Chapter 10.
The Pinball Wizard raced at top speed back towards the wormhole. Worf anxiously watched the Romulan starfighter trailing along behind them.
"They are exactly matching our speed and path," he announced. "The parent ship has swung around and is following us. They will easily overtake us if they have the normal speed of a warbird."
"We have no idea of their speed, Commander," said Data. "They are not a warbird."
"Well, we should get to the wormhole in minutes," said Riker grimly. "Can we go in at this speed?"
"Speed should not be a consideration," observed Data. "Only accuracy. I believe we can enter exactly."
Any other pilot but Data would have had trouble arriving at the exact coordinates at maximum impulse, but he calmly steered the ship into the exact center where his instruments said, and they were soon in the eerie environs of non-time. Worf had begun to speak.
"I believe the Romulan starfighter is going to attempt..." He seemed to stop, and an unknowable time passed. In contrast to their path back to the future, their anxiety now was whether they would pass through safely, and now they seemed frozen. eventually, however, they were suddenly in normal space. Stars were close by, and they were still at maximum impulse.
"to follow us in." ended Worf, to his surprise. He had forgotten starting the sentence. "There is something ahead of us!" he said quickly, looking at his screen.
"On screen!" called Riker, and the big screen flared into life.
Will Riker looked at the viewscreen in surprise. The Romulan fighter which had been following them was traveling ahead of them.
"They must have passed us inside the wormhole!" he said in surprise
"Surprising," agreed Data. "But we understand very little about wormholes. The paradox is that no time seems to have passed during a transit. How does one ship pass another in zero time?"
Worf remarked, "There is a large mass of debris ahead, flying away from us, but not very quickly."
The Romulan ship also scanned ahead. The small ship they were following had disappeared from their sensors. All of them were somewhat stunned by their first pass through a wormhole, but they were too disciplined to let it disturb their efficiency.
"Where did they go?" the Tribune demanded. "They could not have gained too much on us."
"There is a large accumulation of debris ahead of us," said an officer doubtfully. "It is too big to be the ship we were following. It seems to be a ship that has exploded."
"Stop it with a tractor beam," ordered the Tribune. The starship was traveling at its maximum speed, and the debris was moving somewhat faster, but the beam gradually drew it to a halt, as the fighter also slowed down. It was immediately obvious that the debris was the innards of a starship of some kind, and that it contained bodies.
"Bring one in," said the Tribune curiously. A body was pulled in through an airlock, and he went in to examine it. In spite of the fact that its veins had erupted in the vacuum, he was able to recognise it!
"Vodor!" he gasped. "That's our ship! But how? We left it behind us!"
The officer interrupted him. "Wait. A ship has appeared behind us. It is them!"
The Romulan ship veered around towards the Pinball Wizard. They stopped, and regarded each other. Unnoticed, a message logged on to the communications module. Beverley, who had nothing to do, quickly scanned it, keeping an eye on proceedings at the same time. She looked at it for a moment in shock, then erased it.
"Obviously it is possible to get through a wormhole without shields," observed Data.
"I don't think I'll try it though." answered Riker. "What are they going to do now?"
"They are turning to face us," said Data. "I am not detecting energy build-up."
"Destroy the animals!" snarled the Romulan Tribune, in a rage. "They have destroyed the Vantagar!"
The crew silently registered this unseemly excess of emotion, but obeyed. The Tribune ruled his ship by fear. They fired a shock wave at the Pinball Wizard, and were amazed when it bounced off. The Tribune stopped his rage immediately, and began to consider his options.
On the other ship, Worf commented, "Our shields need some time to recover. They are down to seventy six per cent. Those weapons have drained them remarkably, as well as some stress from traveling three times through the wormhole."
"Be ready to fire if they power up their weapons," said Riker.
"Their weapons do not seem to need to power up," remarked Worf. "We were unable to detect that they were going to fire. I recommend we destroy the other ship quickly."
"I'll talk first," said Riker. "They only fired the once, and we should be able to withstand one more shot. Probably trying us out. On screen."
The face of a sneering Romulan appeared. Sela frowned. "Are they all like this?" she murmured. She and Dovor were still on the bridge. Events had moved so quickly that Worf had not had the opportunity to escort them back to their cells. He had his phaser close to hand, though.
