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: 2003

STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE…

“Past Due”

By Alan Decker and Anthony Butler



THE VOID


There’s little to recommend the vast expanse between the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies as a tourist destination. Really, there’s not even enough around to properly call it “space.” It’s nothing, plain and simple.

Occasionally, something can be found traversing the nothing. A ship. A probe. Even something as basic as an energy wave or signal.

In order to travel from one galaxy to the next, such a signal must be extremely powerful and tightly focused, which is good description of the bit of energy making its way from Andromeda to the Milky Way that we’re about to look in on. This energy actually contains a message.

Let’s read it, shall we?


FINAL NOTICE


TO: SHELLY MARSDEN C/O USS ANOMALY - UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS MILKY WAY GALAXY


DEAR CARDHOLDER MARSDEN:


SOME TIME AGO, YOU APPLIED FOR AND RECEIVED A GYJIK’S CARD FROM GYJIK’S GALAXY GATEWAY. THIS CARD HAS SINCE BEEN USED AND IS CURRENTLY ABOVE ITS CREDIT LIMIT. REPEATED ATTEMPTS TO REACH YOU DIRECTLY HAVE FAILED, LEAVING US NO CHOICE BUT TO REFER YOUR ACCOUNT TO ASSOCIATES’ ACQUISITIONS, OUR COLLECTIONS FIRM.

IF YOU DO NOT CONTACT US TO ARRANGE PAYMENT OF YOUR BILL IN THE NEXT THREE CYCLES, ASSOCIATES’ ACQUISITIONS WILL TAKE ACTION. WE SINCERELY HOPE THAT THIS WILL NOT BE NECESSARY.

OUR OPERATORS ARE ON DUTY 25 HOURS A DAY. PLEASE, FOR YOUR SAKE, COMM US, AND THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING AT GYJIK’S.


GYJIK’S CUSTOMER SERVICE


Hmm…sounds important. Fortunately, the message is just about to reach the Milky Way. The galaxy’s energy barrier is a short distance away, and coming closer all the time.

Closer…closer…closer.

It’s here!

Whoops. The message bounced right off of the barrier. Well, maybe it won’t turn out to have been as important as it looked.


FIVE MONTHS LATER…


Station Commander Y’scicht of the United Federation of Planet’s Barrier Observation Outpost (Better known as BOO) had little to complain about in his life. Sure there was a massive swirling energy field just outside of his space station that had been known to cause nasty side effects in people unfortunate enough to try to pass through it, but no one had tried anything that foolish in over a century.

Actually, no one really bothered to come near the galactic barrier very often period. Why should they? The only ship capable of getting to another galaxy, the USS Anomaly, had already gone to Andromeda and come back over a year ago. Since then, the giant gateway hovering just outside of the BOO, which allowed safe travel through the barrier, had sat untouched.

It seemed like such a waste, Y’scicht thought to himself, clicking his mandible as he stared out the window of his office at the gateway. The gateway had been trumpeted as a fantastic technological achievement, which it was, but year after year it went unused.

So why was it suddenly activating?

The insectoid station commander rushed closer to the window as the gateway powered up, powerful energies swirling inside it to create a mini-wormhole to the gateway on the other side of the galactic barrier.

Moments later, Y’scicht watched in horror as an angular dark dark purple vessel emerged from the gateway. Was this the beginning of an invasion of the galaxy? Had the Federation’s technological achievement just signed the Milky Way’s death warrant?

Then, just as abruptly as it had opened, the gateway closed, leaving the alien ship hovering just outside of the BOO.

Y’scicht raced out of his office into the station’s operations center as fast as his spindly legs would take him.

“Do they have weapons armed? Are they about to attack?” he asked breathlessly.

“I don’t think so, sir,” Lieutenant Cranelly, his science officer, replied. “Actually, they’re hailing us.”

“What do they want?” Y’scicht replied with a sigh of relief.

“The USS Anomaly. Now. And they don’t sound happy.”

“Um…tell them we don’t know where they are.”

“Sending now.”

Y’scicht twitched nervously, waiting for a response. “Well, what did they say?”

“Thank you,” Cranelly replied as, on the BOO’s viewscreen, the alien ship headed off deeper into the galaxy. “And have a nice day.”

“Well that was courteous of them,” Y’scicht said, turning to head back to his office. “Carry on.”

“Should I contact Starfleet?”

“Um…yeah. Do that. I’ll be in here.”

Y’scicht stepped back into his office, relieved that his station had come through that tense situation completely unscathed. As for the Anomaly…well, that was the Anomaly’s problem, now wasn’t it?


USS ANOMALY


“More wine?”

“Please.”

Cole Anfibon picked the half-full bottle up off of the small table he was currently sharing with Lieutenant Shelly Marsden and poured her another glass. The pair was currently ensconced in an intimate corner of a candle-lit Italian restaurant. In the opposite corner of the room, a violinist played, but otherwise, other than the occasional entrance of the waiter from the kitchen, the place was deserted.

“You know, I tend avoid empty restaurants,” Cole said with a good-natured smile. “It usually means the food stinks.”

“And does it?” Marsden asked, feeling pleasantly tipsy as she gazed across the table at her date.

“No. Not at all. I just want to know how you did it.”


“Ah ah. An engineer’s got to keep some of her secrets.”

“Fair enough.”

“You want to see how good of an engineer I actually am?” Marsden asked huskily.

“Somehow I get the feeling the answer is definitely yes.”

“Come here.”

Marsden reached across the table and pulled Cole close to her, pressing her lips against his for a long moment, then pushed him back into his seat.

“Damn,” he said stunned. “That was almost…”

“Real?” Marsden said.

“Yeah. Like you were actually here.”

“The wonders of holography,” Marsden said satisfied as she settled back into her seat.

“Of course I’d prefer that it was really real,” Cole replied.

“You’re the one on the wrong side of the quadrant at the moment.”

“That’s relative. I could just as easily say the same for you. But at least now I understand why you were so insistent that I get a holopod and upgrade my comm gear.”

“I like to keep in touch…but don’t get too used to it. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime event.” Unfortunately, it probably would be. The only way Marsden had been able to pull off this little holographic tet-a-tet was to tell a small lie to Captain Bain in order to get the Anomaly parked in a stationary orbit above Qualor Two, the planet of the Anomaly’s current assignment, while Cole kept his ship parked several hundred light years away. Beyond that, keeping this holo-sim going in two separate remote locations was a hell of a lot more taxing on resources than the usual holopod links that took place on the Anomaly itself.

“Then I should shut up and make the most of it, I suppose,” Cole said, placing his hand gently over hers on the table.

“That would be a good idea,” Marsden said. “Who knows when we’ll actually happen to end up in the same sector of space again, what with your…acquiring.” She said this last bit with due disdain. As much as she liked Cole, his line of work left something to be desired. Groups or individuals would hire him to obtain objects they desired. While attempting to get his hands on a Starfleet computer core that had crashed on a primitive world, he’d met Marsden, who was there to retrieve the same core. Fortunately for Cole, he’d had enough sense to let Marsden take the core. Otherwise, she would have been forced to chop off his fingers and feed them to him. She tended to get a bit possessive when it came to her ships…or pieces of them anyway.

