Return to Equilibration Chapter Eight


Author: CaptMurdock
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: The characters of Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay, as well as Buffy Summers, Xander Harris, Faith, Warren Mears, Jonathan Levinson and Charles Gunn, or the reasonable facsimiles that I employ in this story, are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy productions. The setting for the story is within the universe of Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry and owned by Paramount Pictures, Inc. No infringement of copyright is intended. The other characters are the creation of either myself or several colleagues who don't care what I do with them. In any case, I'm a firm believer in Kasden's Law. YMMV.

"As the duck once said," Murdock remarked drily after hearing Willow's explanation, "now I've heard everything."

"Um... wow," Tara whispered.

"I need a second here, kids," Devereux said, shaking his head. "So on this dead planet is a sentient time-portal, which apparently has been there for billions of years..." he trailed off, looking at Willow in confirmation of his summation.

"Yep... I mean, yes, sir," Willow attested.

"Said time-portal, or... what was it you called it?"

"The Guardian of Forever. Actually, Doctor, that's what it calls itself. Or called itself, when it was discovered-"

"Ye gods, the damn thing talks," Devereux said, shaking his head. "Anyway, this 'Guardian' was discovered over a century ago, and the Federation has been keeping it a secret ever since, right?"

Murdock shrugged. "Doesn't surprise me that much. Back around the turn of the millenium, the United States government kept a secret base in the middle of Nevada, less than two hundred miles from one of the largest entertainment complexes in the entire world, and for decades no one but the government, and the incurably paranoid conspiracy theorists of the time, even knew of its existence."

"I read about this, sir," Willow said brightly, forgetting the urgent matters of the moment in her enthusiasm. "That was the place where they stored the bodies of the little green men who supposedly crash-landed on Earth after the Second World War-"

Tara sensed a certain discomfort in Murdock, as if a long-buried memory struggled to unbury itself in his mind. "Lieutenant, I'm not interested in green men, little or otherwise,"- a single styptic blink seemed to interrupt his thoughts - "at least, not at this time. I'd like to focus on our current situation."

"Oh yes! Sorry, Captain. I know, I need to try not to go off on, well, tangents..."

"Like you're about to now. Okay, so, I'm assuming there is some sort of scientific outpost on this planet, studying the Guardian. They've probably been filing reports for decades to Starfleet and various agencies, with encrypted copies of the reports archived at Memory Alpha. Now, the Maquis are on their way to the planet, maybe aware of the nature of the Guardian, maybe not. We've already sent word to the Trieste to intercept them, but we can't be sure they'll succeed. I've had Kolrami attempt to contact any scientific team on the planet, but we've gotten no response."

Willow answered the unasked question. "They wouldn't answer, sir. The outpost group, at least back in the old days, was under strict orders not to acknowledge any signals, emergency or otherwise, that doesn't have the proper code heading. Security reasons."

Tara's brow knitted. "Wouldn't the outpost have a large security force of its own?"

Willow shook her head. "I don't think so. The planet is way off the beaten path; most of the trade routes pass far away from it, and there isn't an inhabited world for over twenty parsecs. Nobody goes there. The only reason that it was discovered at all was because the Guardian was emitting, I don't know, some kind of temporal harmonic, that was disturbing the fabric of local space. But it never happened again after that, so it must have been some sort of transient effect."

"Like hiccups?" Devereux suggested.

Murdock shot him an annoyed look, which the counselor answered with a shrug, then turned back to Willow. "There is one question I have to ask you, Lieutenant: if this Guardian has been such a secret for so long, even back during your former era... how is it that you know about it in the first place?"

Willow cringed, looking so woebegone that Tara, already sympathetic to her friend's situation, felt her heart leap out of her chest in Willow's general direction. "I was afraid you were going to ask that, sir..."

"Well, you can stop living in fear, kid. Start talking."

Willow took a deep breath, not so much as a stalling tactic as she really needed the oxygen to fortify her brain. "Well, it had to do with these guys, okay, some of them were women, but you get the idea, we weren't really sure where they came from, and by 'we' I mean Captain Cumberland and the rest of the Hannibal crew, but I think they were some sort of time-travellers or dimension-travellers, the name we eventually stuck to them was 'The Revisionists' -" Willow stopped as both Murdock and Devereux reacted to the mention of the name. "You've heard of the Revisionists, sir? Sirs?"

"We got wind of 'em," Devereux replied dryly.

"I haven't heard of them," Tara interjected, a slight pout at being left out of the loopcrossing her features. Willow took a half-second to regard the blonde's expression, deciding it was adorable.

"It's a long story, Counselor, and right now we have enough of those," Murdock said, not unsympathetically. "Anyway, Lieu- Willow, you were saying Captain Cumberland had encountered these Revisionists, and?"

"He wanted to find out if there was some method of correcting any damaged they might do to the timeline, so he asked me to find out if Starfleet knew of anything like that."

"Okay. What made him think that you, in particular, would be able to accomplish this?"

The redhead gave a self-effacing grin. "Oh, uh, gee, uh, he, that is, the captain, he knew about certain, um, talents of mine, y'know, with computers and such..."

Tara piped up suddenly. "Does this have to do with how you managed to get yourself , Buffy and Xander assigned to the same ship right out of the Academy?" Willow's immediate and remarkable blush was more than adequate testimony to the question. Devereux looked at Willow with fresh appraisal, then smiled at Tara for her observation.

Murdock, too, was seeing Willow as if for the first time. "Multi-talented, aren't you? So, in other words, you hacked into the Federation archives or whatever, and found out about the Guardian. Then what?" Willow looked askance, then was about to plunge in when the captain reconsidered. "On second thought, don't. Unless you think that whatever happened ninety-odd years ago has anything to do with our current situation..."

"No. I mean, no, Captain."

"Then we'll leave that sleeping dog alone. If at any time you feel that the situation warrents it, however..."

