ST: Intrepid / Inevitability

A lot going on here. Who is this monster woman and what is she doing in the past? Who is chasing her? S31? Why? And how is Jason getting out of this perfectly fine mess. Can’t wait to find out how this is going to unfold.
Just catching up with this one, and... holy cow!

Pubescent hijinks turns suddenly into life or death and Jason finds himself in something weirder than he could ever have imagined.

Great job with the kids' interactions, lots of wonderful material here. Who ever said being a kid was the easy phase of life?
Chapter 6

A.D. 1975

Two figures emerged from the arches, morphing from light into flesh and blood. They were both clad in black one-piece uniforms with matching backpacks. The moment they solidified, they dropped and rolled into a crouch, arcing their phaser arms in opposing directions across their lines of sight to target any possible hostiles.

Satisfied that there was no immediate threat, they rose to their feet.

Dravis Forum was a human in his late thirties with a sturdy jaw, black hair cut around the ears and toned skin, a mixture of Italian, Central American and Middle Eastern descent. His heritage gifted him with a perpetual five o’clock shadow, despite his best efforts to stay clean shaven.

He carefully approached the unconscious woman, who lay face down a few meters away, while his partner kept station at a distance to cover him.

Dravis produced a tricorder and began scanning her. After a few moments, he put away his phaser and turned back to the other man. “Female Nausican. Looks like she took the full charge at pointblank range. She’ll be out for hours.”

“Glad to hear it.” Said Haoyu Kai, a member of Starfleet’s Department of Temporal Investigations. He was of Chinese descent and clocked in a bit younger than Dravis at 28. He wore his crown of dark brown hair longer than his colleagues, opting for a length that covered the tips of his ears.

He retrieved the sphere-shaped stunner unit, deactivated it, and put it into his backpack.

Dravis belonged to Section 31, a shadowy intelligence organization not recognized by either Starfleet or even the Federation. At least, not officially. 31’s mandate was to protect the Federation at all costs, an “ends justify the means” policy that could prove hazardous to anyone who interfered with their methodology.

The joint operation between these two agencies was a marriage of convenience and a rare event.

“Odd,” Dravis commented. “It looks like she didn’t even try to jump out of the way. I wonder why?”

Haoyu shrugged. “Probably froze. Count your blessings. It can only make our job easier.”

They moved to the control interface attached to one of the walls, already downloading the unit’s database with their tricorders.

“We hit the jackpot.” Haoyu observed with brewing excitement. “The database on the other side was helpful, but this end of the portal is a treasure trove.” He gave a thankful glance to Dravis, who stood beside him. “You weren’t overselling your 31 tech. It broke down the multi-phasic encryptions on this side just as quickly as the other database. And this one had stronger firewalls. If you people ever want to share your toys again, you know where to find us.”

Dravis grunted. “Starfleet would have the same tech if they weren’t so hamstrung by their misguided values. Let’s just say we’re not as…particular about how we acquire our resources.”

Haoyu smirked ruefully and snapped his tricorder shut. “Got it all. You?”

“Yes, all of it.”

“Now all we have to do is plant the charges and get ourselves home.” Hesitation emerged. “You’re sure these explosives of yours will only decompile matter from the future and won’t harm anything else?”

“For the eighth time, yes, I’m sure. Anything with a specific temporal signature goes bye-bye.” Dravis replied distractedly. “Remember? I’m the boy with the toys.” He had put away his tricorder but was clearly engrossed in the data screens on the panel.

“I have to confess…I’m feeling a lot of satisfaction right now,” Haoyu said. “Months of tracking down and confiscating black market Sarpeidon technology and our operation finally culminates in us finding this temporal array. Once it’s gone, we can breathe a little easier.”

He opened his tricorder again and swung at the arches. “And not a moment too soon. Damn thing’s a menace in more ways than one. It’s become more unstable with repeated usage. The array’s leaking chronometric energy like a sieve. Good thing it’s powering down, but we’ve still got gremlins and even a few sharks lurking about.”

Dravis finally turned from the panel to give him an empty stare.

“Sorry. Old school DTI lingo. Gremlins are clouds of chronitons that form around artificial temporal phenomenon, the unstable kind. They dissipate quickly. Mostly harmless, they just interfere with instrumentation for a while. Sharks are another matter. Those are temporal singularities that create subspace fissures. They can devour entire objects, including people.”

“Sounds unpleasant.”

“You could say that. Imagine experiencing an infinite number of temporal states simultaneously just before getting crushed into a subspace pocket.”

The other man glanced about nervously.

Haoyu chuckled. “Don’t soil yourself. The sharks are all topside, at ground level and are already fading. They tend to form farther away from the eruption point.”

“Thank goodness.”

“Thank quantum entanglement.” Haoyu made his way to the Nausican. “She must be a high-ranking member of The Competition to have come through alone.”

Dravis turned back to the data panel. “Which doesn’t make sense. The Competition went through considerable effort to pull this off. Consider; they sent an advance team to secure this location and build the other end of the portal. They even managed to remove the tech inhibitors and filter out the biochemical changes to humanoid biology that occurred with the original Sarpeidon process.” He turned and nodded to the body on the floor. “Then she travels here, alone. Why? In fact, why set up shop here in the first place? There’s nothing special about this point in space-time. They did all of this, but for no discernable reason that I can fathom.”

Haoyu conceded the points by nodding his head. “It would be helpful if we could interrogate her. But we’d have to do it here. At this point, the array won’t support three people. We’ll be lucky to get back ourselves.” He knelt and began patting her down. “You’re the one with medical training. Do you think you can revive her?”

“Yes, but it would probably take days to get anything out of her.”


“Have you ever interrogated a Nausican?”

“I see what you’re saying. And staying longer is out of the question. The chroniton fountain would already have acted as a beacon to any outside agencies who were on Earth at this time.”

“To say nothing of Gary Seven. He’ll detect the activity soon if he hasn’t already. That’s a complication we could do without.” He finally removed himself from the console and joined Haoyu. As he walked, he slipped off his pack. “We should start planting the charges and get this over with.”

Haoyu didn’t reply. He had just detached a long thin sheath from a pocket of the Nausican’s pant leg and was slowly pulling an object from it. What emerged was a silver rod about 30 centimeters long. As soon as he got it clear, it began vibrating in his hand.

Dravis gave an involuntary gasp. “My God, what is that?”

Startled, Haoyu dropped it out of reflex. The rod clattered on the floor, producing a series of high-pitched tones, as though it were an oversized tuning fork.

“Do you feel that, Dravis?”

“How could I not? It’s making my guts tingle. I wouldn’t touch it again.”

But Haoyu was clearly enchanted. He reached down and picked it up carefully, using both hands.

Dravis recovered his wits and deployed his tricorder, but what he saw only caused frustration. “These reading are all over the place. Believe it or not, I can’t even tell you for sure if that thing really exists. At least it’s not giving off interference.”

“You know what this is?” Haoyu’s eyes were wide with child-like wonder. “It’s the device that nearly the whole galaxy has been looking for. The Holy Grail of alien artifacts.”

“Not that thing? Could it be? Are we that fortunate? “

“Incredibly so, yes.”

Dravis could feel waves of power emanating from the device, pulsing at him like great heartbeats, passing through his body but just barely above his levels of perception. He shivered with each contact. “But what is it, exactly? Our information has always been sketchy on this thing.”

Haoyu’s timbre was just north of a whisper. “Everything that is, everything that was, and everything that ever can be. All for the asking.” He shot Dravis a wild look. “God’s window.”

The fact that his partner had just made two religious references in as many minutes wasn’t lost on Dravis. He could only hope that Haoyu wouldn’t crack under the pressure too soon.

After all, the man wasn’t quite done serving his purpose, yet.

“It makes sense now.” Haoyu became animated by a new revelation. “That’s why The Competition established this outpost. It wasn’t about creating a temporal incursion. This is a safehouse. They managed to acquire this thing and decided the only secure place to hide it was in the past.”

“But where are her compatriots? We didn’t find anyone on the other side when our people seized the portal.”

“She may have eliminated anyone else with knowledge.”

Dravis smiled thinly. “Nicely done. You’d have made a fine 31 agent.”

Haoyu produced a faint scowl that said he could have done without the compliment.

Both of their tricorders began chirping. Since Dravis still had his out, he consulted it, thinking it was responding to new activity from the device.

His partner noticed the face Dravis was making and looked at the rod he was still holding with concern. “What are you seeing? Is the device emitting something harmful?”

“No, it’s not the device.” He looked up sharply. “You won’t believe this, but I’m reading another lifeform in the room! Those gremlins of yours must have been hiding it until now.”

They both drew their phasers and stood back-to-back, their eyes blanketing every millimeter of the space around them.

“Can’t be.” Haoyu protested after a minute of futile searching. “There’s no one here but us and the Nausican.”

“There’s definitely something else here. But the reading is very weak.” He made further attunements to the tricorder and then pointed across the room. “There! It’s coming from that pile of scrap.” He walked towards it. Haoyu started to move with him, but Dravis waived him off. “You hang back and cover me, just in case.”

As he got closer, more details emerged. “It’s reading as human, but life signs are unstable. Stand by.” He sat his instrument on the floor and started clearing the pile, which was made of broken shelving, containers, and an assortment of 24th century power tools, no doubt left behind in case work was needed on the array.

Most of it he could lift, but there were two especially heavy storage compartments that proved difficult. He had Haoyu slide his pack over so he could retrieve the antigrav handles inside.

When the larger objects were finally cleared, Dravis Forum was left thunderstruck. “Porca Vacca! Haoyu! It’s a child! He looks to be about nine or ten years old.”

His partner crept in for a better view. “And native to this timeframe, based on his clothing.”

“Confirmed by the tricorder.” He shook his head despondently. “He’s in bad shape. Concussion, broken bones, internal injuries...”

“God Dammit,” Haoyu hissed. “Will he make it?”

