Across a Sea of Stars
by Wendy Snow-Lang
Frantic footsteps clattered in the companionway to the captain's
cabin aboard HMS Lydia.
Captain Horatio Hornblower looked up from his paperwork as young midshipman Savage burst through the doorway. The lad stumbled to a stop at the desk and saluted, his blue eyes bright, his fair hair dancing across his forehead.
"Cap'in, sir! Cap'in, sir!" he squeaked.
"Mr. Savage." Hornblower's rich voice resonated from deep within his chest as he regarded the boy. "No need for such excitement."
Red washed across Savage's face and he gazed down at his toes. "Sorry, sir. I did it agin, didn't I, sir?"
His dark eyes twinkling, Hornblower stood to his full six feet, stepped up to the boy trembling before him and placed a hand on the youngster's shoulder. "'Tis alright, Mr. Savage." He smiled, his white teeth flashing against the darkness of his sea-tanned features. "One is twelve only once." He clasped his hands behind his back and his expression returned to its usual sternness. "Your report, if you please, Mr. Savage."
The boy's eyes widened. "Aye, aye, sir! Mr. Bush sends 'is compliments, sir, and they's sighted a launch off t' larboard! Mr. Bush says looks like a whaler boat!"
Hornblower's dark eyebrows arched. "Ha-humm. Very well, Mr. Savage."
Hornblower accepted the telescope from First Lieutenant Bush's hand. He placed the glass to his eye, centred the image of the boat in its circular view. Two men could be seen waving frantically in the boat's stern sheets.
"Let us fetch them, Mr. Bush," he said.
Hornblower stood a few paces from the entry port, his hands again behind his back as he watched the two men climb aboard. He studied them a moment, allowing Bush to greet them first. Though his curiosity caused his breath to quickened, Hornblower retained his decorum. He was Captain. Men came to him, not the other way around.
He glanced up at the quarterdeck. Lady Barbara Wellesley stood at the rail, her maidservant Hebe clutching a large silk parasol over her charge's head, attempting to keep the sun from Her Ladyship's face. Lady Barbara shifted excitedly back and forth, watching the rescue operation with intense curiosity. The women were unusual passengers aboard a naval frigate, but Hornblower could not abandon an English woman and her servant in yellow-fever ravished Panama.
Unusual too, were the castaways. The first over the side seemed a normal enough seaman and Hornblower could excuse the man's broad grin as understandable given the circumstances, but something about the expression bothered Hornblower. The grin seemed larger than simple pleasure at being rescued from the sea, more amused than relieved. The man was unremarkable in appearance otherwise, average build, square, straight shoulders, bald head covered by an ordinary seaman's dark bandanna, white sweat-stained shirt, black neck cloth, brown short-jacket, tan slop trousers, bare feet.
The grin. The grin broadened as the bald man looked about him. Keen intelligence gleamed from his squinting eyes.
Hornblower allowed a ghost of a scowl to crease his wide forehead. He waited, watched.
The second man was the most odd. He too was dressed in similar fashion as the first, though his shirt was faded red flannel and his short-jacket was dark blue wool. He wore no bandanna or hat.
Hornblower's scowl deepened.
The second man's skin was pale white, almost completely colourless. His straight black hair had been brushed back into a perfectly clipped style, tidy in spite of his exposure in an open boat. His expressionless eyes glowed golden yellow. He ran his gaze over his surroundings and Hornblower saw the flatness of the man's demeanour. No hint of curiosity or emotion came from him. Hornblower was reminded of a doll, a full-sized, animate doll.
Bush brought the two men the few steps to Hornblower. "Captain Hornblower, sir. These men were from the Nantucket whaler Pequod, sunk three days ago by their quarry, a great bull whale. A shame, if I might say, sir, that men must risk their lives for such pursuits."
Hornblower's left eyebrow twitched up. "Ha-Humm. Thank you, Mr. Bush, for that insight. I'm sure these gentlemen are quite proud of their noble profession."
The bald man thrust out his hand. "Indeed, Captain Hornblower." His grin hadn't subsided. "I am Jean-Luc Picard, sir, and I thank you for rescuing us! 'Twas a long three days!"
Hornblower hesitated, then took Picard's hand and shook it. He disliked the idea of such familiarity with a subordinate but he could understand the man's gratitude. He himself had spent many a day adrift in a longboat. And he'd felt the same excitement upon being rescued.
He regarded the second man. "Ha-Humm. And what kind of man might you be, sir?" he asked. He did not offer his hand to the pale man, uncertain of what to expect.
"My name is Data, Captain. I am Chinese." The expressionless gaze rested on Hornblower's face and Hornblower felt sweat start between his shoulder blades.
Chinese? This Data looked like no Chinaman Hornblower had ever seen!
"Very well, gentlemen. You are dismissed below. Get you fed and cleaned up. Mr. Bush will assign you your duties." He narrowed his eyes at them. "I hope you understand that you are now in service to the Royal Navy. You will serve this ship to the best of your abilities or pay the consequences!"
Picard chuckled. "Captain Horatio Hornblower! How delightful! I asked the computer to surprise us after the Moby Dick adventure! It has exceeded itself!" He saluted in precise British fashion. "Thank you again, Captain!"
Hornblower shook his head, squared his shoulders. Such odd men! Picard's statement made little sense. Computer? Moby Dick adventure? What did he mean by those words? And Picard acted as if he knew him. They'd never met, of that Hornblower was certain. As captain his duty obligated him to know all the men under his command, and though sailors came and went, Hornblower prided himself with his familiarity of each crewman with whom he served and commanded.
He turned to climb the gangway to the quarterdeck, to return to his usual position by the wheel, when a chirping sound and a strange voice made him pause.
"Captain Picard to the bridge! Captain Picard to the bridge!"
Picard's voice. "Understood Number One! Computer, freeze program!"
Hornblower looked up at Lady Barbara standing by the quarterdeck rail. She gazed down at him, but she was unmoving. He realized her dress, which had been flapping steadily in the sea breeze, had stopped waving. But it did not hang at her sides. The train of it stuck out from her figure as if she were a statue carved of living flesh and vivid blue satin.
Hornblower turned. Picard and Data were standing by the watch bell, except the watch bell was no longer there. An arch of metal had replaced it and lights blinked and flickered within the arch. Bush stood to one side, one foot extended in frozen stride. Seamen clung motionless to the shrouds. The sails puffed outwards, as if pushed by the wind, but no movement, no rippling, no sound came from them. A gull hovered in mid-air, as if suspended by a wire.
Hornblower inhaled. "Ha-Humm!" He attempted to speak to Picard, to question him, but he could only clear his throat, so baffled was he.
Picard jerked his gaze at Hornblower. Data's golden eyes turned in his direction and he felt their lifeless weight on his face.
