Time Bomb

“Time Bomb” by Walter Chmara

“I wanted to let you know that your orders have not changed,”
said Commander Sisko. “Captain Picard still needs you aboard his ship
before they arrive at their next destination. Our problem is how we get
you there. It wouldn’t be practical to divert the *Enterprise* all the
way here for one person, and at the moment, we really don’t have any
vessels docked here that could cover the distance required in the time we
have to get you to the rendezvous point.”
“I can see how that would be a problem,” answered Ensign Ro
Laren. “How about something that could give me a lift to someplace
closer? Somewhere I could catch a faster transport?”
“My first officer is running a computer search right now, looking
into the possibility. You’ll be notified when a suitable window of travel
is discovered. Meanwhile, I’d suggest using the time you have with us to
enjoy the sights and offerings of the merchants around the Promenade.
Have you ever visited the station before?”
“Twice. Once during the occupation and once after. Forgive me,
Commander, but I’m not very enthusiastic about the thought of spending
too much time here. Even the architecture of this place brings back bad
memories.”
“I understand. Well there’s not much we can do about the
architecture, but we have some highly professional people-pleasers
working here. If they can’t take your mind off your troubles, no one
can.”
They walked together as they conversed. Presently, a second
Bajoran woman approached, but she wasn’t wearing a Starfleet uniform.
“Major,” Sisko said. “Allow me to introduce you to Ensign Ro
Laren of the starship *Enterprise*. Ensign, this is my first officer,
Major Kira Nerys.”
Kira only nodded to Ro. “Commander, we may have a ride for the
ensign pulling in right now. There’s an Odarian trading ship in the
process of docking at upper pylon three. With a little financial
incentive, there’s a good chance the captain may loan it to us for the
round trip.”
Sisko smiled at Ro. “It may be that the Prophets have heard you.”

The Odarian captain was not a pleasant sight to most humanoids,
resembling a moss-covered, human-sized platypus. Roughly. It was hard to
compare them to anything else in the universe.
“Let me get this straight,” it responded to Kira’s proposal. “You
want to pay me to turn my ship around and take it two weeks back in the
direction I just *came* from? I’d almost take you up on it, since I try
to never turn down a chance to make a little extra on the side. But I’ve
just finished a month’s worth of travel in that tub, promising myself at
least four days of Dabo and drink at Quark’s as a reward for putting up
with this aged hulk’s grunts and groans. She only barely passes safety
inspections, which satisfies my boss, but not me. I hope you understand,
but all I want right now is to get blotto.”
It began to move off, but Kira jumped in front of it. She was
never one to take a simple “no” for an answer. “Look, what if I offered
you both?”
“What do you mean?”
“You can stay here at the station and relax. I’ll pilot your
ship, myself. I’ll even bring it back in better condition than it is now.
Where are you going to find a better deal than that?”
The Odarian laughed raspingly, giving her a playful slap on the
back. “You have a deal, Bajoran!”

“I don’t like the idea of doing without my first officer for at
least a month. Especially since I have plenty of other people I can spare
for a simple piloting mission,” Sisko told Kira as he sat behind his
desk.
“I doubt I would have gotten any cooperation without any personal
assurances from me. Would you trust your livelihood to a subordinate when
you could have someone of a more advanced rank take care of it?”
“You have a point I don’t dispute. I still don’t like the idea of
doing without two of my best people for that long.”
“Two? What…?” Kira was perplexed.
“Chief O’Brien’s going with you. Odarian traders have a
reputation for breakdowns that rival the one this station has.”
Kira rolled her eyes. “Well. The more the merrier, I always say.”

When Ro was summoned to the docking port of upper pylon three for
boarding, she found the airlock wide open. She stepped through it, into
the Odarian ship. Inside, she found a group of Bajoran engineers hard at
work around the core drive of the vessel. They were being supervised by
none other than a grinning Chief Miles O’Brien.
“Hello, stranger!” he greeted her, after wiping the grease off
his hand and offering it to her.
“Chief! I wondered if I’d be bumping into you around here.”
“It’s more than just a bump,” interrupted Kira, who entered the
compartment from the direction of the bow. “He’s coming along for the
ride. You two know each other, I gather?”
“Chief O’Brien served on the *Enterprise* for several years
before he transferred here,” explained Ro. Turning to O’Brien, “Does this
mean you’re coming back, Chief?”
“Hardly. Commander Sisko felt that this bucket might not hold
together for the trip, so I’m to make sure it does. Lord knows, that’s
what I’ve been trying to do with DS-Nine ever since I got here.”
“What *would* we do without you, Chief?” Kira said humorlessly,
patting O’Brien’s shoulder before leaving the compartment for parts
astern.
For a moment, his face held a smile of pride, but that fell
quickly when it sank in just how Kira had said it. Unless he was
mistaken, it sounded like sarcasm. “Hey! What’s that supposed to…?”
It was too late, though. Kira had already left.
“So,” said Ro. “How is Mrs. O’Brien and, uh, the little one?”
“Molly. They’re both just fine. Keiko founded a school here for
the youngsters. She’s a natural at being a teacher, and the kids just
love her. And Molly’s grown quite a bit–”
“Chief, I think you should have a look at this!” one of the
Bajoran technicians called out to him.
“Excuse me, Ro.” O’Brien turned and moved off to the trouble
spot.

