<Luna Class Starship, USS Republic. Near Gamma Eridani. 0635 Ship Time>
The chime in Crewman Cronus' berth went off with an annoying Holstian blare. The clean-shaven technician was out is his bunk and across the room in a cascade of blankets and pillows.
Incoming visual message from Sol IV, priority 9.
The plasma tech's nostrils widened and a light sweat broke out across his forehead.
“Computer. Display message relay data from point-of-origin.”
The Malthusian scanned the dozen pages of relay codes, eyebrows rising steadily higher, while tracing the message from the Zaurak VII comm bouy, to SB-86, back to the Alpha Quadrant, through the merchantman SS Gilligan, to SB-1, to Sol IV, back to SB-1, to the SS Kirkland, . . . to the replacement for the missing buoy that disappeared at the same time as a certain Martian lacrosse champion.
“Typical. He finds me before I can find him. Computer, file report: 1001 Crewman Cronus Work Log, flag Ensign Eono and Lt. Devloch.”
Work log filed.
“Computer, display personal log, VXV encrypt, Archive Name Quote Things I Swear I Will Never Do Unquote.”
Dark brown eyes scanned the list while the crewman's heart rate slowly increased and a hand idly ran back through close-cropped black hair.
“Computer. Strike-through entries 7 through 11.”
Archival editing requires confirmation and voice authorization.
“Confirm strike-through, authorization Victor X-Ray Victor Tango Foxtrot One Pakita Leonetti Myrr Scott Cochrane.”
Authorization Confirmed. May Murphy have mercy on your soul.
“We'll see. Computer, send stored messages in restricted queue to recipients via Jupiter drop.
Messages queued for transmission.
“And now to figure out from where John is transmitting . . . and how!”
<USS Republic. Bridge ready room. 1800 hours Ship Time.>
Beta Shift was long and dull while traveling between systems, and the paperwork on the XO's PADD never seemed to decrease. Daydreaming had never been a problem for Nat Hawk, because a series of wise Captains and First Officers has made certain that Midshipman Hawk through Lieutenant Hawk never had the spare moments necessary to let his mind wander. Now that Nat had the responsibility of delegating nearly every starship function, he found he had even less time to reflect on the nature of ship-board life and the intricacies of interactions between people, between planets, and between interstellar civilizations.
Engineering to the XO
“Oh thank heavens. Go ahead Engineering.”
We just had a work report logged, and it appears to require disciplinary action.
Hawk's shoulders slumped a bit. Discipline at his level meant issues had progressed beyond the ability of the department head to manage them, which all-too-often resulting in brig-time, demotion, or both. A necessary, but wholly unpleasant, duty of the Exec.
“What seems to be the problem, Vance?”
“One of the enlisted plasma techs appears to have fiddled with the warp and impulse engines, and then altered the log files to cover up his alterations. An inspection report was recently filed, and the computer noticed the discrepancies.”
Nat's eyebrows crept up as he turned to look in the direction of the warp nacelles, “And what technician would that be Lieutenant?”
“Crewman Cronus, sir. But the weird-ER part is-”
”-that the systems in question are operating at slightly above-normal efficiency?“
“Aye sir, three to seven percent more efficiently than they were last week.
How did you know, sir? It this some kind of drill?”
“Oh ah wish. Well, Lt. Devloch, having found this beneficial tampering and digital cover-up, what do the regs say?”
“That is the weird-EST part. When I check the regulations, it said the correct response was to request the suspect be confined to quarters until an investigatory committee can be empaneled to determine if the modifications were an odd coincidence, routine maintenance, or possible sabotage, and to determine if the cover-up was deliberate or accidental.”
“And it takes three to seven days to empanel a committee, and perform a thorough diagnostic given the complexities of the modified systems?”
“Correct sir. And may I say I'm impressed by your knowledge of the relevant regulation and the time it will take to look into the matter.”