Deanna detected a feeling of despair emanating from Sela, and a deep sorrow. Interesting. She was playing the part of a fanatic well, but internally filled with deep regret. When the time was appropriate she would inform Will.
"Are you offering to surrender?" asked the Romulan. "We feel disposed to destroy you."
"What's the point of that?" asked Riker, "even if you could. We are now millions of years in the past. Romulus does not even exist yet as a civilisation. There is nothing here for you. Go back while you can."
The universal translator used the Romulan name for Romulus.
"If there is nothing here for us, what is there here for you?" asked the Romulan.
"Survival," said Riker bitterly. "We ask only to be left alone."
"We do not feel disposed to spare you, humans," said the Tribune. "We may not be able to survive ourselves, since you have destroyed our starship, but we will destroy you at least."
"Why, for God's sake?" cried Riker.
"Because you are not Romulans. You are not pure!"
"You can't," said Riker. "You saw your weapons bounce off. Our technology will prevent you hurting us. If you stay here with us we will be the only humanoid beings in the galaxy."
"I will consider my course of action," said the Tribune after a moment.
"Shall I blast them, sir?" asked the weapons master. "their deflectors may have limited capacity."
"Good thinking, Master, but no," the Tribune replied. "If we destroy them we destroy their amazing defence system. I would prefer to capture them."
"Tribune," interrupted one of the Romulans, "there is some sort of signal attached to a... box of some sort. It is just floating in space."
The Tribune switched off communication suddenly, leaving Riker staring at a blank screen.
"Draw it in," he said.
The container was drawn in by tractor beam, and proved to be an airtight box, which contained four objects.
"They look like guns of some sort," mused the Tribune. "Perhaps we could take them back and learn something of their technology. This could be very rewarding, if we can make it back home."
He casually pointed one of the weapons at one of the more dispensable crew members, who looked understandably nervous.
"Tribune!" called the second in command, then checked himself with a touch of fear. "I'm sorry. But we know nothing about these weapons. If you fire it, it might blast a hole clear through the ship."
"You're right, of course," said the Tribune mildly, putting the weapon down. He took his own pistol from his hip and shot the second in command dead, and added, "But don't shout at me."
Other crew paled, as they were supposed to, but went about their duties. The Tribune examined the weapons further. Their power sources were new. What a discovery! And where were they from?
"We need to get aboard that ship," he said. "We must have the secret of those shields. We will feign weakness of some sort, and get aboard, and seize our chance. Obviously their weapons are inferior or non-existent, or they would have blasted us by now."
He fell into the same assumption as the late commander of his mother ship. Also he knew that the others were not Romulans, and would never be a match for them in strength or wits.
"Excuse me, sir,"asked one of the officers politely. "Could these weapons have come from that ship?"
"Possible, but unlikely," he mused. "We followed them here, and would have detected them dropping anything. So it can't be some trap laid for us. They didn't know we would follow. It may belong to whatever destroyed the Vantagar."
"So they did not?" asked the science officer.
"They followed us," said the Tribune. "The Vantagar arrived first and was destroyed. It must have passed us somehow while we were in the wormhole. I have no idea how long that journey took. Whatever destroyed it seems to have vanished, though."
"I wonder where we are?" pondered an officer aloud.
"Or when," said another. "They did say they were from the past."
"No matter," said the Tribune. "We'll get their secrets and take them home. The doorway is still there. We'll be the new power base in the Romulan empire."
"I have the coordinates of the place we entered," said the navigator. "There are detectable radiations coming from there."
"Was that true, that we do not have the power necessary to get us to a starbase, sir" asked an officer curiously.
"I do not lie," said the Tribune with a smile. "I did not mention that we can summon support from the Berulias and be picked up by them in days."
"If we agree to talk," offered an officer, "they may have to take down those deflectors to let our craft approach. If the ship was armed it could fire as it approached."
"Well done," said the Tribune. "You have the intellect of an executive. Prepare a craft."
The officer called together a small crew, and left.
"Do you think they are likely to fall for that, sir?" asked his second in command. "If they do have weapons they will have them trained on our ship."
"Exactly," said the Tribune. "They may not be able to fire through their own defences. When our ship attacks we will have our weapons ready. The second they fire, we fire."
"What about our crew?"
"A small price to pay for such secrets. Get me that captain again."
The second in command grimaced, not so much in sympathy as in the knowledge that he would be dispensed with just as easily if it suited the Tribune.
