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Star Trek Renegade II - 2.1 Tribbless Troubles by J. Grey

A team in the past blaze a trail into uncharted territory in a struggle to protect the galaxy's future from itself.

2.1 Tribbless Troubles

"Section 2031!" Tarvor exclaimed with an apathetic sigh while he gazed wearily at his console readout.

"It seemed like such a good idea at the time!" Captain Franks added from the centre chair while the image of nothing stretched out before them endlessly in the viewer.

"Well I've completed the area scans." Tarvor sat up straight and brushed an imagined crease from his uniform. "We can move on now and start all over again in grid 13."

"Where I fully expect we'll discover nothing." Commander Crowley sighed. "...Yet again."

"Let's keep some optimism, people." The Captain warned the team although his own patience was waning fast just the same. For a week the USS Asimov had slunk from one grid to the next making full scans with her upgraded sensors and had discovered nothing. The ship they were tracking had left no sign of its whereabouts and no clue to the direction it had headed.

"Maybe we're going about this all wrong..." Tarvor suggested. "Maybe we shouldn't be looking for the Cardassians at all. Maybe we should be looking for a way to find the Corinthian?"

"The Corinthian might not be here yet." Captain Franks reminded him.

"Or the crew may have died of old age already many centuries ago." Crowley grunted. "We know the Cardassians have arrived. We should concentrate our efforts in finding them. It's the only thing we can be certain of."

"I tend to agree." The Captain nodded.

"Well in that case..." Tarvor exhaled loudly and returned his attention to the sensors. The new grid appeared on his scopes and looked almost identical to the last one with equally little promise of success.

"Anything?" The Captain asked hopefully, already knowing full well that there was little likelihood of the ship detecting the Spacematic vessel. Tarvor opted not to answer. Instead his reply was a grunt of dissatisfaction.

"Wait!" Commander Crowley sat bolt upright in surprise. "I think I've got something..."

"Commander?" The Captain turned to her with a frown of confusion. "You have...?"

"A communication." She explained. "A message from a Starbase to all available Starfleet ships in the area."

"Go on..." Captain Franks told her excitedly, his fingers gripping his seat expectantly.

"The message is broken up thanks to the distortion in this sector." She frowned while trying to clear up the content. "A Spacematic transport has broken free of the security hangar and is on course into this region."

"A Spacematic?" Tarvor shook his head. "There must be thousands still in service around Federation space. This doesn't mean very much to us."

"But this one is heading here." She told him firmly with a knowing smile growing on her face.

"The Cardassians?" Captain Franks said rhetorically. "Perhaps there was always more than one. We don't know exactly when they arrived. They could have adapted any number of vessels by now."

"We could intercept." Lieutenant Sneddon suggested. "We could cloak the ship and lie in wait."

"We could lay several Photon Torpedoes along the path." Commander Crowley suggested. "I can estimate the course from the message. We could remotely detonate the Torpedoes and force the ship from Warp."

"Commander..." The Captain smiled uneasily at his first officer. "You have taken to this new role with notable relish."

"Yes, Sir." She grinned back reservedly.

"Well it's an interesting idea but we'll wait until we can confirm that this Spacematic is hostile." He told her firmly, his decision made. "At least hostile to us. Our priority is to remain out of the way of history for now."

"Yes, Sir." She said again with a certain note of distinct disappointment.

"Red alert!" The Captain ordered. "Tarvor. Get this ship cloaked!"

The USS Asimov banked hard to starboard and swept back to engage the potential threat of the Spacematic transport. Her twin forward launchers began to glow a deep red as the coils came to life and the Phasers tasted their first does of power since she had engaged the Romulans a whole week before. Slowly she began to melt into darkness as her newly installed cloaking device began to engage.

"What can you tell me, Commander?" The Captain stared fixedly at the viewer.

"The ship has left the space station, K7. Security had locked down the vessel for some reason and the pilot is wanted for something." She shrugged. "The general configuration roughly matches the vessel that fired on us."

"And it's heading into Section 2031?" Tarvor rubbed his chin. "A civilian is hardly likely to head in this direction."

"But there is nothing illegal about doing so!" Crowley noted. "I'm not aware of any restrictions to public access of this entire region."

"Sir!" Tarvor snapped with sudden excitement. "There's something else!"

"Go on!" The Captain told him.

"Chronotron particles and a general tachyon surge not far from here." Tarvor grinned. "A very weak signal but it's growing in intensity. It's at the very edge of Section 2031."

"The Corinthian!" The Captain mused hopefully.

"It could well be a portal opening." Tarvor nodded in enthusiastic agreement. "If so then it seems likely that the Corinthian would be coming through. She was the only ship left."

"Not so!" Commander Crowley added abruptly. "According to the records at least one other vessel was drawn into the portal. A private vessel."

"Quite." Tarvor rolled his eyes back in his head in annoyance. "However we are assuming that that one was destroyed. The Corinthian was a cutting-edge piece of Starfleet technology."

"Borg actually." She smiled thinly with a severe expression of superiority.

"Enough!" The Captain interceded finally. "Plot me a course towards the source of the temporal portal."

"Not the Spacematic ship?" Lieutenant Sneddon protested as all aspirations of firing the newly upgraded weapons faded from likelihood.

"If we're right then the Cardassians will be heading for the portal as well." The Captain told him firmly with his usual note of supreme authority.

"If we're not right?" Tarvor grumbled weakly, his voice barely audible.

"Let's hope we are!" Commander Crowley offered.

"I'm always right." The Captain told them both. "That's rule number 1 around here."

"Incoming message!" The Communications officer reported suddenly, breaking the monotony aboard the USS Ronin.

"Content?" Captain Singh asked, rotating his chair to face him.

"A call for assistance." He replied, waiting for more details to unfold.

"A ship in trouble?" The Commander guessed.

"A Starbase!" The officer corrected with some surprise. "Starbase K7. We're the closest vessel, Sir."

"We have to go..." The Commander reminded him.

"Set course." The Captain instructed. "Try to get a little more information about what we might hope to find on our arrival."

Tarvor took a glass of iced water and stepped to the large set of windows in the crew's lounge. Beyond the transparent aluminium panels space stretched out before him, a gaping, ceaseless shadow cast over infinite mystery and pregnant with all possibility.

"Tarvor!" The Captain smiled at his old friend as he stepped up beside him.

"John!" He said with a note of surprise. As the word left his lips the science officer glanced around quickly to see if anyone had heard his disrespectful slip.

"John is fine." The Captain grinned knowingly. "I'm taking a short break from duty. I thought I'd join you for a few minutes if you don't mind."

"In the crew's lounge?" Tarvor shook his head sarcastically. "How things have changed since we all died."

"Exactly." Captain Franks nodded as his smile softened. "Things have indeed changed a great deal."

