here we go... GOING HOME Commander Carol M’Benga stepped into the Delta Lounge, the recreational area of the USS SELEYA. Nog was sitting in on guitar with two crewmembers from Engineering. The two of them were backing him with a stand-up bass and brushed drums. Nog was noodling out a jazz-blues version of Blue Danube. Carol smiled and drifted to the bar for a pilsner. The lounge was fairly busy, this being the start of third shift and therefore the evening by ship’s time. As Carol waited for the bartender to get her beer she looked around at the various tables. She noticed a lieutenant sitting alone at a table that she didn’t recognize. Snagging her mug, she headed in his direction. “Mind if I sit down?” she asked. Startled, the man looked up at her. He had sandy brown hair with flecks of gray in it. A smile crept across his face. “Sure, no problem,” he replied. He waved his hand at an adjacent chair. Carol took a seat and set her beer on the table. “I don’t recall seeing you around before,” she commented, “Are you a new transfer?” “You could say that. I came aboard at Starbase Twelve. My name is Holloway, Jack Holloway. I’m a pilot. Um, helmsman,” he corrected. “Well, Holloway, Jack Holloway,” M’Benga responded, smiling at her own joke, “What’s your story?” Holloway took a sip of what looked like whiskey on the rocks and replied, “I served on the Columbia once upon a time, and then the Farragut. After she lost her captain I transferred to the Orinoco.” Carol looked at him sadly. “So you were at Wolf 359. I’m sorry. I’ve never heard of the Orinoco. What class is she?” Holloway looked at her curiously. “Wolf 359? Um, the Orinoco was a tiny thing, not like this grand ship you have here. What an amazing piece of engineering she is.” Carol peered at him for a second and said, “We’re proud of her. She’s no Galaxy-class but she gets the job done.” Carol sipped her beer. “I’ve never heard of the Orinoco-what class was she?” She repeated. Holloway stood up abruptly. “I’m sorry, Commander, I have to go. I’m on shift in eight. I’ll see you there.” He turned to leave. “Lieutenant.” Holloway stopped. “See you on the bridge,” Carol said. Holloway nodded and headed for the door just as Nog went into a solo. Carol watched Holloway walk away for a moment and then shifted in her seat to see the performance as Holloway exited the lounge. ***************************************** Sgt. Damian Mitchell had the third watch, as usual. He was half-dozing in the command chair when the beeping emanated from the helmsman’s console. Prying open a single eye, he asked, “What is it, Lieutenant…?” “Holloway, sir,” the man replied, “It would seem to be a ship. Federation signature. The signal is coming from the Fatima Nebula, about thirty-five light years away.” Mitchell roused himself. “What ship is it, Lieutenant?” Holloway hesitated a moment before replying. “Um, I’m not sure. The signal is weak, at best. It’s hard to make out anything comprehensible.” Mitchell considered for a moment. Deciding, he slapped the controls on the arm of his chair. “Mitchell to Sanjay.” After a moment, the reply came. “Sanjay here, what is it Sergeant?” The captain’s voice was groggy. “Captain, we’ve found an unknown Federation vessel in the Fatima Nebula. Request permission to alter course and investigate.” Mitchell awaited a reply and as the time stretched on he reached for the communication controls again but Sanjay responded just before he could ask a second time. “Permission granted. Wake me again when we are an hour out. And try to identify that ship. Sanjay out.” Mitchell nodded at Holloway. “You heard the man, Lieutenant. Head for that ship.” Holloway grinned at him. “Yes, sir!” “Don’t call me ‘sir’, damnit,” Mitchell muttered, “I work for a living.” ************************************* The Seleya was holding position at the edge of the Fatima Nebula as Sanjay strode onto the bridge. “Sergeant, report. Have we identified the ship yet?” Mitchell looked at Holloway. “Lieutenant?” he asked. “We have identified the ship class and the IFF is giving us the name but … Captain Sanjay, it doesn’t make any sense.” “I’m sorry, Lieutenant, um,” “Holloway, sir.” He grinned at Sanjay. “Of course. One of the replacements from Starbase Twelve?” “Yes, sir. The ship, it seems to be a Daedalus-class ship, the