"I'll publish it in paperback, sir."

"Just the Cliff Notes will do fine, Lieutenant," Murdock said, smiling. "One more thing... given all the circumstances surrounding this mission and your own personal situation, I suppose it's understandable that you would be reluctant to divulge any information as sensitive as this. But in this future, I do hope you would give me the benefit of the doubt and put your trust in me a little more readily."

Willow nodded, chastened. "Yes, sir. I'll remember." She hesitated as a new thought struck her, then added, "Captain, I know it's not my place to ask this, but about the Guardian... it really is kinda dangerous, in the whole rewrite-history-even-if-you-don't-intend-to sense, and the more people who know about it..."

"Noted, Lieutenant," Murdock said, cutting her off. He considered the matter for a second, then stated, "Protocol demands that, as first officer, Faraday needs to be told about this. Otherwise," he glanced over at Devereux, "we'll keep this on the QT. Maclay, I don't need to tell you to keep mum on this," he noted Tara's slow nod, "so I won't. I'm just going to tell the rest of the senior officers that the Maquis are something unspecified, and let it go at that. Since we are assuming, with some justification, that the Maquis themselves don't know what they are after, this is a fairly safe course of action. Dr. Devereux and I will brief Commander Faraday, then we'll convene a meeting of the senior officers. The two of you are dismissed."

Tara and Willow got up from the couch and had walked to the door of the ready room when Murdock's voice stopped them. "Oh, Lt. Maclay? Ten more seconds, if you please." Tara looked puzzled. Willow smiled encouragingly at her friend and exited the readyroom, leaving Tara to turn around to face the captain again.

"Yes, sir?"

Murdock folded his arms and regarded his junior officer. "Tara, you have been a splendid addition to this crew since you've come on board."

Tara dimpled and ducked her head slightly. "Thank you, sir."

"That's why I'm going to led that 'whip them out' comment slide by, and just remind you that that is not the usual language of Starfleet officers."

Fighting the urge to lower her gaze to the deck entirely, Tara gulped and replied, "Aye, sir."

"Dismissed." As soon as the ready room doors shut on Tara's departing figure, Murdock allowed the grin that he did not want her to see bloom on his face. "'Whip 'em out.' Good for her!" He looked over at Devereux, who had been having trouble holding in his laughter and now was letting loose. "Protocol or no, it's nice to know that she will stand up to me under the right circumstances."

"Yes, it is good to know," Devereux agreed, regaining his composure. "And quite frankly, Sam, you had it coming."

Murdock gave him a wan smile and a sarcastic ha-ha. "Thank you very little, Charlie." Hitting his combadge, he intoned, "Number One, please report to the ready room." Closing the comline, he added, "Now the real fun begins."

Several hours later, as the Hannibal raced towards its destination and the impending confrontation with the Maquis, Tara ran across Willow again in the library. "Hi!"

"Hey," Willow replied, her concentration shifting momentarily from the console display she was working on to Tara and back again. "What brings you to the Black Pit?" She noted absently that Tara was holding a PADD in one hand.

"I was doing, um, a little research," the blonde responded diffidently. Willow arched her eyebrows at the somewhat mysterious undertone. "N-nothing important, really, just something that's been, well, bothering me."

"Well, dig out the crayon marked 'intrigued' and color me with it," Willow said, indicating the chair next to her for Tara to sit down. With a huff, she did. "Now, what's caused the grand opening at the Curiousity Shoppe?"

Tara rolled her eyes. In the manner of most obsessions, to an outsider this would seem so trivial... Yet, Willow had always been open with her about all sorts of matters; to prevaricate in return would be, well, rude. "It's about Char-- Dr. Devereux. I had some questions about him that I needed answered."

"What kinda questions?" When Tara did not immediately reply, Willow's imagination went transwarp. "Omigod... is he some kinda spy? Maybe, maybe he's secretly one of the Maquis! He-he could be feeding them information-"

"Willow!" shouted Tara. "Stop. Dr. Devereux is not a Maquis spy." Pause. "At least, I-I don't think he is. Dammit, Willow, now you've got me wondering!"

The science officer could not help but giggle. "I'm sorry. My brain is dangerous, and must be contained at all costs. What were you wondering about Dr. Devereux?"

Tara paused for a second, taking a moment to organize her thoughts. "Did, um, did you know that he wasn't always a counselor? Dr. Devereux, I mean." Willow's headshake prompted her to go on. "I've been researching his Starfleet record. He used to be in the command division, taking on lots of high-profile assignments and stuff."

"Real fast-track kind of guy?"

"Um-hmmm. After he made lieutenant commander, he was seconded to Starfleet Intelligence for some, uh, covert operation stuff."

Willow grimaced. "Are we talking 'I'd tell ya but then I'd have to kill ya' territory?"

Tara smiled in spite of herself. "Maybe I can just ask him to give me the highlights, and just kick me in the shins!" She sobered abruptly. "Anyway, it was on one of these, um, missions, that his wife died." She sighed.

"Did they have any kids?" Willow asked.

"No, at least not as far as the record shows. After he found out- see, he was out of normal communications for several months - he took a medical leave for-"

"For what?" Willow prodded, when Tara didn't continue.

Tara shook her head. "I think I'm getting into areas covered by counselor confidentiality. I'm sorry, I-I didn't mean to lay this all on you..."

"Hey, c'mon, what are friends for?" Willow smiled back.

Friends, Tara thought, what exactly does that entail, and more to the point, not entail? She pushed that notion out; now was not the time to drag that discussion up. Deliberately, she changed the subject. "Wh-what are you working on?"

"Oh, this is just that analysis of DNA fragments that we picked up on Memory Alpha," Willow replied, turning back to the console, a little guiltily. She felt that she really should have had this finished hours ago... "Lucky for me, I had the services of a whole bunch'a science grunts to do the collection and collation. All I've needed to do was eliminate all the Memory Alpha personnel and Hannibal crew from the Great Nucleotide Stew. It was easy... easy as, well, really hard pie."