“Not without immediate care. It’s possible the medicine of the day could save him, but we have no way of transporting him to a hospital. I’ll have to start working on him right away.”

“You have to save him. It’s bad enough if a person dies in the past who wasn’t meant to, but it’s even worse when it’s a child. Since he’ll never procreate, his descendants die with him---a line of dominos that will start falling across the centuries...”

“I already know that!” Dravis snapped. “Now shut up and let me concentrate!”

Haoyu watched as the other man took out a few blocks from his pack. He connected them together and then, to his amazement, a holographic surgical canopy materialized around the boy, technology that Haoyu knew wouldn’t be available to the Federation for decades. There was no point in asking, so he just observed his partner’s back as he went to work.
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Chapter 6 Continued

Ultimately it was Dravis who broke his own rule of silence. “I don’t understand,” He muttered. “How did he get in here? The room wasn’t breached in any way.”

“Given the intensity of chronometric energy that was permeating the ceiling, it’s likely the upper building was in a state of temporal flux. He must have passed through while it was out of phase.”

“Poor kid. Wrong place at the wrong time.”

After a while, Dravis was able to stabilize his patient. He was about to mend his broken bones when the kid’s eyes fluttered open.

He stared up imploringly before his face squeezed into a severe grimace. “Mister, can you help me? I’m hurt a lot and it really hurts.”

“You’re going to be all right, son. But I need you to lie still.”

“Okay.” He rasped.

He injected him with a hypo, “What’s your name?”

“Jason.” His mouth fell open in fear. “Monster-woman.”

“Don’t worry, the monster’s gone. Now Jason, this is very important. I need you to stay awake for me, okay?”

“Okay.” His eyes closed.

“Dammit. Haoyu, this is going to take a while. Please put that thing away and stay on your tricorder. I don’t know how much time we have before someone crashes our party.”

Truthfully, Haoyu had forgotten he was still holding the alien rod. It was starting to feel part of him in a way he couldn’t articulate. But Dravis was right. He needed both hands and no distractions.

He decided to put it back in the sheath, as it was likely made of a material that shielded its effects. He turned back towards where he had left it on the floor…

Only to find that the artifact had its own ideas.

It wouldn’t move. He yanked at it, but it was as if it were glued to an invisible wall. Grunting, he pulled on it with both hands, using all of his strength, and yet it still wouldn’t budge.

He let go and stepped back.

The rod was suspended in the air.

“Uh, Dravis? We have a---"

A starburst flooded the room. Both men watched as a large, green object appeared between them at eye level, floating like a hologram. Once the brightness faded to a point that their eyes could tolerate, it became obvious that it was shaped like a prism. The prism immediately began rotating, emitting pulses of emerald light with each revolution.

Dravis twisted around, raising a hand to block the glare. “Haoyu, what the hell are you doing?”

“It wasn’t me. The thing activated on its own.” He pointed at the boy. “I think it’s responding to him.”

“The child? How do you know?”

“I can’t explain it, I just know.”

Dravis turned back to his task. “I have to keep working on him. Scan that thing and tell me if does anything threatening.”

Haoyu was already waiving his tricorder at the prism. “Trying. But I can’t tell if I’m getting any information. So far, it’s reading like gibberish. Hold on, do you hear that?”

He did. It was a voice, tinny and static-filled, like an ancient radio broadcast emanating from a closed room. He cocked his head. “Just barely. It’s coming from the prism.”

As Haoyu stared in bewilderment, a line of glowing text materialized in the air before him, alternating between English and Mandarin:

AubreyCorp Completes Acquisition of ChronoWerx Assets.

“Dravis, are you seeing this?”

“Not now.”

The staticky voice strengthened enough that both men could hear it clearly.

“---from Capitol Hill on day two of the investigative hearing. Members of Congress are continuing to question AubreyCorp CEO Jason Aubrey over his unsanctioned negotiations with the ‘Augments’. The Augments, as you may recall, are a loose association of rogue militia who have been executing what the White House now believes is a coordinated effort to destabilize governments across eastern---"

The voice drifted away.

“I didn’t know it could do this.” Haoyu murmured.

Dravis paused and looked over his shoulder just as another voice emerged from the past.

“---stunning admission, Jason Aubrey is now stating that the so-called ‘Augments’ may have gained access to an experimental biological weapon, allegedly seized from AubreyCorp. The circumstances surrounding the theft have not yet been disclosed. But CNN has learned from reliable sources within AubreyCorp, that the weapon in question is referred to internally as a ‘metagenic warhead’. This weapon allegedly has the potential to---"

“Oh, no.” Haoyu choked. “Dravis, stop what you’re doing.”

The broadcast fell into static and died. More text appeared in the air:

Allies Consider Nuclear Response.

“Dravis, stop! Move away from him!”

Kahn Sing: ‘If we fall, the world falls with us.’

Responding to the shrill panic in Haoyu’s tone, Dravis turned back to him. “What are you babbling about? You’re the one who told me to save him.”

Haoyu moved past the rotating prism and looked down at Dravis with a stricken expression. “Listen to me. The boy isn’t here by accident, like we thought. He’s a Focal Point in time. That’s why we were all drawn together. And not just any Focal Point. He belongs to the Ragnarök category.”

Behind Haoyu a ring of videos and images was now visible, circling the prism like a marquee. Cities blazed. He watched parents shriek as their children dissolved in their arms. He saw mountains of rotting cadavers piled in the streets. Waves of fire crashed into skyscrapers like surf against a jetty…

Dravis couldn’t bear it anymore, so he returned his gaze to the child.

Even though his closed eyes still twitched in pain, his face was pristine and unblemished as that of a doll. The longish, dark blond hair that curled around his ears, made him seem almost pretty. He looked delicate and pure, as though his essence had been distilled from a Norman Rockwell painting.

“I have to let him die, don’t I?”

Haoyu shook his head firmly. “No, you have to kill him. It’s the only way to make sure. If you don’t, they’ll be no future for us to go back to. The human race will end here, in the past.”

“Hard to believe. He’s just a kid.”

“He’s a Ragnarök. He was never meant to survive. Our intrusion into this timeframe has already altered his destiny. We have to make a correction while we still can.”

Jason’s eyelids cracked open then widened as the images from the prism assaulted his mind. Horrific scenes of destruction, disease and pathos seared into his consciousness like the hot brand of an iron.

“Ragnarök,” He moaned. “Ragnarök…”

Dravis adjusted his position to block Jason’s view. “Shh. It’s going to be okay.”


Years of fieldwork had endowed him with a sixth sense, allowing him to feel the phaser pointed at his back without actually seeing it. Dravis made a final adjustment to his tricorder, placed it on the floor and carefully stood up, hands raised, to face his partner.

“I’m sorry, but I can hear the hesitation in your voice. Please move aside.”

“You can burn down a child without batting an eye? You definitely have 31 in your veins. Someone made a grave error in not recruiting you, my friend.”

Behind Haoyu, the images from the prism began to shift, catching Dravis’ attention. He stared in confusion for long moments, his face soon transitioning into wonder.


He didn’t respond, still drawn into the narrative that was playing out before him.

“Dravis? What is it?”

“I’ll be… damned…”

Fearing deception, Haoyu had kept his attention glued to the 31 agent as he noted the emotional journey taking place across the other man’s features, all the while resisting the temptation to look behind him. But Dravis’ animated facial expressions became so convincing, he decided to take a calculated risk.

He walked backward a few steps to see what was in the prism that had attracted so much attention, while still keeping his target in sight. But by the time he spared his peripheral vision, he could only glimpse a starfield scattered with…something. And then the picture flipped back to scenes of a devasted Earth.

“What did you see in there?”

“Other possibilities.” Dravis said, as though talking to himself. And then, with somber conviction: “We’re going to need him, Haoyu.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s going to have to come back with me. I’m afraid you’ll have to give up your seat.”

Haoyu let out a burst of stuttering laughter that was nearly manic. “You’re mad, do you know that? You can’t take a Ragnarök into the future! Chaos would follow wherever he goes. You’d be putting millions, maybe billions at risk.”

“To potentially save more.”

Dravis lowered his hands.

“DON’T!” Haoyu depressed the firing plate on his weapon only to discover---to his horror---that his phaser was dead.

In the meantime, Dravis had deployed his own weapon. “I deactivated it a few moments ago with my tricorder.” He smiled sheepishly. “Remember? Boy with the toys?”

The DTI agent stood silently, dumbstruck.

“I suppose you’re owed an explanation. As you may have guessed, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you. You see, our own INTEL already told us that The Competition had the prism device. I was sent here to retrieve it.”

Haoyu’s face hardened into disgust. “The joint operation with DTI was all just a pretext, wasn’t it?”

“Not completely. It’s true that we also had an interest in taking down the Sarpeidon tech, we just never considered it a significant threat. We knew it wasn’t sustainable.”

“I’d always thought you seemed unusually naïve for a 31 agent.”

“Actually, I’m probably the galaxy’s foremost expert on the Prism. And no offense, but I’ve forgotten more about temporal mechanics then you’ll ever learn.”

“Dravis, if that’s true then you know that whatever you saw in there was the least likely outcome. You understand the danger he represents as much as I do.”

“Don’t worry, partner. Our past will be safe. And as for the future, well, let’s say that any lives taken by his presence will just have to be tallied under the column of acceptable losses.”

“It will never work. They’ll track you down. You’ll be eliminated.” He pointed at Jason. “So will he, once they figure out what he really is. Or worse, they won’t figure it out and find a way to return him to the 20th Century.”

“I’m prepared for that.”

“Dravis, please…I’m not begging for my life, I’m begging for everyone else’s. Don’t take him with you. If he rides into the future, the apocalypse rides with him! You know that!”

“What I know, is that his story has more than one ending.”

The phaser beam stopped further discussion as Haoyu Kai was blasted into a cloud of flaming mist.

Dravis considered the empty space for a moment. “That man really loved his own voice.”

