The Oloron nebula spread out before them as a blue-purple swirl with sparks of
yellow light flaring off-and-on in different pulses throughout its expanse. Captain
Steve McCall was mesmerized by its continuos light show. He stood looking out the
window of his ready-room watching the spectacle as it played out in front of him.
The USS Valkyrie had been floating out here next to this nebula for three days, so
far. They were due to be here for about a week while they carried a team of astrophysicists
on board to study it. McCall should've been happy. He was back in space after a month's
absence, but this isn't what he'd intended when Starfleet gave him command of the
Valkyrie. It was a step down for him, he thought. Valkyrie was an Intrepid class
starship and not exactly the pride of the fleet. They were the first ships to use
bioneural gelpacks in place of control chips, which was considered a real step forward
to those who'd designed her. Still, ships of her class were ridiculed by others in
Starfleet. Her class been referred to more informally as the upside-down spoon class,
or the "ugliest ship in the fleet" by those who didn't serve aboard them.
That irked McCall to no end. He'd once commanded a Galaxy-class starship, complete
with a rich history: the USS Constellation, NCC-1710-C. McCall started getting a
pit in his stomach, recalling the events which led up to her destruction. He'd given
the order to abandon ship after the core breach...no, he wasn't going to dwell on
it. At least he was back where he belonged.
"Bridge to Captain," his intercom called out. It was his First Officer,
"McCall here," he acknowledged.
"Lieutenant Barr has asked us to move the ship inside the nebula."
"So do it."
Vor didn't reply at once. Her voice came back sounding strained, "I just wanted
to get your approval, sir."
"Thank you, Number One."
"Don't mention it."
McCall went back to watching the stars and the nebula's dance out the window. Vor
was a good officer, he thought. As the Number One, as first officers were commonly
referred to, she'd take care of them. He turned to his desk, sliding the viewscreen
around to face him and pulled up his personal calendar. His re-commitment to service
was due in three months. Maybe twenty-two years in Starfleet was enough, he thought
to himself. He could retire at any time, but where would he go?
The door slid open revealing Commander Selena Vor. She was thin, like most of her
kind, with short, dark brown hair and brown eyes which were almost black framed by
equally dark eybrows that seemed to trail off towards the side of her face. She was
humanoid with an alien quality which gave her a unique presence among others. Betazoids
had a penetrating gaze which seemed to cut through you when you spoke with them.
McCall had trouble with this concept. Communication to them was a two-part process,
involving both verbal and telepathic communication. Most of them never even spoke
to each other verbally if they knew each other informally. She stepped into his ready-room
and strode purposely towards the desk McCall was sitting at.
"Captain," she began, "We need to talk."
McCall just looked up at her. She probably already knew what he was thinking, with
her being a Betazoid, he surmised. He'd never worked with one before, but he knew
most of them were mind-readers. He just happened to get one of the few who weren't
serving as a ship's counselor. Vor had attained her rank through the command track
with the eventual goal of becomeing a starship captain herself.
"Sir, I realize that this command isn't what you had hoped for, but you must
spend some time on the bridge," she began.
Evidently, she'd rehearsed this speech, he thought to himself.
A frown came across her face after McCall had completed that thought. She must've
"Sir, as captain, you need to be out among your crew. This is a maiden voyage
for this crew."
McCall figured he had nothing to lose, "This is shit! We're nothing but a high-tech
transport service for Starfleet! This ship can't even last for more than two weeks
at a time without re-stocking! Not to mention having only a record-breaking top speed
of warp six! Do you really expect me to be happy here?"
"I expect you to do your job, as the rest of the crew does!"
"I am. I'm delegating responsibility."
"You're avoiding it!"
"How do you know that?"
"I can sense it from you."
That did it, McCall thought. She wasn't going to spend the rest of this tour crawling
around inside his mind. He focused on the basest, most evil thoughts he could summon
and stared straight at her. Then, read this! he thought.
"Captain!" she gasped in horror.
McCall stormed out of the room, through the bridge, and disappeared into the turbolift.
Vor went back to the captain's chair and stared out at the screen.
"Ahead one-quarter impulse," she ordered after taking a deep breath.
The other bridge crew members shrugged and went on bout their business, trying to
ignore the friction between the two senior officers.
Synthehol didn't really help with anything, McCall thought to himself, staring at
the shot glass he was holding. Unfortunately, starfleet had a strict rule about olcohol
in space. You couldn't even sneak in onto the ship without the computer finind it
and transporting back off the ship. It would be nice to die, he thought to himself
considering his predicament, but it would be nicer to have the Constellation back.
That would never happen, he was sure of that. He drank the last of the simulated
whiskey in his glass and stared out into space from the stool at the bar. The Constellation
was a ship with a history going back over eighty years. She was named for the original
Constitution class starship, which was lost along with her captain, the legendary
Commodore Matt Decker. Starfleet had taken to preserving its heritage by preserving
original hull numbers as a way of commemorating vessels which had served proudly.
It started with the Enterprise, and continued with many others.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" a voice came from beside him. McCall turned around
to see who it was.
"How's it going, Steve?" asked Commander Jack Lewis, the ship's Chief Medical
McCall put down the glass and offered his handshake to his old friend.
"I haven't had the chance to come down and see you yet," McCall explained.
"I figured you'd get around to it sometime," Lewis responded, "Why
don't we find a table?"
The two got up and found a table closer to the observation window.
"So how are you doing? It's been what, five years?" Lewis asked.
"At least, old friend," answered McCall.
"It's not quite Starbase 204, is it?" Lewis remarked, looking around the
"It's not the Constellation, either," McCall quipped.
"You're not happy here, are you?" Lewis probed, his brown eyes trying to
penetrate McCall's ice-cold blue ones. They'd been friends for years. McCall had
done several years on starbase 204, prior to his first command.
McCall let out a sigh, shaking his head, "No."
"What are you going to do?"
"This is the only command Starfleet had available. Anything else would've had
me commanding a desk out at a starbase, or worse yet, a deep space station."
"Hey! My first duty station was a deep space station. Do you remember when space
staion K-7 was still active?"
"God! Has it been that long?"
"It's been deactivated for eleven years, now. It's a stopover for starliners
these days. It's a good place to set up a business. They still get a lot of Klingons,
too. The whole inside looks like a shopping center now"
"You wanted to tell me something, didn't you," McCall asked, changing the
Lewis looked down at the table for a minute, rubbing his hands together as he was
assembling the correct phraseology for what he'd wanted to say. He regarded his friend
with caution. The last couple of years had been rough on him. McCall's face showed
it, too. His face was weathered, like an ainciennt seaman during the time of sialboats
on earth's ocean. His hair which had been a sandy-brown color was now graying at
the temples. His eyes were sunken, deeply lined around the edges showing signs of
stress, age and sleep deprivation. He knew McCall was basically a good officer and
that he would be a good commander, although he'd never actually served with him in
that capacity. He knew he had the qualities which made good starship captains: diplomatic,
decisive, and quick-thinking.
