CHAPTER FOUR

"Three!" repeated the thug more forcefully.

Commodore Cross reached behind his back for his phaser before he had remembered that it had been left in the future. Still, he tensed his body. Ready to spring into action at the first opportunity.

Suddenly, Cross heard the crack of wood against some object. At first Cross' mind thought of the children playing baseball in the park, but then he noticed the expression of agony across the young tough's face. His grip on T'Leya loosened considerably and as he crumpled to the ground, Cross noticed the dirty older man who so resembled the Galloway's third officer. He had risen from the ground and was holding a rather large piece of driftwood in his hands, which he brandished like a samurai's sword.

"Kojiro! Thank you, you saved my life," said T'Leya with perhaps more emotion than she would have normally liked. She had also unknowingly used the name of the man's future counterpart, however he said nothing to correct her.

"I was returning the favor," said Kojiro's doppelgänger. His tone was much stronger than it had been when the Doctor and Commodore had first encountered him. "I don't know what was in that thing you used on my arm," he added. "But it really did the job."

T'Leya smiled. Then she noticed the Commodore glance at her curiously.

The Commodore extended a friendly hand to the man. "Glad we could help. And thank you for saving us from your friend."

"Who?" quizzed Kojiro. The Commodore indicated the young tough, now splayed out unconscious on the concrete ground.

"Oh," commented Kojiro. "Well,some people will do anything for money."

Kojiro walked around his two new found friends. He was enjoying the new feeling of health that had been alien to him for so long. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the way the air smelled, unhindered by his formerly congested lungs. He glanced over at the Commodore and T'Leya, laughing with a joy he hadn't felt in years. The Commodore and T'Leya could not help but be moved.

"Listen," Kojiro joyously began. "If there's anything I can ever do for you, just name it!"

Cross glanced at T'Leya with a wry smile. "Well," he said addressing Kojiro. "Actually there is something."

Kojiro's expression momentarily became nervous. "I'm afraid I don't have much…"

"Do you know of a place called Station Square?" interrupted the Commodore before Kojiro was given the wrong impression.

Kojiro's unnerved expression disappeared. "Station Square? Sure, it's just across the river. There."

He pointed towards the east. The Commodore and T'Leya peered in the direction of his finger. There, about two miles in the distance was a sign in large red letters which read Station Square. There appeared to be a platform underneath the roofing upon which the words appeared. People sat on benches watching a huge winding series of differently shaped cars pass by them on what appeared to be a ladder laid flat and stretching on forever. Cross had read of these things, railroad trains they were called.

The Commodore also made note of a series of shops that lined the way several feet behind the railroad tracks as well as a huge building with many windows. The word Marriott appeared on this building, but the meaning of it had momentarily escaped Cross. The Commodore turned back to Kojiro.

"You have no idea how grateful we are," said the Commodore. "Can you show us the quickest way to get there?"

Kojiro had little time to be surprised by the reward the strange people who had helped him asked. He affirmatively answered the Commodore's question and asked the pair to follow him.

As Cross and T'Leya carefully tread nearly the same footsteps as their derelict friend, Commodore Cross' comm badge beeped. He tapped the Starfleet emblem shaped communicator to respond. It was Commander Scott checking in.

"Aindrea and I have figured out where this Station Square is sir," she said.

"So have we Commander," affirmed the Commodore. "Rendezvous with us there in fifteen minutes."

As Commodore Cross closed the channel between them, Gwenn Scott stared at her Betazoid friend dumbfounded. The man was a constant source of amazement to her. She kept asking herself why she had been so set on the idea of not allowing him to come along on the Away mission. He had turned out to be a valuable asset to the team.

Gwenn noticed Tara Aindrea urging her to accompany her to the rendezvous point. Gwenn started to exit the tall, rectangular glass casing when something pulled on her. Resisting to let her leave.

She whirled about ready to attack, but instead of some horrific alien monster, Gwenn glanced down at the black covered book which she had held in her possession little more than a moment ago, swinging back and forth inside the glass booth's confines on a metallic chain.

Gwenn felt slightly embarrassed.

Maybe Aindrea was right. Maybe she was a bit too paranoid.

Fifteen minutes later, Gwenn Scott and Tara Aindrea were happily reunited with their comrades from the Galloway. The four people exchanged quick greetings and Cross and T'Leya introduced Gwenn and Aindrea to their new friend.

