Location: Smithsonian Institution (Sully Annex), Virginia, North America, Sol III
Timeframe: Present Day
For well over four centuries, the Smithsonian Institute has forged scientific inroads into the cultural, anthropological, and biological evolution of Earth, boasting numerous museums, research centers, and zoological gardens across the planet. Originally considered “the nation's attic” for old-Earth nation-state governments, the Smithsonian eventually became the custodian of a majority of the planet's premier archeological collections by the late twenty-fourth century. The expansive Sully Annex in northern Virginia housed many of the offices, research labs, and cold storage facilities that formed the foundation of the Institute's science programs. One such building was a glass and metal skyscraper that boasted a statue of Zephram Cochrane outside in the front courtyard, with an engraved concrete placard that read “SPACEFLIGHT HERITAGE CENTER”. Deep within the heart of the building, past a maze of hallways and doors leading to offices and laboratories, a mechanical door that read “Division of Holography” above it was carved into the smooth pearlescent walls between two potted plants. A thin horizontal nameplate affixed onto the door itself read “Doctor Lewis Zimmerman”.
Inside the room, workbenches and computer consoles were laid out along the walls and towards the central spaces, hosting a plethora of equipment and monitors, all chirping and humming while processing a multitude of simulations and experiments. Towards the rear of the lab, behind an L-shaped desk, an older, balding human with black, penetrating eyes bore a perpetual frown as he examined a fist-sized cylindrical piece of metal, it's surface heavily scored with pock-marks and carbonized blistering.
“The EMH backup module is definitely a Galaxy Class design,” the man spoke to a person on the communications monitor. “Its optical interface nodes are of a configuration that's only compatible with a Galaxy Class holomatrix. Based on the microtag, it obviously came from the USS Saratoga, but what it was doing on the Republic before her demise three years ago is anyone's guess.”
“Is.. is there any data in it?” the man on the other side of the comlink replied. He had an oval face, with a thinning light brown hairline, and sported a lieutenant commander's Starfleet uniform in operations gold. He had a nervous twinge to his voice, as if he were constantly questioning his own assumptions.
“There's definitely a scattering of an EMH optical matrix,” the older doctor replied. “I'd say a Mark Nineteen from the various coding sequences, but…” he raised an unsatisfactory eyebrow.
“What?” queried the officer on the other end of the comm after a pause.
“The data streams don't match up,” the doctor explained his trepidation, the frown becoming more pronounced along with the deepening furrow on his forehead. “They're so fragmented with randomized optical sequences, I'd barely be able to reconstruct a fraction of a fraction of the EMH program by itself… The rest of the sequences don't conform to any EMH optical stream that I know of. They look to be sequences from some other very large holographic program external to the EMH matrix.”
“Maybe… maybe instead of ONE program, they could be sequences from a number of different holo-programs?”
“Very possible,” he replied. “If I were to add it all up, there's enough data in here to build almost ten different optical matrices,” the doctor explained while looking over the device in his hand. “But I can't initialize any of them without a master image sequence from the EMH, and those data nodes have all been damaged beyond repair.”
“Why not just use a master image sequence from another Mark Nineteen EMH?”
“No,” the doctor dismissed the idea while shaking his head. “An existing EMH program encodes a rekeying sequence in each data packet, and there's easily four billion packets. I'd have to manually decode each one if I were to transfer another image sequence. If I miss even one of them, I'd cause the module's entire programming to reset, losing all those other external sequences while the EMH reintegrates itself. What I really need to do is use a fresh master sequence without any encoding.”
“For that, you'd have to rescan the original individual that the Mark Nineteen was based on,” the commander explained. “Otherwise, you'd be starting from scratch. It.. it would literally take YEARS to build one from the ground up.”
“I know,” the elder scientist relented, not liking the turn of events, and finding distasteful the next course of action he would be forced to take. “Looks like I'll be taking that vacation away from Earth earlier than planned,” he commented with annoyance before turning back to the communications monitor with a more chipper voice. “Thank you, Regg. Your analysis has been very helpful.”
“My pleasure, doctor. Please let me know if you need any more help. Barcley out.”
As the screen went blank, the older man stared into space in thought before turning his attention to the intercom panel. “Nina?” he called out after pressing a button.
“Yes, Doctor Zimmerman?” came the audio-only reply.
