353: Step Off

by Admiral Jonas Vox
Following What is Going On Down There?

-=Starfleet Command, San Francisco California=-

Sitting in his opulant office at Starfleet Command, Jonas Vox rotated uneasily from left to right in his extremely comfortable, high-backed leather chair.

Something just wasn't right.

He'd walked around his office fifty times this morning. He'd checked all his plants for aphids and dead leaves. He'd inspected to be sure that no one had moved his books or tampered with his carefully planned out schedule for the week.

He'd been in communication with Planetia already and informed that the refit of the USS Gauntlet (to make it his own and bring it up to his personal specs following the destruction of his previous ship the Executor at Beta 626) was finally complete. The ship stood by, crewed and ready at a moment's notice should he need it.

He wished he needed it.

Sitting behind a desk was never easy for him, but when things were this quiet it was even more stressful. With this job it was always the quiet calm of the unknown which posed the greatest danger and right now, over all and in a temporal sense things were just too damned quiet.

He had a passing thought about how Zanh Liis used to warn him not to wonder what was going to happen next and never, ever to admit you were bored. If you did, the Universe had a sick and twisted way of making things more 'interesting' than you ever would have wanted if given the choice and asked in advance.

When he thought again of Zanh now, he felt even more nervous. Of course, this was nothing new. Liis had made a career out of making him nervous for almost a decade and a half of linear time and only God knew how many non-linear years.

Fortunately, the blessing of memory resequencing had taken some of those years physically from his brain otherwise he was entirely certain he would be living out the rest of his life on a penal colony for having strangled the woman with his bare hands by now out of sheer frustration.

How ironic that the biggest headache he'd ever had in the form of a Jumper ended up being the one in charge of the rather expensive and risky single basket into which Starfleet research and development had put all of their most important eggs.

"Landry," Vox pressed the intercom button and rang for his assistant. His new assistant.

The last assistant had a nervous breakdown two weeks ago, unable to handle the nature of the correspondence that she was asked to relay for the Admiral on a daily basis.

Some people can handle knowing just how often life as we know it almost comes to a quick, brutal end.

Most cannot.

"Yes, Admiral Vox?" The young woman replied.

"Has Zanh Liis sent in her most recent report yet?"

"No, Admiral, I'm sorry."

Vox frowned. He turned on his computer and began to punch in security codes. Between voice commands, retinal scans and fingerprint access protocols, it took him a good two minutes just to log on to his own operating system at the start of every day.

He double checked for himself and sure enough, there had been no subspace communications from Zanh since she verified they had set course for Vulcan and would arrive in three days time.

That was forty eight hours ago, they should almost be there by now.

Vox forgot that he'd left his comm line open, and the ensign on the other end began to hem. "Admiral, Sir...is there anything else? I have letters to finish up."

"Yes, there is. Raise Zanh for me. I just want to see her for myself." This was beginning to nag at him. While he waited for Landry to hail Zanh, he started doing a little digging and to his dismay, discovered in short order that no one had received any subspace transmissions from the Sera for the past thirty six hours. At all.

They could simply be having comm problems- the Sera was still a new ship with bugs to work out and Zanh certainly wouldn't let a little thing like lack of communications access prevent her from arriving at Vulcan on schedule. But if there was one thing that Jonas Vox had learned over the years was when it came to that woman and chaos, you could just never afford to take any chances- or anything for granted. He drummed his fingers on the desktop impatiently with a steadily quickening rhythm.

"I'm sorry, Admiral." Landry called a moment later, "I can't raise Captain Zanh on subspace. Or anyone else on the Serendipity for that matter. "

"Try again."

"I've tried three times, and I even asked for assistance from Central Communications. What's more, well, Sir can I come in there?"

He'd learned one thing about Landry in the past two weeks and that was that she didn't like to give unhappy or irritating news over the comm.

"Come on."

A few seconds later Ensign Landry Steele stood before his desk, biting her lip.

"Out with it already." Vox prodded.

"You're not going to like this."


"The data is showing that Serendipity disappeared from all tracking systems the day before yesterday."

"Could you repeat that please?" Vox stared at her, his trademark voice low and purring just as calmly as if she'd told him that she couldn't get him a donut from the cafeteria with his coffee and had to go with the Danish option instead.

"Sir, The USS Serendipity has vanished."

"Damn you and your warped theories about Karma, Zanh Liis," Vox rumbled now, dropping back into his chair and activating several specialized systems wired into his computer. "Landry, call the people upstairs. Tell them we may have a situation. Then notify Yeager that we're going to be taking the Gauntlet out to look for them."