"I would have thought that you could do this in one of the science labs."

Willow nodded. "I could, but the technicians...they're nice and all, but they always ask me silly questions about where I came from: what we did for entertainment without holodecks, and did we have replicators, and what James Kirk was really like. Like I knew him."

Tara smiled. "Did you find anything interesting?"

"Oh, definitely!" Willow tapped a retrieval command into the console. The screen changed to show a particular set of DNA codes, cross-referenced to a Starfleet service record. A visual document also appeared, showing a young male human with pale skin, close-cropped black hair that seemed plastered to his skull, wearing a Starfleet operations division uniform and a rather pinched expression on his face. The legend above the service read LEVINSON, JONATHAN X.

"He was in Starfleet?" Tara asked, almost instantly regretting such an obvious question.

Willow either did not notice the self-evident nature of Tara's question or chose to ignore it. "Yep. It says here that Jonathan Levinson went AWOL about eight months ago. There's a notation that Starfleet Intelligence suspected that he defected to the Maquis. Well, I guess we can tell them that he's definitely on the Bad Guy list."

"Or at least cancel his subscription to the official Starfleet newsletter," Tara quipped.

Willow swung around, amazed. "We have one of those now?"

"N-no, sweetie... I was making a joke. Or, trying to." The crestfallen expression on Tara's face made Willow grin sympathetically.

"I found this one genotype that seemed a little weird, the science officer said, calling up one particular DNA profile. "I mean, baseline, it's human, female," Willow indicated a single sequence in the DNA fragment, "but this here, I've never seen a nucleotide sequence like that before. I really don't know if it means anything, but there we are.

"Anyway, I was just about finished, when I found this DNA set here," Willow added, calling up a third record. "There seems to be some kind of ribocyatic 'tags' attached to the main nucleotide strands. I was wondering if it was some sort of exotic disease, but these extra sequences are far too orderly."

"Then they were placed there deliberately," Tara concluded. "Why would someone do that? I mean, if they were trying to disguise their DNA, they should have known that a detailed analysis would blow their cover..."

"'Blow their cover.' That's it," Willow muttered, entering another command in. "Now, eliminating the extra DNA tags should reveal that this guy is..."

The two young women stared at the screen, which showed the unaltered DNA profile, and the legend right above the data.

"Great Googly-Moogly," Willow stammered.

"Th-this might explain certain things," Tara added. "I think we need to talk to the captain."

"Right. Uh-huh. Gotcha." After several seconds, Willow shook herself from her reverie and transferred her findings to a PADD. As she finished doing so, the lighting in the library changed subtly, and the computer voice rang out: "Yellow Alert. All hands, go to Yellow Alert."

"What's going on?" Tara asked.

By way of answering, Willow called up the bridge log on her console. "We've dropped out of warp. I think we're in the system where, uh, you-know-what is."

Tara stood up. "Let's get to the bridge."

"Sir, we are at one-half impulse," said the ensign at the helm. He was not, however, the usual conn officer on duty during this shift.

"Acknowledged. Full scan," Murdock said, sitting in his captain's chair.

The crewman at the Tactical position, who was not Thelvran, read the displays and reported, "Captain, I've located the Trieste."

"On screen," Murdock ordered the officer at the Ops console. Again, it was not Kolrami. The science vessel appeared in the center of the viewscreen, in orbit around the ash-grey planet. "Any sign of other vessels?"

"Nothing definite, sir, although there are indications of particle trails, possibly from vessels that have left the area."

"Understood. What is the Trieste's condition?" he asked the Ops officer.

"It's taken some damage, sir. I'm reading massive fluctuations in the primary and secondary power grids."

At that moment, the turbolift doors opened, admitting Willow and Tara to the bridge. They strode straight to the captain, Willow holding the PADD out to him. It was only after he asked why they were on the bridge, and had taken the PADD with a vaguely irritated air, that Willow and Tara noticed the lack of the usual personnel at the bridge stations. Given that the ship was on Yellow Alert...

Murdock read the findings of Willow's DNA-fragment analysis. His eyes grew somewhat bigger than usual, but Tara could feel how surprised he truly was. "Now, that's an interesting twist," he finally said, handing the PADD back to Willow. "Take your station, please." He turned back towards the viewscreen.

"Captain," Willow began, "what's with all the-"

"Not now," he cut her off. "Ensign, assume standard orbit and bring us within five thousand kilometers of the Trieste. Lieutenant, open a channel."

As soon as the Ops officer opened the channel and Murdock identified himself, a voice came over the audio, almost drowned in static: "Hannibal, we're in serious trouble! We've sustained major damage and our warp core is highly destabilized! Recommend immediate emergency transport! Our transporters are out, and we have heavy casualties-" The voice suddenly cut off.

"Willow?" Murdock turned towards the Science station. "What's it look like to you?"

After consulting her console, she replied, "There's a lot of subspace fluctuations, that might be caused by a warp core about to rupture. But I can't tell for sure--"

"Noted, thanks," came the off-handed reply. Willow glanced over at Tara, who had sat the usually-unoccupied Mission Ops station, and conveyed her confusion by her expression (unnecessary, as Tara could read her disquiet empathically). What's going on? Tara could only shrug in reply. She could also read the apprehension, and a strange sense of resignation, from Murdock; if she were to articulate it, she would put it as him saying, "Well, here we go."

"Alright, lower shields and prepare to transport the Trieste's crew aboard," the captain was now saying. Willow looked at him again, noting for the first time that, like all the rest of the personnel on the bridge (with the exception of herself and Tara) he was wearing a phaser...

Her console bleeped for attention, and what she saw caused her to shout, "Captain! Multiple transporter beams coming from the Trieste! Decks 4, 8, 15, and--"

Over a dozen columns of fiery sparkles appeared, carrying armed intruders onto the bridge.

