By Lorraine J. Anderson
"Captain Benjamin Sisko throttled the Cardassian with a bottle of catsup..."
Captain Jonathan Archer looked up from the paper before him and laughed. "Trip, you've got to be kidding. Catsup? Where in the world did you find this?"
Tucker speared a piece of beef wandering around in the gravy on his plate. "Rumor has it that one of my ancestors worked at a publication called 'Incredible Tales' in the 1950s. I don't think it was this author, Benjamin Russell, but…" he shrugged, "…you never know. They were taken from the files when the publication folded and passed down through the family."
Archer grinned. "Taken? Or stolen?"
Tucker grinned. "My family's reputation precedes me!" He shrugged. "Can't tell. Most of the staff had a grudge against the rag."
"Where'd you get it?"
Tucker smiled. "My sister sent it to me. Something caught her eye." He took another bite. "Keep reading. I think you'll find it interesting."
"Hmmm…. Sounds like a bar fight. Fight scene, fight scene… oh."
"'Sisko finally pulled himself back. After all, the Cardassian hadn't actually done anything but insult the Federation and one of Sisko's heroes, Captain Jonathan Archer.'"
Archer looked up, his eyebrows raised. "What an incredible coincidence."
"I've been beginning to wonder if it were just that." Tucker took a drink. "After all, didn't Daniels talk about a monument to a Federation and say that you would have a hand in forming it?"
"Well, yes…" Archer grabbed a piece of celery and munched it.
"Isn't Starfleet considering naming outposts 'Deep Space' stations?"
"So? Besides, I hear they're leaning toward 'Starbases.'" Archer took a bite of chicken and cocked his head to one side. "Those terms aren't copyrighted, are they?"
"You need to read the whole story. I think you'll find the bartender very interesting."
The communicator on the wall chirped. Archer sighed, got up and toggled it. "Archer."
"Captain, I think you should come up to the bridge," T'Pol said.
"We've detected a weak distress signal. It appears to come from a life-pod."
Archer raised an eyebrow at Tucker, who shrugged, ate the last bite on his plate, and got up. "Pull it in."
He could almost see T'Pol shrug. "There doesn't seem to be a life-form aboard the pod. The markings on the outside seems to indicate great age."
Travis Mayweather interrupted. "Captain, another ship has appeared on our sensors."
"Can you identify it?"
"It… appears to be a combination of styles," T'Pol said.
"I'll be right up." Archer looked at Tucker. Tucker was furrowing his brow and grabbed at the pages, stuffing them into his uniform. "You coming?"
Tucker's eyes narrowed. "I think I better."
"'Let me tell you a story,' Sisko said to the Cardassian, his normal calm returning to him. 'Jonathan Archer was no fool and no coward, as you seem to think. He had to think fast on his feet, as all of us who are far away from the chain of command have to do…'"
As Archer and Tucker reached the bridge, Hoshi Sato looked up at them. "They're hailing us."
"Universal translator kick in yet?"
"It didn't have to, Captain. We've encountered these people before."
Archer raised his brows. "Oh?"
Archer opened his mouth and closed it. "Oh. The big-eared people."'
"The people who wanted oomox." T'Pol muttered.
Archer screwed up his face. "What?" He shook his head as T'Pol gave him a dead-pan look. He faced the screen. "Open a channel." He smiled, although he really didn't want to. "What can we do for you folks?"
"We claim this life-pod as our rights of salvage."
"I believe we saw…" He turned a questioning look toward T'Pol, who nodded. "… it first."
"We were cloaked."
"If you were cloaked, how do we know you saw it first?"
Archer smiled. "Krem, I thought I told you I didn't want to see your or your species anywhere near anything having to do with Starfleet."
"Um… we were on our way home…?"
Archer heard a low voice in the background that sounded a bit panicked.
"Sorry, Captain Archer," Krem said anxiously. "We'll leave you the life-pod. Cut…"
"They're back off rapidly." T'Pol said, raising an eyebrow. "Cloak is going back on."
Archer looked at T'Pol. "Did we scare them?"
T'Pol looked at her instruments calmly. "I doubt it." She looked down again. "There is, however, another vessel on the long-range sensors."
"Can you tell whose ship it is?"