Antietam. She was reported lost during the Earth-Romulan war. The records say she was part of the second wave of exploration ordered by UESPA. When the war broke out they stripped her science modules out and armed her to the teeth. They renamed her and sent her off into battle.” Sanjay frowned at the viewscreen. “We’re a long way from the battlefields of the Romulan War. I wonder how they ended up here.” Turning to Mitchell he said, “Call M’Benga. I want a team on that ship. Find out what happened to her.” Mitchell began issuing orders into the com system. Across Seleya, bewildered people began falling out of bed. ************************** Carol M’Benga yawned. Rubbing her eyes, she looked at Sergeant Mitchell. He was disgustingly fresh, despite having been on duty for thirteen hours. He had armed himself and was currently reclining against the shuttle Barsoom like he didn’t have a care in the world. Ensign Perling was busily checking over his equipment. Carol noted an emergency power unit, a full medkit and an engineer’s tucker box piled around his feet. The environmental suit briefcase mandatory for all SHIPS-DERELICT missions was almost lost under the rest of the carrying bags. The crewman at the transporter control cleared his throat and asked, “Ready to transport, Commander?” M’Benga looked at him. “As soon as we’re on the pad, Chief. Louis, are you ready?” Carol looked at the massive cargo transporter pad with distaste. She hated transporting off of the mass movers. Their buffers weren’t as all-inclusive as individual transporters and the refinement crystals on the mass movers were larger and therefore cruder. The nervous young ensign looked up at her. “Actually, Commander, I was monitoring the feed from the bridge. The tail end of the Antietam is showing deuterium 3 on their I.M. Pulse drive. That means they burnt off their entire supply in a high-energy discharge. No one shut the engines down before they ran out of fuel. Probably had a runaway pulse wave effect.” M’Benga looked at him for a moment. “They ran to the limit of their fuel?” “Yes, Ma’m, it’s a clear I.M. Pulse wipeout.” Mitchell sheathed the knife that he had been cleaning his nails with. “Ensign, what the hell is an I. M. Pulse drive?” Louis looked at Carol and then looked back at Mitchell. “It’s impulse drive, sir, uh, Sergeant. I. M. Pulse drive. Ion-Magnetic Pulse Drive. A very archaic term. Sorry.” Mitchell grinned at him. “Ensign Perling, thank you. I love to listen to your discourses. I learn so much useful information.” He drew his knife again. “Can we go now?” He returned to cleaning his nails. “Yeah, Sergeant-time to go,” Carol said, and she began grabbing some of Louis’s equipment cases. ****************************** The Away Team appeared in the main corridor of deck 2 and where immediately blinded by the light of an overhead spotlight. As their eyes adjusted to the lighting figures in front of them became visible. A large crowd stood in the corridor, perhaps forty or more people. They were dressed in the blue jumpsuits of the UESPA Star Fleet. The uniform hadn’t been worn in over two hundred years. A sandy-haired man, human, in his mid-forties stepped forward. “Hello, I’m Captain Venn Rhys. Are we glad to see you.” “What the fu-“ Mitchell began, only to be cut off by M’Benga. “Belay that, Sarge.” Facing the gathered group, Carol said, “We weren’t expecting survivors after all of this time. In fact, our sensors showed minimal life support and a trickle of battery power holding things together. You people shouldn’t be able to breathe, at least not in these numbers. There isn’t enough power to scrub the air for more than five or six people.” “It’s been a strange affair, to say the least,” replied Captain Rhys. “We were fighting with the Third Fleet near Coridan when a Rommie warbird hit our warp core. We ejected the core and went to full I.M. Pulse. Weapons fire hit the impulse engines and we couldn’t shut it down. It ran wild. We clocked .99 c before the instruments failed. And,” he shrugged, “Here we are. As for the power-we haven’t had any major problems so far.” He grinned at her faintly. Carol considered a moment before speaking. “Captain, are you aware that over two hundred years have passed since your battle?” Rhys looked at her ruefully. “Yes, we are