"Right away, Sir. Do you want to take a shuttle or should they beam you directly to,"

"You don't want to be doing that," an unfamiliar voice interrupted from the entryway, and both Landry and Vox looked up.

Without missing a beat or changing expression, Landry looked back at Vox. "Temporal Emergency Management Agency is here to see you, Sir."

*Shit,* Vox thought. Now his worst fears were realized. They did indeed have a 'situation' and the 'people upstairs' already knew about it.

Two agents dressed all in black stood in the doorway, waiting to be invited in. TEMA agents were always polite. To a fault. If the universe as you knew it was in danger of ending, and it was your job to try to stop it from happening, you really just wanted someone to run into the room to tell you how without waiting for an engraved invitation to enter the discussion.

"Thank you, Landry." Vox said dryly. "You may go."

"Would you like me to continue trying to hail the Serendipity for you?" Landry asked as she nodded to each of the TEMA agents and then maneuvered between them.

"May I field that question for you, Admiral?" The taller of the two TEMA agents spoke up, holding his index finger suspended in mid-air.

There were the damned frustrating manners again.

"Go for it."

"The answer to that question, Ensign Steele would be 'no'. We want to draw as little attention as possible to the fact that the Sera has dropped off the map."

Landry's eyebrows elevated as she opened her mouth to question, but Vox simply lowered his eyes toward the floor and shook his head once.

She straightened up and reached up, tugging to tighten the band holding her hair out of her face. Like snapping a rubber band worn around your wrist to bring you back to your senses before you engaged in a bad habit you were trying to quit, pulling her ponytail tighter was Landry's way of grounding herself in the moment and trying to keep her brain where it belonged. In her head.

It seemed to her that in short order, the brains of most people assigned to work in any capacity for TI either short circuited or got blown out, by their own hand or somebody else's.

Neither option was appealing to her in the least and so she really hoped she could just do her stint here as a desk jockey and coffee-girl for Vox and then get the hell out and into another line of work entirely when her training rotation was up.

"Okey dokie then. You just. . .let me know if there's anything I'm supposed to be doing..." The sound of her muttering the name "Zanh Liis, Zanh Liis! God save us all from Zanh Liis!" over and over again could be heard as her boots retreated back into the lobby outside.

"She's a keeper," Vox remarked after Landry secured the doors behind her.

"Yes, she is," the shorter of the two TEMA agents replied. "If all goes as planned, someday she'll have your job."

"Speaking of 'as planned,'" Vox stood from his chair and extended his hand. "Let's talk about the Sera, shall we? I'm Jonas, by the way. You gentlemen are?" Vox knew from personal experience that agents from the upper echelons of TI were never use their names in the field.

However, all did have code names and he needed some way to refer to them individually besides 'hey you' which did work in a pinch but did not help to support the polished, professional image which had gotten him, and allowed him to keep, this office.

Instead of taking his proffered handshake, the two men began talking amongst themselves.

"Can you believe it, Fen? We're talking to Jonas "The Voice" Vox himself. Did you ever think that would happen?"

"As if, Tred." the taller agent remarked.

*Great,* Vox thought. *These two are still at the flunky stage of the larval cycle, they don't even have their codenames yet.*

"Gentlemen I'll be happy to autograph a photo for the fan club later. But first, I'd really like to know where the hell the base ship for my prototype has gone." He turned a shade paler thinking about Zanh's proclivity for getting into only the worst sorts of trouble.

"God, she didn't blow it up did she?" He was still pissed enough that one of her shuttle craft hadn't survived the last mission. If anything happened to the Alchemy...or God forbid that pain in the ass Vulcan or his genius offspring. . .

"It's not Zanh Liis' fault," protested Fen.

"Well, not this time anyway," corrected Tred.

"No, not like the time she,"

"Oh yeah, I remember that. That was really bad-"

"Gentlemen," Vox' patience was wearing thin. "Please."

"Sorry," Fen shrugged. "It's just that we don't get to do this sort of thing very often. We're kind of out of our element."

"Which 'thing' would that be?"

"Telling someone in your position that they have to back up, step off and hope for the best from the spectator seats. You are not to go looking for the Serendipity."

"This is Temporal Investigations," Vox countered incredulously. "We don't hope for the best. We take action. We fix. End of story."

"This time the only one who can 'fix' the situation is the crew of the Serendipity herself."

