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Jim Ausfahl

February 20th 2294

Chekov sniffed, his nose wrinkling in distaste. He looked at Indri, sitting near him at the camp fire. "Something stinks. Do you smell it?"

"Certainly. It is quite strong." Indri sniffed as well. "I do not recognize the odor. As far as I know, we are a considerable distance from any chemical plants that might have accidentally leaked a volatile reagent or reaction byproduct."

Kirk and Reichard looked at each other and chuckled. "You want to tell ‘em, Ken, or do I?"

Indri and Chekov looked at Kirk and Reichard. The helmsman piped up, a wry grin on his face. "Butyl mercaptan, Cap’n, definitely butyl mercaptan."

Turning to face his companion, Indri raised one eyebrow. "Although the information is interesting, Ken, that scarcely solves the issue of the source. Is it the name of your new cologne?"

"Ken’s just picking on you, Indri." The retired captain sipped his coffee. "Butyl mercaptan happens to be the active odorant in skunk spray. Get a skunk mad at you, or afraid of you, and it’ll whip around, spraying you with a mixture of stuff heavily laced with it. Trust me, it’s not something you’d want for a cologne; it’s a defense mechanism, and an effective one, too." He stared at Reichard. "As I recall it, it’s incredibly tough to remove, once you’ve been sprayed."

"No kidding. Ranger, my pet mutt, made the mistake of messing with a skunk; I thought we’d never get the stink off the poor critter." Reichard shook his head. "Stank worse than the time I spent too long in an environment suit. I almost never got the stink off me."

Chekov leaned over to Indri, speaking in a stage whisper. "Maybe he didn’t get the stink off, and that’s what we’re smelling."

"Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Pavel," Kirk chuckled. "The air doesn’t smell that bad. Although I have to admit, I had a similar problem with a bad odor in an environment suit, once, and it was nearly a week before I got over it. It’s one of those experiences you never forget, but wish you could."

"Your description of the event sounds most interesting, Captain," Indri opined. "Perhaps you could tell us."

"Da, Kyptin. Maybe telling us will help you forget."

Realizing that he’d been cornered, Kirk filled his coffee cup. "That’s one I won’t count on, Pavel. But since you insist…"

August 5th 2280

Admiral James Tiberius Kirk looked around the bridge, sniffing. The bridge was increasingly beginning to smell like a basket of dirty laundry, one that had been allowed to sit far too long, and it was beginning to get annoying. His eyes flitted from one individual to another, wondering if one or more of the cadets had skipped a shower or two. Before he could finish his mental inventory, Uhura looked up. "Engineering, Captain."

"On speakers, Commander," ordered Spock from the center seat.

It was a training mission, a brief one; the Enterprise was crewed by yet another boatload of cadets. Their mission was to transport some personnel to the testing yards at Antares and return to Earth. Not much of an assignment for seasoned crew, but to cadets on their 1st and 2nd Class Midshipmen’s Cruises, it was guaranteed to be quite an adventure.

"Captain," Scott’s voice burred. "Beggin’ yer pardon, but we’re havin’ a spot of trouble with life support. We’ll be needin’ to check in somewhere where we can get the entire crew complement off the ship, maybe a starbase or a planet or some such, to repair it."

Kirk rolled his eyes; he should have guessed.

Spock spoke softly, "Would that explain the odor we’re experiencing on the bridge, Mister Scott?"

"Aye, it will indeed. Down here in Engineerin’ we’re wearing full suits, just to handle the stench. It smells like old, sweaty gym socks that have fermented a good, long while. I take it you’re having some trouble with that on the bridge?"

"Indeed," the Vulcan replied.

Kirk stepped toward the center seat and took up a position behind it and to the right. "Well, I was wondering who had forgotten to shower this year," he said to the Vulcan.

"Mister Scott, may I inquire why we must vacate the Enterprise?"

"To fix this, we’ll have to depressurize the ship for a day or two, Captain. It’s Canopian mold. Its spores have spread throughout the ventilation system. I’d like to depressurize the ship quickly to blow the mold spores out into space. We could remain aboard if we have to, but I don’t think the crew would be wanting to stay in an environment suit that long. If there isn’t a suitable place close, we’ll be in the suits anyhow, I’m afraid, possibly having to sleep in them, just to avoid the stench."