About three hours later, the technicians departed as O’Brien said
his goodbyes to them. Kira was on the bridge and in the pilot’s seat,
making final prelaunch checks. Ro was poking around on the cargo deck.
What the Odarian had brought on this ship was destined for Bajor,
and all of it had been moved to a hold on the station. Sisko promised it
would be shuttled to the planet in runabouts as soon as they became
available. Whatever the captain deemed unnecessary to unload had
remained, and it fascinated Ro.
During the occupation, she wouldn’t have thought twice about
breaking into someone else’s cargo if she thought it would benefit her in
some way. But that was then. Today, the imperative of her people was to
learn to be civilized once more. To fight the Cardasssian meant to stoop
to his level. Many Bajorans had to do that, then had to find a way to
live with the ugliness they had found within themselves. It would be a
long and painful readjustment.
Ro needed to convince herself that the beast within her was
called out because of the times, and that he beauty inside her hadn’t
died during its long absence. Ignoring the urge to tear open one of those
odd containers told her more about herself than its contents ever could.

“Sisko to Odarian trader,” issued the commander’s voice from the
subspace speaker set just above Kira’s head.
“Go ahead, Commander.”
“Before you shove off, I’ve got another passenger for you.”
Kira shook her head. “If someone would have told me yesterday
that today I’d be an interstellar bus driver in an Odarian junkpile
barely passing for a starhopper,. I would have raised my voice at the
very least!”
“I hate to keep doing this to you, Major, but this wasn’t my
idea. I was approached only moments ago by the Vulcan ambassador to
Bajor, and he gave me quite a few…logical reasons for accompanying you
on your trip. And you did say the more the merrier.”
“Maybe I should wait in case O’Brien’s family decides to join us.
How about Quark and Rom? I could always make a stop at Ferenginar!”
“Take it easy, Major. The ambassador is a quiet fellow, and you
just happen to be heading his way. He will not be an undue burden on you,
I assure you.”
“With this lot on board, I’m sure the next two weeks are going to
be a real blast,” was her response.

The trader detached from the station’s pylon, lumbering away
under impulse until it was safe to go to warp. Once under way, Kira did
not have to remain in the pilot’s seat the whole time. These ships could
really fly themselves. If a problem presented itself, one of the
redundant sensors would catch it well in advance and warn her, no matter
where she was at the moment. Still, she didn’t like the thought of
leaving the post unmanned for too long, so she and Ro agreed to take
turns in eight hour shifts.
Kira took her naps right on the bridge. Everyone had been
cautioned to bring their own sleeping bags, and enough provisions to last
a month. Even the Vulcan had done so, although his idea of a month’s
rations was much smaller than the others. There were no set mealtimes. No
one ate in the company of anyone else. Conversation was kept to a
minimum. Just absolute must-be -said items, nothing more.
Kira had never considered herself a sociable type to begin with,
and that was just fine with her. Of course, she was far from being a
hermit, either. It was simply that she couldn’t stomach phoniness in
other people. In her mind, O’Brien beat his chest too much. And Vulcans
were probably the worst hypocrites in the known galaxy, always acting so
superior to everyone else because of a philosophy which sounded pretty,
but in reality was just another mask to hide a shame.
Then there was Ro.
It was bad enough that Ro wore the uniform of an outworlder, and
was giving her energy to the Federation instead of her own home world,
but on top of that, the word around DS-Nine was that she had once been
court-martialed and jailed.
*A fine example of Bajoran womanhood to show the Federation!*
thought Kira.
Ro, for her part, had met plenty of Kiras in her lifetime.
She knew the best way to deal to deal with them was to give them
their own attitude right back in their faces, but never to go so far as
to give them an excuse to boil over. *That frustrates them even more*
she thought with an evil grin.
As for the Vulcan, Ro was neither here nor there. She just didn’t
know him. She couldn’t even call O’Brien an old friend. Sure, they had
served together, but that was the extent of it. Knowing that he was
married and had a family made her even more wary of saying anything that
might be misconstrued.
For O’Brien, this was going to be a cakewalk. He knew just what
the condition of the engines were, and he was extremely confident he
would have time to read the book he had brought with him. It made him
smile to think that for two weeks no one was going to whine to him about
the computer being down, or the replicators making coffee taste funny, or
grinding noises coming from the lifts, or who-knows-what next. And, maybe
there would be some time at the end to chat with some old friends on the
*Enterprise*.
In the meantime, he knew the characters of both of the women very
well. Neither one took kindly to the implication that she was helpless,
so if anything unforeseen did happen, chances were all he would have to
do would be to stay out of the way while they would almost climb over one
another to prove themselves. About the Vulcan, though, he was curious. He
had met a few and found each one to be fascinating.
That’s what brought him to the ambassador’s quarters. He gave the
door a gentle knock, listening for a response. The door moved aside,
revealing the ambassador’s bland look.
“Good evening, Ambassador,” began O’Brien. “I hope I’m not
interrupting anything. I just wanted to introduce myself, and offer my
hospitality. Miles O’Brien’s the name. I’m Chief of Operations on
DS-Nine.”
The Vulcan bowed politely. “Siren Bortasompatorkus.”
His family name sounded like indigestion. A laugh exploded from
O’Brien before he gagged himself silent, turning red. “Uh, my apologies,
Ambassador Siren.”
“No need. My name has that understandable effect on most humans.”
“I’ve know precious few Vulcans, myself, so I was wondering– if
you have no objections, that is– would you mind satisfying my curiosity
on a number of points?”
“None at all. That is the point of my chosen profession. Would
you care to enter?”
“If it’s all the same to you, I was hoping we could chat in the
lounge. There’s an interesting interpretation of Odarian comfort there,
and it would be great if one or both of the ladies, upon passing through,
would have the option of sticking around and joining the conversation.”
“You are an intellectual tactician, Mister O’Brien. This promises
to be a very revealing discussion.”