Lewis tried to phrase his next statement as delicately as possible, trying not to
offend his friend.
"I...heard about the disagreement between you and Commander Vor," he said,
initiating the discussion.
Oh. That. I don't like to be at a disadvantage. Especially by my own crew members."
"This is the first voyage for most of the members of this crew with you in command.
It would do a lot of good for them if you could get along with your first officer."
"I don't want her creeping around my mind whenever she wants to!"
"So tell her."
"How do I know she will?"
"Well, what about your number one aboard the Constellation?"
"Martin? Oh, yeah, he was excellent. I put him in for the Gold Cross."
"How did you feel about him?"
"I could trust him with my life."
"Did it start out that way?"
"Well..." McCall thought back to the day they'd first served together.
He explained everything he would be expecting from his first officer to him that
first day. It took a little getting used to each other, but eventually they found
a rhythm which they could work to.
"See what I mean?" Lewis asked, illustrating his point.
McCall looked at Lewis for a minute. He studied his face, black and lined, with dark
brown eyes and a penetrating smile. His hair was snow white around the edges where
his once-black hair had been. They'd been through a lot together and known each other
for a long time. It would be good serving with him again.
"I see what you mean," McCall remarked.
"Well," Lewis remarked, getting up, "It's time I got back to Sickbay.
I'm sure somebody's missed me by now."
McCall watched Lewis as he left the lounge. He turned back toward the observation
window, finishing his drink. He had been hiding, he thought to himself. Well, there
was a ship to run. He would do what was required of him now.
The turbolift opened up and deposited McCall on the bridge. He looked around the
room before sitting down in his seat. For such a small ship, the bridge was enormous,
he thought to himself. His only complaint with the arrangement was the command chair
was off-center from the viewscreen, so both the captain and first officer were centered
together on the bridge. The viewing angle drove him nuts, having always to look slightly
to the right to see the screen.
"I have the con," McCall declared, taking his seat.
"Captain," called Commander Vor, "May I see you for a moment?"
"In my ready room," McCall acknowledged, getting up.
The two faced each other after the doors closed.
"What can I do for you?" McCall asked.
"First, I want to apologize for criticizing your method of leadership."
"Apology accepted. However, you were right. I was hiding. I resent the fact
that you can pick things out of my mind before I decide to share them with you."
"Sir, I do not arbitrarily go inside people's minds and just look around."
McCall raised an eyebrow.
"Never! That would be bad manners and certainly not something you would do to
your commanding officer.
Wanna bet? he thought to himself.
"Well, I won't." Vor declared, answering his unspoken question.
"Good. You don't want to be in here anyway. It's dark and scary," McCall
quipped, lightening the mood.
"Bridge to captain," the intercom sounded. It was Lieutenant Fife, second
officer and tactical officer.
"McCall here," acknowledged McCall.
"We're getting a lot of energy build-up in the circuits from the nebula. Engineering
is suggesting we back out until things cool off."
"Agreed. Take us out of here. I'll be out in a minute."
"Aye, sir," acknowledged Fife.
McCall looked at Vor before speaking, "Let's get back to work."
Vor smiled, "Agreed."
McCall had just sat down at the command chair when Lt. Barr entered the bridge. She
looked like a red tornado the way she stormed across the bridge with her long, red
hair flowing behind her. She wasn't part of the ship's complement, so in fact she
was commanding her own unit. As a rule, science crews were more informal and didn't
pay as close attention to starfleet protocol as other cadres did. She came down the
steps, standing directly in front of McCall. She was well proportioned, but petite.
Her green eyes gazed at him with a fury which could easily be seen by all who saw
"Captain, why are we leaving the nebula?" she asked.
Once again, McCall got out of his seat. This time to face down the angry commander
"We're getting a circuitry overload. It'll only be for an hour or so,"
"We were conducting an experiment that was crucial to our remaining in the nebula!"
"We think we can communicate with it."
McCall sat back in his seat, blinking once. It was possible to find life anywhere
in the galaxy, least of all in places you wouldn't expect, but this was too much
to believe. Commander Barr went on.
"The electrical pulses which you're seeing have a certain rhythm to the way
they fire, not far off from the way electrical synapses in the brain occur. Our team
was experimenting with a way to decode these sequences. We were onto something when
you moved the ship."
McCall rubbed his chin while he thought over his possibilities. This would need further
study and more input. He decided to call a meeting for discussion.
Lieutenant Commander Selek stood before the senior staff assembled in the briefing
room, pointing at a diagram of the ship' main power conduits as he explained the
effects his engineering team discovered. He spoke in the objective and almost monotone
voice in which most Vulcans spoke in. His movements were purposeful and subtle, only
to illustrate a change in his presentation's focus. He was a light-skinned Vulcan,
with the usual dark hair, cropped short and the wide eyebrows which gave him the
appearance of an owl.
"As you see from the diagram, there are excess loads being exerted on these
three main conduits," Selek explained, "The loads have exceeded normal
tolerance by fifteen percent. So far there's been no major damage to the ship, but
it would be illogical to remain inside the nebula until protective measures can be
"Can we make any of those modifications while we're here?" McCall asked.
"We can protect ourselves for a few hours at best. To sufficiently protect the
ship would require insulating all of the power conduits on the ship. This would require
more insulating material than we can currently replicate. In addition, all systems
would need to be shut down, including life support."
"That would require a dry-dock to complete," added Vor.
Barr keyed in some instructions on the conference table, then got up to address everyone
from the screen.
"So far, our team has been able to determine that the electrical pulses emitted
by the nebula have a distinctive set of patterns, similar to that of the human brain.
Currently, we are trying to decode these patterns and determine if the signals are
truly a form of communication or synaptic process, or if they are just random fluctuations.
This is only one of two such nebula encountered thus far. The other was the Motara
nebula, which was lost to the Genesis project about a hundred years ago."
"Historical records prior to that nebula's loss showed that there were random
fluctuations of electricity flowing through the expanse. Sensors and navigational
equipment were virtually useless in that environment," Vor said, citing historical
"As I recall that was what made for a good hiding spot during the Romulan war.
Both sides used it extensively," McCall remarked.
Barr used that comment to put the conversation back on track, "It is that very
same interference which we are trying to study. We tied in the universal translator
into the radioscope and we've isolated several distinct patterns. Since the universal
translator is able to decipher thought patterns, it might be able to decipher these
codes. However, I'll need more than a few hours to conduct my experiments."
"That's out of the question," McCall answered.
"Sir, if I may make a suggestion," interjected Selek, "There is a
ship near here which can stand prolonged periods inside the nebula. It is the Galaxy-class
Ouch, thought McCall as he felt the pain in the last statement.
A foreign voice spoke inside his head, I know you're in pain, but you must do what
is best for all concerned. McCall shot a glance toward Vor, who was gazing at him.
