Down Time

USS Intrepid, Stardate: 2310.09.09

10 years ago

"Captain, the ion storm is getting worse. Lieutenant Hawes is unable to get a lock on the landing party." Commander Phillips announced to the bridge.

"Damn!" Captain Dar Lenartin paced the bridge. "Stev," he looked in the direction of his helmsman.

"Yes sir."

"You're the best pilot on board… and in my personal opinion the best one in the fleet. Prep the Essex for launch. I want you on the surface in 10 minutes."

Stev knew what was coming. This had been set up beforehand by someone who he knew only as 'Frankenstein's Monster'. He was not overly happy with the fact that it was his friends and wife who had been placed in danger. Phread, his tribble, had already been hidden onboard the shuttle as Stev had asked for his pet to be included in his 'job offer'. He also wondered how October had convinced Captain Lenartin to send this particular landing party down to the surface of a planet renowned for its life threatening ion storms but understood his 'death' would resonate more if witnessed by those closest to him.

"Aye Sir," was all the Vulcan said as he left the bridge.

Stev was supposed to pilot the Essex down to the planet's surface and pick up his crewmates. Then just after getting his crewmates within transporter range the Essex would have problems. He was expected to get his crewmates off safely and then beam to a previously undisclosed location seconds before the shuttle blew up. His anger swelled just a bit. He and T'Aiya both knew that his 'death' was coming soon. However, putting his wife into danger had not been part of the deal. Perhaps, Frankenstein was going to have her injured and use that as an excuse for a surgical procedure wherein they could alter her memories of the incident. He could see the logic of the notion, but the reality of the situation still angered him.

The Vulcan expertly guided the craft around the worsening ion storms and set it down on the planet's surface less than 100 meters away from his wife and crewmates. He popped the hatch. Ensign Cary was the first to climb in. Lieutenants Turner and Hubbard were next. T'Aiya came in last.

The apprehension on his wife's face was very noticeable. She knew what was coming next but said nothing as she took the co-pilot's seat next to her husband. Stev could tell she was having second thoughts about their decision for him to leave the Intrepid and join up with October. He wanted to take her with him but did not think it was possible. She was silent as she brushed two fingers along Stev's jaw line.

"I will miss you, my husband." The thought entered Stev's head via the telepathic bond.

"And I you, Aishamano." Stev replied.

Lieutenant Hubbard broke the silence as he ventured forth and clapped Stev on the back. "I just knew the Captain was going to send you down to get us."

Stev smiled back at his friend, "That's because Captain Lenartin knows I'm the only one who'll put up with you Charles." Looking over his shoulder he directed his next comment to everyone, "Shall we go home?"

"What, no 'rap-rap' joke to mark the occasion?" Hubbard asked as he sat down.

"Please no, just concentrate on getting us home in one piece," JT chimed in.

"But I happen to like his jokes," Buffy said quietly, earning bemused stares from Charles and JT.

Ignoring his crewmates, Stev took the craft up through the atmosphere. Before he could clear the thermosphere into open space, an ion flux lashed out at the shuttle. "What was that?" Stev thought to himself, as the shuttle lurched sideways. "We weren't supposed to get any problems until we were within transporter range."

Another flux buffeted the craft hard. Warning alarms began to go off.

Muffled grunts sounded from the back of the shuttle as JT, Charles and Buffy were thrown repeatedly against their safety harnesses.

"Stev, I'm glad you installed these in the Essex," JT shouted up to the cockpit.

"You don't think you could convince the captain to install some on the bridge?" Buffy added.

T'Aiya glanced apprehensively at Stev. This was not what they had discussed.

Stev ignored them all. Fighting with the controls he attempted to contact the ship, "Essex to Intrepid. We've been hit by at least two ion fluxes, propulsion is out and we are going down."

"Skkrxx…. ..ssex repeat.. xxskr ktscshh ..o you copy? Rep…." the subspace radio lapsed into a hiss.

"Warning! Loss of anti-matter containment imminent," the computer announced at that moment.

The shock on T'Aiya's face was noticeable to all who saw it. "Stev, is this what was supposed to happen?" she asked quietly.

"No," came the tense reply.

Stev tried very hard to correct the shuttle's course and land back on the planet's surface. Before he got the chance the anti-matter containment let loose. The Essex vaporized in the planet's atmosphere…

Stev awoke with a start. A thin layer of perspiration covered his body. Throwing the covers off, the Vulcan stood and walked to the head. After entering and splashing water on his face, he stared into the mirror.

"That is not the wAY IT HAPPENED!" he shouted to his reflection.

The Vulcan shook his head to clear away the imagery. He had the war'na'asha again. He would, from time to time, relive his last mission with the Intrepid before joining October full time. Occasionally he would dream this alternate version where he, his wife, and crewmates actually perished. This version of the dream usually occurred before something bad happened.

"Computer, what is the current stardate and time?"

"2320.11.15 0300 hours," the computer's feminine voice replied.

"I don't think I'm going to like today," his reflection said to no one in particular.


Stev spent the next two hours in meditation as he found himself unable to return to sleep. He had not forsaken the ways of his people; he had just chosen to interpret the teachings of Surak in a new manner. At 0500 hours he got up off the floor and went over to the terminal.

"Phread, any new messages since last night?"

The little tribble awoke immediately. His reply took just an instant before it appeared on the terminal.

"Yes, Enchantress believes that she has a new source of information into the Orion Syndicate. Frankenstein says 'Trick or Treat'."

"Any immediate reply tags on either?"

"No."

"Save both messages, I will look at them later today"

"Will do."

'Trick or Treat' was the 'New-Mission-Coming-Soon-Signal". Since there was no immediate need for a reply, Stev walked away from the terminal and headed for the sonic shower. He was somewhat surprised to see his roommate just emerging from the unit.

