Author: Brendan Chris
It’s my hope that new Traks readers would be able to sit down and enjoy this new series without having to read through the other several hundred stories out there. However, for those of you who are planning on reading Star Traks: Silverado anyway, I suggest you work through that series first as the remainder of this intro has some pretty major spoilers for Silverado Season 5.
That being said, here’s a quick run-down of stuff that’s good to know.
Two or three years prior to this story, Starfleet encountered a people called the Matrians. A society where women dominated, the Matrians were in the process of trying to take over their part of the galaxy through the use of mind control and virtual reality. Once their plans were thwarted and the mind-control system used by their leader destroyed, the Matrian people formed a new, peaceful Republic. Starfleet learned that in the past, the Matrians had suffered a terrible, century-long Gender War that had crippled their civilization and that the mind-control technology had been developed to end that war. With the war over but their society in ruins, the Matrian women had gone into suspended hibernation, into a virtual world and had plotted galactic conquest while the men were forced to rebuild their planet. With that technology destroyed and their goal of galactic domination ended, it was time for the Matrian Republic to finally start moving forward again in the galaxy.
After a few years, the Matrians joined the Federation and were promptly invaded by a hostile race called the Qu’Eh. A single Starfleet ship, the USS Silverado, was all but destroyed in the attack, leaving the Silverado crew and most of Matria Prime’s leadership in a mysterious, underground Old Matrian installation nicknamed ‘Haven’. As they fought the Qu’Eh, the Starfleet/Matrian team learned that Haven was a powerful city-style space station. They launched Haven, repelled the Qu’Eh and hoped that it was time for business as usual.
But who’s going to run the place?
Now, on with the show…
Admiral Wittica Verithi, commander of the Matrian Defence Force, sat next to Queen Ansela and King Hektor of the Matrian Republic. A new Federation member, the Matrian Republic was still getting used to the little quirks of dealing with the Federation. Their representative to the council, Councillor Krisi, had been welcomed with all the appropriate ceremony and voted the Matrian Republic’s will in the Federation Council. Starfleet, on the other hand, was proving to be much more difficult to deal with.
Case in point, the two leaders of the Republic and the commander of their defence force had been staring at a ‘hold’ motif for twenty minutes. Their conference with Fleet Admiral Ra’al was supposed to have started fifteen minutes ago.
“This is completely intolerable!” Queen Anselia fumed, “A complete violation of decorum, etiquette and protocol! We didn’t spend two months running a rebellion to free this planet only to be ignored by a lowly Admiral!” She glanced over at Verithi. “No offense meant, of course,”
“Of course,” Verithi replied dryly. She chose not to bring up the fact that most of the actual rebelling, against an enemy that had invaded their world prior to the arrival of a Federation relief fleet, had been done by Starfleet officers and regular Matrian civilians.
Before any further ranting could continue the screen flickered, displaying the stern visage of Fleet Admiral Ra’al, one of the highest of the higher-ups in the Starfleet chain of command.
“Apologies,” she said, “I had an unexpected meeting about one of THOSE ships that ran over,” Ra’al started briskly.
“‘Those’ ships?” King Hektor repeated.
Ra’al looked annoyed with herself for even mentioning it.
“Let’s just say that not all starship crews are created equally,” Ra’al replied. “Now, as I’m already behind on my calendar for today I’d like to resolve your issue quickly so I may move on,”
“This issue should have been resolved weeks ago!” Verethi said angrily, her professional fa硤e showing the first of many cracks, “We’ve been waiting for this appointment since-“
“If you’re in such a hurry, let’s cut to the point,” Ra’al said calmly, folding her hands on her desk, “You need a Starfleet commander, along with several senior staff members, for your shiny new space station,”
“Orbital city,” Anselia corrected frostily.
“Orbital space station city,” Ra’al waved one hand, “And, in fact, Starfleet offered to fill the position. Now, for reasons I don’t fully understand but that seem to include the sudden decision by the Matrian government to refit a damaged starship that Starfleet had deemed unsalvageable, that officer is not available. You see where I’m going with this?”
“No,” Verithi said flatly.
“She is trying to blame the situation on us,” Anselia seethed.
“Yes, ‘she’ is,” Ra’al said, “Now, we are willing to find a replacement commander for you, however a suitable candidate will take time to locate,”
“There are five Federation starships still in Matrian space!” Verithi exclaimed, “Surely one of them-“
“Do you,” Ra’al’s voice turned almost silky, “Really want an officer from one of those ships?”
Verithi, Hektor and Anselia exchanged a glance.
“Very well,” Ra’al shrugged, “You’ll have your new station commander by the end of the day.”
“We…well,” Anselia stuttered, “Thank you,”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Ra’al said ominously, “Starfleet out,”
As her image vanished, the three leaders looked around in surprise.
“That was easy,” King Hektor said.
“That WAS easy,” Queen Anseila agreed. They both stood and started walking back to the council offices.
“Too easy,” Verithi mumbled as she followed behind.
In her comfortable office in Starfleet HQ, Admiral Ra’al sighed and leaned back. Next to her, out of range of the video pickup, Admiral Baxter pulled his cigar out of his mouth.
“You’re taking a risk here,” he said.
“I tried doing this nicely,” Ra’al shrugged, “A proper station commander would have been just the thing to bring the Matrians into the fold and to repair the damage done by…by that OTHER ship.” She tapped at her intercom. “Annie, get me the USS Montreal, Matrian space,”
“If you do what I think you’re about to do,” Baxter said, “We’re going to end up with another one of THOSE crews,”
“They’ll be sitting in the middle of unexplored space in a space station the size of a city. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Captain Elizabeth Simplot was buried in her work. Literally.
“Josh,” she exclaimed loudly, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
“I-I-I’m trying!” replied her companion, Lt. Commander Josh Shurgroe as he tugged at a piece of bulkhead paneling, “The whole mess is wedged in there pretty tight!”
“I know, I’m wedged in here with it!” Simplot replied. A petite woman in her very early thirties, her (currently) dark hair was a frizzy tangle. Of course, nobody could really see it since she was trapped in one of the Jefferies tubes that snaked through the bowels of the USS Montreal.
“How did you manage that, an-an-anyway?” Shurgroe asked. The bulkhead chunk wouldn’t budge. Maybe if he could pull out that chunk of conduit first…
“The idiot Captain of this ship assigned me to damage control,” Simplot fumed, “Me! A Captain with three years experience! And he tucks me down out of the way, like I’m good for nothing!”
“And that’s AFTER we sacrificed our ship to save the day,” Simplot finished. Her former command, the USS Stallion, had been destroyed less than a month ago during the battle to free the Matrian Republic.
Shurgoe was quiet for a moment, until he was sure she was done ranting.
“But how did you end up trapped under all this stuff?” he asked.
“I was trying to change a lighting unit,” Simplot admitted.
Shurgroe survived the pile of struts, bulkhead segments, conduits, cables and miscellaneous brackets that had his former commander pinned to the floor.
“A lighting unit?”
“Yeah,” the rubble moved as Simplot managed to push a translucent lighting cover off of her face, “Who knew that you’re supposed to take out the screws in a certain order?”
“Captain Simplot? Josh? Are you two in there?” It was the voice of Dr. Janet Annerson, the Stallion’s former Chief Medical Officer. A Durentian woman in the equivalent of later-middle age, Annerson had been one of the few voices of reason aboard the ill-fated Stallion.
“In here, Janet,” Josh called. Annerson poked her head into the tube, then pulled it back out with a snort of disgust.
“Josh, come out here so I can have a conversation with your face instead of your backside!” the slightly greenish woman said.
“Oh, o-o-oops,” clumsily, Shurgroe climbed out of the tube.
“WHAT ABOUT ME!” Simplot called from under her debris pile.
“What about you?” Shurgroe wondered absently, “Oh, right. She’s, um, a bit stuck,”
“Too stuck to come out and get your new assignment?” Annerson asked.
There was a flurry of crashes and clunks. In less than half a minute Simplot was climbing out of the Jefferies tube, bits of insulation still stuck to her hair.
“I t-t-thought you were faking,” Shurgoe said mildly.
“We’ve been stuck on this ship for weeks with nothing to do but menial tasks like changing high-tech light bulbs,” Simplot tossed her hair, “I was bored. Now give me that!” she snatched the padd from Annerson. As she read it, her eyebrows rose.
“Well?” Shurgroe demanded, “Are they splitting us up? Cuz, y’know, I’d kinda miss Tereneth…”
“I dunno about hier,” Simplot said, starting to grin, “But you are now looking at the new Station Commander, Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Department of Shipbuilding for Starbase 341:Haven!”
“Shipbuilding!” Josh’s eyes widened, “You mean, I get to make people build new ships? And do the inspections? So, like, if everything isn’t perfect and somebody gets…gets hurt, it’s going to b-b-be a-a-all m-m-my f-f-f-f-fault???” The half-human, half-Centaurian was now positively quivering in fear.
“Oh, suck it up you big baby,” Annerson smacked him, “That’s what your staff is for!”
“This is so exciting!” Simplot said, “Quick, call the shuttlebay! I want to start looking at apartments!”
“Anybody else wondering if maybe there’s a catch to this great new assignment?” Annerson wondered suddenly.
But Simplot was already halfway down the corridor, her voice fading rapidly.
“I SO hope we get a Dillon’s Furniture Bazaar out here soon!”
Starbase 45: 100 Light-Years Away…
Personal Log, Lieutenant Rex Boxer, Starfleet Intelligence:
“Ohhh, this is so exciting! I’ve just arrived at Starbase 45 to meet my new partner! Oh, I bet he’ll be smart, and good at sports, and all that fun stuff! I guess it would have been nice if Intelligence had actually told me who my new partner was going to be. Or where we were going to be going. But hey, I can’t have everything my way, can I?”
