The Malevolent Seven

by Armaita

Main Character(s): Seven, OC

Universe: Star Trek Mirror Universe, based on the Star Trek (TOS) episode Mirror, Mirror

Author's Note: This one will take some explaining, so I apologize in advance for the lengthy author's note.

I observed that other fanfic writers have written about Captain Larabee of the USS Maverick. (This is not one of those stories.) Instead, I placed the Seven on the Terran Empire vessel called the Tiberius. This story takes place in the Mirror Universe--an alternate Star Trek universe where everyone looks out for their own best interests and receives promotions by assassinating the competition--so the guys are rougher around the edges than usual. There is swearing, cruelty, and violence, but I wanted to show that despite being in an 'evil' universe, these seven men working together would be a force for good. This story has elements of the TV show's pilot episode as its plot.

In this story, the characters are as follows:

All in all, they were an unremarkable group, but Admiral Orin Travis of the Terran Empire's StarArmada believed they could be precisely what was needed to fracture the empire without putting most of humankind at risk.

One was part-Klingon, which would be helpful in appeasing the Klingon Empire. Another had experience behind Romulan lines, so he would be able to guess the Romulan Star Empire's next move. The Vulcan was ruthless, but never without a logical reason. The half- Betazed would guide them, and provide a calming influence in a situation that was bound to be intense. The dark-skinned Cardassian, the product of a human father and a Cardassian mother, was a walking paradox--a doctor from a race of remorseless killers (a statement that held true regardless of which half of the man's background one was referring to)--and he would support this strange collection of men because it was in his nature to do so. The fully human one had a temper, but a lesser man would not be strong enough to make the necessary decisions. The boy. . .well, the boy's genome scan claimed he was completely human, but the young man had an unusual power over people, and his skills with a computer were unsurpassed by any being in the entire quadrant.

Admiral Travis studied the copy of the Tiberius' orders that had been forwarded to him as confirmation of approval by StarArmada Command. The datapad read: Captain and crew of the Tiberius are hereby ordered and charged with the security and stability of the Four Corners star system and neighboring sectors. Primary concern should be directed at preventing Klingon and/or Romulan encroachment into Terran Empire's territory.

It would not be a revolution in the traditional sense, and it certainly would not constitute armed rebellion, but four StarArmada officers, a doctor, a counselor and an ensign just might be able to change the course of history. If they succeeded, it would mean that in at least some of the Terran Empire's, territory people would be able to live without fear.


Co-first officer Buck Wilmington awoke with a smile on his face, a rare enough occurrence to surprise him. However, when considering the dream he had just had, a smile was definitely in order. The dream had been a memory of his carnal activities on Rigelius V. Those first two girls just couldn't satisfy him, so, he had dismissed them. But the third...ah, it had been a while since a woman had such talent. He had heard rumors that Security Chief Ezra Standish had established a lucrative betting pool, with winnings going to the officer who guessed both the time it took Wilmington to find a suitable partner and the number of undesirables he would go through in the search. With the caveat of both details and Buck's unpredictable taste in women, Ezra had taken the pot yet again. Damn gambler. A blaring 'beep' sounded from the communications system in the walls of his quarters.

"Bridge to first officer Wilmington," a cool, collected, alien voice asked. If Buck didn't know better, didn't know that Vulcans never expressed emotions, he would have accused co-first officer Vin 'Tanner' of sounding smug. No one shortened his last name to 'Tanner' except Captain Larabee, because no one else could get away with it. More than a few naïve ensigns had found their way through an airlock, without the benefit of a spacesuit, for using the nickname that mangled the first officer's nearly unpronounceable Vulcan surname. When questioned about his actions, the weapons specialist would invariably answer that he had been testing new methods of expelling projectiles toward enemy ships.

There were no specific speakers for Buck to address; StarArmada had made sure that each wall of every ship had ears, so he spoke to the wall nearest his bed as he pulled on a uniform. "Yes?" Buck didn't bother hiding his annoyance at the interruption of his sleep.

"Report to the Bridge immediately."

Buck noticed, for the hundredth time, that the Vulcan did not see fit to address him as 'sir'. Well, that works for me, Buck thought, because the feeling is mutual. Not replying, the co-first officer made his way quickly to the turbolift, pausing in confusion when he saw none other than Ensign JD Dunne waiting within.

"Aren't you supposed to be on the bridge, Ensign?" Buck snapped. While on duty, the officer was expected to maintain professional behavior, which entailed scolding or punishing insubordinate underlings. Buck wondered if JD ever noticed that Buck only scolded him, as opposed to giving him a session in the dreaded pain-inducing Booth or using the hand-held Agonizer devices that all crewmen carried but only officers could activate. The kid was smart; he probably noticed a lot more than the senior bridge crew gave him credit for.

"Aren't you, sir?" Ensign Dunne returned, masterfully hiding a smirk. He knew Buck disliked the idea of punishing him, but there was no need to push the envelope. Explaining before the skirt-chaser's scowl could deepen more, JD Dunne said quietly, "Co-first officer Vin sent me to, ah, 'assist you in finding the bridge'. Not that I think you're incapable sir, but..."

"...But," Buck finished, schooling his features to a calm he did not feel, "you have to follow orders; even ones that make me look incompetent."

JD winced visibly. "I'm sorry, sir."

Buck shook his head. "No, no, you did the right thing. Don't worry; I'll deal with the Vulcan."

Relieved that the co-first officer had not read his actions as insubordination, JD nodded. Was co-first officer Vin trying to turn Buck against me? JD wondered. Everyone knew that the semi-human co- first officer thought of the ensign at Communications as a surrogate younger brother. Perhaps Vin 'Tanner' felt threatened by that camaraderie? Before JD could ask Buck if Vin would stoop so low, the turbolift doors opened to the Bridge level.

The bridge was painstakingly flat and open. All work stations could be retracted into wall, floor or ceiling at the push of a button. These controls, of course, were located in the captain's chair, which Vin now occupied. Buck instantly noted the scorched smell of phaser-burned circuitry, and a second glance at the ashes near the science station told him that an ensign had somehow riled the Vulcan first officer.

Buck only smirked as frigid blue eyes locked onto his own. Raising an eyebrow in mockery of the other first-officer's trademark gesture, Buck said, "Did I miss anything?"
"Nothing of significance," the alien dead-panned, "we will need to appoint another crewman to the scanning station. I suggest Ensign Wells. You have the con."

First officer Vin swept from the room, a horrified JD in his wake. A 'suggestion' from an equal could not be refuted except with very good reason. Having a protégé who harbored a crush on the suggested crew member did not qualify as one. Buck sighed. He knew that the kid and Ensign Casey Wells were close, but the best way to have a relationship on this vessel was to protect those you loved by not showing your concern. Obviously, the ensign required a reminder. "Ensign Dunne," Wilmington barked, "man your post."

The harsh words snapped JD from his unsettling reverie, but the boy still sent him a look that clearly said, 'I can't help liking her, and I can't protect her here'. Buck shrugged in answer, and JD went about his duties at the communications console. Buck thought back to the first time he had realized just how good this kid was. It was about two months after the Tiberius had left space dock...

"You fail to grasp the danger you place your entire species in by refusing to join the Empire," Security Chief Standish warned the leader of this most recent planet destined to either fall under the Empire's control or to be sterilized.

"Look, friend," Buck stepped across the gap between the two increasingly hostile groups and placed a comforting hand on the opposing leader's shoulder. "You can either join us, or I can..." he whispered a suggestion of how he intended to defile the leader's three daughters before killing them. None of the StarArmada humans heard him, but the native leader's only son did. Reacting in rage, the young man had grabbed the neck of Buck's uniform and yanked him backward, bringing a ceremonial, but very sharp, knife to the top-ranking StarArmada officer's throat.