"I've been thinking about that myself." Tarvor admitted weakly. "We're alone now. Utterly alone. We're not just cut off from Starfleet, we're removed from our own time, our own Universe. Our lives are officially over."

"I know." The Captain sighed heavily. "But we have a job to do. Somewhere out here is a group of Cardassians trying to rob us of the very Universe we always worked towards building and protecting."

Tarvor turned his back on the window and leant against a light grey support pillar thoughtfully. "Have you ever considered what would happen to us if we succeed?" He said solemnly.

"When we succeed." The Captain corrected him.

"Then we'll truly be alone." Tarvor began, his eyes peering out into nothing as his mind clouded. "We will have lost our lives and the purpose we lost them for. We'll have no choice but to destroy the ship."

"The thought had occurred to me." Captain Franks closed his eyes as the image flashed through his thoughts of the demise of his vessel. "I imagine we'll find a quiet place and stay out of history's way."

"Will we?" Tarvor asked openly. "Somehow that doesn't sound right. It doesn't feel right."

"What do you mean?" He turned to face his friend.

"I mean I know that isn't going to happen." Tarvor said earnestly. The Captain regarded him in silence for a moment. His brow furrowed into a frown as he gazed into the eyes of his Romulan officer. He was an earnest man who spoke his thoughts rarely and for him do so troubled the Captain greatly. With a strong sense of unease he began to shake his head in agreement. "I know." He smiled a hollow expression.

"I've been running this station for three years." The chief administrator told his assistant gloomily while his head remained propped uneasily on his upturned palm.

"Yes Sir." She agreed without listening or particularly caring about a single word he was saying as was her habitual way of dealing with her immediate superior. In many ways the station was hers. He emerged from the overwhelming tirade of red tape and procedures only when a severe emergency occurred. For all other purposes, she was basically running the show.

"Three long years..." He sighed wistfully.

"Yes Sir." She said again.

Administrator Bem Fallow had risen through the ranks of the Federation merchant support with impressive alacrity. The path of his career had been swift and quickly lead to a prestigious posting indeed. Station K7 was one of the primary centres of commerce for the entire region. It was a place dedicated to peaceful trade and welcomed all species and vessels. The open attitude of the Federation and their installations was slightly at odds however with his personal beliefs and he would have generally preferred to have turned the vast majority of the visitors away, preferably with the stations armaments trained unwaveringly on them.

"The USS Ronin will be arriving in two hours to assist us. It was the closest vessel to our position." She began, reading the report from her pad. She was human and he would have found her much more appealing if she had a third eye and long leathery folds of skin at the sides of her face as did the members of his own species.

"To track him?" He muttered in reply. "If Officer Killick was correct about what was going on then I'm going to be rather relieved to have a Starship here for a few hours."

"Yes." She nodded. "Starfleet will catch him."

"If someone wishes to mutilate a corpse and run away from the station on their own vessel then I'm of a mind to let them." He told her flatly. "If Starfleet wants to find this man and gain a deeper understanding of his motives then that's their business. Personally I don't think I want to know."

"I am inclined to agree with you there." She frowned as she remembered the rather detailed accounts that the stations medical staff had posted to her for approval. "This was a very strange thing for him to have done. Very out of character."

"Strange?" Bem turned to her suddenly. "Last year we were visited by an alien species of vegetables and a hyper-intelligent shade of the colour blue. Three of our guest quarters are currently filled with water and two have the gravity turned off. The cleaning-staff on this station get paid more than I do because of the appalling things they frequently have to do and once a week my dinner is still alive. Strange is hardly the word for K7."

"Well..." She began thoughtfully for some way to counter his complaints. "At least we're now totally Tribble free. We've not detected one in over a year so we can declare it officially."

"Tribbles." He sighed and his shoulders hunched dejectedly. "I wondered when they might get mentioned again. I thought we were rid of the whole issue."

"We were." She agreed. "Until this... Until the man who brought them aboard did this to that poor woman."

"At least he had the decency to wait until she was dead." Bem added sarcastically. "Well Starfleet will catch him. He's only got a tired old ship, he won't get far."

"I wonder why he did it." She said thoughtfully.

"Mutilated a corpse?" The administrator asked. "I don't know. Who knows why anyone would do something like that?"

"I am detecting something." Tarvor announced.

"You sound surprised." The Captain smirked at the unusually high pitch of his science officer's voice.

"Slightly." He agreed, turning his seat as a curious frown settled on his features. "Formerly I was surprised if the toilets flushed or if the food didn't taste like it had been scraped from the exterior of the hull but since the bout of upgrades this ship is transformed. Now I'm surprised by the extent of her abilities."

"Meaning?" The Commander asked sternly.

"I'm picking up a tachyon surge." He told her, his eyes still fixed on the Captain as they narrowed into a knowing smirk. "It's a long way out but it's definitely a disruption in the fabric of space-time and I have a far more exacting lock on its point of origin."

"Meaning?" Lieutenant Sneddon glanced around to the others in apathetic ignorance.

"That means that there is a distinct possibility of an incident of time travel." The Captain began to grin to himself. "If indeed that's true then the Corinthian might well be on her way."

"It does seem likely." Tarvor's lips fluttered towards smiling before the years of Vulcan discipline overwhelmed him.

"And we have no problems with tracking this phenomenon?" The Commander asked as she locked her mind onto the facts as if to devour them. "Even at high Warp as we head towards it?"

"Actually I have found an absolutely idiot-proof way to guarantee excellent sensor resolution of the growth of the tachyon surge while we head for the eye, even at maximum Warp!" Tarvor announced proudly. Then his expression changed as he turned back to Captain Franks. "Unfortunately that is where our problems start."

"If your concern is that we lack the necessary idiots I assure you it's unfounded." The Commander cast a sardonic glance at the Lieutenant.

The Captain's expression matched his officer's and all traces of smug amusement vanished. He leant forwards, Tarvor now enjoying his undivided attention. The Captain nodded for him to continue as his fingers locked together in front of his eyes in quiet contemplation.

"The signal is very close to a Federation relay probe. The probe is designed to amplify navigational signals along the edge of this sector and to warn unwary traffic from entering. It's been installed just inside the region as is standard practice." Tarvor began.

"And this relay is feeding you the data?" The Commander frowned in concern.

"Not exactly." He shook his head dully. "I'm using our sensors but the information from the probe is allowing me to lock on with far greater accuracy."

"Unfortunately that would allow anyone else in range to lock on as well." The Captain surmised with a heavy sigh.

"We Warp in under cloak." Lieutenant Sneddon suggested with a shrug. "We blow the relay up. No problem."

"I don't think we can do that." Tarvor fixed him with a cold stare.

"I'm going to need a very good reason why not!" The Captain told him.

"The relay is sending out navigational data through subspace." Tarvor told him, his expression one of thoughtful distraction. "From what we know it's possible that the ships are lost in time and being drawn to this point by the signals from the relay probe. If we cut off the signal in any way we could prevent the Corinthian from coming here."

