“Name?” the tuxedo clad man behind the counter inquired with a hint of disdain.
“Bashir.” The similarly clad doctor answered smoothly, “Julian Bashir.”
The other man’s face brightened immediately, “Of course, Mr. Bashir. A pleasure to have you back. Would you like your usual suite?”
Bashir nodded, enjoying the deference; “Yes, and have a bottle of wine sent up.”
“Certainly, and will your companion be sharing your room?”
“No.” Ro Laren answered sternly, “She most certainly will not.”
“I see.” The concierge’s tone chilled, “Will you be requiring a room then?”
“Yes.” Ro sighed.
“And your name?”
Ro shot an infuriated glare towards Bashir before growling, “Ivanna Nuddervon.”
“Yes, I’m sure you do.” The concierge replied dryly, “But I really do need your name before I can book you a room.”
Ro leaned forward, grabbed the man’s collar and pulled him towards her; “My name is Ivanna…Nuddervon. Get it?”
The man recoiled as she released him, “Yes… I see. I’m terribly sorry. I’ll ring the bellboy immediately and have him carry your bags to your rooms.”
Ro smiled sweetly, “Thank you.”
Seated in the lounge adjacent to the casino, Bashir shook his head as he nursed his drink; “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“Why not?” Ro demanded testily.
“Because that kind of behaviour wasn’t acceptable on Earth during the 1960s. You’ll draw unwanted attention.” Bashir whispered.
“This is a holoprogram. I won’t receive any attention that it wasn’t instructed to give me.” Ro’s annoyed easily matched his own; “I can’t help it if your people were hopelessly backward at this time. I won’t demean myself for your amusement.”
“My amusement?” Bashir protested loudly then lowered his voice after a quick glance at the other patrons, “You agreed to participate in this holonovel if you recall.”
“After you prescribed some time off.” She reminded him archly, “You suggested this as a means of treatment.”
“But you still agreed.”
“Only because this sounded better than getting myself killed at the Alamo.” She retorted sharply, “I’ve had enough of lost causes to last several lifetimes.”
Bashir paused for a moment at the bitter sadness in her voice. He had a tendency to forget Ro had served with the Maquis before coming to Deep Space 9, replacing the departed Odo, as Chief of Security. After the destruction of the Maquis and the close of the Dominion War, the Bajoran Militia became her only refuge owing to her outstanding Starfleet arrest warrant for desertion. She’d seen more death and tragedy than Bashir wanted to imagine.
Ro’s position aboard the station was an unenviable one. She remained a virtual pariah amongst the Starfleet personnel stationed there. She remained a stranger to most of the Militia personnel outside her security staff. She’d earned Bashir’s respect and he saw her need for relaxation as an opportunity to extend a friendly hand as well as potentially recruit a new holonovel partner.
“Understandable,” he replied sympathetically, “but that doesn’t explain your frustration with the program so far.”
“Ivanna Nuddervon?” Ro hissed, “You get to keep your real name, why do I get stuck with such an insulting moniker?”
Fortunately for him, Bashir refrained from smiling at the situation; “Its part of the scenario. The program gave me the codename Agent 00-86. For casual usage, my actual name is as good as any other.”
“What the hell does ‘double O-86’ mean any way?” Ro demanded, “I’ve never encountered anyone with such a stupid cover identity.”
“It’s taken from elements of some of Earth’s most popular fictional characters.” Bashir explained, “Tales incorporating them practically defined the genre”
“Such a rich cultural interest,” Ro retorted smartly, “it’s a wonder you ever had time to study medicine.”
Bashir sighed and dropped his head. He took a deep breath before lifting his head, “Please just try to relax and go with it.”
“Easy for you to say.” Ro grumbled, “Your typical day isn’t filled with espionage agents and criminals trying to play games inside your jurisdiction.”
“True, but the difference here is that you can drop your guard and embrace the experience.” Bashir applied all of his considerable charm to his smile, “If you miss the bad guy here, no one suffers.”
Ro’s eyebrow arched, “So you’re recommending I adopt this attitude towards my duties?”
Julian was ready to cry out in frustration, “I’m only trying to find a way for you to approach your duties a little less gravely.”
“I know that Doctor. I’m just giving you a hard time.” She paused then added with a wicked grin; “Although I’d recommend you leave the counselling to Lt. Dax.”
Bashir shook his head in wry chagrin. Ro knew that Bashir’s romantic partner, Ezri Dax, had been the Station’s Counsellor before she’d transferred to the Command Division. That relegated the mental health responsibilities to Bashir and his medical staff. Although he’d received courses in psychology at Starfleet Medical, his expertise remained rooted in physiological illnesses.
“So,” Ro interrupted Bashir’s thoughts, “what happens next?”
“Now,” he said with a relieved smile, “we wait for our contact to arrive.”
“Who is it?” Ro inquired.
“I have no idea.” Bashir happily answered.
Ro’s expression hardened again, “What do you mean you have no idea?”
“It’s all part of the story.” Bashir explained with undisguised glee, “I’ve been ordered by my boss, W, to track down the infamous Greenthumb before he can steal the master plates from the U.S. Mint and sell them to SPOOK.”
“Spook?” Ro guffawed, “Who the hell is ‘spook’?”