“You know,” Cole said, leaning in closer. “I just had this really radical idea. Why don’t we actually try to schedule some time together? I know it seems revolutionary, but it just might work.”

“You mean like a weekend away or something?”

“I could come to the Anomaly, if you’d like,” Cole said.

“That doesn’t sound very relaxing.”

“There are other places in the quadrant we could go.”

“I realize…”

Marsden’s sentence was interrupted by a sudden, horrible screeching from the violin. Her head whipped around, looking for some glitch in the program. The violin and violinist seemed to be intact. Wait. The violinist. It was now…

Tovar!

“Excuse me a moment,” Marsden said to Cole, tossing her napkin on the table then charging over to the Yynsian tac-ops officer across the room.

“Nice place,” Tovar said, looking around. “How’s the food?”

“What are you doing in here?” Marsden hissed.

“You cut off all comm contact with your holopod and quite effectively sealed off your program from outsiders.”

“I know. That was the idea!”

“The only way I could get in was to replace one of the existing characters in your simulation. You might want to close that route in the future.”

“Oh, I’ll do that. Believe me,” Marsden said, stealing a quick glance back at Cole, who waved and smiled, obviously amused by the whole thing. “Now is there some ACTUAL reason that you’re here!”

“Captain Bain would like a word.”

“Tell him the engines are fine.”

“I believe this may have more to do with the fact that you have currently sucked up 85% of the ship’s resources. We cannot send or receive comms other than audio, transporters and holopods are offline, and I can’t get a sensor reading farther than three feet outside of the ship!” Tovar said, growing more annoyed with each word. “Do you WANT to get us attacked! Is your date worth all of our lives!”

“Would you relax? We’re deep in Federation space. Nothing is going to attack us here.”

“You must learn to expect the unexpected, Lieutenant.”

“What? Like my violinist suddenly vanishing and being replaced by the incredible screeching man? Don’t you have a past life in there that’s musical?”

“Yes. However, his speciality was the Yynsian equivalent of bagpipes.”

“Never mind,” Marsden said quickly. “Tell the Captain to unbunch his britches or whatever he’d say under the circumstances. I’ll be right there.”

Tovar nodded, then vanished from the program, his form instantly replaced by the original violinist.

“Do you have a request?” the violinist asked.

“Yeah. Stop time for a while,” Marsden muttered, then headed back to her table.

“I’m guessing we’re done for the evening,” Cole said, standing up as Marsden returned.

Marsden nodded. “The Captain says I have to free up the comm line.”

“Taskmaster,” Cole said with a smile. “Comm me when you can.”

“Bet on it,” Marsden said.

“So, do I get to see how real this thing is again before I go?” Cole asked feigning innocence as he wrapped his arms around her.

“I guess so,” Marsden said, smirking. The kiss, even though it was just a holographic representation of Cole, sent chills down Marsden’s spine. It had been way too long since she’d had this in her life.

“And how long is it until we can do this again?” Cole asked once the kiss ended.

“Too long.”

“Well, you know what they say about absence.”

“Yeah. It sucks,” Marsden said.

Cole chuckled. “I’ll comm you tomorrow.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Marsden replied. Cole blew her one last kiss, then vanished out of the simulation as he shut down the holopod on his end.

“Computer,” Marsden said with a sigh. “End program.”


After slipping out of her casual wear and putting her uniform back on, Marsden headed up to the bridge, steeling herself for a lecture from Bain about taking advantage of her position as Chief Engineer. Frankly, she didn’t care what he had to say about it. He wouldn’t even have the Anomaly to command if she hadn’t designed it in the first place. There wouldn’t be an anti-singularity drive without her…well, and Cabral. Anyway, the point was that Bain had already taken command of the ship she designed, so she was going to be compensated for her efforts in ways she saw fit. If that meant sucking up ship’s resources to have dinner with Cole, that was what was going to happen!

Captain Reginald Bain swivelled around in the command chair to face her as soon as she stepped out onto the Anomaly’s wedge-shaped bridge. Lieutenant Commander Tovar had already returned to his post at the tac-ops console at the rear of the bridge, and he eyed her with a smirk as she exited the turbolift.

“Marsie! Just the woman I wanted to see!” Bain said, clapping his hands together exuberantly. “So how’d we do?”

“Excuse me?”

“Tovar tells me you’ve been taxing our resources to the utmost. Did the ship pass the test?”

“Um…yes,” Marsden said, stealing a glance at Tovar, who was making a show of being busy at his console. He glanced up at her and winked. WINKED! She just didn’t understand him at all. One second he’s berating her for putting the ship in danger; the next, he’s covering for her. Were all Yynsians like this or just Tovar?

“So what was the test, if you don’t mind my asking?” Bain said, pulling her back to the conversation at hand.

“Well, I set up a two-way holographic simulation in my holopod between the Anomaly and a remotely-positioned vessel designed to push the comm array to its maximum capabilities while also testing its ability to draw and maximize the use of resources from other ship’s systems. At no point during the test was real-time communication impaired.”

Why did she suddenly feel like she was back at the Academy in front of a professor?

“Capital!” Bain said. “Of course, I knew we’d pass with flying colors. I have every faith in your abilities, Marsie.”

“Thanks,” Marsden said, walking past tac-ops toward the engineering console. Considering the babble she’d just spouted, Marsden felt it might be a good idea to actually check on the effects of her dinner with Cole. “And thank you,” she whispered as she passed tac-ops.

Tovar nodded slightly, but didn’t speak. His attention was drawn away by a new readout on his console. “Captain, Starfleet Command is hailing. Admiral Larkin’s office.”

“Put her on,” Bain said, spinning back around in his chair and standing up. The image on the viewscreen shifted from Qualor Two passing below them to Admiral Kristen Larkin seated behind her desk at Starfleet Headquarters.

“Good evening, Admiral!” Bain said. “What can we do for you?”

“A situation has developed,” the android admiral replied without so much as a hello.

“Ah!” Bain said replied. “Some problem for us to charge in and fix! Wonderful!”

“Actually, it appears to be a problem you caused, Reginald,” Larkin said. “A vessel has entered our galaxy through the gateway at the Barrier Observation Outpost. It is sending out continuous broadcast hails demanding to know the location of the USS Anomaly.”

“Good lord! The Associates!” Bain exclaimed.

“Oh no!” Dr. Natalia Kasyov, the Anomaly’s science officer who had, up to this point, been content to stay out of the day’s conversations in favor of checking readings of the acid trails currently being left by the holisk snails migrating through the Qualoran capital city. “They are NOT taking Cabral again.”

“Cabral has not been mentioned,” Admiral Larkin said. “They are here for Lieutenant Marsden.”

“Me!” Marsden exclaimed, rising from her seat at the engineering console. “What do they want with me?”

“Something about an unpaid credit card bill.”

Marsden collapsed back into her chair. “Oh. That,” she said softly. Okay. That was it. She was doomed. It never crossed her mind when she applied for that Gyjik’s Card in Andromeda and used it to buy materials for the Anomaly that the Associates might actually come to the Milky Way to collect!

“Do they expect repayment?” Bain asked.

“That is an option; however, I doubt our methods of exchange match.”

