by Travis Anderson
Vallis suddenly let a curse fly out of her mouth. For coming from a nonsexual culture, Riker was surprised that she essentially demanded that he exchange fluids with her again. He finished disabling his device, the last of his allotted weapons, and moved to her side.
“What is it?”He asked jovially.
“This bastard just armed itself,” she said with trepidation in her voice.
“What?” he blurted. “How?”
“If I knew that, it wouldn’t have happened,” she grated. “I think I rushed it too much. You would have gotten ahead of me and I was trying to beat you.”
He noted that Vallis wasn’t laying the blame at his feet. She was simply stating a fact. He gently placed a hand on her back.
“I’m done now, so let’s see if we can diffuse this sucker together,” he offered. “I faced worse hazards then this for eight years on Nervalla IV. Every day was a new adventure. I brushed with death constantly when some piece of equipment failed or overloaded. If it wasn’t that, then the elements and the atmosphere were trying to kill me. What can one bomb do?”
She gave him a grateful smile. “Okay. We can do this. But, just so you know, this thing could eat our flesh if it discharges.”
“I’ll never miss it,” he jested.
“We need to stop the matter-antimatter annihilation. I’ll focus on the injectors and you work on removing the deuterium and antideuterium pods,” she decided.
“Yes, ma’am,” he agreed enthusiastically.
Riker focused on his assigned task. The deuterium pod was easy to seal and disengage. The antimatter pod’s seal was damaged, though. He couldn’t shut it down with the antideuterium. This problem, combined with the disconnected deuterium pod, was making the intermix ratio destabilize and a warp core breach was inevitable if nothing changed.
He stripped the deuterium pod’s seal. Deuterium was basically energized hydrogen, so venting it into the atmosphere wouldn’t create any lasting harm. Using components from that seal, he rebuilt the damaged antimatter seal. He managed to seal off the pod and remove it.
Unfortunately, the intermix ratio had gone wildly out of control. There was too much antimatter and the warp core was dangerously unstable. Vallis was struggling to regain control, but at this point, destruction was a foregone conclusion.
“It’s going to blow,” Riker forced her to realize. “We need to get to a safe distance.”
She shook her head. “We’ll never make it on foot. What we need to do is vent the warp core.”
“Say what?” Her words gave Riker an absurd thought.
“We need to vent the core,” she repeated.
“Can you unlock the magnetic seal around the injectors?” he suddenly asked.
“Yeah, but then the energy will leak through the injector,” she protested.
“Through the injector, through the roof, and out into space,” Riker finished her thought.
“Thereby venting the core!” She grinned, “Not a problem. Hang on!”
She released the magnetic interlocks and scrambled away as a stream of energy burst forth like a volcanic eruption. It blew through the roof and expended itself out into space. Fortunately, air traffic was virtually unknown on Hadon II. The primary risk had been the orbital parking traffic. As it happened, several freighters were close to the expulsion, but they weren’t directly hit by it.
Riker shielded Vallis’ body with his own as fragments from the roof rained down. The whole manor house was shaken by the blast. The structure began to collapse within itself. The suspected Syndicate goons fled the scene. Halifax and Wren sought cover as best they could as they bolted outside.
“I hope Riker and Vallis survived that,” Wren wished.
Halifax was livid. “Of all the idiotic things…”
“Commander, I don’t think now is the time,” Wren advised. “Our first concerns are to secure the remaining weapons and conduct a search and rescue for our crewmates…assuming they’re still alive.”
“Riker had better be alive,” Halifax declared. “I want the satisfaction of presenting that sonuvabitch to a review board.”
Wren cast her a disparaging look, then pulled out her tricorder and started walking into the wreckage of the house.
Several hours later, the Gandhi returned to find the away team shaken but otherwise unharmed. Borien led an engineering team to the surface and was delighted to discover that all of the remaining isolytic weapons had already been disabled. He was also of the opinion that Riker and Vallis’ actions saved the lives of everyone on the planet. Halifax wasn’t as forgiving.
As the engineers began transporting the weapons to the ship, Wren gathered a security team and tore the colony apart as he looked for suspects. She also headed back to the arms cache she and Vallis had stumbled upon. Not surprisingly, the pods were all missing. Tricorders picked up traces of a transporter effect.