"And if they don't?"

"Then. . .we won't be speaking again about any of this after tomorrow."

Vox waited for further explanation and when none was forthcoming, his right eye began to twitch. Sometimes he really hated the 'volunteer nothing' rule. He inhaled and then exhaled slowly, centering himself. "Why not?"

"Because Temporal Investigations as we know it will no longer exist."

"Why not," Vox repeated, growing tired of the question himself.

"Because Zanh Liis and her crew have unknowingly entered into a very tricky first contact situation. We had hoped that the data was wrong, but there can be no question. If they don't find their way out of this predicament in one piece...everything changes."

"No question?" Vox balked. "There are always questions," Vox was beginning to wonder if someone was playing a sick joke on him, because this made no sense. "My compass is dark. How do we know that there really is a temporal emergency happening?"

Fen and Tred shared a long, knowing look before answering.

"All the compasses are dark," Fen confided.

"That's impossible," Vox waved his hand dismissively. "That's never happened in,"

"All the years you've been doing this. We know. That's why we said we don't usually get to do things like this. No one does." Tred replied.

"Admiral Vox, not only have the compasses gone dark, but the tracking grids, the Temporal Plane Alignment Arrays, all of it. Everything is dark."

*This is bad.* Vox thought. "We have to find them," he insisted.

"No no, that's the point," Fen insisted just as stubbornly. "We have to let them find their own way out of this. Last time you tried to intervene and,"

"Oy," Tred groaned. "We don't want to try that again."

"We just have to hope that they figure out that they're in danger of making a catastrophic mistake before it's too late." Fen continued.

"Who is?" Vox demanded, almost jumping over his desk to get closer to the two. They were still hovering barely inside the door and he was ready to kick ass now and take names later by this point. "Zanh Liis?"

"No not her, gadzooks why is everything always her fault?" Fen snapped, folding his arms and rolling his eyes to the ceiling.

"She is so misunderstood." Tred sighed. "Sadly, Captain Zanh is sort of a basket case at the moment."

Then Vox remembered there was another potentially complicating factor in play- he had another Jumper aboard that ship. "O'Sullivan." he sighed dejectedly.

"Nope. Keiran isn't doing anything at the moment either. Well, except sitting in his quarters. He's on suicide watch." Fen blurted in error, still star struck at being in Vox' presence and discussing a legend in time-travel like Keiran O'Sullivan as casually as if he had lunch with the man every day of his life.

"What?" Vox' voice lowered even more, which in his case was far more commanding than if he yelled.

"Long story. No, see, the thing we have to hope doesn't happen is that they cannot launch the Alchemy from the Sera to try to scan for the cause of the frustratingly random malfunctions they're having." Tred added.

"Which have nothing to do with the ship itself, truth be told, it's the aliens' doing," Fen chimed in.

"Yeah, poor Dengar." Tred shook his head sadly. "He's driving himself crazy. If he only knew,"

"GENTLEMEN!" Vox had finally lost it. "Why can't they launch Alchemy?"

"They've been pulled through an artificially created hole in normal space and are trapped between dimensions in a highly advanced, well, again, long story. But long story short, if they launch the Alchemy from their current location, it'll be torn in two and may end up taking the Sera with it when it goes." Fen concluded.

"Good God." Vox sat down again. "Tell me that we're relying on Salvek or Blane in this situation as the one who has to be the voice of reason and sanity. Someone likely to figure out that it's too dangerous to launch the prototype before it's too late."

"Oooh, sorry," Fen cringed. "No such luck."

"Who is it then?" Vox was listing off Sera bridge officers in his head and he could easily think of half a dozen others who would do just fine in such a situation. That's why they were assigned there. Dengar, Blakeslee, Grace. Lair Kellyn was still aboard, for that matter. She should know if. . .

"Do you want to tell him or should I?" Tred asked, noticing Fen's hesitance to elaborate.

"No, I'll do it, but thank you just the same for offering."

"You're quite welcome. Anything I can do to help a,"

"MY GOD! Vox shouted at last in a rare display. "WHO is the one we have to hope figures out the danger in time?"

Fen and Tred exchanged worried glances once again.

"Dabin Reece." Fen confessed.

Vox hand slammed down on the comm. He paged his assistant without even showing that he'd registered what the TEMA agents had just said.

"LANDRY! Bring my blood pressure medication and an entire bottle of aspirin."

Admiral Jonas Vox
Temporal Investigations and
Director of The Alchemy Project
Starfleet Command