Clouds of Mystery

Alternate universe "Star Trek"

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Note: I seem to have unleashed my inner geek so do feel free to skip all the sci-fi pseudo-techno babble. Though to be honest some of the pseudo-techno stuff isn't mine, some of it belongs to Russell T Davies, so blame him. Beta and Spanish translation by Kerry.

The USS Maverick held position opposite the blue and red cloud anomaly.

"Any ideas?" Chris asked.

"Not so far," JD answered, "It just doesn't register on the sensors at all. Other than visually, it isn't there - if you get me?"

"Not really. What do you mean it's not there? We can see it."

JD took a deep breath. He could clearly hear the irritation in his captain's voice, but he couldn't change what the instruments were telling him.

"There is no mass, no energy, no ions, no plasma, no warp signature, no detectable elements, nothing I can measure, other than visually."

Just then the bridge doors opened and Ezra walked in.

"Well?" Chris asked.

"I took a look from the forward observation deck and from astral observation - nothing other than what we can see from the bridge screen, a cloud of red and blue gas," he reported.

"Buck?" Chris looked over his shoulder at his first officer.

"The computer can't see it, so it doesn't register as a threat or present any target I can lock on to."

Then, suddenly a tendril of colour shot out from the cloud and bathed the bridge in an ethereal purple light, for just a second.

"What the hell?" Chris exclaimed, jumping to his feet and automatically turning to check on his men.

Everyone seemed to be okay, except Buck and Vin, both of whom were down, Buck looking white as a sheet and Vin slightly green. Everyone started to move toward their fallen comrades.

"All of you back to work, watch that thing!" Chris barked, even as he was moving and reaching for his com badge to call Nathan.

JD was frozen, the word 'but' already forming on his lips. Buck was his mentor, his 'big brother.' Chris was his hero, but Buck meant so much more to the young ensign.

"Do it JD, we can't afford to take our eyes of that thing," Chris told him firmly.

"Yes Sir."


Nathan listened to Chris' call as patiently as he could. "Yes Sir, it happened down here too. Lieutenant Sako is down. Are they breathing?"

Chris was checking that as he listened to Nathan. "Yes."

"Bring them down here, don't transport them, since I have no idea what happened to them."

By the time Chris was entering sickbay with his two closest friends Dr Jackson already had three patients.

"What the hell is happening?" Larabee asked.

"We don't know," Josiah told him, "so don't go demanding answers Nathan can't give you yet."

The ships counsellor had come down to sickbay, knowing he was going to be needed. People were scared, not to mention that Nathan's best nurse had just fallen to the deck unconscious.

Duly put in his place by one of the only two people on the ship who could do it with impunity, Chris bit his tongue and said nothing as Buck and Vin were placed on diagnostic beds. Nathan then checked each bed and rechecked all the readouts on his main computer screen.

"So why is Buck here?" Chris finally asked.

"Why are any of them?" Nathan responded, not taking his eyes of his screen.

"I may not be a doctor, but I know my crew. Vin's a Vulcan, Sako and Chief Casetti are both a quarter Vulcan and crewman Ross is something like one eighth Vulcan - right?"

"I think it's only a 16th, but yes," Josiah confirmed.

"Buck is human, so why him, if all the others are Vulcan or part Vulcan?"

"I don't know," Nathan told them. "All I can say is, that they are all suffering severe shock." For the first time he looked up. "I know you want to help them, so find out what it is, how it did this - why it did this."


Chris returned to the bridge with mixed emotions. He wanted to be with his friends, but knew he needed to be on the bridge. As he stepped off the turbo lift, all eyes turned to him.

"No change," was all he said. "What have you found out?"

"Something," JD reported, trying to concentrate and not demand more information about Buck and Vin, even when he knew there was none. "That moment it was on the ship. . ."

"Reports of the light from all decks," Ezra interjected. "Three other casualties."

"Yeah, I know, I saw them," Chris acknowledged. "Go on," he told JD

"When the light was in the ship, there was something, out there, the sensors detected something, nothing solid, like a ghost image of something."

"Any idea what?"

"Not yet, but with Ezra's help I have managed to initiate a program to extrapolate what it is from what we were able to detect."

"Sir, until the computer comes up with something, might I suggest we pull back slightly?" Ezra suggested.

Chris nodded his agreement and Standish, having moved smoothly into the role - temporarily - of first officer, gave the order.


It seemed to take forever for the computer to come up with something. While it was still working crewman Ross began to recover.

"He's conscious," Nathan reported. "Can't tell us anything other than a memory of great pain, which may explain the shock symptoms."

"What about the others?"

"Sako and Casetti are showing early signs of recovery, Vin and Buck no change."

"Captain!" JD's voice cut into the conversation. "I've got something."

Chris cut Nathan off and turned to his most junior officer. "Ready room, now."

In the privacy of his office, Chris demanded answers. "Well I might need Josiah," JD told him, more than a little nervous.

For once Chris didn't ask why, he just tapped his communicator and told Sanchez to report ASAP. The big counsellor was there in record time.

"Now JD, tell me what the hell is going on!" Chris demanded.

"This is what the computer thinks was there - briefly."

JD put an image up on the wall screen. It was a little fuzzy, but it seemed to be a ship. It had wings and engines as if it was designed to fly in an atmosphere.

I can't find anything in the database that matches it. It looks familiar, but sort of old, that's why I asked for Josiah, I wondered if he night recognise it."

"You saying I'm old John Daniel?" Josiah asked.

"No, I'm saying you know a lot of weird stuff."

"You two, get on with it, and I'm with JD, this ship looks familiar, but I don't know why," Chris interjected.

