January 12, 2296
in the evening
That done, she stood up and looked out her window at the setting sun. Funny, she mused. I expected to be elated when I finally took the step. No more bureaucracy, no more long days at the console, no more unanticipated crises to resolve, I thought deciding to retire would lift a load off my shoulders. Why is it that I feel like a starship just rammed me? Earlier in the day, her head had been full of plans to get as many friends together as she could, and to celebrate her decision to retire from Starfleet. Somehow, it no longer appealed to her; frankly, she was more interested in just getting thoroughly, stinking drunk. This is ridiculous; Im acting like Ive lost a husband or something. The sun finally slipped below the horizon, leaving no light other than the lights of the bustling city below her. I guess that maybe I have. Maybe I was married to Starfleet, like Jim Kirk was.
The day had been long, she decided, and she was just overly tired from agonizing over what had been a surprisingly difficult decision. A nights sleep would help; by tomorrow, the decision would be noised around enough that congratulations would begin pouring in, and life would look better. Almost automatically, she prepared for bed, and crawled between the sheets. Just before she dropped off, she made sure that the alarm wasnt set, and that the communicator was silenced. For once, she decided, she was going to sleep late, very late.
January 13, 2296
Uhura awakened to sunlight pouring in her window. A brief wave of panic grabbed her, and she jumped up out of bed, noticing that it was moving toward noon. As quickly as it hit her, she squelched it. Im retired. I dont have to answer to anyone, anytime, anywhere if I dont feel like it, she reminded herself. Idly, she scratched a small area on her back. Rather than feeling energized by the extra sleep, she almost felt more drained. She got up to get ready for the day, noticing that the baleful eye of the communicators message light was blinking at her. It can wait. Everything can wait, now. Im freed from that tyranny.
A leisurely shower and an indulgently slow breakfast later, the communicators light still blinked accusingly at her. She triggered it. The voice was familiar, although the accent was far less than it had been when she had first met him as an ensign on the Enterprise.
"Chekov here. If you can manage it, would you mind dropping by San Francisco? Perhaps we could do lunch, my treat. Call me back, and let me know."
Uhura smiled, and hit the recall button. She suspected the Russian wanted to congratulate her on retirement. While she was still ruminating on that possibility, Chekovs voice came across.
"Fleet Captain Chekov. What can I do for you?"
"Its Uhura, Pavel. Congratulations on the promotion!"
"Spasebaw, Nyota. Can you spare me an hour or two over lunch?"
"I dont see why not. Where shall we meet?"
"At my office, here in San Francisco; the address is transmitting. Ill have lunch cateredon my tab. All your favorites, at least as far as I can remember them."
"Ill be there. Three hours soon enough?"
There was a brief pause. "Three hours? That works; I can handle an early lunch. I will be looking forward to seeing you! Chekov out."
Although it seemed odd to her that Chekov hadnt mentioned her retirement, Uhura turned to the task of getting ready to meet the man for lunch. She double-checked the address: a temporary office at Starfleets San Francisco headquarters, Bureau of Exploration. She tapped the console at the readout; there was a convenient stratospheric that would get her there and back at reasonable hours.
Just less than three hours and several time zones later, Uhura made her way to Chekovs temporary office, and found herself ushered into it by the Ensign at the desk. As she entered, Chekov stood, smiling. "Nyota! Please, sit down. Is good to see you. Lets grab some lunch before we get down to business."
On the small table just to one side of the desk, a lavish lunch had been spread; true to his word, Chekov had supplied a number of her favorites. The two friends delved into the offering. Finally, curiosity overcoming her waning appetite, Uhura asked the obvious. "The lunch and the company is much appreciated, Pavel, but Im curious as to the reason behind it."
"Is there any chance," he mumbled around a mouthful of food, "that I could keep you thinking this was all a social call for a little longer?"
"Do you really believe you can con me after all the years weve known each other?"
The Russian shrugged. "Didnt think so, but it was worth a try. I have a favor I want to ask, but Id hoped to save that for after lunch. I need you to work with me, Nyota."
"You havent heard the rumor, Pavel? Ive chosen to retire."
"Rumor had reached me, and thats where it stopped. I have the file. It seems it reached my computer, and never got to Starfleet. I just cant imagine how that happened; Admiral Po will probably hit the roof at her staff if she ever finds out about it. Most unusual."
"Look, Ive put in enough time as a chief communications officer, Pavel, I..."
Chekov shook his head. "Thats your trouble, Nyota. Youre the best executive officer Starfleet has ever produced, and Ill bet theyll never produce your equal, but nobody seems to be willing to think of you as anything other than a chief communications officer, including yourself. Thats a terrible mistake."
"Being your first officer was fun, Pavel, but..."
"I dont need a first officer; I am Fleet Captain now. The Enterprise will be my flagship, of course, but there will be three other ships in my exploration team. I need an experienced, stable, sharp person for Kyptin of the Hyperion." Chekov stood, his meal only about half-finished, looking out at the skyline of the city, apparently looking for how to say what he wanted. He turned back to Uhura. "Nyota, we both know you should have been kyptin years ago, long before I was, but your tremendous ability at the communications console always prevented that." He held up his hand, as she tried to interrupt. "No need to remind me of the Anwar Sadat and bringing the Hyperion back. You never really got a chance to show your stuff there, at least in my opinion. If you are willing to reconsider retiring, Im giving you your chance."
Uhura stared blankly at Chekov, clearly unprepared for the question and at a loss for an answer. She shook her head, as if to clear it of cobwebs. "Did I hear you right, Pavel? Captain?"
"You heart right: Kyptin of the Hyperion. We will be on the outskirts of the Federation, and fairly autonomous; more important, you will be fairly independent." He sat back down as he spoke. "The only question is whether or not youre willing. If youre not, the retirement request can go in, and Liann Po will never know anything has happened."
"You tempt me, Pavel. How long do I have to put together a crew?"
"Youll only have to put together the officers, you know; First Officer, Chief Science Officer, Navigation, Weapons Admiral Pos office will handle the rest."
"I know the litany. I didnt ask who, Mad Russian, I asked how long." Uhura looked Chekov straight in the eye as she asked. Internally, an ocean of conflicting emotions stormed inside her; she hoped that the turmoil didnt show on her face. Until the post had been offered, she hadnt realized how much she wanted to prove herself as a captainnor how much she feared she might fail if she tried.
Rather than answer, Chekov concentrated on eating. Finally, realizing he couldnt evade her any longer, he answered. "The exploration group leaves in eight days, Nyota. Im scrambling to put my own staff together. Figure youve got five, maybe at the most six days to assemble your command team." The newly-minted fleet captain looked sheepish. "Sorry, Nyota. I need a decision quickly. Im sure you understand..."
Draining her glass of iced tea, Uhura stood, suddenly decided, her doubts and insecurities swept aside by the realization that there would not be another chance. "Ill take the command, Pavel. Id better get back to Nairobi and start scrounging, then. Thanks, Fleet Captain!"
"Oh, sit down," Chekov responded. "Trust me to plan a bit better than that. There are temporary quarters arranged for you here, stocked with whatever essentials you might need. My yeoman can take care of dealing with your place in Nairobi, if you want. Ive got a listing of available personnel that I think will include people youll find satisfactory, and Im guessing that most, if not all, of my command team will stay on with me. Youre not running out on me until dessert arrives. It is mega-warp-chocolate-death-supreme something or other; I cant imagine youd be willing to miss that."
She sat back down. "Chocolate? Mega-chocolate? Okay, for that Ill stay and gab, especially since youve got me quarters here and a list of potential officers together. But then, to work."
"Da. You always were hard taskmaster." Chekov grinned. "Welcome aboard, Kyptin Uhura!"
Back in her temporary residence, Uhura was busily running through the listing of people that Chekovs yeoman had given her. Most of the names were totally unfamiliar, and although the curriculum vitae were useful, she preferred to have some personal knowledge, either of the individual or the person who was recommending them. One familiar name popped out at her. She transferred it to Communications and waited as the call went through.
"Indri here," a familiar baritone responded. "How may I assist you?"
"Uhura here. What plans do you have for the next, oh, four or five years?"
"I am between assignments, Uhura, as I suspect you know. I deduce that you are offering me a chance to change that. Am I fortunate enough that you are offering me the position of Chief Engineer?"
"Exactly; how did you guess?"
"Simple deduction, Captain. Chekov made Fleet Captain yesterday morning, or so scuttlebutt has it, and he has to build a team that includes a new captain or two. A trusted friend and shipmate of Chekovs, who is also a trusted friend and shipmate of my own, calls wanting to know my future plans. The deduction is elementary, is it not? Chief Engineer is wishful thinking, but under the circumstances, not too absurd."
"I suppose its obvious, when you put it like that. Are you accepting my offer? Chief Engineer, Hyperion, shipping out in about a week."