“SPOOK isn’t a person.” Bashir admonished, “It’s an organisation comprised of renegade military officers, corrupt business men, and terrorists bent on world domination.”
“So it’s an acronym.” Ro said with barely restrained merriment, “What’s it stand for?”
“Subversive Political Offensive and Operations Korps.” Bashir explained matter of factly.
“And my part in all of this?” Ro inquired, trying not to burst into tears of laughter.
“You’re Major Ivanna Nuddervon of the KGB’s 5th Directorate.” Bashir pressed on, trying to ignore Ro’s amusement; “You’ve been assigned to the mission by your superiors in Moscow. You are to stop the sale by any means necessary. Your secondary goal is to acquire the plates and thus enabling the Soviet Union to blackmail the United States and swing the balance between the superpowers.”
He ended with a flourish and Ro paused before retorting dryly, “You really need to find another hobby.”
Bashir shook his head in defeat. Ro seemed determined to undermine his attempt to relieve some of her stress by including her in this diversion. Subjected to a reality where decision weren’t matters of life or death, the Militia officer might unwind and enjoy the company of others. Admittedly, the departure of both Chief O’Brien and Garak left Bashir looking for someone to participate in those recreational activities that Ezri declined to participate in and Ro’s prescription seemed a perfect way to cure two ailments with a single treatment.
“Heads up, slick.” Ro’s words nudged Bashir from his glum contemplation, “Someone’s approaching the table.”
Bashir waited until the figure stood alongside their table before looking up, when he did, his jaw dropped open; “Vic?”
Vic Fontaine nodded nervously, “You got it Pallie.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know who our contact was.” Ro eyed Fontaine suspiciously, “Who is this guy?”
“I don’t know if I qualify for that description, but thanks dollface.” Vic replied.
Ro mysteriously produced a compact handgun; “I suggest you sit down, shut up, and let my friend explain.”
Vic sat down across from Ro and glanced towards Bashir, “Who’s your pal, Doc?”
“Vic Fontaine, meet Lt. Ro Laren.” Bashir explained by way of introduction, “Ro, Vic is a friend of mine and I’d appreciate it if he didn’t come to harm.”
Ro’s eyes ran over Vic again, then with a noncommittal shrug, she returned the pistol to its place of concealment, “Okay, the gun’s gone. Now explain what’s going on or I will use it.”
Vic’s brow rose and he grinned at Bashir, “I like this one, Doc. She’s a spitfire!”
“I’ve warned you once already.” Ro growled, “This is your last one. Shut up.”
Her tone disturbed Bashir but he shrugged it off, “Vic is a holographic character devised by my friend Felix.”
“The same genius responsible for this farce.” Ro clarified.
“The very same.” Bashir chose to ignore the disparaging tone of Ro’s comment, “Vic was implemented as the central character of a 1960’s casino and lounge program.”
“And your friend Felix isn’t creative enough to devise a new character so he shows up here as well?” Ro ventured.
Bashir gave her a wry smile, “Not quite. Felix employed several experimental artificial intelligence algorithms into Vic’s matrix in order to make him a more adaptable and personable host.”
“So you’re saying he’s alive?” Ro asked.
“I don’t know, but I do know he’s self-aware.” Bashir answered, “He’s become an invaluable resident of the station.”
“Oh, really?” Ro’s interest was piqued, “And how did he accomplish this?”
“I think I can handle this one.” Vic interrupted Bashir before the Doctor could reply; “I helped Nog get over losing his leg. I helped Odo make up his mind about confessing his feelings to Kira. I helped Worf with the loss of Jadzia.”
Vic leaned forward and met Ro’s gaze, “In other words, Sweetie, I’m leading the moral support bandwagon here. If you’re not gonna trust me, fine. That’s your choice. But here’s a thought: why don’t you take a chance and give me one.” Vic smiled ingratiatingly, “You never know, you may even like me.”
Ro paused for a fateful second then shrugged; “I’ll defer to the Doctor’s judgement for now.”
“Not the trusting sort, huh?” Vic shrugged, “S’all right with me. I guess I should’ve expected it seeing as what’s on your file.”
Ro locked Vic with a glacial glare, “How did you access my file?”
Bashir quickly intervened, “Vic can access computer systems outside the holosuite. That’s how he keeps tabs on current events and the crew.” Turning to the lounge singer, he desperately tried to deflect Ro’s mounting wrath, “So what are doing here? Just seeing the sights?”
“I wish, Doc, I really do.” Vic sighed, “I gotta ask you a question, have there been any disturbances around the station lately?”
Bashir glanced towards Ro but she was still watching Vic with a wary eye, “Yes. Several ion storms just passed through the system.”
Vic shook his head as he muttered to himself, “I knew something was going on out there.”
“Why didn’t you just tap into the station’s logs to find out for yourself?” Bashir asked in bewilderment.
“Yes.” Ro agreed icily, “Why didn’t you?”
“I can’t.” Vic lamented, “I’ve been restricted to the holosuite systems.”
“Why is that?” Bashir wondered aloud, “I thought all the computers were routed through the station’s main computer.”
Ro shook her head; “The computer core is isolated during an ion storm. If the shields can’t deflect all the electrical fields then the subsidiary systems will go down and the core will be protected. Restoration of most of the secondary systems can be accomplished with data stored in the main computer after the storm has passed and any damaged isolinear components have been replaced.”