At several key locations aboard the Hannibal, Maquis thugs beamed over from the Trieste, having taken over the science vessel several hours before. Armed with a variety of weapons and specific instructions as to which sections of the ship to storm, the anarchists/malcontents raced through the corridors, while the intruder-alert siren shrieked and the computer announced, "Intruder alert. All hands, General Quarters, Level 5."

Even as the intruders beamed onto the bridge, Captain Murdock reacted decisively. Whirling to his command panel, he tapped out a quick sequence. In the furor of the moment, no one on the bridge noticed that several key lights on various stations went out.

A rather large brute, two meters tall and built for trouble, materialized next to Murdock. He leveled the Cardassian phaser that he took off a dead gul and started to say "Don't move!" He got as far as "Don't m--" before the captain's fist, moving faster than he could see, crashed against the side of his face, rendering him unconsciousness faster than he could hit the deck.

In the same motion, Murdock drew his phaser and stunned a Maquis cradling a disrupter rifle. Step right up, folks, he thought, grimly yet with a certain relish. Come ride the Ride of the Century...

Warren's plan called for beaming onto the bridge and taking the regular bridge crew completely unawares, thereby facilitating the capture of a Nebula-class starship for the Maquis. What he did not expect to see, as he materialized next to the forward port turbolift, was that almost every bridge station was manned by security personnel, complete with protective headgear and semi-armor, all drawing phasers or physically besetting the intruders.

The guard at the Ops position, a one-point-eight meter woman built like a valkyrie, pointed her phaser at Warren and fired. With barely an instant to spare, Warren managed to leap back into the turbolift alcove, which afforded just enough cover to keep him from being blasted. As he tried to flatten himself even further, Warren wondered two things: one, why the turbolift door refused to open to let him off the bridge, and two, who was the lunatic that thought of this plan?

Which lunatic came up with this plan? Faith wondered as she dived for the deck, avoiding a phaser beam that came from the security guard at the Tactical station, where she had materialized seconds before. She had not even drawn her disrupter before the young Vulcan in security armor had drawn his phaser; only her preternaturally fast reflexes had saved her from being stunned.

Security Specialist Valek permitted himself a microsecond of astonishment at the young Maquis' speed, then dismissed it as his ingrained Vulcan discipline reestablished itself. He leaned over the console to get a better aim at her...

...allowing Faith to reach up and yank Valek bodily over the console and onto the deck. He rolled to his feet, noting that he had lost his grip on his phaser, saw that she had gotten up and was now aiming a punch at his head. He blocked the blow, then reached with his other hand to apply the nerve pinch.

Faith's other hand closed over Valek's wrist, slowing the advancing hand, slowing, then stopping, now forcing it back, away from her neck and shoulder. "No ya don't, hobgoblin," she rasped, as she grappled with Valek.

Willow was bewildered at the Maquis beaming onto the bridge. She looked over at Tara, who no doubt was similarly confused and afraid, but was masking it with professional detachment. It was only when Tara looked back at her that the mask of equanimity slipped, allowing a brief visage of terror out. Willow mustered her best 'resolve face' and shot it towards her friend, getting a ghost of a grin in return.

One of the Maquis shimmered into existence barely a meter from her station. As the quantum-phase "sparkle" effect faded, Willow was able to recognize him immediately: Jonathan Levinson. She was surprised at how short he was, barely coming up to her eyebrows. He was cradling a phaser rifle, one of the older, chunky Starfleet models that looked as if it had swallowed one of the hand weapons. He leveled it at her as soon as he noticed her; his attempt to affect a threatening posture was barely adequate.

The sound of phaser fire distracted both Willow and Jonathon. She reacted first, grabbing the phaser rifle and pushing it upward, catching Jonathan in the face. Unfortunately, before she could wrest the weapon from him, Jonathan had grabbed her sleeve to regain his balance, succeeding only in toppling them both to the deck.

Tara bit her lip as she saw Willow and Jonathan (whom she also recognized from his Starfleet record, during Willow's DNA analysis) grapple with each other with the rifle between them. She turned to see one of the Maquis blast the security guard manning the Engineering station; although the xenopolymer sheeting of the security armor absorbed most of the deadly disruptive energy, the force of the blast still knocked the guard cold. She heard the ready room doors open off to one side, and turned to see two more security men, armed with phaser rifles, emerge through the doors. One of them leveled his rifle and stunned the Maquis who had fired.

Tara turned back to Willow. The redheaded science officer was still wrestling with Jonathan, who still held his weapon in a death-grip. Willow was having a hard time employing any personal-combat strategems, with Jonathan holding onto her as well.

She had decided to get up from the crouch she had adopted at the point of beam-in, when Murdock, having spotted her while slamming another Maquis face-first into a console, shouted "Tara! Stay down!"

As Tara prudently kept her place, not being confident in her ability to contribute to this sort of full-scale donnybrook, and with Murdock's enthusiastic cry of "Hey, rube!" the Battle for the Bridge began in earnest.

"Break out the emergency support modules," Govarr instructed his nurses and technicians as the intruder-alert siren sounded. He was in the midst of preparing Sickbay for an influx of casualties when two armed men, one human, the other Bajoran, charged through the main doors. The medical personnel backed away as the Maquis waved their weapons at them.

The human leveled his outmoded disruptor rifle and shouted "All right, everybody against that bulkhead!" He turned and saw Govarr, a derisive sneer sprouting from his face. "You too, porkchop."

Sounding like a groundskimmer with a misaligned fusion core, Govarr growled low in his throat.

Another team of Maquis insurgents converged on the Engineering complex in the secondary hull. Their leader, a thorough-unpleasant human named Caleb, charged through the doors with a dozen armed men and women behind him. They leveled phasers and disrupters, of various pedigrees, at the Hannibal personnel. Caleb saw the chief engineer, DaKar, standing near the master systems console.