The lounge was a fuzzy place. The deck and bulkheads were all
covered in multicolored fur, as was the furniture. It was like being
inside a pregnant tribble. No true tables or chairs existed, just
amorphous furry bags filled with a substance which could be shaped like
clay. One could fluff up one of these giant pillows to a desired shape
and softness, then simply throw one’s self into it.
O’Brien and Siren were game to try the strange furnishings, and
it didn’t take long for the both of them to get the hang of it. When Ro
turned up, her jaw dropped at the sight of the Vulcan seated in a pocket
on the wall, legs dangling down, while O’Brien’s head, propped up by one
arm, protruded from a mass of fur that had apparently swallowed the rest
of him.
“What’s going on here?” she asked.
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, Ro,” grinned O’Brien. “When
I return to the station, I plan to make an offer to the Odarian for one
of these things!”
Her head tilted curiously as she took a few cautious steps upon a
nearby fuzzy hill. Impulsively, she bounced on top of it, sinking a
little deeper into it with each hop. Losing her balance, she tumbled into
a soft gully. She sat up, giggling.
“What’d I tell ya?” chuckled O’Brien. “I’ll bet you never had
this much fun since you were a kid.”
It was as if he had flipped the wrong switch on a control panel.
Ro’s pleasure seemed to instantly vanish.
“I wouldn’t wish the kind of childhood I had on anyone.”
“In that case,” Siren inserted tactfully, “perhaps this is the
place to have the childhood you have always wanted.”
“You’re not a typical Vulcan, are you, Siren?” asked O’Brien,
feeling that it was best to change the subject completely.
“That would depend on what you would consider to be typical.”
“Oh, unwilling to enjoy life for fear of losing dignity, that
sort of thing.”
“The other Vulcans you have known have left you with such an
impression? A true shame. I believed it was no secret to offworlders that
the reason for our stoicism was evident in the history of my people.
Non-Vulcans erroneously conclude that we are without passion, when the
truth is that we are probably the most passionate creatures in the
Federation.”
“Go on,” said Ro disbelievingly.
O’Brien was glad that Ro was warming to the idea of talking,
despite the landmine he had hit by bringing up her childhood.
“The Romulans are an excellent example of what Vulcans would be
like without the control we have imposed upon ourselves. Suddenly, our
solution does not seem so extreme when compared with the alternative. We
males are especially burdened, which is the reason why I am with you
today.”
Ro’s brows bore down on her eyes. “Yes. Why *are* you leaving
Bajor? Aren’t we good enough to have diplomatic relations with Vulcan?”
“The problem is personal, not diplomatic, Ensign Ro.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I think I do,” O’Brien broke in. “It’s that time of the decade,
isn’t it?”
“Exactly.”
“I still don’t understand,” Ro said.
“There is a septennial cycle, common to most Vulcan males, which
drives our passions far beyond our ability to control them. At its peak,
we must either mate or die. Prior to this point, we become dangerous to
everyone around us.”
Ro was in silent shock for a moment. “You’re telling me that at
any moment, you might go berserk and start attacking us?”
O’Brien covered his face, but still couldn’t hide the fact that
he was breaking up with laughter.
“I don’t see the humor, Chief,” Ro said crossly.
“Give the man more credit than that, Ro! If anybody is familiar
with his cycles, he is.”
“I am not due to exhibit the first symptoms for another six
weeks. Long before then, I expect to be on the *Enterprise* when she
passes Vulcan Science Colony Five, on her way to her next assignment. My
wife is to meet me there.”
“You seem to have it all well planned in advance,” noted Ro.
“We have a reputation for that sort of thing,” added Siren.

Kira was getting bored on the bridge. She fiddled with the
subspace set to see if there was anyone in range who just felt like
talking. All she picked up was a conversation in what was probably
Klingon, so she le them be.
She went through the computer’s memory to see if the Odarian had
put anything interesting in there, like some sort of game to while away
the time between ports of call. She couldn’t make any sense out of what
she found. No wonder the poor bastard only wanted to get away from this
ship and get drunk! Imagine weeks and weeks of *this*.
Heaving a sigh, she tapped her comm badge. :Kira to O’Brien.
Status check.”
“*Status quo*, Major. How about up there?” came his answer.
“*Quo*.”
“Major, you sound like you could use a break from staring at
those same stars all this time. We all know you don’t really need to be
there. Why don’t you join us here in the lounge? We’re having an
old-fashioned group therapy session, and the only one missing here is
you.”
“I don’t know,” Kira said. “It just goes against my grain to
leave the bridge unattended.”
A deeper voice now spoke to her. “Major, your belief that
something undesirable may happen simply because of your location on this
ship is not logical.”
*There goes that damned Vulcan superiority crap, thought Kira.
*And Sisko told me this guy was quiet.*
“He’s right, Major,” Ro chimed in. “Do you really believe that
the Odarian sits up there constantly, like you’re doing?”
Kira did a slow burn. They were trying to get her goat, and they
were succeeding. *All right, you want a therapy session? I’ll give each
of you one!*
“I’m on my way down,” she told them, rising.

The sensors of the trading vessel should have been able to pick
up any and all dangers in its periphery. But temporal anomalies weren’t
exactly something which it was equipped to look for. Not that much was
known about them in the first place. Just like the concept of fire,
everybody could recognize it, but nobody could understand what exactly
made it tick. Scientific wiseguys came up with terms like “rapid
oxidation,” which perhaps clarified what was happening, but not how, or
even why. Even the word “virus” was simply the Latin way of saying “I
don’t know what it is.”
Because the large blob of sped-up time completely enveloped the
Odarian ship, its passengers were incapable of perceiving anything out of
the ordinary. Until it was too late to do anything about it.

