A fiery nebula and stellar nursery

Circus Maximus

Two and half weeks after the joint mission with the USS Goodall the Potemkin finds itself one month out from reaching the Stellar Fountain. Unfortunately, even at this distance, sensors still could not tell where the anomaly's massive antimatter stream was coming from.

However, that mystery would have to wait. Earlier that afternoon sensors picked up a congregation of approximately two dozen ships around a young planetary nebula. There was nothing new or particularly interesting about this nebula, but since it was less than a light-year off-course, Warp decided to investigate.

The area was full of subspace radio traffic being transmitted to no one in particular. Melina put it over the speakers, and the bridge was bombarded with disjointed messages: "Quarno juice! Get your Quarno juice here!" "By Klurt, what's taking them so long?" "Does anyone know when it starts?" "Anybody heard if they're coming?"

Suddenly four ships were picked up on the sensors coming in from behind the Potemkin on a course toward the nebula at high warp.

The chatter on the subspace radio became more intense as the ships sped toward the nebula: "They're coming! "They're coming!" "Quarno juice! Last chance for quarno juice! No run is complete without the refreshing taste of quarno on your lips!" "Two Quatloos for number four!" "I bet three quatloos for number one!"

Confused by this chatter, Warp ordered Melina to hail one of the approaching ships, which were just now reaching the nebula. But at the same moment Arnet and Aston felt themselves beamed away from sickbay into a dark, red-lit room with two horny-headed aliens. One of them addressed the pair, welcoming them aboard "the Gonar." They had not been kidnapped, the alien said, but it was a normal custom for "race contestants" to trade personnel to ensure fair dealing.

Those on the Potemkin heard the subspace radio chatter change again: There's a fifth entrant in the race! I've never seen them before!" "Four Quatloos for the newcomer!" "Four Quatloos against!" "Get your quarno juice! Special discounted price now that the race is on!"

Sensors also detected the transporter, and Warp ordered shields up. Mekiah was able to locate the ship from where the transporter beam had come from, and Melina was order to set a course and speed to intercept. The Potemkin chased after the four ships, which were several million kilometers ahead, engaging in turn at high warp, skirting the disc of the nebula. The 'Tem was gaining ground, but slowly at that, and the ships weren't responding to hails.

On the the Gonar, the horny-head aliens were confused by Aston's and Arnet's lack of knowledge of the race's rules, conferred amongst themselves. The two humans could only catch snippets of their conversation: "...Mistake ... entry ... return? ... once ... is complete?" The aliens seemingly reached a consensus and announced that the officers would be returned to the Potemkin once the race was over, but would be treated with all due respect until such a time. They also hoped that the alien crew members on the 'Tem would be treated equally well.

The Potemkin came within 50,000 kilometers of the four ships it was pursuing, but the engines were straining to make the warp turn. Frustrated at the ships not responding to hails, Warp suggested a shot across the bow to get their attention. Bom and Tora started to toggle power around to maintain speed but allow phasers to fire, while Mekiah modified the phasers for a short enough burst to not interact negatively with the nebula.

With the necessary preparations done, the 'Tem's phasers fired a pulse that came within 500 meters of one of their bows. A warning blared across the com systems "Weapons fire is not permitted in this race. You will be disqualified for a second infraction. This is your only warning."

In Engineering, the turbolift opened and two horny-headed aliens in green jumpsuits, just like the ones with Arnet and Aston, entered. Bom contacted the bridge with the news, just as intruder alerts went off in various parts of the ship. They asked for the customary accommodations, food and drink, and explained every door they came across was locked. Bom called Mekiah down and asked her to find a secure area to hold their "guests." The two aliens, Klorg and Arlon, were led away, explaining how hospitality is shown guests of the race.

Melina reported that the ship couldn't keep up the pace much longer, so Warp began searching for any gaps in the dense clouds where the Potemkin could slip through and gain some ground. The 'Tem cut through this gap, emerging nearly two minutes ahead of the other vessels. Meanwhile, on the Ganor, Arnet and Aston were approached by the ship's commander, who explained the race was nearly over.

The subspace radio traffic around the 'Tem picked up yet again as the Federation vessel pulled ahead: "The new comers have pulled ahead!" "Seven quatloos for the newcomers!" "Special newcomer quarno juice! They gave us their endorsement before entering, and we bring it direct to you at a special price!"

The aliens on the Potemkin, stuffing their face with chocolate cake, explained the race was once fierce and destructive, so crew exchange became a method to keep things civil. Although weapons were now banned, the tradition remained, they said. The aliens, between bites of cake, also explained there was no prize for winning the race, just "fame."

With the other racing ships now a mere minute behind, the bridge crew found another gap among the nebula cloud and executed another warp turn to gain more ground - and to lure the alien ship with Arnet and Aston near a gas cloud that would weaken shields and allow a beam out. Bom protested the idea, noting that it could be misconstrued as breaking the terms of the race.

The Potemkin and the Ganor broke out of the void and onto the course again, within close distance to the where the initial crowd of ships were. The aliens in the ambassadorial chambers announced the finish line was in sight. It was neck-and-neck, with the Potemkin and Ganor surging forward in turns. However, with a final burst of speed, the 'Tem blew past the awaiting ships. The Ganor instantly decelerated - the Federation ship had won.

There was a moment of silence before the comm systems broke forth with a torrent of sound: " --ewcomers won the race! I can't believe it!" "Seven quatloos, please!" "Get your celebratory quarno juice! Endorsed by the newcomers, your one official source! Special discount post-race price!" "Klurt has protected them and spirited them to victory!"

On this cue, the Ganor's shields dropped and the two aliens were beamed away, mid-cake chew, and Arnet and Aston were returned to sickbay. With the 'Tem's crew members restored, the ship turned and headed back on course, now crowned with a bit of "fame."

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