Author: Brendan Chris
He was running down a corridor, the sound of metal tipped feet tapping behind him. The passageway seemed to stretch off forever; gleaming metal wall panels interspaced with access panels and lighting tubes. He glanced back behind him, terrified he would see one of those cold, metal faces gaining, just inches behind him.
He turned back just in time to see a pair of humanoid, metallic forms step out of a cross corridor that had just suddenly appeared right in front of him. Their four arms ended in wicked- looking tools, and there was a decided lack of mercy in their glowing red eyes. Even as he tried to dodge, one of them activated its plasma cutter, the glowing beam sizzling the air as it slashed right at his midsection.
Lieutenant Josh Shurgroe woke with a start and a cold sweat in his Inner Rim apartment. The bed sheets were tangled around his legs and his pillow was soaked with sweat. His hands went immediately to his stomach, searching for any charred flesh. Not finding (or smelling) any, he sighed with relief and fell back against the damp pillow. What a nightmare!
When he’d first learned that Haven’s shipyards were meant to employ a small army of construction bots, overseen by a slightly smaller army of organic workers, he’d had no issue whatsoever. After all, the Federation had been employing robotic construction of one kind or another for centuries.
On the other hand, after reading a report on how Colonel Abela had reprogrammed hundreds of the bots to defend her hidden stasis chamber with lethal force, he’d suddenly found himself with issues.
Climbing out of bed, Shurgroe gathered his housecoat and padded down the hall to the small den he’d converted into a shrine. Abela could talk all she wanted about the elegance and status of living downtown, but his apartment out in Level 34, Building 42 of Haven’s Inner Rim was at least twice the size of Captain Simplot’s place downtown.
He lit five candles; one for Buddha, one for Xixnar, Andorian goddess of masochism, another for the Wiccan Alynna, a fourth for Zeus and a fifth for Persephone, the matron goddess of the Followers of Persephone. Big surprise, huh? He arranged them carefully at the points of a green pentagram drawn on his floor with the tree sap taken from what some believed to have been a Sacred Grove of the ancient Druids. A small poppet or voodoo doll of himself was arranged carefully on a table in front of him, surrounded by small pieces of fruit, a few coins and less detailed poppets meant to represent family or friends.
The Followers of Persophone were, to civilized society, a pack of raving nut-jobs who had taken a random assortment of superstition and somehow cobbled them together into a dysfunctional religion. The High Priestess of Vortos, their spiritual leader, tried to paint them as an all-inclusive group, willing to absorb any belief that would add to their whole. This had somewhat worked for a time, however their numbers had dropped drastically after a few attempted invasions of the Federation, courtesy of the Borg. (Assimilation and absorption had become suddenly unpopular around then.) Shurgroe had heard her speak in the basement of a hotel on Risa during shore leave, and had latched right on.
As the smoke from the candles drifted around him, Shurgroe pulled out a padd and tapped a button.
“Today’s life goal:” the padd spoke, “Illuminate the malaise of the hyperborion wanderer,”
“Illuminate the malaise of the hyperborion wanderer,” Shurgroe repeated to himself.
Dousing his candles, he grabbed himself some breakfast from the replicator (ignoring his spacious, gleaming kitchen), ate, then hopped into the shower.
“Hyperborion wanderer,” he said again, running his fingers through his hair, “Illuminate that malaise. Hmmm.”
As he pulled on his uniform, there was a flash of light through his bedroom window as the Matrian star slipped neatly over Haven’s artificial horizon.
It was another day in the city, and Shurgroe had a lot of work to do.
“Very nice, Mr. Wyer,” Captain Elizabeth Simplot said, watching the sun rise from the Command Tower’s Principle Conference and Observatory Deck.
“Hmph,” Colonel Myress Abela grunted.
“And how long did you say it took you to make all the calculations?” Simplot went on, giving Abela an uncomfortable look.
“Two weeks,” Wyer said, “Keeping in mind our orbit relative to Matria Prime, the rotation of the city itself, the shadow of the planet,”
“We’re going to lose daylight every time our orbit takes us back around the night side,” Abela interrupted, “Re-work your equations and compensate,”
“B-but!” Wyer objected, “There’s nothing we can do about that, short of moving into a polar orbit! It took weeks just to get a sunrise and sunset every day at the right times!”