Vic nodded towards Bashir, “What I tell ya? The lady knows her stuff.”
“Stow the compliments.” Ro cut off Bashir’s reply; “You said you’ve ‘been restricted’. The storm passed three days ago. Are you still cut off from the rest of the station?”
“Yup.” Vic confirmed glumly.
“How?” Bashir asked with concern, “Why?”
“That’s what I’m here to tell you.” Vic revealed, “Something’s happened. Something’s not right with the holosuite.”
“What kind of something?” Bashir’s alarm began to increase.
“I’m not the only one in here anymore.” Vic reported, “Somebody else is calling these suites home.”
“Another program?” Ro’s wariness abated somewhat but she still remained tersely vigilant.
“Did another of Felix’s random algorithms for your program initiate and cross between individual suite computers?” Bashir’s voice promised a stern reprimand for his friend’s programming antics.
“No, Doc.” Vic’s tension increased, “This ain’t part of any program. This is something… foreign.”
“An invasive virus?” Ro prompted.
Vic shook his head adamantly; “It’s not a program. It’s alive.”
“Alive?” Bashir exclaimed, then gave a bashful look around at the other patrons again, “How can it be alive?”
“I know these systems Doc.” Vic explained, “You might say I was born and raised here. Know when something ain’t right and I’m tellin’ ya something’s smelly in Denmark.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Ro brightened, “Where’s Denmark and what do you think this strange smell is?”
Bashir and Fontaine gave her a blank look. Ro’s expression turned grim again, “What?”
“It’s an expression Dollface.” Vic elucidated, “Denmark’s a country on Earth.”
“Not anymore.” Bashir clarified, “Now it’s a district.”
“Well, in my time, and in the timeframe of this program it was a country.”
“I don’t care about your planet’s history.” Ro snapped, “I care about what’s crawling around this station’s computers.”
“It hasn’t got out of the holosuite systems yet.” Vic reassured her, “But that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.”
“All right then.” Ro replied decisively, “We’ll deactivate the systems and run a diagnostic to flush out any unfamiliar data patterns.”
“Won’t work.” Vic warned.
Ro shot him a ‘shut up and see’ glare, “Computer, end program.”
“Computer!” Ro asserted, “End program.”
Vic rapped his fingers on the table.
“Dammit computer!” Ro barely avoided yelling, “End the program now!”
“Ain’t gonna happen Sweet Thing.” Vic soothed, “But we can solve the problem from.0 here.”
“Listen ‘friend’, I’m not a ‘Dollface’, ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Sweetie’ or any other damn name you feel like calling me.” Ro advised, “Right now, my only concern is getting us out of here and jettisoning this rogue program into whatever cyberhell holograms go to when they’re erased.”
“Ouch.” Vic held up his hands in surrender, “I gotcha. Sorry to have ruffled your feathers, ma’am.”
A growl began in the back of Ro’s throat as Bashir interrupted, “Vic, you said we could solve the problem from here? How can we do that?”
“By stopping whoever’s in this program.”
“I thought you said this virus program wasn’t a hologram.” Ro asked accusingly.
“It wasn’t a light bulb like me, at least not until you two activated this program.” Bashir waved away Ro’s questioning glance as Vic continued, “Ever since the intruder arrived, its been rooting around in the systems, trying to find a way out.”
“You mean to replicate itself in another system?” Bashir offered.
“No, Doc. I mean its been looking for a way out of the computer so’s to get out there.”
Ro reminded, “Why would it look for a route to the real world when it can’t assume a tangible form outside these rooms?”
Vic winced, “I know you mean well, Darlin’, but can ya go easy on the ‘real’ world stuff? Different people live in different worlds.”
“Oh, for Prophets’ sake!” Ro fumed, “You can’t have feelings to hurt.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to start a semantic argument…” Bashir began.
“Then don’t!” Ro and Vic interrupted in stereo.
“Very well.” Bashir conceded with a huff, “Vic, how can you tell this isn’t a holoprogram?”
“Let me tell ya, Pallie,” Vic confided, “I’ve been all over these systems over the last coupla years and seen a lot of programs. Riding piggyback on Quark’s taps into the station’s mainframe, I’ve sampled and cruised over all sortsa alien programming that’d make your hair stand on end.” Vic’s voice dropped as fear crept into it, “And I gotta tell ya, none of `em ever looked or felt like this thing did.”
“Quark has taps into the mainframe?” Ro mused aloud with anticipatory glee, “Thanks for the tip Vic.”
“What did it look like then?” Bashir pressed, trying to stay on the original subject.
Ro’s snort riled Vic into further explanation, “I may not be an expert on what physical brains read like but I’m tellin’ ya, this thing thinks.”
“And what makes you believe you can make that judgement?” Ro inquired dismissively.
Vic cast Bashir an abashed look; “I’ve kinda reviewed some of your scan logs. I looked over the brain scans the most.”
“What?” Bashir exclaimed while Ro smiled coldly, “How could you? That violates every principle of patient confidentiality.”
Vic looked miserable, “I’m sorry, but how else was I gonna find out what made you physical types tick?”
“Curiosity is commendable but no excuse for this kind of behaviour.” Bashir scolded.