"Captain Hornblower!" Picard exclaimed. He looked around at the ship, at the frozen people. "Computer! Explain!"
"Captain Horatio Hornblower Program has been frozen as requested, Captain." A woman's voice, emotionless and sibilant, came from the arch.
Hornblower saw no one there. Who had spoken and where was she hidden?
"Why is Captain Hornblower still animate?" Concern coloured Picard's voice. "Computer, respond!"
'Computer', whoever, wherever she was, replied. "Unable to comply, Captain."
Picard gazed at Hornblower. "Computer, end Hornblower Program."
The ship disappeared. Blackness surrounded Hornblower, blackness divided by evenly spaced glowing yellow lines forming perfect squares across bulkheads, deck heads and deck.
Hornblower gasped, his brown eyes wide. "Wha-what is happening? Where am I? Where is my ship?" He gazed at the geometric space within which he stood, his shoulders tense, his knees wobbly. He rubbed at his eyes, but the view did not alter, his ship did not return.
Data tapped rapidly at a lighted panel shoulder height in the arch. "The computer shows the program ended, sir. Captain Hornblower should not be standing before us."
Picard stepped toward Hornblower, reached out a hand. Hornblower shrank back from Picard's approach, though he stood his ground. Picard touched him on the sleeve. This time Picard gasped.
"He's solid, Data. He's still here!" Picard returned to the shelter of the archway, began pushing against lights as they flickered on the panels. "Check the Moriarty Program, Data! Make sure our old friend isn't up to something again!"
"Moriarty Program is running within normal parameters, Captain."
Picard gazed at Hornblower, a scowl creasing his forehead. "Very well, Mr. Data. We'll address this problem later. Come with me to the bridge."
Hornblower wasn't sure if the command had been directed at Data or at him, but he fell into step behind the two anyway. The doors whooshed open though no one touched them. They stepped through. Grey bulkheads comprised the corridor in which he found himself and he stumbled forward awkwardly, startled by the doors closing unbidden behind him.
Picard stared at him wide eyed. "Captain Hornblower! How can you be outside the holodeck?"
Shocked as he was, Hornblower tapped his heel on the carpeted deck. The deck seemed solid enough to him. Why had Picard referred to it as a "hollow deck?"
Men and women dressed in tight, form-fitting suits walked past them, each one acknowledging Picard. Captain Picard! The majority of what Hornblower thought of as crew wore black uniforms, accented on the shoulders or torso by red, blue or gold. Women wore the same as the men. Hornblower scowled. Women in trousers! Scandalous! Some passers-by wore clothes different from the dramatic uniforms, clothes as varied as the people who wore them. Civilians?
The deck was indeed solid under his feet. He detected no sway or rhythmic lurch to his surroundings, though he heard a distant throbbing hum. "What is this place, Captain Picard?" Better safe than sorry. Better to address Picard as the others passing them did. Just in case.
With his long legs, he had no difficulty keeping up with Picard and Data's hurried pace down the grey corridors. They approached a set of doors and the doors swept open automatically as had the ones to the "hollow deck." They entered a tiny room. Hornblower saw no other doorway save the one through which they had entered. Was this a prison cell for him? Would they hold him here?
The door swished closed. "Bridge." said Picard to no one in particular. A slight sensation of motion caused Hornblower to stagger.
Picard regarded Hornblower and the weight of his gaze made Hornblower shift uncomfortably. This man was not to be trifled with, it appeared. Hornblower had better be on his defensive. He doffed his tricorne, brushed his thick black curls from his forehead, thought to replace his hat, instead clutched it behind his back. He felt conspicuous enough without the added ostentation of his tall cockaded captain's hat.
"You are aboard my ship, Captain Hornblower. USS Enterprise of the United Federation of Planets." He hesitated a moment, then continued. "You are in the 24th century, Captain, and this ship sails through the stars, not the ocean waves."
Hornblower's left eyebrow rose. Madness. Picard spoke madness!
Picard grinned. "I normally wouldn't tell a 'time traveller' such as yourself such things, as there is the danger of you altering time with your foreknowledge, but since you are, ahem, a fictional character, it doesn't matter."
Hornblower scowled. Fictional character? "What mean you, Captain?" he said. "I understand your words, but their meaning escapes me. I cannot comprehend!"
The sensation of movement stopped and the doors opened. They no longer faced a grey corridor. How had the little room carried them to this new place? Hornblower gazed out into a vast chamber, lined with lighted panels, cushioned chairs and dominated by a huge window through which Hornblower could see the stars. The stars, however, rushed past, like trees seen outside a carriage window as the horses dashed along. Uniformed people moved back and forth, calling out orders and conditions and tapping at the flickering lights on the panels. Picard strode down a curved ramp, then sat in the centre chair mounted to the deck beneath the rail where Hornblower stood. Hornblower felt almost as if he were at the quarterdeck rail with his crew manoeuvring the ship through the nighted waves.
"Captain! Long range sensors are picking up a Borg sphere, heading Mark 8 point 55!"
Hornblower looked to his right at the speaker, gasped. The man, if man he could be called, glowered at him. Hornblower stepped back as the "man" strode up to him.
"Captain, sir. Who is our visitor?" The "man" was taller than Hornblower by a couple of inches and wider than him considerably. His brown skin wrinkled in deep furrows across his over-large forehead, the crinkles reaching down to encompass his broad nose. The deformities on the skull caused bulges and gullies from which a thick mane of black hair descended to his shoulders. A fierce moustache and goatee bristled from his muzzle. His teeth were filed sharp like Hornblower had seen on Maori warriors he'd encountered on his first voyage to the Pacific.
The man's voice had been firm and commanding when he first spoke but now it softened. "He appears to be wearing the uniform of a British Naval officer, circa late 1700's, early 18's!"
Picard, now bare of his bandanna, nodded. "Very good, Mr. Worf! Our little holodeck excursions have paid off for you!" His voice firmed. "Number One! The Borg!"
A bearded man sitting in a chair to Picard's right spoke. "They seem to be unaware of us, Captain, or unconcerned. They haven't changed their course since we sighted them. Mr. Data, magnify view screen."
Data had seated himself at a desk in front of and to Picard's left. He tapped at the lights on the desktop. "Magnifying."
The window changed. A spherical shape could be seen centred in the view. What had "Mr. Worf" said? A Borg sphere? What was a Borg? Hornblower gazed intently at the window, at the approaching shape. A ship, he guessed. A ship sailing amongst the stars. What wind propelled it? What did the sails look like? Hornblower could see nothing on the distant shape that remotely resembled sails. No beasts pulling it, no oars propelling it. How did it move through the ether? Hornblower knew that ether filled the heavens between stars. Heavens! Dear God! Was he in heaven? Was he dead? How had he died?
