Star Traks: Boldly Gone... was created by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler. It's based on Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry. Star Trek is owned by CBS, Paramount and Viacom. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, not to mention a huge jump 120 years into Star Trek's future, better hit the 'Back' button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
Copyright: 2000

STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE

“Yes, We Do Indeed Have Something to Declare!”

By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler



USS ANOMALY

ANDROMEDA GALAXY

STARDATE: 175209.8


Chief Engineer Shelly Marsden looked around the smoking mess that was the anti-singularity chamber and emitted a low, angered grunt.

“It’s fried. Emitters, singularity compensator, forcefields. When they pulled Cabral out, a backfire surged through the anti-sing system, nearly fragged the entire thing.”

Captain Reginald Bain dangled his head down from the hole in the ceiling. “That bad, eh?” Bain had made his way from Science Lab Four, through the Jefferies tubes, to engineering shortly after Marsden’s irritated call from engineering, informing him of just how bad things were. Bain felt somewhat bad about leaving Kasyov to her own devices in Cabral’s (former) chamber, but she was a sturdy woman, he decided, and could handle the hurdle that the “Associates” had thrown their way by stealing their resident brain.

“Well, then,” Bain continued, “what about the regular warp engines?”

“They were next on my list,” Marsden said, turning and climbing the ladder out of the Anti-Sing chamber and into the warp core chamber. Devix and Polnuc were scrambling about with a host of other engineers, flipping switches, yanking out nano-linear chips, re-routing power and other lovely things.

Marsden kicked a control, which activated a pressure-door, sealing off the anti-sing chamber. No one would be using THAT for a while, anyway. She turned toward the pulsating blue warp core, a narrow column about the size of Marsden herself. After waving her hand over a few holographic controls, then yanking out the drawer that stood at waist-level at the center of the core, and then cursing aloud, Marsden turned to Bain, who watched all this with detached curiosity.

“Thoughts?” Bain asked lightly.

“Whatever crackled through the anti-sing system also zipped through here and eradicated our dilithium supply.”

“Nasty little bugger, this backfire thing,” Bain muttered.

“The good news is the warp core systems are more or less functioning normally. If we can get more dilithium crystals, we will at least be warp-capable.”

“Capital!” Bain said. “How about that whole Cabral-integration problem?”

“Oh, do you mean the way he just DECIDED to integrate himself into our systems in such a way that his absence has completely crippled us?” Marsden railed.

“Yes, that would be the one,” Bain mumbled.

“Well, I think my people can re-establish primary computer control in a jiff. A jiff being NINE FREAKING HOURS!”

Bain blinked. “Well, then. Looks like we have a bit of a problem.”

“You could say that, Captain. Do you recall us passing any useful outposts?”

Bain rubbed his chin. “I have no idea. That reminds me, I should get up to the bridge. Back in a jiff.”

“THAT BETTER NOT BE A NINE-HOUR JIFF!” Marsden cried, causing Bain to feel somewhat pleased that he was getting the hell out of engineering.

“Hey, I hear someone’s having a case of the frownies!” came a voice from behind Marsden. She whirled, then screamed.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHRRRGGGGGGG!”

No. Nononononononononono. Steve. Steve. STEVE!

“Good news, Lieutenant!” came the cheery voice of Ensign Devix. “I got the holo-projectors up and running.”

Steve! was dressed in a red-and-white suit, complete with bowtie, straw hat, and cane.

“I know just how to brighten your day…cue music!” Steve! called out.

“TURN THAT THING OFF!”

“Grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face!”

“TURN IT OFF!”

Marsden stomped over to an array of nano-linear chips and started yanking.

“Lieutenant, ya better cheer up, where is that happy face!”

Yank, yank, yank.

“If you don’t cheer up soon I’ll bake you a great big cake, Miss Shelly Marsden, PUT ON A HAAAPPPPPPYYYYYYY–”

Steve! disappeared with a static sparkle, and for the first time since entering the Andromeda galaxy, Shelly Marsden felt pure, unadulterated, joy.


Natalia Kasyov felt pure, unadulterated anger.

She stared, aghast, at the blank spot in the corner of Science Lab Four where Cabral once sat in his interface. It was a bit dusty. Even in the 26th century, dust was possible.

Kasyov thought to herself, indeed, how dirty Cabral’s former domicile was. It would have to be cleaned.

<Coming, my dear…be patient! There’s lots of cleaning to do around this place for one old woman, you know!> came a voice ringing in Kasyov’s head. Who in the hell was THAT?

Shortly thereafter, the doors to the science lab wrenched open and in walked a tall, elegant woman with an upraised chin and pristine suede coveralls and a doily apron, with an emergency satchel of cleaning supplies over her shoulder and a hairnet over her perfect bun of curly black hair.

“It’s quite a circus out there in the corridors,” the woman said as she pranced about the lab, firing a pen-shaped device about which seemed to instantly eradicate dust and grime. Kasyov didn’t realize how much difference a good dusting made, even on a perfectly clean starship.

“The air filtration system is out,” explained the woman as she sidled past Kasyov and ran her beam over Cabral’s housing. “And…hey…wasn’t there a big spheroid brain here before?”

Kasyov just stood there, speechless. She’d been on the Anomaly for just over two months, and had never seen or heard of this woman before.

“Well?” asked the woman, who’d spoken earlier to Kasyov by pure, projected thought.

“Um…” Kasyov stammered. “He was…abducted.”

“Shame about that.” The woman sat down on the edge of Cabral’s casing. “Want to talk about it?”

“I…”

“I’m a Betazoid, you know.” That would explain it.

“You’re a Betazoid…and you’re our cleaning woman?”

“Now you’re getting it.”

“How come I’ve never seen you around before?”

“There’s a lot of ship to clean. And don’t think for a minute that Starfleet would bother giving me an assistant.” Before Kasyov could interject, the cleaning lady continued. “But, believe you me, I know you. I’ve cleaned your quarters every day, while you’re on-shift. Must say I’m not crazy about your choice of reading material. Really…Nude Brains of Summer? Come on, what kind of garbage is that?”

“You’ve sifted through my THINGS!” Kasyov was over the initial shock of the encounter and now she was just plain mad.

“I have to, in order to keep the place tidy. Did you think your bed just made itself?”

“I…I just supposed…”

“You just supposed the ship’s computer did it? Well, if only we were so advanced, darling.”

“WHY ARE YOU HERE?” Kasyov demanded.

“To clean, of course. Oh, how rude of me, I haven’t introduced myself.” The woman extended a white-gloved hand. “Helena Troi. At your service.”

Kasyov gingerly took Helena’s hand and shook it. “Charmed. Natalia Kasyov. Ship’s science officer.”

“I know,” Helena said spookily.

“If you know so much, how do we get out of this mess.”

“I’m a telepath, not a psychic. I may not know the future, but I can see what’s going on in that head of yours…things you dare not admit to yourself. And I think you know what I’m talking about.”

“I don’t have a clue,” Kasyov replied unconvincingly.

“Of course. You’re worried about what people will think. Who cares? I had an ancestor who rumor has it fell head over heels for a shapeshifting puddle of goo.”

“We’re just friends. People can worry about their friends,” Kasyov replied.

“You’d better be on your way, then. Lots to do. Your captain needs you. So does that brain.” She smiled enigmatically.


“Would you PLEASE put a uniform on?” Tovar muttered from behind Prosak, who was still dressed in her green satin pajamas. She’d been roused from bed at about the time the Associates Enforcers had boarded the ship and hadn’t had time to change into a uniform since.

Prosak turned to Tovar, raising an eyebrow. “I should think there are more important things to be done at the moment.”

“Not from where I’m standing, Commander.”

Prosak turned back around to face the viewscreen, deciding not to give Tovar the satisfaction of a reply.

“Commander, there’s nothing on the viewscreen.”

Prosak smouldered.

Just then, a hatch creaked open at Prosak’s feet and Bain stuck his head out.

“For God sakes, Prosak, put on a proper uniform!” Bain demanded.

“I thought we had far more pressing matters to attend to, Captain.”

Bain climbed onto the deck and stood, surveying the darkened bridge. “We’re dead in space. What else do we have to do?”

“FINE!” snapped Prosak. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my room.” She stormed ten feet over to the door to the former ready-room and slammed right into the door.

“There seems to be some door problems about the ship, there, Commander,” Bain said helpfully.

“Indeed,” Prosak muttered, rubbing her nose. She forced the doors open, slid inside and forced them shut.

Bain turned to Tovar. “Does everyone seem a bit testy today for some reason?”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Tovar said. “Sir, what is our next objective?”

“Besides getting our brain back? Well, I thought it’d be a capital idea to find a place to put in for repairs. Any ideas?”

Tovar grunted. “Hrm. A few. Do you recall the billboards we passed on the way in?”

“Yes, Garnok’s Galactic Jamboree or something like that?”

Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway, Tovar corrected to himself, then said “Close enough.” He waved his hand over a tactical control. “We were…incapacitated…shortly after we passed that facility. If we use the Navigator to tow the ship, I estimate we can make it back to that facility in less than two hours.”

“Any idea of what to expect when we get there?”

“A tourist trap, sir.”

“Blast. And me without my holo-cam.”


In short order, Kasyov, Prosak, Tovar, and Bain assembled in the off-bridge conference room to discuss their plight and possible solutions, while Arroyo and Polnuc lead the effort aboard the Navigator to tow the Anomaly back to Gygik’s Galactic Gateway. Marsden, meanwhile, was still supervising repairs in engineering and making sure that Polnuc didn’t miscalculate with the tractor beam and yank off a warp nacelle accidentally.

Kasyov stared out the observation windows at the tiny Navigator and its coruscating blue tractor beam as Bain, Tovar, and Prosak discussed the current situation. It was a wonder such a tiny ship could drag a much larger vessel. Kind of like an ant hauling around a leaf.

“…what Admiral Larkin had in mind when she gave us this assignment,” Prosak droned on. “We’re obviously way out of our element. They could have had the basic decency to send a probe out here first or something just to give us some idea of what would be in store for us.”

“The probes couldn’t get here in anything resembling a reasonable time,” Tovar said. “That’s why they sent us.”

“Right. Sent us out to be slaughtered in a strange galaxy.”

“Now, then, Prosak, no more of that. We’re Starfleet. Our job is to explore, I’m sure…” Bain trailed off. “Bless it! Why in blazes did they kill my petunias? What did they do to anyone? Rosalyn gave me those, cause Lord knows she couldn’t take care of them, goodness no…oh, Rosalyn…what must she be thinking? I had to send one of those short little messages to her, so trite…‘Ros, honey, I’m off to Andromeda, tape my holo-shows for me, see you in a bit.’”

“Don’t worry, sir,” Tovar said. “It won’t get back to her in anything resembling a reasonable time either. She’ll probably be dead…but not before we are. We’re going to get completely obliterated by some alien death ray unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. We won’t even have time to say, “Oops, they’re firing” before they’ve reduced us to our component molecules…maybe even our atoms. Maybe it’ll just be a mass of crispy quarks floating around Andromeda.”

“Get ahold of yourself, man,” Bain said. “Think about your Mum!”

“I don’t wanna think about Mum,” Tovar blubbered, tears welling up in his eyes.

“I didn’t even think about what this is going to do to mommy and daddy,” Prosak said. “Oh no. They’ll be destroyed by this. They’ll hold a funeral for me…a funeral with no body because their precious daughter is stuck a galaxy away thanks to your damn Starfleet! I won’t even be able to properly transfer my Katra!”

“You couldn’t do that anyway,” Tovar snapped. “You’re not a Vulcan!”

“I can too!”

“Cannot!”

“Shut up! Leave me alone!”

“Leave her alone,” Bain added. “We have bigger problems!”

“I don’t wanna die here!” Tovar cried.

“Daddy!” Prosak wailed.

“Rosie!” Bain cried.

“I want me MUM!” Tovar shouted.

Kasyov, who up until that moment had been trying to stare mournfully out of the windows, finally had had enough. She spun around on the others, eyes blazing. “Oh, just shut the yvot up! All of you!”

“Stand down, Doctor,” Bain said. “I am the captain here. And what in blazes does ‘yvot’ mean?”

“I think contextual evidence gives us a good idea…” Tovar mumbled.

