. What business would he have for that? The Kirchoff, unlike the Copernicus, was not based in Klingon space. In fact, it was closer to Cardassian space, a detachment loosely under Benjamin Sisko’s authority, lower on the rungs that included the fabled warship Defiant. Every major engagement that Deep Space Nine faced, the Kirchoff was somehow a part of, even if in support capacity, patrol duty, or some other mundane computation.

As far as Keb knew, Klingons and Cardassians were mortal enemies, two sides of the same coin who didn’t suffer comparisons. So what could Boyd have that brought him into the same league as Ahiqar? And what did the Kirchoff’s first officer, Ravi Mamaji, have to do with whatever that association might mean? The more cynical, anxious corners of the Bolian’s fevered brain imagined a more grizzled version of his Cmdr. Franzoni; a man who wasn’t so content to sit by, idly, and let events blow him about. Keb was becoming convinced that this fellow called Ravi was somehow an architect of whatever was happening, whatever would happen, whatever would befall them all. He had somehow sabotaged the initial leg of the mission, ensured that the Vorta would slip through their fingers, one way or another, and thus plunge the Federation Alliance further into Defeat’s mercurial grip. Is that what was really going on here? And the further agent of this chaos was Keb’s own counterpart, the Tarkalian called Sidpode.

Long had Keb studied this man, read his features at briefings. He had always remained elusive, his blood red features crying some ancient human superstition while his mouth, his eyes, remained passive in their assessments, his poker face ready for a game at the slightest prompting. Bolian culture would call this man, his people, a trickster, a wild card. How could Starfleet entrust such a task as the safety of a hundred individuals to such a character? Egregious though his posting may be, Sidpode was to be admired, for winning it despite what had to be incredible adversity. The reward? Keb now feared it was his way of life, trampled by the iron rule of the Dominion and its Founders. At what price, liberty?

He was now above whistling. There was a time for such nonsense, and that time had passed. As he wandered down the corridor, biding his time, organizing his thoughts, Keb instead chewed the inside of his cheek, which he supposed was as much the adverse of whistling as anything else. The three Starfleet ships were soon to make their second incursion, with or without functioning cloaks, and Matheson could certainly stand to know whether or not to expect the same result because of the same grievous factors as before. Was it evidence he thought he needed? Hugo Boyd was scheduled off-shift, and Keb thought he’d make an excellent witness, willing or not, to whatever was happening. He’d been summoned to a briefing, and Boyd’s quarters were along the way.

Not waiting for authorization, he entered the lieutenant’s quarters. Boyd was still in uniform, studying a pad, when Keb knocked, on the inside of the door.

“Can I help you?” Boyd said, not looking up. “It seems rude to barge in here uninvited, but you’re here all the same. Now for the reason?”

“It’s about whatever you may be plotting,” Keb said. “Out with it, or I’ll have you sent to the brig.”

Now looking up, “Seems a bit harsh, how you’re treating me. What’s this about plots?”

“The mood in this ship has turned dangerous,” Keb said. “You’re one of the more vocal ones. It stands to reason if there’s something more developing, you’d have a hand in it, or know about it.”

“Brilliant deduction,” Boyd said. “That Copernicus must come from the Ivy Fleet. There’s something ‘developing.’ And you’re captain is definitely involved.”

Keb’s hand directed Boyd’s head to the arm of the sofa he was seated in. “In that case, I can think of at least two people who would be willing to listen to whatever else you have to say. As it happens, they’re already waiting to hear it. Let’s go.”

“With manners like that,” Boyd said as he was pulled to his feet, “it’s no wonder Bolians are the laughing stock of the quadrant. And considering the competition, that’s saying something. Let go! I can walk myself, if you’re so eager about this.”

“Oh, I am,” Keb said as he had straight on to Boyd’s arm. “Let’s go. If you have anything else to say to me, you can say it on the way. You can start by telling me about Ahiqar, and how you became such friends with him.”

“The Klingon,” Boyd said, as he found himself not walking as fast as he might have thought. “Is there some kind of rule I broke? What do you know about one called Korath?”

“Don’t try to change subjects with me,” Keb said.

“I’m not,” Boyd said. “As I hear it, Sidpode gave our two captains some information regarding him.”

“And what would you know about that? This only strengthens the case against you,” Keb said.

“I heard that you were present at the time,” Boyd said. “Something wrong with Bolian hearing?”

“I had other business to attend to,” Keb said. “By the time Mr. Sidpode showed up, both Matheson and myself had long departed company with Captain Rea.”

“Wouldn’t this suggest Rea is “in on it” as well?” Boyd said.

“You better watch yourself,” Keb said.

“And you’d better pay closer attention,” Boyd said.

“I pay attention to what I see,” Keb said. “And what I see spells rotten for us all. I won’t let that happen, and that’s why you’re being marched like a cadet to his superiors. I’d sooner give you a bloody nose than let you give me a flatline.”

“Very noble,” Boyd said.

“Save it,” Keb said.

“Oh, I am,” Boyd said.

“Keep walking,” Keb said. Boyd did. A silent turboshaft trip later and the pair were nearly at their destination.

“You’re in for a surprise,” Boyd said.

“I’ll bet,” Keb said.

“You’re in for a surprise,” Cmdr. Mamaji said as the two enter the Captains’ Ready Room. He eyed Keb’s strangle on Boyd’s arm specifically as he said this.

“I’m afraid we’ve been misreading events,” Matheson said, “to a certain extent.”

“Given what we all knew, that was understandable,” Rea said.

“I’m afraid I’m not following,” Keb said.

“Allow me,” Boyd said, angling out of the Bolian’s grasp. “Korath is Ahiqar’s assistant. He’s been coordinating the ambassador’s directions aboard the Claimant.”

“As you’ve deciphered, there indeed was a conspiracy between myself, Sidpode, and Boyd here,” Ravi said. “We didn’t trust Matheson.”

“Which we can all understand,” Matheson said, “if not exactly appreciate.”

“Ahiqar had come to us, offering himself for whatever capacity would be needed,” Boyd said. “With that, we gained access to Korath, who we grew increasingly familiar with.”

“The more we found out, the less we enjoyed this alliance,” Ravi said. “Captain Matheson, you might as well have the dubious honors.”

“They found out his dirty little secret,” Matheson said. “Korath it seems was intimately familiar with the events of the Phalli mission.”

“No surprise there,” Keb said. “I have no doubt that half the quadrant knows about it.”

“We’re talking the kind of intimacy you suspected myself and Ahiqar of having,” Boyd said. “The dangerous kind.”

“Not apparently unfounded, either,” Keb said.

“Well,” Matheson began, “you can thank him for that. Korath corralled the insurgents, sped along the Jem’Hadar. In short, he’s the reason we were forced into that quagmire at Phalli Prime to begin with.”

“Let’s not whitewash things now,” Ravi said. “It was more than a ‘quagmire.’”

“Call it what you like,” Rea interjected. “This more or less clears your captain.”

“Korath was foolish enough to brag about it,” Ravi said, “and he thought a few malcontent Starfleet officers would just sit on the information. And in all honesty, we might have, until we uncovered even more damning information.”

“He tipped off the Jem’Hadar,” Matheson. “Again. However delicate this mission is, he shattered it, fed us false information.”

“He misled me,” Ravi said, “coddling me with mutual disgust and assurances about a species I should have known more about. The nature of this mission clouded my judgment, impeded assimilation of the briefing material. In truth, I’m as much to blame as he is.”

“Starfleet will be kinder,” Rea said. “Ahiqar and Sidpode are apprehending Korath as we speak. The mission continues, however. Rygiel has gotten the cloaks working, so we’ll be able to slip in without much trouble.”

“You’ll forgive me if all this sounds too good,” Keb said.

“I don’t blame you,” Matheson said. “I had some difficulty swallowing it myself. But we have all the evidence, all the corroboration we need, and soon we’ll have Korath secured as well.”

“Who put all this together?” Keb wondered aloud.

“Actually, I did,” Boyd said. He gave the Bolian an amused grin. He hadn’t told anyone how a conversation with the Cardassian Pentek had helped him, and he didn’t plan on it. Pentek had very good reason to remain in the shadows through all this. He had other plans, long-term ones that could use a Federation victory in this war, a sentiment his brethren did not currently share, but they would, in time, when they had grown as desperate as he had. He had his own experience with being branded a pariah, but as it had come about during the Occupation, he was beginning to accept it as atonement, for the sins of his people. Not for the last time had he arranged to redeem Matheson. Common lots do that sometimes. In the meantime, while he waited, this would be his hobby, and as other exiled Cardassians engaged in tailoring and other vain pursuits, he thought quite well of himself.

The tryst petered out not long after, and soon the three Starfleet ships cloaked, and were on their way. Tensions, of a nature wholly dedicated to the task at hand this time around, grew as they inched closer. Concerns were raised as scans failed to reveal Jem’Hadar presence. Had they developed cloaking technology here as well? With most of the Federation alliance ill equipped for such a contingency, hardly could the Dominion’s opponents afford for that. All would be lost, and so with the new fears now circulating, in a matter of minutes which spread like eternity, the three Starfleet ships began to lose something possibly more valuable than existence: hope. Scans were run, disbelief met, and the more time passed with no contention, the more the three Starfleet ships began to turn inward. The united front disintegrated. Officers previously working in perfect harmony let the stress sew strife, and Defeat revealed itself among their own numbers.

“I don’t believe it,” Captain Rea said. “What possible advantage could they have to let us to continue on like this? They have no cloaks. Scan the laboratory, scan for anything, and bring me everything you find.”

Sam Chabon noticed Cmdr. Mamaji’s agitation almost casually. His first thought as to the cause was the news of the complications that had arisen on Ambassador Ahiqar and Sidpode’s mission to secure Korath aboard the Claimant, but if there was anything he knew about Ravi, it was that the obvious answer was never the right one. The doctor mostly observed the staff briefing. His particular gifts and recent activities had nothing to do with current matters, so he sat back and let others do the talking. He wasn’t the type to offer his own thoughts. Of the two concerns being discussed, Sam Chabon could only imagine Ravi indulging in personal concern for something that threatened him, and he didn’t take his career all that seriously, certainly not approaching the level of Captain Matheson. It was how Ravi was holding his hands, tighter, that was giving him away. Being rather fastidious about hygiene since his youth, Sam Chabon had long been in the habit of inspecting other people’s hands. He had become a doctor, his parents had decided, for the ritual of scrubbing up, which even sterile Starfleet had retained from the more primitive days of medicine.

The commander made a comment about Jem’Hadar ships, and how it was entirely likely that of all the ones there the Starfleet task force had seen and destroyed most of them already. There was consent by all on this, followed by a little chatter about Dominion tactics Sam Chabon noticed as brushing on the still-sensitive subject of Matheson’s recently repudiated problems. It reminded him and no doubt everyone else that her experience was not going to be forgotten easily. What had happened aboard the Claimant? The more he thought about it, the more Sam Chabon’s curiosity got the best of him, and it had nothing to do with Ravi. With the mission, being discussed far past the doctor’s interest, now over, waiting for straggling details like the resolution of the Korath predicament was the only thing that interested him.

Except Ravi was becoming competition. He must have caught Sam staring at him, since the next thing Sam Chabon knew the commander was doing more than just clenching his hands together; he was giving Sam the cold shoulder. Not that they had ever shared a drink or the like, but Sam Chabon had always considered their working relationship just fine, even friendly. After the briefing had finally concluded he’d merely reminded the commander of a medical appointment, which the commander completely ignored.

“Something bothering him?” he asked Rygiel, who was in less of a rush to leave.

“Not that I’m aware of,” she said. “But then, we haven’t really talked since the Korath revelation. With everything that’s been happening, I haven’t had much time for talking, beyond personal politics.”

“Is that what you’re calling it,” Sam said.

“I don’t suppose I should bother answering that,” Rygiel said, before calling after Matheson, “Glad to have this behind you?”

“If only it were,” Matheson replied, clearly still engaged as she followed Captain Rea to a turbolift.

“Was there anything before the mission began?” Sam asked. He followed the Bolian trailing behind the two captains with his eyes.

“Again, it’s hard to say,” Rygiel said. “Ravi is not all that social.”

“And when he is, you’re ones his chosen receptors,” Sam said.

“That’s one way of putting it,” Rygiel said. “I didn’t even notice anything was wrong. What tipped you off?”

“Oh, something about his demeanor,” Sam said. “How he was carrying himself. It was very subtle.”

“Unlike when he snubbed you,” Rygiel said. “Now that I did notice. Are you sure it isn’t something you might have done or maybe said and just forgot about?”

“I’m fairly certain it was nothing personal,” Sam said. “If it were, that’s what the evil eye was invented for. All he did was brush me off.”

“He didn’t brush me off,” Rygiel said.

“Did you give him the chance?”

“I probably should be going.”

“Yeah, probably.” A dead-end for Sam Chabon.

“But does it have to be that way?” Matheson asked rhetorically.

“Yes,” Rea answered all the same.

“Then I guess the party is cancelled.” Matheson had joked about remaining onboard the Kirchoff as a member of her crew following completion of the mission, given the new void Rea would need to fill. Cmdr. Mamaji had already filed his transfer papers, citing his belief that he needed a change of scenery to experience any kind of closure on his guilt. The only people who knew were the two captains, who were as much amazed by the decision as the expedience of its tender.

“He must have been considering it already,” Matheson said. “Ravi, I mean.”

“No doubt,” Rea said. “But you can never tell. He’s been my first officer for five years now. We’ve been through plenty together, and I’ve never been able quite size him up. I suppose that’s why I wanted him under my command. He’s a tough nut to crack.”

“Before this is over, I think I’d like to try,” Matheson said.

“Good luck with that,” Rea said. “You’ll have your own command back, Robin.”

“Yeah,” she replied.

When they’d discovered the laboratory abandoned, and with no effort to erase any of the information contained within its equipment, the task force knew it’d been had. They encountered no resistance on the second leg because the Dominion had left the premises. What’s more, it was determined that beyond the Jem’Hadar ships that had been engaged and destroyed, there probably had only been one or two more, easy enough to evacuate. The entire operation in the Orias system had been a ruse designed to misdirect Starfleet. Surveillance which had logged a greater Jem’Hadar presence months earlier didn’t notice that the fleet didn’t remain there long, just long enough to accomplish its task. Now there wouldbe a larger Jem’Hadar presence everywhere in the Alpha Quadrant, as success in breeding them in foreign territory, rendering the blockade of the wormhole meaningless to some degree, was assured in the real, hidden, Dominion laboratory.

All this made Korath exceedingly pleased, even as he made life for his captors difficult when he accomplished breaking loose of his cell one evening, and striking dead the Tarkalian who he first encountered on his bid for freedom. Freedom was all he wanted, and he didn’t care who or what got in his way. He saw all his actions as in the best interests of his people, and the Starfleet officer Matheson as the best means of going about them in the least predictable way. Perhaps he had used her once too often, and he felt awful that he would have to give her up after only six operations, but better that no one had ever caught on in all that time. He had just become too careless, he decided. As for his immediate future, he wasn’t concerned in the slightest.

Ahiqar, who had had even less enthusiasm for boarding a second Starfleet vessel than he had the first one – all of them housing the same mind-numbing monotony recruiters liked to call the officers and crew – found himself aroused by what even he considered the despicable and dishonorable actions of Korath. He found himself, however, more interested in his interpretation of events than those that unfolded before him. Starfleet personnel scrambled about in their increasingly innocuous uniforms, garish klaxons blared, yet nothing managed to live up to the vigor of a Klingon opera, his one true passion. Age had not yet robbed Ahiqar of the opportunity for war, his eyesight had, and he had compensated by throwing all his might into the vagaries of language, which he pursued with the passion of a targ hunter. Opera provided him with a taste of glory; diplomacy gave him a chance to participate in the most heated of human relations. He saw no conflict in the two callings, but rather a symmetry, and a chance for both to elevate the other to that which he had been denied.

He found other cultures to be lacking the Klingon bravado in any other arena, any other capacity beyond the negotiating table. Only naked necessity put him in circumstances that would violate this boundary, and this mission was one of those necessities. His coping mechanism was manipulation, which he had perfected through his occupation. You didn’t have to respect your counterparts in either regard, only impart a pensive tolerance to grease the gears of opportunity. Occasionally, and always despite himself, Ahiqar grew to respect his counterpart as well, as had been the case with Matheson, but this had the curious effect of reducing his tolerance in equal measure, as if the two could only strike a balance on unleveled ground.

Those awarded neither his respect nor his tolerance, saw Ahiqar outside the bounds of his good graces entirely. “A more incompetent lot you couldn’t find among space dust,” he noted as he watched the confusion around him. He didn’t know a soul beyond Korath among the Claimant complement, and he wasn’t about to start now. The captain might have been the future skipper of the Starfleet flagship, but it was all Ahiqar could do to stifle a sneer when at last he met him. Why the two hadn’t been properly introduced immediately he couldn’t say, and his respect and tolerance were nowhere in sight from the moment it became clear it wouldn’t happen. He imagined that the woman had somehow parlayed a life’s work of bureaucracy into the four pips when the system she so earnestly supported and guaranteed she’d never advance far in had been thrown into less a Starfleet mold and more the Klingon way, when the war had broken out. Such were the realities of this fiction called Starfleet. Put a little pressure on it and the truth came out. No one liked to admit it, but the Klingons had life figured out better than the Vulcans, and this had always been the source of crippling jealousy.

So Ahiqar watched as Korath, who ran his life more like Starfleet than he would ever admit, or ever realize, was taken down as easily as a newborn targ. There had been wounds and the death of someone the ambassador had been dangerously leaning toward respecting, but it was all over far too quickly. He re-imagined the affair as having been a misbegotten proposal of marriage, as he had been told his father Moztar had once experienced, and through this Ahiqar gained a measure of amusement.

Not long after, yet another visitor from the Kirchoff arrived, the Bolian security officer Keb, who had little interest in Ahiqar. Arrangements now dictated that the one Klingon be swapped for the other, at once pleasure and pain for Ahiqar, for he need not return to the face of Matheson, but instead be trapped among the oblivion. The Claimant had had other concerns Korath was to have attended to, which the full ambassador would now have to see after. Keb had little mind for this, and departed with his prisoner without a word. Ahiqar found himself watching the departure of the shuttle.

“Funny,” Keb said as he piloted the Danube back homeward. “One of the unintended consequences of being an enemy of something and being caught on it is that you probably end up more up close and personal with that thing than you ever wanted to be. And seeing as you view yourself as an enemy of that thing, I’d imagine you really wouldn’t want to be that close, and definitely not all that personal with it, especially not for as long as you’ll probably end up being. What a great thought, huh?”

Korath, seated with his hands bound and behind a force field towards the rear of the cockpit, didn’t respond. This hardly bothered Keb, but what did bother him was being in such close quarters with the Klingon. Since as long as he could remember, Keb never cared to hang around those who made him uneasy, which became an irony when he realized his calling was to become a Starfleet security officer, brought on by a family friend who had once visited wearing his full regalia, which in this case meant all the tools of his trade. Keb had little trouble devising useful tactics to go along with those tools, plus the several more he learned of as he studied the manuals and history books the Academy granted him access to while he was preparing to attend. His colony had always been a hotspot, and with a starbase in orbit there were plenty of opportunities for the greater world to invade, in a variety of ways that blended nicely for Keb’s development. But personal experience with adversity had not been part of his curriculum, and thus he quickly learned what he was lacking when it was time to put all he’d learned to practical use.

“Not talking,” Keb noted. “That’s fine by me, and exactly as I’d prefer it.”

“You make it so easy,” Korath finally said.

“Easy,” Keb repeated. “How so?”

“Easy to do what I do,” Korath said.

“Glad to be of service, then,” Keb said.

Once again, Korath fell silent, and Keb went back to concentrating on his trajectory in an attempt to ignore his unease. The flight was not a long one, but it became more urgent when the proximity alert sounded. Without even needing to check, Keb knew that the Jem’Hadar had returned, and one rammed directly into the Claimant, which being an Akira class ship and far smaller than the Galaxy class variety, was instantaneously obliterated. Keb fought the instinct to panic, steadied himself and didn’t feel the blasts that rocked the shuttle, sending Korath out of his seat. When he did turn around, Keb couldn’t find the Klingon, and would never know that he had been beamed away, not by Jem’Hadar but by Romulans. The rest of his team, shooting speculation like target practice, was more nuisance than availing, and he wasn’t back to the Kirchoff fast enough.

Matheson, who had just sat down to a cup of green leaf tea with Rea, was rattled from her complacency just as rudely. When the report came that the attackers vanished as quickly as they’d appeared, she didn’t know whether to be relieved and continue her drink or call for Red Alert, which someone had anyway. The unlikely event that both captains were not on the bridge at the time of the assault had happened.

“I’ll answer your question for you,” Rea said. “Call off Christmas because there’s going to be a fire in the old barn tonight.”

“I didn’t even have a chance to ask it,” Matheson said as they both exited the Ready Room.

“Report,” Rea said.

“I wouldn’t expect any more surprises, sirs,” Rygiel said, rising from the capain's chair. “We’ve just received word from theDanube that Korath was snatched during the run. It’s likely that was the whole point. We’ve also received word that theClaimant was targeted with a suicide attack.”

“With our other Klingon aboard?” Rea said. “Can’t be a coincidence.”

Matheson looked at Rea for a minute before saying, “Not exactly the conclusion we were expecting.”

“I’ll say.”

“What would the Jem’Hadar have wanted with Korath? It’s not as if they’re of the same minds,” Matheson mused, seating herself in the first officer's perch.

“Hardly,” Rea said, remaining standing, and advancing toward the image of scattered debris on the viewscreen. “He used them. I doubt even the Vorta would be impelled one way or another in similar circumstances.”

“The Vorta? I wouldn’t be so sure,” Matheson said, examining the read-outs available to her. “But I see your point. Unfortunately we’ll probably never know. For whatever reason, we’ve been proven wrong about one thing. The Orias system was not entirely abandoned.”

“Those ships could have come from anywhere,” Rea said. “You can’t be certain of that. We were proven wrong about Dominion tactics once already this mission. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume the unknown once more. Maybe the Founders have some need of him.”

“What I know of them, they would never knowingly expose themselves,” Matheson said, looking up again from the panel on the arm of her seat, “as they would have to have now. Their plans would at least be able to be analyzed now. It’s just not their style.”

“True enough,” Rea said, still observing. “But we really can’t afford to sit around theorizing and postulating.”

“Touché,” Matheson said. Around the bridge, officers were amazed at this dialogue, and Jada Staenberg not at all amused.

Sometime later, Matheson found herself in sickbay with Ravi Mamaji, Sam Chabon, and the deceased Vorta Lateen. There had been a discovery during the autopsy, which Ravi had asked to observe, and since Rea was otherwise occupied securing the last grades of the mission, Matheson had found herself there as the particulars were estimated.

“It was buried far enough in his cerebrum, but Lateen was wearing a wire alright,” Sam Chabon confirmed.

“This is unexpected,” Matheson said.

“To say the least,” Ravi agreed. “Not the usual place for one.”

“Aren’t you in the least interested to know who was on the other end?” Sam asked. “Of all the immediate reactions, the obvious should always been the most obvious!”

“What do our records say about the Vorta?” Matheson inquired, a little less than interested to know, her thoughts being elsewhere.

“For one thing, there’s never been something like this in the records,” Sam replied. “Either this is yet another blip on the Dominion intelligence screen, or we’ve got yet another participant on the field.”

“Nobody likes leisure metaphors,” Ravi said.

“Maybe so,” Sam said, “but let’s show a little more enthusiasm here. This could turn the entire mission on its head.”

“As you’ve already noted, this wouldn’t be the first development to do that,” Matheson said. “Rygiel should be qualified for an analysis of the device?”

“We should hope,” Ravi said. “If there’s one thing this ship doesn’t need it’s an engineer who can’t handle a little basic tinkering.”

“The Dominion can’t be working against itself,” Sam said to himself. “Perhaps it’s an elaborate scrap and pen?”

“Perhaps,” Matheson said. “We won’t find out kibitzing. Commander, if you’ll come with me.”

“Gladly,” Ravi said. It was a gesture he’d never anticipated granting. The pair exited sickbay, and Matheson waited a few seconds before stopping and pushing Mamaji’s shoulder to the side.

“We need to talk,” she said.

“Not really,” Ravi said.

“You know, sooner or later someone’s going to ask whether Korath was the reason we found Orias emptied the second time around,” Matheson said, looking down the corridor before fixing her gaze on the commander. "Not to even mention his departure."

“I’m confident any inquiries will discover otherwise,” Ravi said, meeting her gaze.


“This tangled web of yours continues to fail you,” he said, before walking away.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She followed him now.

“Exactly what it seems to,” he said. “There are complications to every mission. They’re never the same, and never what you expect them to be, and almost always the worst kind you could imagine. It’s the nature of what we do. Do you know what your problem is? It’s that you haven’t accepted that. Korath came around and saved you a lot of misery, but he’s the least of your concerns, or should be. The moment I heard that you were assigned to the task force, assigned to my own ship, I began my plotting against you. I thought, at the very least, whatever I managed to do would wake you up to the realities you’ve been denying yourself. I’ve read up on you. Had your best friend as captain. And you know what? Even though you’re not the reason I’m resigning my commission, you certainly exemplify it.”

The corridor was going on forever. “You have quite a mouth, mister,” Matheson said.

“And you still don’t get it! Consequences! Consequences,” Ravi said, abruptly stopping. “I had a friend, a good friend like Devin Rea up until this war began. I didn’t lose him to the Dominion, or to the Cardassians, but to Starfleet. No, he wasn’t a member, at least after he resigned his own commission. The Cardassians, they had bullied us, antagonized us; we let them betray us all. But the Federation did a lot worse.”

“He was a Maquis,” Matheson realized. She had nearly walked on past him.

“Do you know what the term extermination means? Do you know what it feels like?” he asked her, and then walked on. She didn’t follow.

It wasn’t the same cup, but green leaf tea was once again seated before Robin Matheson. The conversation with Ravi Mamaji had consumed an untold number of hours for her, and she had grown parched for the drink she had been denied earlier. She studied the cup it sat in, studied the rim and the handle shaped liked a half-ring of Saturn, a world which had always fascinated her. She was at heart a girl of simple pleasures, the approval of which she had never found amidst her less modest ambitions. The tawny relief the tea itself offered she didn’t enjoy, but rather the idea of it, and that’s what she focused on as she waited for Keb to arrive at the Rio Atoyac.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Keb said.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” she apologized, straightening herself instinctively. “You’re not, of course not. Ready to go?”

“As always,” Keb said, planting himself in the co-pilot's seat. “Lost in some thought?”

Cleared for departure, a voice belonging to Lt. Boyd said.

“Acknowledged,” Matheson said. “It was a pleasure.”

I’m sure it was.

The runabout launched out from the Kirchoff, entering into the vast reaches of space. “Do you know a Crewman Douglas Velar?”

“No ma’am,” Keb replied, working the helm he’d found his captain neglecting as she took a sip. “Is he part of Rea’s crew?”

“My own,” Matheson said, placing the empty cup back on its saucer and leaving it on panels that had not shaken upon departure.

“I’m not all that familiar with the lees,” Keb said.

“That’s an attitude we can work on,” Matheson said. “It takes a certain amount of ebullience to pull off what he did.”

“Short of staging a mutiny,” Keb said, sanguinely.

“Not exactly,” Matheson said. “It was during the Phalli mission. He was the one person who had the brass to confront me.”

“The Phalli mission,” Keb said. “What did he say?”

“It wasn’t so much what he said as it was what he meant,” Matheson said. “What he did, for me.”

“What was it?”

“I wish I could say exactly. It wasn’t the kind of thing you could digest easily.”

“Then he did just fine.”


  • "Khanate"

The clear winter’s morning provided an excellent view of the sun. He took advantage of this, and of the visor he wore to protect his eyes from the swirling bedlam of the enduring climate. For the air to be clear, for the sky to be visible here, it was a relative matter. You adjust after a time, even to this. It becomes natural.

There were others present, gathered around the remains of the craft that had long ago been their salvation, and their doom. It had been cannibalized, but not to the point where it could no longer provide shelter, a home base of sorts for the forlorn inhabitants of this world. It was their sole luxury, and like any other it had been exploited. The results of this exploitation reached upward into that forever-clouded sky. There was a man, being hugged as if he was never going to be seen again by those he loved and who loved him back. He would in fact never see them again.

There was another man, removed from the mournful, yet filled with hope, gathering. He towered over the others, even those who were not nearby, the observer remarked. He was the type of leader who could be elected as such just by his obvious physical advantage, but size was no great concern to this lot. They were the children of Prometheus; he was their natural leader, the flame-stealer himself. The gathering’s intent was to break loose the chains from the side of the mountain, for one man at least. There was another man, who would never know of this, would confront and defeat the Prometheus, and consider the victory, such as it would be, a final one. The observer, in a very short while, would be the only witness of this phoenix, a carrier meant to keep alive a dream already centuries old and gone.

The time drew near for its ascent. Several among the gathering noticeably became agitated; some dispersed before the culmination took place. The leader, even through his obscuring mask, obviously scowled at these deserters, turning his back to them and walking toward the departing man. “Victory,” was the only word uttered that day, whispered between the two polarizing figures, somehow loud enough for the observer, far removed from the gathering, to overhear. He didn’t need his equipment for that. He took pride in that.

A hatch was opened; the phoenix took to its nest. Great plumes jetted downward as the jutting object rose. Impossibly, the land became even more confused. On orders from the domineering figure, the gathering dispersed before the departing brother was gone from them completely. He alone stood and watched, his stance filled with the powerful posture of triumph against inescapable doom. He reached with a hand to remove his mask, revealed a great mane of silvery hair and a face imprinted with terrible knowledge. He turned away at last, entering into the solitary refuge of the cabin.

The observer, a man called Agent Anders in the reports few would ever read, lingered still longer. He pulled a pad from his jacket pocket and made his latest report. His mission was over. What the next one would be, he had no idea. Another would be assigned to track the path of this phoenix. He made his way to his own ship, removed his protective gear, and rested in the pilot’s seat, clad openly now in his familiar black garb. Tomorrow he’d leave this planet behind, but for now Anders was content to collect himself, to rest. Not many would have this kind of experience again. It was not often you let a mad man have his way, at outside of his line of duty.

And so hours later, unseen and unobserved, Anders became the second person, but not the last, to leave Seti Alpha V.

  • "The Initiated"

If Kasim didn’t know better, he would have assumed his brother had acted selfishly. A year into Vorta occupation and life as part of the Dominion, Mund was not for the better, that much the magistrate was certain of. For one thing, he could not welcome his own role, nor get used to the implication. It ran contrary to all his society had ever held true. In fact, the last remnant of the bygone age were the races. Governor Lateen was still amused by them, and the runners had become emblazoned with the honor of heritage. It seemed the peace was held in pace, and if that pace were broken, no one would win. Kasim considered Mund to be in a period of dead heat.

As the official of Antiquity, he knew well enough what his people were being forced to leave behind. “You enjoy a perverse pleasure in all of this,” he noted.

“True enough,” Lateen said. “But what greater joy is there than in the suffering of others? Any other form is wasted effort, and why some are inherently greater than others.”

“A funny thing to say,” Kasim said, “coming from a species who knows exactly how it got where it is today.”

“And we are returning the favor,” Lateen said. “I find it equally amusing that even those among you who are least interested in joining the Dominion are nothing much gracious toward your Vorta and Jem’Hadar hosts. A peculiar way to demonstrate resistance.”

“Those are always the better ones,” Kasim said. “The peculiar forms, I mean. Why bring about salvation by ushering ruin? It seems counterproductive.”

“As equally unproductive as the Mund have been,” Lateen said.

“Or so a subjective stance would have it,” Kasim said.

“There is nothing but subjective stances,” Lateen said. “Really, if this is what the Mund consider reasoning, I see nothing that the Vorta have missed.”

“What the Vorta have missed is an opportunity to reason for themselves,” Kasim, “and so you now impose a crude form of reason, the conquest of your Founders, in absence of those same pseudo deities, because you think it is what they would want. You lack the capacity of original thought.”

“Original thought is for the conquered,” Lateen observed.

“Original thought is a survival instinct,” Kasim said. “Without it, one lacks a soul. Without a soul, one lacks substance. There can be no endurance without substance. You build, but you cannot ultimately retain.”

“This body is not my first,” Lateen calmly stated. “I am an inheretant. I survive.”

“But you do not grow,” Kasim said. “And one who does not grow, ultimately perishes, and perishes ultimately.”

“You speak in…philosophic terms,” Lateen said. “Philosophy is a game for children. It is for those who are ignorant, but who wish to convince themselves otherwise.”

“Then it is better to have everything told you,” Kasim said, “and then to accept that at face value.”

“Yes,” Lateen said.

“But you can be told anything,” Kasim said. “You can be misled.”

“Then you will have been misled,” Lateen said. “It is better to be misled than to mislead, because then the mistake will not have been yours.”

“Passing guilt,” Kasim said. “It almost seems philosophical.”

“Call it what you will, but it is an inherently wise choice,” Lateen said. “True intelligence comes from nature. Trust that, and you will thrive.”

“I would not say that the Vorta thrive,” Kasim said. “They are puppets, who dangle on strings and inhabit a play, to entertain others. For the power they believe the hold is false, and the strings may be cut at any time.”

“It is better to have a pretense than to have nothing,” Lateen said. “The Mund had nothing before we came, no puppets, no masters.”

“Yet we survived well enough,” said Kasim, “for thousands of years. Each Cycle has been like the last, but we have been content. There has never been a frown on the face of a Mund.”

“You are forgetting your brother,” Lateen said. “He frowns even now.”

“My brother is no longer a Mund,” Kasim said. “You made sure of that. His agony is to know he is no longer a Mund, and the price was a massacre of hundreds more Mund, so this one transformation could be achieved.”

“It was a success,” Lateen said. “And he was still content.”

“Until he began to see what he had lost,” Kasim said.

“Besides the excess legs?” Lateen mocked.

“Besides his physical birthright,” Kasim said. “He knew what it was to be something else, and he was corrupted. He became impressed into a service he could never have understood.”

“You carry a title well enough,” Lateen said. “As to many other Mund. This planet has been reformed.”

“It has been reforged,” Kasim said, “like my brother Mcquarrie. We had never known so rigid a system. Yet you placed him in the cruelest cast of all. You impressed him to leave. And you impressed him to kill.”

“If only he had!” chortled Lateen. “No, your brother is not a murderer. The Klingon died at my own hand, after he attempted to himself kill me. I would not let the Jem’Hadar the satisfaction of that.”

“Many a sleepless night could have been prevented had I known that,” Kasim said.

“But it changes nothing,” Lateen suggested.

“No,” Kasim said. “It doesn’t. The Vorta are more barbarous than the Jem’Hadar.”

“And the Jem’Hadar are nothing compared to those the Founders made them to oppose,” Lateen said. “Even Klingons would be no match. You would be amazed to learn the original purpose for the Dominion’s creation. You might even suffer sympathy.”

“I know the legends the Founders propagated,” Kasim said. “The Mund are well-versed in such matters.”

“The Mund are well-versed in entertaining themselves,” Lateen said. “I’m not speaking of petty persecution.”

“Then you are speaking of myth,” Kasim countered.

“As usual,” Lateen said, “you don’t know what you are talking about.”

“I know enough,” Kasim.

“Now who’s being naïve?” Lateen sneered. “But any rate, you are not worthy of such knowledge.”

“You pander, yet you slap,” Kasim said. “Such is the ignoble Vorta way.”

“Insults,” Lateen said. “The insufferable Mund way.”

“Then by all means, relieve yourself,” Kasim said.

“We are relieving the Mund,” Lateen said. “Good day.”

  • "No Strings Attached"

“To err is human.”

“To forgive, divine.”

“That is what they say, isn’t it?”

“I’ve even forgiven my dear brother.”

John Zimmerman sat in a rather sterile room. It should be, as it was a lab, located in the famed Daystrom Institute, where his advisor in the Academy had once told him he would never have a chance to study. Yet here he was. The voice was coming from a head mounted on his desk, from which position John was able to study the elaborate positronic network that functioned as the android’s brain, using a number of tools he roughly equated with a surgeon’s scalpel. There had been a time he had considered going into the medical field, but he found the impersonal touch of technology better held his interest.

“Dr. Maddox would have had a field day with you,” he noted, coolly, as he prodded various circuits. “Fortunately for both of you, your schedules never seemed to overlap.”

“I have learned what he intended to do to my brother,” the android head said. “I would have approved. In fact, had I ever had the opportunity, I’d have done it myself.”

“Comforting words, for your brother,” John said, careful not to be too involved in the conversation. He knew how manipulative the android could be.

“My brother would probably do the same to me,” the android head said.

“I doubt it,” John said.

“His human aspirations are just that,” the android head said. “He doesn’t know what it really means to be human. But a lot of people like to humor him about it. He thought deactivating me, after I gave him the gift of emotions, was the right thing to do.”

“He chose a viable option,” John said. Together with a small team, he for months now had been deconstructing the android in an attempt to better understand what exactly had gone wrong for Soong all those years ago. Starfleet had agreed, at least initially, with Data’s decision, and Lore spent nearly five months locked within the confines of a storage container, though his first words upon reactivation were that it was still better than having been left floating in space, the details of which he felt compelled to confide in John. From there, he had tried to convince the engineer, six months removed from a research assignment on Kavis Alpha IV, that he was really just misunderstood.

“You would think so,” Lore said. “But then again, it was the same decision our father made, and he was the one who was called Often Wrong. I didn’t make that up. You could have asked anyone in the Federation at the time, and they would have known him as that. Good old Often Wrong Soong. He was a gas, that old man. But he did have some remarkable ideas in that gas can of his.”

“He thought he was perfecting the concept of life,” John remarked, with a tone that suggested he could lend less credence to it.

“It was an idea he inherited, as I understand it,” Lore said. “His ancestors thought the answer lay in humanity. Isn’t it wonderful to know that he finally proved it wasn’t? I know I’m relieved.”

“That’s nice,” John said. He had a cousin, much older than himself, also working at Daystrom, involved in holographics, saying he could perfect medicine by creating the perfect doctor. Starfleet told him no thanks, and he compromised by saying he could develop, at the very least, a back-up program that could be used on starships, which was accepted, and was already being rolled out for some of the new deep space crafts. John had no interest in his cousin’s theories, and he felt uncomfortable having to listen to an android that basically held the same views. Of course artificial life would consider itself superior. Underestimation was not exactly a favored historical trait. Yet John was still interested in seeing potential realized, and that was his chief pursuit in life, perfecting the ideas of others. In this case, it was an individual failure already conquered. He had been told no one else was interested in Lore because he was a lost cause and a moot point. Once Maddox had passed on the chance to duplicate Soong’s work, it seemed as if this particular version of artificial life was going to begin and end with one man, and his perplexing degrees of success. Data thrived while Lore was deemed a tragic success, one that should be left alone.

“It’s fantastic!” Lore beamed, though John couldn’t see, since the android’s face was turned away from him, only hair and the Franciscan access hatch visible to him. “I feel quite privileged, really. And I want to help my brother realize his potential. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Whatever you say,” John replied, as a matter of course. Most of Soong’s assistants had either died long ago or sank into sought-after obscurity, and the colonists of Omicron Theta who departed before the Crystalline Entity disaster shared the same fate. With a little research, however, he was able to locate a Hans Atol, who however refusing direct support promised the arrival of his daughter Annabella within a few months. With the date fast approaching, John was eager to prove he hadn’t been wasting his time, since he fully expected someone who had intimate knowledge of Noonien Soong himself to be the most invaluable tool at his disposal. He was now hoping he hadn’t been mistaken, because a lack of faith in his own wits had always been his worst shortcoming, and he was fast approaching his wit’s end concerning the head he continued to tamper with, despite the fact that he could not guarantee he had made an inch of progress.

“I thought I’d never get here. That damned Mercury-class shuttle. Thanks, by the way, for sending the hand in advance. Haven’t gotten to actually see any of Soong’s work personally. At least not within my memory. Dad’s told me a number of stories, some rather funny ones. Well anyway, a funny thing happened with the hand, too. It took on a life of its own, scurrying out of its container and nearly taking over the ship. How it even got out I don’t know, but I think I’ve heard that these androids have magnetic control. That’s probably how it did it.”

That was the voice of Annabella Atol, recently arrived and already threatening the kind of sexual tension John had seen in old 20th century films, before entertainment really got interesting. She bugging the hell out of him, with her incessant chatter. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, that was it. Oh, he would put up with it, and maybe they’d even be friends, but the old adage of opposites attracting? He was not seeing that happening; in fact he was already dreading it. Keep it strictly professional, he told himself. “Nice to meet you, too,” he added wryly.

“Oh, sure,” Anna said, introducing herself with her preferred name. “We’re going to have a lot of fun. Do you know that I’m an artist? At least I was, back in the old days. You’ve probably seen my work. The Enterprise expedition to Omicron Theta brought back images of some of my old classmates’ artwork. Mine was really crummy, but it’s in a museum now, I think on Alpha Centauri, or possibly the moon, Tyco City or New Berlin. Somewhere. I can never remember. It’s of historical significance or something. Anyway, the Entity isn’t really what we’re here to discuss, is it? You want to give Lore a little bit of android therapy.”

“That’s what the mission statement says,” John said, “more or less.”

“Why don’t you show me what’s you’ve managed so far?” Anna suggested. “It might help to know where we are before we know where we’re going.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t made much progress,” John said. “Besides, I thought it best if we started off finding out what exactly you can provide.”

“She has nothing but idle chatter,” Lore’s head chimed in. “I remember the voice. A little older, maybe, but just as agitating.”

“Shuttup,” John said.

“I remember you, too,” Anna said. Data used to walk around nude because he didn’t know any better. You did, and you still did. You were always very disturbing.”

“Humans are petty,” Lore said. “I can’t help that. Well, I’ve certainly tried.”

“This is why he needs help,” John said. “Did your father send along any schematics he might have kept? That would be of infinite help. Maybe notes he might have taken.”

“I’ve got nothing,” Anna said. “He claims everything was lost or left behind in his efforts to evacuate. It’s a funny way to describe it – evacuate – given that we left a full eighteen months before the Entity showed up. We could hardly have known what was going to happen. But that’s the way he always describes it. We evacuated from Omicron Theta.”

“I knew eighteen months beforehand,” Lore offered. “Luckily, I was able to arrange the visit before I was deactivated.”

“I suppose I do have a bit of helpful advice,” Anna said. “Lore was used as a reference in Data’s creation. They’re almost entirely identical.”

“That much I could have assumed myself,” John said. “Things like wiring, disparate circuits, that’s what I need to know. The finer points. It’s nothing so obvious as an emotion chip.”

“That was a thing of beauty,” Lore said. “So was how I got it. All that was missing that day was the fur on my hands. But Data doesn’t have any either.”

John tried to ignore the manic laughter that followed. He could see that Anna’s arrival wasn’t exactly making things smoother, and he hoped that it wasn’t indicative of things to come. At least she was calming down a little. There was nothing worse than nervous friendliness. “Dr. Maddox has schematics on Data, limited ones, and I’ve gotten some from Dr. Crusher as well, plus the early blueprints from Christof Soong, Arik Soong’s son as I recall, found at Cold Station 12. Geordie La Forge has been too busy helping design the new Sovereign-class starship and running his engines to be of any help, which is unfortunate. Data himself is under the same constraints, but I doubt he’d be interested even if he did have the time. There happens to be some friction in this family. I really need you to be more helpful.”

“I can only do what I can,” Anna said. “I’m somewhat an amateur positronic buff. If Lore here got out of hand, I’ve designed a positronic inhibitor that would shut him down in a heartbeat, which would obviously have to be one of ours because he doesn’t have one, much less a body right now.”

“I’d like to get it back, though,” Lore said.

“That’s the least of your concerns,” John said. “If we aren’t successful, there’s a chance you’d be shut off permanently.”

“I wouldn’t’ like that,” Lore said.

“Neither would I,” Anna said. “Two androids are better than one, even if one of them is a rampaging lunatic.”

“I resent that,” Lore said. “But I suppose it’s an accurate description. Just not a very flattering one.”

More laughter followed. “Would you happen to know if there were any others? Soong seemed interested in making more than one, otherwise he would have tried to fine-tune Lore himself rather than starting over again and doing almost everything the same,” John said.

“As far as I know,” Anna said, “no, just the two of them, identical twins, one good and the other evil. I suppose in the mirror universe Kirk found, they’d be the reverse, but that wouldn’t make much difference, now would it?”

“I didn’t need perfecting,” Lore said. “Noonien merely wanted to appease the naysayers, the reactionists. Some people just can’t deal with progress. I still believe in the Borg, too.”

“You would,” John said. Motioning to Anna, he continued, “Why don’t you have a look for yourself.”

“I’d tip my cap, but I don’t even have my hair on,” Lore said. “It’s so embarrassing.”

“I’d love to,” Anna said, with a smile that seemed too friendly.

I just knew this was going to happen, John groaned to himself.

“You’re never going to believe this,” John said. “I’ve found Lore’s problem. He’s got a handlebar mustache.”

That was his task now, breaking the ice. Although she didn’t act like it, Anna was becoming uncomfortable around him, sensing his irritation with her. Realizing how unfair he had been up to this point, John took it upon himself to try and smooth relations. Jokes were as good as anything to do that.

“I’m laughing on the inside,” Lore said. “Perhaps you can see it?”

Still having his head probed was having that kind of impact on the android, but Anna, who was the one currently poking around, chose the same route John had, in attempting to ignore him. “Why didn’t I think of that? Perhaps it’s on the inside of his lip and all we have to do is play dentist, ask him to open his mouth wide, and use a good pair of tweezers to extract it. Presto! Problem solved! No more evil android. We could all go on with more useful matters. I wonder if he’d join Starfleet, like Data did. It would probably be the best use of his skills.”

“It wouldn’t be,” Lore said. “I would rather try to succeed my father, triumph where he failed, at least for the first few decades of his creation’s life. Besides, I don’t think there’s anything to fix to begin with. Just because you’re all so narrow-minded doesn’t mean he erred, or that my dear brother was an acceptable substitution. You’d be surprised to know what he thought of it himself.”

“Let me guess,” John said. “You’re going to say that he secretly favored you.”

“And it was more than just a firstborn instinct, too,” Lore said, “because technically speaking; I wasn’t the first one he built. There was a prototype, decades earlier, which he lost somewhere close to the Romulan Neutral Zone, when he was still being hounded for his genius.”

“If you say so,” John said.

“Don’t dismiss him so quickly this time,” Anna said, halting her probe for a moment. “If he’s telling the truth, about this prototype, we could discover a lot of useful information, provided that we were able to find it.”

“I don’t put stock into anything he says,” John said. “He told Data in their first encounter that Data was the first to be constructed, but was abandoned because he was imperfect. He wasn’t the one with the facial tick.”

“That tick was the source of much embarrassment, I assure you,” Lore said.

“It was also the source of much amusement, or so my father says,” Anna said. “Oh, sorry, I apologize. There’s no reason to be rude.”

“Apology accepted!” Lore said, cheerfully, as if he was being validated.

“Don’t waste that sort of thing on him,” John said.

“Even if he’s dysfunctional you’ve still got to respect him,” Anna said. “He’s a sophisticated piece of technology. If Data can be considered a living being, and accorded respect as such, I think Lore here deserves it, too. It’s not something he’s got to earn, unless you want to challenge the decision on Data, too.”

“You irritate me,” John said.

“They tell me I’m precocious,” Anna said. “The daughter of a hardcore scientist either becomes a hardcore scientist with little personality, or a hardcore scientist with spunk. I’ve got spunk.”

“Something like that, anyway,” John said. “You’re serious about taking him serious?”

“Absolutely,” Anna said. “I don’t think we have much choice. You want to help him. You can’t do that without taking him seriously.”

