A Requiem for Leonidas

by Mike Lee -- Part Four
See disclaimer and copyright notice in part one.

The third shift crew had just taken their stations by the time Ross and Worf made it to the bridge. The Klingon's steps had become slower, and his breathing labored. It was clear that his injuries were much more severe than the tactical officer was willing to admit.

For the second time in two days, Commodore Ross stood on a bridge gripped in panic and despair. The bodies of the second shift crew were everywhere. The first shift, comprising the most senior officers, were nowhere to be found. Likely they were belowdecks, in a similar condition. The officer of the deck was a young, pale-faced lieutenant, clearly at the limit of his composure. He all but leapt from the captain's chair, clearly eager to surrender command to someone else. "Mr. Worf has the conn!" the young man shouted.

"Lieutenant Miller, status--" Commander Worf took a step towards the chair, and swayed on his feet. Ross barely reached the Klingon in time before he collapsed, succumbing to shock.

The bridge crew stood where they were, slipping into a kind of shock themselves. Lieutenant Miller stared wide-eyed at the unconscious form of his superior officer. "Is he..?" the ensign asked in a voice full of dread.

There wasn't time for lengthy explanations or instructions. "Lieutenant Miller, you are relieved," Ross said sharply. "I am Commodore Glen Van Ross, United States Navy, and I am taking the conn." He spoke in the tone of absolute authority only gods and ship captains possess.

Miller blinked dully, looking from Commander Worf to Ross. After a moment, he made his decision. "Commodore Ross has the conn." He said, and stepped aside.

"All right." Ross took in the assembled crew. "Man your stations, people! This isn't a drill! Damage control report!"

With a goal to focus on, the crew leapt to their tasks. "Internal explosions on decks seven, eight, and ten," called out an ensign from the tactical station. "Small arms damage reported in main engineering. Warp drive and main deflectors are currently offline. Crew casualties on all decks."

"Have any command officers reported in?"

The ensign shook his head. "Commander Riker was supervising the evacuation at the test site. Commander LaForge is a confirmed casualty. There is no word yet on Commander Data, Counselor Troi, or Captain Picard."

"Very well. Sensors, are there any bogies on the screen?"

A Vulcan ensign turned from the ops station and raised a single eyebrow.

"I am not familiar with the term 'bogie'."

Ross shook his head. "Right. Are there any Klingon ships in the area?"

"None detected, sir," came the immediate response. The Vulcan inclined his head thoughtfully. "Logic dictates, however, that for there to be Klingon boarders on the ship, there must be a Klingon warship in the area. Therefore, it must be under cloak."

"The ship's sensor readings are saved in a log, correct?" Ross asked, trying to remember everything he had read about ship's operations.


"Play them back. I want to get a look at this ship."

A few moments later, the viewscreen showed a Klingon Bird-of-Prey silhouetted against one of the Prospero asteroid's larger neighbors. The Vulcan ops officer checked the readings at his station. "Evidently, the Enterprise's sensors were used to send a high-energy pulse at the same frequency as our personal communicators, overloading the receivers and causing them to explode. The change in our sensor emissions evidently signaled the Klingon ship, which emerged from cloak two point seven seconds later and transported a boarding party. The Bird-of-Prey resumed cloak when our shields were raised."

"And they're probably waiting for the 'all clear' signal before they'll come out of cloak again," Ross said thoughtfully. He considered the recorded image of the Klingon ship for a few moments, its predatory outlines made somehow more sinister by the bulk of the asteroid looming behind it. Then the idea hit him. "What exactly is a cloaking device?"

"It is a complex, modulated forcefield that redirects low-power energy emissions around the hull of a ship rather than reflecting them," replied the Vulcan.

"Low-power emissions, like sensors, or visible light?"

"Correct. That is why cloaked ships are invisible to the naked eye."

