Starbase23 v2.0 - Scottish Andy's Stories

If Wishes Were Horses

By Scottish Andy


This was actually my second story, written as I waited for Jaeih to finish her third. I wanted to have a complete story to launch my site with, all the way back in 2003.

So, this is a stand-alone, one-off piece that I had brewing for a while at the time.

Inhabiting the same universe as my other stories but featuring an unrelated ship and crew, this story is set during the early Movie Era whereas my primary crew inhabit the era of the Classic series.

This story tells a slightly different kind of Starfleet Tale. I hope you enjoy it as much as my other stories.


"…and so it is that, with great regret, I must inform you of the failure of our scientists to find the correct equations to stabilize the power plant. It need not be said that, without a single successful simulation, an actual test run would present far too great a risk to our planet."

Senior Scientist Gentra paused there to gauge the mood of his audience before delivering his final statement. This briefing he had given to a closed session of the Council of Elders had been very distasteful for him to make, admitting that the finest scientific minds of his world could not complete the task set for them, but the project was too important to be abandoned.

Clearing his throat to still the uneasy murmurs, Gentra concluded his brief. "Due to the importance of this project to our civilization, I must prevail upon you, Esteemed Elders, not to abandon this project but to petition the Federation for assistance."

The Council did not, as he had expected, burst into frenzied debate at that. Instead, the forty Elders present lapsed into silence, considering the implications of his words. It confirmed his suspicions that the Elders had already been considering this option. In fact, by his very suggestion of approaching the Federation, he had unwittingly given himself a large boost in personal prestige.

Finally, Elder Lantrer – councillor for the Tothanar Province where the power plant was located – spoke up. "Senior Scientist Gentra, is there nothing more that you and your team can do? No new avenue to explore, no unlikely possibility to pursue?"

"I am sorry, Elder Lantrer, but there is not. I would not be making this request if we had any other ideas to investigate. We have to accept that we have reached the limits of our knowledge and ask for help."

"Very well. Thank you, Senior Scientist, for your brief. The Council must now ponder your words, so you may go."

Gentra took his expected dismissal without umbrage. He held both hands flat to his chest, palms inward and crossed at the wrists, and bowed at the neck in the traditional gesture of farewell. Relinquishing the Claimant's Podium, the heels of his dress shoes echoed sharply in the studied silence of the domed amphitheatre as he departed the Council Chamber.

Elder Lantrer watched him leave before returning his attention to his fellow Elders. Speaking firmly, Lantrer said, "Esteemed fellow Councillors, you have heard the facts of the matter. This project is at a standstill. We can go no further on our own, but cancelling it will be tantamount to writing off billions of dinons as well as hundreds of thousands of man-hours in construction, research, and development, and the future of this planet's energy needs.

"I now call for a vote on the motion to petition the United Federation of Planets for aid…"


Gentra waited outside in the hall after being dismissed. The vote would go through and his team would get Federation assistance, it was just a matter of time. There was just that damnable Catuallan pride to contend with, which would delay the inevitable unanimous vote.

As hard as it had been for him to admit that his best team had been found lacking, it would be doubly galling to the Council to actually face the UFP representatives and ask for help. The fact that the Federation would willingly and gladly give that assistance actually made it worse, as they would not understand the effort it took to make the request. Nevertheless, hopefully within a week, he would finally get the answers he sought.

The answers that had eluded him and his team for six long, frustration-filled months.

Chapter One

Stardate 7498.3
28th May 2274, 1145 hours
Tamnar star system, Federation space

"Can ve go now?"

The tone of voice made her think of her brother's eight-year-old, but turning to face the person who had uttered the plea so forlornly made Katrin break out in an unaccustomed grin. Sizing up her assailant – whose expression matched their tone – she was actually surprised that the Denevan wasn't pulling her sleeve as he said it.

"Yes, Mr. Tupelov, we can go now. Lay in Lieutenant Zenarra's course and engage at warp seven."

"Aye, aye, Sair!" the lanky blonde practically sang back.

Commander Katrin Schulte of the Federation science vessel Lor'tana smothered another unseemly grin and said, somewhat sternly, "Lieutenant Tupelov, I know that this mission did not offer much for a helmsman to do, but try and remember that your theatrics really should be confined to your off-duty drama classes."

The rest of the bridge crew smiled at this while poor Fyodor blushed beautifully and gave a slightly embarrassed grin, before recovering and giving her a wide-eyed 'who, me?' look.

"Course laid in and ready to go on your order, Keptin," he said innocently, batting his eyelashes at his C.O.

Katrin finally gave in to the impulse and smiled warmly at her chief helmsman. "Glad to hear it. Warp speed, Mr. Tupelov."

"Aye, Keptin." He pressed a final toggle on his board and they were off to another star system. "Roughly three days to Catualla at varp seven, sair."

"Okay. Any navigational hazards or points of interest along our course, Zenarra?"

Now that the ship was at warp speed and her current duties discharged, the Deltan female turned her seat to face the captain for her answer.

"No Sir, nothing but clear space between for light-years around. The closest Hazard to Navigation is a code B-1 free-floating asteroid field, 1.3 light-years to starboard of our projected course, current bearing—" she paused briefly to check her screen again. "Bearing 071 mark 015."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Katrin said, while she thought, Still giving out too much information. A simple 'No' would have sufficed. Although, to be fair, she knew that it was just Zenarra's way of showing her captain that she was doing her job properly.

Turning to Ensign Tharas, Schulte asked, "Ensign, any Notices to Spacefarers for this area of space?"

The Andorian communications officer swiveled to face her before answering. "Yes, Captain. The civilian authorities have been been informed of the starship Lexington's scheduled arrival at the aforementioned asteroid field for live-firing tests of the new Mark VI photon torpedo. Civilian shipping has been advised to avoid the area for the duration.

"Also, there seems to be an ion storm gathering momentum two light-years from Catualla, on the far side of the system from where we are now. It has been given a code I-2 rating already."

Katrin's face collapsed into a frown at Tharas' report in the ion storm, but she shook it off. "If it is still two light-years from our destination, then it should be nothing to worry about for the time we'll be there. Keep a weather eye out for it, though."

"Yes, Captain."

"Also, if the Lexington comes into hailing range, let me know. I'd like to talk to my uncle, if I could. He is the chief science officer."

Tharas bobbed his head in the Human fashion and returned his head to his board.

Katrin wasn't finished with him, though. "Ensign, post a meeting notice to all Department Heads, as well as senior Engineering and Science staff. I'm calling a briefing at 1400 hours to bring the crew up to speed on our latest mission. I'll wait until everyone is settled in again and had time for lunch."

"Aye, aye, Sir," he returned crisply.

There were several calls over the intercom after that, and within five minutes the Beta-shift officers were taking over their assigned bridge stations as the Alpha-shifters went in search of food.

Chapter Two

Mess Hall, U.S.S. Lor'tana
1210 hours

After getting their choice of meal from the food synthesizer (no-one called it the High-Resolution Organic Fabricator/Defabricator. They didn't want to dwell on the mechanics of the system…), the captain and her chief science, helm, and navigation officers sat down to lunch. In deference to the Vulcan scientist, the others had ordered vegetarian meals.

Fyodor eagerly attacked his heavily-buttered corn-on-the-cob while the women slowly made their way though their Caesar and Kaferian salads. Finishing off a forkful of dressed romaine lettuce and crutons, Katrin asked Lieutenant Commander Samok about the results of the last mission.

Setting down his spoon, the Vulcan abandoned his plomeek soup to answer. "They were most satisfactory, Captain. My apologies to Mr. Tupelov for not giving him a more challenging course to pilot, but a geostationary orbit over the target area was precisely what was required."

The Russian grinned around his cob, but wisely said nothing.

"The final calibrations by Petty Officer Grash eliminated the data acquisition errors we had been experiencing and allowed us clear, unequivocal readings of the volcano forming on the ocean floor."

Katrin sighed. "Starfleet really should have sent a specialised oceanographic research vessel with aquatic shuttles for that mission, but there were none within range. Still, it allowed most of us," she added with a smile at Fyodor, "a chance at something new and exciting to do."

"But, Sair, I am a helmsman!" Tupelov protested. "Undervater wolcanoes don't interest me. Big ones on the surface, yes. I may haf to alter orbit if they blow their top, but there is no danger to the ship from a… a planet's stomach ulcer!"

The bald Deltan woman's nose wrinkled up at the unpleasant metaphor, and she exclaimed, "Fyodor, please! We are trying to eat here."

Slightly abashed, the Russian apologised. "Ah, sorry there, Zenarra. It vas the food that gave me the idea…" He trailed off uncertainly.

Resuming their conversation as if he had not been interrupted, Samok stated, "The data we accumulated should give the Tamnar scientists a greater understanding of how volcanoes form, and they can site their new cities accordingly."

"Agreed," Katrin nodded, but distractedly as her mind was reviewing the data on the aliens they had just helped.

Although not a Federation member, the Tamnarians were another of those cultures contacted by the Federation in the pre-Prime Directive days. In 2166, the U.S.S. Essex had taken damage and encountered the aforementioned asteroid field. Seeking repairs at the nearest star system, they had come across the Tamnarians at mid-19th-century-Earth levels. Fortunately, Captain Shumar had some wits about him and the Tamnarian's culture shock was brief and not very disruptive, but the damage had been done and the government of a nation-state had been made aware of alien cultures from other worlds. Thus, later on, when that government had needed assistance, they had directed a radio signal out into the Void, where the nearest starbase had picked it up. Since it contained details of how they had helped a Federation vessel, the Federation felt obliged to respond and had done so ever since. The Federation – while never handing over any technology – had decided to allow the planet's inhabitants access to all scientific data that would prevent lives being lost through a lack of understanding of natural forces.

Hence the Lor'tana's last mission: six months ago, a volcano that had been 'growing' near an inconveniently-placed city finally erupted; the city then had to be evacuated. The Tamnarian government of that region had requested scientific data on it's formation and why it had grown there, of all places, so that future settlements would not suffer the same fate.

After two weeks in place, the Ulat regional governors, who had promised to share the data with the other nation-states of their world, had gratefully received the accumulated planet-specific data.

Munching on the last of her salad, Katrin finally said. "I couldn't believe the damage in what was left of that city. I'm glad they all made it out safely."

