The End & The Beginning: Willow's Enterprise
The End & The Beginning- Willow’s Enterprise - 02
In a streak of light, the Enterprise-F warped its way past the Chi Eridani star like a silent bullet aimed at Earth. In her readyroom, the Captain sat at her nickel-framed floating glass desk, a 2-metre long window of shooting stars behind her. On the table in front of her, the small desktop computer showed the latest crew evaluations and Data’s recommendations for promotion; all awaiting her approval. The last crew eval she would ever sign off on.
But she wasn’t working on it now. Her eyes were not looking at the screen but through it. They were focused beyond the present to some mythical past where Romulans plotted and the evil Emperor of a Warbird named Demeter
was once again on his dark throne.
So long ago, it seemed.
Willow Rosenberg returned to the present and shut off the screen. She decided she’d look it over later when she could focus – after breakfast and a wash. She’d already sent the pilot and security chief off to get themselves ready for work proper, since their rude awakening that morning. She would do the same on their return before letting Wesley Crusher straighten himself out for the day. Then, finally, Data would be able to clock off from his night shift.
But right now she just wanted to take a minute. Especially after waking up to a shock attack. And today, of all days, should have been a nice gentle stroll back to Earth. One last time.
She looked around at the room that had been her office for the last 8 years.
The readyroom was beige and comfortable, like the bridge and the rest of the ship. Everything was beige and simple. A warm, soft beige tan. A very homey colour with details in light browns and bronzes. Most of the seating, including the captain’s command chair, was padded in a darker sepia and most doors were a cinereous ashy grey. As ship décor, it was light and comfortable and, after so long, it felt like home, even with the wear and tear of the years.
She was due for a refit, but the new Enterprise-F refit would not be hers to command.
The thought of that left her a little saddened even though, considering the new Romulan development, the upside far outweighed the down. That wouldn’t stop her from missing it. The ride had been long and wild but, like everything, it had to end eventually.
Her thoughts began to drift back once again when her door let out a single beep.
She reached for the wall controls by her desk and opened the door. It was Data.
He came in from the bridge with a small report padd in his yellow hand.
Her mind was still half in the yesteryears and she recalled the day Data had turned up for work with his new silver head of hair. He’d wanted to fit in with the older command level staff and also hoped the new look would give him an air of authority and maturity. His logic had determined that age represented experience and wisdom, and that grey hair was the best way for him to simulate age. She hadn’t been too sure about the look back then, but it had grown on her over the years. Now she could barely remember him any other way.
"Come on in, Data," she said as she got up to meet him.
"I have now received the complete damage report from all departments."
"What’s our situation?"
"Four members of the crew are unaccounted for," he reported gravely. "Their quarters were in the section exposed to space."
She closed her eyes and acknowledged, then took the padd he offered. Four names were displayed. All good people. Dedicated officers who were asleep in their beds just an hour before duty when they were ripped out of the ship and thrown to their icy deaths in the cold dark of space. Horrifying.
Data continued; "Additional structural integrity has been allocated to reinforce the exposed section of deck ten. Forcefields are in place and emergency bulkheads have been withdrawn. A clean-up crew has been assigned. All other systems are functioning within normal parameters."
Willow offered him the couch. "How are the rest of the crew?"
"Yeah… me too, Data."
"However," he observed, "the anticipation of our return to Earth appears to offset this sense of unease."
"It does at that," she agreed, speaking of herself.
Data took the seat offered to him on the Captain’s couch.
Willow regarded him – the way he sat, with his legs crossed and one arm along the back of the seat. He had become a much more natural being than the robotic man she had met all those years ago.
She joined him, and sat close beside him, resting her head against his outstretched arm. "My last mission as captain of this ship and I lost four people, and I don’t even know why. We hear nothing from the Romulans for years and now a Tal Shiar ship attacks us? Why? And the Empire sends a ship to stop them, which I can understand. They’re not ready for war and they’d rather keep their new weapons hush-hush."
Data agreed. "That would explain the actions of the K’trel. It is
likely they did not wish us to learn of their dark matter warheads."
She nodded. "Not yet."