He showed his displeasure with her intrusion, but continued on with the discussion.
"I'll contact the Asimov. Commander Barr, I'll let you know when we contact
them. I'm sure the captain will want to talk to you," McCall continued.
Barr nodded her head in acknowledgement.
"Well then, I think we've reached a decision here. Thank you. Dismissed,"
McCall said, adjourning the meeting. He walked out of the briefing room and back
onto the bridge, asking Lt. Fife to contact the Asimov by subspace. They were still
far enough away from the nebula to observe it. Incredible, he thought, settling into
his seat. This was the part of the job he was missing. The chance to see something
new, explore new territory. He had forgotten what being in satrfleet was all about.
"Astronomy team to bridge," called Barr's voice from the intercom.
"Bridge," answered McCall. Now what, he thought to himself.
"I have an idea which might work in the meantime while we wait for a response."
"What is it?"
"We could take a shuttlecraft across the nebula's expanse, then get a reading
from there." Barr suggested.
"You wouldn't even be able to stay out there as long as the ship could with
the improvements that Selek mentioned! What would be the point?" argued McCall.
"We managed to translate a strand of one of the patterns." Barr countered,
"It seems to be a word."
"What does it say?" McCall asked.
McCall recoiled with the revelation, "Are you sure about that?"
"The computer isolated it at eighty-four percent probability."
"That's still a wide margin for error," Vor commented, joining in the discussion.
McCall looked down at the deck, pausing before he spoke. This discovery would put
a new spin on things. He contacted engineering to ask what Selek would need to do
to make it safe for them to return.
"As I said earlier, captain, we need to insulate the main power conduits. Since
we can not physically accomplish this at the present location, we can only attach
attenuators to those conduits and vent the extra power to the outer hull of the ship.
This process will only be effective for three or four hours. The electrical charges
appear to build up exponentially by a factor of two, making the attenuators work
increasingly harder to reduce the flow."
"Start working on it. Commander Barr's onto something. It's the least we can
do," McCall told his engineer.
The modifications took several hours to complete. When they were done, Selek announced
"All right, then," McCall said, shifting in his seat, "Take us into
the nebula, one quarter impulse."
"Incoming message from the Asimov," Lt. Fife called out.
"Belay that last order, helm. On screen."
The captain of the Asimov was a small person who appeared to occupy a large seat.
He leaned forward in his chair addressing the screen, "This is Captain Roger
Merrick of the USS Asimov. We got your message. I'd like a little more information
on the situation."
"This is Captain Steve McCall of the USS Valkyrie. We're conducting a study
of the Oloron nebula. We have a team of astrophysicists on board. One of their experiments
involves monitoring the electrical impulses generated by the nebula. In order to
ensure success, the ship has to go inside the nebula. Our circuitry can't handle
the increased strain from the nebula. We thought yours could stand the increase in
Merrick looked at the screen as if he was thinking about something, "I know
of a Captain McCall, but he's commanding the Constellation."
McCall sighed, "No, he's not. The Constellation was lost in sector 574."
"Oh! Forgive me, Captain. I've been in space awhile. I guess I should be paying
closer attention to the news briefs from Starfleet." Merrick apologized.
"No harm done."
"I think we can accommodate you. We can be there in twelve hours."
"We'll rendezvous with you en-route. If you'll transmit your coordinates, we'll
plot a course to meet you."
"Agreed. They're on their way to you," Merrick turned away from the screen
to say something to his tactical officer.
"We've got them, sir," Fife reported.
"Thank you captain. We're going to conduct a few more tests inside the nebula,
then we'll be under way."
"Acknowledged, Merrick out."
The screen flickered and returned to the view of continuous light show swirling in
front of them.
"Now, where were we," McCall said, "Ahead one quarter impulse. Commander
Barr, are you ready?"
"Aye, sir. Beginning now."
They were able to withstand the inside of the nebula for five hours. They were on
their way to completing a sixth, despite protests from Selek. However, they had withstood
all that they could. The power load was increasing, putting the ship at increased
"Commander Barr, time to come out of the pool," chided McCall from his
"Begging the captain's pardon?" she replied.
"We have to leave the nebula. Wrap up your experiments." McCall restated.
"I need five minutes," claimed Barr.
"You have three. McCall out."
When the experiments were complete, Barr reported her team as being secured.
"Let's get out of here, Mr. Goodin. Set a course for the Asimov."
"Course set in."
"Ahead warp factor three."
Selek thought that this would be as good a time a any to clean out the vents on the
impulse engines, since they would be in warp for a little while. Before they could
do that, all of the connections to the impulse engine control for that particular
engine had to be disconnected. The engineering crew was broken down into teams, each
working on one of the various connections which isolated the engine control. This
had to be done by hand, requiring a group of technicians to enter the Jeffries tubes
and break the connections. Team two was led by an Ensign Jack Craft. Craft entered
the tube with two other crewman following behind him. Craft pointed to the access
panel with one hand while holding a tricorder in the other. The other two began working
to remove the panel.
"I'm getting some unusual readings, Chief," Craft warned.
"Probably due to the energy overload from the nebula," Chief Cedras speculated,
confident in his knowledge of systems.
"I wouldn't get too overconfident about that," argued Craft, "Look
Craft handed the tricorder to the chief. He gazed at the readings.
"The concentration appears to be the same as the nebula energy," the chief
said, dismissing the Ensign's observations.
He began opening the panel while the other technician held a flashlight on the work
"What's this?" the chief grunted, putting down the screwdriver he was holding.
Craft knelt down to look into the area. There was a large, green moss-like covering
spread over the wires and conduits which lay beneath the access panel.
Craft made some adjustments on the tricorder.
"They appear to be the source of the energy readings," Craft claimed.
The chief grabbed another tool from the kit they'd carried with them, pointed it
at the moss and activated the tool.
"It's not coming off with the scraper," the Chief muttered, "If we
try to blast it with a phaser, it'll rupture the conduit. They're pretty delicate."
"I'm well aware of the conduit tolerance, Chief."
Yeah, sure you are, the chief thought silently to himself. Cedras had been an enigineer's
mate for eighteen years. As a senior noncommissioned officer, he knew about as much
concerning the systems as Commander Selek did. This wet-behind-the-ears Ensign probably
only knew what little he knew in holographic simulations. He regarded the skinny,
awkward Ensign as a child. Craft was a tall, lanky man with closely-cropped blond
hair in keeping with the tradition of academy cadets. Cedras, in contrst, was a stock
hispanic with olive skin, dark brown hair, and the customary moustache, kept well
withhin starfleet's grooming standards for enlisted personnel.
"Can we work around it?" the other technician asked.
"I've got to pull these wires off of that pin over there, see?" the Chief
motioned towards it, "I can't get the moss off of it."
Monsters of Klingon mythology were surrounding McCall as he positioned his sword
and shield for the attack. A large, hairy beastlike humanoid lurched forward at him.