Checking her wrist chronometer, she switched gears. "Okay people, the briefing is in just under two hours. Make sure your departments are in good order and refresh your memories on Catualla, it's people and their customs.

"No, don't get up, finish your meals," she waved them back to the table as she got up and they began to rise with their commandinf officer. "A hungry crew is a distracted crew and all that. Carry on."

With that, she left them to go shower and change after the oppressive humidity of Tamnar's climate. Despite the adaptive fabrics of her uniform moderating the worst of it, her exposed skin felt sticky and unclean, and Katrin was a fastidious person.

Chapter Three

Briefing Room, U.S.S. Lor'tana
1405 hours

"…so, now that you all know where we are going, here is why we are going there. Samok?" Katrin gestured, and the Science Officer took over the briefing.

"The Catuallans have requested Federation assistance to get their first planet-bound matter/antimatter reactor operational. They have— Yes, Mr. Tupelov?" Samok broke off as the young helmsman raised his hand to ask a question.

"Sair, from the briefing I read I thought that the Catuallans already had antimatter power."

"Yes, Mr. Tupelov, they do." Seeing the lack of comprehension on Fyodor's face, Samok forestalled his next question by continuing.

"The Catuallans have several antimatter power plants in orbit, but have apparently come to the conclusion that this leaves them vulnerable to attack. Their reasoning is sound, however unlikely the possibility of attack is. If their orbital stations were destroyed, they would loose approximately 60% of their planetary power supply."

Eyebrows went up all around the conference table at that one.

"Sixty percent?" asked Lieutenant Commander Thelin in his whisper-soft voice. "Isn't that rather a high percentage for off-world power dependency?"

"It is indeed, Commander," Samok answered the Andorian first officer. "The Catuallans have just completed the process of disassembling all of their old fossil-fuel and nuclear fission power stations. The only on-planet power sources they now have are a small number of fusion reactors that have used up the last of the free space on which they could build such structures.
"When that construction was completed 70 standard years ago, they began decommissioning their fossil fuel stations and reclaiming the land. With their harnessing of antimatter, it was deemed too dangerous to both population and planet to build them on the surface. Now that the reactors have a proven record of safe operation, and the Catuallans have the planetside locations available for construction, they have built their first matter/antimatter reactor on the surface of their world. However, it seems that they are still wary and have decided not to activate this site until they can successfully simulate a controlled startup, shutdown, and maintained operation."

"Which brings us to their current problem, and our new mission," Katrin put in. Taking the hint, Samok moved on.

"The Catuallans have been unable to stabilise their planet-bound reactor core. Here is the site of the antimatter power plant, fifty kilometres from the outermost suburbs of Tothanar City, their regional capital. The Catuallan scientists have spent the last six months there trying to generate a solution with increasingly far-fetched theories, all to no avail." The briefing room wall screen, currently displaying an orbital map of the Tothanar Province, changed to a table of data at a touch from Samok. "This is a listing of each theory, actions taken accordingly, and expected results versus actual results for each of the approaches attempted, in chronological order. As we can see, they start off quite sensibly but by the final theory proposed we can see just how desperate they had become for any kind of explanation for their failure."

"'Minor Solar Flares Causing Power Fluctuations… through interference in the air conditioning system as caused by ionic discharges from aurora borealis effect'?" Lieutenant Ga-Nosh exclaimed in disbelief.

Chief Engineer Grunk snorted derisively. "That is desperate. Any connection at all, no matter how slight, eh?" the Saurian junior science officer asked.

"Yes, it looks that way," the captain agreed, while shooting an annoyed look at the engineer.

Samok wound up his presentation and concluded, "Based on a preliminary reading of the data sent to us, it seems that the Catuallans have exhausted all the reasonable – and many unreasonable – theories based on conventional wisdom. It is therefore my assertion that there may be some basic flaw in the Catuallan's understanding of the properties of antimatter, thus rendering all subsequent reasoning faulty. All of their experience has been the microgee gravity field environment of geostationary orbital positions and they has a 100% safety record, but they cannot translate that success to planet-bound operations. This would appear to indicate a problem in the area of gravitational interactions, and this is where I believe we should focus our attentions."

The Vulcan nodded to his captain, and Katrin resumed control of the briefing. "So, based on this, our mission here is a three-pronged investigation. For two of them, Science and Engineering teams will work on parallel projects and compare notes at the end of the investigation." Katrin explained. "Lieutenant Grunk, your Engineering staff will familiarise themselves with the design, materials, and construction history of the power plant itself, paying closest attention to the reactor core. Do not neglect the other aspects, though."

"Of course not! Engineering is not just the glamour of a starship warp drive!" the Tellarite Chief Engineer growled aggressively. "My team will do as you instruct," he finished, nodding at his Second seated beside him.

"Very good, Mr. Grunk," Katrin acknowledged coldly. She'd found she was unable to stop herself from reacting negatively to the natural obnoxiousness of Tellarites; it just rubbed her up the wrong way. She had never met a Tellarite she liked, but personal interactions aside they were often damn good engineers and Katrin was glad to have Grunk. She gave an inward sigh as she childed heself yet again. Perhaps with more exposure over time I'll develop a thicker skin.

Turning to her science officer, Schulte continued. "Commander Samok, you and your team will go over the theory, models, and equations governing their understanding of antimatter and matter/antimatter reactors, and compare it to ours. See if they missed anything."

"Acknowledged, Captain," the slender Vulcan replied.

"Lieutenant Vaidya," Katrin now addressed the handsome, dusky-skinned security chief. "The Catuallans have not said anything about this project being sabotaged, but I want you and your department to look into that aspect. Check the physical security of the site and the integrity of the computer systems running the control software. Do not go into checking staff backgrounds until you have evidence or suspicion of foul play. Even then, I want you to clear it through me, as we don't want to ruffle any feathers."

"Yes, Captain," the Indian replied in a crisp English accent. It contrasted well with Katrin's faint German one.

"Okay everyone. We have three days until we get there. I want us ready to assist and begin investigating as soon as we arrive, so brief your own staffs and go through all the data the Catuallans have sent us. Coordinate on approaches to take, and bounce ideas off of each other.

"Now, lets get started. Dismissed."

Chapter Four

Stardate 7498.6
31st May 2274, 0915 hours
Catuallan star system

"Crossing system boundary now, Captain. Their outer system monitors have us on their sensors," Lieutenant Zenarra reported.

"Thank you, Navigator. Ensign Theras," Katrin said, turning to her communications officer, "hail local traffic control and have them give us a vector into Catualla. Tell them we are expected by the Council of Elders and request a meeting with them as soon as we attain orbit."

"Aye, Sir," came the whisper-soft reply.

A vector came in and Katrin's poor, underutilized helmsman finally got something interesting to do. The little Starfleet ship avoided interstellar passenger liners and cargo haulers heading in- and out-system, planets at various points around their orbits, interplanetary shuttle services, and Catuallan police cutters keeping an eye on it all. A second message came back from Traffic Control informing them that the Council would be ready to greet them by the time they arrived.

Twenty minutes later Fyodor announced, "Standard orbit achieved, Captain."

Nodding at her helmsman, Schulte again turned to her comm. officer. "Ensign, hail the Government Headquarters building in Lienthan City and inform them that we are ready to beam down. Ask for coordinates and how many of us they want to meet."

"Yes, Captain." Theras got busy with his orders, and after several minutes, came up with the answers.

"Sir, the full Council is not in the capital, but Chairman Toldar and Elders Lantrer and Withoor will meet with you in the courtyard of the Government Headquarters building in ten minutes. They said to bring as many people as we wished."

Katrin considered this before deciding. "We'll meet them in equal numbers, as we don't want them thinking they're being overwhelmed. I will beam down with Commander Samok and Lieutenant Grunk. Theras, tell them to meet me in Transporter Room One in eight minutes for diplomatic duty – in their Class-A uniforms. Also, inform Commander Thelin to report to the bridge."

Theras nodded and spoke softly through the intercom. Two minutes later, the first officer stepped out of the bridge turbolift.

"Reporting as ordered, Captain," the tall, thin Andorian stated.

"Ah, Commander. The Science and Engineering Department Heads are accompanying me to the surface to meet the Council representatives. I expect no more than a brief welcome and then we can get down to business. Be prepared to receive orders to that effect," Schulte briefed him in.

"Aye, Sir," he acknowledged.

"You have the conn, Commander."


Arriving in the transporter room, Katrin found her two requsted officers already present. She asked, "All set?" as the transporter technician handed her a communicator. At a nod from each, she led the way onto the transporter stage and took her place on a pad.

"Energize," she ordered.

Katrin's vision cleared and she performed a quick sweep of the area to locate the councillors. She spotted them already moving out from under the shaded awnings into the bright afternoon sun to meet her staff. Recognising their faces from the now slightly dated images on their files, she addressed all of them.

"Greetings, Esteemed Elders," she started. Displaying her palms – fingers to the ground – and inclining her head, she introduced herself. "I am Commander Katrin Schulte, Captain of the Federation science vessel Lor'tana. We are here to help you in any way we can."

She was pleased to note the surprise of all three at her use of their greeting, which all three returned.

The lead Elder, a short, well-muscled man with a bald head, spoke in a deep, modulated voice.

"Greetings, Captain Schulte. I am Toldar, Chairman of the Council of Elders." Indicating the tall, thin man with short, curly blonde hair, he said, "This is Elder Lantrer, governor of Tothanar Province, where the power plant is located."

Lantrer all but rushed forward to shake her hand, and gave an enthusiastic, "Welcome, Captain! We are most glad to have you here!" Katrin noted his excited blue eyes and an electrified air about him, as if he was restraining a great deal of energetic movement.

Turning to the other member of his party, Toldar said, "And this is Elder Withoor, Councillor for Offworld Affairs."

This man, Katrin observed, was a study in contrasts to the ebullient Lantrer. His intense, dark-eyed gaze, straight brown hair, and reserved personality seemed to suck in as much friendliness as Lantrer put out. Withoor nodded a greeting in the Human fashion, but said nothing.

Katrin in turn introduced her own team and they all moved inside, out of the steadily climbing temperature and into a well-appointed conference room.