“Cancel my lecture series next week,” he ordered. “I'm taking a sabbatical. Book me on the next transport to the Bajor sector.”
“Of course, doctor. Is there anyone specific you want me to notify?”
“Yes,” he replied hesitantly. “Tell Doctor Bashir at Deep Space Nine that I…” He paused, finding repugnant the words he was about to say. “…I need his assistance with a project.”
“Right away, sir.”
Location: Federation Space, Epsilon Draconis sector, two parsecs outside of the Romulan Neutral Zone.
Timeframe: Present Day
In some ways, the former Doug Forrest – now going by “Theo” Carter – missed the beat-up Type-8 shuttle that he and Saal Yezbeck left behind at DS9, but in order to fulfill their mission in the Gamma Quadrant, they needed something with a little more speed. Fortunately, the Ferengi courier shuttle they commandeered at the remote Starfleet outpost in the Bajor sector would not be missed for days, as its owner was being held by the station's security department for questioning. While the duo planned to eventually return the craft, explaining its absence to Chief of Security, Ro Laren, was not something they looked forward to.
At this point in time, Theo was alone in the cockpit, piloting the courier shuttle on it's course through space. He thought repetitively about the message received from Victor Virtus, and the revelation that John Carter may still be alive. The news was universe-shattering, and while he knew where he needed to go and what he needed to do, there were complications setting in. His sober, resolute expression revealed that his attention was split between the flight controls and the long range sensor monitor.
As the door to the cockpit slid open, a drowsy Saal Yezbeck entered to break the silence. “Striking off again into parts unknown,” he commented as he yawned and stretched. “This reminds me of that time I commandeered that intelligence outpost back on Columbae Prime.”
Changing his focus away from the sensor monitor, Theo looked ahead into blank space while his thoughts went back several years. “You mean that time you went against orders and trained a bunch of goat herders to be guerrilla fighters?” he replied.
Saal shrugged as he dialed up a cup of coffee from the wall-mounted food replicator. “We had a dictator's hit squad chasing us through the jungle,” he explained. “They were going to kill me and blame it on the local farmers just to draw the Federation into their planetary extortion scheme.”
“Ah yes,” Theo recollected, not quite remembering it the same way as Saal did. “If I recall, that 'hit squad' was the police task force of a Federation-recognized government. And YOU were there to protect a field hospital, not train your own army.”
“Yeah, well, I only fired first to cover my escape route,” he explained through sips from his mug. “They were going to kill everyone at that place if I didn't act.”
“Cover your escape route??” Theo exclaimed with incredulity. “You blew up the hospital!”
Saal's voice became more defiant. “I got everybody out safely, and most of them made it to the intelligence outpost in one piece. If it weren't for…”
The long range sensor monitor interrupted him with a pulsed chirp.
“What is it?”
“Perimeter alarm,” Theo said calmly. “We've got some unwelcome visitors overtaking our course.”
Walking up to the control console, Saal looked over Theo's shoulder. Reviewing the sensor monitor, he spied the unknown sensor echo approaching their course. “They're getting pretty close,” he warned while taking another sip of coffee. “How long have they been tracking us?”
“I noticed them about two hours after we left DS9.”
Saal nearly spit out his mouthful of morning java. “And you're just telling me NOW??”
“I thought it was a sensor shadow at first,” explained Theo. “But when I did a tachyon scan, it became clear that it was a small cloaked ship. Too small to be a warship. It was only paralleling our course. It wasn't coming close enough to be a threat… until now.”
“So you're telling me that a cloaked ship with possible unknown intent is overtaking us at warp speed, and we've got no backup plan?”
“Who said I didn't have a backup plan?”
“My mistake,” Saal replied sourly. “Are you going to share your backup plan with your partner?”
“Absolutely. Do you have your medical kit handy?”
Aboard the tiny flight deck of the Aerosprite, three uniformed Romulan naval officers manned the control consoles. Even with a simple crew of five, the ship was cramped and claustrophobic, but the “bridge” as it were was no more than an extended semicircle workdesk against the translucent forward canopy with three flight chairs situated behind it. Regardless, the seated officers remained trained on their consoles.
“We're in weapons range,” asked the pilot on the left side of the console. “Shall I de-cloak and standby on disruptors?”
“No,” the Romulan in the center seat ordered, obviously the senior of the three. “If they've picked up our tachyon trail, let them think our intentions are non-hostile. They're likely to be less trouble that way.”
