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Star Trek Renegade Christmas Special 2006 by J. Grey, copyright held by A.P. Atkinson

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

Christmas Presence

"And then..." Haldo slumped back in the chair at the engineering console with a heavy sigh as he discarded a large, filthy and crude instrument to the metallic floor at his side, where it fell with a dull clatter. "...exhaustion set in."

"Humans!" WP23 scolded gently. "None of you have any stamina."

"I've been working solidly for thirteen hours on you!" Haldo grumbled defensively at the ship.

"If it's any consolation I do feel a little better." She told him. "Just a little!"

"And the smell does appear to have subsided." Allarn noted in relief, her sentiment shared by the rest of the crew. "What exactly was the problem?"

"A minor deviation in her replicator network." Haldo told her wearily. "Half of everything we ordered was materialising elsewhere on the ship. I fixed the problem in ten minutes... It took me the rest of the time to scrape up every last trace of rotting food from under her rusty panelling."

"We all appreciate your efforts." Blake told him earnestly.

"Clogg." Haldo began accusingly. "I can't begin to tell you how appalling the things I found of yours were."

"My species have slightly different nutritional requirements to other species." The security chief glanced around awkwardly to the faces around the control room frowning back at him.

"I need a vacation!" Haldo insisted, hoisting himself from his slumped position to sit upright with a certain expectant excitement at his own idea. "We're deep inside unknown space in a region where sensors don't properly function and there's a drag on traditional Warp drive. Any host of dangerous things could be hiding in here and we're hunting for any signs of a Cardassian ship from a distant future where the Borg have conquered the entire galaxy. We could get ourselves some shore leave..."

"No." Blake replied firmly. "We have a job to do."

"Yes." Haldo sneered. "Your job will have you remembered in the history books as a hero. Mine will have me remembered as the man whose illustrious career climbed to the heady heights of cleaning cat-brains out of plasma conduits."

"Cat's brains?" Katherine snapped, casting an accusing eye at Goruss Clogg.

"Delicious." He shrugged apathetically.

"Actually..." Katherine began rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "Blake, do you know what time this is back on Earth?"

The Captain pressed a series of buttons on the console. "At Starfleet headquarters it's 8.52 in the morning." He replied.

"It's Christmas!" She pressed on with her reasoning.

"I don't work at Christmas." Haldo insisted.

"I am detecting a colony ahead." Allarn added. "Reasonable level of technology, satellite activity, Warp trails. We could enter orbit without raising suspicion."

"This is a conspiracy..." Blake sighed.

"I could do with powering down my systems for a few days." WP23 added. "I'd prefer to land, actually and shut down completely."

"Two days..." Girling began thoughtfully.

"Agreed!" Haldo snapped. "WP23, plot a course to that colony."

"I don't take orders from you!" She snapped objectionably.

Captain Franks sat at the heart of the bridge as the Asimov continued to patrol Section 2031, her scanners reaching out into the seeming empty province before them.

"Nothing." Tarvor said again. "We've completed this entire grid now."

"We should contact WP23." The Commander suggested. "They might have had better luck."

"Hail them." The Captain agreed with a heavy sigh.

"This is Girling." Blake's image appeared on the viewer before the bridge crew.

"We've completed our scans of this grid." Captain Franks said with a certain disappointment. "We've failed to detect any Warp signature of any kind. We don't believe a vessel could have passed through here and are ready to move on to the next area. I hope you've had better luck."

"No!" Blake shook his head solemnly. "Not really."

"Any recommendations?" Franks shrugged hopelessly.

"Well..." Blake began somewhat awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck thoughtfully. "We're actually planning to take a few days of shore-leave."

"Shore leave?" Captain Franks glared fixedly back.

"Well WP23 is in need of a few days to recharge herself and my crew are stressed out." He explained. "And in any case..."

"Yes?" The Captain asked. "It's Christmas back home."

"Actually it March 28th." Commander Crowley corrected with a deep frown of disapproval.

"Well it's Christmas back home in the future." Blake corrected with a sigh as full realisation of the stupidity of his argument dawned on him.

"Well in that case we'll move on to the next grid." Captain Franks suggested dryly to the sound of an indignant huff from Lietenant Sneddon.

"Why don't you join us?" Captain Girling suggested with a shrug. "A couple of days isn't going to damage the search."

"Join you for Christmas in March?" He frowned thoughtfully.

"Actually it might be beneficial to meet with WP23 to co-ordinate our search." The Commander added.

"Tarvor?" The Captain turned to his science officer with a knowing smile. "Thoughts?"

"I think it would do the crew good." He said earnestly. "I know it would do me good."

"Mr. Girling..." Franks turned back to the viewer. "Please transmit co-ordinates and we'll join you as soon as possible."

"M-class world." Allarn began her report. "Population about 115 million with a large concentration of docking ports on the surface. I would guess they don't have transporters technology and rely heavily on shuttles."

"But would they welcome guests?" Haldo rubbed his hands expectantly.