Ross nodded. "Okay. So if we were to send a sensor beam at that big asteroid-" he indicated the large rock on the screen. "And the Klingon ship was still where it was at the time it cloaked, then the sensor would just bend around the ship, hit the asteroid, and get reflected back."


"Okay." Ross said. "Do we have a way of measuring the time it takes a sensor beam to travel from us to the asteroid and back again?"

The Vulcan again raised a quizzical eyebrow. "Of course."

"Then start scanning the rock. Measure how long it takes the signal to reflect. I'm guessing that the Klingon is trying to stay as stealthy as possible, so he will likely remain in one place to eliminate any engine emissions. That being the case, he is still between us and the asteroid."

Ross walked up to the great viewscreen. "Now, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If the Klingon ship bends our sensor waves, it will therefore have a fractionally longer distance to cover and therefore take longer to return to our receivers." Ross looked back at the ops officer. "So look for where our sensor beam lags, and lock in the coordinates. Tactical, load a full spread of torpedoes. It is 'torpedoes', isn't it?"

"Er, yes sir, that's correct. Quantum torpedoes loaded and ready."

"Sir," the Vulcan called out, "I am detecting a measureable amount of sensor lag on bearing zero-one-two mark four-five."

The Klingon hadn't moved at all. Engaging the cloak had probably been nothing more than a precaution. Unfortunately, it also left his shields down. "Tactical, fire your spread down that bearing." Ross ordered.

"Ready to fire," acknowledged tactical.

"Take him out of my sky."

Six torpedoes, glittering with angry white light, shot through cold space towards the asteroid. Suddenly the first exploded in a globe of primal fire, outlining the stricken shape of the Klingon ship before successive hits consumed it utterly.

Someone on the bridge cheered. Out of the corner of his eye, Ross saw Lieutenant Miller approach. "What do we do next, sir?"

Ross studied the asteroid field, and the drifting, incandescent debris of the Klingon ship. There were eleven more on the way, and Enterprise had been badly mauled. Now the ship couldn't leave, and neither could he. The one person he had trusted to get him home had turned out to be a Klingon spy.

The Commodore summoned up his will and faced the young lieutenant. "Now we pick up the pieces, Mister Miller. And get ready to fight."
It did not take long to realize that Enterprise was a crippled ship.

Nearly two-thirds of the crew had been injured when the communicators overloaded. While their wounds were serious, they might have been treatable had the Klingons not decided to ensure the capture of the ship by throwing grenades into the main and secondary sickbays. The on-duty medical staff were killed, and vital equipment was destroyed. The burden on the surviving medical staff, operating with little better than field medical gear, was tremendous. In many cases, lives were lost because there simply wasn't enough time and equipment to go around. Many, many times in the hours following the attack, Beverly Crusher was forced to decide who would receive treatment, and live, and who would die.

They found Captain Picard in his quarters, lying near to the door. From what they could tell he had lost consciousness while trying to drag himself from the room. The electrical discharges from the communicator had interfered with his artificial heart, giving him the equivalent of a mild heart attack in addition to the burns and tissue damage of the exploding communicator. Ironically, it was his artificial heart which saved him, being more resistant to electrical surges- most of the deaths among the crew stemmed from cardiac arrest brought on by the severe shocks. Crewmembers like Commander Will Riker. Commander Riker and Counselor Troi had both elected to assist with the test site evacuation, and were no less affected by the powerful energy pulse generated by the Enterprise's sensor array. Trapped on the asteroid, with even more primitive medical conditions, there was little that could be done to save them, despite heroic efforts on the part of the Prospero researchers.

Two hours after the attack, with the Klingon fleet slightly over an hour away, Commodore Ross called the most-senior surviving officers to the briefing room. Commander Worf took his seat carefully, still clearly in great pain, while Commander Data helped Commander LaForge into his chair. The chief engineer's sensitive cybernetic eyes had suffered extensive damage from the electrical shock, plunging him once again into a world of darkness. Data, the science officer, moved with a shambling, trembling gait. Of all the crew, his mind and reflexes had nearly been fast enough to save him from the overload. His right arm was held rigidly at his side, its systems burnt out, and a cap had been placed over the charred stump of his right wrist. The rest of the officers were from the third shift crew, numb with horror and stress at the events which had overtaken them.