His knees felt weak and he must have moaned, because the beastly Mr. Worf took notice of his swoon and grabbed him before he could sink to the deck.
His vision cleared enough to see the delightful features of a lovely woman leaning over him. She had cascading red hair and a concerned, puzzled expression on her perfectly sculpted face.
"I can't understand it, Captain," she was saying. "He registers as normal. As human. Not as a hologram."
Hollow Gram. What in God's Name was a Hollow Gram?
"He's awake." She smiled down at him with the same rehearsed, emotionless smile he'd seen many times on the faces of the countless naval surgeons he'd served with in his twenty years at sea. She, he concluded, was a doctor.
A woman doctor.
Picard loomed over him, as well. Picard's face too carried the same concerned expression, but the tension under his façade was clear. Hornblower knew well the pressure felt by any captain when the call came of "Enemy in Sight!" No one had voiced that the Borg were the enemy, but Hornblower sensed it. He hadn't been fighting the French for twenty years for nothing!
Hornblower sat up. Mustn't loll about when the Enemy was at hand! Mustn't appear weak to these people. Though they considered him a man out of time, a "fictional character," whatever that meant, he would not let them see him so shaken by his situation. He had control of himself.
"How do you feel, Captain?" Picard asked.
Hornblower nodded, rose on shaky feet. He glowered down at Picard, glad for once of his excessive height. "I feel shipshape, Captain. Can I help in any manner?" He forced confidence into his deep voice, pulled at his coat lapels.
Picard mirrored his move, tugging to smooth his striped sailor shirt as he too straightened. He smiled. "Sorry, Captain. I'm afraid you're out of your league."
'Out of his league?' What did that mean? Hornblower bowed perfunctorily to the lovely woman doctor and followed Picard out of the cabin and back onto the bridge.
Picard nodded to the woman. "Doctor Crusher, perhaps you should stay on the bridge and make sure our 'guest' has no more 'spells.'"
Dr. Crusher ran her gaze up and down Hornblower's long figure. He felt the weight of her scrutiny. He clasped his hands behind his back and raised his chin. He was a veteran. He was a married man. He could handle a woman's judgmental attitude. But was her perusal of him judgmental? Or was her attitude one that found him somehow attractive? He'd been told he was a man of whom women could easily love, though he didn't believe the assessment himself. He boldly returned her stare. What would she have, then? Why had she looked at him in such a manner? His experience with women was limited. He knew how to read Maria, but he had been married to her for a number of years. He was beginning to be able to distinguish Lady Barbara's moods, as they had been thrust together in close proximity aboard Lydia for the past month or so. This Dr. Crusher, however, was a mystery.
"I certainly will, Captain." She smiled at Hornblower and he ahemed nervously, his eyes first on her face, then on the deck, then back to her face. She was lovely!
"Mr. Data!" Picard called. "Any change in the Borg course? What is their heading?"
Data turned from his blinking desktop and stared his blank stare at Picard. "No change, sir. They appear to be heading to the Romulan Neutral Zone. Perhaps we should warn the Romulans of the Borg presence, sir!"
Hornblower jerked his attention from Dr. Crusher's face back to the tension surrounding him. He had let a woman distract him! He stepped closer to the rail, gazed intently at the window of stars. The Borg spherical ship rushed through space.
"Captain!" the deformed man, Worf, sought Picard's attention.
"Yes, Mr. Worf."
"The Borg sphere measures much smaller than any we've encountered before. Perhaps a scout ship, sir."
Hornblower inhaled. A scout ship! Easy pickings for a military vessel! Though he had no idea the exact size of this "Enterprise" he surmised it to be a large vessel because of the number of personnel he'd thus far seen manning her. What were Pickard's intentions? Would he pursue the other ship? Should Hornblower be so bold as to bluntly ask?
He stepped forward. Propriety be damned! This was a time for action! "Ha-Humm." All eyes turned in his direction. "Captain Picard. Are we to pursue this scout ship, sir? You speak of these Borg as if they are the enemy. I am not mistaken in my assumption?"
Picard rose from his seat, tugged at his seaman's striped shirt again. "Captain Hornblower. Enemy, yes. But you have no idea of the power of the Borg. Even a small scout ship is nothing to be trifled with."
Hornblower stepped back, his chin down. "Of course, Captain Picard. You know your enemy certainly better than I." He brought his head up again, squared his shoulders. "You are concerned about the 'Romulans,' you called them? Are they your allies? Allies are often hard won friends and hard kept."
Picard shifted where he stood. "Indeed, Captain. We are uneasy allies with the Romulans. And usually only when the Borg are involved."
"Captain Picard, if I may be so bold," Hornblower continued, not sure why he was being insistent-he had no idea what these people were up against, but he knew the British Admiralty's attitude toward engagement with the enemy. "Have you ever heard of the Speedy under Captain Cochrane and her encounter with the Spanish ship Gamo?" Hornblower had no idea if the ships' names he had just uttered were fictional or real, or if Picard knew of them. Hornblower would never normally overstep his boundaries but he hoped that his feebly concealed attempt at diplomacy would work. Give Picard a veiled suggestion for a course of action. Hornblower could not resist a call to arms!
Picard cleared his throat. "Umm. Yes. Yes, I have. Point taken, Captain Hornblower. Our Star Fleet is not so far removed from your own Admiralty. We have our standing orders concerning the Borg. Have no fear. Though the odds are against us, we will confront them. We will not let this small vessel accomplish its mission, no matter the odds." He pointed toward the window with two fingers. "Helm. Intercept course. Warp Eight.
"Inform Star Fleet, Mr. Worf, of our situation." Picard ordered. "And send a message to the Romulan High Council of their approaching 'visitor.'"
Hornblower stood to the side, painfully aware that he was 'out of his league,' was 'out of his time' and should not be there on the bridge in such a tense situation. But he could not help himself. He was compelled to be in the 'thick of it' and so he stood his ground, clasping the rail a pace to the left of the bizarre Mr. Worf.
"Aye, aye, sir." Worf responded and tapped away at the lights on his desktop. "Messages sent, Captain."
Hornblower watched intently. How exactly did the information get passed by those flickering lights? Of what were those lights made? They obviously weren't candle or lantern flames, though they resembled them. The lights seemed under the command of the person touching them. Not like real flames that did what they wanted and only seemed under man's control. Hornblower understood that equation easily enough and had used it to his advantage more than once. He sensed great power in the lighted panels, but could not fathom the mechanics of it. Of course, he was a captain, a commander, not a ship-builder or engineer.
A chirp, then a voice sounded from the clear dome above them. Or so Hornblower thought.
"Engineering. LaForge." came the disembodied voice, like the look-out's call from the far-off mast head, except clear and loud as if the speaker were in the cabin with them instead of who knew where?
"Yes, Geordi, go ahead," Picard replied.