"Lieutenant," Stev said in way of greeting.

"Hey roomie," Lieutenant Gary DeHart answered, "I didn't think you got up this early."

"I usually do not," Stev replied. "I did not expect to see you this morning either. You are usually on duty at this hour."

"Yeah, Lieutenant D'Navras let me go early. Since we're docked at Starbase Earhart's orbital facility there isn't as much demand on the plumbing," Gary grinned. "It gives me a chance to spend more time with Gina and little Stephen."

"Your wife and son?"

"Yeah, how did you know?" Gary paused. A small glint formed in his eye as a 'knowing' expression crossed his face, "That's right; you're the new spy onboard. You probably know everything about me."

"I am an intelligence officer, if that is what you mean," Stev replied. "And no, I do not know everything about you. I only accessed your service record."

"Y-e-aah, r-i-i-ght," Gary drew out the response and winked. "I get it, sex for dinner and death for breakfast. Never tell anyone anything unless they have a need to know."

Stev was taken somewhat aback. Lt. DeHart had some very strange ideas about what constituted an intelligence officer. He would have to follow strict tradecraft around his roommate. "Lieutenant, I…"

"Call me Gary," DeHart interrupted.

"Gary, I am an intelligence officer serving aboard the Thunderchild under the command of Captain Burnett and Commander Downglade. I am not a spy as you so eloquently put it."

"Sure, sure, I get it," Gary said with a wink. "Don't worry roomie; I won't blow your cover."

"Gary, I am not sure to what you are referring."

"Rumor has it that you've been involved in some pretty strange stuff."

"Ah, now I understand. The shipboard grapevine has begun speculating about me and the 'mysterious' circumstances in which I was recovered."

"Yeah most of the Gamma shift engineers think that you're a Romulan defector," Gary enthused. "I've got most of the folks in my department convinced that you're a super spy, you know, James Bond for the Federation and that the Thunderchild is your cover."

Stev calmed the little warning bells going off in his head and made a mental note to check with Lt D'Navras and verify his roommate's claims. In the meantime it would be good to get the 'grapevine' going with his cover story, "Gary, I was abducted by the Orion Syndicate after a shuttle accident ten years ago. They took advantage of the fact that I had lost my memory due to the accident. The Thunderchild rescued me, that is all there is to the mystery."

Gary looked just a tad bit crestfallen, then immediately brightened again. "That's a great cover story," he enthused. "I got your back roomie, I'll keep your cover," he paused. His face brightened again as he looked in the direction of his sleeping quarters, "You know, I should show you my collection of James Bond memorabilia when I get back," he stated as he exited the lavatory.

Stev could do nothing but stare at the now closed door to Lt DeHart's bedroom. Ahh, a James Bond fan, that explains a lot, Stev thought. "I will need to talk with Lt D'Navras and verify if what I think is true." Stev shook his head as he stepped into the sonic shower.


After his shower, Stev had Phread pull up Lieutenant D'Navras' service record and was surprised to discover that she was an Orion. The Vulcan had then contacted the engineer after her shift was over. She agreed to meet him in the Thunderhead Lounge later that morning, before Stev was to meet Ensign Der Plaats in TACTICS.

Stev was trying to figure out the best way to circumvent his roommate's completely accurate speculations. Albeit a speculation that had been arrived completely illogically. The Vulcan left his quarters carrying his tribble with along. Stev then dropped Phread off in the Ghost Rider before he went to the Thunderhead Lounge.

Stev was in no hurry as he walked down the corridor. He was wearing his "normal" Vulcan face as he casually observed his new crewmates. Taking note of subtle clues in facial expressions and body language, Stev determined that it had been awhile since the Thunderchild had had a shore leave. It was plainly obvious that people were eagerly awaiting their vacation.

He walked into the nearly empty lounge and quickly spotted the only green female in the place. Immediately he ascertained that it was Lt. D'Navras. The Vulcan walked over as she waved in his direction.

"Lieutenant D'Navras, I assume," Stev began.

"And you must be Lieutenant Stev," she replied and indicated he should sit. "Your message said you wanted to discuss one of my officers with me. Is there a problem I should be aware of?"

Stev sat down across the table from the engineering officer. It was impossible not to notice the fact that her uniform did not hide her figure. Not wanting to embarrass her or give her the wrong impression, Stev kept his gaze locked on her eyes.

"No, there is no problem that I am aware of." He responded. "I wish to discuss my roommate, Lieutenant DeHart."

D'Navras' facial expression changed from a flirtatious smile to that of lioness protecting her cub. "What's wrong with Gary?"

Stev's expression softened. "Nothing, I just have some questions about some, ah, peculiarities in his behavior. Since I do not know any of his friends as yet, I needed to ask his commanding officer."

"Oh, you mean his annoying tendency to see spies and covert operations behind every bulkhead?"

Stev caught himself before his relief showed visibly on his face. "Well I am the new Assistant Intelligence Officer. It is only natural for someone to believe that I am a spy."

"Oh yeah, the scuttlebutt aboard ship has you pegged for being everything from a Romulan plant, to some kind of time-traveling man from the future intent on keeping the timeline in check," she said with a laugh. "Don't get me wrong, Gary's a great officer and no one knows the reclamation systems like he does. But he has been in spy nirvana since you came on board."

"Considering how I came aboard I can understand the speculation," Stev answered.

"What is the truth about your 'rescue'?" D'Navras grinned at him. "Or is it top secret?" she emphasized the last words making it clear she believed it was not a secret.