The Captain sighed again and leant back heavily in his chair.

"According to my records..." The Commander began as she scanned through the files in the ship's data banks. "A relay probe stopped transmitting on the day we encountered the Coo'gral in the very same region."

"So in some way it appears that the probe is assisting the ships lost in the time vortex?" The Captain grumbled to himself.

"There's something else." The Lieutenant reported.

"Isn't there always?" Captain Franks said with a coldly sarcastic smirk.

"That Spacematic vessel we were tracking..." He told the crew, glancing up from his tactical schematic. "It changed course an hour ago and is now heading to the exact same point we are."

Captain Singh and the Commander stepped from the transporter platform aboard the K7 station. He glanced around the soundly engineered equipment that lacked the technical flair of his new Starship with a certain condescending satisfaction.

"Welcome to the K7 commercial station." Said with a warm, if slightly routinely affected smile. "The largest free outpost in the sector." She added as if remembering her lines.

"I'm Captain Singh of the USS Ronin." He returned her smile and outstretched his hand in greeting. The pair shook in formal greeting before their postures relaxed slightly. She gestured to the door and led the pair into the sparse corridor which lead to the control decks.

"I have to confess that I believe your presence here is slightly over the top if it's your intention to track our runaway." She began with a slightly off-kilter smirk. "What happened was unpleasant but hardly a matter requiring a Starfleet investigation."

"What exactly did happen?" The Commander asked, chipping into the conversation bluntly.

"You don't know?" She stopped in her tracks and turned to face them with a worried expression that had she had been left holding far more responsibility than she would have liked.

"In your own words." The Commander smiled thinly, a gesture demanding of a swift reply.

"Well..." She began haltingly, her eyes rolling up to the ceiling. "We had a slight problem with a long-term tenant."

"And your internal security wasn't able to cope with it?" The Captain asked accusingly.

"Well the situation wasn't entirely discovered until after the person in question had fled the station in his personal transport." She explained with a helpless shrug. "It was hardly a thing any of us had expected."

"Perhaps you could explain from the beginning?" The Captain folded his arms over his chest.

"Perhaps I should take you straight to the Station chief administrator..." She said finally. "He can explain more thoroughly than I could."

Captain Franks watched the viewscreen in silence as the stars streaked past. He would frequently spend hours at the centre of the bridge in quiet contemplation. The voices around him, the bleeps from the consoles and the view before him would quietly wash over his senses while his mind created an internal image of the situation, freeing his imagination to paint concepts for how later he might deal with whatever he discovered ahead.

Reports were few and far between, the Asimov was functioning at her peak and there seemed no cause for concern that any system might suffer a failure. Sensors had not registered any surprises and the distance to the navigational marker was shrinking at a steady rate.

"What do you think she'll be like?" Tarvor asked absently as he worked on the science station to drag every last ounce of potential from the systems.

"I'm sorry?" The Captain turned to him with a blank expression; his thoughts not fully aroused from his private ruminations.

"The Corinthian?" Tarvor explained, turning to face him. "What do you think a ship from the future is going to look like?"

"It's going to be powerful!" Lieutenant Sneddon said firmly with a wry grin. "It'll have weapons we can't even begin to imagine."

"Hardly likely." The Commander scowled at his narrow perspective. "The Coo'gral gave us upgrades from their own timeline, I imagine the Corinthian will be very much like us in many respects."

"She'll have new technologies." The Captain smiled faintly, enjoying the brief diversion from the dire task before them. "She's bound to be fast. Starfleet has always been founded on quick engines. It's a big galaxy, after all."

"How big?" Tarvor shrugged. "A crew of a thousand perhaps?"

"A thousand people on a Starship?" The Commander huffed indignantly and returned her attention to her work.

"Actually I believe she's quite small." The Captain surmised. "There is less than a dozen aboard."

"I can't wait to see her." The science officer enthused. "As an explorer it's a fascinating opportunity to be able glimpse into our own future."

"I agree." Captain Franks smiled warmly. "Perhaps she'll be quite similar to the Asimov. Perhaps in the future all scout vessels will have such a small crew."

Captain Singh sat before the desk of the station administrator with a growing sense of impatience while the Commander remained at his side.

"This mission is beneath us!" He grumbled to break the monotony while they waited for the administrator to arrive.

"I agree." She nodded. "This does seem to be a matter for internal security. Unfortunately Federation law requires that we respond to any calls for assistance and we were the closest vessel."

"Quite!" He muttered. "I can't believe that this place is so disorganised that they couldn't even arrange for us to dock here."

"Their transporter system is quite adequate." The Commander offered to counter his increasingly grim mood. "It's an old station. It's probably safer to rely on cross-patched transporters than to hand over to their computer and allow ourselves to be towed into dock."

"You're probably right about that!" The Captain shook his head in mild irritation. Suddenly behind them the door slid open.

"I'm Bem Fallow." The Administrator held out a vaguely humanoid hand to greet them while little flaps of skin around his eyes twitched nervously. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting."

"I should think so!" The Captain replied haughtily, shaking the outstretched palm with disregard and remaining seated while he did so. "Could you please explain why you felt it necessary to call Starfleet to deal with this matter?"

"It's complicated." He sighed wearily. "Everything about this individual is complicated."

"Well we're listening." The Commander told him firmly.

"Cyrano Jones." Mr. Fallow said the name as the folds of skin began to dance around his face in excitement which explained in part why his race made better administrators than negotiators. "He brought these animals aboard the station some years ago. They caused no end of trouble and Captain Kirk of the Enterprise demanded he remained to remove them."

"Animals." Captain Singh crossed his arms over his chest as his eyebrows slunk down to allow his eyes to peer angrily from beneath.

"Well the court of appeal overturned Kirk's sentence because it was an affront to Jones's civil liberties." Fallow continued. "He was however ordered to assist in the efforts to remove them and was bound over for 7 years for trafficking animals without a license."

"In other words he was bailed to remain here?" The Commander shook her head.

Bem Fallow nodded in agreement before continuing. "Three days ago he fled in his personal Spacematic transport."

"This is hardly a matter for my ship." The Captain growled angrily. "Would you not agree?"

"Please!" Fallow held up a palm while the skin on his face stood erect in near panic. "There's more!"

"There had better be." He growled through gritted teeth.

"Cyrano Jones was assigned to a security officer. He was to report to her every day while bailed here." Fallow explained. "She died the day he left."

"He killed her?" The Captain frowned.

"No." Fallow replied assuredly. "He was 14 decks away at the time of her death. There's no question of his involvement."

"So he just took his chances." The Commander guessed. "He saw an opening and fled."

"He didn't flee." Fallow said darkly. "We wish he had."

"Explain." The Captain told him with a note of very minor interest.

"Jones broke into the morgue..." Fallow began, swallowing hard as the subject matter began to trouble him. "He interfered with the corpse."