“I thank you for the compliment, but I can take next-to-no credit. A friend name Pakita explained that specific regulation to me after she'd used it to confine herself to quarters to avoid an ambassadorial dinner following a Beta Zoid double-marriage. She missed a helluva party. But I digress. This may be the first time in my life in which ah say the following phrase and mean it, but the regs are there fer a reason, and I suggest we follow them in the letter. And in the meantime, ah think I'm gonna have a little chat with Crewman Cronus about his dedication to this here ship, and his loyalty to Starfleet. And I apologize for steppin' on your toes in this matter, now or in the future.”
“Quite alright Commander. With your permission, I'll start putting the committee together, and get crews to start pulling panels to see what's up with those three systems.”
“Permission granted. Hawk out.”
The commander glanced around the spartan ready room, and down at his PADD full of routine, mind-numbing busy-work.
“Why do you need three days along Mr. Cronus? What's changed to cause you to come out of hiding? And why are you back on MY ship?”
Broad shoulders rolled, neck vertebrae popped, and the wiry human rose from his chair with a shake of his head as he started for the door to the bridge, “Yep, it's happenin' just like they said it would. First, ya start talkin to yerself. Then you start going behind the Captain's back. Next thing ya know yer datin' a hologram.”
<Near DS-9, Spacecraft Unknown>
== Incoming Message, Priority Silver 2 via Sol VI ==
“Umm, since when do our comm systems have “silver” as an option?”
Saal Yezbeck glanced over at the former intelligence officer turned Martian hero.
“Because a certain subspace scientist thinks gold is overrated as a precious metal AND as a security classification. Computer, play message.”
== I told you so. Strike seven through eleven and meet me at Dragon Five. Virtue is its own reward. ==
Doug Forrest blink twice slowly, and pivoted to face Saal.
“What was that about?”
Doug took a deep breath before responding, “One, Vic found evidence that John Carter is alive-andbeforeyoushoutwhat-”
“Two, Victor is about to pull stunts from a list that he swears never to pull from because of the potential for catastrophic harm to people, planets, causality, and reality.”
“And three, we are setting course for the Neutral Zone.”
”. . . after those first two, your third statement is somewhat anti-climactic, and you just said: We're going. To. The Neutral Zone!“
“Yeah, but don't let that get your hopes down. Knowing John we'll be IN or BEYOND the Neutral Zone before you know it.”
“Computer, set course for Epsilon Draconis, but stop one parsec before the Federation border of the Neutral Zone.”
== Acknowledged. Course laid in. ==
The doctor moved to the co-pilot's chair of the lavishly-appointed yet wholly-unremarkable courier ship, and watched as Doug Forrest typed an improbably long passcode in at least four Federation languages.
“What is that?”
“Lieutenant Virtus' personal logs from three years ago, and Lieutenant Commander Virtus' encryption-cracking software from two years ago.”
“Vic gave you his logs and a way to break into them?”
“No and no, respectively.”
”. . . you're a cold human Agent Forrest.“
“It's Theo to you.”
Letters appeared on the secondary monitor in ones and two as the decryption program churned.
“What does this mean, 'Theo?'”
“Everyone you've ever heard of is in SO far over their respective heads.”
1. Break the Prime Directive.
2. Visit Talos IV
3. Create temporal transwarp tunnel. [check]
4. Gross insubordination [check]
5. Ensign Cardboard pun. [check]
6. Go to Sigma Iotia II and demand my cut
7. Find and Repair Decker's Folly
8. Recreate Project Genesis.
9. Janus VI diplomacy
10. Play the Recording.
11. Overthrow the Government
12. Ceti Eels.
13. PADD from the future hazing gag [check]
14. Forrest's “Pantheon” crimson Clupea harengus harengus [check]
15. Sarpeidon loop.
17. Give god my spaceship.
18. Strike a superior officer. [check]
19. Ask the Q for help.
20. Orion Pub Crawl [check]
21. Assimilate self
(Continued on next page)