Chapter 10

a a a

From the command chair on the auxiliary control room of the USS Breitling, Commander Daniel McKinney keyed the intership comm channel to the bridge of the USS Yorktown, alongside. "McKinney to Yorktown. Captain Grey, are you set?"

"Waiting for you, McKinney. I’m the one with the working starship."

McKinney rolled his eyes. "Standby." He killed the channel and keyed intraship. "McKinney to Engineering. Make me happy."

"Tchalabi here, sir. Warp drive available. But the best you’ll get is warp five."

"That doesn’t make me as happy as I’d like, but it should do. Thanks, Dennis."

He looked at his crew around the bridge. The A-shift people were all in place. The people who’d gotten them safely into orbit those long, weary three days ago. They looked expectantly at him. "Okay, people, this shouldn’t take but a minute. This is not a manned ship we’re fighting, it’s a robot with only one shot and no brain. Eng?"

"Ready, Sir," the helmsman nodded smartly.

"Ms. Greengrass?"

"Tactical ready, Skipper," she grinned.

That drew a grin back from him. Skipper, eh? Why not? "Weapons?"

Eng reported, "phaser and torpedo crews ready. Weapons hot."

"Looks like we have a working starship too, huh?" Everyone gave out their own short shout of happy agreement. "Ms. Medoff, please get me Captain Grey again."

The air chirped and Grey’s gruff voice said, "Well, McKinney? I can feel my toenails growing."

"We’re working now too, Sir," he said pointedly. "Go in ten … nine .. eight …"

"Impulse engines hot," Eng reported. "Warp engines on standby."

"Sensors at max," Greengrass added.

"…two … one … Break orbit, Mr. Eng, full impulse. Get us some maneuvering room."

The Breitling soared away from the planet Harrington’s Home at half the speed of light. A microsecond before her, the sleek Yorktown had done the same. The white-flecked, blue and green world no longer filled the viewscreen, and the wrecked starship that had ended its days in orbit there receded to invisibility. Blazing plasma, invisible in airless space, belched from both vessels’ impulse engines and screamed their presence to the surrounding ether. Somewhere out beyond the rose-colored curtain of compressed gas that defined the limits of this particular arena, sensors should be sniffing subspace for its signature. McKinney didn't think it would take long …

Greengrass sang out, "Here it comes. Bearing six-seven mark three-two, range thirteen billion kilometers, speed warp two."

"Go to warp two, Mister Eng. Yorktown, continue on course and speed."

"Acknowledged," Grey said, not hiding the sarcasm he felt his junior deserved. "engaging fishing lure mode."

The man had a sense of humor after all.

They were heading toward the drone at a severe angle of deflection. They’d cross paths in about three minutes, but too fast for visual cameras to see. Their subspace sensors would have to do the targeting, and those sensors were their auxiliary ones.

"Targeting solution set up, Sir," Greengrass announced. "It hasn’t altered course toward us."

"Good, so it can’t detect a warp signature. Eng, key the computer to pickle a full torpedo spread, pattern alpha."

Eng tapped keys and acknowledged.

The viewscreen was in tactical mode, presenting a graphic of the star system looking "down" from galactic "up". Against a black background, three lines traced the courses of the three vehicles operating within the boundaries of the nebula’s pocket. A blue line tracing the Yorktown heading outbound away from the sun and the planet at one-half cee, heading for the clear space of the outer system, arcing in its fight with the star’s gravity well; a red trace showing the alien device making a straight-line subspace run for them at the speed of light itself, vectoring on their projected course; and the straight blue line of the Breitling, positioned perfectly to shoot the damn thing. McKinney mused that, even exceeding the speed of light, their traces crawled at barely perceptible progress. A solar system was a vast area of emptiness. Even at the speed of light it would take hours to cross. Dotted lines projected forward from the Breitling and the alien, indicating when they’d cross paths, with a time readout blinking a countdown.

With a warning beep, a swarm of icons fled outward from the Breitling’s symbol on the screen. "Torpedoes away," Eng reported.

McKinney felt a thrill ripple through him. This was the resolution of three days worth of pain and fear, and a hundred years of death and suffering. In a minute he'd be free. Funny, he thought, just a week ago the thought of escorting the princess home had made him feel trapped and panicked. He lay awake at night worrying, wondering how he could get out of it – no, that train of thought made him think of poor Doctor Van der Roll. He'd never been that desperate to avoid reality.