"Do these spores pose any danger to the crew?" the captain asked.

"None, sir. They just reek worse than rotten haggis. The spores themselves can’t withstand exposure to vacuum. This will be an easy fix."

"Just a rather inconvenient one," the admiral remarked.

"Thank you, Commander Scott," Spock replied. "Bridge out."

For an instant, Admiral Kirk wondered how he managed to get into the weird situations that came his way.

Spock turned to the helm. "Ensign Jaeger, what is the nearest Federation base with adequate facilities?"

There was a brief pause. "Outpost 7734, Captain. It’s less than a day away. Everything else is considerably farther."

Spock turned. "It is a relatively new outpost, Admiral, on the edge of Federation trade routes. The base commander is an old acquaintance of yours—Commodore Seamus Finnegan."

Suddenly, three or four days in an environment suit didn’t seem so bad. Suppressing his emotional response, Admiral Kirk just nodded. The cadets and training officers didn’t need to suffer because of his personal past. "Thank you, Captain. I’m sure that Commodore Finnegan will be as overjoyed to renew our old acquaintance as I am."

Spock issued orders. "Ensign Jaeger, set a course for Outpost 7734. Commander Uhura, contact the Outpost and inform them of our situation. Verify that they can support the demands we’re going to put on their resources."

Secretly, Admiral Kirk hoped they would be unable to handle them.

Uhura worked with her console silently for several moments. "That’s odd; I’m getting no response, Captain."

The admiral shrugged. "With it being a new installation, I suppose they’re just having technical difficulties."

Spock did not look convinced. "Continue trying to raise the outpost, Miss Uhura."

"Captain I’m…" The Bantu paused. "Well, I was receiving an emergency signal from the outpost, indicating that they were under assault, but it’s gone, now. I have contact with Commodore Finnegan."

"Mainviewer," the Vulcan ordered, and James T. Kirk was confronted by his old nemesis.

"Commodore Finnegan?" the admiral asked, stepping to the front of the bridge. As the assistant dean of Starfleet Training Command and a special instructor, this was technically his mission. Any official communiqués were supposed to be issued by him, no matter how little he liked it.

The face before him was much older than that of upperclassman at the Academy that had taken such delight in tormenting the younger Kirk. Even the limited view afforded on the mainviewer announced clearly that the once iron hard muscles had been allowed to waste away, unquestionably the result of too much time at a desk and not enough time in workouts. In the brief instant between his greeting and Finnegan’s reply, Kirk realized that, should Finnegan decide to renew their once combative relationship, he could easily wipe the floor with the man. Contrary to what he had thought as a younger man, that certain knowledge failed to produce any elation. "Kirk! Well, now, nothing like a meeting of old friends, especially out in the middle of nowhere. Good to see you. Will you be paying us a visit?"

"I’m afraid so. Problems in life support—the place smells like rancid laundry, and it’s getting worse. Think you can handle a shipload of cadets for a few days, until Scotty sorts it out?"

"Easily. Frankly, we wouldn’t mind a couple of new faces for a while. It gets lonely out here in the middle of nowhere. I wouldn’t mind another chance to massacre you at 3-D chess, like I did back in the old days at Starfleet Academy. How soon will you be arriving?"

"Twenty-four hours, Admiral," replied Jaeger as Kirk looked to the young ensign for an answer. She was undergoing an advanced navigation training class for Starfleet Training Command.

Spock entered the conversation. "We received a distress call from your outpost, Commodore, one that was terminated before we could respond. I’d be interested in an explanation to put in the log."

The commodore shrugged. "A simple malfunction, Captain Spock, that’s all. Fixed it as soon as we realized it went off; no need to worry about doing the usual precautions; too much trouble. It was a glitch, just a glitch. New outpost, you know? Sloppy work on that area, you know how it goes. Just a glitch, that’s all."

"I understand. We’ll be there soon. Enterprise out." Kirk moved to face the command chair and his friend seated in it. "Captain Spock, your analysis of the exchange?"

Human and Vulcan looked at each other steadily for a few moments. "I observed that he only blinked three times during the conversation, Admiral. During a similar period of time, most Humans would blink twenty-two. It was most unusual. It raises a concern about some entity controlling the commodore, conceptually similar to the blastoneurons we encountered on Deneva."

