Christopher stood behind the helm and pondered the situation for several moments, watching the massive Gorn vessel on the view screen. He had never seen one up close, but now that he had, he wished he had more than just the Starlight’s arsenal behind him. “I wonder what the are the Gorn up to?” he inquired to nobody in particular.
Harrison grumbled. “I wonder why the Ka’Tulans are in violation of the Treaty of Algeron,” he sneered, referring to their illegal use of a cloaking device.
Christopher knew that the Ka’Tulans had never experimented with cloaking technology, and given the Romulans’ current state, it was even less of a likelihood they were given one. “Never mind that,” he said, shrugging off Harrison’s concerns. “These people are in trouble, and we’re going to help them.” He turned to Bator. “Hail the Gorn.”
There was a brief silence as Bator complied with Christopher’s order, and an even longer silence as they waited for the Gorn to respond. Christopher shifted his weight from one leg to another, fearing they would ignore his calls, when a Gorn commander finally appeared on the view screen.
He was a bulky green fellow with large bloodshot eyes and a very reptilian snout. His teeth stuck out of his mouth at odd angles and his nostrils secreted a generous amount of mucus. Christopher smiled politely. “Gorn Commander, I’m Captain Alan Christopher of the Federation Starship Starlight. You have viola—”
The Gorn flared his snotty nostrils and produced some sort of high-pitch grumble. “This is an internal Gorn affair,” he said slowly, in a strident voice. “Withdraw at once or be destroyed!”
Christopher squared his shoulders, attempting to make his own stature more intimidating. Somehow, he knew it didn’t work. “You are holding a Ka’Tulan ship in a tractor beam. That gives me every right to interfere!”
The Gorn slammed his fist on the control station before him, and moments later, blinked out of sight, replaced by the familiar site of his ship holding the Ka’Tulans in a tractor beam. Though upon closer scrutiny, Christopher noticed the Ka’Tulan vessel oscillating strangely.
“Alan,” said Erin suddenly. “The Ka’Tulans are driving their warp engines too hard trying to escape. Their warp core is going critical.”
He compressed his lips. “We need to get them out of there!”
“We can’t do that as long as the tractor beam is in place,” reminded Bator. “We’ll need to disrupt the beam somehow.”
Countless ideas suddenly popped into Christopher’s mind but he wasn’t sure if they were any good. Several factors had the possibility to hinder his plans. He turned back to Keller. “How long until their core goes critical?”
She checked her data. “About fifty seconds.”
Immediately, most of Christopher’s plans were quashed, the exception being the one he disliked the most. Normally, Christopher would have given another knock on the door to diplomacy, but given the time constraints and the Gorn Commander’s demeanor, he decided against it. “Lock phasers, Mr. Bator. Target their tractor beam emitter and open fire!”
Moments later, the Starlight’s yellowish-orange phaser beam lashed out from the long, curving phaser banks and struck the Gorn vessel with explosive force. Christopher held his breath and hoped the quick assault was enough to rattle the mighty Gorn vessel, because if it wasn’t, the Ka’Tulans would be dead, and in all likelihood, so would he.
“The beam is broken,” said Keller.
Christopher breathed a quick sigh of relief. “Drop our shields! Beam them out of there!” he ordered, watching the ominous Gorn vessel come about to face the Starlight.
“Got ‘em!” called out Erin moments later.
And not a moment too soon. Christopher plunged back into his chair and grabbed onto the arms. “Shields up!”
The Gorn opened fire. Countless balls of swirling green energy blasted the Starlight’s shields like a raging summer storm. Holding onto his chair with a death grip, Christopher managed to keep himself out of harm’s way just long enough to see the Gorn ship eclipse the exploding Ka’Tulan craft—then he fell to the floor.
“Evasive maneuvers!” called out Harrison, still clinging to his chair. “Pattern delta-four!
“Aye, sir!” replied Drayge.
On the view screen, the stars quickly swerved left, then right as the Starlight danced around the bulky Gorn vessel, keeping ahead of it’s firing line by only fractions of a second. Christopher took the break in the action to crawl back into his command chair and reassess the situation.
Quickly, he came to the determination that fighting the Gorn would get them, if anything, destroyed. But the Gorn seemed thoroughly content with that option as the Christopher saw several more of the green blurs of energy dance across the view screen. He turned to Bator. “Mr. Bator, quantum torpedoes! Target their weapons array!”
