As you may or may not have noticed, “The Odyssey” was delayed considerably back in August 2002. So great was the delay that the episode did not premiere until January 2003. And there was good reason for the delay. It was the dreaded… “THE EPISODE FROM HELL!”
The main problem was simple: I was trying to cram six episodes worth of plot into two episodes. I suppose it would have been an okay episode had I bothered to finish it… but quite frankly, as was the case with much of season three, I was simply not happy with what was being written. And since this was one of the episodes I had envisioned near the beginning of TFF’s run, an “okay” episode simply wasn’t going to cut it this time around. So I stopped writing it, allowed the plot to germinate in my mind for a month or two, and came back weeks later to craft “The Odyssey” you saw back in January.
A lot changed during that brief hiatus—especially the Elorg storyline. In this unused version of “The Odyssey,” you shall duly note that Xi'Yor is actively campaigning to create an alliance between the Elorg and the Ghaib. The latter half of the third season also devoted a lot of time to this alliance… Well, I decided to take the Elorg in a different direction during the hiatus—and the Ghaib were not a part of that. Thus, Xi'Yor’s role in the arc was scaled back considerably.
Not all was lost, however. Because the plot was essentially the same—just expanded—I was able to reuse many scenes from this unfinished crappy version in the official version of “The Odyssey.” Enjoy.
Overseer Xi'Yor slowly leaned back in the dreadfully soft chair nestled in the far corner of his cell. He expelled a weary sigh, and slowly turned his vivid orange eyes upon Talyere Rosat, who sat in meditation on the floor a few meters away. In Xi'Yor’s opinion, it was a frivolous activity—but much to his chagrin, after many months in captivity, it was the only activity he had seen, and it had become so much a part of the daily routine that he had learned to tolerate it. In fact, Xi'Yor had come to tolerate almost every facet of his incarceration—and that in itself was a problem.
On an Elorg vessel, conditions were ideal. Prisoners were held in dark, claustrophobic rooms that were gratuitously furnished with the remains of previous inhabitants. On occasion, they were fed a few meager scraps—but most of the time, the lowly pariahs were simply left to die. The more important prisoners were held in interrogation chambers and mercilessly tortured for vital information until they perished. In Xi'Yor’s opinion, the Elorg set the precedent for all incarcerations. And the Ghaib obviously knew nothing of those precedents…
Very slowly, Xi'Yor clenched his fists and pounded them on the arms of his chair. “How long will they hold us?” he demanded. It was the first time Xi'Yor had spoken in several days, and the sound of his deeply powerful voice sounded almost alien to him. Still, compared to Talyere’s mindless platitudes, it was a pleasant change of pace.
As he completed his meditation, Talyere indolently shook his head. “I know not,” he carefully replied. “Perhaps they shall release us tomorrow. Or perhaps they will hold us indefinitely. The Ghaib work in mysterious ways.”
A bit too mysterious for Xi'Yor’s liking. Though he didn’t mind a bit of intrigue, Xi'Yor preferred to meet with his adversaries face to face—that way he could see the fear burning in their pathetic eyes. “Perhaps we have simply been chasing shadows,” he prompted. “The Ghaib may be nothing more than inconsequential pacifists.”
Talyere’s eyes glimmered with curiosity. Xi'Yor had seen the gaze many times before, and knew that if the pattern held true, an exhaustive, pedantic conversation would soon follow. Thus, the key was to break the pattern—and Xi'Yor had a brilliant idea…
He had given serious consideration to Talyere’s demise on numerous occasions over the past several months. Of course, Xi'Yor always recanted the thoughts in case he required Talyere’s assistance. But locked in this pristine holding cell, Xi'Yor’s use for Talyere had finally reached its end…
But much to Xi'Yor’s chagrin, his plan got no further than a simple notion, for the moment he resigned to rid himself of Talyere, the doors at the front of the room parted with mechanical fanfare. A tall shadowy figure loomed ominously at the threshold, peering inside the cell as if expecting an attack—though once it became apparent that no such attack would happen, the figure left behind its ominous shadows, and Tracker Melas stepped into the light…
“You wished to see me?” prompted the alien.
Xi'Yor scoffed at the sentiment. “Three months ago,” he stated.
Melas sympathetically gestured with his clawed fists. “I’m a busy man,” he proclaimed. “Now, if you have something to say… I suggest you do so.”
“Very well…” Over the past several months, Xi'Yor had accumulated thousands of somethings to share with Tracker Melas—and he very much desired to give the pedantic little bird a piece of his mind. But amidst that chaotic sea of thoughts, Xi'Yor’s primary reason for seeking out Melas remained near the surface—and now that he finally had his chance to speak with the enigmatic avian, he wasn’t about to lose sight of his mission. “I have a proposition for you…”
Melas cocked his head. “Of what kind?” he demanded.