The admiral turned back to face the mainviewer. "I agree, Spock. His comment about 3-D chess was totally out of line, too. We only played once, and I totally humiliated him, for which he never forgave me. We never played again."

Ensign Jaeger looked back at the admiral and then the senior training officer, Captain Spock. She was clearly uncertain as to what action would be required. "Request orders concerning our approach to the outpost."

The Vulcan turned to the admiral in deference. Kirk looked at the screen, his eyes narrowing. "Full precautions, Jaeger. This whole thing stinks worse than the air in here; we’re not taking any chances. When we’re within half a parsec, yellow alert."


Uhura’s voice broke the silence that had reigned as the Enterprise approached the outpost. "We’re being hailed, Captain."

"Mainviewer," Spock ordered. Again, the admiral stepped to the front of the bridge.

Finnegan’s face filled the screen. "C’mon, Kirk, there’s no need to be ridiculous. I told you the distress signal was a malfunctioning circuit. Quit being an i-dotting, t-crossing bureaucrat. Drop the shields and come on over."

"I’m sure there’s no problem, Seamus, but you know how we Brass are: nitpickers to the end. Any more, I figure it’s easier to humor the regs, especially when I’ve got a crew of cadets. I’d hate to set a bad example for them. Besides, it’s a lot safer, too, after a few of the stunts I’ve pulled." Kirk watched Finnegan’s eyes carefully as he spoke. Spock had been right, earlier; the man was hardly blinking at all. "Don’t be offended, but we’ll transport the team over in the required fashion."

The image on the mainviewer nodded. "I quite understand. Where will you be putting your team?"

"How does your main transporter deck sound?"

"That’ll be fine. When the team reports all is clear, we can renew our old acquaintance without the encumbrance of an environmental suit. How soon?"

"Oh, about thirty minutes, I guess, maybe forty-five at the outside; it’s getting pretty foul in here, and we’re sort of in a hurry to clear the air. That too soon?"

"Good enough. We’ll be expecting you. Outpost 7734 out." The image disappeared.

"I assume, Captain," Cadet Marsden, who was seated at the ship’s security station, commented, "that you’re not going to put the team where you said nor when you said."

"Correct. Spock, anything anomalous on the scan?"

Spock moved from the central chair to the science console. "Readings indicate a fully staffed, fully operational Starfleet monitoring outpost, without anomalous findings." The Vulcan turned to face the admiral. "Fascinating. I checked with Starfleet Command on our way here. According to the records, Outpost 7734 should only be at thirty-one percent staffing, and is only at forty-seven point three percent functional capacity. I suspect that there is interference with our scans. The only other significant finding is a derelict, just less than one astronomical unit from the outpost, in the midst of a small asteroid cluster. I am unable to identify the craft."

Kirk nodded. "I was expecting something like that, Captain Spock." He looked around the bridge, at the various cadets and ensigns there, all eyes on them expectantly. No need to endanger these kids... "Meet me at the transporter room on Level Seven in ten minutes, in full environmental suit and class two phasers." He swiveled to face Uhura. "Have McCoy and Scotty meet me there in the same attire." He smiled at her. "Commander Uhura, you have the conn."


Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Scott materialized in an open area in the outpost, standing in a square, facing outwards, in full environmental suits, phasers drawn. Scott, Spock and McCoy had tricorders in hand, staring at them intently.

"Readings are more compatible with the known status of the base, Admiral, other than there being far less than the expected number of personnel present." It was the Vulcan’s voice. "There is also an anomalous field present."

"Aye," the chief engineer agreed. "Electromagnetic mainly, Admiral, so our suits are actin’ like a Faraday cage, grounding most of it out around us. I’d not care to know what it’d do to us if we hadn’t our suits on."

Before the doctor could comment, Kirk fired his phaser. "McCoy, do you register any rats on your medical tricorder? I could swear I just hit one."

"No rats, Jim, but something about that size, in considerable profusion. They seem to be all over the place and zeroing in on us. Spock, do you—?"

The doctor’s remark was interrupted as Scott and Spock fired their phasers. McCoy and Kirk began firing as well; it seemed like the small, grayish blobs were coming at them from multiple directions.

"Let’s get out of here, gentlemen, and into the corridor. It looks like we’ve got a problem, here, after all, despite what Commodore Finnegan said. Spock, is there anything that might be a focal point for these creatures?" As he spoke, he hit two more with his phaser and started leading them toward the door.