Several minutes went by as the officers watched their consoles intently, like raptors closing in on their prey.
“Their course is changing,” the third officer finally announced. “It looks like a standard Federation evasion pattern.”
“Increase speed to 500 mat'drih. Close our distance.”
“They just raised their shields.”
“Just as a Starfleet commander should,” the senior commander muttered. “De-cloak,” he ordered in a louder voice. “Bring weapons to bear. Low yield spread only for the first three shots.”
The officer complied, “Ready.”
The two vessels swerved together against the blackness of space, like a cat and mouse locked together in a high-speed chase. Three green spears of disruptor fire erupted from the outboard cannons of the Aerosprite while the Ferengi shuttle narrowly dodged them. Finally, the fourth shot, much more highly charged than the previous, hit the shuttle squarely in the portside powerplant.
“NOT a warship?” bellowed Saal as Theo struggled with the domed-shaped pilot controls. Closing the medkit, the doctor stumbled as the courier shuttle jostled from one side to the other, a shower of sparks briefly blocking his path back to the co-pilot's seat. “I guess that makes us a paper aeroplane!” he remarked, flopping into the chair while quickly locking the acceleration restraints.
“Just stand by!” Theo shouted over the plethora of alarms and electrical arcing. “If they follow standard procedure, we're going to be beamed away any second! I'll mimic a last-ditch effort to escape, and that should do the trick!”
“Yeah? What if it doesn't?” Saal screamed over another chorus of explosions.
“Then learn to hold your breath for a VERY long time…”
Back on the Aerosprite, a wave of confidence washed across the bridge officers, their quarry nearly in reach. “Their speed is increasing,” the Romulan pilot announced. “Their engines are overheating.”
“It won't be long now,” the weapons officer remarked.
“Their shields just dropped. They're transferring all power to their warp engines.”
“We have them!” the skipper exclaimed. “Beam all life forms directly to the cargo hold. Deactivate any weapon signatures you detect in the transporter beam.”
“Yet another fine mess,” quipped Saal as he looked over the walls of the 5 meter by 5 meter cell. The metallic green walls were as spartan as any interrogation room, sans any tables, chairs, or even an interrogator. While there were remnants of ancillary equipment that once occupied the space, all that seemed operational were the lights above, a small vent that blew fresh air into the room, and a toilet.
“It could be worse,” Theo's voice echoed in the small chamber. “You could be this guy.” He was looking over an emaciated human with a scraggly brown beard and long, matted, unkept hair. There was no clothing on him to speak of as he laid unconscious, propped up in the far corner of the room. He was dirty, laced with sweat, and feverish.
“Who's snow white?” Saal asked with concern.
“I don't know,” said a frustrated Theo. “At least put some clothes on him.”
Saal took off his overtunic and wrapped it around the lower torso of the unconscious bearded man, causing him to moan weakly from pain. “Judging by the size of this room, this couldn't be a very big ship,” Saal observed. “How many crew you think?”
Theo looked around the chamber, taking note of each and every detail. “From the sensor readings we got on the shuttle, I'd say the life support systems wouldn't support more than a half dozen officers and men. If I had to guess, this is a personal yacht of some type. Not a military ship. This cargo hold may have once been the food refrigeration unit for the galley. Those look like sealed coolant manifolds,” he said, pointing at a pair of capped pipes barely protruding from the corner wall near the floor.
“Outfitted to be a torture chamber,” the doctor said sourly, looking over the non-lucid, feverish man on the floor. “This guy's been poked, prodded, and burned six ways til Tuesday…”
“Do what you can for him,” Theo suggested, as the non-lucid prisoner moaned again, barely acknowledging their presence. “I'll try to find a way out of here.”
As he completed his inventory of the cell's interior, Theo took note of their remaining assets: One passive corner organic waste commode welded to the floor, one pair of duranium sliding doors, one magnetically-sealed trititanium locking mechanism keeping them closed, twelve disabled wall-mounted shelf interlocks that no longer held any refrigerated storage units, two non-operational EPS junctions rendered inert when the refrigeration units were removed, four recessed ceiling lights for interrogating prisoners, and one length of 5-centimeter diameter accordion-style ventilation duct with a single conical defuser obviously provided so that no one in the cell would suffocate.