Lieutenant Boxer walked happily down the starbase corridors with a cheery bounce in his step and a wag in his tail. Scratching absently behind one of his furry ears, the Sheppian officer briefly consulted a computerized map of the station. The computer had already informed him that his new partner, Lieutenant Laarthi, was in the arboretum. Ohhh! And the arboretum had a duck pond! Maybe they’d have time to play with the ducks before they left for the next stop on their way to their new posting! His nose suddenly twitched. Somebody interesting was coming! Another Sheppian, definitely. There was no mistaking it! The scent of one of his own kind was almost refreshing after dealing with the pole-cat stench of humans and other aliens present on the station. Sure enough, another furry, dog-like Sheppian rounded the corner directly ahead of Boxer, his ears perking up and his mouth pulling into a snarl. “Who are you?” Boxer demanded as he and the other Sheppian started circling each other. His voice was low, fairly clear but with a drawing out of the ‘R’ sounds that gave his words a growly accent.
“Ensign Drain,” the other replied, “Who are YOU?”
They continued circling, but instead of snarling they now started sniffing more carefully at the air. A human Ensign walked by, barely able to contain her giggles at the sight of two fully-dressed alien dogs glaring at each other and sniffing. Finally, they stopped.
“OK then,” Boxer said, scratching at one furry, cream-coloured arm, “What’s up?”
“Captain Brown sent me down with your posting messages,” Drain said, “And I’m supposed to help you…um…collect your partner.”
“Help?” Boxer frowned, “Why does he think I need help?”
In Starbase 45’s cavernous Operations center, Captain Brown and the rest of his staff were watching the security monitors displaying Drain and Boxer as they stepped towards the arboretum.
“That poor Ensign,” mused Dr. Chox, “Fresh out of Academy, brand new to the station and this is what you people do to him?”
“Usually,” said Commander Kloon, “We make a chocolate cake and pour a brandy to welcome new officers to the team,”
“Except that Drain is allergic to chocolate,” Captain Brown pointed out, “Besides…would anybody else volunteer to handle this situation?”
The room was oddly silent.
“Then enjoy the show,” Brown nodded at the display screen.
“Do you know anything about this Starbase 341 place?” Boxer was asking Drain as he looked at his padd, “And what or who is a DoRRIS?”
“I’m just here to help you get your partner. I don’t know anything about your assignment, except that you’re supposed to depart with the USS Roadrunner in two hours.”
“Roadrunner?” Boxer felt a snarl coming on. He didn’t especially like Roadrunners. They moved around too quickly for him to keep track of what was going on. Besides, birds were more of a cat thing. Now Squirrel, there was an interesting name for a ship! “Never heard of it,” he said.
“Nobody has,” Drain told him, “It’s part of some secret project. How you two are getting aboard is a mystery,”
Boxer said nothing. They were approaching the arboretum anyway, and his sensitive hearing could just barely here the sounds of…the sounds of…
The doors hissed open.
Boxer was immediately on all fours, his lips curled back and his teeth exposed. Barking loudly, he bolted into the arboretum.
The room was pretty standard for a starbase botanical facility. It was at least three levels high with a blue & cloud painted ceiling. The deck had been covered in soil and sported a variety of grasses, shrubs, bushes, trees and so forth. A medium-sized duck pond was dug in next to a wrought-iron-style window that looked out into space. In the center of the arboretum towered a Bolian Oak tree, chained to which was a feline Caithan officer in a Starfleet uniform.
“I’M NOT GOING!” hissed the Caithan, a female, “I’M NOT LEAVING THE TREES! YOU’LL HAVE TO KILL ME FIRST!”
A tall Lt Cmdr with the mustard-yellow collar signifying an Operations speciality was trying to talk to her.
“Your assignment has gone through, Lt. Laarthi,” he said in a crisp, British accent, “You will report to Starbase 341 where you will become a DoRRIS…my word, what is that? Surely no proper Federation establishment would choose such a foolish title. And really, what is that barking? Somebody needs to put their mutt on a-“
The man found himself knocked to the side as a blur of uniform-covered fur flew past and jumped over the decorative fence surrounding the Bolian Oak. There was a sizzle of sparks and a very surprised yelp as a forcefield flung him back. Boxer gave a few yips as he fell to the ground, his tail curling instinctively between his legs.
“Really, chap,” the British sounding man, Lt Cmdr Virjii, shook his head, “Don’t you think we’d have her out of here by now if the chains were the only problem?”
Ensign Drain had just caught up as Boxer was pulling himself back to his feet.
“She’s been chained up there all morning,” he told the still- slightly-stunned Boxer, “As soon as she found out she was going to an alien space station,”
“THEY DON’T LOVE THE FOREST!” Laarthi shouted.
“We’ll get to you in a moment,” Virjii said sharply, “Now you, my good…chap, you really can’t go running around barking and howling like a mad dog,”
Now both Boxer and Drain were starting to snarl.
“It’s simply uncouth.” He consulted his padd again. “Now, Lt. Boxer, simply calm yourself down and we’ll see about collecting your new partner.”
“I will NOT partner with a CAT!” Boxer said firmly.
“Orders are orders, and you WILL obey them!” Virjii said firmly. He dug into his pocket and fished out a doggy treat. “This should calm you down.”
“I will not be patronized either!” Boxer snapped, “I’m not one of your dull-witted pets!”
“As you wish,” Virjii shrugged, moving to pocket the treat.
Boxer involuntarily felt his tongue darting across his chops.
“Thought so,” Virjii smiled, “Now, there’s a good boy,” he tossed the treat at Boxer, who snapped it out of the air. He started munching away, visibly calming immediately. Behind him, Drain was whimpering softly.
“Sorry my boy,” Virjii shrugged, “Only expected one of you,”
Lt. Laarthi was barely aware of the scene just outside the force-field she’d setup to prevent anybody from taking her away from HER garden. She’d been living on Starbase 45 for over two years now and every plant, every flower and every tree had felt her loving touch at one time or another. This was HER domain and so what if she and the botanical staff didn’t always get along? She’d tried making peace with them, but they just hadn’t appreciated the gifts she’d left outside their quarters. Therefore, they weren’t important. And neither was this new assignment. She’d been to alien stations before; the Cardassian-built Deep Space Nine came immediately to mind. She’d hated that place: the dim light, the grey metal, the sterility. Vulcan Space Central, where she’d been posted shortly after finishing at the Academy, wasn’t much better. The Vulcans at least understood the logical rationale behind bringing a little nature into space, but their gardens were far too functional and they therefore lacked that randomness that was inherent in nature.
Nope, there was simply no way she was going anywhere. Especially not to an alien space station, nearly a month away from the nearest Federation outpost. She could stay right here for hours, days if necessary! She would live off the acorns of the Bolian Oak, it’s roots would absorb her waste, it’s lush leaves would provide oxygen. She and the tree could live together in perfect symbiosis.
Wait, what was that hideous dog doing???
Lt. Boxer was no longer in a good mood.
Clearly, there would be no playing with the ducks before leaving the station, his new partner being a hideous feline instead of the fellow Sheppian he was hoping for or the tolerable ape- creature he was expecting. But orders were orders, and he was duty-bound to obey.
So he and Virjii had put their heads together and come up with the most expedient way to coax Laarthi out of her hiding place. Fortunately, once Drain had insisted that their idea of a shiny bell tied to a stick wasn’t going to work as well as they’d hoped, they’d formulated a backup plan. And after ten minutes of unsuccessfully waving the bell around, they’d put Plan-B into effect.
“Come down from that tree or the pretty flower gets it,” Boxer said, pointing his phaser at a colourful blossom from Antares IV.
“You wouldn’t DARE!” Laarthi shouted back, her attention suddenly riveted on him.
Boxer thumbed the trigger, vaporizing the flower into a mist of flowery air-freshener. Laarthi hissed, her heckles rising.
“Next, the orchids,” Virjii said, gesturing to a meticulously- pruned group of flowers, “Then the petunias. And so on, in that fashion, until this place is a burnt pit,”
Laarthi hissed again.
Fifteen minutes later they were heading for one of Starbase 45’s smaller docking bays, their luggage already delivered to the Roadrunner. Ensign Drain had left, claiming to have a bone to pick with somebody up in Station Operations. Virjii led the group with Boxer and Laarthi sticking to opposite sides of the corridor, each shooting angry glares at the other. Before long they’d entered a small departure lounge. Another officer was already seated at the grey Federation-standard table. Her black hair was cut just above her shoulders, saving her from the Starfleet Bun.
“This is Lieutenant Cindy Mytim, Starfleet Sciences. She’ll be working with DoRK when we arrive at Starbase 341,” Virjii explained, “Myself, I’ll be Director of DoMO. Now, Lieutenant Mytim has promised to explain to us how we’re going to arrive at our new assignment on time, considering that Matria Prime is a month from here and we’re expected in three days?”
“DoRK?” Boxer looked oddly at Mytim.
“There is no need for name-calling!” Mytim said, “You don’t know me! You can’t judge me! I’m just as smart as anything else!”
“AnyBODY else?” Laarthi snorted. Well, she sort of snorted. With her Caithan features and feline grace, she somehow implied a snort without actually doing more than wrinkling her nose and giving a slight breath of derision.
Virjii was looking at them with a look of distaste.
“Have you not read your mission briefs?” he demanded. He rubbed his forehead with one hand, “I should have known this was going to be a bad day the minute I learned I had to pull a cat out of a tree,”
“Don’t blame me,” Mytim said, raising an eyebrow, “I never put cats in trees. I just say they’re there so the handsome firemen will come,” Laarthi did not appear to enjoy this comment.
“Our destination, Starbase 341, will be jointly operated by Starfleet and the Matrian Republic Defence Force,” Virjii said, pulling his padd out again, “And as such will have a non-standard organizational structure. Lieutenant Mytim will be working with the Department of Research and Knowledge, which I take to be the equivalent of Sciences. Lieutenants Boxer and Laarthi will be with the…ah yes, here it is. The Department of Research Regulation and Information Security, by which I assume you will be liaisoning with Matrian Intelligence.” He looked at them oddly, “Unusual assignment for a pair of Stellar Cartogophers, isn’t it?”
Laarthi and Boxer exchanged another glance, this one more worried than angry.
“Not if they’re the ones with all the Matrian starcharts,” Laarthi said quickly.