Riker soon appeared on his screen again.
"Human, if I got the term correctly," said the Tribune, "we wish to discuss our mutual problem. We will send across one of our lifeboats with a delegation..."
"That's not necessary, Tribune," interrupted Riker. "My title, by the way, is Commander Riker, although Captain would be acceptable. We have the technology to beam some of your crew across. Have your delegation discard their weapons, and stand in a group so we can isolate them."
"Beam?" inquired the Tribune, his lips almost dry with anticipation. "You can transmit matter from us to you?"
"That's right," said Riker.
"We'll be prepared in a moment. I'll call you back."
He turned to his crew.
"Call back that lifeboat. Get a crew to stand in a group. I'm guessing that they will have to turn off their deflectors to - beam anyone. As soon as they give the word they are about to beam, cripple their weaponry and engines."
"Sir," said an officer, "if their technology is so advanced they may be able to detect that we are preparing our weaponry."
"Possibly," he admitted, "but I'm gambling that our technology may be just as alien to them as theirs is to us. If it doesn't work we are no worse off."
He was right. The Enterprise was not able to tell that the weapons were being prepared. Geordi and his small crew prepared to drop the shields and beam them across. In the meantime, Mary Anne sat tensely at her phaser, now desperate to survive. She was willing Commander Riker to agree with Worf, and give her the word to fire. She had her coordinates locked in already.

Riker stared for a moment at the blank screen, then sighed. Worf remarked, "They show no sign of activity. All the same, I believe a preemptive strike would be appropriate. They will shoot as soon as we lower our shields, which are weakening."
Data interposed, "For a moment I thought I had another ship passing us, and going back towards the wormhole, but I can find no trace now."
Beverley frowned. There were three ships here, albeit one was in shreds, and a single ship was heading back to the wormhole. "We received a message from it, but it's not important at the moment. Let's worry about it later."
Riker looked at her in surprise. But he trusted her judgment, and this was an emergency situation.
Data brought back the picture of the Romulan ship, hanging in space.
"They know nothing about shields. I doubt they could detect them." Riker paused. "All right, ensign Glock, whenever they are ready, bring them across."
Aboard the Romulan ship a small group stood, somewhat unwillingly, and the Tribune found himself communicating with a Ferengi! He bit back his distaste, and smiled as he gave the coordinates of his team. The team were understandably nervous. If they were actually beamed over, they would be on the small ship as it was fired on. The Tribune's intention was only to disable, but who knew how resilient the ship might be? They were the sacrificial goats, if the Romulans could not fire before the beaming took place.
"Are you ready?" asked the Ferengi, and he answered, "Yes." The gunner sat anxiously fingering his fire button.
Meanwhile Riker could think of something else at last. He sat back, relaxed for the first time in hours, and turned to Selar, more for conversation than anything else. "Why were you so adamant we should come back here, Lieutenant?"
Lieutenant Selar answered, "In that future it is all disaster. The Romulans have wiped out my people, and the Klingons. Back here we cannot undo what is done, but perhaps we can institute some other change. Whatever future we create, it can be no worse. Here, we have the only surviving humans. We..."
A sudden thought struck her. She rose quickly to her feet, and swung around to face Dovor and Sela.
"Dovor may have thought of his plan quickly, but he is very intelligent. He got you to destroy the human race, but if this ship stayed in the past - if the wormhole closed suddenly, for instance - there would still be some humans. He may have made some plan to destroy us as well. Did he bring anything aboard?"
Dovor had been sitting fiddling with the ring on his left hand. He did not react hastily, but grinned nastily as he pressed his ring.
"Too late," he smiled. "It will take about twenty seconds to build up a critical mass. Goodbye." He sat back flinching, expecting Worf to shoot him, but the deed was done, and Worf merely jumped over, grabbed him, and roughly tore the ring from him.
"Glock," called Riker, jabbing his communicator, "what did you do with the visitors' weapons?"
"Commander la Forge put them somewhere safe," came the reply. Glock had his hand on the transporter ready to beam the Romulans.
Geordi had been watching all of this on a screen in engineering. On another screen was a picture of the Romulan ship hovering menacingly. He interposed, "I put them in a container. They are where they can't do any harm."
Suddenly the Romulan ship on the screen exploded soundlessly.
"At least, I thought that's where I put them," he added after a moment.



On to Chapter 11, or back home...