"Get away from that-"

With a burst of light and a crackle of powerful yet restrained energies, Caleb was dumped on his ass by the force field he ran right into. The rest of his team skidded to a stop, seeing that the Engineering complex proper was on the other side of the barrier. A couple of them helped Caleb to his feet; he was a bit woozy, feeling as if his entire body had gone to sleep. Some of the others re-leveled their weapons and fired, the destructive energy beams splashing off the sparkling force field.

DaKar shook his head. "This is Engineering... they think we can't make a force field here?" He tapped his combadge. "DaKar to CIC... we've got some party-crashers here. Show them the door, please."

Situated near the exact center of the saucer section, the Combat Intelligence Center (or CIC) was a slightly smaller version of the Main Bridge, yet was more utilitarian in purpose, reflected by the more subdued lighting from the overhead. Although the Nebula class, like its larger cousin the Galaxy class, had originally been designed with a "Battle Bridge" to be used when separating the two sections of the ship, this secondary control center had been phased out when field reports of the necessity of Separation Mode - or rather, the lack of necessity - had been received by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and the Advanced Starship Design Bureau. Although a great idea "on paper," separating the saucer section of the ship just did not yield the tactical advantage that so many designers had envisioned.

As the Hannibal had only been partially constructed by the time this datum had been assimiliated by the ASDB, some rethinking had gone into its command and control systems. While Main Engineering, in the stardrive section, was deemed sufficient to control the ship should total annihilation somehow occur to the saucer section, a second command center for the saucer section, one better protected than the Main Bridge which after more than a century of design alternatives still rested atop the saucer like a sore thumb, was deemed imperative, or at least a darn good idea. Upon taking command of his new vessel, Captain Murdock, with his amazing sense of historical perspective, had named this new auxiliary control center after that used in American naval vessels in the late twentieth century.

In the Ops position, a virtual duplicate of that on the Main Bridge, Lt. Commander Gelfa Kolrami rerouted the myriad resources of the enormous starship on a second-by-second basis, tabulating, cross-referencing, her years of Starfleet training augmenting her natural talents honed by a hundred thousand years of Zakdorn evolution, keeping track of hundreds of subsystems as she rattled off a non-stop litany of information and instructions:

"...rerouting H-nine-five-seven elements CIC to Security Maquis intruders deck seven section 15-delta proceed at once CIC out computer establish force fields around deck seven section 15-delta and reroute all command functions away from deck seven sections 15-alpha to 15-epsilon CIC to Engineering acknowledged locking onto intruders energizing now CIC out CIC to Security Maquis intruders have been placed in transporter stasis initiate protocol beta-three CIC out..."

Caleb and his team were rather surprised when the transporter beam grabbed them, in spite of the scramblers that they all carried, which they were told would prevent the Hannibal crew from simply beaming them back to the Trieste. This shock, however, paled in comparison to finding themselves materializing, each in a separate cell in the Security brig, sans weapons and behind force-barriers. The security guards standing watch outside the cells, toting phaser rifles, just added insult to injury.

Commander Olivia Faraday sat in the CIC's center sea, quietly seething... not merely about the intruders on the ship, although it felt like a physical violation to have the Maquis storming about the corridors of her home and hearth. What really toasted her cheese was the captain's insistence on being right in the middle of the "action," as her called it, leaving her with the "minor task" of making sure the ship did not fall into enemy hands.

She flexed her hands, clenching and unclenching her fists, listening to Kolrami report incidents and countermeasures, listening to security dispatches from the ensign on watch at the Tactical station. She was about to ask Kolrami something when Ensign Warnock piped up. "Ma'm, I think we're about to have visitors."

Faraday started, then noticed the expression on the young man's face. She nodded. "Advise Lt. Thelvran."

Another Maquis team, this one led by a roguish gent named Mal, were looking for the Battle Bridge or other auxiliary control center. In front of Mal was a rather large man, who looked to be the product of an unholy union between a human and a Rigellian kaylar, saddled with the unlikely name of Jayne. He cradled a nasty-looking two-handed weapon, one which looked as if it would not emit anything as clean and refined as energy beams.

"Hang on, it's gotta be around here somewhere," Mal was saying, consulting a PADD with an electronic map.

"You said that three corridors ago," reminded a tall, dark-skinned woman, pointing a Regulan plasma gun at the overhead.

"I know, Zoe, okay? It's this way," Mal countered, not really pulling off the tone of certainty he was hoping for. The rest of his team rolled their collective eyes, but said nothing and followed him.

"Where the hell is everybody?" another man named Simon asked. Indeed, the corridors seemed deserted. The flashing red lights of the alert system, plus the silence broken only by the occasional hoot of the siren, added to everyone's edginess.

"Wash, try the scanner again. Maybe we can get a read on-"

Jayne's shout interrupted Zoe. "Wait! Look, it's just down there!" He was pointed to a sign reading COMBAT INTELLIGENCE CENTER, with a stylized arrow pointed further down a long corridor. As the Maquis team came around the curve, they could see two crewman standing in the corridor, consulting a PADD. They appeared to look up with nonchalance at the approaching intruders, then back to the PADD.

"I knew it! Starfleet wimps!" With a battle cry that could curdle the blood of a drunk Naasican, Jayne hefted his miniature cannon and ran pell-mell down the corridor, intent on mowing down the crewmen and charging into CIC...

...ending up knocking himself silly when he ran into an invisible obstruction about two meters in front of the crewmen, who continued to consult the PADD, look up at the Maquis, and back again.

"What the frackin' hell..." Mal muttered, creeping forward while keeping his weapon trained on the crewmen. Zoe kept pace with him, kneeling down to check the unconscious Jayne.

She shook her head. "He's out cold. What happened? That was no force field..."