Kira walked into the lounge to find the others draping themselves
willy-nilly over the formless furnishings like children. Even the Vulcan
seemed to find “pleasure” in hanging from his knees from a pocket in one
of the walls. Somehow, looking at him, Kira was reminded of a bat.
“What is the matter with you people? Have you all forgotten your
ages?” she demanded.
“Absolutely,” grinned Ro, rolling over to face the newcomer. “And
what’s so wrong with that, anyway? We’ve got the rest of our lives to act
like stuffy old farts. Come on, Major, check your rank at the door and
come in and be just Nerys for a while. I promise it won’t kill you.”
Kira smirked at her. “Is that the attitude that landed you in a
Federation prison?”
“That’s low, Major,” O’Brien cut in. “We’ve agreed not to throw
darts at each other. Not while we’re here, at least. We’ve got a
marvelous opportunity to really get to know one another during this trip.
Let’s not waste it. Speaking for myself, I thought I knew everything
there was to know about Vulcans, but Siren has opened my eyes to
reality.”
As O’Brien spoke, Kira’s attention was on him. She belayed the
smart remark she felt like making when something unusual caught her eye.
Normally, O’Brien kept himself clean-shaven. But at the moment, he seemed
to be sprouting an obvious five o’clock shadow as he spoke.
“How are you doing that?” Kira’s brows bore down on her eyes.
“What?”
“Your beard!” Kira drew a finger along her jaw in illustration.
O’Brien reached up to touch his chin. He suddenly jerked his hand
back to take a good look at it. Yes, his fingernails were absurdly long,
as well.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed, standing up.
That was when both of the women noticed the beard on the Vulcan,
too. The women had also grown the hair on their heads at an extreme
speed.
Siren somersaulted down to the deck, landing on his feet. “Major,
we must be passing through an area of accelerated time. Our only course
of action is to increase our velocity to minimize our exposure to this
region, or face dire consequences.”
“I knew it!” Kira hissed through her teeth and she tuned and
broke into a run for the bridge.
Once back in the pilot’s seat, the first thing Kira did was
increase the speed to the highest warp factor available to her. The
others had followed her to the bridge, and Ro assumed the co-pilot’s
position, while O’Brien took charge of he ship’s systems monitors.
They had no way to map out the anomaly, so consequently, had no
way to know how large it was or what shape it had relative to their
course. Siren had arrived at the correct situation, given their
circumstances, much faster than the others would have. Only a quick
straight line insured exit.
*But will we arrive at the exit in time?* wondered Siren.
O’Brien’s worry, at the moment, was how he was going to keep this
old bucket together if something started to give. He knew the engines
were suffering a worse than apparent strain. Under the current
circumstances, one minute of actual warp could translate into triple
that, or worse. Who knew?
The ship began to tremble unnaturally.
“Bloody hell!” O’Brien dashed off for the engine room.
Some sense that only the Vulcan had among this group told him
that now was the time. “We are free of it, Major. You may ease us down.”
Kira’s eyes had been bulging during the ride. The first notice
she had that she had been holding her breath was when she slowly exhaled
it. She touched the proper panels to gently bring the velocity back to
more sane levels. Still, there was the unmistakable sound of a loud
rumble coming from the engine room.
Ro and Kira exchanged openmouthed looks before Ro touched her
comm badge.
“Chief O’Brien! Are you still with us?”
There was silence Kira noticed the indicator which plainly showed
they were dead still in space, but she said nothing. Her throat felt dry.
Then came a tinny-sounding groan from Ro’s badge.
“Ohhhhh…I’m still with you, Ro. I wasn’t able to get to the
engine room before it happened…”
“*What* happened?” insisted Kira.
“The engines…well…I’d get started sending out a distress call
right about now. As of this moment, we are without warp drive.”
“Great,” Kira slapped the console before her with a grimace on
her face. “If only I’d stuck to my instincts…”
“We would still be in the same predicament,” Siren finished for
her.
Kira gave him a withering look “I just love that quality Vulcans
have. How do you arrive at that conclusion?”
“It was simply unavoidable.”
“Maybe not. Has it occurred to you that in the time it took for
me to get back here, I could have already *been* here? That space of time
cost us our warp speed!”
“Illogical. Had you started our emergency velocity sooner, the
engines would have given out that much sooner. We would be stranded in
the anomaly.”
“So *you* say.”
“Major,” put in Ro, “you can accuse a Vulcan of much, but lying
isn’t something they generally do.”
Before Kira could respond to that, Siren said, “We Vulcans have
other characteristics which should concern you at the moment.”

O’Brien shook his head sadly at the mess that was once the
Odarian engine room. This could never be a one-man job to fix, and
certainly not without docking facilities. *Damn the Odarians!* he
thought. Not even the Ferengi were so cheap to insure that their space
vessels “only just passed” safety regs.
He could hear Kira engaging the impulse engines. That was some
comfort, but not much. The two week journey would now take the better
part of a year, assuming no faster friendly vessel would come by sometime
soon to offer a tow.
“Chief, this is Kira. Please report to the bridge. We need to
have a discussion, right now.”
“On my way.”

