Days had passed since the battle in the Plexion Nebula, and the Dark Star was well on its way to Zephyrus IV. Prior to the battle, Lucas Tompkins was extremely curious about the reason for their mission and its secrecy. He had his ideas about what the mission might be, most of them pointing to something extralegal, and as it turned out, his suspicions were dead on.
He was still more than a little foggy about what exactly the Ka’Tulans did at Zephyrus IV, but one thing was clear: it was defiantly something that the Federation would want to know about. But as he sat in the cramped aft compartment of the Dark Star, also realized what would happen if the Federation found out.
There would be grave consequences for the Ka’Tulans. Because something to this extent had never happened before, Tompkins wasn’t sure what those consequences would be, but he feared they would be dire. Expulsion from the Federation, perhaps.
Whatever these consequences proved to be, it would inevitably trickle down into daily life. Captain Christopher, being a Ka’Tulan, would probably be removed from command, which would mean another new commanding officer for the Starlight. Two Captains in two years was generally not something that went over to well with a crew, and considering Commander Harrison would probably get the position, things would be that much worse.
Tompkins sighed, and slowly turned his head to Erin Keller, who was seated on the floor beside him. “What do we do?” he asked. He knew the topic was on her mind, as well.
For her part, Keller seemed strangely indecisive. She shrugged, and then considered the proposition for a moment before composing an answer. “I know the right thing to do as a Starfleet officer is to tell the Federation,” she said softly. “But considering what might happen to Alan’s people, I’m no so sure if it’s worth it. Besides, who knows what the Federation would do with Omega?”
Now it was Tompkins turn to shrug. “I don’t know enough about Omega to judge,” he said. “But I think we owe it to the Captain to keep this to ourselves.”
Keller readily nodded. “He’s trusted us this far. It wouldn’t be very becoming of us to turn on him now. We’d be just as bad as Harrison.”
“Besides,” Tompkins added, “the Federation has lasted this long without knowing about Zephyrus IV. It won’t kill them to go a while longer.”
This conversation was having exactly the effect Tompkins had anticipated. It was letting his mind know that his gut instinct was absolutely right in its feelings. Keeping this secret from the Federation was in everyone’s best interests… he hoped. He would have been a little more enthusiastic about it if Keller had been.
“Is something bothering you?” he asked.
She compressed her lips and looked up at him with her wide brown eyes. “Sort of,” she said enigmatically.
It was exactly the answer he had been expecting. An answer so carefully crafted, it failed to answer the question. Tompkins grunted. “As in?”
Keller tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “This… this… situation changes things.”
Again, Keller managed to produce a totally cryptic response. Tompkins had come to expect such answers from women, but not from Erin Keller. Because of this, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to press her for more information. But then again, he had nothing else to do. “Yeah, it changes a lot,” he agreed, hoping that would get the ball rolling with a bit more direction.
Keller nodded. “You have romantic feelings for Alan, too?” she asked sheepishly.
Tompkins blinked. “No!” he said, readily defending his position. “Not at all. I was thinking in a more… universal sense. How this will change our perception of Ka’Tula Prime.”
“Good,” said Keller. “I don’t want you thinking the other way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… Whatever makes you happy, I guess. I’m just glad it’s not the Captain.”
“It isn’t,” Tompkins repeated, just to make sure he was clear. But beyond that, he wasn’t sure what to say. He hadn’t expected the conversation to turn in this particular direction, and wasn’t prepared to discuss romance. But something else readily popped into mind, “I guess this is why Kendall was so pissed at you two.”
Keller frowned. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Well, had you not been drooling over the Captain, you would have noticed he turned into Commander Harrison’s lap dog. You crushed him, Erin.”
She suddenly cupped her hands over her mouth as the realization sunk in. “He’s such a sweet person,” she said softly. “And I knew he loved me. I knew he would wait on me hand and foot and do anything to make me happy, but I’m not looking for a slave, Lucas. And that’s what he’d be. I want… a counterpart.”
“Kendall is no counterpart,” agreed Tompkins. “At least not for you.”
“Maybe I should talk to him again, when we get back. I don’t want him to get confused again.”
Tompkins gave Keller a pat on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much for the moment. Let’s get ourselves through this first,” he said, referring to the situation at hand.