“Doctor, let’s drop that for now, shall we?” Ro gazed intently at Vic, “What connection is there between the medical scans and our mysterious intruder?”
“It doesn’t look like a program.” Vic answered evenly, “It looked like a brainwave.”
Bashir looked startled by the pronouncement while Ro’s smile widened, “And this is why you think it’s alive?”
Vic’s nod spurred Ro to make another inquiry, “So what makes you think we can deal with this mysterious lifeform here?”
“Because it’s assumed the role of one of the characters.” Vic explained, “That’s how it took physical form here in the holosuite. It’ll be looking for a way outta here.”
“Vic,” Bashir adopted a soothing tone, “you’re making a lot of assumptions here. You can’t know what this lifeform is thinking or what its intentions are…”
Ro half-ignored Bashir’s attempt at consoling the distraught hologram. She’d maintained a discreet eye on the lounge’s other customers. A moment ago four unpleasant looking men entered the establishment, scared the hostess away, and began peering intently at every table and its occupants. They’d finally seen Ro and her companions and were swiftly approaching. Ro waited for Bashir to finish when she saw telltale movements.
“Get down!” she yelled as she rose and withdrew her pistol.
The unfamiliar weapon bucked from unaccustomed recoil. The lead pursuer fell backwards, a red stain rapidly spreading on his jacket. Another of the men discharged his pistol and Bashir yelped in surprise as the bullet tore through the meat of his left arm. Ro brought her other hand up to balance the pistol, adjusted slightly, and pulled the trigger. She repeated this process twice more and when the sound of her last shot stopped echoing off the walls, all of their attackers lay silent on the ground.
Ro kept her pistol ready as she moved over to Bashir and Vic, “Can he move?”
“Sure.” Vic reported, “It’s just a flesh wound.”
“Just a flesh wound?” Bashir protested, “Are you a doctor? Are you qualified to diagnose injuries?” He looked down at his bloody appendage; “He shot me. He really shot me.”
“I take it the safety protocols are off?” Ro asked dryly.
Vic nodded and returned his attention to Bashir. “Look, Doc, you can’t spend any time in Vegas without seeing your share of gunshot wounds.” Vic reassured him, “I’ve seen plenty and yours don’t look so bad.”
Ro studied the flowing wound, “If you don’t trust his judgement, then trust mine. It’s only a scratch. A few stitches and you’ll be fine.”
“Well, it’s not like I’ll be able to stitch it myself.” Bashir protested.
“I can do it.” Ro announced “I’ve had plenty of experience.”
That subtle reminder of Ro’s scars earned amongst the Maquis sobered Bashir, “Very well. I’m in your capable hands.”
Ro turned towards Vic, “We can take him to my room. Any chance of getting some basic medical supplies?”
“Sure.” Vic replied with a shrug, “Just call Room Service.”
“Grit your teeth.” Ro advised, “This is going to hurt.”
“Nonsense.” Bashir retorted, “It’s a disinfectant. Why would it...ieaaahhh!”
Ro patted the surplus alcohol dry and began lacing her needle and thread through his torn flesh, “This’ll be good enough until we get out of here and can get you to the Infirmary.”
Bashir nodded but remained deathly silent. His jaw muscles flexed from the pain and his eyes watered. Ro grudgingly admitted to herself that the Doctor was enduring the procedure far better than she’d anticipated. Vic stood aside and let her work without interruption.
Ro stepped back and set her tools down, “Okay, you’re done.”
Bashir stopped staring blankly at the wall and blinked a few times before examining the sutures. “Very well done.” He raggedly commended, “Excellent technique.”
“Thanks.” Ro accepted with a surprisingly appreciative tone, “I think we should plan our next course of action though.”
“First thing is tracking down Greenthumb.” Vic proposed.
“Why?” Bashir wondered, “If an alien has altered the program, why should we continue playing out the scenario?”
“Because the Martian’s put himself smack dab in the middle of it.” Vic insisted, “Those goons were some of Greenthumb’s men sent to kill you.”
“Wouldn’t that be part of the original story anyway?” Ro asked.
“Nope. They’re supposed to bag you and deliver you to the big man himself.” Vic explained.
“And you know this how?” Ro’s brow arched with her voice.
Vic wore a sheepish expression, “I sorta got the info from the computer before I got here and sent your contact packing.” Vic scratched his head and muttered, “That put me out 2 Gs.”
“What does gravitic force have to do with anything?” Ro demanded in frustration.
Vic shook his head and shot Bashir a baleful look; “I keep tellin’ you guys, look up some period lingo before you run one of these programs.”
Ro huffed impatiently as Bashir redirected the conversation, “So, our first step is to find Greenthumb’s lair and root out our alien visitor.” He clapped his hands together, wincing slightly; “What will we need?”
Ro moved to the closet and removed the luggage and cases the bellboy had placed there. Opening them, she began sorting through their contents. She removed several items and some clothing and laid them out on the bed. Closing the luggage cases, she then inspected each piece of equipment individually.
She sat the last one down and turned towards Bashir and Fontaine with a satisfied smile, “I think I’ll be set. You should probably check your room and see if your luggage is similarly stocked. I’ll join you in a few minutes after I’ve prepared.”
Bashir and Vic nodded in unison and headed for the door.