After refreshments had been served, Toldar asked Schulte what her plans were. Katrin noted the unfriendly looks Toldar received from his two companions, presumably from his giving over control to the outsiders so quickly.

"Gentlemen, we reviewed all the data you sent us and have come up with—" she hesitated slightly, "—two lines of inquiry we can follow." Best not to mention the third right now, she thought. "Only one avenue seems likely, but it would be negligent of us not to do a thorough investigation. My science officer, Lieutenant Commander Samok, will brief you on the first."

Addressing the Chairman, Samok explained. "Our most productive line of inquiry has been scientific, as was expected. It is the considered opinion of the science staff and myself that there is a basic flaw in your understanding of the gravitational-antimatter relationship. We believe this is because all of your research was performed in orbital research platforms to safeguard the populace. By comparing your theoretical models with ours, we have determined a flaw but so far have been unable to locate it precisely. We will continue with that investigation here."

During the Vulcan's statement, the Elders had become slightly red-faced. Now that Samok had finished, Withoor made to speak.

Uh-oh, Schulte thought resignedly. I was afraid of this. The slightest mention of perceived inadequacy and the famed Catuallan pride jumps in, feet first. The whole planet must have an inferiority complex…

"Are you telling us that the reason we cannot control a planet-bound matter/antimatter reaction is because we are—" Withoor practically sputtered his next words, "—basically too stupid!?! That after only three days of investigation, the vastly superior minds of the Federation have solved a problem that has stymied Catualla's best scientific minds for over six months? You—!!"

"That's enough, Withoor!"

Cut off by the powerful voice of the Chairman, the intense little Elder almost rocked back in surprise.

"Forgive him, lady and gentlemen, please." Toldar's mellow baritone soothed any bad feelings, even as he shot his Offworld Affairs man a hard look. "This project is a matter of national pride – pride that has been hurt by our inability to make it work."

Sharing a glance with her officers, Schulte nodded and said, "I understand, Mr. Chairman." To all three, but especially Withoor, Katrin stated, "It was never our intent to offend. We are here to help, at your service."

"With help from your own scientists," the Vulcan added as his own belated attempt at diplomacy, "we should be able to isolate the specific equations."

Though he looked less than mollified, Withoor nevertheless grated out, "Ah, thank you for your understanding, Captain. I… apologise… for my… hasty… outburst."

Deciding to let the matter drop, Katrin was privately very glad she had opted not to bring up her third line of inquiry – that of deliberate sabotage by a staff member. I'm sure that if he'd had a phaser, Withoor would have vaporised us for even suggesting it!

Moving on, the dark-haired captain gave her engineer the floor. She had warned him to be on his best behaviour – for this face-to-face meeting at least – so as not to offend the prickly Catuallans. That having already been done, she was hoping he would still 'be good'.

"Councillors," the Tellarite growled, "the second avenue of inquiry was of construction, and the engineering of the plant. We have analyzed your construction methods, materials and practices for any indication of a flaw in the design. With the data given to us, we could find nothing wrong – except for an unusual reactor design. However, this design held up with our own equations, models and power ratios, so we do not think this is the problem.

"I would, ah, request of you that we be allowed to do scans of the plant with our more advanced equipment, looking for problems you might not be aware of that may be influencing your simulations."

Grunk knew that undetected flaws in the physical building wouldn't cause the simulations to fail, as the mathematical models used would be based on the known plans and differences and thus immune to such. However, he was planning for the future and knew that when they got this mess sorted, the mathematical models had better match the actual building, crack for crack, if the simulations were to be of any use at all for starting a real M/AM reaction within the power plant.

Again, the mere suggestion that Catuallans may be inadequate seemed to incense the Elders, but Toldar held his anger in check very well, and even Withoor refrained from comment.

The Starfleet contingent waited patiently for Catuallan blood to cool, upon which Toldar granted permission for the scans.

"Well, that seems to conclude our initial business," Schulte said. "If you have no further concerns to address, I'd like to get my crew started at the power plant."

"Gentlemen?" Toldar inquired of his companions. Withoor stayed silent, but Lantrer spoke up.

"Lady and gentlemen, would you care for a tour of the facility? I would be pleased to give you one. It would undoubtedly help you to familiarise yourselves with its layout and staff."

Katrin sighed internally. She had been planning on doing that anyway, but with the staff at the power plant. They'd be more likely to give an honest— No, that's unfair, she scolded herself; but alone she'd be more likely to get a briefing that was less biased towards apple-polishing and face-saving without a government councillor overlooking things.

Maximise the good, minimise the bad, she mentally grumbled. She'd get the truth, regardless, it was just that it would be more time-consuming this way. Oh well. Mutter always told me I've got to know when to give in gracefully.

"That sounds like a good idea, Councillor Lantrer," she began. "Perhaps we could go there now? I am sure everyone concerned is eager to get started." Giving in gracefully was never my style, Mutter.

"A good suggestion," Toldar commented. "We had arranged a flitter to take you out to the Tothanar power plant with Elder Withoor accompanying you. Elder Lantrer will now join you, but I must remain behind in the capital. My compatriots will keep me informed of your progress in the normal flow of events. However, as this project is of the utmost priority to our civilization, Captain, should you need to contact me I will respond as quickly as circumstances allow."

Katrin's eyebrows raised in surprise, but she quickly brought them back under control. Did I just hear a planetary leader put himself at my disposal? she thought in amusement. Given the briefing materials on Catualla and it's peoples, Katrin had been expecting the opposite.

Not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, she sincerely replied, "Thank you, Mr. Chairman, that is most gracious of you. We are honoured by your high consideration."

She did not miss, however, the look that passed between the other two Elders at their leader's words.

Nodding almost regally at Katrin, Toldar summoned an aid through a desktop intercom.

"Hemma, escort the Elders and our Federation guests to the flitter in Bay Three." To the rest of the assembled people, he said, "I will bid you goodbye now. My duties require my presence elsewhere."

Inclining his head, Toldar left. Hemma led the rest of them from the room and Katrin pulled out her communicator to hail her ship.

"Schulte to Lor'tana."

"Lor'tana here, this is Commander Thelin."

"Commander, we have met with the governmental officials directly involved and we are now about to take a flitter-ride to the power plant for a tour. We will check in again when we are ready to begin our investigation."

"Very well, Captain. We shall prepare the teams and await your signal."

"Agreed. Schulte, out."

Chapter Five

"Lieutenant, that is all we can do here until those programs finish running, but the system is otherwise intact and secure."

Rahul Vaidya turned back to the science department petty officer he had 'appropriated' for his systems integrity check. The security chief had only six marines under his command and they were all Tactics and Weaponry people by necessity.

Besides, a science vessel has an abundance of computer techs, Rahul thought, and this young Caitian is the best on the Lor'tana. However, he still had to suppress a smile while even thinking her name.

"Thank you, Ms. M'Rowr. Let me go and check if these are the only areas with access to the computer system here."

"Aye, Sir."

Lieutenant Vaidya walked over to the scientist in charge of the facility – a thin, frail-looking man called Gentra – and gained his attention.

"Yes, ah, Lieutenant, what is it?" he asked, looking harried.

He must be fielding a large number of questions from virtually everyone around him, Rahul thought. I will try not to add to his burdens.

"Sir, we're pretty much done with our checks of your computer network and architecture in this facility, but to be thorough, I need to know if anyone has external access. We will need to check their data transmission lines and any off-site access terminals for integrity as well."

"Lieutenant, the only off-site control terminal is in the private offices of the Councillor for Energy. We decided that it would not be wise to have all the control and override systems on-site."

"Sounds like the smart thing to do, to me," Vaidya agreed. "I will have to get the Captain's permission to check this, so she can clear it with the Councillor or the Chairman." Just to be sure, Rahul asked again. "You are sure that there is only the one off-site terminal? It doesn't need to be a control terminal, but we still need to check it," he stressed.

"Yes, yes, Lieutenant!" the scientist snapped. "I probably know better than you about our operational security!" Calming himself somewhat, Gentra enunciated clearly, as if to a dullard, "That is the only terminal. A highly qualified and trusted scientist holds that position and has the Councillor's authority to shut down the reactor if called for in his judgment."

"Thank you, Senior Scientist. I shall clear my proposed security check through both our superiors. Good evening to you."


Rahul almost smiled at the crotchety old man's temper and lack of manners, but managed to restrain himself. He knew he wouldn't like an outsider coming in and turning his department upside-down.

Returning to his computer petty officer, he ordered, "Ms. M'Rowr, call the ship for another computer tech to relieve you, then pack up your equipment and prepare to accompany me to the capital. I have to locate the captain and clear my next move through her."

"Aye-aye, Lieutenant."

One hour later

"Who the smeg came up with this piece of kludge?"

Lieutenant JG Mohd Radi Abdullah winced as he adjusted his tricorder scan and furtively looked around for what seemed like the n-th time, as his superior all but bellowed his complaint – for, again, what seemed like the n-th time.

"Chief, someone will hear you! Please keep you voice down," he pleaded.

Actually, being in the heart of the so-far-unused M/AM reactor, it was very unlikely that they'd be overheard. It was just that Grunk's bellowing was hurting Mohd's ears in the confined space they occupied.

Mirroring Mohd's initial thought, Lieutenant Grunk snorted, "Not likely," but he subsided anyway.

Having beamed directly into this sealed-off section—which would be impossible when the reactor was in use—to get a feel for the 'flow' of the design, the Tellarite had isolated the cause of his ire.

"Look at it!" Grunk commanded. "You're telling me I'm wrong?"

Abdullah sighed. While not as voluble as his superior, he couldn't help but agree with the stubby Tellarite. It was a kludge. Still, Mohd rallied to the Catuallan's defence.

"Sir, they don't have transporter technology or some of the more advanced polymers that it leads to. They've built this reactor core from a standpoint of brute-strength engineering. Since cast-rhodinium is the strongest metal known to their current science, that's what they've built the reactor from."

"I know that!" Grunk snapped. "I read the briefing materials too, Abdullah!"

"Sir, I—"

"Mr. Abdullah, I know that, for their level of technology, this is cutting-edge work. It's just that I also know this can be done far more elegantly. This place looks like a… a concrete factory!" Grunk exclaimed, dredging up old memories of archaic construction monstrosities. "The core unit itself must mass over 100 tons alone!"

