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Equilibration

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Summary: A twenty-third century Starfleet officer named Willow Rosenberg finds herself on a starship ninety years after her time. Tara Maclay, assistant ship's counselor, is assigned to ease her transition.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Star Trek > Other/GeneralCaptMurdockFR151392,26852213,16722 May 047 Aug 04Yes

Prologue

Disclaimer: The characters of Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay,or the
reasonable facsimiles that I employ in this story, are the property of Joss
Whedon and Mutant Enemy productions. The setting for the story is within the
universe of Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry and owned by Paramount
Pictures, Inc. No infringement of copyright is intended. The other characters are
the creation of either myself or several colleagues who don't care what I do with
them. In any case, I'm a firm believer in Kasden's Law ("If you steal from one
source, it's plagiarism; if you steal from ten sources, it's research.")
Pairing: W/T (not precisely the Willow and Tara that we all know and love -- but
close enough for government work.)
Spoilers: None (as this does not take place in the Buffyverse at all, we're all safe
as far as that goes. As to Trek, this takes place mid- Deep Space Nine (call it
third or fourth season).
Rating: PG-13.
Summary: A young 23rd-century Starfleet officer named Willow Rosenberg finds
herself stranded in the 24th century. Guess who's there to ease her transition?
Warning: this story takes a while to get really going, so please be patient. For you
non-Trekkers out there, I do ask that you give this story a chance. No, it does not
involve anybody from TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager or Enterprise, it just takes place
in the Trek universe. Yes, you may notice a distinct similarity between my Kitten
board name and the name of the captain in these chapters. This character has
been in my head for years. Hey, it's fan fiction; deal with it.
Feedback: Email me at cloister@earthlink.net. Thanks.
Distribution: For God's sake, don't put this on a Trek board without asking me
first! I'll lose all my street cred. :-)

Prologue

U.S.S. Hannibal
Stardate 7845
Earth Year: 2280

Lieutenant Willow Rosenburg had no idea when she woke up that morning that
her first solo mission was going to be her last.

"It's just a small ion storm, sir," she had said on the bridge of the Hannibal, the
viewscreen showing the diaphanous, multicolored disruption. Her voice had a
wheedling sound to it that she herself despised, a tone not lost on the captain
and the chief science officer. Over their shoulders, she could see her best friend,
Lt. Summers, sitting at the tactical station, pretending not to listen to the
conversation, rolling her eyes at Willow's pleading.

Captain Francisco Cumberland gazed at the young officer, bemused more than
anything else. "Oh, a small ion storm. That's like having a small black hole, or
only having a small pregnancy -- no offense to those crewmembers of the
feminine gene," he added offhandedly. His eyes, hazel and somewhat almond-
shaped, rolled in exasperation at the boundless enthusiasm of youth, ignoring the
fact that he was not yet forty Standard years old himself. His nonregulation
beard, just managing to cover the facial scars inflicted upon him some years ago
by some nasty Kzinti, seemed to twitch as he smiled benignly at the young
officer.

Commander Max Cochrane, the ship's second officer, chief science officer and
Willow's direct superior, replied his commanding officer and friend with his usual
nonchalance. "It doesn't appear likely to escalate beyond force three, Captain.
As ion storms go, that's pretty minor-league." His demeanor would have given a
casual observer the notion that Cochrane was bored; that notion would be
mistaken, as this was his customary mien. Contrary to the popular notion that
brilliant science officers tended to be hyperactive -- like Willow Rosenburg --
Cochrane bordered on being leisurely, if not entirely lackluster. An acquaintance
of theirs had once remarked that Cochrane did not seem complete unless he was
wearing an old raincoat and carrying a cigar in one hand. Neither Cochrane nor
Cumberland had yet figured out what that was supposed to mean...

Cumberland shrugged. "Okay, fair enough. Why do we need to send out a pod?
Why not just a probe, if that?"

Willow jumped in then, decisively if not prudently. "Sir, regulations require that all
ion storm activity be fully investigated, that is, by qualified onsite personnel, and I
think I'm qualified, sir, not that Commander Cochrane isn't qualified, no, sir, sirs!
In fact, I'm thinking Commander Cochrane is really, if anything, over-qualified, I
mean, this is just an ion storm, so it really makes sense to send me out in the
shuttlepod instead of --"

"Rosenburg, as you were," Cumberland said in his best command tone. The
young lieutenant promptly closed her mouth and assumed her best at-attention
stance.

Cochrane raised an eyebrow, a sure sign he was about to make a wry comment.
"You think if we hooked her vocal cords to the engines, we could do away with
the warp core?"