"He did what?" The Captain asked in surprise.

"Must I continue?" He closed his eyes and hung his head into his hands sorrowfully.

"I think you had better." The Commander told him sternly, her interest firmly roused.

"He stabbed her." Fallow snapped as if the words stung at him. "He stabbed her in the head."

"Why would he do something like that?" The Captain asked rhetorically, turning to his first officer.

"Then he kissed her." Fallow added, his voice barely a whimper.

"She was definitely dead?" The Captain asked.

"He must have hated her." Fallow suggested. "Maybe he wanted to make sure she was really dead. Who knows how the mind of someone like this works?"

"At this point I'm wondering why anyone would want to!" The Commander added.

Captain Jonathon Franks stood behind the science station his left arm outstretch to brace his weight while he craned over the readings.

"Definitely." Tarvor sighed as he turned to the Captain, his expression apologetic. "There's another ship heading towards the navigational beacon."

"The Spacematic?" Lieutenant Sneddon dug his balled fists into his sides as he spat the words out in contempt. "We're ready for the Cardassians this time."

"We don't think it's the same ship!" Captain Franks warned him with a wagging index finger as he fixed him with a glare that settled the young officers mood instantly.

"The other is a fairly standard type of freighter." Tarvor rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I'd expect to see these all around the Federation in one form or another."

"A freighter and a private transport both heading for a navigational marker that's stationed close by to a growing tachyon field?" The Commander said rhetorically. "That doesn't make any sense. I'd expect the Romulans to be curious, maybe even the Klingons but two privateers?"

"Maybe they're not private at all?" The Captain surmised with a frown.

"The fact remains that the freighter is heading to the beacon from deep inside Section 2031." Tarvor added to bring the conversation back to the point he felt it should be more focused on. "The Spacematic is coming from Federation space."

"How fast?" Sneddon asked, his eyes glinting with inspiration. Tarvor raised an eyebrow as he realised what the Lieutenant was suggesting. "Only Warp 3." He nodded in satisfaction. "And at that velocity it will not arrive until 20 minutes after the freighter and more than two hours after we can."

"Implying that it really isn't the same ship." The Commander asked. "Implying, in fact that it's a standard Spacematic type vessel."

"Implying that indeed." Tarvor agreed. "But an implication is not the same as an established fact."

"We'll be careful then." The Captain patted his cautious science officer's shoulder and flashed a knowing grin to the executive officer. "Under the circumstances I think we should turn out attention to the freighter."

"We can cut them off while they're still an hour and a half from the beacon and far enough inside the region for our actions to be invisible to Federation sensors." Lieutenant Sneddon suggested hopefully. "Engineering reports that shields and weapons are functioning within the new tolerances. We're ready for whatever they can throw at us."

"Hopefully all they throw is their hands up in surrender." Tarvor grimaced at the young officer's enthusiasm for conflict.

"Which does pose an interesting dilemma!" The Captain noted as he took his seat at the centre of the bridge.

"Protecting the timeline?" Commander Crowley asked.

"How do we establish their intention without revealing ourselves?" The Captain posed the question to the whole bridge. "They could be acting entirely innocently and it's neither our job nor our place to harass them if they are."

"But how can we know?" Tarvor agreed.

"We may not be able to fire weapons through our raised cloaks but can we beam?" The Commander offered. "We could extract a crewman and bring him here for questioning. Removing his memory is relatively straight forward."

"We cannot." Tarvor shook his head.

"Can we stay hidden with our cloaks down?" The Captain shrugged. "Could we hide in their exhaust stream?"

"That may indeed work if their intentions are innocent." Tarvor began thoughtfully. "If they are not then they're likely to be more observant and their shields are likely to remain raised."

"Sir!" Lieutenant Sneddon called out. The Captain turned to face him. "That Spacematic doesn't have any tactical shields, Sir."

The Commander was hardly thrilled. Her day had began with a re-sequencing accident that left her porridge tasting of meat and old shoes and her one clean uniform had been discovered previously by her pet cat. Whenever she reached out her arm the remaining hairs irritated her back although she said nothing of it and every mention of breakfast brought forth a suppressed desire to throw up.

"So you want to examine the body for yourself?" The attendant asked with a wry smile. He was much older than her and had seen it all. Nothing connected with the expiry of the physical form held any mystery or dark shadow for him. It was just flesh and bones, materials of his trade and nothing more. He seemed to relish the opportunity to make a Starfleet officer uncomfortable and took great delight in doing so.

"Not especially." She grumbled. "Why don't you show me the remains and explain the findings of the report?"

"So you're not an expert yourself?" He grinned, rubbing his thin fingers over his top lip while his eyes continued to bore unnoticed into hers.

"I think people are a good deal more fascinating before they arrive at places like this." She scowled at him and caught his eyes with hers. "With a few notable expressions."

He quickly shrugged off her bemusement and pulled back the cover with an inappropriate flourish. The grey sheath flicked back noisily and tumbled to the ground without grace.

The Commander looked at her with a loud exhalation as she braced herself to the task.

She was cold and white. Her eyes gazed upwards with glassy persistence as if transfixed by some point in the distance she was required to travel. Her motionless body had been arranged into a fixed posture of unnaturally stoic formality like a soldier standing to attention after recent months of potent conditioning. The wound in her head had been tidied if not exactly cleaned and the Commander was gratified that things were not as bad as they could have been.

"How did she die?" She asked, her voice cracking slightly to betray her.

"Shot!" He sighed. "Close range we think but not too close. No secondary burns from a discharge vent but the shot caught her square in the chest. Her heart stopped instantly."

"Not a phaser?" The Commander frowned at the lack of a wound.

"Some low-powered disruptor." The attendant shook his head. "We try to keep this station clean but it's rife with them. They're generally more effective than Phasers for the size and they're cheaper too."

"And this stab to the head?" She grimaced as she caught the empty stare of the deceased woman.

"We're puzzled." He admitted. "It was a long thin implement like a needle. It caused very little damage and wasn't pushed in with much force. We estimate it was done barely four minutes after her death, maybe she was still warm and Jones was trying to finish her off?"

"Was it a needle?" The Commander folded her arms over her chest.

"Everything is accounted for and there's no sign of tissue residue anywhere." The Attendant shook his head. "Whatever it was he brought it in with him and took it when he went."

"So why did he kiss her?" She asked thoughtfully. "And how did you find out he had?"

"It was pretty obvious." He shrugged. "The body had been lifted slightly. A standard scan showed up the rest."

"A standard scan doesn't tell me why."

The Spacematic vessel was old and dilapidated even for a ship of that type. The Warp unit had been attached to an old Impulse driven shuttle with reasonably large cargo bay at the front and the vessel was hardly up to even the gentle demands of her own upgraded engines.

The pilot coaxed every last ounce of power from his ship while his troubled gaze flicked from the forward viewer to the instrument panels that showed how far behind schedule he'd fallen. With a curse he looked up to the viewer. Suddenly space flashed white before him.