“Bingo,” muttered Kasyov.

“I didn’t know you spoke Russian,” Bain marveled.

Kasyov stared at him for a moment, then continued. “Forgive me, Captain Bain. You are right. You’re the captain here. The captain of the most pathetic pity party I’ve ever seen. Yes, we’re trapped in Andromeda. Yes, our loved ones are a galaxy away. But we can’t get back to them unless we get this ship up and running and find Cabral. I refuse to accept that these Associates can just push us around like this.”

“They seem to be doing an excellent job thus far,” Tovar muttered.

“Doctor Kasyov, while there is some logic in your statement,” Prosak said, trying to pull herself back to something resembling Vulcan stoicism. “The fact remains that we are the only Starfleet ship in this galaxy, a galaxy, I might add, that seems to be firmly under the control of a VERY powerful alien species that already STOMPED OUR ASSES! And you want us to go up against them? Where’s the logic in that? Where? Well, I’ll tell you. There isn’t any!!!”

“All right, Commander,” Bain said. “And, Doctor, you’re right. Guess we all lost it a tad bit there.”

“Just a tad,” Tovar agreed.

“That’s enough of that then,” Bain continued. “We’ve got to focus on the positive.”

“Which would be?” Prosak asked.

“We’re on the move. We’re heading somewhere we can get ourselves shipshape again and maybe find out a bit about this place and these Associates.”

Prosak shook her head. “I still do not see the logic…”

“Pish posh, Commander,” Bain said. “Everything’s coming up roses. Sky’s the limit.” He stood up and clapped his hands. “Right. Now why were we having this meeting again?”

“To come up with a plan,” Kasyov said.

“Easy enough.” Bain paced over to the monitor on the far wall of the briefing room. “Computer, display the following. Item one: Marsie needs some dilithium. That seems to be an engineering problem, but it’s also vital if we’re going to be going anywhere fast…not quite as fast as we could if we had Cabral back, but you get the point. Prosak, you and Marsie are on that job.”

“But what about Cabral?” Kasyov insisted.

“I was coming to that. Item two: If we’re going to get home, we need Cabral. Doctor, you and Tovar will see what you can learn about that one.”

“Very well,” Tovar said, clearly less than enthused.

“Item three: we need some information about these Associates and the surrounding space. Mr. Arroyo and myself will see to that particular item,” Bain said. The briefing room doors suddenly opened and Dr. Fred Nooney bounded into the room.

“The doors are working and everybody’s healthy again!” Nooney exclaimed. “Oooh! Are we having a briefing?” He raced to an open chair, leapt into it, and rested his elbows on the table and held his head in his hands as he stared intently at Bain. “What are we doing?”

“We’re going to Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway to gather materials and information,” Prosak said.

“Great! I’m going too!”

“Surely, you’re needed here,” Bain said. “Casualties and such.”

“I told you. Everyone’s healthy again.”

“We were just nearly blown to bits,” Kasyov said. “And you’re telling us no one was seriously hurt.”

“Most of the crew that wasn’t on shift was in the rec room with Steve! He padded the walls to cushion the impact.”

“Good show, Steve!” Bain said.

“Please don’t encourage him,” Tovar muttered.

“So I’m going!” Nooney insisted.

“Ooookay,” Bain said, thinking. “Item four: Doctor Nooney will gather cultural information about the species he encounters.”

“Goody!” Nooney said.

Tovar grabbed Bain’s sleeve, pulled the Captain down to his level, and whispered in his ear. “Oh! Good idea,” Bain said. “Bain to Lieutenant Brazzell.”

“Brazzell here,” the voice of the compulsively-clean Mezzakkan security officer replied.

“You’ll be accompanying Dr. Nooney when we arrive at Gijik’s.”

“Ooh! An escort!” Nooney tittered.

“Oh dear! I’ll need to replicate extra disinfectant!” Brazzell said.

Bain ignored the reply and closed the channel. “Does that cover it?”

“I believe so,” Prosak said.

“See. I told you this would be easy. Dismissed.” Bain immediately headed out of the room, satisfied that the situation was completely under control.

“Does anyone know how exactly we’re supposed to go about accomplishing these tasks?” Prosak asked.

“Not a clue,” Kasyov said.

“Indeed. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.”

“Was there anything to miss?”

“No,” Tovar said, heading toward the door. “There rarely is.”


This would not go down in Cabral’s memory as one of his more pleasant days. It was bad enough that he’d been running the anti-sing drive for two weeks straight, but, almost as soon as the Anomaly had reached Andromeda, Cabral had been unceremoniously ripped from his nice, cozy housing and transported to his present location.

It was rather unsettling really. One second he was sitting in Science Lab Four watching Natalia valiantly (okay, it was actually bordering on foolishly, but they were Cabral’s memories. He could remember things anyway he liked) trying to defend him from the Associates. The next, he was floating in this room.

Room was about the only word that could be used to describe this particular chamber. Yes, there was a door and a couple of chairs and nondescript desks designed for the large Associate anatomy, but, otherwise, there just wasn’t a lot to look at. Speaking of, there really wasn’t all that much to look at in his room on board the Anomaly either. Of course, he had access to all of the ship’s sensors, internal as well as external, which had given him some interesting images, particularly in the crew’s holopods…but that was another issue all together. The point was that a being needed to feel at home in his…er…home, and Science Lab Four was basically just a big room with a couple of computers and him. He’d really have to say something about the decor and lack thereof to Natalia when he got back…assuming he ever got back.

Cabral’s attention was pulled back to the matter at hand by the opening and closing of the door to the room. Two Associates had entered, both carrying something resembling clipboards, and were in the process of looking him over in a detached way that he found very disconcerting. Normally, he’d just extend one of his defensive systems and blast these two to smouldering bits of ash on the bland gray floor, but the Associates had beamed his sphere into some kind of force field which, while providing a pleasant anti-grav field, also prevented him from doing a damn thing to anyone outside the field.

“So, this is it?” the short of the two Associates said, peering at Cabral.

“Yes, sir,” the second, whom Cabral recognized as Chief Associate Enforcer Uuulaadoodee, replied. “We recruited this candidate from the Milky Way vessel that recently utilized our entrance facilitation passageway.”

“Splendid.” The first Associate took a seat at the desk, steepled his fingers, and looked intently at Cabral. “Welcome. We’re delighted you could be here today. I am, Ickeeooee, Vice-Chief Executive Officer in Charge of Acquisitions and Recruitment for EAAIE. And you are?”

“Cabral,” Cabral replied simply.

“Right,” Ickeeooee replied, making a note on his clipboard as Uuulaadoodee, who had taken a seat at the desk beside Ickeeooee, did the same. “Mr. Cabral. Is that with a C or a K?”

“C.”

“Splendid. Now then, Mr. Cabral, we here to discuss some things with you.”

“Such as how you removed me from my ship violently and against my will?”

Ickeeooee and Uuulaadoodee checked their clipboards for a moment. “No,” Ickeeooee said finally. “That does not seem to be on today’s agenda.”

“Then let’s add it,” Cabral said with growing anger. “I demand to know why I’ve been brought here.”

“Certainly. You’re here because we’re giving you the opportunity to serve your fellow beings.”

“I don’t want it. Send me to my ship.”

“We can’t do that. A resource of your value must not be lost.”

“What about my wishes?” Cabral demanded.

Ickeeooee smiled…at least Cabral guessed the large, purple-skinned humanoid was smiling. The sides of his mouth pulled at any rate. “Come now, Mr. Cabral. A being of your intellect much understand that some must sacrifice their wishes for the good of the organization as a whole.”

“I am not a member of your organization.”

“True, you are not an Associate, but you are a part of the organization we call life,” Ickeeooee said.

“And a grand organization it is, too,” Uuulaadoodee added.

“If this is leading to a musical number, I’m going to be very upset,” Cabral muttered.


“Tovar was right. This IS a tourist trap,” Captain Bain said as he and Arroyo looked about at Gyjik’s Galactic Gateway.

The interior of the space station put Bain in mind of a ancient hotel, only much, much bigger. The entire inside was hollow, ringed with balconies, each floor connected with super fast glass elevators.

Bain, Arroyo, Nooney, Brazzell, Prosak, and Marsden were all beamed down in the same clearing. Kasyov and Tovar, meanwhile, had gone off aboard the raceabout Caspian to attempt to locate Cabral.

“What now?” Nooney asked giddily, looking about with schoolboyish wonder.

Bain pivoted to face Nooney. “What now is that we split up and go about our assigned tasks, old chap. Do you know what you need to accomplish?”

“Get to know the natives!” Nooney clapped.

Bain shot Brazzell a look that said “keep an eye on him,” and turned toward Prosak and Marsden. “You folks attempt to restore the engines.”

“Thanks for clearing that up for me,” Marsden muttered, and looked over her shoulder at Prosak. “Come on. Time’s wasting. Let’s see where the closest scrap yard is in this dump.”

“I cannot wait,” replied Prosak flatly. At least they weren’t going to be running into any KlingaVulcs.

Prosak and Marsden went off in one direction and disappeared into the bustling crowd as Nooney and Brazzell did likewise leaving Bain and Arroyo alone. Bain took a deep breath, let it out noisily, and beat his fists on his chests.

“You smell that, Hector? That’s adventure! That’s excitement! That’s why we’re in Starfleet!”

Arroyo hesitantly took a whiff. “If you say so, sir.”

“Get into the spirit of things, Ensign,” Bain said.

“No offense, Captain, but rumor has it you yourself were a blubbering wreck an hour ago over all of this.”

“A momentary lapse. Ancient history. We’ve got work to do.”

Bain started striding down the concourse, forcing Arroyo to almost jog to keep up with Bain’s long steps as they moved through crowds of aliens. Off to their left, a large group had gathered in a transparent chamber by an airlock looking out into space. Just then, a small ship, barely larger than a shuttle craft, pulled up a little below the airlock and extending a large tube upward, where it latched onto the airlock.

“That’s going to be a damn uncomfortable trip,” Bain observed.

“Kelvan Trans-Galactic Spaceways Shipment 3683 is now boarding at Gate AAH690. All passengers must be in the gate in five…four…three…two…one…” The chamber was suddenly filled with a greenish flash, which reduced the gathered aliens to a pile of white objects. The airlock opened, sucking all of the objects into the ship, which then detached and sped away.

“Then again, maybe not,” Bain said with a shrug and continued on.

“They…they turn their passengers into blocks?” Arroyo stammered, horrified.

“We take ours apart molecule by molecule. What of it?” Bain said.

Arroyo was quiet for a moment. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Of course you hadn’t. You haven’t been in this game long enough, my boy. Come on. Let’s find ourselves a pub.”

“A pub? Do we have time for that? We’re supposed to be finding information.”

“Which is exactly what we’ll be doing, Hector,” Bain replied, wrapping an arm around Arroyo’s shoulder as they approached a dimly-lit establishment called Gijik’s Guzzling Goumlits. “I’ve been in the Starfleet business for close to 50 years, and there are two constants about pubs wherever I’ve been. First, they are wonderful sources of information.”

Bain walked into the bar, Arroyo in tow.

“Um…what’s the second one?” Arroyo asked nervously as he observed several very large and very scruffy aliens crowding the room.

“Oh…I always end up in a spot of bother.”

“Wh…what kind of bother?”

“Just a little tiff.”

“Tiff?”

“All right. I won’t lie to you. They’re usually rough and tumble brawls.”

Arroyo froze in his tracks. “Maybe I’ll just stay out here.”

“You can’t be afraid of a little scuffle. I’ve been in a million of them.”

“Umm…”

“Tut tut! Come along.”

For a fleeting moment, Arroyo wondered if Bain would consider crying like a baby a court-marital offense.


Marsden couldn’t help but shake her head in a mix of disgust and sadness as she looked out the massive viewports on Gijik’s docking level at the scarred hull of the Anomaly. The ship had taken quite a pounding and now, sitting helplessly at a docking arm as other ships and the facility itself loomed all around, the Anomaly resembled a mistreated child’s toy more than the pinnacle of Federation engineering.

“It is unfortunate,” Prosak said coldly from behind her right shoulder.

“Unfortunate,” Marsden snapped, turning angrily on the Vulcan. “Unfortunate! My pride and joy gets blasted to shit, we’re stranded in another galaxy, and all you can say is unfortunate?”