"Yes, Admiral. Two levels up, thirty-four point seven degrees clockwise from here there is a large storage hold. It would appear that the anomalous field and possibly these small creatures are coming from there. I conjecture that the anomalous field is how the central brain coordinates these smaller creatures." The four continued to ply their phasers on the small organisms moving toward them.

"We need a full squadron of security personnel for this, Spock. Maybe we should beam back."

"Probably not a good idea, Jim," McCoy responded. "Even if we manage to decontaminate the suits, there’s no way of guaranteeing that we could get back to the ship without bringing along a handful of these beasts and frankly, if you’ll look at what they are doing to their dead compatriots, I’m pretty sure we don’t want them on board." McCoy’s phaser spat energy at another of the creatures.

Kirk turned to where McCoy was pointing. Perhaps a dozen of the small blobs had converged on one that he had killed. There was no question about what was happening: they were rapidly consuming their dead comrade. For an instant, Kirk had a vision of a carnivorous version of tribbles loose on the ship. The idea was anything but pleasant. "Good point, Bones."

"Besides, Admiral, you don’t have a full squadron of experienced security personnel aboard the Enterprise. You have a handful of 1st and 2nd class midshipmen with a modicum of security training. Cadet Marsden is probably the brightest of the lot, and even he’s completely inexperienced," the Vulcan pointed out.

The admiral studied yet another pack of the blobs as they devoured another one of their injured. "Maybe we can use their cannibalistic habits to distract them." Rapidly, the admiral picked off several of the creatures at different locations. As he expected, the others turned on the freshly killed creatures. Making the best use he could of the distraction, Kirk opened the door and cautiously moved into the corridor, the other three following, phasers firing as they moved. Spock moved to a turbolift, summoning it.

"Are you sure that’s a good idea, Spock?" McCoy asked. "If they’re aware of us, it’ll probably be full."

"I anticipate that, Doctor." The turbolift door slid open, revealing the floor to be full of the small creatures. Before they could move, Spock’s phaser reduced them to ash. "I suggest that we try to enter without being joined."

All four moved into the turbolift, letting the door slide shut. Scott pried open a panel, connecting his tricorder to the circuits. "Give what orders ye want, Captain Spock, but then I’ll do my best to send her where you want; maybe that’ll buy us some time wherever we arrive."

As the Scotsman was communing with the Vulcan, Kirk looked up; through the grille, there were several gray pseudopods beginning to dangle. Using his phaser, the admiral reduced them to ash, then heated the grille red hot. "All things considered, it looks like we’re going to need the time if you can manage it."

Scott brought the turbolift as near to the hold in question as he could.

"Phasers at the ready. Bones, take the floor. Scotty, to the right, I’ll take forward and above. Spock, cover left." The door slid open. To their surprise, the hall was empty.

Spock took the lead, moving toward the hold in question, Kirk and McCoy in tow. He turned, seeing Scott still in the turbolift. "It would be advantageous, Mister Scott, if we moved as a group." The turbolift door began to slide shut, with the engineer inside. Quickly, Spock intervened, stopping the door.

Kirk moved to the engineer. "C’mon, Scotty, you need to move into the corridor."

Scott looked at Kirk, utterly oblivious to his surrounding. Gently, but firmly, Kirk pushed the Scotsman toward the open turbolift door. As the pair passed him, Spock noticed that there was one of the small blobs firmly attached to the back of Scott’s suit, just below one shoulder. Carefully, aiming tangentially to avoid injuring his comrade, Spock used his phaser to reduce the blob to ash. As he did so, Scott appeared to awaken. McCoy looked at his medical tricorder. "There doesn’t appear to be any of these vermin in the corridor, now." The physician looked up at his Vulcan comrade. "How do you read it, Spock?"

"Clear, Doctor. I conjecture that several of the creatures managed to enter the turbolift without our awareness, one attaching itself to Mister Scott while we were moving."

"Either that, or they were hidden somewhere in the turbolift, and we just missed them, maybe on a wall or in a corner by the ceiling. Either way, we’ve learned something useful: they’re able to interfere with the Human brain."

