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There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re sayin’.
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.


- Pink Floyd

Main Bridge, USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II


They were committed.  More accurately, they were stranded.

To produce a power transfer beam of sufficient strength to meet the Baron’s requirements had necessitated that Ashok make substantial modifications to the ship’s main deflector.  Thus, at present the Gibraltar was limited to impulse speeds and was effectively anchored to the Pierosh star system until those alterations could be undone.

Although Commander Ramirez was hesitant to hamstring the ship so completely, it was a necessary ruse to convince the presumably watchful eye of the Baron that they were cooperating with his demands.

She sat in the center seat, fully in command and ever so mindful that the last time she had occupied such a position the starship in question had been shot out from under her.  She promised herself that the fate of the Phoenix would not be repeated this day.  Ramirez turned a slow circle in the captain’s chair as she inspected her people and their readiness.

Lar’ragos, bruised but unbowed, stood at the Tactical console directly behind her.  Plazzi manned the Science station with quiet efficiency as he probed every conceivable nook and cranny within sensor range for a telltale sign of the Baron’s whereabouts.  Ashok, who normally shunned the bridge, was seated at the Engineering console to monitor the final adjustments to the newly reinforced power waveguides that would convey the massive energies from the reactor core to the deflector dish.

Lightner sat at the Flight Control station while he ran a seemingly endless string of evasion simulations.  Sadly, Juneau who had proved so unexpectedly formidable on the planet’s surface was still recovering in Sickbay, and her bridge station was filled by a senior NCO from the Operations department.  Ramirez was encouraged that the young woman seemed so changed by her brief command experience aboard the runabout.  Perhaps one positive thing had resulted from the Pierosh Incident after all.

Plazzi emitted a discontented grunt that caught Ramirez’s attention.  She observed him for a moment and watched as he ran a series of multi-spectrum sensor scans that appeared to be directed at the system’s star.  She resisted the urge to pry, trusting that he’d bring the issue to her when he had sufficient information.

A few moments later, he did just that.  Plazzi stepped over to the command chair and leaned in to whisper discretely, “Sir, there’s something going on out there.”  She gave him a patiently expectant look, and he elaborated.   “I’m reading all sorts of unusual gravimetric and spatial anomalies throughout the system, with the highest concentration in the immediate vicinity of the sun.”

“Do you think it’s the creature, or something the Baron’s doing?”

Plazzi looked unsure.  “This is just supposition on my part, but whatever’s happening out there is taking place in subspace, and it’s widespread.  I’d be very surprised if the Baron’s vessel, however powerful, could generate enough energy to create all the chaos I’m seeing.”

Ramirez contemplated that. “If it’s the creature, what’s it up to?”

“If I had to guess, sir, I’d say its violence of some kind.”

The exec inclined her head.  “Dunleavy’s orbs, maybe?”

“Perhaps.  She was told that one of them would be contacting us, and that’s yet to happen.  Maybe they’re slugging it out in the ether.”

She looked uncomfortable with that prospect as she queried, “So who’s winning?”

Plazzi offered an apologetic smile.  “Couldn’t say, Commander.  It’s a bit like trying to judge an undersea battle by the ripples it produces on the surface.”  His demeanor grew more serious, and he added, “But if this continues to increase in magnitude, it could very well destabilize the star itself.”

Ramirez sat a little straighter in her chair.  “Destabilize as in…?”

“Resulting in violent stellar behavior, to be certain.  Exactly how bad is the question, sir.  We could experience some especially nasty solar flare activity, or if the disruption is catastrophic enough, the star could go nova.”

She swore under her breath, then added, “And we just took the nav deflector offline.”

“It might not make any difference,” Plazzi said, sounding a pragmatic note.  “With this much subspace chop, it’s doubtful we could generate and maintain a stable enough warp field to outrun a stellar nova in the first place.”

Ramirez gave the Science officer a severe look.  “You’re really a glass-is-half-empty type of guy, aren’t you Elisto?”

Plazzi waggled an eyebrow and turned back towards the Science station.  “Guilty as charged, sir.”

As Ramirez mulled over the scientist’s assessment, she inquired, “Will this prevent us from establishing the static warp shell the Baron’s demanded?”

Plazzi resumed his seat a the Science station.  “No, sir.  The planet’s gravity well is shielding us from much of the anomalous activity.  A static warp field meeting the Baron’s parameters at this location shouldn’t prove too difficult.”