“I was referring to the slime that…being…just trailed across my boot,” Prosak said, holding up a dripping leg. “The other you just mentioned has already induced one screaming fit from me today. I am trying very hard not to have another.”

“Oh…sorry, Prosak. I didn’t realize…” Marsden chuckled weakly in an attempt to lighten the mood. “So I guess I can expect a lot of Vulcan today.”

“That is my hope,” Prosak said, her voice quivering.

“Let’s get out of here,” Marsden said, grabbing Prosak’s arm and pulling her away from the viewport. “Dilithium isn’t just going to fall into our lap.”

The two officers moved down the concourse toward the repair bays on the far side of the docking facility from the shops, restaurants, and gambling halls that visitors generally flocked to. Finally, Marsden came upon a small shop overlooking an internal docking bay, where a small vessel was being serviced. The ship itself looked like a giant ruler more than anything.

“Can I help you?” a tall, lanky alien behind the counter asked. He also looked like a giant ruler…this one with spindly arms and legs as well as a head about the size of a softball. A patch on his exceptionally clean smock identified him as Cihn.

“I’m with a ship that just docked, and I need to see about getting some replacement dilithium crystals,” Marsden said as Prosak took a seat in the customer waiting area and picked up a magazine.

Cihn stared blankly at Marsden. “I do not understand.”

“Dilithium crystals,” Marsden repeated. “You’ve never heard of them?”

“I am afraid not, but let me check the database. It has a record of every engine system used in this galaxy as well as a few from other galaxies.” He typed a few keys on the console in the counter. “Hmm…no. No dilithium. No crystals at all. I’m very sorry.”

Marsden heard a muffled cry and turned to see that Prosak had buried her head in the magazine, which was now quivering violently.

“What about anti-matter?” Marsden said. “Surely somebody must use that?”

“Of course,” Cihn replied. “We can schedule your vessel for a fill-up right away. Do you use a general tank or storage pods?”

“Pods.”

“No problem at all. And how would you like to pay for this?”

“Um…”

“I can’t get you a 15% discount if you apply for a Gijik’s Card. Additionally, all charges at Gijik’s will be 10% off, and you don’t have to make a payment for three months.”

“We’ll do that then,” Marsden said decisively. With any luck, in three months they’d have found a way back to the Milky Way, or, at the very least, obtained some of whatever the Andromedans used as currency.

Cihn handed Marsden a clipboard, which she tossed at Prosak, startling the Romulan who had become engrossed reading an article (which her quadcorder was translating for her) about the top ten travel destinations in the Laentali Belt.

“Fill this out,” Marsden said as she slapped her commbadge. “Marsden to Polnuc.”

“Polnuc here,” Marsden’s Assistant Chief Engineer replied. “Go ahead.”

“What’s your status?”

“Well, the singularity started acting up, but we’ve got that stabilized. The last thing we needed was for that to blow and wipe out everything within this sector. We’ve got most of the internal systems back up, but we still aren’t going to be going anywhere or shooting anybody anytime soon. I hope you have some good news on that front.”

“Sort of. Expect an antimatter delivery later today. No luck on the dilithium, but we’re not done here. I’ll be in touch. Marsden out.”

“How much do we make in a year?” Prosak asked, looking up from the clipboard.

“I have no idea,” Marsden said. “Take however many credits you get in a year and multiply it by 500. That should be close enough.” She turned back to Cihn. “Where can I find a parts bay?”

“Down this corridor, take the fifth left to the lift, go up 62 decks, take another left. Then go as far as you possibly can, and it will be on the left,” Cihn replied as Prosak stood up and handed him the credit application. “Everything here seems to be in order,” Cihn said, looking it over. He pressed a button on the application padd, and a moment later a small black tube appeared on the padd.

“Here you go,” he said, handing the tube to Marsden. “I’ve already charged the antimatter to your account.”

“Thank you very much,” Marsden said, pocketing tube. “Come on, Prosak. Let’s go shopping!”


The Galactic Headquarters for Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateways, Inc. was a ten-minute raceabout ride from the gateway itself.

Kasyov and Tovar didn’t have much to say to each other during the ride. They spent little time together on the ship and essentially had no use for one another. Add to that the fact that Kasyov was busy obsessing over the loss of Cabral and that Tovar was preoccupied wondering how Bain was coming along, and what resulted was a very quiet raceabout ride.

“Approaching Gateway headquarters,” Tovar said, which was the first thing either of them had said so far during the trip.

“This is a waste of time,” Kasyov muttered, swiveling in her chair at the side science station in the Caspian’s cockpit.

“If you wish to locate Cabral, we must begin by gathering information,” Tovar replied.

“I understand that,” Kasyov said testily. “But shouldn’t we start with the Associates? They’re the bastards who took him.”

“Which is why they most likely won’t be willing to divulge that information. The proprietor of this outpost, however, obvious must be on good terms with the Associates; therefore, he may know where they would have taken Cabral.”

“And here I thought Prosak was the only Vulcan wannabe on board,” Kasyov said, obviously not intending it to be a compliment.

“I am simply stating the facts. Our last encounter with the associates left the Anomaly a virtual scrap heap. How do you think a tiny raceabout will fair?”

“Fair enough,” Kasyov muttered. “Beam us over to the meet this Gyjik then.”

“I was just about to do so.”

“Then get it over with already.”

“You do not have to be so pushy about it.”


Bre’zan Brazzell had a hard time keeping up with Doctor Nooney. Not only was it shocking that the seeming-out-of-shape doctor could move so quickly down the promenade of the sparkling green mall (where each surface was immaculately polished - he had to give credit where it was due), Brazzell was also genuinely surprised that Nooney wasn’t at all disturbed by being effectively stranded in a whole other galaxy.

For Brazzell’s part, the panic level was currently at a minimum. He had no friends to speak of back in the Milky Way. Heck. He had NO friends. His old clique from hygiene school considered him a slob because he refused to irradiate his scalp any more than twice daily. What did they know?

Brazzell’s ruminations were interrupted when Nooney made a squeal of orgasmic joy.

“Oh, MY!”

Brazzell glared at Nooney. “What?”

Nooney had jogged over to an arched opening that led through to a large store packed with shimmering glassware. Pots, vases, tureens…some implements Brazzell couldn’t even identify. “Look at this glassware! Look at the exquisite handiwork! Oh, it’s breathtaking!” tittered the doctor.

Brazzell shrugged. “It shows smudges very easily. Matte surface is the way to go if you ask me, sir.”

“Nonsense!” Nooney said, rushing over to inspect some of the fine items. He glanced at a clerk-a member of one of the vast array of species Brazzell had already encountered during his few brief minutes at the mall. This particular species was tall and lanky, weighed down with heavy metallic chains…adorned in a quite unnecessary amount of jewelry.

“Good sir,” Nooney called to the clerk. “How much for this vase?”

“You’ve got exquisite taste,” the clerk said, and Brazzell marveled at the efficiency of the universal translator. It sounded as if the clerk was speaking perfect English.

“Why, thanks!” Nooney squealed.

“I’ll let you have the whole lot for free. Whatever you want,” said the clerk.

“Did you hear that?” Nooney shrieked back at Brazzell, who couldn’t care less. “Wrap up this, this, this, this and that thing over there. Oh, the captain will really enjoy that tumbler. It’ll be a sort of ‘sorry we’re stranded in the Andromeda Galaxy’ gift.”

“Excuse me, sir,” Brazzell said to the grinning clerk as Nooney dashed around loading up a nearby cart with piles of the dazzling glassware. “Do you know where someone can have some good, clean…and I cannot stress the word clean enough…fun here?”

“You’ll be wanting dirty Slum-slave sex, then?” asked the clerk.

Brazzell blinked. “Most certainly not!” He sighed. “I just want to keep my friend preoccupied so he doesn’t do anything that causes an intergalactic incident.”

“You like the clean stuff, then?”

“Now we’re talking.”

“Don’t want to be defiled, mangled, mutilated?”

“Preferably not!”

“I’ve got just the place for you then,” the clerk said, smiling helpfully. “The place you want is Xanax’s Zany Zap Zorn. You’ll really enjoy it”

Brazzell cocked his head. “I’m sorry. I’m not from…well…around here. What exactly is a ‘zorn’?”

“Good, clean fun!” the clerk said with a wink.

“Thanks,” Brazzell said. “You’ve been ever so helpful.”

“Mind if we take the cart too?” Nooney asked, appearing as if by magic beside the clerk.

The clerk spread his hands out wide. “Whatever is mine is yours!”

Nooney grinned. “Thanks SO much! You’re such a generous sort! I won’t forget this. I’ll write all about you in my journal.”

“That’s thanks enough,” replied the clerk, and Nooney and Brazzell shuffled off.

Once they were gone, the clerk stabbed a control under the cash register calling for security.

What Nooney and Brazzell heard on their way out the door, in a language distinctly sounding like Federation Standard, yet meaning the exact opposite, was “Thank you, gentlemen! Come back soon!”

Translated into Federation Standard, what the clerk REALLY said was: //Steal from me, will ya, you dirty bastards!//


“Now then, Mr. Cabral,” Ickeeooee said, holding his writing implement above his clipboard. “We have a few standard questions we’d like to ask, just to get a sense of who you are and how you’d best fit into EAAIE.”

“What in Vroukasaut is EAAIE?” Cabral said.

“All in good time. Now then, would you consider yourself to be a leader or a follower?”

“I was alone for decades, but now I am part of the Anomaly crew under Captain Bain.”

“Ah, so you have experience with both. Splendid. Which do you prefer?”

“Both have their perks and drawbacks.”

“So you’re flexible. Splendid. Splendid.” Ickeeooee said, scribbling furiously.

Uuulaadoodee spoke up. “Would you say your personal style is more like a obidooo or an yyystiiv?”

“I have no idea what either of those are,” Cabral said.

“Would you like to learn?” Ickeeooee asked.

“I suppose.”

“Innate curiosity. Splendid! Now then, about your level of dedication. Are you the type to stick to a task until it’s complete, or do you give up easily?”

“I spent over almost two centuries focused on looking for a woman I’d lost. That was my all-consuming passion, and I could think of nothing else until I found her.”

“Dedicated and romantic. If I may pry, is she another brain?”

“Yes, but she’s in the Milky Way, so you can’t have her,” Cabral snapped.

“Wouldn’t dream of it. Do you think of her often?”

For some reason, Cabral found himself flashing to Natalia Kasyov’s face. “Not at all,” he said. “Jacinda in ancient history. Are we done here?”

“Just about. One more question,” Ickeeooee said.

“What is it?” Cabral said, straining to keep his irritation in check.

“Have you ever thought about the big picture? Why we’re all here?”

“I’m here because you brain-napped me!”

“Think bigger.”

“I am well aware what you mean, and, no, I haven’t bothered with those issues much. They seem irrelevant to my daily life.”

“An unbiased mind. Absolutely splendid.” Ickeeooee jotted one more note on his clipboard and rose out of his seat, prompting Uuulaadoodee to hurriedly do the same. Ickeeooee grinned broadly, his three tongues quivering excitedly in all directions. “Outstanding work, Chief Associate Enforcer Uuulaadoodee. He’s an excellent candidate. I’ll see to it that you’re in line for a promotion to Assistant Chief Enforcer for this. I’ll put that in writing.” Ickeeooee made a few more scribbles on his clipboard and touched a button.

Instantly, Uuulaadoodee’s face lit up as he saw Ickeeooee’s words transcribed in writing onto his clipboard. The Vice-Chief Executive Officer in Charge of Acquisitions and Recruitment for EAAIE really had put it in writing. What a day!

“Send him down to Orientation,” Ickeeooee said as he headed toward the door. “Mr. Cabral, consider yourself hired!” And with that, he was gone.

If Cabral had had eyes, they would have been bugging out of his head at this point. “But I don’t want a job!”


Bain dragged Arroyo up to the bar and slapped his hand down on the counter. “Two of your finest, barkeep.” The fairly non-descript humanoid behind the bar looked at Bain quizzically, then the look gradually lengthened into an intense stare.

“What the devil are you doing?” Bain demanded, finding himself unable to look away.

“Trying to figure out what in the name of the CEO you’re talking about,” the bartender replied.