Scotty looked over at his Vulcan comrade. "It was bizarre, Spock, I was aware of that little monster interfering with my intention to move, but somehow I couldn’t override it. Stay still." Scott did to Spock as Spock had done to him, removing one of the blobs from the Vulcan’s environmental suit. "Obviously, you’re at least partially immune to the assault, Spock. We’d better get moving."

Silently, the Vulcan stared at his tricorder. "It would be imprudent to count on my being totally immune. Admiral, it would appear that, despite our efforts, the turbolift has not brought us close to the hold in question. We appear to be on the correct deck, but we are still at a considerable distance from where we intended to be. I conjecture that this may have been due to the effect of the creature interfering with Commander Scott’s cognitive function."

"At least we’re on the right deck. Spock, take the lead. Bones, Scotty, you and I keep our eyes peeled for any of these blobs."

"We’ve been usin’ our phasers pretty freely, Captain," Scott burred. "I’m down to about 60% charge, and I can’t figure any of us bein’ a whole lot better than that." The others checked their phasers; clearly, the charge was visibly less than any of them had hoped. "I can recharge ‘em from our suits a time or two, but that’ll limit the time we have to deal with this little problem. It might be time to call for reinforcements, inexperienced or nae."

"Calling for reinforcements would let whomever we’re up against locate us with too much precision, Scotty," Kirk returned. "I’m not quite desperate enough to take that risk. Not yet, anyhow. How about recharging the phasers?"

Obligingly, the chief engineer brought the phasers up to full charge.

The foursome moved carefully, on the lookout for trouble. The corridor was eerily empty and silent. Cautiously, Spock moved toward an intersecting corridor, phaser at the ready. McCoy and Scott trained their phasers on the area to either side of the Vulcan, ready to shoot at the first provocation. Nothing happened. Cautiously, the captain moved beyond, beckoning to the others to follow. McCoy looked down the corridor as he crossed it. The floor was littered with the rags of uniforms, and with shards of skeletal remains.

"That’s cheering." McCoy lifted up his tricorder, looking at it briefly before restoring it to its place and moving forward. "Whatever we’re up against is obviously not repelled by Human tissue. The Denevan blastoneurons only wanted to control people; these little beasts seem to have other ideas. They sure seem to have made short work of those crewmen."

"Indeed." Still leading, his attention split between the tricorder in one hand and the corridor in front of him, the Vulcan responded without turning. "However, considering that Finnegan was clearly under the influence of whatever we are up against, I conjecture that they assume anything under control of the central coordinating mind is a comrade, and anything else is food. That would—"

Spock’s remarks were interrupted by a crewman leaping out of a nearby portal, swinging a short piece of trititanium girder at the captain’s head. Before even the Vulcan’s lightening reflexes could respond, the bar disappeared in phaser fire, and the crewman dropped to the floor, stunned.

"Just keep moving forward, Spock," McCoy advised, looking for the next assault. "Scotty and I got that one for you. Offhand, I’d say the ones we saw in the corridor were folk that weren’t amenable to whatever controls the rest."

"A logical deduction, Doctor," Spock conceded.

"Aye," Scotty added, his phaser at the ready. "And since the fellow was aiming to break your helmet, I’d guess it’d be more than happy to add the lot of us to its little menagerie of livin’ tools or to its lunch menu." A gray blob dropped toward the Scotsman as he spoke.

Admiral Kirk turned his phaser on it, destroying it before it could land. "If we’re going to manage this, we’re going to have to do a lot less talking, gentlemen, and we’re going to have to close ranks. These little beasts are starting to show greater finesse."

Silently, the group followed the implicit command, moving forward. Walking backwards, covering their rear, Kirk noticed that the stunned crewman was not being overwhelmed by the gray foragers, as he had half expected. Whatever is controlling the little monsters can obviously tell conscious from unconscious, as well as whether or not someone is under its control. Looks like this creature is at least as bright as Spock seems to have suspected, maybe brighter. That complicates things. Kirk turned his focus back to the issue of covering their backs.

Spock pointed silently, leading them down a cross-corridor lined with doors. "We are approaching the hold in question, Captain. Ten point six meters." The Vulcan stopped, studying the tricorder before him. "There appears to be a large colony of organisms in the hold, or more likely, a large colonial organism. The nearly mindless, rat-sized creatures are apparently foragers, similar to the foragers in the Vulcan ant fish, or Terran worker bees. A considerably larger, and possibly sentient version of these creatures appears to be in the hold, most probably directing the smaller ones via the anomalous field we observed earlier."