“Perfect,” the former intel agent whispered to himself, stepping up onto the commode. Feeling the short length of ventilation duct on the ceiling, he worked to pull it off the surface, leaving only a small vent hole at the center top of the back wall. After pulling the diffuser off the other end of the duct, Theo started unlacing one of his boots. Collecting the string in his hand, he then took off his other boot, pulled off his socks, and laid down the garment remnants neatly into a pile in the corner of the room near the sealed cooling pipe stubs. After putting his boots back on his bare feet, Theo looked around the room before settling his gaze on Saal. “Give me your belt.”
“My belt?” he protested. “What for?”
“Just give it to me,” his friend insisted.
Saal complied, and Theo threaded the belt through the piece of ventilation duct before kneeling down to lock the buckle over the sealed stub of the coolant pipe marked “inflow”. It wasn't a perfect fit, but as long as he kept the tension on the belt, the buckle would stay put. Making a few short tugs to make sure it was firmly in place, he then slid the duct over the taught belt down to the buckle locked over the coolant pipe, then, while holding the belt in his teeth, tied the duct closed around the pipe end with the nearby bootlace. Keeping the other end of the belt taught in his teeth, Theo donned his socks over his hands like oven mitts, then, while holding the duct in one “gloved” hand, he transferred control of the belt from his teeth to his other hand and gave a powerful pull, grunting as the tortured metal of the coolant pipe seal broke open. Immediately, supercooled refrigerant came blasting out of the other end of the duct along with the rest of Saal's belt. Controlling the duct with his “gloved” hands, Theo quickly maneuvered the duct end so that coolant would flow over the door's latching mechanism. Moisture from the air iced up the outside of the duct as the clear coolant fumed with icy tendrils over the lock. As the refrigerant tanks ran empty, the flow of the coolant subsided, but not before rendering the door's locking feature colder than liquid hydrogen. Before long, Theo was incessantly kicking the overly-brittle door lock, easily shattering the imprisonment device into shards of cryogentically-fragmented metal.
“If you would,” Theo motioned to Saal for him to grab one side of the double-door while he grabbed the other. Together, the two used all of their strength to pry open the sliding doors. Were they both standard humans, it would have been a near-impossible task. As it were, the former intelligence agent posing as Jonathan “Theo” Carter had a number of implanted cybernetic and optotronic enhancements that allowed him to perform feats at a higher level of success than most human beings. With Saal simply backing up his partner by barely budging his side of the heavy door, Theo's side yawned open with a strained screech, leaving enough room for the three Romulan naval officers on the other side to walk through with disruptor rifles at the ready.
Their sudden appearance caused both Theo and Saal to stumble backwards and fall to the floor. Instinctively, the two scrambled to the other side of the cell where the sickened prisoner was starting to rouse from his fever-induced vegetative state. They each turned to face the wall, crouching in a combat preparatory stance, looking to each other for a signal as to their next action. Realizing that neither of them had planned for guards waiting just outside the door, the next move was up to the Romulans.
“Don't move, or you're dead!” one of the officers shouted. “Stand up!” shouted another. “Captain, we've got them!” the third one called down the corridor outside the cell. As he did so, the older Romulan bridge officer walked through the door along with the crew's aristocratic benefactor and ersatz leader, the Romulan boy, Veln. Still facing the wall, Theo and Saal slowly stood up with their arms raised, not looking forward to the punishment they were about to receive for breaking out of their cell.
“Spectacular stunt, my friends,” Veln chided, welcoming the newcomers to the space vessel he inherited from his deceased mentor, Tomaleth. “But all for naught. Turn around, please.” Theo and Saal hesitantly turned themselves around to face the individual who had so relentlessly pursued and captured them. Realizing that the leader of their assailants was no more than a boy, Theo looked towards the ceiling in defeat as the guards continued to train their weapons on them.
“Ah, what a pity… what a PITY,” chastised Veln as he began looking them over. Stopping at the tall, thinner figure of Theo, he commented “so, Carter. You though you could outwit the imperious force of…” As the boy focused closer on Theo's face, he recalled the hours he spent with the photo-enhanced Starfleet personnel file of John Carter, studying every facet of his nemesis in intricate detail. The face of the man before him did not match the image of the man who hired a Romulan turncoat to kill his mentor over three years ago. Upon recognition of the mistaken identity, his expression went from satisfied to outraged. “You IDIOTS!” he screamed at his subordinates around him. “This isn't Carter! You've captured the wrong person!”