“Hmm, quite,” Virjii looked slightly suspicious, “In any event, I will be working with the Department of Maintenance Operations, which is evidently Maintenance & Operations.”
He looked back down at his padd.
“Well then, on to our travel arrangements. Lt. Mytim?”
“Hmmmm?” Mytim looked up from where she was painting her nails. (She’d apparently grown bored with Virjii’s little speech), “Oh, of course.” She looked over at Laarthi and Boxer. “So why do they have a pair of Stellar Cartographers working with Matrian Intelligence?”
“We’ve already been through that!” Laarthi snapped.
“We have? Oh. OK.” She went back to her nails.
“Lieutenant?” Virjii prompted. Mytim looked back up.
“The Roadrunner?” he prompted between clenched teeth.
“I don’t know a thing about it,” she shrugged, “But it’s supposed to get us there really fast. That’s why it’s called the Roadrunner and not the Crippled Sparrow,”
“This padd says very clearly that YOU are to explain to us why the Roadrunner is special!” Virjii said, waving the padd at her like it was a weapon, “And I insist that you do so!”
“I can’t,” Mytim said, “But Dr.Strobnik can,”
“And who’s Dr. Strobnik?” Virjii demanded.
“He’s right there,” Mytim said, pointing at a couch along one wall. Virjii glanced over, saw nothing and returned his attention to Mytim.
“Clearly,” he said, “The fumes from that noxious polish are affecting your brain!”
“Have you considered an organic alternative?” Laarthi wondered, “There are some excellent dyes that can work,” she turned to Boxer, “Although at least the fumes are masking that terrible dog odour!”
“We’ll talk about odour after we start finding buried cat poop in the arboretum!” he shot back.
“What is all that racket?”
There was a ripple from the couch as a dark skinned form abruptly came into existence. Three of the officers jumped to their feet, Boxer’s hand going immediately for his phaser. Mytim didn’t even look up from her nails.
“That’s Dr.Strobnik,” she said.
“Sorry all,” the man said, “I dozed off while we were waiting for you.” Strobnik was…well, they weren’t sure what race he was. His dark flesh almost looked like chitin, though it might have just been very hard skin. His eyes were yellow and his neck was heavily armoured. In actuality he was a Plat’ik’nik, a race native to a hostile jungle planet. Their camouflage ability had helped them survive long enough to develop the technology needed to tame their world and the heavy neck contained not one, not three, but five separate nerve bundles connecting their unusually small primary brain with clusters of neural tissue scattered throughout their bodies. They weren’t much smarter than the average humanoid, but they did possess a level of neural redundancy that was almost unmatched in the Federation. In any event, it was Dr. Strobnik who had developed the Roadrunner and who would now explain to several frustrated officers and probably more than a few frustrated readers what the whole deal was about.
“The Roadrunner,” he began, “Is the result of several years of research into technology brought back by a ship called the USS Voyager. Has anybody heard of it? Show of hands, please,”
Exchanging puzzled glance, most of the officers raised their hands. Mytim was now carefully trimming a split end.
“Lt. Boxer?” Strobnik prompted.
“Voyager spent seven years stuck in the Delta Quadrant before hitching a ride back on a Borg ship,” he said.
“Lacking in detail, but essentially correct,” Strobnik said, “Now, Voyager had discovered an alien race with a propulsion technology called the Quantum Slipstream Drive. This technology allows a ship to create and traverse a hyper-dimensional tunnel through extremely deep layers of subspace. These quantum slipstreams would have allowed Voyager to return home in a matter of days.”
“So why didn’t they?” Boxer asked, “They must have messed something up. Rumour has it that ship messed up a lot,”
“Being stranded years from home isn’t exactly easy,” Virgii said.
“Not in this case,” Strobnik went on, “The problem was that slipstream drive requires immediate real-time calculations to compensate for conditions found within the slipstream. Failure to do so results in the vessel being catapulted out of the slipstream, likely into the nearest planet, star or other large gravity well. Federation computers just aren’t capable of that kind of real-time processing for anything larger than a runabout, or Voyager’s fancy ‘Delta Flyer’ ship.”
“Until now?” Laarthi ventured.
“No, not until now,” Strobnik said, “I don’t know, maybe they’ll figure something out sooner or later. But strapping a QS drive onto a larger ship isn’t my problem,”
“Then why are we talking about this?” Virjii crossed his arms.
Strobik tapped at a panel, bringing up a schematic of a large, dish-shaped object. Whatever it was, it was attached to an object that somewhat resembled a scaled-up communications relay.
“This is a Slipstream Stabilization device,” he said, “It sends out a pulse of energy that will temporarily reduce irregularities in the slipsteam long enough for the Roadrunner to safely navigate it. The idea is that the Roadrunner will map out the slipstream and bring the data back for processing. Once a slipstream is scanned and mapped, we can use that data to allow Roadrunner-class ships to tow larger ships through the slipstream,”
There was silence around the table for a few moments.
“So, the Roadrunner is launching a new era is deep-space exploration?” Virjii asked.
“No,” Mytim said, now apparently plucking her eyebrows in a pocket mirror, “Weren’t you paying attention? The ship can only travel routes it’s already traveled, unless it has one of those pulse-thingies to clear the way,”
Virjii shot an annoyed look at the woman, then turned back to Strobnik.
“This is true?” he asked.
“Well, essentially, yes. The Roadrunner will be a boon to Federation commerce, tourism and will bring Federation worlds within easier reach of each other than ever before!” he deflated slightly, “It’s just quite useless for space exploration at the moment,”
“I see,” Virjii looked thoughtful for a moment, “I quit. There is no way in the various hells you’re getting me into one of those deathtraps! I have already spent several years aboard a ship stranded halfway across the galaxy, and it’s not an experience I care to repeat!”
“You were on Voyager?” Laarthi asked, interested.
“Er…yes.” Virgii’s eyes darted from side to side, “Engineering. Good friends with Lt Cmdr Forbes,”
“I thought Voyager’s Chief Engineer was Lt Cmdr Torres,” Laarthi said.
“The point is, I’m not getting on this ship!”
“It’s really very safe. No Federation citizen has ever died in a quantum slipstream accident,” Strobnik said proudly.
“How many slipstream drives have been tested in the Federation?” Virjii countered.
“Well, we’ve run a lot of simulations,” Strobnik replied, “And our success rate has been most impressive,”
“If you count the whole Voyager thing, then not so much,” Mytim pointed out absently, “Ohhh, do we have any beauty masks? I just know those little baggies around my eyes are swelling up again!”
“But how many actual voyages has this thing made?” Virjii demanded, ignoring Mytim.
As the others argued, Laarthi caught Boxer’s gaze, then gave a subtle nod in the direction of the next room. Boxer lifted one ear, then cocked his head in confusion. She nodded more emphatically, this time silently mouthing ‘hanger’. Again, her hint didn’t register. Finally she stood up, latched the claws of one hand onto the back of Boxer’s uniform and pulled him towards the hanger.
“We need to have a moment alone,” she hissed to the others. Nobody seemed to care as she led Boxer out, the Sheppian shrugging off her hand with a yip and the sound of tearing cloth.
In the hanger they found a single small starship berthed. About four decks high, the hull was shaped almost like a flattened-down Intrepid class ship: a stretched out saucer flowing into a rear engineering section shaped like a flattened cylinder. A pair of long, sleek nacelles jutted straight out from the sides, tucked neatly behind the edge of the saucer. What made the ship strange was the large ring attached to the nacelle pylons, circling the rear half of the engineering section.
“The USS Roadrunner, I presume,” Laarthi mused, paying the prototype ship barely a glance. She immediately started prowling around the hanger, “We’re looking for a ‘Betazoid Boys’ lunch box,”
“And you have instructions that it’s in this hanger,” Boxer said, suddenly understanding why Laarthi had been so eager to leave the meeting.
Laarthi said nothing, merely swishing her tail in annoyance.
Boxer licked his chops. This cat thought she could be better at hide-and-seek than him? He’d show her! He’d find that box before she had a chance to even shed one hair of that disgusting feline fur of hers! He dropped down to all fours, sensitive nose sniffing for clues.
“Found it,” Laarthi announced smugly.
Boxer was not happy. Fighting against the instinct to curl his tail, he stood back up and joined her behind a cargo container. She opened the garishly decorated lunch box, revealing a holo-emitter. The emitter came to life, showing the image of an older Bolian.
“Special Agent Laarthi, Special Agent Boxer, your orders are as follows,” he said, not pausing to identify himself, “As per your cover assignment, you will be proceeding to Starbase 341 in orbit of Matria Prime where officially you will work with Matrian Intelligence as Stellar Cartographers. Your actual assignment from Starfleet Intelligence is to probe the reliability of the Matrian Intelligence organization prior to their absorption into SI. You are being sent to Matrian Space aboard the Roadrunner due to reports that somebody has offered to sell the prototype ship to the Orion Syndicate. I don’t have to tell you that the Orions must not get their hands on this technology. You are to locate and apprehend the seller with all haste. Close co-operation will be essential, so no fighting like cats and dogs!” The Bolian grinned, apparently pleased with his hyperbole. The hologram tilted his head, as though somebody was whispering in his ear.”
“Uhh, oh,” he said, the smile vanishing, “Sorry, just ignore that cat and dog comment. Really, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Please don’t charge me with harassment or anything. This message will self-destruct in…now!”
With a small bang, the lunch-box burst apart, filling the hanger with the smell of smoke and singed fur.
“I wish they’d give us more warning,” Boxer mused, patting out a smouldering patch on his arm. Laarthi glanced at her reflection in a panel, then gave a long-suffering sigh as she licked the back of one hand and tried to get the black carbon out of her fur.
Captain Simplot sat comfortably in the front seat of the runabout Cataraqui, looking out at the gleaming blue marble of Matria Prime. Shurgroe was at the pilot station, just in the process of signing off with the USS Champlain’s shuttlebay. The Cataraqui was the only Federation runabout being left at Starbase 341/Haven, with the expectation that the city’s shipyards would be able to produce more before long. Dr. Annerson was seated in one of the rear seats, a pile of medical gear stacked next to her. She leaned against a box of hypospray cartridges as she read an old-fashioned book, the cover of which was adorned with a scantily clad warrior-prince holding an equally scantily-clad warrior-elf. Next to Simplot sat a carrying case full of padds.