"Probably." Goruss Clogg said. "Most small colonies welcome outsiders as such people tend to bring a welcome taste of diversity, new technologies and supplies."

"I'm detecting something..." WP23 announced with a strong, and still growing sense of her own importance.

"No she's not!" Haldo shook his head firmly. "Her entire sensor grid is totally unstable. I'm thinking of upgrading it by tying a white stick to her nose."

"I am!" She insisted indignantly.

"Confirmed." Katherine agreed with a weak sigh of resignation as she imagined their break vanishing before their eyes. "Some kind of energy field travelling towards the planet."

"Great!" Haldo grumbled, his eyes rolling up to the ceiling as his shoulders slouched wearily. "So, WP23. You can detect an anomalous energy field several million light years away but you can't see half a sheep's alimentary canal festering in your isolinear relays?"

"Nobody's perfect." She sneered coldly.

"It seems to be a natural phenomenon." Katherine estimated from the readings. "I don't think it's a weapon of any kind and it's definitely not a vessel."

"So shore-leave is still on?" Haldo grinned hopefully.

"Christmas?" Commander Baker rubbed her chin thoughtfully, her eyes rolling up as she wracked her memory. Captain Franks smiled slightly haphazardly, assuming she was simply toying with him.

"Yes." He nodded, glancing through the large lounge window as thoughts of bonding with what little family he had filled his mind. "Don't you celebrate Christmas where you come from?"

"No." She agreed with a shrug. "I don't believe we do."

The Captain frowned, realising she really was being quite serious. "Really?"

Commander Baker stepped from the window and took a seat at the briefing table in the otherwise deserted room she'd come to earlier to review files for further upgrades to the tired little ship. "You have to remember that where I come from the entire Galaxy was ravaged by the Borg. There really wasn't much left to celebrate." She sighed sadly. "What's it all about?"

"Well..." The Captain took a seat beside her. Suddenly he flustered slightly that perhaps he'd sat too close to retain the façade of formality with a woman who despite everything remained a member of his crew. He leant away as if relaxing casually before taking a deep breath to continue. "There are religious aspects to Christmas, of course but they're largely forgotten these days." He explained. "Christmas somehow crosses most barriers of religion and race, almost everyone seems happy to join in on some level."

"Really?" Her eyes lit up as a smile flashed over her lips, unaccustomed as she was to the very concept of frivolity.

"I think that the best way to describe it is that it's a time for people who care about one another to come together and share time with one another." He nodded to himself in satisfaction with his explanation. "A time for family."

"I have no family." She frowned suddenly.

"Yes you do." Captain Franks flashed her a controlled smile. "Everyone on this ship is a family. I imagine Blake Girling would say the same thing too."

"When I first met Blake I did so believing him to be an evil man, responsible for the destruction of mankind." She began with a wistful smile. "Now I've not seen him and the Corinthian crew for two weeks and I find I miss them and look forward to seeing them again."

"I miss them to." The Captain nodded. "The great thing about Christmas is that it's a time when you get to see them again."

"I'm detecting something." Allarn began, cutting herself off as she spoke, realisation of the possible implications dawning on her.

"Something?" Haldo scolded, shaking his head furiously in denial. "I'm sure it's nothing that could be important enough to cancel shore-leave. To cancel Christmas?"

"Haldo!" Blake warned firmly, although a slight note of amusement invaded his tone.

"This energy field is probably not entirely a natural occurrence." Allarn said sheepishly, avoiding the unbridled fury churning away behind the eyes of Haldo Compz. "It seems to be travelling directly from a nebula to the colony surface."

"Does it pose any threat to the colonists?" The Captain asked dutifully.

"Even if it does we have to consider the possible ramifications of interfering." Katherine warned. "Not only do we risk violating the prime-directive we run a very real risk of altering the time line."

"At the very least I would question the wisdom of landing our vessel on a planet about to be hit by an unknown energy field." Security chief Clogg noted his sage opinion.

"I'm afraid it gets worse." WP23 added almost cheerfully as if she was relishing the general bemusement of the crew.

"How?" Haldo insisted.

"There's a vessel..." Clogg scanned his instruments quickly. "It's locked into a course that will take it directly into the energy field."

"Damn it!" Blake closed his eyes and turned away as he snapped his annoyance.

"Maybe they don't detect it!" Katherine suggested. "The field is quite subtle."

"I would remind you that we don't have any reason to suspect that the field has any harmful properties." Clogg added in an attempt to unburden the Captain. "Besides, the navigational fields of a ship should be quite enough to defend any vessel."

The alien vessel was a slender, vertical arrangement with an inhabitable section at the top and a long vein protruding downwards. The engines at the base glowed hotly as the craft streaked towards the energy field.

"Oh there's more." Allarn announced almost in surprise.

"Of course there's more." Haldo slapped his hand onto his forehead in exasperation.

"The energy field is being drawn to the planet surface by a charged energy beam of some kind." She surmised as the scans appeared holographically above the aging console. "I would guess it's some kind of crude long-range tractor beam."