Ramirez sat back in the chair, suddenly feeling the weight of command sinking onto her shoulders.  Dupe a highly dangerous interdimensional criminal while simultaneously trying to free the captain from his clutches.  Simple, really.  She mused darkly that this was one of those eventualities the academy training scenarios never seemed to cover.  As creative as the instructors’ imaginations had been, none of them could have fashioned a simulation this bizarre.

*****

Cargo Bay 3, Deck 5, USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II


Ensign Kuenre Shanthi had been willing to undertake any task, no matter how menial, in order to get out of another day in Sickbay.  The injuries he had suffered at the hands Parlan had been serious, but were easily mended by Taiee’s expertise.  He had already spent more days that he’d care to remember atop a biobed, and so when the word had gone out that the crew were looking for volunteers to assist with the modifications to the ship’s navigational deflector, Shanthi had jumped at the chance.

Still numb from the death of his lover, Kuenre was nonetheless mindful of his name and the reputation of his family in Starfleet.  This was no time to lay helpless in the medical ward plagued by feelings of loss and regret.  Only work would free his mind from his troubles, however briefly.

He had been put to work supervising the move of five induction stabilizers from the deflector control room into storage, to make room for the additional power waveguides.  As he directed the anti-grav pallets into the cargo bay, he noted their placement on a padd and made certain to double-check their serial numbers as well as those on the cargo containers they were placed next to.

Shanthi stared at a cargo identifier tag on a stack of three cargo crates as he tried for a moment to make sense of the jumbled script.  It looked like a standard cargo ID label, but the text was a mishmash of random letters and numbers.

Always the science officer, he made a habit of carrying a tricorder with him at all times.  He flipped the device open and scanned the unusual crate stack and the ones surrounding it.  The scans showed identical contents within the target stack and the stack nearest it.  However, just as Shanthi was staring at the readout, his team deposited the containers holding the induction stabilizers nearby.  The readings from the unusual crate stack in question instantly changed, and now showed their contents to be induction stabilizers rather than the previously noted equipment.

The ensign stared incredulously at the tricorder and wondered if it were malfunctioning.  Then it occurred to him.  Something was amiss in Cargo Bay 3.  The young man tapped his compin.  “Shanthi to security, I need some assistance…”

*****

The heavens howled with the brutal exchange of energy that rent the very fabric of space and time asunder.  The creature battled the Sentinels ferociously as it fought like the cornered animal it was.  The Sentinels, conversely, tried to lure the monster back towards the rift on the surface.  They baited it, taunted it, and pricked its substance with weapons that could shatter entire continents.

In the midst of this maelstrom, a lone Sentinel broke ranks and moved off to tunnel its way up through successive layers of subspace towards the humanoids’ starship.


*****

Sandhurst reacted to the injection almost instantly.  The cobwebs that clouded his head reduced fractionally, but his pain level abated significantly.  He willed his eyes open to see Ahmet Kutav standing before him, a stylized syringe of some sort engulfed in his large hand.

The Orion’s words came to him as if from across a great chasm.  “You are fortunate that much of my squandered youth was spent formulating and peddling illicit narcotics.  Our friend the Baron has quite the laboratory onboard his ship.”

Sandhurst began to feel something akin to human once again.  It was the first time in a long while.

“What you’re experiencing right now is a psycho-pharmaceutical illusion, Captain.  I’ve mixed a powerful narcotic painkiller with a potent amphetamine.  The physical damage you’ve suffered remains, and I’d warn you not to overextend yourself.”

“What… mean by… overextend?” Sandhurst managed to gurgle.

The ahmet growled, “Continue breathing and focus your energy on trying not to die of your injuries.  Clear enough?”

Sandhurst grunted his understanding.

Kutav pulled a small padd-like device from a pocket in his vest.  “I believe the Baron’s crystal, for all its sophistication, utilizes some very simple radio frequencies for much of its control of shipboard systems.”  He squinted at the display and plugged away at the device with fingers that were decidedly too large.  “Let’s see if we can find the frequency that controls your suspensor field.”

*****

Gibraltar jolted from another subspace shear that jostled Ramirez in the command chair.  In the last thirty minutes the spatial disruptions had increased considerably and the strain on their shields was beginning to tell.  The exec glanced up at Dunleavy as the younger woman stumbled onto the bridge from the turbolift.  The security non-com grasped at the safety railing to regain her balance.