A knock sounded at the door and Bashir scooped up his pistol. Vic had explained to him that he and Ro carried the Walther PPK. Bashir had read about the gun, a perennial favourite in the espionage thrillers he favoured, but he’d never expected to actually use one. With the safety protocols switched off, the gun’s projectiles became as lethal as they’d been in the era of their proliferation.
Bashir found it difficult enough forcing himself to use a particle weapon, much less a flesh tearing slug thrower. Reminding himself his potential victims were non-sentient holograms, he kept the pistol steady as he heard Vic approach the door. No shots rang out as the door swung open, relieving Bashir’s tension. He slid the pistol into his shoulder holster and exited the bedroom to the sound of Vic and Ro’s voices.
“I gotta admit,” Vic confessed, “hubba hubba.”
“Stow it.” Ro warned, “This was the only outfit that looked anything like fatigues.”
Bashir’s eyes widened as he entered the living room. Ro wore a “cat suit”. He’d never seen one in tangible form before but could easily see why it had garnered its mystique. The nearly skin-tight garment exuded sensuality.
“I’m not kiddin’, Emma Peel herself would plotz outta jealousy if she saw you in that get up.” Vic’s commentary resumed.
Ro’s pique silenced Vic. Bashir reflected on his luggage. The Doctor now wore all black. Vic had donned similar clothes augmented by a leather bomber jacket and a derby worn at a jaunty angle. Both carried PPKs housed in holsters.
“I don’t mean to intrusive,” Bashir began innocuously, “but how the devil are you concealing your… equipment in that outfit?”
Ro’s perturbed glare discomforted him, “Don’t ask. Ever.”
That solicited a barrage of mental imagery that Bashir’s anatomical expertise only heightened. He shrugged off that train of thought and reviewed the devices he’d discovered amongst his luggage. A note came attached from a fellow signing as P providing instructions on the operation of the items he and Vic inconspicuously wore.
The note also included an entreaty to return the equipment in pristine condition. Although directed at his role, Bashir’s methodical nature protested the unjust accusation. Another note from some one called Ms. Tokenshilling had brought a blush to his cheeks. He envied Ro’s more casual acceptance of the situation.
“So,” Ro asked tartly, fists on her hips; “are we ready to go find our alien posing as a hologram yet?’
Bashir and Vic exchanged bemused looks as they grabbed their jackets.
The trio flagged a taxi, ordering the driver to take them to a location where Vic contended Greenthumb would be found. Ro argued against the idea on the grounds that no villain would so idiotic as to advertise their location. Vic surmised Ro hadn’t had much experience with human fables. Bashir couldn’t believe they were on their way to a casino just down the road.
The taxi stopped and the trio disembarked. While Vic paid the driver, Bashir and Ro studied the gold embossed placard bearing the establishment’s name. Greenthumb operated his criminal organisation from a business entitled the Emerald Digit. The crass humour remained wasted on the unappreciative officers.
“Well, folks,” Vic proclaimed portentously, “this is the place.”
Bashir tugged at the black leather jacket he wore to conceal his holster, “If I’d known we were coming here I would have dressed more appropriately.”
“No worries Pallie.” Vic assured him, “Your outfit won’t matter.”
“What makes you say that?” Bashir demanded.
“Because Greenthumb’s men just surrounded us.” Ro announced bleakly, nodding towards the thugs emerging from the shadows around them.
Greenthumb’s lackeys marched Ro, Fontaine, and Bashir to a side entrance of the Emerald Digit. They were searched immediately after entering the building. Bashir and Vic’s guns were easily discovered. They found Ro’s pistol only after removing her web belt.
Bashir smiled to himself as the hapless trio marched through the hidden corridors towards a fateful meeting with the building’s master. Despite the pat down, he still possessed two of P’s disguised devices. Vic retained another as well. The wily Bajoran undoubtedly still retained backup weapons in addition to her extensive knowledge of unorthodox combat.
They were led to an office built on a platform outcropping overlooking a lush underground atrium. The oversized chair seated behind the ornate hardwood desk faced away from the door and gazed out towards the vibrant plant life. Ro, Bashir, and Vic lined up abreast before the desk while Greenthumb’s thugs took up position behind them. The deep leather chair swivelled and the Doctor gasped as he caught his first glimpse of Greenthumb.
“My God!” Bashir gasped, “You’re a Romulan!”
Greenthumb cocked a cold eye towards Bashir, “I see Starfleet officers retain their absolute grasp of the staggeringly obvious.”
Bashir silently fumed at the slight as Greenthumb directed his next comments to his subordinates, “Why did you bring them here?”
One of his braver thugs found his voice, “Its what we always do Boss. We bring prisoners to you.”
“No doubt so that I can elaborate on my diabolical scheme to take over the world and give away vital clues to my opponent that he or she have not yet deduced, thereby providing the exact mechanism by which to foil my efforts.” His voice rose disdainfully, “Does that sound correct?”
All the thugs exchanged nervous glances before nodding, “That’s about it Boss.”
Greenthumb massaged his temples with one hand, “We now have a new plan. Any prisoners you capture, you interrogate and then you kill.”
The thugs weren’t sure how to digest this paradigm shift without a clutch, “But what if you want to ask `em somethin’ yourself?”
“Trust me,” Greenthumb replied coldly, “I won’t.”