Ross looked each one in the eye, trying to convey confidence and assurance, to set an example that they could follow. Panic and defeat were contagious, a mob mentality; if people were given reason to hope, then they would, no matter what the odds. It was one of the glorious quirks of the human race.

"Okay people, let's get to work," he said briskly. "At this point, we only have seventy-five minutes or so before the Klingons arrive. What is our status? Engineering?"

Commander LaForge turned his darkened eyes toward the sound of Ross' voice. "During the initial attack, the Klingons in main engineering fired off a number of disruptor shots at the engineering crew. Several of these shots hit the warp core instead. This has put a high level of stress on the containment system. Energy feeds to the main deflector were also damaged. Those are repairable, within about three hours."

Ross nodded. "What does the stress on the core mean, Mister LaForge?"

"We can't risk putting a high demand on the intermix chambers at this point, or we could get containment failure. The ship is unable to enter warp safely." LaForge spread his hands. "We can fix the damage, if we shut down the warp core-"

"But that would leave us essentially helpless," Worf interjected.

"What about our combat capability, Mister Worf?" Ross asked.

"Weapons and shields are at optimal levels," Worf reported. "But crew casualties are a serious problem. Damage control is severely restricted, and there are no replacement personnel in the event of further crew losses during battle. The Enterprise can fight at one hundred percent efficiency- until the point we begin taking further damage. Our capability will decline sharply at that point, and will be unrecoverable."

"Sensors?" Ross turned to Commander Data.

"Sensor systems are optimal," Data replied. "I am also able to report significant progress in researching the wormhole portal's dynamics."

Ross straightened in his chair. "I thought Doctor Dubois was not really working on the project- only stalling for time until the Klingons could arrive."

"Your assumption is not entirely correct, commodore," Data said. "Whatever her motives, the doctor did task our science computers with analyzing the portal. Doctor Staavd has been monitoring the data, and believes that he has identified the constituent energy fields that correspond to your arrival in our universe."

Ross felt his heart clench. "Does he have enough information to begin testing?"

"He believes he will be able to within the hour."

Ross' mind reeled. He had given up on the idea of making it back home in time. The battle for Ixion was already more than twenty-four hours old. There was no telling what might have happened since then. But he still had a chance of influencing events, of trying to win the battle. A chance was better than nothing at all.

He could be gone before the Klingons arrived. But the research team would have to stay on the asteroid until the last minute, and there was no way the Enterprise could escape.

Ross would be abandoning them to their fate. Just like the Marines on Demios.

Never again.

"All right," Commodore Ross said carefully. "This ship is in a very desperate situation. As the surviving senior officers, you must now reach a number of decisions: first and foremost, you must determine the best officer to command the Enterprise. I took command in an emergency situation when all other command officers were disabled or out of contact. However, I have no commission in Star Fleet, and thus no legal right to command this ship or its crew. Thus, I am compelled to relinquish command to whomever you feel most qualified.

"Secondly, you must determine what course of action to take with respect to the Klingons. Captain Picard's intention was to evacuate Prospero III and retreat deeper into the Federation at maximum warp, denying the Klingons their primary objective. That option is no longer available. Even if the ship could make warp speed, there is no longer the time nor resources to complete the evacuation. Therefore, as I see it, you have two courses open to you. You can take the research staff and attempt to hide the Enterprise within the asteroid field. The Klingons will not have the luxury of time to do an extended search of the system. They will likely concentrate on plundering the asteroid of vital equipment and then head back to the border. This gives the Enterprise at least a fair chance of survival.