His tricorder scans complete, Mohd Abdullah looked up at his boss. "Sir, I find absolutely no anomalous readings. No fractures in the casing, no flow-throughs out of alignment, no mass/bulk discrepancies, all data transfer and control circuits intact."

A grunt. "Just as we expected, then."

"Yes, Sir."

"We have conclusive proof that the engineering design and construction of all aspects of this facility are sound," Grunk said as if reciting something. "Our job here is done."

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his communicator. Flipping the antenna grid up, he barked, "Lor'tana! Two to beam up! Lock on and energize!"

Two hours later

"Based on your current level of understanding, and the foundations of the equations that govern your space-borne reactors, the extrapolations you made for the governing of planet-based reactors have tested out correctly.

"However, we have ascertained that, due to the nature of microgee antimatter research, a vital piece of basic theory was minimised. This meant that any research and extrapolations arising from this understanding—while of sound reasoning—would also be flawed. For the equations governing the planetary reactor, research should have begun anew."

An angry bubble of noise threatened to arise from the assembled Catuallan scientists, but Samok quelled it with a frosty look directed towards them. He continued.

"As is obvious, this is not standard procedure because of the duplication of effort. Also, the need was not apparent as the flaw was irrelevant in a microgee environment.

"While I was conducting this research, my science staff were able to devise what is known in computing terminology as a 'patch'. They have adapted your existing models with our own equations and comparison with own database. We shall attempt simulations with this control software 'patch'. If the simulations succeed, it will be be safe to run the actual startup with this software, although the final decision is, of course, yours.

"I would suggest that, regardless of the outcome of the power plant situation, you should begin 'from the ground up', as the Humans say, on antimatter research."

At this, Senior Scientist Gentra rose in outrage.

"Are you telling us that we have to begin again!?!" he yelled, red-faced. "We joined the Federation 'for security and a mutual sharing of knowledge for the betterment of all'! We've passed your entrance exams, we've jumped through all your little hoops! We already have antimatter power, and we want—" he spluttered over the word, then corrected himself, "—no, we demand that you give us this so-called 'missing fundamental knowledge' so we can understand it and put it to use within our own culture!"

Commander Schulte hurriedly walked in to hear the last part of Gentra's angry outburst, and immediately set about soothing the enraged scientist.

"Mr. Gentra, I can assure you that your last statement is absolutely correct," she started, and all eyes in the room swung to her. After hearing a raised voice, she had rushed over from her final vid-conference with the Councillor for Energy, and now had to calm her breathing before going on. Giving all assembled a measured stare, she continued.

"As a UFP member you have full access to all areas of knowledge that your science and culture have already discovered. Who was it that told you differently?"

Having been immediately mollified – some might say "capitulated to" – by the senior Federation representative, Gentra calmed considerably.

"Captain, it was your science officer who claimed we would have to restart all our antimatter research from nothing, regardless of whether or not his staff's 'quick-fix' to our power plant control software worked or not."

Katrin began to get an inkling as to what had happened, but for the benefit of the Catuallans, she directed her question to the blank-faced Vulcan.

"Mr. Samok, is this true?"

"Yes Captain, it is. I was not, however, suggesting that the Catuallans be denied access to Federation knowledge in this area. I was merely suggesting the best method – in my experience – for the proper and logical assimilation of this new knowledge." He paused there to redirect his words to the head of the facility. "It has been my experience that trying to assimilate a new fundamental that alters the emphasis of previous knowledge leads to the danger of familiarity clouding judgment. You expect things that are not there, and such like. I was about to explain this," he added frostily to his captain, "but I was interrupted by Mr. Gentra before I could."

Gentra's ice-blue eyes narrowed at this and he looked about to continue the argument. Katrin recognised the signs and headed him off with her own words.

"Well, I'm glad we cleared up that little misunderstanding," she said to the room at large, before addressing Gentra again. "The Lor'tana's databanks stand ready to assist you, Senior Scientist, in whatever avenue of research you wish to pursue."

Katrin hoped that the old man did not realise he was being railroaded into going along with what she wanted – a speedy resolution of conflict that didn't involve the notorious Catuallan pride. The rapid subject changes and apparent capitulations would disguise that, she hoped.

"Ah, very well, Captain. I will want to go over this, ah, 'patch' of yours with my computer staff to make sure that it is sound—"

to make sure we can understand it, was what Katrin heard—

"—while my theorists track down this so-called 'knowledge gap' and integrate any useful information into our current models. I would like to get started immediately."

Katrin nodded, pleased that her little ploy worked. It's not capitulation if it's what you're here to do anyway, she told herself as she pulled out her communicator.

"Schulte to Lor'tana."

"Lor'tana, Thelin here."

"Commander, here's what I want you to do…"

Four Hours Later

"Okay, everyone, lets hear your reports. We will start with Security," Katrin stated. "Mr. Vaidya?"

Katrin settled more comfortably into her chair at the conference table, having finally stopped coordinating her crew's investigative efforts with the Catuallan authorities directly in question. The investigation was at last completed, and this was a final briefing before moving on to the actual solution.

The Indian lieutenant didn't bother standing, but he had nothing to present anyway. Addressing the whole room, he stated, "My complete report is in the computer for anyone who wants the specifics," he nodded at the viewscreen, which was currently displaying it, "but the gist of it is that we found nothing. All the hardware itself – the terminals, computer cores, memory banks, and data transmission lines – were found to be 100% secure. Scans of the architecture showed no unauthorized or unknown hardware taps that would give an outside hacker access to the system. Detailed analysis of the computer operating system and its logs showed no tampering, disruptive programming or unauthorized access from within the system. The results of this analysis gave me no reason to check into staff backgrounds, as no evidence of sabotage or covering up was found.

"That concludes my report summary."

"Excellent. Thank you, Lieutenant," Katrin said warmly. "I would like to think that antimatter is something no-one wants to fool around with, regardless of personal feelings, so that is the best possible result I was hoping for. What now remains is merely a technical problem. So saying, what did Engineering find out, Mr. Grunk?" she asked.

The Tellarite grunted before barking, "Apart from a kludge of a reactor design, my staff and I found little more than Vaidya did." Ignoring his captain's cold look at his lack of protocol – and tact – the engineer brought up his report on the wall-mounted viewscreen. "These are composite images taken from the Catuallans' own plans and our personal scans of the installation. There are no discrepancies between them, either in design or construction. The only problem I see is one of emergency shutdown."

At worried looks from around the table, Grunk explained further.

"Due to the Catuallans not having force-fields or transporter technology – which leads to the more advanced polymers – there is no way to safeguard the site from antimatter containment failure. Antimatter is produced on-site on an as-needed basis, and if the reactor core fails in any way, the super-thick walls of cast-rhodinium act to contain and absorb the resultant detonation. Now, at up to half power, the plant absorbs the blast – which would completely destroy it in the process – but at full power, the resultant explosion would blast a 10 km-deep crater into the planet's crust and irradiate the province in a matter of days."

The shocked looks from his crewmates didn't faze the gruff Tellarite in the slightest. "It is why I keep calling it a kludge. If it works, it will do the job adequately. If not, they really are endangering their planet."

"I had no idea—"

"Are you serious? What about—"

"We shouldn't let them continue with their project. It's too—"


The room fell silent as the captain made her presence felt. Katrin glared around the table, coldly locking eyes with everyone present.

"There will be no more outbursts like that while I am in command. Is that understood?"

Chastened, the participants nodded stiffly.

"We are not here to question the Catuallan's techniques, technology levels, cultural values, ethics, or their wisdom! We are here to help them get this power plant operational, and we will comply with that request to the best of our abilities!" she stated bluntly.

"Of course, that said, I will inform Starfleet Command of this development and ask about a change in mission priorities and objectives. Until we hear differently, however, we will continue as originally planned." Schulte emphasised her final words to underscore her order.

"Now, was that all you had to say, Mr. Grunk, or was there more?"

"Apart from the Catuallans' failure to inform us of their plant's maximum power output, there is nothing else I have to report, Captain," the chief engineer stated.

"Very well. Science, what do you have for us?"

"Captain, Senior Scientist Gentra and his computer staff examined the software 'patch' and pronounced it 'sound'," the Vulcan stated, with a slight emphasis on the last word to render his opinion of their efforts, "after which they immediately applied it to their systems for a simulated run. The test failed."

The faces of all present fell at that, their pride slightly dented, before Samok went on.

"The margin of failure was very slight, however, and with adjustments made by the Catuallans and our own science staff, the second simulation succeeded. Over the last three hours, several minor improvements were incorporated over hundreds of simulations and a final control software 'patch' has been written. Using this patch, we achieved a 100% success rate in over 200 scenarios ranging from a normal, incident-free startup to many full-blown emergency situations – including emergency shutdown. However, in light of Lieutenant Grunk's new information, the tests may not have been as all-inclusive as I had previously supposed.

"The Catuallan theorists are still trying to integrate our new information into their previous understanding of antimatter physics, although they have started the process. Their facility manager has planned an actual test run of the power plant startup for tomorrow morning at 0900 Local Time on-planet, which correlates to 0400 Ship Time. With this new data in mind, I would now suggest that the actual start time be delayed until we can run simulations with our patch at the increased power levels.

"This concludes my report, Captain."

Katrin sat back in her chair, face furrowed in a frown of concentration as he considered the information her staff had given.

"Okay, here is what is going to happen. All of you will retire for the night as it is already—" she checked her chronometer "—1800 hours. I want my Science and Engineering staffs well rested for this event tomorrow. I will speak with both Starfleet Command at Starbase 15 and the Catuallan Chairman. By tomorrow morning I hope to have clearer instructions and to have delayed the test run.

"That's all, people. Dismissed."


"You have reviewed our reports and the recommendations of my staff, then, Commodore?"

The short, balding Australian on her wall-mounted viewscreen nodded. "Captain, I understand your position and I sympathise, I really do."

Sympathise, Katrin thought dejectedly. There is a 'but' or a 'however' coming, I can feel it.

Sure enough, Commodore MacLaughlin continued, "However, you can only advise them to postpone or cancel this test. The very fact that they kept this little detail hidden from you indicates they were expecting Federation officials to object and try to alter their stance on the matter."