“Aren’t you going to look at those?” Shurgroe asked.
“What, the crew profiles?” Simplot shrugged, “Can’t see why they have to be finished now. It’ll be a month before our permanent crew gets here. And I don’t have any files on the Matrian crewmembers yet.” She looked over at Shurgroe. “Josh, aren’t you going to at least look out the window? It’s a gorgeous view!”
Shurgroe, piloting entirely by instrumentation, shook his head.
“N-no,” he swallowed nervously, “I don’t do too well with open spaces, you know that.
“Right, right. Why you decided to work in space is beyond me.”
“My psychic said it would be a good idea,” Shurgroe said, then fell quiet for a moment. “Have you see Lt Commander Jeffery since the ‘Farewell Stallion’ party?” he asked.
“No, Josh, I have not, and I’ll thank you not to bring it up,” Simplot said frostily. Lt Commander Jeffery had spent several weeks aboard the Stallion some time ago, just enough time for the somewhat…aggressive women of the ship to break down his barriers and turn him into a conquest. Simplot’s conquest, to be precise.
“Turned you down this time, did he?” Annerson said, not looking up from her book.
“He wants to put more effort into getting back together with his ex!” Simplot exploded, “Can you believe that? And all I did was ask if he wanted to get a drink later! I wasn’t trying to seduce him or anything! But apparently even being SEEN with another woman, no matter how platonic, would hurt his chances with her!”
“You weren’t going to stop with a drink,” Annerson went on, “You were going to get him into your quarter then…wait, hold on.” She started flipping through the book, “Where did I see…oh yes. ‘Sigh in pleasure as he takes you into his steely arms, giving you a deep, soulful kiss as he slides-“
“H-HEY!” Shurgroe interrupted, “Comfort level exceeded!”
“Sorry Josh,” Annerson said, closing her book, “But y’know, I’m sure they write these things from your perspective too,”
“Yes, but when it’s written from your perspective it’s called erotic literature, while from our perspective it’s called pornography,” Shurgroe said, “The whole thing is a double standard.
“Yes, but on Matria Prime it’s the other way around,”
Shrugroe glanced at Simplot in confusion.
“You didn’t know that?” she asked, “In Matrian society it’s the women that are driven by sex, sport, drink and a lust for power,”
“That’s not really fair, Liz,” Annerson said.
“OK, no. But you know what I mean. The women are more manly and the men are more…womanish,”
“That’s also an unfair generalization. But they’re also one of the only races to survive a hundred-year war split on gender lines without going extinct,” Annerson added.
“So, if I’m dating a Matrian girl, she’s going to be acting…masculine?” Shurgroe said, looking more than a bit worried.
“Don’t worry, Josh,” Simplot patted his shoulder, “I’m sure we’ll have lots of girly-girl tourists coming in from Federation space for you to-“
“We’re coming up on Starbase 341!” Shurgroe announced loudly, “Do you want the Captain’s Tour?”
“We’ve already seen the station,” Annerson said, “We’ve been in Matrian space for months!”
“Yes, but this time I’m looking at my new command!” Simplot objected, “Yes, I want the Captain’s Tour!”
Simplot looked out the front window as her new home came into view.
Starbase 341, more informally known as the City of Haven, hovered in space over Matria Prime, a fat grey disk well over three kilometres in diameter. From their current approach they could see the broad underside of the city. In the center was a huge energy transceiver array, used to channel power from the planet to the city during the city’s launch two months prior. Six heavy, purplish support columns ran to the outer edge of the disc, expanding into six curved, triangular extrusions. A series of dark engines ringed the underside of the city, capable of moving it at speeds up to full impulse. Looking up towards the edge of the outside rim one could see that the curved extrusions housed Haven’s six shipyards. Ringing the outer edge of the city between the shipyards was a band containing hundreds of brightly lit windows, interspaced with a series of docking bays.
“It’s sure…big…” Shurgroe said, looking at his displays. He didn’t even look out the window as he brought the runabout up over the edge.
He may not have been paying attention, but Annerson and Simplot were transfixed by the view out the windows. As the runabout cleared the outer rim they could see why exactly Haven was referred to as a city instead of a space station. Above the upper surface of the disc arced a gleaming, transparent dome beneath which stood dozens upon dozens of towers. Illumination units built into the dome supports were dark, indicating that the city was in its night cycle. A series of glowing antigravity tracks converged in the center of the city where a large cluster of buildings was surrounded by a ring-shaped lake, the waters reflecting the stars above the dome. Surrounded by the Outer Rim on all sides, the city gave the impression of being built in the protection of an isolated valley, or inside the lip of a perfectly circular crater.
The shuttle arced over the dome. Dead-center, the central building complex reached right to the dome itself, where the pod- shaped command complex was imbedded halfway through the clear material. Looking through the broad windows, Simplot could see the temporary caretaker crew sitting at their stations. One Matrian female looked up at the runabout, waving politely before returning to work.
Passing the command complex, the runabout followed the curve of the dome down to the Outer Rim. The heavy doors of one of the hangers were already opening, flower-petal style, as the runabout lined itself up with the approach vector. A hatch in the ceiling opened and an oddly shaped platform easily big enough for the runabout slid down, support struts linking it to a central column. Once the landing platform had reached its lowest position, Shurgroe set the runabout down gently and finally pulled his eyes from the display.
“So,” he asked, “Did I miss anything?”
They secured the runabout, then stood on the landing pad for several minutes.
“Shouldn’t somebody be here to meet us?” Simplot wondered, one index finger in her mouth, “I mean, I’m the new Commanding Officer, right? I should get a greeting party.”
“You’d think,” Annerson agreed.
They looked around. The hanger doors had already closed and the bay appeared to be deserted. Halfway up one wall near the doors a command booth extended out into the bay, its multi- faceted design almost making it look like an eyeball embedded in the wall. Inside they could see a single female in a Matrian uniform as she tapped at her console, then rose from her seat and left the booth.
“Maybe she’s coming down to meet us?” Shurgroe wondered.
“Of course,” Simplot nodded agreeably, “She’ll be here in a minute or two.”
Boxer and Laarthi sat with Mytim and Dr. Strobnik in the v-shaped cockpit of the USS Roadrunner. Technically it could have been called a bridge; there was a curved Helm station in front at the bottom of the ‘V’, a command chair in the middle and twin stations in the rear corners for Ops and Tactical, facing outward. To the left and right of the command chair adjacent to the helm console were stations for Sciences and Navigation. Most ships no longer had separate navigation stations, but one had been added in given the special nature of the Roadrunner. Despite the bridge-like layout, the room was still fairly small, which was why Boxer was thinking of it as a cockpit.
“Lieutenant Mytim, why don’t you handle Sciences,” Dr. Strobnik said, “I will handle Navigation. Lieutenant Boxer, I understand you’re a qualified pilot?”
Boxer looked worried.
“I’m qualified for normal flight. I’ve never flown in a slippery-stream before,”
“Don’t worry about it,” Strobnik said, “I’ll be doing the QS work from Navigation. Now, just-“
“Why does he get to pilot the ship?” Laarthi demanded.
“Well, I just thought-“
“That I wasn’t suitable?” Laarthi was almost hissing, “I ranked fourth in my Academy pilot training!”
“If it’s really that big a deal,” Strobnik shrugged.
“It isn’t,” Boxer said, sitting at the helm.
“Stop shedding in my seat!” Laarthi snapped.
“Go choke on a furball,” Boxer shot back.
“Who’s supposed to be in command of this mission?” Mytim asked curiously.
“Lieutenant Commander Virjii,” Strobnik said worriedly, “But we had to sedate him to get him on board.”
“Why don’t you just go back to your quarters and lick yourself for an hour or two while I handle the piloting?” Laarthi was saying.
“Because I’m here to do my duty,” Boxer said, “Oh, wait, I forgot. Felines have no concept of duty or loyalty,”
“Maybe we can get one of the other Roadrunner crew members to fly this thing?” Mytim suggested.
“OK change of plans!” Strobnik said loudly, “Mytim, you’re piloting. Laarthi, you’re at Sciences and Boxer, you’re at Ops. We’ll all trade places later, OK?”
There was some grumbling, but everybody eventually sat down at their stations. They sat there, staring at each other for a moment.
“Oh, right,” Strobnik said, “Virjii was supposed to do…the thing. Ahem. Roadrunner to Ops, requesting departure clearance.”
“Clearance granted, Roadrunner. Good luck,”
The hanger door in front of them opened. Mytim tapped at the panel for a moment.
“Haven’t flown this class before-OOPS!”
There was a shudder, then the view out the front window abruptly dropped, tilting down. Mytim tapped again, firing thrusters and managing to pull the ship out of the hanger before the saucer dropped all the way to the deck.
“Brought in the landing struts too soon,” Mytim tittered nervously, “Forgot about that silly ring-thing at the back,”
The hanger gave way to stars as the Roadrunner slid into space.
“I don’t think she’s coming,” Annerson said. They’d been standing next to the Cataraqui for close to forty-five minutes now.
“Well pooh,” Simplot said, crossing her arms, “I was expecting at least some kind of welcome party. I mean, I won’t lie; I was really hoping the Matrians would have go-go boys for it, or something. But I would have settled for a group of appreciative crewmen and a chance to make a speech.” She grimaced. “Josh, call somebody! Make things happen!”
“Call…what? Who?” Shurgroe blinked.
“I don’t care!”
“Uh,” Shurgroe tapped his badge. “Shurgroe to Ops,”
“Shurgroe to Command Complex? Shurgroe to…to…Shipyard One? Shrugroe to anybody?”
The badge remained dead.
“Ohhh, their comm system must run on a different frequency or something!” Simplot fumed, “Come on!”
She started marching off the landing platform and onto a railed walkway that led along the platform support column and towards the rear wall of the hanger. An adjustable ramp made sure the platform was accessible, regardless of its position.