“And their technology was well above ours in most respects,” Tovar added.

“And they are NOT taking Cabral!” Kasyov snapped.

“Relax, Doctor,” Bain said. “No one is being taken. And that includes you, Marsie. Assemble the fleet, Admiral. I’ll send these buggers scampering back to Andromeda and how!”

“I will be in touch,” Larkin said. “In the meantime, you are to negotiate with the Associates. You are the only ship with experience with them, so we are relying on you to find a solution to this crisis.”

“I’ll solve it even if I have to obliterate the bastards one by one.”

“I trust that will not be necessary,” the admiral said somewhat forcefully. “Larkin out.”

Marsden got up from her seat and headed to the turbolift, stumbling forward as though in a trance.

“Buck up, Marsden,” Bain said. “We’ll sort this out.”

“I’ll be in my quarters…,” Marsden said flatly as she stepped into the turbolift, “…killing myself.”

The turbolift doors closed, leaving Bain to wonder if she was serious.


“What do you want?” Marsden’s muffled voice called out in response to all-too-happy-sounding chirp of her door chime. She currently was laying face down on her sofa and had no intention of getting up, much less turning her head to greet a visitor, not that she was in any mood for greeting anyway.

“You dead yet?” Natalia Kasyov’s voice asked as the Anomaly’s science officer entered Marsden’s quarters.

“Working on it,” Marsden replied humorlessly. “Slow smothering.”

“Ah. I see. Well could you knock it off for a bit? Corpses make lousy conversationalists.”

“Ha ha,” Marsden said flatly pulling herself into a sitting position as Kasyov sat down in one of the armchairs. “You must be relieved.”

“What do you mean?”

“They aren’t coming for Cabral.”

“I’d rather they weren’t coming for anybody,” Kasyov said. “Of course, we could just tell them you’re not here.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Marsden said. “I could mask my life-signs easily enough, but then I realized they probably don’t know who I am specifically. The Associates could tear up the quadrant until they find someone willing to admit to being me.”

“Good idea. Order Devix to be you. You outrank her, so she has to take the hit for you.”

“That sounds like a Tovar suggestion. Besides, I seem to remember identifying myself as human on that application. Devix’s purple scales might make them a little suspicious.” “True, but I wouldn’t worry too much. Bain’s on his home turf. My guess is he’s going to find a way to reduce the Associates into so many atoms.”

“Great. So then they send more ships,” Marsden said. “I’m not worth starting an intergalactic war over.”

“So what? You’re just going to go with them?” Kasyov said surprised.

“I’m starting to think I deserve this somehow.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Come on, Nat. I’ve been pulling the same crap for years. Remember that microstators project back at Fed High. We ran out of parts.”

“You’re the one who got me through that class, Shell. I couldn’t tell you a thing about it now, not to mention it was almost 15 years ago.”

“We ran out of parts. I told you to let me worry about it. I got into the repair shop and took a few out of some equipment they were throwing out.”

“So you did what you had to do to get the job done. Big deal. That’s your job now.”

“But how far is too far? I installed an alien device I knew next to nothing about into this ship to get the anti-sing to work, which led Cabral here in the first place. What if he’d been hostile? I could have gotten us all killed. Then I bought all of those materials in Andromeda.” She chuckled softly. “Bought. Right. Like I had any intention of paying for any of it. I was just doing what I felt was necessary to get the Anomaly moving again.”

Kasyov frowned. “I still don’t see how any of that means you have to turn yourself over to the Associates.”

“Maybe it’s time I finally paid the price for one of my shortcuts.”

“I thought you’d been paying that price ever since Bain took control of the ship from you,” Kasyov replied with a smirk.

Marsden couldn’t help but grin. “Okay. You’ve got me there.”

Kasyov patted her friend on the knee. “That’s better. We’ll figure something out.”

“Okay.”

“Do you realize I’ve been calming you down since high school. Really, woman. You need to practice some relaxation techniques or something. This is ridiculous.”

“I was relaxed at dinner.”

“Oh ho!” Kasyov said, leaning closer. “And how was it?”

“Scrumptious.”

“The dinner or Cole.”

“Both,” Marsden said grinning.

“Then we’ll have to make sure you get back for seconds.” Kasyov rose from her chair. “Come on. Let’s go talk to Captain Bain. I want input in whatever plan he comes up with. Otherwise, we’re liable to end up with that war you mentioned.”

“All right. I’m coming. I’m coming,” Marsden said as Kasyov pulled her up off of the sofa. “But if worst comes to worst, I guess Cabral can fill me in on life with the Associates.”

“That’s not funny.”

“Sorry.”

“No. Seriously. That’s not funny.”

“I said sorry.”

“Do you want to be plugged into a giant computer?”

“Drop it, Nat.”


After talking with Bain and having a late snack with Kasyov, Marsden was actually able to sleep that night. Bain didn’t have anything specific to say, but somehow seeing how prepared the man was to go to war to prevent “those Associate blighters” from getting their hands on her in any way was comforting, not that she wanted a war. Of course, on further reflection, she realized that Bain would probably be quite willing to go to war to prevent the Associates from touching just about anything. He didn’t have anything in particular against them. It was just the principle of the thing. And Marsden had a sneaking suspicious that Bain just liked to blow things up.

The following morning, Marsden had pushed aside any feelings that she somehow had this coming as karmic revenge for her methods of getting things done. The fact was that she DID get things done…and no one had been hurt in the process.

Finding the holo-mess hall deserted of senior officers, she grabbed a bacon and mayo sandwich to go (much to the disgust of the stuffy French guise the holochef had adopted that morning) and took a turbolift up to the bridge, munching as she went.

“WARNING: CRUMBS DETECTED. WARNING: CRUMBS DETECTED,” the computer monotoned. “EMERGENCY CLEANING ROUTINES WILL COMMENCE IN FIVE…FOUR…”

“Computer, override that crap,” Marsden snapped. Sure, she liked a clean starship as much as the next person, but there were times with the Anomaly’s AI could be a bit obsessive about it. Marsden had to wonder if Lieutenant Brazzell was behind it somehow. Either that or the mysterious cleaning lady that Kasyov claimed lived on board. Marsden had meant several times to try and track her down, but something always seemed to distract her before she got around to it.

Her thoughts derailed as the turbolift doors opened onto the bridge…and Bain’s shouting.

“Bloody hell!” Bain cried at the image of Admiral Larkin. “That soon!”

“The Associates possess a very efficient drive system,” Larkin replied placidly.

“Damn damn damn. How soon can we expect the fleet?”

“You can’t.”

“What?” Bain demanded.

“At our request, the Associates’ ship transmitted to us a copy of the agreement Lieutenant Marsden signed. Its terms are quite clear, and you are well aware of Federation policy regarding Starfleet Officers violating the laws of other cultures while acting within those cultures’ spheres of influence.”

“Wait!” Marsden said, charging forward toward the screen. “You’re giving in to the Associates?”

“I’m afraid they’ve got you dead to rights,” Bain said, clearly not pleased with the situation.

“However, your contribution to Starfleet will be long remembered,” Larkin added.

“Can’t I make a run for it?” Marsden protested. “Just give me the Navigator and tell them you don’t know where I am. How long do I have?”