Returning to the ship, Wren informed the captain of what transpired. Any of the two dozen transports in orbit could have moved those pods. Or it could even have been transports that departed while the Gandhiwas out of the system. She requested permission to conduct a search and seizure of every ship in orbit. Moneii quietly turned her down.
Moneii was most interested in hearing Halifax’s after-action report. The XO was disturbed as she admitted, “We were successful despite ourselves.”
“I’m afraid I‘ll need clarification on that,” Moneii stated.
“It wasn’t bad enough that the plan was reckless to begin with, but Ensign Vallis nearly detonated an isolytic device on the surface,” Halifax explained. “As it was, she was damn lucky no ships were parked in orbit over the weapon.”
“I thought Lt. Riker’s improvisation was admirable given the circumstances,” Moneii opined.
Halifax snorted derisively, “If it hadn’t been for Riker, we wouldn’t have been there to begin with.”
“And the isolytic warheads might very well be in Cardassian hands now,” Moneii rebutted.
“We could have blocked Ocett without resorting to a ground mission,” Halifax argued. “It was wasteful and irresponsible.”
“And you place the blame squarely at Lt. Riker’s feet?” Moneii asked.
“Yes,” Halifax said in a surly tone.
“So I take it you are withdrawing your recommendation to make him second officer?” Moneii asked.
“Yes, and not only that, I’m about to put such a black mark on his record he’ll never see Lt. Commander,” Halifax declared.
“I may not be able to sign off on his fitness report if you do,” Moneii warned.
“I understand,” Halifax assured her.
Riker was down at the Grimshaw. He’d received his dressing down by Halifax and notification that his planned promotion had been negated. He took another drink of his whiskey. It was the real stuff and he was savoring every drop. He still wasn’t certain why he’d been allowed shore leave, but permission had come straight from the captain, so he didn’t waste time arguing.
“I’ll buy the next round,” Kalinda offered as she came to sit beside him.
“I was wondering if I’d see you again,” Riker admitted. “I assumed you had taken off by now. Guns and all.”
Kalinda smiled. “I just wanted to check in on you first. Besides, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I just stopped by for a drink on my way home.”
“And where is home?” Riker wondered.
“Ronara Prime,” she answered. “Ever heard of it?”
“It’s in the Demilitarized Zone. That’s about all I know,” he admitted.
“It used to be a nice place to live,” Kalinda sighed. “Someday it will be again.”
“Why are you really here?” Riker just came out and asked.
“I appreciate what you did with the isolytic burst. That kind of quick thinking is appreciated in certain parts, even if Starfleet is too stupid to recognize brilliance in action,” she declared.
“And just who would the people be in these parts?” he inquired.
Kalinda shared a sly smile with him. “You’ll figure it out when you need to.”
She slid off her stool and left as suddenly as she’d arrived. Twenty minutes later, Wren came storming into the tavern with four security officers. She spotted Riker and went to his side.
“The woman who contacted you earlier about the Cardassian connection, has she been here?” Wren wanted to know.
“Haven’t seen her,” Riker lied despite not quite knowing why he was doing so.
“Well, if you see her, alert me or one of my officers,” Wren instructed.
“What’s this about?” Riker asked.
“She’s a Maquis,” Wren explained.
“And what’s a ‘Maquis?’”
Wren had an exasperated look on her face. “Don’t you follow the news? They’re terrorists that run around the Demilitarized Zone killing anything and everything Cardassian. They’re wanted by both Starfleet and the Central Command.”
“Too bad I haven’t seen her then,” Riker said smoothly.
“For some reason I don’t entirely believe you right now,” Wren admitted, “but scuttlebutt has it you have your own problems right now, so I’ll let it go.”
Riker saluted her with his glass and she and her team left.
Later, in his quarters aboard the Gandhi, Riker began a search of records concerning the Maquis. What he found intrigued him. They were rebels fighting a perceived injustice. He could relate to that.
He pondered Kalinda’s parting words. He wasn’t ready to leave Starfleet just yet. But if he were, he could think of worse fates than helping freedom fighters win back their homes. It was definitely something to think about.
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