Author: Brendan Chris
“What do you mean you’re going back to work?” Craigan Abela complained, waving his hand towards the kitchen, “I just finished supper! You said you’d be off-shift by 1700!”
“I know Craigan, I’m sorry,” Colonel Myress Abela said, shaking her head, “This whole mess with Starfleet and Waystation was supposed to be done by now. How was I supposed to know somebody would try stealing an experimental ship?”
“But by the time you get back, supper will be cold!” Craigan almost wailed, “Do you KNOW how long it took me to figure out this recipe??”
“Hey,” Abela pulled her husband into a hug, “It would’ve been amazing tonight fresh, and it’ll be fantastic tomorrow as leftovers. OK?”
“Fine,” Craigan huffed, pulling away, “But at least let me fix you a plate to take with you. Maybe if I send one for that Starfleet bitch, she won’t make you work late!”
But her husband was already angrily cutting hunks of meat off the roast he’d prepared, scooping up slimy-looking piles of stringy vegetables and plopping them into a pair of portable meal containers.
“Here!” he said, thrusting the two meals into her hands, “Hope you and your boss enjoy them!”
With that, he stormed out of the kitchen and into the living area of the suite, leaving Abela standing next to the door in a decidedly unpleasant mood.
“This day can’t get any worse,” she grumbled, pushing her feet into her boots and heading back to the Command Tower.
“I think this is the highlight of the day,” Captain Elizabeth Simplot said, leaning back in her chair in the Haven Command Complex.
“Why, because we don’t have to deal with a missing ship full of Admirals?” Dr. Janet Annerson asked, leaning against the railing around the central holo-table area.
“No, Janet,” Simplot replied, “Because Queen Anselia, rest her soul, has decided to take Admiral Wagner and his Waystation-2 selection panel on a tour of Matria Prime’s ground-based defences. Which means I don’t have to deal with them right now.”
“And we’re excited about this why?”
“Because they’re here to survey Starbase 341 and decide if they want to give us the Waystation-2 designation,” Simplot explained.
“Again…why the excitement?”
“Didn’t you read up on Waystation on the way here? It was in all the briefing notes!” Simplot frowned.
“I’m a doctor, not a travel guide,” Annerson shrugged, “I was more interested in those funny headset-things the Qu’Eh were implanting in the Matrians. Oh, and the explosives. Y’know, the ones they used to blow people up if they tried quitting their jobs?”
Lt. Fissett, manning the Sciences pulpit, gulped nervously.
“Oh, don’t worry sweetie,” Annerson laughed, “We’re not going to implant anything like that in you! Heavens, no!”
Fisssett smiled weakly.
“But seriously, why do we care?”
“Because, Doctor,” Abela’s crisp voice came from the stairs leading up from the second level, “Waystation experienced a greater than 400% growth during its first year of operation and transformed a desolate sector of frontier space into a major hub of science, commerce and travel. And wouldn’t it just be swell if we could get those kind of results here?”
“You’re late,” Simplot pointed out, “You said you’d be right up,”
“Trouble at home,” Abela said coldly, tossing one of the meal containers in Simplot’s general direction. The captain scrambled, caught it on her fingertips, fumbled, then gasped as the container fell to the floor with a dull thud. Luckily, it didn’t open.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“My husband has this odd idea that if he sends you food, you’ll stop making me work late,” Abela replied.
“I’m not making you work late,” Simplot frowned, “You know yourself how important this selection board is for Matrian Space.”
“I know, but it’s a lot easier to have him angry at you than at me,” Abela had popped her meal open and taken a bite of the purplish meat, “And the truth is, he’s not a very good cook. Now, I believe we have a meeting downstairs?”
With that, she returned to the turbolift cluster on the lower level, taking a moment to toss her supper in the waste reclamator on the way by.
Simplot opened her container with a dubious look on her face and peeked inside.
“Smells good,” she shrugged, “But I have a meeting. Here ya go!”
She passed the container over to Annerson, then jogged down the stairs.
“Yeah, thanks,” Annerson called after her.
Lt Josh Shurgroe and Lt Harrison (Steele) Stoneryder were riding the lift from the Transit Hub up to the Principle Conference and Observatory Deck. The former, still a bit tired from his mad race after the USS Roadrunner, was leaning against the turbolift panel while the latter, still wired from his bomb-chasing experience, was talking endlessly. About things Shurgroe really didn’t want to hear about. Really.
“So, then the three of us went back to the blond girl’s place,” Stoneryder was saying, “And it was like, bam! The second we were in the door, all their cloths came off and they jumped me like pair of crazed wildebeests!”
“You d-d-d-don’t say,” Shurgroe said dryly.
“Yeah man, totally!” Stoneryder nodded enthusiastically, “So, like, we didn’t even make it to the bedroom, we just went at it right there in the hallway! Weird thing though, these two chicks wouldn’t touch each other. Usually girls really get into that sort of thing, but maybe these Matrian chicks are a little different.”
“So, anyway, the one girl decided she wanted me to use my-“
At that point, the doors sighed open. Shurgroe jumped into the conference room.
“H-h-h-ello everybody,” he said, “I hope y-you’re all well. T-t-time to fool an Admiral?”
“-wound up spending two days in the hospital!” Stoneryder was laughing, oblivious to Shurgroe’s escape, “And that’s when I decided to request a transfer to Matrian Space,”
“Who wound up in the hospital?” Simplot asked from the head of the table.
“No, don’t ask him,” Shurgroe said quickly.
Wyer looked at him in horror.
“Is he telling the story about the two….”
“And the chocolate syrup?”
“Please! My v-v-virgin ears!” Shurgroe cried out.
Everybody at the table stared at him for a moment, then shifted their gaze to Wyer, then finally to Stoneryder.
“So, like, it all started with this threesome I had with these two kinky Matrian chicks…” he started.
“Shut up,” Abela snapped, “I’m not interested in hearing about Haven’s ‘Slut of the Month’,”
“Hey, they were nice girls,” Stoneryder looked slightly offended.
“I think she meant you,” Simplot stage-whispered.
“You can’t call me a slut!” Stoneryder exclaimed angrily.
“Why not?” Abela asked.
“Well…I’m a guy!”
“Exactly,” Abela nodded, “Now, to business?”
“But guys can’t be sluts!” Stoneryder went on, “Players, sure. I’ll accept horn-dogs. Um…I did a scene once with this guy that…y’know…but the director specifically said he wanted high-energy!”
“About the selection board?” Wyer spoke up.
“Hmmm?” Abela’s eyes had glazed slightly, then came back into sharp focus, “Yes. The selection board.”
“Here’s the scoop people,” Simplot said.
“So not a slut,” Stoneryder muttered angrily, crossing his arms and slouching in his seat.
“Technically, since you were paid for your services, you would be considered a whore,” Wyer said helpfully.
“What’s the difference?” Abela asked.
“Well,” Wyer clasped his hands in front of him, looking quite serious, “A whore does it for money, a slut does it for fun,”
“Not a slut,” Stoneryder grumbled.
“And a bitch does it for anyone but you,” Wyer finished, sneaking a smug look in Stoneryder’s direction.
“Quiet, both of you,” Simplot shot him a dark look that clearly said ‘end of discussion’, “Here’s the scoop: We have twenty-four hours until Admiral Wagner and his team finish viewing Matria Prime’s ground-based defences and some of their infrastructure. As you know, they’re looking for a location for their new Waystation-2 space station. Matria Prime is a top contender on the list because we just so happen to have a large facility available, however the Federation wants to investigate the stability of the planet, likely impact of a large increase in local traffic, ability of local commerce to withstand Federation businesses coming in to compete and so forth,”
“Luckily,” Abela rose to her feet, “The distances involved will give Matrian businesses a break. Even if Starfleet is successful in establishing a high-speed corridor between Matrian Space and the original Waystation, we’re unlikely to have serious problems.”
“It’s still my turn to speak,” Simplot said.
“Fine, Starfleet,” Abela sat back down.