“This is the situation, people,” Kira said, as she paced the deck
before the other three. “We have no stardrive. Right now, we’re moving at
three-quarter impulse. I don’t want to push what’s left any harder than
that, and besides, we’re all familiar with the time dilation problems
caused by prolonged travel at full impulse. The subspace transmitter is
set to distress signal mode. If there’s anyone out there, let’s hope they
are in a position to be kind to us.
“Ambassador Siren has informed me that we and this ship have aged
three weeks in less than fifteen minutes. Assuming we get no outside help
in the next three weeks, he will be experiencing the first symptoms
of…what did you call it?”
“*Pon farr*,” said the ambassador.
“Holy shit,” O’Brien murmured. “I completely forgot about that!”
“Just as we have all temporarily forgotten our personal
grooming,” continued Kira. “We all look like mops with claws. More
importantly, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m expecting a
three-week hunger to suddenly hit us. And each of us has only brought
enough provisions for a month. Unless somebody has any ideas about that,
we may have to start chowing down on Odarian emergency supplies.”
Both of the Bajorans and O’Brien winced at the idea. Only the
Vulcan seemed unfazed.
“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem, Major,” said O’Brien. “This
is a heavily-travelled space lane. Somebody is bound to pass nearby
before we run out of provisions.”
“With any luck,” corrected Kira. “So far, we’ve had damn little
of that.”

Seven days went by with no luck at all.
Kira had been right about the overwhelming hunger that struck all
of them. Aging three weeks in a quarter of an hour was extremely trying
on the metabolism. Although they did try to pace themselves on the
rations, it was simply a tug-of-war between intellect and physical need.
Intellect lost.
No one felt much like going back into the fuzzy room. Things grew
as quiet between the four individuals as they had been at the beginning
of this ill-fated trip. Ro managed to bump into O’Brien while they both
wandered through hitherto unexplored parts of the ship. O’Brien mumbled a
hurried “Excuse me, Ro,” before he turned and brushed past her as though
he was desperately needed elsewhere. But they both knew better.
“Hey! I did bathe today, you know!”
That stopped O’Brien in his tracks. She noticed his face turning
redder by the second.
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean for it to look like anything
personal, Ro. It’s just that I’ve been told something that’s a bit on the
heavy side, if you know what I mean, and I’m having a bit of trouble
dealing with it, that’s all.”
“Dealing with what?”
O’Brien took a deep breath, then made a decision. “Siren says
he’ll probably kill himself if we aren’t rescued soon. He calls it *tal
shaya*. He says it’s the most merciful thing for all of us. Merciful!
Such an ancient and revered culture, and that’s the best answer they can
come up with.”
He harumphed, shaking his head sadly. “It shows me just how
powerless I am to do anything about it. You know, Sisko ordered me along
on this trip to help out, just in case something like this happened. Fat
lot of good I’ve done so far, eh? Maybe Kira’s sarcasm *wasn’t* lost on
me.”
First, shock crossed Ro’s features. Then wide-eyed concern.
Finally, she settled on a look that showed O’Brien that she was at least
a million miles away.
“Ro?”

Ro *was* a million miles away. At least. She was back in the Valo
system, a few years back in time. With the help of Captain Jean-Luc
Picard, she had been convinced to remain in Starfleet, after the incident
with Admiral Kennelly.
Despite his encouragement, she told him that the uniform didn’t
fit her — and she wasn’t referring to the tailoring.
“I think you’ve got a great deal to learn from Starfleet,” Picard
had surmised.
“I always thought Starfleet had a lot to learn from me,” she’d
retorted.
“That’s an attitude I’ve found to be common among the best
officers I’ve ever served with. You’re not one of them, yet. But you
could be if you work at it.”
She never could resist a properly issued challenge. And, she had
been working at it ever since. When a man like Picard sees something in
you he likes, well, that was worth investigating. He was ultimately
proven right. Currently, the *Enterprise* could not proceed to her next
mission without Ro on board.

“Ro?”
She was back on the Odarian freighter, standing before Miles
O’Brien.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Chief,” she told him. “You can
only do what you can. Do you believe it’s true what I’ve heard about
Vulcans? That homosexuality is unheard of among them?”
“I’ve *heard* that, but what’s that got –”
“Then you’ve done all you can by telling me. It’s now up to the
major and me.”
“*What* is?” demanded O’Brien. Then, understanding dawned. “Aw,
now, wait a minute, Ro!”
“Look…Miles…I’m not crazy about the idea, myself! But do you
think that killing or neutering him is a better option?”
“Uh…no.”
“Well, neither do I. The major and I will need to talk about
this, soon.”
“Good luck. I’ve a feeling you’ll need it,” O’Brien told her
sincerely.
Two days would pass before Ro mustered the nerve to do even that.