“Dunleavy, where are my spheres?” Ramirez fretted.  “I was promised happy, shiny, presumably helpful alien spheres.”  The XO gestured theatrically at the surrounding bridge.  “I am witnessing a decided lack of spheres here.”

Dunleavy blanched.  “I’m sorry, sir.  I was told they would be in contact with us; that they required our help, but I wasn’t given any specific timetable.”

Ramirez’s frown deepened as the vessel was buffeted again.  She spun around in the chair and looked to Lar’ragos.  “Okay, Lieutenant, I need options.  We have a deteriorating situation in system, a ticking countdown to our expected moment of cooperation, and no idea whatsoever where our enemy is hiding.”

Lar’ragos looked grim, and appeared just about to reply when something on his status board caught his attention.  His eyes lit up as he focused a serious look on the first officer.  “We might have something, sir.  An unidentified object disguised as a stack of cargo crates in one of our cargo bays.”  He tensed expectantly.

“Go,” she replied.

The Security/Tactical chief sprinted for the lift with Dunleavy in tow as the crewman at the Ops board announced an incoming message.  “The Sovereign is hailing us, Commander.”

As much as she dreaded the choices she would have to make in the coming minutes, Ramirez harbored a deeper fear of having her options restricted by someone up the chain of command with little understanding of their situation and no personal investment in the outcome.  She prayed the officer on the other end of the conversation would grant her some leeway.  Reluctantly, Ramirez ordered, “On screen.”

The jumping, jumbled image was beset with interference from the local subspace chaos.

"Additional power to comms," Ramirez ordered, and the transmission stabilized.

An Efrosian female stood in center frame of the viewer, the spacious bridge of a Sovereign-class starship arrayed behind her.  “Commander Ramirez, I am Special Agent Ixis of Temporal Investigations.  We’ve received the latest updates on your circumstances.”

Ramirez swayed in the seat as a shear slammed into their aft quarter.  She managed to hold Ixis’ gaze but remained silent.

Undaunted by Ramirez’s lack of response, Ixis continued.  “I want to make myself absolutely clear here, Commander.  Under no circumstances are you to give the Baron any assistance.  Not even marginal help in the context of a ruse to secure Sandhurst’s return.”

Ramirez replied coldly but calmly.  “You’re three days away at best speed, Ms. Ixis.”  She had deliberately omitted the woman’s title.  “I would remind you that I am the ranking officer on-scene, and as such I retain control of this situation.”

Ixis’ expression could have frozen plasma.  “Really, Commander?  I’ve seen no indication of a workable plan from you or any of your officers.  I believe you’re trying to wing this, making it up as you go along.  That’s unacceptable.”  The Efrosian’s voice was saturated with derision.  “You can’t play fast and loose against odds like these, not with the lives of billions potentially hanging in the balance.”

Ramirez noted, “Our lives are riding on this as well.”  She allowed the merest hint of a sarcastic smirk to grace her lips as she said dourly, “I’ve no intention of helping the Baron to achieve his plans, whatever they may be.  However, if I can keep him dangling long enough to affect a rescue of our captain, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Ixis countered, “We don’t share your priorities, Commander.  The capture of this Baron and his vessel are of paramount importance.  That takes precedence over all other considerations, including the recovery of Sandhurst.”

Ramirez’s retort was succinct.  “Go to hell.”

Ixis grimaced.  “We don’t have a hell in Efrosian mythology, Commander, but if we did you wouldn’t stand a chance there.”  From off screen a bluish hand descended and came to rest atop the special agent’s shoulder.

“That will be sufficient, Agent Ixis.”  Captain Rixx’s resonant voice and firm hand conspired to make the woman stiffen noticeably.

“Captain, do not interfere,” she hissed.  “TI has taken the lead on this assignment, and I’ll thank you to—“

Rixx was unfazed by the woman’s venom.  “You will stand down or I will have you removed from my bridge.  Sit and be silent or you’ll find yourself restricted to quarters.”  The Bolian’s hand tightened fractionally on her shoulder to underscore his statement.  Ixis’ mouth snapped shut as two security officers stepped forward from their posts near the turbolifts.  She retreated mutely to her chair at the mission specialist’s station.