Buffy Summers gave the backs of the two senior officers a sharp look, not feeling
confident enough to voice her opinion of the unseemliness of them making fun of
Willow. She glanced over at Ensign Xander Harris at the helm, Willow's
childhood friend and classmate to them both from the Academy. He was looking
back at her, his expression conveying his sympathy for Willow's eagerness and
Buffy's protectiveness.

Cumberland mock-scowled at Cochrane, fairly certain that he was merely teasing
his eager young subordinate. "Now, now, Max. Be nice. Okay, Rosenburg,
you've sold me. You get to take out the shuttlepod, take all the instrument
readings you like, and Summers, quit scowling, your face'll freeze that way and
it's a very unattractive expression!"

Summers snapped herself forward towards her station, her eyebrows shooting
up self-consciously. Looking over to Xander as much as she dared, she
managed to see Xander likewise looking sidelong and trying not to get caught at
it, mouthing to her, He sees everything.

In less time than she would have thought possible, Willow found herself in one of
the Hannibal's shuttlepods, skirting the edge of the electromagnetic disturbance.
She wasn't a pilot really; the pod's course had been pre-programmed, needing
only basic instruction, leaving her free to take readings and relay them back to
the Hannibal. For this type of ion storm, standard procedure dictated that piloting
the starship into the highly unstable EM field would be too disruptive to provide
clear readings; a short-range shuttlepod would be far less intrusive,
gravimetrically speaking, and not so hazardous as to preclude sending out a lone
science officer.

Let's hear it for Standard Procedure.

Aboard the ship, Buffy Summers kept an eye on the tracking scanners, charting
the course of the shuttlepod as it traversed the outer edge of the ion storm. As
much as she wanted Willow to prove herself, a part of her dreaded the thought of
her friend being out there alone. Of course, she was barely ten thousand
kilometers away from the ship, well inside transporter range. A long-range
sensor sweep had confirmed that there were no vessels, unfriendly or otherwise,
anywhere near them. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell this to her palms,
which insisted on sweating so much that she kept having to wipe them discreetly
on her trousers.

Captain Cumberland stalked around the bridge of the Saladin-class destroyer,
trying to peer at every instrument and display without looking like he was. One
thing he had always loathed as a junior officer was the type of commander who
felt the need to micro-manage, and he swore he would never succumb to that
neurosis. Nevertheless, the thought of One Of His out there alone and possibly
in danger tied his insides into knots. Yet, showing his crew that he had so little
faith in his people wouldn't be good for morale, either. Whose idea was it to take
this job? Cumberland wondered for the thousandth time. He glanced over at his
first officer, Commander Jerald Thomas Stewart, whose helmet of thick black hair
gleamed under the bridge lights. J.T., manning what was nominally an
engineering subsystems station, returned the glance with a shrug and a What do
you want me to say? expression. Yeah, big help.

For her part, Willow was having the time of her life. After ensuring that the pod
was on course, she tapped buttons with the grace of a concerto pianist, directing
the onboard sensor pallets to gather the raw data on EM distortions, quark
population and subspace field stresses.

Strange. There was a large indication of graviton emissions coming from the
center of the ion storm. Given that this was almost purely an electromagnetic
phenomenon, there shouldn't be any significant gravimetric distortion. But...

"Shuttlepod to Hannibal," she said, keying the comm system open. "I'm getting
some goofy readings here."

Cumberland's head snapped up from his reverie at the sound of Rosenburg's
voice. "What did she say? 'Goofy'? Dammit, I must have been sick that day at
the Academy when they taught the Goofy Protocols!"

In spite of everything, several people on the bridge, including Buffy and Xander,
chuckled at the captain's quip. He let the mirth hang in the air for a couple of
seconds, then indicated to the communications officer to open the ship-to-ship.
"We read you, Lieutenant. Transfer your telemetry to Mr. Cochrane. Can you
be, uh, more specific?"

Before she could answer the captain, Max Cochrane had read the telemetry and
drawn many of the same conclusions. "Captain, the ion storm is emitting high
concentrations of gravitons. Recommend we go to yellow alert, sir."

Buffy looked over at Xander, who stared back. The mutual question What's
going on? flickered, unanswered, between them.

Cumberland nodded at this science officer's suggestion. "Yellow alert," he called
out, watching as the bridge light subtly changed in response to the heightened
state of awareness. He strode over to where Stewart was coordinating with
ship's departments. "Mr. Stewart, report to Transporter Room One. Assist Chief
Connelly."

The first officer opened his mouth, about to protest that the captain needed him
here on the bridge; however, if it was one thing J.T. Stewart knew about, it was
Cumberland's talent for spotting -- if not actively seeking out -- trouble. "Aye, sir,"
Stewart said, getting up and heading for the turbolift.