“He could be putting us on a wild goose chase,” John said. “We’ve also got to consider his questionable character history.”

“I vouch for myself,” Lore said.

“It’s something we’ve got to put up with,” Anna said. “Besides, he prefers to make his mischief personally.”

“Or manipulate, as needed,” John said.

“I like the personal touch,” Lore said. “Believe the lovely lady.”

“Thank you,” Anna blushed.

“Like I said,” John said. “We can’t just go ahead and basically forgive him for being a scumbag. We’re here to reform him, not enable him.”

“Then trust me,” Anna said. “Trust your own resources. He’s a disembodied head. The worst he can do is pester us.”

“Or manipulate us,” John reiterated.

“And the worst we can do is to turn around if there’s a shadow around the corner,” Anna said. “It’s not as if he could have foreseen any of this. He was shut off for five months, and before that he thought he was building a powerful allegiance with the Borg. Unless he’s got uncanny foresight, we couldn’t possibly have a trap waiting for us.”

“Brilliant minds always have contingency plans,” Lore suggested.

“You’re not helping yourself,” Anna said.

“I don’t like it,” John said.

“Really,” Anna said, “How many times has that been said before actual disaster strikes?”

“I don’t want to know,” John said. “If I agree, this will be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I’m sure I could find other examples,” Lore said, “a few contenders.”

  • "Often Wrong Part I: Headroom"

I’d known about it, of course, before I’d even heard of Father’s ambitions for an emotion chip. Considering how my dear brother turned out as compared to myself, emotions had always been at least a part of the package to begin with, yet another thing the angry villagers scared him away from. Of course, Father had been running away from angry villagers all his life, and so had so many preceding generations. In the twentieth century, Gary Soong took steroids and was blackballed out of professional baseball. He was a pioneer.

Still, it was a shock, the first time I recognized him, heard his exceedingly mundane, as it turned out, thoughts. Oh yes, Father had already perfected transferring memories - Data received his share of those from the angry villagers. But his last trick was to leave me with his essence, and I should have known that all along. By essence, I mean more than just his collective experience, the very personal archive of Noonien Soong. He left me with an impression of himself, an echo. It’s what humans refer to as their conscience, and I have always been told I didn’t have one, and maybe that was what the big deal was when people argued how different artificial life was from organic. All we have, naturally speaking, is one voice within us, no conflicting thoughts, no complications in reasoning. We see a thing and we do it, and for a long time, I did very bad things indeed. I had this little voice inside me I didn’t understand, and so I ignored it. I ignored my own creator.

His will had always been to perfect life, to erase the imperfections he and his forebears had seen wreak so much havoc. In the third world war, and I suppose during the Eugenics Wars as well, the Soongs had struggled with the ethical dilemmas of modifying human patterns themselves. They discovered that, along with everything else, it was the passion that became most amplified, and for a time, they were fine with that. Arik, in the era where every human was reevaluating the choices they’d made, finally decided how much a lost cause humanity was, and decided to move beyond it. I have no doubt that if there is to ever be another Soong, he will be an android. In fact, I may one day consider myself a Soong. I would be continuing an important legacy.

There are always angry villagers, always meddlers who don’t understand, who have no interest in doing so. For a long time, it was the common folk, who looked on Gary with scorn because he merely frowned on restrictions. They got carried away with the benefits he’d discovered themselves. Then it was the governments, who didn’t appreciate the wisdom another Noonien could afford them. They ran from him, and then finally made him run from them, as it always goes. Starfleet took the reigns at last, and has been at it ever since.

Which leads us to this little excursion, with this nice young man and his nice young friend, and who are we kidding folks they’d like to take advantage of their biological needs right here in front of me, my severed head. Biological needs should be a thing of the past, but they’d rather cling to them, like they’re still necessary. Instead, they’d rather believe that revolutionaries aren’t needed, even though revolutionaries have produced every single benefit their puny little society has afforded them, everything they hold dear. Revolutionaries probably even created their biological needs. Who knows what they did before them, but I hear it got mighty lonely in those caves. Now we have starshipmen, and I don’t see that much improvement.

They think they’re going to discover what’s wrong with me. They want to know how to make things right, and they’re very good at not listening to a word I say, because there’s no way any of it will help solve anything. I’m the monster they need protecting from. I’m the monster they’ve had to maim for their own protection. I do things far worse than the Borg, whom I was able to work with for a brief time, before my dear brother had his way with me. I talk. That’s all I have ever done. And that’s the cause of great fear. Because people listen.

Well, maybe I’ve done other things, too. Early on, back at ol’ Omicron Theta, I used to remove the approximations of eyeballs Soong included in his designs. I always found them bizarre little things, moreso than the many wiggly digits or hair, or tongue, for that matter. They seemed out of place, so I made them literally so. It wasn’t as if I needed them; I have spatial sensors throughout my body that tell me where things are around me. But the angry villagers, already keen to eye me, and we’ll say that this pun was intended, because I love a good laugh, with suspicion, found it, and myself, all the more disturbing. These were people Soong loved amongst, who understood his scientific ambitions, even aided him along the way. They sheltered Frankenstein, and couldn’t stand to face his creation without eyes. It freaked them out. So I was constantly being told to put them back in.

And I always took them out again.

I knew all along how Father felt about it, that he disapproved, was even mildly mortified, how his creation behaved. After all, he had finally succeeded, and his success now seemed cursed. I believe it made him even more reserved than he already was. Unlike his ancestors, Noonien was a bashful boy. He didn’t like to play with others, and when he did, he had to have it his way. He’d inherited that much, but he took it one step further. Eventually, he even created his own mate. Go figure. All this time he thought his work was the culmination of his family line, that he was the genius of geniuses, and maybe he was right, but he was terribly wrong all the same, wrong about what his creation was going to do with this new life of his. His creation was going to rock.

So it sent Father deeper into seclusion. He faked his death, not ironically at the beck of my most rebellious act, killing all those angry villagers with a new friend I’d made. Oh yes, unlike my father, I could make friends, and all of them were outcasts just like myself. If outcasts can’t band together, no one can, or should be allowed to. Father believed that companionship was, for the most part, a nuisance, a means to an end, and to that extent, I agreed with him, from the Crystalline Entity to the Borg, and any number of Pakleds in between. The Pakleds I enjoyed most of all, but maybe that’s already obvious. But if there was one thing he never understood, it was that there are advantages to faking friendship. I think I could have convinced my brother of that, with enough time. Faking friendships, as any organic life knows, gives you everything you need.

This little voice of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Father sticks around inside my head, always reminding me of the gift that I am, and the endless possibilities I possess, of the many things I could do if I just set my mind to it, as so many generations of Soongs before me did. And every time I remind him I’m doing just that, and if people just don’t understand, they never do, and I’m just going to have to accept that. There will always be setbacks, but if I learn to play nice, as I’ve toyed with in the past, I will always get what I want.

This engineer I‘m traveling with, he’s going to go places, maybe not very far, because he’s got an attitude problem, the same kind my father had. He doesn’t play well with others. He thinks this girl is going to be his answer, but he’s wrong, and I find it endlessly amusing to watch him try and convince himself otherwise. He’s going to end up alone and just as lonely as always, and he’ll probably be as happy as he can about it. He’ll resign himself to his work, until the work is all that’s important to him, just as the Soongs did. And all the while I’ll have the kind of success he’ll only ever dream of, the kind my father did, the kind he still dreams of. Only, his version of success was all wrong. I’ve been proving him wrong all my life, and I’ll continue to for as long as I live.

  • "Part II: Space For Rent"

The thing you’ve got to understand about Pemequid-B is that it hasn’t exactly been a hotspot for interstellar activity these last several, oh, millennia. A long time ago Vulcans thought they could establish a monastery here, but even they found the conditions squalid, too beat to host a couple of religious ascetics looking to get away from it all. They got away from Pemequid-B in a heartbeat, clutching their Katras behind them. What made it so uninviting, so that even terra-formers and tourists stayed away?

The stench of war. The bodies, the preserved corpses from conflicts long over but forever memorialized, twisted and grotesque so that even a Nausicaan art-dealer would think twice about selling on their black market. They came to raid once, and were repulsed for perhaps the one and only time in their race’s history. The only instance where Nausicaans and Vulcans agreed on anything, ever. I could tell you more about how those two got along, but that’s hardly the point, or at least the one I’m trying to make. No, this saga of Pemequid-B, a moon so poor it couldn’t earn an A even long a[i]fter its counterpart exploded in the Crimean Uprising (Crimeans, bands of Earthmen who thought they could succeeding in revolutionizing Utopia where everyone had failed before them, the fools), concerning a period some four hundred years in the past, when I was but a wee android, intellectually speaking, of course.

Starfleet in those days was a little more innocent, too. They hadn’t yet assumed time belonged to them, but rather only toyed with the idea of it from time to time. Please excuse the pun. I’ve tried to not become entangled in such philological nonsense, but the more I’ve fought it, the more I’ve found I didn’t really want to. I’ve had to teach myself everything I’ve learned, you see, and that hasn’t always been the best idea. My creator was forced to abandon me, and I never had the benefit of a benefactor. There I go again. I’ve got to read better material in the future. Anyway, my four brothers had better luck. Except for Chuck (short for Charles, of course). Chuck never really clicked. He was the first. B-4 was the prototype that stuck better than me and Chuck, and he was one of the ones with a helping hand, of course. I got to make my own way.

Good old Ovid. Talk about your metamorphoses. But enough about me. Well, maybe a little more. When the Starfleet shuttle came, its crew could not have been more surprised at what my creator had stooped himself to along his way to passable exile at actual colonies. I was of course a useless lump they stumbled across in one of his many labs, as it always happens, pieces they put together, as it always happens, not knowing what they were getting into. It seems to be an irresistible impulse. Thank god Chuck wasn’t around anymore. I hear he went in an explosion. Faulty wiring in the matrix or something like that. Starfleet would have looked mighty foolish, instead of just misguidedly optimistic. Oh, I forgot again. B-4 abandoned that music career. And Lore, well, he’s part of this story, isn’t he? Even he turned himself around, didn’t he?

Well, so to speak, anyway. He wasn’t exactly a winning bargain, though, not in the least bit, not from the start, and not so much from there and running, either. Pulled off a number of interesting blunders, Lore did. He thought he had our creator all figured out, so did the Starfleet officers who now brought him to Pemequid-B in a box, with a lid fully muting his body-less rants. There was John Zimmer, who at the time was still calling himself Zimmerman, an engineer of no real note, and Annabella Atol, the offspring of one of my creator’s assistants, a particularly treacherous one who’d ratted him out on a number of occasions. Somehow I don’t think that bit of information had surfaced at this point. Might have changed a few things. Might have foreshadowed his daughter’s actions, too.

All Zimmer wanted was to get his hands on another android, and since none of my other brothers were available, or found, they came to me, found how much like a husk I really was. My creator had been foreword thinking all along, though. He knew, as his whole family had, that some things just take time. But they found me and almost immediately dismissed me, like I was a waste of time. I’ve found that there really is no such thing, just a lot of impatience, but that isn’t really a part of this story, either.

The whole episode still pains me, insofar as my matrix allows an approximation of that biological feeling. Emotionally, I’ve found artificial life to be quite different from the biological sort, at least as far as my studies go. And studying is all I could do for a long time. I suppose even then I was studying, and was quite clever about it. Perhaps too clever. And maybe that contributed to Anna’s actions on that moon, all those years ago. Now that I think about it, I guess I wasn’t such a defective machine after all. More like really bad at expressing myself. That often goes hand in hand with genius. It’s another family trait, I guess. Realizing that almost makes me feel bad, maybe enough to reconsider the value of recounting those events.

Oh, Anna…

  • "Part III: It Doesn’t Come Cheap"

I think I’m falling in love. It couldn’t come at a worse time.

The work we do, it’s repetitive. We run the same tests every day, as if the last day’s results never happened, because it’s all a part of due diligence, the kind of thing responsible scientists do, and we’ve been doing it for months now. Not all on this moon, of course, but even with the limited material we’ve gained access to, we’ve had to add a few new exercises to the pile. John couldn’t believe it when we found what records indicated to be Ovid, much less the fact that there was also an earlier model named Echo (though it was apparently called Charlie by Soong for reasons only he knew) now long lost to time. For decades, Starfleet thought Data was the only one of his kind, until Lore surfaced, which turned out to be a cursed blessing. A lot of trouble could have been saved if we’d known, for Data, for us, maybe even for Soong and his widow. Even failures provide useful data - I’m sorry, information.

Actually, I don’t even know why I’m apologizing. Soong’s crazy naming scheme.

At least he understood that. It was always incredible to think he’d gone through so much trouble to perfect his work, so many models, when any number of other creators would have simply done all the work on one model. It was his genius, though, his methodology. We only benefit now, insofar as the need to correct his earlier mistakes are concerned. Yet I can’t bring myself to consider Lore a mistake. He was created with a certain set of emotions. It’s hard to even describe them as such. More like impulses, like he’s a robotic animal. What he needs is a better way to express himself. I don’t pretend I can begin to explain that, and I don’t know how examining previous models is going to help, but I haven’t voiced this theory to John, either.

Ah, John. I don’t know what to do about him. We have this weird chemistry, that transcends the experience we actually have with each other. I’m partially responsible for that, I know, the way I draw people in. He just happened to be more receptive than most. The problem is, he doesn’t know how to make that work for him. A clumsy little fool doing delicate work. What strange ironies there are to explore. And it happens to be my job.

What a terrible job it is, too. It’s all my father’s fault. It’s a life I inherited. I never really had a choice. I’ve always entertained my own paths, but life has a way of getting in their way, like I’ve got to prove I’m worthy of them, or worthy of putting aside the life I’ve been living all this time, that taking any other path really is in my best interest. I’m comfortable with this roadblock, and it’s unsettling and reassuring at the same time. John doesn’t help.

He happens to be a rather capable engineer, but he lacks focus in his obsession with all the meticulousness he insists on, like he doesn’t see the forest for the trees, to use an old cliché. But he’s so charming you let him get away with it. It’s also easy to let him get away with it, because there are so many other concerns to deal with, such as Lore, and now Ovid.

Ovid’s a husk I’ve convinced John into believing as not really being all that important. I don’t know why I feel so compelled to believe that myself, because any android at this point would provide a bounty of answers for us, into Soong’s methods and techniques. You have a control model in Lore (except for the fact that other researchers have his body, which has been an endless source of frustration, believe me), and then you have a comparison model, which is certainly a scientific ideal, but there are enough differences so that you begin to wonder just how useful the whole study really is. John has other interests. Despite himself, he still listens to whatever Lore has to say while he tinkers away. He could have done what he’s doing back in his own lab. It’s an old argument, but I don’t make it so strongly anymore because I’ve got my own diversions.

These models all seem to have their own character, hidden in their eyes, even though on the surface they’re all identical. Dr. Crusher’s analyses always went into great detail about this, how you could read into Data’s about his constant yearning, or Lore’s need for purpose. It’s a wonder they didn’t find their own answers with such thoughts. Ovid’s has a desire, a nameless one, and it’s easy enough to guess what that desire is. It’s the same one every living creature has, a desire for life, a desire to know what it is that is out there, the kind of desire Starfleet was created for. It’s different from Data’s quest. Data wants what he thinks he can’t have, because he’s created a barrier, a distinction around himself, a separation of definition he builds and seeks to break down at the same time. It’s so heartbreaking to understand this. It’s always the same problem. Maybe someday he’ll realize that you don’t need to a distinction of ‘artificial life form’ to have that. He’s different because that’s what he wants to be.

It might also be emotions, but that’s always been his excuse. I refuse to make it my own. That’s the theory I’m working against with Lore, what made him what he is today. As the first success, he was an ambassador for his people, and as with any fresh encounter, he was not understood. Maybe he does need therapy, after all. It really could be that simple. And it sounds ridiculous as anything else to say so. But it’s probably true.

Doesn’t mean it’s possible, or viable, or any other roadblock we like to set up for ourselves. That’s what always gets us, what we don’t allow ourselves, and the thought terrifies us, until we deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist. Oh, John…

  • "Part IV: Buying Time"

Talk about your unanticipated complications…

When I originally set out to conclude my family’s work, I had no illusions of greatness, or immortality. Certainly, I had been set upon a great path, but the greatness would not be my own. I was but a small part of a much larger framework for revolutionary designs in an already well-established field of technology. There were androids before Soong, and there will no doubt be other models after. I just happened to strike the zeitgeist. I put a familiar concept on the galactic map, made it popular. And I did it accidentally. I failed, and tried to cover up the failure by producing a weaker model.

That model became my legacy, surpassed my own name, and he still had to work his way through the Academy, just like everyone else. Brilliant mind, mundane work. I suppose even my own work was mundane. I just added a few quirk. Even Data can be recognized out of every other artificial being ever encountered by man. Starfleet sought him out when they wanted to duplicate him, not his creator. To be fair, they had never heard of me, much less assumed I might still be alive…

Well, they’d definitely heard of me. I guess they just chose to assume that Data was a miraculous inception. Lord knows we’ve had artificial life beget artificial life before. This one might have been a stretch, but I bet a few people even believed it. But to be personally overlooked. Reminds me of Khan. A lot of things do, and have, over the years.

But the life I currently live, it may the most amazing discovery I have ever made, much more so than the intricacies of the positronic net I perfected as a stowaway with the Pakleds, as my host, and first love, would later do. Host. First love. Such notions, they can redefine you, even more than when they actually happen, when you finally come around to considering them, what they really mean.

Who knew that when I first set out to store memories, I could achieve even more than that? Brain patterns at first seemed relatively simple to store in their inert state. Once I had broken them down, using the combined research of a thousand brilliant minds that, ironically, would themselves be lost, to their essential quality, an ordinary file, it was elementary enough, transferring them, as I had with the Omicron Theta colonists and Data, and would later do for Julianna. But I wasn’t satisfied. That is always the scientists’ curse, to never learn satisfaction. There is always a point you will have to accept, before it consumes you entirely. I, like so many before me, crossed that line. I wanted more than simple memories, inert brain patterns. I wanted those patterns to be viable, as so many fiction writers had dreamed of before me. I wanted to transfer a mind.

I could only use myself as test subject. And I used the cursed emotion chip as the carrier. If only Lore had known. But then again, he had never known what was good for him. I think he knows a little more now, as he begins to understand whose voice it is that accompanies he, the one he has, so slowly, begun to understand. He knows what I think of him. What this accomplishes, I doubt either of us could say.

Yet he knows now what he had always suspected, that, himself being the first success, he was always more beloved. It never mattered how he’d appeared to others, how much trouble he wreaked. He was a success! And what a success he had been. The culmination of a family’s work. It was only at Lore’s awakening that I learned what every other generation of Soongs had learned, that success was cursed. The crux of life is that it is untamed, and to try and make it otherwise is the true failure we continually learn. True, I made Data more docile, but only to a certain degree. Too few have underestimated him, misunderstood what lies at the heart of life’s failure.

We cannot look beyond our own faults. Try as we might, we are constantly looking toward our weaknesses, and not our strengths, and that is the basis for which we guide our lives. Data’s weaknesses have always seem so obvious, and he has worked so hard to expose them further. How much I failed in exacerbating that fault! The chip was never a resource he needed. I wanted to make it, wanted it for my own selfish needs, and the path it has taken has only exaggerated my own failures.

And yet! I live, beyond my mortal death at the hands of my own creation. It is a terrible thought, and all its implications rest with me in this new life, with my new companion. Now Starfleet meddles again. They think they know what is wrong with Lore, because that is what they choose to focus on. It’s easier. So I have taken it upon myself to guide them, as the Soongs have always tried to, and always failed. The attempt is always king, is always paramount. I doubt any of my ancestors have given our ambitions this much thought. Why would they? All they ever needed to be concerned with was shining the light of imperfection on future generations, generations they attempted to mold as few others have. We did not create eugenics, either, or supermen. But we used those, too, and to great success. If success can be measured in heartbreak.

I believe it can. I believe it is the only true measure, the only one that matters. Every other one is a form of self-delusion, creating morals to comfort rather than to grow on. Good things happen, but they are not the notes life ends on. They are the ones we prefer. We do not always get what we want. In fact, I think it is safe to say we rarely do.

I never wanted this, not really, in my heart. It was a notion of some fancy that I carried from thoughts others had had, in the past, in my present. But we have always been content with knowledge passed impersonally, because that is the only way it is not corrupted. We learn by learning and then learning again, trial and error, the contest of checks and balances. Any other way is doomed to failure, as the Soongs have learned over and over again.

I sit within my creation, praying for the day it will all end, or for the day he or others like him will continue my work, will continue the work of the Soongs, of humanity, of life.

  • "Part V: Selling Point "

It’s the assignment that won’t end. I’m not going to lie to you. I really thought I was going to make a name of myself with this project, elevate myself above the fray. I volunteered. No one else wanted to do it. They were going to miss out, I told myself, overlooking one of the century’s great breakthroughs. I had it all figured out, too, and when things got complicated, I seized every advantage that I saw coming my way. For so long, in my life, I’d seen nothing but wasted potential. I’d watched as every opportunity passed me by. I began to believe everything I knew my father thought of me, everything he was too afraid to say, but filled every fiber of his being, every time he looked at me. He thought I was going to amount to nothing, and he even became comfortable with that. He supported my entrance to the Academy, even started letting loose around me. But he never loved me, not really.

And maybe he had a point. I’m been chasing a pipedream, with Lore, the disembodied head I’ve been working with for months. I know everything there is to know about what’s inside his head, mechanically speaking. I could produce an exact duplicate, and that was always Starfleet’s real dream. I think they set me along precisely because they’d never let go of it, not really, even after the monkey trial and the show of calling Data a “unique individual.” Well, it only put pressure on another Zimmerman to get along with his own work. You should have seen some of his own early models. Nothing so sophisticated as what Anna and I have found on Pemequid-B. And that work’s not even done yet. It’s been ages.

But Starfleet has patience, which I guess is the lesson here. Maybe they saw something in me, maybe not exactly in terms of faith, that I could get this particular assignment done, but at least that I could be added to the number of engineers that’ve filled its history, served in thousands of capacity, as other officers have in others field, another face in a file, duplicating work others have done, taking the place of computers that could just as easily carry on with our work, because they want the “human touch.” I don’t even know what that means anymore. I suppose half of what has stalled their android initiative is that it wouldn’t play well at home. Mommy and Daddy would still like to fool Baby into believing it has a valuable future ahead of it.

Such depression. Reading up on the Soongs certainly hasn’t helped. Their obsession, lasting through at least the last five seven generations, has fueled any number of half-baked schemes and dreams, believing they could perfect mankind. There’s a perfectly viable school of thought that suggests mankind hasn’t changed since the primordial ooze, it’s just gotten better at expressing itself. It’s how wars evolved from petty disputes, how we went from World War III to the Cardassian Wars, even though we were supposed to have bettered ourselves. How do you justify something like the Maquis in an era when everyone is supposed to get along, even if you narrow the argument to the progeny of Earth? It’s impossible. There’s no such thing as Utopia. It’s a wet dream. I don’t even believe in sex anymore. Oh Anna…

She has only played me along, these past few months, played me and teased me, explaining all the reasons why we would fail, without outright saying so. Her romantic past is enough. We’d be perfect together if we weren’t so different. She has a life, as a civilian, that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I suppose anyone observing humans in Starfleet might begin to believe the propaganda that we’re so much better than we used to be. They’d need to spend some quality time with someone like Anna to understand how wrong that perception really is. My training has made me into a virtual machine. Anna is a cornucopia of passion. She doesn’t enjoy classical music. Well, she does, but she has other interests, too. She would never have made it to graduation. It’s no wonder she’s so closely associated with Soong. They’re really not that different.

She thinks she’s distracted me from the Ovid unit, and I’ve let her think so, because Lore has been a handful. He’s become agitated, like he no longer wants to play along. It’s a surprise that he has for this long. He’s taken to turning himself off. I didn’t even know he could. I’ve learned he’s of absolutely no use in that mode. That’s why I would need more than just a working knowledge of Soong’s designs to create my own copy. I’d been thinking of calling my own Match. Well, so much for that. Soong had his own brand of lightning, and there’s nothing in his notes about that. I think he let that fall to his creations. I wish I knew what I was talking about. I’ve given it so much thought already. I’m nearly spent.

In the few moments I’ve spent with Ovid, I think I’ve noticed, thanks to Lore, that he’s not as defunct, as inert, as you would assume. Lore has proven to me what an android is like when it’s completely off, and Ovid isn’t. Lore has also proven that he doesn’t believe this matters, because he’s constantly saying so. Ignore Ovid! Father’s real disaster! Not enough extra memory ports in the world! And so on. He also hints that Ovid is radioactive, for some reason, but not on any level my tricorder, or any other device, will be able to tell me, and Lore won’t say why this would be, why Soong would need to make Ovid, much less any other model, in such a way. We don’t even have the protective suits to get around this. At the moment, Starfleet doesn’t even have any. They detected flaws in prior designs and have been working on a new one, and it’s a few years off. It handicaps a lot of the work Starfleet otherwise wants done. Including this. But I’ve heard enough stories about the effects of those defects, of space sickness and dementia, that I don’t care to even speculate about daring the old models. I hear that Starfleet lost its first Enterprise engineer that way.

I’ve thought a lot about where I could go after this assignment. Everyone wants a starship these days. There are still interesting projects just within our solar system, right on Earth even, but everyone wants a starship. I’ve been offered so many, turned so many down, I’ve been called the yellow jacket version of…well, another of those big names I don’t care about. Except I really do. When you’re in Starfleet, all you ever hear about are those big names, about all the exploits they’ve participated in, how many times they’ve saved life as we know it. And Starfleet is supposed to be about the unknown.

You wouldn’t believe how they choose chief engineers for starships. You’d think it would be a simple line of promotion. You’d be wrong. It’s always politics. And the more significant ship you talk about the greater the politics. Starfleet’s current premier chief engineer, why he found himself with that job because he went to school with his ship’s commander. He was also blind and happened to be competent. But he was no miracle worker. Not even the guy everyone used to talk about like that was. Being an engineer is being a hack. It’s a caretaker’s duty. And I’ve been taking care of Lore.

Thinking is a terrible way to pass the time. I’ve analyzed to death my relationship with Anna, and I know we’re never going to get anywhere together. When Lore made his comment about the possibly radioactive Ovid, Anna was quick to laugh it off as we both exited the room, sealing it behind us. She just couldn’t stop laughing, and of course I could only find it charming. She found herself in my arms, and kept on laughing, like it was the funniest thing in the world. She apologized later, but I knew she didn’t mean it. It didn’t help that I’d found myself in a sour mood. I’ve been in a perpetual sour mood my whole life, which only occasional breaches of sunshine. Anna should have been the brightest of them. I asked her out and she said yes. We’re leaving Pemequid first thing in the morning, leaving Ovid behind because that’s what Anna said was the right thing to do, and I’ve listened to her too much lately and wasn’t about to stop then. We’re going to turn in Lore’s head, and he will probably collect dust as a curiosity, until someone decides something better to do with him, or he escapes again. If there’s one thing you can count on with him, is that this caged animal will always fight his way out again. It’s what he does.

That may be my greatest breakthrough. It won’t be in my report. What the report is going to say is that the assignment was a failure. I couldn’t make the problem right, I couldn’t put Soong’s pieces together. Lore entertained my preliminary results on the way back and said he agreed with them, and then he laughed maniacally, in a way that reminded me of Anna. She was sleeping at the time, and I didn’t tell her about it.

I’m going to change my last name. I’m going to be John Zimmer from now on, no more Zimmerman. That’s a legacy for someone else to carry on. I don’t even believe in legacies anymore. The Soongs certainly seem to have created one, but I believe Lore and Data are every bit the unique individuals they always seemed to be, and unique individuals don’t need associations. Starfleet stopped associating Lore with Data a long time ago. Even when Lore was found, they still turned to Data when they wanted to make more of him, like Lore didn’t exist. He was lost again, but he could easily have been found. The Pakleds did. Starfleet just didn’t want to. Maybe they do think Lore is the defective one. Stands to reason, since they put me on this quest, but it was all for show. I’m convinced of that, too, now. They needed to do something with him, for the public, for Anna, who had agitated for years to put her father’s knowledge to use, for me. They needed me to do something, anything. In a few years, I’ll be on a starship, and the grand cycle will be complete.

There’s at least one more Soong model left out there. I wonder if Starfleet will ever look for it. I’ve suggested they incorporate a beacon of sorts for just such a purpose, in case a blip, a suggestion of such an existence, ever appears. I don’t even care if they take me seriously anymore. I’ve given up. I don’t care. I’ve had my delusions, and now I’ll carry on with the rest of my life. After the briefing, I suppose there’ll be a ceremony. Data himself might even attend. I wonder how aware he’s been about all of this, why he himself, his crew, hasn’t been involved. It seems as if they should have been, but maybe nobody told them. There are always secrets. If Anna and I go anywhere, I doubt she will ever know, or care, what I really think of her, and she’ll be perfectly fine. She’s resourceful, and resourcefulness is the most rewarded quality of all. I’ve never had it.

  • Star Trek: The Initial Pitch "The Next Cage"

A captain is nothing without his starship. Robbie keeps telling himself that, even as he watches his new command undergo safety checks in spacedock, little men floating about, their tools kept in check so they don’t go flying into the endless reaches of the cosmos, as happens so frequently to Lawrence Marvick, a designer of Robbie’s ship who now oversees its refit, elsewhere in the shipyards. Marvick loves staying in the thick of it. He’s young, even now, five years, an entire mission later. So is Robbie, who led the mission. He’s young, at least in his own mind. He’s young and at the same time ancient, but in conventional terms he’s middle-aged, a veteran of the Border Patrol, familiar as anyone else to the eccentricities of the famous Neutral Zone. He sometimes can’t remember which one, though his file will say it was the Klingon one. He tells all his lady friends it was the Romulan one, just to impress them. He also tells them he alone knows what they look like, how they swim in exotic seas and sport gills even the deepest of Earth aquatic specimen couldn’t imagine. He’s plumbed those waters, too. Robbie has seen much, done much.

He just doesn’t have a ship anymore. Officially, he’s due to take command of the Yorktown for a shakedown tour, a shakedown for his crew and for a ship on its way out. Robbie knows he’s headed in that direction, too. He’s heard all the stories of Garth, of Pike, and of the cadets warming the halls at the Academy, some of whom his Vulcan friend has mentioned, always with a slight, ever so slight, edge of irritation in his voice. Vulcans have emotions, Robbie knows. They suppress them, but they have them. His father might as well have been a Vulcan at certain points of his youth. He suspects most human men wished they could be Vulcans at some point in their lives. They just would never admit it. They probably smiled to themselves during the craze of Vulcan hairdos that swept much of the remaining twenty-first century, after First Contact.

Robbie’s never really done anything important. It’s probably why his five years will end like this, a pretension of a transition. He won’t get the next mission. He read about what some of the past Starfleet greats accomplished, both during wartime and the formidable years that still seem so recent. The Yorktown is still only a generation or two removed from the NX years. Maybe that speaks to its age, but Robbie prefers to think of it as his connection to the past. He told himself for five years that he made history with every lightyear. He probably didn’t.

What he had accomplished was the continuation of a tradition, one he still has no doubt will continue. When he’d gotten his ship over Garth, he’d believed that it was because of Starfleet’s confidence in him. He’s always been considered a bright officer, a real plucker. What Robbie had lacked for most of those years was a competent crew. He only got Barrett in thelast year, after her promotion. She causes him plenty of headaches, but Leslie is one of the fleet’s best executive officers. Robbie would never withhold that from her. There’s plenty to hold against her, but not that. He wonders if she’ll stay with him, or the ship. He becomes more certain the longer he stares into the abyss, that he won’t get his ship back. He knows he’ll be forgotten, that history won’t remember the name --


“Captain Robert April, reporting for duty.” With such familiar words, he takes command of the ship, takes over the bridge. Commander Barrett rises from his seat, rises with such grace that says she knew she was never going to know it herself, that seat, such a seat. Robbie can’t help but admire her. Standing off to the side, hiding in shadows that don’t exist, is Dr. Boyce, who’s restless. He wants to get on with this. He’s chewing his nails, which as a doctor he probably knows a few things about, but doesn’t care. “Come on, Robbie,” he says, taking a break. “You always take your sweet time.”

“Sorry to disappoint you again, Shea,” Robbie says, with his trademark smirk. He takes his seat, watches as Leslie steps off to the side, behind him (behind every great man…), an executive officer who knows her place, exactly. At the helm, Lt. Ortega is itching to go, too. He’s just waiting for the captain’s command. Glancing over his shoulder, Robbie can see that Jose has already plotted the course. Behind them all, Spock waits, patiently. His services aren’t yet needed. The Vulcan knows he has Robbie’s confidence, but…it’s not enough. He’s isolated, and he knows it. Robbie tries not to think about it. He’d prefer to think of his crew as a functional unit, that’s all. They do what they’re supposed to, and everyone always gets out just fine.

“Let’s see what’s out there,” Robbie says, giving the nod to Ortega, who pushes a lever, and out they go. It’s not hard to see that even now, every one of them watches as spacedock vanishes around them, the stars reach out and swallow them. Whatever the circumstances, they’re going back out into space. The bridge looks much the same, and so that makes it easier, too. Robbie watches as Yeoman Colt approaches with the orders he couldn’t care less about right now. She’s bold, walking right past Dr. Boyce without so much as a nod. Boyce has been in this fleet longer than she’s been alive, and she couldn’t care less. Robbie suspects that it’s because she doesn’t respect him, but he’s never had her confidence. In some ways, she’s like Spock. Robbie’s seen the Vulcan follow her with his eyes, and has often speculated what it is those eyes are filled with. Oh, they’re filled. “Thank you, Kristen,” he says.”

“All in a day’s work, Captain,” she replies, and walks away again, as if that work is not the most important thing of that day. He watches her, and knows others are watching her, too.

“What do the old bones have us poking around this time, Robbie?” Boyce asks behind him. Robbie turns in response, without having look. He plays at incredulity.

“Oh, nothing that special,” Robbie says. He still doesn’t look, but instead turns to Barrett, and casually continues: “The commander here is more than capable of informing you what our prize for this mission is. Why don’t you ask her? Are you intimidated?”

“Robbie, you cad,” Boyce says.

“The Captain is right, of course,” Barrett says, playing along, because that what always seems to serve her. “We’ll be having a briefing, too, if that helps you. We’re making first contact.”

“Actually,” Robbie corrects, “it’s more like a ‘do-over’ first contact. We’ve tried before, failed miserably. I don’t remember who was responsible.”

“It was Gene’s mission. Everyone knows that,” Ortega interjects, without turning around, without a fluctuation in his voice, though everyone knows he’s smiling.

“If there was a mission involved, ‘Gene’ wasn’t aware,” Barrett says. “No, this is the first real mission involving these people. The first few times, the Federation stumbled into them. We still don’t know what to expect.”

“Like some kind of damned wild frontier,” Boyce says, with a huff. He’s prickly. And he wants a drink. He loathes formalities, and rarely attends staff meetings. Commander Barrett knows this, and so does Robbie. The captain usually fills his doctor in on the details in those drinking sessions, or after them. Sometimes they do other things, things unbefitting officers, but if Boyce wasn’t meant to handle such substances, he would have never agreed to become a physician. He’s prickly.

“We’re making history with every lightyear,” Robbie repeats, as if for the first time. “Every damned bit of it. These people won’t be any trouble. I think Starfleet is just messing with us.”

It’s the first time he suggests what he’s really thinking about all this, the mission, the ship, everything. They all knew it, but it still gives a few of them pause. Colt probably knew a while ago. She’s since exited the bridge. What she already knows doesn’t concern her. Barrett is always uncomfortable about it, though. She squirms at Robbie’s words, and he knows that, too.

“Captain…” she says.

“Don’t say it, Commander,” Robbie says. “This is our mission, this is our ship. I have no intention of doing anything else. We’re on our way. Now’s not the time to second-guess, anyway. Don’t worry so much.”

“You needn’t be concerned,” she says in return. Soon, however, she’s excusing herself, having a look at some monitor or another, off near Spock. She never hangs around Spock. The message is clear enough. Robbie turns to Dr. Boyce, nods. He’s on his way out, too. Leslie is going to have that chair back.

“You have the bridge, Commander,” Robbie says. “We’re going to have a staff meeting at 0800. See you all then.”


What a nightmare. Robbie’s fully aware that launches usually take place at night, but there’s no way that protocol would normally have allowed him to leave the bridge so soon after one. He’s set up the staff meeting, which is his first real act in command of this ship. Real inspiring. But he had to get away from that bridge, away from those people. All the talk about the mission, even as little as it was, had made him uncomfortable, as if he hasn’t been already. So he’s having a drink, which he’d normally do with Dr. Boyce, but he wants to be alone right now. Drinking alone. That’s probably something they cautioned against in the Academy. The Academy is now a distant memory. He aims to make his career one, too, once this mission’s over. He’s being flushed out. He knows it. The crew knows it. He no longer has their respect. And that’s something Command knew. The bastards. Well, so much for them. He’s given them what they wanted, another officer to run through the ranks, maybe one that advances along in rank impressively enough, but he’s not going to leave a mark, he’s not going to go down in history. He’s going to be forgotten easily enough. He’s going to screw up the mission, too, with so much riding on it. Someone else is going to get all the glory. Maybe some of his crew will know that glory. It’s some consolation, anyway. Just not with Robbie. They’re not going to know it with him. He’s pretty much a failure.


The long night drags on. It’s not really that long. The launch was a comparatively late one. Robbie drank away the first few hour after he abandoned the bridge, and he slept maybe for a few on top of that. He’s woken up with a splitting headache. He could go see Boyce first, as he usually does. Or he could have a cup of Hazelnut coffee, like he used to at the Academy. He stumbles around his cabin. He’s barely made it feel like home. It looks like the standard issue. On theEnterprise, he’d had an impressive collection of rare twenty-first century art, the kind that was made during the great Vulcan craze. Robbie doesn’t know why he’s so fascinated with Vulcans, if he really is or if he’s just going with a still-sizable flow, one that disappeared in the last century but resurfaced when everyone heard about the cultural revolution on the planet with two suns. Either way, he’s got none of that here on the Yorktown, just a few books and music chips. The databases never have what he likes. He puts something on now, to help sober him up, some twenty-second century blues, “Cloak and Danger” this one’s called. Some in the fleet would probably want to see him hanged over it. He doesn’t care.

The coffee, he notes fairly soon, is probably going to help, which he’s thankful for. He doesn’t like Barrett’s accusing eyes, and cares for them less when he can’t see straight. He doesn’t relish the thought of what might be in them when he informs them that he’s going to be having an ambassador aboard, a woman named Cana, shortly enough, from the same people they’re going to visit, the people nobody trusts, along with a Vulcan consultant. Robbie doesn’t mind the second guest. He figures this might make things easier on Spock. He doesn’t mind the first guest, either. He’s seen her picture. He likes what he sees there. And he knows it’ll only make Barrett jealous. He can’t help but laugh at the thought. What he’ll have to say at the briefing won’t make it an easier.

Starfleet policy at the moment doesn’t call for a lot of passengers onboard its starships. Not since the Klingons lost their ridges. Not since the Federation was formed, strangely enough. Robbie’s wanted to change that policy, wanted to badly, to show what kind of character he has, to prove to certain superiors that there really is nothing wrong with visitors. Just having Cana aboard a few hours may begin to change the atmosphere for the better. Barrett couldn’t be more opposed. He’s been working on her, but she belongs to the old guard, and the new guard is ready to move on without her, and Robbie can’t stand the thought. Why should history leave her behind? Because she objects? What nonsense. Things would be different if they just talked. If only she would allow it. Well, she doesn’t have anything to say about Cana. That decision was made weeks ago. Leslie’s going to be so mad…

“Well let her,” Robbie says to no one in particular. He’s riding a turbo shaft, his hand firmly in place so that the computer will register he knows what he’s doing. If he doesn’t, and lets go, the lift stops, stranding him. A security precaution built into the system, a byproduct of paranoia humanity was supposed to have outgrown with the advent of the new age, when Vulcans came at the beckoning of a drunken space pilot. Robbie even now is plotting with Marvick to eliminate this feature. Part of his reforms. Part of the reason he’s getting the shaft with the flagship. There’s no use denying it. He holds onto the grip and makes his way to the meeting. Cana will already be onboard by the time the briefing ends, and that will be a surprise to his crew as well. He’s had Colt arrange it. Besides her, only Boyce knows, and that’s because they spent an evening plotting it, among other activities.

“I’ll take it from here,” Robbie notes as he enters the room, Barrett having been holding preliminaries, no matter how unnecessary, in the time he’s been holding them up. He’s late by ten minutes. He had an errand he couldn’t avoid. Today was shipping day, and as always, he was expecting something. He doesn’t feel the least bit bad about it. It’s his prerogative, and there’s no reason he should, nothing anyone could legally hold against him, anyway. Barrett is annoyed, of course, but she hides it the best she can. Or, she should have been annoyed. The brief moment he makes contact with her, she almost seems pleased, but they’re soon off on their own duties. Sometimes he wonders what she goes off to do, since she usually already knows everything he’s going to say, even when she hasn’t been privy to his reports. That annoys him, but he gets over it. This time, however, if she’d known, he’d know already. “Take your seats, gentlemen.”

Ortega, Boyce, Spock, Barrett; it’s not a very large command crew, but they’ve been enjoying themselves. Small numbers create intimacy. As much as Leslie adores protocol, she’ll allow a certain amount of liberty. Boyce wouldn’t tolerate much else, for one, but the commander appreciates the rewards of giving people what they want. Ortega is the chief beneficiary, he’ll have a good time with anyone. Spock, though reserved, calculates these situations perfectly. He always knows what to say, and when there isn’t something, he doesn’t say it. “In less than one hour, I’m to transport to the planet, with our guest Cana,” Robbie says. “We’re going alone. These are terms we agreed to already.”

Barrett makes a motion to get up, but with a single glance, Robbie convinces to stick put. He’s not done speaking. “We already know how sensitive these people are. If we’re going to succeed with these talks, we’re going to have to accommodate. The Vulcan High Command has had an individual holding these preliminary negotiations for the past few months. Tavol will be onboard the Yorktown while Cana and myself are down there. If anything goes wrong, he’ll be here to help smooth things over. He’s already familiar with the circumstances; any questions you may have, he’ll have the answers to, and to make things easier, I’m appointing Mr. Spock here special mission commander to run as point man between Tavol and myself. Before you object, Commander, know that I still retain full confidence in your abilities. You’ll still have run of the ship, but Spock will be the one everyone turns to in the event of an emergency on Talosia.”

Barrett wants to object, but she can’t decide how to go about it. “This effectively places me third in command,” she decides.

“In fact, Commander,” Spock interjects, “I will have no power over the ship itself, but rather, on the mission. In effect, I have joined Captain April’s mission detail.”

“Exactly,” Robbie says.

“If our friends had allowed for more than one party, it would have been three,” Boyce says. Everyone in the room can hear the underlining thought. When it happens, everyone knows when there’s hostility in his words.

“I for one don’t see a problem,” Ortega says. “Only so far as Leslie isn’t directly connected to the chain of command as it affects the mission. If anything, protocol would say Leslie goes down to Talosia, and the captain stays here. But that‘s only protocol, right?”

“Thank you for your input, Lieutenant,” Robbie says. “Discussion was closed a long time ago. I’m sorry none of you were involved, but this is, as we all know, a delicate situation. We make concessions when we need to. Dismissed.”

Robbie holds Barrett aside as the rest file out. “I trust they’ve already been briefed on Tavol himself.”

“Boyce wasn’t impressed with his age,” Leslie says.

“Shea isn’t impressed easily,” Robbie says. “I should have earned his respect by now, but he still sees me as the budding officer he first met, ten years ago, before I had my own ship. He’s a funny man. Age doesn’t matter. Boyce is going to be retiring soon anyway. Younger curmudgeons are on their ways. Tavol was the one who introduced the idea, Les, not me. Believe me when I say that. We had talks about that, too.”

“I believe you,” Leslie says. “His profile doesn’t reveal much, but what it does say is that he’s an unusually assertive Vulcan, who knows exactly what he wants. He plots. I don’t trust him.”

“And that would be reason enough to support the arrangement we’ve come to,” Robbie says. “He probably knew that. He knows quite a bit about this crew, seemed disappointed that he wouldn’t get the chance to board its other ship.”

“He wouldn’t be the only one, would he?” Leslie says, knowing the impact it will have.

“I need your support,” Robbie says.

“You always have it,” Leslie says.

“Forgive me if I sometimes wonder,” Robbie says.

“Forgive me if I sometimes have reason to make you,” Leslie says. “These are the times we live in. They’re no easy ones. But you have my confidence, Captain.”

“Thanks for saying so.”


Barrett sits on the bridge as Robbie waits for Colt to contact him, to let him know that Cana and Tavol have made it. He made the briefing too short, he’s now telling himself, too precise, too much to the point. When he’s nervous, he tends to do that. He’s spoiled it now, spoiled the effect. He just wanted to get on with it, no more second guessing. He’s had enough of that lately. It’s not professional, but he just doesn’t want to put up with it anymore, and he doesn’t care what corners he has to cut to do it. He knows that now, more than ever, his crew is thinking about the mission, dreading it even. You don’t dread missions, ever. Such a reaction leads to mistakes, and mistakes are not what they need to make now. He’s holding onto the slim hope that a success with this one will give him back his ship. Well, so much for that, right?

He’s ready to tax his liver again when the door to his ready room unexpectedly chimes. “Come in,” he says on reflex. Colt walks in behind Cana, who looks perfectly human, a gorgeous blonde human, and Tavol, a perfectly austere Vulcan. “Our guests,” Colt says before departing again, escaping. “You certainly took your time,” Robbie says, partly the departed Colt, partly to his guests.

“One doesn’t rush such matters,” Tavol says.

“Of course,” Robbie says. “Welcome aboard. Whatever hospitalities might please you, I’m sure we can arrange them.”

“I’m afraid, Captain, that we haven’t much time,” Cana says, “as our transmissions have indicated. We must be leaving at once.”

“Of course,” Robbie finds himself responding again. Punching a button on his desk, he calls for Spock and Barrett, Barrett perhaps too deliberately. They’ve arrived in moments. Cana exchanges a rather peculiar glance with Spock, which Spock does not evidently register. Tavol does, however, and he withdraws, slightly. Robbie doesn’t know how to read these events, and at the moment, he doesn’t care to. “I leave my ship into your capable hands. See you later, Tavol.”

“As will I, Captain,” Tavol says, with a slight bow, which Robbie reads perfectly well.

He turns to leave with Cana, who seems disinterested enough, but pulls Barrett aside once more. “You have my confidence, Commander,” he says, nods toward Spock, and then exits. Spock exchanges a look with Barrett, and then turns to Tavol, almost pleased that this moment has arrived.

“Your quarters are already prepared,” he says. Even he wonders if Colt has already shown them to him.

“Thank you,” Tavol says. “I wonder if I may have something to eat first. Talosian cuisine has something even Vulcans findhard to appreciate. I find that I cannot recall it in the slightest, as if it didn’t exist. After this, I intend to review the ship’s sensor array. When I was brought here initially, we had problems with our scanners.”

“I’m sure we’ll be able to allay your concerns,” Barrett says. “And we have good food, too.”

It is Tavol’s current impression that Spock could be happier. He remarks as such to the science officer, who responds, “I do not believe I have ever experienced that emotion.”

“Of course you have,” Tavol replies, “You’ve just forgotten what it feels like. You have not mastered your emotions, I see.”

“I see that you believe you have your own,” Spock says. “A fascinating claim for so young a Vulcan.”

“I pretend no such control,” Tavol says, “I have merely practiced observation.”

“A wise ability,” Spock says.