The captain leveled his stoic gaze on Ramirez.  “Commander, I regret that we won’t arrive in time to offer any substantive help.  Regardless, however you see fit to proceed, rest assured that I’ll support whatever decisions you make.  Your duty here is clear; how you achieve it in the coming hours is your business.”  He offered a perfunctory nod of his head.  “Upon our arrival we stand ready to either congratulate you… or avenge you.  Sovereign, out.”

Ramirez stood, momentarily transfixed with the now empty view screen.  She was unsure what to make of the power play she’d just witnessed, but was relieved that for the time being the blundering tentacles of Federation bureaucracy would leave her in peace.  Another tremor in the deck plates snapped her back to the here and now.  “Status?” she inquired as she looked to Plazzi.

The scientist’s assessment was bleak.  “Subspace fluctuations continue to increase, sir, and we’re at four minutes, eighteen seconds until the Baron’s deadline.”

She nodded grimly, then glanced over her shoulder at the chief engineer she asked, “Mister Ashok, how’s my siphon coming?”

*****

Cargo Bay 3, Deck 5, USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II


Lar’ragos watched impatiently as the engineers moved the last of the portable shield generators into place around the faux cargo stack.  Every scan of the object had returned the same falsified reading and this led the El Aurian to surmise that this was either a retaliatory explosive device of some kind, or more hopefully, the Baron’s timeship itself.  A maintenance drone hovered overhead to support a generator suspended directly above the target to provide three-dimensional coverage.

He conferred with Ensigns Diamato and Shanthi to sketch out his plan for a multi-tiered defensive grid designed to deplete the strength of the Baron’s gargantuan assistant’s personal forcefield, while minimizing the danger to Gibraltar’s remaining security staff.

Reinforcing the portable shield grid was the starship’s own internal containment fields.  These would be erected in a cascade progression designed to slow the progress of any intruders who managed to fight their way clear of Cargo Bay 3.  Ringed outside the generators were a series of automated phaser emplacements typically used for perimeter security during the war.  These would focus massive firepower on any enemy combatants that exited the presumed craft.

He tapped his compin and briefly outlined his plan of attack for Ramirez on the bridge.

“Acknowledged, Lieutenant.  Be advised, our deadline is up in forty-five seconds, so you can expect some activity soon.”

“Understood, sir.”  Lar’ragos severed the comlink and gestured to his team.  “Alright folks, everybody out.  We’ll monitor the device from out in the corridor.”  As they exited, Lar’ragos activated the shield grid and powered up the phaser emplacements.

They moved into the hallway, which was filled with various monitoring and power generation equipment, as well as littered with makeshift tactical barriers designed to allow security personnel to fire from cover in close quarters combat.  Lar’ragos activated the viewer set into the corridor wall and waited.

*****

The Baron stood at the central control dais of his timeship as he flipped switches, turned knobs, and monitored Gibraltar’s power build up.  He was flanked by Parlan, his diminutive human assistant.  Looking to the smaller man, he effused, “I am on the cusp of a great victory.  Soon, I can return triumphantly to our universe and resume my rightful station.”

Parlan nodded obediently.  “As you say, sire.”

“I am inputting the coordinates of the focal point of the starship’s transfer beam.  Prepare the baffles to stem the energy influx and route it into the oculus.”  He then gave the other man a vindictive sneer.  “And send your cousin out onto the starship to ensure their compliance.  There is no margin for error here.”

Parlan toggled a control on the dais.  “Immediately, sire.”

The Baron’s manservant observed on a tiny display screen as the hulking form of his larger namesake stepped out of the craft.

The timeship lurched as the dematerialization sequence began that sent the craft away from its hiding place within the starship towards its meeting place with destiny.

*****

Cargo Bay 3 was filled with an eerie pulsing screech that echoed off the walls as the object disguised as a stack of crates slowly vanished.  In its place stood the giant humanoid that had wrought so much havoc in Sickbay half a day earlier.

Lar’ragos closed his eyes briefly as he mourned the lost opportunity to rescue his friend.  After a second’s hesitation, he found his focus and pressed the firing button on the padd that controlled the phaser emplacements.

The giant found himself at the center of six intersecting beams of phaser energy, and surrounded by layered forcefields established to bar his progress.

The fight was on.

*****

“Initiate power transfer beam.”  She had almost choked on the words.