aware of that. What we would like, um,” He appeared flustered for a moment and Carol realized he couldn’t read her rank insignia. “Commander, if you’re wondering about my rank,” she said, smiling slightly. “Yes, um, Commander,” Captain Rhys responded, “We could use a good pilot, uh, helmsman to look at our controls. The battle thrashed the guidance and our own helmsman…” he trailed off for a moment with a wounded look in his eyes. “I sent him on EVA to check the damage on the engines when we couldn’t determine it with our sensor suite. A surge in the pulse drive severed his tag line and he was…lost.” Many of the crewmembers behind him cast their eyes down as he said this. “Of course, Captain,” Carol said softly. Tapping her com badge, she said, “Seleya, could you send Lt. Holloway over, please? We need his expertise to regain control of the Antietam’s helm.” Sanjay’s voice came over her badge. “He’s signaling for his relief now. He should be there in a few minutes. What is your status, Commander?” “Sir, we have survivors here. Apparently their impulse drive went beserk and they approached Einstein’s Limit before they ran out of deuterium. There’s life support here and what looks like most of a crew. We want to restore helm so we can control her, then Louis and I will take a look at her engines to see if we can get her backed down from the pulse wave effect.” There was an extended pause. “Survivors?” Sanjay asked incredulously. “Yes, sir,” M’Benga replied, “I’m looking at them right now. Time dilation probably accounts for the situation, sir. Captain Rhys says they clocked .99c before the instrument readings turned to gibberish.” “I see,” said Sanjay. “OK, find out what you can about their condition and report back. Sanjay out.” A moment later Lieutenant Holloway materialized in the corridor. “Hello, Captain, “he said, addressing Rhys. “Jack, it’s good to have you back,” replied Rhys. The rest of the crewmembers smiled at him. The lights all went out. ******************************* Carol stood for a second, surprised by the sudden darkness. Then Mitchell’s wrist light snapped on and swung towards her face. “Commander, you don’t look so good. Your eyes are growing bloodshot,” he said. When Carol tried to reply it was as if the air had been pulled from her lungs. As the world grew far away she dimly heard Mitchell shouting at Ensign Perling to break out the environmental suits. Then everything went black. Carol came to in an environmental suit, and at first she couldn’t see anything through her face plate. As her eyes came into focus, she made out Mitchell staring down at her. “Wha-what happened?” she asked. “Ma’am, I don’t know. The atmosphere is gone. The lights are gone and, well, we found something very disturbing. Can you stand?” Carol nodded and with Mitchell’s help, rose to her feet. Once she was firmly upright, Mitchell pointed his suit light down the corridor. It highlighted a skeleton in an old-fashioned blue jumpsuit. Wisps of hair clung to the skull. Carol looked at him. “What the hell is that?” Louis spoke up from his own environmental suit a few feet away. “It’s Captain Rhys, Commander. We checked the nametag on his uniform.” Carol stared at him through the face plate as she clicked her own light on. “But I just spoke with him-“she began. “He’s dead,” Mitchell said, grimly. “Has been for a long time.” ******************************************** The walk to the bridge was morbid, with stations manned only by the skeletal remains of the crew. Forcing the doors open, the Away Team strode onto the command deck. The battle damage was extreme. Scorch marks from old fires colored almost every position. Every station was manned by corpses-including the helm. As Louis and Carol stood in the doorway, Mitchell walked over to the helm. Being careful not to break the skeleton, he pried the body off of the console that it lay on. Bending closer for a second, he then straightened up and turned towards the others. “It’s Holloway,” he said. “How is that possible?” Louis asked. Carol shook her head. “I don’t know, Louis,” she answered. “Download the Captain’s logs and let’s get out of here,” she said, shivering slightly in her suit. When Louis finished they transported back to the Seleya. ******************************* After shedding their suits the Away