Mal's free hand, outstretched in front of him, suddenly encountered unyielding metal. The air behind his hand as well as the silent crewmen shimmered unexpectedly, like a shallow pond disturbed by a stone dropped into it. "A hologram..." he whispered, comprehending belatedly that he was attacking an enemy on its home ground.

From the bulkhead off to the side, several phaser beams lanced out, striking Mal, Zoe and most of the rest of the team, stunning them into oblivion before they could get a return shot off...not that it would have likely mattered, as they would not have been able to see the security team crouching behind the hologram covering the corridor that led off at right angle to where the Maquis stood. Frankly, it had taken all the self-control the security guards could muster not to laugh out loud at the sight of Jayne running hell-for-leather right into the bulkhead at the end of the corridor.

Simon and Wash, the two men who had hung back (and had not come into range for the guards to stun them) took off back the way they came...right into the arms, so to speak, of Thelvran and Gunn. The Andorian, disdaining to use his sidearm, grabbed Simon's arm and with a chekkah move, flipped him over to the deck. When Simon, half-heartedly, attempted to get up, Thelvran dropped him with an economic elbow-smash to the face. As for Gunn, he used the barrel of his phaser rifle to "clothesline" the unfortunate Wash, who fell to the deck like a sack of hammers.

Thelvran surveyed the scene, as the security team deactived the hologram and moved to place the Maquis in custody. He turned back to Gunn and held up his hand, palm first, to his subordinate. "Five high!" he said, grinning.

Gunn thought about correcting his boss, then let it go. "Five high," he agreed, slapping his hand against Thelvran's.

The amused glint in the security chief's eyes went cold. "Thelvran to CIC," he said into his combadge. "We're secure."

The two Maquis holding Sickbay hostage were getting increasingly nervous. More and more of their colleagues were becoming incommunicado, including Warren's team on the bridge. The Bajoran, Kesli, kept trying to contact various other members of the invading force, with little success.

The apparent downturn of fortune was making his human partner more and more agitated, indicated by his rapid pacing and swinging of his disrupter weapon from Govarr, leaning against a diagnostic table, to the rest of the Sickbay staff lined up against the bulkhead and back again. "What the hell's happening?" Stroud nearly shrieked for the fourth time in as many minutes.

"I can't raise anybody... Caleb, Mal, Warren, any of the others," Kesli replied in a more even tone, though no less worried. He tapped his commlink to switch frequencies in a vain effort to reestablish contact.

"Oh, to hell with this! Let's just take a few scalps and go," Stroud muttered, leveling his disruptor at the Sickbay staff, whose collective attempt to take a few steps back was stymied by the duranium bulkhead at their backs.

A very loud sound, somewhere between a high-pitched squeal and a bellicose roar, pierced their brains at over a hundred decibels. Stroud hastily covered his ears, all thoughts of counting coup with the helpless nurses and technicians forgotten; Kesli dropped his phaser entirely as his central nervous system nearly overloaded.

Govarr rushed forward with surprising speed, drew back his arm, and hit Stroud across the jaw with the heel of his thick hand. The human terrorist dropped as if he'd been introduced to the doctor's most powerful sedative... which, in a way, was precisely the case. Kesli recovered from his momentary condition and tried to tackle the Tellarite, who ducked under his arms and let his momentum carry him over...

...right onto the diagnostic table, where Kesli landed with bone-jarring force. Before he could get up, Govarr tapped the console beside the biobed, activating the restraining force-field. Clapping his massive hands together in satisfaction, Govarr turned to his medical staff, who were shaking their heads and rubbing their ears painfully. "Well? Not bad, eh? Everyone all right? Good. Quit clasping your heads; we have work-"

The double doors whooshed open. Thelvran, Gunn and two security guards dashed in, weapons at the ready. They blinked upon seeing the unconscious or incapacitated Maquis and at the otherwise peaceful sickbay.

"Ah," Thelvran said, putting away his phaser.

"Heard there was a party going on here," added Gunn sheepishly. "Anybody hurt?"

"I cannot hear," Dr. Sivek, the Vulcan intern complained, although with an admirable equanimity.

"I'll fix it," Govarr offered, then affected a wounded expression. "This is the kind of gratitude I get around here, risking my life like that!"

"Perhaps you should take that as a sign to stick to medicine and leave the rough stuff to the professionals," Thelvran countered, not bothering to hide his cheerful smugness.

Govarr sneered. "Oh, go secure something!"

Thelvran and Gunn looked at one another with put-upon expressions. The dark-skinned petty officer quirked up an eyebrow. "You get the feeling we're not appreciated?"

The chief of security heaved a dramatic sigh. "Frequently." He led his squad out of sickbay.

With a disdainful sniff, Govarr watched them go, then turned to the helpless Kesli on the diagnostic table. "You know, it's a lucky thing for me that you decided to drop in when you did. My stock of spare Bajoran organs happens to be at an all-time low. I think you might be able to help me, how shall I put this, improve my inventory."

Kesli visibly paled.

Security Specialist Third Grade Ele'ar, great-granddaughter of the High Teer Leonard James Akaar of Capella, fumed as she held her position at the Ops station on the bridge, trying to get a shot at the Maquis cowering in the turbolift alcove, while her fellow crewman Valek struggled with the dark-haired human woman. Ele'ar risked a quick glance back, to see the captain flip one of the Maquis over his shoulder to the deck, then dislocate the man's arm with seemingly little effort. After taking a quarter-second for an admiring glance, Ele'ar re-aimed her phaser at the curly-haired human wielding the Cardassian phaser. A carefully aimed blast managed to hit the fingers holding the phaser, the stun setting causing no permanent damage but knocking the phaser to the deck. Ele'ar then saw the brunette block a blow from Valek - no mean feat considering the superior strength of Vulcans - and answer with a left hook that snapped Valek's head back, Vulcan strength or no.

Enough. Drawing the tri-bladed (and non-regulation) klugat at her waist, Ele'ar let out an ancient Capellan call-of-challenge, making Faith snap her head around in alarm, and let the throwing knife fly with its characteristic whistling sound straight at Faith.