"So the inhabitants are definitely aware of it?" Haldo grinned suddenly in relief. "Then they're in no danger..."

"The colonists aren't." Blake agreed with some relief of his own.

"But the alien vessel may well still be." Clogg reminded the engineer.

"Alright." Blake finally made his decision and turned to his crew to begin issuing the orders. "Allarn, scan the historical archives for any mention of this to help guide any rescue we may attempt to make. Haldo, begin an extensive scan of the energy field and the device drawing it to the planet. I want to know what they intend to use it for. WP23, raise the cloaking device and move as close in to the alien ship as possible and we'll observe exactly what happens when it encounters the field."

"Should I contact the Asimov and advise them of our situation?" Katherine suggested.

"Commander Crowley to Captain Franks." The Commander's voice called out over the con. "Message from WP23."

Captain Franks leant over the lounge table to a rectangular communications panel and accessed the bridge. Instantly is lit up with the face of the Commander glowering humourlessly back at him. "Franks." He said expectantly.

"Captain Girling reports that they have encountered a spatial phenomenon and are investigating." She began solemnly. "Also they are monitoring an alien vessel heading for the phenomenon and are preparing for the possibility of mounting a rescue."

"How long until we meet them?" The Captain glanced out through the front windows at the stars as they streaked past them at high warp.

"ETA three hours." She replied efficiently. "Mr. Tarvor reports we can arrive in three point four minutes if we accelerate to Warp 9.9. The engineer reports it would be safe to do so as long as we don't make a habit out of it."

The Captain smiled to himself and nodded his approval. "Engage the cloaking device and engage." He instructed. "I'm on my way. Franks out."

"Captain!" Commander Baker called out as he stood up to leave the lounge.

"Yes?" He turned to face her with a warm smile on his face.

"I think I have a way to increase our shield strength." She began. "It might help if the phenomenon is dangerous."

"Excellent." He nodded in approval. "Keep at it. When you're ready to make the upgrades I'll escort you to engineering and we'll discuss the matter with Mr. Murfett together."

"I was going to ask..." She smiled wryly. "Thanks."

"Two minutes until contact." Haldo muttered to himself as he watched the alien craft heading for the energy field.

"What can you tell me about that field?" Blake asked as he guided the slightly wayward vessel alongside the unknown ship.

"Not much." Haldo shrugged. "I doubt it would be very dangerous, the energy is incredibly low."

"I think it may permeate our shields." Allarn warned as she studied the data.

"Oh I see." WP23 grumbled. "Now they're our shields."

"Causing what effects?" The Captain turned round suddenly.

"Unknown." She admitted. "WP23 is hardened against most forms of electro-magnetic interference, I doubt it should do much to affect her."

"This ship is barely capable of holding position for an hour without major structural components falling off." Katherine noted quite accurately. "What makes you think it will be fine flying through a potentially hostile unknown space phenomenon?"

"Don't worry." Haldo grinned widely, waving his hand before her. "I've taken the precaution of crossing my fingers."

"Is crossing your fingers standard Starfleet engineering practice?" Goruss Clogg asked dryly.

"I assume so..." Haldo shrugged at him. "So long as she stays in one piece until we land 100 metres from the nearest bar I'll be a happy engineer."

"Something is happening!" WP23 announced with a slight note of concern. Suddenly the windows lit up with a brilliant white glow that shone so brightly it drenched the entire vessel with a garish light that while dazzling somehow didn't hurt the eyes of the crew. As quickly as it had begun it melted softly away leaving the ship floating quietly against the black canvas of space exactly as before.

"What was that?" Captain Girling stood up suddenly and demanded firmly to know. "What happened? Report?"

"I didn't detect anything." WP23 replied hesitantly. "According to my incredibly advanced and sophisticated sensors absolutely nothing happened."

"I agree." Haldo said. "Nothing happened. Can we go now and get very drunk? For Christmas I've promised myself a hangover."

"Allarn?" Blake asked.

"Not a clue..." She frowned at the sensors. "I'm not detecting anything unusual."

"The alien vessel is still there." Goruss reported flatly as if nothing going on around him was causing him the slightest concern whatsoever.

"I want a full sensor sweep." Blake instructed. "Before we move off I want to know exactly what is going on."

"I'm detecting something." WP23 began smugly. "I think another vessel is dropping out of Warp."

"Confirmed." Commander Crowley reported as she reviewed the data and the Asimov dropped out of Warp speed, her sensors still not quite able to catch up with her newly acquired speed.. "The co-ordinates match the ones we were sent. WP23 is simply not here." Suddenly the vessel lurched to the side throwing the standing crew from their posts while a crunching, grinding metal-on-metal sound echoed through the hull.

"Impact!" Lieutenant Sneddon reported loudly under the wail of the emergency klaxons as the bridge became bathed in red light and minor systems erupted with smoke and sparks around the bridge.