"Captain! We're ready whenever you are, sir! We are at one hundred per cent!"
Picard smiled. "Thank you, Mr. LaForge. Increase speed to Warp Nine."
"Aye, aye, Captain," came the voice. "Warp Nine, it is!"
Hornblower's eyes narrowed. 'Warp Nine.' How fast was that? How did a 'Warp' compare to a knot? Lydia could sail at eleven, twelve knots with a proper trim and her studding sails set. Of what speed was this ship capable? Hornblower observed the workings of this bridge, this quarterdeck for a few moments, cleared his throat.
Picard looked up at him. "Yes, Captain? Have you a question?"
Hornblower scowled at his toes, gazed at Picard. "How, ah, how fast is your Enterprise, sir? What are her capabilities, if I may be so bold in such a tense time?"
Picard grinned, strode up to Hornblower. He raised his hand invitingly. "In my Ready Room, Captain. We have a few moments."
"Tea, Captain? Computer! Tea, Earl Grey, hot. Two cups," Picard said to no one that Hornblower could discern.
Hornblower heard a sound like tinkling bells and two perfect cups of tea coalesced in a lighted niche in the wall. Picard handed him one of the cups. The scent wafted up and tickled his nose. Earl Grey! He hadn't had Earl Grey tea in-well, he couldn't remember! But was the tea real? It had appeared out of nothing, formed of sparkling, swirling lights, became solid enough for him to hold. But he himself was supposed to be unreal, a fiction, a wisp. Ghostly tea would seem real to a ghost.
"Excuse me one moment, Captain." Picard disappeared into an adjoining cabin.
Hornblower looked around him. Anything to distract his mind from the wonders and quandaries whirling in his brain, visible on every quarter. A large painting hanging above a long, low beige couch attracted his attention. The painting was of the blackness of night dotted by stars. A red, blue and gold cloud swirled around a strange metallic object. The bow of the object looked the way two plates looked that had been attached face to face. Three long nodules like metal capstan bars protruded from the stern and keel of the joined "plates." Coloured specks lined the plate edges and the metal protuberances. Hornblower was reminded of the twinkling lights of a distant port. The object gave him the impression that it moved at great speed through the star studded ether.
Hornblower's eyes widened. He realized the nautical terms he had, by habit, used in his thoughts might be closer to the mark than he had initially surmised. Could this be the ship upon which he stood? Was this painting of the Enterprise? He knew of other Enterprises. A British naval vessel long out of commission and hulked. An American ship involved in Jefferson's Barbary pirate campaign. The name Enterprise stood well the test of time.
Hornblower wandered to the other side of the cabin, where a large glass globe partially imbedded in the bulkhead caught his eye. The globe was filled with water and decorated with coral pieces. As he peered into it, a portion of the coral moved toward him. He stepped back, startled.
The creature appeared at first glance to be a great brown and white spider with numerous legs stretching out from its body, but upon closer inspection, Hornblower realized it was a fish. A bizarrely ornamented fish but its liquid eyes and fluttering fins, its gently flapping gill covers told the tale.
Hornblower, a smile on his lips, boldly tapped on the glass. Maybe it was a Martian fish. Maybe its natural home was under the waves of the oceans on the Moon.
The fish glided closer.
Hornblower stepped back again, clasped his hands behind him. Maybe the fish would strike out at him through the glass!
Picard spared him any further trepidation by returning. The Enterprise's captain was dressed in the same close-fitting uniform Hornblower had seen on all of the bridge crew. Picard's accents were red. He noticed where Hornblower stood. "Ah! Captain. You have met my pet fish, Livingstone!"
Hornblower eyed the creature, wary still. "Where are its native waters, Captain? 'Tis like no fish I have ever seen. Is it from Mars? Venus?"
Picard smiled. "The South Pacific, Captain. It is a lion fish, several species of which inhabit all the tropical waters of the Pacific."
Hornblower gaped. He'd been to the South Pacific many times and had never seen such a creature. "Ha-humm. It looks.dangerous."
"It is," stated Picard. "The spines on its fins contain a powerful neurotoxin. This particular species, Pterois antennata, delivers a nasty sting but is not as deadly as some of its cousins."
Hornblower stepped to the painting, glad to be away from the troublesome fish. "And this, Captain? Is this Enterprise?"
Picard gasped. "Yes, it is. Dear God, Captain Hornblower! The books always portrayed you as perceptive, but I had no idea. Most remarkable!" Picard gestured toward a cushioned chair. "Please have a seat."
Hornblower hesitated. "I--I have taken up enough of your
valuable time, Captain. You are approaching a crisis and I-I have
no business being here in the first place. I am, as you say, only
"Captain! I would not hear of it!" Picard exclaimed. "I am happy to have your input into the situation! I am happy to let you share in this, um, adventure into which we are about to partake. I only hope the ending of it will be to your liking."
Hornblower tipped his chin sideways. "Was it written this way? In the fiction, I mean. The fiction I supposedly came from."
Picard grinned. "Oh, no, Captain. The books in which you appeared centred around your era, your world. We of the future were not a part of it." A twinkle lit his eyes. "I enjoyed the books about you when I was a boy and read them occasionally even now." He inhaled. "Captain Horatio Hornblower. The Hornblower!"
Hornblower shifted his weight. "Ha-hum. Captain Picard. I am only an ordinary man-no, that's not right. I'm a 'fictional character,' as you say. I do not strive for greatness."
"And that is what makes you great!" Picard sat behind his superbly fashioned mahogany desk, a sweeping, organic shape that fit Picard like an expertly made suit of clothes. Hornblower tried to calculate the desk's cost and knew such a thing was far 'out of his league,' much like the situation.
"Captain," Picard began. "Things have changed, uhm, considerably since you sailed the seas." Picard gazed out the window behind his desk. "We sail among the stars. The distances are probably beyond your comprehension."
"Try me," Hornblower stated.
"Alright," Picard said, settling himself into his chair, as if he knew, before the fact, that his explanations would be futile. "Imagine if you will, the distance between the Earth and the Sun."
Hornblower nodded. "I leave myself open to your suggestions."
"It takes 8 minutes for the light from the Sun to travel to the Earth." Picard scowled at Hornblower, sipped at his tea. "Can you fathom that? Light is a palpable thing. It takes time to travel from place to place."
"I-I guess so. I will take your word as truth." Hornblower sipped his tea as well, but its flavour grew flatter the more Picard spoke.
"We refer to a Light Year as the distance it takes a light beam to travel in one year. Can you follow me so far?"
Hornblower cocked a black eyebrow. "Yes, of course."
Picard set down his cup, leaned forward. "It takes a beam of light one second to travel one hundred and eighty four thousand miles. Land miles, mind you, not nautical. 186,000 miles per second."