There was a snort from the communicators speaker. "A week? Well, youll have to log me in quickly, Captain. Ill need to spend every moment of that week making sure the Hyperion is within a couple of parsecs of being up to standards. My standards, that is. Working day and night, Ill only be able to be sure the drives and transporter are up to snuffI wont even have time to inspect ninety percent of the control system circuitry, to say nothing of "
"You sound just like Scotty used to, do you know it?"
"Flattery, Captain, may not get you anywhere, but it is deeply appreciated. Log me in, Uhura, so I can get to work, if you please. Times wasting, and theres precious little of it."
Uhura laughed. "Ill do it the instant I get off the line. Uhura out." True to her word, she keyed in Indris change in status, and went back to the list. To her delight, she found that MBenga was in San Francisco and between assignments. She triggered contact.
"Baraka Keme MBenga is currently unable to come to a communications module at this time," his voice boomed. "If you would be kind enough to leave a message, I will happily return your call when I am able."
Voice mail. There was, Uhura decided, something appropriate about that. "Keme, Uhura here. Ive landed command of the Hyperion, and Im hoping youre willing to be my chief medical officer. Call me back as soon as possible; we leave in a week."
Disappointed to have missed him, she continued down the list. Another name caught her eye. She keyed the communications address into the console.
"You have reached the Reichard residence. This is Amy. Whats up?"
Uhura was surprised; she was under the impression that Ken was single. "I, ah, was looking for Ken Reichard. Do I have the right household?"
"Yep. Im his mom. You his girlfriend?"
"Well, Im female, Amy, and I suppose Ken and I could claim to be friends, but Im willing to hazard a guess that Im older than you are. One time shipmate, I can claim, but I dont think Id rate girlfriend."
"Too bad. I was hoping. Oh, well " The pickup was muffled for a moment, and the sound of a voice yelling for Ken to come to the communicator drifted through despite that. "Hes coming. Who should I say you are?"
"Maybe you ought to tell him its his latest girlfriend, Amy, just to see what he does." There was a giggle from the other end. "Captain Uhuras the real name."
"I heard that," Kens voice came on the line. "Hi, Uhura. Whats up other than heckling me?"
"I just made Captain. Any chance youd be interested in being my first officer?"
"No more than Im interested in continuing breathing, lady! When?"
"We ship out in about a week. Can you manage?"
"If it kills me, Capn, Ill be there." Reichard was obviously pleased at the offer. "Who else have you got on roster?"
"Just Indri, for Chief Engineer. I called MBenga, but hes out carousing."
"Ran into Keme yesterday, Nyota. Bad news: he filed his papers to retire." Reichard sounded apologetic about being the bearer of the news. "Sorry to be the one that told you."
"Well survive. Look, Ken, Ive got a bridge crew to assemble; we can gab on the Hyperion."
"Reichard out, Capn. Happy hunting!"
Before the connection broke, Uhura heard Amys voice sigh, "Oh, well, so much for grandkids for a while longer."
Uhura worked the list hard over the next several hours, getting little but answering machines and regrets. As the sun was starting to set over the San Francisco Bay, her annunciator chimed. Without thinking, she responded, "Come!"
Into the room stepped a tall, unkempt, unwashed blond male, wearing a knapsack and carrying a large, thin, square cardboard box. "Yer pizza, lady. Where dya wannit?"
"Are you sure you have the right place? I dont recall ordering one." On the defensive, suddenly, Uhura was in no mood to have to forcibly evict the man.
"Captain Nyota Penda Uhura, right? Busy trying to build a crew for the Hyperion, right?"
Surprised, she nodded. "Correct, but that doesnt prove anything. Im busy, frankly, and Id appreciate it if youd leave. Now would work fine for me." She shifted position slightly; it was becoming obvious that she would have to eject the man, pizza and all, if she wanted to get anything done.
Unexpectedly, a subtle change came over the individual, more than just the straightening of the slouch into a more formal, almost military posture. With the change in posture, even the mans voice changed, becoming bolder and crisper. "I sincerely hope you will see it differently, Captain. Im volunteering for your crew, if youll have me. Harrison Davids, Physician Assistant, at your service. The pizza is just, shall we say, a peace offering. I hope I remember your preferences on pizza correctly."
"Hardav!" Once she was told, she could recognize the face under the dirt, scraggly hair and unkempt beard. "What on Earth have you been doing to get yourself looking like that? You look like a rescue mission reject."
Hardav bowed, setting the pizza on a convenient table. "Thank you, kind lady. I was endeavoring to achieve that appearance." He straightened up. "But if youll have me as Sickbay crew, I can ditch the costumepretty quickly, if youll let me borrow your bathroom for a few minutes."
"If youre available, youd be among my first choices for Sickbay." She pinched her nose in a combination of mock and real distress. "As soon, that is, as you clean up." She waved him in the general direction of the bathroom. "Shoo! Get combed and scrubbed!"
Obediently, Hardav disappeared into the bathroom, carrying his knapsack with him. As he disappeared from sight, Uhuras voice followed him. "And if you want any of this pizza, youd better hurry."
Despite her dire threat, there was still plenty of pizza left when Davids exited the shower, clad in regulation Starfleet Medical whites, washed and neatly groomed, hair trimmed to conservative dimensions, beard and moustache gone. "Better, Captain?"
"You are. Im definitely not. I still need some warm bodies, especially in Sickbay. Webb was willing to sign on, especially when she found out that you were going to be in Sickbay. I still need a couple of doctors, though, a decent chief science officer, and almost any sort of communications officer. When they hear Im Captain, theyre all too scared to take the communications assignment."
Davids rubbed his newly shaved chin for a moment. "Hey, boss lady, MBengas in town and free."
"And retired, Hardav."
"Check your inbox, Captain."
Puzzled, Uhura obeyed. "Whats that doing here?" Astonishment was written on Uhuras face: MBengas retirement papers were on the readout.
Peering over her shoulder, Hardav shook his head. "Amazing. Guess MBengas retirement request never made it to Admiral Pos office." He rolled his eyes in mock agony. "I cant believe how bad communications are getting in Starfleet without you to oversee em. But now, you can tell MBenga his papers are in front of youand youll file em or not, depending on whether he wants to do a couple of years as your chief medical officer or not. Which, by the way, Im willing to bet he will. Hes still terminally sweet on you."
"With one exception, in which you figured quite significantly by the way, hes been nothing but totally professional around me, Davids. Youre imagining things."
The physicians assistant winked. "As I recall it, I suffered direly at your hands for that little stunt, too. As for MBenga, Captain, Ive snooped and I know better."
For a moment, Uhura stared at the screen. "Before I call Keme, I want to know how this got to my inbox instead of to Personnel. Admiral Pos going to go orbital if she ever finds out."
"Classified. Cant tell you."
"I dont believe it." Uhura stared Hardav square in the face. "Before I call MBenga back, I want to know."
Rather than answer immediately, Davids pulled what looked like a fat, over-sized communicator off his belt, and fiddled with it for a moment. "Good. The areas clear." He put it on the table, open. "Ah, your first question should be why I looked like a wharf rat when I arrived; that should give you a good enough guess as to the answer to your question, and to a lot of other questions, including how I pulled some of the stunts Ive pulled, such as the one with MBengas mail. The answer is that I was doing a little spying, down at the places on Frisco Bay where folks who dont want to be seen hang out. Ive spent the last couple or three years in Starfleets Customs division, Clandestine Operations arm, under the Inspector Generals office. Youd be surprised what I can learn hanging out with the space scum that collects down at the dives along the wharf. Needless to say, that means I have to have access to software that is, um, probably not good to have in too many hands. When Chekov made Fleet Captain, I figured hed want you as captain; with you as captain, I figured MBenga would be someone you wanted in Sickbay. I just took steps to make sure regrettable decisions didnt happen. Enough of an answer?"
Surprise washed over Uhuras face. "Yes, more than enough of an answer. Lets forget that I ever asked."
"Yeah, Chekov said the same thing when I offered to intercept your retirement papers for him. You call MBenga, and give him the same rigmarole Chekov gave you. You willing to trust me to come up with a good chief science officer? He isnt Spock, but hes almost that good. And I think I can dredge up a communications officer thatll be almost as good as the legendary Uhura."
"There isnt anyone that good on my list for either position."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Neither of em would be on any list youd be given. Ill vouch for them personally, though. If, that is, youre willing to take the chance on my judgement." There was no sign of humor on the physician assistants face.
"Go for it, Hardav. Ill see if I can talk MBenga into another tour of duty." Uhura began dialing.
Hardav picked up his over-size communicator and tapped in a number. "Hey, Smokie, the Weed here. You still got that ugly bouncer that tossed me out last week? Nah, not revenge, I just wanna talk to the bum. Got a little job, thought he might be willing to share it with me. Never mind what, just kick him outta his cot, givim a cuppa coffee on my tab, and getim to the comlink, willya?" There was a pause. "Yo, Snowdome, its the Weed. I got a line; sweet job, exactly up your line. Not a stinkin chance Ill tell you on the BellComm: face to ugly face. Ill give ya the address. Hey, is the Mole still hangin around? Theres enough for us all. Got the addy? Great. Yeah, and a pox on all your enemies. Half an hour, and both of ya wash good. Hey, thiss the Weed talkin here. Would I steer you wrong? Okay, look, I apologized for that one. Yeah, Im sorry for that one, too. Look, you gonna give me a history lesson or are you gonna take the job? Fine. You an the Mole better be on time, you hear? Bye."