"Basically, the Thunderchild rescued me from a ten-year ordeal," Stev said, pleased with himself that he could obscure the truth with the truth. "A shuttle accident ten years ago robbed me of my memories. I spent the next ten years working for the Orion Syndicate."

D'Navras' eyebrows raised, "The Orion Syndicate?" she interrupted.

"Yes, is that a problem?" Stev asked watching her intensely for clues as to why the mention of the crime syndicate would affect her so.

"No, no, please continue," she said visibly affected.

Stev affected a human shrug of the shoulder giving no indication of his interest in her statements and continued. "After the Thunderchild rescued me in the Castis system, Dr. Parker must have awakened my memories in sickbay," he obfuscated. "Starfleet saw fit to reactivate my commission and Captain Burnett offered me a position."

"Well that's certainly not as ominous as being a Romulan spy," she laughed. "I'll let Gary know the truth, but I suspect he'll think that it's just part of a cover story."

Remembering his earlier conversation with his roommate, Stev replied, "I'm sure he will." He stood, "Thank you for your time, Lieutenant,"

"Please call me D'Na," she smiled wide.

"Very well, 'Dee-nah', thank you for your time."

"By the way, Thank you," she said as Stev prepared to leave.

"For what D'Na?"

"For looking at me and not my figure," she replied. "Most men look at my chest for the first five minutes, even the ones who obviously try not to. After that they'd be hard pressed to remember what color my eyes are."

"You are welcome and they are green," Stev said as he turned and left.

Stev walked out of the Thunderhead Lounge. He was no longer concerned that somehow he had broken tradecraft or that his roommate had broken his cover. The disquiet was there that he would have to be careful around Gary, since Gary was already suspicious enough.

The Vulcan was more concerned with his war'na'asha, the dream. He wouldn't go so far as to say his dreams were precognitive, but something usually hit the rotating ventilation blades shortly after the dream occurred. What troubled him more is that other than the recent activation code he could not think of anything recently that would be causing him concern. His encounter with his roommate had occurred after the dream, but that was a chance encounter and could not have been the cause. He also could not foresee anything on the horizon that might be triggering his subconscious. Stev was still consumed by his thoughts when he entered TACTICS.

"Stev, what are you doing here?" Commander Downglade asked as the Vulcan Lieutenant entered TACTICS, "We're all scheduled for shore leave." The Chief Intelligence Officer looked at his new officer and studied his face for a moment. "Something wrong?" he asked after a moment.

Stev realized the dream and the events of the morning must be affecting him more than he thought if Commander Downglade could detect his unease. Stev mentally calmed himself before replying.

"Nothing I wish to trouble you with now, Sir," Stev replied as he composed himself. The morning's events had really troubled him; however, he did not know Downglade well enough to talk about "bad dreams".

Downglade studied Stev's face for another moment, "If there's anything you need to talk about, you KNOW I can keep a secret."

Stev smiled graciously, "Thank you sir." He went to take a seat at the SIGINT station.

"You didn't answer my question, Stev," Downglade casually reminded him.

"No sir, I did not. My apologies." Downglade nodded and Stev continued, "Ensign Der Plaats and I were taking advantage of the fact the Thunderchild is docked to finalize the connections between TACTICS and the Ghost Rider. She will be meeting me here shortly."

"You didn't order her to, did you?" Downglade asked. He had purposely scheduled his entire team for shore leave as he did not want his officers on duty all the time, there had be some time for relaxation. That came seldom enough for intelligence officers.

"No sir, she volunteered. Besides, with the two of us here and Phread in the Ghost Rider we should get it done quickly."

"Phread? Your tribble?" Downglade asked incredulously.

"Yes sir, check my file. Whenever you see the code name 'crow', that's Phread."

Downglade nodded not needing to reread Stev's reports. Quickly understanding the significance he asked, "Just what did October do to the poor creature?"

"Basically, they enhanced him." Knowing that Downglade was cleared for the information, Stev elaborated, "Phread's native intelligence was augmented. He was given the capability of interfacing with most known computer network systems. He can also communicate with me via computer monitor."

Downglade quietly pondered the new information. "That's a nice idea for undercover work," he said softly. Looking directly at Stev he asked, "How many other sub-sentient creatures has October enhanced?"

"Knowing what I know now about Phread, I'm not sure I'd classify him as sub-sentient," Stev grinned. "But I know of only one other creature that October has enhanced."

Downglade's quiet gaze indicated he should continue.

"My protégé, the Enchantress, she has an augmented creature as well."

"So they're not very common?"

"Not that I'm aware of, no sir."

"And if someone were to scan Phread?" Downglade asked thinking of the possibilities for intelligence gathering.

"Phread registers as a normal tribble on nearly everything except the most recent shipboard, sickbay diagnostic equipment."

Thinking quickly of the reverse application, Downglade asked, "Is there anyway to make sure that an 'enhanced creature' is not brought aboard the Thunderchild without our knowledge."

"Knowing what frequencies to watch for, I have already set up the ELINT station to monitor the transporter for indications. Engineering will need to upgrade to MARK VII scanners at all docking ports and the shuttle bay interior doors."

"Good, I'll ask Commander Hauser to issue orders for those upgrades."

"One thing sir, those upgrades will only alert ELINT that an 'enhanced creature' has been brought aboard. It will not detail what the enhancements are."

"Noted. So Phread will be monitoring your progress from the Ghost Rider?"

"Yes sir, though I'd like to keep Phread's abilities on a need to know basis. I plan to tell Ensign Der Plaats that I have a sophisticated monitoring program installed on the Ghost Rider."

"Noted, well then I will leave TACTICS in your capable hands Stev," Downglade stated as he stood.

"Sir," Stev said to keep Downglade there for a moment.

"Yes?" Downglade replied reading the expression on the Vulcan's face.