“Liz, where are we going?” Annerson asked as she moved to keep up.
“To the command complex!” Simplot said, “How hard can it be to find?”
Shurgroe looked around the big, ten-deck docking bay and considered the fact that there were eleven more like it spaced around a rim with a diameter measured in kilometers.
“Very, very hard,” he squeaked. But the women were almost at the hanger exit. Not wanting to be left behind, he jogged to keep up.
The corridors in this part of the city/station were wide, well-lit and very much felt like they belonged in a starship or starbase. Red and blue were the dominant colours, with dark blue support beams and swirly red wall panels. The corridor walls curved inward, broken by the occasional door. Wide vid-screens were strategically placed, but they were either disconnected or nobody present knew how to turn them on. After several minutes of walking, they found a turbolift.
“Command complex,” Simplot ordered as the doors hissed shut.
The lift gave an unpleasant sounding ‘bllaaattt’.
“Is my universal translator working?” Simplot asked Annerson.
“Go eat a slug,” Annerson replied.
“Why, would it help?”
“No, but if you understand that, your translator is working.”
The stood there for a moment.
“Central tower?” Shurgroe tried.
The lift smoothly accelerated, then began to slow. Within seconds the doors had opened again onto a similar corridor. The trio cautiously stepped out. Behind them, the lift doors closed and they could hear the car move away.
“Uh-oh,” Simplot muttered, “Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea,”
“I don’t think he’s going to stay in the seat,” Boxer said. He’d been sent back to one of the cramped sets of living quarters to fetch Lt. Cmdr Virjii. The man had been drugged to get him calmly aboard the Roadrunner, and now he was slouched in the command chair.
“Hmm. If only we had something to strap him in with. Some sort of belt that was attached to the seat. A seat belt, if you will,” Strobnik cocked his head, “What an interesting idea. I wonder why nobody’s though of it?”
“Can we get going?” Laarthi asked, “I don’t like being cooped up in this tin can! My quarters don’t have so much as a single flower!”
“Yes, yes. They’re just charging the Slipstream Stabilizer now,” Strobnik said, waving one had absently; “If nothing shorts out we’ll be ready to go very soon.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” Laarthi said suddenly, “I don’t want to get going. In fact, I want off this ship before it goes anywhere,”
“Fraidy-cat,” Boxer said.
“Oh, like I haven’t heard THAT one before!”
“I’m sure you’ve heard it plenty,”
“Starbase 45 to Roadrunner,” the comm came to life, “Slipstream pulse in ten seconds. Standby,”
“Once the pulse fires, we’ll have less than half a minute to get in behind it,” Strobnik said.
Outside the Roadrunner’s cockpit windows, Boxer could see that they were coming up on the big, dish-shaped contraption. Nearly as big as an Excelsior-class saucer, the device was small enough that a ship could tow it, but much too big to be mounted on a ship itself. A boxy section behind the dish held the power core. Stabilization thrusters fired at random as energy levels built. There was a flash of light from the dish, and the brief impression of something directly at the focal point. It almost seamed as though liquid blue fire was swirling down a giant drain, but before the image could sink in it was wiped out by a brilliant flash of light.
“IN! IN!” Strobnik said frantically, “Activate the slipstream drive!”
“Ouuutttt,” Virjii slurred.
“Meep!” Mytim squeezed her eyes shut and tapped the ‘activate’ button. There was a smooth shifting sensation; outside the window space seamed to give way, splitting on all sides to reveal a shimmering black and blue tunnel.
Mytim opened one eye.
“That’s it?” she asked.
“What were you expecting?” Boxer asked.
“Well, from the Voyager report, I was expecting a lot of shaking and rattling and alarms,” she admitted.
“I told you, we’ve been working on this for a while.” Strobnik said proudly, “It’s perfectly-“
The ship shuddered as it hit a subspace fibre bundle.
“Safe,” Strobnik finished.
The ship shook again, this time jolting Virjii out of his seat.
“Aren’t we supposed to be scanning for bad things that might blow us up?” Boxer asked.
“Ahem,” Strobnik cleared his throat, “They won’t blow us up, but they might toss us out of the slipstream. And…er…into a planet,”
They stared at him for a moment.
“Sooo…yes, then,” Laarthi said.
Hours after leaving the turbolift, Simplot, Shurgroe and Annerson were no closer to finding the command center. They’d found offices, living quarters, cargo bays and even a few public spaces. But they were still stuck in the outer rim and couldn’t seem to be able to figure out how to get into the city itself.
“This is ridiculous,” Simplot fumed, “I’m tired and hungry and I’m SUPPOSED TO BE IN CHARGE HERE!”
“We’ve g-g-g-gone as far as we can in that way and that way,” Shurgroe said, pointing in opposite directions. “We must still be in the rim. We just have to find a level that connects to the city,”
“No, we are NOT going back into another turbolift!” Simplot shot back, “That’s what started this whole mess!”
“Then we’re probably going to keep walking in a circle!” now Shurgroe was starting to get peeved. He kept scratching at the odd symbols shaved into his scalp, “Ohhh, I knew I should have used Persephone today instead of Loki,”
“Those aren’t even from the same mythologies!” Annerson rolled her eyes.
“The Following of Persephone includes all mythologies,” Shurgroe said, “That’s what makes it so great,”
“Are you still going to those silly cult conferences?” Simplot asked.
“More importantly, ARE WE STILL LOST??” Annerson demanded.
They rounded a turn in the corridor and found a small sitting nook.
“I’m taking a break,” Simplot announced, plopping into a seat, “Wake me up when something important happens.”
They all looked around, trying to find the source of the voice.
“Um, hi?” Simplot called back. There was the sound of running footsteps, then a man in a Starfleet uniform came running around the corner.
“By Mi Clane,” he exclaimed, “At last! I’ve been alone down here for the past two days! Have you any food? There was water in the bathrooms, but I’m starving!”
The man was wearing the mustard yellow collar of Operations, though his uniform was somewhat rumpled and the scent of body odour was heavy.
“We just got here,” Simplot said, trying to stay upwind, “I’m Captain Elizabeth Simplot, station commander-“
“City commander,” Shurgroe corrected helpfully, “I’m Josh Shurgroe…shipbuilder!”
“Shut up, Josh,” Simplot said, “Now, who are you?”
“I’m Lt Commander Wyer,” the man said, “I am…let me see if I can get the right. I am to be the Director of DoDO, which from what I understand stands for Department of Dome Operations.”
“I’m the doctor,” Annerson spoke up, “Not that any of you seem to care. At least not until you’ve had your arm burnt off and you’re running around screaming ‘oh, the humanity’,”
“She gets a little cranky when she’s lost in a strange station,” Simplot said.
“City,” Shurgroe corrected.
“SHUT THE F…I mean, thank you, Josh,”
“S-S-S-She’s cranky too,” Shurgroe told Wyer, “By the way, what species are you?”
“Yynsian,” Wyer replied.
“Oh, really? So you have past lives?” Shurgroe asked eagerly.
Wyer looked uncomfortable.
“Fourteen,” he admitted.
“Isn’t that a lot?” Annerson asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it,”
They stared at each other in silence for a moment. Then Wyer sat in one of the empty seats.
“I’m taking a nap,” Simplot announced, curling up in her chair. “Wake me up if something important happens.
“Champlain to Captain Simplot,” chirped her com.-badge. Shurgroe and Annerson stared at her in shock. Wyer’s jaw dropped.
“You mean, all that time and we never thought to try calling one of the ships?” Annerson asked, not really sounding like she wanted to hear the answer.
“All this time HE never thought to call one of the ships?” Simplot pointed at Wyer.
“I don’t believe this,” Shurgroe groaned, letting his face fall into his hands.
“Simplot here,” she tapped her badge.
“Ma’am, we have a priority transmission coming in from Starbase 45. You’re needed in Ops immediately,”
“We’ve been trying to get there,” Simplot snapped, “But we’re lost! The Matrians never sent anybody to meet us!”
There was an strange triple beep as the Champlain added another channel to the call.
“This is Colonel Abela, Haven Command Complex,” a firm, crisp voice said, “And I sent that lazy security guard your arrival times hours ago!”
“Well, nobody met us, and now we’re stuck, and our comm- badges didn’t work, and the turbolift wouldn’t go anywhere, and there’s no signs, and-“ Shurgroe was rambling.
“I sent him to meet you, your comm-badges just need a minor frequency adjustment and the turbolifts won’t take you out of your current section without a command override. Why didn’t you take the tram?”
“What tram?” Wyer jumped in.
There was silence for a moment.
“Stay where you are,” Abela came back, “I’m sending a security team to bring you in,”
“BUT WE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG!” Shurgroe wailed, “I’M TOO PRETTY TO GO TO JAIL! THEY’LL DO TERRIBLE THINGS TO ME THERE!”
“Josh, SHUT UP!” Simplot snapped, “Yes, thank you. A security team would be good.”
After half an hour (and a forced injection of Shurgroe’s medication) there was still no sign of the promised team.
“Maybe they got lost too?” Annerson worried.
“No ma’am, we’re right here,”
“AHHHH!!!” Annerson shrieked, jumping two feet in the air and spinning around to face a nearly naked Matrian male. Shurgroe, Wyer and Simplot jumped to their feet, finding themselves surrounded.
The Matrians were more fit than Simplot might have expected. She didn’t expect this fact to be so evident either, but the fact was the whole security team was dressed in loincloths. They were also barefoot, which explained how they were able to move in without alerting anybody. Their long hair was braided behind their backs, their faces were painted with a variety of blues, reds and greens and they had an assortment of straps around arms or legs. Possibly around other, hidden appendages.
“I’m Lieutenant Franches of the Haven Civil Protection Team,” the Matrian male behind Annerson introduced himself.
“I think we need to find them a cool nickname,” Simplot muttered to Shurgoe.
“This is Seargent Belil, my second in command,” Franches went on, introducing a well-built Matrian woman, “And Corporals Plak and Xikk, squad A and B leaders. May we escort you to the Command Complex?”