“That means we have twenty-four hours to make Starbase 341 look like a vibrant, thriving metropolis,” Simplot said, “Ideas?”
Abela raised her hand.
“You really cut me off for one lousy sentence?” she asked.
“It was an important sentence! It had the what, the when and everything!” Simplot corrected, “Now, any constructive ideas?”
“Everybody just sort of looked at each other for a minute.
“Lights,” Shurgroe said.
There was a confused pause.
“They’re already on,” Stoneryder said, gesturing to the ceiling. “Still not a slut,” he added quietly.
“No, I mean, outside,” Shurgroe gestured at the windows. Outside, the Matrian star was slipping below the artificial horizon, leaving the city dark and desolate. Snow blew through the alleys and thoroughfares, the lake was a frozen grey mass and the tram lines were deserted. Several of the radial tracks had been powered down, as the traffic between Downtown, the Suburbs and the Outer Rim didn’t even keep one track busy, let alone all six. “Beauty is only skin deep, right? So get some lights on, maybe even get them setup to turn on and off, so it looks like people live in the towers.”
“Get the trams running,” Abela agreed, moving to stand next to him, “Even if they’re empty. At least the cold weather and the snow means we don’t have to try to fill the streets,”
“Tracks,” Stoneryder spoke up.
“Yes, we already said we’d turn on the tram tracks,” Abela waved him away.
“No, I mean, get somebody out there making tracks in the snow,” he said, “And, oh yeah. NOT A SLUT!”
“Please, you’d beg for it if I offered,” Abela waved him away again, “But yes, note that down, Mr. Wyer. Tracks in the snow,”
“You’re not my type!’ Stoneryder objected.
“Can you just SHUT IT!??” Simplot snapped, “We’re trying to work here, Harrison!”
“OK, Janet!” he put heavy emphasis on ‘Janet’. (Simplot had used Janet as a fake name when she’d they’d first met, realizing the man hitting on her was her AWOL Chief of Security,”
“Wait, why am I taking notes?” Wyer asked.
“You’re the Director of Dome Operations,” Abela sniffed, “City lights, tram system, all of this is your prevue.”
“Right,” Wyer sighed, “Sounds like another late night,”
“For everybody,” Simplot said, trying to regain control of the discussion, “While Mr. Wyer is working on the city as a whole, we need to focus on the areas the Admiral is going to want to see. That includes docking bays, at least one of the shipyards, the one Atrium we’ve started using, probably the Transit Hub. We’ve got to make those look busy!”
“Holograms,” Shurgroe said, “They won’t be smart…hell, half of them won’t even be solid. But it’s a start,”
“Starfleet,” Abela shook her head, “Always with the technology. Lt Franches?”
The loin-clothed Jungle Squad commander stood, loincloth swinging gently along with the bands, straps and various beads and knick-knacks he wore.
“I am Lt. Franches, head of the Civil Protection Team,” he said.
“Um…duh!” Stoneryder commented.
Franches jumped into the adjoining dining room and moved out of sight. There was the sound of rustling while the Starfleet officers looked curiously in his general direction.
A moment later, another man emerged. This one was impeccable dressed in a Terran business suit. He had a neat, goatee-style beard, a dark tie over a pale blue shirt and jacket that barely hid a very fit figure. His long hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Simplot felt her knees weaken…this guy was HOT!
“And now,” the man said in Franches’ voice, “I am Mr. James Smith, human visitor to Starbase 341,”
“Wow,” Shurgroe commented, “I haven’t seen anybody change that quickly since SNAP!”
“Mmm-hmm,” Simplot said, eyes still moving up and down Franches body. Somehow, he looked hotter in a suit than he did in his usual half-naked state.
“Stop eye-banging my staff!” Abela growled.
“Ahem, right,” Simplot shook her head as Franches quickly stripped back down to his usual loincloth and accoutrements, “So…disguises. Good plan. Franches and Fissett will take care of disguises, Mr. Shurgroe, you’ll oversee plans for the shipyards, docking bay and holograms for interior spaces, Mr. Wyer will work on the city exteriors, and Dr. Annerson, Colonel Abela and myself will oversee work on Atrium One.”
“We need a better name for it than ‘Atrium One’,” Stoneryder said.
“What IS IT with the Starfleet urge to rename everything!?” Abela demanded.
“The Whore of Haven is right,” Simplot sighed, “It’s a mall…your commercial center. It needs a name that’s catchy…something inviting. You have to make people WANT to shop there!”
“The Mall of Matria?” Abela suggested.
“No, that would just put them to sleep,” Simplot said, “OK, we’ll figure that out later. Twenty four hours, people! Let’s make this place hop!”
Fifeteen minutes later, Simplot and Annerson were standing in Atrium One, waiting. The Atriam was a big space shaped like an egg standing on one end. A circular platform in the center of the lowest level held a number of tables and chairs arranged around empty planter boxes. Five double-high levels hugged the outer walls, leaving an empty space in the center. The widest level, at the center of the ‘egg’, connected to the Transit Hub. The two women stood next to the Matrian coffee-shop that had just opened up on Level 3, next to the wall of windows that stretched from the base to the tip of the Atrium.
“Waiting for some business-type isn’t what I had in mind when I said ‘hop’,” Simplot grumbled, sipping her coffee. Matrian coffee was a bit fruitier than what she normally liked, but it was a big improvement over the swill the replicator was putting out. Down on Level 2, Abela was speaking to another merchant.
“Yes, your request for a space near the Level 2 rest-rooms wasn’t a problem,” she was saying, “Most of the food stands requested space on the lower level or up near the peak,”
Simplot rolled her eyes as the merchant replied with some nonsense about how his particular style of cooking better leant itself to a location isolated from other restaurants. Somehow, his spiel made Simplot think that this guy was a bit scared of the competition.
“Captain Simplot?” a mild voice came from behind her. She and Annerson turned to find themselves facing a non-descript Matrian male carrying the local equivalent of a briefcase, “I am Mr. Mann, here to discuss the new location for M’Lady’s?”
“Yes, a pleasure to meet you,” Simplot said, plastering on a smile and extending her hand. The Matrian stared at the offered hand in confusion.
“Sorry,” Simplot said, pulling her hand back, “Human custom,”
“Oh!” the Matrian brightened, “Please, can we try that again? M’Lady’s will want to make every effort to greet our off-world guests appropriately,”
As Simplot again extended her hand and the Matrian timidly reached for it, Annerson spoke up,”
“M’Lady’s what?” she asked.
“Huh?” the Matrian cocked his head.
“You said the store is called M’Lady’s,” Annerson said.
“Probably the translator picking something that fits,” Simplot said, glancing down at a padd, “It looks like the word in Matrian is….GatGottits?”
“An old, formal term of address for a female of note,” Mann explained.
“So…M’Lady works,” Annerson, “But still…M’Lady’s what?”
“M’Lady was the founder of M’Lady’s Incorporated back before the Gender Wars,” Mann explained, “She built her business on the values of quality merchandise, friendly service and a culture of giving back to the community,”
“But what do you sell?” Annerson clarified.
“It’s not just about material goods!” Mann looked almost offended, “It’s about the experience! The ability to browse, to explore a wide selection of items! To cater to the needs of our customers!”
“Sounds like one of those ritzy places you can only afford to go to if you’re famous enough to get free stuff,” Simplot said to Annerson.
Mann started to sputter, but Simplot took him by the elbow.
“We’re got a nice spot for you right over here,” she said, “Just the size you wanted!”
“M’Lady’s caters to all walks of life!” Mann objected as they walked to an empty storefront.
“I don’t suppse M’Lady is still around?” Annerson asked.
“Uh, if she started a company before the Gender Wars, she’s probably been dead for two hundred years,” Simplot said.
“Well, we at M’Lady Incorporated believe that she went into stasis with so much of the rest of population and simply has not yet regained her memories of her former work,” Mann said. He looked around the space.