The captain's renowned early-warning system was indeed rumbling at this point,
although not loud enough to drown the rational part of his mind that some people
thought of as mere rumor. Gravitons in an ion storm -- unusual, but hardly
dangerous at this level. Not like it's a black hole... His mind tried to balance the
safety of his crew and his faith in their ability to do their jobs and take care of
themselves. "Shuttlepod, report status," he commanded over the channel.

"Nominal, captain. I've, uh, just finished my initial...maneuver, if you call it that.
Gravimetric stresses well within tolerances. I'm preparing to make the second
pass now. I want to try a particle-trajectory analysis, sir." Typically, Rosenburg
had her "eager young space cadet" voice on, which Cumberland had always
found cute. All it did now was worry the hell out of him, that she would be too
busy playing Junior Scientist to watch her back.

Then again, isn't that what I'm here for? Cumberland wondered.

Over at the tactical station, Buffy Summers had had enough. "Willow," she said,
keying her intercom to the ship-to-ship frequency, "never mind that stuff, just get
your butt back to the ship!"

"Buffy, I'm fine. Really. You know me, I'm not Danger Gal."

"Rosenburg, hold your position until further notice." The captain made a hand-
signal at the comm officer to mute the channel, then strode over to Summers.
She tried not to visibly gulp as he approached, knowing that she had committed a
breach in protocol by speaking online without permission.

Cumberland stopped to rest his hands on the railing near her station. His voice
was low, even soft, but still carried the timbre of command. "You can't hold her
hand forever, Summers. It's not what's best for either one of you, and all it will do
is make one of you resentful of the other."

Buffy's lips tightened as she nodded. "Yes, sir," she whispered.

Cumberland's eyes held hers a moment longer. Another beat passed, then he
said, "Get a tractor lock on the pod. Anything else 'goofy' happens, yank 'er
back."

Her enthusiastic "Aye, sir!" bounced off his departing back.


Willow vacillated between being annoyed at Buffy's overprotectiveness and
feeling loved because of it. And, yes, the excitement of being on her first solo
mission. Ever since the Academy, and since being assigned to the same ship as
Buffy and Xander, she had always felt overshadowed by her friends. She
reveled in this chance to shine on her own.

Still...these reading were starting to worry her, at least a little. This was not your
typical flash-in-the-pan ion storm. Besides the gravitons, there were indications
of unusual stresses to the local subspace field that had no clear cause. She was
beginning to think that this "ion storm" was actually the accidental by-product of
something much more energetic, much more intriguing and probably much more
dangerous.

Oh, poo. Would Buffy bug out at the first sign of trouble? Heck, no. And the
captain? They don't call him "The Space Case" for nothin', ya know. She was
still under orders to remain at her present position, but she could still take sensor
scans of the√Čanomaly, as she now called it. She was setting up a preliminary
scan when the general alert beeped for her attention.

The science readout caught her eye. The numbers started changing there, faster
than she would have believed. "Oh oh," she said to herself. "This can't be
good."


Back on the Hannibal, Max Cochrane had been monitoring the telemetry from the
shuttlepod, and he didn't like what he saw any more than Willow did. "Captain,"
his slow, even tone nevertheless conveying a sense of extreme urgency, "I'm
getting high concentrations of tachyons coming from the ion storm!"

Cumberland made up his mind. "Hannibal to Shuttlepod -- Rosenburg, head
back to the barn, pronto! Summers, tractor beam! Transp--"

That was as far as the captain got before the universe seemingly busted a seam
in the seat of its pants. A large, angry-looking maw suddenly opened up in the
middle of the "ion storm," dwarfing both the shuttlepod and the starship. It
swirled against the darkness of space like a lake beneath a waterfall, turbulent,
unstable, violent.

The energy it released knocked the destroyer back almost ten thousand
kilometers from its present position. Perversely, the dark matter microfragments
at its event horizon pulled the shuttlepod in the other direction.

In spite of the best efforts of the inertial dampening field, everybody on the bridge
was thrown to the deck, except for Buffy, owing to the forward-facing aspect of
the tac station enabling her to basically wedge herself in place. She saw Captain
Cumberland fall; only later did she find the time to be amazed at how smoothly
he turned the deckward plunge into a shoulder roll to end up on his feet.

Xander was at the base of the helm console, dazed and trying to get his breath
back. Cumberland managed to lunge to the helm and enable the emergency
stabilizers. Slowly, the Hannibal stopped spinning and re-oriented itself.