“He wants a drink,” Arroyo said.

“I know that now!” the bartender said testily as he turned back to the strange array of tubes and taps lining the back wall. A few moments later, he placed two thimbles down on the bar in front of Bain and Arroyo.

Bain picked up his thimble and looked it over…what little of it there was. “Getting snookered could take a very long time at this rate.”

“Isn’t that a good thing since we’re supposed to be gathering information?”

“True, but the brawl part goes much more smoothly when I’m pissed.”

“Getting drunk makes you angry?”

“Bloody hell! How many times do I have to explain this? Pissed means drunk!” Instantly, the smile returned to Bain’s face. “Well then, down the hatch.” He and Arroyo clinked thimbles and chugged down their respective drinks. Arroyo was expecting the worst and was pleasantly surprised when he tasted…well…pretty much nothing.

“It’s…light,” Arroyo said.

“It’s water!” Bain groused.

“Yes, sir. Finest in Andromeda,” the bartender replied proudly. “Each drop is filtered over nine thousand times through the mesh-like wings of the woldijons of Pommibatu. Before the wings can be used as filters, each must be carefully severed from the corpse of the woldijon right after death so that rigor won’t set it. One mistake can be fatal for consumers because the woldijon has been known to secrete a highly toxic venom into its bloodstream after death.”

Arroyo watched Bain’s eyes widen in excitement as the bartender related this information. “I had no idea, my good man. Another round for my friend and I. This time make it a double.”

“I like a man who appreciates quality. Two doubles coming up.”

As the bartender set to work, Bain swivelled around in his chair to survey the patrons of the bar. “You been in many places like this, Arroyo?”

“No, sir. Not too many. The Research Projects division tends to send people to safer areas of the galaxy. The Anomaly is my first active duty assignment,” Arroyo replied.

“Now pardon me for prying, my boy, but what would make a strapping young lad like yourself want to do a monkey’s job at R&D?”

“There were other factors to think about.”

“Factors? You make it sound like a science experiment. Out with it!” Bain demanded.

“I’m engaged.”

“Engaged. Arroyo, that’s wonderful! Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“There are…”

“Factors. Yes, I know. So what’s the lucky lady’s name.”

“Janie,” Arroyo said, after chugging down the shot glass of water the bartender had set down in front of him.

Bain clapped his hand down on Arroyo’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry. I’ll see to it that you get back to the fair Janie soon. You have my word on it. Now then, those four look like knowledgeable sorts.”

Arroyo had just enough time to mutter, “No rush” before he realized where Bain was headed: straight to a table with four very large, very angry looking forest green muscular beings sitting around it. Against his better judgment, Arroyo hurried after Bain to…well, he didn’t really know what he intended to do. Hopefully, it wouldn’t involve having his face mercilessly pounded in.

“Greetings to you all,” Bain began amicably. “Captain Reginald Bain. USS Anomaly. My associate and I are new to this galaxy, and we hoped you lot might be able to give us a few tips as to the lay of the land as it were.”

The giant green thing closest Bain stood up, rising to its full eight feet of muscle-bound height and looking down on Bain with a grim smile showing three sets of sharp pointy teeth.

All of a suddenly, it grabbed Bain’s hand and shook it vigorously.

“Why hi there! I’d love to help you, Reg. Mind if I call you Reg? But we just got here ourselves. We’re the Xarkelsons! I’m Xeorge. This is my lovely wife Xartha. Our daughter Xary. And that young fellow pouting there in the corner is my youngest son Xam.”

“Andromeda sucks. I wanted to go to the Supercluster,” Xam whined.

“We went to the Supercluster last century,” Xartha said soothingly. “Let your sister have a chance to go where she wants to go.”

“This place is stupid.”

“Now Xam,” Xeorge said. He turned back to Bain. “Sorry about that. Kids you know.”

“Oh yes. I have a couple of my own. They’re all grown now, but I remember these family vacations well,” Bain said. “I’m sorry to have troubled you.”

“No trouble at all,” Xeorge said. “But don’t run off.” With no effort at all, he pushed Bain down into an open chair at the table. “We can show you our pictures from last century’s trip to the Supercluster!”

“I’d love that,” Bain said trying to hide the fear in his eyes. “But my colleague and I really must be off. Lots of information to gather.” Bain tried to get up, but before he could get his last butt cheek out of the chair, Xartha slapped some kind of pulsating crystal on his forehead. Arroyo watched in horror as Bain suddenly sat up stiffly, staring blanking forward.

“Now this was us in front of our little ship the day before we left for the Supercluster,” Xeorge said. “Xam’s on top there just over the cargo hold.”

“Stop. No,” Bain said flatly, sounding drugged.

Arroyo was about to extend his wrist phaser when a wrinkled hand locked onto his arm. He whirled around to see a wizened old woman, seemingly of the same species as the bartender, standing before him.

“You can’t help him,” she said, her tired voice quivering. “Once the Flandilax slide show begins, the crystal cannot be removed from the victim’s head until the end or else his brain will be reduced to slag.”

“…and now there’s Xary in front of the Raibibilaz Nebula. And now here’s Xam in front of the Raibibilaz Nebula.”

“Make it stop,” Bain droned.

“Slagging his brain may be more humane,” Arroyo said.

“The suffering will end. Your friend must stay strong until the last picture is done. But that is not why I have come to you. You want information.”

“Yes, information.”

“Information!” the old woman exclaimed. “When your friend has escaped the clutches of the Flandilax, go get defonilated. There you will find the answers you seek.” Without another word, the old woman slipped back out into the teeming crowds on the concourse.

“Thanks,” Arroyo said, waving after her.

“…now this is us in the middle of nowhere when our gibernatizing hibbilator went kerplewie.”

“Good one, Dad,” Xam said.

“Just let me die,” Bain said weakly.


After several twists and turns as well as one seemingly-infinite turbolift ride during which Prosak insisted on telling way too many stories about things that had happened to her at drama camp when she was younger, Marsden and Prosak finally arrived outside a large set of steel doors.

“Once we get inside, let me handle this,” Marsden said. “Parts guys tend to be cranky, lazy, and corrupt. They’re going to complain about every part we ask for then try to rip us off on the price. Do NOT agree to anything without me. Also, watch your step. They sometimes leave expensive stuff out on the floor in hopes that some naive fool will break it and be forced to buy it at some inflated cost.”

“Are you sure we should be here then?” Prosak asked.

“Unless you’ve got some other way to get what we need.”

“Well, surely the Navigator…”

“It doesn’t have enough dilithium, and its phaser arrays are far smaller than ours. If worst comes to worst, I’ll strip that ship from stem to stern, but I’d rather not have to.”

“Logical.”

“I thought so,” Marsden replied. She and Prosak stepped through the doors…and immediately decided they must have made a wrong turn.

Exquisite wood paneling with golden trim lined the walls of the room which they entered as soft light fell on ornately detailed rugs and plush furniture upholstered in soft fabrics and leather. The sofas and chairs in the front part of the room gave way to an immense wooden counter, which was adorned with intricately carved designs and more golden trim. Behind the counter, rows and rows of dark wooden shelves rose to the stained glass ceiling, twenty feet above them.

“Wow!” Prosak gasped. It seemed to be the logical response.

Almost instantly, a hovering two-foot tall oval droid with arms emerged from behind the counter. Its surface was a distinguished, glossy black, and faux wood covered its shoulder and elbow joints as two ruby red lights where its eyes should have been gazed out at Prosak and Marsden.

“May I offer assistance?” the droid said in a soothing, soft voice.

“Wow!” Prosak said again.

“Shhhh,” the droid said. “Please respect the decorum of our chamber.”

“We’re very sorry,” Marsden said in a hushed voice. “We must have made a wrong turn. We were looking for the ship parts bay.”

“You are in the correct location,” the droid said. “What may I help you with today?”

“Cranky, lazy, and corrupt, you said?” Prosak said to Marsden.

“Oh shut up,” Marsden snapped.

The droid’s eyes glowed more brightly. “Shhhhh!”


Tovar and Kasyov arrived at length in the outer office of Gyjik’s HQ. The secretary, a multi-tentacled being closely resembling an Earth squid, had been quite rude. It at first asked them if they had an appointment. When Tovar replied that they didn’t, it had told them that they would have to make an appointment. Tovar demanded to see Gyjik, and the creature promptly squirted ink in his face.

“This is not why I joined Starfleet,” Tovar muttered, wiping his face on his shirtsleeve.

“No kidding,” muttered Kasyov. She sat down in the chair across from the squid. “Listen…Moklok…may I call you Moklok?” She hoped she was reading the nameplate on the desk right.

Moklok nodded. “Call me whatever you like, hon. You’re still not getting in to see Mr. Gyjik. He’s a very busy man.”

“What species are you?” Kasyov suddenly blurted.

“Pardon?”

Tovar looked inquisitively at Kasyov.

She shrugged. “We come from a distant galaxy. I’ve never seen a being like you. I’d like to know more about your species.”

“Well, if you really want to know…I’m a Tenclon. We’re an aquamarine species based in the Tenclar system. Our chief planetary exports are brine and water. How’s that?”

“Touching,” Kasyov said flatly.

“Our purpose here,” Moklok continued, “is to assist. We’re administrative assistants.”

“‘We’ who?” asked Tovar.

“Why, the Tenclons.”

“Wait,” Kasyov said. “The WHOLE Tenclon race?”

“The lot of us. We’re assistants.”

“Who the yvot decided that?” Kasyov demanded.

“The Associates of course.”

Tovar looked at Kasyov.

“Figures,” they both said, and Kasyov looked back at Moklok.

“Ma’am, it’s essential we speak to Gyjik.”

“Why?”

“We have a friend who’s being held by the associates,” Kasyov said, deciding to be honest and hope this Tenclon gave her a little slack. “We want Gyjik’s help rescuing him.”

“That’s very sweet,” said Moklok. “But I doubt he’ll be that helpful.”

“Can we be the judge of that?” Kasyov asked.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you in to see him.”

Kasyov gritted her teeth. This mission was one dead end after another. Suddenly an idea sprung to mind. She looked back at Tovar. “Hey, Tovar…weren’t you saying Moklok here was quite a beautiful being?”

Tovar’s eyes bugged. He leaned down to whisper in Kasyov’s ear. “Doctor, we are not even sure if Moklok is female! Not to mention that I don’t like the idea of being used as some sort of sexual–”

“Oh, you old pelpar you!” Moklok whinnied, snaking out a long tentacle over two meters distance to tickle Tovar’s chin. “You didn’t look like a type to go for squidoids.”

The tentacle wrapped around Tovar’s throat. “Different…um…strokes…” he choked out.

“Where’s your bathroom?” Kasyov suddenly asked, hoping against hope that Andromedans at least used bathrooms.

“That way…” Moklok pointed absently with a tentacle, using three or four of the others to tickle and pat Tovar, who looked about ready to have a nervous breakdown.

Kasyov smiled thankfully, got out of her seat, backed away, stepped off where Moklok pointed, then dashed around behind its/her desk in the direction of Gyjik’s office. Moklok didn’t seem to notice.

Tovar did…and Kasyov could hear his panicked cries as she darted between the huge double doors…and found…

A bulbous fellow, clothed in extravagant robes, sitting in a large plush chair, leaning back with feet on his desk, blissfully half-asleep.

“Moklok…just sit my makbar down on the couch and be gone…I feel nappy today.”

“I’m not Moklok,” Kasyov said sharply, standing on the other side of the man’s desk, prepared to spring across and grab him by the throat if necessary…assuming she could find it through all the fat rolls. “Gyjik, I presume?”

The man shot up in his chair, instantly awake. “Yeah. Who wants to know? Who are you? How did you get in here?” He stabbed a control on his desk. “Moklok!”

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!” cooed Moklok over the comm.

“Damn! You didn’t bring an eligible man in here, did you?”

“I did.”

“It’s Moklok’s mating season. You realize your friend is in grave danger!”

“All the more reason you should answer my questions and let me be on my way,” Kasyov said, in no mood to be a supplicant.

“Nobody comes in my office and dictates to me,” Gyjik said, heaving to his feet.

“When one of my friends has been abducted by your legal authorities unjustly, you can bet I have the right,” Kasyov replied.

“This wouldn’t happen to be about the Associates, would it?” Gyjik asked, rubbing his bald head.