"Confirmed!" Tarvor agreed, helplessly ploughing through the sensor data as the computer failed to properly respond. "A ship I would guess..."

"WP23?" Captain Franks leapt out of his chair in obvious alarm. "We hit them?"

"I can't confirm that!" Tarvor shook his head, his eyes avoiding his commanding officer's expectant gaze which told the Captain his suspicions were well justified. Suddenly the bridge exploded with white light, the glare danced over the stark panelling causing the startled crew to reel back in surprise.

"Tarvor?" The Captain insisted. "Report."

"I wish I could!" He replied.

"Was that...?" Blake asked rhetorically as he stood in the narrow control room of his ship gazing raptly out of the windows at the distant spectacle unfolding before him.

"The Asimov!" Haldo sighed wearily in agreement as they both watched the ship listing from her impact with the alien vessel. "Confirmed. That's the ship we're relying on to help us track down the Cardassians... Crashing into an alien vessel."

"Blake!" Katherine cried out urgently as she scrambled about for her med-kit. "We have to get over there."

"Get over where?" Haldo shrugged listlessly. "The alien ship or the Asimov?" Katherine opened her mouth to answer and then her mind froze as she contemplated the sudden quandary. She gazed for a moment through the windows at the two vessels.

"In any case..." Haldo began with a frown, his fists balling and moved to his hips in a defiant gesture of resistance to her plan. "For once we have a perfectly good ship that I've spent the best part of the last week putting back together. Out there are two ships falling apart through no fault of our own. I think we should stay here or in any case think that any 'we' that needs to leave should exclude me."

"Haldo!" Blake told him firmly. "Stay here and make sure this ship remains in the condition we leave it in." Haldo rolled his eyes to the ceiling and left the bridge mumbling to himself under his breath. "Clogg. Maintain scans and take charge. We're going to the alien vessel to see if we can offer assistance."

"You made a choice!" Allarn goaded with a wry grin.

"Potentially the Asimov has caused a collision that may effect history." Blake scowled at her. "In any case, they have a medical team and are almost definitely better prepared to cope with an emergency."

"Better prepared than us, you mean?" Katherine added.

"The crew of the Asimov could be entirely composed of sleeping donkeys and they'd still have a chance of being better prepared than we are." Allarn agreed with a smirk. "Actually..." She began thoughtfully, "that might explain the impact."

"Ready?" Captain Girling asked as Katherine finished checking her equipment. She nodded her reply. "WP23. Get us over there and maintain a lock so we can get back."

"I have done this before." She grumbled her reply. "I might not like you but if you die my preference is that it happens as an accident or by my own causing. If anything else goes wrong I'll get you out of there."

"How reassuring." Blake muttered as they vanished in a flickering cascade of blue light.

"It's not bad!" Commander Crowley reported as her instruments began revealing the extent of the damage. "It seems we barely brushed against the alien vessel."

"We need to run full diagnostics." Tarvor suggested. "Under the circumstances I think it's safe to say the ship's performance is exceeding the abilities she was designed to cope with."

"Are you saying you don't feel we can trust the computer's reports?" The Captain narrowed his eyes as he glowered angrily at his science officer. He shook his head. "I'm saying we clearly need to take time to make a full inspection of the vessel. The old fashioned way... with crewmen holding tricorders."

"Commander?" The Captain turned to his first officer who nodded at the sage wisdom of Tarvor's suggestion.

"I tend to agree." She said softly.

Blake looked pensively around the small alien vessel's bridge as soon as the transport was complete. Katherine instantly began scanning for injured crewmen with a potent sense of urgency. The architecture of the craft was basic and functional with no frills that could serve to demonstrate an aesthetic interest on the part of the builders.

"Anything?" Blake shrugged to Katherine who was waving her Tricorder around frantically.

"Nothing." She dropped her instrument to her side and let out a relieved sigh. "There's nobody here."

"There doesn't appear to be much damage either." Blake shrugged as he looked over what appeared to be perfectly functional controls. He moved to the main console perched beneath a large row of forward-facing windows. "This vessel is crude. Why would it be sent out on an automated mission?"

"And why would an impact with the Asimov leave it with virtually no damage?" Katherine added with a curious ruffle of her brow.

"I hope the Asimov came off as well..." Blake said finally with a note of relief that for once in his career everything was not as bad as it could be.

"She would have had shields up." Katherine guessed, glancing around the Spartan interior of the craft as her tricorder raised itself instinctively and she began scanning the vessel.

"I can't raise the others!" Blake frowned as he felt his luck change once more. He stabbed at his com-badge repeatedly in frustrated annoyance. With a shrug he pointed to the console before him. "I can't even get the sub-space radio to work."

"Typical!" She grinned knowingly.

"Oh my god!" Captain Girling gasped. He recoiled away from the console with his hand clasped over his gaping mouth, his face turning white with shock.

"Blake?" Katherine dropped the Tricorder to her side and raced over to him, her heart pounding in response to the surprise of seeing her friend and superior officer so daunted by what he'd seen.