A long silence followed in which Data observed Willow’s face as she considered things. It was a long silence but not an uncomfortable one. It was a common occurrence in their relationship when there was no reason for words. Data was practically incapable of feeling uncomfortable and Willow knew there was no requirement for small talk where he was concerned. It was nice, she thought. Soothing even. No pretence, nothing forced. Just two close friends there for each other.
"Data," she said thoughtfully, "Do you know what ‘raptor’ means?"
He accessed his memory files. "Latin. It means to seize or take by force."
"Yes." She gave a nod and thought of the Romulan fleet of Raptors. "I don’t know what’s going on, Data… but I feel a war coming."
"Then we have a difficult future ahead if we must face their new weapons." The corner of his mouth curled up ever so slightly. "One might think it is a good time to retire."
She smiled. "You know…I think you’re right. What’s our E.T.A. again?"
"At our current speed, assuming there are no further delays, twenty-eight hours and seventeen minutes until our arrival in Spacedock." He regarded her quizzically. "You have asked that same question a number of times. Your obsession with the timeframe of our journey suggests you are not eager to reach our destination."
She sighed heavily. "I’m not sure whether to be eager or not. …In twenty-eight hours and seventeen minutes all this," she waved at the ship and the star field, "will be over for me, Data. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about the change. It’s an end as well as a new beginning. Sometimes… it’s a little difficult to take that first transitional step. The fact that one aspect of your life is coming to an end can be more of a pressure than the anticipation of a fresh start."
"It does not have to end if you do not wish."
She put a hand to his thigh. "I’m sixty years old. It’s time. Besides, we’ve finally managed to firewall your positronic matrix so you’ve no excuse not to take command. In twenty-one hours and…sixteen minutes, Data, you will be a commodore, and commander of the Enterprise."
Data almost looked nervous at the prospect.* * *
A slim young officer with a head of wild blond hair strutted into Ten-Forward and slapped his hands on the bar. "I need caffeine," begged Leonid Korotkin. "As much of it as you can fit into one glass."
The female barkeeper steepled her dark fingers to her lips. The pinkish disc she wore for a hat seemed to create a halo over her head and she looked like an angel in thought. She pointed one finger in the air decisively. "I think I have the perfect blend for you," said Guinan with a warm smile.
Crius rolled up beside him. "Wing slugs. A whole plate."
Korotkin squinted at the tall Orion and turned his lip up. "Seriously? For breakfast?" He’d tried them once and only once. Well, one bite.
The vile little creatures were a breed of bruise-black flying slug with small membranous wings and a hot burning mucus that covered their squishy bodies like slime. The smell and taste was revolting. Not surprising as they could be found in the wet marsh lands of most Rigel system planets. For some insane reason the Orions had made a delicacy of them.
The thought of putting one of those black sloppy molluscs anywhere near his lips sent a shiver through him.
"I eat them every morning," boasted the big green officer.
He had to be kidding. Korotkin looked to Guinan. She nodded.
"The burning in my mouth keeps me alert for the duration of my shift," Crius went on. "Much more effective than your coffee."
Leonid shivered again. "It’s a shame I already ordered." If he had to touch one of those things he’d turn as green as his Orion friend.
Guinan returned from the replicator with Leonid’s coffee and added some fresh ingredients to it from her collection of liquids and condiments under the bar.
"I call this…the Klingon cattleprod
," Guinan said dramatically, and pushed it across the bar.
Korotkin took a tentative sip of the boiling black oil. It was as thick as it looked and he could taste the Klingon raktajino in the mix. There were other tastes in there. Landras blend could be one of them. He asked, but Guinan simply gave him that knowing smile of hers.
There was something angelic about that woman, thought Korotkin, and not just because of the pink halo. It was something regal, or god-like. Her dark face always held a soothing quality, old and wise yet beautiful. Her smile was like no other. It literally lit him up inside to see. It was heavenly. Maybe, he thought, everyone would become as wise and esoteric as Guinan if they could live hundreds of years.
He took another sip of his Klingon cattleprod, this time bigger. It was spicy too. And strong. Damn strong. He gave the bar-angel a beaming grin. "Thanks!"
She gave a cordial tip of her head and floated away again.
Beside Korotkin, Crius stood tall. He was 28 and, like most Orion men, well-muscled. His thick jet-black hair was upwardly mobile with trimmed sideburns that reached his jawline and flared out like mutton chops. He reminded Korotkin of one of his father’s favourites – the old rock-and-roller Elvis Presley.