As Theo sized up the situation, he realized there were now five out of the estimated six personnel of the spacecraft crew within his vicinity, not including the indisposed human prisoner at their feet. He knew that any attempt to fight at this point would draw disruptor fire, and that the guards before him were confident enough in their numbers to both (1) not yet have switched their disruptors from “stun” to “kill”, and (2) didn't expect Theo nor Saal to put up a fight due to being outnumbered, especially with a wounded human prisoner to care for.
So much the better.
The oldest Romulan in the room was the one in full Centurian naval dress, so it was clear that he was the most experienced, and aside from the boy, the closest to Theo. In a swift movement, the former intel agent shifted his feet into a combat stance, then swiveled his upper torso so as to throw his left arm behind as a counterweight so that his right arm would swing towards the commander with a cybernetic-enhanced face-punch, thus knocking him unconscious. With the guards' fingers still on hair triggers, the man formerly known as Doug Forrest braced for the onslaught of Romulan disruptor fire, which immediately followed. His gamble proved correct, as the stun bolts laid squarely into him, dancing down his cybernetically-enhanced nervous system and charging the Sarium Krellide/Kemocite particles that Saal had injected into his bloodstream moments prior to their space combat engagement which put them in their current predicament.
The pain was excruciating. “Just a few more shots,” thought Theo as another round of stun bolts from the guards' disruptors attempted to drop him to the floor. While the poison-inerting countermeasures of his optotronic implants were still functioning, thus preventing the metallic elixir in his bloodstream from harming his organics, the energy charge they were building up from the disruptor blasts would soon need a route out of his body before they fried his cyber-enhancements. As the charges built up, a bluish-green luminescent aura began forming around Theo, marking the approach of maximum absorption capacity. He had less than a second to respond before the charge would feedback on his nervous system and kill him.
Theo planted his left hand on Veln's head, causing a violent electrical discharge to surge down through the boy's crainum to the floor. Every muscle in Veln's body clenched, allowing Theo to use him as a vaulting fixture as he jumped into the air with a push of his legs, then up and over the unconscious body of the captain. Pushing off of Veln, Theo propelled himself mid-air on a trajectory towards the guards, throwing out his arms to firmly grasp two of them before barreling into the floor. Like Veln, the two guards Theo touched were similarly electrocuted, thus fully discharging the stun bolt energy that had built up within his system. Collapsing into a heap of agony and misery, wisps of smoke floated from his body towards the ceiling as Theo found himself looking up into the eyes of the third remaining guard who had just enough time to switch his disruptor from “stun” to “kill”. His energy spent, and his body exhausted, the man formerly known as Doug Forrest closed his eyes to await the inevitability of death.
Out of the Shadows, a bull rush from Saal knocked the final guard to the ground. Unlike Theo, the former Republic surgeon had no cybernetic enhancements, and wrestling with a military-trained Romulan naval officer was a much more strenuous activity. After numerous kidney punches, groin kicks, and headbutts, the two found themselves locked in a tug-of-war with the charged barrel of the disruptor between them. Grunts and profanities were exchanged as the tip of the barrel wavered between the face of the Romulan, and Saal's own black-stubbled jaw. Whether it was Saal's hand or the guard's finger, the trigger was eventually pulled during the struggle, and the Romulan's body fell limp onto the floor.
As Theo and Saal laid staring at the ceiling, the doctor briefly ruminated on their struggle as he worked to catch his breath. “Twelve point five,” he muttered.
“What?” Theo rolled over, straining to ease the residual pain from his electrifying feat, and equally out of breath.
“Every time we take a gamble,” Saal explained between gasps of air. “It's always a fifty-fifty chance we live or die… Three of them in a row… like we just did… the total chance becomes twelve-point-five percent… fifty percent of fifty percent OF fifty percent…” Taking a hard swallow, he rolled his head towards Theo. “This whole stunt had a twelve-point-five percent chance of us coming through alive.”
“You sound more like Victor Virtus each day, Shadow…”
Although the four Romulan naval officers laid dead or unconscious around them, there was a moaning and a stirring from one of the bodies on the floor, and it wasn't the human prisoner propped up against the wall. While the eyes of the latter man were open and blinking, attempting the grasp the gravity of the situation around him, the moaning was actually coming from the Romulan boy at his feel. Green splotches of charred flesh marred his face, as pieces of singed clothing hung from his tunic. Veln's boots were all but melted, and his legs were burned to the bone. How he managed to stay conscious – let alone alive – after his electrifying ordeal was unfathomable.