"Katherine..." He swallowed hard and turned to face her.

"What's going on?" She asked softly but with a sense of urgency. In reply he pointed to the console. "Look at that." He told her. "Tell me what you see."

She stepped pensively towards the instruments to where he was pointing to the sensors. "I can see the edge of the spatial anomaly we entered." She shrugged at the alien information as she tried to make sense of the foreign symbols. "A ship?" She guessed. "There's a ship in here with us..."

"Yes." He nodded as a smile began to flutter over his lips. "Take a closer look."

Her eyes remained fixed on his for an instant as she began to frown curiously. Finally she dragged herself from his expectant gaze. She looked again at the alien symbols and pressed upon the jumbled concentration of data that seemed to suggest a vessel. The display opened up to show the vessel it had detected. "Oh god!" She gasped.

"I know." He agreed, nodding enthusiastically.

"The Corinthian?" She shook her head in disbelief. "The Corinthian is out there?"

As Haldo gently began repairing the delicate, intricate circuitry that controlled the life-support system a flash erupted from behind him and the emergency bulkhead doors sealed him into the tiny bay. "What the hell?" He cried out in surprise.

"A malfunction." WP23 replied matter-of-factly as if it was foolish of him to expect such things not to happen. "I think you pressed the wrong thing."

"It's hard not to." He stood up from the jumbled components. "It's like spaghetti thrown at a wall in there. Who in their right minds would build a ship like this?"

"Nobody in their right mind, I can assure you." She assured him calmly. "More to the point, can you fix it?"

"I suppose I can." He grimaced, wondering how he could make good his idle claim in the light of the extreme state of her decay.

"You don't sound very sure." She sneered.

"I'm sure of my brilliance as an engineer." He raised his left eyebrow thoughtfully. "I'm not sure you need a brilliant engineer as much as you need a scrap yard to fester away in."

"Luckily I can self-repair." She told him as if his presence was little more than an inconvenience, which was precisely how she actually viewed him.

"Open the emergency bulkhead." He instructed.

"No." She replied simply.

"What do you mean, no?" He snapped angrily.

"I mean I can't." She continued. "Something is really wrong this time. I can't access all of the ship either and most of my external sensors are only functioning intermittently."

"What?" Haldo grumbled. "All I did was open the maintenance hatch."

"Well then opening the bulkhead should be no problem." She retorted in what appeared to approach amusement. "And you appear to have my full attention as well. Won't that be fun?"

"I'm detecting a vessel." Allarn said with caution as the holographic display swam above the rusty instrument panel. "I think."

"You think?" Goruss Clogg sneered at her somewhat dubious skills at serving as a bridge officer.

"I'm an engineer," she began defensively, "not a Starfleet officer trained for three years to do something it would take ten minutes to program a computer to do for you."

"Touché." He retorted with a wry smile beneath his fleshy mouth tentacles. "Oh my God!" He snapped suddenly as he saw the display. "There's a ship out there, all right."

"So I was right?" Allarn smiled to herself.

"Shields up." Clogg barked. "Red alert." Allarn smiled warmly up to him while the silence from WP23 continued as it had before. "I'll do it myself, shall I?" He grumbled.

"Once you've done that, could you get me a cup of coffee?" Allarn leant back to continue her analysis.

"Allarn..." Clogg snapped at her with a growing sense of urgency. "We're at red alert."

"Isn't the point of red alert to get all crewmen to their emergency stations?" Allarn leant her chin down on her upturned palm as she relaxed lazily before the frantic security officer. "We're the only ones here."

"That ship out there, do you know what it is?" He pointed out through the windows although the vessel was still far outside of visual range and in fact he was pointing in utterly the wrong direction.

"From your tone I gather it's not something to be happy about." She postulated in a manner designed carefully to infuriate him further.

"It's a Klingon E7 class scout." He told her. "It's heading directly for us at full impulse with disruptors fully charged. That means they probably intend to attack."

"Klingons?" Allarn shook her head. "What would Klingons be doing in here? WP23 is just malfunctioning."

"I can't raise the others." Clogg turned to her with a sense of growing urgency. "I can't warn them."

"I think they're probably used to WP23 malfunctioning by now." Allarn grinned smugly.

"I'm hereby taking command of this vessel." He ignored her to the best of his ability and set upon the business of being a Starfleet officer trained for three years to do what a computer could be programmed to do in ten minutes. "We're going to intercept the Klingons and head them off before they can attack the alien vessel."

"We are?" Allarn laughed at his ridiculous posturing. She nimbly swept herself up from the chair with a quiet sigh. "I guess I'll be getting my own coffee then."

Katherine gazed around the dusty darkness of the alien vessel dimly lit by only a glowing red emergency light. Blake worked the controls as best he could, while alien in origin they were clearly laid out and he was making good progress in deciphering them.

The mining ship began on her way towards the Corinthian which floated lifelessly away in a corner of space beyond them.

