Zebulon P. Gryphon had to admit, he'd had better days in this man's Starfleet. Quite a few of them. Basically all of them before this one, in fact. His only consolation was that what he'd spent it doing was probably going to look good on the last page of his personnel file, for whatever consolation that might afford the folks back home.
It was just as well, he reflected, that they would never know what he'd actually been trying to do, which was pull off the ballsiest combat warp jump in history. If it had worked it would've been pretty spectacular—the Ranger would've come out somewhere in the vicinity of Andor, with all of her dilithium corroded to dust and half her Cochrane coils blown out, but still more or less in one piece. Then it would just have been a matter of holding out on emergency power until rescue arrived.
Unfortunately, it seemed it hadn't worked, which (he assumed) was why instead of the familiar sensation of a jump to warp speed, Captain Gryphon had instead felt an unpleasant sensation not altogether unlike being transported, and was now experiencing a dark, silent, noncorporeal state.
Hang on. Since when did dark, silent, noncorporeal states smell like ozone?
He opened his eyes (in the process discovering that the darkness had just been because they were closed) and found himself looking at a face that was very low down on the list of faces he'd have wanted to see at a moment like this.
"Oh, no," he said. "You again."
"So... you're dead," said Daniels, as if Gryphon hadn't spoken. "The Ranger was lost with all hands covering Admiral Garrett's withdrawal from the Battle of Caleb IV. At least, that's what it says in the history books."
Gryphon looked around at the holographic displays surrounding them, unimpressed. "Please don't tell me your 'temporal ready room' is in fact the lobby to the afterlife."
Daniels chuckled. "Hardly. No, you're here because we rescued you. You and your crew have been valuable operatives for us in the past. Luckily, your disappearance from the battle zone was perfectly timed so that we could extract you without damaging the expectations of history. Nice thinking, by the way. Very creative use of your century's warp drive technology."
"Are you telling me it would've worked?" Gryphon wondered.
"Would have? It did work," Daniels replied. "If it hadn't, there wouldn't have been enough of you for us to put in a small box, let alone recruit."
Gryphon dragged a hand down his face, then sighed. "Fine," he said. "I was already helping you, you didn't need to resort to kidnapping. Drop us where we would've ended up and we'll be there the next time you need something."
Daniels shook his head. "Nope," he said, with that blithely superior tone that always made Gryphon most want to harm him. "History says you died in 2270 and that's how it's got to stay."
Gryphon regarded the operative for several unspeaking seconds, his expression unreadable, then said slowly, "So... let me make sure I've got this straight. Mr. Skavrin and I pulled off the impossible thing we were trying to do, the Ranger would've cleared the combat zone intact... but you and your invisible future masters decided we had to stay 'dead', abducted us from our time, and won't let us go back."
"Well... I wouldn't have put it quite so flatly, but... yes." Recognizing the fury building behind the captain's calm expression, Daniels went on in a conciliatory tone, "Look, Zeb. We've worked together enough by now that you know how this works. If we put you back where we got you, we'd be doing just as much damage to the timeline as any of the things you've helped us stop others from doing. I'm sorry about that, I really am. I won't lie to you, it's going to be tough to adjust. But at least this way you get to live."
"You don't get to call me that," Gryphon snapped. "Not even now. Especially not now. You son of a bitch, is this your revenge for what happened when you were the FNG?"
Starship USS Ranger (NCC-885)
Lieutenant Gryphon was in his tiny cubbyhole of an office on B Deck, working on some of the unending paperwork that was a first officer's lot in life, when the door opened and Transporter Chief Markowski put his head in.
"Got a second, sir?" Markowski asked.
"Any time, Chief," Gryphon replied, putting down his stylus. "What's up?"
Markowski entered the office, then gestured a redshirted young human in after him. "Our newest officer, just reported aboard at Starbase 44," he said. "Ensign Hunter. No last name, he's from Proxima," he explained.
"Aha," said Gryphon, nodding. Rising, he offered his hand over his desk and said, "Welcome aboard, Ensign. Lieutenant Zebulon Gryphon. I'm Captain Garrett's first officer."
"Oh, I know, sir," said Hunter enthusiastically, shaking the hand. "I read your paper on chronosynclastic infundibula at the Academy. It's a real honor."
"You did? Huh. I don't know of anyone else who's ever read that paper. I'm pretty sure Professor Kaal didn't. Hell, I didn't even read most of it," he added with a smile. Then, becoming brisk, he went on before the junior officer could respond, "Anyway, it's good you're here. If you're ready to get started, I've got your first assignment."
"Sure thing, Lieutenant," said Hunter at once.
"I'm running short of critical supplies here," Gryphon explained. "I need you to go down to Ship's Stores C—Chief Markowski can show you the way if you don't know where that is in a Pioneer-class yet—and bring me up a box of spap oop. Can you do that, Hunter?"