"I was wondering, while we are docked at Starbase Earhart, if I could take the time to upgrade the ship's computer?"

Downglade's eyebrow rose in quizzical manner, "What did you have in mind?"

"October has an operating system that allows operatives a number of enhancements to the ship's computer core as well is making it more difficult for threat forces to hack into the system."

Downglade eyed the Vulcan's face for a moment. "But…"

Stev sighed inwardly; Commander Downglade didn't let much get past him. He continued, "But the system has a peculiar side effect when used on starships."

"And that would be?"

"The computer seems to develop a personality."

"What kind of personality?"

"Sir that is unknown until after the OS is installed."

"Are there any recorded instances of this side effect being a danger to the ship and crew?"

"No sir," Stev replied. "In fact of the four starships that have been upgraded, each has shown at least a 25% increase in computer efficiency."

Downglade stroked his beard in thought, "I'll look into it and run the suggestion by the Captain." The intelligence officer clapped the Vulcan lieutenant on the back and left.

Ten minutes later Ensign Der Plaats walked through the door. "Ensign Greda Der Plaats reporting for duty, sir!" she said as she offered Stev a crisp salute.

Remembering Commander Downglade's less than formal command style, Stev chose to follow in his steps. "Thank you Ensign, but that is not necessary. You are not on duty now; you volunteered to help me on this project. Since you have given up part of your vacation to assist me, the least I can do is to make you comfortable," he looked her square in the eye and smiled.

Flustered in turn by Stev's smile and unVulcan-like attitude, she stammered "Yes-s-sir, I mean no sir."

Something about her earnestness reminded Stev of his protégé, Alliea. They did not look alike nor did they sound similar, but the gung-ho, can-do, attitude exuded from both of them like a sweet fragrance.

"Let me make it easy for you Ensign, when we are not on duty, you may call me Stev."

She smiled, "Then please call me Dee."

"Alright, Dee, let's get TACTICS and the Ghost Rider talking to each other.

Hours later, Stev was lying on his back on the floor poking around the interior of the ELINT station. Dee was sitting in the station's chair while inputting commands.

"Try a reverse modulation frequency rotation, Dee."

"Like this Stev?"

"Yes, perfect."

"Stev?"

"Yes?"

"Why are we using three different encryption systems to send the same signal to ELINT, SIGINT, and COMINT?"

"It's a triple redundant system. Regardless of what you learned at the Academy, no encryption protocol is 100% secure. Even a fractal encryption can be brute-forced by a sufficiently large enough computer," Stev pulled himself out of the maintenance hatch. Seeing the comprehension on her face he continued. "With the triple redundancy, if, on the slim chance that someone actually breaks the encryption on one of the channels, Belle or the Ghost Rider's computer will notice the slight change in frequency on the compromised channel."

"Oh, and we're using three different encryption protocols to make it more difficult to compromise more than one," Dee added understanding completely.

"Correct. The real beauty of this set up is that when either Belle or the Ghost Rider's computer detects a compromise on any one of the three channels, that channel is isolated out of our loop and begins playing recordings of 20th century Terran poetry on the compromised channel."

"Really, Eliot? Frost?"

"Presley," Stev answered with a grin.

He replaced the maintenance hatch cover and stood. "Dee, I think that does it."

"Computer?" Stev asked.

"Yes?" came the twin chorus from Belle and the Ghost Rider.

"OK we're going to need to fix that," Stev said over his shoulder to Dee who snickered.

"Belle, initiate secure communications protocol Inferno."

"Authorization?" TACTICS's computer answered

"Stev-Alpha-514-67-Tango."

"Confirmed, awaiting signal from Ghost Rider."

"Ghost Rider, initiate secure communications protocol Inferno," Stev spoke the command.

"Authorization?" the shuttle's on board computer answered back.

"a'Tha th'kaecukali th'at isosanat'hrak*."

"Retinal scan unavailable, need secondary voice recognition code."

"Scarecrow-Alpha-Beta-Zed"

"Confirmed."

Looking at Ensign Der Plaats Stev said, "I think that about does it. I'm going to call up some test data. Would you like to monitor it while I take a break?"

"Certainly, Stev. Should I call you if there's any trouble?"

"Yes, please do." With that the Vulcan left TACTICS

Stev left Dee to monitor the test phase of the project. Phread was in the Ghost Rider and planned to make it hard for her. Stev smiled inwardly. He knew the little tribble could be a bit a prankster when it wanted. It had often remarked that he had the perfect cover for a practical joker. No one would ever suspect a "dumb" animal of pulling pranks.

Stev was still concerned though about his dream, however. He really needed someone to talk to. Had he still been on his own, he'd have talked with Phread. Phread was an ideal friend/partner; it combined the best qualities of pet and co-worker and had been his companion for more than 20 years. Phread, however, was busy right now. Talking to T'Aiya about this problem was not yet an option. Stev also needed to get his cover story firmly entwined in the ship's grapevine by telling it to more people. He could accomplish both needs by visiting Lieutenant Brunsheild.

Stev used the walk to refresh in his own mind the "official" version of the past ten years. Captain Burnett, Commander Downglade, and T'Aiya knew the truth. The rest of the crew did not and if he could help it, would not. Realizing that he was at his destination, he signaled at the door.

"Come in," a svelte European accent beckoned.

Stev entered the office of the ship's counselor and looked at the woman standing to greet him. He immediately noticed her green eyes. He felt somewhat uncomfortable. She seemed to be looking past his eyes and somewhat deeper into his psyche. Out of habit Stev dropped his emotional shields in place and his face took on a mask of neutrality. "Counselor," he stated in way of greeting.