“Please,” Simplot nodded politely, “And sorry for interrupting your jungle warfare simulation.”
“Simulation?” Franches asked curiously.
“Nevermind,” Simplot muttered.
The tram ride to the command complex was fast.
“I apologize for taking you through the lower tunnels,” Fanches said, gesturing out at the dimly lit tunnel walls as they rushed by outside the tram windows, “But the topside tracks are down for maintenance,”
“It’s just as well,” Shurgoe said, “I’m a bit agoraphobic…that big dome would make me nervous.”
“Er, yes sir,”
The tram suddenly curved to the right, then it curved up and the tam shot out into a cavernous, ring-shaped space. A series of interconnected antigravity tracks covered the floor, with long, narrow planter-boxes filled with small trees and shrubs strategically placed between them. The ceiling was high above them, various lighting panels hanging down and filling the space with bright, cheerful light. Glass-enclosed staircases led up from the tram loading platforms and several balconies overlooked the space. Nearby, a glass-enclosed crossover bridge connected an elaborate staircase on the outer side of the ring with twin balconies on the inner side.
“This is the Transit Hub,” Franches said as the tram pulled into a platform on the inner side, “This is the heart of our public transit system,”
“Roomy,” Annerson commented.
“Oh, do they have a coffee shop?” Shurgoe asked, “I could use a latte,”
“Priority message, Josh,”
Franches and his team led them down the platform and into a corridor, this one rectangular and paneled in a regular, red & black pattern. Unlike the corridors in the outer rim, this one felt like it belonged in a public building as opposed to a ship. Soon they reached a lobby.
They stepped into a turbolift, one of three visible. Franches pulled out a small, padd-like device and tapped it against the control panel. The lift immediately shot upwards. Through the glass windows in the turbolift doors they could see a blur as dozens of levels sped by.
“You might not like this part,” Franches said to Shurgroe.
As the car slowed, the view changed from passing levels to a dark shaft as the turbolift car moved from the administrative levels of the Command Tower and towards its peak, where it met the underside of the Command Complex embedded in the city dome. Suddenly, the dark shaft was replaced with glass walls offering an unobstructed view of the city from just below the peak of the dome.
In the Command Complex itself, Colonel Myres Abela looked anxiously at the chrono on a nearby panel. The control center for the city, the Command Complex was housed in a three-level, pill-shaped pod. The lower level had three turbolift shafts facing out from a central column, ringed by a stone-floored walkway. Six curving windows looked down into the city, holographic overlays able to pinpoint specific buildings or areas of interest. Three curved staircases led to a second walkway that ringed the outer edge of the pod. The outer edge of this walkway was covered in display screens and hidden doorways leading into small offices just off the main chamber. The inner edge sported railings and the occasional lighting unit. Three more stairways led to the command deck itself; a circular affair perched atop the turbolift column and sporting nine outward facing control pulpits and a holographic display table. Six more curving windows spread over the upper surface of the pod, looking out into space. In the distance, Abela could see the USS Champlain as it continued its routine patrol of the system.
“Silly tribesmen should have been here already,” she grunted.
“Yes ma’am,” a nearby sensor technician agreed.
“Stop kissing ass!” Abela snapped. She frowned. “Does anybody hear else hear screaming?”
The sensor technician bit her lip.
“What?” Abela demanded.
Oh, right. She’d just dressed down that particular crew member.
“Speak your mind!” Abela said, trying not to snap.
“Yes ma’am, I hear screaming,”
“There, was a little honesty so hard?” Abela demanded.
Choosing not to reply, the tech turned back to her panel, only to jump as the turbolift doors down below hissed open and the screaming came to full volume.
Down below, Shurgroe was bolting out of the turbolift.
“Somebody get him!” Annerson shouted.
Before they could catch him, Shurgroe had run into the railing surrounding the lower walkway. He caught himself on the wood rail, finding himself staring down a sheer drop of over sixty levels, right down to the roof of the command tower base.
“AHHHHHH!!!!!!!” Shurgroe seized Simplot in a panicked grasp.
“Aw, c’mon, get off me!” Simplot objected.
“Hold on!” Annerson called, “Just let me…there!”
Coming up behind Shurgroe, she clapped her hands firmly over his eyes. He immediately calmed, screams fading to heavy breathing.
“Josh? Let go of me,” Simplot said, “Now,”
“Um…um…” Shurgroe stuttered, “Not yet,”
“You know,” a voice said from above them, “In the old Matrian Defence Force I used to serve in, officers were discouraged from public displays of affection,”
The Starfleet officers looked up. Leaning over the railing of the command deck two levels above them was a severe-looking Matrian woman. She wore the bluish-reddish-purplish fatigues of the Matrian Defence Force, with a rank insignia of some kind affixed to her sleeve. Her long, auburn hair was pulled back, braided and as impeccably groomed as the rest of her.
“Well,” Simplot said, trying to shrug Shurgroe off (and failing), “I guess we do things a little bit differently in Starfleet,”
“Clearly,” Abela said disdainfully.
Finally shaking off Shurgroe, Simplot began mounting the stairs to the second level.
“Josh has a bit of a problem with heights,” she said, trying to salvage some level of professionalism, “We’re not…involved, if that’s what you’re worried about,”
“What I’m worried about is the fact that Starfleet has apparently sent us a group of officers that not only can’t find their way from a docking bay to a control room, but also has a series of psychological problems!”
“Must be requirement to work here,” the sensor technician commented. Abela glared at her.
“Just speaking my mind, ma’am,” the technician muttered.
“Why don’t you spend two hundred years bouncing between sitting in a stasis tube and watching your civilization collapse around you!” Abela snapped.
“I believe somebody has a back-story,” Wyer said as he followed Simplot up the stairs.
“Yeah, luckily it’s already been told,” Simplot replied, “The Silverado crew found this woman stashed in a stasis tube in Haven’s basement. She was the construction manager here before their Gender War broke out and their civilization collapsed.”
“I’m also your new First Officer,” Abela said dryly, turning to face Simplot as she and Wyer came around the second level and made their way up the next set of stairs to the command deck. Further down, Annerson was leading Shurgroe carefully up the stairs.
“Well, I’m sure we’ll be the bestest of friends,” Simplots said, trying to be diplomatic.
“I doubt it,” Abela said frankly, “But if working for you for a year or two gets me a Starfleet commission and you out of here, I’ll put up with you for the time being,”
“Put up with me?” Simplot was taken aback.
“Starfleet commission?” Wyer asked.
“Not now,” Abela cut them both off, “I believe there is a very impatient Admiral who has been waiting two hours for you to make your way here!”
“Ohhh, he’s going to be mad, isn’t he?” Simplot sighed.
“Fissett, bring the Admiral on line,” Abela ordered.
A Matrian officer tapped at her panel, then a hologram of Admiral Tunney’s head appeared over the central holo-table.
“Captain Simplot, where the hell have you been?” he demanded.
“Lost,” Simplot cringed, “They didn’t send a welcoming party! We couldn’t find our way from the-“
“I don’t care,” Tunney cut her off, “Now listen carefully: Lieutenant Commander Virgii, your new Chief Engineer along with Lieutenant Mytim, Lieutenant Boxer and Lieutenant Laarthi are en route to Haven in a prototype ship, the USS Roadrunner,”
“Um, OK,” Simplot said cautiously.
“Without going into boring details, our scientists here picked up some strange readings when the Roadrunner departed,” Tunney went on, “Long story short, the ship’s going to fly right past Matria Prime and end up lost in the galactic core if you don’t pull them out of slipstream drive!”
“Slipstream drive?” Wyer asked.
“Roadrunner?” Simplot wondered.
Colonel Abela was looking from Tunney’s hologram to Simplot and back again.
“You people,” she shook her head, “You’ve screwed up again, and now somebody has to pull your ovaries out of the fire,”
The men winced.
“Can you make the short story a little longer?” Wyer asked after a moment.
Tunney quickly explained the prototype drive, the slipstream stabilizer and the Roadrunner’s modus operandi.
“The Roadrunner is meant to tow larger ships, so on her own the drive is only supposed to be used at 30% capacity,” Tunney said, “Higher than that and the risk of getting knocked out of the slipstream rises to unacceptable levels. Our readings indicate that not only was the drive activated at nearly three times that power level, but at this rate they’re going to flash right past their destination and by the time they realize it they’ll be years from the Federation at conventional warp!”
“Ohhh, geez,” Simplot covered her eyes with one hand, “That means we’re going to be short-staffed, doesn’t it?”
“My people are MORE than competent,” Abela cut in.
“We all hope so,” Tunney said, “Because from what the egg-heads here tell me, Haven is the only object in their path that might actually be able to save them.
Aboard the Roadrunner, thing were quiet. Boxer and Laarthi had been seated at the two rear stations, as far away from each other as they could get in the ship’s cockpit/bridge. Mytim was still piloting and Dr. Stobnick was handing a glass of cold seltzer water to Virgii.
“So,” the still shaken man said, “you forced me aboard this ship against my will, drugged me, and now you want me to command you all for the rest of the trip?”
“It’s your assignment,” Laarthi pointed out from the back, “So yes, we do,”
“Bloody fine mess,” Virgii grumpled. The small ship bucked, sloshing bubbly liquid all over his uniform shirt, “And is the ride supposed to be this rough?” he demanded.
“It’s not,” Stobnick said, “Lieutenant Mytim, confirm our velocity, please?”
“Board shows the slipstream drive at 18%,” Mytim said, “right where you wanted it.”
“Odd,” Stobnick frowned.
Stobnick’s navigation panel started beeping.
“That’s also odd,” he tapped at it for several moments, “Mytim, are you trying to adjust our course?”
“No, I’d like us to go in a straight line so I can concentrate on more important things,” Mytim replied, “Like these horribly dry elbows of mine!”
“It looks like we’re going straight,” Virgii pointed out the window where the blue and black slipstream tunnel seemed to stretch into infinity.
“Changing course at slipstream velocities isn’t as simple as turning the ship!” Stobnick said, “It requires highly complex calculations and preferably a pre-mapped and stabilized slipstream trajectory. Frankly, a course correction in the Roadrunner would be idiotic at this point,”
“This whole ship is suicide in general,” Virgii muttered.