Then he remembered something he wanted to ask the security chief.
"Hey, Crius. Did you see the captain’s face when she got a look at that old Warbird?"
"I was behind her. I saw the back of her head."
saw her face and believe me, for a second there it looked like her worst nightmare came true."
become tense," he acknowledged. "And when Commander Data spoke to her afterwards I did get the impression they recognised the ship. Perhaps they faced one before."
"It looked more personal than that," said Korotkin. "She looked…frightened
, Crius. I’ve never seen her get frightened over anything
"You haven’t been here long."
"Still… you think it could be something… worse than normal?"
He held back for a second before committing himself. "Like…para
The scepticism on Crius’ face was expected. "You mean ‘supernatural’?" he asked with obvious disdain. But he wondered if it was possible that the old fairy tales were true.
"I did hear that she’s … one of The Six," Korotkin said under his breath.
"Everyone’s heard that old rumour."
"You should ask her about it."
Surprised, the Orion looked to the young Terran. "…I should?"
"Yeah, ‘course. For security. What if that Warbird’s a zombie-infested demon warship?"
Crius shook his head at the boy. "I think it’s the counsellor you should be talking to, kid."
The far glass door of the lounge opened and Captain Rosenberg stepped through.
The smell of the wing slugs arrived right before Guinan slapped the plate on the bar top.
Crius rubbed his hands together and threw one down his gullet.
Leonid winced and turned away.
The captain was taking a seat near the central window and Guinan said; "Why don’t you ask her now? She’s here."
The Orion pointed to the junior officer. "He’s the one who wants to know."
"You don’t?" needled Korotkin. "You’re head of security. It’s your job to know these things."
Crius tore a slug in half and chewed at it as he spoke. "I heard the captain hates to be asked about her past. That’s why no one ever does."
"What’s the matter, big guy?" he teased. "You’re not afraid of a little old lady. Are you?"
"She won’t be captain for much longer," Guinan reminded him. "This could be your last chance."
"Last chance for what
"To find out about the past," she said softly. "In my experience, the past can influence the future more than anything you do in the present."
Crius stared at the civilian. He wasn’t even sure what she’d just said. "Rhetorical and senseless."
Leonid gave him a nudge before he could pick up another mollusc. "Come on, Crius. Aren’t you curious? If all the history is true? The Years of Magic? The Demon Wars?"
Crius was beginning to feel ganged up on. He strategically countered their attack; "History’s written by the victors, kid. And it’s full of fantastic stories. Especially human history." He took a slug, put its wing in his mouth and crunched it off. "Legionnaires in the hundreds fending off enemies in the thousands," he continued. "The ancient Spartans and the Persians at Thermopylae. And Starfleet fighting monsters with sorcery." He shook his head. "Exaggeration and invention. If all that stuff was true, where are all the wizards and monsters now?" He opened his arms out and searched the room to make his point. "Nah," he said, waving half a slug at Korotkin, "I think no one asks the captain about the past because, secretly, they know they’ll look like a dumb cadet who read too many fantasy novels."
Korotkin realised he wasn’t going to win him over. "Then you don’t believe she’s from an alternate dimension?"
"You mean hundreds of years in the past of an alternate quantum universe where all the laws of nature are completely different, allowing for the existence of magic? Why wouldn’t I believe that?"
"Things can look like magic in our world too," reasoned Guinan. "Vulcan mind-melding, Betazoid telepathy, the elecrogenic abilities of the Aquiinarians. Super powers to anyone who can’t explain them."
"Exactly," Korotkin agreed. "Even El-Aurians have senses we don’t understand."
As an El-Aurian, Guinan couldn’t argue with that.
should speak to the captain," Crius advised him. "You’re obviously more interested in the past than me."
Korotkin shared a look with the barkeeper.
The fact that Crius knew so much about historic battles – even old Earth ones – suggested he was interested in past events. Military ones anyway.
"So," Korotkin replied, "if that Warbird decides to come after us next, you don’t wanna know who it is? You’re responsible for ship safety and that includes my
safety. …I’m not feeling much love from you right now."
Crius replied with a look of disgust.