Bator quickly complied. “Target locked!”
Christopher nodded, and turned back to the view screen. “Fire!”
The view screen switched to aft view, and moments later, a string of blazing azure torpedoes hurtled out of the Starlight’s upper weapon-platform, and careened into the Gorn vessel’s shielding. A massive sphere of green light flickered around the ship as the shields absorbed the blast, and for a moment, Christopher thought they had utterly failed—when the ship started to drift ever so slightly. Moments later, an eruption of flames burst through the hull and danced about until being quashed by the void of space.
“Their shields are down to eighty-seven percent,” said Bator. “Weapons are off line.”
Christopher smiled. “Good. Neelar, get us out of here, maximum warp!”
Within seconds, Christopher saw a magical blurring of the stars on the view screen, followed closely by a flash of white light. They were at warp, out of harms way…for now. Relieved, he rose from his chair and turned to the others. “Look at the time! It’s barely fifteen minutes past oh-seven hundred! We still have plenty of time to squeeze in our morning meeting,” he mused. He took a few steps toward the doors to the conference lounge, to the left of tactical, when he turned to Keller. “Have our Ka’Tulan friends stroll on up here. The Gorn are rather disgruntled. We need to know why.”
With the entire senior staff assembled around the table in the conference room, it was a snug fit. But now, with two additional bodies added to the mix, things were beginning to get a little crowded. Still, Christopher wanted everyone to know what was going on, hence, there was no need to exclude anyone.
Tallera, sitting to Christopher’s left, spoke immediately. “Thank you, Captain,” she said warmly. “We are grateful that you saved us from the Gorn.”
“Well, we didn’t have anything better to do,” quipped Christopher. “Still, it had better have been worth the trouble. Upon our illustrious departure, our friends, the Gorn, were not very pleased.”
The question had seemed simple enough, but as he looked on to Tallera and Navek, all Christopher received was silence. Navek cast a curious gaze on his companion, his eyes probing hers for some clue as to their course of action. Tallera met his gaze and shifted uncomfortably in her chair before turning to Christopher. “Before we continue, Captain, we would appreciate it if you dismissed the rest of your staff.”
Skeptical, Christopher raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
Again, there was some curious eye contact between the two visitors. Christopher sensed some tension, and some sixth sense almost allowed him to understand what was going on.
“This is an internal Ka’Tulan affair,” said Navek in his gravelly voice.
Christopher nodded, and turned to his crew. “You guys can ease on out of here,” he said, motioning toward the doors. “My people are in dire need of my undivided attention.”
All of them were hesitant to move, but much as he had expected, it was Erin to the rescue. She smiled in his direction and rose from her seat, leading the others back to the bridge. As they silently filed out, Christopher turned to face his guests. “What is it?”
Navek’s eyes darted down into his vest, but the man made no movement until the doors hissed shut behind Rachael Meyer. Then, Navek slowly reached into his vest and pulled out a small hexagonal container. He carefully set it on the table in front of Christopher and opened it.
Inside was one tiny concentration of blazing white light. Christopher recognized it immediately. “An omega molecule,” he whispered.
Omega was believed to be the most powerful substance in the universe—one or two of the molecules had enough energy to power an entire planet for centuries. But they were rare, and highly unstable. One small molecule could destroy a starbase and cause subspace ruptures, making warp travel impossible.
Hence, the Federation established the Omega Directive, a protocol suppressing any knowledge of the molecule to any person below the rank of Captain, and requiring the immediate destruction of any Omega molecule encountered.
And now, Christopher sat only centimeters from one of the dreaded molecules. At any moment it could explode, and decimate everything within a ten light-year radius. But Christopher wasn’t the least bit worried. “How did you get it?”
“The Gorn were experimenting with it,” said Tallera. “They found it in a remote trinary star system about three hundred light years from their territory. By the time they got back to their space, it was already destabilizing. One of our stealth fighters intercepted them, and stole the molecule, but the Gorn detected it, and destroyed the fighter. Navek and I managed to escape with the molecule.”
Christopher nodded. “Obviously you’re using some sort of shielding. Otherwise, we would have had an omega alert—we didn’t.”
“Our ship was equipped with duodynetic flux shielding. It hid the molecule from long-range sensors,” said Navek. Then he pointed to the molecule’s current residence. “Its current container is only a short-term, short-range shield. Any vessel beyond its two light year range can detect the molecule…”
“That would be most vessels,” said Christopher. “Lovely.”