Hornblower inhaled. His mind raced. 184,000 miles per second. Times sixty seconds to a minute, times sixty more minutes to an hour, times twenty-four hours to a day, times 365 days per year! The figures were staggering!
"A single Warp is the speed of light. Each Warp following is geometrically multiplied from there. We can travel dozens of Light Years in days."
Hornblower set down his cup. He lifted his hand, realized it was shaking. God damn his penchant for mathematics! His brain could do the calculations. His soul could not accept their summation! He thought of another quandary that he knew would cause further pain to his analytical mind.
"How-how is your ship powered, Captain Picard? What gives her such speed?" Hornblower kept his voice under supreme control. His fingers may have trembled, but he would allow none of the trepidations he felt into his speech, except for the initial stumble.
Picard cleared his throat, shifted in his chair. "We, ah, we don't have the time for such explanations, Captain. And not to insult your considerable intelligence, but I seriously doubt you would be able to understand. I know your skill at mathematics, and so I assumed you'd be able to grasp the concept of a light year, but a warp drive engine," He shook his head. "Well, Captain, we'd best let that one lie." He smiled gently, then continued. "We explore the far reaches of our galaxy, the area of space within which our planet Earth exists. We have reached outside that galaxy, but only rarely. That is too far for even our vessels to safely go." He looked out his windows again, watched the stars rushing past. "But there are things in our own galaxy that are terrifying enough, without us going out there, beyond, and seeing the real terrors."
Hornblower had seen terrors, and just recently. Men who had been cut in half by cannon shot. Men who had been crushed under flying cannon. Men screaming as their arms or legs were sawn off by Dr. Howard. Men who had been impaled by hurtling bits of bulwark rails or masts. How much more terrible could be the 'terrors' of which Picard spoke?
"The Borg whom we pursue are one such terror. They are Cybernetic beings, part man and part machine. They exist in a 'Collective,' a hive-mind, as it were. Though they each are separate units, each unit is a part of the whole. Do you understand me?"
Hornblower placed his chin on his chest, reflected for a moment. 'Separate units, each a part of the whole.' "Like ants, Captain Picard?" Hornblower remembered watching ants as they invaded his parent's home when he was a child. He'd squash ant after ant, and still they'd return, as if they could communicate with each other, incite more to follow in their fallen comrades' footsteps. Hornblower's brows knit and he looked up into Picard's eyes. "Are you trying to tell me these 'Borg' are invincible? That they will not surrender? That they are like the insects that plague our world?"
Picard chuckled. "Exactly, Captain Hornblower." His eyes gleamed. Hornblower sensed that he had won a victory in Picard's mind, that Picard held him in higher regard.
But Hornblower didn't think Picard's new-found respect would last long. And Hornblower didn't know what his new knowledge would gain him here. He was too far behind, too out of touch with the modern world. He exhaled. He should request his swift return to the "hollow deck" and his Lydia. He should not stay here any longer.
But his curiosity prevented him from voicing his concerns, from requesting his return to the Lydia. He wanted to see more of the Borg. He wanted to see how Picard handled this situation.
'Curiosity killed the cat. Satisfaction brought him back!'
"You must know that the Borg assimilate other beings into their Collective. That they make other beings, free beings, slaves of their hive-mind." Picard's eyes stared flintily at Hornblower.
Hornblower pursed his lips, stared at the carpeted deck, looked up at Picard. "I have dealt with slavers in the past, Captain Picard."
Picard stared at him intently. His voice was soft. "Yes, I know." His eyes searched Hornblower's face. "But the Borg are like no slaver you've ever encountered. They don't just capture their prey, they change them, assimilate them, alter them to be like they are. Half man and half machine. They implant mechanical devices into living tissue. They supplant individual thought and will and implant their own cold and calculating agenda." Picard stared out the window again. "I know first hand. I was assimilated."
Hornblower inhaled, sat back in his chair. "How-how did you win your freedom? How did you remove the mechanical devices from your flesh? I see no scars." Hornblower imagined as hard as he could. Mechanical devices within human flesh. Like clockworks? Gears and flywheels and tick-tocking as the beings moved about? Did they sport large winding keys protruding from their backs? He thought of puppets suspended on strings and the jerky way in which they moved. Cut the strings. Free the puppets.
Picard's brows climbed his wide forehead. "Dr. Crusher is quite handy with her instruments."
"Ha-Humm. Dr. Crusher. A lovely woman to be so far out to, uh, space." Hornblower observed.
Picard smiled. "In space, Captain. We say in space. She is one of the best in her profession. We are lucky to have her aboard."
"But, Captain Picard, surely you must know the, uh, difficulties that members of the, ah, opposite sex present when aboard a ship at sea. Er, a ship in space."
Picard laughed. "Captain, we have quite gotten over that problem of your age long ago. Men and women work quite comfortably side by side."
Hornblower looked down at his hands clasped demurely in his lap. Women aboard a ship! Working side by side with men!
A bleep sounded from the console on the desk. "Excuse me, Captain," Picard said. He tapped against a light on the panel. "Yes?"
The creature Worf's voice came out of the desk. "Romulan High Command on the Com for you, sir!"
"Thank you, Mr. Worf." Picard smiled up at Hornblower, then tapped at another light. A flat, rectangle of metal rose from the desk. The rectangle lit up and a face, a strange face, appeared on its surface. The man pictured there had black hair cut straight across the forehead. His eyebrows arched high and his ears-his ears!-ended in points!
Hornblower's startled expression increased. The man on the rectangle began to move!
So this was a Romulan, a being from another world. Mr. Worf must be an alien being too! Though what world Worf hailed from, Hornblower had no idea. He'd never heard of Romulus except for the Roman myth. Could Worf be from Jupiter? He certainly had a large enough forehead from which a person could spring, fully formed, as Athena had from Zeus. Or Jupiter, if you used the Roman name of the god instead of the Greek.
The Romulan spoke, his English diction perfect. "Captain Picard. I am Council Member Tavel. Your information has been assessed. We shall send a War Bird directly to confront the Borg ship if it crosses into our space." The strange man leaned forward, his attitude menacing. "If, and only if, it invades our space."
Picard's expression was grim. "Understood, Tavel. We shall
do what we can on this side of the Neutral Zone."
Tavel continued. "Captain. This Borg ship may be a prelude to invasion of Romulan Space. We do not expect the Federation to defend our borders."
"But we will, Tavel," Picard said, a wry smile creasing his lips. "We must unite against a common foe."
Tavel steepled his fingers. "The Council will take your, um, offer into consideration."
The rectangle darkened. Abruptly. Rudely, thought Hornblower. This Tavel's attitude reminded Hornblower of the way the Spaniards conducted negotiations. The Romulan's bravado was clear, but could he and his ships stand by it? From the expression on Picard's face, the Romulans probably could.