"Good. Then all we have to do is eliminate the queen rat, so to speak, and we’ve got it made."

"Unfortunately not, Doctor," the Science Officer replied. "The smaller creatures show indications that they could..." Before the sentence could be finished, another of the outpost crew jumped out of a doorway, wielding a trititanium bar as a weapon. Effortlessly, the Vulcan parried the blow, dropping the individual with a nerve pinch.

Kirk’s voice rang out. "Scotty!"

The Scotsman turned just in time to see another crewman coming at him with a trititanium bar. Scott swept his arm up, blocking the blow with it, driving a pile-driver right to the man’s gut, dropping the crewman as effectively as the Vulcan’s nerve pinch had. He reached down, taking the bar from the crewman. "It’s range may not be as good as a phaser, but it’ll still make a fine enough weapon. Doctor, if you could spare me a moment?"

There was no question about what the engineer needed. Even though the metallic fabric of the environmental suit had not torn, where the bar had struck his forearm, there was a distinct deformity in his arm. McCoy moved closer, Spock and Kirk covering. "Mid-shaft fractures of your radius and ulna, Scotty. What you need is a Sickbay, where I can set this and properly knit the bones."

"Aye, Doctor. That much I’d figured out myself." Despite the obvious pain, the engineer’s face showed a lopsided grin. "Unfortunately, I’ve not brought one of them with me. Can ye not do something?"

"I suppose so, Scotty, but it’ll hurt, and the big problem will be keeping it straight."

The Scotsman pulled a microwave welding wand out of a compartment on his suit. "If you can get it straight, Doctor, I’ll just weld this bar to the metal rings in the elbow and wrist area of the suit. That’ll hold me until you can do it right."

Spock knelt next to the Scotsman. "If you will permit a limited meld, I will try to minimize the discomfort."

"Good enough, Spock. Ye’ll tell the doctor when we’re ready?"

The Vulcan nodded, placing his hand next to the Scotsman’s head. For a moment, his brow furrowed in deep concentration. Kirk’s phaser spat energy, dropping another assailant. "Doctor, I believe Mister Scott and I are ready."

"Brace yourselves." The physician gripped the engineer’s arm, one hand at the elbow, the other at the wrist. As he pulled the broken bones back into alignment, both Vulcan and Human grimaced in agony. At McCoy’s gesture, the Vulcan held the trititanium strut in place as Scotty spot welded it to his suit. McCoy shook his head. "I wouldn’t rely on that arm too much; this is strictly makeshift."

"Aye, Doctor, but it’s a deal better than nothing. And there’s still enough bar sticking out beyond my arm to make a nice weapon." The Scotsman swung his make-shift lance to prove the point. Easily half a meter of trititanium bar extended beyond his fist.

Kirk’s phaser fired again. "In that case, let’s get going. Time is wasting."

Grimly, the four moved forward again. Kirk sniffed. There was a growing odor in the suit—acrid, annoying and remarkably foul. He shook his head, suppressing a violent urge to doff his helmet. "Scotty, did you check these suits? This one is beginning to stink badly."

"Aye, Admiral, I checked them myself." The engineer shook his head. "It shouldn’t be possible, but it’s getting’ pretty rank in mine, too. It’s to the point that I’m thinkin’ about flipping my helmet back, so I can get a breath of fresh air."

"I conjecture, Commander Scott, that your perception of a foul odor is a trick being played upon your mind by the entity that is controlling the other crewmen and the small, gray creatures that have assaulted us." He consulted his tricorder. "There is no evidence that there is any contaminant in the atmosphere of any of our suits." As he spoke, the Vulcan moved to a large door in the wall. "Our opponent is on the other side of this bulkhead. There is a very significant probability that our proximity to the source has rendered the limited shielding provided by our environment suits inadequate to totally protect us."

"Great. And smell is one of the most primitive and powerful of senses, to boot." McCoy shook his head. "Well, I’m glad to know it’s not a personal hygiene problem. Now what?"

"Scotty, can you get that door to open with the all of us out of the way?" It was Kirk’s voice. "I expect that there will be phaser fire coming through the door when it opens, and I, for one, don’t want caught in it."