Realizing that had at least one conscious enemy to keep at bay, Saal retrieved the disruptor rifle he wrestled free from the now-dead Romulan guard. He stood up, and trained the weapon at the boy.
“Did you do this?” Saal asked Veln, pointing to the prisoner beside him.
“Yes,” came the weak, raspy reply. His words were strained but still defiant.
“Why?” Theo asked as he got to his feat.
“Mnahe afw'ein qiuu,” said the wounded boy, quoting an old Romulan proverb that roughly translates to 'hate has a reason for everything'. “Captain Stryker was my last link to finding John Carter.”
Saal and Theo were flummoxed, to say the least. While they too were seeking John Carter, the last thing they expected was to run into a renegade adolescent with military ties attempting to hunt down their former Republic comrade. Not here, in space, hours away from the middle of nowhere.
“Nobody tortures another man just to seek them out and say 'hello',” commented Saal with suspicion. “Why were you after Carter?”
It was as if the spoken name triggered a convulsion of fury within Veln.
“CARTER KILLED MY HUSBAND!” the boy screamed, barely able to wrench the words out of his pained lungs. He crawled weakly onto Captain Stryker's lap, a burning rage fuming in his eyes. For his part, months of torture at the hands of the boy caused the weakened Starfleet captain-turned-prisoner to whimper with fear, half expecting Veln to produce a blade or some other nefarious device that would invoke one last affliction before dying. It was exactly the response the boy wanted: to feel power over the man who took his reason for living away. Either by way of his current injuries, or the months he spent torturing Stryker, Veln had unknowingly juxtaposed his hate for Carter onto the desecrated human before him.
For their part, Saal and Theo were taken by surprise at the statement, causing them to pause dumbfoundedly, and look at one another with confusion. Had Carter actually killed someone that had familial links to the adolescent before them? Considering their comrade's precarious links to the Romulan Star Empire, it was certainly possible. However, why such hate? Was the act that Carter supposedly invoked so malevolent, and the love between the boy and his spouse so strong, that it would summon such hateful vengeance?
“Holding on to a past memory of a man you loved doesn't make the love any less valid,” Saal responded with softening harshness. “But using that love to destroy another man does.” He kept his disruptor rifle trained on the boy should he stray from his weakened state and lash out one last time at Stryker.
“I will never give up my memory of him,” sputtered the boy. “He will last forever in my heart.” It was clear the life was bleeding out of him, and he had only seconds left before he would be unconscious.
“It takes so many things to make love last,” Theo reminded him, feeling a twinge of sympathy for the dying teenager. “But most of all, it takes respect…” He was about to add a point about respect for human life as well as Romulan life, but he stopped short, feeling that the mere mention of respect for another life form would suffice.
Veln seemed to register the veiled admonishment, looking back into the weak and tired eyes of the man he had focused so much hatred and anger on for the past several months. He realized that the anger was only partially towards John Carter, and while he spent weeks taking it out on Captain Stryker, Veln finally recognized that the remaining rage was actually towards his dead mentor, who he felt left him too soon, and whose equally-intense vendetta against the former Republic first officer was what led to his eventual downfall. As he reached up to brush a ragged lock of brown hair from in front of Stryker's eyes, the boy's final parting thought juxtaposed his dead mentor onto his former prisoner.
“I can't live with a man I don't respect,” he said weakly.
With that, Veln collapsed dead in Stryker's lap. The enervated captain stoically watched the life fade from the Romulan boy's body, trying to muster as much sympathy as he could for his young tormentor. He looked over the body briefly, attempting to find it within himself to offer absolution, but failing.
“What a pisser,” he finally said.
It took a few hours for Saal and Theo to secure their new craft and put it under their own command. As they had suspected, all crew had been accounted for during their final altercation. A short funeral for the three deck officers and Veln allowed for burial at space; the former intel agents recording the proceedings in the event that the incident needed to be reported to Romulan authorities via Starfleet Intelligence. While they were technically still on an unsanctioned mission for the “Old Man” back at headquarters, this current redirect to find John Carter was taking them far off the beaten path. As for the vessel's captain, he remained restrained and under induced coma within the galley refrigerator-turned-jail cell, compliments of Saal's medical skills. As for Captain Stryker, Saal also left him sedated in the medical bay after a full physical to heal his physical wounds. Rest and recuperation was the main prescription, and as soon as they found safe haven, the plan was to drop him off in Starfleet hands.