“One hour,” Lieutenant Bre’zan Brazzell reported from tac-ops.

“An hour!” Marsden screamed, her temples throbbing. “Were you just going to let me sleep until they came knocking on my cabin door?”

“Steady, Marsden. This is news to me as well,” Bain said, placing a firm hand on her shoulder. “Evidently forces higher than ourselves conducted negotiations with the Associates without us.”

“If that was an attempt at sarcasm, Reginald, it is uncalled for,” Larkin said. “The Federation Council had no desire to start relations with the Associates on a sour note.”

“Sour note?” Bain snapped. “The note was bloody soured the moment those bastards attacked us and swiped Cabral. Coming to OUR galaxy for round two is intolerable!”

“You WILL assent to the Associates’ demands, understood?”

“Clearly,” Bain said. “Anomaly out.”

“But what happens to me?” Marsden demanded just as Larkin’s image was replaced by a starfield.

“Lieutenant…” Bain said.

“WHAT?”

“You’ve got a bit of something on your chin there. Might be mayonnaise.”

“Grime! I’ll get it!” Lieutenant Brazzell cried, hurtling tac-ops, scrub brush in hand, and charging Marsden.

“I HATE YOU ALL!” Marsden screamed just before Brazzell tackled her to the deck.


“Is everybody ship-shape?” Captain Bain asked rising up from the command chair and tugging on his uniform as he watched the Associates’ vessel loom closer on the Anomaly’s viewscreen.

“That depends,” Marsden replied from where she stood next to him. “Does ship-shape usually involve an incredible urge to run away screaming?”

“On occasion,” Bain said. “But I’ve decided that this particular situation might not be so horrendous.”

“Oh really?” Marsden said skeptically.

“Absolutely. We haven’t even asked the blighters what they want from you. For all we know, they have an exceptionally reasonable repayment program.”

“We don’t have any money.”

“Perhaps a trade then. The point is that the Associates may not intend any harm toward you whatsoever.”

“Or they may want to wire you into a giant living computer,” Dr. Kasyov said from the science station, where she was busy taking readings of the approaching vessel.

“That will do, Doctor,” Bain said disapprovingly as Marsden shot a nasty glare at Kasyov.

“The Associates’ ship still has not raised shields or armed weapons,” Lieutenant Commander Tovar reported from tac-ops. Tovar had come on shift to replace Brazzell, who was currently in sickbay to have a spray can dislodged from his throat after attempting to clean Lieutenant Marsden.

“We are being hailed,” Tovar said.

“And so it begins,” Bain said. “On screen.”

The image of the Associates’ ship on the viewscreen quickly shifted to show a bulky, purple-skinned Associate seated in the middle of a fairly austere bridge. Around this Associate, several others of his kind milled about performing various tasks.

“This is Captain Reginald Bain of the USS Anomaly,” Bain said smartly. “I believe you have been looking for us.”

The Associate’s yellow eyes narrowed as it clicked two of its three tongues disapprovingly. “Acquisition Officer Uuubopamaumau, Associates’ Acquisitions, and to say that we’ve been looking for you is an understatement. Both Gyjik’s Customer Service and our firm have been attempting to contact Shelly Marsden for many many cycles.”

“Dreadfully sorry about the bother, but we didn’t receive any messages,” Bain said. He looked at Marsden pointedly. “Did we?”

“Not a one,” she replied firmly.

“Hmmm…it must have been that barrier you all have around this galaxy,” Uuubopamaumau replied. “Makes you seem like an awfully unfriendly bunch.”

“We didn’t put it there!” Bain said defensively.

“Then take it down!”

“Of course. And we’ll just change the color of all space to a more pleasing mauve while we’re at it,” Tovar quipped.

“Look, what do you want from me?” Marsden demanded, sick of the pointless conversation.

“Quite right,” Bain said. “What does Lieutenant Marsden need to do to clear this up?”

“Pay your bill in full,” Uuubopamaumau said, locking an icy glare on Marsden.

“Do you take credits?” she asked hopefully.

“At this juncture, only approved Andromedan currency will be accepted.”

“Damn,” Bain said. “What about an exchange? We give you something, and you forgive the bill?”

“What could you possibly have that we would care about?”

“Tell them, Marsie,” Bain said.

“Tell them what?”

“Tell them what you have.”

“I don’t have anything,” Marsden snapped. “Unless they really want my grandfather’s tapestry collection or an antique lawn tractor.”

“Is the lawn tractor warp capable?” Uuubopamaumau asked interested.

“It’s not even movement capable. It does rust very nicely, though,” Marsden replied.

“Unacceptable,” Uuubopamaumau declared.

“Then I don’t know what else to do,” Marsden said.

“You may surrender yourself to us.”

“Surrender!” Bain cried. “I won’t hear of it.”

“Hang on,” Marsden said, taking a step forward. “What happens to me if I surrender?”

“You will be thoroughly assessed and then assigned a job to do based on your skills and personality. You will then perform that task until your debt has been repaid.”

“And this task? Would it potentially fatal?”

The Associate laughed. “Now what would be the point of having you die before you repaid your debt? How ludicrous! What sort of barbaric galaxy are you people running here to have such a notion?”

“Just checking,” Marsden said. “Could I have a moment?”

“Certainly,” Uuubopamaumau said with a slight bow of his triangular head.

Bain turned back to Tovar, who was already muting the comm channel. “Well, Marsie. What do you think?”

“Unless you hit the Andromedan lottery and didn’t tell me, I think I’m surrendering.”

“They had a lottery?” Bain said. “Blast. The missus and I do love a good game of chance. There was this one time on Multos Prime…before the whole Multek Enclave vanished, of course.” Bain looked back at Tovar. “Sorry to bring that up, lad, it being a sore point with the disappearance of your parents and all…”

Tovar just rolled his eyes and busied himself at his console.

“Captain,” Marsden said before Bain’s story could get back on track. “We don’t have the money. I am surrendering. Hopefully the Associates pay good wages.”

“If that’s your decision, I won’t stand in your way,” Bain said, gesturing for Tovar to reopen the comm channel.

“I’ll come with you,” Marsden said to the Associate.

“Okay then. That’s just fine. We’ll start the appropriate paperwork on our end. Gather any belongings you’ll need for the trip, and we’ll be in touch in…say…half an hour.”

“Fine with me.”

“Good.” Uuubopamaumau once again curtly bowed his head, then closed the comm channel.

“Guess I’d better start packing,” Marsden said, heading toward the turbolift.

“You too, Tovar,” Bain said.

“Ex…excuse me?” the Yynsian tac-ops officer gaped.

“I don’t quite trust these blighters. You’re going along to make sure everything’s on the up and up.”

“But they will be returning to the Andromeda Galaxy.”

“They’ll bring you back once the debt is paid. And with you helping Marsie out, things will go twice as fast!”

Tovar said nothing as he stomped into the turbolift beside Marsden.

“And look at it this way,” Bain said just before the turbolift doors closed. “You’ll be giving Marsden some company.”

Tovar and Marsden exchanged a glance. “Oh joy,” they muttered in unison.