She looked again, manipulating a control. "Klingon."
"Let's get it on board."
Tucker looked down at the papers in his uniform, then up, a bit bemused. "Captain, before we take that life-pod aboard, I suggest we scan it quite extensively." He lowered his voice. "I would suggest you call Malcolm to the bridge."
Archer moved toward Tucker. "You're thinking there's ordnance on a life-pod?"
Tucker chewed his upper lip. "Call it a hunch."
T'Pol looked up from her station. "I don't scan anything but a dead body."
Archer stared at Tucker. "Call Mr. Reed to the bridge."
"'After the encounter with the Ferengi… which was the last time anyone in Starfleet saw them until 2364, by the way…'
"'Ferengi are no fools. They knew when a venture had no profit,' the bartender interrupted. Sisko glanced at him, then turned his attention back to the Cardassian.
"'Archer listened to Mr. Tucker and called Malcolm Reed to the bridge…'"
"There is something there," Reed said, looking up from his board. "The trigger's on a very low frequency, but I do believe it's explosive."
"Do we dare bring it aboard the ship?"
Reed looked at the instruments and shook his head. "No. Oh, no. We'd blow out the shuttlebay."
"The… shuttle seems to be on some sort of combination lock. I believe that if we don't transmit just the right frequency while we're trying to open it, we'll just blow it up."
"Besides," Tucker said. "We don't have that many waldos to spare. If it's all right to you, I'd rather keep all that we have. It's a long ways between populated star systems."
Archer made a noise down in his throat. "But why is this pod out here? Why is it explosive? Why are both the Klingons and the Ferengi after it? Aren't you at all curious?"
Tucker pressed his lips together. "I hate to put a wet blanket on this… but, no, not if it risks a life."
Archer turned almost violently toward Reed. "Can we transport anything out of there?"
Reed looked down again. "Maybe."
"Have Dr. Phlox meet us in the transporter room." Archer strode toward the lift. Tucker, with an inaudible curse, followed close behind. Malcolm looked at T'Pol and both of them crowded into the lift after them.
"'… Phlox was a Denobulan, and an unusual member of his species, too…'
"'Commander, does this story have a point?' the Cardassian interrupted.
"'You haven't figured it out?' Sisko said, fingering the catsup bottle…"
"I really recommend against this," Tucker said grimly. He pulled his hand back from the transporter terminal.
Phlox looked at Tucker. "Aren't you curious to know…"
Tucker chewed his lip and looked at Archer. "I just think this is a really bad idea."
"Captain," Phlox said amiably. "I've scanned what I could of the body, but in order to find out more about it, we should get it aboard the ship."
"Captain," Tucker said. "I think Malcolm should do a further scan. I have a feeling this body is booby-trapped."
"A feeling?" Archer said.
"A hunch?" Tucker said.
"Not that I object to hunches," Phlox said. "But what I'm finding out about this species is fascinating. For example, he seems to be closer to his reptilian ancestors than many of the species I've encountered. I'd love to see his DNA, and I can't do that with a scan."
"Mayweather to Archer."
"We'll continue this…" He toggled the transporter room switch. "Archer."
"It's the Klingons," Tucker muttered. "And the captain won't give you his name."
"Captain, a Klingon ship just dropped out of warp," Mayweather said. Archer turned to stare at Tucker.
"They're demanding we answer," Sato added.
Archer raised an eyebrow. "I'll be right up." He looked at Tucker sideways. "Trip, you're with me."
"Yes, Captain." Tucker said calmly.
"Sisko sat back and looked at the Cardassian.
"'You're saying that the body was…' the Cardassian said.
"'I can show you the records,' Sisko said. 'But that's not the point.'
"'So what's the damn point!' the Cardassian shouted. The bar went silent, then the Dabo table started up again.
"'I'm coming to it," Sisko said."
They reached a lift. After a moment, Archer said, "What's going on?"
Tucker sighed. "Captain, at this point, I'm not sure I should say."
"What do you think the Klingons are after?"
The lift door opened onto the bridge. "What do you think?"
A Klingon was on the screen as Archer entered. "Captain Archer."
Archer smiled. "I'm at a disadvantage. I don't believe I know your name, Captain…"
"You're sitting on our property," the Klingon said.