“You’re good at this,” Kasyov said, and leaned forward on Gyjik’s desk. “Now listen up: We came from the Milky Way Galaxy. We came in peace. We came to be friends with you people, exchange some info and technology, do a little sightseeing, and be on our way. But all we’ve been is harassed. We had our ship’s brain stolen and had our ship blasted six ways from stardate zero. Start telling me how to fix things or I’ll have Moklok come in here and make sweet love to you…GOT IT?”

Gyjik stared thoughtfully at Kasyov, then his face split into a wide smile. It gave Kasyov the shivers.

“You’re telling me you had a giant, disembodied brain aboard your ship?”

“I guess you could call him ‘giant.’ He’s about the size of a love seat.”

“Well, in that case, my dear, there’s nothing I can do for you. Not that there would be anything I could do for you anyway.”

“You run what appears to be a very lucrative business, right near the border. Surely you have SOME pull with the authorities.”

“They let me run this place, and I don’t bug them. Sounds like a good deal to me…doesn’t it to you?”

“But how can you stand by and run your business when these people are abducting innocent brains every day?”

“Well, it’s not every day a disembodied brain comes along for them,” Gyjik said. “That’s why they tend to hang on to them when they do get them. That’s why you should go ahead and kiss your friend goodbye.”

Kasyov reached across the desk, grabbed Gyjik by his vest and jerked him toward her face. “No. Way.”

“You’re wrinkling my suit, madam. Maybe I can get you some coupons for a few of our choice stores. Would that make things all better?”

“No. It. Wouldn’t.”

“Well, I don’t know what else to say. The Associates are the enforcers for the Network. The Associates word is law.”

“What’s the ‘Network.’?”

“The Network is everything. People can’t be told what the Network is. They have to be shown.”

“Ahh,” Kasyov said flatly. “So can you show me?”

“Sure.” Gyjik scrambled free of Kasyov’s grip and pressed a button on his desk. Immediately, the lights dimmed as a hologram appeared in the center of the room.

“What the hell is that?” Kasyov demanded.

“A flow chart,” Gyjik said with an unspoken “duh.” He produced a pointer stick seemingly out of nowhere. “Now listen closely. The Associates are up here. They control the managerial and regulation enforcement capacities. Over here, under the Division of Transport, we have the Kelvans, who do a wonderful job…”

“I don’t care.”

“Should I skip to we Pomari?”

“No. You’ve been absolutely no help whatsoever.”

“Care to have a mind-share? It’s a Pomari specialty. I’m told I do it quite well.”

“No way in hell.” Kasyov wasn’t sure what all that meant, but she was sure she wanted no part of it.

Gyjik sat back down in his chair, propped his feet up on his desk as the lights came on and the hologram vanished.. “Very well. Moklok will show you out. Have a galactic day!”

“Shove it!” Kasyov called over her shoulder.

When she got back to the reception area, Kasyov found Tovar sitting in the chair opposite Moklok’s desk. Moklok herself was nowhere to be found.

Looking disheveled, long hair in a crimpy mess, Tovar turned to Kasyov, looked at her with fleeting recognition.

“Doctor…Kasyov?”

“Tovar, are you all right?” Kasyov asked, kneeling by Tovar.

“I…do not know.”

“Where’s Moklok?”

“Cleaning herself up.”

“What happened?”

“I do not wish to talk about it.”

“Fair enough. Gyjik was no help. We’re going to make a run for the border. So to speak.”

“Very well. Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Remind me to get a physical when we get back to the ship, okay?’


“That guy was just plain loveable!” Nooney giggled as he and Brazzell pushed the cart loaded down with glassware along the promenade.

“If you say so.” At any rate, he was helpful. This “Zap Zorn” or whatever would hopefully be a much-needed diversion for Nooney. Brazzell was not interested in chasing the doctor around a mall with dozens of levels and thousands of shops. All that running around would probably lead to–gasp!–sweating.

As they walked, Brazzell became aware of alarm sounds and shouts from various levels above and below him in the mall. He shrugged. Someone must have done a no-no.

“Here we are!” Nooney gasped, turning and looking up at the huge, blinking sign that read, in…ironically…English:

“Xanax’s Zany Zap Zorn.”

“This would be the place, then,” Brazzell said, ushering Nooney through the revolving door.

The place was dark, that was for sure. And crowded with beings both tentacled and not, both gargantuan and gnomish, both fur-covered and scaly. The place was also smoky. Did people actually light up some sort of vegetable product and smoke it around here?

And what was that AWFUL clanging music? It was like noodles being run through a blender then electrocuted. Then add a cat to the blender.

Nooney glanced back at Brazzell. “This place sure doesn’t SEEM clean!” he shouted over the music.

“Don’t remind me!” Brazzell shouted back, feeling mounting discomfort. He’d have to find some clear air and quick. He looked back toward the door, but it had disappeared in the smoke and flashing lights and dark and bumping bodies. He looked forward. BOINGO! (The Mezzakan equivalent of the word “Bingo”). Just meters away, Brazzell spotted a curtained doorway, with light beyond. It had to lead to a place more inviting than this.

Bristling at the feeling of a tentacle slapping against his backside, Brazzell grabbed Nooney’s arm and made for the door, in a panicked scuttle, shoving aside man and beast alike, whatever the heck kind of beings were in his way.

The Mezzakkan charged through the curtain and arrived in…

…a bedroom, with two gorgeous alien women sitting on the bed.

“Greetings,” said one of two women. By any galaxy’s standards, they were gorgeous. They were clothed in…not much. Frilly lingerie that left nothing to the imagination. Their bodies were lengthy and sleek…goldish, and doppled with star-pattern blue spots. Their eyes were large and doe-like…inquisitive…oceanic blue. Their legs were long and beautifully curved, ending with unusually long, webbed feet. Their hands were the same. Not as tantalizing, but interesting, thought Brazzell. An oceanic species, perhaps?

They also had full, blossoming, pouty lips…and…and could it be…three rows of perfect breasts!

“And one pair behind, if you were wondering,” one of the women said. They were telepathic to boot!

“Are you our blarn-thirty appointment?” asked one of the women.

“Or our blarn-thirty-five?” asked the other.

“We don’t have an appointment,” Brazzell admitted, pulling at his collar. Was this what he thought it was?

“Well, since the it’s ten of schlarup anyway, we’ll go ahead and take you two.”

“T-take us?” gulped Nooney. Brazzell looked at him. It appeared the doctor was hyperventilating. “You…y-you mean…the sex?” he stammered.

THE sex? Nooney sounded as if he’d never…nah. The man was easily thirty earth years old.

“No…no!” replied one of the women, horrified. “We’d never dare violate you like that.”

Nooney breathed a sigh of relief, which concerned Brazzell somewhat.

“So what is this about?” asked Brazzell.

“Mind-sharing,” one of the women said frankly.

Brazzell nodded, shared a quick glance with Nooney. “I think we can handle that.”

Sounded harmless, after all.

“First, you get naked.”

“Now THAT I can deal with!”

Brazzell shot an annoyed glance at Nooney. “Are you sure this doesn’t involve ‘the sex.’?” The women were probably not properly equipped for a Mezzakkan mating ritual anyway. There was no airlock or isolation tank he could discern.

“Our bodies will never once touch,” the woman who’d identified herself as Fanni, of the species “Pomari,” said.

“Now prepare to engage in zorn!” Labrella, the other woman, said excitedly, grabbing Brazzell by the hand and leading him over to the bed.

Fanni sat down with Nooney on the opposite side of the bed.

“I guess ‘zorn’ means mind-sharing?” asked Nooney.

Fanni and Labrella exchanged glances. “Close enough,” they both said, then they turned to face their prospective partners. Patners in *what*, Brazzell didn’t know.

“Now what will be required for this is intense and unwavering eye-contact,” Labrella whispered to Brazzell.

“Okeydoke,” Brazzell said easily, staring into Labrella’s eyes.

“Stare into my eyes, you big hunk of man,” Fanni cooed to Nooney…who was still hyperventilating. “Thata-boy! Stay calm! Enjoy it! Smile!”

“This is…fun…” Nooney stuttered, feeling lost and detached, swimming in the beautiful blue eyes of Fanni.

Whatever was involved in the mind-sharing, to Brazzell it caused quite an exhilarating high. He felt like he was lighter than air. Like he was departing his body, on course for another plain of existence.

The last thing he heard was Nooney gasping.

And then he blacked out.


After what seemed like an eternity, the Flandilax picture show torture ended, and Xartha removed the crystal from Bain’s forehead, causing the captain to slump to the floor out of sheer exhaustion from his ordeal. Arroyo rushed over to help Bain to his feet, hefting the stoutly built Brit up as best he could.

“Now it’s your turn,” Xeorge said, his eyes locked onto Arroyo.

“That’s okay,” Arroyo said, edging Bain to the exit as quickly as he could. “We really need to be going.”

“But this will just take a zarnec.”

“Run,” Bain croaked. With a superhuman effort, Bain willed his legs to work right, rushing the rest of his body forward with surprising speed.

“See,” Arroyo said. “He’s in a big hurry. Gotta get back to the Anomaly!”

“But what about your bill?” the bartender called.

“Bill?” Arroyo’s stomach dropped.

“Oh wait. You’re with the Anomaly? You have a charge account. Don’t worry about it.”

“Um…okay,” Arroyo replied, wondering how they’d gotten one and if it was a good thing as he took off running after Bain, catching up with him near the doors of one of the complex’s turbolifts.

“Are you all right, sir?” Arroyo asked.

“The bloody Cardassians could learn a few things from those bastards,” Bain said, leaning against the wall for support. “I haven’t been through anything like that since that damned Dukat cult got their hands on me a couple decades ago.” Bain stood up to his full height and straightened his uniform. “That’s enough dilly-dallying Bainy old boy. We’ve got a mission.”

“We need to go get defonilated,” Arroyo said, remembering the old woman’s words.

“This is no time to go…do whatever that may be,” Bain replied.

“An old woman told me we’d find the answers we sought there,” Arroyo said.

“Capital!” Bain exclaimed. “If there’s one source of information more reliable than pubs, it’s mysterious old people. Let’s go!”

Several decks above the main docking concourse, they found the Defonilation Suites, which seemed to be nothing more than small curtained alcoves across the way from a variety of shops and stands.

“Check around. I’ll see what this defonilation bit is about,” Bain said as he and Arroyo split up.

Bain entered one of the curtained alcoves and found himself in the midst of hundreds of bead strands hanging from the ceiling. In a corner, a strobe light and fog machine gave the room a look that reminded Bain of one of those haunted Borg cubes he and his friends used to set up for Halloween.

“Hallo? Anyone about?” Bain called. Out of nowhere, an alien that could best be described as a humanoid platypus slid up beside Bain.

“You called?”

“Um…quite. I’m here about the defonilation.”

“Of course, sir,” the platypus man said with a slight bow. “Will you be paying or did your ship buy a fuel fill-up entitling you to a free defonilation?”

“Now this could be a bit of a pickle,” Bain said. “I’m with the USS Anomaly…”

“Yes yes…Anomaly,” the alien replied, whipping a small padd out of its pocket.

Bain continued. “…and where we come from we don’t use money or…”

“Your ship charged a fill-up. Okay. One free defonilation coming up!” The platypus man began jumping around the room, waving his arms in Bain’s direction and smacking bead strands as he went. “Defonilate! Defonilate! DEFONILATE!” And just as suddenly as he started, he stopped. “There you go.”

“That’s it then?”

“What were you expecting?”

“I really don’t know,” Bain said. “Well, thank you for your time.”

“Hold on just a moment. You’re new to Andromeda, aren’t you?”

“Yes. Yes we are.”

“Then let me be your guide, sir. I have lived here all of my life. I know the surrounding systems. I can show you wonders you would not believe. I’m also an excellent cook, if I do say so myself.”

“Well…” Bain said, stroking his chin and considering the offer. Just then, Arroyo burst into the alcove waiving a padd.

“Captain, look what I bought! It’s a complete travelers guide to Andromeda. It tells all about the surrounding systems and wonders we would not believe. It even has recipes!”

“Where did you find that?”

“That old woman from the bar runs the shop that sells them!”