With a chorus of shrugs, all the men began pulling pistols from their jackets. Greenthumb stopped them, “Wait! I don’t suppose you’ve bothered to ask them any questions?”
The blank stares were answer enough, “That’s what I thought. I’ll interrogate them and then you’ll kill them. Clear enough?”
Greenthumb stood up and moved around his desk as his thugs assented to his orders. He stepped in front of Vic, scrutinising him closely. Without a hint of recognition, he moved to Bashir and repeated the ritual. It wasn’t until he stepped in front of Ro that he reacted.
“Hello Ensign.” He said with a predatory smile, “I see you survived.”
Ro’s reply came through clenched teeth, “I’m sorry that you did too.”
Greenthumb laughed bitterly, “Can a phantom ever die?”
“One can only hope.” Ro opined acerbically.
“Lieutenant Ro, do you know this… person?” Bashir asked, stressing Ro’s altered rank.
“Yes.” Ro answered simply.
Greenthumb’s expression shifted to one of dry amusement, “Have you not shared the tale of our fateful encounter with your comrades?”
Irked by Ro’s continued silence, Greenthumb sat on his desk, focusing on Bashir and Fontaine; “It all happened approximately eight of your years ago. Ensign Ro served aboard the USS Enterprise when it answered a distress call transmitted by a stricken Romulan science ship. I was an officer serving aboard the that ship and witnessed the fruits of the experiment that destabilised our singularity drive and crippled the ship.”
“The Enterprise crew came aboard to aid the surviving crew in shutting down the drive and making sufficient repairs to enable the ship to return to Romulan space. The officers sent aboard our vessel swiftly deduced that we’d been experimenting with a new form of cloaking device. They didn’t have an inkling of what manner of device until two of Enterprise crew were affected during a power surge that triggered the cloak. The two officers re-materialised aboard their ship but were assumed lost anyway.”
“How is that possible?” Bashir demanded.
“Geordi LaForge, the Chief Engineer, and I were turned invisible and intangible.” Ro answered tonelessly, “Everyone, including myself, thought we’d died.”
“They soon discovered they hadn’t.” Greenthumb added snidely, “Returning to my vessel, they deduced they had been subjected to a transference wave from the failed interphase cloaking device.” His eyes took on a psychotic gleam, “I followed them back to the Enterprise and tried to examine them.”
“You chased me through the ship and shot me in the leg.” Ro clarified.
“You resisted.” Greenthumb deflected with a manic smile.
“How could you operate a weapon if you were in a state of interphased flux?” Bashir’s scientific curiosity forced him to ask.
“I wore my disrupter while I underwent the phase shift.” Greenthumb’s voice quavered slightly, “It was useless against unphased individuals, but against Ro here it was very effective.”
“How did you survive?” Bashir inquired, his expression grim from the Romulan’s obvious delight in injuring his fellow officer.
“He had it at a low setting.” Ro answered without emotion; “Doctor Crusher later regenerated the damaged tissue. My admirer here would have killed me if Geordi hadn’t intervened by shoulder checking Greenie here.”
Greenthumb’s face lost all life and became an impassive mask; “The engineer’s blow sent me through the bulkhead.”
“And you survived in deep space?” Bashir exclaimed.
Greenthumb found his smile, “You have to remember I was a living ghost. No longer requiring food or water.”
“Or air apparently.” Bashir remarked in amazement, then turned towards Ro; “Did you and Commander LaForge experience the same effects?”
Ro shrugged dispassionately, “We were only phased a couple of days. I know I wasn’t hungry until we reverted back but then I was starved.”
Bashir was about to ask another question when Greenthumb interrupted him, “How was that accomplished? How did you become material again?”
Ro’s face finally flickered with life and her eyes bored into his, “First things first, tell me your name.”
“Why does that matter?” a surprised Greenthumb asked.
“You’re going to have me killed anyway.” Ro replied, “I’d like to know the name of the person killing me.”
Greenthumb pondered the request and then smiled in approval, “I am Centurion Parem.”
“Parem.” Ro repeated, tasting the sound of the name; “Well Parem, now I know what name to put on either your arrest report or your death certificate. The choice of which rests with you.”
Parem stared blankly at her before breaking into raucous laughter, “By the Elements! You are a worthy opponent. I’ll remember your death with pride.”
“Don’t count me out just yet.” Ro advised.
“And why is that?” Parem chuckled.
“You’ve become a holomatrix, which means you're part of this program.” Ro explained, “Turning off the safety protocols means Bashir and I can be harmed, but you’ve forgotten something.”
“And what’s that?” Parem leaned forward with a smug smirk.
“You can be hurt too.” Ro replied then snapped her head forward into Parem’s nose. It broke with a soggy crunch. She followed that with an upward elbow strike that caught his nose and lips. The stunned and battered Greenthumb staggered backwards into his desk, falling over it.
Bashir and Vic pounced on the opening. Greenthumb’s thugs stood in dumbstruck immobility. Not recruited for their independent thinking skills, they’d just started to react when Bashir and Vic threw themselves at their foes and began grappling with the closest opponents. The two thugs not engaged in combat began to pull their pistols free.
Two shots rang out, stopping everyone in their tracks. The armed subordinates dropped their pistols and fell over. Ro stepped forward holding a small handgun. She motioned with the gun for the two surviving criminals to stand along the wall.