"Count on me, sir," Hunter replied eagerly, ignoring the snorting cough Markowski only half-suppressed.
"Come on, that was just a little harmless hazing," Captain Gryphon said with a disgusted gesture. "Make the new guy run a pointless errand, it's the oldest welcome-aboard in the fleet. Besides, nobody gets all the way through the Academy without holding a box of doo dads upside down at some point. How was I to know you weren't really a Starfleet officer?"
"I did not extract you from your timeline out of revenge for a prank involving salty snacks," said Daniels with mild asperity. "I'm serious, Captain. I can't send you back to your time. The Ranger's sacrifice is a pivot point in the history of your era. The best I can do is reinsert you and your crew at a point after you've lapsed from living memory, so you can't be recognized by anyone who knew you.
"We're sending you to the early 25th century," Daniels went on, as holopanels depicting various things Gryphon did not recognize appeared around him. "We've got a high-speed learning and acclimation program that will get you up to speed. We'll have to create new identities for you—you can't let anyone know you're from the past."
Gryphon folded his arms and gave Daniels his gimlet look again. "No."
"I beg your pardon?"
"No. It's a negatory interjection," Gryphon explained didactically. "In this case it signals an absence of acquiescence to your stupid plan. Listen, Daniels, we're a Starfleet crew from the tail end of the pioneer era. Us getting launched 150 years into the future by what we tried to do to the Ranger's warp drive at Caleb IV is no weirder than two dozen other things that happened to starships in the '50s and '60s. You're supposedly a student of our era's history, you must know that." He shook his head. "No, if we're going to do this, we're going to do it my way. Aboveboard. I won't tell anyone we do some work on the side for the time cops," he assured the operative with a raised hand, forestalling a second interjection, "but I'll be damned if I force my crew—the best damn crew in the fleet—to live a lie for the entire rest of their lives on your say-so. Bad enough we're all going to be stuck in a world we never made. The least we can do is be ourselves while we do it."
"Out of the question," said Daniels. "You'd have to be constantly monitored to make sure you didn't do anything to jeopardize temporal stability."
"Oh," Gryphon replied, and then, his face hardening into an intractable glower, he added darkly, "Where would your time bosses ever find someone who could do that?"
Daniels gazed at the captain's stony face for a few seconds, then sighed.
Sol system, United Federation of Planets
Admiral Jorel Quinn looked up from the PADD he held to regard the ruggedly built young officer who stood at parade rest before his desk, hands folded behind his back.
"You're sure you want to do this, Lieutenant Commander?" the admiral inquired. "You and your crew are welcome to take more time to acclimate if you think you need it. It's a big adjustment, I know."
"Respectfully, sir, I think the best thing for us is to get back out there as fast as we can," Gryphon replied. "Now that Mr. Skavrin and his team have finished updating the Ranger's systems, and the new crew members have had a chance to settle in, it's time for us to go back to work." Breaking his formal pose with a wry smile, he added, "In deep space we'll feel less like living museum exhibits."
"Mm," Quinn grunted, in what might have been agreement and might not. "You might feel less like that if you'd accept a newer ship," he added dryly.
"Your shipyard's people said the same thing, sir, until they saw what the Ranger already brought us through," Gryphon said. "You know what they say: they don't make 'em like they used to. Or, if you'd prefer a different cliché, there's no place like home."
"Well, you're the captain, it's your call," Quinn conceded. "I have no objection for now. We may want to revisit the matter at your next promotion review."
"Admiral's prerogative, sir," Gryphon agreed, nodding.
Quinn regarded the physically-younger man for a few more moments, then broke his own formal façade and chuckled.
"A shot of your era's pioneer spirit is exactly what the Fleet needs right now," he said. "We're lucky to have you."
"Not as lucky as we are to be here, sir, considering the alternative," Gryphon said, resolutely straight-faced.
Quinn laughed. "Get out of here, you pirate," he said, gesturing to his office door with a grin. "There's an anomalous signal in Sector 003 with your name on it."
"Aye aye, Admiral," Gryphon replied. He snapped to attention, saluted, then about-faced and left the admiral's office, high-fiving a perplexed Temporal Agent Grey on his way past without breaking stride.
On his way up to the transporter room, he flipped open his communicator—which, comfortingly, made the same acquisition noises it always had, even now that it was updated with modern transception crystals. "Gryphon to Ranger."
"Tarsi here," replied the voice of his first officer. "What's the word, Captain?"
"We're back in business, Mr. Tarsi," said the captain. "Make ready to leave port."
"Outstanding," Tarsi crowed. "Hear that, Hunter? Your new assignment's official. Gryphon's Rangers ride again!"
"I can't wait," Hunter's voice replied wearily.
Gryphon grinned as he arrived on the Spacedock transporter pad. "Chin up, Mr. Hunter," he said. "At least this time you already know where the spap oop is. Energize!"
"Critical Supplies" - a Star Trek Online Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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