"We're cloaked again!" Commander Crowley reported with ironic relief. "We were exposed for less than three milliseconds."

"Transport was complete and successful!" Tarvor smirked at his skill. "Don't ask me how though and please don't ask me to do this again!"

"We'll see." The Captain smiled. "Is our guest safely aboard?"

"Lieutenant Sneddon to the bridge!" The voice called out through the speakers surrounding the control room. "Would it be possible for the Captain to join us in the lounge?"

Barely a week before the lounge had held the Coo'gral, the visitors from a forgotten future that the crew of the Asimov had dedicated whatever remained of their lives to ensuring would never happen. The Captain stepped into the lounge once more to face their captive. The Doctor stepped up to greet him in the hatchway to speak in a lowered tone that the others would not hear.

"I administered a neuro-toxin to him." The Doctor began. "It will block his brain from creating lasting long-term memories for the few hours. He'll not recall anything of what happens here by tomorrow morning but you'll have to do whatever you have to do quickly. I won't give him another dose."

"Understood." He nodded gruffly and stepped past to the prisoner.

"Starfleet!" He called out with an air of confidence that was close to crumbling around him at any given moment. He was portly with flushed red cheeks, dark hair that was unkempt and poorly arranged and his clothes could not have been chosen with more than a cursory nod to taste and style.

"And you are?" The Captain asked sternly, fixing him with an angry glower.

"My name?" He huffed indignantly. "You're telling me that you really don't know? You're telling me that you're not here to arrest me for a minor transgression of which you have little understanding?"

"I won't ask again." Captain Franks told him impatiently, his body shifting forwards somewhat aggressively as he spoke.

"Jones!" He sneered. "I'm Cyrano Jones and I'm more than used to dealing with you Starfleet types."

"You're not used to dealing with me, Mr. Jones." Franks told him, leaning forwards over the desk, his eyes never leaving those of his captive, boring into them like a predator fixing his helpless prey.

"What exactly do you want?" He flustered momentarily before recovering some measure of his decorum as the Captain's eyes bored down relentlessly.

"Where were you going Mr. Jones?" He asked simply but the question left him little room for manoeuvre. It was clear that only a succinct and fully honest answer would suffice.

"I was meeting someone." Jones replied. A sigh passed his lips and his head hung as he spoke as if finally giving something up.

Captain Franks took a seat opposite and waited for a thoughtful moment before continuing. "Who were you meeting?"

"Colleagues." He shrugged wearily. "Associates. People I heard of whilst on the station."

"K7?" Lieutenant Sneddon asked from where he stood behind the prisoner. The reply was simply a nod of agreement.

"Who." Franks asked.

"A man called Mott Takin-Rael." He sighed again. "I need to meet him."

"I think you have some explaining to do." The Captain told him with a glimmer of amusement.

"Mott is a member of the Orion Syndicate." Jones admitted, his eyes peering guiltily from beneath his brow.

"A pirate!" Sneddon sneered at the prisoner with disgust. "You were trading with a pirate?"

"It was just information." Jones shrugged. "The deal was somewhat soured. I was double-crossed and betrayed. Things ended somewhat badly."

"What information where you trading?" The Captain asked.

"I don't know." Jones raised his palms upwards as he shrugged his ignorance. "All I know is that it was something very complex. It was a very large file."

"You'll have to do better than that!" The Captain told him, shaking his head in dissatisfaction.

"I don't know much." Jones closed his eyes. "Mott changed course. He said he detected something of interest and was going to investigate. I was forced to change course to join him."

"His psychological profile?" Captain Singh asked with growing disinterest in the entire matter.

"Nothing to suggest anything like this kind of behaviour." The Commander scowled at the reports, somehow there was a vast gulf between the sanitised post mortem account and the reality of gazing into the dead woman's eyes while they gazed on into the abyss.

"I should think not." He muttered. "So where does this leave us?"

"Administrator Fallow has requested that we wait in orbit for another 24 hours." She told her commanding officer. "According to their intelligence they believe that messages where relayed from the station to an Orion vessel."

"Orions?" The Captain sneered. "They're not known to operate around here."

"Apparently Security agent Killick was investigating just such a case when she died." The Commander handed him the report. "There does seem to be some credence to their claim."

"I suspected there might be more to this than a simple runaway convict." He smiled thinly.

"Our chief engineer has made mention of the fact that the time would be usefully spent in running a series of diagnostics on the navigational deflector array. It's an unconventional arrangement and he's having trouble keeping it aligned at high warp." She added.

"It seems my crew has conspired against me." He grumbled half-heartedly but with a warm-spirited smile nonetheless. "Break the crew into 4 shifts and see that everyone who wants it gets at least a few hours of shore leave."

"Yes Sir." She smiled with unusual enthusiasm.

"I think I can spare you this evening." The Captain studied the report as he spoke as if to suggest he was largely ignoring her.

"Sir?" She said awkwardly in surprise.

"I had noticed the band your brother is in was playing on the station." He smiled. "You could have asked, you know."

"Duty first!" She shrugged.

"And I appreciate it." He told her. "Go have some fun, and you can consider that an order!"

"The people at K7 don't like Mr. Jones very much!" Lieutenant Sneddon handed the Captain a padd with the downloaded report encoded onto it. "They don't like him very much at all."

The Captain ran his eyes quickly over the notes as the pair stood in the corridor just outside the lounge. "What the hell..."

"As the Vulcans say, Sir." Sneddon began with a grin. "Infinite Diversity in infinite forms. I believe the Earth expression is, "It takes all sorts.""

"Molesting a corpse?" Captain Franks glanced back through the window to the captive. He seemed so ordinary in a slightly seasoned kind of way. "And to think, I joined Starfleet to explore space in the hope of finding new things. Maybe the greatest surprises dwell in the hearts of people like this."

"My Mother said she was basically molesting a corpse for the last two years of her marriage to my Father!" The Lieutenant began wistfully.

"I've warned you before." The Captain wagged a finger at him playfully. "If you offer any more of your personal insights or experiences I'll have you confined to the brig and if necessary beaten with a rubber hose until you desist."

"Officer Killick was shot at close range with a banned weapon." Sneddon explained with a smirk. "Jones is not a suspect although he did have to report to her daily as he was under station jurisdiction."

"I wonder what Jones has to say about this..." The Captain raised an eyebrow knowingly and led the way into the lounge. The doors slid shut behind him with a hiss as he made his way to the desk.

"We got a copy of your record from K7." The Captain began without taking a seat.

"I see..." Jones stammered somewhat nervously.

"Molesting a corpse?" Franks shrugged. "I can't begin to imagine what questions I should ask."

"I didn't molest her!" Jones snapped in annoyance, his fist slamming into the desk as his cheeks flushed a bright pink.

