From behind her seat in the captain’s chair, T’Mel heard an alarm coming from the direction of the tactical station. She turned around to address the ensign at the tactical console. “Report,” she said.
“We’re picking up a Starfleet homing signal. It’s coming from within Hullman,” the tactical officer stated.
“That would be the captain,” T’Mel said as she stood up to walk back to the tactical station. “Bridge to transporter room, prepare to send the security team over.”
“I’m sorry, commander,” the transporter chief replied, “the Hullman just raised their shields. I can’t send them out.”
“Can you lock on to the homing signal coming from the Hullman?”
“Yes, but as long as the shields are up, I can’t get a transporter pattern through.”
“Dammit!” T’Mel’s curse took the crew by surprise, not expecting a Vulcan to have an outburst, even a small one. She considered contacting the captain but didn’t want to give away the plan. She went back to the captain’s chair to wait to see what happens next.
Meanwhile, aboard the Hullman, Porter had stepped back from the force field to talk with Admiral Vargas. “Sir, please. She’s no danger to anything. Just let her out.”
“I can’t do that, Porter. The chances that she knows something and could have the existence of omega extracted from her is too great.” Vargas turned towards the door. “I’ll let you say your goodbyes to her, and I’ll await your presence in my ready room.” The doors slid open and shut without Porter saying anything, leaving him in the brig with the brig officer and Harrison.
Porter looked at Harrison and winked, then turned to the brig officer. “Ensign, lower the force field.”
“Sorry, sir, I can’t do that,” the officer replied.
“’Sorry sir?’” Porter quoted back. “Am I a sorry sir? Is that what you meant, ensign?”
The officer’s face changed from serious to concerned. “No, sir, I-I just meant that I’m sorry that I can’t do what you asked. Admiral Vargas’ orders were very specific.”
Porter chuckled. “Well, we don’t want you disobeying an admiral’s orders now, do we?” he replied. “Then again, it’s hard to follow orders when you’re sleeping.” Before the ensign knew what happened, Porter’s fist smacked him in the face, knocking him out cold. Porter grabbed the security officer’s phaser and lowered the force field.
As soon as the force field went down, Harrison ran over to hug Porter, then quickly let him go. “I’m sorry, sir!” she exclaimed.
“No problem, Leeanne. Let’s get out of here.” The two walked to the door and left the brig. Turning left, Porter led them down the hall towards the nearest airlock.
“Where are we going?” Harrison asked.
Porter stopped at a hallway crossing, looked down them all, then continued walking them along. “We’re going to the nearest airlock. I felt my combadge vibrate three times just after I activated this transporter,” he gestured to his cuff, “which signaled that T’Mel can’t beam us out. So now I’m improvising.”
“You always were good at thinking on your feet.”
The voice from behind made Porte rand Harrison stop. Harrison turned around to see who it was, but Porter already knew that it was Admiral Vargas. Looking down the hall in front of him, Porter saw the airlock just past a wall junction. He turned around to face Vargas and the security officers. “That’s one thing that helped me get through some of your classes, professor,” he said.
“Indeed. And now it’s gotten you into a serious bit of trouble, commander.” Vargas took a couple steps forward. “Did you honestly think you could get out of here with your crewman?”
Porter smiled. “Actually, yes I did, and I still do.” He grabbed Harrison’s hand and pulled her down the hallway towards the airlock.
“Stop them!” Vargas yelled. The two security officers, who both had their rifles up and aimed, fired down the corridor. The shots missed, but just as Porte and Harrison got past the bulkhead connector, one of the phaser pulses hit a wall and caused an EPS junction to explode, sending shrapnel flying. Porter was able to get his arm up to shield his face, but Harrison’s leg took a chunk of bulkhead. She fell to the ground screaming in pain.
Porter slammed the emergency force field setting that is used to encase the small corridor space if the airlock decompresses. Light blue force fields filled both sides of the area in front of the airlock, fire lighting up the corridor just beyond Porter and Harrison’s enclosure. Harrison lay on the ground clutching her bleeding leg as Porter took off his uniform top to wrap her leg.
“Porter to Solstice, prepare to transport two directly to sickbay.”
From the captain’s seat, T’Mel’s eyebrow raised. “Sir, we can’t get a transporter lock through the Hullman’s shields.”
Porter chuckled. “Don’t worry, you’ll get us soon. Just watch!” He closed the comm line and held on to Harrison. “I need you to hold on to me as tight as you can, and exhale on my command. That’s an order, ensign.” Harrison nodded as Porter picked up his phaser and pointed it directly at the airlock door and fired. “Exhale!”