Josiah turned his attention to the screen and studied it, then turned to the computer on Chris' desk and requested some information, finally, he too put up an image on the big screen, a crude drawing of a ship, that looked mightily similar.

"That's it, that's what I remember!" JD exclaimed.

"This is a drawing of the so called 'lost ship of the Ovogdji," Josiah began. "Today Ovogd is a under the control of the Romulan empire, we know next to nothing about it, other than it is probably a slave planet. However, in the Vulcan archives there is mention of time when Ovogd was free and almost as advanced as the Romulans and Vulcans - almost but not quite. They had space travel but only sub-light. The story goes that the Romulans were advancing on them, so they were desperate to gain a warp capability. They probably asked the Vulcans to help them, but we all know what they are like, so the chances are they didn't get it. They built a ship - that ship, according to legend  - and sent it up. The Romulans were right there, breathing down their necks. The legend states that they had developed the ultimate weapon. There was no time to test it, so they sent it into battle, fully crewed and armed with this weapon on its maiden flight."

"And?" JD asked.

"And it disappeared, just vanished. Before they could build another one the Romulans overran them and their society slid backwards, lost its technological ability. Or at least we assume it did, going by what happened on other Romulan slave worlds that we know of."

"Fascinating and very sad, but this was thousands of years ago - right?" Chris asked.

"Right," Josiah confirmed.

"So what the hell is it doing here now, and don't say it's a ghost ship."

"I've got an idea," JD announced very quietly.

"Well don't keep it a secret," Chris prompted.

"Um well, it's quite complicated, technically, and kind of theoretical."

"Just get on with it and try to remember I flunked complicated, theoretical, technical stuff at the academy."

"You know that when we go into warp speed we create a warp bubble around the ship, which warps space - in other words it compresses space so we can traverse huge distances very fast."

"That much even I know," Chris commented sarcastically.

"Right. And all warp engines work basically the same way, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, everyone. But there is a second theoretical way to achieve warp speed or at least to cross vast distances."

"By worm hole, but there is only one stable worm hole," Josiah pointed out.

"No, no, that's not real warp travel, that's taking a shortcut. You know that there are parallel worlds - right? An infinite number of them, all stacked up, one on another."

Chris took a deep breath. "Can't say as I ever understood the science, but I can't deny the evidence. Star Fleet as encountered such worlds on occasion. Go on."

"There is this theory that between the parallel worlds there is this gap, this nothing space, and if you could travel to it, there would be literally nothing there, not even time, so you could just come back into your own universe someplace else in no more than a blink of an eye."

"How the hell would you know where to come back in?" Chris asked.

"No idea, and anyway the theory also says that every time you do this you tear a hole in time space and if you make enough holes they all sort of merge into one and then universes starts to bleed into each other and everything collapses."


"Time, space, existence - everything."

"That would be bad."

"Oh yeah."

"So you think that they went into this empty space, or what ever you call it, and couldn't get back?" Josiah postulated.

"Maybe, and then they found a hole, possibly not the one they made, but another one. We know such time-space holes do occur naturally from time to time," JD confirmed.

"Not big enough to get through, only look through, maybe reach through?" Chris asked.


Just then Nathan called to say that Vin was coming around.


"Hey," Chris greeted, looking down at a bleary eyed Vin, His skin still had that sickly green tinge.

"Hey," Vin greeted weakly.

"How you doing?"

"Ask the doc, feel like shit."

"After effects of shock. He'll recover faster than a human, but it's gonna take a day at least. Rest and fluids."

"Can't rest here," Vin told Chris.

"Nathan?" Chris looked at the doctor.

"It's okay, I know how you feel about sickbay, Chris can take you down to your own cabin in a minute. What do you remember?"

"Pain, just a lot of pain."

Chris and Nathan shared a look. Vin might have been raised by humans, but he was still a Vulcan, and that gave him a much higher pain threshold than any human, plus he did tend to be stoical, so if he was admitting to pain, it had to be bad.

"Listen, I need to talk to Nathan, so I'm gonna have Josiah walk you back to your cabin, okay?" Chris asked.

"I'm not a kid, I can walk back on my own - you know?"

"You will stay on that bed until the ship's counsellor comes to walk you to your cabin. Do I make myself clear Lieutenant?"

"Yes Sir."

"Glad to hear it."


Chris stood beside Buck's bed.

"Tell me," he demanded.

"As far as I can tell, the same as the others. His brain is being fooled into thinking he's in pain and maybe losing fluids, resulting in shock. Since there is no apparent medical cause for the shock all I can do it use the neuro-inhibitor to hopefully suppress the pain,"


"I don't know how - whatever it was - is fooling his brain into thinking he's in pain, so I can only hope that by depressing the pain neurons in the brain, it's suppressing the pain."

"But why him?" Chris asked. "I may not be a doctor, but I'm not an idiot. The only people affected, apart from Buck, are Vulcan or part Vulcan. The more Vulcan, the longer they were effected. JD thinks the thing that did this might have come from a people whose enemies were the Romulans. Vulcans and Romulans share a lot of common DNA, right?"

Nathan nodded. "It's almost identical."

"Almost but not quite. But Buck isn't a Vulcan or a Romulan, so why him?"

It was clear Nathan knew or had some idea, so Chris pushed him for an answerer.

"I can't say," told him firmly

"Can't or won't?"

"I have a duty to care for my patient the best way I can, that is what I am doing."

Nathan Jackson was not a man who sought conflict, he was an officer in Star Fleet and obeyed the chain of command - but only when it didn't conflict with his medical ethics. A big man, even taller than Buck, as he stood tall and squared his shoulders he towered over his captain.

Before Chris could react, his communicator interrupted them, JD's voice, shrill with excitement.

"Captain I've found something!"