Like the Commodore and the Doctor, Gwenn and Aindrea were at first taken by surprise at the man's resemblance to their colleague, Kojiro. Gwenn couldn't help but laugh. The Commodore had asked her for an explanation of the joke,and Scott had said that so many strange things had happened to them all day, but somehow, discovering this man made sense. The other three Galloway officers shared in Gwenn's joke.

Kojiro, naturally was lost on the jocularity of the strange people. However, he felt a twinge of concern when one of them, the not-bad-looking redhead named Scott, suddenly began to hack and cough rather harshly for no immediate apparent reason. He came close to the youthful officer, placing his hands upon her arms. Steadying her, he looked to the Doctor who helped him before and asked what was wrong. "The oxygen boosters," said T'Leya, "they're are beginning to wear off."

Kojiro was uncertain of what she meant by the remark, but he could detect a sudden urgency mount in the group. Especially in the man they called "Commodore". As he stood steadying Gwenn, his eyes cast downwards where he noticed some peculiar puddles on the asphalt. He wasn't certain if they were important or not but not wanting to feel completely left out of the action, he pointed them out to the Commodore.

The Commodore likewise glanced down at the puddles and seemed genuinely intrigued by them and he asked T'Leya to examine them. The Vulcan doctor crouched low bringing here medical tricorder out into the open once again.

Kojiro watched in awe as he ran the device over the puddles. After a few moments she rose and made her report to the Commodore. "No doubt about it," she said. "Romulan blood."

Realization dawned on Gwenn's face. "The one you hit, Commodore! They're already here!"

"It hasn't dried yet," pointed out T'Leya. "They can't have been here very long."

Commodore Cross noticed a trail of tiny droplets extended outward from the larger source puddle. He suggested that the group follow it. They carefully walked forward up a small flight of stairs and through a set of clear glass doors.

Through the doors the Galloway team and their twentieth century companion found themselves in a brightly colored and decorated corridor. Many openings lined the length of the all each with different objects inside the display glass. Clothing, food and some other objects which at the moment Cross and the other Galloway people could not recognize.

Kojiro noticed the confusion in his peculiar friends' eyes and took the opportunity to finally explain something to them, "It's a mall."

"Mall?" queried T'Leya.

"Yes, a collection of different shops housed under the same roof. Anything you ever need to find, you can find it in the mall."

"Ah," said T'Leya. "Intriguing."

Kojiro was disappointed at the Doctor's lack of enthusiasm.

"I don't suppose you could find a man in this mall, if you wanted to?" Gwenn asked plainly.

"Why? Did you have anyone in particular in mind?" said Kojiro raising an eyebrow with just a hint of seductiveness.

Flattered as Gwenn was by the man who resembled Kojiro so closely's proposal her mind was on her duty, "an author, some kind of philosopher."

"Sorry", replied Kojiro, "I'm afraid most of my recent philosophies have come from the men's room wall."

Gwenn's attention had left Kojiro completely. Soon, like the others Kojiro noticed the reason. Commodore Cross had stopped in front of a bookstore which had a sign in the front of its entrance. There was a smiling photograph of a cheerful looking plump faced older man with waves of salt and pepper colored hair. The sign read thus:

APPEARING TODAY:

Professor George Rodenberg

author of

Signs of Life: A New Guide for Humankind

Commodore Cross didn't need to look at the sign long to know that the man in the photograph was the same one that they had come back in time to save. The Commodore led the group through the open entrance and into the bookstore.

The Commodore quickly came forward to the counter where a nerdy young salesman stood. The boy pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose as the Commodore spoke.

"Excuse me", the commodore began, "my friends and I urgently need to see Mister Rodenberg."

"Mister Rodenberg is on his lunchbreak," said the salesman with a very nasal influenced voice. "He'll be signing books again at one o'clock."

"That maybe too late, I need to speak to him now!"

"I'm sorry but he's not here. You'll just have to wait in line like everyone else."

"Look," said the Commodore with increasing annoyance. "You don't seem to understand. It's a matter of life and death."

"No, you don't understand," snapped the salesman. "I have about forty other Artsies waiting to see Mister Rodenberg and to all of them it's a matter of life and death, you'll just have to wait!"

The Commodore sucked air through his teeth. This little twerp obviously had no idea that his holding the Commodore back could have dramatic repercussions on the whole of the universe for generations after his bones turned to dust. And what exactly did he mean by 'Artsies'?"

While the Commodore attempted to explain his case to the unyielding young salesman, Gwenn Scott and the others had begun to circulate through the racks of books inside the store. She found herself close to the man who resembled Kojiro, examining the row upon row of differently colored and worded covers. Gwenn picked a book at random and took it down from the shelf. She began to flip through it, marveling the actual printing more than the contents of the book itself.