He turned his attention to the Nausican. Before dispatching her, he offered a brief eulogy. “You’ll hate me for this. And I can’t say I blame you, because I know you would have preferred to go out fighting. I’m sorry, but circumstances don’t allow another option.”

He fired and she disappeared with a flash of crackling energy.

His nerve almost faltered as he approached the exhibitor rod that was still suspended in the air. Beyond it, the Prism continued to spin, the ring of images had now become a jumble of incoherence as infinite outcomes and infinite realities all vied for attention. It was a medusa, and Dravis knew better than to watch if he wanted to retain his sanity.

He grasped the rod and was nearly overwhelmed by the energy that gushed through his body. In a split second, he was tapped into a power that felt cosmic in its scope.

Dravis had forgotten how intoxicating it was. He closed his eyes for precious seconds as he struggled to get himself under control. Where was that sweet spot? That connection he had found all those years ago, that would let him bond once again and assert his will?

Where are you? Where are you…?


He opened his eyes.

“Hello, old friend.”

The Prism collapsed on itself and was gone.

He sheathed the exhibitor rod and carried it over to his pack. It was tucked away carefully, even respectfully one might say. He was a man handling an object of great reverence.

A number of important tasks still awaited him. The boy was stabilized but needed more work before being fully out of danger and ready for travel. Putting him under full sedation, Dravis knitted his broken bones and then performed surgery to address the internal damage. Advanced nanites---his specialty---were introduced to repair everything else, which included replicating blood cells and lessening the effects of his concussion.

A team comprised of 31 and DTI agents awaited him on the other side of the portal. He had the skillset to take them all out, but not while guarding a wounded child. So, he spent his next few minutes reprogramming the array’s spatial gradients so that he and Jason would emerge at a different exit point.

With the array powering up and the explosives set, he used the holomatrix to shut down the surgical canopy and created a gurney instead. He gently placed the boy in it and secured his limbs.

Leaning over his patient, he used a hypo to bring him around.

“Jason, we have to go now. You’re a lot better, but I need you to drink this medicine, all right? It will make the trip easier.”

“Are we going to a hospital?” he asked groggily.

“Yes. Here.” He pressed a small vile of fluid to his lips.

He took it in.

But Before Dravis could straighten, Jason spat the medicine into his face.

He stepped back in surprise and wiped his eyes with a sleeve. His vision cleared in time to see the boy thrashing against his restraints.

He did a mental doubletake. The kid had been on his deathbed not 30 minutes ago.

Where was this strength coming from?

“Here now! Stop that! You’ll tear something open.”

Dravis approached Jason again and tightened his restraints.

His captive greeted him with a look of fury that seemed beyond his years. “I’m not going in there!”

The kid wasn’t stupid. He knew that if he went into the lights, he would never see his father or his home again.

He had no words of comfort. Nor would Jason buy his empty platitudes even if he had them to offer. Instead, he administered another hypo even as the boy swung his head wildly back and forth.

“No! Lemme go, you son of a bitch! Help! Somebody HELP ME!”

Dravis pushed the gurney through the first arch as it lit up, praying the transition wouldn’t destabilize the holomatrix.

And they were gone.

The explosives went off soon after, engulfing the room in exotic energy waves of a type unknown to most people in the Federation. Every bit of 24th century technology was instantly transmuted into fine granules, which dropped to the floor with a loud sigh. For a time, the grains vibrated and jumped, forming Chladni Plate patterns across the room before dissolving into nothingness.

When it was over, the chamber stood empty and clean, as though it had never been occupied.

All except for one surviving witness, that is.

In a far corner of the room stood a child’s shoe.
Two great baddies that taste great together - 31 and DTI... Some really intense visual imagery, great Treknobabble, and a 31 agent with ice in his veins. And here's to the female nausicaan - I particularly liked her and the description of her from Jason's POV. Love it!

Thanks!! rbs
There’s a lot to unpack here, as they say. So much happening here but also so much background and world building. Really quite impressive.

First, Jason’s origin story is one for the ages. No wonder the guys has a complex or two, even if he doesn’t remember any of this.

Our mysterious S31 agent also seems to have an intriguing backstory.

My favorite part was your description of the prism and its affects on everyone around it. This isn’t just your everyday space time altering artifact. This thing is serious business, and Aubrey is right in the middle of it all.
Loads of action and betrayal here, with plots within plots. :wtf:

I'd always wondered what Jason's designation might be from temporally-minded authorities, and Ragnarök seems very applicable here. Interesting that he could potentially cause as much damage in the future as he could here, so his destructive potential isn't necessarily tethered to a certain fixed point in time.

And now he gets swept away from everything he knows and loves, only to have his memory tampered with, which will create its own host of issues further down the line.

Great stuff!

Chapter 7

Mexico City
Vulcan Consulate
A.D. 2374

When Commander Shantok first appeared through the open archway in the consulate’s garden, Adol almost didn’t recognize her. It was likely because this marked the first time he was observing her out of uniform. It was a peculiarity of Starfleet life that after a while, you began to see the uniforms around you as skin, rather than clothing. And today that skin was different. His former commanding officer was now adorned in a flowing silk robe that was decorated in muted pastels, colors that seemed to shift as the folds of her garment peaked and valleyed with her movements.

That wasn’t all. He was accustomed to seeing her jet-black hair gathered in a neat but stylish bun. But now her curtains flowed around her shoulders without apology, restrained by nothing.

He was surprised that her informal appearance drew his eye to her high cheek bones and sweeping eyebrows as if he were gazing upon her elegant features for the first time. And for a moment---just a moment, mind you---he saw her as a woman, not a fellow officer. An improper thought that caused a light flutter of primal attraction.

It shamed him, so he crushed the feeling at once.

“Commander. It’s agreeable to see you again.”

“Ma’am. You as well. We’ll need to speak somewhere in private.”

“Of course. Follow me.”

She led him to her apartment just off the common grounds. She explained the residence was on loan to her from the Consulate General who was away at a diplomatic conference. The dwelling was Spartan, with only a few easy chairs and a kitchen table so minute that it qualified more as a glorified breakfast nook.

Shantok directed him to sit down while she brought drinks from the replicator. She took a seat opposite him, folding her legs under her in yet another casual display that was new to see.

Adol took a sip of his purple drink and nodded approvingly. The Nelag she had given him was his favorite Andorian beverage. Its pleasing effects came from a plant-based narcotic rather than alcohol and left few side effects once it wore off. However, his drink today was a synthetic version that had no inhibiting qualities. He was forced to admit that for a virgin, it wasn’t bad at all.

“So, commander. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

He responded with a suffering look. “Very amusing.”

Adol consumed the next twenty-five minutes explaining, with Shantok’s questions following more or less the same course as had the Starfleet Security chief’s, just with a Vulcan flavor. When he was done, he gave her precisely thirty seconds to consider his words before following up with his curt request. “So, I’ve come here to ask for your help.”

She looked back at him stoically from across the small living room, immobile as a statue, as she processed his content. “You made the effort of speaking to me in person.”

“Under the circumstances, I didn’t want to use any communication channels .” He looked into the depths of his glass, no longer meeting her eyes. “But I would have come in person regardless. I owe you that much, considering how things were left between us.”

“Indeed. In the light of the captain’s death, I would regret losing our relationship as well.”

Adol put his glass aside and steadied his resolution. “I said some angry words when we last parted company. But you understand, I felt betrayed. You used your telepathic gifts to contact my security staff and most of the crew. And all to gather support for the captain so that he could thwart any attempts to remove him from command.”

“That is an accurate statement.”

“But you didn’t reach out to me or Doctor Kella. You and Aubrey went behind our backs. You didn’t trust me, Shantok.”

“I regret that it appeared that way. However, it wasn’t strictly a matter of trust, commander. The captain knew you were already under enormous pressure. He had been officially relieved by Admiral Jellico after refusing to use the Inth against the Dominion. An order that you, as acting first officer, were obligated to carry out, but didn’t. The crew was also torn, as Starfleet abandoned us, and it may have appeared to some of them---at least on the surface---that Aubrey might be under alien influence. Further, he knew you might at any moment withdraw your support. You said as much to him at the beginning. It was both prudent and logical that the captain would gather any information that could aid him in successfully completing our mission.”

“Damn your insufferable logic. It was still wrong, and you know it.”

“You’re correct, Commander Adol. It was wrong. And should I ever find myself in a similar circumstance, I will certainly not make the same mistake.”

His cranial appendages stood in surprise. “What did you say?”

“I said you are correct. My actions, however justifiable, were still wrong. I should have engaged you and the doctor, despite the captain’s orders. The events of the last few weeks, not the least of which was the captain’s suicide, have led me into deep reflection. That is why I’ve confined myself here to meditate. I would ask your forgiveness.”

He was stunned into silence, all the while his suspicious brain kept telling him this had to be some type of ruse. Shantok didn’t apologize to anyone! Moreover, this wasn’t just an apology but the admission of a mistake, a phenomenon that he had never witnessed either.

Yet, as he looked closer, he noticed her complexion was a shade whiter than normal. And there was vulnerability peeking through her facade of control. Her picture abruptly came into focus, and he finally beheld what had been in front of him all along:

She was in pain.

Of course, he hadn’t noticed her grief because he was selfishly lost within his own objectives, consumed with chasing down threats that might be real or just tricks of the light. Blinders firmly in place, he had been smug and self-righteous while passing judgment on her misdeeds.

She had served with Aubrey on his first command years ago. They had a bond. Now he was gone---not death in battle, not a heroic sacrifice for others, but a public, humiliating demise that had scarred those few individuals who had stood by him.

And if his brief tenure as executive officer had taught him anything, it was that people had nuance.

He raised his glass to her. “Consider it forgiven.”

She dipped her chin in acknowledgement.

They both drank, allowing the moment to draw out properly before speaking again. That their discord could so easily be dismissed was a fiction, but a necessary one for them to move forward.