"The only other option is to make a stand around the asteroid. Engage the Klingons in battle and either drive them away or die in the attempt. With the Enterprise in the condition it is in, and the odds arrayed against it, the chances of victory are slim to none.

"Now, on the surface, the only sensible choice is to hide, and survive. But consider some things. In the first place, the Klingons are going to take the Prospero equipment and turn it into a weapon. They will likely use it to control the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, but what then? What if there are other applications for this weapon that no one has envisioned yet? Who then will they use it on? Can you look around at the carnage they have wreaked here and believe that the Federation would be unaffected by their ambitions?

"As of this point, the Klingons have violated Federation territory, destroyed a Star Fleet vessel, and killed more than three hundred of your friends and fellow crew. If all you do is hide, let them take what they want and then leave, what will that tell them about Star Fleet and the Federation? If acts of barbarism and murder go unpunished, what is to stop these acts from happening again and again?

"When the gentler arts of diplomacy and negotiation fail to achieve peace, there must be someone willing to stand in harm's way and protect innocent peoples from the depredations of would-be conquerors. Someone must send the message throughout the Federation and beyond that these worlds, that these people, will not be the victims of greed and aggression, whatever the cost. Whatever the cost. A line must be drawn. Here. Now.

"I cannot speak for you. But know this- whatever your choice, I will remain with you to see it through. I will not ask you to make the ultimate sacrifice and not be there to pay the price alongside you. The decision is yours."

Once the Klingons had been taken to the brig, the medical staff turned the holodecks into emergency sickbays. Someone came to the conclusion that as long as they had the services of the rooms immediately available, there was no reason not to make the patients as comfortable as possible.

Ross stepped into a meadow of thick, sweet-smelling grass, whispering and swaying in a warm, fragrant breeze. Many patients lay under the spring sunlight, cushioned by the pliant grass. The commodore found Captain Picard at the far edge of the field, resting in the shade of a spreading oak. There was sadness and a profound weariness in his expression as he listened to the cries of birds calling from the tree's upper branches. His eyes turned to Ross as the commodore approached.

"How's my ship?" Picard asked weakly.

Ross knelt and reached for the man's shoulder. "Down but not out, captain. You've got a tough and spirited crew. They'll get her back in shape."

There was no mistaking the anguished look in Picard's eyes. "How many are left?"

"We've got two hundred seven fit for duty, just short of a full shift." Ross replied.

"And how many-- how many died?"

"Three hundred forty three." There was no way to soften the blow, Ross knew from experience. "Including Commander Riker and Counselor Troi. I'm very sorry, sir. I wish I could have done more."

"Oh, dear God." Picard whispered. "Dear God--"

"You were betrayed, captain. Someone took advantage of your trust and used it to harm you and your crew. There was nothing you could have done to avoid it."

Picard took a deep breath, holding back all but a single tear, which left a glittering streak on his left cheek. "When will the Klingons arrive?"

"In about half an hour. The warp core was damaged in the boarding action, so the Enterprise cannot leave the system."

"The ship could still hide in the asteroid field," suggested Picard.

Ross nodded. "That was one of my suggestions to the command staff. But they have decided to fight the Klingons instead, to make a stand at the Prospero test site. They have also asked me to take command of the ship during the battle."

Picard's expression was dark, unreadable. "It appears you have gotten your wish after all, commodore. There will be a battle, and more people will die. And for what? Answer me that. Will it bring back my dead crew?"

"No, sir. You're right about that. But it will tell the Klingons that Star Fleet will fight and if necessary, die, rather than let them pursue acts of violence with impunity."

Picard closed his eyes and seemed to sink a little deeper against the bole of the tree, as if already bearing the burden of yet more loss of life. "I cannot agree with this course of action, commodore. Killing is not an acceptable alternative to rational negotiation and diplomacy."