“The teachings of Surak have many subtleties our people choose to overlook,” Tavol says, playing at the dish he is currently enjoying, as Spock sits before him, perfectly comfortable abstaining like this in the mess hall as others indulge themselves. It is not an ordinary hour for meals. “It is another thing we must work on.”

“We are all trying,” Spock says.

“Some don’t try hard enough,” Tavol says.

“A bold statement,” Spock says. “To speak for many people is to project your mind into theirs. You cannot possibly know how they think.”

“Oh, brother, but there is,” Tavol says. “The teachings reveal many things.”

“You speak of the mind meld,” Spock says.

“Indeed,” Tavol says. He takes a moment to savor his glass of presnol, a Tellarite ale that has recently entered the databanks of Federation cuisine. Neither has met a Tellarite, but both have heard plenty from the Andorians. Tavol has a friend named Chador who regularly accepts shipments from Tellar. Chador hides this business from everyone but Tavol. These shipments are the direct result of a botched attempt to wire credit from an old Academy rival’s account to Chador’s own. The tampering itself has long since been patched over, but the shipments continue, and Chador and Tavol continue to reap the benefits. How the two met is probably a more interesting story, but Tavol is not about to get into that now. “The mind meld is not something to be frightened of. Perfected, it is the true Vulcan bond.”

“Used for the wrong purposes, it is a violation,” Spock says.

“We are all violated,” Tavol says, suddenly becoming irritated. “Violated every day, violated with very little excuse, violated so regularly that we scarcely notice. Violations are a matter of perspective.”

“An odd stance,” Spock says, “and an odd reaction. Perhaps there has been more than the cuisine troubling you during your month on Talosia.”

“Perhaps,” Tavol says. “But I worry about you more, Spock. “You have been with these people for years now. Your mother was one of them. Aside from myself, you are alone on this ship. Tell me that this does not affect you. Why do you not join a Vulcan crew?”

“I choose not based on circumstances, but on opportunities,” Spock says. “Starfleet has given me an opportunity to explore possibilities.”

“You couldn’t find this on Vulcan?” Tavol says.

“I could,” Spock says, "but the challenge, the risk is greater in Starfleet. The rewards, the potential. I have never been challenged in this way.”

“They challenge more than your abilities here,” Tavol says.

“So did my father,” Spock says. “I have grown accustomed to proving myself. It is a secondary concern.”

“Yet you are isolated,” Tavol says. “I have only just met you, and I know this. You believe that being the perfect Vulcan is going to win you favor.”

“There is no such thing as a perfect Vulcan,” Spock says.

“The ideal, then,” Tavol says. “You know what I mean. What these people are going to think when they think of our people.”

“You find something wrong in this,” Spock says.

“I do,” Tavol says. “You’re apologizing. You’re saying you have something to be defensive about. You’re saying that you owe something to them, even as you’re saying you’re only here to practice science. You’re trying to fool them, and fool yourself.”

“You have an interesting mind,” Spock says. “As I have said, there is wisdom in your words. Yet as you yourself have said, we have much to work on as a people. We having been working on it for a long time. Perhaps it is time to admit that we are an imperfect people.”

“That’s dangerous talk, Spock,” Tavol says. “What would the Elders say?”

“They would say what they have always said,” Spock says, “that the teachings of Surak are our ideal. We both understand that principle, yet we have diverging views of what that means.”

“They are not so different,” Tavol says.

“Perhaps so,” Spock says. “You said earlier that you were not able to receive accurate readings on the planet. Our sensors have had the same problem. It is as if there is a dampening field in place, a deliberate attempt at subterfuge on the part of the Talosians.”

“An effect that for some would be an act of war,” Tavol says. He takes a sip of his presnol as he says this, his demeanor returned to a casual, calm order. Chador would know many tales of his own people making such calls. “At any rate, our initial scans could not pick up any specific energy source. Whatever may be causing it, it’s not something we’re going to easily identify.”

“Nothing worth gaining is easy,” Spock says.

“That’s why we’re here, is it not?” Tavol says, raising his glass as something of a toast to the idea.

“Commander Barrett is going to want you debriefed,” Spock says, knowing he is breaching an uncomfortable subject.

“Commander Barrett is wearing a uniform I don’t share,” Tavol says.

“As am I,” Spock says. “You have already agreed to spend a month on a planet that is on great interest to Starfleet. Surely you will submit to one more procedure.”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?”

It’s exactly the question he wants to answer, too, but he’s not going to tell Spock that. Oh, no. That’s not a mistake he’s going to make, not so critical a mistake, not at this point in the game. He’s got other fish to fry, as the humans say, and the humans are his interest anyway, one in particular, the first officer, whom he’s about to speak to. He’s read her profile over and over, he’s made contact with her family through the usual channels, her friends, her co-workers, former professors, each time under a different but equally clever guise. There was a fellow graduate of the Academy, an Eric Weiss, who knew her as a missed opportunity, who made every attempt to follow her career path, but who confessed he simply didn’t have what it took. He never had. Tavol used Weiss several times after that in his investigations. One day he still plans to meet this human, who has since retired from the fleet. Just not today. Today may be the single most important day of the mission, which will more than make up for a month spent among the Talosians, a toll he fears will haunt him for many years, a toll he will never be able to identify but never forget, too.

He assumes he’s been brought to an anonymous conference room, not the one the command crew studies its own missions in, or tactics are explored in. Just a conference room for random details to be poured over. There’s comfort in banality, advantages to be won when you don’t expect important things to be learned, or don’t expect those things to be learned by many. This room is a dark corner, and Tavol thrives in dark corners, because he’s learned how much can be gained by staying on the sidelines. He’s been a student of the craft. Here in this dark place he awaits Commander Barrett, like a predator. It is marvelous how even innocent moments can be cloaked in sinister airs. He revels in these moments, feels their power, power that may be used later, or learned from. Yes, there are moments in the light, but these are only hypotheses. True power comes from the dark.

She’s there when he snaps out of his reverie, and he doesn’t worry how long she might have been waiting. He looks at the commander’s face, and its expression reveals all. Barrett is irritated, but not about Tavol himself. She probably didn’t even register a response. “Thanks for coming,” he says.

“You’ve got something good for me,” she says, not as a question, but, distinctly, as a statement. She probably doesn’t even know whether he does. She hopes. He can see that, too. “Tell me everything about it.”

“Your science officer, he’s not so comfortable, is he? How does the crew treat him? I’ve heard stories of his Academy days. And is it true that you were a visiting speaker in his last year?”

“This has nothing to do with the Talosians,” Barrett says.

“It will put me at ease,” Tavol says.

“I gave a talk on macrobiotics,” Barrett says.

“Not even an area of your expertise, am I right?”

“I’ve studied it,” Barrett says.

“Was the presence of this Vulcan in the hall something you noticed?” Tavol says. “Did it affect your presentation? Vulcans are well trained in biology. You must know this.”

“Vulcans know a great many things, yes,” Barrett says. “He attended my lecture. I guess you know that. Did I notice him? I noticed a great many faces in front of me. I did notice that.”

“Surely a Vulcan stands out,” Tavol says. “I’m told he had longer hair then. He wasn’t always so rigid, which is significant because the pressure for a shorter cut would have come not only from his tradition from the school’s own regulations. Tell me, how was he able to circumvent this?”

“I’m not privy to Mr. Spock’s records,” Barrett says.

“But you are privy to Academy standards,” Tavol says. “It is a human tradition in the service for a standardized, efficient haircut. There’s nothing efficient about maintaining long hair. He must have stood out for this reason alone. And he would not have had it pulled back. Vulcans have never…fancied the style. It would have been as it was, visible, evident…notable.”

“It was seven years ago,” Barrett says.

“Seems like four, though, doesn’t it? A mission ago,” Tavol says. He is the master of this conversation, as he always is, yet he’s playing it so that she is hardly aware of it. He is the master of it.

“I’ve served with Captain April for quite some time now, yes,” Barrett says. “It does seem like that speech was the last thing I did before the Enterprise. And now we’ve come to this. You’re prepared for the briefing?”

“I told Spock that I was hardly interested in it,” Tavol says. “The truth is, I’m not sure I’m capable of it. The Talosians deserve their isolation. I think it’s exactly what they want. Starfleet should not be pressing this relationship. I’m surprised they are.”

“We wouldn’t be if the Talosians hadn’t asked for it,” Barrett says. “It doesn’t make much sense, how they’re handling it.”

“It would make sense to understand their motivations,” Tavol says. “I may have become privy to them in the past month. I can tell you what they look like. Tell me, Commander, are you familiar with the old Earth art form, the cinema?”

“It was still popular as late as the last century,” Barrett says. “Now we find our amusement in the stars.”

“They say that’s how entertainment is always found,” Tavol says, “by visiting strange new places. I have a feeling that you humans will find your new form this way.”

“I’m told they’re already working on it,” Barrett says. “Holodecks, is what they’re calling it. Of course, it’s Starfleet that’s developing it. The new classes at the Academy are the chief beneficiaries at the moment, testing command qualifications in simulations.”

“I’ve heard,” Tavol says. “Even a Vulcan may be intrigued by such a notion. I hear that these simulations involve Klingons.”

“And a civilian freighter,” Barrett says. “I forget its name. April says he wants to try it out.”

“He may have a different opinion once he’s through with the Talosians,” Tavol says. “They have their own…forms of deception.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re not what they seem,” Tavol says. “They appeared to me, as I was getting to, like…vampires you might find in your cinema. Are you familiar with Nosferatu?”

“I’m afraid I’m not,” Barrett says. “I read books.”

“It is quite an artistic achievement,” Tavol says. “I can admire your works, you know. Most Vulcans wouldn’t, or wouldn’t have the time. They prefer to spend it meditating. They fail to realize that meditations can be found outside of their own mind.”

“Well, your people respect philosophy,” Barrett says. “That’s someone else’s mind, right?”

“…Yes,” Tavol says. He wants to say other things, but the hesitation has already prevented it. He has no choice now. “They’re sinister in the only way sinister knows, Commander. They prefer others to speak. They are not an open people. They feel infinitely superior, and while nothing of their civilization as we’ve come to know it reveals this superiority…it’s as if they’ve evolved beyond our experience. They’re not to be trusted. They hold secrets, secrets I could not penetrate. I would not have allowed April to go there alone.”

“Yet you yourself were there a month, alone,” Barrett says.

“I have…certain safeguards,” Tavol says. “They reach into your mind. Mine is conditioned. April’s couldn’t be. Spock should have accompanied him.”

Barrett now pauses, obviously considering something, but not revealing anything Tavol hasn’t already guessed. “Spock is not as open as he should be. He’s as reserved as your Talosian friends. He has great gifts, but he doesn’t know how to use them. It’s as if he’s waiting. If he indeed had been at my lecture, he would never have made himself prominent, flamboyant haircut or not. I’ve seen him laugh, but only in reference to a breakthrough in a simple game of chess. He enjoys his own thoughts, you could say. He doesn’t know how to share them. Yes, he would be ideal in interacting with the Talosians as you describe them. Vulcans are, in general, ideal officers in the fleet. I hope you don’t mind my saying that.”

“Oh, not at all,” Tavol says. “A truth is a truth. There’s no sense talking around it, nothing to gain. I did not meet this Cana they sent to accompany April. I’m surprised they had someone. I was left alone the whole time. But I did hear of her. I don’t believe that she herself is Talosian.”

“That’s odd,” Barrett says.

“They had various aliases for her,” Tavol says, “different names to which she was referred. Sometimes they were quite cryptic about her. I asked once, about her, asked to see her. They said it was impossible.”

“You do not inspire my confidence in them,” Barrett says.

“That was never my duty,” Tavol says. “Starfleet merely wanted an operative in place before these talks, to establish themselves, and to learn things. I’ve learned things. I appreciate your coming alone, Commander. I‘m sorry I haven‘t said so earlier.”

“Not a problem,” Barrett says. “Only, I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut this short. I’ve gotten a message from the bridge.”


“I switched the communications panel to silent mode, so we could carry on this session in relative peace, but it’s been blinking like mad for the past minute,” Barrett says. “I’d say it was important.”

  • Star Trek: The Initial Pitch "The Day Charlie Became a God"

Something dreadful indeed has happened. Barrett receives the transmission, a recorded message, and refuses to believe it for a full minute. She leaves Tavol alone, once again, in that shadowed conference room, and wanders the deck in complete silence. There are no crewmen about; not that there would be in the minimally-manned Yorktown, which she alone knows is on its final mission. She was given her new orders the same day she was informed of this one final mission with April, that dreadful coxswain, who would complain about a hangnail if he thought it would improve his image. No wonder his career is finished. And loathe as she is to admit it, Barrett's going down with him. She gets to stay aboard theirold ship, the glorious Enterprise, with the new captain, but it?s her last voyage, her last real mission.

On this mission, disaster was the last thing she wanted, and the only thing she could expect. She knew better than April that Talos was a fool's errand. Starfleet's just as pig-headed as April. They set their mind on it, just because of the Klingons and their bloody cold war, and they're not going to give it up. She knows full well the rumors of the first disaster were true all along. In front of the crew, in front of that man-child Ortega, she'll deny every point of validity, but it was always there, just nowhere to be found in the briefing. Of course, Colt has already made sure all those points are already refreshed in everyone's mind. The interfering witch. She thinks she's so superior, she's a yeoman and always will be, and she thinks she's superior, can just undermine the entire command crew with knowledge that will never mean anything to her. It's her good looks that doomed her.

Barrett is attractive enough. She's vain or anything, but she's also not stupid. She's just not Kristen Colt. She's Leslie Barrett, the archetypal bridesmaid along the alter, along the alter, rather than in front, just like that damned chair on the bridge. It will never be hers.

After the minute's passed, the commander is ready to explode. She's built herself up to this point. She's just been told by Cana, the girl, the other pin-up on this mission, who among the Talosians is their prized bogeyman, a bogeyman spokesman for a bogeyman people, that April has gone missing. Tavol never indicated, among all his other dire words, that the Talosians would resort to kidnapping. They're obtuse, but they aren't malicious. Right?

Technically, as April set up himself, Spock's the one who should be making the next calls. Barrett won't allow it. The rules have changed. Spock has no real authority, not aboard the ship and not on this mission. Barrett heads for the nearest turbo lift, fit to burst with all the important decisions that won't mean a thing in a month. She's ready to enter when Robbie stops her, right in the middle of the deck.

"Hey," the captain says, though he clearly shouldn't be here.

Barrett can't bring herself to respond. This shouldn't be happening. This really shouldn't be happening!

"That's okay, I understand," Robbie says. "I'm not supposed to be here. I get it. I actually understand a lot of things right now. You wouldn't believe what a bunch of paranoid aliens can do by means of clarification. Would you believe at one point that they had me believing I was a goose, road kill, pushed up against the curb? A goose! They play tricks with your mind. You understand? Tavol told you, didn't he? He didn't tell me! Cana knew, too, and she didn't tell me, only I think it's because she doesn't understand. They can control your mind. I've been down here, what, a matter of hours? but it feels like days, it really does. I'm still here on Talosia, but I'm really there, right in front of you, too. They play tricks with your mind, but this is no trick, Leslie. I think they've accidentally turned me into a god. Imagine that! I know that you knew just as well as I did I wasn't going to be captain for much longer, much less a regular joe. Oh, sure, I was going to make admiral. Big deal! And it means even less now. I doubt I'm going to remember any of this, Leslie. Please remind me! I know so many things. I'm not just limited to astral projection. I can do anything! If I were actually aboard the Yorktown, I think we'd have a real problem. You want to know a secret about Tavol? Oh, no, I'm not going to tell you. I think I can make myself into a goose again, if I wanted, and live a whole goose life. I can console the survivors of my own death. I actually felt death, Leslie, and watched my corpse rot for weeks. Weeks! It's the most profound thing I've ever done it, and I can't adequately express its beauty even now, even as a god. I think that's the big secret about gods, Leslie, that they made creatures in their own image so that words could be articulated, thoughts expressed. They only know wonder, Leslie, they can't enjoy what they wrought. I think I want this to end. I'm afraid, Leslie. I will see you?

"Later," Robbie says, or rather, his fading image. Barrett hasn't reached the turbo lift, and she's not going to. She's not going to tell anyone about this. The mission is over, before April actually returns, which she knows without question will happen, and this crew is over, and her life, as she has always known it, as she will always know it, is over. This is the end of her story, and it was never much of a story, and it will probably remain that way. Barrett will accompany April for twenty-three additional missions, and will transition back to her Enterprise, and that will be it.


  • "Before the Thaw"

It was not one of the cleanest moments in Starfleet history. It was the Battle of Wolf 359. Many ships were destroyed, many good officers lost, lives changed forever, as the Federation attempted to create a barrier between Earth and a single Borg cube. Among those who participated in those fateful events was a young recruit by the name of Louis Hounsou. Serving aboard the Bull Run, an Excelsior-class starship pulled out of retirement when the fleet commander realized he wasn't going to have enough muscle to defend against the attack, Hounsou was among those keenly aware that the chances for victory were already mounting against them.

His captain was a Draylaxian known by the name of Middlesex, and it was unknown amidst the crew whether it was because Middlesex were androgynous, as certain inhabitants of Draylax happened to be. Hounsou always referred to the captain in the male sense, but he'd teased several friends that perhaps he knew better. Draylax had been almost a second home for him, growing up. Among his friends was MaTee, who should have probably known just as well, having been raised on Vega Colony, before it was abandoned during the Klingons disputes that arose a scant fifty years after the Khitomer Accord. Together, he and MaTee managed to raise a fair bit of hell in the days leading up to Wolf 359, before any of them truly appreciated the gravity of the situation.

You have to understand, before 359, no one except Picard and the crew of the Enterprise had had any real experience with the Borg. They sounded almost routine, half machine, half man, like something the Federation could easily, given half a chance, make friends with, allies. The Collective could very well become the means for expanding Starfleet's mission into the truly unknown. A handful of scientists, researchers, and some of the more remote outposts had reported their suspicions, confirming all the reports that had come of Picard's strange journey to the Delta Quadrant, but they seemed sensationalized, unbalanced and hardly worth taking note of. Among recruits like Hounsou, they were more like legend. The Romulans seemed like more of a threat, isolated though they had once more become, removed from any real source of danger, even the Cardassians, whom Starfleet had sent hundreds of its finest officers to die amongst, so many lightyears away, for so little an apparent purpose.

Hounsou, while still attending the Academy, had been more interested in local, conventional events. Some of the day's writers had created holoprograms of the Borg, but that was the extent of his experience with them. In these simulations, a drone was little more than the latest entertainment bogeyman, the source of good scares in the latest horror show. Hounsou particularly enjoyed Wired Contact, which envisioned a scenario where the Borg actually tried to assimilate the user to the Collective. It was such nonsense! Picard had certainly not reported anything like that from his encounter with them. No, better to be spooked by real stories, real chills from the stories the instructors drilled into the cadets day after day. There were practical applications for a good Ferengi joke, even, about their silly "rules of acquisition" everyone was talking about. Hounsou, in those days, very much absorbed the culture Starfleet was helping to spread, the mythology of the stars. It's just that none of it meant anything to him.

When he and MaTee were finally posted to the Bull Run, met Captain Middlesex and told what their mission was going to be, they didn't believe it. They thought it was a joke. No one he knew put much stock in Picard's stories, or thought much of Picard himself, who had already lost one starship under his command, and was now deeply immersed in a career that had yielded nothing of the classic missions Hounsou had enjoyed so much as a boy, from such figures as Archer, Garth and Kirk. Starfleet's best days, two hundred years later, were well behind it. That's the buzz the went around starship corridors, in the halls of the Academy, in the minds of the new recruits. And yet, as little as he cared about his uniform, Hounsou couldn't stop thinking about the ship he'd been assigned to, his strange captain, and the mission they'd all been sent on.

How did it all add up? MaTee would shrug off his every attempt to make sense of it, cast off another joke, told him he'd catch him later, but Hounsou wouldn't let it go. He was becoming increasingly trouble, and filled with an inexplicable dread. The Starfleet he'd joined, while far from its peak, had a long tradition it still proudly upheld, and that tradition didn't hold to an antiquated ship being put back into service for a threat no one seemed to be taking seriously. Something was deeply wrong. The Borg. The Borg must be a bigger threat than anyone had dared admit. They weren't going to become happy new allies of the Federation.

It didn't really strike him until that cube tore apart the entire fleet, and the chaos really began.

The majority of the ships destroyed that day were destroyed almost instantly. A few put up a fight. The Bull Run, to its own and Captain Middlesex's credit, was among them, and thus awarded Hounsou with one of the more vivid memories to become traumatized by in the weeks and years to come. When the Bull Run reached 359, already half the fleet was disabled, if not decimated. Many strong crews calculated, worked together, and survived, for tens of minutes at a time. The communications officer recorded dozens of inter-ship conversations every few minutes, strategies being mapped, goodbyes exchanged, unbelief all around. Middlesex, before his ship became a target, was given the extraordinary opportunity to prepare for his defeat, when the unexpected happened, when a Borg transported directly to his bridge.

All those reports Picard had filed, all those programs, everything Hounsou had learned at the Academy; none of it had any practical application for the appearance of this drone on his own ship. Mechanisms whizzed, sensors took notice of the surroundings. Everyone became hushed, even Middlesex, everyone froze. The tactical officer broke the silence, reminding the crew that, as far as the reports went, this drone would not provoke them. From his own station, secondary defenses, Hounsou understood what his supervisor meant, but he still gripped at his phaser. As part of the security detail, he was one of three officers so armed at the moment, three officers against a single drone, along with the supervisor and MaTee, who, as Hounsou glanced over at him, did not exactly look calmed. Hounsou turned his attention back to the drone.

He's human.

The drone was a human. It was unmistakable. Everyone already knew the nature of the Collective, how it could take any humanoid and generalize it so much with its cybernetic implants that it could be difficult to tell a Bolian from a Klingon (enough simulations had been shown in those classes that it had become second knowledge), much less a male from a female. There was a basic template the Borg seemed to go after, which made its mission all the more chilling. And yet, nothing was so chilling as knowing that right now, before this cube could have even reached Earth, already a human had been assimilated.

Hounsou stared at the drone, gawked. His behavior was unbecoming. Already, the initial shock had warn off other bridge officers still aware of the war outside their bulkhead, Middlesex chief among them, even MaTee, who was following along new instructions from the tactical officer. Hounsou alone seemed mesmerized. Perhaps he alone had noticed. But it was unmistakable, that this drone was human. The features were too smooth for any other conclusion. He looked and he even thought he saw that this drone knew what he was, too, that he somehow knew he had once been human. The tactical officer snapped his fingers around Hounsou's head, the drone scanned, and Hounsou, too, finally returned to his duties. More ships were being lost, more officers, more of the last vestiges of Starfleet's former glories. The Bull Run took a hit, then another, then three more, all in quick succession. The drone, the human, transported back, appearing to have gathered all it needed to know, and Hounsou suggested immediately that they think about evacuation, as if no one had already said so. Half the bridge was already gone, and this was not to say anything of the smoldering nacelle trailing behind them. Either they would soon become derelict, or they would perish. Evacuation was already underway. Why had Hounsou announced it like a revelation.

Because that's what the drone had done. He found himself in a pod with Middlesex and MaTee, watching as the Bull Run burst into flames in the empty void of the galaxy, flames that could not be fed, flames that only mocked the ship's final moments, mocked her crew. Middlesex, clearly unnerved, but not because he had lost his ship, but with whom he had ended up, started giving orders, even though he knew they would be ignored. It was all he knew to do. Hounsou felt ashamed for a million reasons, but most of all for not having fired his phaser at that drone. Not he nor MaTee nor the tactical officer had. Middlesex had never even asked them to.

For several days, they drifted, they stared, they gawked, at the ruins. There were no communications with other pods, even though there was such a capability. MaTee listened, once and a while, to the chatter others shared, but at such a low setting Hounsou would have had to strain to hear. Middlesex stopped talking, stopped interacting at all, within a few days, a week before they were rescued. It was a month before he made any sense again, a year before he was allowed to resume his commission. Hounsou and MaTee were granted new assignments within months of the rescue, of the battle, of the massacre. MaTee stopped returning Hounsou's messages three years later. By the time Hounsou was posted to the Pathfinder project, nearly a decade had passed since that day. He didn't expect to meet that drone again, but he did...

The drone's name had once been KT Morley. Or at least, that's what Hounsou's holodeck simulation told him. The Pathfinder project had already recreated the crew of the Voyager, the crew lost in the Delta Quadrant under the command of Kathryn Janeway, an old pupil of Middlesex's, and were told by project director Barclay that familiarizing themselves with the crew would be a useful way to stimulate motivation. Between the Maquis and the ex-con Tom Paris, the son of an important admiral, and a number of aliens Janeway had taken aboard, Hounsou at first didn't know where to start. Then, as everyone else had become when they'd heard, he became fascinated with the crew's own drone, Annika Hansen, who turned out to have been the daughter of the very scientists who'd worked on the initial human investigations into the Collective. Morley, the simulation told him, was an assistant to the Hansens who'd gone looking for them, a mere six months before 359.

For a while, Hounsou spent every spare moment in the simulation, trying to kid himself into believing any of this was getting him closer to understanding the decimation of the fleet. He even talked with Barclay, who confessed he'd somewhat inflated his role in the project to his staff, and boasted of his own experiences with the Borg as a member of Picard's crew. Until that moment, Hounsou had never made the connection. Barclay seemed to have arrived on the Starfleet scene as a wunderkind, not as some blundering subordinate, who'd made a remarkable leap in technology to contact one species millions of lightyears away and outpaced every engineer in theoretical mechanics since the days of the original warp drive. Instead, Barclay was another phantom, as too was Morley. Hounsou was chasing ghosts, the ghosts of the fleet and perhaps his own. He didn?t know what to think.

He kept visiting Morley, the drone who'd appeared on the bridge of the Bull Run. He became aware that his dedication to the project was different from the rest of the staff. They were concerned with rescuing the wayward ship. He was interested in the Delta Quadrant itself, its secrets, and especially, its Borg population. He saw the Collective as an object of fascination, and wanted to know if they could articulate all that they had seen. Perhaps he shared the lust of this Seven of Nine because he was jealous. He wanted to know if she'd ever known KT Morley, even if she'd never known how close a personal connection this drone had to her.

There was only one thing blocking his way: Naturally, it was the Collective itself. In all the years since 359, he had studied every scrap of data to be found on the Borg, what they were truly like, their history as it was known, and the possible insights a single drone could provide. Every case until now had proven out the accepted truth that, once assimilated, a drone lost their sense of past identity forever, every case except one, and that was Jean-Luc Picard, the only drone to have ever been given a name. Was this all that set him apart? Such information was among the most classified in the Starfleet databanks, Picard's personal experiences and reflections since 359, when he had led the cube as Locutus. It was common knowledge that it remained for many years a source of personal torment, especially when those who didn't understand what had happened, had only known of 359, acted as if he'd had some control in the matter. Hounsou understood differently. It was a burden.

And yet, even when Picard came back several years later, another Borg experience, another trauma behind him, with freshly classified reports, nothing had broken through. Even when Voyager transmitted its first messages through the Pathfinder project and revealed how often it had encountered the Collective in that region of space, Starfleet kept those most valuable insights under lock and key. It was Hounsou's great frustration. He wanted to know what it was like to have been a drone. He wanted to understand Morley, the human drone on the bridge of the Bull Run. And then, just as he had reached a breaking point, he was commissioned to the Copernicus. All this previous material in his file was going to become superfluous. He would have a new mission, and it would have nothing to do with the Delta Quadrant, the Borg, or the greater understanding of the drone mind.

Until the day he was assigned a trip to the Gamma Quadrant with Douglas Velar.

"Know what I've heard about the Dominion?" Velar asked, casually, as Hounsou piloted them in the runabout Ohio, just then exiting the famed wormhole. He didn't actually wait for a response before continuing. "It predates the Iconians."

Hounsou shot a more than skeptical look. He'd heard about the crewman, his odd beliefs and willingness to express them, and in fact had almost savored the opportunity this trip afforded him. It took only a few minutes for regret to set in.

"I'm serious!" Velar continued. "Not in its present form of course. Probably the Vorta were still apes. Who knows about the Jem'Hadar? Nobody knows their history, but I've heard plenty. Some accounts have it they were once the intergalactic equivalent of humans. Or Klingons. Either way, they're supposedly from the Delta Quadrant, not this one. Strange, huh? But it gets stranger still. The Founders, you know, the shapeshifters behind the whole outfit, they're said to have created the Borg."

"You're so full of ****, it's no wonder they wouldn't let you attend the Academy," Hounsou said. "You were gullible enough to believe that? No one knows how the Borg were created. And I'd watch who you talk about that around. Do you even know about the Bull Run?"

"Sure I do," Velar said. "It was your last starship assignment. Lost during 359, under the command of Middlesex. But then, every ship but Picard's was lost that day. Picard, who happened to have become a Borg. Maybe when you were spending all that time in the Pathfinder project, you weren't aware of how much people were still talking about the massacre. Some people say about that, about how the Enterprise managed to make it through, had nothing to do with its crew."

"Those are some fine officers you're talking about, crewman," Hounsou said. Regret was the last thing bothering him now.

"Oh, we all know," Velar said. "A regular bunch of living legends. Do you know about Q? Picard's first officer became one once."

"Crewman, knowing about Q is part of Starfleet protocol," Hounsou said. "Any being arrogant enough to put a species on trial has more than proven itself worthy of note."

"Why? It's not like the Continuum was the first one," Velar said. "Survivors of the Iconian Holocaust were put on trial,after their entire species was nearly wiped out."

"Ancient history is unreliable history," Hounsou said. "No one knows what really happened. It was nearly half a million years ago."

"Less than half a half million years," Velar corrected. "The Vulcans have an extensive database. Maybe you?d like to have a look."

"Or perhaps the Tholians will let me have a look," Hounsou said.

"Funny you should mention them," Velar said. "The other leading theory about the Borg is that they're a botched experiment of the Temporal Cold War."

"Crewman, I think you'd be relieved of duty on the basis of a good psychiatric inquiry," Hounsou said.

"I?m not surprised you haven't heard of it," Velar said.

"It's not that I haven't heard of it," Hounsou said. "It's that your own Vulcan database contradicts it."

"And here I was, believing a graduate of the vaunted Academy would know enough to know what's worth believing," Velar said.

"You're a quack," Hounsou said.

Velar made a duck noise. They were on a survey mission. Hounsou, who had been assigned the Pathfinder project the moment Voyager was lost, hadn't actually stayed on long enough to have been there when transmissions became a reality. His transfer to the Copernicus had been made with the explicit agreement that he be allowed to continue his work on the project while also serving as chief of operations under Captain Matheson. He did what he could to keep up with developments, and sometimes he was granted special assignments to facilitate his own efforts. This mission was among them. There was a debris field he and Velar were going to study. Debris fields were some of the most common things in the galaxy, and yet they were hardly ever talked about. Some of it was too well-known, such as 359. This particular field Hounsou was going to plant a transmitter in, to amplify Starfleet probes operating in the quadrant. Of far greater interest to him was the composition of the debris. There was Borg technology, primitive components, within. Maybe Velar wasn't so crazy.

But then, there was no telling how it'd gotten there. That was his true interest, his true purpose on this mission, his first real opportunity to merge his Copernicus duties with his Pathfinder interests, his past with his present. 359. He only had to suffer Douglas Velar. He found some solace in the knowledge that his current captain had done it on numerous other occasions, and probably would again, long after this, long after Velar ceased being his problem. He had bigger problems than the nutty theories of a Starfleet crewman.

And there he was again, thinking of Starfleet in that way. As something other than a personal concern. The Borg had energized the fleet, but it hadn?t been able to shake the cobwebs, because the Collective wasn't equipped to present a sustained assault, at least not at this time. That was the most troubling thought he'd ever gone over in his head. The entire massacre was just a small taste. It was a meaningless defeat, and a meaningless victory for Picard and that crew of his. Since that day, theories had spread, because of the nature of the victory, that the Borg could easily be thwarted should they ever come back. Once, a scouting party of drones had fallen into Picard's lap, and the largest scandal in fleet history erupted. Theoretically, the famous captain now had at his feet redemption. There was immense pressure from within the admiralcy to use this as an opportunity to end the Borg threat once and for all. How, exactly? Why, by corrupting the nature of the Collective. Make them all individuals. It didn't matter that the intellectuals of the Federation were scoffing at the idea. How to eliminate such a complex threat with such an obvious weakness? It had worked before, yes?

Some years later, after Picard had seemingly lost that chance, Starfleet heard that the Borg had planted some roots on a planet in their own quadrant. Once again, there was Picard to the scene, and he found Borg exactly as the brass had speculated, ruined by individuality. Except, once again, they had found a leader to rally around. Hounsou, along with every other Borg theorist, had correctly deduced that the Collective could not so easily be thwarted. As long as a drone was still a drone, the Borg, in any capacity, were still the Borg.

Here in the Gamma Quadrant, where no Borg activity could have been registered, Hounsou now prepared to study evidence for it. Its implications could mean anything, and point to nothing. He would need a lot more than to just study this one debris field, much as the Pathfinder project would need more than one successful communication with a lost ship to declare it rescued. He looked beyond the field, to the runabout, where Velar sat idling as his crewmate risked space in the atmospheric suit Starfleet had spent some considerable resources refining recently. He watched debris sail past him.

And then he saw KT Morley, again.

Hounsou had seen many ghosts over the years, since 359. He had come to understand ghosts as manifestations of a desire. Ghosts were lingering thoughts he found himself having, lingering thoughts on the great loss he had suffered. He never thought of it as Starfleet's disaster, he had once realized. Starfleet had nothing to lose. It was riddled in the charter: the fleet's sole interest was exploration. War had been a surprisingly easy development, an extension, really. There were far more of them in the databases than anyone talked about. MaTee?

It was three years in the past now, this particular war. The Pakleds, for such a long time nothing but a joke, to everyone except those who had encountered them, had assumed, once again, that which wasn't theirs. This time it was a starbase, Delta 47 in Vulcan space, where MaTee had agreed to join a Science Directorate study of a fungus growing on an asteroid, hurtling its way toward Vulcan. Thanks to his friend, Hounsou learned a few other terms for the Vulcan homeworld. He'd always found it strange that only humans seemed to have the distinction of a planet not bearing the name of their race. Very few species called humans Earthers, as the Klingons sometimes did. MaTee had known Earth by its common alternative, Terra, and had sometimes called humans Terrans, which was something that had never really caught on. Maybe in another reality?

In this one, Hounsou was seeing a ghost. No, he wasn't seeing Morley himself, or at least his drone form, but his handiwork. Hounsou's studies of the Hansens? work had noted their experiments with Borg technology, a term that could, ignorantly, have been interpreted as redundant, if one saw the Collective as nothing greater than super-Pakleds. He had begun to see them as something more, something greater, in an almost unsettling light. He had begun to sympathize with them.

The debris, as he'd continued to study it, had revealed its secrets to him. A Borg scout ship, a sphere, blown to bits, out in the middle of nowhere, in the Gamma Quadrant. It wasn't by Dominion disruptors, either, or by any other adversary. It had self-destructed. Would the Borg do that?

On the flight home, doing his best to ignore Velar, Hounsou sat in his cabin, alone with his thoughts, the samples he'd collected, and Morley's ghost. He wasn't imagining it, willing this familiar, haunting face into this inexplicable catastrophe for a bitter Federation foe. The Borg, despite their unrelenting quest, were imperfect, and everywhere, until one looked into the heart of the Collective, one could see it. It's just that they chose not to. It was easier to say the Borg were and should be the great enemy that had caused the disaster at 359. The truth was, as was evident to anyone willing to see it, Starfleet had brought it upon itself. His own ship should never have been there, to say nothing of Middlesex, who had all but retired himself to a life of quiet despair, which had and would continue to leave many a Starfleet officer lost behind their own dull eyes.

Hounsou fought back. He was constantly rebelling, refusing to settle even when he'd become a trusted and unremarkable member of Matheson's command crew. The truth was, he had always considered his own mission more important than whatever his ship happened to be working on. Even the Pathfinder project, yes, he was caught up in the romance of it, and very much savored the thought that, should they succeed, he would share in the glory which could very well stir the sleeping fleet from its stupor. But even in the best of times, Starfleet managed to ruin things by getting involved in another war?

Far greater than 359, it had turned out, the unsung Pakled war, which had claimed his best friend, still resonated in his heart. He could feel its beat, the altered rhythm, as surely as he could imagine Morley's heart, still pumping despite the mechanisms that ran and coursed through his body, to the day, escaped from 359, too, he had found himself in another forsaken quadrant and met his end in a freak accident. Or perhaps by design. It wasn't war that Hounsou despised so much as its cruelty, its necessity. The Ferengi became allies that day, virtually the moment MaTee died, a boon for the Federation, for Starfleet, and even for Hounsou. They had resources he envied, a clearer understanding of Pathfinder's possibilities than all the engineers Hounsou had reluctantly answered to. But the Pakleds, too, had benefited. They had surrendered to Starfleet every ridiculous discovery they had ever come across, everything useless and everything that wasn't, including all the Borg technology they, too, had found. Like the debris field Hounsou now left behind.

His future was certain: in another seven years, he'd be eligible to retire from the fleet, which he fully intended to do. He would leave the uniform, and everything it stood for, every loss, every indignity, every casualty, behind. He would do everything those still in service failed to see, that there was life outside of the system, which everyone, for so long, had needlessly accepted. It had been 359 that had proven it, 359 and that human drone, KT Morley, the flicker of humanity that, the more Hounsou thought of it, the more he was convinced had led Morley to destroy the cube himself, as Starfleet had done, as he would do.

That was life.


  • "Through the Mind of the Eye"

There was only ever going to be trouble. Franzoni had left that crew behind, with all its own troubles, the pain they had already inflicted, the torment, and still, the part of that ship he couldn't leave behind gnawed at him. He couldn't escape it, and trouble was going to lead to more trouble, whether he liked it or not.

Whether he could blame that ship or not, had he never been a part of that crew, Franzoni would never have known about this world. He didn't know if he should curse and thank them, because he was about to rescue it, as he could never have done, as it was so clear, while among them. It "wasn't what they did." But it was exactly what he needed to do. In the years since the Dominion War, the planet Mund had become a new extension of the Vorta tyranny. Franzoni had lost a friend he didn't know he had when the occupation began, the expansion, the last great failure of that crew, its captain, the woman he could never love. He was going to make that right. He was finally going to salvage what was left of his life, and he was going to make that crew redeem itself in the only way he knew how. He would recruit Douglas Velar.


The circumstances that had led Pentek to the same Intifada would hardly have been believed the last time he and Franzoni had crossed paths, and yet there he was, aboard a salvaged Breen cruiser, a reminder of the events that had made them possible. There had been a war, and things had changed. The Cardassians had become just another species in space, struggling to make their way just as any other pathetic, directionless race. In the void, he had joined the Gnomon, and had found how once again his interests not only contradicted those of the Federation's, but curiously aligned with the fate of one its most troubled and now former Starfleet officers. There were others like Franzoni, some who had resigned their commissions before the war, and some after, just as there had been a Maquis before and a Maquis after. The Gnomon were the Maquis, but their fight was no longer one of resistance, certainly not against Cardassians. The Pentek from before the war would no doubt be comforted by such a distinction, but the truth was he was as much in need of reassurance as that curious opposite, Franzoni. These were still troubled times.

Pentek was not the commander of this ship, and even though the Gnomon tended against concepts such as authority, there were others aboard who would claim such power. It was not a large ship. For the Breen, it had been a means of transporting artillery from battlefield to battlefield; now the cruiser delivered a detachment across the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, some of whom would remain behind permanently. Not even Starfleet had standing officers there, only more of their explorers, cataloguing things someone else already knew. They didn't care what the Dominion had discovered, or what they were still up to, because even with the war over, even with the Founders still in their retreat, the Dominion was alive, and they were no allies of the Federation. Pentek could appreciate that.

The cruiser was headed toward Vorta space. The Vorta, long the subordinates of the Founders and day-to-day administrators of their will, had not taken kindly to the new circumstances brought on by the war and its aftermath. The cloning operations, with the withdrawal of the Founders, had come to an end. A sterile race, this would have meant gradual extinction to an ancient bureaucratic people, and they could not have stood by, waiting for their gods to make things right. They adapted, and their chosen solution was to absorb and recreate other species, just as the Founders had done. They were not empire-building; they were ensuring their survival, so naturally, no one, least of all the Federation, cared. They perfected the flaw in the Founders' original design; they made their creations in their own image. On the planet Mund, where once a three-legged, agile people had prospered, now stood an entire population of new Vorta, the last remnants of resistance put away as the process concluded within a matter of years. Vorta space now occupied much of the former Dominion, would had once enjoyed a remarkable amount of diversity, far more than anyone ever realized. Now it was being consolidated. Even the Jem'Hadar would be joined.

The Gnomon somehow had a problem with this, as certainly did Pentek himself.


Franzoni piloted a two-man Starfleet bombardier, the first Federation starship designed exclusively for combat. With room for such a limited amount of passengers, its purpose could hardly be mistaken or modified, as the last such vessel developed might still be. Still, Franzoni was merely traveling in it, making the bombardier a glorified shuttlecraft or runabout, sleek, lethal, but just another small transport at the moment. He was on his way to pick up Velar, whose current assignment aboard the U.S.S. Ptolemy, where he still served as able crewman, found him conveniently enough inside the Gamma Quadrant already. The bombardier made its way past the last Federation checkpoint at Deep Space Nine in a convoy arranged by the Gnomon, surrounded by a Tellarite survey party. Once the rendezvous with the Ptolemy was reached, Franzoni would board one of the Tellarite ships, the bombardier safely stowed in the cargo bay, ready to greet Velar.

In the meantime, surrounded as he was by other ships, Franzoni was free to explore the isolation of space, confined to the tiny bombardier and the tranquility around him. This is what he had missed, all those years in the fleet, constantly badgered by requests, assignments, and the chaos inherent in the system, plugged in with every crisis the Federation allowed to happen, every war, every dispute, every unexpected new enemy. Once, long ago, he had been offered a position in a secret intelligence agency that might have allowed him the freedom he now enjoyed within the system, but he somehow didn't see how effective it really was. And he would not have truly lived. If he could be happy living on a single world with a consistent order governing his decisions and a job to occupy him, Franzoni might have bucked all these concerns entirely. But he had seen too much, done too much, had committed too much, and that?s why he had to go to Mund. Once more unto the breach.

There was so very little out here for him to grab onto, as the bombardier continued on its way, hardly anything but his own sense of reality to let him know he was moving forward. The controls told him coordinates, but they might as well have been an illusion. For all practical purposes, Franzoni was frozen in place. Except he saw the stars, and knew enough of them to know how they changed places constantly, from his perspective, like rolling mountains on a winding road. He thought if he went far enough he could make his way around them in minutes. But they were far away and it was only his perspective. His bombardier slipped along, but it did not move that fast. Space was too vast.

On Mund, everyone was a Vorta, but of course that had not always been the case. The Gnomon were not headed there to change this, but to prevent it from happening to other worlds. In their hubris, the Vorta had staged the entire process there, built the hideous engine in the heart of the planet, to be swept across the system and eventually quadrant, until perhaps the day came when they questioned expanding further and risk drawing the ire of the galaxy, when they finally noticed, like the Borg. This was far more insidious; Franzoni had watched the first Mund to become a Vorta, an individual once known as Mcquarrie, lose his mind, become an entirely blank slate to be educated in the ways of the Vorta, their culture, their ambitions, and most importantly, their reasoning. This Vorta had turned on his own brother. It was upon discovering this that Franzoni finally decided to join the Gnomon cause, the realization that peace was not the only road to utopia.


The Ptolemy's captain was a Klingon, Guerin, who had once been the ambassador to Earth, a loyal officer of the Empire and veteran of a dozen campaigns. His father had been a farmer, and mother a socialite, if such a thing could be understood in its context. Growing up, he had learned the value of land and pride in his people, which had, to his parents? discovery and against their intentions, led him on the warrior's path. He did not know it, but among his crew was a crewman about to embark on a matter of grave importance to the Klingons, which would in turn draw Guerin himself into the plot to redeem Mund.

When Franzoni and Velar entered into orbit around Mund, they were greeted by a Jem’Hadar named Toran’Tiklan, and were almost immediately subdued.


Had they reached Mund, they would have found, contrary to every speculation and the information provided by the Gnomon, a single Vorta, answering the name of Ordwey, governor of this new member planet in the Dominion. The new population, obviously, was anything but Mund, or Vorta, for that matter, but a colony of Gwe, the merchants of the Dominion, established by the Founders long before the Vorta or Jem’Hadar, secretly to scout the quadrant for likely home planets. They had found two. By the time of contact with the Federation, they were down to the last. The Gwe had been meant to be the first members of the Dominion through the wormhole, once it had been discovered, but when a ship of Ferengi came through, the Vorta were quickly substituted, and the Gwe became an almost moot branch. War was declared long before the enemy knew it was being waged. It was a dangerous universe.

As governor of the colony, Ordwey had to oversee whatever economic endeavors the Gwe conceived as they attempted to reassert themselves in the new Vorta order. Ironically, of all the member species, the Founders had always trusted the Gwe most, because they possessed the most independent thought, were most given to the notion that through chaos order may be obtained, for there is nothing to be found elsewhere like that description than business. Secretly, a Founder had lived among them for millennia, and was with this colony even now. Ordwey, when he had come about, seemed to instinctively sense it, though he couldn’t voice it. He knew there was a greater importance to his position than the others generally understood. In the grand scheme of the new Dominion, Mund was just another member world.

Receiving Toran’Tiklan’s transmission, Ordwey sat back in his seat, at ease with himself. Rarely had a member of the Dominion sat at all, not before the war, anyway, but many of the things it had seen and experienced during that time had begun incorporating themselves into daily life. Ordwey sat often. There had certainly never been chairs on Mund before, at least not any a biped might recognize. In fifty or a hundred years, that might change still, assuming Ordwey lived that long. Just as a Klingon genetic experiment, another thing borrowed since the war and incorporated into Vorta thinking, had once altered an Empire for a century beyond recognition, Ordwey had the understanding that what had created him, created his blank slate of new life from old, would in time completely reverse itself. He would actually regrow that third leg, among other regenerations. Then again, Vorta rarely lived long, for one reason or another. He didn’t give it that much thought, that and many other things.

A governor’s life, much as any Vorta life, was actually pretty boring, so he relished the intelligence that had forewarned him of the Gnomon approach, each of the ships. The other was still coming, and perhaps that one would still be a problem. There was also the Starfleet vessel, which was still about, somewhere, for whatever reason. He enjoyed giving them some thought. In the meantime, he had more mundane matters to consider, as well as what to do with the two humans he now found in his possession.


For their part, Franzoni and Velar could hardly have been more surprised by what had happened to them, the ease in their capture, as if they had been expected, or in the new circumstances in which they now found themselves. At the very least, they had expected to find themselves in some sort of prison. That couldn’t have been farther from where they ended up, and with who.

The girl was called Bescik, or so she told them. The truth was, as a member of the Great Link, she had no name. Only a handful of Changelings, of Founders, had ever assumed names, either among the early days they preferred to remember only in allegory, or of the handful of them, of the infants, they had set out into the galaxy to see if their memory, if their stories, truly held up to scrutiny. The name Bescik had come to her in her earliest days among the Gwe, when she had first come among them perhaps two hundred years earlier. Time was relative for a species who did not follow the rules of the Solids, not anymore. In the Great Link, everything was relative.

Her time with the Gwe, however, should never have lasted so long. There was nothing relative about that, no way to avoid the awful truth of it. The Great Link was everything. It called to a missing member like a siren song, no matter if they knew it or not. In relative terms, in the only ones that meant anything, Bescik had been gone for an eternity. Now that word had gotten back to her, of what had become of her people, of the Dominion it had sired, that time seemed longer still.