But now, escorting the princess home was an anticipated delight compared to the situation he actually found himself in. Just goes to show you that you shouldn't worry. You're always better off than you think, and there are people out there with real problems. A lot of them are buried back there on that planet. A couple of them are still alive back there on that planet! And one was in a bed on deck six, dead of overreaction to worries that, in the end, were really so trivial.

These new symbols showed easily perceptible progress on the screen. Torpedoes were high-warp weapons. The spread fanned out to cover a certain area along the alien's path and try to assure a hit, tracing six fingers of light on the display. Within seconds they met the alien’s course and bloomed into a series of glowing circles around it. The odds of a direct hit on anything moving at hyperlight speeds was nearly zero, which is why photon torpedoes carried such enormous destructive power. The matter/antimatter annihilation explosions of a spread of six torpedoes would obliterate everything within several cubic kilometers, even something screaming through subspace at multiples of light speed. Unfortunately it also blotted out the Breitling’s degraded auxiliary sensors for the duration of the explosions.

"Drop out of warp," McKinney ordered. He didn’t want to run into the nebula wall. "Give us visual on a split screen, please."

When the explosions faded, McKinney expected to see nothing on the tactical display except the two Starfleet ships’ tracks. The visual window showed eerie white fading fireballs of dying atoms. There wouldn’t be debris from a hit; the object would be consumed down to its atoms.

He heard Captain Grey’s voice shout suddenly: "Evasive! Fire phasers!"

What? No! He had to have killed the thing! "Yorktown? What’s going on?" But there was the Gorn’s icon on the screen heading right at the Yorktown. It had dropped out of warp right on top of her.

"Give me visual on the Yorktown," he ordered.

The viewscreen filled with the image of the Constitution-class ship and its sleek, swept-back nacelles. Phaser bolts lashed out from the saucer’s topside at the off-screen enemy. She was facing away from it so she couldn’t bring her torpedoes to bear.

It came. That stark blue-white beam blazed out of the dark and bulldozed into the graceful starship. Her deflector shields flared a brilliant blue-white, outlining the ship with an almost opaque aura. McKinney feared for the worst, but just when he thought he was about to see another explosion, another ship die, another four hundred people obliterated, the beam stopped. Yorktown’s shields glowed hot for a few moments.

Medoff scanned with he cameras and got a visual on the drone, putting its image in a third window. It was turning to leave.

Captain Grey took his hand away from his eyes as the glare from the viewscreen died away. Even attenuated by video filters it was intense. "Bakry, what the hell happened?"

"It must have some incredible shields, Sir! It dodged through that torpedo barrage and kept coming. Our phasers didn't scratch it"

On the screen, it was moving away from them. It hadn’t gone to warp yet.

"Status!" Grey barked.

"Shields degraded but intact at ... sixty percent," his first officer reported, calm as reading a grocery list. "Light feedback damage to environmental systems. All other systems nominal."

"McKinney," Grey called, "Your plan sucked." Without waiting for a reply, he ordered, "Helm, come about – give me an intercept course. Phasers and torpedoes, target that bastard and fire when in range. Ahead full impulse."

The Yorktown leapt to the chase against its now-unarmed foe. But the moment his ship moved, Grey saw the drone arc around toward him.

"What the hell? It has no ammo, if McKinney was right."

"But it still detects our impulse exhaust," Bakry said.

"But it can’t shoot at us. Oh nuts!" With a sudden realization, Grey ordered, "Evasive, helm! Keep away from it. Phasers --"

Too late. At a closing speed a significant fraction of the speed of light, not even the Yorktown’s computer could have dodged. But they did move aside enough to save their lives. The drone’s deflector shields impacted the Yorktown’s shields as it tried to ram, and the two electromagnetic bubbles blazed along each other’s flanks like blue fireworks, compressed, rebounded, interacted.

When the ancient drone passed, the Yorktown drifted on, retaining its original path, but now without power. Her port warp nacelle skewed like a broken limb, its support pylon cracked and twisted at the base. Blazing red warp plasma spat out of the break for the few moments it took the engineer to shut down the reactor. The ship spun slowly, riding its own momentum.

The bridge was swathed in red emergency lights, the red alert claxon sounding stridently. Smoke bubbled from a few control panels, and people picked themselves up from the floor. As the white lights came back up, Grey surveyed his bridge. "Status," he said in total disgust.

"McKinney to Yorktown!" he shouted, fear roiling in his belly. "Yorktown, are you all right, Yorktown?"