Incredibly, the Maquis caught it, the tip of the klugat coming to within two centimeters of her throat. She flashed Ele'ar a quick smile: "Thanks, bitch." Then she turned and with a smooth motion plunged the dagger-like weapon into Valek's chest.

However, despite Faith's muscle behind it, the weapon proved incapable of penetrating the tough duraplas armor covering Valek's torso. The Vulcan raised a somehow pitying eyebrow at Faith. "That would not have worked anyway. My heart is locat-"

"Shut up!" Faith snarled as she dealt him a right cross that pretty much floored him.

Disdaining to use her phaser and heedless of the man she had been trying to stun moments ago, Ele'ar leaped over the console and dove at Faith.

Faraday sat in the command chair in the CIC, listening to the reports coming in from various decks and sections. All things considered, things were going pretty well; the majority of the Maquis invaders had been neutralized. The only group that was still active since they had beamed over from the Trieste was the team that had beamed onto the bridge.

Unfortunately, there was not a lot that Faraday could do about it. Murdock, among other things, had managed to seal off the bridge; no one could get in or out, at least by turbolift or Jeffries tube. Faraday had earlier advised beaming everybody, friend or foe, off the bridge and let the transporter buffer sort them out. Kolrami had shot that idea down by informing her that someone had activated a transport inhibitor, preventing anyone from beaming in or out of the immediate area.

Again she seethed, that Murdock had placed himself in harm's way. "Idiot! He thinks he can deal with anything!"

"Usually because he can," a voice drawled beside her. The first officer momentarily started, turned to see Dr. Devereux had strode up next to her. Disregarding her slightly chagrined look at her momentary misbehavior, he laid a hand on her arm. "You know he's dealt with far more dangerous situations than either of us...and in my case, that's saying something," he added ruefully. "You're just going to have to trust him."

"It's not just him I'm worried about," Faraday muttered, looking back at the older man. "We've managed to get a combadge 'headcount' of our people on the bridge. Besides the captain and the security personnel..." Devereux looked inquiringly as the first officer hesitated slightly. "Lt. Maclay and Lt. Rosenberg somehow ended up there, too."

Devereux started to cloud up, then put on a forced air of calm. "Look, Sam will... the captain won't let anything happen to them." Faraday's expression told him, however, than he was less convincing than he had hoped to be.

"Let... go!" Jonathan growled, as he rolled around the deck with Willow, the phaser rifle between them (thankfully pointing away from them both).

"You let go!" Willow countered, trying to maneuver into a position where she might be able to deal an incapacitating blow to her opponent. Unfortunately, he was holding her so tight (and she him) that the two of them were unable to effectively use any hand-to-hand techniques more sophisticated than pinching and tickling. "And... watch... those hands, buster!" she added, sure that this little nerd was going to use the opportunity to cop a feel.

Tara watched from her crouched position near the Mission Ops console, wanting to help but feeling her best course was to obey Murdock's order to stay out of the way. She could not help but wince every time a security guard, or even one of the Maquis, would be hit with a phaser or disrupter bolt, or be slammed into a console or bulkhead or the deck.

By now, the field was getting clear as there were relatively few combatants left. Tara saw the curly-haired man retrieve his phaser with his unstunned hand, only to have to leap back into the alcove as one of the guards from the ready room had taken aim with his phaser rifle. In the center of the bridge, the captain was dealing with the last of the Maquis, who were apparently overmatched by his surprising strength and skill. Farthest from Tara, near the main viewscreen, two security guards, who she recognized as Valek and Ele'ar, traded blows with the dark-haired beauty who apparently had fists of steel.

Ele'ar had managed to get a couple of good shots, a kick to the solar plexus and a left hook, on Faith, only to get knocked back by an answering roundhouse kick. Valek tried to press his advantage then, but Faith was still too quick, blocking the nerve pinch and elbowing the Vulcan back.

Still, Faith recognized that she was in serious trouble; given time, these two might wear her down. Time to shift into high gear, she thought.

Ele'ar feinted a punch, then let loose with a snap kick at Faith's head. Incredibly, the brunette caught the leg; then, utilizing unbelievable strength, lifted the larger woman and virtually threw her into the viewscreen (although it was not a screen so much as a holographic display, so actually Ele'ar hit a bulkhead) with bone-jarring force. As Valek recovered and charged, Faith clasped her hands into a joined fist and whirled, catching him across the face with such force that he spun in mid-air. He crashed to the deck, unconscious.

Faith had no time to gloat or congratulate herself, as her peripheral vision picked up the two phaser-riflemen on the upper deck of the bridge taking aim at her. Even her preternatural reflexes were barely enough for her to evade the beams that came at her. Tara was amazed, barely able to keep up with how fast Faith was moving.

Deciding that a little firepower would be the better part of valor, or at least kicking ass, Faith drew her disruptor and fired a double-tap, two shots so close together that the sound of them blended into one, nailing both of the riflemen with uncanny accuracy. Although their security armor absorbed most of the deadly energy, both men immediately sank to the deck.

Faith turned to find another target...

...and nearly ran into the muzzle of Captain Murdock's phaser, pointed at the bridge of her nose. Whoa! Where did he come from? The deadly seriousness in the grey eyes was, she had to admit, daunting. This guy would shoot her, no question.

"Hold it, captain!" a voice off to her right called out. Warren held his Cardassian phaser in his off hand, holding the hand that Ele'ar stunned against his chest like a wounded paw. Even under the circumstances, Faith almost snorted in derision: Gee, now you decided to contribute...

Murdock glanced over towards Warren, calculating the odds that he might be able to blast both him and Faith, and not liking the probable answer to that question. In any case, Warren took the matter out of his hands when he spotted Tara in the aft part of the bridge. "You - get up!" he said, motioning with his phaser.