“I agree the situation warrants study.” She said at last. “I’ll join you.”

“You won’t mind interrupting your meditation?”

“I believe at this point a diversion would be more beneficial to me. Even if it were not, as you stated, this could mean a grave threat to Starfleet. Such a threat more than justifies any discomfort on my part. How do you propose we begin?”

The Andorian stood up and walked slowly over to the picture window which offered a view of the common grounds with its landscape of thick vegetation. “I want to confirm beyond any doubt that Aubrey really is dead.”

Her eyebrows nearly leaped off her forehead. “Commander.” She began quietly. “He was vaporized in front of dozens of eyewitnesses. An event that was also recorded on sensors. There can be no doubt.”

“That’s what it looks like. But too many things don’t add up. We have to at least consider the possibility that what we saw may not reflect reality.”

“There is a very old axiom in science: ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. There is no logical way to disprove this occurrence.”

“We both know that isn’t true. There is a way.” He turned back to her. “And that’s part of the reason I sought you out.”

She came out of her chair with a fluid, cat-like movement to stand beside him. “So. You would now have me use the very gifts you chastised me for abusing on the Intrepid.”

“I know this makes me sound like a hypocrite. But I’m not suggesting you use your abilities continuously during this investigation. Only once to see if Aubrey is somehow, still alive. A conventional investigation would take too long. If his death was somehow faked, then it’s obvious his captors intend to kill him at some point. Which means time is running out.”

“There are other considerations.”

“Violating your ethical codes.” He blurted impatiently. “You’re concerned about harming others or accidentally intruding into someone’s thoughts. I understand. You already crossed that line once on the ship and now here I am asking you to cross it again.”

“An oversimplification.” He could see an internal struggle play out on her face. It was subtle, but for a Vulcan, she might as well have been grimacing. “Commander, may I tell you something in confidence?”

“You have my word.”

“Few people know the full extent of my abilities.” She began after an acute pause. “Not even Starfleet is fully aware.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“To listen for Aubrey’s mind would mean loosening my telepathic restraints to a greater degree than I did aboard ship. If he is anywhere on Earth or in the Terran system, I could locate him.”

“You said anywhere in the system?” he echoed skeptically.

“Yes. But there is a risk in tapping into those abilities.”

He could only look on in wonderment, waiting for her to continue.

“The nature of my telepathy differs from most. It’s an energy that cannot easily be controlled once it’s unleashed. Each time I draw on my full potential, it makes it that much harder to suppress it again. If I were to miscalculate the amount of force needed in this case, I could kill everyone in this building, including you.”

“Gods of war! You’re that powerful? I mean, I know your father was a Betazoid, but…”

“Were our superiors to find out, they would dismiss these risks in favor of using my abilities in the war effort.”

Adol pulled back his initial excitement as he again considered her position. “Yes. I see. If you allow yourself to become weaponized, you may end up doing more harm than good because you could lose control. But you could also lose yourself, couldn’t you? You could transform into something that you wouldn’t be able to come back from.”

Shantok confirmed his remark by not responding to it. She returned to her chair and took a sip of tea.

He grunted dejectedly. “I’m sorry, commander. I had no right to ask this of you. We’ll have to find another way. Besides, maybe he’s not alive, after all. This is all based on my own conjecture.”

She took so long in responding, he thought the conversation had just ended abruptly. But she did eventually speak again, her tone mechanical as she gazed into a far corner of the room.

“When I violated my code on the ship, I did so because trillions of lives were at risk. I could make a similar argument about the war. in fact, Starfleet must handle any number of crises even during peace time. The temptation to intervene will always be present.”

He nodded, his spirits continuing to sink.

“So…I will do this thing, Commander Adol. However, this will be the last time I use my gifts for such a reason. No matter what the cost. Do you understand?”

Her words didn’t penetrate at first. When they did, he stiffened in surprise. “Of course. Thank you, commander. I understand the sacrifice you’re making.”

He knew that Shantok’s stern affirmation was really directed at herself, not him. She was renewing her mental chastity with an oath. That oath was needed for ballast, so she could live with the choices she had made and was about to make now. Adol had his own codes and understood too well the angst that came from having to act against one’s own bible.

“I’ll need a minute to prepare.”

He reseated himself and tried to dilute his nerves by scrutinizing his glass of Nelag, as though it were the most fascinating thing in the universe.

The process was surprisingly swift. Within moments of closing her eyes, she opened them again.

During that span, Adol had felt something. It wasn’t the overbearing telepathic contact he’d experienced at times from other species. What moved past him had been more like a gentle breeze caressing his cheeks, a sensation so fleeting and ginger it was barely noticeable at all.

But that delicacy was misleading because he knew it for what it really was:

The cautious touch of a giant.


There was no response to his verbal cue. Her complexion was ashen, her eyes vacant. Fine pearls of sweat now littered her forehead.

“Commander, are you all right?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “I succeeded.”

Adol could have sworn that time had suddenly come to a stop, so great was his anticipation. The air seemed heavy and stagnant as he stood by, resisting the urge to shake answers out of her.

And then, Shantok’s head turned, and her dark eyes traveled from the floor and upwards to hold his own. “It seems you were correct, commander. Captain Aubrey is alive.”

It was a jolt that might have knocked him off his feet, had he not already been sitting. Part of him, a big part, hadn’t really believed in the possibility. Now his blood fairly boiled with combustive emotions; joy, urgency, anger and an overwhelming impulse to act, and act now, all became a torrid mixture.

He launched to his feet, but Shantok’s grave iteration held him fast.

“However, he may not be alive for much longer. He is in considerable distress.”

“Could you tell what type of distress?”

“No. But I did sense another presence with him, perhaps even sharing his mind. Something cold and merciless. I was forced to withdraw quickly before I was detected.”

“Where is he?” He flung at her. “We need to send in an extraction team ASAP!”

“Hold.” She took a cloth from an end table and dabbed her face. “The situation is more complex than I anticipated.”

“How do you mean? Is he being held in some type of fortified bunker, or a cloaked ship? wherever he is, we’ll retrieve him.”

“No commander. He is not in any location we might have logically assumed him to be.”

“Then where?” He demanded.

She took a lengthy breath and released it, before giving her answer. “Captain Aubrey is being held at Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco.”

He stared idiotically. “I don’t believe it.”

“Well, this has all been very informative.” Said a new voice, from of all places, the lavatory.

As Shantok stood in surprise, Adol twisted around to meet the intruder just as the new arrival stepped into view, pointing the business end of a phaser in their direction.

“Don’t try it! Commander Adol, I know you have a small phaser concealed in the left sleeve of your uniform. Please remove it very slowly and drop it on the floor.”

He did so, his body taught with fury. “It can’t be!”

“Regrettably, it is. As I said…this situation is more complex than I imagined.”

The intruder smiled drolly. “That, Commander Shantok, is the understatement of the century.”
Quite a number of surprises, one dramatic reveal after another. And yet my favorite is the more subtle, emotional relationship between Adol and Shantok. Really nicely done. Now... Section 31? DTI? Some other actor?

Thanks!! rbs
I too admire subtlety in writing and Vulcans are nothing if not subtle. Something that was displayed masterfully in this chapter.

The revelation of Shantok's superpower was surprising but I guess all bets are off if you mix Vulcan with Betazoid.

Nice tease of a cliffhanger to boot. Yeah, if we learned one thing in this story so far it’s that things are definitely complicated.

Chapter 8

From somewhere and somewhen else, the Lethean observed.

He detested humans, a feeling shared by most of his kind. If one doubted that the universe was unjust, one need look no further than human ascendance. The fact that this regressive species of bipeds had gained a disproportionate influence over galactic affairs was nothing short of criminal.

As an added insult, he found himself often having to work for humans. But what could he do? With his own species suffering from a dwindling and broken gene pool, they were on the verge of extinction. So, his people had to take jobs where they could find them.

He was more fortunate than most. His current employers always had steady work for him, and they paid very well. (And sometimes, like now, there was the bonus of destroying a human, something he always took pleasure in.)

But this job wasn’t going as planned. He had noticed something was amiss from the moment he entered Aubrey’s mind. It was like dropping into a river and being swept along by the current. He was accustomed to travelling uninhibited through a subject’s memories, but in this case, he was being made a helpless spectator, forced to observe Aubrey’s memories in a plodding, sequential order. He could change neither the speed nor direction of the narrative.

At this point he couldn’t even tell how close he was to the target information he was sent in to retrieve. He only knew that based on his entry point; he was in the right memory cluster.

It shouldn’t have been possible. Aubrey was an ordinary human. Nevertheless, there were safeguards in his mind that were not only preventing damage but appropriating his journey. And these safeguards were entrenched---the type that he couldn’t loosen without immediately killing the subject. Nor could he determine their origin.

He could only continue. If his employers had to wait a bit longer for their precious information, so be it. Who knew? The information itself could prove to be far more valuable than his payment, perhaps something he could even leverage into power.

So, the Lethean did what he did best; he held fast to his subject and continued to plunge deeper, more determined than ever to rip away his prize.

Poxas – Dara
On The Outskirts of Federation Space
A.D. 2346

Poxas-Dara was like many rough-and-tumble trading posts scattered throughout the Alpha Quadrant. This one circled a red dwarf whose charms included belching out lethal radiation at regular intervals, all of it just barely shouldered by the planet’s artificial atmosphere and radiation shields.

Poxas was originally a Class D planetoid, discovered in the late 23rd Century by miners from a non-aligned world who found several veins of borite and even a few deposits of dilithium. But because it was technically in Federation space, the outsiders found it necessary to secure joint mining rights. Even if they had wanted to secretly plunder the deposits, it wouldn’t have been feasible as the would-be miners simply didn’t have the equipment needed to tap such deep veins, nor the resources to terraform Poxas for humanoid habitation and comfort. For that, they needed a Federation partnership.