A quietly voiced affirmative response was the only sound on the bridge as the view screen shifted to show a white-hot beam of energy that reached from Gibraltar’s deflector dish to an otherwise unremarkable point in space above Pierosh II.

Ramirez directed a hopeful half smile at Plazzi and raised her hand to display her crossed fingers.  The older man acknowledged the gesture with an identical one.  “Standby…” she ordered.

The overhead speakers crackled with interference as Lar’ragos’ voice washed over the bridge.  “We’ve got company down here, sir.  I’ll keep you updated.”

*****

The Baron struggled to keep his sense of barely contained glee from overwhelming him as he announced, “Transfer beam on time and precisely where I’d instructed.”  He moved around the control table like a man possessed as he checked readings, threw levers, and multi-tasked at inhuman speeds.  “Parlan, lock out the circuit breakers, I don’t want the ship to panic and cut the power feed prematurely.”

The bespectacled man blinked, the confusion evident on his face as he studied the controls.  “I’m… not certain I remember how to do that, sire.”

The Baron glowered at him.  “What’s the matter with you?  All this excitement have you locked into a diagnostic cycle again?”  The ship’s master moved around the dais to shove Parlan none-too-gently aside as he carried out the procedure himself.  “Remind me to crack you open and have a look when all this is over,” he growled.

*****

Ramirez watched the seconds tick down in the corner of the viewer as the power beam reached maximum output.  She turned in her seat and inclined her head towards the Bolian lieutenant manning the Engineering station.  “Now, Mister Ashok.”

Ashok replied in his basso rumble and announced, “Inverting power field and activating energy siphon, Commander.”

As she swiveled around to face the view screen, Ramirez murmured, “Let’s see how you like the taste of that, Baron.”

*****

The timeship shuddered violently and threw the Baron and Parlan against the control station.  As he squinted to read an oscillating display screen, the older man howled, “No!  They’ve reversed the power stream!”  His face collapsed into a mask of utter fury as his hands flew across the controls and he strove desperately to keep the starship from draining his vessel’s power reserves.  “I have been betrayed,” he seethed.  “I will kill Sandhurst slowly while his crew watches, and then I’ll tear that ship apart piece by misbegotten piece!”

Parlan watched the Baron’s efforts while he grasped the console for support as the vessel bucked and jerked like a frenzied animal.  “Yes, sire.”

From the shadowy entrance to the corridor outside, Ahmet Kutav emerged.  He supported the naked and badly abused form of Donald Sandhurst who shuffled painfully beside the larger Orion.

Amidst the chaos of his predicament, the Baron looked up at their arrival, and immediately flew into a rage.  “What is this?  I gave no instructions for him to be freed from the time chamber!”

Kutav put some effort into appearing perplexed as he braced both himself and Sandhurst against the ship’s unpredictable movement.  “Forgive me, Baron.  I’d assumed that you would want him present to witness your triumph, as well as the destruction of his vessel.”

The Baron drew his crystal from within the folds of his dark cloak.  “Nothing happens aboard my vessel that I have not ordered to be so!  I knew allowing alien refuse like you onto my ship was a mistake.”

Kutav smiled savagely.  “More than you know, Baron.”

As he raised the crystal in his hand and prepared to cut down the insolent Orion, the Baron was unprepared for the knife that Parlan slid between his ribs.  Aghast at this unexpected betrayal, the older man turned to look at his android servant as his legs gave out.  He slid slowly towards the floor and the Baron croaked in disbelief, “How can this be?”

The Chameloid shape-shifter Mutwen had been in the employ of Kutav’s family for generations.  The ahmet found the man’s changeling abilities useful on occasion, and Mutwen had been responsible for the demise of more than one of Kutav’s sworn enemies over the decades.  Very few among the Sethret’s crew had known that he was anything other than the average Orion privateer that he appeared.

Kutav assisted Sandhurst to the control pedestal.  He scowled at the mortally wounded man as he did so.  “You make a habit of underestimating your opponents, Baron.  Your arrogance blinds you, and I have made a life thriving in the blind spots of men and governments.”  The merchant prince looked quizzically at Sandhurst as the frail human gestured to a control display with a shaking hand.  “What is it, Captain?”

“Help… help me access… a schematic,” Sandhurst panted as he hoped against hope that he could decipher the peculiarities of the sophisticated craft in time.



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