"No we’re not all right, you dunsel!" Grey fumed over the intership. "I'm going to fry you, McKinney, look what your lame-assed idea has done to my ship!"

Okay, it had a few flaws, McKinney thought, but didn’t say aloud. "Do you have casualties?" He held his breath. No more deaths. Please.

"No fatalities. Plenty of injuries, damn you! I’m on emergency batteries. My impulse drive is down and my warp drive is …bent! You lost me a nacelle! Damn, look at what you did to my ship. I'm not getting out of this system without yard time. Now we’re both screwed, McKinney!"

He was sure his idea was sound, but he hadn't anticipated the drone dodging the torpedoes. Had it detected them coming, even at warp speeds? If so, what about them had it seen – their warp fields? Their physical presence? The antimatter in their warheads? Antimatter in a ship's storage bottles was more densely shielded than the minute amounts in a torpedo, that would explain detecting the weapons but not the ships. Or maybe it just saw the great big hellacious explosions in front of it and dodged. It could have dropped out of warp and sidestepped, then popped back into warp before sensors could notice. That would mean its computer was smarter than he thought, or less degraded than he thought. Or its shields were more powerful than they thought.

"Skipper?" Greengrass said, "look at this."

He watched as Greengrass played back the events on her monitor. A shark’s smile formed on his face.

"We’re not both screwed, Sir," he said to Grey. "I still have a working starship." He’d hoped that would be taken as an ironic jest, but even if Grey blew his stack over it, McKinney didn’t care. If he got out of this without getting anyone else killed, they could hang him in a cage at the harbor mouth till he rotted away for all he cared. He knew what he had to do now. The idea was a good one, but now he only had his own ship to use as bait. "And we have fifteen minutes to get ready," he finished.

There was an uncomfortable few moments of dead air before Grey's obviously controlled voice muttered, "All right, smartass. Show me."

The sky was afire. Night had come to Harrington’s Home, and in the thin, cool air, Princess Elayna Demerest of Groningen and her lifelong friend Melody stood in Julius and Tia Bedford’s front yard and looked up. Never had she seen such a sight! Groningen’s night sky, like many habitable worlds’, was deep black and studded with thousands of stars. They had a decent naked-eye view of one nearby nebula, which covered only a quarter of a degree of their sky, and one very bright star which was their nearest neighbor.

But the sky about Harrington’s Home was blazing rose, patterned with swirls and clumps in the nebula’s gases, and with the occasional brilliant, distant star poking bravely through thin parts of the cloud. The binary star system with which this planet’s star shared this cleared pocket showed as two blazing pinpricks just above the eastern trees, not bright enough to cast any might on the planet. But it wasn’t dark outside. The whole world was colored by the pale red glow of the hot nebular gasses. It wasn’t quite bright enough for one to read, but Elayna could see well enough to move around and find her way.

Melody put an arm around her young princess and hugged her close in the chill air. "Hard to breath," she said. "My lungs hurt."

"Yes. I suppose if you breath a bit slower and deeper?"

Melody shook her head. "No, I get light headed. More than usual."

They laughed together. "You beat me to it," Elayna said.

She sighed, which didn’t seem quite as satisfying in thinner air. "It’s awfully quiet here, isn’t it?"

They listened. Some animal made a hooting grunt far away, and a bird flew overhead. Or something like a bird. Its wings made a light fluttering sound. The only other sound was the sigh of the wind through the leaves. No aircraft, no cars, no music. None of the constant background hum of civilization that one heard continually, so much so that it formed the subtle score to one’s own thoughts, always in your head. Here the silence overpowered the mind. Elayna could hear Leftenant Dockray’s voice in conversation with the Bedfords, though she couldn’t make out the words. Back home, she wouldn’t have even been able to hear them at all over the thrumm of a passing aircar, or the whine of the building’s air conditioners.

What lovely people the Bedfords were. Not just to take in total strangers for protection, but in general. Considering the life they’ve lead and the tragedy they’d seen in their lives. And to live here all alone for decades, with only each other for company, and still be … well, sane … was an accomplishment she wasn’t sure she could match.

"I miss Roger," she blurted.

Melody hugged her harder as they both watched the sky. "You’ll see him soon enough. Commander McKinney won’t let us down."

"You know," the princess said, "at this moment, as peaceful as all this is … if Roger was here with me I’d say, let’s just stay here and forget all that royal posturing, and live for oursleves and our children. "

Melody toshed her. "Didn’t you just tell me you love all that fuss?"