"I have never disputed you on that score, captain," Ross said earnestly. "No true soldier bears any love for war. We hope for peace, and strive for it as much as we are able, for we are the ones who must face firsthand the horror and pain that war brings. But my point is that diplomacy should not be the only acceptable course of action. There will always be those groups who forward an agenda of brutality and violent action, who have neither the interest nor the luxury to negotiate peaceful relations. There is nothing more noble than the quest for peace, captain. But there is a grave difference between peace and pacifism, and I fear that the leaders of the Federation have lost the distinction between the two. Peace is born from mutual understanding and respect. Pacifism is an invitation to victimization. If you ask me, captain, Star Fleet has become a elite corps of explorers, scientists, and diplomats, but you have forgotten how to be soldiers. That might one day be your undoing."

Picard sighed, and from the melancholy sound he made, it was as if there was a terrible emptiness yawning inside him. "I wonder if you and I could be any more different in our beliefs."

Ross smiled. "Perhaps not, but that doesn't mean we can't reach a peace of our own. I think the Federation needs people like yourself, committed idealists who evoke the very noblest ideas that your civilization is founded on. There is always a need for voices of reason and peace. It is when those voices go unheeded that people like myself must come forward to get the message across. And that is what I intend to do."

"You haven't a chance of stopping them, commodore. Not even when the Enterprise was undamaged was there a chance."

"Then I will die as I have lived," Ross said. "Defending others. People I have never known."

Picard regarded him for a time, his eyes troubled. Finally he held out his hand. "Godspeed, Commodore Ross," he said. "You have the conn."

"Thank you, sir," Ross answered, and took the hand in his own.
"Sound battle stations," Commodore Ross ordered. The Klingons would reach the Prospero system in ten minutes. As alarm klaxons rang throughout the ship, Ross turned to face his tactical officer.

"How many probes did we have time to deploy, Mister Worf?"

"Fifty-seven," replied the Klingon. The commander's brows were knitted in intense concentration as he struggled to perform his duties despite the pain from his wounds. Only reluctantly had he allowed himself to be declared physically unfit for the demanding duties of ship command. He promised to put up a vicious fight if anyone suggested he could not man the tactical station. "All probes are on standby, awaiting activation order."

"Very well. We're going to need to time this one carefully. We will only get one chance at this."

The tactical officer frowned. "I fail to see how we will be able to defeat eleven Klingon warships with the tactics you have suggested. Sheer numbers alone dictate that we will be eventually destroyed."

"You are confusing defeat with destruction, Commander. They aren't necessarily the same thing. To defeat the Klingons, we have to convince them that their objective is not worth the price of fighting with us. We have to eliminate their will to continue. Remember our confrontation in the transporter room?"

"I will never forget it," Worf said with a faint snarl.

"The same principle applies. I convinced you that you had more to lose by fighting me than by surrendering. I defeated you, without even firing a shot."

"It is unlikely the Klingon fleet will have any concern about hostages," Worf muttered darkly.

"Are you certain that the Klingons will decloak before they enter the asteroid field?" Ross asked, changing the subject.

Worf nodded. "Without question. A cloaked ship loses the advantage of concealment if it operates its sensors, since the sensor beams can be detected, even if the ship itself cannot. Since sensors will be imperative to negotiating the asteroid field, at least some of the Klingon ships will decloak at the edge of the field."

"Your reasoning makes sense to me," Ross agreed. "Helm, take us to the edge of the asteroid field, along the Klingons' projected course. Tactical, arm all weapons. Target their attack cruisers."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Enterprise crept to the edge of the asteroid field, then shut down its sensors and engines, crouching like a great, hungry cat. "Activate the first line of probes," Ross ordered.

Seeded in an arc along the edge of the asteroid field where the Klingons would likely appear, a half-dozen probes came to life and activated their sensor arrays. While Enterprise waited to pounce, the probes would act as the ship's eyes and ears. They did not have long to wait.

Minutes after the probes went active, Worf cried "Probe four detecting spatial distortions bearing three three five mark two!"