Xander reached up, to haul himself back into position, when he felt a hand seize
his and lift him on his feet easily. Somehow Cumberland managed, without even
leaning to support the load, to get him and seated back at the helm. A quick pat
on the shoulder, a brief indication to the astrogation monitor, and the captain was
gone. Xander forced his head to stop spinning; then, he saw how far away from
the shuttlepod -- and Willow -- they had been thrown.

"Damage report!" Cumberland cried out.

Cochrane checked his readouts. "Structural integrity at sixty-seven percent.
Main power is fluctuating but still online."

"Captain!" Buffy cried out. "I wasn't able to get a tractor beam on Wi...on the
shuttlepod before we were thrown clear!"

"Max, get a visual! Mr. Harris, take us in, full speed! Bridge to Transporter
Room One, prepare for emergency beam out! We're going in!"

"This may not be wise, Captain," Commander Stewart said over the intercom.

"Probably not, J.T."

"Well, it was worth a try. How soon to transporter range, sir?"

Cumberland looked over to Harris, nodded for him to answer. "Twenty-seven
seconds, Commander."


Inside the shuttlepod, Willow felt like a stuffed toy being shaken by a dog with
delirium tremens. She clung to the console for dear life, even as she
automatically made note of the wild readings still being picked up by the sensors.

The proximity detectors also noted that a large mass was heading towards the
shuttlepod on an intercept course. Willow had a moment of panic till she noticed
the warp signature around the object. They're coming after me? No! If anybody
gets killed, it'll be my fault!

"Hannibal! Do-don't come after me! This might be a transient phenomenon
anyway," she added, not believing it for a second.

"Rosenburg, be quiet and let us make like the cavalry," came the reply back from
the ship. Willow would swear that she could hear the captain winking at Buffy.

Unexpectedly, a burst of energy from the center of the anomaly buffeted the
shuttlepod, overloading the electroplasma conduit under the main ops console,
which blew apart directly in Willow's face. Blown back out of her chair, she was
unconscious before she hit the deck.

The sound of the explosion carried over the comm channel before that cut off
due to the shuttlepod's loss of power. "Rosenburg?" Cumberland asked, dread
already draining the blood from his face. "Rosenburg -- acknowledge!" He
turned to the communications officer. "Get her back!" He punched one of the
buttons on his command station. "J.T.! Can you beam her off?"

"Stand by -- I'm trying to boost power to the emitters," Stewart's voice was tight
with pre-occupation. "There! Got a lock!"

"Energize!" Cumberland shouted, unnecessarily as Stewart and the transporter
chief were already initiating transport.

Max Cochrane's voice cut through the air with unexpected volume. "Captain!"

Cumberland turned towards the viewscreen, knowing in his heart what his
science officer was pointing out to him. What he was not prepared to see what
was happened.

The roiling, swirling mass of the anomaly, with the shuttlepod firmly embedded
within its depths, suddenly collapsed in on itself...leaving nothing but empty
space behind.

"Oh my God," Xander said, stunned beyond belief.

"Willow!" Buffy nearly shrieked, bolting from her station.

Cumberland blinked twice, then came to himself with an effort. "J.T. -- did you
get her?"

The answer was slow in coming, Cumberland about to angrily ask again, when
Stewart replied, "I don't think -- no, sir. We had a lock...then, uh, she was gone."

"Right. Bridge out." He snapped off the intercom, then turned to Summers, still
standing, staring at the viewscreen. "Summers."

No response.

"Lieutenant!"

Buffy snapped herself around. "Uh, I, yessir!"

"Institute a Phase One search on all decks. There's a chance that -- we
managed to transport her back, only -- something interrupted the process. She
may be hurt or unconscious somewhere on the ship." He paused, knowing full
well -- as did she -- that this was somewhere between make-work and standard
procedure. He looked at her face, seeing the first signs of total shock, knowing
that if he let her give into the pain now, she wouldn't be good to anyone, including
herself. "Vamanos, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir."

"Mr. Harris, begin a search pattern. There's the possibility that the shuttlepod
was thrown clear. Mr. Cochrane, full sensor sweep." There were muted
acknowledgements from the two of them, one contemplating the loss of an old
and dear friend, the other of a bright young protege.

Francisco Cumberland sat in his captain's chair, looking straight ahead but not
seeing the infinite depths of space nor the bridge of the starship to which he was
entrusted. Instead he saw the face of one of his crew, one who had come,
despite his best efforts to keep his subordinates at a distance, to carve out her
own niche in his heart. His heart now felt the void left as that face had seemingly
disappeared forever.

"Vaya con Dios, mi hija," he whispered.
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