The big guy could take a face full of wing slugs but a bit of love for his workmates repulsed him? Korotkin had one last gambit to try. "Okay. But ask yourself this: if Captain Rosenberg isn’t from the past, then how come she’s retiring at sixty? She should have a good twenty years left in her. But look at her. She looks at sixty like we would at eighty. Think about that."
Crius did. The boy had a point.
Guinan shared a smile with Korotkin and challenged the tough Orion; "Still too scared to ask?"
Crius looked across the room at the petite and elderly captain.
He turned to Korotkin with a warning finger. "Don’t touch my wing slugs."
"Yeah, like that’s an issue."
Crius headed off confidently, faltered, stopped, and came back. "What if she isn’t
one of The Six?"* * *
Commander Data sat in the Enterprise-F captain’s chair and quietly plotted subterfuge.
He had convinced his captain to take it easy on her last day and take time to prepare for duty. He had utilised sound logic as a reasoning tool. Firstly, he’d told her, he would soon be in permanent command and needed to get used to the position. Secondly, he’d reasoned, she had to get used to not being in command.
He was pleased that his ruse to get Willow off the bridge had worked. It meant he had the opportunity to do his work without her knowledge. The optimum time to send his secret subspace message had arrived. He got up, descended two steps, and crossed to ops. "Were you able to locate the planetoid, Wesley?" his voice was hushed.
"Yeah," Crusher answered quietly.
"Please prepare a secure channel in the Captain’s readyroom."
Wesley complied and Data headed for the private room, knowing that, when he finished, he would delete all record of the communication from the subspace logs.
Captain Rosenberg would have no idea what he was planning until it was too late.* * *
Willow sat alone in Ten-Forward. She’d been kicked off her own bridge by her first officer, but she didn’t mind. Data had given a convincing argument. At the end of the day, she was already sixty and technically retired. So, he would report to Command about the encounter, and she would go to her quarters and get freshened up for her last day on the job.
She shook her head and rubbed a hand across her mouth as she thought about that. She was Willow Rosenberg… and she was retiring. Where the hell did time go?
She could hear people hammering away at the dartboard in the games bar behind the planterbox of shrubbery. That was the drinks section. Though she was only drinking, she preferred the relative tranquillity of the larger restaurant area this morning with its array of giant windows into warped subspace.
Guinan arrived at her table with a drink – an iced Earl Grey with lemon and syrup "The usual, Captain?"
"Oh…um…yes, thank you." She hadn’t even ordered yet.
The El-Aurian barkeeper always seemed to know the right thing to do or the right thing to say at the right time. Willow understood that Guinan had been posted to an earlier Enterprise – the D – also captained by Jean-Luc Picard. She understood that when the E version was built as a less family-oriented vessel during a time of conflict, Guinan had moved on. Now she was back and, according to Wes, without having aged a day. She thought Guinan was very lucky to be of a species that lived hundreds of years. Even the humans here could last well over a century. She knew one or two that were almost 120 and still getting about.
"Security meeting?" pried Guinan.
"Big security thing."
"Oh, no. All my meetings are done." By that, she meant all of them. Forever.
"I meant Crius," Guinan replied, drawing her attention to the large lieutenant hovering around awkwardly.Oh
, realised Willow, That big security thing
. "We don’t have anything scheduled."
"Really?" Guinan said, feigning surprise. "It’s just, from the look on his face I thought you were replacing him." At that, she smiled and sailed away gracefully.
He did look kind of worried. The way he was gawking at her was beginning to annoy.
"Something wrong, Lieutenant?" asked the captain.
Crius tried to speak then stopped, looking toward the bar, then back at her.
"If you’re going to stand there glaring at me you may as well sit down and do it."
He complied and sat across from her at the table. He figured that the rudeness of older Terrans was down to their patience being worn away by age like stone by the passage of water. He respected their candour.
"You look ready to pop," she said to him. "Is there something on your mind?"
His captain looked impatient this morning. He had to say something. "Captain, I…wish to ask you a question…that may be important to ship security."
She waited for it. Crius hesitated, which was unlike the aggressively opinionated Orion she knew. She’d learned it was always best to be forceful with him. "Well, come on then, let’s have it. What’s wrong with you?" Right. To the point, then
. How should he put it? "It’s been my impression that asking you about the past… that it is a forbidden subject."