“This is…acceptable,” he said, moving out of the space and towards the railing looking out in the central area of the Atrium, “If only we had something more interesting to overlook…a garden, perhaps. Or a cultural piece.”
“Or a water fountain,” Annerson nodded, “I love malls with fountains.”
“What, your guy wants a fountain?” Abela called up from the second level.
“I think we have bigger things to worry about right now, Colonel!” Simplot said. Despite the storefronts under construction, the Atrium was still largely deserted.
But Abela was already fidgeting with a small gadget. A moment later, the circular central floor of the lowest level abruptly dropped, leaving a gaping hole. There was a rumbling sound as the tables and chairs disappeared from sight, sliding off to one side. Eyes wide, Simplot and Annerson peered over the railing. Below floor level, in the hole left by the now-absent platform, they could see another circular section pass by, this one complete with a stage and platform suitable to anything from a concert to a political rally. Next was what could have been the base for a garden, if the plants hadn’t all died after two hundred years of darkness. Next up was another courtyard with tables and chairs, however this one had a large, ornate water fountain in the center. Whatever rotating track it was that had spun the various platforms around hissed to a stop, then the fountain courtyard rose up into the space left by the previous courtyard, coming to a rest with a dull ‘BOOM’. There was a hum, then water spurted out of the foundain, arching nearly three levels high before splashing down into a series of catch basins that drained into a central reservoir.
“Better?” Abela called up.
“Much, thank you!” Mr. Mann called back. He nodded at Simplot and Annerson, then moved off to start directing his staff into the empty storefront, leaving the two officers staring down into the courtyard.
“Cool!” Simplot squealed happily.
“No, I don’t want any Federation types poking around MY shipyard!” Major Dekaire said firmly, “It’s bad enough I have YOU in here these days!”
“I’m your D-D-Director of S-S-S-“ Shurgroe started to say.
“Sha-yeah,” Dekaire cut him off, “You’re Colonel Abela’s D-DoS. Until we’re done rebuilding this Starfleet junkpile,” she waved a hand out the observation window of Shipyard 3 at the ship outside, “This remains MY shipyard.”
“Um, mine too,” the Starfleet officer next to her said.
“Quiet, Simon,” Dekaire cut him off.
“But…I mean, this is the kind of thing that could really impress the review board!” Shurgroe said. He gestured out the window, at the swarms of Matrian construction bots that were picking over the half-assembled ship like flies on a corpse, “Establishing itself as a major shipbuilder would make Haven strategically valuable!”
“Right, then I’m sure lots of Starfleety-types would love to just barge in and start telling us how to do everything, isn’t that right, Simon?” Dekaire rolled her eyes.
“Don’t make me b-b-build another flying model!” Shurgroe said, trying to straighten his spine in the face of Major Dekaire’s cold expression.
“You wouldn’t DARE, little man!” she snapped.
“Y-yes I would?”
Dekaire’s eyes narrorowed.
“You may have…five minutes,” she said curtly. She turned, then stormed out of the control room.
“Um…g’bye,” Jeffery waved weakly as he was led out of the room.
Shurgroe left through the opposite doors and walked as confidently as he could until he was out of the shipyard area. Once the heavy doors hissed shut and he was alone in a nondescript section of corridor, he let out a shakey breath, leaned back against the curved wall and sunk down to the floor.
“One down,” he gasped, “one to go. But I think I need a break first. And maybe a drink.”
“So then I said to her, I said, no, that’s not a phaser in my pocket, I really AM happy to see you,” Stoneryder chuckled. He was leaning against one of the control pulpits in Ops, getting in Wyer’s way (and on his nerves) in general.
At the control pulpit, Wyer sighed.
“I don’t want to hear this,” he said.
“Sure you do,” Stoneryder said, “People paid me a lot of good money to read about my sex life. And watch it on holovision. And I made a killing when I authorized that holoprogram!”
He winked at Wyer.
“And just for the record, the holo-programmer took the real thing for a test drive while she was building the program. So I know she got it right,”
“Uggghhhhh!” Wyer groaned, “Will you please go ‘help’ somebody else?” (Yes, he actually raised his hands to make little quotations around ‘help’.)
“Naw, I like it up here,” Stoneryder said, “So, whatcha doing anyway, buddy?”
“I am attempting to re-create the activation sequence Colonel Abela had used for Haven’s launch,” Wyer said tightly.
“Because it included a subroutine that overrode the building controls systems and powered up all the towers,” Wyer explained, “I need to do that again,”
“Because otherwise you’d be walking to every individual apartment and condo in the city and flipping the light switch to ‘on’!” Wyer shouted.
The Matrians in Ops turned to look at him.
“Apologies,” he muttered, turning back to his panel.
Stoneryder came around to look at the display.
“Well here you go,” he pointed, “City power-up,”
He pushed the button.
“This is a terrible idea,” Abela said, watching Simplot and Annerson work.
“No, it’s brilliant,” Simplot corrected her.
“Fine line between genius and insanity, and all that,” Annerson said glumly. The container of food Abela had given her was sitting on the floor nearby.
They’d taken over one of the empty storefronts and hung translucent construction shields over the entrance. Simplot and Annerson where in the process of cutting shapes out of sheets of cardboard and mounting them on what looked like a scale model of Haven’t transit system.
“This is most certainly on the side of insanity,” Abela said. She frowned. “Do you hear that?”
“Is it a sort of a low drone, followed by a series of beeps?” Annerson asked.
“No. More like the reactors are under load,” Abela said, pushing a construction shield aside and stepping onto the Atrium Level 4 concourse.
“You hear-“ Simplot started.
“Yeah, we really need another doctor here so I can get myself checked,” Annerson shrugged.
They followed Abela out to the railing and looked out the huge windows into the city. Outside, the towers were quickly coming to life, interior lights blinking on, and exterior illumination shooting beams of light up the stone sides of the commercial and residential buildings. The streetlight system kicked in, though from their current vantage point they could only see the lights on the two nearest bridges leading over the lake.
“Good start,” Abela said grudgingly, “Now, if he can just work out a-“
There was a low groan, then the lights in the Atrium winked out, followed by the lights in the city. After a moment, the Atrium lights came back up.
“Haven Operations to all personnel,” Wyer’s voice came over the comm, “We apologize for that minor outage. Normal services have been res…no, Stoneryder, don’t do that again!”
“Dude, I totally know what I did wrong there!”
“Get away from that!”
“Look, it’s easy!”
There was a beep, then the towers began lighting up again. This time, the whole city seemed to shift, like an elevator trying to move up a floor.
“STOP IT!” Wyer shouted, “Look, the power-up is still coupled to the launch sequence! If we keep firing the engines Abela’s going to pitch a fit!”
“Whatever,” Stoneryder’s voice came, “I know how to make women happy when they’re mad at me,”
“What, you’ll let her administer another severe beating?”
“Whatever turns her on, buddy!”
“I am NOT your BUDDY!”
“Shouldn’t we,” Simplot gestured at the nearest intercom panel.
“No,” Abela raised a hand, “I want to hear how this plays out,”
“Seriously though, you don’t think she’s hot? Y’know, for an older woman?” Stoneryder’s voice said.
“Don’t make me bring up a past life on you,” Wyer’s voice was now getting disturbingly quiet, “I assure you, they are not pleasant,”
“I mean, yeah, she’s like two hundred years old. But whoever rebuilt her cans? Mmmm- mmm!”
Abela’s left eye twitched.
“I think we’ve heard enough,” she said.
“No, no, we want to hear how this plays out,” Simplot cut her off with a grin.
“Have you ever met a Yynsian terrorist before?” Wyer’s voice asked.
“Do they have nice tits?”
There was an almost animal grown from the comm, then the sound of something heavy banging into something else heavy.
“Listen, infidel!” a strained, oddly accented version of Wyer’s voice shouted, “If you do not get out of here AT ONCE, the next bomb I plant will be going INSIDE YOU! And you will enjoy the insertion process even less than the glorious explosion of hellfire that will incinerate your filthy organs of sin…assuming I haven’t sliced them off and-“
The channel died.