Xi'Yor could tell that Melas was barely intrigued by the sentiment—and that he needed to act quickly if he wished to maintain his captor’s attention. “I’m proposing an alliance…”
As far as Alan Christopher was concerned, Earth did not extend much beyond the city of San Francisco. Though he visited many places during his tenure at Starfleet Academy, the time Alan spent at those myriad locations was always brief—never more than a couple of hours (save the remote wilderness training in the Canadian Rockies, but that was another story altogether). San Francisco was his home, and that was where he tended to stay. Thus, when Erin suggested they visit Earth for their honeymoon, Alan found the notion most appealing.
The better part of twenty years had passed since his days at the Academy, and though Alan’s subsequent life was peppered with infrequent visits to Earth, none of them had lasted more than a few days. But now, he would have three entire weeks to explore Earth’s greatest wonders. Relatively speaking, three weeks was hardly a drop in the galactic bucket of time—but with Erin at his side, Alan was certain they would make the best of their three weeks in paradise.
Alan stood at the foot of his bed, carefully going through his limited wardrobe in search of the clothes he would bring to Earth. “The first thing I’m to do when we get to there is… probably go to the bathroom,” he playfully announced. “Yes, the Aztec is a fine ship, but between you and me, it’s facilities are a bit… lacking.”
Erin giggled. Alan briefly allowed himself to believe that his cunning statements about the Aztec’s facilities had instilled the laughter, but given the commotion on the bed, he knew that was not the case.
Sitting in Alan’s travel bag less than a meter away was his special helper—dearest Angela—and though she was dreadfully cute, Alan duly noted that everything he put in the bag was summarily thrown out, making his helper anything but helpful.
Erin smiled, and quickly sat down on the bed beside Angela. “What are you doing, silly?”
The little girl giggled, and swiftly stood up to give her mommy a hug. “I’m digging,” she stated.
“For what?” Erin inquired, drawing herself closer to the girl. “Treasure?”
Angela shook her head, and happily went back to her digging. “I’m gonna get a cookie,” she proclaimed. “They’re blue!”
For some reason, Alan did not recall placing the said cookies in his bag—nor did he have a chance to check, for the pleasant tweedle of the door chime suddenly lanced the air. In his mind, Alan could already hear Matthew delivering some sort of status report that was totally irrelevant—and with that in mind, he was almost tempted to turn to Erin and ask, “What door chime?”
But better judgment soon kicked in, and Alan soon vacated his position at the foot of the bed, and casually strolled into the main chamber. “Enter.”
Moments later, the doors parted, and Riana Christopher stepped inside, bringing with her all the warmth and kindness that Alan had been blind to only a few days prior. Suddenly, he felt guilty for even thinking about ignoring the chime.
Riana slowly approached her son with a kind smile upon her face. “Alan,” she said softly, “our ship is scheduled to depart for the Kilka Sector in half-an-hour. Is Angela ready to go?”
Alan peered back into the bedroom. Angela and Erin were still playing on the bed—as far from ready as possible. Of course, he had come to expect that from women and had anticipated this tardiness; Angela’s bags were packed and ready to go. Alan gestured to a bright pink bag on the table near the dining area. “All of Angela’s things are in there,” he said. “Now, remember, she doesn’t like carrots. Her favorite dolls are Flotter and Eyeore, and she likes to hear a story before…”
Riana smiled, and carefully plucked the bag from the table. “Alan,” she politely interjected, “you outlined all of this in that fifty page report you gave us yesterday.”
Actually, it was forty-seven pages, but Alan was not about to argue. It was an extensive report, and that was probably just the point that Riana was trying to make. “I’m just concerned about Angela, that’s all…”
Riana’s smile widened, and she placed a caring hand upon Alan’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry,” she assured him. “Once upon a time, your father and I had to put up with you and your sister. We might be a little rusty, but I’m sure we can handle one little girl.”
“And spoil her rotten, no doubt,” Erin suddenly added as she and Angela emerged from the bedroom. She planted a big kiss on the little girl’s forehead, and then carefully relinquished her to Riana.
Riana’s grin widened she wrapped her arms around Angela’s tiny body. Angela squirmed for a moment, but quickly realized that Grandma was one of her favorite people—and subsequently dished out a considerable hug and a slobbery kiss. “Of course we’ll spoil her rotten,” said Riana with a smile. “That’s our job!”
Angela giggled. “I love you, Gram!”
“I love you too, sweetheart!” Riana replied, gently running her fingers through Angela’s wild blonde hair.