Utterly dumbfounded, Uhura sat, listening to Hardavs side of the conversation, her jaw dropping further by the minute. She hadnt even managed to finish keying in MBengas communications code as the conversation progressed.
"I think I need an explanation, Hardav," she suggested. "That sounds like a somewhat less than savory pair of characters youre recruiting."
"Drevans a gem in the rough, Captain. Two Ph.D.s in separate branches of scienceI forget which, just nowand one in mathematics. Hes a real genius; like I said, Id put him almost up there with Spock." Hardav busied himself with a slice of pizza. "TSorals a Vulcan; that should be good enough credentials right there. Good grub, even if I brought it myself."
"I need something better than that. Whats he doing as a bouncer at a sleazy dive if hes all that good? And what in heavens name is a Vulcan doing at that sort of place?"
Before answering, the PA made a point of chewing his mouthful thoroughly and swallowing it. "Spying, to be blunt, and all three of us need out; things are getting a bit tight. I cant promise that theyll get here alive." He shrugged. "I wasnt altogether sure Id manage getting here alive either, Captain, or I would probably have called first and saved myself some grief. Part of the risk of clandestine operations, you understand. Its not like were dealing with honest, hard working citizens of the United Federation of Planets, after all; were up against Orion smugglers, Kzinti drug runners and other low lives that would be more than happy to kill someone to protect their little illicit operation. Anyhow, its time for the lot of us to get out of the area for a while, so things can cool off."
Uhura tilted her head to one side. "You are just chock full of surprises, Hardav. Any other surprises you have up your sleeve?"
"Probably, but Im going to leave them up there, at least for now. Are you going to call MBenga, or do I do it?"
"One more question, before I call Keme. I need another doctor. Any ideas?"
A pensive look crossed Hardavs face. "One, but Im not sure I can talk him into it. The last time I talked to him, though, he sounded like he would be looking for a little adventure by now."
"Is he up to a starship sickbay?"
"Well, he managed on the Enterprise, well enough, before he went dirtside. McCoy, MBenga and I all thought pretty highly of him. Game?"
"Im game. In case youve forgotten it, Im also desperate, otherwise I wouldnt be letting you dredge up all these people for me. Call him, her or it."
"Him. Its Giac Eletto; Im sure you remember him from several years ago. But Im not calling him until you get started talking to MBenga, Captain."
Uhura chuckled. "Oh, with pleasure. Im surprised some woman hasnt snapped him up already. Maybe I ought to snap him up."
"With all due respect, Captain, business, not pleasure."
"Spoilsport." She triggered the comlink. "If you can get Eletto, Im done except for someone to handle weaponry. You know this fellow? Looks good on paper; think hed work for Weapons?"
Hardav looked at the readout. "Joe Tucker? Hes good. Well, Ive heard good things about him through the grapevine, anyhow, and nothing but good things. Young, but hes seen enough combat to be seasoned. If youve landed anyone decent, theyll be about like Chekov and Sulu at their best together."
"Got Jim Marsden signed on. I remember him favorably: he did weapons on the Enterprise for a while; hes available, but his heart is in helm, which is where Ive put him. If you can get Eletto, Ill owe you supper. At least."
"At least. And Drevan and TSoral will be hungry, too. I hope you have a big budget, Captain. You call MBenga. Ill call Eletto."
Uhura keyed MBengas communications address into the communicator. A moment or two later, a familiar voice answered. "MBenga here."
"Keme? Uhura here."
"Nyota, it is truly good to hear your voice. Are you free this evening? I would love to reminisce over old times. Dinners on me."
"There are few things Id love more than a quiet dinner with you, Keme, but tonights booked. What are you up to for the next several years?"
A deep sigh came through the communicator. "Nothing, Nyota. Absolutely nothing other than regretting that I just tendered my retirement papers about two days ago. I got your message. Congratulations, Captain. Short of sharing a beachside bungalow with you, theres absolutely nothing Id rather do than be with you on your own starship, but " MBenga let the statement die unfinished.
"Surprise! There was a small glitch; your papers never got filed. Someone thought I might be after you, and they showed up in my inbox." Uhura pretended to be serious. "Of course, I could just pass them on to the proper folks, if you want. Admiral Po would never notice the delay."
The communicator snorted. "I dont know how it happened, but Im glad it did. Sweet Captain, Im all yours!"
"Mmmmmm As Chief Medical Officer or otherwise?"
"Take your pick, Nyota. Personally, I like either. Can I have both?" MBengas rolling laughter came through clear.
"Greedy boy! Lets start with Chief Medical Officer and go from there." Uhura noticed that Davids was looking at her, a semi-stern expression on his face, his lips silently mouthing "Business, not pleasure!" Uhura nodded. "Business for now. Later, well "
"I can live with that. Whove you got in Sickbay with me?" The friendly banter had disappeared from MBengas voice; it was all business.
"Harrison Davids and Marie Webb for sure. Harrisons working on Eletto. Therell be a few others, already assigned by Starfleet, but thats about it."
"Davids will get Eletto, I suspect; last time we were out Kahla way, he sounded like he was getting the wanderlust. Im glad youve got Marie; shes the best. Second only to you, Captain. How soon?"
"Ill meet you on the Hyperion for breakfast, tomorrow. Will that do?"
"Its a date. Time for me to start packing, Captain. MBenga out."
There was almost a penitent look on Uhuras face as she turned back to Davids. "Weve got MBenga."
"Youve got MBenga, Boss Lady," Davids chuckled. "Mop that chin, Captain. You were drooling."
"Okay, okay, dont rub it in. You see if you can get Eletto." The captain pretended to look over a pair of reading glasses. "And no monkey business, young man."
As he keyed in the communications address into his belt unit, Davids rolled his eyes in mock agony. There was a brief pause before Davids spoke. "Yeah, hi, Zander. Hows that new daughter of yours, Sierra? Glad to hear it. Look, is Giac around? Good. Could you get him to the communicator? This is from San Francisco, man; major long distance, okay?" There was another, slightly longer pause. "Yup, its me, Giac. Look, last time we talked, you were whining about getting bored. Are you still into a little excitement? Good. Uhuras been made Captain, and shes in dire need of another physician for the Hyperion. Interested? MBenga and me. She snagged Marie Webb, too. Hey, glad to hear it. How long? Ummm. We leave Earth orbit in a week, Giac. Oh, dont worry about the re-enlistment paperwork, old friend; it was filed How about three days ago, does that work for you? None of your business, nosey. Itll all be fair and legal, Ill see to it as soon as I get off the comlink. You want to book passage to Earth or have us do it? Okay, be that way. See you on the Hyperion, you old icicle." Davids flipped the communicator shut. "Signed, sealed and delivered, Captain! I just have to file the paperwork for him, so you can snap him up in about five minutes."
"Good. I have a pizza to address. Want another slice? Then I see if I can land Tucker."
It was about a half-hour later when Uhuras annunciator chimed. Uhura nodded to Hardav to open the door. On the other side of the door stood a Vulcan female and an Andorian.
"Drevan, TSoral! Come on in!" The pair entered, the Vulcan holding tightly to the Andorians arm; Hardav closed the door behind them. "Ive already checked; the areas secure. We can talk freely."
Drevan escorted TSoral to a chair, then took one himself. "Good. A blessing on you and your family for the call, Harrison. Some of the wharf rats were catching on to us. I hope Smokie will be safe." The Andorians face, although a typical Andorian blue, was rather longer and taller than most; with his square chin and remarkably high forehead, his face looked almost rectangular. Matching his nickname, Drevans hair was a brilliant, snowy white.
"I doubt that he is in any danger, Drevan," TSoral offered. "He is very adept at shifting the blame onto us. He will tell the regulars that we got caught in a burglary and imprisoned. I think that he would join us if he could, but for now, he feels that he needs to stay where he is."
"Right as usual, Mole. Gentlebeings, allow me to introduce you to Captain Nyota Penda Uhura, of the Federation starship Hyperion. We ship out in about a week, I believe."
"Eight days, Hardav. Glad to meet you both." Uhura stood, offering her hand to the Andorian. Drevan shook it briefly, then released it. Turning to the Vulcan, she made the split-fingered gesture she had seen Spock make, greeting his parents and other Vulcans. "Live long, and prosper, TSoral." To her surprise, the Vulcan didnt respond to the gesture until she spoke, which was unusual in Uhuras experience. She sat down again, somewhat puzzled.
"I perceive that you are in significant uncertainty, Captain," TSoral said. "May I presume you were not told?"
Hardav stared at the ceiling, feigning innocence. Uhura looked at him, then responded to TSoral. "Told what?"