The Tenclon seated, if that could truly be said to be the case considering the creature was basically balanced on several of its tentacles, at the desk eyed the two humans seated across the way suspiciously.

“There was only supposed to be one,” the Tenclon said, looking at the notes concerning Marsden’s case displayed on a padd.

“I…volunteered,” Tovar replied fighting back nausea as he kept his face averted from the Tenclon. After being impregnated by a Tenclon in Andromeda, Tovar couldn’t even think about the species assigned to handle the Associates’ clerical duties without shuddering.

“He’s supposed to help me finish my repayment faster,” Marsden added. The Tenclon grunted, then began making notes on its padd for several minutes as Marsden and Tovar sat waiting for some word as to their fates. Thus far, though, surrendering to the Associates had been rather uneventful. She and Tovar had been greeted in the Associates’ transporter room by Uuubopamaumau, who had then escorted them to this office to sort out some initial paperwork with Ruburnek, the Tenclon assigned to provide clerical support to this Acquisitions vessel. But at the rate the overgrown octopus behind the desk was going, they’d be back in Andromeda before the paperwork was complete.

“I’ve made the necessary annotations,” Ruburnek said finally. “We will now begin the assessment. What was your primary vocation before submitting to Debt Reclamation?”

“I was Chief Engineer of the USS Anomaly,” Marsden said.

“And I…” Tovar began.

“He’s an engineer too,” Marsden interrupted, shooting a firm glare at Tovar.

“Is that correct?” the Tenclon asked.

“Oh absolutely,” Tovar replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

“Very well. You will both be assigned to the galley.”

“The galley!” Marsden exclaimed. “But I’m an engineer!”

“Exactly. Do you think we’re going to let you near our engines? Hello, sabotage!”

“That is wise,” Tovar said.

“I…DON’T…COOK!” Marsden seethed.

“It’s only temporary,” Ruburnek said. “Once we return to Andromeda, you’ll undergo full assessment and Debt Reclamation Duty Assignment.”

“So that’s the whole assessment?”

“For now,” the Tenclon said. “I’ll show you to the galley.”

Ruburnek led Marsden and Tovar out of the office and into the corridors of the Associates’ ship. Most of the crew appeared to be the muscle-bound purple species used as bureaucrats and enforcers in the Associates; however, here and there Marsden spotted other species, whose roles she could only guess. The Associates assigned races into strict job roles, so Marsden had no doubt that these other species were on board for very specific reasons. The next question in her mind was who or what ran the galley?

Tovar, meanwhile, was doing his best not to walk anywhere near Ruburnek. The Tenclon didn’t seem to notice until a tentacle accidentally brushed against Tovar’s hand, drawing a high-pitched squeal from the Yynsian.

“AHHHH!” Tovar cried, holding up the touched appendage. “Cut it off! Cut it off!”

“What’s with him?”

“One of your kind impregnated him back in Andromeda. He’s still recovering.”

“Get away from me!” Tovar screamed.

“Okay. Relax,” Ruburnek said soothingly. “I’m not interested in you at all. You’re not my type.”

Temporarily calmed, but still wary, Tovar continued onward, keeping several steps away from Ruburnek at all times.

The Associates’ galley turned out to be a fairly small affair, and, in answer to Marsden’s question, no one ran it.

“Most of the crew eats replicated food, but occasionally you want something that’s actually been prepared by a real being,” Ruburnek explained as Tovar and Marsden looked around the three meter square room filled with appliances and cookware. “Normally you have to cook for yourself, but with you here…well, I’d bet you’ll see a lot of business. The novelty of having food prepared by…what are you again?”

“Human,” Marsden said.

“Human hands.”

“I’m Yynsian,” Tovar said.

“Don’t make this complicated,” Ruburnek said, raising a tentacle toward Tovar. “Anyway, you see my point. May you thrive in your place within the Associates’ Hierarchy.” Ruburnek turned to leave.

“Wait. How long will we be doing this? The whole Debt Reclamation, I mean,” Marsden said.

“Well…let’s see. You have help, which cuts the time in half. Assuming interest rates remain relatively constant…convert it to your time scale and it should be…thirty-seven and a half years. Give or take a month or so. But just think, today is the first day of the end of your debt. Good luck!”

Ruburnek slithered out of the room, tentacles waving, leaving a stunned Marsden and Tovar alone in the galley.

“What was I thinking?” Marsden muttered finally.

“That credit cards are fun. That it’s not real money. That you’d never have to pay it back. Why must I suffer for your financial disaster!” Tovar cried.

“Not about that,” Marsden snapped. “Why did I surrender? I got us out of Andromeda with that card, and I am NOT about to give a quarter of my life to these bastards because of it!”

“So much for fiscal responsibility.”

“Do you want to work for the Associates for the next forty years?”

“Thirty-seven and a half.”

“Whatever! Do you want to do it?”

“No. I thought you did.”

“I did. I was going to make amends, until they started throwing crazy numbers around. The hell with amends! We’re getting out of here.”

“Now you are sounding more like someone I want to serve with,” Tovar said appreciatively.

“I just hope the Anomaly is still in range,” Marsden said, pinching her commpip.


“Are you sure, Captain? It really is a generous offer,” Uuubopamaumau said on the viewscreen as Captain Bain once again shook his head.

“The man…er…brain is not for sale,” Bain replied, grateful that Dr. Kasyov wasn’t on the bridge to hear any of this. She probably would have beamed over there personally to show that Uuubopamaumau chap a thing or two about brain-knapping. “If he wanted to go with you, that’d be something else entirely, but I can’t say that he really enjoyed his last visit with the Associates.”

“Oh well. I tried,” the Associate replied with a shrug of his massive shoulders. “Thank you for doing business with Associates’ Acquisitions.”

“Right. Safe journey to you. And I expect my people to be well cared for!”

“We do not harm our assets, Captain Bain. But Shelly Marsden’s debt must be paid. Farewell.” The channel closed, switching the image on the viewscreen back to the Associates’ ship with began to turn to depart.

“Captain, we’re being hailed,” Lieutenant Brazzell, who with Tovar’s departure had just rather unexpectedly been promoted to Chief of Security, reported. “It’s Lieutenant Marsden.”

“Put her on,” Bain said.

“Captain?” Marsden’s voice said anxiously.

“Marsie! I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon! All is well, I trust?”

“These purple bastards are trying to keep us forever! I try and do something believing that they’ll be reasonable and then…”

“Captain,” Tovar’s voice cut in crisply. “Thirty-seven point five years. Assist.”

“Good lord!” Bain cried. “Brazzell, beam them…” Bain trailed off as the Associates’ ship leapt into warp on the viewscreen.


“What the hell was that for?” Marsden snapped, turning on Tovar as the Yynsian moved to the galley’s pantry to survey the options for lunch. He was getting quite hungry.

“It would have taken you ten minutes to begin to explain the problem at the rate you were going. The Associates surely would have detected our signal in that amount of time. Of course, considering that this vessel just entered warp, the comm channel would have been cut off anyway. I, however, was able to tell Captain Bain our problem in six concise words. Six. By your sixth word, you had barely gotten beyond insulting our captors.”

“I was going for emphasis.”

“Try going for efficiency.”