"Luckily the report is mercifully short on details." The Captain told him in as calm a tone as he could manage. "What did you do? In your own words?"

"I have to meet Mott." Jones hung his head and whimpered somewhat pathetically.

"What do you know about the death of Officer Killick?" Sneddon glanced at the Captain as he asked.

"George Mannors killed her." He groaned. "It was my fault. I didn't appreciate what I'd got myself into."

"We're listening." The Captain told him firmly.

Jones took a deep breath as if the air filling his lungs was pushing back his demons. "George was an opportunist. He had heard about the information I was trading to the Orions." He began sadly. "I came to a deal so that the communications relay on my ship could receive an encrypted data-stream. It took three and a half days to download it and when it was complete I stored it on a data crystal so I could deliver it to Mott. At that point I didn't know he was in the Syndicate. I was told the information was just star charts or something."

"So George took the crystal?" The Captain rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"No but he wanted to." He shook his head. "Jen found out what I was up to and went after him. We both under-estimated how dangerous he was."

"Jen?" Sneddon frowned and flicked his eyes over the padd. "Officer Killick?"

"I needed the money." Jones shrugged. "I needed to pay my fines so I could finally leave the station."

"I'd like to have the crystal." Captain Franks told him forcefully. "My team will examine it."

"No!" Jones snapped suddenly. "You can't."

"Don't worry about the Orions!" Sneddon grinned. "You have better things to worry about."

"I deleted the data." Jones told him in a measured tone that suggested sincerity. "Whatever it was, it's gone now."

"Thank you for remaining at the station." Bem Fallow began as he glanced around the Ronin's bridge. "The station is armed for defence but having the ship in the area is a far better deterrent then the four phaser banks we're equipped with."

"No problem." The Captain gestured to the side and led the administrator to the ready room. "When we leave, I intend to locate this errant Spacematic vessel for you." He said as they stepped into the Captains office.

"He has quite a head start." Fallow said thoughtfully.

"We can catch him in a matter of hours at maximum Warp." The Captain smiled. "Our sensors will have no trouble tracking a vessel like that and it would be a good test of my ship."

"An excellent ship." Mr. Fallow added to flatter the Captains ego.

"One of Starfleet's finest." He agreed, quite aware of the administrator's blatant attempt at simpering.

"I'm very grateful for your assistance." Fallow began as he took his seat opposite the Captain. "However it is a shame that it has to be under such unfortunate circumstances."

"Your internal security are capable of locating the killer of your officer?" He asked as he poured himself a glass of reasonably good wine and a second for his guest. "A taste of home!" He explained with a smile.

"No vessels other than your own are allowed to enter or leave until we've finished the investigation." Mr. Fallow explained. "To say the very least, my security team are highly motivated in this case." He accepted the drink with a grudging expression of uncertainty but was careful not to cause offence.

"I can imagine they are." The Captain nodded. He held up his glass to toast with the administrator. "To your officer."

"Officer Killick." He nodded sadly and touched his glass with the other. The flaps of skin around his face danced with alarming excitement as he tasted the liquid inside. "Excellent." He lied through gritted teeth.

The Captain smiled to himself. "I take it she was well liked?"

"Oh yes." He nodded. "I never met her myself but she was a popular officer and very reliable. She was, in fact promoted three months ago to level 4."

"I've lost crew beneath me before." The Captain sighed. "It's never easy."

"She was leaving us soon." Fallow continued sadly. "She had applied for a transfer back home to Earth and had been accepted. She was planning an early retirement."

"I'm very sorry." He said simply.

Captain Franks stalked his way along the primary deck towards the turbo lift.

"So it's Orions!" Lieutenant Sneddon said almost gleefully. "They have very little to do with our history, I'm sure. If it's a fight then who better to fight against."

"If I strapped a pair of nacelles on your grandparents you'd want to fire Phasers at them!" Captain Franks told him with a sigh. "I'm not willing yet to concede that we have to blow up everyone at the slightest provocation, even if just to make you happy."

"How much provocation do we need?" He raised an eyebrow curiously.

"I don't need much more provocation to lose my temper with you, Sneddon." The Captain told him in no uncertain terms.

"Sir!" He replied humbly.

"My primary concern here is that the Orion freighter is heading for our navigation beacon." The Captain began. "That means they may also detect the tachyon surge. We need to dissuade them but do so in a manner that will not get us written up in any historical accounts."

"Quantum torpedoes should erase the evidence quite nicely." The Lieutenant offered in all sincerity. The Captain chose not to answer.

"We need to intercept them as soon as possible." He said simply. He pressed a button on his wrist and opened a channel to the bridge. "Set course to intercept the Orions." He instructed.

"Yes sir." Commander Crowley replied succinctly.

"Sir!" Sneddon interrupted. "What about the Spacematic, we can't leave it here and it won't fit in our shuttle bay."

The Captain stared at him for a moment in surprise that he had made a valid and intelligent observation. "Tarvor." He began into the communicator. "Can we tow the Spacematic behind us at Warp."

"No." He answered bluntly.

"I'm open to ideas!" The Captain said, glancing up at the junior officer.

Mott Takin-Rael sat at the bridge of his vessel. There were many differences between a well-maintained Starfleet vessel and an Orion freighter and the smell was not among the worst of them. The ship was a hastily assembled a poorly maintained shambling mass of metal held together with luck and self-sealing stem bolts.

"Two hours to target." A computerised voice informed the three crewmen in the operations room although one was quite possibly dead or more probably drunk. Depending on what he'd been drinking the results were largely the same and a well-trained medical practitioner would have trouble discerning between the two states.

"Can we go any faster?" Mott grumbled impatiently.

"No." The small thing at his side replied with notable annoyance. He was actually a Mac'tarn, a small reptilian humanoid with highly advanced mental faculties. He found it increasingly annoying that the Captain referred to him as "The thing" openly to the rest of the crew and it softened the blow very little that he referred to the rest by the colour and condition of their teeth.

"Why?" Mott persisted.

"Because this ship is a mess." The Mac'tarn officer explained. "The engines have been replaced twice in a year and the crew are barely qualified to find the toilet, let alone navigate a space vessel."

"It's a good ship." He sneered at the thing. "It was the best I could afford and she's been with me for many years."

"You stole it." He sighed wearily. "You stole it when you had a choice of thirteen better ones and you did that because you said it reminded you of your wife."

"And so she does." Mott grumbled as he regarded the small officer with growingly hostile intent.

"You killed your wife." He reminded the Captain. "You said she had grown to remind you of an old space craft."

"You have to treat women mean if you want to keep their interest." Mott told him with a grin.

"No!" The officer insisted forcefully. "You may no longer speak to me about anything not directly connected with the mission!"

"I'm detecting something...." Mott said with surprise as the screen flashed up the warning, "Detecting something."

"What is it?" The officer set about raising the shields and activating the weapons, such as they were.