"Tell me," Chris ordered curtly.

"I think I need to show you." There was a moment's hesitation then JD spoke again. "Captain, is. . . ?"

"He's the same."

"Right, okay."

With one last glare at Nathan, Chris told JD he was on his way. As he turned to go he bent down to whisper in Buck's ear. "Hang in there buddy, we'll figure this out."

As he exited sickbay he met Josiah on his way in.

"Take Vin to his cabin, make sure he goes to bed and stays there," he ordered.

Sanchez glance at Nathan, who nodded.

"Aye, aye Sir. Captain?"


"You need to let JD come down here, sooner rather than later, for him, for Buck and for the good of the ship. He'll work better for it."



JD and Ezra had been working frantically to find out something, anything, about the anomaly. Working on the theory that it was a ship trapped, in what JD now called 'non space,' and the purple light was some kind of probe-come-weapon, they had been using the weapons system in conjunction with the main sensor diagnostic programs.

"What have you got?" Chris asked as soon as he was back on the bridge.

"Ezra?" JD asked from his helm position as Standish relinquished command to Chris.

"Give me a moment." Ezra quickly moved to the weapons control station. "Okay, go."

On the main viewer the cloud anomaly was still there, if a little further way. Suddenly the picture reset and when it came back there was a line of light, faintly blue in colour snaked out from the cloud to the ship.

"What the hell it that?"

"As far as we can work out, it's a conduit, a hollow tube containing the non space," JD explained. "The outside is warped space, a very thin line of it, wrapped around the non space."

"Why couldn't we see it before?" Chris demanded.

"The sensors aren't configured to find warp space, if they were we'd be blinded by our own warp bubble any time we tried to use them at warp speed. But the weapons system can detect a warp signature, left by another ship. We reconfigured it so that it would show a static warp bubble and hey presto!" Ezra explained.

"We think they expanded the tube to send that light thing through, and when they did our sensor was able to see down it to the ship, like looking in the wrong end of a telescope," JD continued.

"Can we use this thing to signal them?" Chris asked

"We can try," Ezra commented.

Chris nodded. "Very well, on all frequencies and in all languages." Once he got confirmation from the communications officer, Chris stood in front of the screen, pulling his uniform down as he did.

"This is the Captain Christopher Larabee, of Starship USS Maverick, representing the United Federation of Planets. We mean you no harm and come in peace."

They all waited, but there was no response, or at least none they could detect.

"Unknown craft, I repeat, we come in peace and mean you no harm, but you must end your assault on my crew immediately."

Ezra flashed up a message on the bottom of the view screen, which Chris acknowledged with a slight nod of the head.

"If you are the Ovogd, you should know that we are not Romulan. Our Federation has no allegiance to the Romulan Empire."

"Bridge!" Nathan's voice cut loudly.

"Not now doctor," Chris barked.

"Whatever you're doing, stop it! It's hurting Buck!"

Chris didn't even bother to try communicating again, he signalled for the communication to be cut and then ordered the ship to pull back. JD, despite his fear for Buck, instantly moved the ship back, or he tried to. The ships inertial dampers couldn't cope as the engines tried to pull against the force that held it, causing the whole ship to rock and shake violently.

"What the hell?" Chris swore as he grabbed his chair for support.

"Everyone okay?"

"Slight loss of dignity only," Ezra commented, as he regained his feet.

"Red alert, all hands brace!" Chris barked over the ships communication system. "Okay JD, try that again, full impulse."

The same thing happened, the ship shuddered violently, but didn't move.

"Okay, JD, warp 4 now!" Chris ordered.

"Aye, Sir!"

They moved slightly and were then thrown back violently, as if hitting a band of elastic.

"Stop it! Whatever the hell you're doing, stop it, or your gonna kill him!" Nathan's frantic voice came over the com.

"Cut the engines," Chris ordered JD. "Command meeting, in sickbay, now." He looked at Ezra. "You have the bridge, but listen in. Have Josiah meet us there."


Chris charged into the sickbay, JD barely able to keep up with him. "What the hell happened?" he demanded, heading straight for Buck.

"Every time you moved the ship, all his pain receptors fired," Nathan reported.

"And now?"

"Back where he was before."

The neuro-inhibitor on Wilmington's temple flashed as it worked, blocking, temporarily, the pain. The little lights turned red and Nathan removed it, checking his patient's vitals.

Nathan looked Chris in the eye. "He can't go on like this much longer. He's getting weaker and there is nothing I can do to stop it," he told him in a low voice.

"We'll figure it out, you just . . .don't let him die."

"Never an option."

Chris placed a hand on Nathan's shoulder. "I know, so if I start sounding off, don't take any notice."

"Never do."

While they were speaking, JD was edging toward Buck's bed. As Chris turned away, Nathan smiled at him and beckoned him on.

"Come on in, it's fine. Talk to him," he encouraged.

JD just nodded his head as he came up beside his 'brother', his mentor and best friend, his partner in crime - or was that Vin? No, he decided it was both of them.

"Hi, it's me, JD," he began, cringing at how lame that had sounded. "Looks like we might be able to sort all this out real soon, so you just hang in there. Wish I could talk to you though. Don't suppose you feel like waking up anytime soon?" Buck didn't stir. "No, well anytime you do, that'd be great. You'd like to see what we found, I know you like mysteries and legends. The lost shop of the Ovogd, that's what we found, amazing isn't it? I don't know why it made you sick. Wish I did, then maybe I. . .we could stop it. Wish I could find out what it is they are sending down that tunnel that we can't detect. It's almost like it's. . ."

"Captain!" he called out, shooting to his feet.

"What?" Chris whirled around, having just greeted Josiah as he came in.