Kira posted herself on the bridge, and had remained there since
the catastrophe. So that was where she was during the alpha shift of the
ninth day, when the others were supposed to be asleep. Except Ro wasn’t.
The ensign entered the bridge, surprising the major.
“You’re five hours early,” was Kira’s only comment.
“You know why I’m here.”
Kira busied herself, redundantly checking instruments. “I’m
afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You know as well as I do that help won’t arrive in time before
Siren…well, *you know*.”
“So, what do you expect me to do about that?”
Ro stomped over to where Kira sat and forcibly spun her around to
look her in the eye. “It’s up to *us*, Major! You and I. Do I have to
spell it out for you? Because I will, if that’s the only way you’ll hear.
None of us wants to die. And we all just might, needlessly, if we don’t
talk.”
Kira was almost stunned speechless at Ro’s effrontery.
“What the hell do you think you’re *doing*?” she spat.
“Getting your attention. And if I don’t get your full undivided
attention for the duration I’m talking to you, I’ll personally declare
you unfit and relieve you of command.”
“Don’t you start giving me ultimatums, sister!” Kira’s eyes
narrowed. “I’ll see you busted down so far, you’ll have to take off your
boots to breathe!”
Ro was unfazed. “Fine. I’ll see you at my trial. But right here,
right now, this is what’s important. I like Siren. I don’t want him to
die, nor do I want him to harm anyone else when he starts reacting to
his…biology. The way I see it, our choices are pretty limited. O’Brien
told me Siren intends to kill himself rather than endanger us. To me
that’s unacceptable. The only way to keep him and the rest of us alive,
is for one of us to…submit to him.”
If Kira thought she was shocked before, her eyes were practically
bulging out of their sockets, now. “Are you suggesting that one of
us…?”
Ro nodded solemnly. “That is *exactly* what I am suggesting.”
Kira found her own head bobbing up and down in an unflattering
imitation of Ro. She slapped her hands down of her thighs. “Okay. Have
fun. Enjoy yourself!”
Ro’s brows began to bear down upon her eyes. She shook her head
slowly, in sad disbelief. “So typical. Just like that, eh? No ‘Let’s draw
lots, Ro,’ or ‘Let’s discuss this further’? It’s ‘Go prostitute yourself
for all our lives, Ro! It’s beneath Kira Nerys’ dignity!'”
“Well, *you* said you liked him,” sneered Kira.
“No wonder the Cardassians laugh at us. Until this moment, I
never thought I would find myself admiring one of them over one of my
own. But now, I can say for sure that they have something we never will.
Respect for each other. They built an empire on that, while we scattered
ourselves only the Prophets know where. We truly are an inferior race.”
“Speak for yourself. We didn’t all flee when the Cardassians
came. Some of us stayed and fought, while others I could name slipped on
the uniforms of Federation pacifists and disgraced even *that*.”
“Is that what this is all about? You won’t offer to help as a
punishment for me? Do I embarrass you, Major?”
Kira paused. “Yes. I suppose you do. You say you want my respect?
Well, why don’t you start acting like you deserve it, instead of coming
to me with your half-baked ideas? If that Vulcan wants to kill himself,
that’s his decision. I didn’t ask for him on this trip. But if he tries
to touch me, I’ll shoot him — no ifs, ands, or buts. The same if he
tried to hurt O’Brien, or even you. Got it?”
Ro mouth dropped open. “We’re talking about an intelligent man,
here!” Someone who would never harm anyone in his right mind. But he
can’t help what he is any more than any of us can. You would kill him for
that?”
“In the interest of self-defense, you’re darned right.”
“Even though you have it in your means to prevent it from going
that far?”
“What makes you think that having sex with a Bajoran woman is
going to calm him down? Do you have any idea how strong a Vulcan man is?
This one could probably tear you or me in half, easily. And then what?”
Ro had no answer to that. She just turned and left the bridge.

There continued to be no luck on the fifteenth day since the
disaster.
In the privacy of his quarters, Siren noticed the first
sensations of *pon farr*. Just the preliminary signs. In six days, they
would start to become noticeable to the others. First, the shakes. Then,
loss of concentration, followed by full-blown memory loss.
The memory loss would be the worst part. That was when, once
again, intellect would lose to physical need. The mind would be slammed
into a closet and the body would take over until it was satisfied.
Perhaps O’Brien was right. Maybe Siren was atypical of Vulcans.
Most wouldn’t discuss *pon farr* with other Vulcans, much less a group of
offworlders. Even Siren’s own father, had he ever found himself in a
similar predicament, would have kept his mouth shut until the last
minute, then commit suicide and let the survivors sort it out, later.
Siren really couldn’t see the logic in that, except that his
father grew up in more bashful times. Now was the time to make plans for
the worst case.

O’Brien was on his back, inside a sleeping bag, near the impulse
deck. For days now, he had been trying to read his book, and failing. He
heard the hiss of a doorway opening. Siren was stepping onto the deck.
O’Brien lowered his book slowly. His left hand silently slipped into his
sleeping bag to nervously finger the hilt of his phaser.
“Siren! This is a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe this
visit?”
“I am here to make a somewhat large request of you, my friend.”
“Ask away.”
“When a Vulcan sees his own death approaching, it is customary
that he should make the attempt to insure that a valuable portion of him
be returned to his people. I ask that you carry my spirit home to my
world.”
O’Brien sat up. “No. Wait. I’ve heard of this. Ambassador, I’m
honored that you would entrust your *katra* to me, and I would be proud
to accept the responsibility. But we’re not sunk, yet. A lot can happen
in six days.”
“But not enough for me, I find. A rescue now would never be able
to get me to my wife in time. In order to prevent any undue
unpleasantness to you or the ladies, I would prefer to get my affairs in
order now.”
“I’ve been discussing your suicide plans with Ensign Ro,” O’Brien
said carefully.
“Indeed.”
“She’s just as broken up about it as I am.”
“Precisely the situation I wanted to avoid when I allowed only
you into my confidence.”
“Well, be that as it may, she seems to think that she can help
you.”
“Please elaborate.”
O’Brien fidgeted in the sack. “How can I put this delicately? Ro
thinks she can substitute…in lieu of your wife being here.”
“That would be impossible.”
“Why?”
“Ro does not understand the danger to herself, were I to agree to
such a thing.”
“You could enlighten her. Ro doesn’t scare easily, and she’s not
one to shrink from a challenge.”