"Sir, surely I can at least cite some obscure conspiracy statute—"

"Now, listen here, Commander!" Katrin noted the colder tone and the use of her rank as opposed to her title, and knew that that law would be laid down now. "The Federation and Starfleet does not bully or browbeat people into 'common sense'. It is still their planet, and as long as they know the risks and are prepared to proceed anyway, all you can do is assist and, unfortunately, try to clean up any mess that results from their, ah, determination."

Schulte noticed with surprise the base commander's softening of tone with his last words, and had the impression that he almost said 'stubbornness'.

She sighed. "Understood, Commodore. With any luck, the mess we might have to clean up won't involve an irradiated province."

Craig MacLaughlin gave her a sharp look at those words, but decided to let it pass and merely nodded. "Good luck, Captain, Lets hope you don't need it. Starbase 15, out," he said, and signed off.

Katrin got up and paced to try and escape her frustration. Her warning/plea to Chairman Toldar hadn't gone any better, as he had refused to hinder the test in any way since his own people were supremely confident of the outcome.

My hands are tied. There is nothing I can do but wait – and hope, she consoled herself. I'll work out this frustration in the gym and then turn in for he night.

Chapter Six

Bridge, U.S.S. Lor'tana
1st June 2274, 0345 hours (shiptime)

Commander Katrin Schulte exercised great restraint as she sat in the Lor'tana's command chair. If this turned into an emergency shutdown, she didn't want to be pacing around and getting on her crew's nerves. Having just contacted her chief engineer at the Tothanar reactor a scant five minutes ago, she was unwilling to hail him again so soon. She addressed her comm. officer instead.

"Mr. Theras, hail the council chairman at the Government Headquarters building and maintain an open channel until I say otherwise. Do the same for Lieutenant Grunk at the reactor site, and put their visuals on the auxiliary monitors above your station."

"Aye sir, hailing them now."

"Mr. Tupelov, move in to a geostationary position above the reactor site at five hundred kilometres' altitude. Lieutenant Zanarra, plot a series of orbital maneuvers that requires a minimum of power to keep us there."

"Aye, Sair."

"Yes, Captain."

"Petty Officer McCarroll, allocate minimum power plus five percent to the impulse engines as per Lieutenant Zenarra's requirements, minimal shield power, and divide the remainder between pinpoint sensors and transporter systems. Be prepared to bleed one to boost the other."

"As you say, Sir. Allocating now," replied the black-haired Scot manning the bridge Engineering station.

"Very good." As she waited for her orders to be carried out, she turned to her science officer. "Mr. Samok, are the ship and crew ready for emergency beam-out procedures?"

The tall Vulcan diverted his attention from the science scanner to check on his captain's request for data. Looking up after about thirty seconds, he replied, "Yes, Captain. Every personnel and evacuation transporter is currently manned and double-staffed. Our shuttlecraft has been launched and both it's bay and the cargo bays are cleared for emergency beam-in. Power allocations are now as required, and we are ready to go to red alert at your command. All departments and crew acknowledge yellow alert status."

"Thank you, Commander."

"Captain, I have the Chairman with his advisors and Lieutenant Grunk for you."

"Thank you Theras. Gentlemen," she said, addressing the monitors, "I would like to keep these channels open for the duration of this event so we can coordinate our efforts and keep everyone informed. If you could kindly have one of your staff man this station?"

Grunk, who knew this was an order no matter the phrasing, replied with a gruff, "Yes, Captain."

Toldar, to whom her words really was a request, considered it before saying, "It is a reasonable thing to do. My assistant Yarna will monitor your efforts."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman." Checking her status boards, she finished by saying, "We are now in place and ready for the test, beginning in one hundred seconds… mark. We will speak again, after the test." Whether it is successful or not, Schulte added to herself.

"Until then, Captain," Toldar responded, then moved out of the viewscreen's pickup with his entourage in tow.

"Cross your fingers, Mr. Samok, lets hope this works."

Tothanar antimatter reactor control room
0359 hours (shiptime)

Senior Scientist Gentra looked at the wall clock as it ticked down the last few seconds. Turning to his power engineer, he asked, "Final Go/No-Go check?"

Ton-nol ran his eyes over all the status indicators on his board. "All power couplings are online and good for Go. All backup systems, alternate power generators, and auxiliary control circuits are fully operational. Data to and control links from the councillor's terminal are active and clear of interference." A pause to assess the situation, and he confirmed, "Final Go/No-Go check complete, test is a 'Go'."

"Stand by everyone." Gentra couldn't control the excitement in his voice. It let everyone know just how charged the old man really was. "Stand by to activate the antimatter generator in Five… Four… Three… Two… One… Activate!"

Five technicians at the antimatter generator controls flipped their switches in sequence.

"Main power activated."

"Magnetic field control circuits on line."

"Particle accelerator on line."

"System integrity checks complete and successful."

"Temporary containment fields activated."

"We have antimatter production!"

"Confirmed, reading two molecules in storage already, production proceeding at two molecules per minute as planned."

Gentra swallowed to lubricate his dry throat. First stage completed, now for the main event!

"Begin feeding the matter and antimatter streams into the reaction chamber!" he commanded.

This was the crunch point, where all the simulations had failed up until the Federation had arrived.

The reactor was not connected to the province's power grid for obvious safety reasons, so any and all power generated was being routed into massive arrays of storage batteries. They should begin to detect the batteries charging now, if all went well.

"Storage Array One registering at one percent of capacity and increasing!"

"Reaction rate is stable and under control."

"Matter and antimatter streams showing no fluctuations in path or quantity."

"All systems are stable and performing within expected parameters. We are 'Go' for 10% power test."

Gentra's heart skipped a beat, but he managed to force some calm into his voice. "Negative, we will hold at present level for a thirty-minute static power test." Noting the grumbles and frustrated looks, he barked angrily, "We have waited this long to get this far! Do not get sloppy now, just because you are excited and want to rush for glory!"

His furious glare swept over everyone in the large control room, and heads ducked in shame and acknowledgment of the truth in his words.

"Maintaining status, sir."

Three Hours Later

"Captain, they are ready to go to full power now."

The bridge crew, having gradually relaxed over the last few hours – some might even have said "got bored" – became tense and alert once more.

Captain Schulte swung around from her conversation with Theras and focused her attention on the main viewscreen, where the reactor's scientific data was presented. Katrin had approved of the Cautallan scientist's words against sloppiness, but after the succession of anticlimactic power increases and static power level tests, she had found herself hard-pressed to maintain her alertness.

"Okay people," she said to the bridge crew at large, "look sharp. This is the big one, what we've all been waiting for." I hope our run of good luck – and, yes, boredom – continues until the end.

If Samok were Human, he would have rolled his eyes at his captain's statement. Being Vulcan, he didn't even allow himself a raised eyebrow and merely thought Why must Humans state and re-state the obvious?

"Power levels increasing from 75%, climbing steadily."

"Our own sensors are in perfect agreement with the data link from the power plant's computers."

That was a crucial point and a good redundancy to have. The ship's own sensors were acting as a simultaneous diagnostic to confirm that the plant's own computers were reporting accurately, as well as providing additional information that the Catuallan sensors weren't picking up.

"Passing through 85% of maximum rated output, all Catuallan systems reading no problems."

After a couple of seconds, Katrin turned in surprise to ask her science officer about his report, but he finally spoke.

"Captain, our sensors are reading a vanishingly slight anomalous reading in the subspace spectrum. I have confirmed the reading, and that the Catuallan sensors are not detecting it. It would appear that there is a low level of subspace instability at the core of the reactor itself, which may pose some kind of problem in the future. However, the readings are not dangerous at present levels, and show no signs of increasing," he added, forestalling Schulte's next question.

Everyone on the bridge, however, had heard the unspoken 'yet' at the end of the Vulcan's statement.

"Mr. Samok, prepare to transmit that data and any analysis and projections you may come up with to both ground sites, on my order," Katrin instructed. Walking over to the comm. station, she addressed her chief engineer and the Catuallan chairman's aide.

"Gentlemen, we may have a problem," she began. "Our sensors are detecting some signs of subspace instability in the heart of the reactor. These readings are not dangerous at present and show no signs of becoming so, but you need to be informed of a possible danger."

"I'll tell Gentra," Grunk said. "I doubt he'll call off the final move unless an actual containment breach threatens, but he will want to know."

Toldar's aide, Yarma, nodded in agreement with the Tellarite's words. "Captain," he said, "unless there is an immediate danger, I see no need to abort this test so close to its completion. The data gathered from this test run will be invaluable, and after a two-day 'running in' period the reactor will be shut down for inspection and diagnostics. I will inform the Chairman, but I assure you that this will be his reaction also. Please transmit any data you have so that our scientists may assess any potential problems."

Slightly frustrated, but bearing in mind her recent conversation with Commodore MacLaughlin, Schulte merely nodded and said, "Very well." Turning to Samok, she ordered, "Science Officer, transmit your data and findings now."


"Inform me of any change in readings, Commander, the instant they occur."

"Reactor power now approaching 100%!" The suppressed excitement in Lieutenant Ga-Nosh's voice brought Katrin's attention back to the viewscreen.

"Reaching 100%… now, Captain!" The Saurian female blinked her large yellow eyes as the readings on her science monitors peaked and held steady. "Static power test commencing now, Catuallan sensor readings show all systems performing within expected parameters – if at slightly higher tolerances than nominal."

"Our sensors are in complete agreement with Catuallan sensors except for the unstable subspace field harmonic we have detected. So far, it has attributes so minimal it is barely registering on our sensors and not at all on the Catuallans' less advanced instruments."

Nodding at her science officer's report, Schulte ordered, "Mr. Samok, begin research into what could be causing this harmonic. With all our models and projections, it shouldn't be there."

"Yes sir." Turning to his intercom, he contacted the science labs a deck below. "Petty Officer Axar, report to the bridge."

Minutes later, the triped Edoan was replacing the Samok at his monitoring duties, and the Vulcan headed off to the science labs to begin his research.

Meanwhile, all Katrin could do was wait. Again. She stared at the main viewscreen, head resting on her fist.



Half an hour later, it was all over. The final static power test had been passed and the reactor was operating normally—if not nominally. The first array of batteries was 85% full and all the Catuallans were hailing the whole event as a "great success".

Katrin was still troubled, but with Samok not turning anything up yet, all she could do was stew in her own misgivings.