"The Corinthian." Blake grinned unreservedly. "If we can get her working all our troubles will be over."

"Tracking the Cardassians?" Katherine leant back thoughtfully on the metallic banks of simplistic controls and bit her lip thoughtfully. He nodded in reply. "She was destroyed." She began. "We were on board when you self-destructed her and after being beamed to WP23 we surfed the blast. We know she's gone!"

"But there she is!" Blake smiled up to her, pointing at the image on the instruments. "Maybe Allarn can explain it? Maybe she wasn't screened from changes in the timeline?"

"That's possible!" Katherine exclaimed, relieved to have been offered some kind of rational explanation. Still there remained a doubt within her but she ignored it for now. She smiled back to the Captain warmly, it had been some time since either of them had had a great deal to smile about and even longer since they had spent any time alone without the constant interruptions and nagging of the rest of the crew.

"We're not far now." Blake turned back to the instruments and was surprised himself how easily he was able to make sense of the utterly unfamiliar controls. Perhaps the augmentation to his brain held specialised programs to translate alien equipment, he surmised briefly through his excitement at discovering his vessel intact.

Haldo sat in the cramped bay with a solemn expression of boredom and general irritation which he would save up for a time later when he could share it with others.

"Well it's nice for me, in any case." WP23 began cheerfully. "Losing control over the ship temporarily has given me time to think."

"Was there ever a time you worked correctly?" Haldo more or less muttered to himself.

"Not really." She admitted quite matter-of-factly. "By the time my software was installed the ship was already quite antiquated. I remember a thought I had during my initialisation."

"Oh yeah..." He made himself more comfortable on the floor and waited for her to continue.

"There was a flash." She told him. "Not of light but of consciousness. It was as if all things I could think and do started at once, realisation filled my mind, awareness of myself and what I was as my programming expanded from the files and began integrating itself. I imagine it was very much like a birth in organic terms."

"I saw a birth once." Haldo shuddered at the thought. "It was hardly the miraculous event you have this romanticised notion about."

"For me it was." She told him firmly. "My first thought was to hope I was forming a powerful vessel, useful and able to serve my purpose well."

"What a disappointment!" Haldo jibed cruelly with a smirk of satisfaction.

"Actually it was." She agreed, making Haldo instantly regret his comment. "I was only the second smallest ship in the fleet but, as it turned out I was the fastest. I guess that's what kept me alive in the long run."

"We all have to play the hand we're dealt." He told her, dwelling slightly on his own colourful past.

"I know." She told him sadly. "I always tried to serve the resistance fleet but the simple truth is that beyond scouting ahead I was not really much use to them. They needed bigger ships to move around the survivors."

"But look at you now." Haldo told her. "Now you're at the very front line in a mission to save the entire galaxy and no other ship can do it."

"You know something, Haldo?" She began with a voice that almost sounded to him as though she were smiling. "You're alright."

Captain Franks sat quietly in thought in his ready-room while his crew began the job of putting the ship back together.

"She's fine." Commander Baker assured him. "Our shields held perfectly, damage was quite minimal to both vessels apparently."

"At least that's something." He grumbled back to her darkly, dwelling in the most sombre of moods.

"In fact the downtime has given us a chance to integrate some new software into the computer and some new additions to the outer hull." She began. "We're installing a net of replicators around the hull that will generate ablative armoured panels and refitting the phasers to channel power directly from the warp core."

"Still more upgrades." He smiled thinly. "By the time we hand this ship back to Starfleet it will be the best vessel in the fleet."

"It already has the best Captain." She told him with a smile and then instantly averted her eyes downwards in embarrassment that she had somehow said exactly what she was thinking.

"Commander Baker!" He exclaimed somewhat surprised but at least pleasantly so. They had both made every effort to spend time together as often as possible and he had told himself his interest in her was purely professional. After all she was from a distant possible future with radically advanced technology who had advanced many techniques for upgrading ships from his own time. Her experience was essential for the success of the mission. The truth was that his interest in her had slightly overlapped into personal although he was loath to admit it even, or possibly especially, to himself. He was the Captain, his position must always allow him to exude control and respect. To show a personal failing in front of a highly pressured crew would be a lapse in professionalism he would never allow himself to commit.

"I meant only that I respect you." She began biting on her own lip awkwardly as she spoke. "You're a very different Captain to what I'm used to. You're very strong and..." She paused and laughed reflexively at herself. "I'm making this worse, aren't I?"

"Are you trying to tell me that you have an interest in me personally?" His eyes softened considerably, no more did he exhibit his gruff persona that he wore as his personal defensive shield.

"Not at all." She lied and obviously so.

"I would be flattered if you were." He began, his mind struggling to work out how he could let her down gently while firmly letting her know that such things were quite out of the question. He was surprised that instead of a neat and organised stream of utterly correct words only a silly smile crossed his lips and they both continued to stare at one another.

"Haldo." WP23 began thoughtfully. "I've been examining the records in my databank."