It was an arduous process, and when success finally came, it was only made possible because the resources in question were limited, which meant the Federation had no long-term interest. For a time, the mining operations were profitable for all parties. But eventually the veins ran dry, settlers fled, and Poxas became a has-been that everyone was eager to forget.

The Federation still owned the rock, but with all the valuable resources depleted and the planet having no strategic value, only a token effort was made to administrate it. A Starfleet ship sailed about every 18 months for health inspections and infrastructure reviews. It amounted to a lot of bureaucrats huffing and puffing. The governing body---whoever the flavor of the month was---would promise changes and reforms, all of which were forgotten the moment the officials all faded back into their respective transporter beams. It was common for grafts to be exchanged across both sides of the fence, all to avoid labor no one wanted to do for a planet no one cared about.

Today’s population was a mix that represented races from across the quadrant. Some of them were here for unscrupulous business transactions, others making their last pit stop on the way out of Federation space to disappear.

Dravis moved across the outdoor bazaar with Jason, as they threaded their way through the restless tides of people that coursed around them and between markets, like blood circulating a vast network of arteries. Far above them, snarls of red energy clawed at the radiation shields, leaving an aurora borealis in the wake of each strike.

With no small effort, he had managed to calm the boy after they arrived. Once he gave him appropriate clothing and began showing him around Poxas, Jason’s fear receded enough to allow his natural sense of wonder and adventure to take over. From there, Dravis had added a fib for two, spinning their situation in a way that included the promise of Jason being returned home, “once this is all over”.

As they walked, Dravis exchanged salutations with various characters, in some cases even stopping for small talk. Jason observed these leisurely engagements with a judgmental scowl that only grew deeper with each pause in their journey. Finally, he decided he had enough, and planted his feet in protest, his small arms folded across his chest to make it clear he wouldn’t budge until his concerns were heard.

Dravis was on the move again but had to backtrack a few steps upon noticing his charge was no longer with him. “What is it?”

“Your plan isn’t tactically sound, you know.”

He raised his eyebrows in amusement.

“That means it’s a stupid idea.”

“So I inferred. Now where did a boy your age learn a phrase like that, I wonder?”

“My dad was in the navy. He was a submarine skipper. So, I know what it means.”

“All right. Indulge me. Why is my plan…’stupid’?”

“You said you’re a secret agent from the future. And your people will be pissed that you took me here. And you said they’re gonna be looking for you, right?”

He nodded slowly, trying to wrestle down a smile. “Yes.”

Jason waived his arms with undisciplined exaggeration. “But dude, everybody here knows you!”

“Well, not everybody. But many people, yes. I come here often.”

“They’ll tell everyone. Your people are gonna find out we’re here! Man, they probably know already! It’s like you’re not even trying to hide!”

Dravis finally untethered his grin. “You’re right. That would be stupid. But remember we came through a…oh, what is that antiquated term? Right. Remember we came through a time machine?”

“Yeah. You’ve been telling me I’m in the future.”

“You are. And because we used the time machine, I was able to come back three days before I left. So, nobody’s looking for me just yet. And because I’m a secret agent, none of these people know my business, so they won’t think it’s strange that I’m here. You understand?”

“Yeah, I can dig that.” Jason answered after batting the notion around. “I’ve read science fiction stories, so I know about this kind of stuff.” He furrowed his brow. “But…wouldn’t that mean there’s two of you now?”

“Very good. Yes, there is another me on…well, on another planet preparing for my mission right this very moment. But the other me won’t know I’m here, so we’re fine. And by the time my bosses know I was here, we’ll be gone.” He threw out a roguish wink, hoping a little charm would fend off further questions.

“But…can’t they follow us by doing the same thing?”

“No. I blew up the time machine after we left, so no one can tell where we went.”

“You blew up the time machine?” He echoed shrilly. “But how you gonna get me home, now?”

“Don’t worry. It’s the future. We have many time machines. Once we’re all done, I’ll just use a different one to send you home.”

That seemed to satisfy him, and they began moving forward again. Dravis kept watch on him with his peripheral vision, noting just how quickly the boy had progressed from a bewildered child to full participant in his own misadventure. He could almost see gears spinning behind Jason’s eyes. The boy was already analyzing his surroundings, asking questions, documenting the people and the environment while no doubt measuring Dravis’ words against his own meter of ten-year-old logic. Even now, he could see hints of the man he would grow into, the man he had seen within the many worlds of the Prism.

A small voice in the back of his mind suggested vigilance---a warning not to underestimate this child.

And sure enough, here came another round of questions…

“So, you’re telling me we’re on another planet far from Earth?”


He looked at his feet, taking in the rocky blue sand all around him. It reminded him of the stuff they put at the bottom of aquariums. “And most of these people are actually aliens?”

“Yes, most of them.”

“Bullcrap. My dad said that if aliens are real, they wouldn’t look anything like us. Because they would have evolved in a different bio, uh…”


“Yeah.” He snorted dismissively. “These aren’t aliens, they’re just people with funny foreheads. Like in those TV shows where they don’t have enough money to show real aliens, so they just like, have actors wearing makeup and stuff?”

“What can I say? Sometimes life imitates art. We call the ones around us ‘humanoids’ because they look like us. Now, what if I told you that there are hundreds of species around the galaxy that look exactly like humans. At least on the outside?”

“There’s no way.”

“And you would be correct. If not for the Archetects.”


“We have a theory. We think the first aliens looked like us. They probably spread their DNA all over the galaxy, like seeds, which grew into lots and lots of humanoids. They likely even terraformed thousands of worlds to support humanoid life. Earth would have been one of many.” He shrugged. “It hasn’t been proven conclusively yet, but there’s really no other explanation for all the humanoids and Earth-like planets in the cosmos.”

“Huh. If this was true and I lived here, I wouldn’t want to meet these boring ‘humanoid’ aliens. I’d wanna meet the cool kind. I’d wanna find the weirdest, craziest looking aliens ever. I’d wanna meet creatures so freaking bizarre that like, no one could even figure ‘em out.” Noting the look on Dravis’ face, Jason barked defiantly at him. “What? Why you looking at me like that?”

He had come to a stop and was holding the boy’s gaze with his own. “I was just thinking…you really should be careful what you wish for.”
They trotted forward for another five minutes before arriving at one of the few permanent structures in the immediate area. It was a weathered, two-story building with no visible windows. The exterior was a hodgepodge of various materials that included the type of cement normally used for emergency shelters, along with metal scrap and adhesive molding. The deathtrap looked on the verge of collapse, should it lose even one self-sealing stem bolt.

He and Jason stopped before a large rectangular door, the only component that appeared even slightly modern. But this particular door came with its own add-on accessory: a guard.

“Good afternoon.” Dravis said pleasantly to the large Krellonian man with white dreadlocks who had watched them approach with disinterest. “I’m here to see This and That.”

The Krellonian towered over them, standing a little over two meters with a burly physique that would have been the envy of any Klingon. He unfolded his arms, showing off a black suite of mesh plates; some of the latest multi-deflection body armor that the Krellonian Star Alliance had to offer. The Carnage rifle which hung off his left leg came from the Chanok species and seemed to complement his ensemble nicely. It was unusual to see ex-Krellonian soldiers hiring out their skills, but not unheard of. And as the saying goes, “All rules die on Poxas.”

His attention swiveled between Dravis and Jason. “That goes without saying. There’s no other reason to enter. Do you have an appointment?”

“This and That doesn’t make appointments, nor would he remember them even if he did. You know that as well as I do.”

The other man grunted. “He’s not taking visitors today.”

“Ah.” Dravis caught Jason’s eye and shrugged. “He has good days and bad days. Sounds like this is a bad day, aye? But don’t worry, he’ll see me. We’re old friends.”

“No, he won’t. He doesn’t have friends.”

“You must be new here, my good sir. We go way back. Now please stand aside.”

The Krellonian placed a giant hand on Dravis’ shoulder. “If you insist, it will cost you. Three bars of gold-pressed latinum. And I don’t take credit.”

Dravis beamed good naturedly. “I don’t recall an entrance fee that last time I was here. But I’m willing to meet you partway. What if we make it two strips and I’ll even throw in some deodorizer?”

The hand on Dravis’ shoulder tightened painfully. “I don’t like your attitude,” he sneered. “So, the price just went up to five bars, along with the contents of your backpack.”

“That sounds a bit exorbitant.”

“Then I suggest you leave now, while you still can.”

“No, I’m right where I need to be, thank you.” He suddenly reached up and slapped the guard’s face, in what seemed a brazen attempt at suicide.

The provocation worked.

The guard swung his fist downward in a hammer-strike move. Dravis pivoted on his right foot, twisting out of the man’s grip to avoid the deadly blow, the fist slashing by him with millimeters to spare. He then hooked both hands on the edge of his assailant’s chest plates while falling backwards with his full weight. In the meantime, he had kicked out with both feet, thrusting them between the guard’s legs and forcing them open with a scissors-like movement. The guard pitched forward, losing his balance, and landed on Dravis like a pile of bricks.

His backpack cushioned the fall, and the moment they were down, he jabbed a small device into the Krellonian’s exposed neck. There was a dull sizzling noise. The guard spasmed and immediately went still.

To his surprise, Jason ran over to help move the unconscious man off of him. Dravis regained his feet and quickly removed the man’s rifle. He then ejected the power cells and slipped them into his pack. He did the same with all the spares he took from the guard’s uniform, so his assailant would have no chance of retrieving them. He tossed the now powerless weapon aside and moved to the panel beside the door.

“Guards and security locks?” Dravis commented under his breath. “This and That has become paranoid in his old age.” Or just a lot more popular, he thought dryly.

Glancing over this shoulder, he noticed Jason staring at the unconscious Krellonian.

“What is it?”

“How come he doesn’t have ears?”

“Because he’s an alien.” Dravis supplied absently. “There. I’ve overridden the locking mechanism. Now follow me.”

The pale-yellow door stuttered open, and a poignant stink wafted out of the entrance.

“Let’s go.”