The three women looked over to see Lt Franches standing next to the intercom panel, half a Klingon disguise affixed to his head.
“We were getting noise and nausea complaints from some of the new residents,” he said, gesturing to a group of very uncomfortable-looking merchants.
“Ahem,” Simplot cleared her throat, “Of course. My apologies.”
Outside, the towers went dark again.
Lt. Shurgroe stood outside Shipyard One, marshalling his strength. In retrospect, he really wished he could have brought somebody to help him out. Dr. Annerson…or better yet, Lt. Wyer. Yeah, he would have been a good choice. Major Dekaire had a thing for him. Or had. He recalled Wyer saying they’d had an ‘encounter’ shortly after the city had been taken over by dancer, but nothing since then. Hmmm. Maybe taking Wyer to Shipyard Three would have made things more awkward than anything else.
“OK, deep breath, Josh,” Shurgroe muttered. He pulled out a pen and started re-tracing the Sigel of Mercury on his right wrist. Mercury had been a messenger, according to old mythology, and the Cult of Persephone had swept him right up along with their conglomeration of mythological figures. But he was acting as a messenger now, before he started work on replicating holo-emitters.
“It’s just a shipyard,” he said to himself, “You are the Director of the Department of Shipbuilding. They have to listen to you. And you’re not asking for much…just the chance to show some dignitaries around the shipyard. Sure, they’ve only had a couple of days to try to start operations on an order of defensive satellites, but still!”
Marshalling himself, he stepped through the double doors and into the operational zone surrounding the shipyard.
He walked through the silvery and grey corridors, so much more utilitarian than the corridors in the public areas of the Outer Rim. He passed storage bays, part fabrication facilities and workspaces for the various crewmen who would be manning the shipyard and overseeing the construction robots. Finally, he reached the control room. It was locked, but a pass of his hand identified him to the security system.
The control room was deserted.
He walked towards the window looking out into the yard. The huge atmospheric containment field was up, maintaining a breathable environment in the thirty-plus level shipyard. This in itself was slightly odd, as most shipbuilding took place in a shielded vacuum. Looking down, Shurgroe’s heart dropped into his stomach.
On the shipyard floor, hundreds of cold, metallic Matrian construction bots clutched long, duranium pipes…and they were doing their best to bludgeon the Matrian shipbuilders to death. Even as he watched, the line of organic beings pressed against the onslaught of bots, clutching weapons of their own. They swung and parried, the bots matching each their moves perfectly.
Too stunned to speak, Shurgroe grabbed for his phaser and raced towards the express lift that led down to the shipyard floor. He paced like a caged lion…actually, more like a hyperactive monkey who’s had too much caffeine, then bolted out of the lift the second the doors open. He gave his best war cry, then fired his phaser at the nearest bot, disintegrating its head. As the body collapsed, he fired at a second, onto to have his shot blocked as the bot swung a piece of ship plating from where it hung on its side up to intercept the beam. He shifted his aim, trying to take out the thing’s knees. Again, it shifted the plate to intercept the beam. It blocked the third beam too, though the metal hull plate was glowing cherry-red in the center.
The bots red eyes blinked.
“Calibration complete,” it said in a dull, metallic voice. It returned the sheet to its side, turned to face the right, then powered down.
Shurgroe blew its head off, then targeted the next one.
“STOP, STOP!” a very husky, very loud female voice screamed, “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!!!”
Shurgroe looked over to see a well-remembered, 6’5, 230lbs Matrian woman storming at him, metal pipe in one hand. That would be Major Bown, the new Master Shipbuilder for Shipyard 1. Only…that wasn’t a metal pipe in her hand. Even with his heart pounding and adrenaline pumping through his veins, the engineering part of Shurgroe’s mind noticed the series of buttons and the small display panel on the pipe.
“Huh?” he said dumbly, letting his phaser drop to his side.
Major Bown stood over the two bots he’d shot, nudging one with her toe.
“DAMMIT!” she snapped, “These two are are going to take a WEEK to fix!” She turned angrily to Shurgroe. “Just what do you think you were doing, punk?”
“Um…saving you from the rampaging…machine…army…” Shurgroe trailed off. He looked over at the ‘fight’. Half the shipbuilders had stopped to stare at him, but the others were continuing to exchange blows with the construction bots. Only now that he wasn’t looking down fifteen levels, he could see that their motions were too slow to be combat. A Matrian would hold up their ‘pipe’, wait for the bot to tap it, then move it to another point. Every now and then, a bot would announce ‘Calibration Complete’ then power down, while the Matrian would move on to the next bot.
“We’re calibrating their hand-eye coordination, genius!” Major Bown informed him, somewhat belated, “This is why! THIS IS WHY WE DON’T ALLOW CIVILIANS IN THE SHIPYARD!”
“I’m not a civilian!” Shurgroe said, still clutching his phaser, “I’m a Starfleet engineer, and I’m your boss, and tomorrow I’m bringing an Admiral through as part of an inspection tour! And if you don’t like it, I’ll…I’ll…”
He looked around.
“I’ll keep blowing up bots until you do!” he said, swallowing, “A-a-and then we’ll see how you like building…without builder bots…to…build with!”
Major Bown looked at him sceptically.
“I don’t care if I have to grow a new pair every time I come down here, you WILL listen to me!” he gulped.
Bown cocked her head.
“Pair of what?” she asked curiously.
“Um…testicles…” Shurgroe said sheepishly, “It’s a human expression…it means…uh…to get aggressive. Or con-con-con-confident.”
“Please,” she shook her head, “Those things are way too weak and tender. You wanna be aggressive? Grow a vagina! Those things are BUILT to take a pounding!”
“Ewww,” Shurgroe muttered.
“You really thought we were in danger, huh?” Bown looked again at the two ‘dead’ bots, “You really risked pissing off the entire robotic workface because you thought they were attacking us?”
“Well…yeah,” Shurgroe said sheepishly, “It’s sort of what Starfleet does,”
“That’s sweet,” Bown smiled, “OK, sharp-shooter, you keep your Admiral up in the control room, and you can stop by. We’ll be starting one of the satellite frames tomorrow.”
“T-thanks,” Shurgroe said, relieved. He turned to go, then turned back.
“Wait…piss them off? They’re…they’re not SENTIENT, are they?”
“The bots? Of course not,” Bown laughed. She turned serious, “But they are somewhat intelligent. And they do learn…otherwise they wouldn’t be very good workers.”
Shurgroe gulped, then turned to leave.
He could have sworn several of the bots were following him with their cold, red gaze as he rushed out of the shipyard.
“OK,” Wyer said, finally starting to feel like things were going his way, “I’ve powered up the city and setup a randomizing function in the power distribution systems. We should be good to go,”
Seated nearby, Lt. Stoneryder said nothing.
“And…here we go!” Wyer pressed a button.
Outside, nothing seemed to happen at first. But then one window went dark in one of the closer buildings. Then another. Then a window lit up two towers over. The effect was subtle; something you had to look for. But Wyer nodded with satisfaction, confident that it would be convincing.
“Next, I will attempt to bring the transit system up to full functionality,” Wyer went on.
Stoneryder just continued to pout.
Wyer began tapping at the controls, trying to understand just how the Matrian traffic computer managed the tram routes. With the limited population so far, the trams were acting more like taxi cabs, coming when called and departing to specified destinations. But with a capacity of several hundred thousand residents, that wasn’t feasible in the long term.
“If you aren’t going to contribute anything up here, I suggest you go down to the Atriums and help the Captain,” Wyer said.
“Whatever,” Stoneryder grumbled. He didn’t move from the seat.
Wyer worked for several more moments. Feeling Stoneryder’s gaze on him, he sighed, turned and faced the other officer.
“Dude…you threatened to shove a bomb up my ass!” Stoneryder said, “That is SO not cool!”