A bleep sounded again from the bulkheads, the deck beams, the ether. "Approaching sensor range of the Borg sphere, Captain," came Worf's deep voice.
Picard stood, adjusted his tunic front. "Captain Hornblower, if you would accompany me to the bridge."
Hornblower had stood the instant Picard rose, and he too tugged at his waistcoat. He smiled. "Aye, aye, Captain."
"Captain, we're being scanned ," the tall, bearded man Picard had called Number One reported.
"Very well, Number One. Let us scan them in return." Picard smiled.
Hornblower took up his place at the rail near Worf. A swooshing sound issued behind him and personnel rushed out of the little travelling cabin that had originally brought Hornblower, Picard and Mr. Data to the bridge. A dark haired woman separated herself from the group, strode up to him and ran her gaze from his feet to his face. Another lovely woman! This ship boasted no shortage of beauties! This one's scrutiny, however, made Hornblower even more uneasy than did Dr. Crusher's. This one was analysing him, he sensed. She was reading him, in a way not possible by a normal person, deeper and more personal than was proper and polite. He arched an eyebrow, clasped his hands behind him, his chin high.
"Captain Hornblower," the woman said, her accent strange. "Your reputation precedes, and supports, you."
He scowled. What did she mean by that cryptic comment? "And who might you be, Miss--?" he asked.
"Ship's Counsellor Deanna Troi, Captain. At your service." She smiled. Her eyes bored into his. He stared her down. No woman was going to make him uneasy!
Her smile widened. "Excuse me, Captain." She moved past him down the ramp and sat in the chair to Picard's left.
Hornblower pursed his lips, his scowl deepening. This woman, this Ship's Counsellor, whatever that was, was so important a personage that she sat with the captain? And the captain sat! Hornblower looked around the bridge again, taking in its details. Lydia's entire deck was approximately the square footage of this bridge alone, not counting the rest of the Enterprise. And the majority of bridge personnel sat in chairs. That Lydia's officers could have such luxuries! Even Victory could not stack up to the sheer size and amenities of this vessel!
"The Borg have noticed us, Captain!" Worf bellowed.
"Red Alert!" ordered Number One.
Red lights flashed and claxons blared. Hornblower stopped himself from wincing at the sonic assault. People rushed to stations, with nary an order except 'Red Alert!' Hornblower could appreciate the training this bridge crew had endured to make them so responsive and knowledgeable after such a blunt order. Not for them the succession of orders necessary aboard his own ships-his direct order to the first lieutenant; that officer's orders to the subordinate lieutenants; their detailed orders to each midshipman and crew. No, this Enterprise and its crew were capable of Warp Speed response to orders.
Hornblower smiled. Warp Speed response. How quickly he had adapted!
"Mr. Data!" Number One called out. "Reduce magnification to normal view!"
The Borg sphere, which had been near to filling the window, flicked to a smaller size. The change in view was like looking through a telescope, then peering again with the naked eye. Nor could he fathom the manner in which this "window" before him worked. It certainly wasn't a normal window, any more than was the flat window in Picard's "Ready Room" upon which the Romulan Council Member had appeared.
Hornblower was well aware of the gravity of the situation, though he had no concept of the fire power of the Borg ship, but he could not stop himself from analysing everything that came to his attention. He knew the advantages of his inquisitive mind. He knew the disadvantages. He knew he could get bogged down in the details and often had to make a conscious effort to keep his mind on the work at hand.
But here he was not responsible for the outcome. He was a mere spectator. He could let his lively mind rove freely.
"The Borg ship has changed its heading, Captain," Worf reported, jerking Hornblower from his reverie. Worf leaned his palms on the rail. "They have definitely noticed us, sir."
Picard stood, stepped closer to the viewing window. "How much farther before the Neutral Zone boundary, Mr. Data?"
The white skinned man, the doll-man, spoke in his rich, yet flat voice. "Two hundred thousand kilometres and closing quickly, sir. We will reach the Neutral Zone in six minutes, thirty-nine seconds."
Picard glanced upward. "Engineering. Mr. LaForge."
The disembodied voice of 'LaForge' responded. "Engineering here, sir."
"Geordi, how much more can you get out of her?"
"We've a lot more horse under us, Captain! I can give you whatever you need!"
Picard tugged at his tunic front. "Very well, Mr. LaForge! Increase speed! But keep your eyes on the engines. We'll need all their power for shields and weapons soon enough! Number One. Shields up!"
The bearded man repeated Picard's order. "Shields up, Captain! Full power!"
Hornblower marvelled at the Enterprise crew's efficiency. He vowed to work his crew more vigorously to reach a fraction of this crew's quick and knowledgeable response. He had seen no punishments, no bosuns with starter canes, no threats of any kind except for the threat on the view window before them. Could all these people be volunteers? Could they have wanted to serve in a 'Space Vessel' such as Enterprise? He knew well the difference in the performance between a free-willed man and an Impressed crewman. He'd seen many incarnations of both to know which was the more valuable to have serve under him.
Data spoke again, his yellow eyes following the flickering lights on his desk. "No life signs aboard the Borg sphere, Captain. A robot ship, sir."
Picard stepped closer to the viewing window. "A recording device, then! A spy camera, as it were! Here to test the waters." He glanced over at Hornblower, caught his eye. "Sorry, Captain. 'Twas a poor attempt at humour." Picard pointed at the view screen again. "Engage the Borg ship, Number One. We cannot allow it to communicate with the hive mind."
"Mr. Worf," Number One bellowed. "Main phaser banks and photon torpedoes! Modulate frequency patterns! Ready to fire!"
The Borg sphere drew closer.
"Fire all banks!" Number One shouted.
Beams of light emanated past the view window, to the shuddering of Enterprise. Explosions wracked the Borg ship. Some of the explosions damaged it. Some of them seemed to bounce off, as if the Borg ship were encased in glass. Hornblower's brows knit. What kind of weapons had been employed? What was the shield protecting parts of the Borg ship?
Enterprise shuddered again as more beams lashed out, bounced off the enemy ship.
Worf reported. "Minimal damage to the sphere, Captain. It is anticipating our modulation frequencies."
Picard nodded. "As always, Mr. Worf. Continue firing upon it, Number One."
The bearded man nodded acknowledgement. "Aye, aye, sir. Mr. Worf! Target key points on the sphere! Fire at will!"
The Borg ship erupted in blazing light.
The light subsided and the sphere remained.
Hornblower exhaled. What kind of ship was the Borg sphere? How could it protect itself from such punishment? What were those weapons of light? His brown eyes narrowed. If the weapons of light were somehow tied in with the engines that rushed along at the speed of light, then the weapons must be considerable! 'Light was a palpable thing' Picard had said. Could weapons be made of light? He watched as more beams stabbed out and enveloped the Borg ship. Light beam weapons.