"I am visually impaired, Captain. Beyond about two meters from me, I can only see the vaguest of shapes. At three meters distance, I can only see light and dark. At less than a meter, I see as well as anyone, if not better." TSoral tipped her head to one side. As she did so, her face took on a distinctly elfin appearance, augmented by her Vulcan ears and upswept Vulcan eyebrows. Uhura realized she was staring at TSorals eyes, which were a rich blue. She shifted her focus back to TSorals face. "That is, without corrective lenses. In the clandestine operation in which we were involved, it seemed better to work without them."
Slowly, Uhura nodded. "I see. No, I wasnt warned, but it matters little: it is as a chief communications officer that I need you, TSoral. Even without corrective lenses, you should be able to do everything Ill ask of you. Will there be any accommodations youll need?"
The Vulcan nodded appreciatively. "The only accommodation needed will be providing the appropriate corrective lenses, which should be no problem for Sickbay. Being visually impaired, I have learned to hone my other senses to a much greater sharpness, especially my awareness of others mental signature: I believe Humans call it the Law of Compensation. Without the correction of my vision, I am more able to read others signatures. As long as I have my visual correction in place, I should be able to do my duties without further assistance. I am willing to function as your chief communications officer, if you will have me."
Acutely aware of the fact that the Vulcan had probably sensed her initial reticence, Uhura tried to suppress a minor flush of embarrassment. "As I said, TSoral, welcome aboard." She turned to Drevan. "Hardav spoke highly of your abilities, Drevan. Do you feel that you can handle being my chief science officer?"
Drevan looked over at Davids. "Did she say chief science officer, rather than security or weapons or something? Or am I hallucinating?"
Uhura didnt let the PA answer. "Chief science officer, Drevan, on a mission that is apparently going to be largely an exploration of the Beta quadrant. Ive got the team I need for the helm and weaponry. While you and TSoral were coming, I checked up on you; records indicate you have a Ph.D. in physics, a second in biology and a third in mathematics, all of them earned fair and square. I think you can handle it. Do you think youre up to it?"
"I expect I should let you judge that, Captain," Drevan returned. "However, you honor my family, and you make my day with the offer. Believe me, Im willing and eager to take the position."
"Good. Im ready to eat. Lets clear out the cupboards here. Tomorrow, its breakfast on the Hyperion."
As the evening grew old, and the cupboards empty, it became painfully obvious to Uhura that the threesome visiting her did not feel safe returning to their dwellings, so she did her best to make them comfortable in her apartment. She shook her head, as she drifted off. A thawed Human icicle, a half-blind Vulcan, an Andorian that worked as a spy, a PA with an off the wall attitude, a chief medical officer that was sweet on her, and who knew what all else would surface in the crew. But it was her crew: perhaps a motley crew, but her crew. Uhura just hoped that Chekov would approve of her choices.
January 26, 2296
Uhura looked around herself on the bridge of the Hyperion, still feeling a mixture of familiarity and unfamiliarity. The bridge wasnt that much different from the bridge of the Enterprise, and she had brought the ship home only two months ago before it had been refit and reconditioned, so in a sense, things felt familiar, even the fact that she was sitting in the captains chair. The crew hadnt had a full two weeks together, yet, but they were beginning to mesh nicely. Seeing Drevan, with his brilliantly white hair, sitting at Science Two, the science console to her right, had begun to feel almost normal. TSoral, once MBenga had managed to supply her with the contact lenses she needed, had settled into communications without trouble, and was rapidly becoming a valued friend as well as a trusted officer. Of Indri, down in Engineering, she had seen little or nothing; he, his chief assistant Running Bear and the rest of his engineering crew were still trying to get the Hyperion up to his exacting standards.
On the other hand, she was acutely aware of the fact that she was essentially on her own, patrolling the Beta Quadrant. Chekov was in the same sector, of course, with the Enterprise, as was Kelsey on the Chosin, and Xon on the Cooper if she needed backup, but they had their own tasks to perform. In a crisis, when immediate decisions were needed, she had to handle it herself; there wouldnt be time to turn to someone else.
Drevans voice interrupted her musing. "Captain, there is an escape pod heading roughly toward us, coming out of Klingon territory. This is bizarre, but it appears to be a Klingon escape pod carrying a Human, and what looks like an immense single celled organismId estimate the thing must weigh forty or forty-five kilos." The Andorian looked up from the console, turning to face Uhura. "Request permission to break all of Harrison Davids fingers if this is a prank, Captain."
"Permission denied, Drevan, on two counts. First, you need to come up with something much more creative than that; hell deserve it. Second, if this is a prank, I get him first, and you get him only if he survives. TSoral, can you establish communications?"
"Working. I believe I have the signal."
"Put it overhead, then."
" rescue. Theyre on to me, theyre after me, and theyre out to kill me. I am in dire need of rescue and protection. Hailing any Federation ship, requesting emergency rescue. Theyre after me, theyre "
TSoral shut it off. "It appears to be an automated repeat. I have the position triangulated, Captain."
Uhura nodded. "Good. Marsden, you have the coordinates?" Marsden nodded. "How long to get there?"
"Maximum reasonable warp, maybe twenty minutes, Captain."
"Very well, Lieutenant. Take us there. TSoral, have someone from Sickbay meet me at the transporter deck when we beam this pair aboard."
Uhura entered the transporter deck, MBenga at her side. Indri was at the transporter, awaiting them.
"The transporter is locked on to the coordinates, Captain," Indri said as they arrived. "Ready to transport, on your command."
"Go ahead, Indri," Uhura responded.
The transporter activated. Before them stood a somewhat bedraggled looking man, what looked like a small sized trunk, and an immense blob of what looked like animated gelatin.
"Welcome to the Hyperion, gentlebeings," Uhura smiled.
Rather than answer, the man peered at them, obviously looking in every corner. "I dont see them. Is it safe?" he demanded.
"Youre safe here with us, friend," MBenga purred. "There is nothing to be afraid of, here. We will protect you. Who is your friend there?"
Out of the middle of the blob of jelly, a pseudopod extruded toward the ceiling. On its top were two caricatures of Human eyes, below which was what looked like a speaker embedded in its surface. "He calls me Steve, for some reason. Not like thats really my name, you understand, not at all. You wouldnt be able to say my name, though I suppose if I said it you might learn to recognize it. We usually communicate by chemical substances. Perry says youd call them pheromones. Anyhow, its manifestly obvious that you pitiful creatures couldnt shape a single pheromonal word if your lives depended on it. I could tell you my real name, though if you wanted; its really a fairly simple one, I think, and elegant. I "
"Please, dont let him tell you his real name," Perry interrupted. "An odor like hydrogen sulfide figures in it very prominently, and it lasts for hours."
Uhura decided to retake control. "Steve will have to do. Theres no real sense in learning a name we cant pronounce. Perry, I would be most interested to know what you were doing in a Klingon escape pod, entering Federation space from Klingon territory."
"Escaping the Klingons, Captain. Theyre after me, and I need protection from them."
"I see." The captains tone of voice carried a minor note of skepticism. "Since youre apparently escaping from the Klingons, youll need to let us run you through Sickbay, just to be sure that you havent been used as an innocent tool to transmit something contagious, like Vretellian Fever."
Nodding, MBenga picked up on Uhuras idea. "Theres been some trouble along the lines of biological weapons, lately. Just routine, I assure you. Please, let me escort you to Sickbay. You can even bring Steve along; I wouldnt mind having him scanned. I didnt think it was possible for a single celled organism to be intelligent."
The two eyes on the top of the pseudopod looked at each other, then back at MBenga. "Typical multicellular chauvinism. Always assuming that it takes idiotically large numbers of incredibly stupid single cells to make a better organism. I mean, face it: thats obviously stupid. Look at your computers, not a single cell in the whole thing, and yet its probably smarter than four of you silly creatures put together. Oh, Ive got lots and lots of little organelles that function like your big, slow and clumsy neurons, but theyre incredibly smaller and lots faster than the best synapse youll ever have. You wouldnt believe how compact a functioning brain can be, when its based on molecular sized "
"You wouldnt believe what I can believe, Steve," MBenga said, talking over the endless tirade of emitting from the jelly-like blob. "Its not like you have anything to base that on, you know, having only met me for the first time. Come on. Lets go to Sickbay where you can impress me to bits with your structure."
Steve oozed under and around the sides of the trunk, apparently lifting it without trouble. "Good enough. Lead on. I hope you dont mind me taking a few things with me; the contents of this trunk are very important to me, and Ive managed to carry it a long time, and a very long way. Id really not want to lose it just now, although its none of your business why, Im sure. Either way, I "
"Doctor, if youll lead Steve and me to Sickbay?" It was clear that even Perry tired of the endless chatter that his companion produced. "And once we check out clean there, perhaps you could show us our quarters? Preferably somewhere deep inside the ship, where the Klingons will find it harder to spot me and get to me if they catch up with us."