“That wasn’t me, that was Refec,” Wyer said, “I take no responsibility for the actions of my past lives,”
“Convenient,” Stoneryder sneered, “Wish that worked for the rest of us,”
“The rest of you contain only one life,” Wyer said curtly, “That’s not a speciesist remark, it is a statement of fact.”
“Well…sometimes it feels like we do,” Stoneryder said quietly. He quickly stood. “Whatever. What are we doing now?”
“The easiest way to manage the transit system would be with the help of…um…Madam,” Wyer explained, “The AI for the central computer.”
“AI? Not another sentient computer. That’s been done to death,” Stoneryder groaned.
“Not sentient, just…intelligent,”
“Well then, let’s do it,: Stoneryder started hitting buttons.
“Stop it!’ Wyer snapped, “I have been attempting for weeks to properly configure Madam. “
“So let’s boot her up and tweak things on the go,” Stoneryder shrugged.
“You are the security expert, and you think we should put an improperly configured AI in charge of the city?”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Stoneryder hit the ‘boot’ button.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Wyer said.
Wyer waited for the lights to die or the city to explode and wondered again just how Stoneryder made it through the Academy.
“Um…Madam?” Wyer asked tentatively.
“What do you want?”
The voice made both Wyer and Stoneryder jump. It was female, no big surprise. But it sounded very annoyed. And throaty. And just a bit raspy, almost like the voice of an aggressive older woman who’s spent too much of her youth with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
“Uh…initialize the transit system for an estimated population of one hundred thousand. Automated tram routing and transit control,”
“Initializing transit subroutines,”
Again, the image of an ill-tempered woman in her early fifties popped into Wyer’s head. He’d had an aunt who had been a businesswoman of not inconsiderate wealth back on Yyns, and the balance of contempt and disdain in the computer’s voice reminded him of her anytime she’d been exposed to any of her nieces and nephews. ‘My dear, do keep those things OFF the furniture!’, and similar statements of affection.
Outside, trams were emerging from their maintenance berths in the Outer Rim and beginning their treks through the transit system, stopping periodically at stations to open their doors, pause, close up and resume their trek.
“Transit initialization complete,” Madam said, sounding like the entire task had been beneath her.
Wyer smiled. Stoneryder was starting to shoot a smug grin in his direction when Madam spoke up again.
“And who designed this pathetic excuse for an automation subroutine?” she said, “You’re fired! Get out of my sight!”
“Uh-oh,” Wyer said quietly.
“I’m just going to go down to the Atrium and help out the captain now,” Stoneryder said, moving quickly down the stairs.
Around him, the Matrian duty staff was shooting nervous looks in Wyer’s direction.
“Don’t look at me,” he said, “Your people designed her!”
“S-s-s-see?” Shurgroe said, hitting the activation button on the holo-emitter, “Instant storefront! I downloaded a whole bunch of them from a company that does design work for public spaces. Just don’t take anything outside the emitter range or it’ll vanish,”
“It’s good, Josh,” Simplot said. She stared at the elaborate book store that had, up until seconds ago, been another empty space in Atrium One. Hmm. The Atriums on Haven? Spaceview Shops? Haven’s Peak?
Hmmm. That wasn’t bad. Except the Atriums were at ground level. Wait! She had it! Ohhhh….Abela was going to love it! Now she just had to wait until just the right moment…
“T-t-thanks,” Shurgroe said.
“Now go make about another fifty,” Simplot said, “And get some in the Transit Hub, that place looks like a graveyard!”
“And are you OK? You’re jittery, ever for you,” Simplot asked, concerned.
“Oh…just…adrenaline withdrawal,” Shurgroe gulped.
“Uh-huh,” Simplot looked at him, expectantly.
“Don’t ask. And i-i-if a bunch of robots come looking for me, I left. Forever.” With that, he scurried off to replicate more holo-emitters.
“What’s all this doing in here?” Abela shouted from a few storefronts down. She stormed out onto the concourse, “Some idiot put a bunch of fitness equipment in here! I NEVER APPROVED A FITNESS STORE!”
“That would be mine,” Lt. Stoneryder said, walking in from the vicinity of the Transit Hub. “I just needed the space until your people opened up the storage rooms in my building,”
“Why do you have all this stuff/” Simplot asked, looking around. There were at least two treadmills, an elliptical machine, countess free weights, punching bags, pull-up stands…the list just went on. And all of it looked brand new, right out of the box.
“Well, this is an alien society run by women. I figured I’d be lucky if they had anything other than yoga,” Stoneryder shrugged.
Abela was about to snap at him when a slim, blond man stormed in.
“Myress!” he snapped, “You’ve been out all night!”
“Shit,” Abela muttered, indulging in a rare bit of profanity.
“Hi, Craigan,” Simplot said pleasantly, “Thanks for the supper,”
“Captain,” Craigan said coldly, “You’re most welcome. Perhaps if Abela is ever home for supper, you will have to join us,”
“Snap,” Stoneryder muttered.
“I’m sorry, Craigan,” Abela said, “But this is important! We have to convince the review board that Haven’s…well…that it’s…”
“Successful?” Craigan supplied helpfully, looking around at the barely occupied Atrium. Shurgroe was whistling as he disguised another empty storefront as a business place.
Simplot saw Abela draw back. Yup, that had been a low blow to the woman who’d dedicated so much to building Haven, preserving it until her people could properly use it, and now was trying to deal with a government that wanted to limit access to their precious ‘historical artifact’.
“We’re trying, Craigan,” Abela said firmly, “I promise, after the review board leaves, we can take a few days off and go down to Matria Prime, OK?”
“You will?” Simplot frowned. She hadn’t approved that!
“I will,” Abela said, a hint of threat in her voice.
“She will,” Craigan affirmed.
“OK, you will,” Simplot held up her hands in surrender.
“Nice fitness store,” Craigan remarked on the way out, “You just need better signage,”
“It’s not-“ Stoneryder started, but Simplot slapped a hand over his mouth.
“Nice fitness store, Harrison,” she said, “Now you heard the man! Get a sign and start working on your customer service skills!”
There was a mumbling sound from Stoneryder’s mouth, but Simplot held her hand firmly in place.
“Please,” she said, “I knew you’d try to make that into something dirty.”
“I can keep this up all day,” Simplot said patiently.
Harrison rolled his eyes, admitting defeat.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 59463.3:
After an a tour of Matria Prime’s capitol city, an overview of the planetary defence systems and an unexpected quantum swap into the galactic core, Admiral Wagner and his review board are finally arriving aboard Haven to assess the city for its suitability as the future Waystation-2. Both crews, Starfleet and Matrian, are eager for this opportunity.
“Happy?” Simplot asked, tapping her comm-badge and shutting down her comm link to the log recorder.
“Much better,” Abela nodded, “More concise, more professional, and no references to being ‘screwed like a Risan on Friday night’.”
“I think the higher-ups at Starfleet Commmand would have liked that one,” Simplot said.
“I don’t care,” Abela said flatly. She turned to the window and watched as the USS Hummingbird, identical to the lost USS Roadrunner, nudged up to the docking port. Wyer and Shurgroe were seated on a pair of comfortable-looking chairs behind them.
“I wonder if Starfleet’s had any luck contacting that other ship. The missing one,” Abela said, surprising Simplot, “I can’t imagine being that far from home,”
“About that,” Simplot asked, “Are things with you and your husband…OK?”
“Of course they are,” Abela said, looking sideways at Simplot, “Why wouldn’t they be?”
“Well he just sounds sort of…pissed.”
“Aren’t most men, most of the time?”
“Craigan and I have only been married a few months,” Abela said, “And we’re both trying to get used to the new Matria Prime. Craigan spent centuries in stasis after being captured and accused of being a terrorist, before the wars. I, too, grew up in a very different time. Not to mention spending my life trying to hide as I documented a global state of total war, dying and being reborn into a clone of myself. Out situation is not typical.”