“How about going for an escape plan in case Bain can’t help us?” Marsden said, throwing open drawers looking for something potentially useful.

“A compromise we can both agree on,” Tovar said with a nod as he joined Marsden in rummaging through the galley.


“Comm them,” Bain ordered.

“They aren’t responding,” Brazzell replied. “They have an auto-repeater stating that their business is complete and that they’re leaving.”

“Oh no you don’t, you sneaky blighters!” Bain snapped, slamming his fist into his hand as the Associates’ warped away. “Bain to Cabral, we need anti-sing now, my good man.”

“On your command,” Cabral’s booming voice replied over the comm system.

“Capital. Mister Arroyo, best possible speed for…”

“Earth!” Arroyo, who’d been lost in thought for the last several minutes, exclaimed suddenly, practically jumping out of his chair.

“Why the devil would the Associates be headed for Earth?” Bain said. “We’ve got to get to the BOO! We may have to start an intergalactic war, but we are getting Marsden and Tovar back!”

“But the Associates said Shelly’s debt must be paid. We’ll just pay the debt.”

“We’ve been over this, lad. We don’t have anything the Associates consider valuable. Do try and keep awake from now on, Arroyo.”

“They’d probably consider one of their own ships valuable, wouldn’t they?” Arroyo asked.

“But we…” Bain trailed off as a memory stirred. “Brilliant, man! The shuttlecraft they gave us! I completely forgot about that crate. Where the devil is it?”

“I think Shelly turned it over to Starfleet R&D.”

“Best speed to Earth, Arroyo,” Bain ordered, clapping his helm officer on the shoulder proudly before turning on his heel toward the tac-ops console. “Brazzell, get Admiral Larkin on the comm and have her clear the way. I want that shuttle on board this ship within thirty seconds of our arrival.”


“You have been asked to cook this.”

Marsden looked at the bowl of luminescent green glop quivering in the bowl Tovar held in his hands. “Oookay,” Marsden said hesitantly. “Any idea how?”

“None whatsoever,” Tovar said.

Unfortunately for them, almost as soon as they’d begun searching for tools to use in an escape attempt, a heretofore unseen window in the kitchen wall had opened revealing the Associates’ mess hall, where a line of several beings stood waiting for service. Since then, Tovar had been taking orders while Marsden did her best to fill them. Her cooking experience didn’t extend much beyond boiling water for survival, which had led to several disgruntled diners.

“Here we go,” she said, plopping the glop down on the grill. The blob suddenly screeched, flew up into the air, then hit the ground with a splorch, at which time it squicked under the locked kitchen door at an amazing rate of speed.

The Associate at the window’s eyes narrowed. “That was a 9654 Kralost!” he bellowed. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get one of that vintage?”

“Add it to our tab,” Tovar muttered taking a plate of meat from the next diner. Marsden swiped the plate angrily and dumped the contents into her pot of boiling water.

Deep in his mind, Tovar heard an anguished wail. Then, before he could raise his internal barriers against the onslaught, his own consciousness was pushed down, down deep as a past life seized control.

“Unhand that spoon, you foul murderer!” Tovar suddenly cried, leaping at Marsden. Marsden barely managed to avoid being smashed against the grill as the Yynsian lunged at the stove. Moving quickly, he scooped the cut of meat out of the pot of boiling water and gingerly placed it on a cutting board on a nearby counter.

He leaned over the raw meat and took a deep whiff. “Ahhh…scintillating. It is of an animal unfamiliar to me, but no matter. Toflay has yet to encounter a meat he could not master. Stand aside!”

Marsden was more than happy to move out of the way as Tovar/Toflay charged the spice rack, muttering to himself as he went.

“Okay, folks,” Marsden said, stepping over to the window. “We’ve got a special treat for you tonight. Coming to us from several star systems and several centuries away, we have Toflay, chef extraordinaire. Get your orders in early.”

“What about those of us you cooked for?” a voice called from the crowd.

“Happy eating. And I hope you have a well-stocked sickbay.”


“The shuttle is aboard, sir,” Lieutenant Brazzell reported.

Bain turned back to the viewscreen to face the image of Admiral Kristen Larkin. “That should cover it then, Admiral. We’ll be off.”

“You may have a problem, Reginald,” Larkin said gravely as she tapped a control on her desk. Instantly, the viewscreen switched to split-screen mode. One panel continued to show the admiral, while the other brought up a graphic of a segment of Federation space. An icon representing the Anomaly hovered at Earth while another icon for the Associates’ ship raced toward the galactic barrier. “Even at maximum anti-sing, which has never been tested mind you, you will not be able to intercept the Associates before they reach the barrier, and our efforts to hail them have been unsuccessful.”

“A blockade at the BOO then,” Bain said.

“A show of military force might antagonize them, and, to be honest, we really don’t have any impressive ships stationed in that region. No one bothers to visit the barrier.”

“Damn!” Bain spat. “It’s up to us then. I’ll chase the buggers all the way back to Andromeda if I have to. Arroyo, get us out of here. I’ll bring them home, Admiral.”

“Preferably without causing an intergalactic incident,” Larkin replied.

“I assure you that they’ll be the cause of whatever happens. Bain out.”

Bain stalked back to his chair like an enraged lion as the Anomaly warped out of the Sol System, then leapt into anti-sing.

“Um…sir?” Lieutenant Brazzell said after a short time.

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

“Are we giving out Lieutenant Marsden’s current location?”

“Absolutely not. It’s nobody’s business that she’s been shanghaied to Andromeda.” Bain paused for a moment. “Who’s asking?” he said finally.

“A Mister Cole Anfibon. He claims to be close to her.”

“That’s her suitor!” Bain snapped. “Where have you been?”

“Not paying attention to anything that could possibly involve people…” He shuddered. “…touching. Do you know how many germs are on your hand alone? Or on my hand? AHHH!” Brazzell suddenly whipped a disinfectant can out of his ever-present cleaning-supply belt and sprayed his hands liberally.

“When you’ve finished being odd for the day, could you put Mister Anfibon on the screen?” Bain asked. The speeding starfield shifted to the image of the young “Independent Acquisitions Expert” seated in the cockpit of his spacecraft.

“Captain Bain?” Cole said visibly surprised. “I was expecting Shelly…”

“Lieutenant Marsden’s in a bit of a pickle at the moment,” Bain said.

“Pickle? What does that mean?” Cole demanded.

“She’s been snatched by the Associates.”

“The who?”

“Some blokes from the Andromeda Galaxy. And they’re headed back there as we speak. Where are you currently?”

“The Aldokus System. I can’t tell you more than that. Trade secrets. Why?”

“Brazzell?”

“Plotting now, sir,” Brazzell said, typing commands into tac-ops. Once again, the viewscreen split, bringing up the tactical display. An icon for Cole’s ship in the Aldokus system blinked in green tantalizingly close to the Associates’ heading.

“If he can sustain Warp Eight, he could make it,” Brazzell said.

“Are you receiving this, Mister Anfibon?” Bain asked.

“Yes, Captain. And I can handle Warp Eight without a problem.”

“Capital. Starfleet’s got their heads in the sand on this one, so it’s up to you to slow those buggers down until we can get there. No heroics necessary. Just stall them.”