Elayna laughed. "Yes, I guess I did. And didn’t I also say I have mood swings?"

"Oh, yes, that’s right," Melody smiled knowingly.

The princess got somber. "You also told me to think about what may happen if we don’t get back. Now here I am, maybe stranded on an alien planet, while our ride home is about to go into battle – I wonder if we’ll be able to see it? I didn’t really take the possibility seriously until now. I’d never thought about life after … disgrace." She spat the last word derisively. "If the baby comes before we get home, I may as well not go home at all."

"Oh, that’s ridiculous!" Melody said sternly. "I honestly don’t think anyone is going to hold you to that tradition."

"It’s a law, dear, not a tradition. In either case, you just know the Chorks and the anitroyalists will use it to get their ways. Oh, they just had to launch that ship on Pelora last week, didn’t they."

Dockray had come out of the house to join his charges. The Bedfords had assured him that were no dangerous night animals on the planet, or at least on the area they occupied, or he wouldn’t have let them go outside alone. But he’d been fascinated by the diary Bedford’s father had kept, and was soaking up the story of the hardy surviviors and their descendants.

"Beautiful, isn’t it?" Elayna asked him as he approached.

"Actually, I find it a little unnerving. Skies should be black at night."

"You? unnerved?" Melody joked. "I’d expect that from Anthony, but not our brave protector." Dockray made an odd face, perceptible even in the pale nebula light. "It’s a shame you couldn’t wake him; he’d have loved to get off the ship for a little while. He isn’t handling this trip very well."

There was that face again. "Leftenant," Elayna said, "are you and Anthony having some difficulty? You make a face whenever you hear his name tonight."

"I do? Damn."

"I know you two aren’t as close as I’d have liked, but you have to get along around me. I just won’t have any bickering among my people."

Dockray hung his head. "Oh damn. There’s nothing for it but to press ahead."


Melody, having lived more of life than her princess, blanched in the dim light. "What happened?"

"Damn," Dockray said again. "Highness … Um, Elayna -- I need to tell you something…"

She froze and stared at him. "Leftenant Dockray?" she said cautiously. "Why … why – exactly – did Anthony stay behind?"

a a a

It took a little longer than fifteen minutes to make preparations, but it didn't really matter. Once the drone had recharged its gun it simply lurked somewhere in the nebula until it sniffed prey, so they could go at any time. The Yorktown had stabilized its spin, having gotten thrusters back on line soon enough. But its impulse drive power would be down for hours. So Captain Grey just let the ship drift for now – it would be years before the planet's gravity would pull them back in, and the drone wouldn't notice them at all.

McKinney found himself flexing his hands, clutching and releasing the arms of his command chair. Nerves were a tough thing to master, and even though he told himself he was more confident than ever, his subconscious betrayed him and gave his fingers a mind of their own.

"You're a hundred percent sure of what you saw, Susan?" he asked his tactical officer.

"Absolutely, Sir. You saw it too."

This will work, his conscious mind told itself. Zaccaria, the navigator, turned and gave him a look that said are you sure about this? almost as if he was telepathic. McKinney forced a confident smile, but Zaccaria only managed an even-more-worried expression and turned back to his console.

Deep breath.

"All right, Mister Eng. Torpedoes and phasers ready. "

"Ready, Sir."

"One quarter impulse. Engage."

The Breitling's impulse engines flared brilliant red, and thrust ahead, accelerating to a fraction of the speed of light.


"Nothing yet, Sir."

The range needed to be close. The damn thing had to attack before...

"Got it," the tac officer sang out. "Contact approaching at warp two, bearing one-six-seven, mark zero. Four minutes to intercept."

"Targeting computer," McKinney ordered, "stand by. Don't paint the target until we're ready, in case it can sense the beam."

"Tracking passive," she noted. "Standing by."

The alien's path homed on the fading trail of dying atoms pouring from Breitling's impulse exhaust, correcting its off-angle deflection course in a gentle curve to cut its target off. It came up from behind the starship, not as a matter of tactics, but just because that's the way they'd ended up facing in all the confusion. But it didn't matter, since McKinney had to wait for it to shoot before he could do what he had to.

Faster than a manned vessel could if the crew was to survive the deceleration, the drone popped out of subspace directly over the Breitling's saucer, going from warp two to matching sublight velocities almost instantaneously. McKinney barely had time to think neat trick before that hideously sharp beam lashed out at his ship once again.