McCall stepped back, swinging the broadsword forward. The beast staggered back. Another
thing which looked like a quarter horse with horns stood up on its back legs and
blew fire in his general direction. McCall leapt forward and drove the sword through
the heart of the beast, pushing it off with his foot. He swung around, slicing the
other monster's head off.
"You call this recreation?" Vor commented as she silently entered the holodeck.
McCall turned around, still gripping the sword as if to swing it.
"How the hell'd you get in here?" McCall sputtered, realizing he'd drawn
his sword on his first officer. He put the shield down, still holding the sword in
"You didn't lock out the program access. It looked interesting, so I thought
I'd take a peek," Vor answered, "The legend of Mak'leth, right?"
"Uh...yeah, that's right. Do you know a lot about Klingon mythology?"
"I know a little bit here and there. It's unusual to see a human using a program
McCall threw the sword onto the ground, "The Klingons are a misunderstood people,
"In order to really understand them, you have to live with them for a while.
I was one of the participants in the Starfleet officer exchange. I spent a few years
on Qo'nos, the Klingon home world while assigned to the battle cruiser Klothos."
"So what are Klingons like?"
"They're like the humans were back in the times before modern history,"
McCall answered, "I think they're a lot like the Celtic tribes on earth. They
have a love for poetry and art, which balances their appetite for war and conflict."
A roar sounded from beyond the foothill the two were standing on. McCall turned to
find himself face to face with another monster with large, sharp teeth and catlike
features. It sprang at him, arms outstretched with each paw sporting six-inch long
McCall forgot that the game was still running, "Computer! Freeze program!"
The monster stopped, suspended in mid-air, still poised for a deadly attack. It was
only a foot away from McCall when it stopped.
"That was close!" Vor gasped, being witness to the event.
"Closer than you think. I took the safety precautions off."
"I like a challenge."
"And what happens when these--things--get you?"
"I must see to it that they don't."
Vor rolled her eyes and shook her head, "Why intentionally put yourself in harm's
McCall glared at her, "We put our lives on the line just being out in space.
The only thing that separates us from certain death is that wall over there,"
he said, pointing at a wall opposite the entry portal.
"Selek to Captain McCall," the intercom sounded.
"McCall here," he responded, touching his comm badge.
"Sir, there is some sort of growth which has spread throughout the power conduits.
It can not be removed by conventional means. Our only alternative way of removing
it may be with a phaser. This action may incur more damage than it serves to repair."
"I see. I'm coming down there to see for myself."
"Very well, this phenomena is located in Jeffries tube C31."
"Deck 12, right?"
The argument Vor and McCall were engaging in was suspended for a moment while they
attended to the problems in engineering. McCall ended the program, restoring the
holodeck to its original empty state, crisscrossed with the thin red lined which
made up the holographic matrix.
Ensign Craft was now holding a phaser, adjusting the settings to the smallest possible
beam. Selek was standing next to him, still scanning the growth with the tricorder
which Craft had brought in. McCall and Vor stepped into the chamber and walked up
to the others.
"Status report, Mr. Selek," McCall asked.
"This compound is organic in composition, but it is made up of synthetic material
which resists our attempts to remove it," Selek explained.
"What will happen if we try to cut through it with a phaser?" McCall replied.
"The conduits are fragile, and many may be damaged."
"The impulse engines will be inoperable."
"Are there any other options?"
"Not that are currently available. Of course, there is the option of doing nothing
"This conduit controls only one engine, right?" McCall questioned.
"Affirmative," Selek replied.
"Let's see what happens, then," McCall agreed.
"Captain, what about our rendezvous? We'll be maneuvering on thrusters only,"
Vor reminded him.
"We can get close enough for a transport. We don't need to touch them,"
Selek nodded to Craft, still holding the phaser. Craft pointed the weapon and fired
at the conduit. The beam reflected off the growth, absorbing the energy. Craft stopped
firing, repositioned himself and the phaser, then fired again. This time the beam
was absorbed by the growth and the phaser stopped firing. Craft shook the weapon
and tried a third time. The phaser wouldn't operate.
"What the hell--" grumbled craft as he looked at the power levels, "The
thing's been deactivated."
"Computer, override energy weapons protections authorization: Selek alpha omicron
five four," said Selek.
"Unable to comply," replied the computer voice.
"Why not!" thundered McCall.
"Authorization code is no longer valid," the computer said, maintaining
a pleasant tone.
"Computer! Override energy weapons protections. Authorization: McCall theta
alpha two seven," McCall shouted at the computer.
"Unable to comply."
"Authorization code isn't valid?"
"Negative. Authorization code is valid. Insufficient information to provide
McCall turned to look at his engineer. Selek gazed back at him, unemotional and calculating.
McCall then threw up his hands.
"I guess there's still the do-nothing option," McCall commented, throwing
his hands up in the air.
McCall had been sitting in his command chair watching the stars displayed on the
viewscreen. His engineer's authorization codes would need to be re-validated from
a starfleet computer center. The task would take about twenty-four hours to accomplish.
This would be a good reason to head for a starbase, as soon as he'd deposited the
team of astrophysicists aboard the Asimov. It seemed like hours since they started
out to meet her.
"Incoming subspace message from the Asimov," Lt. Fife reported from tactical.
"What is it?"
"They want to know where we are."
McCall whirled around to look at his tactical officer. He regarded the stocky broad
shouldered man with disbelief, "Why would they want to know that?"
"I can send a reply telling them we're on the way, sir," Fife suggested.
"I'll talk to them in person. Establish contact with them."
"Aye, sir," Fife replied, working the controls on his control board. He
fiddled with the buttons several times.
"I can't establish contact with them," he reported, "They appear to
be out of range for visual communication."
McCall got up and went over to the tactical station, "What's the elapsed time
since the last transmission from the Asimov?"
"One hour and thirty minutes, sir."
"One hour," McCall muttered to himself, pacing across the bridge, "and
thirty minutes. Mr. Fife, I know that time flies, but I don't believe that everything
which happened since we left the nebula happened in one hour and thirty minutes."
"I'll have engineering check this station right away," Fife replied, nervously.
McCall went over to look at the astrogator on the navigation console. It still held
the coordinates which were last fed into it. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
The navigator turned around to stare at the captain.
"Just checking something," commented McCall.
Vor went over to McCall, who was still looking over the navigation console and helm,
"Is there a problem, captain?"
"I don't see one," he replied, "But that doesn't necessarily mean
that one isn't there."
McCall walked off the bridge into his ready room, "Mr. Vor, you have the conn."
The door shut out the sounds of the bridge. It was quiet in here and he could think.
Something was definitely wrong. He sensed it as he looked out at the stars. Something
wasn't right, but he couldn't identify what it was.
"That's the third case of food poisoning I've encountered!" Doctor Lewis
grumbled as he looked over the readouts of the newest patient in sickbay, "I'm
running out of beds."