"This is it!" Commodore Ross rose from the chair. It was his habit to fight a battle on his feet. "Helm, come to course three three five mark two, full impulse speed! Activate sensors. Tactical, open fire at point-blank range."

The Klingon ships were decloaking en masse as the Enterprise broke cover. Three attack cruisers, five Birds-of-Prey, and three retrofitted K't'inga-class battlecruisers appeared in a V-formation, the attack cruisers in the lead. It was a formidable sight- but the Klingon ships were momentarily vulnerable, as their sensors came to life and power was switched from the cloaking device to the shields.

At point-blank range, the Enterprise was not likely to miss.

The Star Fleet ship streaked through the Klingon formation, firing as it went. Each attack cruiser took two quantum torpedoes as the Enterprise went past, then two more as the ship's aft tubes came to bear. Under the blistering salvo, shields failed and hulls ruptured. First one cruiser, then another exploded, sending debris throughout the rest of the formation. The Enterprise then came about in a hard starboard turn and took the third, stricken cruiser under fire with its main phasers. Moments later, it too blew apart.

The rest of the Klingon ships scattered, and their weapons began to lock onto the Star Fleet ship. "Helm, come to course one oh five!" Ross cried. "Take us back into the field as fast as you dare!"

Enterprise dove for the asteroids as the Klingons returned fire. Green lances of disruptor energy leapt from eight ships, and many found their mark. Ross was hurled headlong at the main viewscreen, striking his head on the deck. "Damage report!" he called, feeling hot blood coursing down his cheek.

"Aft shields at twenty-two percent!" Worf replied. "Structural damage to decks eleven through fifteen. Fire in shuttle bay one."

"Vent atmosphere from the shuttle bay," Ross ordered, clambering to his feet. "What are the Klingons doing?"

Worf checked his readings. "The Birds-of-Prey have scattered and gone back under cloak. The K't'ingas are holding station."

"They're going to use their sensors to feed navigational data to the Birds-of-Prey, letting them get through the field and blindside us. Just as you anticipated, Mister Worf. Well done."

The Klingon nodded. "Thank you, sir."

"Give them three minutes, and then activate the rest of the probes."

"Aye, aye sir."

The Enterprise reached the Prospero asteroid, circled it, and came around to face the oncoming Klingons. Three minutes later, the probes the ship had seeded in the asteroid field came to life.

The probes' sensor packages immediately began to scan the surrounding asteroids, several times a second. When one encountered a sensor signal lag, it activated its drive unit and shot down the bearing where it found the lag.

Two Klingon cruisers became the target of more than fifteen high-speed missles, which crashed into their unshielded hulls. Both ships disappeared in a flurry of small explosions.

"Look sharp!" Ross warned. "Three of them got through. Engage at will."

Then the Klingons were upon them. The three Birds-of-Prey decloaked simultaneously, from three different directions. Their sensors locked on at once.

Even as they locked on, the first Klingon ship found itself under a full spread of quantum torpedoes and phaser fire. Its shields flared and then collapsed, and phaser fire gutted the ship from stem to stern.

Disruptors and photon torpedoes slammed into Enterprise from port and starboard. Forward shields at fourteen percent!" Worf cried. "Hull rupture on deck eleven! Portside phasers are offline."

"Come about to starboard and engage second target!" Ross shouted. "Fire at will!"

Enterprise came around, taking a photon torpedo hit full on the bow. She responded with torpedoes of her own, and a volley of phaser fire. The Klingon ship was caught in the middle of a high-speed turn, and the phaser fire clawed up the port stabilizer and into the impulse drive. A series of explosions ripped the ship apart.

Disruptors from the third Klingon ship hammered into the aft shields, and the weakened defensive systems collapsed. A following photon torpedo struck the Enterprise's port warp nacelle, blowing it apart.

"Aft torpedoes, fire!" Ross commanded.