"What can I do for you Lieutenant?" she asked warmly.

"I have been having unsettling dreams," the Vulcan replied.

"Really? Would you care to tell me about them," she said motioning for him to sit.

Stev sat down and was immediately on guard again as Lieutenant Brunsheild sat down directly across from and looked into his eyes once more.

"The dreams are an alternate version of my shuttle accident from ten years ago."

"Oh yes, Commander Cary has talked to me often about that incident."

"Commander Cary? You mean Buffy?" Stev asked trying to picture the Ensign he remembered wearing a Commander's uniform.

"A lot has changed in ten years, Lieutenant."

Stev thought immediately of T'Aiya, "Yes I suppose it has."

"You say your dreams are an alternate view of what happened. Buffy has never forgotten the incident and has told me many times what she perceived. Why don't you tell me what really happened from your point of view, then maybe we can determine what the dream means."

Glad to move away from the painful thoughts associated with leaving T'Aiya, Stev brought his thoughts back to why he was here, "I was serving aboard the Intrepid at the time. Admiral Lenartin was my Captain," Stev paused and swallowed the lump that was forming. "T'Aiya and I had just recently celebrated an anniversary," he paused again.

"Yes, go on."

"Buffy, JT, Charles and T'Aiya had transported down to the surface of Ebelin V. They were conducting a scientific survey of the planet's ion storms," he relaxed back into his chair and continued spinning out the tale the way it needed to be told…


"Captain, the ion storm is getting worse. Lieutenant Hawes is unable to get a lock on the landing party." Commander Phillips announced to the bridge.

"Damn!" Captain Dar Lenartin paced the bridge. "Stev," he looked in the direction of his helmsman.

"Yes sir."

"You're the best pilot on board. And in my personal opinion the best one in the fleet. Prep the Essex for launch. I want you on the surface in 10 minutes."

"Aye Sir," was all the Vulcan said as he left the bridge.

Fifteen minutes later Stev launched the Essex out of the shuttlebay and down to the planet's surface and pick up his crewmates. Stev expertly guided the craft in around the worsening ion storms and set it down on the planet's surface less than 100 meters away from his wife and crewmates. He popped the hatch.

Ensign Cary was the first to climb in. Lieutenants Turner and Hubbard were next. T'Aiya came in last. The apprehension on her face was very noticeable. She knew what was coming next but said nothing as she took the co-pilot's seat next to her husband. Stev could tell she was having second thoughts about their decision for him to leave the Intrepid and join up with October. She was still silent as she brushed two fingers along Stev's jaw line.

"I will miss you, my husband." The thought entered Stev's head via the telepathic bond.

"And I you, Aishamano." Stev replied.

Lieutenant Hubbard broke the silence as he ventured forth and clapped Stev on the back.

"I just knew the Captain was going to send you down to get us."

Stev smiled back at his friend, "That's because Captain Lenartin knows I'm the only one who'll put up with you Charles." Looking over his shoulder he directed his next comment to everyone, "Shall we go home?"

"What, no 'rap-rap' joke to mark the occasion?" Hubbard asked as he sat down.

"Please no, just concentrate on getting us home in one piece," JT chimed in.

"But I happen to like his jokes," Buffy said quietly, earning bemused stares from Charles and JT.

Stev grinned back at his friends, "I've got a really good one for you when we get back."…

"Rap-rap?" LT Brunsheild interrupted the Vulcan's narrative.

"One of my favorite forms of Terran humor," he replied.

"Don't you mean 'knock knock'?"

"No, doors are made out of duraplastic, not wood. When struck with the hand the sound the door makes today is 'rap-rap'."

Unsure of how to respond to that Brunsheild replied, "Ah, please continue."

"I had gotten the Essex up through the most violent parts of the atmosphere. Just as soon as we were within transporter range, an ion flux from the planet's surface spiked and took out the starboard nacelle…"


"Intrepid, this is Essex. We've just lost the starboard nacelle," Stev said as he stabbed at the communications panel.

"Say again Essex," Captain Lenartin's voice answered.

"We've lost our starboard nacelle," Stev repeated as another jolt shuddered the tiny craft.

"Essex, our sensors are showing that last ion burst damaged your reactor."

Stev quickly glanced at the engineering console, "Confirmed Intrepid, we've got about one minute before it breaches."

After a moment of silence Captain Lenartin's voice once again spoke but with a trace of regret, "Lieutenant, because of the ion interference we can only bring out four of you at a time."

Surprised to hear the code phrase coming out of his Captain's mouth, Stev replied, "Aye sir, take the team first. I'll keep the shuttle on course until you can pull me out."

Stev watched as the incandescent lights of the transporter bean began to envelope his friends. There was a touch of regret that came across the bond.

"Stev, wait….."

And then there was nothing. Stev activated the self destruct and set it for a five second delay. He then grabbed Phread and ran to the Essex's transporter. The Vulcan could see the fireball beginning as he faded out of the shuttle's interior.


"Buffy told me that Lieutenant Hawes was trying to get a transporter lock on you when the Essex's warp core breached. The Intrepid detected no outgoing transporter beam from the Essex. Starfleet determined that you were vaporized along with the shuttle," the counselor paused for moment caught up in the story.

She continued after a moment, "How did you survive? Official Starfleet records and the testimony from your friends and Captain all state that you died when the shuttle blew."

"Honestly, I don't know," Stev lied bald faced. "I awoke on the planet's surface with no memory of who I was or how I got there." Stev's mind consciously blocked the memory of beaming into October's quartermaster branch, where he and Phread had spent four months undergoing their surgeries.

Stev put a look of concentration on his face and continued after a brief pause, "I surmise that the same ion flux that blew the shuttle redirected my transporter beam to the planet's surface."