Hornblower blinked repeatedly. He gasped shallow breaths. The concepts were staggering! Yet, ultimately, logical. He could imagine it! He could see it! And his brain reeled from the implications! His fingernails dug into the rail under his hands. Must ask to be returned to Lydia, must go away now, mustn't think about it!
The pounding of the light beam weapons against the Borg sphere continued unabated.
A beam lashed out from the sphere, powerful and bright.
Enterprise lurched. Bulkhead and desk panels around Hornblower exploded and acrid smoke billowed out. Hornblower inhaled, coughed. The smoke smelled like nothing Hornblower had ever smelled burning, acrid and sweet at the same time, like coal and whale oil and sweet vermouth all blended together and thrown upon the flames, with an appetizer of pine boughs thrown in. His eyes stung. If he were an apparition, a fiction, why then did his eyes water from the smoke?
"Shields down to eighty per cent!" Worf shouted.
Picard's gaze swept the cabin, fixed upon Worf. "More power, Mr. Worf! Inform Mr. LaForge we need more power to the shields!" His voice was calm.
Hornblower understood Picard's coolness. Picard's mind would be working at a hurried pace, a thousand ideas and scenarios tumbling about at the same time, but Picard would have to remain cool and calm on the outside, conveying calmness and confidence to the crew.
The crew responded to Picard's lead. They kept their professionalism, their well-trained abilities to accomplish their work, in spite of the formidable foe before them.
Another attack from the Borg.
Hornblower could not understand exactly what had happened, as he was out of the "loop," as it were, but he knew well the gasps and inaudible intake of breaths around the bridge at the Borg's retaliation. The Borg had hit some vulnerable spot on Enterprise.
"Sections seven and eight on decks fourteen and fifteen, Captain, have been hit," reported Worf.
Hornblower detected no change in the strange man's tone. Worf was proving his worth as a valuable deck officer, in spite of his physical deformities, in spite of his foreign birth.
Data added to Worf's assessment. "Casualties are light, sir. Eight wounded." He did not look up from his flickering panel. "Dr. Crusher. You are needed in Sick Bay."
Hornblower watched Dr. Crusher rush past. She spared him a last look, twitched her lips up into an apologetic smile and disappeared into the "conveyance carriage" as Hornblower had decided to dub it.
'Casualties are light!' Data had assessed. 'Eight wounded!' 'Twere no casualties at all! Hornblower thought of all the bloody bodies he'd ordered into oblivion over the years. He thought of the British navy and its penchant for painting ships' decks red to hide the blood stains. Man had advanced, it seemed, in his attempt to control his bloodthirstiness. Man had finally learned some of the principles preached every Sunday in churches the world over.
Picard interrupted Hornblower's reverie. "Mr. Data. Try
to patch into the Borg communications system. Find out their motivations.
Find out what you can of their defensive manoeuvring! Block their
Hornblower straightened. Manoeuvring? Manoeuvring! Lord Nelson had had something to say about manoeuvring! "Ha-humm. Captain Picard." Hornblower felt heat rise to his cheeks. He had no place here. He shouldn't even be here, let alone speaking his mind!
Picard looked up at him. "Yes, Captain Hornblower?"
Hornblower peered sharply at Picard. "Admiral Lord Nelson always said "To hell with manoeuvres! Just go at them!""
Picard smiled. "Yes, I have heard that same thing, Captain. Thank you!" He gazed up at Worf standing next to Hornblower. "You heard the order, Mr. Worf! Have at them!" He gestured toward the view window. "Fire all banks at them! Fire at will!" Picard's smile widened. "Go at them!"
Worf grunted and his sharp teeth appeared. Hornblower wasn't sure if he was smiling or grimacing. The strange man seemed excited at the prospect of Borg destruction. Hornblower read the bloodthirst on Worf's face. To have this man on his quarterdeck! To have him lead a boarding party! Hornblower would claim victory at every engagement with a man like Worf under his command!
Light beams stabbed out from Enterprise. The Borg sphere disappeared in an envelope of light.
Hornblower held his breath.
No good. The sphere returned fire. Enterprise lurched. Sparks flew from desktops. Smoke curled throughout the bridge.
More beams leapt from Enterprise. Sparks exploded out from the enemy ship, but its return fire did not slacken.
Picard rushed up the ramp past Hornblower and took up station next to Worf. He tapped at the control panel Worf had been using. "Target here, and here, Mr. Worf. And here." He looked up. "Mr. Data! Any transmissions from the Borg sphere?"
"None, sir," answered the pale doll man. He turned from his desk and rested his yellow gaze on Picard. "We are approaching the Neutral Zone, Captain!"
Number One spoke to Worf. "Don't let them cross the line, Mr. Worf! Take them out!"
Worf's wolfish grin reappeared. "With pleasure, sir!"
Weapons flashed. Explosions wracked the sphere.
The Borg ship survived Enterprise's onslaught, however. Hornblower expelled a breath. How to get through their defences! How to strike a telling blow!
"They are across the Neutral Zone boundary, Captain," intoned Mr. Data. "We shall be crossing in four, three, two, one, now, sir! We are within the Neutral Zone."
"Very well, Mr. Data," Picard said. The tension on the bridge increased palpably. "Remain on course. Continue to fire at the target."
The Borg sphere wobbled to the onslaught of Enterprise's barrage. It continued its own assault. Enterprise shuddered at each hit. Worf called out the damage and casualty reports as he also worked his desk top panel to pound the Borg sphere.
Worf looked to Picard, his voice soft. "It's no use, Captain. We can't get through their defensive shields."
Picard was unperturbed. "Mr. Data, see if you can't get into the ship's command frequencies. Try to countermand or at least confuse its program."
Data's thin fingers flew over the desk top. "Accessing, sir." A pause as his fingers worked. A ghost of a scowl briefly creased his forehead. "Access denied, Captain. I can not get through."
Worf spoke again. "They are powering up weapons again, Captain. Shields down to thirty-eight per cent."
Hornblower sucked in a breath. He clasped his hands behind his back, reached for the rail again with his right hand. Best keep a grip on something solid. Enterprise would be tossing and bucking again in moments.
Blinding light enveloped the Borg sphere. No weapons discharged from it.
Hornblower scowled. What had happened?
A large grey vessel swept past the Borg ship and over the Enterprise. Hornblower ducked slightly as the bulk of the new ship careened past the view window.
"Romulan bird of prey decloaking off the starboard bow, Captain!" Worf reported.
Hornblower understood perfectly the latter part of Worf's statement, but the former part boggled him. He knew what a Romulan was. He had seen many birds of prey in his years at sea, out of doors. He knew what a cloak was. He could imagine what the term decloaking meant. How did it apply to a ship?