It slammed into the Breitling's saucer right at the forward tip, blasting a chunk clean through, blowing decks and bulkheads and clouds of atmosphere out the bottom. But it was the impulse engines that it smelled, and for the short duration of its beam's life, the drone rotated, and sliced the beam along the saucer toward the nuclear plasma streaming from its exhausts. The force that had blown five decks worth of debris through at the first impact pushed hard, and the Breitling's nose pitched down, offering up the saucer's topside even faster to the hacking force, gouging out great melting pieces of deck, framing, doors, bulkheads, plants, labs, paintings, machinery, carpet, beds... but no people, McKinney thanked heaven for that. No people.

"Cut impulse engines, Mister Eng," he ordered.

Eng tapped a key and shook his head. "Control circuit cut, sir."

McKinney sat back and sighed, "Oh well, I figured that would probably happen," and watched the screen as blue-white hell ate through tritanium plating until, inevitably, it actually hit the impulse engines' fusion reactors.

The thermonuclear fireball enveloped the alien, and a green sphere of glowing energy surrounded it as its shields absorbed the nuclear energy and dissipated it back out into space. When the light was gone, there was no debris from the cremated USS Breitling, only a slowly fading blob of dying atoms. And the Gorn drone, its duty done, turned to leave again.

The explosion cast its unforgiving light onto the planet, and onto a tableau of three people standing in the night.

"Oh my God," Melody said, looking heavenward. As the princess cried in her arms the ground around them had become bright as daylight. The sky had turned opaque blue again, the fusion fireball mimicking the sun’s light, blocking out the nebula as if it were noon. An angry light glowed up there like a temperary sun, then faded away.

Dockray stood apart from the two women. When he’d told her about Anthony Elayna had collapsed, crying uncontrollably at the loss of her friend, into Melody’s arms, and he’d stepped away. He managed not to be looking directly at the explosion, but it burned in the corner of his retina. He gasped, but found there wasn’t enough air to gasp and coughed. He breathed deep, recovered.

"I hope that was the bad guy," he whispered.

"Let's hope that was worth it," McKinney muttered. "Susan, track it."

"Got it. It's heading back for the nebula wall. Bearing three-five-one, mark two-one-one. It's entering warp... now."

"Helm, pursue and overtake, at warp four. Torpedoes ready."

Stunted and stubby, and missing the graceful saucer-shaped primary hull section that had once adorned its prow – the saucer McKinney had evacuated, ejected, and used as remote-controlled bait – the remainder of the USS Breitling, with its repaired warp drive in place, flashed into subspace and charged ahead after its fox.

"Overtaking target in one minute, Skipper," Greengrass pronounced with enthusiasm.

"And were you right?" he asked.

"Yessir," she beamed. "It dropped its shields as soon as its own target was destroyed.

A wolfish grin creased McKinney’s smooth face. "Got a bead on it, Mister Eng?"

"Oh, yes, Sir!"


"Closing to ten thousand kilometers."

"Then at five thousand, kill it, please."

The gentle chirp of the weapons-away alarm sounded almost immediately, ranges like that falling away in seconds at these speeds. Such a close launch of such fast missiles would be impossible to evade, by any organic or synthetic mind. The photon torpedoes raced the distance between the two vehicles in less time than it took for the sound of the launch signal to fade.

Four torpedoes struck in succession. Not a spread along a projected course, but four clean hits in a dead-astern tail chase that couldn't miss.

The screen whited out, bathing the control room in harsh white light and stark black shadows. The usually reserved Lieutenant Eng pounded his fist on his thigh and shouted, "Right up its ass!" Greengrass kept her eyes on her own consoles, and went to active scanning beams immediately. She wasn't going to lose it again if it got away.

"Shields at full, and all stop, please," McKinney ordered, to avoid slamming into any debris.

"I don't know how, Sir, she said, but..."

He swiveled to look at her. "You’re kidding."

Greengrass hit some keys and gestured to Medoff, who picked up on the cue and aimed an external camera. "It reads as dead, Sir. But it's still there. Spinning away at point two-five cee."

The viewscreen showed the drone spinning about all its axes in wild gyrations. Two of its five arms were gone, and it appeared to be blackened over its whole surface. Blue sparks spit out of the broken ends of its arms at intervals, creating a brief spiral trail behind it. The gyrations were not the result of control inputs from a computer gone mad; it was residual momentum from being hit by four antimatter explosions that sent it spinning off at a quarter the speed of light.