"Who told you that?" she snapped, then took a moment to tone down her hostility and relax. She was aware that she was tense this morning. "It’s not a forbidden subject, Crius. I just think some people – most people – don’t understand certain things that have happened in it. I’m a big part of that and I’ve come to realise that people don’t ask questions when they’re not really sure if they want the answers. Especially when they don’t even believe in the questions."
He understood that
, all right. Mostly.
"And there’s always the fear of the truth," she went on, "which is only compounded by Starfleet’s sealed records and certain events that people generally don’t talk about anymore." She regarded his unsettled expression. "You don’t look too sure about the question yourself."
He inhaled deeply, let it out slowly, and reflected; "Captain, when I was a first year cadet stationed on Earth, I learned of a lecture being given by an old man named Gools. Ruppet Gools. A lecture about the dangers of the occult and the threat that supernatural beings hold. He believed that, in the future, they could still be a danger, and that we would not be prepared because we were losing our fear – our belief – in the supernatural. Normally I wouldn’t attend such a sermon but I was a young cadet. I always intended working in security and wanted to protect the Federation. I wanted to know all the possible dangers."
Willow held a smile back as she thought of Ruppet Gools. "And what did you make of his sermon?"
"It was…an interesting story," he answered.
"What did you really
make of it?"
"It sounded like nonsense, Captain," he redressed. "The scare-mongering of a religious fanatic."
She smiled a little, though inwardly she felt sad for the lecturer whose message hadn’t been given its due credit.
"I think the man you’re referring to is Rupert Giles
, and he happens to be a very old and very dear friend of mine."
Yet more evidence, he realised. A pattern was emerging. The captain had links to the occult teachings of Gools – Giles
. Connect that with her older-than-her-years appearance, and the rumours about her.
Still concerned about the possible threat from the Warbird, he felt he had to pursue what he now considered to be an investigation. He must begin his questioning.
"Captain Rosenberg," he opened.
Immediately she noticed his formal address and knew where he was heading.
"It strikes me that sixty years of age seems rather…early…to retire. In this day and age." He seemed to realise his impertinence. "If you don’t mind me saying, ma’am," he added respectfully.
"Yes, but I’m not a twenty-fifth century woman," she replied straightforwardly. "Sure, I might be stronger and fitter and healthier than I would have been in my own time by this age, but I don’t have the longevity of a present-day human. It’s just a matter of genetics. Just a simple case of being an inferior breed of human being. Where I’m from, sixty years is a good time to quit. And, to be honest, I just don’t have the energy anymore. Age has caught up with me." She thought about that. "On the outside, at least."
He examined her eyes, the pupils, and observed her demeanour. He knew her well enough to see she spoke the truth. Which meant…he had confirmation! "Then you are
one of The Six?"
They’d been called many things over the years. She smiled and took a sip of tea. "I suppose I am."
Crius barely contained his astonishment, and looked around to see the rest of the room going about its business. The revelation was his alone. He leaned across, saying quietly and out of character; "Did you really get teleported here by the Zombie King?"
She choked on her tea and blinked at him. "No, Crius. We didn’t get teleported by the Zombie King."
He suddenly felt rather stupid. Just like that dumb cadet who read too many fantasy novels.
"It was the son of the Devil," she revealed. "And he commanded an army of Demons and
Still no sign of a lie. "And… and you and those who came with you… you were wizards who defeated this Demon Master by… by summoning the Lord of Death from the after-realm to take his evil spirit back to…" – what was the human word? – "…Hell?"
She smiled at the forty years of Chinese whispers. "…No. I channelled the spirit of the Wiccan Goddess to make him mortal, Buffy cut off his head, and Xander shot him with a phaser."
On one hand, she found she was actually enjoying his reaction, as Crius struggled to remain composed. On the other, It felt surreal talking about the old gang and those events again.
She heard a low exhalation of awe from behind her.
"Wow…" It was Korotkin at the next table, leaning over the back of a comfy chair.
"If you’re going to earwig you may as well sit closer so I don’t have to strain myself," said the captain.
Korotkin jumped up and brought his coffee over to their table. Crius was eyeing him down expectantly.
"My wing slugs?"Huh?
… then it clicked. "Oh…" He looked back to the bar.