“Consider them stalled. Out.” The image flicked back to the starfield streaking past the ship.

“We appear to have an appointment, Ensign Arroyo,” Bain said, settling more calmly into his command chair. Now things were in motion, he felt much better about the whole business. “Let’s not be late to carry out your plan.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, sir,” Arroyo replied as he pushed for a bit more speed from Cabral and the anti-sing drive.


After about ten hours, Marsden wondered if she and Tovar were ever going to be allowed to leave the galley. Finally, long after the last diner left the mess hall for the evening, the door of the kitchen swung open revealing Uuubopamaumau flanked by two other Associates.

“You have completed the first day of the end of your debt,” Uuubopamaumau said.

“That’s a relief,” Marsden sighed. Tovar, meanwhile, was under the control of some other past life and busily scrubbing down the insides of the stove. If that made him happy (however many hims there may be in there), it was fine by Marsden.

The Associate’s face grew stern. “Yes, but I wonder if you truly have your heart in it. We detected your signal to your shipmates.”

“Oooooh,” Marsden said. “Well…that was simply the initial shock. We’ve settled in now, haven’t we, Tovar?”

At the sound of his name, Tovar’s head shot up, his own consciousness suddenly back in control. “What?”

“Never mind.”

They were escorted from the galley and taken to a small set of quarters. Quarters was actually a bit of an exaggeration. All they had was a small room with two beds and a minuscule bathroom. Their duffle bags, which contained changes of clothes, since Marsden and Tovar had no idea what sort of provisions the Associates would provide for them, had been ransacked, their contents now strewn around the room.

Without so much as a “good night,” the Associates departed, sealing the door behind them.

“Charming,” Tovar muttered, gingerly removed a pair of his Starfleet-issue boxer-briefs from underneath several of Marsden’s bras. “Utterly charming.”

“It’s only temporary,” Marsden said, scooping up her bras and other items and shoving them back in her bag.

“Of course. I’m sure our next work assignment will provide us with luxury suites.”

“Do you think I’m happy about this?” Marsden snapped. “I was the one who said we had to get out of here!”

“And I see so much happening on that front,” Tovar remarked.

“You could help.”

“I am planning as we speak,” Tovar replied.

“I feel so much better.”

“What we need is an opportunity, which this room does not seem to provide. Therefore, I am going to get some sleep so that I am rested for tomorrow. You might want to do the same.”

“Fine,” Marsden spat, stalking off to the bathroom. “We’ll sleep. And I hope I snore!”

“If you do, I hope you don’t struggle much when I smother you with your pillow.”

“Oh, I am SO pleased that Bain sent you along.”

“That would make two of us.”


What was he doing? This was way beyond the call of duty. But without Shelly…

Cole really didn’t want to dwell on it anymore. He was going to get her back, and that was the end of it.

He’d pushed the engines of his ship to the utmost, then, after examining the path of the Associates’ ship a bit more closely, found the perfect spot to make his move.

At first he’d wondered just how he was supposed to stall a ship moving that fast. Under normal circumstances, there was no way he could catch it. However, the Associates, who obviously didn’t know much about the local geography, were heading straight toward the Grighton Expanse, a tangled mess of subspace instabilities and hunks of planetary and metallic debris left from some long-ago cataclysm.

The Associates would have to slow down.

And when they did, Cole would strike.


Welcome to the second day of the end of your debt.

Somehow Tovar didn’t find those words at all consoling. And it wasn’t even HIS debt. He would have to have a word with his adopted father when he returned to the Anomaly about proper uses for a Chief of Security. Of course, that was assuming that Bain was still around in 40 years when Tovar’s time with the Associates was over. Granted, Bain would only be pushing 110, but the man led a dangerous life and actively sought out ways to make it more dangerous.

Tovar thought for a minute about his adopted mother, Rosalyn Bain. She would be none too happy with her husband with sending Tovar off like this, particularly since she seemed to have thrown her support behind Admiral Carn’s attempts to recruit Tovar into Section 31, not that Bain knew anything about that.

He was pulled out of his thoughts by Marsden tapping him on the shoulder. “Is Toflay showing up this morning, or are we on our own?” she asked, holding two eggs of some sort out to Tovar.

Tovar sighed and looked down at the grill before him. “I will see if he is available.”

“What was that?” Marsden said suddenly, pressing her ear to the floor.

“I sincerely hope I cleaned that yesterday,” Tovar said in disgust.

“You did,” Marsden said quickly. “We’re slowing down.”

“Perhaps we’ve reached the barrier.”

“Possibly. But they would have to have been going incredibly fast to…”

The ship shuddered, shutting down the power and knocking Marsden off balance and onto the floor. Tovar barely avoided being tossed onto the grill, an event that wouldn’t have improved his mood in the slightest. The room plunged into darkness as the window leading out into the mess hall slammed shut.

“Are we under attack?” Marsden asked as a soft explosion faded in the distance. Slowly, the power flickered back to life.

“Captain Bain has evidently decided to risk intergalactic war,” Tovar observed placidly.

“That’s a hell of an attitude to have when someone’s trying to rescue us.”

“I had hoped that we would rescue ourselves without creating a larger political incident.”

“Picky picky,” Marsden snapped rushing over to the locked door to examine the lock again. “It’s electronic. If we can find something to disrupt it, we could get out of here.”

“Wait a moment,” Tovar said thoughtfully.

“No time.”

“If that’s Captain Bain, why haven’t we been beamed out of here?”

“Shields,” Marsden said distractedly. She stopped, her trained ears noticing a sound…or lack thereof. “The engines are offline. That explosion must have taken them out.”

“Which generally means something got through the ship’s shields.”

“If they even had any up. The Associates always were cocky. But why are we still here?” Marsden said.

“That was my question. Most likely, Bain is not here.”

“Then who?”

The door flew open, smashing against the wall with a thunderous slam soon followed by a human male being tossed roughly into the galley, Uuubopamaumau and his two Associates thugs close behind. The human male quickly jumped to his feet, flashing a smile at Marsden as he did so.

“Cole!” she shouted surprised.

“Oh goody. An amateur,” Tovar muttered.

Uuubopamaumau looked none too pleased. “You know this human? Is this an attempt to renege on your debt to us?”

“Absolutely not,” Marsden lied. “And he is completely unaffiliated with our government. He’s here strictly for personal reasons.”

“Such as?”

Marsden leapt at Cole, quickly smothering him in a deep kiss.

“Oh,” Uuubopamaumau said with a grimace. “Very well. I was going to have him killed for disabling our ship once you confessed to his identity and motives, but this is different. Is he willing to assist in paying off your debt?”

“Your what?” Cole asked.

“Yes, he is,” Marsden and Tovar said quickly.

“Hang on a…” Cole’s protest went unheeded as the Associates filed out of the galley and relocked the door.

“Twenty-five years!” Tovar exclaimed.

“What?” Cole and Marsden demanded.

“With three of us, we’re down to twenty-five years. Do the math.”

“I’d rather not,” Cole said. “What the hell is going on here?”

“I ran up a few credit card bills in Andromeda, and these guys have come to collect,” Marsden said.