Kojiro glanced over at the red-headed women quizzically, "Something the matter?" he asked.

"No," she replied, "it's just that I haven't seen one of these in a long time."

"You mean the title."

"No, the book itself. By our time all books were published on microtapes and read on view screens."

Gwenn's remark confused Kojiro even more, "I don't understand."

"Never mind, it's not important."


People tend to notice when someone is bleeding. And when a person begins to bleed in a color other than red, more than a few heads turn. The two Romulans had found this out the hard way as they appeared in the twentieth century. Outside of the mall, mere moments before the Galloway people had arrived on foot.

The first Romulan had dragged his injured companion through the clear glass doors and into the same brightly decorated corridor. There had been quite a few offers for help from bystanders but the Romulan in human disguise had refused all of them.

Finally, the Romulan had managed to drag his injured companion, while violently shoving aside more offers and the bystanders who had made them, into the sanctuary of a place called the Men's Room. Any human male still inside the room made quick notice of the two newcomers and immediately finished their business and hurriedly vacated the room.

Now the two Romulans were alone and to seemed none would bother them any further. The first Romulan, a tall lean man with piercing black eyes, began to tend to his smaller companion.

Their mission thus far had been more difficult than originally calculated. The intervention of the humans from the Federation Starship had caused the smaller Romulan to lose his tricorder and a pouch filled with necessities for survival on twentieth century Earth. To top it all off, one of the humans had successfully hit the same Romulan with a phaser. The Romulan was now experiencing what few had ever dared to display in public: agony.

"Be thankful that the Commander is not here to see you." hissed the tall Romulan as he tended his companions wounds. He dabbed a bloody g sh on the smaller Romulan's shoulder with a pad covered in a foul-smelling ointment. The Romulan shifted uncomfortable, sucking air through his clenched teeth as the ointment made contact with skin.

"Varoll!" the taller Romulan cursed his companion. "Face your pain! It will bring you strength!"

The injured Romulan continued to draw his breath through his teeth for several moments. Finally the pain appeared to ease and the Romulan's expression became more serene. The taller Romulan stood up, allowing his companion to travel what was left of his agony alone. Within moments he joined his taller compatriot in the standing position.

The tall Romulan nodded with contentment. "Tomak," he said, "if you ever do that again, I will not hesitate to reduce your status in rank."

"Yes, Centurion," said Tomak obediently. "I'm sorry. It will not happen again.

"Excellent. Come."

The Centurion led his young junior officer out of the white tiled room and into the corridor once again.


Commodore Cross had long given up his argument with the salesman. He had rejoined the other members of the Away team and patiently awaited the arrival of the man whose life or death would shape the future. The Commodore tapped his foot nervously.

"Take it easy, sir," suggested Gwenn. "He'll be back soon, and then we'll have our chance."

"I've been talking to some of the people who have come here," commented Aindrea. "Apparently George Rodenberg's work has only reached a certain amount of people. The majority of the population doesn't seem to take his message very seriously."

"What about the ones who do!" asked Cross looking around nervously.

"They are very devoted to it. Seem to think that his is the correct path to follow."

"Then the seed's already been planted. Unless it is fed and taken care of regularly over the next couple of centuries, it'll never blossom into the Federation we know."

Just then, T'Leya tugged on the Commodore's arm. He glanced at her and noticed that she was pointing to a table at the opposite end of the store. The pudgy man from the photograph on the sign sat in the chair placed behind the table. No one else appeared to notice George Rodenberg take his seat to begin the next session of signing. The Commodore motioned that the group should be the first people he saw.

George Rodenberg had a hard day thus far. The bookstore had asked him to come in for a signing of his latest work and thus far, few people, less than the store had expected, had turned up. And the ones who had shown up, although enthusiastic, had not given Rodenberg the impression that the book had make some kind of impact on their lives.

He was understandably depressed.

However, he had to press on and hope for the best. He glanced up from his table putting on his best smile for the next group. When he saw them his heart lifted slightly. Now this group seemed to have potential. They were relatively young and dressed very nicely with the possible exception of the dingy oriental man. Their leader was an older man, thin and with a well-defined face wrinkled by time.

They all seemed to be wearing some sort of wedge shaped insignia on the upper left hand corner of their shirts, again with the exception of the oriental. Perhaps the older man was a profession of some kind leading a group of his students to meet him. When he smiled at the man, he meant it wholly.