“Yeah, well…I hope things go OK,”
“Me too,” Abela sighed, “Maybe if I pushed him to get a job, instead of being cooped up in that condo all day,”
Before they could talk further, the airlock hissed open and several people filed out There was Admiral Wagner, whom Simplot had never really dealt with before, but who had close ties to the Waystation project. He was followed by a pair of captains, one Vulcan and the other an orange-skinned species Simplot didn’t recognize. Several civilians in suits followed.
“Captain Simplot, Colonel Abydos,” Admiral Wagner shook Simplot’s hand then bowed politely to Abela, “It’s a pleasure to finally make it here,”
“Actually, it’s-“ Abela started, before Simplot discreetly stepped on her foot, “entirely our pleasure,” Abela finished.
“As you can imagine, Starfleet is interested in using this facility as the next logical step in the growth of the Waystation project,” the Vulcan captain spoke up without introduction, “The use of existing commercial and docking facilities would be most logical. However, as we have learned from past experiences, placing deep space stations or starbases in orbit or in close vicinity to populated worlds subjects them to the political and social issues of that world. To do so would be highly illogical,”
“Are you a robot?” Abela asked curiously.
“No, this is Captain Sprat,” Wagner introduced him, “He’s just…Vulcan. And Captain Hellit, Dr. Freet, Mr. Hapidaaz and Ms. Chekid. They’ll be accompanying me to Senous before we make our recommendation to Starfleet.”
“Please, let us show you the city,” Simplot said pleasantly.
“Illogical,” Sprat spoke up, “We wish to view the city as new arrivals might, not as privileged guests. How would one in such a position find their way to the central commercial levels?”
“It just so happens, one of my staff recently completed work activating the city computer’s interactive system,” Simplot said. Wyer’s eyes widened in panic and he started frantically shaking his head ‘no’ and trying to get her attention. Unfortunately, neither Simplot nor Abela noticed.
“Simply address the computer as ‘Madam’ and ask to be taken to Atrium-“ Abela started.
“To the Mall of Matria,” Simplot interrupted her. Abela shot her a look that was positively dumbfounded. Hadn’t Simplot just shot that down as a name suggestion yesterday?
“Yes….the Mall of Matria,” she said uncertainly, “We…hope the name doesn’t sound too…dull,”
“Oh, but that’s the official name,” Simplot smiled, “Everybody just call’s it MoM’s!”
“Oh, how homey!” Ms. Chekid gushed.
Abela glared at Simplot. If looks could have killed, Simplot would have been dead about fifty times over. Wyer, on the other hand, was still waving his hands, trying to get somebody to notice him.
“OK,” Admiral Wagner said uncertainly, “Madam?”
“Yes, what is it, citizen?” the husky female voice replied immediately.
“How do I get to…MoM’s?”
“A path will be illuminated for you,” the voice replied, “Do try not to get lost,”
Simplot’s jaw dropped and Abela’s eyes widened. Word for word, the exchange was fairly standard. What wasn’t was the mix of contempt and distain that practically oozed from the computer’s voice.
“Furthermore,” the computer went on, “I highly suggest that next time, you pick up a Visitor’s Traveller from the dispenser in the docking bay. Assuming anyone thinks to stock it this century,”
“Urk…Urk…Urk…” Simplot stuttered.
“I…um…” Abela closed her eyes briefly, then inspiration struck.
“Matrian culture calls for computers to be efficient, to the point and helpful” she said, swallowing.
“Really,” Wagner said flatly, “She reminds me of my third grade teacher, Ms. Vandersnoot.”
“Not welcoming at all,” Ms. Chekid said crossly, making a note on her padd.
“Yet the computer did offer a useful suggestion,” Captain Sprat countered, “And her tone does not invite pointless discourse. Most logical.”
“Shall we?” Simplot said uneasily, gesturing down the corridor.
“Shurgroe to Franches,” Shurgroe spoke quietly into his comm-badge, “Initiate ‘Rhombus of Mystery’,”
“Thank you,” the admiral nodded and began walking in the direction indicated.
“Let me guess,” Simplot muttered quietly to Abela, “Programmed her after yourself, didn’t you?”
“I did no such thing,” Abela muttered back, sounding confused, “Why would you even think that?”
Ten feet down the corridor, Franches gave a quiet acknowledgement, then gestured to his team. They were all dressed as various local species, even though most of those species had been avoiding Matrian space for almost a century. He stepped casually around the corner and saw Simplot, Abela and the review team. Attempting to look nonchalant, he walked past them and down the corridor.
Turning another corner out of sight, he grabbed a small package that had been discretely stashed. Pulling off his jacket, he quickly donned a new shirt, a wig, and a fake moustache. He sprinted down the corridor, staying a few corridors over from the path that Wagner’s group was taking. Finally, when he figured he was far enough ahead, he jogged closer to their corridor, then slowed to a walk. One of his corporals was approaching from the opposite direction, dressed as a wealthy Matrian merchant. They met up, then walked passed Wagner’s group, parted ways and began sprinting to the next disguise point, trying not to trip over other members of his team who were doing the same thing.
“Quite a busy place,” Admiral Wagner commented as yet another Matrian moved quickly past them, “I was under the impression that the population was still quite low,”
“It’s been growing rapidly,” Colonel Abela said, “Our people are eager to expand their society, and Haven offers more intrigue and adventure then most surface cities can,”
“You assisted in the construction of this city, did you not?” Captain Sprat asked.
“Ì did,” Abela said.
“She is biased,” Sprat said flatly, “Logically, we must use caution when considering her opinions,”
“Why you little-“
“Oh, make way,” Simplot said, “Larger group,”
The moved to one side of the corridor as five disguised members of the Jungle Squad hurried past, panting.
“Is it me, or are people getting more tired and sweaty the further we go?” one of the board members asked.
“I haven’t noticed,” Simplot lied.
“Keep an eye on Ops, Stoneryder” Stoneryder muttered, “Wait for Wyer to get back, then get your butt down to your new store, Stoneryder. What a bitch!”
“At least you’re keeping me company,” Lt. Fissett said pleasantly from the next console over.
“Yeah, hurray,” Stoneryder grumbled, “We’re the only two people in here. Great company.”
“It could be,”
It took a moment for Stoneryder to realize what she was saying. Usually, he was the one making suggestions like that.
He barely had time to turn toward her when she pounced, driving him up against the panel.
“My day’s looking up,” he managed to get out.
Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that his butt was pressing against the power distribution panel.
“Very scenic,” Wagner admitted as their tram emerged from an Outer Rim tunnel and into the city proper. All around them, towers stretched to the ‘sky’. It was dark, all the better to hide the lack of activity on the snowy streets outside.
“Oh, I just love snow,” Mr. Hapidaaz grinned.
“And over there, you’ll…uh, HEY!” Simplot started as an entire block of buildings went dark. She spun around and pointed.
“There you’ll see the Matrian Arms Haven hotel,” she pointed at a bigger than average tower, built more like a medieval castle.
“Let me guess,” Captain Hellit said, “The pinnacle of luxury in the quadrant? Because I’ve heard that before…about five minutes before my tricorder gives me an unacceptable body fluid count off the blankets.”
“Maybe not the pinnacle, but the Matrian Arms Haven does offer private teleportation service to the major planetary cities,” Abela said.
Seeing a momentary flicker in a nearby tower, Simplot pointed in a new direction.
“And there’s Downtown,” she said. Everybody turned just as the Matrian Arms Haven and the surrounding block went dark. Luckily, the previous outage on the other side of the tram had been resolved.
Wyer was now discreetly looking around the tram, noticing at least five more blocks go dark.
“Wyer to Ops,” he said, quietly tapping his badge.
“OHHHH YES!” a female voice cried out, “YOU’RE EVEN BETTER THAN YOUR HOLO-PROGRAM!!”
He quickly cut the comm.
“Did you say something, dear?” Ms. Chekid asked.
“No ma’am,” Wyer said, making his voice as deep as possible.
“Hmm. I must be imagining things.”
“OK, people,” Dr Annerson called out, marching along the middle level of Atrium One (or MoM’s, though she had no way of knowing that yet) “Phase Two in two minutes! Phase Two in two minutes!”