“Were you aware of Lieutenant Marsden’s debt load before you became involved with her?” Tovar asked.

“Tovar and I were about to try to escape,” Marsden continued, ignoring Tovar. “But what are you doing here?”

“I talked to Bain. I was in a position to intercept this ship, so I crashed into the engines, beamed on board, and here I am.”

“You destroyed your ship for me?” Marsden gasped. “That’s…”

“Have you lost your mind?” Cole snapped. “I stashed my ship and just hit them with a microshuttle. It was enough, though.”

“Romance at it’s finest,” Tovar said. “What about the Anomaly?”

“On it’s way. Bain’s got a plan to get you two back. He just needed me to stall the Associates for a bit, which I did.”

“Then all we have to do is escape,” Marsden said.

“Did you miss the part about the Anomaly? Captain Bain is on his way,” Tovar said firmly.

“In the meantime, I want a backup plan,” Marsden snapped back. “We’re escaping.”

“Shelly and I have done it before,” Cole said.

“Yes, but that was from the Breen. Overall, the Associates have shown themselves to not be nearly that inept.”

“Move!” Marsden said, pushing Tovar aside so she could have a clear shot at the stove. She quickly grabbed a pot and set to work filling it.

“Brilliant. We will cook our way out,” Tovar said.

“We’re leaving him here, aren’t we, Shelly?” Cole asked.

“I could kill you in four seconds flat. I would not recommend antagonizing me.”

“Can he really do that?”

“Got me,” Marsden said. “Don’t really care, but you boys better arm yourselves.”

“And just how do you plan on getting us out of this room?” Tovar asked.

“The easy way. Out the window…once they reopen it.”

“Ah yes. Into the mess hall filled with Associates. Why didn’t I think of that?”

Nevertheless, as the window leading out into the mess hall opened, Tovar grabbed a pair of frying pans. None of the Associates lined up outside the window seemed to notice that anything was amiss…

…at least not until Marsden grabbed her pot of now boiling cooking oil and flung the contents at them.

“GO!” Marsden shouted over the pained screams of the Associates in line. Their colleagues already seated at tables eating replicated food looked up in alarm as Tovar, Cole, and Marsden hurtled out of the galley, pans swinging.

“The doors!” Marsden cried. “Get to the…ahhhhh!” Marsden’s feet shot out from under her as she hit a puddle of cooking oil. She hit the ground with a painful thud, her momentum continuing to slide her forward on the still very hot oil.

Tovar merely shook his head in disdain while slapping two Associates into unconsciousness. “Amateurs,” he muttered, charging forward. He and Cole reached Marsden at the same time, scooping her up and rushing out of the mess hall into the corridors of the Associates’ ship.

“What now?” Tovar asked snidely.

“Why don’t you offer a damn suggestion for once?” Marsden snapped, her rear end and back still smarting from her impact on the floor and the mild burns from the heat of the oil against her uniform.

“We should obviously get to…”

“HALT!” a booming voice called from their left. They whipped around to see five blaster-wielding Associates charging their way.

“We should stay exactly where we are,” Tovar said. “And I would not suggest making any sudden moves.”

“What a genius,” Marsden muttered as Uuubopamaumau stepped through the armed Associates toward them.

“I see your visitor brought along some very foolish ideas,” Uuubopamaumau said eyeing Cole threateningly.

“This escape was my idea,” Marsden shot back.

“But as the Primary Debtor, I may not take action against you. But these two are not Gyjik’s Galaxy Gateway Card Holders. Kill them both.”

“WHAT?” Tovar shouted as Associates roughly grabbed him and Cole, pressing blasters against their skulls. “I did NOT come here to be killed!”

Cole’s eyes locked on Marsden. “Shelly, I need to tell you something. I…”

“Bain to Marsden!” Marsden’s commpip barked suddenly.

“Once again, he cuts it close enough to induce heart attacks,” Tovar said with a relieved sigh.

“Captain!” Marsden cried. “Get us out of here!”

“All in good time,” Bain’s voice replied. “I need to talk to that Uuubopamaumau chap.”

“He’s right here,” Marsden said.

“Capital. Capital. We’re prepared to pay off Lieutenant Marsden’s debt.”

“How?” Uuubopamaumau said skeptically. “You do not have Andromedan currency.”

“How would you like a brand new Associates-issue shuttlecraft? It was given to us in Andromeda and doesn’t even have a light year on the odometer.”

“Hold please,” Uuubopamaumau said thoughtfully. He snapped his fingers, and Ruburnek scurried forward past the armed Associates from where the Tenclon had stashed himself out of the way of the potential bloodshed. “What would that do to Lieutenant Marsden’s debt?”

“Let’s see. New shuttle from last period. One light year. Standard depreciation. That covers all but 56 lornerks.”

“I’ll help fix your engines,” Marsden said quickly.

“Deal,” Uuubopamaumau said.


“Personal Log. Stardate 177320.6. Sometimes life throws something at you designed to teach you a lesson. The question is do you learn that lesson or tell life what it can go do with itself? I suppose I’m supposed to take all of this mess with the Associates as a sign that my ‘get the job done by any means necessary’ philosophy needs changing, but frankly I don’t feel like paying any attention to that sign. Sure I was feeling a bit overwhelmed there for a while, but let’s be realistic here. I took some risks. The risks paid off. That may not always be the case, but, as someone once said, big gains come from big risks. Of course, I’m paraphrasing.

“In any event, after spending a couple of days working in the Associates’ engineering section, I’ve paid off my debt (and also picked up some interesting information about Associates’ technology). After Tovar and I sign our Debt Release Forms, the Associates will be on their way back to Andromeda. Uuubopamaumau has said he has no desire to ever visit the Milky Way again. I hope the rest of the Associates feel the same way.”


“…and here,” Ruburnek said, pointing a tentacle at yet another line on the padds in Marsden and Tovar’s hands. The officers signed their names yet again. “…and last but certainly not least, here.”

Despite the growing cramp in her hand, Marsden signed one last time and slapped the digipen down on the Tenclon’s desk. “Is that it?”

“You’re both officially free to go,” Ruburnek said, extending his tentacles. Marsden eagerly shook hers. Tovar did nothing.

“I told you, you’re not my type,” Ruburnek said exasperated. “I prefer women of my own species.”

“I am NOT a woman!”

“No kidding. And you’re missing those long, luxurious tentacles I love so much.”

Tovar shuddered. “Can we go now?”

“Gladly,” Marsden replied, pinching her commpip. “Marsden to Anomaly. Two to beam back.” She caught herself quickly before the ship’s annoying transporter control computer could kick in. “The two without tentacles,” she clarified. “Energize.” One day she really needed to fix that computer…but not today. She had other plans.


“Well well well,” Cole Anfibon said, looking over the spread laid out on the table before him. “A real meal in your real quarters cooked by real hands.”

“They were Tovar’s hands to be honest…and one of his past lives’ skills,” Marsden said as she sat across the candle lit table from Cole. “I convinced him that he owed you big time for stopping the Associates long enough for the Anomaly to catch up.”

“Sounds good to me. But how do you plan on filling the remaining hours before the Anomaly gets underway again?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Marsden said with a sly grin. “But I assure you it will be completely real.”


THE END



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