"Hello", greeting George Rodenberg cheerily. He took a copy of his book from the pile stacked neatly on the table. "Who do I make this out to?"

"What?" said the man, obviously puzzled.

"Your name! What's your name?"

"Sterling Cross."

Rodenberg smiled and jotted the man's first name into the book with a "best wishes" message written next to it. He then signed his name below it. He turned the book around so the man could read the autograph himself.

At last, Commodore Sterling Cross understood what Rodenberg was doing. "I'm really not interested in that." he said with a smile.

George Rodenberg's expression changed to one of disappointment. "Oh," he said downhearted, "well, is there something I can do for you."

"As a matter of fact, there is." said Sterling Cross somewhat seriously.

Rodenberg asked if Commodore Cross could move aside so that he could sign books for other people who were interested in his signature. The Commodore continued.

"Mr. Rodenberg, I'm not exactly certain how to tell you this, but..."

"The Romulans!"

Commodore Cross looked up to see Commander Scott waving frantically towards the entrance of the bookstore.

There stood the two Romulan agents in human disguise.

They had apparently intended to simply sneak in and do the job quietly, but the shouts of the red-headed Commander had caused them to behave in a manner that was decidedly less than convert. The two Romulans reached inside of their jackets and drew their disruptors. They aimed the noses of their weapons in the direction of the table and prepared to fire.

However, it was Gwenn Scott who drew the first shot.

She quickly pulled her hand phaser out of her side pouch and in one movement fired on the taller Romulan. She hit the hostile alien square in his chest. A tiny electrical pulse erupted from the point where Gwenn's beam came into contact with the Romulan's body. He was sent careening backwards, almost through the display window of an antique glass shop.

The second Romulan fired.

His beam found a mark, hitting George Rodenberg in his upper right shoulder, splashing blood on the bookcase behind him. Only a quick shove by Commodore cross had saved Rodenberg from being hit in his heart.

Gwen fired once again.

Like a true marksman, she hit the second of her targets the first time. The Romulan Tomak took the shot as a true warrior would. He stood his ground fighting the agony until it ultimately consumed him and he slumped to the floor.

Gwenn hadn't noticed until then the commotion the phaser fire had caused. People were screaming and running through the halls stricken with panic. The bookstore had been vacated with the exception of the Galloway personnel. Gwenn hovering over to join Commodore Cross and Doctor T'Leya who, at the moment, were hovering over George Rodenberg's unconscious body.

Gwenn bit her lip nervously as T'Leya ran her medical tricorder over the man's blood soaked shoulder. "Is he…" asked Gwenn uncertain if she really wanted to hear the answer.

"He's alive," said T'Leya. "But his injuries are severe.

"Can you treat him, Doctor?" quizzed the Commodore.

"I could do a much better job in sickbay."

"We don't have a sickbay, Doctor. You're just going to have to do the best you can," said the Commodore, his eyes stern.


Several minutes later, it seemed that the commotion outside the bookstore had ceased. Or maybe it hadn't, Gwenn Scott couldn't tell. At the moment her mind was focused on Doctor T'Leya performing delicate operations on the man whose work shaped the Federation. She could hear her heartheat pounding in her ears and she wiped her brow when a bead of salty moisture dripped into her eye.

The equipment which T'Leya had to work with was crude, even 'by the technological advanced standards of Starfleet. But nonetheless, T'Leya pressed on in her attempt to repair the damage done to George Rodenberg's shoulder by the Romulan disruptor.

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, T'Leya stopped. She looked up from her patient at the others with a look of contentment across her obscured Vulcan features. Gwenn knew the look all too well.

"He's going to be alright, isn't he?" she asked with a smile.

"I believe so," replied the Doctor in typical Vulcan fashion. "Only time will tell."

The members of the Galloway Away team let out a collective sigh of relief. They exchanged handshakes and warm hearty congratulations on a job well done to one another. Even Kojiro's help was acknowledged.

As the team exchanged their compliments, Commodore Cross removed his shirt and exchanged it for the torn and blood stained one worn by George Rodenberg. He dressed the man carefully in his own garment taking care not to rouse him from his slumber. As Cross finished placing Rodenberg's old shirt on his body, he noticed Gwenn eyeing him curiously.

"Why did you do that?" asked Gwenn.

"When he wakes, I don't want him to remember being shot." explained the Commodore. "Let him think that he came to no harm."

Gwenn nodded in agreement of the Commodore's logic.

The Commodore then turned to Kojiro. "You'll look after him, won't you?"