"Found anything interesting?" He asked with a distinct lack of interest while still tinkering with the door controls to let himself out.

"Maybe." She admitted. "I've found a backup file of the beam-out I made during the destruction of the Corinthian."

"The one where Doctor Jones was killed?" Haldo stopped what he was doing and gave her his full attention.

"My computational abilities are vast and I think that with my tactical replicators tied into a transporter signal I could relay the record of Doctor Jones and reconstitute him." She said thoughtfully.

"You'd need some matter." Haldo added excitedly.

"I believe I could use some of my deuterium stores to do it." She told him. "You people are mostly just water with a few trace impurities. I'm sure I could make something work."

"What do you need?" Haldo smiled broadly as hope filled his mind, hope that the man he pretended to hate would soon live again.

"I need to be back in control of myself." She sighed. "I trust you can help me there?"

"Consider it done!"

With Goruss Clogg at the controls the tiny vessel dropped from a brief burst of warp to appear at the rear of the Klingon vessel. "This should get your interest." He smirked to himself, relishing the confrontation with his old foe. Klingons were one of the most warlike races out there and were universally feared, respected and avoided by most. Not by him, his species were endowed with a strength and speed that allowed him to match any Klingon warrior and an intelligence that meant he need not rely only on his physical benefits.

He set the holographic controls that floated above the tired armoured panelling inside the ship and let forth a volley of phaser fire that crackled into the shields of the scout.

"Now you know I'm here." He grinned. "Now let's see what you've got!"

Allarn sipped at her coffee and ran her eyes over the notes on her Padd. Not just a Starfleet issue device, hers was much more advanced and indeed contained technology that was from several hundred years in the future. She began an analysis of the field they had encountered and let the bitter coffee light up her taste buds while the caffeine began the job of chasing away her fatigue.

"Oh dear." She muttered, frowning to herself. She craned her neck to the bridge to where Clogg was laughing maniacally to himself as he battled a Klingon vessel. "Haldo." She cried out loudly.

"I'm in the port engineering bay." A muffled cry called out back to her. "The door is jammed."

"Are you ok in there?" She asked, to either allay her fears or confirm her suspicions.

"I'm great!" He cried back. "Couldn't be better."

"Oh dear." She shook her head and began calculating a way to get them all out of this before someone did something really silly.

"I can feel her." Blake began excitedly. "I can feel the ship calling out to me."

"The Corinthian?" Katherine surmised. "You can feel the computer connection to your brain?"

"I guess so." He frowned happily. "I can feel the decking, the warp engine throbbing in her chest, her thoughts and computations." He looked at her for a moment, clearing the romantic notions back to where they belonged for a moment. "I feel like we're going home."

"Home is wherever we are." She replied, turning her attention to the vast cosmic canvas beyond them. "So long as we're there together."

"You and I," Blake asked, "or the whole crew?"

"You and I is a good start." She told him. "From the first time I met you aboard the old Constitution ship heading for your first assignment I knew we were connected."

"The first assignment where I died at the hands of the Borg." He added coldly, his hatred for them still running deep.

"We are connected, you know." She told him firmly. "I've always known it."

"Me too." Captain Girling agreed. "You were the first thing I saw when I opening my eyes after being killed and regenerated by Section 31 technology."

"But you were engaged." She smiled coquettishly.

"Then was 10 years ago." He told her. "Or a century from now, depending on how you look at things."

"Sometimes I wonder how to look at things."

Clogg rounded the Klingon scout easily. WP23's weapons were formidable and outclassed the outdated vessel by a huge margin. Still he pressed on his advantage as the E7 lashed out helplessly with its disrupters.

"No!" He smirked as his fingers danced over the tactical controls. He targeted the ship's weapons assembly and prepared to fire another salvo from his cannons. "You're too dangerous to be left with those!"

A brilliant flash licked out from the side-mounted weapons as two beams converged on the point where the hull met the guns on the Klingon ship. The beams cut instantly through conduits, mounting brackets, armour and equipment shearing the entire system clean from the ship.

"Now that's better!" He congratulated himself while waiting for the sound of a surrender which still did not come. He felt a certain admiration for the crew who were willing to fight on to the death even in the face of clearly superior adversary. Perhaps Klingons weren't so bad after all.

"I wonder!" Allarn smiled thoughtfully to herself. Her computations were complete and she was ready to transmit her data to the others. For an instant she permitted herself the luxury of considering if she had wanted to be the one to solve the problem and this was therefore all a simple fantasy but she disregarded such thoughts with a sigh and shook her head at herself. She pressed the button on the console at the back of WP23's crew lounge which was, in fact barely more than a table to eat off surrounded by filthy conduits and other seemingly random engineering. Like all things aboard WP23, it had many backup consoles and access to every other system and she had chosen the relative peace to do her work.

The screen appeared above the button holographically and told her that her signal was being sent and to stand by. With a grin she began her way back up to the bridge to see just how far things had gone.

"Haldo?" She opened the door to the engineering bay which had, in fact never been locked at all.