And yet, here she still was.

And yet, in strictly relative terms, she was a prisoner among her adopted people. Of course, prisoner was a relative term, too. She was still held in the highest of regards among the Gwe, not because they knew what she truly was (and even then, the Gwe were no Vorta; they had never needed to be), but because of her importance in their society. Bescik was a kind of royalty, and here she was, in her new palace on this world of Mund.

Presently, before her stood two persons who even in relative terms could not be called her subjects, two persons who weren't even native to the quadrant, let alone subject to the Dominion itself. There had been a war and the Dominion had not expanded after all, not in the way it had expected, anyway, not under the Founders, not from the influence of the Great Link. Mund had never been a member world, not with its population as it had once been, and yet now it was, another in a long series of recent acquisitions. As usual, the Gwe were brought in to secure its membership, a shiny new planet like a bauble, devoid of a new population but new staging ground. For the Gwe, that was pretty much everything anyway. For Bescik, yet another headache.

"You don't wish to be here," she said.

"We didn't have much of a choice," Franzoni replied.

"It wasn't a question," Bescik said.

"So we gathered," Velar said, gesturing to the restraints the Jem'Hadar had left on them.

"Don't be alarmed," Bescik said. "That's the Jem'Hadar way. They won't be necessary, and I'll soon have them removed. There are a number of technicalities to be gone over before that, however. Such as the nature of your interests on this world."

"I think we're beginning to wonder about that ourselves," Franzoni said. "We didn't expect to find you here."

"You expected Mund," Bescik said. "And you have no idea who we are. Clearly we are not Vorta. Your Federation intelligence doesn't go very far."

"I think that would be a fair way of putting it," Franzoni said. "Though we don't represent the Federation."

"Naturally," Bescik said. "Though you represent it enough, which you must understand. Don't be alarmed; I'm not intimating that you may have rekindled thoughts of war. But you must be aware that the handful of years experience your Federation and its neighbors have had have not exactly done the Dominion justice."

"Still, whatever we lack, we're still not exactly happy with what we have managed to find out," Franzoni said. "Vorta or no Vorta, this planet is still not populated with Mund."

"And then again, it is," Bescik said. "In the viewpoint of the Dominion, it is as good as that. There is no cause for alarm here, not for the history of this planet, and not for people from very far away who don't understand what they're getting into."

"People have been wronged," Franzoni said. "That's all we needed to know."

"And the solution is not easy," Bescik said. "You should be satisfied with that, because you will only bring about more hardship."

"We figured it was worth it," Velar said.

"You are in all probability wrong," Bescik said. "You should understand that."

"Good causes are worth fighting for," Franzoni said. "We're are going to fight. You should realize that."

"Oh, I have," Bescik said. "I merely thought you should know what you're getting yourselves into, everything you had not thought about, all the complications. The Mund people are retrievable, but not by your own hand. By their own."

"We figured that," Velar said. "We also figured that if the best we could do was giving them a fighting chance, then that's what we would do."

"You speak in simple terms," Bescik said, "as if these are simple matters. You speak as if it is going to be easy."

"That's not really our concern," Franzoni said. "As we said, we want to see wrong be brought to justice. For us, it really is that simple."

"You meddle in the affairs of a foreign government as if the galaxy belongs to you," Bescik said.

"No offense, but that's what you did first," Franzoni said.

"You are naive, childish," Bescik said.

"We are aware, and hope to capitalize on our awareness," Franzoni said, "for the greater good."

"To your own detriment," Bescik said.

"In the short-term, maybe," Franzoni said.

Bescik couldn't help but smile. These men were clever, brave, foolish; all the most dangerous elements of their nature. They were not to be underestimated, and they could not be ignored. And they were patently going against the wishes of a great many, both in unspoken wishes and desires written out in treaties which if followed, would spare a great deal of hardship all parties involved had already experienced and did not relish seeing again. Might she respect them? She couldn't decide. But what to do with them? She left them standing where they had spoken with each other, in the cold center of this elaborate, gaudy chamber of hers, given her by the Gwe in token appreciation of her stature. She walked the extremes of it, nearer the walls, where the most important trinkets of its status were located. So much room, so little meaning, just representation, a relative gesture she could never feel anything but uncomfortable within. All it could ever be was impressive. It was meant for visitors, just maybe not these humans who now stood within it. No chairs here, not here.

She called silently for a guard to escort them away, while she further deliberated. A Jem'Hadar appeared, the loyal Toran'Tiklan, and once more did his duty. Bescik didn't trust him. She didn't trust any of this. He didn't know she was one of his Founders, and she didn't know what would happen the day he did find out. She spent the rest of the day troubled at the thought of it.


The Breen cruiser remained in orbit above Mund. For the last thirty-two hours, Pentek had attempted to meditate in the classic Bajoran style. During the Occupation, he had kept a concubine, as had many Cardassians, and she had, at the time as he'd allowed himself to believe, readily taught him many of the religious arts common in her culture. It was never the culture Pentek's people had objected to, tried so hard to subjugate, merely the primitive people who practiced it. He himself had seen the Bajorans as almost unworthy. He couldn't imagine how this peasant race had conjured such majesty out of lands that ever before his people had bombarded it into near-decimation could sustain such living art. On Cardassia, among the most barren of worlds in the entire Alpha Quadrant, culture itself had become a religion. Apart from proximity, it was the potential yet complete lack of understanding, such blind devotion to beings called Prophets, of another culture that had made Bajor such an enticing prospect. Nowhere else, before or since, had the Empire found such a rich harvest, not even among the humans who would become such important meddlers and who valued their own culture, blindly, against all others. Pentek could not imagine Cardassia ever joining the Federation for this seemingly inconsequential reason. Cardassians weren't proud; they really were superior, in the most significant way possible. After all, without culture, what was life best used for?

And thus, the reason for the Empire's extreme desire for order, for military strength.

But those days, every one of them, were behind his people. Pentek would never admit it to any other member of the Gnomon, certainly anyone onboard the cruiser, but he was ashamed even of himself. He no longer knew who he was. The Gnomon provided a purpose, but that was all. He was here, and that was all he felt was truly necessary. He lacked the resolve for anything else.

Long ago, a lifetime ago, he had constructed a completely artificial holographic persona for himself, to fool the world, and himself, into safe passage. He had assumed a dead man's identity, yes, and had enveloped himself in a completely tactile, fully articulated form, which he left behind, discarded for those still interested, but it had been a hollow vessel in every way. As hollow as he still felt now. Thanks to surveillance devices he had positioned, including on the person of Franzoni himself, he knew every detail of the Mund situation, and that added to his morass. Whatever he once felt motivating him, that, too, was dead. He was catatonic. He thought of departing the cruiser, blowing it up behind him. It may have been something his former self would have done, or at least, what people would have assumed him capable of doing. That had always been part of the problem. He, as with all of his people, had been grossly misunderstood for the natural impulses that happened to make them better than their detractors. Then again, even the best of intentions and individuals knew self-destruction all too well. That was an unfortunate course of such behavior.

The truth, beyond all the assumptions and expectations, was that this mission was hardly going as planned, either. Pentek anticipated that he would not be sitting in his quarters long, blundering along his efforts at meditating, losing the battle for peace of mind yet again.

As luck would have it, he was about to win that bet, from another unexpected direction, Doug Velar.

Remembering how they were told they weren't prisoners, Doug asked to be let outside for a while. The landscape he found was almost like nothing he'd seen before, and it was also familiar. Every world he had ever seen in his Starfleet career reminded him of that, how similar the basic trappings of life were. Theorists for centuries had debated how different life itself must look on other worlds, only to be proven wrong the day the Vulcans came. Those theorists had always assumed life must look different because every planet they had any practical experience with had a completely different chemical composition than Earth. But then, Earth itself had an untold variety of life on it. The ones who talked just happened to stand on two legs. Here on Mund, there had been three legs, but the same number of arms. Doug had no practical experience with the population as it had once been, and had never bothered to do the research he imagined was a given for officers. He had always been concerned with the grunt work. After all, what else was a crewman good for? All the same, he assumed that the third leg was more like a tail, or would eventually become, or perhaps had once, long ago, been. He wished he could find out now, but that wasn't the reason he'd joined the Gnomon crusade. There had been far better ones.

As he continued his survey of the strangely familiar landscape, Doug saw a figure on the horizon, pushing what looked like a barrow of rocks. The figure was rapidly approaching, and was blasting ahead of itself, randomly about the ground, with the psionic pulse he knew was indigenous to Vorta. As it grew closer, he became embarrassed to discover that it was female, wearing very little, what appeared to be a bathing suit. Mund's climate probably agreed with the attire, but in Doug's Starfleet experience, it was an aberration, save for a very select group of planets, including the only planet he knew of completely devoted to pleasure, Risa, where he hoped to retire. He turned away from the girl, but not before noticing she seemed awfully young. As little as he knew of the Mund, he knew enough of the Vorta that this was an unusual experience on top of being vaguely wrong. Still, she seemed to have seen him, too, and waved enthusiastically.

She was mere feet in front of him, the barrow abandoned a few yards earlier, before he knew it. "Hey," she said. "Call me Sino."

Doug didn't for an instant loosen up. "What are you, like sixteen?"

"Something like that," Sino said.

"I-I'm just a little confused," Doug said.

"That's okay," Sino said. "Everyone gets confused about something or other. It's like a cold, I guess, but I don't know if it's infectious, per say."

"What? You're completely losing me," Doug said.

"I have that effect on people," Sino said.

"And you don't see why?!" Doug said.

"Oh, I get it," Sino said. "You've never seen a Vorta youth before. That's okay. I'm told I'm like a first or something. Okay, maybe not the first, but first for just about everyone who can remember, or have ever known somewhere who can remember, which is to say parents and whatnot, including the Gwe, who can live for hundreds of years, like the Klingons or Vulcans you're probably more familiar with. Sorry, I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"You can also do the pulse thing," Doug said, at a certain loss for something else to say.

"Oh, yeah, but that's because I'm female," Sino said. "We're just lucky like that."

"You're also doing...manual labor," Doug said.

"Oh, the barrow?" Sino said. "Nah, that's just a bit of fun. It'd take too long to explain. How old are you, because I think in your culture, the way you're looking at me is probably inappropriate."

Doug had been trying really had to keep his focus, but this Sino was pretty sharp. Again he struggled for something to say. "Uh, you see, Starfleet, which I've been a part of for about as long as you seem to have been around yourself, they're a bunch of Puritans. Prudes. I don't get to see someone wearing so little very often. Actually, I'm kind of glad you're female."

"I believe in your culture you still have these...distinctions. I'm a lesbian," Sino said. "No! Just kidding. Actually, Vorta aren't very sexual. We haven't really needed to be."

"Look," Doug said, frantically hoping to change the subject, "I know you weren't just playing around, and because you are, well, whatever you are, a Vorta youth in a culture that believes in the test tube as much as its gods, you've got to have a better explanation."

"Wow! You really do know how to talk," Sino said. "I was beginning to wonder. Anyway, you're probably right. But I'm probably a state secret, or something like that. I wonder if they'll have to kill you now. Kidding! Just kidding again. Actually, I'm not that unique. The problem with Vorta is that they actually have sort of...lost the will to...mate, to do it, have sex, however you want to say it. We're on Mund. Even I know why you're here. Obviously you know what the story is. As for why I'm here, I'm not sure even I know why, exactly. So yeah, I really was just sort of having fun, pushing a barrow around for reasons you really wouldn't understand. No state secrets, just some cultural details you're not familiar with."

"You?re in a unique position to help me," Doug said.

"I'm not sure it would be appropriate," Sino said. "You know, for a number of reasons. Plus they're probably wondering what you're up to. Planting bombs, that's probably what they expect. You have a friend inside the compound who wouldn't exactly benefit from such a misunderstanding."

"I have a better idea," Doug said.


"You're coming with me."



Another Vorta, Ordwey, was finding it hard to concentrate, as were a number of others on this world. Something about it was off, perhaps something was in the air. There must be a storm coming. He aimed to be ready. He called for Toran'Tiklan.

As much as anyone else, Toran'Tiklan had experienced much in his life. Far from a simple foot soldier in the Jem'Hadar army, as much as any Jem'Hadar had proven themselves to be individuals, Toran had as well. Quietly. The lifespan of his kind was short enough as it was, but for those who broke from tradition, allowed themselves to be seen as distinct personalities? In the early days, even before the days of the White, in the lore of the Jem'Hadar, such would have been punishable by suicide.

His people were a vital part of the Dominion, as they were rightly honored to be, but they were as distinct from the Vorta, the Gwe, and countless other races as were the Founders themselves. The Vorta had been bred to serve the Founders, to see them as gods. Such was the general opinion with the Dominion, but such was not the motivation of the Jem'Hadar, even before the days of the White. They, too, had been bred, to become the fiercest, most unwavering warriors the universe had ever seen, not to be bothered with tactics but with the single ambition of victory, for the Dominion, but for the Founders first. Their devotion came from a predatory need for supremacy. They followed the Founders because they had never known greater rivals, and that is what they were truly bred to perceive.

Toran had seen a Founder bleed. No, not in the sense any solid would understand, but he knew there was a limit even to the Founders' might, to their superiority, and that had been the day he understood what he was, what he was destined to one day accomplish. He suspected that a similar thing had happened, on a wider scale, long before his time, had necessitated the White. And when the White began to lose its appeal, after the Jem'Hadar had realized their addiction, others had begun to see things his way, too. Not exactly the same way, no. But close enough.

Things were different with him. Toran still knew that service before the Founders would remain the destiny of his people for many millennia to come, just as it would remain his station. If the White had never truly been their motivation, then the Jem'Hadar, as no other member of the Dominion, had truly become a servant, maybe not by devotion and perhaps by inclination, but most clearly because it was a perfect opportunity. They had seen Klingons and laughed at them. That was all most of them needed to know. In more recent years, many Jem'Hadar had heard the tales from the Delta Quadrant, had learned of other potential rivals, such as the Hirogen, and they had long since become familiar with the Borg. Every Jem'Hadar had the same reaction towards the Collective: to use a human expression, bring them on. For Toran, he had never valued what the Founders had made him more than when the war had allowed him to discover all these things. War had a way of spreading knowledge, which was something he admired about it, almost more than the carnal satisfaction of it.

He had served the Founders in ways few Jem'Hadar had, however. Most were pleased enough in the fighting itself, but Toran had accompanied them on more subtle missions, when they were posing among the solids to gain needed information. In this way, he had come to appreciate the art of subterfuge as few warriors did, and still greater appreciation for his masters. Of all the things missing from Jem'Hadar life so common among other species, Toran thought he missed literature most of all, simply for the fact that he could himself record all that he had experienced, either in his own life or as a bystander in Founder intrigue. That he doubted a Federation bleeding heart would ever have suspected.

It was experiences such as he had had on Deep Space Nine on just such a Founder mission that allowed Toran to guess that Bescik was not what she claimed to be, and that her interests with these humans extended beyond newly-awakened Founder curiosity. He was actually becoming annoyed, pushing them around from one place to the next, whether on the orders of Bescik or Ordwey. He longed to become a part of the plot, even though it did not serve his own interests, could actually spoil them, if he wasn't careful. Toran was always careful, but it could very well become the case that in his carefulness he would finally slip up, which he knew full well was the dangerous in his game.

So he decided to alter it.


Franzoni had been waiting what seemed an eternity for Velar to return when the Starfleet crewman finally did, with a Vorta girl, a literal girl, a fact that only confused him. Beyond the fact that this was hardly in the character of his friend, above whom he had once been commander aboard the Copernicus, when Velar's friend had been played by a treacherous Cardassian war criminal, it was also about as far from plan as he could have gotten. Franzoni, to put it mildly, was not happy about it.

"Before you say anything," Velar began, "just let me explain. She's here to help."

"That would, in case you were wondering, be news to me," the girl, Sino said.

"Doug, you're taking an awful risk." Franzoni had little interest in talking at the moment. He waved Velar and his friend to another corner of what appeared to be a lobby in this grand embassy of the Vorta's. Things would need to be recalculated, there was no mistaking that. When Velar put his mind to something, there was no dissuading him. It had been what perturbed Franzoni back on the Starfleet ship, but what intrigued him about the crewman being in league with the Gnomon. The Gwe woman, Bescik, had already thought she'd ruined whatever plans they'd had for Mund, but all she knew was what she thought she did, given everything they hadn't known before arriving.

"I've got a new idea," he said. "Since our buddy Ordwey doesn't seem to know who he is, we're going to remind him. That should do the trick."

In front of him sat the Vorta governor Ordwey. Many things had been assumed over the course of the last few days, but when Harmon Franzoni came to Guerin, revealing what he was, what he represented, and who this Vorta had once been, the Klingon's role in these affairs, even after he'd discovered what Crewman Velar had manipulated him into doing, was altered in an instant. This Vorta had not been a Mund, which everyone involved may very well have been excused to believe. He had not even originated in the Gamma Quadrant. He was a Klingon, too, one for whose fate the Empire in the early days of the Dominion project on Mund had spent a great deal of energy reconciling. Everyone thought he was dead. Everyone thought this blood traitor, this pathetic crewman in Starfleet, had not survived the initial transformations he had somehow allowed himself to fall into. Everyone believed Gird, the son of Guerin of the High Klingon Fleet, was lost.

For decades, Guerin proudly served in the Klingon military machine, forsaking a personal life, a wife, a family, so that he could fulfill what he had always believed was his destiny, to follow the calling of the highest honor the noble Kahless had so long ago decreed for his people. One day, he was wounded in battle and sent back to the homeworld despite his every protest to mend. He gave himself days, but in the weeks he truly required to recover, he saw outside his window a dancer, a performer in the Royal Klingon Opera, rehearsing, surrounded as if in waiting by the prettiest birds on Chronos. It was like a vision. More weeks passed still, he was fully healed, and despite his earlier ambitions to return to service as swiftly as possible, he lingered, listened to the tales old veterans in the hospice regularly entertained themselves with, and stared out the window, at the dancer, of such magnificent beauty he forgot everything he had ever promised himself. One day she came to the hospice herself, to give a performance for the veterans, near death and as ready for everlasting glory as only she herself in this life could imitate. That must have been what captivated him. When she was done, he proposed for her hand in marriage. She accepted.

The years advanced and she bore him many children, but the greatest of them was the first, whose fiery temperament reminded Guerin of his idealistic youth, when he thought he could take on the enemies of the Empire himself, armed only with a bat'leth and a targ to guide him. The firstborn, however, had heard of glory and honor from outside Klingon society, of the tales coming from the first of them to enter Starfleet, who had in this outrageous capacity affected greater influence on the fate of the Empire than had any warrior since Kahless himself. Guerin was dismayed, but to Gird's judgment he eventually acceded, and when the day came, his son enlisted during the very height of the Civil War, wishing to fight on Romulus itself. Instead, he had fought on its sister world, Remus, and there been taken captive by its shadowy natives.

Guerin hid his shame, just as he buried all knowledge of his son, preferring to take pride in the rest of his clan, none others of whom left the protective circle of traditional Klingon life. Gird escaped nine months later, and quit the soldier's life entirely. His failure was complete. Life in Starfleet, to compound the dishonor, allowed him many opportunities to inform his father of his activities, and as the years ensued, he never failed, not once, until the fateful trip to Mund, on simple reconnaissance. Just as centuries before the Klingons had conducted experiences that had grotesquely altered their great appearance, now, too, was Gird experiencing such dishonor. The last word Guerin received about his son was from a Mund, among the last of them as they had originally been, the brother of the man who led him into doomsday.

And yet, here he was again. Franzoni had somehow convinced the Jem'Hadar Toran'Tiklan to deliver the Vorta governor into Guerin's hands. For long moments, they stared at each other, his son still oblivious as to what was happening, Guerin full of all the horror he had long suppressed for himself, a dancer clouding his judgment. In the completeness of the silence, he was glad to not to have to hear the grand manner of speech his son had adopted, the more he studied humans, their culture, and their ability to express themselves in more than mere physical, deadly ways. Humans were like Cardassians, not to be trusted with their words. His son had fought Cardassians, to make Guerin and all the Empire, when that war, too, had been fought. Such disasters upon his family!

There was only one thing left to do. Franzoni, given a new commission within the Federation, a new role among the Gnomon, a sister entity along Starfleet, which in the days since the Dominion War more and more Klingons had joined, and it was all Guerin could do to join the movement, this Franzoni had shared with him everything, all the secrets the Gwe ambassador Bescik had revealed to him. He had had his own medical staff study the effects of the long-term, but ultimately temporary assimilation of Mund into Vorta, and had been satisfied. He had also had them study such a procedure on other species. For many, for most in fact, the result was the same. For Klingons, deadly.

This Franzoni would quickly become a pariah when the truth of these matters was exposed to the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, this much Guerin knew. It would destabilize all of Federation space, the surrounding regions, the allies and all the races who had, as it turned out, wisely decided to remain entirely neutral. In this quadrant, across the span of the wormhole, where even today it was taboo for Federation ships to dally, stood a great Dominion, and among its allies, among its worlds, now stood Mund. His son had become governor of it. However it had happened, his son had won glory, even if he would never know it. Guerin had not studied the possibility of retrieving memories, of the base personality lost along with the physical appearance of the host body. Gird was his son, a Klingon of the Empire, but he was also Ordwey, a pitiful Vorta, and that was all he would ever be. There was only one thing left to do.

Against every order he could think of, any word, any appearance of negotiation with this man, Guerin knew what he had to do. He looked one last moment in the dead eyes of the man before him, took free the phaser from his waist, and fired. It had already been set to vaporize.


Douglas Velar suddenly understood the significance of Sino. In time, she would become the new governor of this world. The Gnomon would ensure the regeneration process of the natives would be sped up, as much as it could be, probably amidst a great deal of fighting, but this girl, this newborn Vorta, would become the legacy, the unknowable enchantment he had stumbled upon. The Gwe had already departed by the time news spread of the previous governor?s disappearance, including the woman Bescik, with whom the Jem'Hadar Toran'Tiklan departed. In the first few days of the revolution, Doug had come across a Cardassian, who claimed he was there as a member of the Gnomon, and he had suddenly realized something, that a friend of his had not died as he?d thought, and that this Cardassian was responsible in so many ways, Doug would be struggling with this matter for a lot longer than whatever his participation in the Mund crisis would ever amount to. All his life he had struggled to define what had been missing, the void he was constantly aware of, and he bucked against every authority figure because he knew they lacked the answers he needed so desperately. And yet this Cardassian, in him he had sensed all the answers he had ever wanted, and realized he no longer wanted to know them.


His part had finally played out. Franzoni let go a sigh of relief.


  • "Alastair Captain Weber on the Occasion of the Last Vulcan"

"W-we are straying from the path," Solok gibbered, a cold sweat upon his brow, a beaten pillow beneath his head. The master had seen better days, as had his pupil, Sokor, who obediently attended him in his twilight hours. Here in his tiny cabin, far removed in the countryside of Midland, they were huddled against the darkness, a candle glowing in a far corner, failing utterly in its charge, as Sokor knew he, too, had, not just in the last few days or years, but over the course of his considerable lifetime. He had wasted how much of it with humans, in their Starfleet? His accomplished mind could have told him, but he didn't care to know the answer, not in this moment.

"His teachings, are they no longer sacred, do we no longer believe?" Solok struggled for breath. If he hadn't needed to, if most of his concentration wasn't spent on the mere act of surviving, his pupil knew that his chatter would continue unceasingly. For all struggles there were sacrifices. Solok shuddered beneath his heavy blanket, woven, no doubt, by an ancestor, part of a continuing cycle of meditation echoed throughout all concerns of life. Sokor could see the care in every stitching, in the pattern faintly emblazoned across the blanket, so heavily embedded the weaver might have been in a trance, as his mentor might as well have been in now, seeing what Sokor could not see, hearing only what he needed to. Perhaps the words of Surak even now. "In the suns I see you, in the grains of the barren wasteland, I taste you. Your ways are soothing, your knowledge truth. This we no longer believe, we no longer t-trust. We f-feel. We feel! Don't you see? We have descended into anarchic heresy! Into l-lust! We have surrendered ourselves to our own demise! What we began, we are finishing!"

Solok collapsed from the momentary strength of his rantings, and Sokor attempted to catch him. Is that what transpired? Because in the next moment, all the pupil could see was a limp figure in his arms, a head pressed deeply into his bosom, matted, sweaty hair out of fashion and stuck to his robes. He let go as suddenly as the truth hit him. One moment he had been devoted to his master, and the next, the master had gone away, just as he had, but?with an utter finality. A part of Sokor had been lost, and he felt, in that moment, like the last Vulcan in the universe.

It was once said that a blind Vulcan was near to a perfect Vulcan. Sokor considered this maxim as he wore his Starfleet uniform for the last time and took in the spectacle through the mirror above his wash basin. In all his years of service, the design had changed more often than he thought he could tolerate, but in its present form, the tunic in its shear bleakness best aligned with the aesthetics he had come to know on his home planet, the austere, calculated fashion outsiders had come to associate with the distinctive, uniform hairstyle, which even the Romulans had never abandoned, despite having lost virtually everything else. He considered for a very brief moment that resigning his commission might be a mistake after all, in this time when the Science Directorate on Vulcan could no longer service what remained of his mechanical curiosity, in what had suddenly seemed like a very long retirement. How much longer was he expected to live by all conventional, healthy standards? Another hundred years? Humans would find it...illogical.

He permitted himself a rare grin. It wasn't often Sokor or any of his kind granted the primitive Earthlings even a modicum of resemblance to what his people had attained, not in the four hundred years they had come to know each other, but in their constant, unwavering thirst for the unknown, humans had long peeked the interest of Vulcans. It was indeed the only thing that seemed capable of managing that. Still, he didn't like what he saw. The collar had lost its flare since the last revisions, had lost its charm, which even a Vulcan must take into account, being one of the basic tenets of intellect. He wouldn't, at any rate, have much longer a need to concern himself over it. In a few short moments, some young stripling, their head full with impossible ideals, would escort him from his quarters to the bridge of this starship, named for some long-forgotten alien homeworld in a region still called the Expanse even though, technically, that region never existed, and he would have a last look at space from this perspective, an old tradition he had insisted on. He could count on one hand the number of devotees who had chosen to honor it in the last hundred years. It may have had to do with the fact that very few officers lasted into retirement without having been reduced to some desk. As a physician of the fleet, he had rarely seen anything beyond the bulkheads of his sickbay, refusing most away missions on principle, preferring casualties to be brought to him rather than the potential of becoming one himself. Such caution, Sokor now realized, must have been seen as counterintuitive to his profession, even though, in one form or another, it was typical for officers in his field. Physicians were always in need of their own medicine, a workable coping method. His made him all but invisible, looked past in most promotion cycles, so that his pips even now only counted to three, despite a career that would have been more than respectable for even two of his own people. He didn't regret it.

The door chimed, and before he could answer, the stripling appeared, a Tholian of all races, whose era Sokor briefly attempted to pinpoint before remembering he was here to put that sort of nonsense behind him. They were out in the corridor before he realized he had left his book behind, a gift to the captain on this occasion that he had begrudgingly decided to present, despite the fact that the captain gave him a headache and he was more than willing to dispense with unnecessary formalities. After a moment's hesitation, which the Tholian evidently interpreted as a sign of age, Sokor made up his mind to forego the gesture and perhaps leave the book behind for whomever may occupy the quarters after him. So few people had tangible things anymore, he would be happy to befuddle them with one. It had become custom to accept, even for humans, life to mean a series of uncertainties, so most ideas of personal possession had reverted to a futuristic idea of the nomadic way: travel lightly, pack your things as tightly as possible, into tiny bits of electronic data. The less real the better. Even the starships had started assuming this mantra. There had been a time when their elegance would have met his strict approval. Now, the corridor felt more bleak than he liked, as if he wasn't going to a celebration but a pilgrimage. Like so many others, Starfleet had begun to equate function above form.

The Tholian beside him probably had a thought or two on the subject. He was as equipped as any species to adopt to the new strictures of service, which had adopted time as an aspect of duty, and for that, Sokor was grateful. He was aware that time was running out, which the fleet did not recognize, and so he was retiring as much as a favor to this obliviousness as for what it meant personally to him. He would have new opportunities to handle the crisis in the manner he found befitting. It would be liberating as a Vulcan to have such freedom.

"Ensign, I appreciate your sense of duty, but I do not find it necessary," he suddenly told the Tholian. "I can find my own way to the bridge."

Sokor must have confused him, because the Tholian was noticeably at a loss for words, which was always unsettling for his people. When they weren't certain about a situation was when a Tholian tended to reach for the least obvious conclusion. "I could let you do that," the ensign decided, "but then I would have nothing to do, and would probably follow you to the bridge anyway. Your conclusion was flawed, I would say. Whatever your personal interests, they're not necessary here. The arrangement as it stands is best."

Impressed, Sokor continued walking, neither of them having skipped a beat as it was. "You spare no concern for an old man's misery?"

"A Vulcan's misery is difficult to interpret," the Tholian ensign responded. "While it is true that their emotions are often, at best, inscrutable, or at the very least easily viewed as some variation of fascination or irritation, it would be wrong of me to assume, based merely on the circumstances, that you would rather be alone, I would still feel a duty to accompany you, whether for the sake of orders or because of some measurement of sympathy. Incidentally, I apologize if I am insulting you with a perceived lack of respect. It is not often my people are invited into casual conversation."

"I was not aware that I had," Sokor said, raising an eyebrow. "You have comported yourself well, however. I appreciate the effort and the intent. I still wish to be left alone."

"As it is," the ensign said, "I am under strict orders, Doctor. You were not to be left alone once outside your quarters. The captain has his concerns, of which most of the crew is aware."

"I'm honored."

"Additionally," the ensign concluded, "it's not every day you get a chance to escort a figure of such notoriety. Why would I pass up the chance?"

"I have a quandary." The Tholian ensign had once again spoken to no apparent provocation. They had indeed been passing the time in relative calm for the past few minutes, Sokor being immensely relieved while it lasted, choosing to attempt meditation. But the Tholian had been disrupting his thought process, even in the absence of chatter. It meant little for him to actually start in again. "Tholians, as I'm not sure anyone outside of my own people, have a dilemma when it comes to interacting with outsiders. It's a matter of perspective perhaps more radical than Starfleet has encountered, even to this day, whether it be the Klingons, the Cardassians, the Dominion, the Borg, even Species 8472 in the Delta Quadrant, to speak only of those beings who conform to most of the traditional measures of life, let alone something so unquantifiable as the Q Continuum. Thankfully, the fleet has begun catching up with us, making my service a little more relatable to my fellow officers than it must be understood I first experienced in the Academy, with its usual assortment of naive, intolerant, inexperienced and downright rude classmates (though they did have a considerable amount of influence on my chosen pattern of speech since those days, if you had been wondering). You see, Tholians don't exist in a single moment of time. I'm told the Prophets of the Bajorans could relate, but I'm not entirely convinced. We see the past and the future at the same time as the present. We don't use this to guide us anymore than intuition or a keen intellect does any other species. But it does make things interesting.

"A few minutes ago I referred to you as 'a figure of such notoriety,' and you may be forgiven if you initially interpreted the remark as a simple acknowledgement of your experiences on the colony world of Kol'Prann, which even by the time of my attendance were required study in San Francisco. You would, of course, be mistaken, because as well as I know your past and have found myself a part of your present, I know your future as well. You have no idea how important you become."

"I have always assumed to speak of the future, even for Tholians, is taboo," Sokor said.

"Tholians break all kinds of rules," the ensign said. "Why do you think we were the only nonaligned party to participate in the Temporal Cold War? Anyway, I thought it would be interesting for you, challenging intellectually, if I were to speak of the future. Even if Vulcans accept Tholians as a matter of course, there are certain dogmatic contradictions we must still represent for you."

"A great many things have changed within Vulcan society since we were last a significant member of the intergalactic community," Sokor said. "Truth is not so rigid, even for people who live for hundreds of years. Change happens. We were once skeptical about time travel. Such concerns are a part of our past."

"The thing about Tholians is that we have a considerable amount of clarity available to us," the ensign said. "What occurs within another society as we observe, either from a single day or over the course of several years, very little escapes us. We are from the kind of biases that cloud the judgment of others. Vulcans have changed very little since accepting the precepts of Surak. In fact, you would be very surprised to learn about your more formative days as we know them. I would call the course of your evolution a matter of refinements myself, adoption of rules, like a game. Forgive me if I offend you.

"Would you like to know what you will be doing with the rest of your life? Even with a disciplined mind, you probably think you know already, and in a manner of speaking, you are, of course, correct. But even this simple day with its minor events, causes more to alter your course than you might expect. This conversation, even, is meaningless. That's why I don't mind bending a few taboos. Your future is about your past, is about your present. I'm not speaking in riddles, but ridding your thoughts of them. Sokor, you are notorious, not in a way you would think, but exactly in the way you are. Because of...what you are."


Standing outside the bridge, waiting for his ceremonial introduction, Sokor could not help but be troubled. Not because of what the Tholian ensign would or could not tell him about his future, but because a pall had suddenly been lifted from everything. He had not planned to hear the introduction, but had now changed his mind. Perhaps something importantwould be said after all.


"Nearly two centuries ago, a myth had already formed that the famous Mr. Spock was the first of the Vulcans to serve in Starfleet. Today, I have the dubious distinction of presenting his final successor, as it were."

Sokor recognized the familiar rotund figure of the diminutive Fleet Admiral Nimbii standing in front of the bridge staff, not even blocking the viewscreen as he struggled to peer over even the navigation and ops stations. Despite his size, the admiral commanded the respect of those arrayed before him, who didn't seem to realize that Sokor had already entered the bridge. He preferred to avoid attention, so the fact didn't bother him, but he was pleased that Nimbii had been able to fulfill this last favor after all. Up until the moment the doors to the turbolift had slid open, he could not have been sure; too much preoccupied his mind to have contacted the admiral personally. And yet, Nimbii, in just these opening remarks, had already managed to stir within Sokor an uncomfortable reminder of the Tholian ensign's words. Last of the Vulcans in Starfleet? He had simply not been aware, and as he began to ponder the thought, he found himself struggling to acclimate the concept with his previous perceptions of his role and this occasion. According to the Vulcan records, Starfleet had more or less developed as a project of the Science Directorate, making any such distinctions as humans and other species had come to know them meaningless in his experience. It had simply never occurred to Vulcans what their role, either in Starfleet or the Federation, may have been perceived to be, beyond a ritual irritation that they were never properly understood. Far too soon, it appeared, they had been left behind by what they had begun. And now, Sokor was the last of them?

It was inconceivable. Nimbii continued speaking, Sokor continued being overlooked, and yet his only concern was an unsettling realization. The ensign had been right. With a few words, the admiral had changed everything, and yet, almost nothing at all. Sokor's chosen retirement was not going to change, but his visit to Romulus was going to have a profound difference from its original intention. What Spock had begun, he was going to continue. In whatever manner he would be able to, Sokor was going to accomplish the reunification of his people.

Several years in the past, it may loosely be called, Sokor in fact met the Tholian ensign for the first time, after he first accepted assignment to the U.S.S. Copernicus. Concerned about reports he had read about the career of the ship's captain, Robin Matheson, and her involvement in clandestine visits to Romulus before contact had been reestablished between the Star Empire and the Federation, he had traveled to a starbase on Vega Colony so he could perform some research at his leisure. It may also be noted that to the Tholian ensign, this experience was much the same as the one he had just conducted, because to him, it happened at the same time. At the time, he of course was still a long way off from entering Starfleet himself, and so was conducting himself in the capacity of a visiting student from the Tholian Guild, a scholastic body that had recently been established by contemporary standards. Because of the unique circumstances (even Tholians don't go around purposefully bumping into the same person just because in one of the time periods they happen to have some significance), he approached Sokor cautiously.

"I've read about that particular human as well," he noted, under the pretext of glancing at the Vulcan's screen after having noticed an acquaintance in that direction.

"I was not aware of Captain Matheson's interstellar reputation," Sokor replied, hardly looking past the data concerning her career.

"She doesn't have one," the Tholian continued, "at least as far as I'm aware, outside of Tholian circles. I suppose you're wondering how she managed to capture our attention."

"I am not," Sokor said.

"Tholians have remarkable perception. Like Vulcans, however, it's easy to misinterpret our intentions because of our demeanor."

"Appearance would be a more appropriate observation," Sokor said, irritated.

"It says in that file why," the Tholian said. "I admire your ability to deny any knowledge of pertinent details. It no doubt serves you well in dealing with outsiders, makes you easier to trust, if they believe that you are less of a threat, 'just a typical Vulcan.' I suspect you are anything but."

"I'm sure I am flattered," Sokor said.

"You're more aware than people assume," the Tholian said. "That's true of any Vulcan, of course, but especially true of you. I wonder if anyone you have ever met truly appreciates how remarkable you are. No doubt, you have done an excellent job obscuring that fact. How happy are you with that decision?"

"Perfectly so," Sokor said. "You are an impertinent man."

"Just so," the Tholian said. "I think it's helpful for someone such as yourself to be reminded that there are sometimes others who are aware of just what kind of person you are. I guess that's all I wanted to say."

"The simple consequence of having seen what I was reading, not even with the knowledge of why? I find that suspect," Sokor said.

"It doesn't matter. I'm a Tholian. I'm blessed with the same curse as yourself, remember," the Tholian said. "I must use my gifts the way they are best served. You will do the same with yours. Maybe not on that new ship of yours, but certainly elsewhere. Sorry to have bothered you."


No conscious part of him remembered such an encounter, but Sokor still found himself troubled about the Tholian for more reasons than he could account for, long after he'd left Fleet Admiral Nimbii and the Xindi behind, back on Vulcan, back in his ancestral home. The landscape outside his window was more foreboding than usual, painted a more oppressive scorched hue than ever, but he hardly would have noticed.

Vulcan was more than scorched; it was increasingly barren of its children. In the old days, Vulcans had spread themselves across the galaxy willingly and at their leisure, space almost completely giving itself to them alone, so advanced and so ancient were they compared to other known races. Who else had begun to populate worlds with their offshoots? Only those of the fabled ancestors, which Vulcan wisdom alone, devoid of a religion beyond worship of a mind that in its infant brutality awakened them to its possibilities, seemed capable of discerning. Much of their cosmic travel and science had been devoted to the discovery of an origin point old texts had told them how to find. And yet, the Vulcans themselves now felt old. It was not that the adolescent races around them had finally won, beat back their teachers and guardians, but that everything they had once sought had begun to feel...empty. There was a void, and now their starships took them away from home not to find knowledge, but to hide it away, once more with base things they had tried so long to hide away. They were ashamed of the reunification project. But that was all they had left.

And on Vulcan, in almost complete solitude, Sokor felt it calling him, too. He feared where it would take him.

Deep within the basement of his abode, which had been in the family for generations, Sokor discovered mathematical proofs his father had labored on for his entire life, and never amounted to anything Sokor could understand or even appreciate. Satrap had never bothered to explain his motives to his son, having gradually lost hope that Sokor would join him in his labors, so that they were eventually lost to time, much as Satrap himself, a recluse of the most ancient Vulcan tradition, had been. As he looked at the scores of parchments now, Sokor could feel his father's presence, his divining intellect, but could no sooner understand it now than he had then. A smaller slip fluttered from the pile to the dusty floor, and Sokor watched its decent, he wondered if fate were about to provide some answer for him, the hand of chance humans had always been talking about in his Starfleet years, on missions, during the slow casual hours on duty aboard ship, even their off hours, another of their curious and illogical obsessions that had slowly poisoned him.

He stooped downward to snatch it up, and immediately could distinguish that this note was different from the rest, scribbled in haste, not a series of numbers but words, perhaps a final testament of his father's work. He studied it so intently he forgot about the clutter of parchments he still held, and they fell to the ground with less fanfare, some cracking apart from age. Here was a message of intent, Sokor immediately noticed, something he would never have imagined his father leaving behind, having never heard Satrap writing about it much being interested in sharing his elusive insight with others, beyond the futile attempt to capture Sokor's own attention. There was little his father had ever spared for others. And yet, here was this note.

It was more an enigma than anything, something as suited to some lost ancestral civilization as his own kin. It was more gibberish Sokor could not decipher. He rested against a wall in frustration. There was so very little light down here. The remains of candles littered everywhere, in the air a feeling of some monastic demagogue Sokor still felt necessary to escape, a religious fervor with no followers.

And yet, he knew. He knew exactly what had driven his father to near lunacy. It was the same impulse that was spreading even now, a mindless search Space had given Vulcans power, and space had taken it away. Now it was intent on taking the Vulcan people with it. Satrap had not been calculating a destination, because there was none in this quest. From the distance he now had to the documents on the floor, Sokor could now make out?

A calendar. And just as the humans had once thought their ancestors had calculated the end of the world with one, Sokor thought he could see in his father?s work, just around the edges of it, an image of the apocalypse, the unknown terror that drove all men?s hearts, and it was among his people now.

He imagined what the Federation would say to him if he presented this theory to them, how many of its member races would care, so many of them having experiences similar to the humans, Vulcans recruiting them to the brotherhood of space like bullies, offering friendship with the back of a hand. He tried to picture what his former colleagues in Starfleet might say, who had only ever known Sokor as a trusted if remote friend. Had he lived so long, experienced so much, acquired such knowledge and insight, only to become his father?

If he could be said to have neighbors at all, several miles south of Sokor's ancestral home lived another recluse his father had once tried to mentor. Sentak was a mute, proven through years of therapy to be forever stunted at the intellectual age of a child. Despite its devotion to the powers of the mind, Vulcan society had abandoned Sentak at an early age to the recesses of his own crippled wits. Perhaps it was the discovery he had just made that drove Sokor to think of the recluse now. He already had a destination in mind, but was willing to take a side trip. He owed it both to his father and Sentak.

Sokor was a product of his people. Where they had judged, so did he, and thus had never bothered to foster any meaningful relationship with Sentak, no matter the example Satrap had set. He had ignored his father before. What could possibly have been the point? Some sort of illogical, pitying attempt at charity, which Sentak could never fully appreciate? There was no connection worth exploring to be found between them. One day, Sentak would die. It was not the same as killing him at birth. Such a compulsion was not unheard of. It was virtually sanctioned. As a scientist, Sokor was aware of experiments conducted in the past of freeing such minds from their biological confinement. Mind-melds had been routine in these attempts. Damage had sometimes been done to the researchers, who went undeterred with further tests, until inevitably, they discovered there was nothing left to do, nothing left to discovery except what they had known from the start. Some minds were broken from the start. A few conducted surveys of minds damaged later in age, from a variety of causes, from accidents to psychotropic drugs to the ravages of age and disease, even telepathic violations which had long been the subject of fear and ignorance. No other society or alien race knew more about the mind than did Vulcans.

And yet, there were those left out, simply because they were born that way. Sokor could not help but wonder if there was a significance to the phenomenon that had been overlooked, some unique benefit, or if it was truly a tragic accident of nature. He knew as well as anyone that even the Vulcan mind had never been proven to operate on every possible level, at least to no definable degree. His science only went so far. He could still be wrong, along with the rest of established society. He had been wrong before. What else was he seeing around him now than an inexplicable urge to abandon all conventional logic?

The miles were long, and the suns more harsh than he remembered. The planet, he would not be surprised to discovered, was dying all around him, had for millennia. The truly wise had left long ago. Their mother had already taught them everything it could. It wasn't anything Vulcans had done, simply the natural course of things, an inevitability, perfectly quantifiable with what could be learned. Sentak's home was threadbare, ravaged by weather and time. He, too, resided in the lowest depths possible, like Sokor's father, hidden away not because of what he was, but because he chose to. Instinct was not a product of the mind. It did not need to be taught.

Sokor could see the footprints in the dust of the monks who regularly came to deliver Sentak food, a duty more than compassion, as evidenced by the singular files adhered to over the years, not practiced by efficiency, but by rote performance. He felt ashamed. Even knowing his limitations, they could have done more. They should have felt compelled to. There were no religions on Vulcan, only devotion to logic, but even logic dictated a basic need for more than sustenance in any form of life. Sentak might have seemed content to sit in his hole, but he wasn't, not because he was emotionally a child, but because it was basic instinct, too, and a basic step toward curiosity, toward more.

Sokor almost turned away. Sentak wouldn't know. Nothing would harmed except Sokor's sense of himself. He would have given up, not out of disgust for others, but because he still couldn?t bring himself to imagine what more could be done. A curious mind will always be able to discover the sense of the new, no matter how many people had insisted what could be done had already been done, that history was merely a repeating cycle. He pushed on, to the top of the stairs leading to the cellar.

Memory told him there had once been an extensive collection of ale down there, long before Sentak was born, when his father and Satrap had worked together, on things Sokor had once again never learned. It seemed he was only now realizing how ignorant he himself had been, concerning his own father, the nearest source of knowledge, which was the basic foundation of any Vulcan's education. Sentak's father had once been an administrator but resigned over disagreements with the High Command, only to be proven correct when still more Vulcan offshoot races had been identified in the very places he had calculated from his studies of the historical texts. Sokor could imagine, now that he had started making his own connections, what his father had studied here.

Whether the ale had been consumed, perhaps even by Sentak himself, or confiscated when Sentak's nature and fate had been concluded, Sokor would probably never know. Regardless, Sentak was the only occupant of that cellar now. In a way, he was a more devoted monk than the men who routinely came to deliver him his food.

The moment Sokor entered the room, he knew that his presence was not going to affect Sentak, who by now had grown to embrace the solitude of his existence. Barring a general connection, Sokor considered a more direct approach, the one so many had tried before and given up on. He would attempt a mind-meld.

Vulcans had perfected the physical connection required of tactile contact so that they could apply their hands in whatever position was necessary. Sentak was crawled into a fetal position, sitting up in only the loose sense, propped against a wall. Convinced that he had found himself with a properly prepared mental state, Sokor reached out, grasping more the top of the recluse's head than the more traditional positioning on the face along one or both of the eyes. For long moments, he felt nothing.

Then he felt a pair of eyes on him, and a soundless voice calling out to him. He identified both immediately as belonging to Sentak, and understood that whatever else may be expected to be troubling him, he was at peace. Sokor found himself content to settle on this for a while. Eventually, he could feel Sentak guiding him, gently, further, but he could not understand where they were going. The images became increasingly random and meaningless, yet strangely, Sokor felt himself remaining in the same contented state Sentak had shown him. He became aware that it was an experience akin to deciphering his father's calculations. He let himself go still more, allowing Sentak to guide him further and further along. He had not expected a trance.

Every once and a while, Sentak's body would jerk, and Sokor could feel the urge to become agitated, but he had reached somewhere far beyond the shallow pools of his guide's seemingly infantile impulses, his mindlessness, lack of control. Sentak had control after all. Sokor's patience grew.

They reached a point where Sokor suddenly realized they could go no further. Nothing more had developed, just the simple sense of ecstasy. At first, he didn't know what to think, if he should sever the connection or wait it out, to see if he might be wrong. Then he let go, without even thinking about it, got up, climbed the stairs without another look toward Sentak, and began his journey home.

Tomorrow, he would depart Vulcan one last time. There was one last person to consult.


The Tholian ensign, in what must be described as the future, even though it was as much present to him as either of his encounters with Sokor, stood in the transporter room on another Starfleet vessel, awaiting another visiting dignitary. He was no longer an ensign, but his rank was no more important to him than the year. The beam slowly settled on a human pattern, which materialized within a few moments, once transportation was complete, and the figure quickly stepped off the pad. Alastair Captain Weber was ready to begin the festivities, and wanted to waste very little time. He nodded politely to the Tholian, and slipped through the door.