“The navigational computer is trying to compute a course correction,” Strobnik was starting to sound panicked, “If it sends the commands to the drive…but why is it doing this in the first place?”
Laarthi and Boxer exchanged a look, then bolted out the rear door and out of the cockpit.
“We’ll check it out,” Boxer called over one shoulder.
“Let me see if I understand,” Abela said, “Your fancy new experimental ship is flying through an extra-dimensional tunnel, and you think the only way to force it back into normal space is by using Haven’s energy transceiver,”
Shurgroe and Wyer were huddled over Lieutenant Fissett at the Matrian’s station.
“Modifying big energy-things to solve all our problems is, like, 80% of what Starfleet does,” Simplot informed her.
“And this will not damage the city?”
“No, but we do have to move it a few million kilometers for a bit,” Wyer called.
“And we better get going,” Shurgroe added, “We’ve got less than an hour before the Roadrunner passes through. Their projected course takes them right past the orbit of Matria VI.”
“This is a CITY,” Abela snapped, “Not a starship! You can’t just fly it around whenever you feel like it!”
“Actually, since I’m in command here, I’m pretty sure I can,” Simplot said, standing firmly next to the larger woman.
“Try it, child,” Abela napped.
Annerson, finally freed from babysitting Shurgroe now that he was in the relatively confining command deck, could see that maybe a different approach was called for.
“Colonel,” she said, “You oversaw the construction of the city, right?”
“I did,” Abela looked down her nose, “And who are you?”
“I’m your new Chief Surgeon,” Annerson replied.
“Charming. Would you like an escort to the clinic? I’m afraid the hospital hasn’t been opened up yet,”
“I’d like a demonstration of the engines on this city,” Annerson said slyly, “I mean, you had to find something that could launch the whole city off the planet, right? They must be pretty powerful,”
“The impulse and antigravity drives channelled power from the planet for lift-off,” Abela waved a hand, “They couldn’t possibly launch the city off the planet on their own,”
“But they can still move it, right?” Annerson said, “I mean, the city must be capable of moving itself.”
“It’s not a question of capability,” Abela said, “It’s a question of taking an important historical artefact and joy-riding around the solar system with it!”
“The lives of over twenty people could be at stake,” Simplot chimed in, seeing the game Annerson was playing, “Do you really think your council would object to trying to save them?”
“We promise to put the city back when we’re done with it,” Annerson said. She turned to Simplot, “Right? I mean, there was that whole Deep Space Nine thing,”
“Yes, we’ll put it back,” Simplot said, “Really, do you think I want to be out of beaming range of all those shopping opportunities?” she waved a hand towards the planet.
Abela looked from one woman to the other.
“Oh very well,” she turned to her officers, “Bring the reactors to full power and begin diverting energy to the propulsion systems. Set course to,”
“186 mark 45,” Wyer called.
“What he said,”
Underneath the broad gray outer rim of Haven, the ring of impulse engine outlets flickered to life. Power surged from the city’s three antimatter reactors, diverted away from the buildings and city systems they were meant to support and into the propulsion systems. Empty as it was, nobody was really around to notice. Nor did many notice the deep rumbling as the engines cycled up, pushing the city out of orbit and towards Matria VI.
“I hope you’re happy,” Abela said, checking a display, “We’ve just gone through the entire monthly fuel usage estimate, and that’s just to accelerate to full impulse!”
“In ten minutes? Wyer asked.
“We have a few hundred people in a city designed for a million!” Abela said, “Most of the city is shut down!”
“My tummy feels funny,” Shurgoe said, “Can I look at the inertial dampeners? I think they’re out of whack,”
“How are those energy pulse modifications coming?” Simplot asked.
“Ma’am, Major Jakerd, Matrian Defence Corps of Engineers,” a stocky male turned from one console, “Haven’s energy transceiver was designed to transfer power between the city and the planet for lift-off, landing or emergencies. One of the design options actually calls for it to be dismantled so the city can be expanded downward,”
“So…is it going to work?”
Jakerd bit his lip.
“I think so?”
Simplot and Abela turned to stare at him.
“I’ve never done anything like this before!” Jakerd wailed, tears coming to his eyes, “I’m not a crazy intergalactic hero! I just wanna do my job and be home in time for supper!”
“Oh way to go,” Abela shook her head, “Now you set him off! Maybe he and your engineer can have a hugging session to fix everybody’s hurt feelings?”
“Really?” Jakerd asked hopefully.
“NO!” Abela and Simplot snapped.
“We’re coming up on Matria VI,” Fisset called, some time later, “Initiating breaking manoeuvre.”
Haven abruptly began to tilt on its axis as Fisset started a rotation, bringing the city around so the underside (and the engines) were pointed directly in the direction of flight. The engines flared to life again, slowing the city as it approached its destination.
“Another ten minutes to stop, then we’re set,” Fisset reported.
“This thing handles like a…like a…” Shurgoe searched for a term.
“Like a billion-tonne city that’s supposed to STAY IN ONE PLACE???” Abela shouted.
“Yeah, exactly like that,” Shurgroe cringed.
Boxer and Laarthi rushed down a ladder and onto the Roadrunner’s lowest deck.
“You realize this navigational problem isn’t a coincidence!” Laarthi said.
“Then you probably know what it means!”
“We have a saboteur on board, I would guess!” Boxer growled.
“And we’re probably all going to die horribly!”
“Don’t be such a drama queen,” Boxer replied. He was sniffing the air carefully as they began moving quickly down the cramped corridor, “Go check the warp core while I go sniff around the computer core,”
“I don’t take orders from you, Agent Boxer!” Laarthi hissed.
“How about from your sense of self-preservation?”
With a final hiss, Laarthi turned and scampered towards engineering.
“Peace at last,” Boxer sighed, rubbing his hand-paws over his arms in an effort to get rid of the orangish cat-hair that was sticking there. So much for a quiet assignment with a fun partner who’d enjoy the finer things in life, like chasing squirrels and playing with the ducks.
He stepped into the Roadrunner’s small computer core room, barely more than a closet squished between the corridor and the two-deck computer core itself. His eyes scanned the room, his nose filled with an unfamiliar odour. One of the Roadrunner crew he hadn’t met yet? No, there was something familiar about the smell, but he couldn’t quite put his nose on it.
Normal, normal, normal…wait. Why was there a blinking green box plugged in next to the navigational computer?
There was a sudden pain in the back of his head, then the world went dark.
“OK, we’re reached the coordinates,” Lieutenant Fisset reported, “We’ll get pulled into Matria VI’s gravity well eventually, but we’re stable for the moment.
“Shipyard 3 is calling,” reported another Matrian tech, “They want us to know that we’ve left a trail of dismantled starship pieces all the way back to Matria Prime, and that it better be for a good reason,”
“I’ll talk to them,” Shurgroe said brightly, “I am, a-a-after all, Director of Shipbuilding!”
“Welcome to them,” Abela said, gesturing, “Those people have done nothing but whine ever since we took on their little starship refit project,”
“The Roadrunner will be passing through in eight minutes,” Wyer said, eyeing a panel, “We need to breach the slipstream before they get here,”
“Start the energy pulse,” Abela commanded.
“Belay that!” Simplot snapped. The Matrian crew looked at Abela, then her, then back at Abela. Slowly, Abela turned to her.
“And why,” she asked, her voice low, “are you questioning me?”
“Because it’s not time yet,” Simplot replied, “You were twenty seconds early,” she glanced at the clock, waited a moment, then turned to Fissett.
“Initiate energy beam,” she ordered.
Fissett looked at Abela, who nodded. He tapped his panel. Directly below the command complex, on the underside of the city, the energy beam emitter powered up. Energy discharges danced between the grouping of slender, conical transceivers, finally merging into a single beam that speared out. A few kilometres away, space seemed to flex, then warp. A small tear appeared, with energy from the beam vanishing into the extra-dimensional realms where slipstream drive was possible.
In the command tower, the crew could see the lights in the city dimming as power was redirected away from the buildings.
“Put the pulse on screen,” Simplot ordered. Fissett just gave her a confused look.
“Activate exterior view,” Abela ordered, moving to the railing as the command complex lights dimmed to ‘ambient night-time’ mode. Simplot, Wyer and Shurgroe gathered around the central holo-table, but nothing happened. Abela, however, had a full view as the lower windows flickered, changing into display screens showing sensor footage from directly below the city. The screens ringing the second level likewise changed from showing security footage to showing sensor footage from the city perimeter. For all intents and purposes, the command pod appeared to its occupants to be floating free in space, the city gone from view.
“Your screen is broken,” Simplot called, pointing at the holo- table.
Abela sighed, then gestured at Fissett. With a few button taps, Fissett put the under-city view onto the holo-table.
“Wow,” Simplot said, staring down into the table, “It’s like looking out a window!”
“You honestly expect me to believe that with the technology at your command, you still prefer to stare at a flat screen?” Abela demanded.
“It’s a flat holographic screen,” Simplot pointed out, “And what else would we stare at?”
Abela stared down at the stunning view now displayed outside the lower windows and the perfect illusion that the pod was free-floating.
“Just forget it,” she said with disgust.
“Five minutes until we breach the slipstream,” Wyer said.
Agent Laarthi paced the Roadrunner’s tiny engine room. The warp core was humming away, all the consoles were blinking the way they should be and there was absolutely no sign that anything was amiss.
“Stupid dog,” she muttered, “Who sabotages a computer core when everybody knows engineering is the place to go,”
Sooner or later, her saboteur would show up. In the meantime, it was time to find a comfortable seat to recline in.
Up in the cockpit, Virgii was finally getting the last of the seltzer water out of his tunic.
“How long until we reach Matrian Space?” he asked.
“Another two days,” Strobnik reported.
“I thought this slipstream thing was supposed to be fast!”
“You’d rather take several weeks at conventional warp?”
“Bugger, no,” Virgii shook his head. He looked around for a moment, “Well, if everybody else is taking care of things, I suppose I’ll just close my eyes for a moment.”