The Scotsman studied the doorway and its controls. "It shouldn’t be hard to do, even one handed, Admiral. Give me a minute."

"Move into position," Kirk commanded, "back from the opening."

The three moved back. Scott looked up at Kirk, awaiting the go-ahead. Kirk nodded. Scott triggered the mechanism. As expected, phaser fire burst through the open door, but rather than being in one of the usual settings, they appeared to have been reset to produce blindingly brilliant light. Before any of them could react, their eyes dazzled by the phaser energy, the four found themselves in the grip of several of the outpost’s crew. All four struggled, fiercely but ineffectively. Once they were taken, the odor in their suits almost vanished.

"Bring them in." The voice was Finnegan’s, coming from the hold. Their captors obeyed, moving them into the hold. Smiling, Finnegan looked the four in the eye, one by one, as his men brought them into the hold. Just behind the commodore was a huge, writhing mass of the small, gray rat-sized creatures, forming a mound a little taller than Finnegan, and spreading almost the same distance across the floor. Finnegan’s eyes finally rested on Kirk. "It was a nice try, Kirk, but you’ve lost again. As always." The man’s smile widened. "Open their helmets, men."

One by one, despite determined resistance, the helmet visors were flipped open. With each of the three Humans, their struggling stopped the minute their heads were exposed. With the Vulcan, the resistance lasted for several moments, then lapsed. All four dropped their phasers at their sides, hands limp.

Finnegan nodded appreciatively. "Let them go. They’re with us, now." The crewmen obeyed. All four remained motionless. The commodore turned to face Kirk. "Call your ship, Admiral, and tell them all is clear. Then we can transport your cadets over, bring them into our fold, and take The Organism to Earth."

There was a clear struggle on the admiral’s face as the demand was made. Slowly, almost painfully, his hand moved to trigger the communications toggle. "Kirk to Enterprise."

"Uhura here, Admiral."

"General Order Twenty-four. Ten minutes."

There was silence for a moment. "Very well, Admiral Kirk. Captain Spock, confirmation?"

Slowly, the Vulcan responded, even his normally impassive face registering struggle. "The Ace of Spades."

"Logged, Captain Spock. Doctor McCoy, do you also confirm?"

"Let the Divine Wind blow, Commander." Though the speech was slow, the physician’s face and voice were emotionless as he spoke.

"General Order Twenty-four confirmed. Phasers locked on. You have ten minutes to return before the station is vaporized. Enterprise out."

Finnegan’s eyes widened. "What was that?"

It was Kirk that answered. "General Order Twenty-four, Finnegan. Destruction of present location. I have no way of stopping it from here."

The commodore’s eyes narrowed. He turned to the chief engineer. "Commander Scott, call Engineering and have them cut power to the weapons systems and the shields."

It was the Scotsman’s turn for signs of an agonizing internal struggle to register on his face. Seconds slipped away slowly. "Scott, come here. Move away from your shipmates and come closer to me," Finnegan demanded. "Closer, Scott. The Organism will help more as you come closer."

One slow step, then a second and a third brought Scott closer and closer to Finnegan and the writhing organisms behind him. As the engineer drew closer, the signs of his internal struggle grew more and more intense, his hands clutching and releasing and his arms twitching; the mass of organisms before him slowed their activity, presumably focusing all their energies in overcoming the resistance of their final victim. Scott drew level with Finnegan, his face still writhing from the battle within his soul. One further step brought him past the commodore, almost to the point where he was stepping on the edge of the mass before him. Without warning, Scott’s left arm flashed upward and with his full weight behind it, he plunged the trititanium beam welded to his suit deeply into the mass before him.

The effect was almost instantaneous. The base crewmen suddenly let go of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Finnegan whirled around, his phaser in hand, turning it on the gray blobs that were suddenly moving all across the floor. Kirk, Spock and McCoy, almost in unison, flipped their helmets back in place, retrieved their phasers and began playing them on the rapidly moving blobs. Scott wrenched the beam free of the huge organism before him, plunging it in a second then a third time.

"Scotty," Kirk shouted, "Give the abort command."

"Aye, Admiral." His hand swung up to his communicator switch. "Uhura!"

"Uhura here, Mister Scott. Fifty seconds to firing."

"The Formula of Concord, lass."