"Some kind of something." Mott told him, scratching his head. "Some kind of big something that might be something interesting."

"As soon as this mission is over, I'm leaving you, you know?"

"This had better be worth it." Captain Franks grumbled to his bridge crew. "I expect big results in exchange for that!"

"We dropped off our entire reserves of refined Dilithium." Tarvor began sarcastically. "What possible cause for concern could there be?"

"Well it was better than the your plan!" Commander Crowley scowled at the pseudo Vulcan officer.

"A simulated meteor strike would have drawn the freighter from warp just as well." He grumbled.

"You catch more flies with honey." The Captain reminded him. "Anyway, judging from the state of that ship, one more hole isn't going attract much interest."

"They're dropping from Warp." The Commander allowed herself a smug smile. "Very slowly dropping from warp."

"The systems on that ship make the Spacematic class look highly evolved." Tarvor shook his head. "They're changing course to investigate."

"Excellent." The Captain nodded in satisfaction. "Dilithium should hold their interest for a few minutes. We only need to buy a little more time."

"Well at least it was nice to get rid of Lieutenant Sneddon for a short while." Tarvor mused loudly. "He is a true test of Vulcan discipline."

"He gets on your nerves too?" Commander Crowley asked with a nod.

"Are we discussing my head of security or are we all doing our jobs like professionals?" The Captain asked. "We can't do both."

"What is to become of me?" Cyrano Jones asked softly as he sat facing the Captain in the small office at the side of the bridge. Behind him stood the menacing form of a member of the security team in full armour with a phaser at his side.

"I'm not in a position to take legal action against you." Captain Franks told him. "I can tell you because the neurological agent injected into you will stop the formation of long term memories."

"Tell me what?" Jones narrowed his eyes.

"Myself and this crew were meant to have been destroyed. Starfleet believes us dead and we intend to remain that way." Captain Franks told him. "This puts us in a unique position. I can actually ask you what you think I should do with you."

"I don't care what you do." He answered flatly. "Put me to death."

"Now there's a thought..." The Captain said whimsically. Jones looked up slightly startled.

"I need to find some way to get you off my hands in a nice, quiet way that will arouse the least possible interest." The Captain smiled. "Any suggestions?"

"I imagine a shuttle is out of the question?" Jones quipped humourlessly.

"I could hand you over to Starfleet somehow? Drop you off at an outpost?" The Captain suggested. "Maybe I can hand you over to the Orions?"

"Mott?" Jones mood seemed to lighten quite suddenly. "Hand me over to Mott..."

"I really don't think so." The Captain smiled thinly. "He'd simply kill you and I don't hand out death warrants on this ship."

Jones fixed him with an icy stare of determination. "Mott!" He said firmly. "Give me a phaser and send me to Mott."

"No." The Captain shook his head.

"Hand me over to Mott." Jones huffed a sigh and deflated, slumping heavily back into his chair. His voice became almost a plea.

"Why?" Franks shrugged.

"I'll tell you everything." Jones acceded. "In return for one weapon."

"You tell me everything." The Captain suggested dryly as his interest became slightly piqued. "You tell me everything and I will consider our options."

"Ok." Jones nodded as a smile began to cross his lips. "Everything..."

The Captain nodded in satisfaction and gestured to the security officer. He glanced to the door to signal for him to leave and he duly complied.

"Everything." He told Jones as the doors slid shut.

"Mott has a piece of technology." Jones began. "I don't know where it comes from but I need to get it."

"You have my attention." The Captain told him, leaning back in the chair to make himself more comfortable.

"The crystal was sent to me once I agreed to the deal." Jones explained. "It stores almost limitless information. He has a computer that uses the same technology. The data stored in my crystal can be downloaded to the computer on his ship and projected."

"Projected?" The Captain shrugged.

"Like a hologram I think." Jones told him. "The computer has nearly limitless power to process data. Mott trades in information and I think I know what was on the crystal." The Captain nodded for him to continue. "I heard a rumour." He began, lowering his voice instinctively. "It's some kind of astrological data. There was some kind of anomaly detected near the Romulan Borders, some kind of tachyon surge about a week ago."

"Really?" The Captain asked, his interest suddenly deepening.

"The Romulans wanted to get hold of the information but trading it was dangerous." Jones explained. "They only kept one copy and I had it."

"That explains quite a lot." Franks told him. "It doesn't explain why you deleted the information."

"Will you hand me over to Mott?" Jones asked flatly, his mood darkening.

"So you can use his computer?" The Captain surmised.

"Yes." Jones nodded.

"What's on the crystal now?" Franks asked. "What was so big you had to delete something that was so valuable to you?"

Manoeuvring thrusters fired and the Ronin finally banked away from the station on the final part of her diversion that fell somewhat short of being described by the crew as a mission.

"K7!" The Captain muttered, watching the station vanish into the distance in the view screen. "I won't be sorry if I never see that place again."

"Quite." The Commander agreed. "Course is set. We've locked onto the projected path that Jones took and are ready to begin at your discretion."

"Engage!" He said simply.

"Captain!" Tarvor warned. "The tachyon emissions have increased exponentially. By my calculations whatever is going to happen will do so between one and two hours from now."

"The Orion ship could make it in that time!" Commander Crowley warned. "Are you willing to disable that ship to prevent them?"

"You have to ask?" The Captain smirked. "I'd rather do so without being detected and without leaving weapons residue from our upgraded systems."

"We could throw a rock." Tarvor suggested. "That would probably do it."

"Sir!" The Commander warned urgently. "They're moving off..."

"Well they're firing thrusters." Tarvor corrected. "I imagine they'll actually move at some point."

"Incoming message from Lieutenant Sneddon!" Commander Crowley said with surprise. "He appears to be a little early.

"On screen." The Captain nodded.

Suddenly the image of the bright red dilapidated vessel vanished to be replaced with the interior of a much more dilapidated one. "Sir!" The Lieutenant began from the Spacematic. "I'm on my way, Sir. I broke a few safety rules and got her up to Warp 4.2. I think it's safe to assume it's a one way trip though."

"Good work, Lieutenant." The Captain told him. "Warp 4.2." He began thoughtfully. "Tarvor, how fast could he travel and still lock onto him with transporters?"

"Three quarters Impulse." He shrugged. "Assuming I had a good lock."

"Lieutenant. Set the computer to make a collision course with the engines of the Orion vessel." The Captain ordered. "Drop from Warp to three quarters Impulse two seconds before impact and emit an emergency code from your communicator."

"Erm..." Sneddon set the instructions into the computer. "Two seconds, Sir?"

"You have your orders." He told him firmly. "Tarvor, get him out of there."

"The Orions?" The Commander reminded him. "An impact to their vessel could cause hull stress damage that could completely disable it."

"You know what?" The Captain turned to her with a neutral expression on his face. "At this point I couldn't care less."

"He'll drop from Warp in four seconds." Tarvor reported. "Dropping cloaks now."