Suddenly, three weeks seemed like an eternity. Alan was crazy about his daughter, and the thought of being away from her was torture. “You know,” said Alan softly, “if you can’t handle Angela, you can always reach us at the Hilt—”
“Alan,” Erin coyly interrupted, “I think someone has you wrapped around her little finger…”
In all his imaginings, Alan never saw himself as someone fond of children. They were annoying little vermin that asked too many questions and soiled their pants. But then came Angela, and everything changed. Yes, he was wrapped around her little finger… And darn proud of it. Still, it was three weeks. And he would survive.
He quickly lowered his face to Angela’s—which rested gently upon Riana’s shoulder—and smiled. “You’re going to have fun at Gram’s house,” he said. “She’s going to make sure you have lots of fun toys to play with.”
“And cookies,” Angela added.
“And cookies,” Alan confirmed. “Blue ones.”
The mere mention of the oft-mentioned cookies caused Angela’s face to light up with glee. “Yay!”
Alan grinned, and gently kissed her forehead. “Good-bye, Angela!”
She immediately kissed him back. “Good-bye, Daddy!”
As Alan wiped the slobber from his cheek, Erin quickly stepped in to bid farewell, and within a few minutes, Angela and Riana were well on their way to the Kilka Sector—and Alan was ready to head out to Earth. “I’m ready to leave whenever you are,” he said to Erin a moment later. “All I have to do is throw my stuff in a bag.”
“I’m just about ready, too,” said Erin—much to Alan’s surprise. She quickly retreated to the bedroom, and emerged a moment later with two hefty bags slung over her shoulders, and a third bag in tow behind her.
Alan’s eyes widened at the sight. “We’re only going to be gone for three weeks,” he reiterated. “Not three years. Are you bringing everything in our quarters, or something?”
A coy grin fell upon Erin’s face as she dropped her bags to the floor. “Listen, buddy,” she said, poking Alan with her finger, “I have a lot of sh—”
Alan’s communicator suddenly chirped. “Harrison to Christopher,” came Matthew’s voice a moment later.
“I’m on vacation,” Alan promptly replied. “So this had better be quick.”
There was a brief moment of hesitation on Matthew’s behalf. “I am sorry to interrupt,” Harrison finally replied, “but your presence is required in main engineering…” And in that instant, Alan realized that quick was certainly not something on the Commander’s mind, and that his trip to Earth was as good as over.
* * *
Five minutes later, Christopher stood with Matthew Harrison and Lucas Tompkins around the master control station in main engineering. Coming into the meeting, Christopher had a hunch that situation loomed on his horizon—but it was not until he stood beside his comrades did he realize the extent of it. Both Tompkins and Harrison looked rather grim, and Christopher’s mood was immediately turned sullen as he turned to Harrison for a report.
“Remember that probe we dispatched to the Zhargosia Sector a few weeks ago?” Harrison started.
Christopher nodded. He had only a vague recollection of the event, but he was aware of the probe’s existence. “What’s wrong?”
“We lost contact with it earlier this morning,” Tompkins continued. “At first I thought there was some sort of problem with the interplexing beacon, but then I cleared up the last few seconds of telemetry.” He tapped a few commands into the computer. “Take a look at this…”
A holographic representation of the spherical probe suddenly flitted to life over the workstation. It hung in the silent air for a placid moment before a maelstrom of violet light erupted beneath the probe. The probe helplessly bobbled at the threshold gaping maw; it seemed to struggle for a moment, but the probe’s miniscule thrusters did little to counter the distortion’s voracity. Before long, wisps of violet light wrapped themselves around the helpless probe—and in the blink of an eye, both the probe and the distortion were gone.
Christopher immediately felt a wave of uncertainty wash over his body—but before he had a chance to explore the emotion, Commander Harrison punched a few commands into his side of the console. “It gets worse,” he stated as a jumble of fragmented data scrolled across the computer screen. “The moment the probe disappeared, we picked up this distress signal from the USS Exeter.”
Tompkins alluded to a few blocks of text on the screen. “We haven’t been able to decode the audio or visual feeds,” he said, “but based upon the text we’ve decoded, they’re in trouble.”
“However,” Harrison continued, “there is no sign of the Exeter or any debris on long-range sensors.”
Christopher expelled a long, weary sigh. “If I recall correctly, the Exeter was a part of that ill-fated armada dispatched to the Zhargosia Sector after the Enterprise was destroyed. Is it possible we’re picking up some sort of echo?”
Tompkins shook his head. “The signal was sent on stardate 74957.4. That’s more than a month after the Exeter and company disappeared.”
“Which means there is a chance they are still alive,” Harrison surmised.
Christopher nodded. “I suppose it’s possible,” he stated. “But why haven’t we picked up their distress signal?”
“I don’t know,” Tompkins admitted. “Hell, this could be a trap, for all we know.”