Ro was alone in the fuzzy room at the moment Siren chose to
enter. She wasn’t certain what drew her back here. Boredom, maybe.
“May I join you, Ensign?”
Ro was startled into looking at the entrance. “Siren! I thought
it might have been one of the others.”
Siren approached. “Chief O’Brien has made me aware of your
notions of helping me through this difficult time. I am here to tell you
that will not be necessary. I have come to terms with my own death, and
O’Brien has graciously agreed to carry my spirit home to Vulcan.”
A rueful grin tugged at one corner of Ro’s mouth. “You would
rather die than live in shame.”
“I do not prefer death to shame. My decision is logical, not
emotional. There is no guarantee that your sacrifice would appease my
approaching madness. Most likely, you would die, followed by one or more
of the others — or they would be forced to kill me in self-defense. It
is more acceptable to simply end my own life beforehand. If I knew any
other way…”
Ro’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know that? I wasn’t aware that
precognition was one of your gifts.”
“It is not. I am simply more adept at probability than you are.”
“So, you’re saying that you would prefer to go with the odds?”
“Yes.”
“Well, unfortunately, there are some factors about me that you
haven’t taken into your probability equation.”
Siren mentally went over the entire situation in a flash. Again,
he found no mistake in his calculations. “I do not see where.”
A warm smile mellowed the normally severe look Ro had made such
an important part of her features. “I like you, Siren. That’s the first
one. It’s unacceptable to me to know that there’s a small chance that I
may help you through this, and you intend to not let me try. The second
is that you underestimate me. That’s almost…insulting. If you knew how
many times in my life I’ve bucked the odds, well, our success might just
work out as even money.”
“You are speaking emotionally.”
“I’m speaking damned *passionately*, Siren! You claim to be from
a race that has cornered the market on passion! It’s about time for you
to put your money where your mouth is!”
Vulcans were touch-telepaths. Most were raised not even to lay a
finger upon another for fear of breaching privacy. Yet, Siren gently
touched the back of Ro’s hand, knowing how important contact was to many
humanoids. He didn’t tell her that this simple act also enabled him to
confirm her sincerity. It also gave him an idea.
“There is a way we can reach a mutual conclusion on this matter.
It requires that you and I become one in a nonsexual sense. Are you
willing?”
“Yes,” she answered solemnly.

That evening, Siren mind-melded with Ro. As he explored her
memories, she explored his.
He learned that she had not been exaggerating about her
childhood. Or about her will to live. It became clear that he had indeed
underestimated her.
She experienced much of his life, as well, including the Vulcan
idea of passion, particularly during *pon farr*. She truly didn’t have
any idea about what she wanted to let herself in for until that moment,
and it did frighten her.

A couple of days later, Kira still sat on the Odarian bridge,
looking out into the starry void ahead, feeling just about as empty,
herself. How come no one answered the distress call? She checked it for
the umpteenth time. It was working just fine, just like the last time she
checked. Except for their own transmission, all the subspace channels
were silent.
Miles O’Brien entered, not looking very happy.
“Chief? What are you doing here? Where’s my relief?”
“Ro asked not to be disturbed. She and Siren are in the lounge.”
“*What?*” Kira jumped from her seat. “And you let them? Are you
insane?”
She dashed for the exit, but one phrase from O’Brien stopped her.
“It’s no good, Major; I sealed them in, myself. I guarantee you
won’t be able to get to them.”
Kira flashed a flabbergasted look at him. “*You…* Well, now I’m
ordering you to just *unseal* them!”
“I respectfully decline, Major.”
Kira’s eyes widened. They both knew what this meant, so the word
“mutiny” went unspoken.
“Okay,” whispered Kira. “You’ve rendered my authority null and
void. I just hope you truly know better than I do, because from where I
stand, I see a man who’s just sentenced a fellow Starfleet officer to a
bizarre death. If we do get rescued, you realize that your career is
over?”
“The court-martial will decide that, Major, not you. And I’m not
relieving you of command, I want you to know that. The bridge is still
yours, and I will recognize your authority on this mission in everything
except this.”
“It’s comforting to know you haven’t completely lost your senses,
Chief. Maybe I can still make you see reason before it’s too late.”
“Ro wants to do this. She is willing to risk her life for his,
and she barely knows him. I’m willing to give them the chance because
Siren was ready to kill himself rather than harm any of us .He now seems
convinced enough to let her try to help him. Ro is a survivor, Nerys,
like you. If this gamble pays off, we might all live long enough to get
home, someday. If not, then the deaths will be confined to that room.”
“Chief, I’m not unsympathetic to Ro’s nobility, just her lack of
good sense. Why do you think she deserves to die right along with him,
when he simply could’ve been the only casualty?”
“You’re looking at it as a numbers thing; only one should die to
prevent the death of more. The rest of us want no one to die.”
Kira sniffed. “This is precisely why ship command is not a
democracy. One captain’s rule must be absolute to prevent things like
this from happening. I don’t want anyone to die, either, but that is out
of my hands. Vulcans are Vulcans, and their biological nature won’t
change to accommodate this situation.”
O’Brien shook his head. “Impasse, Major. We’re not going to
convince each other of anything. Even though it’s as illegal as hell,
we’re overriding you on this one. Only the outcome will tell us who was
right, and I pray to God it’s us.”
At that moment, both of them were startled by a deep voice
emanating from the subspace set. O’Brien recognized it as being Worf’s.
“Odarian freighter,” it said. “This is the *Enterprise*. Do you
read us?”
Kira shot a pained look at O’Brien as she dashed back to the
pilot’s chair. “Get them out of there, Chief! Take a phaser with you!
Please!”
O’Brien nodded, tapping his communicator in order to monitor the
talk Kira would be having with Worf. He left the bridge in a run.
“*Enterprise*! This is Major Kira Nerys of the Odarian freighter
out of Deep Space Nine! We read you. Our stardrive is out, due to a
collision with a temporal anomaly. The Vulcan ambassador to Bajor is on
board and is becoming increasingly dangerous to everyone else. It’s some
kind of mating madness they go through; I forget the name. How soon will
you be able to reach us?”
A distinguished-looking bald human appeared on the tiny visual
display on the subspace set. “This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard. We are
computing your position now, and will go to maximum warp once we have it.
In the meantime, what is your situation with the ambassador? Do you have
him under restraint?”
“Sort of, Captain. We’ve got him sealed up in a room with Ensign
Ro.”
Kira watched Picard’s eyebrows go up. She felt obliged to
explain.
“It was her own idea, sir. She felt she could help. I ordered
Chief O’Brien to release them the minute you answered our distress call.”
A pleasant-sounding off-screen male voice said, “ETA to Odarian
freighter at maximum is five hours, twenty-two minutes, sir.”
“Thank you, Mister Data. Engage. …Major, as it will be some
time before we reach you, is there anything you can tell us about how far
the ambassador has progressed in his *pon farr*?”
“I, personally, haven’t seen him in days, sir. O’Brien might be
able to answer that better than I could.”
Miles O’Brien had heard every word as he arrived outside of the
fuzzy room, phaser in hand. “This is O’Brien cutting in, Major…and
Captain Picard. I’ve not released them yet, but I don’t hear any signs of
a struggle going on inside.”
“Of course you wouldn’t!” said Kira sharply. “It’s padded with
all kinds of fluff in there!”
“Listen carefully, Mister O’Brien,” Picard said. “Do you have a
phaser?”
“I am armed, sir, yes.”
“Good. I want you to place it on setting three. This is crucial.
Have you any idea how far along the ambassador is in his condition?”
O’Brien’s weapon beeped as he made the small adjustment. “He was
having a bad case of the shakes when I saw him about an hour ago, sir.”
“Would you say he was still lucid?”
“I wouldn’t know. He didn’t say anything. Ro did all the
talking.”
“All right. Pay close attention to what I am about to say. In
order for Ro and the ambassador to have consummated the act, the
ambassador must be in what is known as the *plak tow*. It will be during
that moment that he will be at the height of his frenzy, at the most
likely to do any serious damage to Ro. Is there a way for you to listen
in on them without giving yourself away? I must warn you that if he is
indeed in *plak tow*, he will very likely attempt to kill you. A single
burst at setting three should render him unconscious for ten minutes. Be
sure he is clear of Ensign Ro before you fire.”
“I know. At setting three, even a single blast could be very
nasty for Ro.”
“If it seems that they are already, uh, underway, and Ro has
everything under control, then leave them alone. Only attempt to fire if
you are convinced that Ro is in true danger. And Chief, you’ll only be
able to shoot him twice. A third shot will kill him, and a smaller
setting will have no effect.”
“Aye, sir.”
O’Brien removed a panel beside the entrance to the lounge.
Reaching in, he flipped the opening combination into the locking
mechanism processor, then stood back and waited. When nothing happened,
the tried the combination again. Still nothing. Upon closer examination,
his discovery made his heart sink.
“O’Brien to Picard. Access to the lounge has been by-passed. From
inside.”
“Is there any other way to get inside?”
“No, sir. And this ship doesn’t have transporters.”