"Im sure we can accommodate that, Perry," Uhura responded, gently. "Please, go with Doctor MBenga, now."
MBenga led the way to the elevator. Perry stepped in, followed by the animated ooze and last of all by the doctor himself. As the door closed, Uhura and Indri could hear the doctors voice. "I realize the turbolift is a bit crowded, Steve, but Id really appreciate it if you wouldnt ooze over my feet and ankles. Do you have any idea how hot your "
Indri looked over. "Captain, that has to be the mouthiest bit of protoplasm I have ever met. And that Perry fellow is really something else: I wonder if he suffers from some sort of delusions."
"If he is, Im sure theyll figure that out in Sickbay. At least theres hope that MBenga and Eletto can do something about Perry. As for Steve, well, do you think you can find a way to gag a creature that doesnt seem to have a mouth?" There was a hopeful look on Uhuras face.
Indris olive colored brow furrowed. "I do not know, but I shall work on it, Captain. Hard."
"Meanwhile, get Mister Tucker to assign a pair of security guards to accompany them at all times."
Once in Sickbay, MBenga returned to his mountain of paperwork, and set Eletto to ensuring that neither Perry nor Steve carried anything identifiable and dangerous in terms of infectious diseases. After achieving that, and extracting the promise from Steve that he would not release any chemical without checking its structure through Sickbay first, Eletto escorted the two to their room, silently accompanied by two armed security guards. After checking on their belongings, Steve and Perry then followed Eletto to the dining area where he left them to fend for themselves, with the security guards taking stations to either side of the door of the dining room. He returned to Sickbay, hunting for MBenga.
"Keme? You have a moment?"
MBenga looked up from a mountain of electronic paperwork. "If itll give me a break from this mess, Ive got hours, Giac. Id rather have studied those two myself, but Im still plowing through the crews physicals. Were nearly two weeks out, weve still not gotten two thirds of them done, and they were supposed to be logged before we left parking orbit around Earth. Whats on your mind? From the length of time you took doing those the scans on that pair, Im assuming that youre contemplating making scanning them a career."
Chuckling, Eletto offered MBenga the mediscanner. "You have to admit, that blob Steve held some interest. I scanned him almost to the molecular level. He isnt really unicellular, you know."
"Thats good to know. The thought of a unicellular but intelligent organism sort of flies in the face of everything I know. Im not sure such a thing is possible, in all honesty." MBenga accepted the mediscanner and downloaded the scan results.
"I wouldnt know, Keme. Look at the high-resolution scans of the critter. See, here? Seems to me thats the remnants of the cell membranes. And there are multiple nuclei, trillions or more of them. Its a fused cellular structure, not a single cell. Reminds me a little bit of the embryonic syncytiotrophoblast or a multinucleated giant cell."
"Or a slime mold, in this case one with a hyperactive mouth." It was clear that MBenga was fascinated by the results of the scan.
"Before you get lost in staring at Steves scan, what about looking at the scan on Perry, that fellow we picked up."
"Isnt he a prize? Sounds like a paranoid schizophrenia for sure. Does he even claim that he has infiltrated their organization and that he knows all their secrets and that hes ready to turn them in to the Interstellar Police or something?"
"Well, hes not quite that bad, Keme. For being as gabby as he and his friend are, hes none too free with his last name." Eletto extended his mediscanner to his colleague. "Heres the scan on the man. Among other things, I made a point to get a good retinal scan; maybe you can run it through files and get a positive identification on him. Needless to say, I was unusually thorough on the brain neurotransmitter levels, and the cytoarchitecture of the limbic areas."
Reaching for the offered instrument, MBenga studied the readout. "Thats a surprise. Its essentially normal."
"Id noticed that. And before you ask, I made Hardav swear not to tamper with any of the mediscanners, on pain of consequences both dire and hideous, fueled by Uhura, Indri and me." Eletto rubbed his chin pensively. "He looked sincerely fearful of the threat and deeply honest about his word to leave the mediscanners inviolate."
MBenga returned the mediscanner, both of the scans downloaded. "Its a puzzle, Giac. Still, you have to admit that we dont know it all, yet, especially about the ways the Human mind can go into a skew orbit. Hes probably one of those schizophrenics with a subtle anomaly in the receptors, or in the neuronal second messenger. Obviously, no matter how hes done it, Perry has found a way of being looney that doesnt show up on the mediscanner."
"Anything turn up that matches his retinal patterns?"
MBenga fiddled with the readout for a moment or two, then waited several minutes longer. When the screen flashed an identification, he nodded and leaned back, gesturing at the screen. "Read it and weep, Giac."
Bending over MBengas shoulder, Eletto read the file. "Well, we at least know his name: Pernod Nicholsen. Looks like hes a fruitcake all right: last seen escaping from the asylum, heading to parts unknown, in a stolen ship. Major diagnosis, atypical paranoid schizophrenia, with a side order of mania." Eletto shook his head. "Guess one of us had better warn the captain."
"It probably wouldnt hurt to let the Federation know that weve found this guy, either. He might have family thats wondering if hes dead or alive. Ill get that queued for transmission, and Ill let Captain Uhura know, too. Maybe Ill do it over dinner. Strictly business, of course."
"You two, over dinner, being strictly business? Fat chance," Eletto snorted. "I "
The communicator blared, drowning out Elettos intended quip. "Medical urgency, forward dining area. Immediate aid requested. Medical urgency, forward dining area. Immediate aid requested "
Eletto shook his head. "Okay, you tell Uhura." He grabbed a medikit, and headed toward the turbolift. "Ill see whos choking on what, and see to it that they quit it."
After having been escorted to their quarters and then to the forward dining area, Perry and Steve moved quickly toward the food dispensers. Perry looked around the dining area, which was virtually abandoned.
"Now, dont overdo it, Perry," Steve remarked.
"Look, dont worry, okay? I realize that its been a couple of days since I last ate." He stared at the dispenser. "Soup, I think. Vegetable soup and a couple of soft rolls." He thought a minute or two more. "And a good cup of coffee. Man, Ive missed coffee."
"Are you going to get me any victuals, or do I have to beg for scraps?"
"Oh, Ill feed you. What do you want?"
"Anything solid. Preferably lots of it. Not having a stomach to shrink when Ive not eaten is a distinct advantage."
Perry shook his head. "Solid is fine, but you made me promise to keep you on a diet."
Steves external layer turned a translucent gray. "Rats, I was hoping that youd forgotten. I may end up begging for scraps anyhow."
Rather than answer, Perry accessed a large steak, dropping it on Steves upper surface. Almost as quickly as it landed, it disappeared into the gelatinous mass, surrounded by the opaque walls of a digestive vacuole. Perry sat down with his soup, back to the wall, watching everyone in the dining area carefully and suspiciously.
Lieutenant Marsden came into the nearly empty dining area, Nurse Webb at his side, talking. An eyestalk popped out of Steves upper surface, swiveling to fix on the nurse and her companion. His surface began to go through a rainbow of colors, the assorted blobs of color chasing each other across his surface, which was quivering in ecstasy. Without warning, he flowed over to the couple, as they took their place at a table. The eyestalk stretched over the top of the table, the apparent eyes rolling in what looked like bliss. "Oh, it is so beautiful, listening to you sing! I never knew such magnificent chords existed. Please, please dont stop singing! Such a wonderful song, all about sporulation, I could listen to you for hours."
"Singing?" Marsden was clearly mystified. "Neither of us is singing. Are you all right?"
"Youre not singing with sound in your language. Youre singing in my language, with pheromones. Oh, it is so wonderful to hear you both!" Steve morphed into the shape of a large cat and began stropping against their legs. "Is that the only song you know, or do you have others?"
Webb and Marsden looked at each other, uncertain as to how they should respond. Perry solved the problem by walking over.
"My apologies for Steves behavior. My friend here usually communicates by secreting and sensing chemicals." He looked down at his comrade. "Steve, cut it out. Youre annoying these nice people." Obediently, Steve returned to his blob-like state, stationing himself at Perrys feet. Perry looked back at Marsden and Webb. "I suspect that he is reacting to your colognes, which may be why it makes him think of sporulation."
Nurse Webb giggled, turning a slight shade of red. "I guess we all have to reproduce somehow. I just never thought that perfume, you know, would communicate to, um, other species."
"Marie, think about it," Marsden offered, "Most of the perfumes and colognes that are really popular are extracts from roses, lilacs and other flowersand flowers are, after all, a plants sexual organs. Although I have to admit, Id not have thought about it crossing species lines, either."
"If you thought of it, you would have, you know," Steve responded, disappointed. "Youre using the sexually related compounds of a plant to attract members of the other sex of your own species." The blob, now a dull shade of gray, emitted a very creditable version of a sigh. "It would have been interesting if it werent artificial."
Perry looked down at his unicellular friend. "Come on, Steve. Lets finish supper, and let these fine folks finish theirs in peace." The twosome returned to the table. Marsden and Webb looked at each other, picked up their meals and quietly left.