The Romulan ship, a spindly affair, looking like a grey metal swan on the wing, long neck, bulging head, unmoving metal wings tipped by cylinders similar to those sprouting from Enterprise's stern, swooped past Enterprise again, on course for the fleeing Borg ship. Hornblower scowled slightly. The Romulan ship was so much larger than the enemy ship. Hornblower felt almost sorry for the little ship. It hadn't a chance. He pursed his lips. But the Borg ship was as small compared to Enterprise and had done considerable damage to the larger vessel. Enterprise was not disabled, but unless the Romulans turned the tide, Enterprise's chances seemed slim.
The bird of prey discharged its weapons again. The Borg sphere again disappeared in a blinding flash. The flash subsided and the Borg ship returned fire. Flames enveloped the Romulan ship, but Hornblower could see that the flashes bounced off an invisible barrier surrounding the ship, as if the ship was encased in glass. The shields of which Worf spoke? Neither ship seemed damaged.
"Mr. Data." Picard broke the hush that had overtaken the bridge at the Romulans' appearance. "Let us join our allies. Combine our fire power with that of the Romulans, Mr. Worf."
Enterprise's weapons fired upon the Borg ship. It sped on. The bird of prey swept to it and fired. Rays speared from it and the bird of prey and Enterprise shook.
Picard clenched his fist. "Mr. Worf! Photon torpedoes and phasers together! Warn the Romulans! Have them combine their firepower with ours!"
Hornblower clutched the rail. Do something, Captain Picard! That ship must be stopped! He felt helpless, ignorant. He thought he could help, he wanted to help, but he was hopelessly behind the times, hopelessly out of his depth.
Nelson had been right! Forget manoeuvres and go at them!
"Captain Picard." His voice sounded out of place on the bridge. "We British always aimed at the enemy's hulls. Perhaps you should take the enemy's tactics and aim at their sails and rigging. Take out their capacity to move!"
Picard turned and stared at him. One by one the other bridge officers turned to study the strange, out of place man who sought to advise them.
Picard regarded the tall Napoleonic Age captain. He looked at the Borg sphere, untouched, at the Romulan bird of prey rounding for another salvo, back again at Hornblower. "Of course," he muttered. "Of course." He raised his imperious voice. "Thank you, Captain Hornblower." He strode to Data at his console. "Mr. Data. Transmit these directives to the Borg communications band." He punched upon lights on Data's desk top, then turned to Mr. Worf. "Worf. Target these points. Inform the Romulans to do likewise!"
Hornblower sucked in a breath. What did Picard know? What vulnerability had Hornblower's statement recalled to Picard's mind?
Worf nodded. "The Romulans have acknowledged, Captain."
Picard pointed at the view window. "Fire!"
The Borg sphere disappeared in a flash of fire. The fire erupted into a flaming ball, then a wisp.
The Borg ship ceased to exist.
Exhaled breaths sounded around the bridge. Picard's lips curled into a smile. Worf's teeth bared. Picard grinned openly. Counsellor Troi flashed a lovely smile.
Picard looked back at him, stepped up the ramp, his hand extended. "Thank you, Captain Hornblower." The two men shook, though Hornblower was baffled as to why Picard thanked him. He understood perfectly well his last comment to Picard and the implications of his advice, but how had it worked? How had they succeeded?
"Captain," Picard said. "I told you a while ago that I had been assimilated by the Borg. I had. You said, essentially, target their propulsion systems. Simple. We had to, of course, get through their defence systems, but I remembered some facts from my assimilation. How to find the weaknesses in their defensive grid, for instance."
Hornblower smiled, nodded. "Of course, Captain Picard."
Picard returned Hornblower's glee.
Worf interrupted them. "Captain, message coming through from the Romulan ship."
An image cleared on the view window. Another Romulan. Black hair and pointed features. "I am Trab. Commander Trab." The Romulan bowed. "We thank you for your assistance, Captain Picard. The Romulan High Council thanks you." Trab bowed again. "Now, get out of our space!" The view window blackened back to the stars.
Hornblower suppressed a snort. The Romulans again showed their spots. Rude!
"So, Captain, here you are, back aboard your Lydia," Picard said, swept his arm across the good stout English oak-built quarterdeck of the frigate.
Hornblower nodded, gazed about him. His officers gawked and stared at Picard and Data, in their Enterprise uniforms. Lady Barbara stared open-mouthed at Picard from the larboard rail, Hebe cowering beside her.
Hornblower smiled, nodded, glad to be back on his own ground.
Picard grinned, his gaze sheepish at the taller captain. "So, Captain Hornblower. We gladly return you to your own quarterdeck, with our most gracious thanks! You helped us in ways you have no idea."
Hornblower returned Picard's earnest grin. "I have an idea, Captain. Really, I do."
Picard nodded. "Yes, I am sure, Captain Hornblower. Your mind never stops analysing, does it?"
"Never stops questioning," Hornblower said. "Much to my own detriment, I must say."
"Yes, well," Picard agreed. "Perhaps you should stop seeing yourself in such a negative light, sir. You have accomplished much in your time in command, fiction or not. And never gave yourself the credit." Picard's grin widened. "You should perhaps spend some time with Counsellor Troi. She could help you accept yourself for the brilliant man you are."
"Ha-hum," Hornblower said.
Picard too cleared his throat. "Captain. Do you-do you wish to remember any of what transpired here today? We can make you remember, or not. You can know the events and the, ah, technology of today's encounter if you wish. Or you can forget it all, and sleep soundly at night."
Hornblower scowled. "I prefer to sleep soundly, Captain. Thank you."
Captain Horatio Hornblower ascended to the quarterdeck of HMS Lydia and aimed his footsteps to the starboard rail where he always paced his morning walk.
Lady Barbara Wellesley reflected his movements on the opposite side of the quarterdeck.
He glared in her direction, angry that she mocked him, angry that he thought she did, though her own morning walks probably had nothing to do with his, except that they may have been inspired by him. He exhaled. Polwheal had better have his coffee ready!
He stopped at the taffrail, looked out at the hazy morning horizon of the South Pacific Ocean.
What was that?
He sucked in a breath. Was there a boat out there? A distant, indistinct spot?
He squinted, raised a hand to shade his brow. Should he call to the look-out for any sightings? Normally he would have hailed without hesitation, but for some reason he didn't.
He blinked, narrowed his eyes.
Lydia tacked into the wind and his line of sight was obscured by the ship's new heading. He hurried down the gangway to the waist, peered out to the horizon from the roped off entry port.
He gazed back up at Barbara, looking down at him from the quarterdeck rail.
Deja vue, he thought.
What was it about Lady Barbara standing up there, looking down at him, Hebe shading her with the silk parasol? He'd seen it before. Somewhere. Somehow.
Or had he dreamed it?