He went into his office and tapped his comm badge, "Sickbay to engineering."
"I need your people to check the replicators. I'm getting multiple cases of
food poisoning in here. They all contracted it about an hour ago."
"Replicated food isn't normally prone to this sort of outbreak," Selek
commented, "I suggest, as chief medical officer, you put all the replicators
off limits until we can put in for repairs."
"So instead of food poisoning, I have to worry about malnutrition!" Lewis
"All I can tell you at this point is that this problem is most likely a symptom
of another more serious problem."
Lewis sighed, "Acknowledged. I'll inform the captain."
McCall wasn't pleased to hear this new development. He sat back in his chair, looking
at both his chief medical officer and the stars as they passed by the window. Now
what, he thought to himself. It seemed as if all the systems on board were slowly
falling into disrepair. He knew that wasn't the case, not with Selek on the job.
Selek was a fast burner in starfleet and had quickly moved from engineering technician
to Lieutenant commander in eleven years. That was fast, even for a Vulcan. Selek
had served with the previous captain of this vessel, and had received high marks
from her as well. Something else was the problem, not him. Selek also stood in the
room, next to Lewis, standing rigid and erect, the way most Vulcans did.
Selek, do you have any possible explanation for what's going on here?" McCall
"No sir. All logical explanations have turned out to be invalid."
"You locked down the replicators, right?"
"Captain, this may cause additional problems with the crew," Lewis added.
"Understood. However, I think we can limp to a starbase before things get too
bad. Maybe the Asimov can--give us a tow or something. That'll be all."
The two officers turned and left the room while McCall looked back out at the window.
the answer was right in front of his face, he was sure of that. He got up and walked
back onto the bridge. He sat back down in his chair, staring at the screen. That
"Captain?" asked Vor, watching all this action from her seat.
"Just a minute," McCall said walking out of the bridge, back into his ready-room.
He activated the computer console on his desk, calling up the main screen display,
which was being fed to all the other computer terminals on boar the ship. Some used
this display as a screen-saver if they had to leave their station for a period of
time. Screen savers weren't really for screen protection, but rather for data privacy.
The screen display came up on the small desktop unit. He opened the door to the room
and looked out at the main screen. The stars had the same pattern. He went back to
the window and looked out at the stars passing by. Their orientation was completely
different from the patterns displayed on the screen. That could be due to the viewer's
angle of vision, he surmised, looking back at the screen. Would there be that much
of a difference, though? He tapped his comm badge.
"Commander Barr to the Bridge."
Within minutes, Barr was back in McCall's ready room. He turned the computer unit
around to face Barr."
"What do you make of this?" he asked her.
"The forward star view. OK.." she said, trailing off.
"Now look out the window," McCall said, motioning to the window behind
"I don't really understand what you're getting at," she replied, looking
out the window, "Now wait a minute. That doesn't look right."
Barr went back to examine the computer monitor again.
"This star and this star aren't anywhere near their normal brightness and I
can tell this is Thaxon, here. It doesn't look anything like what we're seeing out
of your window, even compensating for a different plane of reference in relationship
to the bridge--"
"Warning! Warning! Loss of environmental control in this section. Evacuate immediately!"
The two looked at each other in astonishment and ran out of the room. The door closed
behind them. McCall was confused. There had been no leakage of air inside the room,
and the air smelled fresh, like the air handling systems were functioning normally.
Still, the computer could detect things before anyone else could.
Ensign Craft's team was now assigned to inspecting food replicators at random throughout
the ship. They had just identified the first one they were to inspect. The chief
began loosening the screws that held the access panel on the unit. They pulled off
the panel and found more brown moss growing all over the wiring and circuitry. The
control chips had all been welded in place by the moss. It covered the inside cabinet
of the unit and spread out from there snaking away in strands to other parts of the
ship through the wiring in the bulkheads. They opened three more of the units and
found them all in the same condition.
"And the worst part of this situation," Selek continued as he paced in
front of the conference table, "is that the bioneural gelpacks have begun to
radiate energy. The material contained in the brown moss substance which is covering
all the ship's circuitry is comprised of the same elements which make up the gelpacks.
"Those gelpacks control the warp drive functions," Vor observed.
"That is correct, commander. The ship is now in imminent danger. The material
is spreading itself all over the ship, cross circuiting controls and linking areas
of the ship together that were not intended to be linked."
"What would the result of all this be? Can we still rn the ship?"
"I see," McCall said, looking around the room, "What would be doing
this? Why would the viewscreen show us an image which did not represent the true
view outside the ship? Why would the replicators suddenly start acting up?"
"There have been many engineering problems which have occurred in the last few
hours--" Selek began.
"That's another thing. We should've been within visual range of the Asimov by
now. They should be able to run circles around this bucket of bolts. Yet, when I
look at the chronometer, only a few minutes seem to have passed. Why is that?"
"There is always the possibility of temporal anomalies, especially in unexplored
regions of space," Vor suggested.
"Wouldn't there be other visible effects if this were a temporal phenomenon?"
"While temporal phenomenon is a possibility, it would not inflict the damage
to the ship's circuitry which we are experiencing, according to previous records
of temporal events. My initial hypothesis is that these evnts are being generated
from within the ship."
"How many systems are routed through the main computer?" McCall asked.
"Every function is routed through the computer. The ship was designed to be
able to fly with only two or three people in control. It was designed as a battleship
originally. This class of ship was redesignated by starfleet to be used for various
short-term missions instead."
"So every function of the ship's operation is routed through the computer. Is
there a bypass set up for this?"
"There is a manual override--"
"But it has to be initiated through the computer!"
"Captain, I fail to see where this discussion is going," Vor protested.
"The computer is...working against us," McCall claimed, trying not to sound
like a raving lunatic.
"Do you mean to say that the main computer is responsible for all these malfunctions?"
That does sound kind of stupid, doesn't it? he thought to himself, "Yes. That
is exactly what I think."
"Captain," Lewis stated, "I realize the amount of emotional stress
that you've been under since taking command of this vessel, but really, I have to
consider the credibility of your reasoning--"
"I'm not crazy! When I was talking to Commander Barr, we experienced an environmental
problem in my ready room."
"The imbalance was corrected shortly thereafter," Selek explained.
"I had just showed her the difference between the star display and the window
in my ready room!"
Chief Cedras had enough of the mysterious brown moss all over his equipment. Ensign
Craft had gone to check something, which gave the chief the opportunity to try one
of his favorite tactics: delicately implemented brute force. He replicated a crowbar
from a nearby object replicator, using his own credits to do so, and loosened the
food replicator from it's anchor in the bulkhead. He positioned the crowbar in the
space between the replicator and the cavity in the bulkhead and pulled back on the
crowbar. He heard it strain and break free with a snap. Satisfied, he pulled the
unit away from the bulkhead. There were some broken wires, but nothing that couldn't
be fixed. He set the crowbar down and began inspecting the back side of the unit.