At the helm, Lieutenant Mytim had found a pumice stone from somewhere and was in the process of grating a callous off of one dainty foot. If she’d been watching her console, she might have noticed that the slipstream sensors had changed from green to yellow.
“Two minutes until slipstream breach,” Wyer reported.
“Keep the engines on standby,” Simplot said, “If they come flying out of that thing, we might have to take evasive manoeuvres,”
Abela stared at her.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” she demanded.
Abela’s left eye twitched slightly.
“Do you need a break?” Simplot asked, “You don’t look so well.”
Abela stalked to the opposite side of the holo-table and sat heavily in one of the seats.
“No career boon is worth this,” she muttered.
Agent Boxer regained consciousness upside down. His arms were tied to his sides and his feet had been tied around a support strut. He was still in the computer core control room, but there was no sign of his assailant. The small box attached to the navigational computer was still counting down…in less than thirty seconds it would send the course corrections to the slipstream drive, possibly screwing things up beyond belief. At least, he assumed that’s why there was a series of numbers counting down on one small display. He struggled for a moment, then resigned himself to the fact that he was stuck but good.
“LAAARRRTHIII!!!” he shouted, “GET IN HERE!” He followed the demand with several loud barks, just in case. Twenty seconds! Glancing around, Boxer realized he had only one option. He jerked, trying to get his body swinging. Forward, back. Forward, back. He wasn’t quite reaching the box!
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0…
The Roadrunner started to shake.
In the cockpit, Mytim’s feet were abruptly shaken off the helm console.
“Uh-oh,” she said, noticing her panel for the first time in several minutes.
“All the slipstream sensors are red,”
Strobnik glanced at the helm.
“There’s a serious discontinuity in the slipstream ahead!” he said.
“Isn’t your fancy stabilizer thingy supposed to get rid of these?” Virjii demanded, his eyes now wide open.
“Well…yes,” Strobnik admitted. There was another shake, rattle and even part of a roll. “And we’re changing course!!!”
“Deathtrap,” Virjii muttered.
“Bridge to Boxer, any luck with that navigational thing?” Strobnik demanded, tapping on the comm, “Lieutnant Laarthi, where are you?”
“I’m in engineering,” Laarthi’s voice came back, “The dog is sniffing around the computer core. I think he was barking about something a second ago. I was trying to decide whether or not to help him,”
“Stay there!” Strobnik ordered, “I need you to adjust the deflector stream, otherwise we’re going to make an uncontrolled re-entry into normal space!”
“That means we’ll crash and burn,” Mytim clarified.
“Yes, I got that,” Virjii replied.
“LLLAAAARRTTTHIIII!!!!” Boxer wailed, “You stupid cat!” He was swinging as hard as he could, but couldn’t quite reach the box. The ship shook again, sending him bouncing against the wall. At the last second, he managed to push off with his shoulder just enough to get enough momentum to put his head in range of the box. With a snap of his jaws he snagged an exposed data conduit. Ignoring the painful sparks, he twised his head, growling as he tore through the connections.
“Course is returning to normal,” Mytim replied, clinging to the panel as the Roadrunner’s shaking went from the occasional love- tap to a constant rattle.
“It doesn’t seem to be helping!”
“I don’t understand!” Strobnik said, “I’ve never seen a slipstream disrupted like this!”
“Can you keep us from blowing up?” Virjii demanded.
Strobnik thought for a moment.
“Yes. Yes, I think the slipstream is going to collapse no matter what, but if we override the drive’s cool-down period we can jump back in just past the disruption. Whatever this thing is, it must have happened after the stabilization pulse passed through.”
“Roadrunner expected in thirty seconds,” Wyer reported.
“So where are you from, anyway?” Simplot asked.
“Yyns. This really isn’t the time,” he replied.
“Oh pooh,” Simplot said, “Is there really anything else that we can do right now?”
“We’ve breached the slipstream!” Fissett called, “I think. I don’t know what a slipstream really is, but all sorts of strange things started happening.”
“Shut down the energy pulse,” Wyer called, “Let’s not fry our colleagues,”
There was a
\<SCHHHWWWOOOOPPP\> sound as something big shut down.
Wyer turned to Simplot.
“Now is the time,” he managed to say, right before the whole city jerked.
“We’ll falling out of slipstream drive!” Mytim called.
“NOW, Lieutenant Laarthi!” Virjii ordered.
On Mytim’s panel, a series of controls shifted from ‘Locked’ to ‘Unlocked’.
“Slipstream available,” she reported.
The Roadrunner shook like a baby’s rattle as outside the windows the whirling blue tunnel collapsed into the black of normal space, then just as quickly the stars seemed to tear away as the ship plunged back into the glowing tunnel.
“Energy drain!” Mytim snapped from the hail, “The drive is overloading!”
Strobnik ran his hands frantically over his console.
“Something’s being pulled into the slipstream with us!” he called out, “I’m narrowing the field!” The ship shook again, the tunnel almost collapsing back to normal space before the ship finally righted itself and escaped back into the hyper-dimensional realms.
As the ride smoothened out, Virjii slowly relaxed his death- grip on his chair.
“Three more days, you say?”
The whole thing happened in seconds.
There was a brilliant flash of light, less than a kilometer from Haven’s underside. There was a faint suggestion of a silhouette; a sleek hull with an aft ring-nacelle and just the barest hint of conventional nacelles. The light grew, seemed to twist, then the silhouette stretched like rubber and vanished
Aboard Haven, everybody grabbed for consoles and railings as the entire city jolted.
“What the f-“ Simplot managed to get our before falling to the floor. The windows looking out into space were awash with shifting energy.
“We’re caught in some kind of spatial distortion!” Fissett cried, “I’ve never…I mean, I don’t know…”
“MOMMY!!!!” Major Jakerd wailed.
The energy abruptly tore away from the city dome, revealing a sparking tunnel of blue on black. Just as quickly as it appeared, the tunnel vanished, replaced by open space.
“What happened?” Abela demanded as Simplot picked herself up off the floor.
“I think we were pulled partway into the slipstream,” Wyer reported. Fissett looked at him, annoyed.
“And how can you possibly know that already?” she demanded.
“Observation,” Wyer replied, “Check our navigational sensors,”
Fissett tapped away.
“We’re…wow…we’re in interstellar space!” she replied.
“How far from Matria Prime?” Abela demanded.
“Ohhh, please don’t let us be another Voyager,” Simplot squeezed her eyes shut and crossed her fingers, “Or Aerostar. Their death toll was terrible.”
“We’re about a week away from Matria Prime at impulse power,” Wyer reported, reading over Fissett’s shoulder, “It’ll take a few hours to work out the flight trajectory, but I see no problem getting us back in orbit. Luckily we were barely in the slipstream for a second. Something the size of the city would have been torn apart before long anyway,”
“Oh thank God!” Simplot sighed. Her eyes popped open.
“Wait, where’s the Roadrunner?”
There was a moment of relative silence, broken only by the sounds of fingers on control panels.
“No sign of them,” Jakerd replied with a sniffle, “Those poor, poor people,”
“Well, they have an experimental drive system,” Wyer shrugged, “They should have known those things never work out properly,”
Two days later…
“Is this supposed to be happening?” Virjii demanded as the Roadrunner yet again started shaking, “This whole ride has been far rougher than advertized,”
“The computer can’t correct properly for the slipstream variances,” Strobnik shook his head, “I don’t understand! A stabilizer pulse is supposed to travel thousands of light-years before it dissipates. Those idiots must have used the wrong settings or something,”
The shaking was getting worse.
“We can’t maintain the slipstream for much longer!” Strobnik said, “The variances are getting too strong!”
“How far are we from Matrian Space?”
“About five days at conventional warp,” Mytim replied, “Based on engine output and slipstream duration.”
“Take us out of slipstream,” Virjii ordered, “I’d rather get there in one piece than several. Plenty of time for an after action review, eh doc?”
“But this is a great chance to try some of the new variance calculations I’ve been working on!”
The ship bucked again.
“That one almost threw us out!” Mytim called.
The ship rolled hard to port as the slipstream tunnel abruptly vanished, replaced with a spinning starfield.
“Slipstream drive has failed!” Mytim called over the blare of alarms.
“Proximity alert!” Boxer called from the rear station. Laarthi had untied him days ago, but had had no luck finding his assailant and had so far avoided even bringing the matter up with Virgii or Strobnik, “There’s something out there!”
“I KNOW!” Mytim called. Directly in front of her, out the cockpit windows, she could see the rapidly approaching surface of a very small planet or a very large moon.
“Evasive manoeuvres!” Virjii called out.
“I’m evading! I’m evading!”
Rolling and veering out of control, the Roadrunner careened directly at a pair of craggy mountains. Mytim fired the manoeuvring thrusters, trying to steer the ship away. There was a loud BANG and a sharp jolt, then they were clear. The ship sped above the surface as Mytim regained control, then soared back into space.
“That was close,” Laarthi commented.
“That was way too close,” Virjii agreed, “Damage report?”
“We’ve damaged the ring nacelle,” Strobnik reported, shaking his head, “The lower edge smashed against the mountain. The slipstream drive will be offline until I’ve had a chance to rebuild it. Ohhh, all that work, down the drain,”
“Relax doctor, we’re not going anywhere for a while,” Virjii smiled, relieve that the ride was over, “Lieutenant Boxer, get Matria Prime on the comm. Tell them we may have left a few pieces behind on somebody’s moon, but we’re on our way.”
There was a pause.
“No reply,” Boxer said.
“Uh-oh,” Mytim said.
“We’re not in Matrian space,” she said.
Virjii felt a cold pit forming in his stomach,”
“Then where are we?”
“We’re…we’re over eight thousand light-years closer to the galactic core” she replied, her face going pale, “We’re years from Federation space!”
“And the slipstream drive is broken?” Boxer asked, his ears perked up.
“Worse than that,” Strobnik said slowly, “Without a stabilizer, we can’t risk using the slipstream drive, even if it was working.”
Virjii covered his face with his hands.
“Oh no, not again!” he groaned.