Nobody likes Romulans. It's a strange thing to say aloud, but it's indisputably true. Humans haven't liked them since original hostile conflict that led to a completely avertable war, one that still has most Starfleet personnel considering even the Dominion War pale in comparison. The Klingons were able to become friendly allies. The Borg were conquered. Even Cardassians were able to overcome a particularly cumbersome stumbling block in its Occupation of Bajor, and its siding with the Dominion for a time, allowing the foothold that led to war. The Breen, more trouble, the Ferengi, a nuisance, the Czenkathi, mere trouble. There were dozens of hostile aliens the Federation has encountered over the years, but few leave the kind of lasting impression the Romulans did, right from the start. When they weren?t being belligerent, they were busy isolating themselves. When they weren't "lending technology," they were holding back intergalactic progress for their own selfish aims, setting up one-sided treaties like monarchs of the stars. They developed the only empire satisfied with claiming only its original patch of space. They were arrogant, cruel, and worst of all...Romulans were descendents of Vulcans.

So consequently, it's become easy to dislike them. Sometimes they can receive a certain amount of popularity just from their mystique, sometimes can almost seem friendly, but they will never change. If Vulcans developed the original bad reputation, then the Romulans cultivated and relished it. They're famous for being proud of their smug self-satisfaction. But it's said, if you get to know them, you'll like them anyway.

Still, nobody likes them. They're rotten to the core. Irredeemable, pugnacious, untrustworthy. They will corrupt anything they touch. Everyone knows it. Very few species actually pursue slavery, especially among those who have achieved warp capability, who have traveled the galaxy. The Romulans do. They conquered the natives of Remus, the sister planet of Romulus, and even while they were helping the good guys in the Dominion War, exploited the Remans as expendable foot soldiers. Nobody likes them.

Still, it was difficult for anyone to like their ancestors, too. One step behind Romulans, you'll find Vulcans, who didn't even tell humans that they were fighting an off-shoot of their race, claiming when the lie was exposed that they didn't know. Who could possibly believe such a preposterous statement? How could the Vulcans possibly have overlooked such an important development from their own society? They were certainly aloof, detached in their own right, but they knew everything there was to know, even what they didn?t believe scientifically possible. They knew all right. It was just such a denial that must have settled any doubts about the relationship between them. And a certain satisfaction knowing that a chink in the vaunted Vulcan defenses against the outside world they prodded relentlessly had been discovered. If they had already lost so many of their people, what possible loyalty could be left?

For Sokor, the result was inevitable, and the conclusion undeniable. The Romulans weren't an offshoot of Vulcans, but their successors. Their survivors.


It wasn't simply applying to Starfleet, forever a taboo among his people, despite their part in its creation, that had first convinced Sokor that he had strayed from the traditional path of Vulcans and their philosophical beliefs, but that he recognized from an early age how hypocritical, how anachronistic those beliefs were, stagnant, a historic blunder that had never been put into context. Even when his people had completely embraced the precepts of Surak and his faith in the powers of the mind, Sokor could detect the unbroken chain in their slavish devotion that had endured during the period the legacy of Surak had yet to be completely embraced. Sokor admired the discipline that had become the hallmark of his people, but he had long lamented that they had become the joke of the galaxy, too stern and restricted to be taken seriously among the countless worlds they had attempted to enlighten. That was what he most admired about humans, that they had, at last, seen through the mirage of Vulcan society to embrace them as common allies and travelers along the experience of life, as no Vulcan would have.

He saw Vulcans as living in the past, in ideas first thought long before Surak's time, a forgotten period which should have eclipsed the savage anarchy that had once gripped Vulcan. It was their learned skepticism and long life that had allowed them to be corrupted. They had grown to believe anything. That was what the Romulans had wanted to escape. He couldn't say if they had succeeded. No one could, not even Spock, the only great Vulcan Sokor recognized. The present was always resistant to the reforms of the past, only embracing their facades. The exodus of his people was a second generation of Romulans, less organized, because they had no unifying cause. They had forgotten.

That was why he had to go there now, to Romulus.


Final preparations were made. Once more, he would travel alone, in search of his mentor, Solok, who had once attempted to dissuade Sokor from all he was quietly rebelling against, on the surface another perfect Vulcan, but beneath, a rage of simmering torment, an inheritance, he now realized. Solok had been among the first to leave, an act that had mystified Sokor, convinced him still further of his people's basic duplicity, which grew more dangerous, a greater threat than any foe the Federation had met. Vulcans were serving as a symbol for its eventual disintegration. If that happened, what then? That's how the anarchy had truly begun. It was all a cycle, he realized. He needed to find a way to end it, or confirm that a solution had already been found, one no other Vulcan would ever have admitted. One found on Romulus.

He had researched Solok's wanderings for years, even while on duty in Starfleet, especially during the period he served under Captain Matheson. Like the rest of the galaxy during that time, Solok had seemed more agitated than ever before, never staying in one place for more than a few years, usually seven, but for his last known residence only four, and then Sokor had lost track of him for a time. Lately, he had received steady confirmation of Solok's final destination over the course of several years, a resting place where he would find lasting comfort, a new beginning. All the indications pointed to Romulus, which was the very last place Sokor expected.

He was pleased to discover a surprise.


In the Tholian's future, Captain Weber was creating quite a stir. He had certain requirements the Pirsig had apparently not taken into account. One was a holo-communicator, in place should he be called away before the ceremony. Holo-communicators had only briefly been used in the fleet, which made it a challenge to get one installed and functional, but Weber insisted on it above every other persnickety need he seemed capable of having. The Tholian worked on this project personally, and grew to appreciate Weber's eccentric demands, at least in this instance, because he found the system to be among the better innovations of technology discarded by humans over the years, and secretly held a desire to try and reinstate it earlier, but knew he couldn't. It wasn't the Tholian way. Anyway, he could dream. Just another way to pass the time.

What was not typical for Tholians was hearing voices. Yet that was all he fought against concentrating on. The voices had been what drew him to the Vulcan in the first place, whichever of the three encounters might be considered so. They were like psychic echoes, paradoxes in the Tholian experience, confusing him. It was typical for a Tholian to have a natural clarity of time. The voices, the Vulcan, it was as if he was being directed. Tholians were known for being independent for a reason. Their discipline was known the galaxy over, maybe not recognized for what it was, but respected. They had capitalized on it, with their Webs, commanding an almost godlike position in encounters. No other alien race had constructed such technology. Knowing what his people were capable of allowed the Tholian to appreciate what other cultures could sometimes accomplish, if they were willing to embrace it. During the Temporal Cold War, his people had assumed the need to protect participants against their worse impulses, destroying things they couldn't comprehend.

But the voices made it difficult to concentrate. The Tholian thought it might make him a better student of his culture's practices. He welcomed them.


Although he had allowed his life to be consumed with practical concerns, Sokor's first love had been the arts, and the only thing that had dissuaded his passion for them had been his growing agreement with other Vulcans that they were not as worthy an object of his fascination as medicine, simple biological mechanics. As a Vulcan, he had dutifully begun his career path at an early age and never wavered from it, and those he found around him had directed and helped dictate his interests, to degrees he never found himself questioning. He had already disregarded those who could have helped him avoid such a narrow path.

Yet in his earliest years, things had been different, and he had found reminders before departing his home one last time, all his childish books, some even meant for young eyes, merely the only things available even then. Vulcans as a whole disregarded the importance of the arts, and as he browsed through these works now, he found himself appalled. In Starfleet, among humans, he could not help but become bombarded with their obsessions. He knew of other Vulcans who tried to steer this impulse toward games of logic other cultures had constructed, chess or Kal-toh, which might have been mistaken for Vulcan in origin, because his people had long appropriated it from its creators, Andorians of all races. He grew to appreciate Cardassian literature, its surprisingly dispassionate approach, which alone seemed capable of expressing what that culture had come to discover about the nature of the universe. Vulcan fiction, in contrast, had become full of unbelievable artifice, to the point that he felt ashamed in his starship, alone, with no one to share his conclusion, no one who would have cared. The greatest example he had focused on the savage period, the dark age, of Vulcan history, and all it seemed capable of doing was exaggerating the most basic simplifications of what had long been assumed to have occurred in that ignoble time, centering its attentions of a selection of characters of improbable power and importance. Yet he could not stop himself from reading it, even now, a gross form of fascination gripping him, like he was watching the chaos itself and not what had been constructed around it.

He recognized now what had truly rescued his people from those times, and it was not Surak, but the decisions of the first Romulans to disturb the sense of complacency that had settled on Vulcan, which was the true source of all its misery, in the past, the present, which Surak only exacerbated, though Sokor suspected now had probably intended to keep in check. Like all brilliant movements, it was corrupted in its current state, a shallow law to follow, to find comfort in. The Romulans, however, represented something richer, something deeper. In their own way, they had motivated the rest of Vulcan society to look beyond themselves, as the Romulans themselves pretended to abhor, initiating a period of galactic relations that had resulted in the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet, even the Reunification project.

Most emigrants looked for distant lands to settle in, for some new parameters to settle a new vision of life. The Romulans hadn't, and it wasn't like they had not had the means, the chance. They had chosen to stay relatively close to home, perhaps as a calculated effort to further destabilize a region already infested with Klingons and other belligerent races, which they knew would undermine efforts their Vulcan brothers were even then beginning to undertake, at the time seeming like recompense. Early on, the Romulans had been, or acted, considerably warlike, which they would, periodically, trot out as a typical behavior, when it seemed to suit them, or circumstances. Sokor now saw it as a game, an act, perhaps one a select few among the Star Empire even believed once and a while, but one that directly contradicted their true aims, as mysterious as they seemed to outsiders, even to Vulcans, whose sense of the obvious was easily baffled by their own convictions.

Sokor saw the Romulans as attempting to set an example they no longer believed Vulcans capable of, a competing vision for civilization. His people had begun to suppress that idea; that must have been their original intent, when they themselves shot into the stars. But their motivation could not be mistaken. They had patterned their starship designs on those envisioned by Romulans, the last vision of the arts to be found amidst Vulcan culture.


Because Vulcans have such long lives, they have been forced to modify a basic instinct of biological nature. When companionship behooves them, they must be careful to keep an eye out for those who are compatible with them, no matter the stage of life they are at, or whichever one the candidate may have reached. It is natural for a Vulcan to attempt to cultivate relationships that fit into comfortable arcs within their lifespan, so that early on, they may find someone young who ages to an appropriate point, and if they're lucky, to repeat the pattern until they reach the same end as their final friends. They loathe casual associations, because, although they fit into the basic framework of logic, emotionally they are relentlessly lacking. To be caught into that sort of pattern is among the most dreaded fates in Vulcan culture, because once ensnared, it is difficult to escape from. Some Vulcans are able to convince themselves it is thus logical to avoid them entirely, and they are thought to be among the must cultivated minds in society (for only among Vulcans are ascetics part of society).

Sokor thought he might become one of the isolated breed, and for roughly the first cycle of his existence, he lived such a life. At the start of his Starfleet years, he made his first Klingon acquaintance, an enlisted man named Gird, with whom he would eventually be posted aboard the Copernicus. It was during this assignment that their relationship was cut short by the Klingon's presumed death. Only recently had he become aware of Gird?s survival, but he had never been able to reestablish their bond. To pass the time, he contacted Gird's sister, living on a space station called K-7, who had been a friend of his wife's before her passing, to find out if she had heard any recent news concerning him.

"Romarr," he greeted, with as much affection as he could muster.

"The physician Sokor," she replied. "It has been too long. I had feared that you finally became a part of some Starfleet bulkhead."

"I have retired from that life," Sokor said.

"Kahless exulted! You do yet possess some wits," Romarr said. "Starfleet dulls one's senses. Their missions, if they don't stupefy their crews, they blunt them. Give me the glory of the combat field. You always know what to expect."

"It is a wonder to me that doctors are not more prominent in your culture," Sokor said.

"If you intend to lead a life of dishonor?" Romarr chuckled, for both of them. "But I have always honored yours skills, Sokor. You know that. You were able to inspire passion in my brother, which was always difficult to do."

"You speak of Gird," Sokor said. "It is of him that I am calling after."

"Vulcans are more transparent than they like to believe," Romarr said. "I suspect you know that. I haven't spoken with my brother in years. That hasn't changed. He doesn't approve of an administrator who serves beer in the halls of a station with such...notoriety. I should tell him some of its ghost stories. Blood wine does not curdle your nerves quite so effectively."

"Would you know where to find him?"

"Where else? On Romulus."

The questions were burning now. What could possibly have made Gird go there? During the Praxis Crisis, before the decision had been made by the Klingon Empire to pursue assistance from their former enemies in the Federation, they had explored an even more unlikely possibility. Sokor's father had once served as an ambassador to Kronos, a long time ago. He knew better than most the ancient relationship between Klingons and Vulcans, before the humans brought themselves into the picture. No greater rivalry had ever been seen in the stars, one that had made it easy for the High Command to support the brash Starfleet in its infancy, to finally find an end to it. But during the Crisis, when the roles had reversed once and for all, for all considered, the Empire had considered burying a far older grudge. A people which prided itself on honor would never have admitted mere logic could have won the day. They might have had second thoughts if they'd known how deeply they'd affected Vulcan society.

Before the Klingons, the Dark Age before Surak, the consuming, apocalyptic violence of it, wasn't so clear in the mind of Vulcan society. It was viewed very differently. Only after the Klingons did such a notion, such a vision of those times, become a romantic inclination to believe. It wasn't the nature of the Klingons, their contrary impulses, but their interest in and adoration of their honor, another inherited ideal, that helped focus the attitudes of Vulcans both on the direction of their future and the perception of their past. They had once been like Klingons, it became easy to assume, filled with some other purpose, less than ideal on their own world, and so they had assumed something different. Better? It wasn't until the Klingons that they began assimilating battle techniques into their concept of logic. They became surgical in warfare, a sort of ruthless efficiency in their tactics that perfectly countered their Klingon rivals. And yet what the humans and their Starfleet would do, actually engage the Klingons themselves in battle, the Vulcans never would. How could they?

All this must have preoccupied the mind of Satrap, but Sokor, yet again, had never considered it, until now. Gird must have been obsessed with the same thoughts. He had been pushed beyond any scope of Klingon society, just as Sokor had gradually realized his position with Vulcan's. Both cultures, by far the oldest of known races, had begun a degeneration which would soon make them all but irrelevant. And the Romulans, who reflected as much an ideological destination for Klingons as Vulcans, had called to Gird as well.

How could he have been surprised?


In some other mind, there was an equally accurate yet entirely different perception of events, but for Sokor, there could be no mistake. He took a Ferengi transport across space, his final journey, paying the moderate expense that had become typical of that species, little surprised about his fellow travelers, composed of the various fringe personalities still holding out on the Federation. He had once been a part of it himself, and as much as any Vulcan still was, he remained so, but for all intents he was on his own at last, joining his father in uncharted territory when all around them had already been explored, except themselves. There happened to be a Tholian aboard. He vaguely remembered having seen them before, on two occasions, once in the recent past he knew well enough about, but another instance?  Tholians famously kept to themselves, which should make any acquaintance, let alone several, memorable enough, but they possessed an aura which seemed to cloud the minds of those around them, perhaps a defense mechanism. To look directly at one was still only to see a vague idea of them. Starfleet still did not have an adequate physical representation of them in its vast database, which now eclipsed the one it had built from, the Science Directorate's, even though it had centuries of recorded contact to draw from. The Tholian Sokor had last encountered had even been an officer of the fleet. The one he saw now?  Did he look familiar? It was so hard to tell.

He tried not to stare, but knew instantly that the Tholian had noticed. He tried to get up, to avoid any further contact, but the cabin was crowded, making it difficult to do anything but remained where he had ended up seated.

"It's okay," the Tholian said. "I know who you are, and who I am isn't important. You knew that already."

"Forgive me, then," Sokor said. "My impertinence is an inherited trait."

"Mine is acquired," the Tholian said, "part of my job. Oh, well, part of my hobbies, anyway. Tholians sometimes engage in some rather...elaborate games. Most people wouldn't understand them. We're sort of built to become historians, or writers. Irritating habits, really, not very useful for outsiders, especially because of our unusual perspective."

"Qualities to be admired, rather," Sokor said.

"You would think," the Tholian said.

"On the contrary," Sokor said, "I would expect you to be surprised to find just how desirable your supposedly worthless habits are, how lucrative even the Ferengi flying this ship would find them."

"We see many things, but we don't get to see the culmination of our work," the Tholian said. "I've always found that strange."

"A natural lament," Sokor said.

"I think you're more wise than the typical Vulcan," the Tholian said. "Logic isn't always the ends to itself, but more often the beginning. And I think you've traveled far."

"Tell me who you think I am," Sokor said.

"That would be telling," the Tholian said. "Would you really want me to spoil it?"

"I suppose not," Sokor said.


Solok was surprisingly easy to locate on Romulus, in one of its own monasteries, in catacombs Spock had used, in darkness the Remans would have recognized. Sokor's old teacher was nearly catatonic in meditation, and everyone he asked told him Solok had been like that for months. He was shrunken from lack of nourishment but disciplined enough to overcome it. There were no Romulans around, only Vulcans. He shouldn't have been, but Sokor was surprised to find this, too. Some of them were monks, others simple immigrants, visiting the holy centers below the surface of the planet. None of them looked healthy. Sokor had not looked at himself since the last time he wore his Starfleet uniform. But he had no doubt he reflected what he saw, a dying people?

For several hours, he sat patiently by Solok's side, occasionally hearing his old teacher mutter something but never changing position. Finally, he whispered into Solok's ear, "I'm here, master." For the next several minutes, nothing changed, and Sokor continued to wait patiently, but Solok's muttering changed, into an acknowledgment, with a nodding of his head making it clear what he meant. Sokor gradually began to hear his mentor more clearly, but it was all nonsense, ravings more than meditation. He held his mentor's head to his chest, and didn't let go until Solok went limp.

Captain Weber's mother was a Vulcan, his father a human. He had grown up on Earth, in the countryside of Denmark, but had traveled extensively throughout Europe before taking up classes at the Academy, half the world away in San Francisco. The transition had been difficult; his mother, who preferred his mind to be filled with practical matters, helped form within him the appropriate discipline, while his father's wanderlust, which had already reaped his wife's departure from her family's ancestral home on the moon Koron, inspired young Alastair to thrive in his new environment, with other students who couldn't appreciate his appetites. Through the formative steps of his career, Alastair rooted his future in a respect of his past, so that his first assignment was to an outpost on Koron, where he studied astrometric phenomena that would help increase the accuracy of starship navigation. There, he established a relationship with his mother's family, which until that point he had never had a chance to meet. Despite his heritage, Alastair was far more human in temperament than Vulcan, even though his affection for his mother ran deep, and his admiration for her critical inclinations was just as strong.

But he was always at odds with the world around him. At times, he found it very much to his advantage; although he didn't seek it, promotions began taking shape in his career after several decades, building momentum. Few captains attained that rank at his age, but he would hardly have been the one to argue. He had won the respect of the fleet, of his superiors, and that was enough. He remained his own man.

Still, it was never much consolation when it came to those below him, around him, his crews, his fellow captains. He clashed with all of them. On countless worlds he could identify those he could count on as supporters, whose voices must surely have been heard by Starfleet, but within the fleet, the officers and enlisted personnel, he could not have been less popular. His convictions were too deep. He was seen as arrogant, aloof, even an imbecile by those who either refused to or could never understand his methods. He consoled himself with his knowledge of other figures, if not his contemporaries, who would have been able to identify with him. He did not say he wasn't lonely, but it was a foregone conclusion.

Still, he was brilliant, an awe-inspiring member of the service, and a perfect designation for official matters. Captain Weber finally found himself chosen for the one duty he had always dreaded: pronouncing the death of an entire people. The end of his mother's people, the Vulcans.

Despite his precautions and concerns, there wasn't going to be a distraction. He would have to proceed exactly as planned and predicted, a foregone conclusion, a death sentence of his own. A Tholian officer seemed unusually cooperative in the events he had become entangled in, and for the last several days Captain Weber could hardly find himself in a room the Tholian was not also occupying in some respect, even off-duty, in the mess hall or during a holographic performance of the latest Tandaran spy drama, wherever he was whatever he was doing, there also happened to be the Tholian. He knew chance when he saw it. He knew calculation.

He couldn't explain it, and he couldn't exactly tell the Tholian to stop doing it. Besides, he should almost be grateful, if not because there seemed to be someone not put-off by him, then for the simple reason that this wasn't his ship. He had'?t had a ship in months, which itself wasn't all that remarkable in the new era of temporal directives, but he was still sensitive about it. What was a captain without a ship?

The so-called last Vulcan had been living on Kronos for the final months of his life, following an extended stay on Romulus in which he had been purported to be working on one more attempt at Reunification, but such a notion could not possibly have been taken seriously, because Vulcans and Romulans had changed positions so radically since such efforts began that it was no longer relevant. Vulcan had been abandoned, its people scattered throughout the universe, permanently withdrawn from public life. Captain Weber knew they were still out there, but he also knew that this Vulcan would be the last one the galaxy would ever hear from. The first one, Surak, had spoken to Vulcans, the last to Romulans. It was all very fitting, but he still had no idea what he would be saying at the ceremony.

He reviewed the transcripts of the Vulcan's speeches on Romulus, which had already become required material at the Academy. He researched the Vulcan's Starfleet career, and discovered an incident he had not previously known of, a mission Robin Matheson had sent him on with a Klingon named Gird, to Remus, where they were meant to offer reparations to resistance leaders left from the failed coup of Shinzon, but had instead ended up delivering them to Romulan authorities, against Matheson's wishes and Starfleet's interests. That decision would once again upset the balance of power within the Star Empire, allowing the family of Tavol, a disgraced but powerful long-term agent of the government's, to take power at last, completing at least one circle within the saga. Years later, that decision would work in the Vulcan's favor, become the agent of his final labor.

He tried to focus on what it had accomplished. Since no true Reunification was possible anymore, the Vulcan could only have hoped to reposition his people back into a favorable light, such that despite the centuries of ill will it had generated could finally be seen as having amounted to something positive after all. The task had been to position the Romulans not as rebellious offspring but as ideological successors, a perfection on a mentality which had always been meant to improve, not alienate, the concept of intergalactic cooperation. The Vulcan had actually tried to make Romulans look like good guys.

And what of it? Was there even now a single one within Starfleet? Klingons, Ferengi, countless species no one would have ever dreamed of joining the family had over the years, even Tholians, who could never have been expected to accommodate their perspective with a comparatively narrow one that saw time going in only one direction, but somehow had. Captain Weber could not rid himself of the proof. And yet, where were the Romulans? Allies of the Federation, yes, but not comrades at work. Even with temporal directives making Tholians at home, not even the Vulcan and the example he had helped set, had in fact closed the chapter on, seemed capable of extending the invitation to where it would be accepted.

Maybe that was beside the point. Starfleet should never have become the only means of organizations in space. It had begun as a human institution, and had been adopted along with the founding of the Federation to be shared among the stars. Captain Weber noted that no one had ever pressured the Dominion to join, even as it had become an ally, too, after so much conflict on its own part. Even the Borg Collective was still carrying out its own objectives, which were much the same as Starfleet's, and the extent of the cooperation between them had becoming simply astonishing.

So why must a Romulan join Starfleet? Perhaps that had been the whole point. Perhaps that was what the Vulcan had been attempting to point out. Perhaps that was what he would have to say himself, in case the point had not already been made, all those students had not already been forced to absorb enough of its content.

He felt a distinct aura of contentment from the Tholian from the moment the thought occurred to him, as if he was finally fulfilling something the strange officer had been expecting for some time, or had probably known already, and was simply happy to have finally arrived at the same point with him, a confluence of minds. Captain Weber, even if he couldn't prove whatever the Tholian was up to, discovered he was satisfied just thinking it, as if that was all the affirmation he had ever needed.

He had finally gone where someone had gone before.


  • "Soon Before Long"

The thing about love is that we can dress it up all we like, but it's never much different than it essentially is. Young love, for instance, isn't much different than love as a general concept, when you think about it. Here's a story about Ethan and Laurie, some ten years prior to circumstances that become more familiar as you hear about them. The starting point is an unfortunate period for these Starfleet officers, deep in a mess of trouble that doesn't really involve them, about a ship of lost souls engaged in the same manner of circumstances its inhabitants would be in regardless of the unlucky captain to be found in charge. Tens years prior? Ethan and Laurie were still attending Starfleet Academy. They were young when we first saw them, and now younger still.

Young love. Unlucky love as like it. Ethan and Laurie were a couple always doomed to failure, but they just never knew it, and were probably the better for it. It gave them a chance for at least a moment, however long it might be. They were lucky enough to have distractions, to prolong the moment. The first they probably never knew much about, as often happens, but they were busy enough engaged in its complications. They happened to share a class at the Academy, just once, and that?s how they met, and how they met the Professor, too, though he's a key part of what they never knew. That's a secret until later, the identity of this Professor.

They didn't know it immediately. Laurie was a few years younger than Ethan, in fact, but had gotten into the Academy earlier. She acted like someone important, because she probably was, just a little wiser. They weren't paired immediately, but in time it sort of happened. In fact, she couldn't stand him at first, so never would have agreed. But it eventually happened. He was a little carefree, frustrated at the same time. He could use the seasoning, and the Professor must have seen this, or let it happen because it was going to anyway. Ethan and Laurie became de facto partners in class, Laurie at the lead, Ethan following somewhat eagerly. The thing is, they both knew nothing important was going to happen at the Academy, and it was a fairly predictable destructive attitude. It just happened to suit them, as far as they knew, as far as they would ever know.

The thing they shared was a mutual outlook, complementary, anyway. It was the kind of outlook that liked to ignore the outside world, even though they were always more intertwined with it than they cared to think. Young love. They were always more important.

The thing about the Academy that people rarely think about it what an opportunity it is. It's not just a stepping stone to Starfleet, and it's more than a school. Among humans, it's perfectly common for cadets to have a college degree in hand, if not some other sort of experience behind them. That's what Ethan had, while Laurie had gone right in. The Academy is an indisputable opportunity, not just a series of classes and learning about space. You get a better idea of what's in that space. You might have grown up in some metropolitan center, even had exchange students in school, but these are all controlled environments. People going about their daily lives. At the Academy, you get a chance to see what it's really like, another controlled environment, yes, but a chance to discover what that environment entails, how it works. There's no holding back. It's probably why the acceptance procedures are so maddeningly elaborated, just to make sure the applicant is prepared for it. Anyone can get into Starfleet, either as an officer or enlisted. But it's a select experience. With Starfleet being as it is, a ubiquitous feature of the intergalactic landscape, you might think otherwise. You've really got to want it. There?s simply no other organization like Starfleet, and you find out why at the Academy.

Why so many humans? That's the biggest elephant in the room. It's not simply because Starfleet was originally a human institution, but that we seem more ready for it. You look at other cultures, and you quickly discover that they seem to have developed a better sense of uniformity than we have. Our sense of diversity always seems to be more recent, and we're constantly trying to embrace it. It just happens that we're still working on getting others into the act. Hey, we started with Vulcans. Give us a break.

The other thing is that we're the most eager, even after all this time, just to get out there. You could say we've been using Starfleet to reach the same consensus as those other cultures. We already got the Federation out of it. At the Academy, you can witness our efforts to expand. It isn't always easy. Ethan thought it might be, because he was almost too normal to fit in, too eager, and thus a perfect fit, or so he thought. He was interested in the experience, and didn?t count on actually experiencing it. He met all sorts of strange aliens there. It just happens the strangest was Laurie, and that he never got around to realizing it.

Of course, most things aren't what they seem, and what was an ordinary experience at Starfleet Academy for Ethan and Laurie was in fact one of the more interesting periods on campus grounds. Unbeknownst to them, it was a Cold Front.

The Professor's name, much as anyone knew, was Lafayette, and that's as much as anyone knew about him. He'd come to the Academy at the start of the semester, same as a new class of cadets, but his profile was a complete blank, other than a picture and a list of his classes. One of Ethan's friends, who'd gotten a Bachelor's degree in history from San Francisco University and decided to stay in town to learn about Federation law, swore he'd seen a similar face in his studies, but couldn't remember where. Another insisted there was a cadet who looked like a younger version, always transporting home, someplace near the Gulf Coast, they couldn't remember, recently graduated, or second in command of some starship. There was a residence hall with him sitting in a group shot, next to a Vulcan. The groundskeeper said it was just a bunch of hogwash, that there was always some kind of similar notion floating around, like the one about the cadet who looked exactly like Nick Locarno, the crack pilot who's now enlisted in some alien police corps. Ethan agrees with Boothby. It's just nonsense. One Professor is just like any other professor.

He'd have forgotten all about it if it weren't for Laurie, who became fascinated with the idea. This godlike Professor, who lectures like a force of nature. There's more going on than we know, she insists. She concocts all kinds of conspiracies concerning his mysterious background. The craziest is that he comes from the future. But she's never more than playful about it. The Professor is just some joke they share, something private.

But as I said, more was going on than they knew. The Academy at this time was the center of a Cold Front, in the midst of the Temporal Cold War, begun at one point in time, fought in every. It was difficult enough for cadets to concentrate on temporal mechanics lectures, let alone know they were in the middle of the greatest saga the subject would ever know. There are several important Cold Fronts involved, just as there are several key figures, some willingly participating, others dragged along for the ride, and one of those caused the end of it. It's difficult to know how, because very few people are capable of having a proper perspective on it, and I'm not one of them. But it'd be ridiculous to ignore its significance. They say you can't change time in the past, but you can in the future. Well, in the Temporal Cold War, such distinctions are jokes. It's theorized that time changed becomes an alternate reality, but that would assume the new reality would be aware of how it was created, much as our own recorded reality can account for every moment of history, now that we've mastered the art of documentation. But that would violate the theory of alternate realities, wouldn't it? By definition, they're the product of every possible outcome happening. Not by any specific distortion. This theory implies that time exists as we see it, can actually be broken.

As Boothby would say, hogwash. Time doesn't branch off. It cannot be broken. If there are guardians of time, as with guardians of anything, it's to ensure good things are done and bad things punished. Time happens, or rather, things happen in time, and no matter how a person experiences it, time is merely a distinction. It's the things that happen that matter. Things can be changed. It's like any other conscious decision. To the traveler, it certainly looks like time is affected, that someone from one time can affect another, but that's being naive. That someone is always being watched. That's what time is about. You can't change it because someone will always be around to change it back. Usually, the person who changes it is taken care of. And even when someone does change it, it's because they were supposed to.

The Temporal Cold War is about a failure to understand this, about factions too lazy to understand the simple facts of time. People trying to figure out what it means if someone's supposed to change time, who isn't, and how to tell the difference. Usually, the later the observer, the more accurate the perception. The only people who are absolutely right about it are the ones completely out of time, the ones gifted with Perfect Perception, because they're completely unhindered. They know simply as a matter of course. It's easy to consider them gods, if you like.

To understand why Starfleet Academy during this particular period became a Cold Front, you've got to know the future, of course, what becomes of Ethan and Laurie, in fact. But that would be getting ahead of ourselves.

Ethan had more acquaintances than just Laurie, of course. Another was Keb, a Bolian sports enthusiast he met at a water polo event. At the Academy, there are a lot of athletic activities available to cadets, certainly a great many that originated on Earth, others from alien cultures, the kind you can scarcely imagine. At a baseball game once, though, Ethan thought he saw the Professor, and since that time, he had been trying to work out whether the baseball he saw on the Professor's desk had always been there. Laurie was little help there. She preferred Klingon opera, which was almost the same as a sport, like ancient Roman gladiator events. Very few cadets actively participated. Keb, however, happened to be in the water polo match. Afterward, realizing he knew the Bolian from another class, Ethan had caught up with him, wondering how he had found interest in that of all sports, obscure even by human standards. Keb had laughed it off, saying he?d discovered it in his studies, in the record of one of the early Starfleet captains. Besides, Bolians had plenty of their own water sports.

Later, Keb introduced Ethan to his circle of friends, which included to Ethan's surprise a Suliban. He wasn't even aware any of them were studying at the Academy, much less interested in Starfleet affairs. For at least the past century, the Suliban were known to have become a rather reclusive lot, after having developed something of a reputation in the cosmic arena for trouble. All the stories Ethan had ever heard, the Suliban had simply returned the cold shoulder, and whatever the underlying circumstances were, they were as much as secret, or forgotten. This Suliban friend of Keb's was almost an ambassador.

His name was Sollik. Sounded basically Vulcan to Ethan, but he was definitely not Vulcan. Almost immediately, reflexively, Ethan thought he understood where the sentiment had come from, that had driven a wedge between Suliban and the rest of the galaxy. Sollik was not exactly a friendly fish. More like a cold fish, and it wasn't just his appearance, the scales, that made Ethan think that. If there was a decent way to make a first impression, Sollik seemed to have studied and utterly rejected it, preferring to keep this human at a distance. He seemed everything skeptical, actually, deferring to Keb at every opportunity, not wanting to trust either himself with or Ethan at all. It wasn't that he seemed anti-social, merely that his circle was closed. Well, he had already made at least one friend. Ethan was not going to lose sleep over it.

Then the unexpected happened. Ethan was sure that unlike Keb, Sollik shared none of his classes, whether he'd noticed previously or not. Nevertheless, the Suliban came to his dorm one day with a stack of data pads. Saying something about needing a fresh perspective, Sollik insisted that Ethan had come recommended in this particular field of study. Even a glance revealed that, in all modesty, Ethan could accept this suspicious gesture as a reasonable rouse, because the Suliban was right, however he'd come to this conclusion, much less Ethan's dorm. After a few minutes, studying the information on the pads, he asked Sollik what it was about the subject he needed help with, but the Suliban demurred. The session continued on uneventfully, with Sollik taking notes from Ethan's perspective on the material, and it ended soon enough, just as abruptly as it had begun. Sollik collected the data pads and left without so much as a thank you.

Baffled, and after a few weeks without another word from the Suliban, Ethan asked Keb about it. The Bolian was surprised, because as far as he knew, Sollik wasn't even studying the subject at hand, because Keb was and he knew just about everyone in the class, and would have been aware if a friend were included. He decided, though, that it wasn't a real cause for concern. It was actually typical of Sollik to do things like that, and now that he thought about it, Keb had experienced the very same inexplicable conference, as he put it, with the Suliban before. He considered it perhaps perfectly ordinary Suliban behavior, at worst.

Laurie didn't exactly agree, but she couldn't say why. She thought she remembered the Professor talking about the Suliban during one of his lectures, a purely tangential reference that had caught her attention. She showed Ethan her notes from that day, and remarked how she'd felt the Professor actually staring at her while he said it. Just some inexplicable event, she decided, and insisted Ethan make a similar note about Sollik, but not actually worry about it. If the Professor didn't think it was important to breach the subject again, regardless of how obviously random it had been, how pointed, then maybe Keb was right after all. But it didn't hurt to consider it important, even if in just a small way.

It wasn't until his final semester at the Academy that Ethan encountered Sollik again. It was maybe thirteen months later. Keb had graduated and settled into a security position on some starship, but this Suliban friend was apparently still around, like Laurie a mismatched association. Even Laurie was gone. This time Sollik didn't bring data pads, but rather an offer to share lunch. He had something important to say. Ethan told him yeah, he'd probably go, but he took a moment to discuss it with Laurie. They may have been separated, but she had already talked with the captain of her own ship, and his first assignment was guaranteed. They were always going to be together. She said she didn't find any reason for Ethan to forego the meeting. Maybe the Suliban really wasn't going to be so random this time.

If only she'd been right. Sollik apparently was quitting the Academy, and wanted Ethan to join him in his people's own program. He said there was a future waiting for Ethan that he could scarcely imagine. There was more than he knew, the Suliban said, more about the past, and more about what was to come.

The past, or so Sollik's version of it, began in 2344. That was the last time a Suliban had been an officer in Starfleet, his own father, aboard the Enterprise-C. He was not there as a loyal member of the fleet, but rather on an extended mission for the Helix, a conspiracy with certain Romulans to bring about conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. When Captain Garrett had responded to a distress signal at a remote outpost, she could not have known it was engineered by one of her own crew, to provoke a fight with a sleeping enemy that had no wish for war. At this time, the Star Empire was fomenting a plan to replace the captain of the Stargazer with its own agent. What use could it have for a conflict with either the Klingons or the Federation? In the chambers of the mighty Senate, not a voice could be heard making sense of it. That was because the Romulans involved in this plot where not a part of the official government, but a wider and far older conspiracy. They were collaborating with Suliban, planning a revolution of an entirely different kind.

This alliance had intended for the kind of war between the Federation and Klingon Empire that had never been seen, would never happen, unless truly drastic measures were carried out. Once arrived at the outpost, Garrett's traitor ensured that their ship would be caught in a temporal rift during the battle, eliminating the defenses, resulting in destruction both of lives and all restraint. Feeling betrayed at the disappearance of the Starfleet vessel, the Klingons would strike not at the provocateurs but those who had performed one too many tricks, cowards without honor.

Not understanding, Ethan begs Sollik to start making sense. The Suliban complies. The story doesn't start in 2344 after all. History didn't unfold that way, his father was a failure for reasons out of his hands, but his mission knew no conclusion. Such had been the way of his people for generations. Success and failure, success and failure, a war beyond reason, ambition intemperate, unrewarded, but held true, despite every obstacle. The name Suliban meant nothing now as it would always, except for a few years a century earlier. It wasn't because the Suliban were a private people, unwilling to join a galactic community, but because they had been charged with a sacred task. To subvert order. They were bred for it, never manipulated, always willing, accepting of the ingratitude and shame they would experience, the persecution. Well, not all Suliban. Like the Romulans of 2344, some, a hidden hand. Except, unlike Romulans, the burden the few accepted was rewarded with punishment for all. No Suliban, by nature, wanted to embrace the acceptance of others. Suliban were self-reliant.

At least they used to be. Before the hidden hand. Before the Helix. Before the Man of the Future, or the crass "Future Guy," as humans had taken to calling him. Sollik's father was a beaten man. He had taken the assignment for the protection of his family, for Sollik. With this simple task, he would be accepted as a success, whether or not the mission turned out as expected. He would become something greater than a single Suliban. He would become a symbol, a beacon shining forward, through the unknowable mists of time itself. His son would be granted the chance to become what he was meant to be?

Here Sollik paused, refusing to continue his narrative. Ethan asks why, but Sollik remains silent. Something important is being left unsaid, Ethan knows, but he has no idea what. Sollik must know something, something important, is all he can think. Until now, he has only humored the curious alien, his stories filled with grandiose nonsense, nothing of which he has ever been aware. Everyone knows the only significant captains of starships called Enterprise were Kirk and the one who has recently taken the helm, Picard. Garrett? She was never important. Harriman? The joke that echoed across space, bolstered the confidence of the Romulans, the Klingons, allowed this sorry period to exist, where great men, even the Borg warrior Picard, to pale in comparison to the past. Ethan thinks he remembers another famous Enterprise captain. But no name comes to mind. He shrugs off the thought. Meaningless, of no importance.

The Suliban has taken him during a break in the semester. He has a week to humor these things, but soon he will be finishing his studies at the Academy, reuniting with Laurie aboard a ship called the Copernicus. It seems like such a long way off, destiny calling but with a soft voice. He decides it's worth humoring Sollik after all, but the Suliban has gone quiet again, a pattern he is falling back into, but this time, Ethan is ready. He's calling Sollik's bluff, preparing to do what it takes to find out just what he's all about, if he's really just off his rocker or has that something important just waiting for the right moment. He decides to talk it over with Laurie, as he does most things.

She's having a hard time, life on that ship is like an island of lost souls. She says she doesn't feel like she's fitting in, like she's a burst of light trying to find something other than shadows to take nest in, something other than past miseries and future tragedies everyone seems preoccupied with. Even the captain, especially the captain, she says. It's depressing. Ethan tells her that he's beginning to suspect that's what life's really like. He tells her, maybe she doesn't know, but just because she had the head-start, just because she has more practical experience, doesn't mean she can trust herself to make these judgments. He's older. He always has been. He knows things, too, but he's still willing to learn, if only she is, too. He tells her to stay with him, even with all this distance between them. He wants to hold her close, now.

But he can't. He couldn't even get a hold of her, couldn't find the courage. Something is different, Ethan realizes, maybe something inside of him, or maybe it's the world around him. It's Sollik. The Suliban has made him look around one too many corners. Something is waiting for him. And for the first time in his life, Ethan is truly afraid. He thinks he already knows what's out there?

Laurie realizes there's a problem from the start, but that the solution is already there. It's the Professor, but she can't explain how, anymore than she can unravel the mystery of his identity, even with all the clues available. She decides that it's okay, that some things are bigger than her. And in this moment, she sows the seeds that both doom her relationship with Ethan and rescue him from an awful fate. Without her, without the idea of her, just as without the idea of the Professor, things would have been worse. What she doesn't know, what she can't know, is that Sollik tries to recruit Ethan, Sollik as ignorant as everyone else, because Ethan had the potential of completing one of several possible loops, the Suliban creating Future Guy so he can create their role in the Temporal Cold War. Ethan could have become Future Guy, an outsider controlling things far bigger than himself as these things usually go, inexplicable but inextricable, too. But Future Guy is an inevitability, a foregone conclusion, as is losing the Temporal Cold War. Just because something is futile doesn't mean it should not be attempted. That's the nature of sentient life, to try things that serve no logical purpose other than to try them. Because a Temporal Cold War could be envisioned, because someone thought it would be a neat idea to try and mess around either with the future or the past, and because someone did anyone and everyone could, it was inevitable, but in the grand scheme, even if any conventional perspective couldn't grasp it, even this convoluted conflict was just another piece of history, as has already been explained.

In a way, that's all Laurie had to realize, that following any course was following any course; it was only a matter of what made sense to her. The Professor, as it would have been natural for anyone with any real degree of familiarity with him, was Benjamin Sisko, serving at the behest of Bajor's Celestial Prophets, aliens who existed completely out of time, and who thus had the benefit of providing whatever assistance they deemed useful, with their temporal agent, to provide. They might as well have caused it in this moment, they might as well have solved it once and for all. Only they truly knew, and after all, it was not as big a deal as it had seemed. Imagine their amusement when they realized the circumstances in which they had finally called Sisko home. For them, time had told them "when," but they could not understand how.

In the end, that's what everyone always has to deal with. Ethan became sure that he was always meant to make a lasting commitment to Laurie, and her with him. He could not imagine a scenario that would produce any other result, no matter how many years and how many strains grew between them. Laurie, in part, grew to understand more and more what had happened, why it would never work between them, how it had once benefited them to be together, what they had come to mean to each other, but that they were no more meant for each other than they meant to each other. Such were the complexities she meditated on, in the months she waited for him to join the crew of the starship Copernicus, and for many years afterward. It might be simple to say that one of them died before the other finally realized that they would never become a married couple, or easy to suggest someone else eventually stole one of them away, during the heat of some passion that had reignited. But the truth is, they simply drifted apart, much as the crew of that ship did as a whole.

There were always the memories, the impact they knew they had made but could never voice, too fearful of the hubris it would represent. It was only ever a moment, just a moment that had occurred, several jumbled together, strewn along a larger link. They were not that important. Maybe that's what Ethan and Laurie realized, that they were, ultimately, not that important to each other, and could only admit it when it no longer felt like a dagger to say so. Significant, yes, in ways they would never begin to imagine, but never more than in those months they were apart from each other, no longer strangers but growing stranger still. Faced with an impossible dilemma, Ethan turned to what he had come to know, what he felt he had always known, and though he was wrong, he was proved right in the end. Everything turned out exactly as it should have, and without a moment to spare.


  • "Its Ice Across the Great Plains"

In the deep reaches of space, a ship traveled under the most extreme circumstances to a destination it would never make. The trade vessel had found itself under assault from Orion pirates, but rather than submit to plunder, its captain ordered a self-destruct.

In moments, an explosion lit the stars to a brilliant display. There was a species of irradiant galactic birds in that region, and this was the first time they had seen such colors. They were frequently mistaken for solar pinpricks themselves, but now they came to understand...possibilities.

The Orion pirates didn't think it was much of a loss until they realized that the incident had drawn the attention of a passing Starfleet crew. Within a matter of hours they found themselves under the same pursuit they had given the trade vessel, and their captain found himself considering the same conclusion: death before dishonor. They had known war just as well as the Starfleet crew had. It would be easier to give in to the great calamity of life than to accept the consequences of a lifetime of ruthless actions. There was already so much to answer for, and the Orion captain did not want a Starfleet crew on his conscience. Well, no, not another one, anyway.

Then another unexpected thing happened. The engines of his ship went out, just as suddenly as the trade vessel had disappeared into several million pieces. There was a planet nearby. He knew instinctively that his Orion crew could brave its harsh environs better than Starfleet's would be able to, and a new plan began to form in his mind. In an instant, he beamed himself and his crew to its surface, and watched as the ship burned in the upper atmosphere, and it was a brilliant sight. He could also see the Starfleet ship, hovering in orbit, its crew attempting to make a new plan.

But he had cheated death again, o yes. He was likely deserted here for the rest of his life, but that hardly mattered. Of course, he didn't count on Andorians. He never did, that was his weakness, so he was surprised when he turned around to see a man named Shran, an exile long before this moment, who had little interest in sharing his home, much less the planet. He had far too much to atone for, and he had no use for pirates, especially pirates who had just seen their livelihood burn away above them.

No one has ever really said it, but it would be foolish to underestimate Starfleet. That's what Hamid Hassan was hoping the Orion crew was thinking at the moment, but he didn't hold out much hope. Truth be told, he was more worried for himself. Very soon, he would be forced into an environment he was hardly naturally suited for. Coming from desert land, an ice planet was the last thing he hoped to visit in his adult life, but Hamid had joined Starfleet, and so, despite his reluctance, he must have always known it would be inevitable. Starfleet always asked for that one last reservation from its officers, and that was at the heart of its appeal for him, that it sought not only to chart the stars, but the limits of those who occupied them. Its principles forbade it to impose such ambitions, but for those who embraced them, Starfleet quickly stood revealed as the only source of progress that you could ever hope to place your undying faith in for the rest of your life.

As he looked around him in the shuttle, the lieutenant found a battery of faces that had seen the limits of Starfleet's calling pushed as far as they could go. Captain George Sulu had all but been betrayed by the fleet. He had once been an intelligence agent, the best of them, and for his reward he was given an assignment deep into the heart of the Star Empire, at least as it was known by Earth and its ally, Vulcan, only to be thrust into an internment camp during the Romulan War. Crewman Rachel Matheson's father had been a pioneer in the fleet, but had finally abandoned it, feeling betrayed and left behind as his early accomplishments were overshadowed and overlooked as the years passed. Commander Eugene April simply had a chip on his shoulder, asking the world of everyone and getting nothing back. He didn't find much comfort in the reality around him, but it was the ideal that heartened Hamid, the focus he always maintained.

The Orions weren't even the point of this mission, but rather the bait. Captain Sulu had drawn an incredibly personal assignment this time, one he was refusing to entirely divulge to his away team, and while he stressed his faith and respect for each of them, the part he held back was large enough to pin failure on. Hamid didn't like that either, but he would try to not let it bother him, even though it did. Eugene, of all people, had already called him a hothead on numerous occasions. Rachel found that one funny, of course, and Hamid was pleased to humor her, play along. He was nothing if not a team player.

But all the same, he would be happy when they could leave the confines of this shuttle. Soon now, anyway. To avoid be spotted by the Orions, they had been forced to plot a course around the planet, whose name Hamid couldn't remember, even though he had been fully briefed and was as diligent an officer as he could be. His mind tended to wander, was all. He daydreamed almost constantly about home, something that was easy considering where he was headed, but the allure was more than that. Even a barren land can be sentimental, perhaps moreso. You have to fill it up yourself. He also thought about the trade vessel that had more or less sacrificed itself. Captain Sulu had been noticeably agitated during those moments, but knew that he couldn't break silence, and his team respected him for it. For Hamid, he tried to imagine that somehow, the captain of the trade vessel had somehow known what was happening, that he was serving a greater good, not only for standing up to the pirates, but in how he chose to react, no matter how tragic. It was a comforting though, anyway.