“Doctor, I still object to this,” Mr. Mann said shrilly, standing in the barely completed entrance to M’Lady’s. “Our merchandise has not been properly placed, and this emitter thing is simply destroys the entire energy flow of the premises!”
“If we can make these guys think Haven is a bustling metropolis, your customer base is going to quadruple within a year,” Annerson snapped.
Mann considered this, then turned back to his staff.
“Let’s go, people! Less than two mintues! For M’Lady!”
“For M’Lady,” they repeated in unison.
Slightly creeped out, Annerson moved on.
One of the lower entrances opened and several dozen members of the Jungle Squad, Starfleet crew and even a number of actors hired last-minute from Matria Prime rushed through.
“Stations, everybody!” Lt. Franches called out, “Let’s go! You and you, up to level 5, HURRY!”
Barely a minute later, Simplot and Abela led the review team through the big doorway between the Transit Hub and MoM’s. Shurgroe and Wyer had discretely split off, Wyer to Ops and Shurgroe to the small holographic control center he’d setup in a commercial space overlooking the third level of the Hub. As they walked through a wide corridor and into the egg-shaped space, Admiral Wagner and the board looked around approvingly.
“Oh, I like this so much better than the ring malls all our other stations have,” Mr. Happidaaz said. The mall wasn’t crowded, but as he leaned over the railing he could see shoppers on all levels, wandering in and out of dozens of interesting looking stores. Ms. Chekid was gazing out the wall of windows into the city, while the other two board members were investigating the nearby entrance to M’Lady’s.
“Don’t buy anything,” Wagner said firmly, “We’re not here to judge the merchandise,” he turned to Simplot and Abela, “In the interest of keeping unbiased opinions, you understand,”
“Of course,” Simplot said. Whew, that was a relief. No holographic trinkets vanishing as soon as they left the store.
They browsed for ten or fifeteen minutes, Abela explaining that the Atrium and its two counterparts were still under construction.
“I can see that,” Wagner said, gesturing at a storefront separated from the concourse by heavy, translucent sheets. The shadows of various people moving around on construction tasks shone against the heavy material. “By the way, is that worker all right?” He pointed at a shadow of a worker that appeared to be walking repeatedly into a wall.
“One sec!” Simplot gulped. She popped behind the wall.
Behind the sheet, a series of toy train tracks had been laid out on the floor, with the cardboard cut-outs she’d made earlier attached to the small trains. The large, shadow-casting cut-outs. She quickly found the train that had run up into a dead-end section of track, repositioned it, and rushed back out.
“He was just having trouble…getting a nail out of a…piece of shelving,” she explained.
“I see,” Wagner looked at his watched and sighed as a group of giggling schoolgirls walked by, “I suppose we have two more malls to see?”
“Atriums 3 and 5, yes,” Abela said. She gave Simplot a look that said ‘Don’t you F**king Dare!’.
“Haven’s Gate and 341 Squared,” Simplot said, ignoring Abela’s warning, “Plenty of space for Matrian, Federation and other off-world businesses and culture,”
“With three Atriums set aside for concert halls and performing arts centers,” Chekid nodded, looking at the brochure, “I approve. Shall we?”
“This way,” Abela said, barely restraining her rage.
As Wagner turned to walk back to the Hub, Simplot stuck her tongue out in Abela’s direction.
The second the review board was out of sight, Annerson started waving her arms frantically.
“Five minutes!” she called out, “Five minutes!”
Immediately, all the actors pulled various disguises out of backpacks, briefcases and purses, many of them rushing to the collection of tables and chairs around the central fountain on the lower level in order to have surfaces to work on. The schoolgirls, actually out-of-work child actors, quickly began disguising themselves as a group of Nicondii traders. Franches and his team started changing into their Klingon garb, and a group of Wyer’s maintenance techs pulled out coulerful outfits better suited to some of Matria Prime’s tropical cultures. The holographic storefronts flickered as word was passed to Shurgroe, and the employees of the established businesses began shifting merchandize around as their signage was quickly altered.
“Another minute, then we’ll head back,” Simplot said quietly as she and Abela led the group on a somewhat twisting and confusing route around the Transit Hub. Those actors not busy in the Atrium were continuing their ‘fly-bys’ of the review board.
“I’m not keeping those names, you do realize that,” Abela whispered back.
“They are not,” Abela shook her head. In her left hand, she held the controller for the Atrium floor space. She quickly tapped in a command to switch from ‘Courtyard 3 - Food Court with Fountain’ to ‘Courtyard 5 - Botanical Gardens’.
That would ensure the disguise would be complete.
Franches was just finishing up his Klingon cranial ridges when the fountain next to him abruptly shut off.
“Hmmm?” he wondered.
Suddenly the floor dropped beneath him, scattering his makeup kit as it bounced off the table. All around him, Jungle Squad members, actors and station personnel gripped tables, chairs, or simply fell to the floor as the entire food court dining area dropped into the floor. There was a hiss, then sudden movement as the dining area began moving through a very tight, low-ceilinged, dimly lit storage/transfer tunnel.
“Uh-oh,” Franches gulped.
“OK, places everybody, places!’ Annerson turned back to the railing. A lovely garden, holographic of course since the actual garden courtyard was dead as a doornail, had been moved into the Atrium as planned. She frowned. But why was she suddenly down to a bare two-dozen actors?
“Um…where did everybody go?” she wondered.
“And this is Haven’s Gate,” Simplot said, leading the board back into Atrium One, coming in through a side entrance this time.
“Not all that busy,” Captain Hellit commented, “Perhaps three malls is a bit excessive for a city this size? Especially given the commercial space in your transit facility?”
“Um…I think there’s just a sale in 341 Squared,” Simplot gave a laugh that sounded fake even to her, “You know how shoppers are!”
“Illogical and demanding,” Captain Sprat observed.
Suddenly, another side entrance popped open and a horde of Klingons, Nicondii and brightly-dressed Matrians rushed out, dispersing to the various stores.
“The sale appears to be over,” Captain Sprat said.
“No need to bother with 341 Squared then,” Wagner said, “Seen one mall, seen ‘em all,”
“To the shipyards then,” Simplot smiled.
Given that the shipyards were actually busy, the review board’s visit was somewhat more routine. Well, it seemed to Simplot that a lot of the emotionless construction bots were glaring at the visiting officers…well, glaring more at Shurgroe actually, but the work on the defensive satellites in Shipyard 1 had begun surprisingly fast, considering the short notice. Even Captain Sprat lifted an eyebrow in Shipyard 3 as they gazed out at the Ambassador-class starship that at this point resembled a gutted carcass more than a starship under refurbishment.
In any event, the tour finally ended as Simplot and Abela escorted Admiral Wagner and his team to the Hummingbird’s docking port.
“What are we doing back here?” Wagner asked Simplot as he noticed the small ship outside the viewport.
“I assumed you were heading to Senous and back to the Federation,” Simplot said, caught off-guard.
“We are. But we’ll be departing on the USS Champlain,” Wagner said, “There’s no way in hell I’m stepping foot on board another one of those quantum death-traps.”
“Then what do we do with the ship?” Abela asked.
“Keep it. Fly it into the sun. Give it to an inner-city school. I really couldn’t care less,” Wagner said, “Wait, no. It’s still a high-security item. Keep it. I don’t want to deal with the paperwork if it goes missing…that other ship was bad enough.”
“When will the Champlain be back?” Abela asked, “They’ve been patrolling the Matrian border since the Qu’Eh invasion!’
“Oh, right. I forgot to give you this. A few updates from Starfleet,” Wagner put on a smile, “Pleasure meeting you and all, but we have to run,”
“What about your recommendation?” Simplot asked.
“Nice station,” Chekid said.
“Indeed,” Sprat added.
“Might bring my kids here someday,” Happidaaz put in.
“But it will be up to Starfleet to make the final decision,” Wagner said. He tapped his comm-badge and requested beam-out to the Champlain.