"Why?" wondered a perplexed Kojiro. "Someone has to be here when he wakes up." "You're leaving?"

The Commodore nodded.

"But why?" queried Kojiro. "You've saved a man's life here. Two if you count me. You're all heroes. Why are you leaving?"

"Our task here is done," said Gwenn touching his arm lightly.

"However, yours is only beginning," continued the Commodore. "You and that man have a great responsibility ahead of you: building a better future for mankind. Don't disappoint us."

The Commodore smiled at Kojiro who suddenly realized the impact of what he was saying. Kojiro returned the smile and accepted Commodore Cross' extended band. He took it in his own and shook it vigorously for a few mo1ents until he realized that it was no longer there.

Kojiro stopped pumping his arm in the air and whirled about. The man was gone, as were the other three who were with him. Where or how they had gone, Kojiro could only imagine. But it really didn't matter.

He heard a groan emanate from behind him and he rushed over to help George Rodenberg back to his feet. He helped dust off the shaken author and led him over to his seat once again. After Rodenberg had been seated he asked Kojiro what had happened.

"I'm not really sure," said Kojiro. "But I think humanity has just been given a little hope."

The swirling mists engulfed the Galloway crew. Similar to a transporter beam, they obscured and changed reality. One moment they were standing in a bookstore on twentieth century Earth. How the mists had completely faded that image and they now found themselves looking out at the dusty grey soil of Gateway. The Away team stepped forward from the Guardian onto the familiar surface of the planet.

All was silent as they surveyed the barren grey landscape. Finally they heard a voice speak. The deep, ominous voice of the Guardian.

"All is as it was," said the voice.

Seconds later, another voice called out. It was softer, more feminine. The Away team turned around and saw Captain Tanara and two other Galloway officers descending the hillside towards them. Gwenn Scott smiled with relief. Tanara was wearing her standard issue uniform and a black eyepiece no longer obscured her beautiful Terrakian features.

Gwenn called out to her approaching superior. She noticed that Quinn and Kojiro came up alongside her. Within moments, Tanara and the others had joined the Away team standing before the Guardian.

"Captain!" sighed Gwenn. "It is so good to see you again!"

"And you, Number One," acknowledged Tanara in a business as usual manner. "We've been trying to contact you for the last hour. Where have you been?"

"It would take too long to explain sir," said Gwenn. "My report will fill in all the details."

Tanara nodded saying she couldn't wait to read it.

"How did you find us Captain?" wondered Aindrea. "From me," said a familiar deep voice.

Gwenn slowly turned around to see Dogh leaning against the remains of a stone wall. Gwenn rushed excitedly over to her Klingon friend and embraced him warmly, nearly knocking him over. Dogh was naturally overwhelmed by her display of emotion, but gratefully returned her affection.

"Commander, control yourself," said Captain Tanara uncomfortably.

Gwenn looked up—smiling with joy—into the Klingon's eyes. "Dogh, you're alive! How...?"

"All is as it was," said the Commodore repeating the Guardian's last words.

Tanara looked over the faces of her officers with a mixture of confusion and joy across her usually stern face. "Let's get back to the ship," she finally said.

The assembled officers huddled close together in a circle, awaiting the signal to transport back to the Galloway. Commodore Cross stood beside captain Tanara who inspected the Commodore's torn and bloodied clothes.

Something caught her attention as she turned to the Commodore. "Sir," she began. "Where's your communicator?"

Gwenn Scott and the other members of the Away team hadn't noticed that until then, Commodore Cross did not have the Communicator badge attached to his shirt. Gwenn then remembered the Commodore exchanging his garment for the bloodied one that George Rodenberg had on. The badge had been on the Commodore's original shirt. It wasn't there now.

The Commodore smiled knowingly.


EPILOGUE

The newscaster checked her earpiece and then counted into her microphone testing the sound level. When all was at the proper balance, she turned to her cameraman with a ready look. The rotund bearded man in the baseball cap hefted the large video camera over his right shoulder and moved the eyepiece into position. He lined up the perfect shot to fully capture the upper body of the beautiful petite woman. She began to address the camera.

"This is Christine Brown," she said. "I'm standing here in front of Border's Bookstore here in Station Square. Where this afternoon, the everyday bustle and bustle of this busy mall was shattered by gunfire.

Two unidentified terrorists made an unsuccessful attempt on the life of noted author and Professor George Rodenberg, who was in town for a book signing. The bodies of the two terrorists have been taken to Mercy General Hospital for autopsies and identification. No information has been released by the hospital as to the identities of the two men."