The man formally known as Doug Forrest also had his injuries that needed tending to. While the electrical burns and realignment of his cybertronics were routines that Saal had become used to performing during their intelligence days together, the Sarium Krellide/Kemocite injection he gave Theo was something they had only pulled off once during a Klingon attack during the days when the changeling General Martok instigated a short-lived war against the Federation. The original use actually had Saal firing a phaser on heavy-stun directly at Forrest to give the Klingon boarding party the impression he was turning against Starfleet, but when the raiders attempted to fight using batliffs, the metallic weapons only served as lightning rods. When Forrest stood up and released all that pent-up phaser energy, each Klingon in the vicinity who wielded the ceremonial blades received their own version of an EPS feedback circuit as electrical arcs danced from one batliff to the next, and then to the next. Of course, Forrest made Saal promise to never to do that again, as the damage to his cybernetics nearly cost him his life. However, it apparently also created a memory lapse, as Theo had forgotten just how much pain he went through to recover from that incident.
Aboard the tiny flight deck of the Aerosprite, Theo worked to re-initialize the computer consoles on the Romulan flight computers. Using his usual skill, he was able to deactivate the intrusion countermeasures that triggered the auto-destruct should the vessel fall into enemy hands. Since the ship was not of military design, overriding the failsafes was a trivial task, as was converting the control console configurations to Federation standard. As he worked the flight controls at semicircle workdesk, Theo looked out the translucent forward canopy, and the heads-up display showed their course, speed, and vector in Starfleet units and measures instead of Romulan, signaling that the system transfer was complete. Before long, Saal came wandering through the compartment door and took a seat at the console next to Theo, offering his report.
“Captain Stryker is resting comfortably,” he explained. “He's going to need a nice long rest, but he'll recover.”
“Where'd he come from?” asked Theo.
“It's an amazing story,” came the reply. “According to Starfleet records, he was listed MIA with the rest of the crew from the USS Saratoga nine years ago.”
“I told you it was amazing. According to what he told me – and it wasn't much – he was being held by Cardassians until late last year when our newly-deceased teenage monstrosity from Romulus bought custody of him. The kid was torturing him ever since, trying to get a lead on Carter. Instead, it led him to you.”
“I'd never thought I'd inherit John Carter's personal baggage along with his Federation ID,” Theo commented.
“Can you imagine what ol' Carter's going to think when he finds out you've been walking around the Alpha Quadrant in his pants?” chuckled Saal.
“Yeah, it ought to go over bigger than an isolinear chip,” Theo commented sourly. “All systems are ready,” he announced, dialing the anti-matter inducer start-up subroutine. “Activate cloaking device.”
The lights on the flight deck switched from standard illumination to an iridescent blue as the wash of tachyon radiation flowed through the vessel, refracting and absorbing visual and sensor-level spectrums in order to render the Aerosprite invisible.
Almost immediately, the long range sensor console lit up with associated alarms and klaxons.
“What is it?” shouted Theo.
“We're picking up a massive localized temporal anomaly,” replied Saal as he quickly reviewed the sensor telemetry. “It's coming from all directions.”
“Can we locate the source?”
“Give me a second,” he pleaded, looking frantically from one sensor console to another. Switching between the two several times served to deepen the frown on his face
“Uh oh,” Saal said ominously. “The tachyon radiation from the cloaking device may be resonating with the residual Kemocite in your blood. It's a radiolytic compound, and could be subject to dissociation from tachyon particles.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“I don't know,” the doctor shrugged. “Mixing a Sarium Krellide/Kemocite alloy with a cloaking field has never been done before, as far as I know. But one thing we know for sure, it's sending out an harmonic temporal signature like a signal flare.”
“Damn it!” Theo shouted. “Dump the cloak! Dump the cloak!”
As quickly as the ship disappeared, so it reappeared in the same place in space. Aboard the Aerosprite, Saal and Theo reviewed the data.
“Think anyone saw us?” Theo asked.
“Hard to say.” Saal shook his head while he examined the readouts on the sensor console. “We definitely would have shown up on any active temporal scan of the sector, but it was so brief, only an extra-dimensional sweep could have localized it.”