Archer glanced at Tucker, then looked around behind him. "I'm not sitting."
The Klingon looked disgusted. "The escape pod is our property. It entered in our space. We've been pursuing it."
"I didn't see your name on it. Besides, I had the impression that the Ferengi saw it first," Archer said amiably.
"Ferengi." The Klingon made it sound like a swear word.
He saw Tucker stir, and looked sideways at him. Tucker had pulled out the papers from his uniform and were staring at them. "Captain?"
"Just a second, Captain," Archer said to the Klingon. He gestured to pause communications. "Trip?"
"Let the Klingons have him."
Archer looked at the screen, then at Tucker. Tucker rustled the papers gently.
He raised both eyebrows. "You've got to be…"
Tucker shook his head.
Archer grinned slightly, looked at Tucker, then shook his head. "Hoshi?"
The Klingon reappeared. "I've decided you can have the pod."
Phlox was exiting the lift. "Captain! The loss to scientific advancement…" he sputtered.
"Sorry, Doctor," Archer said. "However… my gunnery officer has something to tell you. Malcolm?"
"Tell our friend what you found."
Malcolm rocked backward. "You've got to be kidding."
"That's an order, Malcolm." Archer looked sternly at him.
"If you will check at this frequency," Malcolm said reluctantly, then pushed a button. "I believe you will find that the pod is explosive." He looked at Archer. "We haven't found the right frequency to open the pod."
"Why are you telling us this?" the Klingon said gruffly.
Archer shrugged and looked at him sharply. "Isn't that what friends do?"
The Klingon stared at him, then barked a laugh. He gestured off-screen, and the screen reverted to the star field.
"Travis, back the ship away from the pod."
Mayweather looked back at Archer, then shrugged and touched a control.
Tucker was looking at the sheets of paper he held in his hand. His eyes were wide, and he was a little white.
"Boom?" Archer said.
"No boom," Tucker said.
"I think we need a talk," Archer said. He gestured to Tucker, and they both exited the bridge.
Phlox raised his eyebrows. "I think they both need a long rest," he said to no-one in particular.
"Sisko leaned back and took a long drink of his water.
"'Was the body a Cardassian?' the alien said slowly.
"'Archer never found out. And I understand the Klingons never said. I'm betting they just disposed of the pod.'
"'How did Commander Tucker know that Archer shouldn't try to open the pod?'
"Sisko looked puzzled. 'I don't think anybody ever found out. And Tucker and Archer never talked about it.'
"The Cardassian sat back and looked philosophical. 'But what was the point of the story?' the Cardassian said, looking curiously at Sisko.
"'The point is… that it calmed me down enough that I don't want to kill you now,' Sisko said.
"The Cardassian stared incredulously at him, then laughed. 'Another time, perhaps?'
"Sisko smiled dangerously at him. 'Another time.'
"You're saying," Archer said, "that the pages changed as you looked at him."
Tucker crossed his heart. "Swear to God."
"Holy 'Back to the Future'," Archer said.
The two men stared at the pages in front of them on the Captain's mess table.
"You know," a new voice said. "There is a simple solution."
Tucker almost tipped his chair over. "Crewman Daniels? But you're…"
"…dead? Dead is relative." Daniels walked to the table. "These stories are dangerous."
Archer smiled. "Seems like that they saved our lives."
Daniels didn't smile back. "They were meant to." He looked at the papers. "Fascinating."
"Any more than a dead crewmember that travels in time?" Tucker said.
"And speaks in riddles?" Archer said. "Don't forget that."
"The Prophets and Sisko…." He glanced sharply at Tucker. "I would really suggest you not mention these stories to anyone else. It could really… screw up the future."
"There is… will be a Benjamin Sisko? And all the rest?"
Daniels stared at him.
"O… kay." Daniels held out his hand. Tucker handed over the story. "Not that anybody would believe it."
Daniels shrugged and disappeared.
"Sisko watched the Cardassian leave the bar, and suddenly, inexplicably, thought of the writer, Benjamin Russell. He looked up and saw a dark-haired, bland looking crewman whom he had never seen before.
"The crewman nodded, then disappeared into the crowd of the Promenade of Deep Space Nine."