"And your tribble?"

"I had put him in my pocket at the beginning of my duty shift that morning."

"Admiral Lenartin approved of pets on the bridge?"

"No, Captain Lenartin did not. Phread was sick that morning and I did not want to leave it alone for the duty shift. It kept quiet," Stev spun the lie as natural as the truth.

"And what of the intervening ten years? Why did you not contact Starfleet sooner?

"Does she suspect something," Stev thought to himself. "I regained my memories of 'before' when I awoke in the Thunderchild's sickbay," he continued out loud. "I had been found by a gang affiliated with the Orion Syndicate. They told me I was part of their smuggler's band and that my name was Teven. I assume that they thought it would be advantageous to have a Vulcan's intellect working with them."

"You believed them?"

"Why would I not," Stev replied. Again the practiced lie came easily. "They had enough evidence to prove their claim and they had saved my life. I spent two years with the gang before I ventured out on my own," Stev said out loud as his mind consciously buried the fact that the gang was a front for his training officers.

"Why did you continue your life of crime?"

"Because at that point it was all I had known. And I was good at it."

"Ah, is that why you are having these dreams, Lieutenant? Guilt over the crimes you committed while not yourself?"

"Perhaps, what I've told you is a matter of public record. Check your database. You'll find that Teven of Vulcan is wanted criminal on at least fourteen worlds. Commander Downglade and I felt it would be advantageous in my new position to keep Teven around as it were. Therefore it would be illogical to be suffering from guilt."

"So why are you here?"

"My dreams of the accident start off the same way that it really happened. However, sometimes the dream ends with the death of my wi… T'Aiya, my friends, and myself."

"You came to me because you are having bad dreams?"

"No, because when I dream this version of the dream, the war'na'asha, something bad is on the horizon. I wanted to talk with someone who understands the Vulcan psyche. I have not served with Captain Burnett or Commander Downglade long enough to bother them with 'bad dreams'. You were the next logical choice."

"From what I know of Commander Downglade, he would not consider what you are experiencing 'bad dreams'." She looked at her patient notes on the PADD in front of her. "Considering your psychic potential, I think Commander Downglade would consider your dreams to be vital intelligence."

"You think, I should tell him?"

"Absolutely."

"Thank you, Counselor."

Stev left the counselor's office. He felt satisfied with himself. Not only was he able to get his cover story told to another member of the ship's crew but he had received information about Commander Downglade. He would talk with his immediate superior and let him know about his war'na'sha.

------------------

Stev was enjoying his walk back to TACTICS. He was interrupted by Commander Downglade's voice coming from the nearest comm panel.

"TACTICS to Stev."

Stev walked over to the comm panel, "Stev here."

"Stev, Ensign Der Plaats is having some difficulty with the new protocols the two of you installed this morning."

"I was already on my there, Sir. I will be there shortly. Stev out."

After running the remaining distance, Stev arrived at the access door to TACTICS. He stopped at the keypad and entered his code '8-6-7-5-3-0-9'. He could not help but whistle the tune associated with that number sequence. "I have a real tendency to let my hobby of 20th century Terran poetry influence my subconscious. I will need to work harder on eliminating that tell," he thought.

The door slid open and allowed him entrance. He rushed in and found Commander Downglade and Ensign Der Plaats huddled around the SIGINT station.

"Stev, maybe you can explain what's going on," the chief intelligence officer said.

"Sir?" Stev replied.

Downglade stepped away from the SIGINT screen. Stev could see animated tribbles dancing to a lively tune. Knowing immediately what was happening, Stev put his hand to his mouth to stifle a laugh. Ensign Der Plaats, oblivious to anything but the screen, was furiously pushing buttons.

"Is this what you and Der Plaats have been working on all morning?" the voice was gruff but Stev could see by the glint in Downglade's eyes that he also knew exactly what was going on.

Deciding to play along Stev answered, "No sir. Der Plaats and I had finished the hardware and software upgrades for a secure channel between TACTICS and the Ghost Rider," he paused. "I left for a little bit to go talk with Counselor Brunsheild and asked Ensign Der Plaats to monitor Phase 1 of the test."

The young ensign spoke up, her eyes never leaving the screen, "Everything was going fine sir until suddenly this screen," she gestured with a thrust of her head, "began to display on the ELINT station. Every few minutes the screen hops to a different station."

Just as the word 'hops' escaped her lips the dancing tribbles moved over to the COMMINT station.

"Arrrggh," the ensign yelled with frustration as she left SIGINT and went over to COMMINT.

"Stev I think it's time to put a stop to this. Poor Der Plaats is about ready to pull out her curly dark hair," Downglade said.

Understanding completely Stev walked over to the COMMINT station, "Phread it is time to stop."

"Yes Stev," the tribble's reply replaced the dancing tribbles.

"Fred? Who is Fred?" Ensign Der Plaats asked.

"Phread is my pet tribble," Stev replied. "Dee, Phread. Phread say hi to the nice ensign you've been tormenting."

"Hello D."

"Your tribble?" she asked incredulously.

"Yes his tribble," Commander Downglade answered. Looking at the COMMINT station where Phread's replies were currently coming through, he continued, "Phread, this is Commander Downglade."

"Yes Commander?"

"I let you do this once to test your abilities. If I EVER catch you messing with TACTICS again, I will personally make sure all of your enhancements are removed. AM I CLEAR?"

"Yes sir."

"A tribble?" was all Ensign Der Plaats could say.

Nodding his head at the young woman, Stev spoke to the COMMINT station, "Phread, please begin prepping the Ghost Rider for phase two of the test," he said.

"Will do."

"Dee, I am sorry for that. Phread had informed me earlier that he was going to attempt this once the synchronization was working properly."