Perry sat back down, concentrating on his meal and watching the entrance. In between his glaring at anyone that arrived, Perry managed to finish his soup.
"Looks like the soup did okay, Perry," Steve offered. "How about trying another bowl? Youre looking a little peaked. Maybe a cream soup of some sort? They have more nourishment, I think."
"In a minute." Perry pointed. "I dont like the looks of that one that just came in. How about going and sniffing him?"
A pseudopod with eyes popped up. "The tall one, in the blue shirt?"
Perry nodded. "I dont like the way hes staring at me, and theres too much swagger in his gait. He worries me. I think hes trying to figure out how to kill me, or take me prisoner. Go sniff him."
"If you insist." Without dropping the pseudopod with eyes, Steve flowed across the floor to the new arrival. The man looked down at him, puzzled. "Hey, anybody spill something here?"
"Oh, Im not a spill," Steve responded. "Im very much alive, thank you, and I came over here under my own steam. I was wondering, since Im essentially ignorant of your machinery on this ship, if youd talk that food thing of yours into getting me something to slake my thirst. Perhaps a gallon or two of milk? Ive become very fond of milk, recently. Good stuff, milk; makes for a strong cytoskeleton, I think. And the fat in it is so nice for my surface membrane, besides feeling really nice if its good and cold and you pour it on me. Maybe youd be willing to manage that? Id really appreciate a couple of gallons of milk poured all over me. I promise not to let it get onto the floor, honest." As Steve babbled, he moved closer to the person he was talking to, finally flowing onto his feet and up his ankles.
"Cut that out, you animated water bag. Get off of me, I say." The man tried to kick, but found that he couldnt effectively move his feet. Unfortunately, the attempt caused him to lose his balance and fall on top of Steve. Although the garrulous blob tried to cushion the mans landing, he was only partially successful, the man sliding off of him and onto the floor. Perry came hurrying over, apparently eager to help. One of the other individuals in the dining area tripped the medical summons, and the security guards rushed in.
"Good eye, Perry," Steve commented, as he appeared to try to help the fallen crewman up, managing to keep him tripped and on the floor. "He smells like one of them all right."
"Here, let me help you up," Perry offered, reaching for one of the mans hands and motioning at Steve to let the man go.
"Dont touch me," the man responded. "Or at least, grab the other hand, will you? I think Ive sprained that wrist, thanks to your, your, whatever you call him." Carefully, he got up, using his other hand for support. As soon as he was back on his feet, he started backing away from them both. "Ill just go back to my quarters, and eat there, okay?"
"Look, Im sorry if Steve hurt you, Mister I dont seem to recall your name."
"You never knew it to recall it. Names Wilver Sak."
"Sounds like a fake name to me, Perry," Steve remarked. Steves eye-bearing pseudopod turned on the man. "Where would you happen to be from, Wilversak?"
"None of your business," Wilver snapped. As he did so, the turbolift arrived and Eletto shot out of it at a dead run.
"Whats happening? Wheres the medical urgency?"
Wilver looked at Eletto. "I just managed to trip over this being here, and I guess someone figured Id broken something. Im pretty much okay, other than a sore wrist. I think Im going to go back to my cabin, where Im comparatively safe." He shot an angry look at Perry and Steve. "Im sure I can scrounge supper there." Without further comment, Wilver disappeared into the turbolift.
"Finished with supper, Perry?" Eletto asked, gently.
"I wouldnt mind a couple of gallons of milk," Steve chirruped.
Ignoring the blob on the floor, Eletto continued to look Perry in the eye. Finally, Perry looked away. "I guess so. Maybe this would be a good time to go to my cabin. How secure is that cabin, anyhow? Can people get into it without my permission? Im still not sure I trust that Wilver fellow."
"Why dont we both go and look your cabin over, Perry. And Ill get Steve his milk, too, once we get there." Giac moved toward the turbolift. "Ill bet youre tired after piloting that escape pod as long as you did." The turbolift arrived, and Eletto herded man and blob into it. The door slid shut. "Will you need help getting to sleep, Perry?"
Before answering, Perry inspected the inside of the turbolift carefully. "No, Im sure Ill go to sleep without help. That Wilver Sak, though, has he had his deployment physical? Steve isnt totally sure that man is Human."
"I couldnt say, Perry." Elettos voice was soft, almost hypnotic. "I didnt do it, and I havent looked to see who has and hasnt had their physicals. Do you want me to check tomorrow?"
Perry shrugged. "I guess not. I bet it hasnt been. I think that man is a spy. I think hes working for the Klingons, and hes planning to kidnap me or kill me. Hes probably a Klingon in Human appearance. You need to check him out, real carefully. Theyre sneaky, you know, very sneaky. Can you make sure that I wont be disturbed tonight?"
Mentally, Giac rolled his eyes. "Ill do the best I can, Perry. Thats all I can promise. These two guards will be at your door the rest of the evening."
The protoplasm rolled over their feet and pronounced them as "Humans."
"Good." He turned to Eletto. "I need to talk to the captain tomorrow. Its very important. You need to get me away from here as fast as you can." Perry was clearly agitated, and becoming more so as he talked. The turbolift door slid open. Perry stuck his head out, looking up and down the hall carefully before he got out of the turbolift. Perry moved to his cabin door, trying to hide as best he could. Eletto walked straight to it, taking no precautions. Perrys door slid open, and the threesome stepped in. In the center of the floor, Eletto noticed the large trunk.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Giac looked at Steve. "Whats in the trunk, anyhow?"
Surprisingly, the organism flowed over to the trunk, flowing around it. "Just personal stuff. Mostly mine, and a thing or two of Perrys. You can think of my stuff as being souvenirs of my home world."
"I see. Where is your home world?"
"Its gone," Perry responded. "The star went nova nearly thirty years ago. His home world was vaporized. Steves been on the move since then. I met him a few years ago on Deneb Four, and we started hanging out together."
"Oh." Eletto allowed his embarrassment to show. "I didnt know. That explains why the trunk is so precious, I guess; its all youve got left of your home." He walked over to the food dispenser, getting several liter cartons of milk. He stared at Steve, unsure how to give him a drink.
A large, funnel-like pseudopod extruded. "Pour it in, man! Pour it in!"
Eletto complied, watching as the milk appeared to go through the extrusion into a rapidly expanding bag inside Steves body. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Perry had moved to a corner as far away from them both as possible. Id better watch myself, Eletto decided. Hes watching me suspiciously. At least Im near the door and there are guards on the other side, if he decides to do anything unpleasant. The last flask of milk emptied, Giac moved toward the door. "Ill be going, now. Ill talk to Captain Uhura, and see if shell talk to you tomorrow. Im sure she will."
"I hope so. Just as long as she isnt one of them in disguise. Steve vouches for you; her, hes not so sure of, at least not yet." If anything, Perry seemed to draw himself more tightly into the corner as he spoke.
Silently, trying not to make any moves that might be construed as a threat, Eletto got out of Perrys room and back into the turbolift. He sighed, slumping against the wall. It was time to talk to MBenga, he decided. Perry is going to become impossible, very quickly, Eletto decided. Come to think of it, hes already as close to impossible as Id care to endure. At least MBenga will be thrilled to have another excuse to visit the captain.
Uhura stepped onto the bridge, relieving Reichard of the conn. To her surprise, MBenga was waiting for her, and TSoral was on the chief medical officers heels. She turned to the physician first. "Is there a problem in Sickbay?"
"No, Captain. However, our, ah, guest, Pernod Nicholsen, has requested the honor of an interview with you."
When MBenga said the mans name, TSorals face briefly registered something that looked like a cross between surprise and annoyance, a fact that was lost on the doctor, but not the captain. Uhura decided not to react to TSorals lapse of emotional control until later.
"Very well. Bring him to the briefing room, and plan to be present through the interview. Ive heard about the incident in the dining area; Id rather you were there and armed with some sort of potent sedative if things get out of hand."
MBenga nodded and moved toward the turbolift.
Uhura turned to her chief communications officer. "Well, TSoral?"
"Encrypted communication from Starfleet Command, Captain. Marked to be opened only in your presence. Also marked urgent. It arrived four point seven minutes ago, sir."
"Very well. Mainviewer please."
The screen was filled with the Tellarite, Admiral Gragar. "Captain Uhura, it is my understanding that you have picked up one Pernod Nicholsen. You are hereby ordered to proceed to the location included in this transmission, to turn this individual, as well as any and all materials in his possession, over to the corvette that will meet you there. You will proceed at Warp Six. I will personally come to receive him into custody. This supercedes all other directives. Admiral Gragar out."
For a moment, silence ruled the Hyperions bridge. Uhura shook her head as if clearing it. "Lieutenant Marsden, do you have the coordinates?"
"Warp Six. Drevan, you have the conn until I return. I want to know what is so important that a Starfleet admiral is coming out this far to play escort service to our friend Perry."