Suddenly, the doors leading to the cockpit slid apart, revealing the lanky figure of Navek in the doorway. “Just thought you’d like to know: we’ve reached Zephyrus IV.”
Their journey was practically over. Tompkins, a bit excited, quickly rose from the floor, offering his hand to Keller. She grabbed it, and pulled herself to her feet, and then followed Tompkins through the doors to the cockpit.
At first, Tompkins saw nothing but stars and a dense jungle world out the forward windows. He simply assumed that outpost was located somewhere on the surface of the planet. But then, as the Dark Star drew closer, a few of the stars began to ripple, gradually coalescing into a massive orbital facility, the likes of which Tompkins had never seen. It was absolutely huge.
At the heart of the starbase was a massive black spire that encompassed at least two hundred decks. It was littered with thousands of windows, hundreds of docking ports, and a plethora of antennae jutting out from all angles. Connected to the spire at the center, via a series of pylons, was a massive ring, consisting of at least another forty decks. The entire unit slowly rotated about on its axis, eventually revealing a glowing red power core at the bottom of the base.
From the helm, Captain Christopher looked back at his two officers. He grinned. “You two should feel extremely honored to be the first humans to ever visit the Zephyrus IV outpost.”
“And survive,” Tallera groaned under her breath a moment later. It was a detail that Tompkins could have lived without. Still, he hoped it was true. Survival was always a pleasant outcome of any mission.
A moment later, Tompkins spotted a flash of pink light about a third of the way from the top of the spire. It lingered for a moment before lashing out at the Dark Star, tossing the tiny ship about for a brief moment. At first, Tompkins thought they were under attack, but when he saw the hazy pink beam persist through the cockpit windows—not destroying them—he realized they had been captured in a tractor beam.
And when the ship jerked in the direction of the base, he knew they were being pulled inside…
The battle in the Plexion Nebula had not gone as Commander Harrison had anticipated. In fact, the exact opposite had occurred. When he received word from Captain Towner that the Explorer would be rendering aide, Harrison assumed that it would be to the Starlight. True to his word, Towner did help defend against the Gorn attack, but when push came to shove, Towner ultimately backed Captain Christopher.
Naturally, as it seemed to be a recurring theme, Harrison could get no information on Towner’s reasons for his actions. The Captain of the Explorer simply changed sides in the heat of battle, just like that. To make matters worse, Harrison found that he was unable to get any information on the whereabouts of Captain Christopher. Starfleet claimed to have no knowledge about the Captain’s mission, and the Explorer refused to answer any hails. Perhaps, Harrison thought, the entire Federation had gone mad.
Still, Harrison was vigilant in his efforts to track down the Captain, hailing Starfleet Command every six hours, demanding answers. But again, in his latest communication, the Commander’s efforts were setback yet again.
“We have been ordered to the Bajoran Sector,” he said unenthusiastically, crossing the bridge to the command chair, where he took a seat. “Once there, we are to oversee the transportation of several industrial replicators to Cardassia.”
“Busywork,” Trinn grumbled from the engineering station.
Harrison nodded. “Exactly,” he grumbled. “My efforts to uncover the Captain’s plan were apparently making too much progress.”
Now, he had two choices. One, he could comply with Starfleet’s orders and go to the Bajoran Sector, or two, he could refuse, and continue looking for the Dark Star. At first, the choice seemed like an easy one. Harrison wanted to find some answers, and he was fairly certain he wouldn’t find any on Bajor. But before he could give the order to the contrary, Kendall Johnson spoke up.
“Sir,” he said. “Might I point out, there is a Gorn delegation visiting Deep Space Nine this week.”
Immediately, Harrison’s interest piqued. Perhaps the mission to Bajor wouldn’t be so terrible after all. “If we were to have a fortuitous encounter with the Gorn Commander, then perhaps we could finally begin to shed some light on this mystery…”
“That’s assuming the Gorn will talk to us,” Johnson replied. “We did destroy one of their heavy cruisers.”
“The Gorn don’t know that,” pointed out Trinn. “All they know is that two Federation starships engaged and destroyed one of their vessels.”
Harrison nodded his agreement. “I find it highly unlikely the Gorn will recall the individuals involved in the encounter… It is a risk worth taking.” He turned his attention to the helm. “Ensign Drayge, set a course for Deep Space Nine, transwarp speed!”