Crius followed his gaze in time to catch sight of Ensign Respin discovering the Orion’s breakfast platter sitting abandoned on the bar top. Respin picked out one of the winged molluscs and bit off the tip. It took less than a second for his face to turn sour. He spat the caustic chunk back onto the plate and shoved it aside aggressively.
Leonid winced and turned back to the table; Crius burning holes in his head with his screwed-up eyes.
Willow watched them with a childish twinkle in her eye. She thought Leonid Korotkin looked like a pale young surfer, often wanting to command him to say ‘Yo, duuude’ among other totally tubular things, and that Crius had Vanilla Ice hair. A green Vanilla Ice. Spearmint Ice!
In the private little room in her mind where the teenage Willow still lived, she giggled away silently to herself.
Thankfully, the larger portion of her brain housed a mature, well-travelled starship captain. "As I was saying… It was the perfect marriage of magic, technology, and a good old Klingon axe that did the job in the end. …It was a real team effort. A Slay-Team effort."
Korotkin sat wide-eyed. "Then… all that stuff really happened? The battle of Epsilon Ursae?"
She laughed at his youthful enthusiasm. "Yes, Leonid."
The stars outside were shooting at them at speeds she still could barely fathom. "It seems so far away now – in another life. But yes, it happened."
"So…where are all the monsters now?" asked Crius. "Why is it we’re not surrounded by the beasts of the after-realm? Why isn’t everyone doing magic all over the place?"
"Well, that’s a story in itself. A long one."
Crius had more urgent issues. "Then, may I ask, that old Romulan Warbird… did you recognise it?"
"I thought so," she admitted. "For a moment."
"Who did you believe it was?"
Her face darkened before them. "Just a ghost from the past. A very old ghost."
Korotkin perked up eagerly on hearing the word ‘ghost’, as if she meant it literally.
Crius waited for more information.
Did she really want to get into this now after all this time?
But, sometimes, wasn’t it necessary to address the past? To exorcise demons – sometimes literal ones – and come to terms with everything before being able to move on? And she was about to move on for possibly the last time. A big deal. It deserved a big exorcism to kick it off.
Kick those heavy chips off her shoulder. Face the life behind her in order to be at peace with the years ahead.
She sighed, leaned back and undid her tunic clasp, letting the flap fall open.
"Okay, if we’re going to do this, I should start from the beginning. And I’m going to need another one of these." She raised her glass to get the attention of the bar staff, then settled into her soft chair. "There were six of us…and we came from a place called Sunnydale, California–"
"I know that one," said Korotkin, waving time forward with his hand. "What happened next? Why didn’t you go home? You had a dimension-shift transporter device, right? Some people say The Six did
go home – that you being one of them is just mindless gossip." He eyeballed Crius accusingly.
"Isn’t all this classified?" questioned the Orion, prompting Leonid to give him a soft kick under the table. The boy wanted to hear more whether it was classified or not.
"Classified?" repeated Willow. "No. Just… not advertised." She’d often wondered if perhaps the ‘Sunnydale effect’ had come with them across dimensions. "There’s something about the supernatural that people find easy to turn away from when they can. A collective selective ignorance of sorts. Which isn’t really a problem here anymore since it’s easier to ignore something that isn’t around."
"It’s magic, isn’t it?" proffered the young helmsman. "The supernatural has a magic. Like a cloaking field."
She’d never really thought about it like that. "You might be right."
He gazed at her with those bright eyes. "So… you really can
Crius butted in with another question; "How did you come to be a Starfleet officer? What were you before you knew of this world?"
She didn’t know who to answer first. "I was a student. And a witch. Back then I didn’t really know what I wanted to be."
"I wanted to be Star Man of the Hero Squadron," noted Korotkin, raising an eyebrow on each of their faces. "I was twelve," he added as a justification, then changed the subject; "I bet you didn’t imagine having a forty-year career here." He wasn’t sure he
could at this early stage in his life.
"Do you remember those days?" asked Crius. "The day you learned you would remain here?"
"No, and yes," she said, answering them both respectively.
The two young men before her settled back into their chairs, ready to listen to the tales she might tell them.
"I remember that day as clearly as I remember, well, fighting with Romulans this morning," she began, drifting back. "As for where it would lead… I had absolutely no idea what was in store…"