The thought had definitely crossed Christopher’s mind. Over the past several months, every starship that set course for the Zhargosia Sector subsequently embarked upon a voyage of the damned. They were never heard from again… But suddenly, the Exeter had risen from the ashes—and it was more than a little curious. “It is almost like bait,” Christopher mumbled. “Is there anything to disprove the validity of the transmission?”
“Nothing thus far,” Harrison stated. “Commander Reinbold and Lieutenant Johnson are presently attempting to reconstruct the message in its entirety. That will undoubtedly shed some light on the situation, however, due to the message’s extreme level of degradation, their task may take some time.”
“How much?” asked Christopher.
“Too much,” Harrison replied. “At least two days.”
“We don’t have two days,” Christopher grumbled. “If the message is real, we’d be putting the Exeter’s crew in greater risk.”
“But if it’s fake,” Tompkins countered, “we’d be putting ourselves at risk.”
Christopher clenched his fists and gently pounded them into the workstation before him. “This is not good,” he muttered.
The Exeter was a Nova-class starship. With a minimal armament and a crew of only seventy-eight, it wasn’t designed to wage war alone in the heart of the Zhargosia Sector. And if it really was in trouble, Christopher doubted it could sustain itself much longer… They needed to take action, and soon. “Are there any other starships in range?”
Tompkins glanced at the sensors. “The Ares is three days away at maximum warp,” he reported.
The Ares was a heavily armed Sovereign-class vessel. Its presence had the potential to turn the tide of any battle, and Christopher very much wanted the warship at his side. But he wasn’t about to wait around for three days while the crew of the Exeter was in peril. The Starlight was also a very capable warship—and it would have to suffice. “Matthew,” he said, turning to his first officer, “set a course for the Zhargosia Sector. I’ll be in my quarters breaking the bad news to Erin…”
The words fell from Tracker Melas’ mouth with incredible doubt—and Talyere Rosat was not surprised. In fact, he had anticipated such a response the moment Xi'Yor decided to seek out Melas almost five months ago. But Xi'Yor—blinded by his desire to restore the Elorg Bloc—was totally oblivious to the futility of his plan.
Melas expelled a disgusted sigh, and took a few steps closer to his prisoners. “We have no interest in you, or any of the species in your galaxy,” he calmly replied.
And Melas’ pretentious calm forced Xi'Yor from his chair in a fit of rage. “What about El Toris II?” he demanded. “What about the buildup in the Zhargosia Sector? And the devices discovered on our starships? You certainly seem interested in our species…”
“We are simply collecting data,” replied Melas.
Talyere did not believe that for a second. In fact, he was convinced the Ghaib were conducting much more than a simple investigation. But he knew his place, and didn’t dare speak while Xi'Yor was ‘negotiating.’
“I would like to see this data,” Xi'Yor stated.
Melas’ beady black eyes narrowed to skeptical slits. “You are a prisoner,” he stated evenly. “Your demands are worthless, and your curiosity is sorely misplaced. Our business is none of your concern.”
Over the years, Xi'Yor had seen much disrespect, and his method of dealing with that insolence was simple: he would simply terminate anyone who stood in his way. But as the Overseer stood before the imposing Tracker Melas, there was little he could do to take the alien’s life. If the situation deteriorated, and a fight erupted, Melas’ agile avian frame gave him a distinct advantage over Xi'Yor. What Xi'Yor needed was an advantage of his own…
He slowly stepped closer to Melas. Talyere was expecting some sort of forcefield to appear and hinder the Overseer’s approach, but it never happened. Melas was an intrepid man. “How long do you intend to hold us?” Xi'Yor tactfully inquired.
“As long as necessary,” Melas replied. And on that cryptic note, he turned on his heel and left.
Talyere could hear Xi'Yor’s discontented sigh even before the doors slammed shut behind Tracker Melas. The encounter went poorly to say the least, for the outcome left Xi'Yor in a position he had not anticipated… He was still a prisoner. “Did you really believe Melas would rally to your cause?”
Xi'Yor cast Talyere an ominous gaze. “I was well aware of the odds,” he conceded. “But I was expecting Melas to be more receptive. The Elorg have—”
“—nothing to offer,” Talyere interjected. He did not even care what Xi'Yor had to say—because his statement was true. “Like it or not, Xi'Yor, our people have fallen from grace. We are the scourge of the universe… Melas will never ally himself with us.”
Xi'Yor smiled thinly. It was a forced gesture, and did little to mask the Overseer’s brewing anger—but not even Xi'Yor could deny the truth in Talyere’s statement. “I will have to be more persuasive the next time we meet with Tracker Melas,” he proclaimed.