As Uhura stepped off the turbolift, she saw that Perry, MBenga and the inescapable Steve were already in the briefing room waiting for her. She moved toward a chair, but before she could sit, Perry piped up.
"Forgive the discourtesy, Captain, but I would appreciate it if you would let Steve get a good sniff of you before we talked. Merely a precaution, you understand; this close to the Romulan and Klingon Empires, it pays to be careful."
"Youre not going to trip me, like you did Wilver Sak last night, are you Steve? My dignity might not be willing to tolerate that sort of behavior."
A speaker-like pseudopod, capped with a single, large eye, popped up. "Im not planning to, Captain, but if youre a Klingon in disguise, like Im convinced Wilversak is, well, Im not sure what I might do. I dont happen to be overly fond of Klingons, you understand, at least not as beings. If youd just stand still, please?"
Uhura stepped toward the oversized ameba, allowing him to flow over her feet and up to her mid shin. After a moment, the creature flowed away.
"Were safe, Perry. Shes the genuine article, Human to the max. And if I may say so, shes "
"Drop it, Steve. Im satisfied with knowing that shes Human. I know better than to let you supply other details." Perry sat down.
"I was just going to say that she appeared to be in excellent health, Perry," Steve whined. "Youve got a nasty suspicious mind, did you know that? Just because I thought those two in the dining room were thinking of sporulation, you get worried that all I can think of is sporulation. Really."
It was time, Uhura decided, to take control of the conversation. "You said you needed to talk to me. What was on your mind?"
"Our mutual safety, Captain. If it is possible, I would appreciate your taking me to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, immediately." His face registered what looked like utter certainty that Uhura would agree without question.
She wasnt about to. "Im afraid that I have contrary orders. Why do you need to get there?"
The man sighed, staring at his hands on the table for a moment. Finally, he looked Uhura in the eye. "Because I need to get a team of technicians together so I can debrief to them. I have infiltrated the Klingon Research and Development team that is developing the next generation of Klingon warships; the escape pod you rescued me from is from the prototype. Before I escaped in the pod, I programmed its navigational console to take it far above the galactic disk, then when I call it, return it to a site of my choosing. Starfleet needs to be there."
"I see." It was Uhuras turn to be pensive for a moment. "I believe that may explain why Admiral Gragar is coming out to meet us, and why were moving to the rendezvous at Warp Six."
Perry suddenly paled. "Please tell me that Gragar was notified by secure communication through your chief communications officer."
"I have no idea how the admiral was told, Perry. Sickbay sent your retinal prints for confirmation of your identity, and the orders were Starfleets response."
A pseudopod popped above the table. "Perry, my man, we are totally lunch. Klingon High Command will have intercepted the message, and were probably being pursued." The eye on top of the pseudopod turned on Uhura. "If youll excuse us, I think Perry and I need to go to our cabin and quiver in terror. We are in deep trouble, and would prefer to hide somewhere minimally dangerous."
Before answering, Uhura looked at MBenga, who nodded agreement. "Very well. If it wouldnt be too much trouble, would you mind remaining in your cabin until we meet with Admiral Gragar? Our guards will be outside to...protect you..."
"Captain, Steve and I will be happy to hide until that time. If you can get to Gragar before the Klingons get to you, that is. Otherwise, all bets are strictly off." The man shook his head. "I wouldnt bet on it, though. If Gragars responded already, Ill bet theyve had all night to be on your tail. I told you they were out to get me." He looked at Steve. "Why is it that no one believes me?"
To Uhuras surprise, MBenga responded. "I believe you, Pernod. Let me take you to your quarters."
"Doctor," Uhura interjected, "I would appreciate a moment of your time. Im sure they are perfectly able to go straight to their quarters with a security detail." There was a tone in Uhuras voice that made it clear she would brook no argument. Perry and Steve made their way to the turbolift.
Until the turbolift door closed, there was an uneasy silence, finally broken by Uhuras voice. "Do you really believe that cock and bull story, Keme? He is a known schizophrenic, atypical paranoid type; you said so yourself."
"Im not completely sure if I believe him or not, Captain. If it hadnt been for the physical on Wilver Sak, Id have chalked his story up to the ravings of a deranged mind. Now? Well, I just dont know."
"Whats with the physical that raised your doubts? Green blood?"
"The date. It shows me signing off on January 4, 2296, Captain. Think about it."
"Obviously, you heard me clearly: January 4, 2296, also known as Stardate 9601.1, before I signed on for this trip. This might be a good time to put Wilver Sak somewhere safe."
"Yes, somewhere very safe. The brig comes to mind. Id better head for the bridge." Uhura moved to the turbolift. "Youd better see how many physicals have impossible dates, MBenga. We may have more moles than what wed anticipated."
Uhura stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge. Without even bothering to sit in the center seat, she looked at Marsden, her voice all business. "Maximum warp, Mister Marsden, same course. Yellow alert. Ill take the conn, Drevan."
Drevan returned to the science console without a comment.
On the mainviewer, the stars suddenly began to move off the screen more rapidly. Other than the chuckle and chirp of the various consoles on the bridge, there was virtually no sound other than the engines of the Hyperion hurling the ship to its destination.
"Captain, we are being hailed." It was TSoral. "It appears to be a Klingon ship."
"Ktinga class, Captain, with what appears to be extensive recent update. It is anyones guess whether we could outrun it or not. I wouldnt care to bet my life on it."
"Thank you, Drevan. Mainviewer, TSoral." The tension in Uhuras voice was obvious, but clearly under restraint.
Before her, Uhura saw the face of a Klingon captain. "I am Banak, commander of the DKeDarth. It is my belief that you have a fugitive from the Klingon Empire on your ship, one Pernod Nicholsen. I request that you immediately return him to our custody to face charges."
"Regrettably, Commander Banak, I am under orders to deliver him to Starfleet High Command. It would appear that they want him, too." There was no need, Uhura decided, to put all of her cards on the table. "I cannot accommodate your request."
"I cannot permit that. You will release him to us, or you will force us to take him from you."
"I remind you that this is not the Empires territory. An act of aggression would not be taken lightly; in fact, Im inclined to doubt that even your verbal threat would be considered tolerable behavior. I suggest that you make your request through appropriate channels. If he is guilty of any crimes before Klingon law, Im sure that the Federation will extradite him."
"Bah, I have no interest in quibbling with you. You have five minutes to transport him to us, or face the consequences." Banak disappeared.
"Red alert. Shields up. Battlestations. Marsden, Tucker, prepare for action." The order had barely been obeyed before the Hyperion shuddered as the phasers from the Klingon ship struck.
"Captain, mind if Marsden and I try a little trick weve cooked up?" It was Tuckers voice. "Im assuming you intend to respond to the assault." The Hyperion jolted again, the DKeDarth continuing to fire on her.
"Has Indri cleared it? I remember a trick Gretchen Jaeger once put together. It ended up burning out the warp drive on the Enterprise. Scotty was mad at her for weeks."
"Indris cleared it, Captain," Marsden responded. "In fact, he helped us set up for it. Permission to proceed?"
Suddenly, the stars stopped on the mainviewer. An instant later, the Klingon cruiser returned to the screen. Almost as swiftly, Tucker triggered a contact on his console, and the Hyperion seemed to be multiple places on the screen for an instant. Shortly after the last image disappeared, the Klingon cruiser began to shake, then disintegrated into pieces.
Agog, Uhura turned to her weapons officer. "Mister Tucker, what in the universe did you just do?"
"Shook the stuffins out of them, Captain. Literally." A grin split Tuckers face. "Successfully, too, Id say."
"To be more precise, Captain," Marsden intervened, "we shifted back to stationary in normal space. When the Klingons followed, we moved through the corners of a tetrahedron, very rapidly. From each, we fired pulses of the tractor beam, at energies equivalent to about 90 G. As each one hit the Klingon cruiser Well, you can imagine what would happen getting hit from different angles with gravitational pulses like that, hitting a hundred times or more a second. No matter that the pulse lasted only a thousandth of a second or lessthe effect is, as you saw, devastating."
"Excellent work. Im glad to see that the two of you are courageous enough to do a little innovating." There was no question in Uhuras mind that she was glad they were able to pull the rabbit out of their hats; it had pulled her out of a tight situation. "Drevan, see if you can find any survivors."
The Andorian looked up from his science station. "Given the pummeling those two described, Captain, Id bet against it."
Accompanied by their guards, Perry and Steve moved swiftly from the turbolift to the cabin they had been assigned. Once inside, Perry opened up the upper portion of the trunk, extracting a thick, almost square box, then closing it again. He settled down near a table. Steve popped up a pseudopod, eye and all, looking at the box. Perry flipped it open, displaying a readout and a control board. "What do you think, Steve? KThak, or Banak?"
"Banak, definitely Banak. He probably figures hes got a score to settle with you, since we swept the floor with him a couple of months ago."
"Great. Hes the one that cooked up the pod maneuver, and Ill bet the Federation hasnt seen that one yet." On the readout, a scan of the area coalesced. "Right on schedule, Steve. That looks like the signature of the DKeDarth to me."