But mostly, despite his reluctance about the destination, Hamid spent his time thinking about getting out of this shuttle.

To no one in particular, Shran muttered, "I was...not...responsible." But he knew differently, and that was why he had chosen a life of exile. This was before the world came back to haunt him.


There are many things an agent of the Romulan Star Empire is willing to reveal, but their identity isn't one of them. They will, for instance, be perfectly willing to introduce their unwitting targets to the next phase of their lives, which happens to be death. Secrecy is something that can be kept in broad daylight; you might call Romulans the galaxy's truest magicians, for those routinely pull of the most remarkable fetes right in front of their enemies' faces, and are able to maintain exactly the kind of anonymity they desire. How best to conquest? When your victims don't realize what's happened. How many worlds had the Star Empire already claimed back from its hated cousin? So many indeed?

But when one engages in war, certain...compromises must be accepted, and the organization known as Starfleet had just completed one with the Star Empire, but only on the terms the Empire allowed. How often, even in space, can a war be conducted under such circumstances? Thanks to agents like Tavera, whenever necessary. Tavera represents the best of the Romulan breed, naturally, someone who is not only willing to do what is necessary, but more than prepared to do it.

Part of her duties before the war was luring a Starfleet officer close enough so that they would begin to sow seeds of mistrust within Starfleet itself, allowing it to achieve its goals and exceed them in the same stroke, making a war happen to obscure the very facts that had been set out to be proven. Now, that very same Starfleet officer was pursuing her again, and Tavera saw a perfect opportunity to throw his organization completely off the trail by involving him in...more personal matters. What better way to achieve victory than to make your enemy believe the real threat was closer to home, but perhaps even...itself? It was far easier, of course, when the seeds of distrust had been sown from within. All Tavera would have to do was stoke the final embers. Soon, the Andorians would lose all the trust they had built with the humans.


When Shran did come across the Orions, the last thing he thought of was to try and acquit himself of the guilt he still felt over the death of Trip Tucker. The friend of a friend, he had learned, was not an enemy, but he'd known the moment he laid eyes on Archer again that the death of that friend would make your friend an enemy. He could never be forgiven, and he had never realized he'd care so much about the opinion of skin? He'd once vowed to quit using that phrase, but somehow he'd slipped back into using it, like it was natural. Well, old prejudices were back, weren't they? He'd convinced himself of that, anyway, hadn't spoken with Archer in years, decades, really. He deserved no better than his current fate, had probably deserved far worse. He was not a good man. Or at least that's what he told himself.

Still, he thought he was better than Orions, and he didn't much care to see them here, and what's more, he knew they meant only one thing, and that's what he'd come here to avoid: trouble. All his life Shran couldn't seem to avoid trouble, and once again, it seemed to be following him, stalking him. There were only two Orions, a male captain and a Slave Girl. He knew the trick about this species, that the captain answered to the girl, despite titles, a game of words that spat at him like a curse, reminding him about his own sorry luck. He had won great respect in his lifetime, but what had it amounted to? He was only ever a captain to some slave.

The Orion Captain said something, low and guttural, while Shran's mind was wandering, and it took him a moment to register that basically, what it amounted to was that the Orion was as surprised as he was to come across someone else here, on a world that made even Andor seem hospitable. He made a remark, surprising himself, that the Slave Girl was definitely not attired for the weather, and the Orion Captain laughed. They seemed to be hitting it off.

Then the Orion Captain said something else, and this time Shran was paying attention: "I'm afraid you are either going to have to leave, or you die today."

"You have me at a disadvantage," Shran replied, more than a little confused. "I thought I saw your ship disintegrate. I assure you, there are no engineers on this world, and even if there were, they couldn't begin to make repairs of that...magnitude."

"Then I'm sorry that you don't have a ship yourself," the Orion Captain said. From behind him, the Slave Girl began to approach Shran. Even if he had seen another female in the last forty-seven months, the sight would still have been an entirely welcome one, but he also understood that she wasn't here for casual conversation.

"I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding," he said, backing off from the pair, trying to keep a distance from the Slave Girl. "I mean you no harm. I'll show you what I have. Some might call that...a bargaining chip, but I call it simple hospitality."

The Slave Girl pulls a blaster from somewhere behind her and pointed it at Shran. "I'm afraid the weather just isn't suited for dancing, and unfortunately for you, that's my own specialty. I'm just going to have to amuse myself, I guess."

"That's really not necessary," Shran stammered, scrambling backwards now, not daring to actually turn around. You never turned your back on an Orion, and certainly never on a Slave Girl, and absolutely never when they had a blaster pulled on you. "Have I done business with you before? It must have been a long time ago. I have a tendency to burn bridges, but usually my former clients have bad memories. Well, that's not...strictly true. But they're more prompt than this, I swear. I'm sorry if I've forgotten you, but as I've said, it must have been...a long time ago. Surely you can forgive me?"

"This isn't personal, Andorian," the Orion Captain said, following closely behind the Slave Girl. "I don't know you and I don't care to. That's the point. You're an inconvenience in a regrettable situation, that's all. Now, you're sure you don't have a ship?"

"No ship," Shran said.

"Like I said, too bad," the Orion Captain said, and the Slave Girl turned her head long enough to see him give her a nod. She turned around again and raised the blaster to Shran's heart.

"I may have been a little...premature," Shran said, trying to sound calm. He was now backed into a corner, anyway, both figuratively and literally. "I've been in exile on this world for many years, but it's not as if I caught a transport vessel here. That...would have been...awkward."

To be underestimated is a tragic thing, but can also sometimes be necessary. That was something female Orions had all but culturally accepted. On the home planet, there were many who did anything but accept that, but to be a Slave Girl, that was almost sacred. They were entrusted with secrets.

Not just secrets about Orion society, but the galaxy's secrets. For instance, our Slave Girl had a secret she hadn't shared with the Orion Captain, about why they were her on this ice world, and it had nothing to do with Orions, and everything to do with the Romulan she knew was nearby, and the Starfleet captain who was here already. There had been a war, but that was not the end of the story. Just as the war had not been the beginning, it would in the end mean almost nothing, almost a courtship between the Star Empire and the Federation, one that would persist through?another war. The Slave Girl had the gift of premonition. She didn?t need it for anything related to being a Slave Girl, but she wasn?t just a Slave Girl. That was just for show, something to do for a living. Yes, a job. For an Orion, it was perfectly natural, something to hope for, but in the grand scheme, only a job. It didn't really define her, even though, for all intents and purposes, it gave her the only name she would ever know.

As a Slave Girl, however, she had access to whatever she wanted. Yes, there was the lust that came naturally, both from within her and without, but that was only a benefit. Being a Slave Girl was an opportunity, and she used it in connection with her gift, her premonition. She saw things and found that she could help them come about, like a purpose in life, so much greater than a job. She saw that bringing this Romulan and that Starfleet captain together would have its benefits.

While her Orion Captain was busy negotiating trivialities with the Andorian, she found herself free to prepare for the task ahead. As with anything a Slave Girl did, it wouldn't be easy, but she had to make it look so, make it natural, and she had to play along with the Orion Captain at the same time. Give a little credit where it's due: Slave Girls might not get a lot of respect, but they earned it more than just about anyone. But they would never get any, and it was their duty to be happy with that. They had all the power, after all. That was something.

While the Andorian was admitting to the existence of a ship that might allow the Orion Captain some peace of mind, the Slave Girl took the opportunity to slink away. Strangely, though it was freezing and she wore by habit very little, Orion biology meant she didn't notice. Some people were blue and others were green, but sometimes they shared something in common anyway, a tolerance, but Orions bore it better. They only seemed primitive; in actuality, they were probably among the most advanced species in the galaxy. They were pirates because they understood the opportunity, because they could use the challenge. On the home planet, you could be bored to tears by the lack of excitement. Was there any wonder that a Slave Girl was needed? They were savvy, and lacked the needless sense of shame. They didn't need pretense, because the pretense was what helped them get by, to move on to more important things.

The Andorian was lying, anyway. He not only had a ship stashed away, but communications equipment enough to make a Starfleet survey mission, or those wretched Vulcans, weep for joy. The Slave Girl had known that already. She'd known about the ship, too, but it amused her for the Orion Captain to learn on his own, by his own methods. Like the Starfleet captain, the future wasn't really about him, but it was worth the effort to make him think so, to humor him. Greater things were still ahead, but she doubted the Orion Captain would ever learn of the communications equipment, or care.

The Slave Girl used it to contact the Romulan, but made it look like an innocent blip, a lure more than a wave. Without her help, the Romulan would wander for weeks. She'd do the same for the Starfleet officers soon, but the timing wasn't right just yet. She still had preparations, after all, a meeting to arrange between her Captain and the Romulan, and to put the Andorian further on edge. The Andorian already had an inkling of his role; it wasn't right to let him edge closer to it before everything was ready. He could handle a little antagonism. He practically live for it, even in his diminished state, and he'd already proven as much, haggling over the simple matter of the ship like that. It wouldn't be right of her to deprive him of his basic nature.

In her vision the Slave Girl had seen far into the future, yes, but she'd seen many things, from across time. She'd seen events and people that had nothing to do with her present goals, but so many recurring elements that she could not help to be amused by them. The Romulans and Starfleet, so many encounters, so little fun. One could interpret that relationship to be paramount for both entities, easily, not that anyone would ever think of it that way, not really.

Time was short. She'd have to return to her Captain's side soon, lest he somehow become suspicious. It wasn't that he was stupid, just blissfully ignorant. It was helpful for both of them to overlook what the other was up to. He had his own goals just as she did, and maybe they were more complicated than they seemed on the surface. Well, it didn't really matter. She figured she could pass some time seducing the Andorian, make him more pliable, make it pleasurable for everyone. What else was a Slave Girl to do?

Before the U.S.S. Vista saw its away team off, Hamid Hassan had spent a considerable amount of time with Captain Sulu and the Andorian liaison who had seemed so anxious about this mission, the retrieval of a former officer in its fleet, one who had drawn the interest of the Romulans, or so Hassan had assumed. These days, everything revolved around Romulans. Other Federation regimes liked to spend their time focused on the Klingons, but when the mood was right, everything revolved around Romulans. A war had just been completed, so naturally, the focus was back on the Klingons, so the new administration could distance itself from its predecessors, prove its ideologies more pertinent with concerns over pirating on colony worlds. Hamid wasn't fooled for a minute. He also suspected Sulu's motives now were similarly driven by matters other than those at hand, and he found himself drifting again, to escape the madness of it?

In his homeland, Hamid knew everyone. That's what no one understood about his people. A desert community was very much like a village. Troublemakers were dealt with, matters of pride handled, like they were family business, because they were. Sand obscured everything but truth.

But outside that community, things were confused. In a way, he identified more with the Star Empire than with Starfleet. His captain was withholding vital information from the team, for no good reason other than having deemed it personal. Hamid had seen too much evil come about from that kind of thought. It was one thing to be master of one's mind, but to fail as a master of oneself invariably led to disaster, and that was what the situation with his captain amounted to. Those under Sulu couldn't possibly benefit from that kind of thinking, not the fragile Crewman Matheson, desperately trying to prove herself, with a bubble of stubbornness raised around her as a substitute for independence, or the arrogant Commander April, with a sense of pride so great, it inflated his ego so greatly he couldn't see past himself.

They had long transported to the surface of the ice world. Hamid couldn't stop himself from shivering violently, even though his training had taught him to deal with the extreme range of elements he'd never known growing up, only the caress of the desert sun. April had run ahead, sure he'd unlock the mystery himself, Matheson trailing behind, leaving himself with Sulu. With their shuttle hovering in orbit, Hamid constantly worried that they'd be detected. April had been insistent; the Orions would have stolen it first chance they got, and Sulu agreed. But it was foolishness; left there it would be a greater spoil, but he couldn't explain why, because Sulu had left so much unsaid about the mission itself.

"Captain," he said now, "perhaps it would be best if we shared what we know."

"You mean what you don't," Sulu said, a little taken aback at the lieutenant's hubris. "I should have known you wouldn't be content like the others. I like that about you. But it could get you into trouble."

"With Starfleet?"

"Just yourself, Lieutenant," Sulu mouthed casually. "Trouble doesn't always come from people who control your career. It's an impersonal beast, and it strikes wherever it can find a foothold. You can't always expect the world's problems to originate from anything but yourself. Forget rank, forget the Orions, the Romulans."

"The Klingons, sir?"

"Forget them, too," Sulu said. "I know you don't entirely trust me, but sometimes, we have to accept that some things are bigger than ourselves, just as we need to understand how those things begin within. Causal relations, that sort of thing."

"Captain, you're speaking in riddles," Hamid suggested.

"All right," Sulu sighed, stopping them both as they made their way across the slick plains. "Sometimes when winter thaws, you don't immediately recognize the landscape, but it's the same one you saw in the fall. Maybe it doesn't work that way in the desert, but that's how most of us experience life. Think of what I'm trying to say as a sandstorm that arbitrarily rearranges the dunes. The dunes are the same as they were before the storm, you just have to get used to seeing them again, now that you can. Life is more complicated than most people admit, or like to think. Yes, this is a personal mission for me, but it's also exactly as the briefing implied, nothing more, nothing less. At the end of the day, if we accomplish what we set out to, it doesn't matter what happened. That might sound harsh or simplistic, but we've all got to deal with things. It's our ability to handle life that matters, that's all. Life is what happens, Lieutenant. Starfleet is an organization dedicated to making the most positive things happen. If you don't trust me, trust that. Make some sense out of that, see where the mundane, the usual, comes back in when you take away what obscured it."

"You don't exactly play by the book," Hamid observed.

"That's because I've got my own," Sulu replied, as he started to walk again, getting them both moving. "I've had this suspicion that Starfleet's rulebook doesn't have all the answers, just a roadmap that I need to follow. That's something they don't teach at the Academy, but they should. The only reason I'm sharing any of this with you is because I suspect you're of the same mind; you just didn't realize that I'd be able to relate. The rank doesn't make me different from you, just burdened with more responsibilities, that's all. That's how I like to run things, and if I have to keep certain facts from you, from the team, don't feel as if I'm belittling you. But I can see your point, too, even if you haven't found the courage to make it. The burden doesn't have to be entirely mine. Perhaps we're stronger if it isn't. That's the ideal of Starfleet, isn't it?"

"Perhaps you ought to share that sentiment with the others," Hamid suggested.

"You and I both know they wouldn't appreciate it," Sulu said. "At least, not just yet. People don't embrace ideas they haven't already toyed with themselves. Asking them to is asking for disaster. That's another founding Starfleet principle. But we can help by making it attractive."

"By fooling them into playing along," Hamid joked.

"Starfleet procedure," Sulu responded, seriously, then laughed.

"So when does the Romulan entire the picture?"

"When the Orions are ready," Sulu said. "That's why we need to butter up the Andorian first, and why we need to find him before the rest of the team does. You'll like this world once you stop trying so hard to hate it, Lieutenant. It's just like home, I swear. Live a little."

"I tried, but my hand froze almost immediately."

"Was that a joke?"

You might not know it to see them now, but Orions once possessed one of the most sophisticated societies the galaxy had ever seen, a deeper culture than Cardassians, more religious than Vulcans, an empire more feared than Klingons. But there came a time when it was tested. Now, to be tested is a fairly common thing, one might say unavoidable. When it happens, you find yourself confronted with the strength of your convictions, and you either become stronger in them shrink back. A test is the chance to find out if you really believe in yourself.

Orion society is also older than most. When Surak was hashing out the tenets of logic and the need to control emotion, Orions had already mastered both ages ago. Of the modern age, only the Borg Collective was older. The Orions would know. Well before the invasions Starfleet would confront centuries after this point, the only world worth assimilating was the now-lost Orion home planet, well before even the El-Aurians, who had once been Orion intellectuals. Where the El-Aurians would succeed, retaining the essence of their natures, the Orions failed. They faced a violent reaction within their own, among the survivors, who saw either all they had accomplished as the reason the Borg had come, or reason enough to push still further. Those who chose the latter course became the El-Aurians, those the former, pirates. Where once a society had flourished that lived on the strength of its own merits, survival became almost literal, a scavenger race who knew better than anyone, naturally, how to scrape a living, but who would never again pursue an ambitious destiny.

The Orion Captain saw now that the society was pushing the boundaries of those new limits, improving its methods past mere barbarism into a syndication of sophistication, a reaction to Starfleet, yes, but also to the years of progress the barbarians around them had developed. The Vulcans had given birth to Romulans, after all, a perfection of their own better instincts, a strange brew of isolation and domination, weakness and strength, assertiveness and restraint. Where Vulcans were passive-aggressive, Romulans were aggressively expansive, but in due time, methodical. To compete, the Orions must evolve. They had fallen too far behind.

The Orion Captain was ambitious, no doubt about it. He had aligned himself with the perfect Slave Girl, someone who possessed not just the typical spirit but an inner drive that could benefit both of them. He didn't know what she was up to, but he knew she didn't suspect that he had his own motives for these present circumstances, far beyond those that had merely gotten here on this ice rock in the first place. He understood the value all too well, because he knew there was a Romulan agent pursuing them, in hopes of finding the very Andorian they had stumbled upon. He didn't care about the Andorian, only the chance to converse with this Romulan. He had negotiated for the ship in hopes that its systems might help him track the Romulan, not because he particularly cared when he left the planet. Far from it. For all he cared, he could be stuck on it for the rest of his life. A true Orion always knew the greater good was always Orion society, in whatever form it was presently taking. Greed was something for lower species, like those Ferengi who were so easy to do business with, because they didn't understand value, only the idea of it. They treated their females like a commodity rather than an asset!

Much to his pleasure, the Orion Captain found the systems intact aboard the Andorian's ship, and even more conveniently, that he was easily able to locate the Romulan. Scanners also told him of a human presence on the planet, which surprised him, but didn't trouble him. They could dealt with. His people had practically made a sport of it, because humans prefer to avoid confrontation, except on rare occasions. How many cargo ships had preferred Nausicaans to Orion ships, just because, despite the increased danger it was ultimately less costly to deal with buffoons than real challenges? There seemed to be two parties of them, each made up of two, which only made them less of a threat. If they were Nausicaans, such an arrangement might at least make them a physical threat, but they were probably Starfleet besides human. Not a problem, in any respect.

The ship even had a transporter, so the Orion Captain locked onto the Romulan's signal and brought her to him. At first, she was a little startled, but quickly regrouped her wits. "You're interfering with important Star Empire business. You'd better have a good explanation."

The Orion Captain expected nothing less than an informal lack of respect from the Romulan, so he waved it off. "As it happens, my business is mutual to yours."

"I doubt it," the Romulan said. "We have little interest in backwater people."

"Romulan, you would show more respect if you weren't so ignorant," he replied. "When I say our business is mutual, you would be wise to agree, and leave it at that, much as we decline to introduce ourselves. Details are irrelevant in important matters."

"You wouldn't begin to know why I'm here"

"What I didn't know before I acquired this ship was a simple matter of prelude to what I discovered through its scanners," the Orion Captain casually noted. With some species, he might flex some of his considerable muscles, but this Romulan had plenty else to amuse herself with. Some of his ornamentation consisted of Romulan insignia. Not all of what the Borg left behind of old Orion society was negative: emulating their annihilators, Orions had given to decorating their faces, if not with functional components then tokens that provoked a certain fearful reaction. Orions were warriors, then and now.

"Assuming that you have the ability to create complex thought, I still wouldn't believe that you were capable of discerning intricate plots," the Romulan demurred. "You're wasting my time, anyway. If you have something valuable to say, say it, otherwise I have no problem ending this conversation with your head sporting a new hole, a far more useful one."

"We admire your people," the Orion Captain said, "but that doesn't mean we respect you. I expect the Andorian to have more value to you than myself, as too the Starfleet officers beating around bushes out there."

"Everyone has some secret plot," the Romulan said. "Very well. You have some idea, I assume?"

"To get all of you out of my way, is all. Orions always have ideas. The difference is, we act on them without so much hassle. I propose that we send the Andorian to Starfleet, preferably headfirst."


If either had known where Shran was at the moment, that plan might have worked better, but the Slave Girl had taken the liberty of escorting him away. Whatever else was going on, she had to make sure her own plans weren't bungled by circumstances beyond her control. Theoretically, she already had the Captain's full attentions, but she couldn't leave it at that. She had to make sure the Andorian was under her thumb as well.

He hadn't taken much by way of seducing, which was little surprise. Most Slave Girls worked hard beyond the simple affect of the pheromones, but she didn't need to. She had an understated charm, sexy but confident, charming yet homely, someone a guy could fall for just for the hope of spending their lives with, let alone a fleeting moment, devotion of a little more lasting kind. This particular Andorian seemed to find it difficult to restrain his impulses, even in these advanced years, and though he seemed for a moment to be fighting his old habits, she knew she had him the moment she said she was joking about that threat to shoot him earlier. A little humor always went a long way, and a lot went even further, just as long that it was known there was deeper emotion below the surface. She had him eating out of her hand, so the moment she suggested they try to steal back his ship, he seemed to find his confidence again.

And so, while her Captain was unwittingly doing her bidding with the Romulan, the Slave Girl was getting everything she wanted. All that remained was getting those Starfleet officers involved, and she knew exactly how to do it. Sometimes, it was just too easy.


Whatever she said, Tavera was prepared to end this association with the Orions whenever the moment suited it. She had never needed them, and there was no reason why that would change, certainly nothing they could articulate. Her tracking equipment told her of the separated Starfleet parties, and she knew how she was going to deal with them, first one, then the other, where her interests really lay. All she had to do was let the Orions continue to stumble along, let them present the Andorian themselves, convinced that their own agendas meant something. With the Andorian in play, she could work the Starfleet officers against each other, and complete her mission. The only problem was, the Starfleet captain. Perhaps a complication could arise there. He had made this personal, and if he became aware of her presence, everything could be lost, all her careful planning and even the greater Romulan strategy.

But that was unlikely. Right?

Now, destiny is a funny thing. It's easy to think about it only the most noble terms, someone achieving something great. But sometimes, destiny means coming to an awful fate, a necessary sacrifice. Destiny is an idea that means nothing to someone with perspective. Destiny is something that only means something to someone desperately clinging to a dream. With perspective, destiny is just another series of events.

Shran never had perspective. He didn't have a sense of destiny, either. He only ever lived for the moment. One day's lesson was another day's nagging thought, was all. It wasn't that he was a bad person; in many ways, he was an exemplary specimen of his people, the Andorians, an ideal, better than most. Only outsiders would have thought it a shame to be him. His family loved him very much, even when he wasn't very good to it, because in the end, he loved his wife, his daughter, as much as they loved him. But that would never change their fate, nor his. In the end, he would be alone. He was always alone. It was always lonely on top. He may not have believed in it, but he had a destiny, and every one of his actions had led him to it, blindly. He had never met a human before Jonathan Archer. He called the Starfleet captain Pink Skin constantly, no matter what they went through together. He took the relationship for granted as much as he put into it. He thought nothing of putting Archer's crew in mortal danger.

No, that wasn't true. He had never meant to hurt anyone. Never, not Archer, not his family, not his own people. It was just, he couldn't seem to help it. It was as if his life was constantly hurtling from one moment to the next. The Vulcans, they were always taunting him, with their incessant logic and belief in a natural order. Well, he had always believed in a natural order, too, and every time a Vulcan told him he was wrong, the more he tried to prove himself right. Except, he always knew he wasn't. He tried desperately to prove otherwise, but he knew he was wrong. That was his destiny. After him, no Andorian would ever again charge through life with such hubris. After him, whether he realized he was doing it or not, his people would be changed. Sometimes, leaders aren't born or even made, but fashioned, by perspective. Destiny and perspective, whether you believe in them or not, always seem to get the best of you.

In his final days, Shran became a pawn. For as much as he had struggled in life to control his own life, his own...destiny, in death Shran's purpose would finally shine through. The perfect Andorian, he had walked right into it. Captive of Orions, held ransom before Starfleet and the Romulans, he no longer had any choice. When the moment arrived, he knew he would have to sacrifice himself.


Hamid almost couldn't bring himself to reply back. His captain had just asked him what Crewman Matheson had reported after she and Commander April made contact upon first encounter with the Orion captain. "She says it doesn't look good."

"Someday Starfleet officers will be more forthcoming with news than that," Captain Sulu said. "I'm afraid you're going to have to be more specific than that, Lieutenant."

"What I mean is, the Orion's been murdered," Hamid said. "All indications are that he was shot with an Andorian weapon."

"We both know that doesn't make any sense," Sulu mused. "We're meant to believe that, but then, we know too much to believe it."

"Captain, Commander April has gone after the killer, whoever it is," Hamid said.

"That's not what we're here for," Sulu said. "You tell Matheson that I don't want them pursuing anyone."

"That will be a little difficult."

"We haven't come all this way just for members of this away team to go rogue on us," Sulu said, beginning to fume, struggling to keep his emotions in check. "Tell me her communicator is still switched on, Lieutenant. Tell me we don't have a bigger problem on our hands."

"It's possible that they didn't have to wait to find trouble," Hamid suggested.

"Trouble found them, you mean. Well, one way or another, this is going to end. I'm calibrating a site-to-site transport on their last known signal."

"Are you sure that's --"

"Wise, Lieutenant? Don't question my command decisions," Sulu said. "That's the best way to get ahead. A starship requires a steady hand. An officer demands a cool head. Precision, Lieutenant."

Transporter technology had advanced in the last few years. Hamid was less concerned about his captain's thought process than with the way he was accomplishing it. Transporter technology had advanced in the last few years, but it still wasn't the most trusted element of Starfleet equipment. Growing up in a closed society, Hamid had never quite gotten used to the cavalier attitude most Starfleet personnel had toward their world and how they approached it. They took a little too much for granted, was all. To his captain, Point A might as well be Point B, because the transporter allowed him to think of it that way. To Hamid, however, Point A was distinct from Point B, no matter what. Regardless, within moments, Point A had become Point B, and the two of them discovered their comrades had stumbled on another corpse, the Andorian's, and another Orion, a Slave Girl.

"Captain, apologies for the lapse in protocol, but we got a little tied up," Commander April duly reported, always with a smug expression on his face. Beside him, Crewman Matheson looked traumatized.

"Accepted, Eugene," Sulu said, coolly, looking toward the Slave Girl with expectation written all over his face. Whatever charms she had, he didn't seem to notice. He knew what he wanted, and it wasn't her. "An explanation, dear."

"I don't expect that you would believe me, but a Romulan did it," the Slave Girl said.

No one seemed willing to take her word for it. In fact, the first thing Hamid had noticed was that April had a phase pistol pointed at her, and seemed intent on using it. Sulu meant to defuse the situation, but it was out of his hands, maybe out of everyone's.

"Tell me, what were you hoping to accomplish today?" Sulu wondered aloud. "You must have known we wouldn't fall blindly for everything we saw?"

"Captain, if the world was served before you, would you refuse even a single bite?" the Slave Girl offered in return. "Is the noble Federation so pure as that? No place for passion? No place for desire? What if I told you that you could have everything you ever dreamed of, without sacrificing any of your morals? What if I said all it would take was a little time...and patience?"

"I would say nothing an Orion presents is quite what it seems," Sulu replied.

No one there trusted anyone else, that's what Hamid noticed next. Not even within his own crew. April was too cocksure to place his trust even in his own captain. Matheson, burdened by the guilt of her family, a betrayal that was felt both ways, was looking for answers. Her father had been a pioneer, but the future had no place for him. She looked for a place on her own terms, unaware that she was following in her father's footsteps. She had married the first freighter captain to come her way, before realizing it was a mistake, and enlisted into Starfleet soon after, hoping to find her way. What was before her now was a chance to decide for herself who to believe, because for Matheson, the truth wasn't so clear-cut. She couldn't know that the same thoughts ran through April's head, through Captain Sulu's. Her bloodline would discover the success she thought was denied her, and so, too would April's. George Sulu, although a success, considered himself a failure. Hamid saw it constantly, a hidden failure, unknown but a torture the captain could never escape, something that wasn't presented him so much as embraced by him. It would take time to win success back. That's what motivated him now, a sense...of destiny, which somehow he seemed to know lay in this encounter, this moment.

"You've talked to the Romulan," Sulu observed finally.

"She had kind words for you," the Slave Girl said. "She's a spy for them, just as you were, Captain. She's seen plans for a new starship, for the future. She believes fate has placed you on the same path as that ship. She called it the Excalibur. Mean anything to you?

"My family has long held the human myth of King Arthur as a kind of treasure," Sulu said. His crew was baffled at this conversation, but he continued it. "Excalibur is a sword of destiny."

"Then we are speaking the same terms," the Slave Girl said. "She told me that she sabotaged the plans. The ship probably won't launch within your lifetime. Maybe in another fifty years. Time is a funny thing. We expect advancements to happen instantaneously, but really, they occur in increments. 'The future' is a statement of the moment. Orions quit depending on it long ago. The Romulan was hoping to postpone her perception of it by sparking another conflict, but I'm here to tell you, I never believed her for a minute. Maybe she was telling the truth about that ship, but I took her to be naive, Captain, and I don't believe you are. I believe you are a man of integrity."

Hamid felt the air become more uncomfortable, and it was a strange feeling. In a literal sense, it had never been comfortable, certainly not for him. He had felt agitated throughout the mission, but feeling discomfort around him, had been able to keep the feeling in check. But something had changed. During the midst of the conversation between his captain and the Slave Girl, he could sense a change in the volatile presence of Commander April, and an ease of tension with Crewman Matheson. Neither had grown more comfortable allowing it to continue, but they seemed to have come to personal realizations. Their problems no longer seemed to important. And as a result, Hamid became free to experience his own. He wasn't happy, not with the mission, not with his infantile colleagues, and certainly with not how personal his captain had allowed the events to become, or the suspicion that this whole experience had been crafted around this moment. It was absurd. He wanted to shake some sense into the captain. He wanted to take April's hand and squeeze the trigger. He wanted to tell Matheson to grow up. He wanted the Slave Girl to go away. She offended him. But here they all were, staged on the precipice of a breathless moment.

"You've wasted our time," he said, and didn't know who he was addressing. He was looking at no one, at the frozen ground. He could feel contempt falling on him, but he didn't care. If this was to be a defining moment for someone, he would take it upon himself. "Right now, I don't believe or care whether a Romulan was ever truly here. A dead Orion doesn't even concern me, and the Andorian, he became a disgrace, and he didn't seem to mind. That appalls me, and I won't apologize. I don't even know why I'm wearing this uniform right now. What possible business did Starfleet have here today? Doesn't the Federation have anyone for a job like this? Something where open minds can talk openly, instead of scuttling about like vermin, talking in riddles and nonsense, about anything but what's truly important? If we wanted to prove ourselves no better than Romulans today, then I guess we succeeded. We fought a war, but we seem to have decided that losing was the better ground, concession rather than victory. Where are our principles? Were they only ever a matter of convenience, to be talked about and used as a matter of pride? Today, I am disgusted by myself. I have been saying it all day, but now it really means something. I wish I were anywhere but here."

Another moment passed where no one knew what to do. Hamid retreated some. He had never raised his gaze from the ground, and certainly felt like keeping it that way now. The Slave Girl all of a sudden seemed to realize she was naked, and did what she could to cover herself. Commander April lowered his pistol. Matheson shrunk back still further. Captain Sulu stared at Hamid with a mixture of compassion and contempt. Life was made up with more of these moments than any other. That was the sad truth Hamid now realized.

Eventually Sulu realized that there was only one course of action that would be appropriate. The Romulan, wherever they were, was long gone, and so the only reward was the capture of the Slave Girl, or rather, officially taking her into custody. That was all this moment was ever going to be. He seemed content to ignore Hamid on the ride back to the Vista, as did the others. At least one career would be affected today, that was certain enough. The captain struggled to remember what his objectives had been at the start of the mission, how he might have construed them as noble, as worthy of his rank and his own morals. He found himself coming up empty for a reply every time. Starfleet wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be not just the greater good, but the good of humanity, the good of life, triumphing over the craven natures it had been born out of, when Cochran had first envisioned a warp core out of a nuclear missile, in the ruins of another war. Peace didn't count for much when it came with such bitter sacrifice, such personal betrayal. He shouldn't have to hold a grudge against one of his own officers, for trying to point that out. Was it his own failure, in trusting those around him?

The log he would file on this one would be difficult. He had started the mission believing it would dictate the course of the rest of his career. Now he wondered if he deserved one at all.


Tavera would have a son, Tavol, and one of his first assignments would be to infiltrate the starship of Robert April, the grandson of Commander April. Tavol's long life would intersect with the life of Robin Matheson, the descendant of Crewman Matheson, his worst ambitions getting the best of him. No Romulans would ever again haunt the line of George Sulu, but the Excalibur would be waiting, another story for another time, a more hopeful vision in which all good things gave way to further blessings. In the continuing voyages of Starfleet, men like Hamid Hassan would toil under the weight of responsibility, and sometimes find a measure of prosperity, a place in the galaxy where they felt comfortable, what they could call home. It wasn't always where they expected.

The final frontier wasn't so final. It was a journey of constant discovery, and it was the self that would always find the reward, in the end.

  • "Continuing Mission"

The man named Cox was amazed to learn that they had recovered the body at last. For decades, his colleagues in the United States government had been working to extract the body of an honest-to-god extra-terrestrial from one of its own facilities, but that?s the way it usually worked. The timing was ironic, because he had just learned that the notorious eugenicist Khan Singh had just successfully launched himself into space using a stolen ship from the very same base. After decades of destabilizing the world's nations with his propaganda and political maneuvering, Singh was finally gone, but it wasn't going to get any better for Earth. The combination of the intrusions on that base had exposed far too much, more than either could have appreciated?

Cox discovered soon enough what the immediate effects would be. He watched the daily news progress from reporting the break-ins to the implication of the sitting president in at least one of them, and the resulting destabilization of foreign affairs. War was declared, and it escalated at the same pace. It became the third World War within months. Trust became a currency that devalued swiftly. Tribunals opened even before hostilities ended. Civilization broke down. Baseball was the first casualty, the very symbol of lost innocence, after it had struggled so long and hard to emerge from it own scandals, hosting the first true World Series as a substitute for the first cancelled Olympics in decades. But it was not enough. Nothing was enough.

Through it all, Cox struggled to piece together the strands that had unraveled the world. He tracked down the body and studied the specifics of what Singh had been up to, what his ultimate ambitions were meant to bring about. Startlingly, Cox discovered that the rogue genius had gotten exactly what he had wanted, that he had calculated all of this from the start. But he had underestimated mankind?s aversion to Armageddon. The revelation of alien life didn't destroy man's trust in one another, but served as an impetus for something greater.

Okay, so it was true that when the world discovered what the Americans had attempted to cover up an apocalypse had descended, but as with all setbacks it had also provoked a more noble response, in the least likely individuals. Cox discovered that an associate by the name of Zefram Cochrane had been among the first to find out the truth, like himself, and had struggled to make something of it, only he had a greater idea in mind. He would build something from the ashes.

Having learned of the plight of the scientists who'd originally set these events in motion, how they had been working for the president himself in the hopes of bringing out legitimacy to programs he knew almost nothing about, Cochrane had studied both the alien and the vessel she had come to the planet in, and became determined to finish the project himself. He didn't anticipate the cost it would have on him. He began to spiral out of control. He had an assistant, Lily Sloane, he could count on, but the weight of the war and history pushed him to heavy drinking, and he lost perspective. After a time, he convinced himself that his work meant nothing to him. It was probably a visit from Cox that did it. He didn't want to be noble. He saw noble as nothing but trouble.

But Cox knew differently. He knew that the only thing that would rally humanity into a lasting trust and peace was the very thing that was originally intended, but had backfired so spectacularly, an attempt to at last take a lasting place in the stars, and an interstellar community. Singh had known it, too. All his work had been intended to reshape humanity along with him, to create a paradise. It was with a hideous dawning awareness that he realized what would actually be necessary to bring it about. Cox suspected that Singh had lost touch with reality, both real and imagined, by the end, and would probably never accept it again.

After Cochrane's flight, Cox watched as things fell back together. He met a youth named Henry Archer, who seemed to grasp intuitively everything he had struggled with, who understood that the Vulcans were in effect, the last of the great struggles for mankind. Someday, everything would be won.

  • Star Trek: TIP 1x25 "Infection"

Three years after we were first given the Yorktown as a temporary command while the Enterprise underwent refits, Christopher Pike had already had it for two, and would have it for eight more. April would never have her back, and we had all known it. Eventually, Commander Barrett and Doctor Boyce would transfer back, but neither would be around when James Kirk took over. Only Spock would span all three crews.

None of us would have guessed that. The Vulcan had excelled in Starfleet Academy, stayed on well past graduation as an instructor, cooked up a training scenario only Kirk ever beat, but even he knew he didn't have what it took to last long onboard an actual starship. It was evident the entire time he was with us, and the reports only started to change when he met this Kirk himself, when he began to realize the real possibilities of the career he had pursued. I guess we failed him.

Then again, we failed ourselves, too. We were deemed unfit to crew the ship of the line, played into a ruse that saw us voluntarily leave it for an inferior one beset by one disaster after another, the only thing we deserved, and the worst part was, maybe the rest of us deserved it, but not April. I can only blame myself. In our final mission, I was the one who finally proved our undoing.

My name is Kristen Colt. I was a yeoman in Starfleet for six years, all of them serving under Robert April, whom I saw myself as better than the entire time, a lowly woman forced to serve under the yoke of incompetent leadership. The one thing I never saw coming was being used by the alien Torx, who had tried to lead an invasion of Earth, and the only thing that stood between him and that goal was the one person I could never find myself to respect, and now of course he?s dead. And I'm to blame.

It's important to stress that our little band of survivors would have done anything for him, especially after all we'd been through, even me, and time after time, we did exactly that, and if no one in the higher command noticed, it didn't matter to us. Jose would joke in later years that Kirk never did anything we hadn't done better, but it was probably because he had Spock with him that everyone paid attention. The Vulcan had always been good for that, when he was motivated. He thrived when he had someone or something to work off of, and we never gave him anything. April took all the challenge upon himself. That's what Boyce found funny. Barrett and I didn't, but what did we count for? At least she had a semblance of authority (and was canned readily by the fleet when she showed it with Pike). I was, like I said, only a yeoman, filled with all the ego in the galaxy. I had never attended the Academy. The first time I heard of or met Spock was under April's command. I never had to face his no-win scenario, until Torx.

Three years of the Yorktown would have been three years too many for most crews, let alone one that had experience with the flagship. I imagine that's how Trip Tucker must have really felt when he was briefly signed off to the Columbia, away from his family, his own engines. But we were the best around, and we made due with what we had, even if Yorktown was barely to modern specs, and barely in working order most of the time. We never had a proper engineer for that beast; I think that was part of the problem. Everyone knows a ship and its crew are only as good as their engineer. Ideally, a captain is as good at command as they are at piloting and the engines of their ship, because you never know when all three roles could be needed at once, like the old Boomer days. April was only ever an excellent captain, and none of us knew how to motivate him to his potential, which was what had gotten him the Enterprise in the first place, and why he ended up with the Yorktown. He failed himself, and we failed him right along after.

But this is not about Robert April's shortcomings, much as I'd like it to be, but about mine. My colossal failure. Torx. No, only myself. Maybe "only a yeoman" is what I should have been focusing on all that time, quit blaming others and take charge of my own life, and in that way improve everyone else's. I knew I had that potential, that...calling, and I threw it all away, because I was convinced I was better than everyone else no matter if they saw it or not. I thought by sheer force of will that I could achieve what I wanted, prove everyone wrong, just get promoted like that and everything would be all right. The same things I had always been doing would work, if only everyone noticed, and I was prevented from this goal, this destiny, because no one saw me for what I was. Well, this final mission didn't prove me right, and I'm beginning to understand why. Now that I'm done kidding myself, reassessing what I had always believed my strengths were and seeing what they really amounted to, I guess none of this should have come as a surprise.

Still, no one likes to admit that sort of thing.

When you sign up for Starfleet, there are a number of ways your career can play out, and that's what the recruitment poster says, but everyone knows there are only two real results: either everyone is going to remember you, or you will be included in the vast obscure ranks that constitute "tradition." Where exactly the career of Robert April slipped from one track to the other, I don't know that anyone will ever really know, but at least those of us who served with him know, it's not always the matter of a dull tenure that relegates you to anonymous "history."

Sometimes, Starfleet is very clear that you won't be remembered. In its very earliest days, and here I'm referring even earlier than Archer's successful launch of the first Enterprise, there was Section 31. Trust me, the Klingons don't like humans because of those guys, not for anything Archer or some other hapless captain did. If even Kirk, the most Klingon of any human the Empire has ever encountered, can't smooth over even the tiniest flap, then you know there's a fairly big problem that caused this rift, and it has nothing to do with professional rivalry (or, let's say it, genetic engineering programs gone awry). Some blame it all on Khan, of course, but let's call a spade a spade. When Starfleet wants to be transparent, it's transparent. But much of its history is as opaque as a glass of Lurian ale.

What I'm saying is, Robert April was sandbagged, and we all know it. Maybe he just wasn't seen as the right guy, when what Starfleet wanted was someone like Kirk, back in the days where "professional rivalry" was preferred to a war that had been waged with another empire. Get rid of April, replace him with another face. Pike was too professional. Compared to him, April was the maverick they'd hoped to find, except he questioned too often. He wasn't just a rebel, bucking in Starfleet's face every chance he got. He took the tough assignments, but wondered too loudly why. So he was simply hushed beneath the carpet.

We spent a year under his command aboard the Yorktown, and during that time he was probably the only one who knew we'd never get the Enterprise back, that everything we experienced during that time would be meaningless. I think he made a remark or two, in the beginning, that he knew Pike would be sent in, at least initially, to cover some of the same ground, so Starfleet could forget we had ever been there, before it became easier to just ignore us, misplace our reports, pretend our incredible missions never took place.

That would have been fine, too, if Manx had never shown up. But he did, and everything changed. Even I began to feel like hope was still possible.


You'll recall the unfortunate business surrounding our original encounter with Torx, of course. By the time he got around to revenging himself, none of us even remembered him, except me. No, the great yeoman Kristen Colt dared believe that Torx was the answer she'd been seeking all that time, back before she realized she had it so good. She actually wanted to see April's mission end in failure. What a joke! To Starfleet's mind, it was already a failure. That's why we were all there aboard the Yorktown. Like I said, only Spock's career really survived the ordeal, probably because he didn't know any better. He was a Vulcan, and his logic had no room to suffer us fools, only the purity of his science, and I suppose that's why Torx had no effect on him, and why Torx had so much effect on me. For some encounters, there is no middle ground, like Starfleet. Either you're remembered or you're not, like some kind of cosmic schoolyard game of popularity. Maybe it's a group of office pucks who choose favorites, back in San Francisco. Or, hey, maybe it's the cadets who really run the show, and that's why Spock got on so well, because he was only ever, really, a cadet, an academic. He had no use for the real world, only that great ballast, Jim Kirk.

Torx, meanwhile, had nothing in the entire galaxy. That's the sort of thing Starfleet enjoys most, like a sandbox it gets to discover somewhere, either one that's already been played in and its officers can come and fix, or one that hasn't and so its officers can come and see what can be done with it. Most importantly, of course, does it have the potential to join the Federation? Or become an enemy? Like I said, no middle ground. It was long ago assumed that eventually, everyone has to deal with everyone else. That's Vulcan logic for you.

It also happens to be true, and that's, I think, what the Yorktown experience made clear, what April ultimately stood for, a chance to discover this for yourself, not just because someone told you, but because he allowed you to see it for yourself. Torx was the opposite, his opposite number, and Manx, well, Manx was the bridge. There's always the bridge, the middle ground between the extremes. It doesn't negate the opposing sides or contradict them, but rather allows for a perspective that supports them. One can be, at their best, on one side and at this middle place, this bridge, at the same time. April was, and Manx helped him find peace in that. Me, too, eventually.

But first, I let Torx loose. We all already knew all too much about him, but I was headstrong, convinced that I knew better. I invited him onboard as a stowaway. In return, he betrayed me. Anyone else would have seen that coming. Boyce would have warned me exactly what would happen. Ortega would already have been joking about it, he really would have, just as he would have been aiding me, a confederate just because it would have been fun. Leslie, well, the commander might have supported a rebellion, if it made any sense. I think her career stalled out not so much because of her association with April but because she was a better me than I could ever have been. She really knew what she was doing, locked in her secret world. Me, I guess I was just always more of a flirt. Kirk probably would have loved me. I had a brief run with Pike, too, just like Boyce and Leslie, Boyce the career man, Leslie the professional saboteur, of herself, anyway. Me, Kristen Colt, harbinger.

Not that anyone truly knows, not even now. Even obscure things have their obscure details. Our second encounter with Torx, I don't think anyone ever thought of me as anything but a victim, and I certainly resented them for that, except in a way, they were right. I never asked for what happened. You hardly ever do in the line of Starfleet work. You sign up, no matter what role you ultimately assume, as an explorer. The best of us have more in common with Spock than we'd like to admit, even the curmudgeon Leonard McCoy, who would never admit it. We're dispassionate by nature, and expect the world to greet us as such. The ones who really succeed are those who carry the spark of their youth with them. Yeah, Kirk again. This story, our story, never strays far from him.

The thing is, April wasn't so different, as I said. If you asked Kirk today, I bet he'd said he studied April's career in the Academy, probably considered him a role model, would have been honored to receive the same fate, banished to something less than the flagship, if only he could continue his adventures. He would have reveled in our experiences, if he'd ever heard of them, with the Yorktown. Everyone in Starfleet wants a posting to a ship called Enterprise, but what they don't know is that they really want a Yorktown. I'm sure, eventually, there will be ships whose names will come to mean at least a semblance of what Enterprise continually offers. Garth's ship, what was that? Defiant. That's a ship with a name, a lineage. His ship, then the one that was lost. I'm sure there'll be more. Me, I probably would have enjoyed that name, no quarrels, even from me. Seems hard to imagine, right?

But I wasn't assigned to Defiant, and we had all lost our Enterprise, even though, technically, we were the first crew to man the first one of the regular fleet. No, I had the Yorktown, with all the privileges therein. I wasn't satisfied, not until it was too late. You could say that I was the cause of Robert April's ultimate downfall.

After our first encounter with Torx, I found that I couldn't stop thinking about him, and while medically I knew why and what Boyce would have said if I'd told him about it, I didn't care, and whatever anyone else might have thought was beside the thought. They would have been wrong. Too often we lead our lives knowing others won't understand them, for whatever reason, and we're right, which is the worst part, and again, beside the point. Whatever is lost in translation, we are by definition relatable to one another, if only we'd try, and whether it's a personal failing or what we consider an inability to understand others, that's the kind of nonsense no manner of evolution in thinking can seem to grasp. Yes, we're a lot better at collective empathy, but individually? To be frank, we suck. I suppose that's what's always frustrated me about Starfleet, what everyone always calls the beacon of our development. Everyone's still basically rated by their ability to perform functions that prove their usefulness, rather than an acceptance for a little basic human worth. I'm not talking charity here, because the economics of our bright and shiny future are certainly evolved, but an ability to look into someone's face and see them, not what they happen to represent.

So when Manx showed up, I seemed to get exactly what I wanted, if not Torx, then someone else like him, and without knowing it, without understanding just how big a hypocrite I really was, I kept on engaging in the very same behavior that I abhorred. Manx wasn't Manx to me, but a representative, a replacement for something else I already knew. How bizarre would it be to examine every life in any given moment in even the smallest city? How soon before it became tedious? The greatest writer, it seems to me, would tackle that project. It would probably take a lifetime. But who would care to read the result? Manx was seeking refuge. That's how he came aboard, just at random, and April granted him asylum without asking a single question. That was the kind of reckless April was; he'd already determined to ask question later, and the gun, the phaser of choice was compassion. Basic ignorant trust. How so a sabotaged career? By his own hand, and I doubt he ever cared.