Talyere failed miserably in dissembling his lack of enthusiasm for that piece of information. “Xi'Yor,” he said softly, “perhaps we should concentrate our energies on something slightly more productive—such as escape… I believe Tracker Melas made his position quite clear, and unless we attempt to escape, I suspect he will allow us to spend the rest of our lives in this holding cell.”
“Escape,” Xi'Yor softly repeated. The word rolled off his tongue like poison, for it was obviously the last thing on his mind. “Escape to where?”
“That is a good question,” Talyere admitted. In his myriad ponderings, he had yet to plot that far into the future; his primary concern had been escaping the confines of their cell, and little more. “I don’t suppose I have an answer…”
Xi'Yor tried not to gloat too much, but a devious smile still managed to creep across his face. “My point exactly…”
“We’re approaching the probe’s last known position,” Neelar Drayge reported from the Starlight’s helm. The young Bolian was as concise and efficient as usual, but Christopher couldn’t help but notice a tinge of apprehension in his voice. Clearly, something was bothering Neelar—and Christopher had the distinct feeling their presence in the Zhargosia Sector might have something to do with it…
For the past hour, that very same apprehension caused the Captain to pace mindlessly back-and-forth behind the helm. Had the deck beneath his feet not been composed of durotanium alloys, Christopher was certain he would have worn a trench into the floor. Every once and awhile, he would endeavor to sit in the command chair, but he rarely sat for longer than a couple of moments. The death and destruction seen in the Zhargosia Sector in recent weeks weighed heavily upon his shoulders, and as they approached the forbidden region, Christopher couldn’t help but wonder if they would be next…
They were about to find out.
“Erin,” he said, “any sign of the Exeter?”
Keller’s angelic brown eyes briefly shot downward to confer with the sensors, only to return a short moment later. “No,” she bluntly replied. “In fact, I’m not picking up any starships in the Zhargosia Sector… or any debris, for that matter. There’s nothing here.”
Christopher bit his lip. On that note, his mind was essentially ready to bring the ship about and retreat to friendly territory. But with the crew of the Exeter still unaccounted for, his heart insisted they stay. “Prepare to launch anot—”
“Hang on,” Bator suddenly interrupted.
Christopher could hear the tactical station bleeping, and his heart was immediately in his throat—and a bit more inclined to agree with his mind’s assessment of the situation. “What is it?” he inquired.
The Phobian furrowed his brow. “I am uncertain,” he admitted as he tapped at his workstation. “There appears to be some sort of interspatial flexure just ahead.”
“A rift of some kind?” Harrison proposed.
Bator nodded wearily. “Again, I am uncertain. The fabric of space is definitely folded inward, however, there is nothing at the heart of the disturbance to cause such a phenomenon.”
“Maybe it’s a natural curve?” Christopher suggested.
Much to his chagrin, Neelar Drayge quickly shot down the theory. “According to our astrometric data, this phenomenon doesn’t exist. If it’s naturally occurring, it formed within the past few days… ”
“Or perhaps this morning,” Harrison suggested, “when a large rift enveloped our probe.”
“Whatever the case,” Erin Keller interjected, “the rift is sealed, and according to my sensors, it’s slowly withering away. It should be completely gone within a week.”
Christopher sensed a dead end in the very near future. The Exeter was gone. The probe was gone. And the rift was on its way out. “Keep scanning the region,” he said softly. “If we don’t find anything within an hour, we’re getting the heck out of here.” The less time spent in the Zhargosia Sector, the better…
Melas looked up from the latest sensor sweep of the Zukara Segment and scratched his beak with his clawed fingers. He casually glanced out the small portal in the corner of his cramped office. The vast starfield crept by at a snail’s pace, eternally shimmering over an expansive swirl of stars in the distance—a galaxy often referred to as the Milky Way. From afar, it was an incredible sight—but Melas knew better than most of his kind that when placed under the microscope, the Milky Way was nothing extraordinary.
The same could be said of the sensor sweeps. The Zukara Segment was indeed a place of wonder, but when expressed as hundreds of paragraphs of text, it lost much of its appeal. Melas struggled to keep his eyes open at times—and then of course, when they were open, the Tracker’s thoughts was elsewhere… mainly with Overseer Xi'Yor.
Slowly, Melas pulled his eyes from the starfield and started to shift them back to the computer screen—but about halfway into the act, he glimpsed someone at his door—a pale, thin fellow by the name of Iydia quietly stepped between the parting doors and politely bowed his head. “I hope I am not disturbing you,” he said.
Melas shook his head. “Of course not,” he replied. “What can I do for you, Consultant?”
The doors slid shut behind Iydia. He peered at Melas through skeptical eyes, and then seated himself in the chair before the Tracker’s desk. “The question is: What can I do for you? You have seemed troubled lately.”
For a moment, Melas was hesitant to admit to his troubles. But Iydia was a trained professional; he knew something was wrong, and there was no keeping it from him. “It is Overseer Xi'Yor,” Melas finally proclaimed. “We must keep a very close watch on him. He knows too much. He poses a threat to our plans.”
Iydia cocked his feathered head, and peered into Melas’ eyes. “If he poses such a threat, then he should be transferred to the Drusari.”
“The Drusari cannot be bothered with such menial tasks,” Melas hissed. “Tending to prisoners is our duty.”
“Well, if Xi'Yor poses such a threat to the cause, then he is obviously worthy of the Drusari’s attention.” Iydia paused, and then drew himself nearer. “We cannot afford a setback.”
Melas sighed. Iydia was correct in his assumption. For years, they had been preparing for the coming military operations, and a setback now might prove disastrous. “Very well,” he said after a moment. “Transfer both prisoners to the Drusari…”
“Do you remember High Overseer Hatrel?”
The question seemed to come from nowhere, but Overseer Xi'Yor knew the answer to Talyere’s inquiry all too well. “Yes,” he enigmatically replied. “I recall the High Overseer quite well.”
Talyere nodded knowingly. “You terminated him, didn’t you?”
Xi'Yor paused, unsure if he should answer the question truthfully or not. While he had indeed terminated the ancient Hatrel—he to assume the High Overseer’s position—Xi'Yor had done so with such grace and skill that the death was ruled natural. Only the Cerebrate Z’danorax had been made aware of the truth—and she, too, was dead. “Why do you ask?”
“I am curious,” Talyere said faintly.
“Then I would suggest you assume a more apathetic stance,” Xi'Yor stated. “One can never know when death will take hold…”
“So you did terminate him,” Talyere announced.
Xi'Yor shrugged indolently, but did not dignify Talyere’s statement with an answer. Instead, he rose to his feet and began to make a grandiose gesture with his arms—but much to his surprise, the doors suddenly parted, and four bulky Ghaib stepped into the cell. Xi'Yor immediately turned to the newcomers with an insidious smile. “Has Tracker Melas sent you?”
A fifth guard suddenly appeared at the doorway. He was tall and lanky, with a large yellowish beak and crimson eyes. “I am Consultant Iydia,” said the Ghaib, “and yes, I have been dispatched by Tracker Melas.”
Xi'Yor’s smile widened. “I knew he would reconsider my proposal… An alliance with the Elorg will prove beneficial to both our peoples.”
Iydia laughed once, a curt little scoff that echoed throughout the chamber. “I believe Melas made our stance quite clear,” he stated as he casually strolled past his guards. “There will be no alliance.”
Not ready to give up so easily, Xi'Yor maintained his diplomatic smile. “Perhaps if you allowed me a moment to state my case, you will be more—”
“I am not here to negotiate,” Iydia tersely interrupted. And without further ado, he turned to his guards and said, “Fire!”
Streaks of crimson light suddenly shot across the room. Xi'Yor frantically tried to evade the vanguard of doom, but his reflexes were no match for the speed of the phaser beams. Before he knew it, a splatter of thick black blood erupted from his shoulder.
And everything went dark…
Fifty-four minutes had passed, and the Starlight’s sensors had yet to discover anything more than a few stray dust motes. They were nice dust motes, to say the least, but with each second that passed, Alan Christopher’s interest in the dust dwindled (not that there was much interest to begin with). He simply wanted to leave the Zhargosia Sector while the ship was still in one piece.
But six minutes remained…
Christopher slowly paced before his command chair—much as he had done for the past fifty-four minutes—and waited for the seconds to tick away. But to his chagrin, the seconds seemed to drag. Time always seemed to pick the most inopportune moments to lag, and this was certainly one of them. Normally, Christopher would be content to wait it out, but not this time. “Erin,” he said, quickly coming about to face his wife, “I take it there’s nothing on sensors?”
She nodded. “Not a thing.”
“Then we’re getting the heck out of here.” And for the first time in what seemed like eons, Captain Alan Christopher seated himself in the comforting contours of his command chair. “Neelar,” he called, “get us out of here, maximum warp.”
The Bolian smiled. “With pleasure,” he replied. His deft fingers quickly tapped at the control interface, and moments later, the Starlight began to make its retreat.
But suddenly, the fabric of space exploded, belching a deep violet shockwave into space. The Starlight jolted violently upon impact, but the shields held the ship together—and when the wave finally passed, the Starlight sat at the threshold of a gaping violet maelstrom.
Neelar Drayge frantically tapped at the control interface, desperate to pull the ship away from the massive fissure, but his efforts went unnoticed, and the ship swiftly plunged into the rift. The deck plates began to vibrate as the Starlight crossed the gaping threshold, and after a moment Christopher could see vibrant tendrils of crimson energy crackling inside the distortion. He had faith in the shields’ ability to protect them, but at times like this, Christopher wasn’t certain if that faith would be enough—especially when the tendrils’ proximity to the ship began to increase exponentially.
A few seconds later, the first of the chaotic tendrils lashed into the shields. The ship rocked in response, and Christopher’s grip on the command chair tightened.
“Shields down to eighty percent,” Bator announced.
Christopher saw the next tendril before it struck. He quickly grabbed his chair for leverage, but his actions were too little, too late. The ship roared a sonorous cacophony; sparks rained down from the ceiling above, and before he knew it, Christopher was sprawled out on the floor, engulfed in darkness.
It took a few seconds for the emergency lights to activate, and when they did, he was relieved to see the bridge was still intact. Christopher swiftly brushed off the front of his uniform, and hopped back into his seat.
An instant later, there was a blinding flash on the viewscreen—and the distortion was gone, leaving a majestic pink and blue nebula in its wake.
“Damage report,” demanded Harrison, oblivious to the beautiful sight on the viewscreen.
“Starboard dorsal shielding has failed,” said Bator. “We have a hull breach on decks ten and eleven, sections forty-three through forty-eight. The transwarp manifold is destroyed, and warp engines have sustained moderate damage. Sickbay reports three casualties, none serious.”
Christopher breathed a sigh of relief. Though the damage sustained was serious, it was nothing that could not be repaired. Things could have been far worse if lady luck had not been on their side. He allowed his mind to linger for on the damage report for a moment longer before turning his attention to the other question floating in his mind: “What is our current position, Neelar?”
Drayge’s deft fingers quickly glided over the helm, but his answer was not immediately forthcoming. In fact, the Bolian seemed to ponder what Christopher thought to be a very simple question for an extraordinary amount of time. For a moment, he suspected Neelar had not heard his inquiry, but the moment Christopher began to repeat himself, the helm emitted a series of shrill bleeps.
Drayge slowly turned around the face Christopher, the look on his face quizzical. “I can’t determine our exact location,” he said a moment later. “But if these sensor readings are accurate, we’ve just traveled over 80,000 light years… We’re not even in the galaxy anymore.”
“Then where are we?” asked Harrison.
“GSC-2374-E,” Drayge gleaned from sensors. “It’s a large globular cluster orbiting the galaxy. Without our transwarp drive, it’s an eighty-year trip back to the Federation.”
“Even with the transwarp drive, that would be one hell of a journey,” Erin Keller added. “Since there aren’t any transwarp conduits around here, we’d have to make our own. That’s ten years right there…”
Christopher pondered their predicament for a moment. “I’m guessing that little… subspace sinkhole we fell into is long gone?”
“Completely,” Keller confirmed.
She uttered a few more words, but the numerous sensor alerts erupting from the tactical station managed to catch the majority of Christopher’s attention. “Bator?”
“Five alien vessels have just dropped out of warp,” he reported. “They are on a direct intercept course.”
“On screen,” said Christopher.
A moment later, five small vessels flitted onto the viewscreen. It wasn’t the most ominous fleet Christopher had ever witnessed; each small ship looked something like an arrowhead, and as they approached the Starlight, the Captain’s concern was only moderate. “Hail the lead ship.”
Bator promptly complied with Christopher’s order. “No response,” he stated a moment later.
“They have increased to warp 8.7,” Drayge added. “At their present speed, they’ll intercept us in thirty seconds.”
Not wanting to risk further damage to the Starlight, Christopher’s course was clear: “Evasive maneuvers.”
The agile starship swiftly came about, and moments later, the stars on the viewscreen streaked into a flash of white light. For a moment, it seemed that all was well, but that moment was short lived.
“The alien vessels have increased to warp 9.4,” Drayge reported. “They’re still gaining on us.”
Christopher clenched his fists. Less than five minutes in town, and they already have an enemy. “Increase to warp 9.8,” he said, still hoping they could outrun their silent adversary.
Drayge immediately complied—and the ship abruptly started to vibrate. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was certainly noticeable. “We’re at warp 9.7,” Drayge reported a moment later. “But with the engines in their current state, I don’t know how long we’ll be able to maintain it.”
Christopher slapped his communicator. “Christopher to Tompkins!”
In engineering, Lucas Tompkins stared intently at the wealth data flitting across the master control station when his communicator bleeped. “This is Tompkins,” he said, haphazardly slapping the badge.
“Lucas,” said Captain Christopher, “we need more power to the engines. We’ve got five evil baddies on our tail, and I don’t want to know what they’ll do to us if they catch us.”