“Good show!” Bashir exulted, rubbing bruised knuckles.
“”I gotta ask though,” Vic’s voice held a note of disbelief, “where’d ya hide that little .25?”
“I keep telling you,” Ro grimaced, “don’t ask.”
“We’ve captured the bad guy.” Bashir proclaimed, “Time to end this little adventure. Computer, end program and delete.”
Bashir’s mouth opened but Vic spoke first, “Don’t bother Doc. The story ain’t over so the computer’s still locked up.”
“But…” Bashir started to protest, then sighed; “Why isn’t the story over?”
“We may have the bad guy Doc, but this isn’t the way these stories end.” Vic replied.
“Parem’s still breathing.” Ro circumscribed.
Bashir blinked in surprise then shook his head. He chastised himself for failing to recall the nearly universal constant in espionage thrillers: the bad guy always dies in the end. Bashir wondered if he could bring himself to execute Parem. He wasn’t technically alive since his only means of interacting with the universe was through “possessing” a hologram.
He already knew his answer; “I won’t condone executing a man, not even if it means saving my own life.”
“You’re a man of principle, Doc. I’ve always admired that.” Vic acknowledged.
“I admire it too.” Ro admitted, “But that doesn’t mean I exactly agree with you in this case… excuse me for a moment.”
Ro turned and discharged four pistol rounds. The last two thugs slumped over, dropping their pistols as they fell. Vic and Bashir traded slightly nervous looks over the ease of Ro’s performance. When her gaze returned to theirs, she wore a placid expression.
“I’ve never approved of executions before,” she revealed, “but this is one case I might make an exception for.”
“Well, I won’t.” Bashir reiterated, “He may be a hologram now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t alive.”
“Amen!” Vic crowed, “You tell her Pallie.”
“So what do you suggest we do instead?” Ro asked glacially.
“How did you and Commander LaForge originally reverse the effects of the interphase generator?”
“A long story but essentially Data figured out that a chroniton field would restore us to normal.” Ro explained.
“Then that’s what we’ll have to do here.” Bashir announced resolutely, “We’ll cure Parem, deactivate the program and take him into custody.”
“I think there’s one little thing you’re forgetting,” Ro admonished, “Data used 24th century technology to do that. We’re stuck in a 20th century replica of Earth.”
“I could rig a chroniton generator with 20th century components.” Bashir assured her, “I’d just need the use of a nuclear reactor.”
“Those ain’t too common Pallie.” Vic reminded him.
“Ah, but you’re forgetting something.” Bashir countered, “In 20th century era spy thrillers, the arch-villains always have a nuclear reactor or missile handy.”
“I certainly don’t see one.” Ro grumbled, “Unless the decorator is one hell of a genius.”
“Greenthumb doesn’t have a reactor.” Bashir conceded.
“Then where you gonna get one?” Vic inquired irritably.
“From his employers.” Bashir replied smugly, “I’m certain SPOOK will oblige us.”
Parem awoke in the rear seat of “his” limousine. Bashir sat beside him and Ro across from him on the rear-facing bench. Vic drove. Parem tugged at the bonds securing his wrist behind his back.
“Don’t bother.” Ro advised, “You can’t break those ropes.”
Parem laughed, “Fool woman! I’ll be free in moments. Then I will crush your throat yeeearrrk!”
Ro interrupted by punching Parem in the nose. He cried out in pain as he recoiled back into the seat. Fresh blood bubbled from his stricken orifice. Bashir shook his head and clucked his tongue.
“Now, Lieutenant, was that really necessary? I just finished cleaning him up.”
Ro reached out to Parem’s face. The Romulan flinched but couldn’t evade her. She swiped her fingers across his face. His eyes widened as she held her hand up for him to see the blood. It was bright red, not Romulan green.
“You’re no stronger than a human.” Ro informed him, “And an unconditioned human at that. You won’t be breaking those ropes in this lifetime.”
“But how?” Parem wailed.
“I’m theorising that you’re only manipulating the holographic body you’re now inhabiting.” Bashir surmised, “You were able to alter the computer’s program enough to grant the use of your own face but in every other way, the original matrix remains intact.”
“So I’m still a ghost?” Parem whispered in despair.
Bashir nodded, “For now. Once the program ends, you return to your original interphased state.”
Parem shook with desperation, “I can’t go back to that non-existence! There must be something you can do. You Starfleeters saved her!”
“That was accomplished with a chroniton field generator.” Ro ignored Parem’s accusatory tone, “We’d need a nuclear reactor do build one here.”
“I know where to find one.” Parem assured them.
“Will you help us access to it and assist in building the generator?” Bashir queried.
Parem latched onto the offer, “Yes! Of course! Anything to escape this living hell.”
Parem played his part. He bluffed his way into the SPOOK base and deflected questions by claiming authorisation from the SPOOK leader, Dr. Nay, himself. Under the pretence of constructing a device to enable the theft of the printing plates, he requested the use of machining equipment and the base reactor. Bashir wondered how long these acts of good faith would persist.
No sooner had they ushered the reactor’s technicians out of the room than an insistent knocking sounded at the door. Vic went to see whom it was. After exchanging a few brief words, he returned to his cohorts. His worried expression boded ill.
“They told me to tell Greenthumb that Dr. Nay is here.” Vic reported.
