CHAPTER SIXTEEN "Any sign that it's alerted to our presence?" Stride asked. She hadn't even looked up at the giant Crystalline Entity on the Wolf's main viewer. Eddowes saw she was still working on something, inputting data using one of the command interfaces in her chair. "No, Sir," responded Eddowes, watching the Entity carefully on his sensor readout. "Is the Burroughs within sensor range yet?" "Negative," Saltridge replied. The USS Burroughs was the Ambassador class vessel Starfleet had sent to protect the Rehab Ring. "They will still be out of range for another three hours." "There's no way they'll stop it in time," Eddowes said, looking over at Stride. "At least some of the facility will be destroyed before they arrive." "Then we'll proceed," the Captain replied, still concentrating on her work. "Bring us up behind it, helm, keep a distance of no less than five hundred kilometers." The image of the Entity swelled on the viewer as the Wolf closed in. Stride was still tapping away on her command console. He tried to wait patiently, but when another ten minutes had gone by Eddowes couldn't take her silence anymore. "Captain, shall we power up the phaser lances?" "Negative, Mr. Eddowes." "A gravimetric torpedo, then," he deduced, nodding. "A single hit in the center at one quarter yield should more than suffice." "No, Commander," Stride replied evenly. "We don't want evidence of phasers or gravimetric torpedoes. This needs to be a clean kill. Steady as she goes." After what seemed like an eternity to Eddowes, the Captain finished what she was doing and looked up. She squinted and smirked as she inspected the Entity's shimmering, faceted structure. "You're right about it looking flimsy," she commented. "It's remarkable something so fragile in appearance can acquire the reputation of a planet-killer. Let's see how durable it really is. Helm, we'll need a three second decloaking window for this attack. Wait for my mark. Red alert." "Aye, Sir," responded the android. "May I ask what you intend to do, Captain?" Eddowes inquired. "Cutting it up with the phasers might lead to lots of little Entities," Stride speculated. "A gravimetric torpedo might leave behind traces that lead Starfleet to believe the Borg are operating near the Rehab Ring. Admiral Pressman would be very agitated if we caused a panic. When a Husnock is sent on an assassination mission, we make certain the target is absolutely demolished. That is what I intend to do here. "I have programmed a sequence that will unleash a complex graviton cascade at a very strong amplitude. The Wolf's Omega Triple Core will provide ample power to accomplish our kill. If my calculations are correct, this problem will be solved in the next thirty seconds." "Holding at precisely five hundred kilometers, Captain," reported the helm android. Her claw hovered above what Eddowes assumed was the activation key. She took one more look at the Entity, then glanced at Eddowes and winked. "Mark!" As soon as the Wolf materialized behind it, the Entity panicked and tried to attack, but it was too late. Stride's graviton cascade rained down from the Wolf and her carefully calculated harmonics pulverized the Entity instantly. Stride's assault was strong enough to vibrate the Wolf slightly just as their crystalline enemy disintegrated. A huge dust cloud erupted around them as the helm android reestablished the phasing cloak. Streamers of glittering crystal powder unfurled and scattered into normal space as the Entity's warp field collapsed. "Full stop," Stride ordered, sounding bored. "Any signs of recovery or survival?" "None whatsoever," stated Saltridge from tactical. "Your... solution was very thorough, Captain." "Excellent," Stride said. "A trivial mystery for the Burroughs crew to ponder when they finally get here. Resume course for Delta Rana 4. Mr. Eddowes, I have something to show you. Saltridge, take the con." The ship sped by the Rehab Ring as they maneuvered in an arc to get back on course. Eddowes could see the planet and its space stations on the Wolf's long range sensors. He thought of all the good that advanced hospital did, all the healing that took place there. He thought that the personnel stationed there must be very proud of what they did. He felt privileged to experience just a little sliver of that pride after having saved the Rehab Ring from certain doom. "Quite a victory," he remarked to Captain Stride as they took the turbolift. "Meh," she muttered, already having lost interest in what she thought of as a small errand. "A weak adversary, hardly worthy of our attention. If Starfleet Command would learn how to properly deploy its ships we wouldn't have been needed at all. But with them it's always the same story - no other ship in the sector..." "Still," persisted Eddowes. "You saved a lot of lives today, Captain." She didn't respond, lost in thought. "What do you intend to do when this is over?" he asked her suddenly. The question startled the Husnock out of her reverie and she turned to look at him. "What?" "Assuming you are able to defeat the Douwd somehow," Eddowes specified. "What then?" "After that... whatever the next mission is, I suppose," Stride replied. "There's always a threat to be eliminated, a dangerous destination to explore. That's why I agreed to become a Starfleet captain in the first place." "You're talking about following orders from Admiral Pressman," Eddowes said. "Executing missions that he plans. What would you like to do? If you weren't part of his secret fleet or pursuing your own goal of revenge, what would you want to do?" "Ship's Counselor Eddowes," Stride sneered, looking down at him with mild annoyance. "Are you trying to plumb the depths of my mind?" "I would never attempt such a thing with you," he assured her. "I'm no counselor, just a humble first officer. I was just wondering... there were times on the Geneva when we undertook some lengthy and hazardous missions. Crew members usually had plans or aspirations beyond those circumstances. I was wondering if you might be looking forward to anything." Her purple lips twitched and he thought the Captain was about to laugh in his face, but then she seemed to consider his question seriously. "All right," she said as the turbolift stopped. "If you are truly curious. I would like to return to Spilornis, if it still exists." "I thought Spilornis was destroyed by the Douwd," Eddowes said, surprised at her response. "No one really knows for sure," she answered. "My people were wiped out, yes, but I still hope that Spilornis itself survives. My planet is very distant, no one from Starfleet has ever gone to find out for sure. Our primary city is nestled inside the largest extinct volcano on our world, Lomar. The peaks of Lomar surround the flattened summit and stab upward like a gigantic set of claws into the misty sky." "I thought your people built underground facilities," Eddowes said. "Mostly, but we also had structures - like our launch complexes - in dead volcanoes. Long ago ancient Husnock built our greatest city, Olathoe, on a lava field in the center of the broad apex of Lomar. It felt like I was dwelling in the palm of a giant hand - a warm, protected feeling. The stars shone in all their splendor between those lofty peaks and the swirling disk of Pallas dominated the sky directly above. The eclipses and gleams were spectacular in Olathoe and many grand Husnock celebrations were held there. "When I survived the Interstellar Training Challenge - our version of your Starfleet Academy - my son visited me in my barracks at the Challenge Dome. I took him through the beautiful towers and vast gardens of the city and he marveled at what our ancestors had achieved. We feasted on meat from other worlds and heard stories of conquest from Husnock that had fought battles among the stars. I would like to climb Lomar and visit Olathoe one more time..." Eddowes noticed she had become distracted again, likely haunted by the memories of her planet and her child. He was about to ask her more questions about Spilornis when she shook her head and refocused on the present. "We have more a important objective to consider now," she stated abruptly, all sentiment now gone from her voice. "I've had Kelinda and Elgin working on something since we were stuck in that warp void, now it looks like we're ready to test it. Would you care to volunteer?" "Sure..." However Eddowes was anything but confident. "What does this test involve?"