Chapter Seven

State Dining Room, Government Headquarters, Lienthan City
1300 hours (shiptime)

Fyodor Tupelov looked around the sumptuously decorated and well-appointed vastness that would be their home away from home for the next few hours, and gasped in amazement.

"You could fit our ship in here!" the excitable Russian exclaimed.

"Or at least the saucer section and nacelles," agreed a smiling Rahul Vaidya.

"Mr. Tupelov, stop tugging at your collar. The Catuallans will think you're trying to strangle yourself," Katrin admonished.

"Keptin, whoever designed my dress uniform could have given the Spanish Inquisition some lessons in torture!" The ebullient Russian subsided though, and the three Starfleet officers stepped up to the doors and were announced into the room.

"Ah, Captain, gentlemen, welcome!"

Schulte turned to face the speaker, recognising Chairman Toldar's deep baritone. "Thank you, on behalf of myself and my crew, Mr. Chairman. May I present Lieutenant Rahul Vaidya, my Chief of Security, and Lieutenant Fyodor Tupelov, my Chief Helmsman?"

"A pleasure, gentlemen," Toldar said as they exchanged greetings. "We have a few moments before the banquet begins, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to thank you and your clever crew personally. This is a great moment in our history, Captain!"

Toldar was very effusive, and indeed the entire population of the banquet hall was in a celebratory mood.

"Virtually unlimited power, safely housed on our planet's surface. All thanks to the crew of the U.S.S. Lor'tana!"

The Chairman had raised his voice for his last sentence, and the room took notice as was intended. Glasses were raised and the toast drank to cries of "The Lor'tana!" and "The Federation!"

It was a thoroughly intoxicating feeling and it swallowed up Fyodor and Rahul completely, but Katrin couldn't – quite – let go of the small knot of worry in her gut.

As if picking up on her worry, Toldar asked, "Where are your other fine officers, the ones who accompanied you the first time?"

"Chairman, my chief engineer remains at the power plant with your senior scientist to continue monitoring the reactor. My science officer is continuing his research into the anomalous subspace readings we detected. He would normally have had some answers by now, but the very minuscule readings make it difficult."

"Captain, it seems to me that is nothing to worry about. Have, ah, Mr. Samok, isn't it? Have him take a break and join the celebration in his honour."

"That is very kind of you to think of him, but I have to decline. No matter how slight, the reading should not be there and we need to know what is causing it."

"Very well, Captain. I appreciate your thoroughness. But enough talk of work. Let us celebrate its results!" With that, he ushered them to their seats.

Science Lab One, USS Lor'tana
1315 hours (shiptime)

"Commander Samok? The subspace field stress readings are increasing. This is the second time."

The worried tone of Petty Officer Enar made Samok immediately check the sensors. "You are correct. That this should happen now is potentially pattern forming, but we need more data before our research can even begin to produce results. Whatever concerns this development may bring, it will also provide us with the additional data we seek.

"Continue monitoring these readings, Mr. Enar. Technician Jones, contact the bridge and have them set up a direct data link from Science Lab One to Lieutenant Grunk's equipment in the power plant."

"Aye, Commander."


Control Room, Tothanar Antimatter Power Plant
One hour later

"Senior Scientist, this is beginning to worry me," Mohd stated bluntly.

His superior blinked at that, and almost smiled. You know it's serious when Mohd starts to talk like a real person, the Tellarite thought.

"I agree that there is cause for concern, ah, Lieutenant Abdullah, but there is no immediate danger."

"Mr. Gentra, the variance is now eight times it's original strength!" the young Arab exclaimed in alarm. "If an 800% increase – in anything, never mind a potentially dangerous element – isn't cause for concern, I don't know what is!"

"I completely agree with my assistant, Senior Scientist," Grunk put in before Gentra could say anything to him. "I seriously urge you to reduce the power output of your reactor."

The Catuallan's ice blue eyes flicked between the two Starfleet officers as if gauging their veracity as he mulled it over.

Finally, he nodded and Grunk felt a sense of relief wash through him – which was almost as quickly drained away with the scientist's next words.

"As I recall, your instruments first detected this problem when we went above 75% power. I will reduce to that level again, and we will see if the problem diminishes also."

"I would prefer it if you went to half power, Senior Scientist. Just to be on the safe side. After all, the reactor is still in its test phase, the running in period. It won't be part of the planetary power grid for some time. " The thin old man began to shake his head in refusal, so Grunk added, "There is no shame in prematurely stopping the test since it has been successful up to this point, especially when you consider the risks of a failure through some perverse form of pride."

Gentra – who had been wavering in the face of those more knowledgeable than he – felt his resolve harden again at those final words. He had been feeling the pressure from the Councillor for Energy to make sure the project worked first time, in one go. His working experience had warred with his political savvy, and had just won with Grunk's 'no shame' speech, but Grunk hadn't known when to let well enough alone. Bringing Catuallan pride into it had just destroyed his argument for common sense.

Mohd could almost see it going their way by the expression of Gentra's face, until his boss mentioned pride. His flame of hope guttered and died, as the alien scientist's mouth set in a hard line before he spoke.

"No. We will reduce to 75% power, and if it continues to rise, then we will drop to half power."

Grunk almost snarled in Gentra's face at his obstinacy, but managed to restrain himself to a terse – but angry – "Very well."

Half an hour later

"Lieutenant Grunk? It's increased again. That's the variance up to sixteen times its original strength, and the time-between intervals are halving. We have a serious problem here."

"Agreed, Mohd," the chief engineer almost snarled. "We need to begin shutdown procedures right now. I don't know how much a strain the reactor can take – I'm even now picking up unusual stress readings on the Catuallan equipment."

Signalling to catch the plant administrator's attention, a thoroughly angry Grunk moved towards him saying, "Gentra, you need to shut down the reactor. Now." The incensed Tellarite's tone brooked no argument. "The subspace instability is getting worse and we have to act now before we have a disaster on our hands."

The old man looked instantly outraged and disbelieving, and demanded, "We've known about this 'anomaly' you keep on about for almost eight hours! Why do we suddenly have a 'disaster'? Why do we have to shut down now? Why can't you fix it—"

Grunk – not normally a patient being – was not in the mood for an obstinate, prideful fool who was ignoring the facts and placing everybody in danger.

"Listen to me, you decrepit old imbecile! " he yelled and – ignoring Mohd's panicked expression – gripped the lapels of Gentra's lab smock. "The instability seems to be increasing at a logarithmic rate, and we don't know how much stress your reactor vessel can actually take before it cracks open like a dropped egg!"

Gentra's eyes widened in fear, but Mohd couldn't tell if it was because if the implications Grunk was spelling out for him, or if it was merely of the threat of physical harm to his person. Probably never been manhandled before, the young engineer thought as his superior continued, shaking the plant administrator as if trying to instil some sense.

"Inside an hour, the field stress is going to be over 200 times its original level! I don't think the reactor can take more than 30 times, but I don't know! None of your studies or tests took this into account, and neither did ours!"

In the face of a louder, nastier, and more knowledgeable being crying, "Doom", Gentra's bluster died and his anger and disbelief collapsed. "O-okay, L-Lieutenant, okay. Calm down, please. Wh–What should we do? Call the Council? Evacuate the plant? The province? We—"

"Gentra, snap out of it! " Grunk cried, despairing. "Just shut—it—down!"

"Ah, yes, of course." Summoning his wits, he turned to his task while Grunk pulled out his communicator.

"Grunk to Lor'tana! "

"Lor'tana, Commander Thelin here," the Andorian responded, sounding surprised. "We were about to hail—"

"Commander, Yellow Alert and prepare for mass beamout!" the engineer interrupted urgently.

"We're monitoring it too, Lieutenant. Science Officer Samok has finally isolated the cause of the imbalance and the data is now being downloaded to your equipment," Thelin informed him. "We are currently trying to contact the captain and let her know, and we are already prepared as you suggested. We'll continue monitoring ourselves, but we will await further signals from you."

Hearing all this reassured Grunk greatly. "Thank you, Commander. I will look over the data immediately. The Catuallans are in the process of shutting down their reactor, but if something goes wrong do not wait for my signal. Do what you must."

"Agreed. Lor'tana out."

Grunk raced back over to his console as fast as his stubby legs could carry him, hearing the final shutdown status calls from Gentra's staff.

"Antimatter generator production down to zero."

"Cut power to the generator."

A pause. "System powered down… Antimatter fuel generator is offline."

"Reaction rate down to 2% rated power."

"Shut off fuel feed from antimatter and matter containment."

"Fuel feed closing down… Now shut off. 0% fuel feed active."

"Reaction slowing… fuel exhausted, reaction stopped."

"Fuel generation and reaction systems powered down, containment systems active, power levels 100%, reading 5% capacity."

Gentra hurried over to Grunk's console and reported on everything Grunk had missed and half-heard, finishing by stating, "That gives us about," he paused for a quick calculation, "ten seconds' fuel at full power."

Grunk tossed off a tense "Good" over his shoulder, but he was concentrating on his console screen.

Everything seemed to freeze in time just then, as several people suddenly realised that nothing about the current situation could be labelled 'good'.

"Chief, the readings are still increasing! "

Grunk's porcine eyes widened on horror and Gentra let out a strangled cry, but it wasn't at Mohd's urgent call. They were both staring at Samok's calculations, which led them to that same conclusion. It wasn't the antimatter reaction or the control software – the antimatter itself was unstable!

They faced each other and blurted together: "The containment chamber!"

Grunk knew from his intense examination of the facility that there was no way to get rid of it in time, and so did Gentra. The Catuallan looked helplessly at the Tellarite.

"We didn't plan for this! How could we know?"

"Mohd! How much time do we have?" the engineer snapped out.

"About five minutes, maximum!"

"We have to restart the reactor and use up that antimatter before it completely destabilises!"

"It'll take too long!" Gentera howled. "We need at least ten minutes to realign everything after an emergency shutdown – it reduces power levels too quickly and burns out circuits and machinery! You were there for the simulations! The shutdown is supposed to solve the problem and worry about normal operations after – when we have plenty of time!"

"By all the Seven Hells!" Grunk snarled, all the while cognisant of the fact that it wasn't Gentra's fault. Almost all reactors of any kind were designed that way.

"Start evacuating the buildings, and inform your Council," Grunk said, almost gently.

"With that much fuel in storage, it'll be like a breach at full power! It'll crack the planet's mantle!" Gentra was openly sobbing now. "What have I done? Oh, Holka, what have I done?"

An assistant arrived to pull the senior scientist away. As he watched the broken man leave, a plan crystallised in the Tellarite's mind.

Bridge, U.S.S. Lor'tana
1450 hours (shiptime)

"Grunk to Lor'tana! Beam me up!"

For the chief engineer not to wait for a response meant that he regarded his situation as urgent. Tharas routed Grunk's order to a transporter room along with his co-ordinates, then turned to the figure in the centre seat.

"Lieutenant Grunk requested immediate beam-up, Commander. I've relayed his order to Transporter Room One, as they are in between evacuation beam-outs," he reported.

"Very good, Ensign. What is the status of the evacuation?" First Officer Thelin asked.

"Currently, 102 Catuallan and Starfleet personnel from the power plant have been beamed directly to an open square at the centre of Tothanar City." A pause. "Lieutenant Grunk and the penultimate group of six have now been transported, and Transporter One is cycling for the last group."

"Good work co-ordinating the evacuation, Ensign," Thelin praised his young comrade.

"Thank you, Sir!" Tharas flushed a deeper blue, but maintained his demeanour.

"Science Officer, have you reached the captain yet?"

"Yes, Commander, but she is having to… disengage… so we can speak privately," Samok replied. He watched as the volatile Andorian fumed at the delay, barely managing to avoid yelling, "Hurry up!" down the comm. channel.

The Exec couldn't restrain himself entirely, however.

"What is taking her so long?"


Grunk barrelled through the doors to Transporter Room Two – clipping one in the process – and literally screeched to a halt behind the control console, sweating heavily. He pulled a uniform sleeve across his eyes to sweep away the sweat-matted hair, then started to work the board.

"Sir! What're you doing?"

Grunk started in surprise. So total was his concentration that he hadn't noticed the transporter Petty Officer working at the machinery flat in front of the console.

Not sparing him a glance, the Tellarite continued reprogramming the transporter filters and parameters as he ordered, "Get round here and watch what I'm doing! This might take both of us working together to pull it off."

As the Centauran hurried round, Grunk told him, "The antimatter reactor on the planet is about to lose containment and blast a hole ten kilometres deep. I'm not going to let that happen. Now, be prepared to assist me, 'cause this might get complicated."

The gawky blonde man gulped audibly, but gave a firm nod. "Aye, Sir."

"Good man." A few more switches flipped and all was set. A quick glance at the console chronometer showed that he only had 80 seconds of Mohd's original five minutes left. He cursed and activated the system, muttering, "The bridge'll have to wait until I'm done before I can tell 'em."

Petty Officer Zaran's eyes went wide at that, but still he stood firm, with his hands hovering near the fine-tuning controls.

Good man, Grunk thought again as he said, "Energising."

A shimmering sound began to fill the room as the transporter engaged, quietly at first but rising steadily with more power being fed into the transporter system.

Once transport began, the experienced hand's eyes widened and he looked at the chief engineer in genuine fear. He'd taken note of the readings and co-ordinates Grunk was using and blurted out, "You're beaming up the antimatter? Without it's container? "

"Snahphu!" the Tellarite snarled. Zaran flinched backwards at the obscenity, but Grunk was already correcting the mistake he'd made at the crewman's outburst.

"Use your head, idiot!" Grunk continued, making more minute corrections as he explained. "The containment bottle isn't a bottle – it's a vat! It must mass 80 tons easily, almost as much as the damned reactor vessel. There is no way my engines can haul that lot up – we don't have the power!"

Zaran gulped again and realised the Tellarite was correct. But he's still beaming up raw antimatter! his mind screamed at him, urging him to reverse the beam.

Grunk noticed him wavering, but couldn't spare him any more of his attention – all of it was needed on what he was doing. "Monitor the antimatter stability rating!" he snapped out.

Zaran nodded, and Grunk flicked a glance at the console chronometer.

Ten seconds since transport began, he noted. The transport was up against a deadline, but the very nature of it demanded patience and time.

Grunk was energising too quickly, and not quickly enough.

"Stability at 60%!"

Grunk moved the sliders faster with one hand while he fine-tuned the phase variances with his other, racing against the accelerating destabilisation.

"Stability at 50%! Transporter system operating at full power, non-essential ship systems are shutting down!"

The Tellarite's sweating – which had momentarily stopped – returned to add to his woes. He was narrowing the gap, but still too slowly and he had to act now.

"Dematerialization complete, stability at 40%—dematerialization rate increasing rapidly! " Zaran cried in alarm.

Grunk had feared this would happen. Now that the unstable antimatter had severed its last link to physical reality, the molecules' structural integrity had been weakened even further. Grunk knew how to combat this though, and his hands flew over the controls to compensate.

"Stability at 17%, destabilisation rate slowing," Zaran called out. Desperately, he added, "Sir, you must beam it out now!"

"Damnit, I know that! " Grunk bellowed as once again he closed the gap on the decay rate. "I've almost got it—!" And without a decay rate of less than 20% I can't beam it out – the molecule states change too quickly for the Heisenberg Compensators to cope!

The chronometer told him it was 45 seconds since he began beamout just as Zaran called out, "Antimatter stability at 9%! Decay rate at 21.5%!"

Fingers performing a veritable piano concerto on the transporter control panel, Grunk felt his hopes begin to rise again as the variance fell away. Almost got it! Nearly there!

State Dining Room, Government Headquarters, Lienthan City
1453 hours (shiptime)

Katrin had finally managed to excuse herself from the dinner party in her honour, and found some peace and quiet to hear the rest of her science officer's message. Her quest for the privacy Samok had stressed she needed had taken her outside to the far corner of the gardens, although she could still see in through the French-style doors.

Opening her communicator again, she finally stated, "Okay, Commander, I have no audience now. What is it that they might have overheard and panicked over?"

Samok's answer confirms her earlier fears. "Captain, the subspace destabilisation has doubled many times over these last few hours. The reactor is now in imminent danger of exploding at full strength. We are—"

"What!?! " Shulte yelled. "Damnit, Commander, why the hell was I not informed before now?"

"The rate of increase is logarithmic, Captain," came back the unperturbed answer. "Initially, the rate of increase was slow enough to appear manageable, but over the last hour since you left the variance has increased by six thousand percept – almost five thousand percent in the last fifteen minutes."

"Du leiber Gott!! " Katrin breathed. "Spiralling out of control so quickly…"

"Indeed, Captain. In the time it took to reach you, it increased to double its previous value. As I was saying earlier, we have just completed evacuating the plant. All Catuallan personnel have been transported to Tothanar City—"

Suddenly, a babble of voices erupted in the background, and the Red Alert siren began blaring.

"Massive power drain, Commander! Non-essential systems shutting down!"

"What? Trace it!" ordered Thelin's voice.

"Transporter systems, Sir!"

"What's going on up there, damnit? Samok, beam me up!"

"Reading transporter energy at the antimatter reactor site, Commander!"

"Contact the transporter room, find out what the hell they think they're—"

The communicator squealed hideously with subspace feedback, nearly deafening Katrin – while simultaneously, the darkening evening sky lit up like it was noon on a clear day.

Katrin's head snapped up – as did everyone else's in the facing hemisphere of the planet – and she stared, slack-jawed and disbelieving at the new star birthed in the heavens above her.


People were running around frantically before her – some shouting orders, some demanding answers – but she saw and heard none of it. Anguish and grief filling her soul, she cried out.

"My ship! "

Chapter Eight

"Keptin! Keptin!" Fyodor ran out of the dining room into the garden, hot on the heels of Security Chief Vaidya as they searched for their C.O.

"Wait here and keep up appearances while I see what Samok wants," Schulte had said to them not five minutes ago, Fyodor remembered. Well, no-one is worried about appearances after whatever that was, he thought sarcastically as he and Rahul dodged around Catuallans heading outside for a look.

"There she is!" Rahul exclaimed quietly. They both dashed over to her.

"Keptin! What was that flash? Did the reactor explode?" Fyodor asked, swinging about to try and locate a flare of light on the western horizon.

Rahul was looking carefully at his captain, and just knew that something far worse – for them – had just happened.

Commander Schulte had composed herself by now, but the security officer had seen her staring up at the sky with her eyes full of horror and her mouth hanging open. Almost as telling, her communicator – now being hurriedly re-tuned – had been dangling limp from her hands.

"Captain?" he asked tentatively, not wanting to venture anything while there was still a chance.

"Get your communicators out and try to contact the ship. If you cannot get through, try and contact any ships' personnel on-planet."

Her officers looked at her as if they'd been gut-punched, but Fyodor had to ask.

"Keptin, has the ship been destroyed?"

"Belay that kind of talk Mr. Tupelov! We know nothing for sure yet. Get moving."

At the sharp rebuke from his captain, the young Russian took on a hurt look as he worked his own communicator.

If we are the last survivors, why is she lashing out at us? he questioned within his own head. He slapped his communicator in frustration, as nothing he did could get through to anybody.

Rahul was likewise having no success. "Captain, it's no good. There is too much interference on all subspace frequencies."

Katrin knew that it was futile, but she was going through the motions out of a sense of duty. She had not only heard it happen 'live', she had felt it.

A captain just knows, she thought miserably. "Very well, gentlemen. We—"

"Captain Schulte! " All three officers turned to see Elder Withoor hurriedly approaching.

Oh, here we go, Katrin thought in anger and grief. More inane questions, unreasonable demands, and officious nonsense! I don't want to deal with this right now!

She couldn't have been more wrong.

Withoor, his customary dour expression completely absent, immediately gave a bow from the waist. Katrin, already off-balance, had her worst fears and gut knowledge confirmed with his first words.

"Oh Captain! We are very sorry for your loss. The entire council has been informed and unanimously offer their own personal and all our people's most sincere condolences. The hearts and minds of our people grieve with you for the loss of your crew and your ship."

"Wha—?" she spluttered as Rahul and Fyodor sagged visibly.

"Our orbital sensor net detected and recorded the explosion that claimed your vessel and simultaneously alerted the whole council of this event," Withoor explained, divining that Schulte was confused at how they knew so quickly.