"No question about it. Hes going to be out for blood, mostly yours. Think this ship can take his ship out?"
There was a moment of silence, broken only by the announcement of Yellow Alert status. Finally, Perry responded. "Depends. If Uhura is as good a captain as legend makes her at Communications, its going to be rough on Banak, but hes a seasoned warrior. That makes a lot of difference. My betd still be on Uhura, though."
In the background, the announcement of Red Alert status began to fill the air. Both beings remained glued to the readout. Suddenly, it looked like there were four Hyperions, then only one, and the DKeDarth shattered. Perry shut the device up, returning it to the trunk. "So much for Banak. Theres a four man pod loose in the debris, coming at us. The Federation is about to meet Banaks pod maneuver. Engineering and Bridge?"
All of Steves pseudopods disappeared. "No question about it. Two to each. I snooped on the crew roster; the bridge has an Andorian and a Vulcan. If we warn the bridge, they should be able to handle it, even though the Vulcan is a bit of a Tiberian bat "
"A visually impaired Vulcan? Would she be TSoral? Is Drevan the Andorian?"
"Yes, to both. Why?"
"I knew em both, once, several years ago, long before you and I met; they worked as sort of a team. Ran into them at the San Fran docks, doing clandestine work. Ill bet they still use the same nicknames. That settles it; we warn them, and take on the two going to Engineering." Perry strode over to the communicator. "Bridge. Mole, Snowdome, this is the Fruitcake. Youve got Klingons incoming on the turbolift, in about four minutes, max. Man the guns. Fruitcake out." He turned to Steve. "Last time, old friend. Can you still do the voice?"
"Is a nova hot? One last time, to be sure the score is totally settled."
"We need to take out two guards, first."
"Leave that to me."
"Dont hurt them."
Steve slithered under the door, and a moment later, slide through the now open door, carrying the guards in pseudopods. Quickly putting them into the bathroom, it locked the door. Then Steve began to flow onto Perrys clothing and skin. In seconds, Perry was transformed into the image of Banak and moving toward Engineering.
The Andorian looked up from his science station. "Given the pummeling those two described, Captain, Id bet against it."
"Check anyhow, Drevan." Uhura ordered. "Never know when the Klingons might have a new trick."
Drevan hunkered over his station for a moment. "Paint me pink, and call me Human. One four-man pod survived. How they managed to get into it before the ship went to pieces, I cant..."
The bridge comm unit burst into life. "Mole, Snowdome, this is the Fruitcake. Youve got Klingons incoming on the turbolift, in about four minutes, max. Man the guns. Fruitcake out."
Drevan looked at TSoral. "I guess the name wasnt a coincidence, Mole."
"A logical deduction. Time to deploy." TSoral left communications and moved toward the turbolift door. Drevan followed her, taking the other side.
"Would you two mind explaining yourselves?" Uhura demanded.
TSoral turned to face the captain. "You must trust us. There is not time for explanation. Events will be sufficient explanation in less than three point six minutes. Everyone be ready to duck when the turbolift door opens."
Seconds ticked away slowly, with all ears straining to hear the telltale sound of the turbolift door actuating, tension on the bridge mounting as each instant passed. Just as Uhura was beginning to think she couldnt stand the tension another instant, the door began to open. All but Drevan and TSoral dove for the deck. Out of the turbolift came two Klingons, disruptor pistols firing. Before the Klingons had a chance to react, Drevan had picked one up, using one hand to tear the disruptor out of the Klingons grip and crushing his throat with the other. In the same instant, TSoral had moved in with the Vulcan nerve pinch on the other Klingon, ending the assault almost as quickly as it started.
Drevan lowered the Klingon he was holding, watching him lapse into the unconsciousness of asphyxiation. The Andorian looked at Uhura. "Were still in trouble, Captain; it was a four man pod. I count only two Klingons. My bet is that weve got two others heading for Engineering."
"Take Tucker with you, Drevan," Uhura ordered. "Now."
In the corridor outside Engineering, two Klingon warriors materialized. A familiar voice called to them from behind.
"GTharg, Dabak, come with me. The plan has changed." The Klingons turned to see Banak.
"You are an imposter," GTharg spat back. "I saw Banak die gloriously. Do not dishonor him by pretending he lives."
Banaks face disappeared, as Steve slid off Perrys body, puddling at Perrys feet. "Nice try, but it didnt work, Perry. I guess we do it the hard way."
The Klingons raised their disruptors and fired, only to have Steves pseudopods catch the energy. An instant later, Perrys foot came across GThargs hand, sending the disruptor flying against the bulkhead, his other foot catching GTharg square in the chest, sending him against the other wall. Steve moved swiftly toward Dabak. "Thats no way for a guest to behave, trying to kill us with your disruptors," Steve scolded. "Didnt your mother teach you any manners?" Dabak trained his disruptor on the blob, charring a section of his surface.
"Look, I wouldnt do that if I were you," Perry remarked, ducking GThargs attempt to grab him, hurling the Klingon against another section of the wall. "You hurt Steve; he gets really hungry. Hes been on a diet lately, and, well, I just wouldnt stimulate his appetite, okay?"
The second Klingon pointed his disruptor at Perry. "Prepare to die, Human."
Before the Klingon could press the contact, Steve had a pseudopod enveloping the Klingons hand. The Klingon tried to press the contact anyhow. This time, there was no response from the disruptor. Instead, Steve began to flow onto the Klingons arm, then over his shoulder and head. "Thats it. Ive had enough of your behavior, and trying to diet. Dont say you werent warned. Im very hungry, now, and its mostly your fault."
As GTharg watched, transfixed with horror, Dabak was rapidly enveloped by the gelatinous mass of Perrys companion. Perry took advantage of the momentary distraction, landing a blow on GThargs head that sent the Klingon to the floor. As Drevan and Tucker came thundering around the corner, Dabak disappeared into an opaque vacuole. A moment or two later, the Klingons weapons, uniform and boots extruded from Steves surface. "Bland, very bland." Steve extruded a pseudopod with an eye on top, looking back at Perry. "I wonder if the other one tastes better?" Steve began to move toward the remaining Klingon.
Trained though he was for battle, seeing his comrade swallowed whole, and seeing the being who had done it coming for him broke the Klingons battle spirit, and he ran. Tuckers phaser fired, ending his dash for freedom.
Drevan stepped forward, slapping Perry on the back. "Good to see ya again, Fruitcake. Thanks for the warning."
Admiral Gragar stood on the bridge of the Hyperion, watching the mainviewer, Perry at his side. "Young man," Gragar said, "if you two have pulled this one off, you will have earned the undying gratitude of the United Federation of Planets. This will be the biggest coup weve ever pulled."
Perry looked at the chronometer on his wrist. "Just less than a minute, Admiral. Consider it payback for the ship you sent me so I could escape from the nuthouse I was hiding in."
On schedule, the viewscreen was filled with an unfamiliar starship.
"The Kvort prototype, Admiral," Perry announced. "As promised."
Gragar shook his head in astonishment. "Unbelievable. I have read intelligence on it, but it exceeds what I imagined. Even more amazing, you stole it, working alone."
A pseudopod extruded and tapped Gragar on the shoulder. "Excuse me. He had a partner in all of this, you know."
Gragars gaze at the screen shifted to the blob near his feet. "Of course, Steve, of course, I remember, but you and Perry were a team, working as a unit. The United Federation of Planets is grateful to you too. Name your reward, good being, and Im sure we will try to give it to you."
"Steve and I want an uninhabited planet, Admiral, one with an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, plenty of wild vegetation, fresh water, and a couple of good sized continents," Perry answered for his companion. "I promised Steve and his people thats what wed get if we could get the KVort. There are plenty of them in our area of space that the UFP doesnt need, so I figured we could spare one."
Nodding, Gragar looked at Uhura. "Captain, I believe that the United Federation of Planets is willing to give them an uncolonized jungle world. Would you be willing to work with them in finding a suitable planet?"
"With the admirals permission, yes, sir," Uhura responded, turning to face Perry and Steve. "But I am curious as to what the two of you need with a planet to yourselves. Thats a lot of room. Its not like you can hide from the Klingons that way."
It was Steve that replied. "Well empty my trunk, Captain. In a few years, well fill the planet."
"One advantage of being organism like Steve," Perry added, "is that you can go into the equivalent of a spore or cyst phase and stay alive, but dormant, for decades. The trunk is full of the spores of other members of Steves people, several million of them. Steve and I will start the process of rebuilding their civilization."
"You shall have your planet, no matter what the Brass says, then," Gragar responded. "Ill see to it personally." Gragars eyes shifted back to the Klingon craft before him. "Its cheap at twice the price."
Perry and Steve moved to the turbolift. "Then wed better start checking the cysts," Steve announced. "Call us when you find me a new home." The two boarded the turbolift and disappeared.
Gragar turned to Uhura. "Congratulations, Captain. Jim Kirk would have been proud of you."
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