"You will all leave our planet, and leave my sisters alone, or I will take your commanding officer's life!"

It was at this point that Buck realized just how much he hated the Universal Translator. It took the words in their most military context, and made natives always sound like pompous jackasses. Then again, it was possible that the Universal Translator was completely accurate.

"Excuse me?"

Entirely out of context with the tense situation, JD Dunne had just stepped up to Security Chief Standish and quietly asked permission to negotiate a peaceful, and victorious, ending. With a confused look, Standish relented, and JD proceeded to challenge the native leader's son to single combat, according to that culture's custom. The stakes were the planet against Buck's life.

That JD won was of little concern. That the entire landing party safely returned to the ship meant nothing. That another planet, minus the life of one man, joined the Empire that day was completely irrelevant. That JD had disobeyed procedure by 'negotiating with terrorists' meant that he must be punished. The three highest ranking officers were present for his 'instruction' in proper conduct.

JD never once cried out and never broke eye contact with Buck Wilmington. As the pain levels in the Booth reached critical levels, he did sink to his knees and a high, keening sound escaped him, but the boy seemed almost proud!

Captain Chris Larabee ordered the Booth shut off, and approached the ensign, who was smiling faintly. The ship's surgeon was called to ascertain that the boy had not suffered any mental setbacks from his treatment. It was rare, but nerve endings did occasionally fry, sometimes in the brain. What other reason could he possibly have to smile?

"No, Captain," the Cardassian named Nait Jaksonar proclaimed, "the scan came back clear. He's sane. The only strange thing is that his endorphin levels are unusually high. I doubt the pain is bothering him much, sir."

Vin stepped forward and, without warning, placed his hand on the young ensign's face in the traditional Vulcan mind meld. Pulling back almost instantly with a barely discernable expression of disgust, Vin turned to the Captain. "Pain is nothing because he feels righteous in his decision. First officer Wilmington's life was more important to him than regulations."

Captain Larabee scowled and knelt by the still-collapsed youth. "What if I were to space you? Would Buck's life be worth that?"

JD raised a head matted in sweat-doused hair, the slight smile maintaining its presence. "We both know, sir, that the only spaceable offences on this ship are treason and pronouncing first officer Tanneresjacheisoek's name incorrectly. But yes, sir, even then, it would have been worthwhile."

Buck should not have been astonished by the ease with which Vin's full Vulcan surname was pronounced by the communications officer. Though no one would have noticed, correct pronunciation at a first contact could give the impression that the Empire knew everything about a culture, starting with names. All the same, he did smirk as Vin raised a solitary eyebrow in surprise and amusement.

The captain, however, was not so amused. He ordered another minute, full power, in the Booth, glaring at the ensign the entire time. When the power was finally cut, Captain Larabee ordered Buck to return the ensign to his quarters, saying off-handedly, "looks like you've got yourself a pet project," which was Larabee's indirect way of ordering Buck to make JD realize the importance of disregard for human life.

Returning to the uneasy present, Buck Wilmington began his reign on the bridge. With the exception of occasionally harassing a female crew member, the bridge crew acknowledged that the mostly-human first officer was the easiest of the three highest-ranking crew officers to serve under. No one preferred Vin's homicidal yet logical tendencies or Captain Larabee's black moods. The shift was largely uneventful, and at the end of it, Buck noted how high-strung the kid still felt.

"Ensign Dunne, accompany me," the first officer ordered. JD's brow creased in confusion, but he moved instantly to obey. Once they were out of earshot, he asked in a far less formal tone, "You wanna hit the holodeck, kid?"

Ever since Captain Archer had stolen the advanced holographic technology from an alien that had been experiencing trouble with their warp core manifolds, holodecks had been installed on every ship. StarArmada officials had found that it cut down on the amount of shore leave requested and was useful in running simulations.

A light came on behind the ensign's eyes at the offer, but his expression remained serious. "Only if I get to be sheriff."

"Hell, kid," Buck continued in a whisper. "Be whoever you want. It's a damn shame though, the specifications of some of those ladies...whew! You shouldn't waste your time trying to keep law and order."

JD waited until they reached the holodeck and the doors swished closed behind them before saying, "You're full of crap, Buck."

Buck mockingly raised an eyebrow. "It took you this long to realize that? Just how did you manage to graduate the Institute?"

"I didn't." JD admitted. "I happened to beat the Kobayashi Maru, after hacking into the system, and they just gave me survival training and dumped me here."

This was certainly new information, and equally impossible, at that. "Kid, no one beats the Kobayashi Maru. . .that's the whole point of the test. It's supposed to reveal how future officers cope with defeat. And how did you penetrate the StarArmada system?"

JD smirked. "I'm Communications Officer for a reason, you know!" Calming slightly, he obliged the first officer with the tale of his impossible success. "So, in the Kobayashi Maru, I was caught between Klingons and Cardassians. Whoever wrote that scenario conveniently forgot that we'd enslaved all of Cardassia. Neither side is happy about the sector of space we are occupying, but they won't let us leave, either. There was some kind of alliance being formed between the two species, so they couldn't afford to let us go or allow us to send a signal to our Headquarters. They jam all frequencies except the one they use to offer us permanent shore leave on a less-than-hospitable planet." JD smiled outright. "Proud Captain Dunne told them where they could stick their so-called offer, and gave them thirty seconds to surrender."

Buck frowned in confusion. "Surrender? Wait a minute; you were out-numbered what, four to one?"

"No, twelve to one."

The first officer whistled. "That took balls, kid."

"You think so? Well, after the ringleader, a Cardassian admiral, finished laughing himself out of his command chair, I terminated communications. I told the communications officer to take a coffee break, manufactured a set of Captains-eyes-only sealed orders, certification codes all correct, and sent out a 'mission successful' signal to Headquarters."

"I thought you said all communication were jammed?" Buck asked.

"I did," JD conceded, "and they were. I boosted the signal, so they would think that I thought it had gotten past, but that's not important. The 'mission' I claimed to have been successful on was the testing of StarArmada's newest and deadliest weapon, the Corbonite Maneuver. As ordered, I bragged in the transmission, I had sacrificed myself and my ship to cripple the fledgling Klingon-Cardassian alliance." JD's smile reverted to a smirk. "Now the enemy is freaking out, because they don't doubt for a minute that StarArmada would sacrifice a young, inexperienced captain. Better yet, they're convinced that StarArmada knows about the alliance. If it was in sealed orders, it must be true, right?"

Buck smiled tightly, thinking of more than a few missions the Tiberius had already undertaken, missions where sealed orders were often even more misleading than the enemies the crew took on while following said orders. "Now who's full of crap?"

"That's not even the best part," JD said. "I ordered shields lowered, which threw everyone, even my own crew, for a loop. Then, I asked for a sixty second countdown to be broadcasted, and the Klingons and Cardassians started swearing the moment they realized that I was about to self-destruct. They began backing off, but I jumped to warp, planting a few antimatter charges at their coordinates."

"Damn, JD." Buck slapped the younger man on the back. "Instead of silencing you for that stunt, they sent you here?"

The formerly jovial expression darkened. "Sometimes I wonder if death would have been the better choice," JD admitted. Before Buck could protest, JD continued, "I'm not wired like everyone else, Buck. I'm smart, not cunning and determined, not ruthless; I'm just not cut out for this sort of work."

Buck shook his head and snorted in admiration. "Hell, kid, even if one half of your Kobayashi Maru story is exaggeration and the other half is outright lies, you still showed more promise as officer material in one test that I have in twelve years!" He grinned. "As for your inexperience, don't worry about it. You just haven't seen enough yet to have a driving rage like the captain's."

JD glanced at Buck, clearly about to make some damaging remark to the ears in the walls, something civil or kind, so Buck interrupted. Up to this point, the ensign's statements reflected only uncertainty and suicidal wishes, two traits the Empire commonly exploited to maintain loyalty among the ranks.

"Why do you think the captain ordered me to look out for you?" Buck asked, laughter belying the seriousness of the conversation. "He sees both your potential and your qualms, and he knows my history." Buck's voice trailed off. "No one else on this crew has lost a brother to the Chair..."

His brow creasing in concern, JD waited for the first officer to elaborate, knowing full well that if he pushed, favored crewman or not, Buck could still pull rank on him and insist on punishment. One of the talkative ensign's first lessons on board the Tiberius had included the benefits of keeping his opinions to himself. Opinions revealed too many weaknesses to one's fellow crewmen.

"My younger brother," Buck finally continued, "was just too good to be in StarArmada. Heck," Buck chuckled derisively, "his conscience was too active for him to even function as a civilian citizen of the Empire. I tried to warn him..." Buck shook his head, disappointed. "He joined up with StarArmada despite my protests. He was smart, like you; he knew how to answer all the questions correctly, pretend to enjoy the class at the Institute specializing in torture..." Noting the look on the kid's face, Buck nodded sympathetically. "Yes, there is such a course. Anyone who graduates the Institute is an expert in the torture of every known species. They even give refresher courses when we discover new life forms." Sighing, Buck said, "But the classroom is an entirely different animal from being on board. Have you heard of Captain Pike?"

JD racked his brain for the trivial piece of information he had picked up when required to read every Armada history database as part of his 'survival training'. "Yeah, he died years ago; was allegedly killed by a prisoner." Scratching his head, JD continued with, "Y'know, I never really believed that report. I mean, if you cross-reference what few tapes of the interrogation that remain, the prisoner has no limbs near the end. Nothing earlier on the tape indicates that subordinates removed them out of anger; each loss was a calculated attempt to gain the necessary intelligence. If they weren't taken because the crew was upset about their captain's death, then it follows that the prisoner wasn't physically capable of committing the murder. Therefore...shit!" JD rubbed his forehead with a hand as the logical conclusion presented itself. "You're not saying that your brother actually..."

Buck smirked before interjecting in a patronizing, yet sarcastic tone. "Now, now, ensign, you cannot really believe that one StarArmada officer would kill another over a mere prisoner, can you? Sure, they kill each other on a daily basis, but that's always over power and position. That someone could defeat the careful vetting process and still have a shred of humanity on which to act...well, it's damn near impossible, don't you agree?"

JD smiled weakly. " What was his name?"

"AJ Wilmington, youngest chief of Engineering the Armada ever saw. His full name was Adam Jefferson Wilmington. My mother named him that because some guy named Jefferson was a good man in the distant past. She wanted him to be better than me, because, by the time he was born, I was already nine, and obviously prime Armada material. He was executed by the Chair from Terra-September first to the thirteenth." Catching JD's wince, he laughed. "Yep, the kid always was a stubborn little bastard," Buck said affectionately. Then his expression became mischievous. "So, we gonna flap our traps all day or get this program started?"

The ensign's smile grew broader with sincere joy. "Like I said, waste the time however you want, I'm going to get some target practice in!"

"And in what role will you be shooting, ensign?"

Only some deeper sense of self preservation kept JD from showing his surprise at the new voice on the holodeck. Performing a smart about-face, JD saluted his captain and answered in an even voice, "The sheriff, sir."

An expression only the very naïve or the foolishly overconfident would call a smile crept unbidden onto the captain's face. "Is that so?" He did not seem to expect an answer, so JD remained silent. "Do you boys mind if I join you? Buck?" Captain Larabee redirected the question to one more comfortable answering it.

The first officer shrugged, saying, "Not at all, sir. Please, join us."

Captain Chris Larabee let out an impatient sigh, glaring at his mostly human first officer. "How many times do I have to tell you; when we're alone, it's just Chris. We went through the Institute together. Until you betray me, you are not allowed to call me 'sir' or 'captain' in private. Understood?"

Buck allowed a genuine smirk to illuminate his features. "Why is it you always say 'until' and not 'if' I betray you, Chris? We both know that I haven't got the brains, and Vin doesn't have the restraint to be captain. Hell, I figure you're the best chance I have of making it through until I collect my pension."

"Are you accusing me of possessing restraint, Wilmington?" JD noticed that the captain appeared authentically offended, except for the manic glint in his eyes.

Giving a mock salute, Buck snapped his heels together and responded with a straight face, "Sir, no sir! I was only observing that your tendency to dispatch ensigns via the airlock is expressed less frequently than First Officer Vin's, sir!"

Chris gave a blatant grin, which vanished when he realized the underlying reason for Buck's initial formality. Scowling, Chris said, "If you're worried about the kid here saying anything, he won't." Chris turned menacingly to JD, who mentally took a step back, but in reality, only stopped breathing. "He wouldn't want anything happening to Ensign Wells, would he?"

Forcing a neutral look onto his face, JD answered without desperation permeating his voice. "Ensign...Wells, was it?" JD feigned ignorance, "That particular crewman's fate is of no concern to me, sir. Permission to speak freely, sir?" After a singularly uncaring wave from the captain, JD continued, "I whole-heartedly dislike the label of 'kid', sir. I am not a minor, except perhaps by Romulan standards, and demand to be treated with the respect corresponding to my rank."

JD watched in trepidation as his captain's face turned red, and the highest-ranking officer because to shake. Fearing that he'd caused the captain to have a premature heart attack, the ensign quickly said, "Are you feeling alright, sir?"

That statement, so innocent and unexpected quite simply undid the stoic captain. He burst out laughing, leaving a befuddled first officer and frightened and confused ensign in his wake. Looking straight at JD, Captain Chris Larabee said, "Buck, you were absolutely right. The kid has balls of steel." Clasping a hand over the ensign's left shoulder, Chris finished, "Thanks, JD, I haven't laughed like that in a long time." Quirking an eyebrow, the captain asked, "Which character do you suggest for me?"

Smelling a reprieve in the air, JD decided to say exactly what he meant. Evidently, the captain enjoyed a little sass, and JD intended to find out just how much wouldn't land him in the Booth. "Well, sir, the Devil is not featured in this program. The next best choice for you would be the gunslinger."

Larabee started to glare, and JD just knew he'd gone too far. 'I thought I'd learned to keep my mouth shut!' he internally scolded himself. Fortunately, Buck intervened.

"Chris, the kid does have a point, and if you listened to ship's gossip, you'd know he's only using your most common nickname." The captain's attention temporarily shifted away from the ensign, and Buck withheld a sigh of relief.

"You know that no gossip happens where I can hear it, Buck!" the captain said harshly. "Even at meals, there's dead silence for three tables in each direction, and only whispers after that." Calming slightly, Chris asked Buck, "What is this nickname of mine?"

"Der Teufel den Stern," a nervous voice replied in the merest ghost of a whisper.

Chris spun at the response, translating in his head as he pinned the ensign who had answered with an uncommonly potent glare. "That means the devil of the stars, doesn't it?" A trembling nod was the only acknowledgment. Chris found himself grinning and chuckling. "I think I like it," he said contemplatively. His gaze hardening again; Chris unexpectedly changed subjects. It was a tactic he had found useful in determining which crew members were loyal and which ones were hiding something. "Why do you want to be the sheriff, ensign?"

"I feel that as a crew member with little experience, the sheriff is the character closest to my actual position, sir. Also, he gets the girl, which is more than can be said for the other characters." JD smirked and glanced at Buck as he finished his statement.

Chris hardly heard Buck's loud protests that the skirt- chasing character got far more women than the lowly sheriff. Instead he was thinking that the ensign was too easy-going, too certain of his response. It was almost as if he had thought up a feasible reason for wanting to be a law-enforcing character. His eyes narrowing, Chris cut off Buck mid-rant with a raised hand and a glare. "You know, JD, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a character who upholds the law. After all, it's what we do out here."

For the first time since Captain Larabee had met the young ensign, JD was unable to meet his gaze. The boy looked toward his standard-issue shoes, and muttered, "Yeah, but this character is different, sir. According to the premise, he only cares about right and wrong. He has no conception of empire, no ambitions for power, not even a rough sense of self-preservation." Chris wondered why he couldn't decipher whether JD meant that comment as praise or criticism. JD brought his gaze up to meet Chris'. "He's everything an ideal StarArmada officer shouldn't want to be," JD said simply.

It was not so much a confession as an excuse for his unease. Chris accepted that the kid probably wasn't ready for the role of hardened gunslinger, yet. Glaring at Buck, Chris silently said what he would never allow his ship's security systems to record. 'Get your ass in gear, Buck, and save this kid from his own good intentions!'

"Computer," Chris said aloud, "run program." The glare dropped, and Chris fixed a kinder gaze on the younger man. "I can't help you with your aim, kid, but if you want some pointers on a fast draw, you'll find me in the saloon. Tipping the black hat that had materialized on his head with the program's start, Chris spun and headed for the place such a dark character would surly go to drown his everyday grievances. 'Hell knows I've got enough of them,' Chris thought.

The ladies man waited until the ferocious leader was out of earshot, and then nearly attacked the ensign with his next statement. "Be careful, kid. If he's let you into his confidence like this, you'll have to watch out for assassination attempts. Damn! I wish he'd learn not to show his weaknesses so much!"

"What do you mean, Buck?" JD shook his head, dispelling confusion. He smirked. "If that was letting me into his confidence, I hate to see how he treats his actual friends," JD commented dryly.

Buck strode quickly over to the boy, placing a hand on each of the ensign's shoulders. "First off, the captain doesn't have friends; he has rivals. You heard the joking about power plays, right? The ones about which first officer would prevail?" Buck blew out a single breath in a snort. "They weren't jokes, kid. No, you've been accepted into his small circle of people he looks out for. In return, you're expected to watch his back. My guess is that he's grooming you for a promotion. Don't be surprised if a job opens up in the next few months."

"I have to watch out for assassination attempts..." JD tried to understand the intricacies of shipside politics, and in a moment of blazing clarity, he saw the danger in the blessing the captain had given.

"Exactly, kid," the older officer replied. "Once everyone knows you're a favorite of the captain's, they'll use you to get to him. How are your self-defense skills?"

"Uh..." JD articulated.

Buck squeezed the ensign's shoulder. "Don't worry about it right now. Enjoy the program." He turned to head toward the boarding house, but was stopped by a question from JD.

"How will everyone know that I'm one of his favorites?" Fear still laced JD's voice with the reference to his commanding officer. "It's not like he's behaving any differently toward me."

Rolling his eyes upward, and there was a verifiable 'up' here in the holodeck, Buck answered. "Don't you think people take note of how powerful crewmen spend their off-duty time? The captain joining your program means that he appreciates your company. People spend entire careers trying to plan for what just fell in your lap. Now, if you're finished asking about jealousy and death threats, there's a pretty lil' lady by the name of Charlotte waitin' for me." Buck went to the boarding house, leaving an ensign trying to recall if Charlotte was the married character or a widow.

Mentally shrugging, JD reached for his gun belt, expertly twirled his pair of six-shooters, and began his walk of the town. The various businesses all seemed to be functioning well, the bank was secure, and he had to break up only three bar fights. JD had heard that some crewmen used this program as a personal training course, re- programming so that such brawls were nearly incessant. Of course, those crewmen were usually starting the fights, not policing them as JD did. All in all, it was a pretty normal day, by Four Corner's standards, until JD passed the Saloon on his second circuit of the town.
Naturally, JD was surprised when arms encircled him from behind, preventing him from going for his guns, but the real shock came when he felt the smooth contact of a phaser against his temple instead of the cold steel that would have been approximated by the holodeck if his captor had been a hologram.

"Larabee!" his captor yelled into the saloon. "Larabee, get out here now, or I promise you'll be short one ensign!"

Any confusion JD might have had as to whether his attacker was a hologram or a crewman vanished with the military reference of his rank. The captain did, indeed, come running, but his reasoning became apparent as a cruel smile slid onto features only a close friend or worthy adversary could have said were taut with fear. The smile still in place, Larabee turned to yell up the street, "Buck, get the hell out here!"

JD couldn't turn around, but he would have guessed the crewman was overjoyed at his captain's blatant show of concern. Buck tumbled out of a second story window, and stumbled into Larabee's waiting arms, the first officer's pants still around his knees! The captain caught his unsteady friend and said quietly, "Easy, cowboy. People will talk!" Glancing at Buck's heavy trousers, he ordered, "Now, get your damn pants on and take a seat," Chris motioned to one of two chairs on the Saloon's porch. "You were about to miss the show!"

Both officers seated themselves, but Chris leaned his chair back on two legs, placing his feet on the railing, which faced the street. He yawned theatrically, and resumed his predatory smile. "You were saying, Lieutenant Briggs?"

In his brain, JD scanned through the personnel file of one Lieutenant Richard Briggs. The man was next on the list for promotion. Briggs must have been planning a move against the captain for a long time and probably noticed that JD had just been accepted into the captain's circle of guardians. Perhaps Briggs had had aspirations of his own, and JD's promotion to that inner circle--still informal at best--had threatened the lieutenant.

Lieutenant Briggs was probably gaping at Captain Larabee. Of course, JD could only guess. However, the lieutenant's next words confirmed his deduction. "You're not upset, sir?"

Chris sneered. "Upset? Why should I be upset?" The fingers of his right hand drummed on the chair, as though itching to grab for a phaser that wasn't there. Crew members left their phasers near the door when using the holodeck because firing them would have damaged the circuitry. There was an unspoken but standing rule that assassination to ensure promotion did not occur in the holodeck. "It's been so long since a decent assassination attempt that I was starting to think my crew lacked either the ambition or the cunning to even try. The ensign here is a recent addition. How he deals with this will determine whether my judgment was well-placed. If you're able to dispose of him, I will gladly thank you for correcting my mistake."

JD's captor said nothing, evidently dumbfounded, and JD glanced from Chris to Buck and back before he began chuckling incessantly. Buck was very obviously afraid for JD, but Chris looked as though was enjoying every minute of this. If Chris could have fun, then JD figured he had nothing to worry about.

"What are you laughing at, ensign?" The rank became an insult as it was issued in a sneering tone from Lieutenant Briggs' mouth. "Those antiques of yours won't work against a flesh-and-blood crewman, but my phaser will. It isn't bound by the safety protocols."

"I was just thinking, sir, that you're too stupid to have lasted this long on a ship like this. Do you expect me to believe that you'd rather kill a mere ensign than gun down the two highest-ranking officers when they're both unarmed?" JD replied, still chuckling slightly.

Lieutenant Briggs lifted the phaser from JD's temple slightly, since JD's argument had made him rethink his priorities, and JD took the opportunity for all it was worth.

Spinning instantly, JD gripped the offending arm, reversed the phaser's aim by breaking his captor's wrist, and fired, all in one continuous motion. Lieutenant Briggs' body glowed brightly, and the doomed man emitted a silent scream of pain, before vanishing from existence.

JD was left holding the phaser and breathing hard. With a sickening realization, JD dropped the weapon, doubled over, and vomited. Immediately, Buck was at his side, rubbing his back and giving meaningless words of comfort.

Heedless of Buck's presence, JD wiped his mouth, straightened, and glared insubordinately at the captain. "Well, sir, did I meet your expectations?" Gritting his teeth in barely controlled rage, the ensign continued. "That phaser," he said in a deadly whisper, "wasn't set for 'stun'." Anger seeped into his voice. "All of us could have been killed, and you were here."

The captain's only answer was a confused scrunching together of blond eyebrows as JD continued his tirade. "Why don't you have safety protocols preventing people from entering a holodeck that you are using? I don't mind looking after my own safety, but I won't let your stupidity cause my death." JD spun on his heel, calling to the computer for an exit arch.

"JD!" Chris yelled, halfway between amused and exasperated. Nobody, but nobody, talked to the captain that way. "Ensign," he said tersely, "where the hell do you think you're going?"

The ensign in question swung to face his captain, his face a mask of rage. His voice was deceptively calm when he spoke. "I, Captain, think I'm going to check the security protocols for this and every other holodeck. I'm going to program some additional measures if your security if it is not up to my standards. You may think that you're invincible." JD waved a hand dismissively. "The use of two first officers, neither ideal as a replacement, is pure genius. No offense, Buck."

"None taken, JD," Buck assured the livid ensign.

"But," JD's voice nearly dripped acid, "that insurance does not make you untouchable. Where am I going? I'm going to protect you, sir, and then I'm going to the gym to take out my frustrations on something that can't have me court- martialed." Sweeping the holographic bowler hat off his head and performing an elaborate, mocking bow, JD finished with a sarcastic smile, saying, "by your leave, Captain."

The captain could only silently nod his approval, and both older men stared in amazement as the 'sheriff' exited the holodeck at a brisk pace. When the arch resealed, Chris shook his head contemplatively.

"Have you reviewed Ensign Dunne's Kobayashi Maru records, Buck?"

The first officer shrugged. "Only what the boy had told me and that was darn near unbelievable. Was there any truth to it?"

Chris smirked. "That depends. Did he tell you that he bluffed his way past twelve fully armed Klingon warbirds and Cardassian birds of prey, and then destroyed the occupied solar system with anti-matter weapons? Because, yeah, then there's plenty of truth to it." Almost to himself, Chris muttered, "He's going to make a great captain someday. With a temper like that, it's either the captain's chair or the airlock. What do you think, Buck?"

"Well," Buck drew out the word, considering his answer. "You know that I'm probably about the least impartial man on your crew concerning that kid, right?" At the captain's acknowledgement, Buck continued. "He has a temper to match yours, an overbearing need to save his own hide, a smart mouth, and should be punished for insubordination." Buck took a deep breath and grinned, "but..."

Chris snorted. "Yes, 'but'," he affirmed. "Yes, but his temper makes him productive. Yes, but self- preservation is the cardinal rule of this fleet. Yes, but that smart mouth has and will save him from threats that I cannot or will not save him from. And, yes, he should be punished for insubordination." At this last statement, Chris glanced at Buck out of the corner of his eye, catching his mostly human first officer's blanching but silent protest. "That was a joke, Buck!"

He watched in amusement as the officer brought his breathing back under control. "Yeah sure, Chris, I knew that," Buck told the captain, convincing neither man present.

"Right," Chris replied, in a tone that revealed just how little he believed his oldest friend. Narrowing his eyes as he thought back on the incident, how worried Buck had looked, how he could barely stay seated, how quickly he was at the kid's side after it was all over, Chris smirked. "I told you to get through to him, but instead, he got to you, didn't he?"

Buck met Chris' all-knowing look dead on. "He got to you too," Buck insisted. "That incident was almost an exact duplicate of what happened during our Kobayashi Maru test, or have you forgotten saving my hide by pretending you hated me? Your cool, uncaring act doesn't fool me. Heck, it's when you get all riled up that I know you don't care." Buck offered his hand to the reclining captain, assisting him from the low-seated chair. "We're getting soft in our old age, aren't we, Chris?"

The captain scowled and called for an exit arch. "Who are you calling soft?"

The first officer's eyes snapped up in shock. "You mean you're not going to fight me on the 'old' comment?"

The captain smiled evilly as they headed side-by-side toward a newly formed exit arch. "Hell no," Chris replied, "I've been trying to get you to admit you were old for years."
With that final word, the two friends in convenience and rivals professionally left the holodeck, a puddle of regurgitation and the anachronism of a discarded phaser in a street of the Old West town the only evidence of the ship's most recent crew depletion.


"Despite your extensive knowledge of the anatomical weaknesses of various life forms, I am inclined to agree with Political Officer Sanchez," Security Chief Ezra P. Standish drawled. "I have discovered the psychological route a far more expedient and effective means of extracting information than the physical." Taking a breath, Ezra stared pointedly at Officer Josiah Sanchez, saying, "Before you protest, my good sir, your official capacity was divulged to me through the proper chain of command."

Both Ezra and Josiah knew that the security chief was assuring the Political Officer cum Counselor's secret was safe. What better way to observe the stability and loyalty of each ship's compliment than by ingratiating a wolf in sheep's clothing, a man to learn their confidences and dispose of the weakest among his flock.

"Additionally," Ezra's gaze swung to capture the dark-skinned Cardassian doctor, "I wish to forestall your inevitable protests declaring that I continually ally myself with our ship's Counselor in every disagreement that sprouts from these enlightening discussions." Ezra sneered the final word, knowing that the temperamental Cardassian was restrained from lashing out physically only because, annoying as Ezra could be, the indentured alien knew he would gain no power as a result of killing the morally unsavory and generally irritating human. Though doctor of the ship, with nearly unlimited means to eliminate whoever he desired, Nait Jaksonar kept his deadly abilities on a short leash, only killing those the captain no longer needed. It was implicitly understood that the doctor was loyal only to the rank of captain. This strategy had enabled the talented Cardassian to survive the multiple mutinies, and successive internal disintegrations of two crews prior to his transfer to the Tiberius.

"Thus anticipating your umbrage at my alleged bigotry, I feel obligated to remind you that I choose only one side--my own."

Ship's Counselor/Political Deviant-Routing Officer Josiah Sanchez smiled disarmingly as his Betazed abilities ran, yet again, into an unreadable front, represented corporeally by the Security Chief's blank face. As always, the half-human, half-Betazed man was amazed that Ezra's many ramblings were not compensation for feelings of fear or inadequacy. In fact, Josiah could not ascertain any feelings from the self-assured Security Chief.

Recalling the red tag in the long-winded crewman's file, Josiah assumed such a misleading face, and total control over one's reaction had proven infinitely useful when behind enemy lines during the final years of the Terran Empire's war with Romulus. Rumors had circulated that the slight and wiry, but surprisingly strong human might have uncovered information vital to winning the engagement. Josiah observed the unnaturally pale skin and gaunt features, an unbidden suspicion surfacing.

'That is impossible,' Josiah thought incredulously, 'there are records of my half-breed status; surely he couldn't have become so highly placed an officer with such a condition, could he?'

The Cardassian doctor, determined to prove his point, silently reached a claw-like hand around Ezra's back, clamping down in a manner that would be painful even if not directly placed on a pressure point every human possessed. Nait's expertise in human anatomy was what had saved him and a few thousand others from the otherwise complete enslavement the Armada had conducted regarding the Cardassian species.

Sneering, and exposing his gleaming teeth, the Cardassian waited for the agonized scream that no human could avoid emitting in this circumstance. While Nait was more of a paramedic than a doctor--StarArmada's injury policy was that if you were stupid enough to get hurt, it wasn't their problem--he knew the art of torture amazingly well.

His annoying human companion made no reaction whatsoever, and the Cardassian released a growling stream of curses in consternation. Whoever matched Cardassian vocabulary to the Universal Translator missed the anger imbedded in his unbelieving snarl. As a result, the translation was a lame "Huh?!" when what he had intended to convey was, "How the hell did that not affect you?" Disgusted with the smug look on the security chief's face, Nait stalked from the mess hall angrily.

The two remaining officers studied each other intently, one scrutinizing, the other studiously shying from the examination. Finally, the ship's counselor spoke, after finishing his beverage.

"I always wondered why you tried to set Nait off. You seemed even more aggravating than usual, about a month ago," Josiah observed quietly. "How is your health?" he asked, a triumphant smirk taking up residence on the wide, strong features.

Ezra returned the smirk, responding carefully. "Your own...genetic composition is less than ideal for so trusted an office as you have attained. My advancement would be considerably hindered should our dear doctor ever give me the required annual physical."

Josiah nodded sagely. "That would be why you insulted him the day before you were scheduled to report to him. I admit; it disturbed me because, while you are of questionable character, your manners never falter."

Putting on an indignant, injured look Ezra snapped, "I take umbrage at that remark, Counselor Sanchez, and will be filing against you for slander at the next starbase!"
Conversation in the mess hall continued unfazed; such a statement was commonplace for the security officer everyone knew and loathed. The comment was rarely an idle threat.

His curiosity now piqued, Josiah quietly asked, "How many generations back is it? It's so faint in your features that I was trying to decide what nationality you were, not..."

"Whether I was completely of Earth?" Ezra finished, a long-suffering smile firmly in place. "Yes, I had one grandfather, on the paternal side. My mother's numerous marriages served only to further confuse the issue of my parentage, especially as my parents were never married to each other. Between her connections and money and my own silver tongue, I was accepted to the Institute without an extensive genetic background check."

The silence settled comfortably across the table until Josiah spoke. "My father was among the soldiers who first occupied Betazed. My mother was one of the lucky few allowed to harbor the seed of the Empire without sterilization. As I grew, my temper, size, and empathetic abilities made me ideal for Armada use. She wasn't happy about my choice, but understood that Betazeds had no future except through cooperation."

Ezra could offer no condolences; he had never viewed sexual domination of captured species as expressly wrong. Unsavory, definitely, but not specifically wrong. Abruptly, Ezra realized that the counselor was not taking full advantage of the security chief's momentary openness. "Why haven't you asked how much strength and telepathic abilities I have retained from my alien ancestor?"

Josiah's chuckle was rumbling as he answered. "Would you have told me?"

Ezra shook his head in admiration at the man's perceptiveness. "Touché, my dear Counselor, well called."

Nodding, Josiah stood briskly. "If you'll excuse me, I have an appointment shortly."

Ezra felt a traitorous eyebrow rising in the quintessential Romulan manner and instantly schooled his features into an unreadable expression. He could not, however, keep the disdain from his voice as he clarified. "I ask with the greatest respect for your abilities, sir. What poor, misguided soul believes a session with you will improve his standing with either the crew or the fleet?"

"I sincerely doubt he has considered the ramifications," Josiah said, smirking impudently. "Oh, and Ezra? You can quit rifling through my mind for the name, because you won't find it. Why didn't you just ask?"

A mocking eyebrow rose, defiant of Ezra's wishes. "Would you have told me? Counselor-patient privilege, while not extending to Armada administrators, still applies to fellow crewmen, does it not?"

Josiah smiled fully, "Touché, Ezra." Without meaning to, Ezra had given away the fact that his telepathic abilities were even stronger than most Vulcans, Romulans, or even full-blooded Betazeds. Taking pity on the man, Josiah hinted, "The person I am to speak with is a foolhardy ensign who has gained the captain's respect."

A frenzy of varied emotions crossed Ezra's face before he regained control. "And what repayment do you desire for this information, Counselor?"

Cat-like smile still prominently displayed, Josiah leaned over the table, and lowered his voice to save Ezra from embarrassment. "You work days, Officer Standish?"

As the apprehensive nod, Josiah said, "Please report to my office tomorrow at eighteen-hundred hours."

"Why?" The question, and the emotions behind it, was obscenely flat, giving the half-Betazed no clue as to whether the quarter-Romulan was hurt, angry, or genuinely bored by the proposition.

Josiah smiled. "As Security Chief," he commented, "you should be able to recognize a threat to your career. Agree to one counseling session with me, and I promise that I will never use your lineage against you."

Hesitantly, Ezra nodded, and Josiah left.


JD first knew something was wrong when First Officer Vin cleared his throat and growled. "I just picked up a Klingon warbird on long-range sensors."

Captain Larabee grinned predatorily. "Buck, charge phasers. Let's get their attention." He didn't give a reason for the order; he didn't need to. Everyone present knew that their current location was far from Klingon space. "Can you tell whose ship it is, Vin?"

"Negative, captain." The Vulcan replied. "However, it is a Kronos-class starship."

Kronos-class was roughly equivalent to the Tiberius. What it lacked in technology, its crew made up for with an attitude of 'we'll surrender when we're dead...maybe'.

An acknowledging grunt was the captain's only response. The senior officers, plus JD, knew there was only one Klingon whose presence Larabee tolerated. After his parents were killed in a renegade Klingon raid, only his deep, pre-existing friendship with Buck Wilmington kept the man of mixed background in Larabee's good graces. That Buck had defended Chris' fiancée, Sarah Connelly, also helped.

"Captain, we're being hailed by a Commander Kor," JD reported, his fingers performing the necessary preliminary commands that would facilitate the immediate transfer of signal to screen when his captain demanded it.

"About damn time," Buck exclaimed quietly, "considering how thin our patrols are spread, they could've been in Terran Empire space for almost a week undetected!"

Chris allowed himself a good-natured glare at Buck and then glowered full-force at the view screen. "Ensign Dunne, put it on- screen." The proud face of a Klingon abruptly filled the bridge crew's vision. Buck self-consciously rubbed his own, far more prominent cranial ridges.

The Klingon commander was obviously a descendant of the failed attempts at making Klingon Augments. Human Augments--stronger, smarter, and arrogant genetically altered humans that were a product of the Eugenics Wars--had been bad enough, but when the Klingon Empire had salvaged a ship of human Augments in stasis pods, the genetic enhancements had been adapted for the Klingon genome with disastrous results.

Those Klingons who were given the genome-enhancing serum started dying, so the Klingons had kidnapped a human, used the serum on him, and created a cure from his blood. However, the cure caused the infected Klingons to take on some human characteristics, such as losing their cranial ridges.

Seeing this, JD wondered if Buck felt envious of the Klingon commander or, by contrast, felt fortunate that his ridges were not as tall as descendents of uninfected Klingons. While mixing occurred in the galactic gene pool, the closer to human one appeared, the better chances at advancement one had. Larabee's hard voice broke into the ensign's thoughts.


"Captain," Kor returned. "I have heard many tales of the services," he seemed to sneer the word, "you perform for your empire, but I never suspected you would fire on a ship that has made no first attack. I can now report to my superiors that the honor of humans is greatly exaggerated."

"I have only targeted your ship, Kor, not fired upon it," Chris replied, "I know you have done the same. You are trespassing in Terran space, in a vessel designed for violence. I have every right to fire; be grateful I have not done so already. If you have something to say, do so. If not, question my honor again, and we'll see just how sturdy that bird of yours is."

Kor threw his head back and roared with laughter. As it subsided to a snort, the massive Klingon banged a fist on his command chair's armrest. "You have a warrior's spirit, Larabee. I had hoped Kirk's replacement would be a worthy adversary." Curbing his excitement, Kor said, "I await the day we will fight. It will be a glorious battle."

Larabee smirked menacingly. He somehow conveyed more challenge in one twitch of his lips than the entire staring contest and verbal repartee previously exchanged. "What makes you think you'll need to wait for a battle? Invasion of enemy space is a serious offence."

Everyone on the bridge then encountered a glare to rival their captain's, but the next words confirmed that the Klingon commander's anger was at his orders, not at Captain Larabee. "This, despite my wishes, is no invasion," Kor ground out. "If possible, I am to maintain 'diplomatic relations' in order to discover Terra's intentions." With a shrug, Kor continued, "If we must fight, then it is a good day to die."

"It's as good a day as any other," Captain Larabee agreed, his grin fading as posturing gave way to business. "What is your purpose in entering Terran space, Commander?"

"How is Terra broadcasting counterfeit signals to the Klingon fleet?" Kor asked his expression equally serious.

Captain Larabee smirked. "You ask 'how', but not 'why'?"

"The 'why' is self-evident, Larabee," Kor replied. "You mean to spread confusion by broadcasting outrageous orders and false claims. How are you doing this? I find your ship near the coordinates that sent these signals, so I must assume it is you who sends them."

"Commander Kor, please explain something to me," Larabee lowered his head to one hand, pinched the bridge of his nose as though easing a migraine, and then looked up at the screen, eyes twinkling, and humor in his voice. "Are you telling me that you broke an interstellar treaty because you are having trouble differentiating between outrageous orders and your usual ones?"

The Klingon commander yelled something in Klingonase before terminating the transmission. Chris turned quickly to Vin.

"He sounded angry. Are they charging weapons?"

"No, sir."

"Well, then, what was that last part about?" Catching motion out of the corner of his eye, the captain faced his Communications officer, noticing that the boy was hunched over his console, shaking uncontrollably. "Ensign Dunne, are you alright?"

The movement ceased, and JD rotated his chair so that he looked at his captain. "He declared you to be a more arrogant and trying bastard than Kirk ever was." Realizing what he had just said, and who he had said it to, JD sobered, nervously coughed, and added, "His words, sir, not mine."

The bridge crew had a good chuckle over Kor's epithet, once it was ascertained that the captain hadn't taken offence.

"Okay, that's enough, people!" Larabee turned away from the communications officer's station so that he could see both Buck and Vin at the same time. "So, I've insulted his superiors' judgment, and slighted his request for information. What's Kor's next move?"

Vin's eyes, focused on a spot beyond the captain, widened. Spinning, Larabee watched the shimmering form of Ensign Dunne disappear in the Klingons' silent transporter effect.

"This is just a wild guess, Chris," Buck said, anger lacing each word, "but I'd say the son of a bitch will kidnap and torture JD until he gives up the secret technology we've allegedly been using."

Features hardening with resolve, Chris said, "Vin, are their shields still down from using the transporter?" Upon receiving a positive reply, he continued. "Buck, can you take out their engines without destroying the entire ship?"

"Take out? No," Buck said, "but I can make damn sure they won't be going to warp anytime soon."

"Make it so, Number One."


Having a chair pulled out from under you is an unpleasant experience at best. When removal of said chair causes you to land, uncomfortably, on the metal grates intertwining an unfamiliar transporter pad, and the room is full of Klingons, whose only clear goal in life is subduing you; unpleasant does not begin to describe the extent of your misfortune. Imagine then that, in addition to being outmanned, outgunned, and in the embarrassing position, literally, of having landed flat on your ass, the entire assembly of Klingons collectively laughs, and then the shortest one present says in Klingonase that he doesn't know what the commander was thinking, and that he can handle this shrimp on his own. The others agree, depart, and you're left with two smirking Klingons, the short one and the one at the transporter controls.

This was precisely the mortifying situation in which JD found himself. Fortunately, seconds after his awkward arrival, the ship lurched as though under heavy fire, and both grinning Klingons ended up flat on their respective backsides as well. JD took the opportunity to grab and throw his knife, which embedded itself deep in the shoulder of the transporter technician. He smiled mirthlessly, and started to draw his phaser, but stopped at the sight of a disruptor cannon pointed at him by the other Klingon.

He was reminded of a holodeck program he had played a few times, one entitled EBAMF21C. Another crewman had told him the acronym meant 'Every Bad Action Movie from the 21st Century'. It involved an infinite number of levels, in which one was expected to beat increasing numbers of hostiles who wielded machine guns while being provided progressively less ammunition and worse weaponry. In the holodeck, JD played with reckless abandon, knowing full well that the safety protocols would not allow him to be killed.

Here, there was no such certainty; the danger was very real. JD placed his remaining weapon on the floor without being told, and raised his hands in the universal sign for surrender. 'Although, there is that one planet where it means--' JD started to think, and then cut off his internal musing.

The only Klingon still standing then knelt, keeping his eyes on JD, and retrieved the knife from his comrade's shoulder. Ignoring the grunt of pain, the Klingon studied the weapon with interest, and shoved it into his belt without cleaning it.

JD glared for all he was worth, but, since he wasn't Chris Larabee, his glare only garnered another laugh from his Klingon captor. Resigned, JD whispered "heart, head, and hands," to himself as he made the short trip from transporter room to what had to be the most luxurious brig he'd ever seen.

The doors slid shut with a hissing sound, and JD reflected that, well-furnished or not, the room was still a prison. He'd been placed in what appeared to be unused private quarters. The furniture included a bed, a chair, a desk, and a bathroom set in a partitioned alcove. There were two portholes, which he immediately tested by banging on them. While this would not, at first, seem to be the smartest move, JD did have his reasons. If he could get himself ejected into space, there was a chance the Tiberius could get a lock on him before he died. Even dying, his Basic Training instructor had informed him, was preferable to what the enemy would do to make you talk.

The first porthole was protected by a forcefield, which burned his fist lightly upon contact. Cringing, he repeated the action on the other window, using his other hand, so as not to have either completely useless.

"Didn't you get a clue from the first one?"

JD jumped at the voice. He hadn't seen anyone else in his exploration of the cell. Letting his gaze follow the sound to its source, he observed a miniature view screen on the desk. A sneering Klingon spoke in heavily accented English from the screen. JD shrugged. "It's possible only one would have had a forcefield. After all, who would try a second time?"

"Obviously, you," the sneering Klingon stated, pleased with himself for what he obviously regarded as a witty barb. "We need to retrieve your files on the transmission technology, Ensign. If I get into your mainframe, can you use your passwords from there?"

In answer to JD's stuttered, "um...well" the sneering Klingon disappeared, replaced by a very recognizable screen. It was the one he'd been staring at before he'd materialized over thin air. JD began swearing fluently in English, and the sneering Klingon's disembodied voice came from the screen. "When you have finished, press 'send' on the console."

JD sat at the console, switching his profanity from English to Cardassian, and then threw in some Ferengi and Species 8472 for good measure. He wasn't actually sure that the sound was a curse, but it was the last thing 'said' before they were blown to bits in one of his favorite holodeck simulations.

Somewhere in the middle of his storm of rage-filled cursing, JD realized that the Klingons had given him a computer and would be perfectly happy to leave him relatively unsupervised for an indefinite period of time. The longer he spent, the greater amount of information they would assume he was compiling for them.

JD began creating a virus to cripple the Klingon ship, returning his complaints to English to keep up the façade. "Stupid, careless programmers. How many times did I tell them... 'just because there isn't another ship within ten parsecs of it doesn't mean the system can't be breached', but do they listen to me? Of course not! I never went to the Institute, what could I possibly know?"

The virus would take a while to complete, but JD figured that was alright...he had plenty more diatribes against Armada policies, and he intended to subject any Klingon surveillance to each and every one of them.


JD smiled and hit 'send' as ordered. He'd had some extra time on his hands, so the delivery of his virus was...artistic. JD decided to catch some shut-eye while waiting for the inevitable reaction to his work.


The sneering Klingon who had left JD to his own devices scowled as the delivery of intel came through. He had always been told that humans were slimy, spineless creatures who would do anything, betray anyone, to save their own worthless hides. The boy's quick capitulation only proved the propaganda true. He clicked on the file that would advance his career greatly, and froze in horror as a cartoon popped up.