When Kira met O’Brien one deck above the lounge with a tricorder,
her initial scan of what was going on beneath them confirmed that Ro and
Siren were both still alive, although their physiological readings were a
little unusual in some respects. It didn’t take a genius to figure out
why. Decorum prevented either of them from stating the obvious out loud.
So, they just sat up there, phasers ready, monitoring the
readings in silence for the first sign that they should charge in.
Five hours later, they were still waiting.
An away team from the *Enterpise* materialized on board, led by
Will Riker and Doctor Selar. It was at this time that Kira’s tricorder
showed two people in the lounge moving toward the lounge entrance.

Ro and Siren were met by everyone in the hallway outside of the
lounge. They both appeared to be tired, but in good health. In fact, the
only thing that seemed to be wrong with either of them was the unkempt
state of their hair.
For a brief moment, Ro and Kira locked sights on one another.
Neither of them said a word to each other, but perhaps the most
communication the two of them would ever have took place between them
right then and there. Even though it was only a moment, to Kira it seemed
much longer due to her discomfort. One thing was certain, the expression
on Ro Laren’s face would be with Kira Nerys for a long time to come.
Everyone was whisked to the *Enterprise* and the Odarian
freighter was towed to a repair facility. Afterwards, the *Enterprise*
continued on to her next destination with Ro.
With the Odarian warp drive repaired, Kira and O’Brien were once
again underway, this time on the final leg of their journey — the return
to Deep Space Nine.

“Major,” began O’Brien uneasily, as he stepped onto the bridge.
Kira knew what he was about to bring up. By rights, she should
have brought charges against O’Brien and Ro for willfully disobeying
orders of the appointed captain. If she had done as she was supposed to
do, instead of going home, they would have been on their way to a
court-martial.
“You were right,” Kira said, not looking at him, but out into the
starry night ahead of them. “If you had followed my lead, the Vulcan
ambassador to Bajor would be dead now.”
O’Brien could hear the pain in her voice. He knew this wasn’t
easy for her. “It could have gone the other way just as easily, Major.”
“If it had, you bet I’d put your butt on trial, Chief. But, the
way things have turned out, a trial would only have put the four of us
through a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness, especially me. I’d look like
the biggest horse’s behind in space.”
“You know,” O’Brien said, sitting down in the co-pilot’s seat,
“there were plenty of times in my life when I thought I had all the
answers. I was right, and anybody who wasn’t with me was an idiot.
Convinced, I was. Then, boom, I was wrong. I couldn’t believe it! Me!
Wrong! Unheard of. It’s a real kick to the ego, but you know what? Once
it’s brought home to you that you *can* make a mistake, just like anyone
else, you no longer believe that you were sent by God to right all the
wrongs of the universe. You become a better person.”
“Should happen more often to us megalomaniacs,” sniffed Kira.
For a moment, they both pondered the point.
“Naaaaaah!” they simultaneously agreed.

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