Pulling herself together – I'm the Captain, Goddamn it! – Katrin willed her stomach to stop its sickening lurching and managed a husky-voiced response.

"O-on behalf of my sh—ah." Katrin stumbled, then corrected herself, all the while feeling a deep pain. "On behalf of myself and my officers, I thank you and the Council for your kind regard."

Schulte waited expectantly, but Withoor held silent. Maybe it's part of their mourning rituals, she thought, but I need answers now.

"Elder Withoor, do you know why my ship—exploded?" she managed to ask, the words sour in her mouth and stabbing deep into her gut.

Withoor looked at her as if slightly puzzled, but dismissed it and answered her.

"We do not know what happened, Captain, but we do know how it didn't happen. Our sensor net detected no other ships or platforms within weapons range, no weapons fire – neither space– nor ground-based, no other orbital objects of any size within 20,000km, or within the orbital track of your vessel. But our sensors cannot tell us of events aboard your ship."

The Elder was saying this as if he was listening to someone and repeating it, but the man had come out alone.

Probably a hidden receiver in his ear, Vaidya supposed. He did say the orbital sensor net signalled all the Council members.

Katrin, trying to work past the death of her ship and crew, asked, "What about the Tothanar reactor? My science officer was telling me that the antimatter containment…"

Katrin faltered there, as it all clicked into place for her. Rahul and Fyodor, who hadn't heard that yet, also had looks of dawning comprehension.

Not so the Catuallan, who noticed the changes on the faces of the three aliens and recognised their significance – if not their cause. Giving them time to regroup, he answered their last question.

"Yes, Senior Scientist Gentra informed us that he was performing an emergency shutdown of the reactor, and we've received confirmation that it was successfully completed."

The Councillor for Offworld Affairs looked puzzled at the grim looks of satisfaction on the faces of the three Federation officers, but Katrin pre-empted him speaking first.

"Elder, I—we—need to address the Council, so we can unravel these horrific events."

Withoor got that 'listening' look again, and after a few seconds he concurred. "Yes, Captain. The Council and your crew need to know what has transpired tonight.

"Follow me."

Council Chambers, Government Headquarters building, Lienthan City.
2130 hours Local Time

"…and the orbital sensor satellite shows us the Tothanar reactor completely intact, no escaping radiation, completely evacuated, and all systems powered down except for the antimatter containment system which is operating normally."

"Thank you, Commander Poldar." Seeing Elder Lantrer's request to speak, Toldar added, "I now yield the floor to the Councillor for the Tothanar Province."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman." Addressing councillors both present and not, but specifically the Starfleet officers, the tall, blonde Elder was noticeably subdued but had a spark to his eyes. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Captain Schulte and officers, I bring news of survivors from your vessel. It seems—"

Katrin and her comrades leaped to their feet, but managed to restrain any outbursts lest they miss the information Lantrer was conveying.

"—that the Federation vessel performed a mass, emergency evacuation of the Tothanar reactor using their teleporting technology, and teleported the 102 Catuallan reactor staff and twelve Starfleet crewmembers still at the site to the ceremonial parade ground at the centre of Tothanar City.

"The senior member of those crewmembers, a—" he paused to make sure, "—Lieutenant JG Mohd Abdullah, informed me personally of his superior's plan to save the reactor. This, ah, Lieutenant Grunk was attempting to teleport the antimatter fuel still remaining into space so that our planet would not be harmed."

Grunk! You self-important, Goddamned—! Katrin mentally cursed. You didn't get anyone's permission— no, screw the permission! You never even told anyone onboard before you tried this! You killed my crew and destroyed my ship, you—!

Katrin's vocabulary failed her. Never had she felt so much hatred for anyone! The life of a science officer doesn't prepare you for that level of human emotion, and an equally benign childhood denied her the words she wanted.

"It is due to the heroic actions of this self-sacrificing officer that Catualla remains unharmed by the impetuous actions of her children, and in this child's lowly opinion, Lieutenant Grunk should be awarded Catualla's highest honour and his memory be enshrined forever in our Hall of Heroes!"

Lantrer's speech concluded to wild cheers from most councillors, both present and on their conference screens. Some were more restrained, recognising that almost 70 alien beings had died saving their planet from it's worst ever catastrophe.

Rahul and Fyodor exchanged looks of mute grief and pride at their friends, crewmates, and ship that had saved this planet but perished in their valiant attempt. They fondly remembered Grunk and his typical Tellarite personality—which, once you got past the gruff exterior, hid a solid friend—and his technical genius which had lead to many unexpected discoveries in the Lor'tana's two survey cruises over the past five years.

Katrin, however, sat in splendid isolation and ground her teeth as hatred gnawed at her soul. Lantrer had become all poetic and patriotic, and Katrin couldn't stand to hear it about the being who had killed everyone on her ship without even telling them, giving them a chance to prepare for the possibility of failure.

I never liked that obnoxious, insubordinate, pompous, arrogant—arshloch! All those people, dead, 'cause he had to play the hero. Never even told anyone onboard! They died unawares, all of them! All but the bridge crew who got a few seconds' warning, enough to be terrified as they died.

Katrin felt the need to vomit as bile clawed its way up her throat, but managed to hold on despite the canonising of her despised chief engineer going on around her. The Councillor for Science speaking brought her back to reality.

"Esteemed fellow Elders, the reason for our problems has at last been revealed. Commander Poldar has returned with more news of the aid our Federation saviours have provided us. I yield the floor to him now."

The man in charge of Catualla's orbital defence network stepped forwards. "Members of the Council of Elders, we have examined the reactor complex in minute detail, and found it to be as expected, undamaged save from circuits burned out during the emergency shutdown, and ready to be re-staffed at any time."

Katrin rose again, ready to protest that folly, but Poldar continued.

"Also found—untouched, within the control room—was the Federation equipment used to detect and monitor the problem. This equipment contains within its memory banks the entire research project and its results as conducted by Science Officer Samok. It reveals the underlying cause for all our antimatter problems! I yield the floor to Scientist Athan, Senior Scientist Gentra's primary assistant, and head of the Theory Team in this project."

Samok! Katrin mentally wailed. As if his name was the key to the floodgates of her memory, she began to see the faces of her officers and crew, friends and comrades, and lastly, Thelin, her XO—and lover. At his image, she got a hold of herself, hearing his soft voice chiding her.

"This is not the way a Captain behaves, liebshien. You are stronger than this, and there are still duties to perform."

Tears stung her eyes, all the more powerful for having to remain unshed—for now. Always the voice of reason and duty, my warrior. A small smile escaped her, in fond recollection of his strength and gentleness. So be it. I just wish we had more time together, my love.

Tuning back in to the worlds around her, she heard the Catuallan scientist reciting the specifics of the general idea Samok had informed her of, just before—

She clamped down tight on that train of thought and signalled her desire to speak again. The scientist concluded his brief, and Toldar recognised the captain of the Lor'tana.

"Esteemed Elders, I thank the council and the people of Catualla for the kindness they have shown and the support that they have offered to us in this matter, making it known that they share our grief even as they celebrate their own survival. It will not be forgotten."

A smattering of applause began at her words, threatening to become an ovation of sorts, but she waved them to silence so that she could continue.

"I would ask that a message be sent to Starfleet Command at Starbase Fifteen, so that the Federation can send another ship to complete our mission, and take myself and my remaining crew on board."

Chairman Toldar's voice was heavy with compassion as he answered. "Of course, Captain Schulte. The message will be taken care of immediately. You may make the call yourself, if you wish."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman, but that won't be necessary." Katrin was not looking forwards to the inevitable court martial that awaited her back at the starbase. She wanted to avoid that reality for as long as possible. "I am sure your best efforts will be more than sufficient."

"As you wish."

"Also, my officers and I would like to be taken to where the rest of my crew are, as soon as possible. I wish to speak with them and find out what went wrong on board my ship, if that can be found out at all."

"Of course, Captain," Toldar repeated. It seemed that nothing would be too much trouble for the Catuallans, not when dealing with the saviours of their planet. "A flitter will take myself and your party to where they are being housed, once this Session is over. I want to meet them, and thank them in person also."

Katrin was warmed by Toldar's consideration. "Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That will be most appreciated by my crew."

The head of the council nodded sombrely then gavelled the Session to order.

"Now, is there any more business that needs to be dealt with immediately? " his voice boomed out.

No new motions or debates or even further information about the current crisis were brought forward. Katrin got the slight impression that even if there was something else, it would be kept until the next Session, so that her wishes could be dealt with first. It was a warming feeling, though completely spoiled by the circumstances that engendered it.

My wishes. Katrin's thoughts were still in turmoil. Hatred for Grunk. Despair for her crew. Anguish for Samok. Bone-deep hurt for Thelin. My wishes have nothing to do with this situation, she thought, bewildered.

"Very well. This Session of the Council of Elders is now closed." The gavel banged again, and the occupants of the room began to disperse.

Many councillors came up to shake the hands of the Starfleet officers and offer condolences, in the Human fashion. It was a tribute that all of them had decided to pay, in respect. Finally, Toldar approached them, the last to do so.

After Katrin had thanked him, Toldar gestured for them all to leave. "Come, let us contact your starbase, then be on our way to reunite you with your crew.

"Your mission with us is over, Captain."


You'll see momentarily why I had to add this next line in as the 'Afterword' instead of in the 'Introduction'. It most certainly counts as a "spoiler".

The basic premise I had as the inspiration for this story is this: what if we had a typical Star Trek crisis requiring an emergency solution… but the ship that responsed was not the Enterprise with her Legendary Officers on hand?

Well, know you know what I thought. In my mind there is a reason that the Original Series crew are the stars of the show, the best of the best. This story merely thermocreted – in my mind at the time, at least – that the crew of the 1701 were the best of the best, defeating enemies and triumping over situations that even their fellow Starfleet crews could not.

A fellow fan ficton author at the time really disliked the ending, telling me "it wasn't Trek". Maybe he was right back then; I had a similar if more extreme reaction to a particular Endeavour story by The Guv. And we've certainly seen our fair share of 'Prestige TV' Trek now.

Either way, I'm still pretty proud of this story, having come up with the problem and it's solution myself. I believe it's a good tale.