T’Mel had stood up and walked back to the tactical console. Just as she did, the sensors went off. “Sir, an airlock on the Hullman just exploded…and I’m detecting two lifeforms, one of which has a transponder!”
“Transporter room!” T’Mel exclaimed, “lock on and beam them directly to sickbay!”
A few tense seconds went by before the transporter chief replied. “Got them, commander. They’re both safely in sickbay!”
Everyone on the bridge exhaled. T’Mel made for the turbolift. “I’ll be in sickbay. Lieutenant, you have the bridge.” The tactical officer responded with an ‘aye’ as the turbolift doors shut to send T’Mel on her way. When she got to sickbay, T’Mel saw a young female officer lying on the main surgical bed being held down and worked on by the chief medical officer and two nurses. On another bed, Commander Porter’s injuries were being attended to by the EMH.
“Captain, I’m glad you made it back safely.”
Porter looked up at T’Mel as the EMH used a tweezer and dermal regenerator on the open cuts. “Tell that to Ensign Harrison,” he replied through the slight pain. He winced as a small piece of shrapnel was pulled out.
“Hold on, almost done,” the EMH said. She pulled out another piece.
“Oww!” Porter exclaimed, pushing the EMH’s hand away.
“Sit still, commander. I don’t need you bleeding all over the floor.” She used the dermal regenerator to patch up the last area as best as she could. “There, that’s the best I can do for now.”
“Thanks.” Porter slid off the biobed and gestured for T’Mel to walk with him.
Harrison’s voice rose over the sounds in sickbay and made Porter and T’Mel turn around before they left. She pulled down the oxygen mask and propped herself up on an elbow to get a view of her rescuer. “Thank…thank you, sir. I’m so sorry…so sorry…”
“You have nothing to apologize for, Leeanne. Get some rest.” Porter smiled. “You’re going to need it when you get back on duty.”
Harrison smiled back. “Yes, sir.”
The two senior officers left sickbay to head back up to the bridge. “Sir, I know you’ve only just returned, but may I ask what you intend to do next?”
“I have a feeling Admiral Vargas is going to take the next step.” Porter pushed the button to summon a turbolift car. “As for what that step is, well…I just hope we’re around long enough for a court martial.”
“Bridge to Captain Porter.”
Porter tapped his combadge as they entered the lift. “Go ahead.”
“S-sir, Admiral Vargas would like to speak to you.”
“Tell the admiral that we’ll be up to the bridge shortly.”
There was a slight pause. “Y-yes, sir. I-I’ll tell him. Bridge out.”
“I don’t like this,” T’Mel said cautiously.
“Neither do I,” Porter replied. He took the phaser he took from the Hullman security officer and charged it. The lift came to a stop and the duo walked out, Porter with the phaser raised, to see Admiral Vargas sitting in his seat with black-clothed personnel surrounding the bridge crew.
“That was quite the stunt you pulled, Commander Porter.” Vargas didn’t bother to turn to face Porter and T’Mel. He kept his gaze at the viewscreen, which showed the Hullman floating in space against the background of stars and a distant green nebula. “I won’t lie, I wasn’t expecting you to use the airlock that way. Quite ingenious.”
Porter walked between Vargas and his crew, loosening his arm holding the phaser a bit to keep it closer to his hip. “Like you said, sir, I’m good at thinking on my feet.”
“Yes, well this time, your quick-thinking actions are going to have some dire consequences.” Vargas stood up. “You think of yourself as a pretty slick guy, someone that everyone should love, and that you’re a natural leader. Well, let me tell you something, Mister Porter…” Vargas nodded to one of his crew members, who pulled a science officer out of the group and held a phaser rifle against the back of their head. “This time, your brash actions have endangered more than just yourself, or those flying with you.” Vargas nodded to his officer, who pulled the trigger on his rifle and sent a high-power phaser beam into and through the science officer’s head.
“No!” Porter and the other bridge officers watched as the lifeless body of the recently-promoted Lieutenant, JG slumped to the ground. “How could you!?”
“How could I? How could YOU!?” Vargas pointed a finger right at Porter’s face. “YOU are the commanding officer of this ship. YOU devised the mission to rescue your crewman, and while that was very brave, YOU placed this ship and crew in danger at a time when Starfleet and the Federation are at their most vulnerable.”
“Sir, you and your team know enough about om-”
“Don’t say it, commander!”
“-about omega to carry out the mission without us. If you want to place this ship under quarantine or arrest us all, fine, do it, but murdering your own officers is too far, even for the Omega Directive!”
Vargas let out a frustrated grunt. “Now you’ve gone too far, Commander. Mister Bruno, please apprehend the commander and his XO.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
The viewscreen changed from the backdrop of space to the image of a black-uniformed man sitting on the bridge of the Hullman.