Christine then moved to her right slightly. The camera followed her closely as the image of the two men came into focus standing beside her.

"I'm here right now with Professor Rodenberg and the man who saved him from severe injury. Your name, sir?"

She leaned the microphone into a slightly dirty oriental man's face. "Gregory Kojiro," said the man.

"And where do you live, Mister Kojiro?"

"At the moment I'm homeless."

"Can you describe what happened here this afternoon?"

Kojiro thought for a moment before speaking. "Well," he began. "I mean, uh, I was here, you know. And I happened to be down around the bookstore here when I see these two guys with guns, right? And I see that they're pointing at Mr. Rodenberg here. At that point my instincts just took over, you know? I rushed in and shoved Mr. Rodenberg out of the line of fire."

"And were you able to treat any of Professor Rodenberg's injuries?" asked Christine.

"Well, I was a medic in 'Nam, you know. And that's just something you never forget."

"And Professor Rodenberg. You feel no ill effects from this attempt on your life?"

"No," answered Rodenberg. "In fact, I'm encouraged. Despite the fact that two people meant to do harm to me today, another human being put his life on the line for me. It's renewed my faith in the human spirit."

"There you have it," concluded Christine. "Hope springs forth from a near tragedy. A lesson in humanity we should all take heed of. This is Christine Brown, Channel 8 Action News."

As Christine closed her report, her cameraman took one picture. He zoomed in for a close up of the unusual, wedge shaped badge that adorned the upper left corner of George Rodenberg's black shirt.

The Galloway made its final approach to Starbase 345. Standard orbit was established over the blue/green planet below. Commander Gwenn Scott and Commodore Sterling Cross stepped on to the bridge to see the final stages of the Galloway's approach to the planet.

Captain Tanara looked up as the officers exited on to the bridge and could hear the tail end of a conversation being carried on with Kojiro and Dogh.

"... and you say that this guy you met was me?" asked an astonished Kojiro.

"Well, he looked and sounded a lot like you," replied the Commodore.

"I was killed by Romulan disruptor fire?" wondered Dogh.

"Yes," said Gwenn gravely. "No one should have to see that."

"Impossible," insisted Dogh as he turned and assumed his station at security.

Gwenn shook her head chortling to herself. She and Commodore Cross proceeded down the horseshoe walkway until they stood beside Tanara, watching the blue/green planet fill the view screen. Tanara turned to the Commodore.

"Your new home sir," introduced Tanara. Cross only grunted and nodded for a reply. "Would you like to contact them, sir?"

"No, I'll leave that honor to you, Captain," replied Cross. "I just need to get something from your ready room and then I'll be on my way."

"Very well, sir," acknowledged Tanara as the Commodore turned away and entered the Captain's ready room from a door on the far end of the bridge.

Simultaneously, Gwenn Scott and Captain Tanara backed into their command chairs at the base of the horseshoe.

They joined the already seated Tara Aindrea and Captain Tanara ordered a hailing frequency to be opened to the Starbase. Quinn reported that the frequency was opened.

"Starbase 345," she began. "This is Captain Tanara of the USS Galloway. Respond please."

The image on the view screen changed and a balding older human male with a slightly rotund face filled the screen. He smiled warmly at the Captain.

"Ah, Captain Tanara," he said. "It's been a long time."

Tanara sat slightly confused. "To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"

"Has it been that long, Tanara? Perhaps it has. Your old commander, Commodore Sterling Cross. In charge of Starbase 345."

Gwenn glanced at the captain in shock. Tanara held her ground.

"That's quite impossible, sir," continued Tanara. "We have Commodore Cross aboard the Galloway this very moment. Waiting to be transported down to assume command of Starbase 345."

"Captain, I can assure you that I am Sterling Cross," insisted the man on the view screen. "I have the files to prove it."

Tanara was even more confused now. "When did you assume command of the Starbase?"

"Three days ago," replied the man. "If you wish, you can check with Starfleet Command."

Tanara quickly rose from her chair and Gwenn Scott did likewise. Tanara then abruptly closed the channel with the Starbase. She then turned questionably to Gwenn.

"If that's the Commodore," said Tanara. "Then who is in my ready room?"

The doors parted and the pair stepped inside the plush, decorated room. They glanced around the interior of the room. They could bear a sound emanating all around them. A grinding, almost wheezing noise.

Tanara then noticed that a piece of her furniture, an ancient grandfather clock that had been a gift from Commodore Cross, was no longer in its place.

Gwenn and Tanara stared blankly at the now bare wall.