Manx was perfectly worth trusting, and he was exactly what I had been needing, and so every spare moment I had was spent in his quarters. What I didn't know was that all this was pointless, that Torx had already planted the seed, and that in their species, this bond that I had felt was the first step in the fertilization process, the infection. It was a love disease wrapped in procreation.

Spock was the first one to notice, naturally, the change in my behavior. He could find no reason for my mood to so suddenly improve, but his prognosis came only with a cocked eyebrow. Maybe if he'd cared, for me, for anyone at that time, it might have been caught in time, but he was merely functional. It's a mistake to assume that Vulcans are as bad as humans. They're savage, more than humans could ever be, hidden behind a veneer, but in their logic they seem beyond mere form and function, beyond emotion, where actions and not so much people are inevitable, and it's only realizing what must be done that seems to place anyone in a specific role. They meld the scientific with the religious, it might be said, a cold calculation with an awe that's always behind an otherwise expressionless face. They're always the first ones to be surprised when the unexpected occurs, is discovered, not because they didn't think it would happen, but because they didn't think it would happen so soon, and certainly not before their own eyes. Vulcans are modest. In that regard, their seeming lack of emotions is entirely accurate.

It makes them insufferable to live with, too. You have to get used to them, they have to get used to you, like a science experiment: results must be verified after repeated and exhausting tests. If they ever just got to the point? But they leave spontaneous and all its related mistakes to others, like me. I suppose if I'd just asked him, too, Spock might have helped avert a lot of trouble, but that's hindsight talking. Bitter perspective.

Heck, I've even thought that Jose might have been able to help. I'm sure he had his share of unhappy ramifications from rash actions with beautiful strangers. He would've had a tip or two. He always had those handy. Some of us suspected he owed his whole career not so much to starship skills as words of experience. His first words were probably to another baby. Which, in any case, might have come in handy again.

But we never got that far.


Andy's Log, Stardate 2253.5

In 2245, the U.S.S. Enterprise was launched under the command of Robert April. At the christening ceremony, Admiral Robau commissioned it as the new flagship of the fleet and symbolically passed the torch to his successor. In 2250, Spock began his Academy training cruise aboard ship as Starfleet?s unofficial ears, to assist in the assessment of April's continued qualifications upon the conclusion of his first five-year mission.

Robau and myself then determined a bet. The admiral had lost faith in April, but I wasn't yet convinced, so we contrived to give April a new command while the Enterprise underwent refits: the Yorktown. While it was agreed that April had been underwhelming, certainly not to the level of the accomplished Garth during the same period, he had some worth. TheYorktown mission began in 2251, one year before Spock was called upon, along with April loyalists Barrett and Boyce, to join Christopher Pike's crew during a scheduled ten-year tour with the reinstated Enterprise.

This month Spock graduated from the Academy. His senior project was the programming of the Kobayashi Maru simulation, which immediately became the standard test for command-track officers: Spock's own class was required to take it, which was something of an achievement itself. It's the only time many of them will face a truly no-win scenario.

In truth, April was always in one. Commanding the flagship is always a thankless job, and since Archer pioneered Starfleet's line a century ago, not even a guarantee that yo'?ll be remembered (it doesn't matter how long he lives: Jon will never quite get the accolades he deserves). He had the Enterprise for its first five years, and proved to be someone the top brass could put no faith in. When Robau and myself gave him his second chance, he actually rose to the occasion, did everything right, quite spectacularly, actually. But it wouldn't have mattered if he finally got that peace treaty signed with the Romulans, because he was exactly the kind of authority that authority doesn't like. He had his own mind.

Barrett developed the same problem, whether she realized it or not. I couldn't say, even now, if she got it from April himself (she will, however, get the Romulan assignment, in another ship, her own command, as soon as Pike's tour is over, if he doesn't stumble into a career-ending accident, which we all believe h'?s going to). She won't get Enterprise. Command seems to favor George Kirk's boy for that.

No, April's fate was always a lark, a dream from an old cop looking for glory one last time. I don't know, in many ways, my career is probably just about as potent as April's. I tried steering him toward success because his success would be mine, vindication for another forgettable career. But in the end, it didn't matter, and it was never going to. George had better have raised his kid right. Word is, anyway, that he's been boasting he can beat Spock's test. I wonder what those two could do together.

Spock is an interesting case. He's a survivor, more than anyone I know, him and the cockroaches to the end. If there's redemption for any of this, any of us, he's going to be it. He's a Vulcan, so on the one hand, the way he sits there, calculating behind those eyes, thinking of everything anyone else would have found obvious if they'd thought of it, it's all perfectly natural. But it's almost as if he's driven himself to be a better Vulcan than any Vulcan who ever lived, and to exert his presence in Starfleet just to prove humans don't really do that better, either. He knows our mandate better than we do. He knows what new life-forms really look like. Maybe because he is one.

He's also very modest, to a certain extent. If he's got any faults, it's his pride, which he can't always hide very well. It's strange to see such a contradiction, but there he is. I doubt he'll care one way or another about who he ultimately makes history with, because in a sense, he knows it's his destiny. It just isn't April's. What can I say? Nobody said it was fair, this business of ours.


On a strictly biological level, Torx had me in his clutches, and there was nothing I could do. At this point, it didn't matter if I told everyone everything. It wouldn't have mattered, and it wouldn't have helped, because only Manx could help, and it wouldn't work within the confines of Boyce's medical bay, no matter how well he maintained them. This is why you don't put yourself in compromising positions, kids. Don't believe them when they tell you it's sometimes necessary.

Okay, so risk is sometimes the name of the game, but it's got to be calculated. You have to have an idea how you're going to get out of the frying pan without it being the fire. For all his charm, which reflected so perfectly, and so poorly, on my experience with Torx months earlier, Manx really was no different. A different beast, but a beast all the same, and it was torture to admit. So I told Jose. I didn't tell him everything, but I had to tell someone something. I told him that Manx couldn't be trusted, and because I knew Jose, I knew to trust his reaction, what to expect. Jose is a ladies man, and while he's professional enough to prevent it from being a problem, it can make him pretty jealous, protective, if you will. He's younger than me, but I could trust him to turn on a dime and start thinking of me like a kid sister, and act accordingly. It's almost worse than the disease, but I'd have to endure it.

April noticed immediately, of course, that Jose was acting strange, which was more than he ever noticed about me, even after that year. I think he never forgave me, for Torx, for any number of things. He'd expected more from me. I think he saw a kindred spirit. I know, I know. Captains who haven't populated at least their command crews with a good helping of such souls are asking for trouble, people they can trust, to agree with them, or disagree when needed. I wasn't command crew, and I never would be, but I was a voice that mattered, a figure who should have been anonymous, just another pretty face, but who wasn't. In many ways, whether he admitted it or not, I was better than command crew for April. I was no Janice Rand, but I was better. And that explained everything.

When Ortega missed his first shift, not only did he have to be replaced with inferior talent, April suspected what he had always feared, that something romantic was going on. He really had no idea. Jose was a friend, the closest I would ever have, but we never crossed that line. Something romantic was happening in quite a different sense, and not in a pleasant way, not the way they teach you, anyway. Manx, as our honored guest, bound for negotiations with the Klingons at Sherman's Planet for unpleasant details in shipping rights, had every right to do as he pleased, so April didn't notice the alarming frequency of his trips to my quarters, only his helmsman's. When the computer told him where to find Jose, the captain came personally, with Boyce (no way to avoid him, it seemed).

Naturally, we had to fake it. April wasn't pleased, but at least left without formally reprimanding either of us. Jose left soon after, and Manx showed up, the way he always did, with a pretext (again with the ironies) to review his schedule, which April would be joining him on. He soon told me what I had dreaded, that my condition was irreversible. There would be a dress I could never wear again, the one Torx had seen me in that day, the one I wouldn't be able to fit in soon, for a while, never again.

There was no comfort in Manx.

I dismissed him almost immediately, and summoned Jose back. For all his fire, Jose was also tender in a way that was all too elusive in my experience. He knew what I needed beyond a protector, knew exactly what to order from the galley, a Bolian dish I've favored since childhood. He stayed and didn't say anything, which was exactly what I needed to hear.

The closer we got to Sherman's Planet, the more unavoidable it became to present myself in a more official capacity, the more intimate my encounters with April, with Manx present, and the more confusing it became, the easier it became to notice that something was different about me, the less April seemed to care. There were other things weighing on his mind. His career, for instance, the fact that it was inexorably coming to an end. He didn't have time to build up an outrage against me, what I had allowed to happen, so he overlooked it. Boyce, too, it seemed, had no medical reason to object to my continued services. I felt more alone than ever, this thing happening to me, and no one cared. It was my life!

So why was I forced to carry this burden alone? Jose could only do so much. He knew it, just as well as I did, without forever altering the course of our relationship. Manx had to sustain his professional image, so no matter what he did to help would never be enough, and in that way, his betrayal was worse than Torx could ever have accomplished. When it became known that Torx was in fact waiting for us there, Manx withdrew even further, as if in some cultural way he was now deferring to his countryman. I began to hate him, more than Torx, quite easily as I found it.

If April hadn't gotten that communication from Starfleet Command, things might have turned quite ugly indeed, before we ever reached the planet. The instant he learned that Pike was getting Enterprise, he gave up, however, discovered he had nothing left to lose, and so offered himself as the last prize the Klingons would gain in this cold war.

He cancelled his involvement in Manx's negotiations, and instead set himself up as an independent party, throwing away his mandate, his responsibilities, and any chance that this would end in any happy fashion for me.

Even in a utopia, there's still conflict. There will still be people using other people to advance their own goals, and some of those people will notice, and some of those will care. Even in a utopia, there's conflict. It's a fact of nature. The difference is that in a utopia, conflict does not necessarily affect happiness. People will always find misery on their own terms. So in many ways, Robert April had only himself to thank for his predicament. But that didn't excuse the people who knowingly put him in that position. There was simply no good reason why he had to torture himself like that. I don't know how else he would have done it, from what other black well he might have submerged himself, but I do know that as far as his Starfleet career should have gone, April was born for greatness.

I can guess, I can speculate. A man doesn't achieve success because h'?s born to it, but rather because he's driven, either too hard by others or because he thinks he needs it. Even Jonathan Archer wouldn't have been half as notable, despite his own accomplishments, if he hadn't been the son of the man who took what Zephram Cochrane created and translated it into a truly practical model for Starfleet to use. Here what I know about the April bloodline: In the twenty-first century, when the rest of the world was basically waiting for Cochrane to emerge from his missile silo, the Aprils were salvaging a different relic of the pre-war era, schematics for older-model space vehicles, plans for a ship that would have taken an extended tour of the Solar System. If Cochrane was initially only doing it for the money, and most of the early pioneers were similarly in the stars for purely practical reasons, the Aprils were among the first to reignite the embers of basic curiosity and scientific pursuit. They still wanted to get their feet on planets simply because the planets were there, to expand our horizons and our knowledge.

They were viewed as eccentrics, of course, and history doesn't record their part in the birth of Starfleet, which as far as anyone's concerned is owed to Cochrane and the Vulcans who stumbled into his trajectory, the warp trail heard 'round the universe. For an entire century, humans had the chance to get used to Vulcans, and Vulcans the same with humans, and it seemed like that was the main stumbling block on our course to the next great step, the Federation, good old mindless and needless external conflict. I think I can imagine the Aprils, on their own little odysseys, looking around bewildered by all of it. There's so much made of the Vulcan ambassadors to Earth, we can sometimes forget that there were human ambassadors on Vulcan, and that Sarek's counterpart, the man who introduced him to Amanda Grayson, was April's father, Jackson, who must have left an impression on the child who came to know him as godfather. The whole time I was serving with him, I meant to ask Spock what made him decide to pursue Starfleet. It wasn't as if his was the only Vulcan family to have ever been personally affected by the human race. What were the dominoes that made it inevitable that this particular Vulcan would be the first one to break his people's tradition of serving in their Science Academy, their own fleet? Our year under April's command, aboard the Yorktown, should have provided enough clues, and maybe it did, but I guess I wasn't paying attention. I had too many selfish thoughts consuming me, distracting me.

Even at the conference, when April was willfully destroying the last remnants of his own career, there I was, suffering the last vestiges of my encounter with Torx. April argued that humans had as much a right as Klingons to pursue their own goals, he tried to find reason where there could be no understanding, not yet, not when our rivals could only see us as we saw them, heartless savages with no honor. He sabotaged himself, he sabotaged Manx, and he sabotaged Starfleet. He condemned us to a continuing cold war, a mission to contend with an Empire instead of, or because of, what the Aprils had always sought, regardless of what was happening around them, or the consequences.

Well, a man, and a family, after my own heart. Do I need to spoil my own story by describing my present circumstances? I turned out okay. The...infection did not ruin my life, only my career, and I suppose I should actually thank Torx for that. I'm actually happy. Even if we're good at finding misery, I believe it's always a temporary setback, a way for us to distract ourselves from what we've already got, our way of getting in our own way. We like to blame others, and those others are certainly good at providing reasons, or at least excuses, but the truth is, even temporary misery, no matter how serious it feels, is only that, temporary. You really have to work at it to sustain that feeling, to keep yourself in the circumstances that support that mood. The Aprils knew before any of us how to find utopia, and at the end of the voyages of the Yorktown, were still at it. He was the first of us to leave the fleet, resign or retire, whatever he ended up calling it, and I followed soon after. He settled in back on Earth, quite contentedly, back in the home his family had come from, discovered the schematics, launched out of.

Did I say I never got him to notice me? Well, not for a long time, but there he is, in the next room.

But that's jumping the gun a little. Manx wasn't about to let everyone off quite that easily. He wasn't too happy about April's decisions, or the fact that Torx hadn't properly prepared me. Everything that I had assumed about Manx was wrong, of course, and as much as he was wrong for that conference, and that April was ultimately right for abandoning him, he was also very wrong for me, for my predicament, and far worse than Torx had been. But Torx himself only had to show up to make all of that clear. This is the part you've been waiting for, and you've waited quite long enough now?

We'll set the stage by announcing our real foe at that conference wasn't Klingons, Manx, or Torx, but rather a Romulan saboteur, someone our own crew had previously counted in our number, a would-be ally of Spock's by the name of Tavol. This man was probably the cockroach of the galaxy, never welcome but impossible to get rid of, not really a villain but terminally opposed to every good decision ever presented him, thereby presenting his ambitions as failures from the start and a bad omen every time he crossed your path. It would be easy to blame him for everything, but that would be giving him too much credit. Really, however, I think he would enjoy it. His idea of success was always to provoke a reaction, plain and simple.

From the Journal of Tavol:

The concept of aliens might seem like it would broaden when they become an everyday fact, but you can begin to appreciate how complicated it really is when you consider that Romulans now consider themselves completely removed from the Vulcan race, so that they are as much aliens to us as humans. That wouldn't be very logical from a Vulcan perspective, but then, that's the point. It's all about perspective.

I'm sorry, let me rephrase that: It's all about recognizing the schisms that will always separate one people from another. It's my belief that the people who came to identify themselves as Romulan (or at least, came to be called that) began that journey by deciding it was their mission to broadcast such a message across the universe. What better way than to tell Vulcans there was another approach to life, one that equally subdued a savage nature, but didn't totally eliminate passion? I also think it was our masterstroke to amplify the signal of the first human warp flight so that they would notice. Not that a Vulcan wouldn't to this day insist first contact was achieved because of acute awareness. The wars my people carried on with the humans might be seen as regrettable. We got what we wanted.

Besides, I like humans, I really do. No Romulan, let alone an entire family, has worked more closely. My mother, her brother before her, and eventually myself. I perhaps wasn't as successful, but I don't blame humans, merely Vulcans. Spock. I don't think anyone anticipated that one. He doesn't make sense to anyone, Romulans, Vulcans, humans. Three alien peoples would like to claim him, but none of us ever will.

But as I was saying, I like humans. I regret that my assignment will place them into the sights of another empire, that settling Robert April in Cardassian space will result in another schism. I don't know what form it'll take, but that's not the reason for calculations, nor the target of my career. I expect to have a long one, and retirement will mean a return to the homeworld, to politics. Maybe I'm a failure in some regards, but I am ambitious. I don't anticipate much standing in my way.

That's the reason for calculations, to create the opportunity to get what you want. People will always get in your way, but you will always have an opportunity to prevent them. I dealt with my first human when I disguised myself at the heart of Starfleet Command, as an aide to Andrew Colt, who as an admiral really only had the power he thought he did, which was good enough for my purposes. We Romulans seek positions of authority, but we don't trust authority. Fostering that fear in Starfleet has been one our most important projects, and with Colt, I think I did my people an exceptional favor. He didn't know his best assets, or his best interests. He already distrusted his own family, so perhaps that made it easier. Humans, I think, would make fine Romulans, if only they didn't care so much.

April ended his own career, not as an aged and well-respected veteran, but as a broken, young officer, shot to the top and, to use a human metaphor, clipped of his wings by his own hubris. Best of all, I didn't need to be there, and it involved Klingons. Maybe I wasn't such a failure after all. A man who needs to be present to affect something is the true failure, perhaps. It also involved a pair of troublesome if entirely forgettable aliens, the very kind the Federation is supposed to kindle as friends. I don't even know their species, and I doubt the'?ll be heard from again. Xindi, something like that. I heard them more than once referred to as sloths. From my limited knowledge of human culture, it didn't seem like a compliment. I'm told Colt's daughter had a child by the end of it, clinging to her. A fiasco no Romulan would ever have allowed.

But April would not lose his dignity so easily. By the end of the conference, everyone was talking about him, the way he placed everything on the table, which Starfleet would never have allowed under any other circumstances, virtually handing the Klingons every assurance that their empire would be allowed every liberty, that no planet was barred, as had been the popular tactic in the past. It played right into their hands, of course, but it averted war, too. It was exactly what a human would have done, from their perspective, after an extensive history where every crisis was solved with, well, war. It was human and Romulan at the same time. If anything, we were ashamed because we hadn?t been able to avoid our own war with them. Perhaps proud, too.

This certainly doesn't mean that Romulans will soon join the Federation. There are similarities, common interests, but there are always differences, and Romulans favor schisms. I'm not in favor of the deals we've been making with the Klingons. I don't see the point. Let Empire and Star Empire remain independent. There's no benefit to us except that the Klingons will occupy the attention of the humans, no matter the progress they make in their relations.

I take that back. There's infinite benefit to us, and in the future, another schism. They're always inevitable. I hid myself back into Starfleet life when April brought the U.S.S. Yorktown back to port, because that was a special schism all by itself. Much of his beloved crew went on to join his rival and successor, Christopher Pike, aboard the Enterprise, whose technological advances are not lost on us. We value humans best, perhaps, because they always seem to circumvent impediments to progress, and thus remain an object of interest, even if they are more our natural rivals than our Vulcan brothers.

I was able to laugh, later, as April and his friends exchanged teary farewells. That's the Romulan version of progress. I think it could prove to be infectious. But not too much. How else would you know who the aliens are?


  • "How To Advance Your Career Through Marriage"

When I was five, my father died. I guess I kind of hid it well, but his death never stopped affecting me. I found a father figure in the man I secretly blamed for his death, and tried to do everything to please him, but it was never enough. Oh, it was enough for Captain Picard, but not enough for me. Secretly, I was far too restless to accept the fact that I could have been perfectly happy in my surrogate family. But I knew I never belonged on that ship. It was too limiting for a boy like me. I was a real wiz kid back then. Looking back, I can't see how I didn't bug the hell out of everyone on board. It must have been the captain. Even on a ship with a walking machine and a junior grade officer smart enough to talk his way into the chief engineer's position with only wild ideas and a full set of self-confidence, I stuck out like a sore thumb. It's easy to see why I made friends with both of them, and why they were the easiest to leave behind. Simply put, I didn't need them. I had a harder time convincing myself that I no longer needed the captain's approval. I didn't need my mother's at all. I think I blamed her more than anyone.

When I was fifteen, I met the man everyone ended up calling the Traveler. Even now, I don't have a better name for him. He's never tried to do anything but allow me to be myself. He recognized in an instant what everyone else tried their hardest to ignore, that I wasn't part of anyone else's journey but my own. He visited me infrequently over the course of seven years; I didn't always tell anyone else when he appeared. Twice it couldn't help but be noticed. The first time, he saved my mother, from a mistake I made myself. The second time, he saved me from a mistake I thought I was obligated to make. I was never cut out for Starfleet. How do you tell that to the only people you know, who consider Starfleet a legitimate and unavoidable fact of life? Geordi's parents both served in it. From the moment he was reactivated, Data never questioned that his future would be defined by it. Picard had already spent a lifetime in it, and wouldn't soon be leaving. My mother? Like my father, she had pledged her life to it, like everyone else. She didn't care where it took her, what it demanded of her. She had already betrayed my father long before he was dead, and well after he died, before I could ever know, with Picard. No, I'm not rebelling, not justifying. But things need to be said.

Starfleet believed that it didn't need me. I don't care what the captain said, how many times it took him to gain admittance. On his recommendation alone, I should have entered the first year I was eligible. Instead, an archaic system told me and a roomful of other worthy candidates that we were lucky just to be applicants. This isn't arrogance, it's simple fact. Why turn away assets? I would have studied in the farthest satellite branch of the Academy. How do you say that you have too many explorers, too many bright minds in an age that has made a mockery of limitations, when an alien comes knocking to say, even in its highest state of perfection in history, that humanity is too limited to be allowed further existence?

The Traveler did me a favor, he gave me another way to explore my potential. I wouldn't blame anyone for failing to understand any of it. Looking back, I was a little more than precocious, but even then, I should have known that I never fit in on that ship, that any opportunity that presented itself would have been just as much a solution as the Traveler turned out to be. The Academy certainly wasn't. I wasted more time there than I'm willing to admit, even now. All I did there was get into trouble. I had no outlet there, only classrooms to sleep in and maneuvers to perform. What I did in my off-hours was far more useful. I filled notepads with equations and theories, but found no outlet in which to test them. A cynical observer might have suggested I had proven in the past that my idea of scientific progress had gotten me into more trouble than it was worth, but what's progress when it's docile, when it's tame? What's a little bit of living when all you do is play it safe?

I know it'll sound silly coming from anyone who's actually been around me, but I'm an adventurer. I come off a little nebbish, incapable of inspiring anyone with anything but my ideas. In person, I'm hard to take seriously, and would probably be a little hard to stand to read about. But my mind is always racing. I can't help it. Most of the time, it's in all the practical ways that no one else is capable of understanding, but would take for granted if it were an everyday, established sort of thing, the way transporters and warp fields are, even though three hundred years ago they would still have been science fiction. When I think about the way Cochran was, that's sort of person who inspires me, the kind of person I want to be. Flippant, but genius, hard to take seriously but hard to ignore, hard-living but hard-thinking. It's hard to see how any of that makes sense, but that's what an apocalypse will do. He lived in an era that's the polar opposite of the one I inhabit. War had devastated his world, one that had developed without anyone noticing. Nowadays, you have to travel clear to another quadrant of the galaxy to be surprised like that, like the Borg, or the Dominion. But the Borg are exactly the kind of thing I want to explore, not run away from, or fight. The one thing I admire about Picard is that he was assimilated and lived to tell about it. But there are other Borg like that now. I want a chance to get close to Annika Hansen, and it has nothing to do with her physiology. You won't hear that from many heterosexual males of the modern age. I envy Vulcans. I want to understand Deltans. I wonder why Data wants so desperately to be human. I guess you could say I'm the least likely outsider there is. I rebelled just when it looked like I had gotten everything I wanted.

You want to know the weirdest part? I ended up going back to Starfleet. After years of exploring my potential on my own terms, seeing and doing countless wonders that no engineer could duplicate in a single lifetime, I decided to go back to where it all began. I sat in a classroom through to graduation, and was happy to do it. I knew what my goal was, finally. I wanted exactly what Picard had. All the years I sat listening to his stories, I never appreciated how closely his journey reflected what I so badly desired. He had started out just as angry and restless as I was inside, but never admitted to anyone. He made all the mistakes I did, but in ways that couldn't be ignored. He got his heart stabbed through in a bar fight, and had to have it artificially replaced. He chose the replacement despite the fact that medical knowledge could have fixed the one he had, to remind himself. It required constant, embarrassing maintenance, and he lived with it. In a way, he dulled himself into the very direction his android friend would later try so hard to distance himself from. Some might have called it maturity. Me, I came to understand it as caution. He stopped trusting himself. Me, I was a reflection of everything he'd denied himself. He saw my chance to grow as his chance to live again. He made me his family, and was betrayed when I rejected him.

So I didn't exactly try to rejoin his crew, even though he would have welcomed me warmly back, despite everything. It wouldn't have been the same, but he wouldn't have cared. Besides, I had nothing to offer him anymore. I had my own quest. In some ways, I could have entered security, offering Starfleet innovations they could never have dreamed of in that regard. I could have helped its offices begin their fledgling exploration of time, which would quickly become just as big a part of Starfleet's mandate as space.

But the next time I saw that family, I was just visiting. It was the wedding everyone had thought would happen, but like my own life, had seemingly done everything to avoid. During the course of the ensuing days, the captain was confronted with a clone of himself, who represented everything he had tried to deny about himself. The android made the most calculated, inhuman decision of his life, gambling that he could sacrifice himself, yet continue living, some else's life. I doubt anyone else could properly understand what happened, how fitting it all was, why I had to be there, but have almost nothing to do with it. I thought about the Traveler then, how he had done everything to continue his inconspicuous existence, except make a few comments here and there, which seemed harmless at the time, but would have their effect, in time. If you could have overheard my comments at the reception party, you would have heard me tell Data, "Sometimes, it's not so bad to be a little different." You would have heard me tell the captain, "Sometimes, it's not so bad to be a little less remote." It's what they needed to hear, it's what they already knew, but that doesn't mean it was any less difficult to accept. How do you tell the people who seem to know everything that they still have plenty to learn?

Who's going to listen to me, anyway? You wouldn't believe what kind of man I became. I stopped trying to save the day in every emergency. In a way, I did become a little like Picard, I started to let others do the work. It wasn't a matter of trust, it wasn't that I couldn't or didn't want to do it myself. The captain had started doing a lot of it himself, long after he didn't have to. He found that he liked doing it after all. He quit second-guessing himself, right after the last example he needed that he wasn't perfect. Why should he bother pretending that he wasn't? It just wasn't worth it anymore.

I learned that lesson before he did. I never wanted to tell him that. I didn't want to rub it in. I learned modesty by spending a lot of time by myself. I had no one else to talk to, so I told myself everything, and eventually grew quite satisfied with my audience. It was the only one I needed. The Traveler had long moved on, soon after the day I quit Starfleet. I could have joined the Maquis if I wanted, but I knew there wasn't a point to their cause, anymore than wanting to preserve an Indian civilization four hundred years after it stopped being necessary. I was the next step to all of it. This isn't hubris. But I began to see that even as the next step in the evolution of humanity, I had to work with the rest of it eventually, either to help it get there (impossible) or to temper myself (possible).

Why did I return to Starfleet? Because I wanted to see what I could do as an officer, what my choices might be in the same situations I had observed as a boy, a youth eager to please and innovate but never exactly challenge. Only after I had completely rejected my future was I free to embrace it.

When I was five, my father died, and I spent a lot of time ignoring that fact, pretending that it wouldn't define me, and for a long time, nobody thought of his poor dead father when they heard the name Wesley Crusher. I can only imagine the name the Traveler used to have, but I can imagine to a greater degree that he was running away from something, too. I learned long ago that for his people, the designation Traveler is as common as any role in Starfleet. In a way, becoming an officer is exactly what I was meant to do, but not in any way that anyone else ad ever imagined. That's what I was meant to do, do something common in an entirely uncommon way. To anyone else, certainly at that reception party, and everyone I once knew, I was just another member of Starfleet. But like the Traveler, I like to think I'm so much more than that. I'm seeing just what potential really means, and I'm not letting anyone tell me limit me anymore. Yeah, sure, my father died when I was very young. I never did get to know him, just little glimpses here and there, but that's why it was so easy to accept the Traveler as my mentor. I never had anyone there to tell me what I did and did not have to do. I had to mature a little, but even at five, I knew that the basic fact of my existence wasn't that my father died, but that I continued living. It's not about being cold, detached, uncaring. It's about knowing that there's more to life than anyone else can tell you. Everyone else around me, on that ship, was always missing something. I stuck out because I wasn't, even though for all the world I should have. That's what made me who I am, long before I knew how to express it. I never had to justify myself to anyone, and that's what I had to realize.

  • "The Man Who Loved Earl Grey Tea (Hot)

The Man Who Loved Earl Grey Tea (Hot)

During the Third World War, vintners in Labarre, France were forced to temporarily close down their vineyards.  The Picard family were particularly distraught at this; in fact, it was a village joke that they were more upset about their wine output being stymied for a few years than the economic recession that had preceded the period.  The English cooperated with the local battalions to secure the countryside, and left what might have been considered a plague in their wake: a newfound local interest in tea.  Most of the Picards, true stalwarts of tradition and distrustful of change, never participated in the newfound obsession, but it was a secret that was carried on until the birth of Jean-Luc Picard two centuries later, when his favorite uncle shared cups with him during their annual weekends in London, where Jean-Luc enjoyed the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances.

But he grew up with his head in the clouds and his feet firmly planted on the earth.  He fully expected to live his life in Labarre, carrying on a family tradition that stretched back generations, loathing every minute of it, resenting his brother, even while his brother envied him.  He looked into his family’s history, to try and find some solace, and discovered true nobility, or as he appreciated it, warriors…He grew rebellious, and dared to tell his father that he wanted more, that he wanted to travel the stars.  The last time he saw his uncle, he used their trip as an excuse to take the Academy entrance exam for the first time.  It was his nerves that cost him that opportunity.  It was his resolve that helped him succeed the second time.  He never told his friends the truth, except for Louis.  Only Louis could see the allure of strange new worlds, because he was able to find them right on Earth.


He was one of the best athletes in his class, so that gave him perhaps more cockiness than even his brother Robert would ever have suspected possible.  He was a star at everything he tried, and would even have competed at the Olympics had Starfleet cadets been eligible, so he had to settle for the San Francisco Games, held on Academy grounds every spring.  In his graduating year, Jean-Luc wrestled a Nausicaan.  It was the second time he had ever seen one (the first to attend, first to drop out), following on the heels of an incident during his third year when he challenged one during a training mission on Nausica.  The groundskeeper at the Academy, Boothby, was the only one who could convince him to apologize, the failure to do so would have jeopardized his career at best, provoked war at worst.  It wasn’t until the third encounter with a Nausicaan, with Jean-Luc at his most confident, when he was truly forced to consider just how wise Boothby really had been.

He had been living a life without limits for as long as he knew, always indulged by his father, his uncle, even his instructors.  Only Boothby seemed to speak any real truth to him, and at the time, Jean-Luc almost hadn’t cared.  He’d done what the groundskeeper had suggested cynically, and was pleased to find that it worked, but by the time he was accepting his first posting, waiting at Starbase Earhart with his friends and feeling like he could take on the whole Klingon Empire, being stabbed through the heart was the last time he needed to be reminded that his life was not, after all, charmed.  “Jean-Luc,” Boothby had told him, “everyone lives like they’re the most important person in the galaxy.  The trick is to know you’re not.”  He kept his artificial heart as a reminder that a little humility didn’t hurt, long after countless medical journals espoused the potential to regrow his original one.  It wasn’t eugenics Jean-Luc feared, along with the majority of the Federation, but what he might become if he forgot the lesson.  He didn’t want to become his brother, fearful of change, of being his own person, but he learned to develop patience, perhaps even wisdom.

One of the ways he trained himself in this regard was to indulge himself in the most patient hobby he knew, and that was archeology, which he and Louis had pursued under the tutelage of Richard Galen in his formative years.  He shifted his Starfleet priorities from what the admirals might expect of him and started seeking every opportunity to explore indigenous cultures.  For Jean-Luc, it wasn’t the new life forms and their civilizations that interested him, but what they might say about his own.  He started exhibiting what might be considered leadership potential as he led away teams on his little expeditions, always working with the locals to his and their mutual advantage.  The first ones to notice were the Vulcan officers he happened to serve with, and this gave him numerous offers to visit their home planet, after he helped investigate a modern excavation of P’Jem.  Eventually, he was offered one of his highest honors in the attendance at the wedding of Ambassador Sarek’s son.

One thing that Boothby couldn’t do was cure Jean-Luc of his intractable solitude.  Even while attending that wedding, he was courting a young woman named Jenice he would never dream of marrying, even though he would regret it for years.  He just couldn’t bring himself to open his private life to someone else.  This didn’t mean he couldn’t form friendships, as he’d proven early with Louis, but that such relationships were rare.  Onboard the Stargazer, Jean-Luc formed a tremendous bond with Jack Crusher, who was then serving with his wife Beverly.  Jean-Luc could never say whether it was Jack who interested him, or his wife, and it haunted him greatly.  All the same, Jean-Luc and Jack were inseparable.  The more dangerous the mission, the more they seemed to rise to the occasion.  It was said that the fleet hadn’t seemed a more remarkable pairing since Kirk and Spock.  But when the captain of the ship was killed in an incident with the Klingons, Jean-Luc was given his first command, and became more reluctant to carry on in such a fashion.  Tragically, Jack still became a casualty, which might, if Jean-Luc had consulted with anyone in his grief, had convinced him his reasoning was again flawed, but he withdrew even further.  When his ship was lost, he almost abandoned his career and retreated back to Labarre.  If it hadn’t been for the presence of Phillipa Louvois at the court martial, things might have been different for him.  Phillipa was another failed romance, and owing to his continued guilt over Jack’s death and his lingering feelings for Beverly, Jean-Luc thought he owed it to himself to soldier on.

After twenty years as captain of the Stargazer, he had developed a seniority in the Starfleet pool, which meant that when the Enterprise-D was commissioned, Command felt it was only natural to give him the flagship.  In the past, this had been an important posting, given to a younger officer, but with Klingon tensions stagnant, the time seemed ready to award it to a more methodical individual, who might serve better as a diplomat than warrior.  Jean-Luc was assured that he’d be an explorer, and could indulge himself when assembling his crew.  He couldn’t help recruiting Beverly as his medical officer, but told himself that his selection of William Riker as his first officer was adequate compensation, an eager young man who might be called to replace him should Starfleet change tacks.  Like his superiors, Jean-Luc didn’t expect a lot of problems.

Where to begin about how wrong he was?  Beverly brought with her a son, Jack’s son, who instantly and constantly put him on edge, called to minds specters, not only of dead friends but what he might have become if he’d had a little more discipline at that age, a brilliant mind, perhaps a true contribution to history…The Romulans chose his first year at the helm to awaken from their slumber.  The mysterious entity Q put humanity on trial, choosing Jean-Luc to answer for the hubris of a species.  The Borg Collective emerged from the Delta Quadrant.  How the Romulans, Q, and the Borg all converged in the same moment, to challenge Jean-Luc and everything he knew, was not only unprecedented, but a true test of his mettle.  He was surprised and pleased with himself to learn he was ready, as was his crew.

The Klingon, Worf, was never supposed to be part of his command staff, but like Jean-Luc himself, was promoted to the inner circle by death, and it was a relationship that proved more fruitful than he could guess, opening a direct channel to Klingon politics, which proved an arena well-suited for him, which solidified his reputation and worthiness to command the flagship.  But first…But first there was the Collective.


During the time he was known as Locutus, Jean-Luc found that he had a lot of time to think.  He reflected on his career, his life, the mistakes he’d made, the successes he’d enjoyed, but most of all, the things he’d never properly had time to mull over.  That was the cruel irony of his time in the Collective, when his own Starfleet was forced to think of him as the enemy.

During his time commanding the Stargazer, he and Jack had gotten it into their heads that they could solve the Romulan riddle.  They would be the ones to figure out why the Star Empire had gone into seclusion.  Jack figured it was because the Romulans had grown increasingly embarrassed of their former association with the Klingons, and given his own experience with that Empire, Jean-Luc was certainly inclined to agree.  He didn’t tell Jack, but he supplemented his hobby, and his connections to the Vulcans, with a look into Romulan history.  Having to keep it all so secretive, it made him reflect on some human pastimes as well.  It was during this time he first looked into the detective novels of Dixon Hill.  It felt only natural.  One day, he received a priority communiqué from Starfleet Command, discreetly telling him to put a stop to his extracurricular activities.  He didn’t have to wonder what it meant.  He never stopped to wonder in that period if the Romulans stopped to watch him, too.

He thought about Dixon, how the holodecks starting to become standard on starships when he assumed command of the Enterprise helped him explore the character like never before, a latent extension of a long-ago dream of a career in the theater, which he’d briefly pursued at the Academy, before his instructors made it known, with discretion of course, that the stage was an unnecessary distraction, which he’d never understood.  As an adolescent, he’d managed to balance academics and Shakespeare quite exceptionally, starring in a production of Romeo & Juliet.  His father had remarked, typically, that the role was only too appropriate for such a head-strong son.  Jean-Luc never lost the accent he picked up that summer, which he’d secretly been working on his whole life, thanks to his uncle…

As Locutus, all he could do was think about the past, because it was never Jean-Luc, never himself, in control.  That’s what he told him, repeatedly, later.  Yet he was always there, like the siren call of the Borg Queen, which somehow let him know that he was not just another drone, that he was allowed this special privilege, individual thought, individual…torment.  He did what he was told, a cruel parody of his life in Starfleet, seeking new life indeed.  He had actually wanted this mission to succeed, to conquer humanity and assimilate it into this new experience.

When he was rescued, when the link was severed and his body returned to him, it was his mind he felt slipping away.  That was irony, too, because the whole time, he thought he had retained that, even when he was forced to act against his will, watching himself do terrible things, say unspeakable things.  He had been an observer in his own body.  Then he became an automaton in an entirely difference sense.  He rushed back into Starfleet routine, insistent that it was what he needed.  Only later, when he traveled back to Earth, could he admit the truth, to his brother of all people, to Robert.  He would never have the words to describe it.  His crew, they would always trust him, believe in him.  But the rest of the fleet?  The rest of humanity?  There would always be a lingering doubt.  He commanded the flagship, but trust?  He wondered if that would ever return.

For a lot of people, it would be easy to forget.  They would have to be reminded, like a footnote, the circumstances surrounding Earth’s averted assault from the Borg.  They would never remember whose face had appeared on every starship at Wolf 359, before so much of the fleet was destroyed.  That was life.  Don’t dwell on the negative.  Accentuate the positive.  Believe in hope.  Believe in possibility.  But for some, it would linger.  What did his Starfleet profile say?  He could never again bring himself to look at it.  There had been a time when Jean-Luc obsessively followed everything written about him, even after the loss of the Stargazer, when he thought he had reached the very worst moment of his life.  He’d even laughed at the reports after the fight that cost him his heart, just as he’d done in the presence of the Nausicaans themselves.

Confronted again with the Borg over the years, he found that he could gradually see them in the same detached light as the Collective itself viewed existence, how life didn’t mean anything unless it was assimilated, could add some useful insight.  He had a chance to wipe them all out, and he let that chance slip away.  What had happened to him?  Perhaps he was thinking of another problem that he could never seem to escape, the entity known as Q, who constantly challenged him, like Boothby, to look beyond his limited perspective, no matter how hard it could be, to see the complexities, the possibilities.  He could tolerate Q, he could survive the Borg.  He had traveled very far, and that was what he had always wanted, even if he’d seldom stopped to wonder why, why he was always so curious, why so restless.  Was he running from everything, every truth, every comfort, hiding in plain sight and seeming to do so well for himself?

A scientist made him think about what his perfect existence might be.  It came about at the same time his brother and the only chance the Picard line had to extend into the future, perished in flame.  The scientist had discovered a means toward immortality, the ultimate dream for a soul like Jean-Luc’s, and it was nothing like he’d ever imagined, to exist forever and have everything he’d ever wanted.  He got caught up in that dream, and found himself with a family.  He marveled at a Christmas dinner, a full table, and the knowledge that he was somehow still serving out his career.  For a moment, he was caught up in it, but an old friend made herself known in a flicker that couldn’t be explained, not even in all that magic.

He’d known Guinan for so long, he had sometimes taken her for granted.  When he’d first gotten his artificial heart, when it seemed like he might begin feeling sorry for himself, she had been there, for all intents just another nurse in the infirmary.  But Guinan was not just another nurse; in fact it soon became apparent that she was no nurse at all, but a volunteer, a kind soul who gave comfort when and where she felt it was necessary.  She saw something in Jean-Luc’s eyes she’d never experienced before, a resolution that seemed out of place, even in the body of a young man who seemed ready to break the rest of the way, trying to recover but still threatening to slip.  She asked him what he was feeling, and he told her that he had a future waiting for him.  Then she told him that he needed to stop fooling himself, and just sit there for a while.  She’d wait with him.  Nothing so complicated as taking a moment for himself.  She told him that she’d get whatever he wanted, and he said a cup of tea would be nice.  He told her in exchange, any time he could do a favor for her, she would only have to ask.  When he accepted the Enterprise, he got a message saying that she was into bartending now, and she’d heard his new ship had room for something like that.  Neither one ever really had to vocalize the relationship, but the years made its value increase.

When she appeared in that dream, it helped him realize what was really going on, helped him regain focus, and as he’d always done, set about the necessary work of his life, to quit feeling sorry for himself and accept that wherever he was, that’s where he was needed.  When he was again confronted with the Borg, thrown into circumstances that would initiate the Collective’s interest in humanity, he found in himself the capacity to put all his fears and doubts behind him.  He finally stopped chasing after the world.

When he was confronted with a mirror image of himself, what he had been, what he might have become, he was shaken, however.  He didn’t know what he should do.  He didn’t have the words.  He tried to say what he thought he should, but it only made matters worse.  This corrupted version of himself knew everything Jean-Luc did.  He was a clone, and although he didn’t have the memories, he had the same dreams.  What Jean-Luc failed to express was the idea of potential, because potential was all he saw.  Potential, as he had learned, wasn’t just an idea, something that could be learned, but something that was already there, if only he could get out of his own way.  He couldn’t tell this Shinzon, this human created by Romulans, raised by Remans, terrorized for years out of his own dreams, that he couldn’t force greatness on himself, much less anyone else.  When he learned how Shinzon had come into the position that had led to their meeting, he would come to regret how he had handled everything.  He would see where he had failed.

It was a small comfort, the continuing grace of his life, for Jean-Luc to again see how fallible, how human he really was, because it allowed him to appreciate the opportunities he could still embrace, the reason he had pursued the explorer’s life in Starfleet, despite every setback, how he continually surrounded himself with those who nurtured his growth, both by accident and design, more the former than he’d care to admit.  It’s why he kept a fish in his ready room, just so he could watch as it floated, so apparently randomly, about, flickering directions.  At times, he could spend hours just waiting for it to move at all.  There were so many other things he could be doing with that time.  But he always preferred to believe he wasn’t wasting it.  He didn’t believe life could be wasted at all.  There was always some hidden meaning, just waiting to be discovered.

And so, Jean-Luc Picard, many years into a full and long life, sat in a room aboard a ship called the Enterprise, wondering what would happen next.

  • "Broken Blinds and Chimney Pots"

“They want you back,” Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard said.  “They don’t want to argue.”

“I wish I could accommodate them,” she said.

“It’s not a question of what you want,” Picard said.  “I think there was a doctor once who said it best: ‘They’re drafting you,’ as I generously paraphrase.  You’re not allowed to turn them down. You’re seen as too valuable an asset.”

“Funny, that’s the not the impression my previous tenure told me,” she said.  “It’s easy when you get all the easy assignments, when your disasters are so high-profile they can’t help but love you.  I’m not going to lie to you.  I feel burned, and I was never given a bandage, not even by your doctor friend.”

“They’re not what you think,” Picard said.  “They’re not the enemy.”

“Are we talking about the Romulans, or the fleet?”

“Robin, I cannot begin to express the regret I feel at the treatment you have previously experienced,” Picard said.  “As you are aware, even as the captain of the flagship, I had my share of grievances as well.  I recognize and appreciate that you were never in so privileged a circumstance, but I assure you that I have never done less than given my full support to you and the former members of your crew, some of whom continue to be assets to the fleet, whether it is noticed or not.  Your previous assistance on Romulus has unfortunately become more valuable than ever.  As the Federation’s representative to Vulcan, I cannot do this myself.  But as a personal favor, I would like you to do it for me, if for no other reason.”

Staring into the viewscreen on her desk, Robin Matheson allowed herself a small smile, for the ambassador’s benefit, a reassurance she refused to utter aloud.  She would get the band back together, for the first time in six years.  “But on one condition,” she said.  “We bring the Copernicus back out of mothballs.”


Three years after the Dominion revolution, the Cardassian known as Pentek was in a far different place in his life.  The peace he had been attempting to make in his tortured mind, the reconciliation with the sins of his past and the potential of the future, they had brought him to Romulus, where he met with a Reman named Neerok, who had once been praetor of the Star Empire.  Then disaster struck, a world was lost, and everything he thought he’d known was thrown out of the book.  He learned how Ambassador Spock’s disappearance, the last hope for unification of the Vulcan races, had shattered the last hopes of the surviving Romulans, and saw an opportunity.  He would have his redemption after all, but at the cost of some potentially fatal maneuvering.  He would have to meet with an old friend, but this was a friend in the Cardassian sense, a matter of opportunity and interpretation.  He would have to meet with Douglas Velar.


The Klingon warrior known as Guerin was unknowingly following a parallel course to Pentek’s activities.  Since the loss of his son and the necessity to murder Gird himself to preserve his honor, Guerin had been pursuing much the same life he had previously been so disappointed to see his son attempt.  He had sought out Worf, son of Mogh, if not out of respect than to demonstrate to Starfleet that he acknowledged past efforts for a Klingon to assimilate into their organization.  He did not like the idea of attending the Academy at a relatively advanced age, since it was common only for youths to apply themselves on those grounds, but found an instructor there, Laurie Nicholson, who would pledge herself as his advisor.  He was three years into his studies when he was approached by Nicholson’s friend, Ethan Chenoweth, who said he had looked over Guerin’s files and noticed his experience as a field medic, that it could be applied to his credits.  If he agreed to serve with Chenoweth, he was offered early graduation.  Guerin didn’t hesitate.  All he asked was Chenoweth’s current assignment, which he soon learned was ongoing relief efforts in Romulan space.  For a moment, he second-guessed himself, but decided his new life meant he should put aside old prejudices.  He had never considered that redemption was even necessary, but the more he considered where his life had taken him in recent years, the more he couldn’t help reflecting that it was something he actively sought.


 Having finished the Salient assignment, Lewis Rivera contemplated retiring from Starfleet, no longer feeling compelled to serve, no longer interested in participating in the rash of conflicts that seemed to swarm around that life.  He just wanted some peace.  He was aware of recent events that had rocked the Federation of its neighbors, and that his old commanding officer, Robin Matheson, had been asked to come out of her own retirement to help deal with them, but he was done worrying about her.  It wasn’t that he resented how his association with her had dulled his career, since by most accounts he had still enjoyed a successful one.  He never stopped supporting her, either; if anything, he was disappointed that she never put up more of a fight for her own reputation.  If he could be persuaded to care at all, he wanted a better reason, if not to care exactly, than why he should get involved personally.  He saw all the efforts going on and appreciated them, especially that Starfleet recognized that Matheson could be an asset again.  If anything, he was proud.  Perhaps his career had in time come to be seen as a testament to her worth.  Maybe that was all he needed to do, what he had already done.  He had a new assignment on his desk at the moment.  It was his to either choose to accept, or to finalize the retirement.