"I've had an idea, it's a bit crazy sounding."

"So was the last one and that was right on the money. What is it?" Chris asked.



"We can tell there is this connection between us, right?" JD began. "Between the Maverick and them in the non-space, but we can't detect anything passing back and forth. So what if it's a mental connection? What if the Ovogdji are a telepathic race? What if that's how they did whatever they did? Nathan said Buck's brain is being fooled into thinking he's been hurt. Well, that's telepathy - right?" He turned to Jackson.

"He's right, it could explain it," Nathan admitted.

"And Vulcans have telepathic abilities?" This time JD looked at Josiah.

"Yes, to a degree," he replied.

But before he could elaborate, Chris cut in, stating emphatically that Buck wasn't telepathic.

"No, but he may be empathic," Josiah corrected.

"Buck?" Chris asked incredulously.

"He is very good with people, and I don't just mean women. If he'd have wanted to, he could have been one hell of a counsellor. He's naturally good at handling people, which is why he's the perfect exec for you."

"You saying I don't handle people well?" Chris asked.

"Oh please! Mostly you terrify them," Nathan spluttered. "Which, for a captain, is fine," he added hastily.

"How did you handle the crew when you were a first officer?" Josiah asked.

"It was a small ship, mostly I just sent them to the second officer, to Buck. . .." His voice trailed off as his eyes drifted to his oldest friend, lying so uncharacteristically still. "Could he really have empathic abilities and not have told us, never told me?"

"Probably not," Josiah began. "But, he could have it and not know it. Just put it down to gut instinct, dumb luck. . ."

"Animal magnetism," JD added with a smile.

"Assuming you're all right, how does that help us? I don't know of any genuine telepaths on board," Nathan pointed out.

"Vin?" JD asked.

Josiah shook his head, reminding them that mind melding wasn't true telepathy. It required years of training to master, which Vin had never had.

"He doesn't need to have a whole conversation, just - I don't know, close the door on them, keep them out of his head." JD was desperate. He just couldn't see any other way out of this problem.

"JD, we can't ask Vin to do this. He just doesn't have the discipline it takes," Nathan agreed.

"I don't have the discipline for what?" Vin asked as he walked in.

"What are you doing here?" Chris asked.

"You called a command meeting. Last time I looked, that included me."

"I ordered you to stay in bed."

"And then you ordered me to attend a meeting. As my commander you have the right to change your orders and I, of course, obey orders."

The two of them stood there, neither willing to break eye contact. It was one of those occasions were Buck would have stepped in to break the tension, mediate or just point out what asses they were being.

Finally Vin just lifted an eyebrow.

"Tell him," Chris told Josiah.

When Josiah had finished Vin stood there and stared at his friend. Buck teased him and made jokes about his ears, called him an elf, but Vin always knew there was no malice or hurt in his words, only fun, affection and friendship. He also knew that if he was in trouble Buck would stop at nothing, risk anything, to save him. He could do no less.

"If I can help, I'll give it a try," he announced.


While Josiah worked with Vin, preparing him with meditation and mental exercises, the ship just sat there. Time dragged on so slowly it almost came to a halt. Various members of the crew worked to try and understand how the ship was caught. Eventually Ezra came up with, if not understanding, at least an analogy they could all understand.

"It's like a vacuum seal," he announced.

"But space is a vacuum," Chris pointed out.

"Only in that there is no atmosphere, but there is mass - we are here - there are planets, suns, light, cold, heat, time. In the non-space, there is nothing, nothing at all. So just like a vacuum, when nothing meets something, it sucks in the something until it meets a solid object - us."

"But if our mass, light - what ever - is part of the something, why didn't we get sucked in as well?"

"I only came up with the theory, I didn't say I understood it," Ezra pointed out.

"But to break a vacuum seal, all you have to do is let in a tiny bit of something into the nothing - right?"

Ezra nodded. "Right."

"Work with engineering, that thing is made of a warp field, and that is something we do understand."

"Yes Sir."

As Ezra was leaving, Chris spoke again. "If you need JD, go and get him, but only if you really need him. He's on the ragged edge but I think he's doing Buck some good."



Josiah sat on the floor of Vin's darkened quarters, the only light came from the dozen or so sandalwood candles flickering around them and the starlight from the window. Vin had reached what Josiah hoped was a deep state of meditation. He sat opposite, cross legged, still, his breathing slowed to no more that five breaths per minute. In truth Josiah needed to move. His leg had gone to sleep and was killing him, but he dared not move, he dared not disturb the young Vulcan's state of inner peace, not when he had come so far in such a short space of time. Almost as he was thinking he'd have to move, Vin opened his eyes, which somehow looked, even in the yellow candlelight, bluer than ever, and reached out a hand to Josiah.

"Can I try?" he asked softly.

Sanchez, all thought of pain gone, nodded. Traditionally, Vulcans placed one or both hands, with fingers spread, on the side of their subject's face, but Vin, having never seen a mind meld, just placed his whole hand on Josiah's cheek. At first it seemed as if nothing happened, all he could feel was the heat of Vin's hand, which, because Vulcan's have a naturally high body temperature, felt hot on his cheek. As he watched, Vin slowly closed his eyes. Suddenly Josiah had a vision of a boy, aged about ten. He had long, shaggy, dark blond hair and was whooping for joy as he rode bareback on a black pony, galloping across a meadow. Suddenly the heat on his face was gone, as Vin's hand dropped away and Vin opened his eyes.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well what?" Josiah responded.

"Did you see anything?"

"A boy - you?" Vin nodded. "Riding a black pony, you were very happy."

Vin grinned. "Peso, we had the best times. I didn't see anything, but I felt very anxious and it wasn't me I was feeling."