Parem looked as startled as anyone else, “I thought he’d be elsewhere.”
“He’s here Pallie.” Vic’s rejoinder was laced with fatalism, “And he’s comin’ this way. So we better come up with a plan people.”
“We’ll have to fight.” Ro resolved.
The trio had recovered their previously confiscated weapons. They were meagre in the face of SPOOK’s manpower. Ro began scanning the room for potential ambush sights. Bashir left Vic with Parem while he tried to determine where to place P’s devices.
Parem surged towards Vic, delivering a blow to the hologram’s face. Vic went down as his knees buckled. Parem scooped up Vic’s dropped pistol as Ro and Bashir turned in response to the noise. Parem held the pistol aimed at Vic’s head.
“I suggest you don’t move.”
“You are aware of the fact he’s hologram?” Bashir inquired.
“Yes.” Parem sneered, “But as Ensign Ro said, he can be deleted right now.”
Bashir gnashed his teeth while Ro kept her pistol trained. The door swung open and several armed men garbed in black fatigues assembled, taking aim at the room’s occupants. Bashir and Ro placed their pistols on the floor while Parem kept his pointed at Vic’s head. The last person strode to the centre of the darkly garbed ensemble.
The man’s pale skin almost appeared afflicted with albinism. He was bald; a livid pink scar ran from the bridge of his nose over his scalp and down the length of his skull. Unlike his minions, he wore an orange jump-suit. His portly figure combined with his clothing made him resemble a sentient orange.
“Greenthumb, I presume?” Dr. Nay inquired in a nasal wheeze, “A pleasure to finally meet you.”
Parem was dumbstruck and Dr. Nay carried on the conversation alone, “I’d wanted to meet you before this but you know how it is. Work, work, work… a revolution here, a political uprising there. Hostile take-overs, charity drives, government coups, assassinations and student body elections… you know the drill. I wanted to personally thank you for accepting our bid on your proposed project. I’ve wanted to assure you that SPOOK’s resources were at your complete disposal.”
Dr. Nay put a thumb up to the corner of his mouth and glared at Parem, “But I see you’ve discovered that already, hmmm?”
Parem’s mouth opened but no sound came out. Dr. Nay clamped a hand near his ear, “I can’t hear you. What did you say? We don’t have all day here. Cat got your tongue?”
Parem remained frozen but a new factor entered the equation. At the word “cat”, a diminutive, white ball of ratty fluff trotted in and began sniffing the air. After several deep inhalations and chasing its tail for a moment, the dog stopped. He sniffed towards Parem and began growling.
The dog launched forward at a brisk run. Its high pitched, squeaky barks rang out across the echoing tile of the reactor control room. The noise sounded like a siren to Parem’s curved ears and he angrily responded. Dr. Nay lurched forward crying out in concerned outrage as Parem placed two bullets in his dog’s head.
Everything happened at once at that point. Vic flopped to his belly and covered his head. Ro tackled Bashir and held him to the floor. Parem, seeing Dr. Nay’s mouth quivering in apoplectic rage, placed two bullets in him as well.
Parem barely had time to consider his errors when the SPOOK soldiers opened fire. The Romulan died before the holographic body hit the ground. Bashir groaned in futile outrage as the body collapsed. Ro seized the opportunity presented to them.
“Computer, end program!”
The holographic world around them faded. Vic stayed using his ability to activate or deactivate himself at will. Bashir sat up onto his haunches, looking miserable. Ro rose to her feet and looked around with satisfaction.
“Looks like our job here is done.” She announced.
“How can you say that?” Bashir protested, “A man died here today.”
Ro studied him before replying, “That man would have killed you without a second thought. He should have died years ago under any normal set of circumstances.”
“That’s ludicrous.” Bashir cried.
“I haven’t seen anyone else stand next to a detonating warp drive and walk away afterwards.” Ro answered, “Anyway, its been interesting. Now I’m off to search the databases and have Nog run a hundred diagnostics just to be sure this little glitch never happens again.”
Bashir brightened, “So you think he may have survived?”
“Stranger things have happened.” Ro shrugged, “Quite frankly, I sort of hope he’s still alive.”
Bashir suppressed a shiver, “If he’s alive, then there’s always a chance of curing him.”
“Ever the optimist, Julian?” Ro queried.
“Let’s just say I don’t believe in giving up.” He replied with conviction.
Ro smiled brightly, “Something we can agree on.”
Vic said his farewells and deactivated. Ro and Bashir exited the vacant holosuite. Bashir hesitated at the door, sensing a lingering presence. Ro jerked him out of the doorway, allowing the automatic door to seal behind them.
From a corner, he watched them go. Parem had refused to yield to his host’s death. One other character deactivated along with Greenthumb. When the holosuite shut down the program, Parem wasn’t finished possessing that character.
Now he felt different. Looking down at his orange Centurion’s uniform, he rubbed his shaven scalp, tracing the scar found there. New ideas and ambitions swirled through his brain. His previous ambitions seemed minuscule in comparison.
One sensation remained the same: the insatiable desire for revenge. Watching the Starfleet officers and their pet hologram merrily depart filled him with a venomous wrath. When the door shut, Dr. Parem Nay could no longer restrain himself.
“I’ll get you Ro Laren!”
|Last modified: 10 Apr 2012