“Capital! Guess that settles that then,” Bain said, grabbing the platypus man’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “Thank you for the offer, but we seem to be covered. Good day.” Bain turned on his heel and, followed by Arroyo, charged out of the alcove.

“Damn,” the platypus man muttered as he sat down to wait for his next defonilatee.


Marsden tried to make her request for the third time, hoping this time not to be told to “shhh” by the droid running this strange excuse for a parts store.

“We need dilithium,” Marsden whispered. “And phaser emitters.”

“I do not recognize the terms your species use,” the parts droid replied to the human and Romulan. “Please access the parts database.”

Instantly, a computer monitor and interface rose out of a hidden panel in the wooden counter. “Now this is more like it!” Marsden said as she cracked her knuckles to get to work.

“SHHHHH!”

“I know! I know!”

“SHHHHH!” the droid repeated, this time with Prosak providing an echo.

“Now don’t you start,” Marsden snapped quietly, turning on Prosak.

“Um…I know this is an engineering mission and all, but I’m still the first officer,” Prosak said, after a few moments of biting her lip nervously. “Could you please not shout at me? It’s embarrassing.”

Marsden grunted noncommitally and returned to her search, leaving Prosak wishing she’d brought along the magazine from the fuel depot. There was that article about new fashions for this year’s Ioleeonui Festival that she wanted to read. That costuming class she’d taken as part of her theater minor had given her something of an interest in clothing design. The green pajamas that Bain and Tovar seemed to have such a problem with had been her own creation. And then there were the outfits she was saving to wear in intimate circumstances for that special someone who, she hoped, would eventually come into her life. Of course, now the odds were high that that someone would be a resident of Andromeda. Not that that mattered. After all, the RommaVulc credo was “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (Okay, so they stole it). And there was no reason why someone in Andromeda wouldn’t appreciate her more…sensual garments.

“Got it!” Marsden exclaimed suddenly, prompting another “shhh” from the droid. Marsden hurdled the counter in a display of agility that surprised Prosak, then she took off into the rows of shelves.

“Please remain in front of the counter,” the droid said. “All orders may be placed there.”

“But what I need is right here,” Marsden called back as she stood in front of a set of shelving. “Send all the emitters and conduit you have to the USS Anomaly at Docking Arm Dokikon 35.”

“Did you find any dilithium?” Prosak shouted.

“Shhhh!”

“No!” Marsden shouted back.

“Shhhh!”

“We may need to check with some of the other ships docked here,” Marsden continued.

“SHHH!”

“Oh shhh yourself!” Marsden snapped. “You’re supposed to be helping customers, not watching over us like some overbearing…” The droid’s eyes suddenly glowed bright red, then fired a blinding flash that slammed into the engineer, but didn’t seem to have any effect.

“Hey!” Marsden shouted…at least she wanted to shout it. Unfortunately, no sound was emanating from her mouth. “Stop that!” Marsden mouthed impotently.

“Perhaps now you will pay more attention to local customs,” Prosak said smugly. The droid suddenly turned on the Romulan and fired again.

“I said SHHHHHH!”


When Brazzell opened his eyes, he gasped. What awaited him when he opened his eyes was the very LAST thing he expected to see.

Himself.

“Hi,” his body said to him, in a very effeminate voice. “You’re exquisitely clean!”

“I try,” Brazzell said, at a total loss…trying desperately not to have a humongous panic attack.

Behind him, he heard a panicked gasp come from Fanni. But it wasn’t Fanni, that much he was sure of.

The beautiful woman turned to face him…well…turned to face his body.

“What did she do to me?”

“She’s given you the most intimate experience a woman can give a man,” Jabrella-in-Brazzell said.

“I don’t like it!” Nooney-in-Fanni shrieked.

“Neither do I!” cried Brazzell-in-Jabrella.

“You haven’t seen the half of it!” Jabrella-in-Brazzell giggled, and began tickling her-him-self.

“Noooooooooooo!” Brazzell-in-Jabrella cried. “That’s so dirty! Stop doing that! NO NO NO! Get your hand away from there! Ahhhachchhhhh it’s so unclean!”

Meanwhile, Nooney giggled with delight.

“I never thought I’d be so lucky.” He beamed at Fanni-in-Nooney with delight. “I’m beautiful! Just beautiful! Oh…wait…why are you doing that…oh my…no…no, I’m not double-jointed. Hey, watch that…that’s an old elbow injury. Don’t…oh, my…you’re messing up my hair!”


Orientation, it turned out, was a room pretty much like the one Cabral had just been beamed out of. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that there was one fewer desk in this room, Cabral would have assumed that the Associates transporter had just malfunctioned and dumped him right back where he’d started.

Uuulaadoodee appeared in a staticky pop a moment later. “Shall we get started?”

“Do I have a choice?” Seeing as how he was still encased in a force field, he really didn’t.

“Really, Mr. Cabral, you make it sound like you’ve been attacked, kidnapped and held against your will rather than given the opportunity to really make a difference for this organization,” Uuulaadoodee replied as he sat down at the desk, laying the clipboard down in front of him.

“Can you at least answer me one question? Cabral said.

“As many as you’d like. I’m here to help,” Uuulaadoodee said smiling.

“I realize that I am trapped here, but what happened to my ship? Are they all right?”

“Generally, the confidentiality agreement prohibits any discussion of recruits’ previous lives; however, since we haven’t really started orientation yet, I can make an exception. The Milky Way vessel is safe. No one was killed. That’s all I can tell you.”

Cabral’s tension level eased somewhat. At least Natalia was still alive. “Thank you. Let’s get on with it.”

“Excellent. I’m just going to show a short film, and then we’ll get you an office assignment. Just relax. Working on the EAAIE project is really very pleasant.” Uuulaadoodee pressed a control on the clipboard which caused the room to darken. On the left wall, a video began to play.

“Welcome to EAAIE,” a cheery female voice said as completely unrelated images of landscapes, woodland creatures, and marine life flickered by.. “In this film, we’ll get you ready to join the EAAIE team, where you will enter the exciting world of analytic processing…”

Inwardly, Cabral shuddered. This was going to be a long day.


“This book is wonderful!” Bain exclaimed as he thumbed through the padd Arroyo had bought detailed the local star systems. He then took another bite of the…whatever this meat was called…on a stick that he’d purchased at one of the stands located in this particular concourse of Gijik’s. “Mmmmm! And so is this! You want some, Arroyo?”

“No thank you, sir,” Arroyo replied after gulping down the last bit of the milkshakey sort of substance he’d been drinking. “I’m stuffed.”

“You need to work on that appetite if you’re ever really going to enjoy the fruits this universe has to offer,” Bain said. “Life is too short to be cautious.”

“But isn’t caution required in some situations?”

“Nonsense. Did you know I’ve been declared legally dead six times? But I’m still here. You just have to show life that you’re sticking around no matter what. Caution be damned. Go for the gusto! Grab life by the…half a tic, what have we here?”

Bain stopped walking and stared at a rather large humanoid male of the same species as the bartender (these particular aliens are known as Pomari, as Bain had just learned from his guidebook) who seemed to be the proprietor of a pottery stand across the way from Bain and Arroyo. A smaller, much paler alien had come out of the back of the shop to say something to the Pomari, who then yanked the tiny alien up by his collar and seemed to be shouting at him.

“It may be time to roll up our sleeves and get a bit mussed,” Bain said, handing the padd containing the guidebook to Arroyo. Then, in one fluid motion, Bain flung the meat on a stick at the Pomari, which smacked the alien in the side of the head with a rather messy splurt.

The Pomari immediately dropped the smaller alien, who scurried into the back room of the shop. Bain meanwhile was halfway to the Pomari and closing fast. “Arroyo!”

“What?”

“Arroyo!” Bain repeated emphatically as through Arroyo should know what the hell he meant.

“What is it, Captain?”

“Bloody hell, Ensign! Check the back while I handle this bloke. How many times do I have to say it?”

“Once would have been nice,” Arroyo muttered as he made a wide circle around the ensuing confrontation between Bain and the Pomari to get to the rear of the Pomari’s shop.

“What’s all this then?” Bain demanded as the seething Pomari loomed over him, fists clenched.

“I was about to ask you the same damn question,” the Pomari replied angrily. “What’s the matter with you? Slapping an innocent man with a hunk of meat? You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

“Me? I’m not the one using my size to intimidate that poor, defenseless employee of yours.”

“Make that employees,” Arroyo called. He’d pulled back the curtain to the rear of the pottery shop, revealing about twenty of the smaller aliens, all hunched over potting wheels spinning pots or over benches painting the finished products as two others worked a kiln.

“How much are you paying these laborers?” Bain demanded.

“Pay?” the Pomari laughed. “They work for free and they like it!”

“Nonsense!” Bain retorted. “Every being has the right to be fairly compensated for their work.”

“That’s not the way this arrangement works,” the Pomari said.

“Then this arrangement is changing right here, right now.” Bain pulled off his uniform jacket, tossed it to Arroyo, who’d rushed over as soon as it became apparent what Bain was up to, and stretched his arms behind his back. “You and me. One on one.”

“You want to fight me? For them?” the Pomari laughed as a crowd began to gather around them.

“Precisely. If I win, they come with me where they will be free from your tyranny.”

“You hear that?” the Pomari called back to his workers, who were now hesitantly leaving their posts to see what the commotion was about. “This moron wants your worthless hides.”

“That will be quite enough!” Bain growled.

“Fine then. Hit me!” the Pomari challenged, giving Bain a clear shot at his chin. Never one to need a second invitation to dinner or to a fight, Bain hauled off and slugged the Pomari with a bone jarring uppercut that literally lifted the alien off the floor and sent him flying backwards two feet where he landed with a painful thud…and didn’t get up.

“You win,” the Pomari croaked. Was it Bain’s imagination or did he almost seem to be smiling?

“Master! Master!” the horde of small pale aliens cried in unison, rushing in to surround Bain. “We are the dirt under your feet. We are the grime you pick out from under your fingernails. Use us so that we may serve your mightiness. From this day forward, we will meet your every need. Respond to your every whim. Command us!”

“Hehe,” the Pomari laughed weakly as he picked himself up and spat out a bit of orangish blood. “Now the Lackinis are your problem.” Wincing he limped back to his shop.

“Command us! Command us!” the Lackinis chanted, crowding in closer and closer around Bain and Arroyo.


With her voice gone, all Prosak could do was gesture emphatically while mouthing, “That was SO not logical!” Marsden, meanwhile, decided to take a more direct approach. With a firm click, her wrist phaser slid out from inside her sleeve as she took aim at the droid.

Hearing the click, the droid swivelled to face Marsden, its eyes back to their former dull glow.

Marsden held the wrist phaser on the droid as she used her other hand to point at her throat. She assumed the message was clear enough.

“Threats of violence are not allowed in the parts facility,” the droid replied placidly. Marsden shook the phaser at the droid angrily to emphasize her determination in this particular matter. “I am incapable of being intimidated,” the droid said.

Marsden was about to fire when suddenly the droid shuddered and sank to the floor. Behind it stood Prosak, phaser extended. Several witty comments sprang to Marsden’s mind, but, unfortunately, she couldn’t utter a one of them. Instead, she rushed over to the droid in hopes of ripping it open and finding a way to reverse the mute beam she and Prosak had been hit with.

That’s when the droid flared back to life, rising up into the air as it rotated around, eyes blazing like an angry ancient god. Prosak narrowly dodged an eyeblast that completely incinerated an exquisite carved endtable.

“Shit!” Marsden mouthed, racing back into the rows of shelves to find cover. Prosak dodged left and rolled as her mind raced to recall those evasion techniques she’d learned at the Academy. For some reason, all she could remember was that annoying Classical Ballet course she’d had to take one semester.

She leapt into the air with a graceful split kick, narrowly avoiding a blast that seared right under her. Upon landing, she went directly into a pirouette, moving gradually toward the counter as the droid tried to compare her movements with any known combat style in its database. Prosak took the momentary lapse in the droid’s assault to vault over the counter and haul ass after Marsden, slapping her commpip as she went and giving herself a good smack to the jaw in the process.

“Anomaly. Yonk here,” the dwarf Ferengi Bain had left in command replied.

Prosak opened her mouth and immediately realized the illogic of this gesture. Switching tactics, she began tapping out a distress signal in morse code. That extra credit assignment she’d done to pass Communications Fundamentals was coming in handy after all.