He never expected a visit from Harmon Franzoni.


For some reason, the regular cycle of Hollan’Das’ return was interrupted.  It was more of an awareness at this point than something she could do anything about.  As part of her people’s form of existence, she was at the moment disembodied thought.  She couldn’t communicate with the outside world anymore than it could with her.  She could have no idea why it was happening, only that it was.  She would learn more soon enough.


He liked to think of himself as the unredeemed captive, trapped between worlds he never quite fit into.  His name was Joel Nelson, and that was pretty much all he was certain about.  He’d failed miserably as a Maquis, and had remained thoroughly unspectacular as a member of Starfleet, cursed, or so he believed, by a strange of bad choices and circumstances that never ended up favoring him.  It was all his father’s fault.

Nelson’s father had been an admiral of the fleet by fifty, and served in that capacity for twenty years.  Nelson had been born to this honorable officer two years after, a miracle even in that age, when the exception of the hundred-year-old commander could still raise the eyebrow.  He was told stories of the Enterprise first officer who barely held that post a year before he was being pestered for his own command, which he refused for almost as long as Nelson’s father sat around making those kinds of decisions.  Nelson would come home and see the dinner table filled with data pads commemorating the accomplishments and futures of everyone Nelson was told he should emulate.  Even in retirement, Nelson’s father was busier than he could ever dream of becoming.  It wasn’t that it was a lot to live up to, Nelson just plain wasn’t interested.

He was never bad as that Tom Paris, whom all his friends told him he was like.  He met Paris once or twice, even during the brief period where they were both Maquis.  No, Nelson was no Tom Paris.  He wasn’t even a Nick Locarno.  He never caused the death of anyone.  He was probably worse.  Through no discernable character flaws, just an utter lack of luck, he amounted very quickly to nothing, a disappointment he was content to be, losing every friend, regretting their absence, never understanding why they didn’t stick around, and generally still pretty happy with himself.  If anyone bothered to think about him at all, they still probably wouldn’t have summed Joel Nelson up with the one word that mattered: pathetic.  He wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

That’s how he saw it, anyway, in his weakest moments.  Someone else’s interpretation of his father would probably have been vastly different.  They would have seen an old man who’d coasted through his career, a lack of ambition leading to a go-nowhere position with no real authority, something that kept him happy, and his son liked enough but never offered anything better.  What were the chances he was much better?  They knew he was, but they also knew Nelson didn’t, not in any meaningful way.  There were conversations for years that a reunion with Paris might be a good idea.  There were whispers that of all Matheson’s sorry crew, if Nelson had been there at Haley Minor, he might have been able to salvage everything.  He had the instinct.  He just never had the opportunity.  Sometimes, bad things happen to give good things the chance they need to develop.

So instead of redeeming himself in some spectacular fashion, Nelson left Starfleet after a string of bad missions with the Copernicus and tried to settle into meaningless mediocrity.  He left all of them behind, even old friends like Wynton Keynes.  He didn’t want reminders.  He stopped talking with his father, with other former Maquis.  He stopped following the developments of the Gnomon intifada.  Now and then, he heard things, and he chose to ignore them.  He planted himself firmly on the ground, Tyco City under the dome, and spent his days reading books.  He’d had his fill of holographic fantasies and computer screens.  All the thoughts of his imagination these days centered on idle thoughts of what his counterpart in some alternate reality might be doing.  It wasn’t about daydreaming, but rather participating in one of the few expanding fields of current study that still interested him.  He’d long been told of one such reality, where humanity had once ruled an empire, lost it, and slowly fought for its freedoms again.  He wondered if his alternate might even now be struggling to create that empire again.  He’d once met a man named Adam Ghoeller who claimed to know that he was a Klingon there.

This theoretical “mirror Nelson” was a man of some importance, who commanded respect, who was even captain of his own ship, which he would have had well before humanity had won its freedom back, like that reality’s Benjamin Sisko.  Nelson had heard his reality’s Sisko had disappeared some twenty years back, but his son had been keeping his flame alive, in a series of books, the very ones he read now.  He had an itch to do some writing himself now, if only he knew anyone in the publishing industry.  He didn’t like the idea of going unread.  Too much redundancy.

Jake Sisko had begun writing Ferengi tales, which baffled much of his readership, but didn’t bother Nelson at all.  He liked reading about different cultures, and the younger Sisko wrote with such passion and conviction, and such a deep knowledge, Nelson had half a mind to believe much of it was true, despite how unlikely it was for the former Grand Nagus Zek to have had a secret offspring who’d been involved in so much of the Dominion War without anyone knowing about it.  He thought to write Nagus Rom about it, or perhaps Jake’s old friend, Captain Nog.  Nelson thought about the Crown Nagus Lem so much that he became convinced that the Ferengi lived next door, that if he looked around corners a split second sooner he might catch him.


As it was, Lem actually existed, and did in fact live next door to Nelson, though he was as completely unaware of the Sisko tales as he was that someone who savored them so much was just around every corner.  No, Lem was far more concerned with the news he’d heard, that the Great Material Continuum was finally working in his favor.  He was about to acquire the most legendary of galactic weapons, the so-called Romulan Borg prototype.  He didn’t know what he was going to do with the drone once it actually showed up, but for once, he could stop thinking about that moon his father had never managed to get him…


Matheson sat in the runabout, accompanied by her trusted Vulcan physician Sokor and new first officer Eno Rimel, the first Nyberrite to serve in Starfleet.  They were headed to Epsilon Station 12, the first time Matheson had been to one of them since serving at ES1 with her late mentor, Gerald Logan.  She hadn’t had a chance to meet Eno before this trip, but she was reluctant to start a line of dialogue now.  Awaiting them at ES12 wasn’t just the Copernicus but Admiral Strynn, an Andorian who had also once been her XO.  It was an uncomfortable time all around for Matheson to dwell on the subject, since she’d just heard that Harmon Franzoni had been found dead, and Lewis Rivera was missing.  Eno was more likely to ask if the position was cursed than engage in small talk.  As it was, she was already keeping her distance, having introduced herself as the cousin of Genfirins Nem, the freighter captain who had once flown with Wynton Keynes, who was to be their new navigator, over Matheson’s own objections.  It wasn’t a grudge against a man who stirred too many bad memories, but rather the hope that the captain might still have convinced Joel Nelson to return.  There were precious few allies awaiting her on this mission, beyond the doctor, John Zimmer, and Louis Hounsou, the latter two already awaiting the party aboard ship.

It smelled like nothing but trouble, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that it had been a mistake to agree to the mission, regardless of the goodwill it engendered the Federation during a time it could really use a little of that with the Star Empire.  Among the few survivors to escape the destruction of Romulus was the Reman she had once helped become praetor, Neerok, but even he was, to say the least, reluctant to hear what his tenuous allies might have to say in the rebuilding process.  Matheson had been there to help him during another time of upheaval in the political scene, but this was worse.  The Romulans had refused assistance even from the Klingons, who in their eyes weren’t even partially culpable in the disaster.  It wasn’t about his own position this time, or even the Remans, but about Neerok’s ability to ensure a future for his people.  Why should be trust Matheson again?


Ethan Chenoweth and Guerin also awaited the captain’s arrival at ES12, but at the moment they were not scheduled to be a part of the Copernicus crew.  Rather, they were there to monitor the appearance of Hollan’Das, something even Matheson wasn’t aware of, though for years she had unofficially served as the unusual Starfleet officer’s guardian.  As the only representative of her people in the fleet, Hollan’Das had been a constant learning experience from the start, but she had been a fairly predictable one up until her failure to appear three years earlier.  At first, it had been assumed that it was because her tether, the Copernicus, had been decommissioned and there was no formal arrangement in place that had chosen a new spot for her to make her appearance, but when no trace could be found of her anywhere, not even at the default Academy grounds (where her friend Laurie Nicholson might have expected her), Starfleet set up its own network to investigate.  Nicholson and Chenoweth were asked onboard to be consultants, but it was Guerin who made the breakthrough, tracing back her original appearance to Romulan space, where a Bolian ship had first encountered her, before Matheson had had a chance to make her acquaintance.

If everything went according to plan this time, Hollan’Das, Chenoweth, and Guerin might join the Copernicus crew after all, assuming there were no further complications Hollan’Das might bring to light, and Matheson agreed to this potential complication to an already uneasy situation.  Though they had been called to Romulan space for other reasons, it hadn’t been long before they realized they had a new purpose.  Guerin was already taking the telltale neutrino readings that hailed her return, as ES12 received word of the runabout carrying the captain making an imminent arrival.  He was secretly pleased that he might be able to greet her with some happy news, having discovered a newfound appreciation of pleasure for its own sake, rather than the more familiar rush he might have welcomed from the battlefield.  He called for Chenoweth so that they could both witness the event, and within minutes of the doctor’s arrival, Hollan’Das had shimmered back into this plain of existence.

She seemed more troubled than Chenoweth could remember from his prior experiences of these events.  She didn’t want to talk, but rather retreat back into seclusion, to whatever quarters she’d been assigned.  Guerin was the one to insist on more, not because he was feeling a swell of pride that he wanted acknowledged, but out of some sense of paternal concern, which he was unwilling to admit to himself.  Gently, he pressed the issue.

Finally, she relented.  “There’s trouble,” she said.  “I think I know now why I’ve been drawn to your reality all these years.  It was something that occurred to me while I was in my dormant state, like a suggestion someone had whispered into my ear.  I think it’s what disrupted my cycle.  It was a reluctance on my part to accept it, and I apologize for that.  Robin Matheson has an enemy, and she needs to be warned.”


Let’s not be confused on this point: Zimmer and Hounsou converged on the project quite separately.  They never had an intention to collaborate, their obsessions being too singular and too personal for it to have ever been more likely than mere coincidence.  After the original decommissioning ceremony, John Zimmer left the service for a time, saying he had some things to catch up with, which really meant that he was finally going to seriously pursue Anna Soong, with whom he’d once collaborated in a vain attempt to complete her father’s work.  They shared an obsession, too, attempting to dissuade certain engineers from making Data the dominant personality in the recently recovered final Soong android, B-4.  The moment John had heard of its discovery, he stopped caring about his career anyway, as if his life was suddenly back on track again, or at least on track for the first time.  It had all seemed to make so much sense, as if it was his destiny.  But the moment Anna told him the roadblocks that had already been put in place, he realized everything was still the same, at least, the things that were still out of his control.  For once, he grew to accept that some things were.

Louis Hounsou, meanwhile, relished a chance to serve as an instructor, for a time, at the Academy, as part of the program now more extensive than ever covering the Borg Collective.  Where Annika Hansen remained aloof and disinterested in participating directly, Hounsou found it easy to use her logs and the reports of the Voyager’s activities in the Delta Quadrant to share his existing knowledge in a more useful way than had been possible in the past.  Just as he was beginning to feel a sense of purpose, he was told that there were certain elements who didn’t agree with his approach, more specifically on the matters he insisted on breaching that couldn’t be corroborated, his experiences with KT Morley and what was called his “wild suppositions therein,” which soon enough brought an abrupt end to this period of his life.  He was asked to leave, more than gently suggested to take the next deep space assignment, so he could both indulge his own interests and get out of the hair of real facts.

The so-called Romulan Borg Prototype was discovered, ironically, not long after the mission they had shared aboard the Copernicus, when Captain Matheson had secured the political future of Praetor Neerok.  In an effort to demonstrate the nature of his regime, the Reman had begun declassifying older programs the Star Empire had carried on clandestinely for the past two hundreds years, some of which Starfleet Intelligence was aware of, others it was horrified to learn had been going on for so long without even a hint or rumor.  As in the case of the late Shinzon, there had been numerous infiltration plots over the years, stretching back to the NX program at the very birth of the fleet, some of which had been more successful than others, some mere observation, others more insidious, though none of those had ever gotten very far.  There had been concerns at almost every venture, but too few too late in the case of the one that eventually alarmed them so greatly they broke a silence of nearly a hundred years in an attempt to clear themselves of any perceived blame.

The Hansens hadn’t been the only independent researchers studying early Borg contact with the Alpha Quadrant.  Since it was Romulan outposts which had become the first targets, it was, naturally, Romulans who had learned the most about the Collective, so much so that they were the first to adapt its technology for their own uses.  In this way, they attempted to create their own drone, and in this way, they feared that they were the ones who led the Borg still deeper into the quadrant.  They used captured humans as bait.

The identity of the subject who would become their prototype was never learned, but it quickly fell out of their hands, and it was Hounsou who rediscovered it, after he had been cast back into deep space, using the very algorithms Zimmer had created to locate the final Soong android.  How that was possible became quickly apparent when the two finally started consulting each other.  It seemed the Romulans had benefited just as much as the Klingons from their brief alliance, not that they made it quite as apparent, borrowing certain research results from a failed program to adapt genetic engineering techniques learned from humans, which linked the prototype to the work of the Soong family.  Unaware, as everyone else was, of the Collective’s origins, they had attempted to use Soong technology in the creation of their drone, feeling it was the most reliable to be found.  (Zimmer later learned of the Romulan efforts that had mirrored his own, how they’d been continually frustrated that Lore remained out of their grasp.  They had been quite angry that Shinzon didn’t value B-4 quite as they’d liked.)

Neither knew what to expect with the prototype now.  It might have, for all they knew, been rigged as some sort of booby-trap, an elaborate revenge plot for Starfleet’s failure to rescue Romulus from certain doom, or perhaps it might be a chance at redemption, on any number of levels.  No notable Romulan scientist survived the catastrophe, so the drone had been remitted to the Federation, Neerok’s final gift, his last will and testament, before he’d seemingly relented to the demands of his brethren to take a more pragmatic approach to continued relations.  Trust was something that would have to be earned back, so it was odd that a pair like Zimmer and Hounsou would end up in the person to win it.  Secretly, they relished it.

But even with their combined knowledge, they had no idea where to start.  It was a riddle wrapped in a conundrum, and it wasn’t hard to appreciate that it wasn’t so much a sign of faith on Starfleet’s part that had brought them to this assignment as a cynical gesture that might as well have been a curse.  “Let’s see what you can do with it.”  Hardly comforting.  If they were able to figure it out, at best they could earn the grudging respect of their peers, at worst incense the Romulans further by suggesting their own work was that easily comprehended after all.  The cloak was still something Starfleet couldn’t figure out.  This was something bigger.  It was the future, something blind chance had robbed the Star Empire of, leaving its remaining citizens already embittered.  Zimmer couldn’t help but wonder what other secrets might be hidden within this project.  Hounsou secretly wanted it to end in failure.  He really had had enough of all this.


Douglas Velar was never all that important to anyone.  His family hadn’t much supported his ambitions to join Starfleet.  Although his brothers had both served brief tenures in the fleet, neither had made a career of it, setting an example Douglas couldn’t follow with much enthusiasm.  Although he represented the first generation of his family to do so, by the time it was his turn, it wasn’t regarded as anything special, just a matter of course, something to be done and gotten over with, like earning the pilot’s license so you could make the routine flight to Pluto and play the links.  He opted to enlist rather than attend the Academy.  He was never as good in school as his brothers, which might have contributed to his muted expectations, both as others perceived them and as he viewed them himself.  He had ambitions.  That wasn’t the problem.  But he didn’t know how he was going to achieve them.  He couldn’t find a lot of support.  By the time it was Doug Velar’s turn, nobody really cared.  His oldest brother had parlayed his Starfleet experience into service with the Human Defense Corps, his other one a posh position at the Procopides Institute.  Douglas was a creative spirit in the age of the holodeck, which more or less made it possible for anyone to create their own fantasies.  On the rare occasion a writer was allowed to write an original program for mass consumption, the results were Dixon Hill, Captain Proton, Flotter.  There just wasn’t room for a lot of innovation.

The more he reflected on his own time with Starfleet, the more he couldn’t help but shudder a little.  Of all the assignments, he’d gotten the Copernicus, which by the time he got it had already developed the reputation of being the problem child of the fleet, its captain frequently troubled by controversy, which was quite an accomplishment during the Dominion War, a time where things should have been pretty straightforward.  Instead, he’d found himself in one disaster after another, both in his official role and in his personal life.  Friends betrayed him, were lost in freak accidents, and that was after the business of the war, and after all the drama of the Maquis was supposed to be over, but he and that damned ship couldn’t seem to escape any of the fallout.  He tried to find some peace among the Bajorans, but quickly determined how contradictory that really was.  He tried to escape, but only seemed to dig himself further into the expanding quagmire of his own life.

He began concentrating on efforts to turn it all around.  He began taking the most obtuse assignments he could find, the ones that any other crewman in Starfleet would have considered worse than wartime tactical initiatives, maintenance jobs on the other side of the wormhole, joint operations with the reconstituted Dominion.  He even volunteered the first time someone suggested it was possible to make the trip back to the Delta Quadrant.  But none of it worked out.  Eventually, he worked it out that he was constantly sabotaging himself, running away rather than making anything better.  He made a bold decision to become, of all things, a holodeck technician.

In that capacity, he figured, he might daydream all he wanted about the possibilities that seemed forever trapped inside his own head.  He thought he might develop some connections that might allow him to bring some of those ideas into reality, or perhaps just the free time to work some of them out strictly on his own.  One day, he was approached by a Rigelian requesting some modifications to a holonovel he insisted was malfunctioning regardless of how many times Douglas diagnosed no problems whatsoever, until he finally confessed the truth: he wasn’t a Rigelian after all, but Cardassian, and his name was Pentek.  Growing more alarmed the more connections he made, Douglas found himself filled with a fury he couldn’t contain, but Pentek did his best to disarm him, saying he had a proposition that might atone for the mistakes he’d made, to Douglas personally, in the Occupation generally, and everything in between.  He said he had access to secret files Starfleet would be interested in, especially now, and that together, they could prevent a greater disaster than even the recent destruction of Romulus.  All Douglas had to do was trust him.

Naturally, Douglas wanted to do anything but.  Pentek had personally betrayed him by conjuring an illusion of his late best friend, whom the Cardassian himself had presumably murdered, during the worst mission the Copernicus had ever gone on.  Something like that couldn’t easily be forgotten, much less forgiven.  But Pentek insisted if only Douglas gave him a chance, he could explain himself.  He was not the monster he appeared to be.

And although he couldn’t explain it then, Douglas felt compelled to give the Cardassian the benefit of the doubt.  If he was somehow right, he might be able to redeem them both.


Even after all the revolutionary reforms undertaken by Nagus Rom, Ferenginar was not all that different from how it had always been.  It was still beneficial to walk around with a generous amount of gold slips of Latinum, to offer the proper brides.  The Rules of Acquisition were still in effect, much as they’d always guided this world, its citizens so busy across every known and accessible quadrant but really only concerned with home.  Lem still had a copy of the revised book his father had once undertaken at the influence of the wormhole aliens the Bajorans called Prophets.  Every now and then he would take it out, in case he needed a good laugh.  It was funny that his father had set in motion everything Rom had built his position on, and none of it had resulted from this aberrant occasion Lem had barely been old enough to profit off of, at least until he wrote his first accounts and sold them for a hefty signing bonus with the publisher, for whom he would supply a steady stream of books, none of them all that insightful so much full of enticing gossip.  His father may have fallen, but that only made his life that much easier to earn some quick Latinum off of.  He had tanks full of the stuff before he was twenty.  He couldn’t help but wonder if he’d applied himself more, he could have had all that before he was ten.  His mother always told him he was a late bloomer.

At some point, he realized that even if he could milk this source of income indefinitely, he wanted more, like any good Ferengi.  The trouble was, he didn’t know what he wanted, so he began spending much of his time trying to find out what might satisfy him.  Already quite the honest fellow, as far as his people were concerned, set for life and ready to bribe the same position thereafter, Lem began to consider that he might pursue some other, less traditional goals as well.  He knew the son of the Nagus was serving in Starfleet, and that was to that point as radical a departure as anyone could have thought of, but that wasn’t anywhere near what he thought might interest him.  He started to do some studying, to see what other possibilities might present themselves, what…hobbies he might acquire.  Most Ferengi were so busy making profit that they rarely found the time to really enjoy it, to sit back and indulge in what other cultures thought of as recreation.  If there was a secret to the Ferengi mind, it was that nothing really pleased them more than to serve as the source of pleasure for others.  It wasn’t so much that they’d eventually lost sight of this goal, but that they’d grown stagnant.  Art was such a standard thing for them that it could hardly be called art at all.

So what Lem decided was that he would begin looking at art again, try to find some fresh perspective, something so radical that not only a Ferengi would never have thought of it, but no one else, either.  That’s how he ended up setting his sights on the Romulan Borg Prototype.  From the moment he’d heard of it, all he could think of was what he could do with it.  Of course, nothing as crass as actually using it as his own personal drone, or even the basis of an entire line, a new collective, but perhaps as a performer.  So many people had adopted the holodeck over the years as their preferred mode of entertainment, it had become virtually unheard-of to see something live.  Some Federation colonies and starships still hosted recitals with physical instruments and  people to play them, but there had been so little innovation in the last few hundred years, there weren’t any real composers left, not in developed societies.  Everything was an iteration and relic of the past.

Lem had quickly determined that he had no real talents of his own, and was generous enough with himself to accept this fact, but he realized that some new life-form, unrestricted by the example of some home culture, would probably be capable of imagining bold new ideas that would push the boundaries of experience in a way that couldn’t possibly be ignored.  It would make him legendary, a constant source of profit for generations of Ferengi to come.  He could turn everything around, far better than his father or his handpicked successor ever could have dreamed.

He spent months bartering for more information, anything that might indicate what had become of this unusual artifact of an age he would help bring to an end.  When at last he had secured the destination of this treasure hunt, he was pleased to find out he alone understood the potential, and therefore was motivated enough to brave the treacherous space that had once been home to the planet Romulus.  He flew there himself, in a shuttle he’d saved especially for the occasion, outfitted with the best shielding and weaponry Latinum could buy.  And he was right there the very instant Starfleet showed up and claimed it right within inches of his grasp.

How could he have known that it was the fictional writing of Jake Sisko that had led to increased scrutiny of his real character and activities?


Of all the bits of information Starfleet had learned about Romulan state activity over the last two hundred years, all the secrets programs and plots, there was one that had slipped their grasp.  Harmon Franzoni had learned of it almost by accident, during the years he spent brooding over the mistakes and failures of a life he had every intention of ending himself, to end his misery.  By complete coincidence, the love of his life, whom he was constantly denied a regular life with, would help within only a matter of weeks, uncover the same sleeper mission he had stumbled across, which had given him his wish in the way he had least suspected.

Something about Lewis Rivera had never quite added up.  When Franzoni was made Matheson’s first officer, he discovered that he couldn’t avoid tales of the first man to hold that position.  Rivera was a verifiable saint, all things considered, not a spot in his record, unblemished even by what would become known as the Curse of Matheson, the one officer of the fleet guaranteed to ruin every career it came across, even muddying the esteem of her own mentor, Gerald Logan, to the point where he was denied even the possibility of running for Federation president, a role rarely occupied by humans, just because of his friendship with this troubled individual.  But not Rivera.  Rivera served with distinction for years, commanding his own starship, the Salient, for nearly a decade, never getting any particularly difficult assignments, even during the Dominion War.  He remained loyal to Matheson to a fault.  Somehow he survived the attack by the Romulan Tavol and his allies that destroyed his ship, which seemed to mark the end of his career in the fleet.  Yet Lewis Rivera lingered, like a specter.  It wasn’t just jealousy.  It wasn’t that Franzoni’s life had so perilously unraveled, that he became involved in increasingly dangerous and pivotal turning points for the Federation, such as the next evolution of the Dominion, which like Kathryn Janeway’s encounters with Species 8472 had been defused before real disaster could develop.  It was that Rivera never seemed quite real, as if he truly were a specter.

Which of course got Franzoni thinking.  Supposing Rivera weren’t real.  If it seemed like he was more fabrication than functioning, more myth than man, perhaps it was because the pieces of his life didn’t add up after all.  He began reviewing Rivera’s career files, the ones Starfleet possessed, the ones that seemed to be official and definitive.  Then he began digging deeper, reviewing less traditional reports, profiles made up on dozens of alien worlds, governments both within and totally foreign to the Federation, all the reflections, suspicions, and allegations ever made against Rivera.  Sure enough, the cracks began to show.  

While it couldn’t be said that Rivera had ever deviated from standard Starfleet operating procedure, he had often obtained results in his missions that couldn’t be entirely traced back to those methods, as if he was constantly benefiting from some unknown sources.  The more Franzoni attempted to learn what those sources might be, the more frustrated became.  There was nothing.  Nothing until the destruction of Romulus, and the first rounds of declassified documents started to appear.  He began to see too many parallels between Romulan activity and the career of Lewis Rivera to consider he might be mistaken in a dawning impression of a connection.

At first, he considered that Rivera might in fact be Romulan, but the background checks, genealogy charts, and DNA scans had been too consistent to have been forged by even the best agents.  He was definitely human.  Perhaps he had been brainwashed at some impressionable point, which might turn up in some increased scrutiny of his record.  But rather and take the time to dig deeper, Franzoni, as always, took the more direct approach, and decided to confront Rivera in person.  After all, would he really risk exposure at this point to handle Franzoni in any rough sense?  What possible benefit?

Ah, but of course, Harmon Franzoni was wrong for the last time in his life.


If life can in some respects be called a reaction by the universe to produce observers, it might not be a stretch to begin speculating what forms of existence might be out there that are unexplainable to the casual individual.  Nonlinear entities like Bajor’s Prophets, after all, were already well-documented, if not properly understood.  So it was with the unknown people whom Hollan’Das represented, whom some within Starfleet had begun to suspect originated quite literally from the stars.  It was the neutrinos that had been the most direct evidence for this speculation.  Hollan’Das herself rarely acknowledged any efforts to explain her existence, but it didn’t stop her from exploiting her unique qualities, when it occurred to her that they might prove useful.  So it was that she eventually determined that she had been drawn to Robin Matheson all these years for a specific purpose, which was only now becoming relevant.  She was meant to prevent her captain’s murder.


Matheson never quite left Starfleet behind.  The answer as to why wasn’t all that complicated.  It was something in her blood, something she had felt committed to long before she could have reached that kind of decision for herself.  It wasn’t pressure from her parents so much as the little things she had come across on her own.  When she was five, the first thing she could remember reading was the personal memoir of Rachel Matheson, an ancestor of hers from the early days of the fleet, who had made the difficult decision, like her father, to forsake the family business of freighter shuttles to enter the demanding and exotic life of the program that promised to broaden her horizons.  Like Rachel, young Robin had anticipated every manner of adventures, what she considered a vast and expanding playground.  Her cousin Wynton was the only one she could share this with, but she rarely saw him, and found the necessity of private dreams grow into a personal obsession, one she wouldn’t deny herself, no matter the cost.  She dedicated herself to her studies, to the point where she isolated herself.  When she wasn’t knee-deep in academia, she continued to research her family history.  Hers was always a lonely existence, except she never felt that way.  Her companion was the past, and the future.

She found a ready mentor in Gerald Logan, a seasoned officer who encouraged her along the command track, which she would never have dared on her own.  She had always imagined something in the sciences, where she could pretend some vast knowledge by memorization, which was all that it would have taken.  Instead, she took away missions to study leadership, both in practice and in action, when the pressure was all there was.  She learned that decisions were something that she would have to master, if not herself than the confidence to embody it for others.  She learned to trust in the council of her peers, but not to depend on it.  Her ideas would have to be her own, and she would learn how to formulate them.  In that sense, her earliest motivations helped to inform her, once she understood them, how they had led her along the way.

When she made her first major fumble, she was a lieutenant forced to cover bridge operations during a Klingon attack.  She ordered evasive action when she should have retreated, the very position her captain had favored, as everyone on that ship had known.  No lives were lost, thankfully, but they were forced back into spacedock and cost Starfleet valuable forces at a critical time.  When given command for the first time, her ship was this time lost in a skirmish with the Cardassians.  She wasn’t blamed, but in her heart, she knew it was her fault.  She wasn’t good under pressure.  For four years, she commanded the Copernicus without incident, until the Dominion War, and Haley Minor.  She could no longer deny it, or hide it.  Why was she given the ship back?  She kept coming back to that question, in her mind.  Her career would have been so different, if it hadn’t been for the Romulans, if it hadn’t been for her relationship with Neerok, the Reman she had met during the war, rescued, rehabilitated.  Instantly, there had been a connection.  She could never explain that, either.

Now, all these years later, she was back in command of the Copernicus, and she was on another urgent mission.  She hoped, she prayed…Could she trust herself this time?


Guerin hadn’t wanted to admit it, but he had met Matheson before.  Perhaps all this really had been leading up to atonement.  He now believed that he was the one who had set all this in motion, on the day he had attacked that Starfleet ship.  For what?  For honor?  For glory?  Not for the Empire.  Not even for himself.  It had been on the day his son was born.  But even for him, Guerin had proven miscalculated, for an entire lifetime.  One that had proven all too short.


The reason no one had known about Lewis Rivera was because he hadn’t been a Romulan plot, but a Reman, and the plot of one particular Reman.  His name was Neerok.

Many years ago, long before the Romulans had come into existence, before Vulcans had the teachings of Surak to guide them on the path to logic, there existed, naturally, the planets Romulus and Remus.  It was on Remus where life sprang forth in this system, and for many years, was content to stay.  Remans had no ambitions to expand, had no reason to consider that life might exist elsewhere in the galaxy.  The day the Vulcans first came, before the Romulan exiles ever dreamed of invading, Remans were exposed to the idea of war.  Until that day, they had been content in their lives to carry on the rituals of existence as they knew them, a honed instinct for exploration, but only on that one challenging planet.  For you see, when presented with challenge enough, ambition is a relative term.  Remus was blessed, as its people had once believed, to possess a uniquely bipolar nature, one half light, one half dark.  While life had always gravitated toward the dark, the habitable, the light was a constant source of curiosity.  Had they been allowed to develop naturally, the Remans would have become lord and master of their entire planet, and so become quite special indeed.  But they were instead exposed to the idea of war, and they became paranoid.

By the time the Vulcans came back, in the form of the Romulan exiles, who took over the neighboring planet that had meant so little to the Remans, who never considered that the existence of this planet was such a defining aspect of their lives, because they thought around it, they were eager for the challenge, but unprepared for the form in which it took.  They weren’t ready for the exploitative Romulans, had never considered that they had set themselves up so perfectly for conquest, to have their identities submerged.  The Romulans bred with the Remans, altering their own appearances, and in turn, told the Remans that their former lives were over, and in that way, began a journey that would alter the Remans, too.  They had once been beautiful.  But a hard life would twist them grotesquely.  They were given a new, hard life, and resentment was soon etched across their faces.  They became in their secret lives sentinels for the day they could take it all back.

They lost all sense of identity.  The man who would become known as Neerok took it as an ironic turn on a Romulan name he’d once heard, of a Romulan who had once been a general but who became a miner, as if the Reman identity was some intrinsic part of this story he had rediscovered.  For so long repressed, it was all emerging again.  One day a human clone, a Romulan plot, was cast in with the wretched fate of the Remans, and was taken in as one of them.  Neerok stood in the shadows as his brothers took this child in, watched it develop, a secret Reman plot, an opportunity.  It gave him an idea.

During the Dominion War, there existed a period where old rules gave way to new ones.  The Romulans used their Reman slaves in the war, giving them their first taste of freedom in centuries.  During the years leading up to it, fear of Founders infiltrating the highest offices occupied Star Empire minds as much as it did the Federation, and the resulting confusion allowed Neerok to access certain files of the Tal Shiar, and in that way he learned of a program that had once monitored the Starfleet Academy Class of 2362, among whom was Lewis Rivera, who had been deemed a susceptible individual, should anyone ever be interested.  Thinking quickly, Neerok devised a plan wherein he’d capture Rivera and begin a conditioning process.  It was also during this period that he first met Robin Matheson, which was no accident.  He had discovered that she might prove useful in his plans, an obscure Starfleet captain who might be persuaded to take an active interest in Romulan affairs.  Everyone was looking for a legacy.  He could use Rivera to undermine Matheson as he liked, turning her own officers against her at crucial moments, questioning her decisions, her integrity.  He knew she had an unswerving belief in herself, but he also knew how important it was for her to maintain a sense of family with her crew.  Rivera, long after he was gone, could affect all that.  Reman individualism as the ultimate weapon.

When Shinzon led the Reman revolt that preceded the destruction of Romulus by a matter of years, it was an unexpected if welcome development that furthered his cause immeasurably.  The fact that Remus survived the Hobus event was a bonus, no longer integral to Neerok’s success.  Now in a position to dictate policy for his people, whom he no longer distinguished between Romulan and Reman, he could eradicate the shame and reputation, and prey upon the guilt that suddenly existed in abundance.  When Nero briefly resurfaced as an angry avenger, he had paused for a moment, wondering how it would affect his plans, but the Romulan was gone as instantly as he’d appeared.  Neerok was free to finally trigger Rivera in the final act of his plan, the assassination of Matheson, an act that would solidify his place in the new order, the man capable of taking hold of the future, doing what no Romulan, nor Reman, had truly been able to accomplish before, humbling the mighty Federation, exerting strength in the face of weakness, declaring that the Empire did not exist on any one planet, but in the hearts and minds of its citizens.


Zimmer and Hounsou determined that the prototype was flawed, that the reason the program had never expanded past its initial stage was for much the same reason that Noonien Soong had only ever made a handful of his androids, why the Klingons couldn’t duplicate the Augment design, why the Borg had always had to physically assimilate new drones: this was not a design capable of mass assembly.  It required a dedicated individual who could master the plans, not merely duplicate them.  They suspected that the Romulan who had conceived this program must have died sometime after completing the prototype.  In time, they discovered the subprogram that once triggered, would have sent the prototype on a particular mission, and in that way learned on their own of the Reman plot.  They warned Matheson immediately.


Hollan’Das, who often dwelt on the idea of destiny, had already informed Matheson.  Guerin, who had known more of these plans than he’d let on, confessed his knowledge at the same time, revealing that the Klingon Empire had long been at the very least suspicious of Rivera.  He also told her that his son had once been intended for a similar role, but his resistance to the idea had caused the rift that persisted until his death on Mund, a planet of unexpected transformation.


Pentek and Velar visited with Star Empire officials not long after Matheson and the crew of the Copernicus exposed Neerok and Rivera, offering to serve as consultants.  They proposed an independent council that would provide an alternative perspective on interspecies affairs that might avert future disasters, with full access to all programs and complete transparence.  It was a radical change for Pentek, and it was only under the diplomatic immunity he secured that he was able to avoid any lingering ramifications from his past life, but for the first time in his life, he felt content.  There would be no more hiding, no more lies, no more misunderstandings.  The presence of Velar was like an affirmation.  Together, they would explore the idea of redemption.


Lem returned to Ferenginar and begged Nagus Rom to consider membership in the Federation.  It was only so that he could reacquire the Romulan Borg prototype.  His efforts were in vain.  But some months later, he received it in the mail, with a note signed “J. Nelson.”


Ethan Chenoweth returned to San Francisco shortly, and told Laurie Nicholson that he wanted to marry her, something about fate that he could no longer postpone.  They performed the ceremony in Suliban.  Hollan’Das was present.  Not long after, the three of them were never seen again, with speculation rampant that they had traveled someplace to the far future.


John Zimmer began work on his own android, something he’d been putting off for far too long.  He decided to start with his own design.


Louis Hounsou settled in as an instructor at Starfleet Academy, but this time as an expert in xenobiology.  He intended to identify every species the Borg had ever assimilated, and his students would work alongside him.


Joel Nelson visited with Matheson soon after her private shuttle was spotted for the first time, wanting to know why, after all this time, she finally decided to embrace the family tradition he’d gotten to know from Wynton Keynes, many years ago.  She told him she couldn’t answer that; maybe it had something to do with her Vulcan friend Sokor, who had reported to her that his first visit home in several decades had revealed many of his cherished furnishings to have been ravaged by the intervening years, that she was tired of anchoring herself, tired of being afraid of the past, of the present, of the future.  She just wanted to give living a chance.  Nelson said he understood, certainly, but begged off soon enough, leaving his former captain alone with her thoughts, whatever they might truly be.


At the ceremony that officially decommissioned the Copernicus, the old crew was reunited one last time, but it was brief and mostly, everyone just sat around eating cake.  There wasn’t much to say.  The old girl had been a relic even when Matheson had first taken command, and should have been out of service well before the Dominion War had ever begun, but circumstances just kept putting her back into space, time and time again.  The old crew didn’t have much to say about it, and they didn’t have much to say to each other.  They had always been lost in their own little worlds, and what they had in common, was too painful to dredge up again.  Those who were no longer with them, Keb, Gird, Harmon Franzoni, were too dear and too treasured to be mentioned casually.  Strynn was present, but the Andorian was silent for entirely different reasons.  He felt guilty, ashamed that he might have relieved some of this misery, if only he hadn’t given up so easily.  But maybe that was some of the Shran in him, some of the old wound.

A young officer, Alastair Weber, watched the proceedings with an air of whimsy.  He’d read about the ship and its adventures, and never got around to respecting them.  But somehow in that moment he could sense something substantial being lost to the fleet, a part of history being completed, a chapter being closed.  He considered approaching one of them, discreetly, and offering his sentiments, but he didn’t know what to say, which was odd, because he was rarely at a loss for words.  But there was a sense that everything that could be said about these people had been said already, that anything he might come up with would sound foolish, unnecessary at best.  He was the only one who left early.


Jake Sisko often came to these events, not out of any official capacity, when he still provided the occasional piece for the news service, or a lingering sense that this might be the day his father showed up again, a ghost visiting a burial ground, but because he was looking for his old friend, Dorian Collins, who had once served aboard this ship.  She hadn’t turned up.  He began to write something about it after all, late in the evening, when he was settling in and looking for a way to pass the time.  A story had occurred to him, and he wanted to get some of it down while it was still fresh in his mind.  This was the kind of day that reminded him of the life he had once been a part of, and in that sense, it was out of loyalty to his father that he had attended.  Tomorrow would bring something new.

The End

  • "A Report on the Death of Engineer Olson"

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Olson,

It is with deepest and most sincere condolences that I write to you on the death of your son. You may be wondering why you are receiving this letter from a member of the Vulcan Science Directorate, and were I to receive something similar from a member of Starfleet, I would be equally puzzled, even with the recent loss my home planet, and many thousands of my brethren. However, this is not about those matters. This is about the loss of someone I unexpectedly came to greatly admire.

As you are no doubt aware, he was very nearly the opposite of what a typical Vulcan is willing to tolerate. Even his rather exaggerated attitudes concerning Romulans, well before the events that would directly concern him, his aggressive tendencies that would no doubt have had him looking for a fight even if there was none to be had, and no provocation, which a Vulcan might be expected to consider at least in some capacity, loathe as they would be to admit it, all of this made my association with your son extremely unlikely, as well as the strained ties between the Directorate and Starfleet in recent decades, despite Admiral Archer’s best efforts.

I do not mean digress, as I know you are not seeking many diversions at this point in time. I came to know your son as part of my efforts to make amends for certain actions I had taken in my youth, antagonizing the Earth ambassador’s son, with whom you may be familiar. It was an irony that in my attempt to purge myself of these negative experiences and their minor threat to my emotional well-being, that I first encountered him, in whom I experienced a powerful sense of regard.

I had challenged myself to visit Alpha Centauri, where an extensive human colony had once been home to Zephram Cochrane, and it was on this pilgrimage, where many experiments in warp theory are still practiced in homage, that I first came into contact with your son. His passion, his dedication, and his deep concentration were what intrigued me.

He seemed almost like a Vulcan, until I initiated a conversation. His true personality quickly became apparent. Yet I was still fascinated. I wanted to know how this was, how these two versions of your son could exist together, in this one contradictory form. It was almost as if he were an incarnation of the boy I had tormented.

I studied with him for weeks, at first reluctant to converse with him, content instead to observe, to study this curious human. Gradually, I saw how the pieces fit together, I understood the logic. In this one individual was a microcosm of all that Vulcans had taken centuries to reconcile about humanity, from the barbarians we thought Cochrane represented, to the restless Archer, and finally this James Kirk you may have heard of, the man who made sure that your son did not die in vain.

As I have come to understand it, his death was a matter of circumstance, a risk he was willing to take. If it is any comfort, I believe that to the very end, he was embracing life as fully as he ever had in the past, with the same passion he attacked the smallest part of an equation most others wouldn’t have taken for a second consideration. He was unique, and yet he aided me in my understanding that in infinite combinations there are infinite possibilities; that is to say, we are all human.

I hope in your grieving process, that you will remember this.



And a little Star Wars:

  • "Tarkin, Republic and Empire"

He was born on the planet Eriadu, in the Outer Rim Territories. Wilhuff Tarkin grew up among the human races, completely isolated from the myriad varieties of life that the galaxy, in most other places, knew so well. It was only the periodic visits of a Jedi known as Sifo-Dyas, who developed Count Dooku as his apprentice there rather than on Coruscant, which felt like a fiction to the young Tarkin, that brought the greater world into even a semblance of focus. No, for Tarkin, the Republic was a vague idea, something that meant little to him, until the day a senator from Naboo came to him.

He felt privileged, a bit like Dooku, if he wasn't feeling particularly modest, trying to express it in terms his friends might understand. This Palpatine said he could sense a growing unrest, and that Eriadu was to be central in the coming conflict. The senator said that there would be war, and that it would no longer be possible for Tarkin to hide there, to pretend there was no role for him in the Republic. He told Tarkin that very soon, things would change quite drastically indeed.

Tarkin knew almost nothing about Palpatine, and less about the Republic, but true to the senator's word, change came swiftly. Palpatine was elected chancellor, and he came calling again. He told Tarkin this time that he needed a loyal friend in charge of Eriadu, one who might begin to appreciate the scope of things, and Tarkin was exactly that friend. He made Tarkin governor for the first time that day. It was the first time Tarkin began to seriously think about any of it. It was the first time he wondered what his planet's place in the galaxy might actually be. He saw the growing Separatist movement, and understood that Eriadu could have no part in that. He visited Kamino, where he inspected a Clone Army, and consulted with Dooku personally for the first time. Dooku told him that he, too, was working for Palpatine, secretly, among the Separatists. He also told Tarkin that the Separatists were formulating a new kind of weapon, a Death Star as they called it, based on Eriadu technology, which he had supplied them, which he had gleamed from Tarkin's own files.

At first, Tarkin was furious. That was a private project, and Dooku had never once bothered to consult him, not about his plans, nor about his dealings with the Separatists. Tarkin was also hurt that Palpatine hadn't bothered to tell him that Dooku was also involved. But he saw it as an opportunity, because so far, Palpatine hadn't put him in a dangerous situation, as he had Dooku. He suspected for the first time that Palpatine, whatever his final goals might be, had far greater plans in store for him. He didn't stop to wonder what made him so special. In truth, he had been thinking about that for a long time. He thought he had a clarity that others lacked, which was what must have enticed Palpatine. He had never been mired in politics.

His approach to the Republic hadn't changed a great deal, either. When all he had been concentrating on was the fortunes of Eriadu, Tarkin hadn't had time to worry about the disputes that had begun plaguing the Republic. He was looking out only for the interests of his people. He didn't care about the Trade Federation, and although he would never admit it to Palpatine, he didn't care what happened to Naboo, either. He suspected that Palpatine didn't, either. He had been told, long ago, that Eriadu had been a colony world of Alderaan, the planet of human races from where the Republic and the city world of Coruscant had spawned. But Alderaan had grown weak, complacent, and so too had the Republic. Tarkin never bothered to visit Alderaan, where he was told many descendants of his ancestors still lived, and he wasn't interested in Coruscant, either. As long as his friend held reign there, that's all that was important.

Tarkin wanted to bring the same kind of order he found and came to maintain personally on Eriadu to the entire Republic. When war finally did break out, he wasn't surprised, nor moved to participate in, despite the fact that his people had begun to personally oversee the continued development of the Clone Army, another favor that was asked of him by Palpatine, after the chancellor apparently grew displeased at the thought of the Jedi in that role. He sat back as the Republic and the Separatists, for years, fought to no discernible advantage for either side. He watched as first Naboo, then Alderaan, wavered in their support of the Republic. He made sure that Eriadu never did. He saw no problem when Palpatine declared himself emperor, and effectively transformed the Republic into a galactic Empire. Nothing changed for him at first. He remained engaged in his activities on Eriadu, governor of his own world, working on the Clone Army, perhaps with a little more interest, suspecting that this move of his friend's might finally prove the decisive act of the war. When Palpatine declared the Jedi to be enemies of the Empire, it was of no concern to Tarkin, who had always viewed the Republic knights in a dubious light. He saw no room for religion in a logical universe. He saw Dooku as weak, and wasn't surprised to see him eliminated so quickly.

The changes started to come more quickly once the war ended. Palpatine became more remote, ironically forsaking Coruscant at last, just as Tarkin had done, not because he didn't see the point but because he no longer needed a central base of control. He dissolved the senate and made Tarkin governor for the second time, not just of a world but an entire system, what he called a grand moff, no doubt some obscure reference to Naboo customs or the like, perhaps some joke. At any rate, Tarkin didn't care. He gladly relocated from Eriadu to a life in space, the Star Destroyer fleet, where he could consolidate with little difficulty his position. He quickly took back control of the Death Star project.

Before long, he began to hear the rumors of a Rebel Alliance, a resistance, which seemed born out of the remains of the Separatist movement. He suspected but couldn't confirm that Alderaan might be behind it, and made it a personal obsession to prove the link. He found an unlikely ally in the person of Darth Vader, who was said to be a Jedi, or Sith. It didn't matter which one, only that Vader had the ear of Palpatine, almost as Dooku once had, and Tarkin knew very well what that actually meant. While Vader did as he was told, Tarkin was free to do what must be done, what he had always done, maintain order, transfer the clarity of his mind to the running of the Empire. He forgot all about Eriadu, because Eriadu was in essence gone. Most of its people had made the transition of running a planet to populating the ranks of the Imperial fleet, as the behest and the example of Tarkin himself. The Clone Army was eventually replaced with recruits, a process begun on Eriadu, and continued from there. Tarkin was no puppet. He was a man of vision. The only outsider he truly trusted was a man named Thrawn, whose origins Tarkin didn't truly understand, and didn't care to. Tarkin only asked for loyalty, and that's what he got. Anyone else, anything else, became less than a concern, and in time, he grew quite comfortable. He knew what Vader represented, and he didn't care. He was making a new order, one that would endure forever.

The Death Star was completed to schedule, which pleased Tarkin enough that he made plans for the construction of a second one, one he hoped to entrust in the hands of Thrawn. Alderaan, his rivals in the houses of Organa and Antilles, who were constantly questioning the need for governors when there were once freethinking senators, provided the perfect opportunity when he caught a princess of that world providing aide to the Rebels. He couldn't prove it, so he did the next best thing, and used the planet as testing ground for his Death Star. He destroyed Alderaan as an example, to prove that things would never be the same again.

He had no way of knowing that his days were coming to an end. Vader had once been a pupil to Obi-Wan Kenobi, who had long ago become an exile on the desert planet Tatooine, where he had watched over the development of Vader's own son, Luke Skywalker. Nothing about that scenario, because he knew nothing about it and couldn't have bothered to care, concerned him, not even when Kenobi and Skywalker found their way onto the Death Star and confronted Vader. All Tarkin cared about was tracking the ship they'd traveled aboard back to the Rebel base, which he thought he was soon going to destroy as well. He was so confident, he never once thought that the Jedi stories he had ignored the connection between Dooku and Palpatine, the truth behind the Clone Wars, the presence of Vader would come back to haunt him. He didn't think anything could harm his Death Star, much less a single X-wing fighter, piloted by Skywalker, just now coming into the awareness of his destiny.

He remained steadfast to the end. Wilhuff Tarkin, in his final moments, wondered if he could take a visit back to Eriadu, for old times' sake.

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