"Your tribble did this?"

"Yes, I will explain later. Right now we are ready for the last test of the protocols."

"And those would be?" Commander Downglade asked.

"I plan on piloting the Ghost Rider out to the edge of the solar system and begin a data stream back to TACTICS. I was hoping that I could convince Dee to attempt to break the encryption from Starbase Earhart."

"If she can't break the encryption from Starbase Earhart knowing what protocols the two of you devised, it would be highly unlikely for someone who doesn't know the protocols to break the encryption," Downglade added immediately understanding Stev's intent.

"Correct sir," Stev replied.

"Dee, I won't make it an order. We're supposed to be on vacation," Downglade said with a smile.

"Sounds like fun sir," Ensign Der Plaats said as she stood.

She saluted both officers and then waited.

"Dismissed," Downglade said with a laugh. After she had gone he turned to Stev and said, "We really need to break her of that habit."

"Sir?" Stev asked when both of them had finished their laugh.

"What is it Stev?"

"You told me to never ignore a feeling."

Downglade's face took on serious look. "And the feeling you aren't ignoring would be?"

"Sir, I have been experiencing war'na'asha," Stev began.

"The omen, a harbinger of bad things to come," Downglade replied.

Stev raised an eyebrow. "You know your Vulcan psychology."

Downglade inclined his head accepting the compliment.

Stev continued, "Most of the time I experience a war'na'asha, meditation will allow me to pinpoint the source of my unease."

"However, today it did not," Downglade stated matter of factly.

Stev inclined his head slightly, affirming Downglade's perception.

"Yes, I know my Vulcan psychology. I also know it shows a level of trust in me to tell me what you just did. Vulcans normally consider a war'na'asha to be a very private thing," Downglade paused.

"Sir, you must know that I did not come to you first."

"No you talked with Counselor Brunsheild first because you did not know me. There is nothing wrong with that Lieutenant."

"Thank you sir. I still cannot pinpoint the source of my unease," Stev replied studiously not asking how Downglade knew he had been to see the counselor.

"Could it be something unresolved with your ex?"

"Possible sir, but I did spend two hours in meditation this morning asking myself the same question."

"A good intelligence officer eliminates the variables before making a conclusion. Talk with your wife. Then let me know if the war'na'asha returns."

"Aye sir."

"That was not an order Lieutenant, only a suggestion."

"I know," Stev said with a smile. "Permission to take her with me on the Ghost Rider's test flight?"

"Granted. Oh before I forget about it, Captain Burnett has approved your recommendations for a computer upgrade."

"Thank you, sir."

"Get out of here Lieutenant," Downglade said with a grin.

Stev left TACTICS and looked at the first chronometer he saw; T'Aiya would normally be on duty at this time. Though since the ship was docked, she could very well be enjoying her shore leave. He stopped at a computer interface.

"Computer, give me the location of Lt. Llire."

"Lt. Llire is in her quarters."

Stev stopped and thought. "Why would she be in her quarters at this time of day? Perhaps I do not know her as well as I used to," he thought. He thumbed the nearby comm panel.

"Stev to Lt. Llire."

"Yes Stev, what can I do for you?" her voice answered flatly.

Startled by the monotone answer he was momentarily at a loss for words.

"Stev?" she asked.

Brought back to his senses he replied this time, "T'Aiya, I am in need of assistance with a project. Could you meet me in the shuttlebay?"

Stev could almost hear the silent sigh of resignation before the reply.

"Very well, I will meet you there in 10 minutes."

Stev was not sure of what he had done wrong. He could detect pain in T'Aiya's voice. Was she still troubled by his sudden reappearance? Could it be his presence causing her this distress? Stev had no answers. He continued to walk to the shuttlebay.

He arrived just as she did. Once again he was surprised. He did not sense her arrival. The shocked look on his face caused her to raise an eyebrow.

"You look surprised to see me Lieutenant. Did you think I would not come," she asked.

"No, I just did not sense your arrival."

T'Aiya remembered Stev's ability to key in on her presence telepathically. "You have been dead to me for ten years. It should not surprise you that I am no longer familiar to you," she stated with a clipped professionalism.

"You are correct, it should not have surprised me," he replied.

"What is the nature of the project that needs my assistance?"

"I need a pilot for the Ghost Rider while I check the new security measures."

"You are a better pilot than I. Surely you do not need someone to fly the ship for you."

"No, you are correct. I do not need a co-pilot for this test. Having a co-pilot would make it easier for me to monitor the test while someone else tests the repairs that have been made to the shuttle. Besides, it will give us a chance to talk."

"Very well," she replied.

Stev pressed his palm against a certain portion of the bulkhead near the hatch. The hidden scanner recognized Stev's palm print and opened the hatch.

Using a gallant two-handed gesture Stev indicated that T'Aiya should enter first.

"Ever the gentlemen," she replied with a tight smile.

A gleeful squeal erupted from the little ball of brown fur sitting near the computer interface.

"Neila, Neila, Neila…," scrolled across the monitor as Phread continued to chitter happily.

T'Aiya looked at the screen and then at Stev with clear expression of curiosity. Neila unwound itself off of T'Aiya's wrist and morphed into its preferred form. It then hopped from her wrist and onto the surface where Phread was sitting. Neila looked back at Stev and T'Aiya winked, and then curled itself around its former playmate.

"I see Phread is happy to see us," T'Aiya commented

"He has talked about little else since we came on board," Stev replied.

T'Aiya responded, amused, "Talked?"

"Yes, talked."

Stev then proceeded to tell T'Aiya and Neila all about Phread's enhancements.

"Do you not think it was cruel of the October scientists to experiment on poor Phread like that?" she asked after he had finished.