"Well I was and am very anxious for you and Buck and all of us."

"Then let's get down there and see if I can help." With that Vin leapt to his feet, only to sway alarmingly before Josiah could get his dead leg to respond.

"Steady, just stay still and get your balance," he commanded as he finally made it to his feet.

Vin took a few deep breaths.

"Better?" Josiah was now at his side, though still favouring one leg.

"Stood up too fast I guess."

"Probably," Josiah told him, not at all convinced. "Come on."


Ezra concluded that when Chris found out what he was doing, he'd be mad, he might even lock Ezra in the brig, not for the first time, or he could just be dead. On the whole he preferred the brig to dead. Having come up with the vacuum seal analogy Ezra concluded that to break the seal they needed to pry something under the edge. After establishing that they couldn't launch a shuttle in the conventional way, they started to experiment with the transporters. Using the ship's largest cargo transporter they had managed to send their smallest shuttle out into space a few kilometers from the ship, and then send Ezra to it and bring him back - that was the bit that would make Chris mad, risking his life without telling anyone. Nonetheless it had worked, now all they had to do was work out how to transport a larger shuttle, one that had warp engines.

If they could have got it on to a transporter platform, there would have been no problem, but unfortunately there wasn't enough room in the cargo hold for even their smallest warp capable shuttle.

"The thing is, we don't need to fly at warp speed, right?" Chief engineer Cordoba pointed out.

"True, if our theory holds true, all we need is to project a warp bubble, a really narrow focused one - you are sure you can do that?"

"Oh I can do that," Raphael assured with a grin. "All we need to do is get a working warp engine out there and a way to control it. We can take a nacelle off a warp shuttle - the Newman, since it's the smallest. Shuttle nacelles are self contained engines, all we need to do it attach it to a sub warp two seater and rig up some controls."

Ezra looked at the engineer. Martinez had a tendency to be cocky, but he didn't promise things he couldn't accomplish.

"Do it. Is there anything or anyone you need?"

"Not right now, but later I may need young JD. He has a knack for non standard programming."

"Noted, keep me informed."

"Aye Sir. Ezra?"


"You tell Buck, we're thinking of him."

Ezra nodded. He'd been asked to do the same thing in every department he'd visited. Thinking about that, he resolved there was one place left he needed to go.


Inez was cleaning glasses, by hand. She had a machine that did it - in seconds - but not today, not now. Ten Forward was filled with people who did little more than sit and look at the swirling clouds that, while undeniably beautiful, had taken on a sinister menacing quality. The watchers didn't speak much, or even drink much, they just sat or stood and watched.

Ezra managed to slip in almost unnoticed and approached the bar.

"Finally!" Inez hissed.

"I'm sorry?"

"Finally someone comes to tell us what is happening?"

Ezra took a deep breath. He was beginning to find out just what Buck's job entailed, and to think that command was not in his future. Being the first officer was a hell of a lot more complicated than Buck made it look.

"Forgive me, but I believe the Captain made a ship wide announcement, I heard it."

"That is not the same, Buck always. . . he comes in person, to explain, when he can." She fixed him with a glare Chris would have been proud of. "You cannot rely on the Captain to communicate with the crew, that is Buck's job, so now it is yours. How is he?" Ezra looked momentarily blank. "Buck, you imbecile! It there any news?"

"No, well, they are trying something."

"And?" she prompted when he didn't say any more.

"And I can't talk about it." Does Buck tell them the truth, what they want to hear or something in between? Why the hell have I not been paying better attention? "But from what I understand it has a good chance of working."

"Very well, that is good. You will tell him that I . . ." she ran out of words. Standing there, looking at her, Ezra saw the hint of something he didn't ever think he'd see. Despite all her words, despite all the put downs, the teasing, the refusals and arguments, she really did have feelings for their first officer. Well I'll be!

"I'll tell him," he promised her.


Against Nathan's better judgment they moved Buck to what Nathan called the recovery room. In the 24th century medical science had eliminated the need for long hospital stays. Once you had been treated in an acute facility you were well enough to go home, bones fused back together, infections banished, wounds healed. Nathan had spent much of his childhood on a remote colony were the medical care was not quite as advanced as in Star Fleet. His mentor and, to a degree, surrogate mother after the loss of his own, was the colony's chief medical officer, a woman who believed medical science could go too far, and sometimes you need to let the body heal itself. Added to which, Star Fleet assumed that, once discharged, you would follow orders, rest and take care of yourself. Star Fleet medical planners didn't have to work with men who had no concept of their own limitations, or the need to rest, or eat properly, or even the ability to rest and do nothing for more than five minutes. It quickly became apparent that the men he worked with, as well as having a higher than average ability to get into trouble on a regular basis, needed to be watched while recovering and that the rather narrow and very public treatment beds were unsuitable. He persuaded Chris to have the crew quarters beside the sickbay converted into two, two-bed recovery rooms. The beds were higher and slightly narrower than in regular cabins, but a lot more comfortable than the treatment beds.

Buck really needed to be in sickbay, but Vin needed privacy, low lights and quiet, if he was going to accomplish anything, so there was no option but to move Buck. Josiah, Nathan and Chris stood silently and unobtrusively in the far corner, as he began. He placed his hand on Buck's cheek, alarmed at how cold it felt, and tried to project just one thought - friend. At first nothing happened, then he was hit, almost literally by a wave of white hot pain rushing into his mind.

Trained Vulcan's can shield their mind from others.Vin had no such ability. As he staggered, Nathan moved toward him, only to be held back by Josiah, who shook his head.

Vin steadied himself and tried to push the pain aside. ^Friends, we're friends^, he sent again and again.

^You harbour the enemy^ came to him, clear as if someone had spoken. At the same time the pain level, for him at least, dropped significantly.

^No,^ Vin told them.

^Yes^ came emphatic reply.

^Are you the Ovogdji?^ Vin asked, trying a different approach.

^I am Leader Teaga of the Ovogdji Warship Defender, and we will wipe the Romulan dogs from the pages of history!^

^I am not used to communicating this way,^ Vin admitted.

^That much is clear, a small child would be easier to hear!^

^Is there anyway you can communicate directly with my Captain?^

^You are not the Commander of the ship?^


^We heard your ugly noises, but have no way to understand your language. We will speak through you.^

Before Vin could ask what that meant and without asking his permission, Leader Teaga invaded his mind. To those watching it was clear something had happened. Vin let his hand fall away from Buck, he stood tall and rigid, then turned to face Chris and the others in the room.

Though the voice was Vin's it was instantly clear what had happened as Teaga announced himself and demanded to speak to the captain. Chris stepped forward, although it was unclear weather the telepathic link included what Vin saw.

"I am Captain Christopher Larabee, commander of this ship, we are from the United Federation of Planets and we mean you no harm."

"So the other one told me, but yet you harbour the Romulan dogs that would enslave my people. They shall all perish."

"We have no Romulans on this ship, they are. . ." Chris was going to say enemy, but that wasn't true. While still they remained alert to possible incursions or acts of aggression, the peace between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, had, for the most part, held for many years now. "That is to say we maintain a distance from them, there is a truce in force and has been for some time. Release my officer, he has done you no harm."

"The Weapon seeks out the dogs and eradicates them, its job is not done."

Chris tried to get some handle on what that really meant. "You mean it's not you hurting him?"

"The Weapon will be launched at every ship we encounter, only the dogs need fear it."

Josiah edged forward. "Captain, if I may?"

Chris nodded his permission.

"Leader Teaga, I am Commander Sanchez. How does your weapon find the 'dogs'?"

"It seeks out their life string. Those that have the life string of the Romulan dogs are eradicated instantly." He sounded so very proud and triumphant, and so unlike Vin, it wasn't hard to see the young Vulcan as someone else.

Josiah turned to the others. "Life string?" he asked, in a whisper.

"DNA," Nathan whispered back.

"I see," Josiah continued. "You may not be aware that the Romulans and the Vulcans share some 'life string' in common. All the crew on this ship who are Vulcan were affected, briefly. This man here, who your weapon also effected, he is not Romulan."

Teaga/Vin did not respond for some time. He just stood there until, finally, he spoke again.

"The memory of the one called Vin shows that you tell the truth, and yet The Weapon is infallible."

"Our people have spread far out into space and encountered many other species," Chris informed the Ovogdji leader. "It is possible that my officer carries DN. . . 'life string' from other races related to the Romulans."

"You would mate with another species?" Teaga asked in evident horror and disgust.

"We have, yes."

"The Ovogdji are pure, we do not pollute ourselves. Your race has no honour."

"You must release him, or he'll die!" Nathan interjected.

"Who speaks?"

"Nathan Jackson, I am the ships medical officer."

"We can only stop The Weapon by releasing your ship."

"Then do it, now!" Chris demanded.

"We cannot. You are our only link to this world, without you we will sink back into the everlasting blackness."

"But you must have had some way to return to real space. You can't have entered the 'blackness' without a way back!" Chris was close to losing his temper, never a good thing.

"Our ship is new, untested, something went wrong."

"How long have you been in the blackness?"

"Time does not pass in there, everything is for always."

Josiah shuddered inside, an existence where there was just nothing was hard to comprehend and at the same time, terrifying.

"We can't pull you out, you can't pull us in, stalemate, we are both trapped," Chris pointed out.

"We have contact, that is better than the forever blackness. In time we will find others on your ship who we can use. Our consciousness will be transferred and then we will have a ship of our own in the real universe again. The one called Vin shows me a great and powerful warship. With this we can take The Weapon to the heart of the Romulan Empire and kill them at the source.

Just then Ezra's face appeared on the monitor screen behind Vin, he winked and then was gone, replaced by a scrolling, silent text.


Then Ezra's face reappeared.

Chris focused again on Teaga/Vin. "If you do not release my ship voluntarily, we will break the link ourselves - you have been warned."

"Never!" Teaga cried.

Chris gave Ezra a thumbs up.


Seconds later Ezra materialised inside the tiny two man shuttle pod. Welded to the roof was one warp engine nacelle from the shuttle Russell. Ezra wasted no time in initiating the control program that would create not a warp bubble, but a warp tube. There had been no time to develop a directional control for the beam, so it just shot out horizontally, as straight and true as any laser. By adding just a tad of plasma gas, it became visible to the naked eye. Ezra, with a deft touch, moved the shuttle so that the beam ran along the Maverick's hull, where it spread out like the beam of a spotlight hitting the stage. He then edged his shuttle closer to the Ovogdji ship's warp tube tether, which he could only see on a monitor inside the shuttle. It was no mean feat to coordinate what he saw on the screen with what he saw outside, but he did it. The pool of light that was his warp tube contacted the tether. There was a shudder as it met resistance, but Ezra pushed his little shuttle on, despite the protest from almost very system in front of him. Suddenly the resistance was gone, the Russell's forward inertia carried her forward suddenly, causing Ezra to hit his head on the bulkhead, not that he noticed as the transporter beam enveloped him.

Martinez saw Ezra appear and went to order the retrieval of the Russell. They didn't want the Ovogdji to latch on to that too, but his deputy called over the com to leave it. Not bothering to ask why, he called the bridge.

"Go JD!"

As planned, on getting the all clear, JD threw the ship into full impulse backwards, adding a few zigzags for good measure - they had made it, they were free. Even as they were pulling back they saw the brave little Russell explode, its systems overloaded to the point of no return.


Down in the recovery room, Chris demanded the bridge tell him what was happening as Nathan and Josiah shot forward, Nathan to Buck, Josiah to Vin, who was now slumped against the wall, breathing so heavily he was all but panting.

"Vin?" Josiah asked.

"It's me."

"How can we be sure?" Chris asked, as he too came over.

"Ah hell, Cowboy, think I'd let that bastard stay in my head any longer than I had to?" Vin even managed a wink and the ghost of a grin.

"You saying you could have kicked him out whenever you wanted?" Chris asked, with a grin of his own.

"Nah, but it sounded good didn't it?"

"Oh yeah, real convincing. It's you alright."

"How's Bucklin?" Vin asked weakly.

"Better," Nathan announced. "Almost normal brain activity."

"'S good." With that, Vin's eyes rolled back and he slumped into Josiah's arms.

"Nathan!?" Chris and Josiah called together.

Nathan turned away from Buck and ran his tricorder over his other patient. "Simple exhaustion, lots of rest, some good food, a couple of days and he'll be fine."

"And Buck?" Chris asked.

"The same treatment, might take a little longer for him. I can't be sure until he wakes up, but he should be fine as well."


Once Vin and Buck were properly settled in their new beds, their three friends left them to rest. Arriving back in the main sickbay just in time to see Martinez all but frogmarch Ezra in. He was sporting a lump the size of a goose egg on his temple.

"He bumped his head," the chief engineer announced rather redundantly.

"So I see." Nathan advanced on Standish, which made him retreat, right back into Martinez.

"On no you don't." The chief engineer placed his hands on Ezra's shoulders to prevent any further retreat.

"I told you, I do not require any medical treatment," Ezra protested.

"I'll be the judge of that." Nathan pulled out his tricorder again, which just made Ezra try and back up more.

Nonetheless the device was close enough to get a satisfactory reading. "You bumped your head," Nathan told him.

"I could have told you that."

"Minor concussion, just hold still there, while I get something."

"What?!" Ezra all but squeaked. Nathan ignored him and picked up a small device. "What's that?"

"Ezra!" Chris snapped. "Stop it! Anyone would think you'd never been here before. You're a grown man and a Star Fleet officer, so hold still and do as you're told."

"I don't like it," Ezra protested.

"No one likes it, so shut up and endure, like the rest of us."

Duly put in his place, Ezra stood still and let Nathan reduce the swelling.

"It might be tender for a while," he told Ezra. "Do you want some pain relief?"

"No, thank you," Ezra reply firmly.

"Didn't think so."

"So," Chris began. "I think a debrief is in order. You two," he pointed at Ezra and Martinez, "Conference room, now. Josiah, pick up JD and join us."


After the debrief, in which, contrary to Ezra's belief, Chris had nothing but praise and admiration for their rescue plan, Larabee ordered everyone involved to take twenty four hours off, starting immediately. They had set an automated warning beacon to warn other ships way from the anomaly, and sent a basic report to Star Fleet, promising a detailed report to follow. As far as Chris was concerned that was the end of his ship's involvement. The Maverick was not a diplomatic ship - far from it, as many a Star Fleet senior officer could attest to, nor was it equipped to do long, detailed scientific studies. He was taking his ship, at a slow warp three, to Tiarua, a quiet Earth agro colony which also had a number of wilderness resorts where passing crews could enjoy some quite shore leave in very earth like surroundings. Travis liked to say the Maverick was a trouble magnet, but the truth was they were just very good at what they did - trouble shooting - and trouble shooting, not surprisingly, often led to trouble. It was Chris' policy to give his crew down time after any particularly stressful mission, whether command liked it or not.

As they rose to leave the conference room, Chris called JD back.

"I know you want to go and see Buck, and you can, so long as Nathan gives the okay, but after that you are to go to your cabin and rest."

"Sure, of course," JD assured, none too convincingly.

"That is an order Ensign."

JD swallowed, there was no mistaking that tone. "Yes Sir."


With Nathan's blessing JD slipped as silently as he could into the recovery room. Vin was to his right. He looked relaxed, his long hair had fallen back from its customary place, revealing his pointed ears. Pale, bathed as he was in almost ethereal starlight, it wasn't hard to see why Buck called him elf. Turning away, he looked over at his 'brother.' He'd seen Buck sleep many times, the man could sleep anywhere, any time, in any location and in any position, but never had JD seen him sleep as he did now, all but curled into a fetal position. They might like to call him a kid, but JD was a fully trained Star Fleet officer and just looking at Buck now, he knew his friend wasn't just going to shrug this off. Oh he'd act like he was fine and nothing was wrong, but he'd be spending some long nights talking to Josiah. He'd done it before, though he thought no one else knew, but JD knew and was comforted by that knowledge. He'd spoken to Josiah more than once himself and he knew their counsellor would help his friend come to terms with whatever memories he was left with.

With a feeling of calm and security that all was once again right in his world finally returning, JD eased himself down into the big comfortable chair beside the bed. He gave the back rest just the slightest extra pressure and the chair responded, easing him back, lifting his legs. He sighed and turned his head so he could see Buck clearly.

"He's not going to wake up anytime soon, you know?" Nathan told him as he came to the door.

"I know, don't matter."

"Fine, I'll leave you in peace."