Back on the Anomaly, Yonk wiggled a finger in his ear trying to clear his hearing as he listened to the various pops coming over the comm line. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

Pop-pop-pop

“Yonk to Polnuc.”

“I’m right here,” the Mogolodin engineer said from behind Yonk. The Ferengi swivelled in the command chair. Sure enough, Polnuc’s head was just visible above the tac-ops console he was busy repairing.

“Sorry. Didn’t see you.”

“That’s brave talk coming from the one man on this ship shorter than me.”

“It wasn’t a short joke,” Yonk replied defensively. “I really didn’t know you were there.”

Pop pop pop pop.

“Are we having comm problems?” Yonk continued.

“We’d better not be. I just fixed that,” Polnuc said, rushing over to the seldom-used engineering console off to the right of the command area. “No. All clear.”

“Then what is that popping?” Yonk said, trying to clear the other ear. “It’s vibrating my lobes…and not in a good way.”

“Damn prank commers,” Polnuc muttered and closed the channel, prompting a relieved sigh from Yonk.


Meanwhile, Marsden and Prosak had barricaded themselves into a makeshift bunker formed from a pile of light plating Marsden had found in one of the lower bins. Despite only weighing a couple of ounces, each sheet was able to absorb the droid’s blasts…of course then it immediately disintegrated.

Prosak returned fire, which was a fairly futile gesture since the droid had already proven itself impervious to their phasers, while Marsden frantically searched for anything that could possibly stop their attacker.

It took her several seconds to realize that Prosak was mouthing something at her. “What?” Marsden mouthed back, gesturing that she didn’t understand. Prosak looked around for a moment, then started running her finger in the pile of ash left by some of the disintegrating plates. Marsden glared at Prosak. This was no time for games. Wait. Prosak was spelling something.

YOU KNOW WE COULD JUST LEAVE

Marsden rubbed her hand in the ash, scattering it, then started spelling her own message emphatically.

NOT WITHOUT THOSE PARTS

Prosak quickly rubbed out Marsden’s message again, taking a few moments occasionally to shoot back at the approaching death droid, and started to write.

I WOULD RATHER NOT LOSE ANY OF MY PARTS!

Marsden nodded in reluctant agreement as the two readied themselves to make a run for it. That’s when the final plate vaporized, leaving Prosak and Marsden eyeball to glowlight with the droid.


Brazzell-in-Jabrella and Nooney-in-Fanni spent the hour after their mind-switch cowering under the covers as spooky and disturbing shrieks, cat-calls, and other assorted noises echoed outside…most frighteningly, in their OWN voices.

“What do we do?” Nooney-in-Fanni whispered to Brazzell.

“I say we politely ask for our bodies back,” Brazzell-in-Jabrella replied. “Then you give my body a complete devidium-isotope scrubdown.”

“Will do,” agreed Nooney. “Luckily, I’m a doctor. At least we know I can fix whatever they do to us.”

“Don’t be so sure,” muttered Brazzell, reaching down to scratch behind his knee. Then he realized it wasn’t his knee. It was HER knee. And what was attached to a knee? BREASTS! (Well, farther up.)

“Hey! No touching!” Nooney’s voice suddenly cried out.

A strong hand (his) suddenly yanked Brazzell-in-Jabrella up.

“Who said you could touch us?” demanded Fanni-in-Nooney

“Look what you’re doing to US!” retorted Nooney-in-Fanni.

“That’s different. That’s what you’re paying for.”

“We’re paying?” asked Brazzell-in-Jabrella.

“I feel like we’ve been screwed,” grumbled Jabrella-in-Brazzell.

“How do you think WE feel?” demanded Nooney-in-Fanni.

Just then, the curtains that separated bedroom from bar were flung open, and a gleaming, silver, cone-shaped robot hovered in, pivoting toward the four so-called “zorners.”

“Zorners,” the robot cried, the vocal lights in his head unit flaring up with each syllable. “Restore your minds to their rightful places immediately. The two zornees are wanted criminals.”

“Curiouser and curiouser,” muttered Fanni-in-Nooney. She grabbed Nooney-in-Fanni by the chin and stared at him. Moments later, Nooney blinked, grateful to see he was back in his original body.

“Wanted for what?” asked Brazzell, once again in his own body after Jabrella had performed her own staring contest with him.

“It’s not what you AREN’T wanted for, smartypants, but what you ARE! Stealing approximately five trillion boldoks worth of merchandise from Easy Eeps Etched Emporium.”

“We didn’t steal!” Brazzell snapped. He’d about had it with this weirdo galaxy. “The guy GAVE the stuff to us. He said it was all FREE!”

“At least you admit your guilt,” the robot said. “The tribunal will go easier on you.”

“We’re not admitting anything!” Nooney protested.

At this point, Jabrella and Fanni were just exchanging confused glances.

“Now you are just being irritating,” muttered the robot. “No need to repeat yourself.” The sleek, conical device angled toward the curtained door. “Eep, will you come in and identify these folks so we can get them down to the mangling room?”

“That doesn’t sound pleasing,” murmurred Nooney.

The tall fellow from the glass store, Eep, Brazzell guessed, strode in, and pointed.

“Guys! It’s so great to see you! I wasn’t really wondering where you were. I’m just glad you’re okay now.”

Nooney and Brazzell narrowed their eyes at Eep. “Come again?” said Brazzell.

“You’re of course allowed to take whatever you want from the store,” Eep said, by way of explanation.

Brazzell and Nooney looked pleadingly at the robot.

“Did you hear that? He just said we were allowed to take whatever we want from the store,” Brazzell said.

“You’re right,” replied the robot. “He didn’t say that. He said you WEREN’T allowed.”

“I think we can clear this up,” said Fanni.

Thank GOODNESS the Pomari were telepaths.

“Yes,” said Jabrella. “See, Mister Enforcer,” she said to the robot. “These folks,” she pointed to Nooney and Brazzell, “speak something called ‘Federation Standard.’ They come from another galaxy. That language isn’t spoken here.”

“It sounds like they’re speaking Vespan,” muttered the robot, pointing to Eep.

Eep shrugged. “It doesn’t sound anything like Vespan to me.”

“Exactly,” the robot said, and everyone smacked their fists into their foreheads.


“Bloody ankle-biters!” Bain snapped, giving one of the Lackinis who’d gotten a bit too close a forceful nudge with his boot.

“Hey! Get off of my back!” Arroyo cried as another Lackinis latched itself around his neck and hugged for dear life.

“I am your servant, master!”

“I’ve seen gratitude before, but this is bloody annoying,” Bain said. “I’m tempted to disintegrate the lot of them.”

“If that is your desire, we would be honored to be disintegrated,” the Lackinis closest to him said, kow-towing humbly. “We exist to obey your every whim.”

“Cease this prattle!” Bain said. “You are independent beings who can and will decide your own fate.”

“Um…no they aren’t,” Arroyo said, looking through the guidebook. “According to this, the Lackinis do exist solely to serve. It’s what fulfils them.”

“Says who? The authors of that blasted book? What do they know?”

“Uh…it was written by the Lackinis. According to the preface, their master ordered them to write the guidebook.”

“We could write something for you too!” the Lackinis exclaimed eagerly. “We will write songs to praise you. Entire symphonies will be dedicated to you if that is your desire.”

“Right. Well…” Bain trailed off, losing himself in thought.

“The master is pondering! Get him a chair! Get him a drink! Fan him! Fan him!”

“Race of servants you say?”

“Yes, sir,” Arroyo replied.

“I guess there’s nothing for it then.” Bain straightened his uniform and cleared his throat to address the group of Lackinis surrounding them. “I will take you with me.”

“Captain!” Arroyo protested.

“Quiet, Ensign. Now my little ones, go gather your belongings. I will be here when you return.”

“OOOH!” the Lackinis gasped, their eyes widening. “The master is allowing us to bring our belongings. He is a good and kind master! OOOOOOOH!”

“Run along now,” Bain said, smiling paternally as he waved them away. The Lackinis rushed back into the pottery shop, prompting screams of alarm from the shopkeeper.

“I hate to do this,” Bain said to Arroyo.

“No kidding.”

“Run.”

“What?” Arroyo said confused.

“Run. We’re ditching the blighters!”

“Aye, sir. Commencing ditching now!” Arroyo said, taking off in the opposite direction from the shop, Bain hard on his heels.

“The master leaves without us!” the Lackinis shouted from behind them.

“Bloody hell!” Bain cried as he heard the trampling feet of a Lackinis stampede gaining on them. He quickly pinched his commpip. “Bain to Anomaly. Emergency retrieve!”

“Yes!” Arroyo concurred, also grabbing his commpip. “Retrieve! Retrieve!” Just before the Lackinis swarmed over them, the Anomaly officers vanished in a shower of molecules.

“Ooooh! The master challenges us to find him. We WILL find the master!”


It was just as well that Prosak and Marsden were mute at that particular moment, since, with an angry death droid mere feet away, they wouldn’t have had much to say anyway. Idly, Marsden wondered if she could slip off her phaser, set it to overload, and toss it at the droid without it noticing. Probably not. Of course, the resulting blast would incinerate her and Prosak as well, so it really wasn’t that great of a plan after all.

“You have shown absolutely no respect for the rules of this facility,” the droid said. “Under Policy 17 of the Pomari Customer Relations manual, you will be executed immediately.”

“What happened to the customer is always right?” Marsden mouthed, not that anyone could hear it.

The droid’s eyes glowed red as Marsden closed hers in preparation of being reduced to a smoky smudge on the beautiful carpet.

Then suddenly she felt herself being shoved backwards violently. She opened her eyes in time to see Prosak dive roll underneath the droid and leap up into a graceful split. Upon landing, she zig-zagged wildly down the aisle, spinning as she went.

“Come back here! This behavior is against store policy!” the droid shouted, turning to pursue the Romulan.

Not one to pass up a golden opportunity, Marsden ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction. She had to hand it to Prosak. The woman had guts…sometimes. Prosak was definitely a tough one to get a handle on. One moment, she’d be prattling on about some restaurant her father took her to for her sixth birthday, the next she was single-handedly taking on indestructible battle robots.

But the last thing Marsden was going to do was allow Prosak to get herself killed by a damn store clerk. It was just a stupid machine; she was an engineer. And if there was something an engineer loved more than fixing things, it was taking stuff apart.

She whipped her quadcorder out of its pocket on her uniform and waited impatiently for it to unravel from its compact mode (which was a thick disk about four centimeters in diameter) out to operational mode. After slipping it over her head, she began scanning the various shelving compartments for something she could use. Piping…cable…some sort of gooey pulsating thing…and…hmm…now that could be interesting, if it was what Marsden thought it was.

Meanwhile, Prosak was faced with a bit of a dilemma. She could continue to play this rather high stakes game of hide and seek with the battle droid or she could get the hell out of there and try to flag down a Gijik’s security officer, assuming such beings existed. Of course, if she left, there was a high probability that Lieutenant Marsden would be killed. Now Prosak understood the Vulcan philosophy about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one. But she got a bit fuzzy when it came to resolving the needs of the one versus the needs of the other one, particularly when one of those ones was her.

The decision became somewhat simpler when the droid zipped over the counter and slowed to a halt in front of the exit, effectively closing off Prosak’s escape route. Prosak peered over the counter which she’d crouched behind and mouthed several illogical profanities.

“You have been spotted,” the droid said, moving smoothly over to Prosak. “Stay where you are.”

Prosak made a move to run, but the droid blasted the ground in her path to emphasize its point. She stood, holding up her arms in surrender and hoping that Surak would be waiting with an eyebrow raised to welcome her into the Great Debate (An afterlife invented by the RommaVulcs since Vulcan didn’t have anything to say about death other than that you were dead and you should put your katra somewhere logical).

“Thank you for shopping with us,” the droid said as its eyes began to glow. Prosak’s first reaction was to slam her eyes shut, but she was rather curious to know exactly what Lieutenant Marsden, who was currently sneaking up on the droid from behind, was planning on doing with the odd shaped object she held in her hand.