"Originally the scientists were only going to hide technology within him. As they proceeded with their augmentation they discovered that tribbles are in fact a sentient species."

"Really?" T'Aiya asked with an engineer's inquisitiveness.

"Yes, Phread made the initial contact via a lab computer. Some of his enhancements are entirely his idea." He glanced back at the shifter and tribble, "It looks like our friends can entertain themselves." Stev indicated the cockpit of the Ghost Rider, "Shall we?"

T'Aiya was silent as she took the co-pilot's seat. Stev, taking note of her silence and trying to ascertain the reason for her silence, was quiet as well while he started the shuttle's engines and went through pre-flight. Finally everything was ready for the flight.

"Ghost Rider to Thunderchild."

"Go ahead Ghost Rider," Lieutenant Reede's voice replied.

"Requesting permission to depart for testing of new security protocols."

"Commander Downglade just informed me that you'd be taking this flight," Commander Hauser's voice replied. "Permission granted."

Slowly the shuttlebay doors opened. Stev could see Starbase Earhart's space doors open as well in the distance. The Vulcan skillfully maneuvered the craft out of the shuttlebay, across the interior of space dock and out into the cold vastness of space. His heard T'Aiya's intake of breath as she saw the stars. Stev had almost forgotten her love of actually seeing space.

"Beautiful, aren't they?"

"Yes, I never get tired of seeing the stars."

T'Aiya lapsed into silence once again.

Stev waited for a few moments. When it was clear that T'Aiya did not want to speak again, he toggled the communicator.

"Ghost Rider to TACTICS."

"Downglade here,"

"Commander, I am starting the data loop. Ensign Der Plaats should be in Starbase Earhart's communications area trying to break the security protocols. Beginning transmission now."

"Confirmed," there was a pause then Downglade continued. "Oh thank you for transmitting the works of William Shakespeare translated into Klingon."

"You are quite welcome," Stev replied ignoring the sarcasm.

Stev fiddled with the computer for a bit. Satisfied that it was doing what it needed to do he turned and looked at T'Aiya.

"Aishamano…"

"You have no right to call me that anymore," she interrupted.

Stev sat there for a moment and gathered his thoughts, "T'Aiya," he finally began, "one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you alone was to inform you of the cover story for my ten year absence."

Stev could see the hairs on the back of her neck bristle even though her face remained impassive.

"According to Starfleet records I have spent the past ten years suffering from a memory loss and working for the Orion Syndicate."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because you deserve to know and because I need you to keep my cover. I am still an agent for October."

"So you'll be leaving again?" Stev could hear the turmoil behind her words.

"No, the Thunderchild will be my base of operations."

"Why should I believe you?"

"Because I would never lie to you."

"You did twelve years ago."

"When?"

"When you promised me you would never leave me. Two years later you did just that."

"T'Aiya we had discussed this. You and I both agreed that I was the best man for the job. To let anyone else do it would've been a dereliction of duty."

"No, you wanted the job. I wanted you to be happy," she said holding the tears back.

"I thought you didn't remember," Stev said confused.

"I don't, not yet. Neila played a diary entry that I had made in case you came back. In it I am telling myself that I agreed with your decision because it seemed to be what you wanted."

"But I thought we had agreed," Stev tried to answer.

"We did, and then you left me," she interrupted, the tears flowing now. "You left me thinking that you had died, and I was unprepared for the consequences of that decision."

"T'Aiya we did what we did because of the needs of the many."

"Yes but it left me unprepared for your return"

"October never thought I'd be coming back. I didn't either."

"I know, but your return has caused me to remember what it was that I wanted."

"What is it you wanted?"

"I wanted to go with you. I would have gone with you. You never even asked me."

Stev was dumbfounded. She was correct; he had never thought to ask T'Aiya if she would be interested in leaving the Intrepid and coming with him. October had not indicated that they would be interested in a husband and wife team. He felt cheated. Instead of spending the last ten years alone he could have insisted that T'Aiya was part of the deal. He had done that for Phread.

Stev realized that he had been acting too logically. He had followed orders. The irony was that if had followed his own convictions and listened to his emotions, T'Aiya would not have gone through what she did. He looked at her sitting in the co-pilot's seat crying. He longed to take her in his arms and promise that he was back. How he wanted to erase the past ten years of pain that he had caused her. He knew he could not.

"T'Aiya, I am sorry. I never intended to hurt you or cause you pain. I ask your forgiveness."

Her shoulders dropped as she released some of the tension in her body, "I have already forgiven you," she said in a quiet tone, "but I'm not sure I can ever trust you again. Even with Vulcan training, dealing with your death was almost impossible. I'm not sure I could do it again. I'm not sure I want to take that risk."

"I can accept that. May I ask you a favor?"

"What?" she replied the tears slowing.

"Please allow me the chance to earn your trust once I again. I care deeply for T'Aiya Llire," Stev said with a choked voice. "Had I realized the pain you would endure, I would not have left you."

T'Aiya looked at him for a moment.

"I will not allow myself to lose my heart again. It may take a long while before I have learned to trust you once more, but yes, you have the opportunity to earn my trust once again."

"T'hy'la?" he asked.

She nodded her head and smiled, "T'hy'la, one step at a time."

Lexicon:

aishamano – beloved (used as a term of endearment)

war'na'asha – lit. bad dream

for a Vulcan it is usually a harbinger of unpleasant
events in the near future.

a'Tha - 'immanence'

direct experience of the being or force responsible for the creation and maintenance of the universe.

kaekali – sense/feel

sankat'hrak – temperature

t'hy'la – friend, lifelong companion

more than just a casual acquaintance

*loosely translated – "Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising"