CHAPTER TWELVE

Jack Bairnson's jaw nearly touched the floor as he stared in disbelief at the hanging, crucified form of his executive officer dangling a scant five feet above the metallic floor of the volcanic cavern. The beaten Yarzonian officer hung motionless. The whole scene reminded Bairnson of a horrific image from one of his own nightmares. So, this is what it was coming down to, was it?

Johnson, Saallak, and Winston also stared in complete shock. It was true that they found the Yarzonian man abrasive and unlikable, but as the captain had said, hadn't they also been to receive a commission aboard the Enterprise? They wouldn't have wished a fate like this on their worst enemies. It certainly wasn't fit for someone who was supposed to be a friend.

"Oh come now," the mysterious, disembodied voice began again. "You really didn't believe that I hadn't noticed his pursuit, did you Jack?"

The voice paused for effect, letting the question ooze its way into Bairnson's mind.

"How else could I have prepared for your arrival?"

"What do you want?" Bairnson asked finding nothing else that he could do.

"Isn't it obvious, Jack?" the voice sounded slightly hurt by the question. "I want the pleasure of personally destroying you."

It was then that Bairnson heard the low electronic hum. Once again the reverberation of sound the circular chamber created made pinpointing the sound's origin difficult. However, soon the sound was accompanied by an ever brightening light emanating in the direction of the Erebus.

Bairnson turned his head towards the growing illumination. A walkway hatch was opening from the belly of the black starship. A pair of humanoid legs were outlined against the white backdrop of light. They were advancing from out of the ship.

The voice returned once again. Although still deep and ominous, this time it did not seem to surround the landing party, but came directly from the steadily lowering ramp.

"Actually, it's true I've had several opportunities to kill you before," it said. "But somehow, this seems so much more poetic."

The humanoid figure was now completely in view. It's dark silhouette still surrounded by an aura of light. The hatchway behind it slowly began to close.

The methodical way in which this person operated fascinated Jack Bairnson no end. However, he found himself confused by the figure's last remark. His confusion did not go unnoticed.

"Surely you remember the time I came the closest, Jack?" the figure said sarcastically. "On Omega Omicron 2?"

Omega Omicron 2.

The incident on that planet had never been far from Jack Bairnson's mind. Now events that had occurred on that world were beginning to make sense. The mysterious vessel the Excelsior couldn't get a proper a sensor lock on. The attack on the colonists and Bairnson's away team by an unseen enemy. And most of all, the mysterious injection which Bairnson alone had received. The reason he had survived was because Doctor T'Ma had found an antidote for the lethal poison barely in the nick of time.

"Why do you think your first assignment as captain of the Enterprise involved me?" the figure said. "You got the closest to me."

Closest?

Bairnson would have hardly considered that that made him the ideal choice to snare Devorax. But who knew how the upper echelons of Starfleet Command operated?

Bairnson now noticed that the hatchway on the Erebus had now closed completely. As his eyes adjusted to the returning dim light, Bairnson finally got his first look at the infamous terrorist.

He was wearing a one-piece uniform made of a silvery, thinly metallic fabric. His boots and gloves were of a slightly deeper grey than the rest of the outfit and they seemed to completely cover any trace of skin tone which Devorax might have had. What really struck Bairnson though, was the figure's helmet.

It was exactly the way General Zaraff had described it. Metallic silver with two huge, red circular eyes. A red fin split the face of the helmet into two sides as it arced downward from its crest at the helmet's apex. The mouth, at least that's what Bairnson presumed it was, had been finely etched into the lower half of the face. It was mainly there to give a vaguely human appearance. It did not move as the figure spoke. The face was permanently frozen into a single, emotionless expression.

The more Bairnson gazed at the helmet, the more it reminded him of the helmet from a standard Federation V-16 survival suit. In fact, Devorax's whole outfit was of the exact same material out of which such suits were constructed. The helmet had been radically modified to give it a more ominous and frighteningly stoic appearance, but otherwise it matched the V-16 almost perfectly.

There was more to Devorax than first met the eye. He slowly began advancing on the landing party, a phaser poised at the ready in his right hand. Bairnson decided to bait him for more information.

"One way or another Jack," continued Devorax. "I've been behind every move you've made."

"So it's just me you want?" Bairnson countered with a barely detectable boldness. "In that case, why don't let the rest of my crew go?"

"Oh, I intend to let those on the ship live," Devorax stated adding, "However you and the others here know far too much. You must be eliminated."

"In that case," said Bairnson. "Since we're all doomed to die anyway, why don't you show us who you really are?"

Devorax stopped in his tracks. This was the first sign of hesitation the terrorist had shown. He spoke again, but his confidence sounded forced.

"Oh no, Jack. You're not going to get the satisfaction."

"Why not?" Bairnson boldly asked. "You've proved yourself a better man than I am. Why not satisfy your own ego by revealing your true identity to me?"

"You're trying to trick me," Devorax said with a barely detectable quiver in his voice. "I won't!"

"Coward!" Bairnson spat.

"I fear nothing!" Devorax angrily replied. "Especially you, Bairnson!"

"Prove it, then. Show me who the better man is. Show who you are!"

Devorax stood still a moment contemplating his next move. Bairnson could tell that he had struck a nerve deep within the terrorist's being. Devorax's breath was short and came in angry, frustrated huffs. Finally the masked terrorist spoke.

"The sight of my face Bairnson," said Devorax pointing at the Federation captain, "will be the last thing you ever see!"

Devorax raised his hands to press them firmly against either side of his helmet. His fingers moved, as though activating a single hidden control loosening the fit of the helmet against his head. Devorax raised the helmet slowly until it revealed a stubbled human chin. A mouth, a nose followed. Finally the man's deep blue eyes and sandy brown hair were completely exposed. He placed the helmet down on the metallic floor and stood once again pointing his phaser directly at Captain Bairnson.

Bairnson recognized the man. It didn't actually surprise him to know, in fact he smiled with the satisfaction he often felt at the end of a mystery novel when he realized that he had had the murderer figured out all along.

"Riggs," Bairnson simply said. "Geoffrey Riggs."

Riggs shifted his weight on his feet uneasily. "You can't have known, Jack."

"Oh no. Not at first," agreed Bairnson. "But when this whole thing turned into a game of revenge against me, I could only think of a handful of people who resented me enough to try it."

"Ah," Riggs said with an almost restored confidence. "But the incident aboard the MacFarlane. You couldn't have predicted that could you?"

"Oh the suicide was a nice touch, I admit. But you didn't count on one thing: the Council appointing a new president."

"That wasn't the point!" shouted Riggs. "The point is that I succeeded in assassinating the president of the Federation alone!"

"Yes that must have been quite a rush for you. For a while anyway. What were you proposing to do for an encore?"

"Your death was always the integral part of my plan. Here on this world you would meet your deaths and I," Riggs paused dramatically. "I would be found safe and sound. A survivor. Escaped from the carnage of the infamous Devorax."

"I see," Bairnson said with fascination. "You would be the lone survivor of a battle between Devorax and us. You'd be a hero."

"Yes," sighed Riggs in ecstasy. "I'd get the Enterprise at least. Finally, command of my own starship."

Riggs paused again. He stressed his next words with sadistic relish to Bairnson's face.

"I may even finally win over that little waif of yours: Janet!"

Bairnson managed to contain his rage. "It's perfect, Geoff. It almost could've worked too."

Bairnson's statement took Riggs by surprise. He cocked his head back in confusion. Within seconds he brought it forward again with an evil smile curled across his lips.

"You seem to forget, Jack. I hold the winning hand."

"Maybe," Bairnson calmly replied.

Suddenly, as if on a cue from Bairnson, a terrible tremor struck the volcanic cavern. Riggs glanced skyward and noticed a huge, orange fireball erupting from the mouth high above the cavern. A second explosion followed not a few seconds later. Riggs' face twisted in horror building with rage. He slowly glanced down at Jack Bairnson who stood calmly with an inane grin on his face.

"But I have an ace up my sleeve!" said Bairnson with satisfaction.

Huge chunks of igneous rock began to fall from above as the relentless explosions continued to pound the top of the volcanic mountain. Bairnson moved, dodging the falling rock. He called out to the others to set Y'Gar free. Johnson, Saallak, and Winston jumped in response to his command and immediately ran over to the far wall on which the Yarzonian hung crucified.

Devorax had remained standing where he was as the shower of stone began to increase in its intensity. He began crying out in agony as the world that he knew began to crumble all around him. Bairnson rushed over to aid the others in setting Y'Gar free. He stopped as Riggs' voice called out to him. Bairnson turned to face the man who had fallen to his knees. He advanced towards him.

"What have you done!" screamed Riggs.

"That 'little waif Janet,' as you called her, has obeyed my orders to the letter and opened fire on this mountain. Having not heard from us exactly two hours after we beamed down," replied Bairnson with a satisfied smile.

Bairnson hadn't expected Riggs to pick his phaser up and point it at him again in one swift move, but that was exactly what he did. Bairnson took a step backwards nearly avoiding being struck on the head by another falling rock. He continued to slowly move backward as Riggs nervously pointed the phaser at his heart. His lips curled into a sinister and maniacal grin.

"If I die here," heaved Riggs. "I won't go to Hell alone."

Riggs slowly began to laugh. The sound built up higher and higher as his mind slowly slipped away. He advanced towards Bairnson who continued to back away. Riggs' steps became quicker. He was determined not to let Bairnson escape. Riggs had backed Bairnson up against one of the far walls of the cavern and held him paralyzed against the cold, hard rock with his phaser.

Then, without warning, Riggs suddenly convulsed and fell backwards to the floors unconscious.

Bairnson barely caught his breath and managed to force his eyes to stare straight ahead where he saw Y'Gar and the others standing in front of the open doorway through which they had entered the cavern. Y'Gar was holding a phaser straight out in front of him. It had been he who had fired and stunned Devorax.

Bairnson then realized that the stone shower was at its most severe. He heard Y'Gar calling to him to join him and the others. Bairnson ran forward, leaping and swerving to avoid being killed by one of the huge volcanic boulders raining from above.

Within seconds he reached the doorway.

Y'Gar began pulling Bairnson through the open doorway where they would flee down the long metallic corridor to safety. However, Bairnson would not budge. Y'Gar asked him what was the matter.

"We can't just leave him in there," said Bairnson calmly.

"What?" Y'Gar could barely believe his ears. He looked his captain square in the face, using his green on green eyes to their fullest effect.

"After what he's done to the Federation? Not to mention all of us and you especially?"

Y'Gar straightened himself and made his point calmly and firmly.

"He deserves to die!"

Bairnson gave his executive officer a reprimanding look. Even through all that had happened, the Yarzonian still had much to learn.

"If we leave him," Bairnson began, "then he really will have won. He'll have proved that we aren't any better than him. And I don't intend to let that happen."

Bairnson quickly darted away from the four other officers and began the mad dodging and swerving game run to avoid being crushed to death by the falling rocks. He reached the body of Geoffrey Riggs, lying motionless on the metallic floor in what he would afterwards think had to have been a galactic record.

He tried to rouse Riggs any way that he could. He shook his motionless shoulders. Slapped his unresponsive face. Nothing he did seemed to rouse him. Bairnson was about to bend down and carry Riggs out of the cavern over his shoulders when he heard Y'Gar cry out.

"Captain!Look out!"

Instinctively, Bairnson dodged aside, just seconds before a mammoth sized boulder landed on top of Geoffrey Riggs' body with a mighty thud. Bairnson rose from the floor. The stone shower was beginning to ease a little.

Bairnson stared at the floor in front of him. A gigantic boulder now sat where Geoffrey Riggs had once been. He was dead. And Bairnson could not help but feel a twinge of sadness. Why did it have to come to this? Why did Geoffrey Riggs feel so jealous of Jack Bairnson that he became an intergalactic terrorist?

These were questions which Jack Bairnson could not easily and satisfactorily answer. He doubted he would ever understand why, after so many generations of evolution, a man could still be driven to this.

Bairnson glanced around him and realized that the four officers who had joined him on this mission were now all around him. Their looks betrayed the genuine sorrow and compassion they seemed to share with their captain. Finally, Jack Bairnson gave the one order he was certain that everyone present would agree to.

"Let's go home."

EPILOGUE

It had been five days since the Enterprise had moved away from the orange desert planetoid. Princess Zokara had been dropped off at starbase 270 where she would be picked up by the U.S.S. John Heinz, bound for Earth. Captain Bairnson had been reassured by the princess that once she had reached Earth, she would do her best to see that nothing would further hinder the admission of Zechariah to the Federation.

Of this, Bairnson had said he had no doubt.

Captain Jack Bairnson sat alone in his ready room with a small black, resin computer pad in his lap. He mulled over his thoughts for a brief moment and then activated a switch on the small console.

"Captain's log, Stardate: 9895.7," he began. "The first mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise under my command has been completed. The ship and crew have performed admirably. We have managed to help the Federation gain an ally in the planet Zechariah. Princess Zokara, head of the royal family of the planet is currently bound for Earth where she will complete the negotiations for the admission of Zechariah to the federation.

The Enterprise has been ordered to return to the sector of space to which we chased Devorax in order to begin further exploration and cataloguing of this once-uncharted sector of space."

Bairnson paused a moment. His tone became much more somber.

"This area, which has been named the 'Gourami' sector, has already claimed one human life," he said. "Geoffrey Riggs. Special envoy and administrator to the president of the Federation, was killed on an uninhabited desert planet by the ruthless intergalactic terrorist, Devorax."

Bairnson stopped.

For the first time, he had noticed that someone else was in the room. Commander Y'Gar had entered while Bairnson was making his log entry and had overheard the tail end of what Bairnson had recorded.

"I'm not interrupting, am I sir?" Y'Gar innocently asked.

"Not at all," Bairnson replied, placing the computer pad on the table in front of him. "What's on your mind, Commander?"

Y'Gar took a seat and fidgetted nervously before speaking. It was the first time Bairnson had ever noticed his executive officer that way.

"You didn't mention that Riggs was Devorax in your report sir," Y'Gar pointed out trying to make small talk at first.

"No," Bairnson replied. "No point. Besides, Riggs never felt that Starfleet had treated him properly. Maybe now, his ghost will rest a little easier."

Bairnson paused a moment. Y'Gar had never really known Riggs and Bairnson caught his attempt at making polite conversation. He asked Y'Gar what he really wanted to know.

"I suppose," Y'Gar began, "that there's going to be some kind of official reprimand for what I did. Abandoning the ship to chase Devorax, I mean."

"Yes I suppose there'll have to be," sighed Bairnson. "Protocol and all, you know."

Y'Gar had realized this. There was a strong tradition in Starfleet about discipline in the ranks. Even the great Captain James Tiberius Kirk had fallen prey to it eventually.

"In that case sir, I just would like to express my sincerest apologies."

Y'Gar then stopped as his mouth tried voice the words that his mind had told him to say.

"And offer my resignation," he finally said.

Bairnson leaned back in his chair eyeing the Yarzonian. This young man, who when he had first come aboard this ship had openly challenged Bairnson's ability to command, was now sitting before him, humbly offering to resign his beloved commission in Starfleet. Bairnson could see where Y'Gar and Riggs were so much alike. Both had felt themselves unfairly treated by Starfleet, but whereas Riggs chose to fight against it, Y'Gar had chosen to ride it out and hope for the best.

Bairnson couldn't help but be amazed.

"Do you really want to do that?" asked Bairnson.

"No," Y'Gar immediately replied. But then added, "However, it is the only honorable thing to do."

"Y'Gar," Bairnson rose from his seat. He strolled the room until he stood above Y'Gar's seat.

"It's true you've acted with a degree of impetuosity."

"Arrogance would be more accurate," Y'Gar quickly added.

"Please don't interrupt me, Commander," said Bairnson calmly. Y'Gar made an audible gulp, realizing his mistake. Bairnson continued.

"You're atypical of most Starfleet officers that I've come across. Now, I kind of like to think of myself as a bit of a rebel as well."

Bairnson paused letting the thought sink in. He then added, "We kindred spirits are few and far between. We have to stick together."

Y'Gar whirled around in his chair to face the captain. A look of sheer disbelief across his face.

"How can you say that, sir?" gasped Y'Gar. "The way I've been acting, I'm surprised you didn't suspect that I was Devorax."

"Oh, for a hot second, I did," said Bairnson.

Y'Gar sank in his chair.

"But then I remembered hearing you say that you had given your loyalties to Starfleet. And loyalty is a valuable commodity among your people. Isn't that right?"

Y'Gar nodded.

"When you took off in that shuttlecraft, yes I was angry at you for abandoning your post," Bairnson paused for effect. "But deep down inside, I admired you for having the balls to go after him. Alone. Knowing that we would follow you."

Bairnson could see Y'Gar swelling with pride. Y'Gar didn't want to leave Starfleet any more than Bairnson wanted him to leave his ship. The pair were too much alike to end it like that.

"So Commander," Bairnson announced. "About this resignation..."

"Who's resignation would that be, sir?" Y'Gar interrupted with a smile.

Bairnson smiled back at his executive officer and cheerfully dismissed him from the room. Y'Gar exited through the doorway with a new spring in his step that Bairnson hoped he would never grow tired of seeing.

Jack Bairnson then returned to the computer pad sitting on the table. He picked it up, sat back down, and continued with his entries.

"Note commendations for the following officers: Lieutenant Commander Janet Sunset, Lieutenant Commander Ryan Alex Johnson, Lieutenants Thuroq Mirgant, Curtis Winston, and Saallak. Doctor James Alistair Crispin," Bairnson paused and then added with a proud smile, "and Commander D'nadrY'Gar."

Captain's log, supplemental. The Enterprise has re-entered the Gourami sector and begun its probe out into the unknown. I am confident that whatever awaits us out there, we will be more than ready for it.

On a more personal note, my beard appears to be growing in quite nicely. I expect it to be fully grown in in another week. So far the crew seems to approve of it.

Although Janet thinks it tickles.

8