“Not good enough,” Abela said firmly, “Starfleet’s supposed to be creative. Start creating! Now get out of my sight!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Wyer mumbled, shuffling out of the room.
“You really didn’t-“ Simplot started.
“I have to meet the Minister of Labour in Transporter Bay 23 in fifteen minutes,” Abela said, “I really don’t have time to argue over it,”
“Speaking of, why didn’t you people install transporter rooms here in City Hall? Why are they wayyyy the hell out in the Outer Rim?”
“First, NO!” Abela snapped, “Bad Starfleet! This is the Command Tower, NOT ‘City Hall’!”
“Fine. What about the transporter bays?”
“Security,” Abela said, “And we have six transporter bays below the tower, in the high- security decks. They just aren’t for public use,”
“About that too,” Simplot spoke quickly as Abela stepped into the turbolift, “When are you going to show me around down there?”
“Later,” Abela said, hitting the manual door close. The fancy wood and glass doors of the C&O level rolled shut. Simplot watched as the turbolift dropped out of sight.
“That woman is a bitch,” she sighed.
Time to head down to her office. Maybe Shurgroe would have some good news for her.
Thousands of light-years away, the USS Roadrunner was cruising along at a brisk Warp 7. In the tiny bridge, Lieutenant Cindy Mytim tapped at the science console.
“We’re leaving the space covered by the Wuyan star charts,” she reported, “Continuing sensor sweeps.”
“Very good, very good,” Acting Captain Taylor Virgii replied, sipping at his cup of tea, “Mr. Boxer, anything on the tactical sensors?”
“Mr. Boxer?” Virgii repeated. He slowly became aware of a soft sound. He turned around to see Boxer stretched awkwardly to one side, one leg scratching up at his side, his lips pulled back in a strange grimace.
“BOXER!” Virgii snapped, “Dear lord, man, pull yourself together!”
With a yip, Boxer immediately straightened out, hand-paws reaching out for his panel. The sudden motion put him off balance, his hand-paws suddenly flailing as he slid halfway out of his seat. Outside the bridge windows, a single photon torpedo sped off into the distance.
“Oopsie,” Boxer gulped.
“Mr. Boxer!” Virgii shook his head, “We are now in uncharted territory! We are far from home, and we depend on you to warn us of danger! You are our William Tell! Our DEW line!”
Boxer looked blankly back at him.
“Our…guard dog,” Virgii finished lamely.
“Oh!” Boxer’s ears perked up, “Yessir, Mr. Virgii! Captain Virgii! I sure am! Don’t worry, with Bull’s-Eye Boxer on the case we’ll see those bad-guys, no matter now far-“
“Sir, we’re being approached and hailed by an unknown vessel,” Mytim cut in.
Virgii and Boxer stared at each other for a moment.
“Mr. Boxer?” Virgii prompted, “your panel?”
“Hmmm?” Boxer turned back to the tactical panel, “Oh yeah. A ship has matched velocities two thousand meters from us and wants to talk,”
Virgii clenched his teeth.
A blob of something…something purple appeared on the screen.
“This is <unintelligible bubbling> of the trader <more unintelligible bubbling>,” the blob spoke, “We are but humble merchants, eager to trade our wares. Might we interest you in visiting our on-ship demonstration bay?”
“Thank you for your kind offer, but I think not, no,” Virgii said immediately, “We appreciate your hospitality, and wish you a pleasant day.”
He turned to Mytim.
“End transmission,” he said pleasantly.
She stared at him for a moment, not moving.
“Oh very well,” he muttered crossly, examining the panel next to his chair until he found the cut-off button.
“They’re resuming their previous course,” Boxer reported.
Mytim continued staring at Virgii.
“Is there a problem?” he finally asked.
“What did you do that for?” she asked. He voice remained very calm, but there was a degree of ice in her words that wasn’t normally present. Not ice as in ‘cold shoulder’, but ice as in ‘sharp, steel-tipped icicle’.
“Virgii’s Law #4,” Virgii said proudly, “‘A Federation starship more than one thousand light-years from friendly space will not engage in unnecessary commercial transactions’. It’s just asking for trouble.”
“It wouldn’t have hurt to have seen what they’re selling,” Mytim said, keeping her voice carefully controlled.