Worf spread the torpedoes wide, expecting the Klingon to make a tight turn and come back around at the unprotected aft. Sure enough, two torpedoes found their mark. The Klingon responded with disruptor fire, tearing into the Enterprise's hull. But the enemy ship's pass took it across the ship's starboard side, bringing it under fire from the Star Fleet ship's remaining phasers. The Klingon's shields collapsed, and the Bird-of-Prey blew apart in a searing ball of superheated gas.

Holding a hand against the cut on his forehead, Ross lurched back to the captain's chair. "How bad is it, Mister Worf?"

"Port warp nacelle destroyed. Main power now offline. Port phasers are out, and the aft torpedo tubes have been destroyed. Aft shields are down, and forward shields are at eleven percent. We cannot defeat the remaining Klingon ships."

"What are the Klingons doing?"

Worf checked the sensors. "They are holding station as before."

"They're trying to decide whether to fight or not." Ross said. "Helm, set course for the Klingon ships, one-quarter impulse."

Then helmsman gave Ross a fatalistic look. "Aye, aye sir."

Enterprise came about and surged toward the Klingon ships.

"What happens if they decide to fight?" Worf asked.

"We take as many of them with us as we can. Make your torpedoes count, Mister Worf."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The Enterprise moved through the asteroid field, drawing ever closer to open space and the awaiting Klingons. At the edge of the field, where they had sprung their ambush minutes before, Worf let fly a spread of torpedoes. The Klingon ships scattered, avoiding the missles- and vanished into cloak.

Ross leaned forward in his chair. "Hold station!" He turned to look back at Worf. "What do you think?"

Worf looked at the screen for a long time, his expression disbelieving.

Finally he said, "I think we have defeated them."
They had lost twelve more crewmembers during the battle, bringing the total dead to three hundred fifty-seven. Enterprise was crippled, unable to leave the system. She would have to be towed to the nearest starbase for repairs.

Incredibly, throughout the preparations for battle, Commander Data and Doctor Staavd continued to work on the wormhole calculations. Under the circumstances, there was little else they could do. An hour after the battle they found Ross on the bridge, discussing damage control efforts.

"Commodore Ross, we have the most amazing news!" Doctor Staavd said excitedly. It was right under our noses, but we failed to take it into account! Come and see!"

He followed them to the briefing room, the same one where they had made their case to Captain Picard a day and a half before. Ross wearily found a seat. A small flicker of hope struggled to break through a heavy cloud of fatigue. "What have you got, gentlemen?"

"We have at last made the refinements necessary to the matrix analysis to attempt to return you to your home universe." Doctor Staavd proudly turned and activated the wallscreen. The matrix display appeared, cleaner and somehow more ordered than before. Ross was happy to take their word for it.

"But," Data interjected, "we have also found an aspect to the phenomenon that we believe you will find most extraordinary."

Ross struggled to focus his concentration. "Okay, let's hear it."

Data looked expectantly at Doctor Staavd. The Efrosian cleared his throat. "Well, let's get back to basics. What were the circumstances surrounding your- accident, for lack of a better word?"

Ross frowned. "It appears that my ship entered a wormhole at the exact moment that you began your test of the conduit and the two-- collided, maybe?"

Staavd nodded. "That is as appropriate a term as any. Now, what initially gave us so much difficulty was separating the spatial and chronological components of the matrix. Fortunately, several decades of energy wave analysis at the Guardian of Forever has given us an amazing wealth of data on chronometric particles and their exchange rates-"

"How does that apply here, Doctor," Ross said, struggling to stay alert and awake.

"Oh! Pardon me. Forgive an old man's ramblings." Staavd pointed to the matrix. "Here are the waveforms connected to the chronological progression of your spacetime. If you will allow me to dispense with a lengthy discourse on chronometric particle exchange, I can state with certainty that our chronological progression runs at a different rate from yours."

The commodore sat up straight. "Meaning--"

"Meaning that, according to our calculations, you have been away from your ship for approximately two and one-half hours."