As the board disappeared in a cloud of transporter sparks, Simplot turned to Abela.
“Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” she said glumly.
“What does that padd say?” Abela demanded.
“Oh,” Simplot read, “Nothing major. Starfleet is pulling most of their ships out of this sector. The Montreal and the Vendome will stick around until we start producing ships, but the rest are en route back to Federation space.”
“WHAT?” Abela snapped, “THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!”
“Why?” Simplot frowned, “Matria Prime still has their ships, at least the ones that could be repaired after the invasion, along with the ones we found with Haven. Two starships this far out to keep an eye on two member planets and a sector of space is standard procedure,” she brightened, “And we’ve got our very own ship now! The Hummingbird!”
“I agree with your admiral’s assessment of that ship,” Abela said glumly, “It’s a death-trap.”
“But it’s OUR death-trap!” Simplot giggled.
“I hate you so much,”
“C’mon, Myress,” Simplot smiled, turning to lead the way back downtown, “We pulled off a major piece of trickery, your planet apparently impressed the admiral with their defensive plans, and we’ve got a new toy to play with. Now, let’s go put together the pieces of your shattering marriage and call it a day!”
Abela grunted. Something in that conversation was bothering her. Something about the planet…yes. Why exactly had the admiral reviewed Matria Primes defenses? That hadn’t been anywhere in the communiqués regarding the Waystation-2 project. It just seemed…tacked-on, last minute. Either it hadn’t been planned and had just been a convenient distraction…or somebody in Starfleet had planned it very carefully.
But then, considering all the ships they’d had flying around and that a Starfleet captain was still technically the Matrian Minister of Planetary Defence, they didn’t exactly need subterfuge to get that information. Or did they?
Wheels within wheels…and who knew how an alien’s brain even worked…never mind an entire Federation full of aliens.
“I hate you ALL so much,” Abela amended as she followed Simplot to the tram station.
Aboard the USS Champlain, Admiral Wagner observed as the Captain and crew prepared for the long trip back to Federation space. Sure, the Hummingbird could have had them home in two days, but after the LAST attempt to use the QS drive, the Admiral preferred the longer, six-week trek.
Something was bugging him though. He wasn’t sure what it was it was, but something about the starbase he’d just toured seemed a bit…off.
“Science officer, what’s the population of Starbase 341?” he asked.
There was a series of beeps and bloops as the science officer scanned the city.
“Approximately 135 life-signs in the central area,” she reported, “Two hundred near one shipyard, approximately one thousand near another.
“So once you subtract the crew of that Ambassador-class ship…less than four hundred people,” the Admiral mused, “Well played, ladies.”
The Matrian’s little ruse didn’t matter, the admiral decided. Waystation itself had been all but deserted when it had started out, and he wasn’t a stranger to the challenges of attracting new business to an empty and distant part of space…it was what the Waystation project was all about.
“Well played indeed,” he smiled to himself, thinking of another ship and crew with a tendency to ‘enhance the truth’, “Definitely deserving of…second prize,”
Speaking of, he’d been largely out of touch for over a week. No doubt there was a pile of reports for him to go through, including at least one serious complaint regarding…THAT ship.
His smile fading, he turned to go belowdecks.
“…Betazoid Boys have announced that yes, they will go forward with their Reunion Tour,” a perky reporter said, “As you may recall, the band had split ways temporarily following allegations that the drummer and bass players had engaged in a threesome with the lead singer’s girlfriend, which resulted in a pregnancy. Insiders tell us however that tensions subsided when a paternity test revealed that the father of the child is in fact the drummer from ‘Death by Painful Flaying’, a Klingon death-metal group.”
“I can’t believe your people watch this drivel,” Wyer said, “Honestly, most celebrities end up as civil servants in their next life anyway,”
“I’m with him,” Stoneryder agreed.
“But it’s juicy!” Simplot giggled.
The combined Starfleet and Matrian command crew were in the work-study area of the Command Tower Principle Conference and Observatory Deck. A viewscreen had slid down to hang over the fireplace, and they’d pulled the comfortable leather chairs into a semi-circle.
“Why couldn’t Starfleet just tell us the results?” Franches asked, “Why are we watching the news for this?”
“Politics,” Annerson explained, “They want it to appear as though Starfleet and the Federation were completely impartial.”
“In other news, Federation officials have announced that the expected expansion of the Waystation project will go ahead as planned,” a new reporter had come on screen.
“Quiet everybody!’ Abela snapped.
“After a lengthy bidding and planning process, we have selected the design and location for the new facility,” a Starfleet spokes…thing was saying on the screen, a series of mouth-tentacles flailing around as it spoke, “Two member planets put in bids to host the facility, with one of them already having a suitable station in place. Unfortunately, the planet Senous chose to withdraw their application once they learned of some of the experimental propulsion technology that would be used to shorten the route between Waystation and Waystation-2.
“WIN BY DEFAULT!” Shurgroe’s arms shot up in the air “YES!”
“Quiet, Josh!” Annerson said.
”..have decided that, in an effort to reduce the station’s sensitivity to local politics and to ensure impartial access to all local member worlds, Waystation-2 will occupy a new facility, to be built approximately halfway between Matria Prime and Senous.” A schematic appeared, showing a station almost identical to the original Waystation, but slightly smaller and with a small, fattened sphere in place of the lower saucer.
Abela slumped in her seat.
“That’s it then,” she muttered.
Everybody else had fallen quiet as the news reporter moved on to the sports scores.
“Hey, it’s not that bad,” Simplot said, “There’s still going to be a massive increase in traffic coming this way!”
“Great,” Abela stood and walked to the turbolift, then left.
“Well, we tried,” Simplot shrugged, “Easy come, easy go, right?”
“I’ll draw up plans for a shuttle service,” Wyer said.
“Can I be captain of our new ship?” Shurgroe asked.
“I don’t think so, Josh,”
Major Jakerd, Lt. Fissett and Lt. Franches exchanged a glum look. It was easy for the Starfleeters to carry on casually…it wasn’t their home that had just been flipped a giant middle finger.
The temperature in the room seemed to drop by several degrees.
Abela kicked her boots off at the door to her apartment, barely noticing the spotlessness of the kitchen as she entered the living area and looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Wyer’s automation program was still up and running, maintaining the illusion that the city was occupied.
“Madam,” she said, “Shut down the automatic lighting program and return the transit system to low-population operation.”
“As you wish,” the computer practically snorted. Outside, most of the buildings went dark.
“And where DID your personality profile come from, anyway?” Abela demanded.
“That is for me to know, and you to find out,” the computer replied.
“Idiot programmers,” Abela muttered.
“I quite agree,” the computer said.
“I’m done with you, leave me alone!”
“As you wish,”
Abela looked around. Where the hell was Craigan anyway?
“Sir, your wife is home,” one of the intel techs called.
Colonel Craigan stood from his desk in Matrian Intelligence’s Haven office, just off the Signal Analysis facilities.
“I thought she’d be out all night celebrating,” he said, “All our information says that the review board recommendation on Haven was very favourable,”
“Well, the news just reported that a new station is going up between here and Senous instead,”
“Interesting,” Craigin frowned, “Starfleet Intelligence didn’t share that little tidbit with us?”
“They keep saying we have to wait for our liason officers before they start sending more information our way,” the tech reminded him.
“Of course. Hopefully Lieutenants Laarthi and Boxer will find a way back soon,” Craigan sighed.
“All right, I’ve got to go do the dutiful husband thing. See you all tomorrow, remember we have the weekly conference brief with MIHQ first thing in the morning.
Well, that was a minor miscalculation, Craigan mused as he rode an express lift to the building where he and Abela lived. Nothing major, he’d just tell her he’d wanted to go for a walk. Perhaps one day he’d be unable to hide the fact that he’d been recruited by Matrian Intelligence shortly after his part in repealing the Qu’Eh invasion.
But he was confident that day wouldn’t come for some time.