“Excuse me?” Vargas said to the man.
“I said that won’t be necessary.” The man leaned forward in the chair. “Turns out that the data collected by the Solstice helped us track exactly what we feared. The Tkon Empire has returned, and omega is being used as a signal for all living members of their empire to return to their home planet.”
The news seemed to bring a new set of problems to Vargas. “Do you know where the beacons lead to?”
“Not a specific location, but a good direction to head.”
Vargas nodded in agreement. “Very good. As soon as I’m done here, I’ll head back over to take us there.”
“That won’t be necessary, admiral.”
Vargas’ eyebrows narrowed. “Excuse me?”
“You’ve served your purpose, and Section 31 thanks you for all your help.” The man on the screen sat back and nodded to one of the black-clad officers standing behind the captain’s chair. Just as Vargas stand to turn around and face the officer, he was shot in the back. Vargas’ body fell forward and down from the platform that the CO’s chair was on.
“Commander Porter,” the man on the screen said, “I apologize for what your crew has gone through. At this time, I’m going to have to ask you and your crew to remain here while we continue on our mission to save the galaxy. Now that you’ve seen what we can do, I think we both know that you won’t be…how did the admiral put it? ‘Thinking on your feet’?”
Porter looked around the bridge at what had happened: two dead bodies and members of some organization called Section 31. “I agree with you, sir. We’ll remain here until…until someone comes to explain this all to us.”
“A special Starfleet ship is on the way here. They will explain everything to you and interrogate the crew about what went on. In the meantime, I’d like to thank you for your assistance with the current situation. Until next time, captain.” The man nodded and the screen went black. All the black-clad officers beamed off the ship, and a few seconds later, the Hullman jumped away at high warp.
The silence on the bridge was broken by the sounds of crying from one of the bridge officers, all of whom were still on the ground in the front of the bridge. Porter tapped the comm button on his chair. “Bridge to sickbay, we need medical attention.”
“Aye, sir, a team’s on the way,” replied the chief medical officer.
Porter sat in his chair and placed his face in his hands. “What have I done?” he sorrowfully asked.
“You did what you felt was the right decision, sir,” T’Mel replied.
Porter snorted. “Right decision? I got two Starfleet officers killed, including an admiral that I knew very well!”
“I doubt Ensign Harrison would say that your choice to go for her was a bad choice.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
The voice from the turbolift drew everyone’s attention. There was Ensign Harrison, walking on to the bridge as if nothing had happened to her.
“Ensign! You’re…you’re walking ok!” Porter exclaimed.
“Yes, I am,” she replied. “And actually, it’s not ensign…it’s captain.” Everything around Harrison and Porter suddenly disappeared to reveal a holodeck. Porter dropped to the floor as the captain’s chair disappeared, along with everyone else other than he and Harrison.
“What? W-what’s going on?” Porter studdered.
“A test, Mister Porter. A test that you did alright on, all things considering.”
Porter looked around. “Where the hell am I?”
“You’re still aboard Starbase 86. The Solstice is currently docked at Bay 3-A awaiting your arrival.” Captain Harrison walked over to the holodeck controls and brought up the statistics from the simulation. “The mind is an amazing thing. With a simple tweak, we made the past couple days seem like weeks.” The two looked over the statistics, including the time frame, Porter’s health, and the various main aspects of the simulation. “Not quite like the Kobayashi Maru, but still an effective test.”
Porter stood up and continued to read the information. “And the point of this test?” he asked.
“To see how well you would do as a commanding officer in a life-or-death situation that didn’t involve one of the Federation’s enemies.” Harrison shut down the holographic information page and walked back to the center of the holodeck next to Porter. “Unfortunately, not all of Starfleet’s enemies come from foreign powers. Honestly, I think you did alright, though the entire simulation will have to be reviewed by the rest of the committee. For now, go get some rest. Your orders are to report to the Solstice in four days to launch on your first mission. I will get in contact with you with the results of this test.”
Taking in everything that he was just told, Porter nodded and turned to leave. Just before he did, he stopped in the open doorway. “Wait…does that mean the Omega Directive, Section 31, the Tkon Empire…all of it was made up just for this test?”
Harrison chuckled. “Do you honestly think we would put details of secret organizations and directives in a test for commanding officers?”
“When you put it that way, I guess not.” Porter managed a slight smile as he headed off to his guest quarters aboard the station.
After he left, Harrison pulled out a half-black combadge out of the back pants pocket and tapped it. “Harrison to Vargas.”
“Go ahead, captain.”
“Jackson Porter just left the simulation. I think you’ll find the test results…interesting.”