"The Seven will ride again. Beware the Wrath of Larabee," appeared in Klingonase, followed by the glaring captain he'd seen on the bridge view screen not half an hour ago. The captain was not wearing his uniform though. He wore a strange, entirely black outfit; a hat, a cape, a shirt, and some kind of weapon-carrying belt around fitted pants. The captain drew his gun and fired. The projectile grew larger and larger until the screen went black.

He touched a few controls, but nothing happened. Glancing nervously around, the Klingon sighed in relief. His was the only console affected. Of course, Commander Kor would not be happy, but it wasn't like the whole ship was going to shut down or anything.

"What the hell is this?"

He groaned and shook his head in defeat. The cartoon was now playing on every remaining console on the bridge, and Commander Kor was glaring in his direction.

The mainframe infiltrating specialist cringed. "Yes, sir."

"Would you care to explain this?"

Katha'q left his station and walked over to see the console Kor was pointing to. It was Kor's personal data pad, an instrument only marginally connected to the ship's network, and yet the human had managed to corrupt it. He watched as the same cartoon played, and was about to explain when the screen went white instead of black and a projected damage report typed itself in--what else--a bulleted list, where the 'bullets' were ragged holes from gunshots.

Ducking his head, Katha'q mumbled, "I can only suggest that you ask the human boy, sir. I have no knowledge of how such a thing could be done."

Kor growled. "Remain here. I will see to your discipline later...personally." He strode from the bridge angrily.


Commander Kor unlocked the quarters he had emptied for the human's incarceration and entered, glaring at the relaxed, smirking figure reclining on the room's only bed. Kor was left with the choice of sitting in the chair recently vacated by the human or standing.
He chose to stand. It was more intimidating.

"You will reverse the virus before it disables my ship."

The statement was made quietly, with threatened violence and torture implied in its tone as well as in his stance.

The puny human, yes, he was even small by human standards, sat up on the bed, as though Kor's statement merely interested, as opposed to terrified, him. The ensign dangled his feet off the bed and swung them as a child would, further infuriating the already incensed commander. Then the human smiled sweetly.

Kor struggled with himself not to strangle the human instantly.

"I only take orders from my captain. Once he is pleased with the situation and orders me to stand down, I will disable the program. Unless that happens, you have," the alien referenced his timepiece, "two hours and twenty-seven minutes of air left."

"You can be broken before that time passes," Kor assured the annoying human.

The ensign nodded; his face serious. "Probably, yes, but will I be in any shape to do the reprogramming?"

Commander Kor growled, punching his communicator into the transmitting position. "Get me Captain Larabee," he shouted into it.

After a few seconds delay, the commander was informed that ship- to-ship communications, along with life support, engineering and the medical bay, were all malfunctioning.

"Then find another way!" he demanded of the handheld communicator. Getting an idea, Commander Kor abruptly left, glaring once more at the troublesome ensign, and securing the door as he departed.


"Now all we can do is, wait for the Armada's response," Chris Larabee said, leaning back in his command chair.

"That'll take hours!" Buck stated, in a tone as close to a whine as senior officers were permitted. Suddenly, his features went slack in a look of horror. "What about his cyanide pills!"

"Easy, Buck," the captain said reassuringly. "Remember, crewmen only have those with them when they're about to go on an away mission. I don't think the kid was exactly prepared for this particular bit of travel."

"Uh huh," Buck mumbled before another thought hit him. "Will he remember what the standard response is supposed to be?"

Chris Larabee smirked. "I believe that differs for each of us. My favorite is 'go to hell', and I think yours is 'where the hell did all those pretty ladies go?' As for Ensign Dunne...he'll have to report his to us when he gets back."

"No, I mean," Buck fidgeted, looking as though he would prefer to be pacing the bridge rather than sitting passively in his chair, "will he remember the official response of name, rank, and planetary ID number?"

Larabee's expression darkened. "I sure as hell hope not. Things always seem to get worse when you follow protocol in that respect."

"Captain, I'm picking up a projectile exiting the Klingon vessel," Vin said, not looking at his console.

"Where?" Larabee snapped, "and what is it?"

"I don't have an exact trajectory, but I think it's a vacuum-sealed package aimed roughly for our primary view screen camera," Vin replied, only nodding at the view screen when Chris raised an eyebrow in question.

The bridge crew turned as a unit to stare at the view screen, which, for a few seconds showed a cylindrical canister approaching, and then the screen blacked out and showed only static.

"Damn it!" Chris said. "Get someone out there to bring the package aboard and replace the camera." When Chris pinched the bridge of his nose this time, it really was to ward off a migraine.


"What is it?" Captain Larabee had come down to the shuttle bay at a crewman's request, as the package seemed to be yelling rather animatedly.

"Sir, it's been like this ever since it got back inside," the crewman reported.

"So?" Larabee delivered his best nonplussed glare, not that any of his glares were actually 'plussed'. "Open it."

"Ah, well...yessir."

The canister contained what Chris Larabee had to admit, was one of the bulkiest communicators he had ever seen. When he lifted it, the captain wondered how something so solid had any room left over for circuitry.


Chris returned to the bridge, the communicator berating him all the way for not responding. Kor panicking, as his tone of voice indicated, was simply too good of entertainment not to share with Buck, Vin, and the rest of the bridge crew.

As the turbolift doors sprang open, Chris found himself the target of no less than eight phasers. All were lowered in embarrassment, although some more slowly than necessary. Chris took note of the ambitious ones.

"Sorry, Chris," Buck explained, "we thought we heard--"

"Larabee, you conniving bastard without honor, answer me!"

Everyone looked at the Klingon device clutched in their captain's hand as he said, "You did. Yes, Kor, what can I do for you?"

"I admire loyalty, Larabee, but your ensign is troublesome. He has caused some minor inconveniences and will not fix them until you tell him face-to-face to behave. Now, if you will just use one of your shuttles and come over here, we can work this out..."

"Kor." Chris was now smiling. "I've only known you for an hour, and you're never polite unless you have no other choice. What has JD done that would mean I can't use a transporter?"

There was a long silence as the proud commander considered how much to tell the gloating captain. Finally, a dead-sounding voice, a different one from the commander's answered. "The boy wrote a virus and sent it to me. I activated it, because I thought it was a file of information we had demanded from him. A graphic came up, said 'the seven will ride again, beware the wrath of Larabee', and then you shot the screen with an antiquated projectile weapon. . .and we lost control of all systems."

Most of the bridge crew was doubled over with knee-slapping laughter, and nearly missed Kor's repeated plea for Larabee's presence.

Regaining his composure, Chris depressed the transmitting button. "Certainly, Commander Kor. I will come over immediately."

Only Vin had remained impassive throughout the three-sided conversation and ensuing hilarity. Now he approached his captain and said quietly. "Have you considered that this could be a trap? I should come with you."

Chris sobered, but shook his head. "If JD is as concerned as Kor isn't saying he is, then Buck should be the one to go. The kid will follow my orders, but he trusts Buck. Besides," Chris said, smiling and slapping his Vulcan friend's shoulder, "I need someone I trust in control here, in case things do go to hell over there."

Vin gave a jerky nod, clasping full forearms with his captain, a warrior's handshake and a good-luck gesture.

"Come on, Buck," Captain Larabee called, "we have a Klingon commander to rescue."

"Don't you mean an Armada ensign?" Buck asked in confusion as Larabee instructed the turbolift to proceed to the shuttle bay.

"Nah," Larabee chuckled. "I'm pretty sure that it's Kor we'll need to rescue from JD, not the other way around."



"Yes, ensign?"

"That communiqué we sent...There's been a response. Admiral Travis was on his way here, and his ship intercepted our request. From the contents, I think the Captain should see this sooner rather than later, sir."