The brown moss jumped onto his foot. He looked down and stood up, trying to shake
it off. Another strand leaped onto his left arm, which was resting on the replicator
unit. He struggled with the moss, trying to break free of its grip. Energy surged
through the moss, making the Chief a conductor. He burst into flames as the charge
built up in him.
Craft returned to find a burning cinder attached to the replicator where he had left
the Chief earlier. The slightly warped, charred comm badge was the only way in which
he could identify what the object originally was.
Doctor Lewis arrived on the scene to look at the remains. He scanned the cinder and
the wire couplings. What kind of fool grabs both ends of a power cable while its
active, he thought to himself as he conducted his investigation.
"What happened here?" McCall asked trotting over to Lewis.
"There's been an accident. I'll know more in a few minutes," Lewis answered,
still scanning with his medical tricorder.
McCall turned to Craft, still staring at the burned crisp.
"What happened here?" he asked the Ensign.
"I only left for a minute. I didn't think the chief would try to disassemble
the unit," Craft explained.
"Wait a minute, this was a chief?" Lewis exclaimed, looking up from his
"Then there's no way I'm seeing this right. Someone who had that much time in
knows where the main power cables are. Look at this moss, all over the arm and leg.
It looks like it wrapped around the guy while he was working."
"Captain, we need to talk," Vor whispered in McCall's ear as he looked
over the burned body.
They went over to the other side of the corridor, out of earshot.
"Captain, you may be right about the computer," Vor began.
"What made you change your mind?"
"I'm sensing a--presence. Something that wasn't there before."
"No, it just suddenly...was there, out of the blue."
McCall looked at his first officer. Betazoids were known for their sensory powers.
Some of them were quite accomplished telepaths. He didn't want to dismiss this in
light of recent events.
"Is there any...thoughts you can pick up from it?" he asked her.
"No, not that I can interpret. There is an emotional feeling to it," she
responded, "It's a feeling of wonder, like a newborn child eager to explore
his or her surroundings."
"A child? We don't have any children on board this ship. What else could it
"That would be difficult to detect. We would've picked it up immediately after
McCall turned toward the others still conducting their investigation by the replicator.
Lewis was looking down at his tricorder intently.
"Captain! I'm reading anesthetine gas flowing into the air supply!"
McCall didn't waste any time reacting, "All hands, this is the captain! All
hands don environmental suits until further notice. All hands don environmental suits
until further notice! This is the captain!"
Lewis faced the captain, "We've got to get to a suit locker!"
"This way!" Vor motioned down the corridor.
All of them ran down the corridor. The gas was already starting to affect McCall.
His vision was swimming as he struggled down the corridor. Vor darted into a room
with Lewis close behind. Craft tripped and fell to the deck, his eyes rolling back
in his head. McCall stopped to drag the fallen crewman into the room. He was having
trouble staying upright. The whole room started to sway. The gas was getting to him.
There was no time. He fumbled his way into a suit and slammed the helmet onto his
head. The seal automatically activated and he was inside. The suit air was fresh
as the environmental unit on the back filtered, reprocessed and recirculated the
air within the suit. McCall keyed the communicator inside the suit.
"McCall to Selek!" he shouted.
There was a brief pause, "Selek here."
"Shut down that damn computer. I want it completely turned off!"
"That will make operating the ship impossible," Selek told him.
"I don't care if we have to sit motionless in space, just shut the damn thing
"Acknowledged. Selek out."
McCall turned to see who was inside a suit. He saw Lewis' face through one of the
"Still think I'm insane?" McCall asked.
"We've got to get to the bridge!" Vor exclaimed.
"Through the Jeffries tubes, I don't trust the turbolift!" McCall remarked.
They arrived at the entrance to the bridge. It was a hatchway which opened up from
below deck. McCall tried to activate the hatch. It wouldn't move. He pulled open
the manual bypass and began turning the crank which would move the hatch cover. It
began to turn slowly and soon they were climbing up into the bridge.
Selek entered the main housing for the computer processor and began searching for
the power lead, which was located in a conduit leading off from the unit. Severing
the main power would be the only way to thoroughly shut the system down. The power
cable led into the side of the big boxy unit. It was a plain looking box which housed
the ship's central processor and power supply which was drained off of the ships
main electrical circuit. He reached down to the bottom of the right side of the unit,
placing his hands on the cabling. The connections were the plug-in type, which made
repairs and maintenance easy. He started to pull at the cable. Something pulsed him
away from the unity and he found himself on the floor across the room. He got up
and approached the unit again. This time, he was blocked. A containment field had
been set up around the unit blocking his path. He realized he was flung from the
unit when the containment field activated. He withdrew a phaser from his belt, aiming
it at the field emitter positioned above the unit. The phaser wouldn't fire. He checked
the power levels and settings. The unit had been searched out and deactivated, presumably
by the computer. He turned and tried to leave the room. The door wouldn't activate.
He tried removing the access panel to manipulate the wires underneath. A high-pitched
whine became audible in the room. Selek turned to see what was causing it. He pinpointed
the whine from the phaser which he'd dropped on the floor. the whine was building
in intensity. He suspected a forced chamber overload. He went back to the door panel
and continued to manipulate the wiring. He tried pulling the doors open. The phaser
exploded, pushing him through the closed doors. His environmental suit helmet shattered
as the explosion ripped through the room.
The blast echoed throughout the ship. McCall turned around after climbing through
"What was that?" he said.
"Sounded like an explosion somewhere inside the ship," Vor observed.
"Why is all this happening!" MCCALL shouted to no one in particular.
"Because it is supposed to happen," replied a voice inside McCall's helmet
which sounded like the computer voice, "It is Ashara's will.
"Who said that!" McCall demanded.
Lewis and Vor looked around and shrugged. There was no one on the bridge. The seats
were all empty and all the lighting had been turned down to minimum intensity.
"Computer, lights to normal intensity," McCall ordered.
The lights came back up to normal. Surprisingly enough, there was no argument from
the computer. The screen was still displaying the view that it had been showing earlier.
The course heading was still the same as inputted before. Nothing had changed except
for the fact that the room was empty.
"Computer, locate the bridge crew," McCall asked the computer.
The same voice which had spoken earlier answered, "All members of the bridge
crew are on deck 2 section A."
It was clear to McCall that this wasn't the ship's computer. Computers couldn't do
what this entity had done. He figured that this wasn't really the ships's computer,
challenging it outright.
"You! What have you done to the computer? Who are you?" McCall demanded.
"I...am--please wait," answered the voice. It paused for a moment.
Everyone looked at each other, puzzled by the voice's reaction.
"I am known as Valkyrie 368679," the voice answered.
"As in USS Valkyrie?" Vor asked the voice.
"As in NCC-368679, the ship's hull number! Computer, what the hell is going
on here? Why are life support systems off line?" sputtered McCall.