I can get back in time. All was not lost. "Doctor. Mister Data. I cannot express my gratitude adequately enough to you! This is the best news I have heard since I got here. When can we attempt to send me back?"

"Four hours, twelve minutes," Data said. "With your permission, we will begin setting up the test site for the transfer."

"Absolutely!" Ross felt a tremendous weight fall from his shoulders. "You can start immediately."

"There is one small concern," Staavd cautioned. "But on the surface of things, it is a minor one. We do not know how your mind will react to the rather pronounced relativistic differences between our two chronological rates. It is conceivable that you may suffer substantial memory loss as your mind struggles to adapt to the difference in perceived time. You might forget your experiences here entirely."

"Doctor, I would regret that immensely, but please do not be offended when I say that I am more than willing to pay that price."

"I'm not so sure of that."

Ross turned. Doctor Crusher stood by the door, her eyes haunted and her face pale. "Commodore, we need to have a discussion. There is something important you must know."

"I see." Ross said. "Gentlemen, if you will excuse us -- Please inform me as soon as you are ready to begin the transfer."

Ross waited for the doctor and Commander Data to leave, then rose from his chair and went to Crusher. Without a word, he took her in his arms, holding her and willing her all the strength he had left in him.

"Beverly, I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry for everything you've had to go through. You've had to make decisions no person should ever have to make in their life, and you did it with compassion and dignity. I know what making those decisions is like, and for what it's worth, I know what you're going through."

He held her like that for a long time, and after a while, she returned the embrace. The tears came, terrible, racking sobs that seemed to go on and on. Finally, when they had run their course, she pushed away from him. "There is something I have to tell you," she said, wiping her eyes. "Sit down."

When he was seated, she took a chair beside him and reached for his hand. "Glen, remember when you came to me about your headaches?"

Ross smiled. "It was the only thing I could think of at the time to get an appointment with you. I still haven't gotten any sleep-"

"Glen, it isn't stress. I was wrong. When we were cleaning out sickbay I came across your checkup results and went over them in more detail. You have a brain tumor."

It felt as though the breath had been knocked from him. His mouth worked for a few moments, but no sound would come out. "Are you sure?" was all he could finally manage to say.

"It's called a brain stem glioma. It is very, very small, but it is located in an extremely delicate part of your brain. It isn't interfering with your body functions yet, but it is indirectly causing your headaches. And it is malignant."

"How long-"

"I don't know. A tumor's growth rate often fluctuates. You might have several years, or several months. There is no way to tell. But Glen-" she clutched his hand fiercely. "We can operate on it and remove it. It is a very delicate operation, and would have to be done at Starbase Nine. But we can avoid this."

Ross felt himself grow cold inside. "How will it take to get to this Starbase, Beverly?"

She stared at him, and the tears began again. "Several weeks."

Ross nodded. He guessed that it was so. "I can't do that. I don't have the time. I have to get back."

"I know," she said softly. "I knew you would say that. But they won't be able to save you, back where you come from. Staavd isn't even sure you'll remember any of this!"

She broke down into sobs, and Ross pulled her close again. Deep inside, he was afraid. It was one thing to face an enemy and risk the possibility of death, and another to know that a particular decision would lead inexorably to his demise. "Sometimes war forces men to face hopeless battles," he said, remembering the words of his closest friend. "and they die. But if the death has meaning, if the sacrifice has a higher purpose, then is it wrong simply because it is an end to life?"

"I don't know," Crusher said, through the tears. "I just don't want you to go."

He reached out a hand to stroke her hair, and gently, tenderly, kissed her forehead.

In time, her tears dried up. She straightened in his arms, raised her face to his, and returned his kiss. It tasted of tears, and love intertwined.

"How long do you have?" she asked.

"They'll be ready in about four hours."

She rose, and took his hand. "Then take me to the holodeck, noble Leonidas," she said with a sad smile. "I feel like singing the blues."
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