The captain sighed inwardly, then turned slightly as another sound caught his attention. Oblivious to everything and everybody around them, Jonathan and Willow still wrestled for his phaser rifle. Murdock had to restrain himself from smiling. "Rosenberg. Hang it up." He lowered his own phaser, barely bothering to notice that Faith had raised her disruptor to bear on him.

With great reluctance, Willow relinquished her hold on the rifle, allowing Jonathan to quickly scramble up and point it at her. Keeping her hands raised, she pushed up off the deck, stepping down towards Murdock, even as Tara did the same. She glanced at the blonde counselor, their eyes meeting for a brief second, each finding strength in one another. Willow regretted having brought Tara to the bridge in the first place, and wanted to tell her, to apologize for having placed her in danger; but even as the thought formed, a sudden calm came over her, like a cooling mist, pressing her worried thoughts down to peace and stillness. She glanced over at Tara again, and saw in her face that her friend had not only read her feelings, but somehow conveyed some of her inner equanimity, part of the mental balance that she had cultivated over many years, over a mental link that neither of them had suspected existed, at least on a conscious level.

Warren covered the two young women along with Jonathan, then glanced back at Murdock. "Hand over the phaser, captain," he ordered.

Murdock shrugged, making as if to hand Warren the phaser...then whipping around and hurling it directly at Faith's head. Insect-fast, she snatched it out of the air; then her brown eyes darkened even further as she leveled her disruptor higher, finger tightening dangerously on the trigger. "Mama didn't teach you any manners, did she?" she said, her voice somewhere between a hiss and a growl.

For all of the reaction that Murdock had to this possibly homicidal woman, one would have thought she was brandishing a water pistol. "Mama told me not to look into the eyes of the sun," he quipped, the corner of his mouth quirking up to piss Faith off even more.

"Faith." Warren's summons went unheard, and he had to repeat it. "Faith!" She looked around to him, the look of mayhem in her eyes giving him no little consternation. "Go to the Tactical station. Activate Intruder Control." He gestured with his phaser.

Tara and Willow exchanged a worried glance. If the Intruder Control system was brought up, most of the ship could be flooded with anesthezine gas, rending the crew helpless. Tara looked at Murdock, but the captain did not stir.

Faith sidled over the Tactical station. Although not ex-Starfleet like Jonathan and Warren, they had given her enough training to be able to work consoles such as this. She tapped in a few commands, only to be rewarded with a series of chittering beeps that had a somehow accusatory sound. "Hey, this thing isn't working," she said after several attempts.

Jonathan, after ensuring that Warren had Willow under cover of his weapon, went down the Ops position and tried several routines, all met with the same negative sounds. "Warren, I can't access any of the main systems from here! All command functions have been rerouted to another location."

Murdock managed to give the air of a man playing innocent, but the golden halo above his head needed severe polishing. Warren leveled his phaser at him. "Where did you transfer command functions?"

"Gee, I dunno," Murdock said, scratching his head and playing the Absent-Minded Professor bit to the hilt. "The arboretum? No, maybe sickbay - I've got it! The waste-extraction facility! Go on down there and see. I'll stick around here, if it's all the same to you." He turned abruptly serious at that point. "You guys actually thought that fake warp-core breach business was going to work? Pathetic. It's so nice to know that the Maquis is recruiting from the backwater planets." He glanced at Faith derisively. "What, did the Ferengi turn you down?"

"Watch your mouth, combadge-kisser!" she snarled, leveling her disruptor at him again.

Warren was about to threaten Murdock again when Jonathan clamored for his attention. "I can't raise any of the other teams! Nobody's answering!"

The Maquis leader exhaled disgustedly. "I think it's time we relocated. Get their combadges; we're leaving."

Murdock took a step closer to Warren, glaring dangerously. "Look, Warren, you have me, a Starfleet captain. You don't need those two," he said, indicating Willow and Tara. Willow was about to protest when she realized that saying anything at this point would be counterproductive... not to mention, potentially fatal.

Warren, however, wasn't buying it. "Oh, no. We're bringing them along as insurance towards your good behavior." He crossed over to Tara and snagged the combadge off her chest (and, Tara was sure, copping a quick feel in the bargain).

Jonathan was about to do the same to Willow when she glared at him. "I know how, shorty," she said, throwing the combadge to the deck.

Murdock was about to step in even further when Faith gripped his upper bicep warningly. "Behave yourself, pal - whoa! What great muscles you got there, Grandpa!" Murdock, to his credit, resisted the obvious response, settling for silently removing his combadge.

Warren brought out a comlink and spoke into it. "Bugs to Foghorn... initiate Plan 4, now."

The science vessel Trieste, dwarfed by the much larger Hannibal, had been merely hanging in space waiting since the mass transport. Now, its weapons systems, such as they were, powered up.

A volley of energy bursts spewed forth from the Trieste, flying towards the other Starfleet vessel to splash against its defensive shields.

"The Trieste is firing some sort of tachyon burst at us," Kolrami reported at the Ops station in CIC, her eyes flicking from one display to another. "It's causing our shield harmonics to go out of phase."

Devereux looked confused, but Faraday's grim expression betrayed the fact that she knew what the Maquis were planning. "Recommendation?" she said tightly.

"If we don't reset the shields, feedback may result. Our entire shield grid could collapse, leaving us vulnerable."

Faraday sighed. "How close are the security teams to the bridge?"

"At this rate, bypassing the emergency bulkheads, the security forcefields and the disabled turbolifts, at least two point three minutes after we will lose the shields if we don't-"

"Noted," Faraday almost snarled. "Do it."

In the instant the shield harmonics were reset, a split-second window opened in the Hannibal's defenses. At the predetermined moment, Warren, Jonathan, Faith, Murdock, Willow and Tara became pillars of quantum sparkle... and vanished.

Continue to Equilibration Chapter Ten

Return to Story Archive
Return to Main Page