“Oh God. Yuck.” The boy complained.

A partition was in front of them, Dravis took Jason by the hand, and they went left around the wall, walking into a large, cavernous room. The light was gloomy and the air thick with the aroma of unpleasant biology.

Jason gasped at the apparition that materialized out of the murk. He had thought the monster-woman back in the basement was terrifying, but this abomination made her seem downright cute and cuddly.

Dravis waived disarmingly. “This and That. How have you been?”

The giant scorpion-like creature clattered forward on eight spindly legs. It was hairy and polka-dotted with blotches of crimson flesh and metal circuits. Its tail was a forked stinger that oozed a yellow, thick fluid that could have been either poison or puss.

Jason started to backpedal, but Dravis snared his arm. “Easy, lad. He won’t hurt you.”

As it drew close, This and That’s head detached from his front and telescoped forward on a mechanical tendril, waiving before them like a cobra. “Dravis Forum. As I live and rarely breath.” He vented air from his mouth in a coarse approximation of laughter.

Jason’s eyes were large saucers, but he held his ground. It helped that this thing had a head and face that at least was something humanoid. He chose to focus only on that part of the creature’s anatomy.

“I know it’s been a while, but I need to retrieve a package from you.”

The thing that had once been a Ferengi snapped his forward pincers together excitedly. “Oh, package package! Where for art thou?” He crooned. Then the Ferengi’s eyes began spinning crazily, which reminded Jason of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Dravis seemed unfazed. “Do you remember I left something with you?”

This and That’s eyes stopped pinwheeling and his floating head sank towards Jason. He made several loud sniffing noises. “Oh, my, my. What have we here? This is very naughty of you, Dravis.” He snapped a pincer aggressively in the child’s direction. “You know very well he doesn’t belong here. An Outlier, if ever I smelled one. And I have smelled my share, yes sir.” His mouth stretched into a grimace-like smile, showing off a broad set of pointed metal teeth. “What have you been up to, I wonder?”

The kid stood firm and stared up at the creature defiantly. Dravis marveled once again at how fast he was adapting to his bizarre new environment.

“That’s my affair. Do you remember my package? Think carefully, now.”

This and That scratched a lobe absently with a claw. “I might.” He grinned. “For a price.”

“Of course. Is it one telling today, or two?”

“One will do, so skoodle-do!”

“Very well.” He cleared his throat dramatically. “A man walks into a doctor’s office with a vole on his head. The doctor says, ‘may I help you?’ The vole says ‘yes, get this man off my ass.’”

This and That stomped and hissed with amusement. When he was done, Dravis tried again.

“Now, then. My package if you please?”

“Wait now, just wait. Don’t rush me, don’t rush me. I need to remember. So much forgotten, so much.”

“Most of your memories are synthetic. So let me help.”

“No! I can do it on my own! I just need time, very much time!”

“My apologies, but time is in short supply. So, listen carefully: this is a Priority Directive. Access data series Alpha-Jet. Beta-Four, Zula-Baker-Five-Nine-Zero-Seven-Neuro- Whiskey. Password: Rewrite.”

The creature froze. His face slackened. “Directive received and understood.” He intoned in a buzzing mechanical voice. His head retracted back to his body. Then he began to shudder. He made a few awful gurgling sounds before suddenly vomiting out a plume of muddy green fluid onto the floor.

“Ahh! Holy crap!” Jason yelled as he walked backward, arm over his mouth.

Dravis took a cloth from his backpack and wrapped it over his own mouth. He then stepped forward into the steaming puddle and began looking around him.

“Aw God! You’re standing in it! Ah, Jesus that’s disgusting!”

“Shut up, boy.” After a moment, he found what he needed. Bending down, he carefully picked up a small metal vile. He removed the cloth from his mouth and wiped the vile off before slipping it into his pack.

The Ferengi-thing looked at his own fluids with dismay. “Oh dear. It seems I’ve made a mess. Please send in my guard to clean this up, won’t you?”

“Will do. Take care, old friend.”


They were on the move again and Dravis noted with some amusement that Jason was white as a ghost. He couldn’t resist prodding the kid.

“So. Was that weird enough for you?”

“Yeah, sure.” He shuddered. “Definitely not a humanoid.”

“He’s known as a Ferengi. They’re traders and merchants. A lot like the people from your century, in fact. And actually, they are humanoids. He just happens to be an exception.”

“Jesus. What happened to him?”

“How can I put it simply? There’s a disagreeable species called the Husnock. Our friend back there tried to cheat them during a business deal. It didn’t end well for him.”

“They can do that?”

“Yes. One of their more frightful and cruel specialties is genetic mutilation. But that’s only when they really don’t like someone.”

“Man. So the dude went crazy, didn’t he?”

“Mad as a hatter. But he also has unique abilities and resources that I’ve come to appreciate.”

“But how did he end up here? And how did you get to know him?”

“Those are long stories we don’t have time for. No more questions. Just follow me, we’re almost there.”

“You know, your joke wasn’t funny.” Jason snarked.

“What can I say? Espionage is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Their walk lasted about 30 minutes, during which Jason begin to gripe about fatigue and hunger. Despite his resiliency, the boy was still weak and sore from his injuries. Dravis assured him that his discomforts would soon come to an end.

They arrived at a motley group of hut-like structures, scattered haphazardly among the blue sand. Dravis gave a few strips of latinum to someone who occupied a small booth on the property, and then ushered Jason inside one of them.

The hut was cramped, with a front and rear door and no windows. (People didn’t seem fond of windows on this planet for some reason.) It smelled foul, but to Jason it might have been perfume compared to what he had just endured.

There was a replicator, but Dravis didn’t trust it. Instead, he used the Nexus unit from his backpack to create one, the same tech that had generated a surgical canopy and gurney previously.

He replicated food for both of them, electing to eat at a small table while he worked. Jason had the approximation of a 20th century meal; something comprised of a “hamburger, fries and coke”. He devoured it with gusto. Once he finished, the boy started yet another line of questioning.

“So, you can make stuff out of thin air?”

“It’s not magic, just technology.”

Jason considered the remains of his hamburger appreciatively “Wow. Hey, isn’t that thing you’re holding what you took from the creature?”


“What is it?”

“Insurance.” Dravis mumbled over his shoulder while inserting the metal vile into a small cradle. Once it was seated, he began attaching three fiber cords to the device.

“When am I going home?”

He sighed. “Soon. When we can get off this planet. Now let me focus on what I’m doing.” Sensing a change in the boy’s demeanor, he turned to see Jason standing in the middle of the room, staring accusingly. “What is it now? I’m busy.”

“You’re lying to me.”

“Jason, I’m not lying.”

“Yeah you are. You wouldn’t be telling me all this stuff about the future if I was goin’ home.”

He knew that his efforts to misdirect the boy’s attention had been a flimsy stitchwork that wouldn’t hold, but Dravis had hoped it would last longer than this. Cursing Jason’s intellect, he prepared himself for this new chess match. “Listen, I know this is all confusing. I can’t tell you everything right now. There are things you wouldn’t understand…”

He stood up in what he thought was a comforting gesture, but Jason backed away, his facial muscles trembling.

“I understand a lot of stuff.” He balled his hand into a minute fist and tapped his forehead with it. “It’s in my brain. That prism thing put pictures in my brain. The stuff I saw…! All those dead people…”

“Jason, please calm down. This will pass, trust me.”

“I don’t trust you! You kidnapped me! You’re lying to me! You don’t wanna take me home ‘cause you think I’m gonna do something really bad when I grow up, right?

“No. Listen to me. All of that can change…”

His eyes began to water as pent-up fear and rage boiled out of him. “I just wanna go home! It’s not fair! I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“You will go home, but you have to trust me a bit longer.”

“If I’m gonna do something bad when I grow up, then just tell me what it is, and I promise I won’t do it. Cross my heart and hope to die! I promise if you’ll just take me home.”

Dravis watched uncertainly as Jason covered his face with both hands and began to weep, his shoulders rocking with each muffled snort. He had no idea how to deal with children, having met very few in his life. Reluctantly, he approached the child. Kneeling, he put his arms around him, offering what little comfort he could muster.

“I wanna go home.” The kid sobbed into his shoulder.

“I know. You’re going to see…it will be all right.”

Suddenly, Dravis felt his body jolt in agony. Gasping, he fell away and collapsed onto his back, his limbs twitching uncontrollably. His mind raced, attempting to ascertain from where the attack had come. His first thought was that an intruder must have entered the room without his notice.

His next thoughts were of bitter failure as he frantically tried to resolve the blurry vision of Jason, who would now be defenseless. The boy’s image coalesced, and he was relieved to see that for the moment, he was unharmed.

Not only was he unharmed, but he was also unafraid. And not staring over Dravis at a mysterious assailant, as he would have assumed. No, he was looking down at him with the vacant expression of a sociopath, the frantic tears and desperation now gone; as if they had been nothing but the work of a talented performer.

In his hand, he held the nullifier, the very one Dravis had felled the Krellonian with.

Jason frowned at it. “I thought this was gonna knock you out. It knocked out the alien and he was a lot bigger.”

Dravis fought the paralysis as was trained to do, willing his hand towards his belt, that he might grasp his phaser.

He stopped trying because it was futile. The phaser was no longer in his possession.

The boy had that, too. And he was now pointing it at him.

“I’m going home. Don’t try to stop me. If you get up, I’m gonna shoot you with this laser gun.”

“You can’t---go---out there. Danger—ous…” His vocal cords crackled like dry brush.

“I’m gonna find the police. Everyplace has police. They’ll help me.”


“It’s not safe with you! I bet you’re one o’ them pedal-files my dad told me about!”

He turned and bolted towards the rear door, disappearing long before Dravis could force another sound from this throat.
Oh, dear, Dravis had completely lost control of the situation. A Terran child from the 1970's is loose with a phaser. Let Ragnarok begin!