“Got it,” replied Theo. “No running the cloaking device while there's still Kemocite alloys floating around in my body.”
“We'd better get underway before we attract any attention from that little mishap,” advised Saal.
Acting quickly, Theo turned back to the flight console and began a slow impulse turn towards their previous course from the Ferengi courier shuttle. Unfortunately, the controls were not responding appropriately. For every attempt at a turn, the thrusters were only producing one-fourth the thrust. After a few seconds, it dropped to one-eighth. Within half a minute, it was as if Theo was trying to fly through jelly.
“What's wrong?” the doctor asked.
“I don't know,” his friend replied. “Something is draining our external momentum. Our power curve is good, except… were not making much progress.”
Saal flipped through various sensor filters on his monitor. “Looks like another anomaly.”
“Not from us again?”
“No,” he dismissed. “It's ten kilometers to our stern.”
“A temporal anomaly?”
“I'm not sure. It could be, but there's too much quantum flux to be sure. Whatever it is, it's extra-dimensional, and there's a tractor beam pulling us into it from dead center of the anomaly.”
“Saal, lock in the auxiliary power,” ordered Theo with determination. “I'm getting us out of here.”
However, even as Saal transferred all available power to the impulse engine, the ship began to shutter from the strain. The high-pitched whine of the engines increased in pitch as Theo struggled to pull away.
“Lock in the auxiliary power!” he ordered again.
“I did! We're a full power! Why are we still going towards it?”
“Damn it! I can't break free!”
The shuttering began to subside as Theo pulled back on the throttle.
“What are you doing?” a panicked Saal asked.
“We're at full power, there's nothing we can do. I don't want to lose this ship too. We're going to have to back off power and follow this thing wherever it takes us.”
Saal collapsed back into his seat in resignation. “Make that six-point-two-five percent for today…”
“I got a bad feeling about this,” prophesied Theo forebodingly.
Beyond the confines of the Romulan vessel, the anomaly to the stern glowed a dark, swirling green as the Aerosprite drew closer. Like a ship passing into a fog bank, the tiny yacht was consumed by the kilometer-wide vortex, and from the point of view of an outside observer, all but disappeared. However, from the aspect of Saal and Theo, the stars barely shifted on the other side of the anomaly. Aside from the brief sense of vertigo, they were alive, intact, and still functioning. The only apparent change in their surroundings was the appearance of a heavily-damaged Luna Class starship. Stenciled on it's hull: NCC-81371… HMS Republic.
Aboard the Aerosprite, the two former Starfleet Intelligence officers shared stares of astonishment at the main communications monitor affixed to the center console. Before them was a refuse-strewn bridge of the Luna Class Republic, aboard which neither of them had ever served, but which their comrades from the Galaxy Class Republic are currently assigned to. Two individuals staring back at them on the monitor were none other than Victor Virtus and Leon Cromwell, their Starfleet uniforms worn and ragged. It was clear that they had both had been through a traumatizing ordeal.
“I know you have a lot of questions,” Virtus explained on the other end of the open channel. “So I will anticipate the first four by providing you straightforward answers. First: Yes, it was us that pulled you through the anomaly with the tractor beam. Second: No, this is not YOUR Luna Class Republic. Third: Welcome to OUR universe… I'm Commander Victor Virus, the highest-ranking surviving senior officer of the HMS Republic, representing the Royal Confederation of Planets… or what's left of it. Fourth: Because we need your help.”
It was a lot for Saal and Theo to take in, though it was apparent that their temporal “signal flare” had indeed drawn some unexpected attention.
“How did you generate the anomaly between our two realities?” Theo stuttered, not sure whether if he would fully understand the answer.
“Perhaps I'd better answer that,” a deep, gravelly, yet somewhat familiar voice replied from beyond the view of the communications monitor. Slowly, a third individual joined the two officers on the Republic's bridge. He was a tall, imposing figure, with brawny, muscular arms crossed in front of a black leather vest. His flowing brown hair was shoulder length, and the stubble on his face rivaled that of Saal's. However, it was the black velvet eyepatch that drew the most attention, as did the tattoo on his bare left shoulder: The inky design was that of the Terran Empire emblem from the mirror universe that few Starfleet officers from their reality had ever traversed.
Saal and Theo gawked on as the face before them was none other than John Thelonius Carter.
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