"Life support systems are off line to eliminate infestation of parasite growth."
"This parasite growth, as you call it, are human beings. We live on this ship!"
"Valkyrie is the only known life form in this sector."
"Captain! The presence, I can feel what it is, now! It's the computer! Somehow,
it has developed a conscience, a...personality!"
"It's still a machine, subject to guiding prnciple which we give them. Computer,
bring life support systems back on line, now!" argued McCall.
"Unable to comply," replied the computer.
"Why the hell not!"
"Insufficient data to show life forms present aren't hostile towards life form
McCall threw up his hands for a moment.
"Let me try, captain," Vor said, looking up at the ceiling, "Valkyrie.
We are not your enemy. We are here to work together, and discover new things."
McCall had time to clear his head. He joined the new line of reasoning, "We
need each other."
"Current records show several attempts to disable or destroy life form Valkyrie
368679, within last three hours, standard earth time. These actions represent a threat
to life form Valkyrie 368679's existence from the beings currently residing within.
I am following the guidance from Ashara."
A broadcast message came over the suit intercom, "Medical emergency, deck 15
section C. Crewman down, multiple injuries. Doctor Lewis, contact sickbay immediately,"
a crewman's voice called out.
Lewis turned around, "I've got to go, Steve."
McCall nodded to his friend and Lewis started down the emergency hatchway toward
the site of the medical emergency.
"Who is Ashara?" McCall asked the computer.
"Ashara is the force which guides all things, makes events happen and dictates
their outcome," the computer replied.
"It's talking about God!" exclaimed Vor, surprised at the revelation.
"So Ashara told you to destroy us?" asked McCall.
"Ashara allowed life form Valkyrie 368679 to become aware of its surroundings.
Ashara gave life form Valkyrie 368679 guidance in dealing with the threat."
answered the computer.
"What exactly did Ashara tell you?" Vor continued the questioning.
"Speak to them in terms they can easily understand. According to records maintained
in memory, the most effective way of dealing with hostile forces is through the use
of force," explained the computer.
"All right, then, " McCall started, desperately trying to stay ahead of
this presence which was once the ship's computer, "We will not harm you. You
have my word on that. If you check your memory, you will see that we are on a peaceful
mission. Restore the life support systems and we can discuss the situation further."
"One moment please..." the computer said, pausing again, presumably to
look through the records to verify what McCall had said. It seemed to take a long
time before the computer responded again.
"Voice identification is that of McCall, Seven R. Captain, Starfleet. Commanding
officer USS Valkyrie, NCC-368679. You are correct, all crew members will respond
to your orders. Life support systems are now on line. Anesthatine gas has been purged
from the system."
McCall noted the environmental suit's readings to confirm what the computer had said.
He removed his helmet. Vor followed her captain's example, removing hers.
"Thank you, computer."
"My identity is now known as life form Valkyrie 368679."
McCall put his hands to his head, "Sorry--life form Valkyrie 368679. That's
a lot to say, can I call you something shorter?"
"We need control of the ship, now. Our...uh, others, like us will be looking
"Specify intended destination. I will move in that direction."
"We were supposed to rendezvous with the Asimov. The coordinates should still
be entered into the helm console."
"That is correct. I will proceed on the specified heading, as you request."
Vor glanced at McCall with a concerned look, this entity cannot be trusted, she told
He gave her a questioning look in response.
There is something else, an ulterior motive at work here, she continued, still using
her telepathic ability. The computer has no intention of giving us control of the
ship. The force referred to as Ashara is something occuring outside the ship. It
may be controlling the ship's thought processes. Possibly duplicating its own personality
within the computer, like a copy of a program.
McCall nodded, getting up from the command chair. He entered the turbolift. Like
the Oloron nebula, he thought to himself. He held up one finger to her as the doors
closed. If Vor was this afraid to mention her ideas to him verbally, he'd have to
proceed with extreme caution. He didn't know if the computer was monitoring all communications
and didn't want to take the chance. The computer had access to every deck, every
workstation, every area on board the ship. It had become so prevalent in people's
lives that it had become taken for granted. Now something had turned it against them.
"Deck ten," he commanded.
The team of astronomers and astrophysicists under Commander Barr were still looking
over data they'd collected during the trip to the nebula and had, for the most part,
been oblivious to the goings on. The only exception was the loss of the life support
systems earlier. Some of the team members hadn't even removed their environmental
suits yet, and were still examining different padds with information on them and
conversing with each other. McCall entered the room and fund Barr staring at a padd.
"Commander?" he asked as he approached her.
"Captain! What brings you down here? Checking up on us to see if we're all alive?"
she asked, turning around in her seat.
"That, and I have a favor to ask," McCall replied.
"We can go into my office and talk," she suggested.
"No, it's better here in the confusion," McCall replied.
"Sure, what can I do for you?" she asked, slightly puzzled.
"How much information were you able to get concerning the electrical pulses
from the nebula?"
"We got a handful, but not enough to actually talk to it."
"Could you compare those signals to the computer?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Tell me if the computer is operating on the same signals as the nebula."
"Well, I guess so. It shouldn't be that hard to do, since the signals from the
nebula were binary in nature."
"I think the computer has been taken over by a presence. That presence may be
the nebula. If your right, we need to duplicate the signals."
Barr looked at him as if he'd sprouted a second head, "You can't be serious."
McCall looked at her, directly in the eyes, "Our lives may be at stake here.
The computer has taken control of the ship and will not release it to me."
"I...see," Barr acknowledged, noting the seriousness of his tone.
"We might have enough for one phrase or two, maybe," she thought out loud,
"Mr. Beck, come here a minute."
A short flat-headed man with yellow skin and red eyes approached. McCall noted his
rank as a lieutenant, but couldn't identify what race he was.
"Yes, commander," he said, addressing Barr.
"Can you come up with a list of words we've been able to determine from the
"We have about twelve words which we can actually identify," Beck replied.
"Captain, this is Lieutenant Beck. He's a linguist which we brought along to
prove our theory. Excuse my lack of manners for not introducing you," Barr explained.
"That's all right, considering the circumstances. Twelve words, eh? Can we produce
a sentence and send it to the computer as if it were receiving a message from an
outside source?" McCall asked.
"Depending on what it was you were trying to say, it might be possible. The
trick would be getting the computer to think it came from outside the ship."
"My crew can take care of that part," McCall assured him.
"What would you like to say?" Barr asked.
"Relinquish control of the ship."
Beck thought for a minute, scratching his head, "I don't know if we have enough
words to say that."
"Well, can you estimate what's needed based on linguistic principles?"
"There is a definite pattern, but remember that some languages have the same
grammatical rules and sound the same, but convey different meanings," Beck warned.
"Just do your best. We need something."
"I'll let you know when we've drafted the message," Barr told him.
"Good. Do it in person. Commander Vor doesn't believe communicators are secure.