The little vessel exploded into view, spewing plasma and shielding panels as it tore through space towards the unprepared Orion freighter.

"Impact..." Commander Crowley said redundantly as the screen exploded into life. A gigantic plume of energy erupted from the tail of the stricken vessel as it reeled from the impact.

"Shall I recloak?" Tarvor asked with a raised eyebrow as he observed the damage.

"Not just yet." The Captain told him. He turned to where Cyrano Jones stood at the rear of the bridge with the burly Security officer. "Hand that man your phaser and escort him to transporter room 1." The Captain instructed. "Beam him directly to the least damaged part of the ship and as close to the control room as you can."

The officer drew his weapons and gingerly began to pass it over. "Sir?" He asked in weak protest.

"Thank you!" Captain Franks replied simply. "When the cycle is complete raise our cloaks and get us under way."

"Captain!" Commander Crowley began. "I must protest."

"After her then it's my turn!" Tarvor added.

"Do your jobs people." He smiled.

"We're 25 minutes from the anomaly." Tarvor began his report as he and Commander Crowley took their seats before the Captain in the small office.

"Excellent." He replied.

"We have a slight problem!" Tarvor frowned. "There's no way that the Orion ship or any like it would have been able to detect the tachyon build-up, let alone monitor it with any clarity."

"And yet they changed course to investigate." The Commander added.

"So that means one of two things..." The Captain suggested. Tarvor and the Commander exchanged slightly troubled glances. "We'd only thought of one..." He explained with a shrug.

"Romulans?" The Captain suggested the obvious. "Running cloaked throughout this region?"

"We assume so." Tarvor agreed.

"You're not much of an explorer." The Captain smiled. "You never see that there's a possibility you've not seen. The Orions might have a long distance detection grid or something of that kind."

"I don't think that a lack of information is a possibility worth considering." Tarvor huffed indignantly.

"I am also curious about your decision to arm a criminal." The Commander added.

"Well that's simple." He smirked. "There are some things you just don't stand in the way of. Bad tempered Klingon, true love and a man using a urinal."

"Your explanation is illogical." Tarvor told him flatly. "However I imagine you intended it to be!"

Captain Singh gazed about the gloom of the interior of the vessel. The power grid was shattered beyond repair and the lighting flashed randomly as the vessel dwindled towards utter failure.

"Whatever happened we missed it." The Commander shook her head as she waved her Tricorder around the debris of the control room. "No survivors although two escape pods ejected and a shuttle is missing."

"Well at least we found Jones." The Captain stared grimly at the corpse in the corner, blood had jutted up the wall from his wound and his demise had clearly been a painful one.

"According to the medics his death was not instantaneous." The Commander explained without considerable concern. "An ironic way for him to die."

"How's that?" The Captain turned to her as she gazed raptly at his remains with some kind of morbid interest.

"He was stabbed in the head with an electrical probe." She almost smiled. "The device did surprisingly little damage. They believe the cause of death was blood loss."

"The Orion syndicate don't have a reputation for being gentle." The Captain agreed.

"Sir!" A young officer called out from the computer banks. "What's left working isn't working very well. I think I've found an image just before the ship was damaged. It almost looks like a vessel decloaking but it's badly degraded."

"I thought we'd established the cause of the damage to have been an impact with Jones's ship?" The Captain asked.

"Yes Sir!" She replied.

"Disregard it." He ordered. "We're a long way from home and stepping a little outside of our mandate by even being here."

"Yes Sir." The young officer agreed.

"Actually wait." He said thoughtfully. "Can you download the image?"

"I think so." She nodded. "It wouldn't take more than a few minutes."

"Do it." He ordered before turning back to the Commander.

"I think he got what he deserved." She scowled.

"Who?" The Captain asked. "The one fatality from the crew? The one with the phaser burn to the chest?"

"Jones." She told him coldly.

The Captain looked at the fallen figure before them and shook his head sadly. "Commander, that is a terrible way for a man to die."

"Yes Sir." She nodded.

"Maybe the best any of us can hope is to get what we deserve?" The Captain suggested as he prepared to beam back to his ship. "Maybe the history of our planet would be slightly less violent if we lived that way? Expecting only to get what we deserve."

Tarvor shook his head. "Do you believe any of this?" He asked the Captain.

"I don't see any reason not too." The Captain shrugged. "The information he gave me helped us to deal with the situation, not to mention his vessel. I think we owed him the chance to try."

"To try something that was impossible?" The Commander frowned accusingly, clearly not at all agreeing with his decision.

"He believed he could do it." The Captain nodded.

"Even if he had the strength of will to insert the probe into his own brain he would have required a degree of technical knowledge that he simply didn't have." Tarvor argued.

"He said that the set up of the equipment was rather the same as the modified communications equipment aboard his ship." The Captain countered. "He managed that rather well, and did so under the nose of Federation security."

"And Officer Killick found out about him." The Commander shook her head angrily. "She chose not to arrest him on the spot?"

"Would you in her place?" The Captain asked.

"Maybe you could rephrase the question or remind yourself of who you're asking?" Tarvor smirked slightly.

"He learnt the technology." The Captain explained. "He was highly motivated to do so. He wanted nothing more than to leave that station and to do it the right way he had to pay off his fines. It was typical of him that to do the right thing he went about it in the wrong way."

"So you really think he has a chance?" The Commander sneered.

"Why not?" The Captain shrugged. "I personally hope he got away with it."

"You're assuming of course that he was correct about Mott's computer!" Tarvor reminded him.

"It's possible." Franks told him. "A computer made from solid crystal with biological elements. Powerful enough to generate an artificial reality and process every synaptic function of a human mind."

"In this case two human minds!" Tarvor added bluntly.

"What is it with you two?" The Captain scowled at his two officers. "Can't you just wish the poor man well? By now he's either failed miserably and is dead or else he's overcome remarkable adversity to be with someone he loved. Personally I wish him the very best of luck."

"You're an idiot, Mr. Jones!" Jen Killick told him with a smile.

"I am indeed." He agreed with alacrity. "I'm a lucky fool with no right to the success I'm enjoying."

She looked out over the horizon. The sky was perfect and blue, the sun shone brightly through the cloudless sky and in the distance a bird made its way through the perfect scene.

"Earth!" She took a deep breath of the fresh, clean air.

"As near as it matters to be." He told her as he stepped up beside and put his arm around her. "A simulation perhaps but at least two things here are entirely real and we're both looking at one of them."

"I never thought I'd spend my retirement in a computer." She told him with a wistful smile. "But for the last year I have come to know that I'd spend it with you."

"You see." He grinned back. "I told you once that I'm not such a bad bloke really once you get to know me."

"You didn't tell me that once, you told me that every time you saw me." She reminded him. "At least you should be able to behave in an environment where there's absolutely nothing to steal."

"Don't bank on it." He told her with a wink.

 

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