A feeling of dread immediately fell upon the chief engineer. The transwarp manifold was in shambles; the floor was littered with soot and debris, about half the computers were dysfunctional—and the Captain needed more power. “That could be a problem,” said Tompkins. “We took a hell of a beating down here. Power is scarce enough as it is…”
The ship suddenly jolted, and sparks rained down from the ceiling, pelting Tompkins on the back. He quickly brushed the sparks aside, and then grabbed his workstation for support as a secondary shockwave blasted the ship.
But the blast was far stronger than Tompkins had anticipated; he abruptly lost his grip on the station and went careening into the floor. As his face smashed into the vibrating deck, Tompkins heard two unpleasant noises—that of several bulkheads crashing to the floor beside him, and the far less noisy, but equally distressing sound of his shoulder breaking.
As pain soared through Tompkins’ torso, he attempted to grasp his throbbing left shoulder. The only thing stopping him was his apparent lack of consciousness…
“We’re under attack!” Bator shouted over the continued rumbling. “The lead ships have opened fire! Shields are down to seventy-four percent!”
And as if to add insult to injury, Neelar Drayge continued to dispense the bad news. “We’ve dropped down to warp 5.7!” he shouted.
Christopher clenched the arms of the command chair with his sweaty hands and turned his attention to Bator. “Lock phasers on the lead vessel,” he yelled at the top of his lungs, “and fire at will!”
Moments later, a vibrant orange phaser beam streaked across the grainy viewscreen, striking the lead ship’s pointed bow. A sea of flames quickly engulfed the vessel, and Christopher smiled pointedly at its demise—but the smile gradually faded as vessel emerged from the firestorm completely intact, and aglow with tendrils of flickering azure light.
“They sustained no damage,” Bator promptly announced.
The vessel still loomed on the viewscreen, gracefully channeling its crackling mess of energy to a swirling ball of electricity on the nose of the ship. Wisps of azure light already danced in the space between the Starlight and the alien ship, and it was only a matter of time before all hell broke loose.
Christopher tightened his grip on the command chair. “I’m beginning to think we shouldn’t have fired those phasers,” he mused. “Neelar, see if you can shake them!”
“I’m trying,” said the Bolian, frantically working the helm controls, “but they seem to anticipate our every move!”
The news was not encouraging, but Christopher wasn’t out of ideas yet. “Bator,” he said, “load the aft torpedo bays. Fire a full spread of transphasic torpedoes. I’m tired of playing nice with these guys.”
Bator was quick to comply, and moments later, a string of blazing yellow torpedoes streaked across the viewscreen—and suddenly the fleet of five small vessels regretted their decision to follow the Starlight so closely. The two lead ships were collectively shredded into a smoldering dust cloud, and a third ship so badly damaged that flames seemed to vent from every centimeter of the hull. It immediately fell back, leaving only two of the arrow-shaped vessels.
Had Christopher been in their shoes—and he was glad he was not—he would have made haste to retreat… After all, three of their companion vessels had been disabled in the blink of an eye. But much to his surprise, the two ships continued their pursuit, unfazed by the loss of their comrades. “They’ve got to be crazy!”
Harrison promptly nodded his agreement. “Either that, or they have some sort of death wish.”
Suddenly, the lead ship darted far ahead of its companion, easily closing whatever distance existed between the Starlight and itself. With the engines in their damaged state, Christopher knew they wouldn’t be doing much running—and the vessel was now far too close for them to risk detonating torpedoes…
“Lieutenant Drayge,” said Harrison suddenly. “Prepare to drop out of warp…”
At first, Christopher thought the idea crazy—they weren’t going to evade these aliens at impulse—but then he realized what his executive officer was planning, and smiled at the inspired brilliance. “The second our friends stroll past us, we’ll just blow them out of the sky…”
“Torpedoes armed,” Bator crisply announced only seconds later.
Christopher grinned. It seemed like everyone was on the same wavelength, operating as one collective mind. There were no debates or arguments—their objective was clear, and everyone knew what had to be done. These moments weren’t exactly rare on the Starlight, but they always made the Captain proud. “Neelar, drop out of warp on my mark!”
He have the Bolian a moment to prepare, and then began the silent countdown in his mind.
The stars on the viewscreen abruptly came to a screeching halt. Moments later, a blur of light eclipsed the shimmering starfield—and Lieutenant Bator opened fire. A second volley of bright yellow torpedoes swiftly hurtled across the viewscreen in pursuit of the blurry wraith, but before they could reach their target, the Starlight jolted, the lights flickered, and the viewscreen went dead.
“Only one of the vessels passed us,” Erin Keller suddenly reported. “The second one is attempting to grapple our hull!”
Christopher pulled in a lungful of acrid air, and proceeded to clutch the arms of his command chair. Things were about to get rough. “Shield status?”
“Shields have failed,” said Bator. “I am trying to restore them, but—”
An insidious groan abruptly silenced the Phobian,