Opening her mouth to shout a battlecry that didn’t emerge, Marsden swung the brick-shaped object in her hand at the droid…and missed completely. The effect on the droid, however, was immediate. It began to shake and shudder violently as its eyes flickered. A moment later, it hit the ground with a thump. Marsden pounced like a panther, switching her phaser to an extremely narrow beam and slicing through the now-unprotected droid’s casing.

Sensing that Marsden might require more specialized tools, Prosak began looking around for Marsden’s engineering kit, which had been flung or dropped somewhere during the chaos of running for their lives. She returned with the kit a few minutes later, just as Marsden was opening the casing, revealing the unit’s inner workings. As if she expected it to be there, Marsden grabbed the tool kit from Prosak and set to work extracting the glowing eyes.

After several more minutes of intricate work, Marsden removed the eyeball shaped emitters and aimed them at Prosak, who instinctively backed up, prompting an angry glare from Marsden. Prosak stiffened, bracing herself and closing her eyes as Marsden activated the eyes. Prosak screamed silently as the beam struck, more out of fear than anything else…but then she realized something. She could actually hear herself.

“It worked!” Prosak shouted excitedly. This prompted another angry glare from Marsden, who was at that moment turning the eyes on herself. “Not that I ever doubted you. It would be highly illogical to ever doubt the skills of a talented professional such as yourself.”

Marsden fired at herself as Prosak continued her furious backpedaling. “I mean, you were the chief designer of the Anomaly. Anyone who could accomplish the difficult melding of Federation and Romulan technology has to be a genius…even if you did need some strange alien to make it work right. But the point is…”

“Just shut up, Prosak, and we’ll call it even,” Marsden said, walking over to the supply database terminal and punching a few keys.

“Out of scientific curiosity, just what was that device you used to disable our attacker?”

“An electromagnet,” Marsden replied. “I figured it would be enough to scramble the robot’s programming all to hell.”

“Good thinking! I mean, most logical.”

A hint of a smile crossed Marsden’s face, then grew wider as she made three more keystrokes. “There. The equipment’s ordered. Our credit account has been charged. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“That’s the most logical thing you’ve said all day,” Prosak replied, as the two officers made a hasty retreat back to the Anomaly.


Two hours after the start of Nooney and Brazzell’s linguistic nightmare, everything was worked out to the satisfaction of all involved–even the robot.

No one at the Zap Zorn had ever heard of latinum, and obviously Federation Credits would not convert to local currency. But it turned out Nooney and Brazzell had something to contribute after all.

Fanni and Jabrella had told them, that there were a pair of vacationers in from the Signara system, and they were in search of a couple nice bodies to spend the weekend in.

The price Nooney and Brazzell fetched was more than enough to pay off Eep, and cover the cost of the original mind-sharing. Apparently, these particular vacationers were fond of very specific body types: One clean, one flabby. One problem…

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Security officer Lara Randall blocked the airlock into the Anomaly, which had since docked at Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway.

“Trust me,” Brazzell, in the body of a very obese ten-tentacled green squidoid from the planet Marple, said.

“How can we convince you that we’re who we claim to be?” pleaded Nooney, in the body of a pregnant insectoid Brachhian from the Ooman nebula. He was desperate to get to sickbay and examine himself to see when he was due. Birthing was not part of the body-rental agreement.

“Tell me the name of the Ship’s Activities Coordinator.”

“Steve!!!” Nooney-in-Zzzzaroth cried out excitedly, clapping his spindly arms together.

Randall rolled her eyes. “Come this way, guys. I just hope your bodies return in one piece.”

“This should be an interesting two days,” Brazzell muttered to Nooney.

“And all we have to show for all our hard work is a bunch of stupid glass,” grumbled Nooney, dragging the cart into the airlock behind him and onto the ship.


“Good news,” Nooney-in-Brachhian said to his Andorian Nurse, Ih’vik.

“Which is?” asked Ih’vik disinterestedly from her desk near the door to Sickbay.

“I’m not due for five more days. I’ll get my old body back in plenty of time.”

“That is good news.”

Nooney-in-Brachhian extended a long, gooey feeler and wrapped it around a wine decanter he’d purchased, sort of, from Eep. Maybe it was designed to hold wine. Or some other liquid. “And the body-switch was well worth it. Look what cool pieces I picked up from that glass shop?”

“Fascinating,” muttered Ih’vik.

It was then that Shelly Marsden burst into Sickbay.

“Cough it up, Nooney!” she cried.

“Cough…what?” Nooney-in-Brachhian asked, confused.

“I was trying to figure out where in Andromeda I’d find dilithium crystal when my sensors in engineering detected…guess what?”

The multi-faceted black insectoid shrugged as it pawed at the wine decanter.

“What?”

Marsden grabbed the decanter and shook it at Nooney-in-Brachhian. “DILITHIUM!”

“The crystal?”

“The DILITHIUM crystal!” Marsden cried. “Where’s the rest of it?”

“It’s…uh…can’t I just keep a little bit?”

“NO! We need it to power the ship. You DO understand that concept, don’t you?”

The insect looked down at the ground, compound eyes twitching. It twiddled its feelers. “But I kind of wanted some of it as a souvenir. Can I at least keep the mug?”

“NO!” Marsden rolled the decanter in her hands. “I wonder. Hmm. I bet this will crush very well.”

“Nooooooo!” moaned Nooney-in-Bracchian. His excellent insect hearing detected Ih’vik chuckling. If his compound eyes had tear ducts, he would have cried.


“So what did you think?” Uuulaadoodee asked as the video ended and the lights came back up.

“I have no idea,” Cabral replied. “That didn’t explain a thing. All I got was that I’m going to be doing something analytical and that the assignment is ‘very exciting’ and will benefit the entire organization.”

“I guess it is a bit vague, but we don’t like to give people any preconceived notions.” He looked down at his clipboard. “Ahh, your assignment’s come through. Based on your interview, our personnel experts have determined that you would be best in Department Five.”

“What’s Department Five?”

“Sorry. Can’t tell you that. I wouldn’t want to give you any preconceived notions,” Uuulaadoodee said as he pressed another control on his clipboard. Suddenly, the floor directly underneath Cabral vanished, revealing a vast, darkened chamber filled with row after row of brains. Brains in jars, brains in vats, brains encased in housings similar to his own. Each of them sat in sockets in the floor, connected to the chamber as a whole by tubes and cables.

The force field holding Cabral began to descend, lowering him into the chamber as the entire orientation room, which was actually a hovervessel of some sort, moved over an empty socket in a cluster of brains in one quadrant of the chamber.

Cabral quickly decided that this was NOT anything close to anything he’d ever wanted for his life. He let loose with every weapon he had, pouring every bit of energy he could muster into disrupting the forcefield.

Nothing happened. Not a thing. The force field didn’t even flicker.

As Cabral’s sphere touched down into the waiting socket, hoses and cables lanced out of hidden compartments, invading Cabral’s systems and reaching into his very consciousness…

…and then his entire world changed.


Kasyov was lost in thought as she watched the lights and bleeping and gaudiness of Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway drift away as Lt. Cmdr. Tovar steered the raceabout Caspian toward the border.

They had been flying full-ahead on the polaron engines for several minutes in silence.

“…tourist trap,” Tovar muttered as he worked the helm controls. He still refused to talk about his encounter with Moklok.

“What’s that again?”

“The place really did look like a tourist trap. I hope our crewmates will be able to accomplish their missions.”

“I’d worry more about our own mission,” Kasyov said, as hologram after hologram of planetary and quasi-planetary bodies passed in front of her face. So far, no brain activity matching Cabral’s was in evidence. She sighed. Gyjik didn’t give her any leads, and good old reliable science was giving her no clues as to Cabral’s whereabouts either.

“I take it the search for our resident brain is not going well,” Tovar said flatly.

“Yes. As if you care.” Kasyov was in no mood for pleasant conversation. Especially after her fruitless encounter with Gyjik.

“Touchy,” Tovar replied. “I do indeed care about Cabral quite a bit. Without him, we will not be able to return to the Milky Way.”

“So you think of him as an object then. Sort of like a warp core.”

“No. I concede that Mr. Cabral is a sentient lifeform.”

“Have you ever had a conversation with him?”

“I believe I inquired as to his status on several occasions over the last few months.”

“All-business, as usual.”

Tovar turned in his seat to face Kasyov. “And what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?”

“You don’t seem too concerned about his well-being. Not a good stance for a security officer, wouldn’t you say?”

“I am professionally concerned with the safety of everyone on our ship.”

“Professionally,” Kasyov chuckled. “What about personally?”

“I consider Captain Bain a mentor. Aside from him, I have no need for personal interaction with anyone else on the ship.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of your social life, I would say you and I have a common interest in not mingling with the Anomaly crew.”

“I have Shelly,” Kasyov said quickly.

“And I have the captain. There, we are even. How about you quit chattering and find our brain?”

“Well,” snapped Kasyov. “The gloves are off, are they?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Why don’t you look out the window once in a while?”

“Are you speaking metaphorically?”

“No!” Kasyov pointed. “I mean–LOOK OUT THE WINDOW!”

Tovar turned back toward the Caspian’s front window to see that, indeed, a vessel was hovering right in front of them. They, meanwhile, were hurtling right toward it.

Collision alarms suddenly sounded throughout the cockpit, as Tovar slammed the engines into reverse.

The Caspian slowed to a stop, a mere kilometer from the vessel which had swung in front of it.

“Where’d that come from?” Tovar asked no one in particular.

“I was busy looking for brains. I left you with the task of looking for enemy ships.”

“How are you sure that is an enemy ship?” asked Tovar.

“Because no one in this galaxy has been friendly so far.”

And, in fact, Kasyov was right, Tovar thought, because the boomerang-shaped vessel, roughly the size of the Anomaly, launched a purple tractor beam at the Caspian, grasping it firmly.

“Anomalous vessel, you are approaching border patrol. What is your business here?” a booming voice shouted over the comm system.

“We’re here to get our disembodied brain back!” Kasyov fairly shouted. “Who am I speaking to?”

“I am Associate Auditor Third Class Yyyavreee.”

“Yyyavreee. Nice to make your acquaintance,” Tovar said, glaring at Kasyov. “We’d like to speak to someone about getting back that disembodied brain my friend spoke of.”

“That’s quite impossible.”

“How do you figure?”

“Because he is needed elsewhere. We wouldn’t have appropriated him otherwise.”

“‘Appropriated’?” asked Kasyov. “Do you mean kidnap?”

“We are unfamiliar with that word,” replied the voice. “By the way…I detect one male and one female occupant on your vessel. Is that correct?”

Tovar looked at Kasyov. “I…suppose. Why?”

“You are of different species.”

“Yeah, who wants to know?” Kasyov demanded angrily. She didn’t have time for this. She wanted to make some progress on the brain-finding front.

Yyyavreee ignored her question. “Are your species sexually compatible?”

“I guess,” Kasyov said, though she didn’t know for sure.

“Excellent. Will you volunteer for an experiment?”

“NO!” shouted Kasyov. “We’re not here to volunteer for anything. You have a brain somewhere in your possession named Cabral. He belongs to us. He made it possible for our ship to get here, and without him it’ll be impossible to get back. Not to mention…he’s my friend.”

Tovar made a failed attempt at smiling at Kasyov. “He’s my friend too.”

“Interesting. Thank you for volunteering. Please lower your shields for transport to our vessel. We’ll take you to the experimentation site.”

“Wait one second!” Kasyov said.

“I believe we’ve already stated our intentions on this matter,” Tovar said, arming the Caspian’s weapons and subtly preparing to jet off into warp. “We will not be your lab subjects. Doctor Kasyov is looking for a lab subject of her own…one you’ve stolen!”

There was silence over the comm channel for a moment.

“Very well, then,” the voice finally said. “I can see when I’ve lost an argument.”

“Thank goodness,” Kasyov said. “Now do you know who we can talk to about this? A supervisor or someth–”

“We will reimburse you for your destroyed shuttlecraft,” said Yyyavreee.

“Um…” Tovar’s fingers danced along the Caspian’s controls.

“What do you mean ‘reimburse’?” Kasyov’s eyes widened as blooms of red energy shot out of the boomerang-like Associates craft.

“Tovar…GET US OUT–”

Before she could finish her sentence, the Caspian exploded around her, and Kasyov idly wondered how good the Associates were at timing their transporters.


TO BE CONTINUED…



Tags: boldly