Excellent details with the frontier outpost, the local color, and the shout out to the awful Husnock and their sadistic hobbies. More, please!
I get the idea this story had been rolling about in the back of your head for some time before you finally set about writing it.

I have to echo Gibraltar, but also note the economy of words. you managed to tell a lot of story with a rather short entry. Kudos!

Thanks!! rbs
This reminded me of all those stories where kids are thrust into very adult situations and turn out to become exceedingly annoying as things progress. Except that Jason is not just any other kid. Jason is friggen dangerous, man. Don’t mess with Jason Aubrey; Dravis is learning the hard way.

Can’t wait to see where the kid goes from here. We kinda know where he ends up, question is how he got there.
This reminded me of all those stories where kids are thrust into very adult situations and turn out to become exceedingly annoying as things progress. Except that Jason is not just any other kid. Jason is friggen dangerous, man. Don’t mess with Jason Aubrey; Dravis is learning the hard way.

Can’t wait to see where the kid goes from here. We kinda know where he ends up, question is how he got there.

I guess we could say that Aubrey is a pain in the ass at any age!
Chapter 9

Mexico City
Vulcan Consulate
A.D. 2374

Shantok’s head turned, and her dark eyes traveled from the floor and upwards to hold his own. “It seems you were correct, commander. Captain Aubrey is alive.”

It was a jolt that might have knocked him off his feet, had he not already been sitting. Part of him, a big part, hadn’t really believed in the possibility. Now his blood fairly boiled with combustive emotions; joy, urgency, anger and an overwhelming impulse to act, and act now, all became a torrid mixture.

He launched to his feet, but Shantok’s grave words held him fast.

“However, he may not be alive for much longer. He is in considerable distress.”

“Could you tell what type of distress?”

“No. But I did sense another presence with him, perhaps even sharing his mind. Something cold and merciless. I was forced to withdraw quickly before I was detected.”

“Where is he?” He flung at her. “We need to send in an extraction team ASAP!”

“Hold.” She took a cloth from an end table and dabbed her face. “The situation is more complex than I anticipated.”

“How do you mean? Is he being held in some type of fortified bunker, or a cloaked ship? wherever he is, we’ll retrieve him.”

“No commander. He is not in any location we might have logically assumed him to be.”

“Then where?” He demanded.

She took a lengthy breath and released it, before giving her answer. “Captain Aubrey is being held at Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco.”

He stared idiotically. “I don’t believe it.”

“Well, this has all been very informative.” Said a new voice, from of all places, the lavatory.

As Shantok stood in surprise, Adol twisted around to meet the intruder just as the new arrival stepped into view, pointing the business end of a phaser in their direction.

“Don’t try it! Commander Adol, I know you have a small phaser concealed in the left sleeve of your uniform. Please remove it very slowly and drop it on the floor.”

He did so, his body taught with fury. “It can’t be!”

“Regrettably, it is. As I said…this situation is more complex than I imagined.”

The intruder smiled drolly. “That, Commander Shantok, is the understatement of the century.”

“Sir, why are you doing this?” Adol demanded angrily.

Admiral Edward Jellico stepped fully into the middle of the room, his predatorial smile frozen in place. “Let’s hold all the questions until after I’ve finished. And stop moving apart! I want you both together. Keep your hands where I can see them. I have this set to wide beam, so one wrong move and you both go down.”

They did as instructed, watching Jellico scan them with a round, silver-colored device which he used like a tricorder. Although it wasn’t anything that either Shantok or Adol recognized as Starfleet issue.

An aching silence passed, nearly two minutes, as Jellico swung the scanner before them, harrumphing and grunting as he studied the results.

Whatever he saw on the scanner appeared to eventually satisfy him and he finally deactivated it.


Jellico gave them both a halting look of approval, before lowering his phaser. “You’re cleared. You may stand at ease.”

“You were ascertaining if either of us, or both of us, were Changelings.”

“Correct, Commander Shantok. Mr. Adol, you now have permission to recover your weapon.”

The Andorian did so, but with slow, deliberate movements, while keeping his scrutiny firmly on the admiral.

“Sir, I would respectfully ask for an explanation.”

“So would I!” Adol snapped. “But without the ‘respect’.”

Jellico gave him the evil eye. “Watch yourself, commander. You’d be wise not to follow in your former CO’s footsteps.”

“Nevertheless, sir…”

“Yes, Shantok. You both have questions. I understand that.” Jellico took a seat, no doubt attempting to appear less threatening. “Let’s talk.”

Shantok regained her seat, but Adol chose to stay up, leaning against a podium with his arms crossed, his antennae dancing with impatience.

“First of all, my apologies for my cloak and dagger approach. Admiral O’Toole looped me into this investigation. We both did enough digging to discover that Starfleet has been compromised. Given how deep this conspiracy runs, we couldn’t rule out Dominion involvement. We are at war, after all.” He fired a glance at Adol. “We decided that you might need back up, commander---in the event you were walking into a trap. I decided to come in person because at this point, we don’t know who we can trust.”

The Andorian mirrored Jellico’s hard gaze. “Sir, you actually thought Shantok might be a Changeling?”

“Or you. Anything is possible at this point, commander.”

Shantok compressed her eyebrows in a naked display of concern. “Admiral, you said that Starfleet has been compromised. How deeply have we been infiltrated? And what steps are being taken to meet this threat?”

“O’Toole has been in contact with the Starfleet Commander, and they are recruiting a team across the sector as we speak. But they have to move carefully. It’s not easy to vet people. Even those we’ve worked with in the past may be involved, for all we know.”

“Sir, you eavesdropped on our conversation,” Adol said, his tone flirting with confrontation. “So, you know what we know. Has O’Toole been made aware of Aubrey’s situation? Are they sending an extraction team?”

Jellico gave a tight shake of the head. “After I beamed into this room, I had to maintain radio silence. Communication channels are suspect. I’m afraid we’re on our own.”

Adol stepped forward; fists clenched. “Then sir, we’re wasting time! Every minute we delay puts Aubrey a minute closer to death.”

“I agree.” Shantok added, her usually stoic voice betraying agitation.

“Then we’re all in agreement.” Jellico declared. “We have no choice but to go in quickly, hopefully taking his captors by surprise. Once we’re in Starfleet HQ, I’ll break silence and ask for a security team. We’ll just have to gamble that whoever arrives will be on our side.”

“We’d be making an unauthorized transport into Starfleet headquarters. A dubious undertaking given the wartime security protocols now in effect.”

“Not unauthorized.” Jellico cracked. “We’ll be using the new security codes Admiral O’Toole gave Commander Adol. At this point, they carry more weight than my standard codes.”

“Then if you will excuse me for a moment sir, I’ll change into uniform and retrieve a tricorder.”

“Very well. And make sure you’re armed.”

Shantok executed a short nod before walking gracefully into the next room.

Adol turned his attention to the device attached to Jellico’s belt. “Sir, that scanner. I didn’t know we had anything like it.”

“And for good reason. It’s a classified prototype. Starfleet Intelligence and our security R&D people have kept a lid on it. We had to compartmentalize the information to keep it from leaking.”

“I can’t wait for it to become standard issue.”

“You and me both, commander.”


The three were soon at one of the consulate’s transporter hubs, a room about the size of what you might find on the average Starfleet vessel. It was decorated in Vulcan artifacts and warm paintings, all of it balanced precariously on the border of gaudiness. It was a departure from most Vulcan trappings, which usually emphasized function over form, all to show off Vulcan culture to visiting dignitaries.

Shantok keyed in the coordinates, reiterating to the others that they would be bypassing Starfleet’s transport network, to beam directly into the room closest to Aubrey’s location. Her teammates grumbled about the lack of a precision landing, until she reminded them that the captain’s location was an estimate based on telepathy, not sensors.

“We’ll be arriving within a sub office waiting room for the Starfleet Personnel Command Division. Sensors show a single human lifeform.” She added.

“Make sure you keep your weapons holstered.” The admiral ordered, while affixing Adol with a pointed stare. “As Shantok pointed out, we’re entering Starfleet headquarters. There will be no provocation unless I order it. You two will stand behind me and I’ll do the talking. I will then call for security. Am I clear?”

His orders were acknowledged, and Jellico and Adol made their way to the platform.

“AutoStart keyed for 30 seconds.” She emerged from the control podium and joined them on the stage. “I might suggest, admiral, that I be the only one who scans with a tricorder, so that both of you can remain vigilant.”

Jellico indicated approval with a tight dip of his chin.

Moments later, the trio materialized in front of a shocked petty officer’s desk. She was a Deltan in her early twenties, whose paper-white scalp advertised a lifetime spent indoors.

She gasped and jumped up, but Jellico stepped forward, holding out his palms. “Easy Ms. Enela. It’s me.”

“Oh,” she breathed. “Admiral! Sir, you startled me.” Her eyes clicked back and forth questioningly, as she took in his entourage.

He introduced them by name and rank. “We’re here on a classified assignment. I’m restricting comm access effective immediately. So don’t contact anyone at this time.”

“Uh, yes sir.”

Shantok was scanning with her tricorder. “There.” she said, pointing over the desk to another door. “The captain is being held in that conference room.”

“Is anyone in there with him?”

“Yes. One other lifeform. A Lethean.”

Enela ran into their midst, eyes bugging out in panic, causing Adol’s hand to cock towards his phaser. “Oh my God.” She moaned. “Sir, I don’t know anything about this, I swear! The chief is away, and I’m just---”

“Are there other doors to that room?” Jellico interrupted abrasively.

“Umm, ah, yes. Yes! There are two, the right side exits into, uh, the main complex, and the left leads to the main hallway. Sir, shouldn’t we call security?”

Adol stepped forward, hand still on his weapon. “Sir, we don’t have time! Letheans destroy minds. If there’s only one hostile we can take him. We should move now before we have more than one actor to contend with!”