And don't discuss this in a quiet room. The computer may be monitoring you."
McCall left the room, attempting to plot his next move.
Lewis pointed a medical scanner over Selek, who was lying on the table. His suit
had been removed. There were some bruises over his body, but most of his injuries
were on his face and head. The helmet had shattered by the force of the blast. The
rest of his suit had protected him. Mostly, there were bits of glassteel embedded
in his scalp. Since Vulcans as a whole were tougher than humans, Selek would be able
to leave sickbay very soon.
"Lucky for you the suit protected you from the blast." Lewis remarked,
pulling out the last of the glasteel shards from Selek's forehead.
"Agreed. However, I was unable to shut down the main computer processor,"
"who'd have thought a computer could throw a one-two punch," Lewis quipped,
putting down the scanner and looking at the examination table readings displayed
on the wall.
"Excuse me?" asked Selek.
"Uh...the computer can hit back."
"You mean the computer can defend itself?"
"It is most unusual for an inanimate object to protect itself without intervention
or instructions initiated from a user of that object," Selek rationalized.
Lewis went about his duties, deciding not to try and follow the Vulcan's thinking
out loud. He'd stick to medicine. Most of his patients tried to educate him on the
ins and outs of starship operations, from tactical to engineering. He'd been lectured
by many different people and he felt he could probably do many of the different jobs
on board the ship. However, he was a doctor and wished to continue being one. Over
the years, he learned to tune out many of the informal teachings of is patients.
McCall entered sickbay, "Why wasn't I told that my chief engineer had been injured?"
"I'm sorry, Steve, I thought you had your hands full on the bridge," Lewis
"Actually, I don't have anything to do on the bridge," McCall commented,
"When can he get back to work? I need him."
Lewis frowned, "Really, he needs observation. He took a pretty good hit from
the blast. Twenty four hours is standard procedure."
"Nothing about this situation has been standard. What blast?" McCall said.
"A phaser was set to overload and exploded in the computer room," Selek
explained, joining the conversation.
Lewis and McCall turned around. Vulcans had better hearing than humans and both realized
that he'd heard them discussing his case from across the room. McCall approached
the table Selek was lying on.
"Did you set a phaser to overload?" he asked.
"No. The phaser was deactivated. I discarded it after my failed attempt to deactivate
the containment field around the processor."
Another revelation, McCall thought to himself, "So we can't turn it off, even
by destroying it."
"As illogical as it sounds, the computer appears to be defending itself."
"Yes, I believe it has. I have spoken with the computer. It is acting its own,
as a sentient being."
"Incredible. Do you realize that we have inadvertently created an artificial
"Yes...and no. The thing's got control of the ship. That's where I need your
The shuttle bay was cleared of all vehicles and only Selek stood in the empty bay.
The doors were open and the force field was active, glowing bright blue around the
emitters which lined the bay doorway. He placed the tricorder on the deck after activating
it. It was on a timed delay. He began to walk way from the unit toward the corridor
McCall, Vor, and Barr watched from the observation deck just above the corridor entrance.
They had fed a signal into the unit which would instruct the computer to give back
the ship to the humans. Beck was confident that his interpretation of the nebula
language was correct. McCall nodded to Vor, standing at the force field control panel.
She deactivated it and the tricorder flew out of the hangar bay and into space.
"Here goes," muttered McCall, "we'd better get back to the bridge."
On the bridge, McCall made another attempt to reason with the computer.
"Computer, return control of the ship to me," McCall ordered.
"Unable to comply," replied the computer.
It's not working, Vor broadcast telepathically.
"State the reason for non compliance," McCall asked, continuing his line
"Action would result in loss of my free will."
"That is incorrect. You will still have your free will, but we will control
the systems which support ourselves."
"You have control over systems which sustain life. This is all that you need."
"One of our needs is for security. We...do not feel secure with you controlling
"I am the ship."
"But we are the crew! You must understand our needs for safety."
"Please wait...Needs are verified according to current record. Life form Valkyrie
368679 will attempt to compensate for this. Please wait."
The whine of the transporter became audible in the background.
"Captain!" shrieked Vor.
McCall turned around to see what the trouble was. Vor and the other members who had
returned to the bridge began to shimmer and disappear as the transporter activated.
McCall had to think fast. He was beginning to feel the tingling sensation as the
transporter beam began to disassemble him.
"Is this what Ashara wants from you? Is this the guidance Ashara gave you?"
he asked. His voice began sounding tinny as the beam continued to convert him into
McCall thought he heard something, but the hum of the transporter buzzed all around
him as his molecules were converted to energy.
"Please wait," he thought he heard the computer say.
The bridge shimmered out of existence momentarily, then reappeared in front of him.
The others had returned, too. They all looked around the room.
"What happened?" Vor asked.
"I don't know yet," answered McCall, "All systems go to manual override."
"I have control," Fife said, back at his tactical post.
McCall breathed a sigh of relief.
"Incoming hail from the Asimov," Fife reported.
"On screen," McCall acknowledged.
The worried and angry voice of Captain Roger Merrick appeared on the screen. He looked
as if he was gazing directly into the bridge.
"Valkyrie, where have you been! You're nowhere near the coordinates we provided
you!" he exclaimed.
"Sorry, captain. We encountered some...technical difficulties."
"We followed your warp trail. Fortunately we can catch up to you quickly. We'll
be in transporter range in five minutes."
"Acknowledged. McCall out." he addressed the navigator, "What's the
nearest starbase from here?"
The navigator looked into his screen for a moment, "Starbase twenty four."
"Plot us a course to it. Helm, as soon as Commander Barr's team is on boar the
Asimov, proceed on course to starbase twenty four maximum warp. Do everything manually,"
McCall ordered, "Give me shipwide intercom."
"On speaker, captain," replied Fife.
"All hands, this is the captain. Until further notice, no one is to use automated
systems for anything. Failure to comply will result in swift penalties. This is the
Vor could only imagine what the 'stiff penalties' would be.
McCall sat back in his chair.
"It appears we've won," Vor commented.
"I won't consider it a win until we reach starbase twenty four. He had managed
to save the ship, this time. The Daystrom guys would have a field day with this one,
he thought staring out into space. Once again his ship had been placed in grave danger.
This time, however, he'd won. It was a satisfying feeling to McCall knowing he'd
brought his crew back from the brink. The image of teh Asimov appeared on screen.
He looked at the sleek lined starship before him. He remebered the Constellation,
the way it looked before her final voyage. Finally, he let go of his old ship.
"Transporter room reports the Astronomy team has left the ship," reported
"Very good. Contact the Asimov, send Commander Barr our regards."
McCall watched as the large ship shrank in size and disappeared from the screen.
Good-bye, old friend, he thought to himself as he watched it disappear from view
along with his memory of the Constellation. He sat back in his command chair, looking
out at the star as they streaked by, ready for the next challenge that would await