And he would have, had not Inez bustled in past him, with something under her arm, all the time muttering in Spanish. Without looking at JD, she pulled off the sheet that covered Wilmington, all that was needed in the climate controlled room. JD was relieved to see that someone had put his friend into a pair of long blue pajama bottoms, since it was Buck's usual practice to sleep 'au natural.' The bundle under Inez's arm proved to be an old, possibly very old, quilt. Not the rather flat, patchwork kind typical of North America, but a thick, downy, European style quilt in a soft cover. She then stood back, arms folded in evident satisfaction. Even as the three of them watched, Buck visibly relaxed, his hand even moved to pull the quilt closer.

"Well I'll be," Nathan breathed.

Inez turned to him, then walked out past him as fast as she'd walked in, still muttering. "Idiotas. No podrian tomar cuidado de una rata. . ."

"You speak Spanish?" Nathan asked.

"No." JD admitted.

"Wonder what she said?"

"Something about all men being idiots and not knowing how to take care of a rodent let alone a man."

Nathan turned to face Vin.

"Sounds about right. Well, her quilt seems to be doing some good, don't you think?"

Nathan looked back at JD, but the younger man didn't respond, he was sound asleep in the chair. Smiling, and stifling a yawn of his own, Nathan picked up the sheet from the floor and covered JD with it.

"You're a good man Nathan Jackson," Vin commented drowsily as Nathan headed for the door.

"And you are meant to be asleep."

"Can't sleep through a woman throwing a hissy fit."

"Can you sleep now?"

"Oh yeah."

"Glad to hear it, do it."

"Yes Sir."


Three days later, Buck was relaxing against a tree, sitting on a moss - or whatever passed for moss on Tiarua - covered bank, watching JD and Vin having a water fight in the crystal clear waters of the hot spring just below him.

"Hey," Chris greeted, as he joined him.


"We need to talk."

"Do we?"

"Yes." Chris turned to his oldest friend. "You've been keeping secrets from me."

Buck didn't respond, continuing to watch Vin try to dunk JD.

"Buck that thing, their 'Weapon' was designed, programmed, whatevered, to seek out Romulan DNA, and it found you."

"And Vin and every other part Vulcan on the ship."

"So you're saying you're part Vulcan?"

Buck didn't respond.

"Only it let Vin go, and he's a full blood Vulcan, but you, you it wouldn't let go and through you and Vin it made a telepathic link."

Still Buck didn't look at him or make any response.

"You're entitled to as much privacy as anyone else, so long as it doesn't endanger the ship."

"I didn't endanger the ship," Buck finally responded.

"No, not consciously, but your presence did."

"You saying you want me off the ship?"

"Damn it!" Chris snapped. "You know damn well I don't, but I should have known what I was dealing with, Nathan should have known."

"He knew."

Chris didn't respond to this, it was what he'd suspected all along.

"You know," Buck began. "They can pass laws and teach kids in school and pretend that Xenophobia doesn't happen, that it's not a problem, that no one cares what species you are - but they do." Buck turned to his old friend, for a moment, then turned away. "You say my presence put the ship in danger, maybe if you'd have known what I am, you'd never have let me stay on the ship at all."

"I don't care what you are, what anyone is, you know that," Chris protested.

"Easy to say. I grew up in a brothel, I'm used to people looking at me like they're better than me, but believe me that's nothing, compared to the look you get when they find out you're part Romulan, among other things." He looked back at Chris, who looked right back at him. "I'm a mongrel, that's what I am."

Chris had always known that Buck was born and raised in a house of pleasure. Even in the 24th Century, there were plenty of people who considered the men and women, women like Buck's mother, who worked in such places to be beneath them. Now Buck was admitting that wasn't even the worst of it.

"I'm half human but the rest is part Romulan, part Rizan and some other stuff. And you know what? The Romulan isn't even the worst of it, you should see the look you get when they find out you're part Orion."

Chris frowned. Did people really react this way, even now? Sure it was a shock, Buck looked totally human. He'd never have guessed, but even if he didn't, surely they were past such snap judgments and petty prejudices? Clearly not. Chris had been practically raised in Star Fleet, growing up on the ships and bases his father served on or commanded. He liked to see himself as a man of the universe, now he was seeing a side to it he hadn't really even noticed, and all this time his oldest friend had been living a lie every day because of it.

"Didn't think I'd ever say any of this," Buck began.

"Any of what?"

"All this. Gotta tell ya, it's good, liberating. I never was one for secrets."

"No, you never were."

There was a pause as both men looked out across the land in silence.

"So, you're part pirate?" Chris finally asked with a grin.

Buck held up his hand, forefinger and thumb a fraction apart. "Just a tad, yeah."

"Should have known, you old rogue!"

"Not as old as you, old dog."

Chris was pleased to see the return of the Buck he knew. "Don't suppose there is any Betazoid in there, is there?"

Buck gave him a look. "Yeah, some, how'd you know?"

"Josiah reckons you're slightly empathic."


Chris nodded.

"Maybe. Of course I'm also part Deltan, that might account for a whole lot!" He waggled his eyebrows and laughed out loud.

"That only works for the woman," Chris pointed out.

"In a mongrel like me, who knows what it could do?!"

"You know, my father always told me, 'Son, if you're gonna get a dog, get a mongrel. They're smarter, more loyal and they live longer than any pedigree breed you can name.'"

"Smart man, your father - what went wrong?"

"Very funny. . .of course, he also told me to get it neutered as soon as possible."


Chris forced the smile from his face. "It doesn't matter, it never could and it never will, to me or any of them - you know that, right?"

"I'll try to remember that, but you can't blame me for not wanting to broadcast it - can you?"

"No, don't guess I can."

"Hey, you two old guys!" JD shouted.

"Ya coming in or you two just gonna sit there and gab?" Vin finished.

Chris looked at Buck. "You any kind of fish?"


"Shame. Shall we teach the children a lesson?"

"Right behind you."

The End