The admiral’s jaws worked, as though he were chomping on a piece of gum. “All right. I’ll call security but we won’t wait for them to arrive. We’re going in now. Young lady, are you armed?” He rolled his eyes. “No, of course you aren’t. Then you’ll take cover behind the desk.”

“I’ll take point, sir.” Adol declared without asking. All three drew their weapons as he padded stealthily towards the door.

But Enela blocked his path.

“I appreciate the offer, but the admiral told you to take cover.”

Adol pushed her out of the way, none too gently. She stumbled, righted herself, and then grabbed his phaser arm and squeezed it with uncanny force. He gave a hoarse grunt and dropped his weapon. Before anyone could respond, she threw the Andorian into his comrades with such force, they all tumbled across the room, looking for a moment like a group of children rolling playfully down a hill.

She flashed a polite smile. “My apologies sirs, but I can’t let you go in there.”

Of the three, only Jellico retained his phaser. He swung it in Enela’s direction while shouting: “Jellico to security!”

Her arms morphed into elongated tentacles, spearing at the admiral, and knocking the phaser from his hand before he could fire it. The second tentacle coiled around his throat and lifted him into the air.

“Goddammit! Changeling! She’s a Changeling!” He choked.

The tentacle slammed him into a wall. He bounced off it and into a row of plants.

Adol scrambled to recover Shantok’s phaser, since his was on the other side of the hostile. He reached it only to find the Changeling had now transformed into a multi-tentacled blob of gel that was rolling over the desk at him. He was battered by a storm of appendages just as he took aim. He again lost his weapon and was sent crashing through a glass partition. He landed on a row of chairs amid a shower of tinkling fragments.

It closed in for the kill. A tentacle became a razor-sharp ax, pinwheeling towards Adol’s chest. The stunned Andorian could only watch it descend.

But Jellico wasn’t having it. He had his phaser back and fired without hesitation. The beam struck, and there was a shriek as the creature momentarily lost coherence, fluctuating between blob and humanoid.

Shantok had found her weapon by then and rolled onto her stomach, arms stretched out to resolve her site. She fired. A burning hole formed where the beam made contact, and the target was consumed. Within seconds, it ceased to exist.

Dazed and gasping heavily, the admiral crawled towards Adol. “Commander,” he panted. “Are you all right?”

Adol disengaged himself from the chairs and slid heavily to the floor. He was also breathing hard, his face covered with an array of superficial cuts. “My back is injured. But I’m well enough.” he said dully. “Thank you, sir.”

Shantok sat up. Her bun had come apart, and dark tangles of hair fell over her face and shoulders. “They know we’re here now.”

“Jellico to security! Respond!”

Adol and Shantok also tried, leading to Shantok’s rather unnecessary observation. “Comms are down. Likely because of a jamming field.”

By all the gods, Adol though darkly. Have we already lost the war?

The trio sat for long moments, stunned by how quickly their rescue effort had been thwarted.

Once Jellico had regained his breath, he struggled to his feet and tugged on his uniform top in an attempt to reclaim some dignity. He grimaced while gently moving his right arm in a circle. “I need to spend more time in the gym.”

His partners stood as well, Adol like Jellico, wincing over a painful back, while Shantok’s Vulcan resiliency had spared her any harm.

They gathered around the admiral.

“Commander, do you still have a fix on Aubrey?”

She retrieved her tricorder and consulted it. “Yes sir. Same location. Just beyond that door. The readings haven’t changed since our arrival.”

“That’s strange,” Adol said. “something’s not right here.”

Shantok and Adol began marching forward, only to be stopped by Jellico’s rigid arm.

“Sir?” She queried.

The admiral stepped ahead of them, while thumbing up his phaser to maximum power. “My friends, subtlety has had its fucking moment.”

He fired at the door, creating a sizzling flash and a small cloud of debris.

“I’ll be God damned.” He exclaimed into the parting smoke.

The three had been prepared for an attack. But there was none. In fact, there wasn’t even an adjoining room. What they saw instead was the skeletal remains of a metal framework that popped and fizzled, dripping onto the floor in puddles of molten amber.

The room around them was flickering.

“Holosuite.” Adol whispered. “Our transport must have been intercepted. But that shouldn’t have been possible.”

“All of this was just a damned illusion.” Jellico seethed.

“Begging the admiral’s pardon, but my back would disagree.” Adol countered.

Shantok’s face tightened into the Vulcan equivalent of a scowl. “Sir, we have no way at this time of knowing our actual location. We may not be in Starfleet headquarters at all.”

“Let’s strike the set.” Jellico commanded, opting to stay on the offensive.

The three of them stood with their backs together and swept the room with their phasers, being careful to use a low enough setting so as not to fill the chamber with smoke. When they were done, all remnants of the phony waiting room were gone, replaced with the reality of a crackling holosuite.

“There’s our real exit.” Jellico said, indicating a pair of standard holosuite doors that stood in the general location the fake entrance had occupied. “Let’s move out.”

When the doors didn’t open upon approach, the admiral jabbed his finger at the control panel, only to have it deflected by a burst of sparkling glitter.

“Containment field. I might have known.” He espoused in a world-weary tone.

Adol flipped open his tricorder and began walking the perimeter of the room. “It’s a multiphasic Level Ten.” He reported over his shoulder. “Out of place in an administrative building.”

“Indeed. A field of this strength and type is more commonly seen in industrial settings or aboard the engine rooms of starships. Our phasers would be ineffective.”

“It’s encompassing the entire compartment. I’ll look for a weakness in the field.”

As Adol moved off, Jellico uttered a torrid sigh. Shaking his head disgruntledly, he turned to Shantok. “It seems we’ve gone from would-be rescuers to prisoners. I’m open to any suggestions you may have at this time, commander.”

“I regret not having a more proactive course of action, sir. However, there is little we can do now but wait for our captors to make contact.”

With immobility came un uncomfortable silence. Minutes began to drag by with only the crackling of the ruined suite and Adol’s warbling tricorder in the background serving as ambiance.

After a time, Jellico cleared his throat awkwardly. “Commander, I want you to know…your secret is safe with me. I can appreciate your reasons.”

She lowered her head in a refined gesture of respect. “Thank you, sir. I know you didn’t intend to violate my privacy.”

“Definitely not.”

More silence dragged by, and this time it was Shantok’s turn to break it. “Sir, if I may inquire…you have a…strained relationship with Captain Aubrey…”

“You want to know why I’m making such an effort to rescue him?”

She looked back at him inquisitively.

“Regardless of my personal opinion, he’s still a fellow officer. Not to mention a valuable asset whom we can’t allow to fall into enemy hands. I won’t let these damned vultures pick his mind clean. And this conspiracy needs to be exposed. Does that make sense to you?”

“Of course.”

He turned to her, his mouth curling into a mocking grin. “Did you really think I was that petty, commander? Regardless of what some people believe, I didn’t bring charges against your captain to fulfill a vendetta. I did it for the good of the service. I would have made the same choice regardless of who it was.”

“I didn’t mean to suggest your motives were anything less than professional---”

He chortled at her. “Of course you did. And that’s okay. I have a reputation, one that’s rightfully deserved. I have a temper and I speak my mind. But remember, when it comes time to execute my duty, I put the bear on a chain.”

Adol walked up with his tricorder, snapping it closed with disgust.

“I take you didn’t find a weakness we can exploit?”

He shook his head. “No sir. Output strength is symmetrical. And the field runs under the floor and across the ceiling. The gaps in the modulation cycles are too small for us to take advantage of.” He had been looking at Shantok the entire time.

“We made our best effort.”

“Yes ma’am.” He continued to stare at her.


His eyelids narrowed. “Now that I’ve had some time to think, something just occurred to me. And it isn’t making sense.”

“In what regard?”

The Andorian took a few steps backward, his gaze beginning to smolder with suspicion. “You were on your tricorder the whole time, scanning from the moment we arrived?”


“Then how is it you didn’t realize we were in a holosuite, commander?”

Jellico looked from one to the other, his expression that of someone who just recovered a long-forgotten memory. “What about that, commander?”

“There is no need for alarm, sir. I have an explanation.”

“Then it had better be a damned good one!”

She arched a tapered eyebrow. “Mr. Adol is correct. I knew of course that we were in a simulation the entire time.”

“Then why the hell didn’t you say anything?” He sputtered.

“Because I’m the one who programmed it.”

Her attack on Jellico was so fast; her movement was nearly a blur.

Her arm snapped outward, and she fired on him. His face widened into an almost humorous look of surprise just before his body exploded into a cloud of flaming detritus and vanished.


Shantok did so.

“Get on your knees! Hands behind your head!”

She followed his instructions.

“You’re not Shantok! Who are you?”

She looked up at him with an expression of maddening equanimity. “On the contrary. I am Shantok. It was Admiral Jellico who was the imposter.”

“Shut up with your lies! Whoever you are, you just murdered a Starfleet admiral! And you’ll pay for it! What are you, a Changeling?”

“No, Mr. Adol. Admiral Jellico was the Changeling.”

“If you don’t cooperate, you won’t leave this room alive.” He straightened his phaser arm at her, his thumb resting lightly on the trigger plate. “Talk to your friends out there. Make them take down the field.”

“Commander, I’m responsible for diverting our transport into this holosuite. And I’m responsible for creating the simulation we were in. However, the containment field is not my doing. Whoever we are dealing with is obviously several steps ahead of us.”

Adol’s antennae bent towards her like old fashioned gun turrets. His tone was quiet and menacing. “I’ll give you one more chance, and then you die. Identify yourself and take down the field.”

“Commander, if I were truly a member of this conspiracy, why would I wish to draw more attention by killing a flag officer, while imprisoning the security specialist sent to investigate the conspiracy? Logically, my goal would be to delegitimatize this investigation. To cast doubt. To mitigate attention, divert attention, not amplify it.”

She saw hesitation ignite behind his eyes like a brief glint of reflected light.

And then it was gone, replaced once again by hardened resolve.

“You had your chance.” he said with finality.

Adol discharged his weapon.