Team made their way to the bridge. Sanjay was waiting for them. “What happened,” he asked, “Where’s Lt. Holloway?” M’Benga looked at him uncomfortably. “He seems to be…dead, sir.” Sanjay gave her a piercing look. “What do you mean, seems to be?” he asked. “For a long time, sir,” M’Benga replied. Sanjay looked at Mitchell for confirmation. Damian just nodded, his manner reserved. Sanjay cocked an eyebrow at them. “If you could elaborate…,” “They were alive-and then they weren’t, sir,” said M’benga. “The lights and life support went out as soon as Lt. Holloway transported over and, afterwards, all we found were very old corpses.” Sanjay saw how rattled she looked. He opened his mouth and shut it again. Lieutenant Nog spoke up from the helm. “Sir, we’re receiving a transmission from the Antietam.” “Onscreen,” Sanjay snapped. The entire bridge crew stared at the screen in anticipation. When the image resolved, it was the well-lit bridge of an ancient starship. Captain Rhys sat in the command chair and Lt. Holloway was at the helm. Others were seated or standing at their posts. “Captain Rhys, what the hell is going on?” Sanjay demanded. Rhys smiled at him. “During the battle off of Coridan we were hit badly. Over thirty percent casualties. Our core was losing containment and had to be ejected. Then a Rom warbird nailed our I. M. Pulse drive and it ran out of control. I sent Lt. Holloway on EVA to check the damage and his safety line broke. We left him far behind.” Rhys looked down at Holloway fondly. “I don’t like leaving a member of my crew behind.” He focused again on the viewscreen. “I want to thank you for bringing him home. We waited for him a long time." The entire bridge crew of the Antietam smiled. “And now, I think you had better move off.” Carol felt icy fingers on her spine. “But captain,-“ Sanjay began and the viewscreen went dark. “Captain! I’m reading a warp core overload from the Antietam!” Ensign Perling said from navigation. “I don’t understand, sir. They don’t have a warp core-how could it overload?” Sanjay didn’t hesitate. “Get us out of here, maximum warp!” Seleya fled from the nebula. A moment later there was a flash that forced the viewscreen filters to kick in. Everyone flinched from the glare that got through before they activated. “Brace for impact!” Sanjay called over the ship’s intercom. Everyone grabbed onto something solid in anticipation. A second passed, and then two. Nothing happened. “Mr. Perling, report!” Sanjay barked. “Sir, there’s no shock wave. There’s no ship, either. The Antietam is gone.” Perling looked up at Sanjay and M’Benga. “It’s like they were never there. The sensors recorded nothing and none of our earlier detections of the ship are in the computer.” Sanjay and M’Benga just looked at each other. ****************************************** Sanjay was staring at the mandala on his wall when Carol came in, unannounced. “Can I help you, Commander?” Sanjay asked. “Sir, I’ve been all over the computer, checked the tricorder we downloaded the logs into and gone over the crew transfer files from Starbase Twelve.” She took the seat across from him unasked. “Captain, there is no trace of the Antietam or Lt. Holloway anywhere.” Sanjay looked at her carefully for a moment and then opened a desk drawer. He took out an unlabeled bottle of brown fluid and a couple of dusty shot glasses. He cleaned each with the hem of his shirt, watching Carol to see if she would object. She just looked back without reacting. Carefully pouring a finger of the brown liquid in each glass, he corked the bottle once again and put it back in the drawer. Handing one glass to Carol and taking the other himself, he said, “I don’t know what happened to us. I’m not sure how to write my report. I am sure that for the first time in eight years, I want a drink. Cheers!” Carol raised her glass and sipped with him. A cold burn rolled down her throat. She coughed and asked, “What the hell-“ Sanjay smiled. “It’s Scotch. I got it from an engineer I met on Utopia Plenitia when the Cochrane was being refit. He said it was ‘tha real deal’ and I should save it for special moments in my life. Carol, if this doesn’t qualify, I don’t know what does.” And he downed his glass in a single gulp. Carol stared at him for a moment and then tossed her own drink back.