McKinney stood to approach the screen for a closer look. "Tough little cookie," he said with awe. "I guess it got its shields up just as the torpedoes hit."

Zaccaria asked plaintively, "Phasers, Sir? Shouldn't we finish it?"

McKinney sat down again, thinking hard, his reason suddenly fighting his instinct. Greengrass said it was dead. If that’s the case, then …

"No. Get a tractor beam on it and stop that spin."

"Sir?" Zaccaria said in shock.

"Hang on, Ensign," McKinney assured. "Scan the hell out of this thing. Make sure it's dead."

Medoff joined in the worry. "But, Commander..."

"Wait. Think a minute. Without any physical evidence of this thing's existence, the Gorn government might be able to worm their way out of any blame."

"We have the whole complex on the planet," Medoff offered.

"Yes," McKinney admitted. "And I'm not saying we haven't got one hell of a case of negligence to level at them. But think how much more damning it will be to have this monstrosity to wave in their faces."

Eng turned to look at him. "But how can we be sure it's dead?"

"Well," he sighed fatalistically, "I can think of one way."

It would have been crazy to bring the device aboard the Breitling’s hangar, in case there was any life left in it, or in case it decided to explode suddenly. And it was probably too big to fit through doors designed for boxy shuttlecraft anyway, even missing two of its arms. McKinney could have asked for volunteers, or ordered someone to do this. But he was still taking the whole thing too personally to let anyone else put the coup de gras on this thing. When he asked the linguist, Lieutenant Bedwineck, what to look for, she volunteered to come along and read the language for him. When T’Lar found out what he was doing, she insisted on coming to keep him from exposing himself to lethal radiations. She’d argued her position as chief of bio sciences, and he’d argued that if anything, a simple medtech should suffice. But he was just as happy she was there.

With visions of people dead a hundred years swimming through his mind, and images from old vidcorders behind his eyes, Daniel McKinney tapped the retrothrusters on his backpack and came to a halt five meters away from the charred and twisted hulk of the Gorn sentry drone. T’Lar removed a radiation detector from her spacesuit harness and took a reading. He pulled in close to her and read the panel over her shoulder. The beastie’s mouth was hot, but the hull was clean. His suit’s shielding could handle any residual he might be getting from the gun barrel. She held the scanner on him and he tapped his thrusters, coming to a rest against the round, shuttle-sized hull.

It was silly, he told himself, but he was tingling. This was the resolution of his first command, his first crisis. What could he have done differently? Nothing, of course, because he was thrust into it by circumstance. Captain Dubronin had made the decision to follow the mayday, and she herself had had no choice in that, either. He looked his enemy over. His torpedoes had bubbled and flaked the surface finish. Whether it was paint or some kind of plating, he couldn’t tell. He peered into the broken stub of one arm with a hand light, and saw only unintelligible alien cabling and sheared conduit. There was a frost, probably of residual liquid hydrogen that rimmed the broken conduit. It had stopped sparking from its wounds.

Bedwineck had been hovering ten meters back recording images of the object. McKinney had an uncomfortable association with the footage he saw of Harrington Home’s crew doing the same. He motioned her in. "The hatch is right here," he said. He remembered the opening instructions from the ancient footage, and slipped his spacegloved hand into the catch. The hatch, remarkably, was not fused shut, but opened – with some effort – on damaged hinges. McKinney had to "stand" on the hull and heft it upward.

There had been circuits burning inside, but a panel near the edge of the opening showed a series of lights. "Dead, huh?" McKinney said knowingly. "Miss Bedwineck?"

The tech glided over and stick her head in fearlessly, trusting her commanding officer to not get her killed. She shone a light on the panel. The lettering was faded and burnt, but readable – to anyone who could read Gorn. "Here, Sir," she pointed. "’End Operation’, literally. ‘Off’ to us." She reached for it.

He touched her arm. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

She understood and pushed herself off, letting herself drift back a few meters. McKinney reached for the circuit breaker panel. "Both the red ones at once?" He asked, and Bedwineck said "Yes."

With two fingers, he jabbed the pair of glowing buttons. The whole panel went dark.

T’Lar scooted in and took a general radiation reading. McKinney thought it was probably so she could see his face. She had advised against this little spacewalk, and then insisted on coming with him. Maybe to some Vulcans, friendship was logical. She said, "Are you happy now, Daniel?"

"Ya know, " he said with finality, "I think I am."

On to Chapter 11 and the end

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