"Aye, sir. General Order Twenty-four is rescinded."

Admiral Kirk keyed in his communicator as he still did battle with the horde of blobs. "Uhura, get as many of the training officers suited up as possible. No cadets. I want them to equip themselves as a decontamination unit. Now!"

"Aye, sir," the Bantu woman responded. "Decontamination team coming."

The Scotsman picked up his phaser and turned it on the huge, gray blob he had stabbed. Within moments, it and all the smaller blobs were either ashed or gone.

Finnegan turned to the Chief Engineer. "How did you do it, Mister Scott?"

"Do what, Commodore?" Scotty tried to look clueless.

"Break away from yon beast’s control. How did ye do it? For that matter, how was it that you, Jimmy Boy, Doctor McCoy and Captain Spock, were able to order the destruct sequence rather than bringing the crew over?"

The four looked at each other for a moment, unsure how to answer. It was Scott that picked up the thread for them all.

"It asked me for the one thing I couldn’t give, Seamus." All of the men were clearly still completely puzzled. The chief engineer turned to the doctor. "Doctor McCoy, you’ve a daughter, have you not?"

"You know I do. What’s that got to do with answering Finnegan’s question?"

"Everything. Could someone have forced you to turn her over into slavery, in someone’s harem?"

"They’d have had to kill me first—if I didn’t get them before they got me."

"Exactly. An’ the Enterprise’s as much my daughter, my wife and lover, as anything else—maybe more. That beast could no more make me turn her over into its slavery than it could make you turn your daughter into it, or make you betray the crew by bringing them over here. That’s how you gave the destruct command, despite the creature, do ye ken?"

"That they did, Scott, but the beast wasn’t clever enough to handle subtlety of thought, otherwise I could never have made that patently false statement about Tri-D chess that I hoped would tip you folks off." Finnegan stuck out his hand to Kirk. "Jimmy boy, this is the first time you’ve beaten me, other than that one time at chess, and I’m glad you did it. Of course, if that beast hadn’t been controllin’ me, boyo, you’d nae have had a chance."

Kirk took the offered hand, somewhat suspiciously. "No doubt, Finnegan, no doubt." The commodore grasped the admiral’s hand tightly, obviously trying to gain enough leverage to throw the admiral. Almost effortlessly, he countered Finnegan’s maneuver, maintaining his position. A thin smile formed on the Kirk’s face. "If you’ve a workout room here on the outpost, maybe we could spar there. If not, there’s always the workout room on the Enterprise. Either would be better than here, Commodore."

Finnegan released Kirk’s hand, favoring him with a glare that would have dented a bulkhead. "No, I don’t think that’ll be needed, Jimmy." His frown suddenly brightened into a smile. "Besides, it would not set a good example for your boatload of children."

February 20th 2294

Kirk drained his cup and held it out for more coffee. "Bones ran us all through the mill, once Scotty got the Enterprise back to a breathable atmosphere. All three of us—Spock got off easy on this one—had suffered moderate injury to the smell centers. It was nothing that time and Bones’ skill didn’t fix, but it was weeks before I quit smelling hints of that wretched odor. Except for a handful of specimens that were harvested to send to Starfleet Academy’s xenobiology department for study, we wiped the station clean."

"That couldn’t have been easy, Kyptin. I remember the trouble we had with the tribbles."

"Actually, Pavel, it was a pushover. Many of the outpost personnel had been killed as the creature took it over; there was a small enough number of them left that we could bring them aboard a few at a time, do a thorough decon procedure at both ends, and get them all on the Enterprise for three or four hours without overloading the life support. With the last Humans off the outpost, we destroyed the station. The little monsters didn’t survive breathing phaser fire, photon torpedoes or vacuum. Once Spock was convinced there were no surviving creatures, we did a final decontamination, just to be sure there were no spores. We didn’t want to risk that thing getting loose in the Federation. From there, it was just a matter of transferring Finnegan, his surviving staff and more files than I care to think about to his new posting in the Beta Epsilon system."

"How sure are you that it isn’t loose in the Federation, Captain?" Reichard gibed. "Sounds like they were just parasites that were experts at mind control. Now if you think about it, there’s a lot of Starfleet Brass that fits that definition…"

The three other men drowned the rest of Reichard’s statement, laughing.

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