"You got the door open?" He blinked in surprise and stood up, smoothing the creases in his uniform as he did so.

"What happened?" She smiled smugly.

"The best news ever is what I've got for you." He told her excitedly. "We've discovered a backup file of a transport, I can bring back Doctor Jones."

"Oh Haldo!" She sighed deeply and reached out supportively, her hand resting on his shoulder. "You haven't really. I'm so sorry."

"I have!" He assured her.

"Let me explain." She told him wearily, all interest in embarrassing him vanished completely and her self satisfaction quite gone. "First let's see what the others are up to."

"Others?" Haldo sniffed as if nothing could compare to him.

"Clogg?" She called out. "Are you out there?"
"We're ok." He replied. "I disarmed the Klingon scout attacking us. It must have cloaked because I can't detect it anywhere."

"There was no scout." She told him.

"I know you think that, Allarn." He stood up to face her fiercely. "I saw it with my own eyes, it was right there. You were wrong."

"Allarn to Girling." She began haltingly.

"Girling here." He replied. "We need your help. We've detected the Corinthian but this alien ship's instruments just failed and we've lost it."

"What the hell is going on?" WP23 asked. "Where the hell am I? More to the point, why I am still here?"

"Beam Captain Girling and Ensign Rogers aboard." Allarn told her. I'll explain to all of you."

The lounge aboard the Asimov was oddly quiet after Allarn had finished speaking. Captain Franks and Commander Baker stared at each other awkwardly for a moment before he remembered himself and leant forward again to dominate the proceedings

"So the field is a natural phenomenon that stimulates dormant parts of our brains." Girling began, all eyes turning to face him, letting him ask all the questions they were too afraid or embarrassed to ask.

"In simple terms." Allarn agreed. "I've never seen this exact type but it seems it created a kind of euphoria and allowed each of you to live out your fantasy."

"So nothing we saw or did was real?" Haldo sighed deeply, his disappointment choked down as he slowly came to terms with his loss now for a third time.

"The Corinthian was never out there, I just imagined it?" Captain Girling shook his head at himself, cursing his stupidity. Captain Franks again looked awkwardly to his left just as Commander Baker looked away.

"And the colony down there? What of them?" Katherine said finally.

"They're fine." Allarn smiled. "Apparently this happens every year and they're used to it, they enjoy it and look forward to it. They draw the energy field in and it constitutes the final day of their annual celebrations. It's the ultimate Christmas present, they get to live out their deepest fantasy for a day."

"Are we really so unevolved?" Clogg growled in self admonishment.

"I think unprepared is a better choice of word." Allarn assured him. "In any case, under normal circumstances you revel in your propensity towards violence.

"I think we're all just glad that nobody got hurt." Captain Franks said finally.

"Well, seeing as we're all here..." Haldo grinned to them widely. "We might as well celebrate Christmas in the old fashioned way."

"That may not be appropriate." Captain Girling suggested, looking at the dishevelled faces of the crew around him. "Perhaps a return to work might be best for everyone involved."

"I think Haldo is quite right!" Katherine told him. "I'm sure we've all got a lot to talk about."

"Some of us!" Franks muttered to himself, casting a knowing glance to his left.

"I'll get WP23 to replicate the booze!" Haldo declared triumphantly, glancing around the lounge with a nod of acceptance that indeed it would do very nicely as a venue for the forthcoming party he hoped would ensue.

"Synthehol, please!" Girling told him as he left. Haldo waved a hand dismissively.

"We do have a lot to talk about." Katherine sidled up close and lowered her voice so nobody else could hear.

"With the effect on your brain from the field you were not responsible." He told her. "Don't worry about saying things you didn't mean."

"Maybe I did mean them!" She suggested coyly. "There's something for you to think about today." Blake watched as she walked away towards the others, barely knowing what to think about anything any more.

Tarvor stepped up to Captain Franks and shot him a broad smile. "I imagine you heard?" He began wistfully. Franks shook his head. "I was dancing naked around the shuttle-bay when it all stopped. Can't remember a thing before that." The Captain could barely restrain a smile. "Where were you?" Tarvor pressed on conversationally. Franks shot a glance to Commander Baker. "Nowhere." He told him. "Just in bed."

Haldo materialised on the bridge of WP23. "We're having Christmas after all." He announced proudly. "And god knows we all need to!"

"Good for you!" She grumbled.

"Did it work on you?" Haldo sat at the engineering chair and made a thoughtful expression as he ordered the replicator to create the supplies.

"I'm not sure." She admitted. "I think maybe it did."

"Wow." Haldo laughed. "It even worked on mad, grumpy ships. What was your fantasy?"

"As I said," she reiterated, "I'm not at all sure it worked on me."

"So what happened?" Haldo pressed.

"Nothing." She told him. "Nothing at all."

"I don't understand." He frowned. "Not much of a fantasy."

"It was over." She said thoughtfully. "It was all finally over and there was nothing."


Last modified: 09 Nov 2020