“Luckily, we’re in a remote region of space,” said Tallera. “Getting the molecule to our outpost on Zephyrus IV should be a fairly simple task.”
Immediately, Christopher cringed. “Zephyrus IV is three weeks away at transwarp!” he said. “I can almost guarantee we’d be detected by the Federation.”
The Zephyrus System was a very remote star system located well beyond the borders of Federation space, and as far was they were concerned, it was an uninhabited, barren star system not worth exploring. It had no natural resources of value, no habitable worlds…nothing but one small Ka’Tulan outpost…
“We need to get there,” Tallera persisted.
“I know,” said Christopher. “And we will get there. But I can’t just pack my bags and go on vacation to some remote star system on a whim.”
“Then how?” asked Navek. “We must take action soon!”
Now it was Christopher’s turn to shift uncomfortably in his chair. “Starfleet protocol requires me to inform them of this situation. After that, I’ll be authorized to take any means necessary to rid of the molecule.”
Tallera cringed. “Starfleet! Surely they’ll want to know what happened to the molecule! Our outpost on Zephyrus IV will be exposed.”
Christopher shook his head, denying the statement. “Not if I contact Admiral Jalana,” he said cryptically. “She’s the highest ranking Ka’Tulan in Starfleet. She’ll understand the need to get our goods to Zephyrus.”
Tallera compressed her lips. “Are you certain?”
“She’s a Ka’Tulan,” Christopher reiterated. “Enough said.”
Tallera still looked unconvinced, but Navek was clearly much more optimistic. He placed his hand on her shoulder. “I’ve known Jalana for many years,” he assured his companion. “She has never failed me in the past. I’m certain she won’t let us down now.”
Tallera was calmed somewhat by Navek’s words but not entirely. Clearly, she wanted to keep the Federation as far from this as possible. So did Christopher, but in situations of this magnitude, his protocol wasn’t as lax as normal.
He closed the lid on the omega molecule and gave it back to Navek. “Take it to sick bay,” he said, quickly adding, “It’s safe. Doctor Hartman lived on Ka’Tula Prime for years. She’s been entrusted with our secret, and as far as I can tell, has divulged it to no one. You can trust her.”
Tallera nodded. “What should we do with the molecule once we’ve arrived?”
The answer was simple, “Hide it.”
The death of Captain Brantley had come as a surprise to everyone on the U.S.S. Explorer. Nobody on board had had even the slightest notion that she had been captured and replaced by the Elorg. And so, while Jason Towner had been expecting a promotion to Captain, he hadn’t expected it to be so soon—and definitely not a promotion to command the Explorer.
Of course, he had been the logical choice. The loss of a commanding officer is always traumatic for a crew. The murder of one is even worse, and is definitely not a time for dramatic changes. Hence, Towner was given command of the ship in order to preserve some sort of order.
Still, it was a rigorous transition from being executive officer to commanding officer. Immediately, Towner was briefed on a plethora of classified situations, bestowed with new access codes, another pip on his collar, and more than a little bit of excitement, despite the circumstances.
And Towner was very glad he had paid such close attention in those briefings, because suddenly, amidst the quiet atmosphere of the Explorer’s mission in Sector 50325, the subject matter of one of those briefings suddenly came to fruition.
Every station on the bridge suddenly froze, and an eerie silence filtered in as the crew examined the upside down “U” of omega plastered on the monitors before them. Aside from Towner, none of them had the slightest idea what was going on—though Towner wished he didn’t. He’d been a Captain for only a few weeks, and already one of the most major crises known to the Federation was thrust upon his shoulders.
Slowly, he rose from his chair and wandered to the operations station ahead and to the left of the conn. Gently, he moved Lieutenant Montgomery, the operations officer, away from his station, and then cleared the omega from the screen.
“Sir?” asked Montgomery.
Towner brought up the sensor readings, completely ignoring Montgomery’s inquiry. He was hoping that this was all a mistake—a false alarm, and that they could resume their mission in a few moments, and laugh they situation off as a fluke.
But it was no fluke. Towner gazed over the data in disbelief. It was no sensor glitch. Sensors showed an omega molecule on the U.S.S. Starlight, several light-years away. Towner turned to the Ensign to his right. “Markson,” he said, “set a course for the Starlight. Maximum warp!”