“But it could have, my dear,” Dr. Strobnick added confidently from his panel, “There’s a mathematical formula to the matter. Consider the number of…”
As Virgii droned on, Mytim glanced at the chrono, just wondering when this blasted day would end.
A few hours later, Mytim was able to turn her panel over to Ensign Kilpatrick, a far-too- cheerful Bolian on Beta shift. Squeezing her way off the cramped bridge and down the gangway to Deck 2, Mytim fumed over Virgii’s arrogance. The man could not be reasoned with! Another gangway took her to Deck 3 and her quarters. The door hissed open and Mytim stepped into the small room. Her narrow bunk was up against one wall, directly beneath a set of storage shelves and next to the small closet. Across from it was the narrow door leading to her shared bathroom along with a chest of drawers. Her desk took up the outer wall, looking out through a pair of windows into space. The Roadrunner was a small ship, even smaller than the Defiant- class ships. The designers had made some effort to make it more comfortable, but the rooms were still small and utilitarian. Aside from the astral view, it was almost as bad as living in the Academy dorms again! And she had no scented candles, no delicate cloth wall hangings and no objects d’art to class up the place and give it that atmosphere she wanted.
With a small sigh, Mytim grabbed a padd and loaded up a good book. She sat at her desk and began to read.
And just as quickly got back up again. No, that wasn’t comfortable at all. She daintily sat on her bunk. Slid back to lean against the wall. Tried propping herself up with a pillow.
“This is…this is…most distressing!” she said delicately, jumping to her feet and charging out of the room.
Aboard Haven, Lt. Shurgroe was becoming equally frustrated.
“Look, I don’t want much,” he said, addressing a burly Matrian woman, “I just want a status update on the work you people are doing and a look around the shipyard!”
“The shipyard is closed to all non-shipbuilders,” she replied, “Classified project, top secret,”
“Y-you’re rebuilding a Starfleet Ambassador-class starship,” Jeffery said, “And I’m your Director of Shipbuilding!”
“If you tell anybody what we’re doing here, I’ll have you killed immediately,” the woman snarled.
“I…I’d like to see you try?” he forced out.
She took one menacing step towards him.
“I’m going, I’m going!” he squeaked, turning tail and fleeing. A few minutes later he was back at Silverbrook Station, the closest tram station to Shipyard 3.
“You’re not being very helpful today,” he muttered, running his fingers through the confidence charm he’d shaved into his head the night before. He checked his chrono. By the time he’d met Simplot for the morning, checked on some work being done in Docking Bay 4 and the refurbishment of Docking Port 43, most of his morning was gone. He’d intended to invite Lt. Cmdr Jeffery and the Major Dekair, the Matrian Master Shipbuilder in charge of yard 3, for lunch to try to break down their wall of silence.
As he rode the tram back towards Downtown, he realized that maybe he should have called ahead first.
Ten minutes later, Shurgroe walked into Dr. Annerson’s office.
“Hi Josh,” the pleasant, middle-aged woman said, “Here for a refill on your meds?”
“No, no,” Shurgroe shook his head, “I have plenty of those. What I don’t have is a way into the shipyards! Those Matrian women keep kicking me out!”
“Have you tried talking to Colonel Abela?”
Shurgroe bit his lips.
“I don’t wanna,” he said after a moment, “She’s…she’s sort of the type that expects you to take care of your own problems. And I’m sort of on her good side right now,”
“Hmm. Don’t tell Wyer that. He’ll be jealous.”
“Never mind,” Annerson waved a hand, “So why are you coming to me? I’m a doctor, and Captain Simplot said I’m not supposed to hand out any more tranquilizer blowguns,”
“Lunch,” Shurgroe said simply, giving her a blank look.
“Oh, shall we dine at the McBaughb’s, the Double ‘D’ Diner, or Wonka’s Chocolate Factory?”
“We have a Chocolate-“
“There are no restaurants open on the station yet, Josh,” Annerson cut him off, “And I’m not eating in the CT Café today!” The CT Café was a cafeteria-like replimat located on Level 15 of the Command Tower.
“Because Liz had a sign made that says ‘City Café’, and as soon as Abela sees it she’s going to tear us all new bodily orifices. Orifi? Whatever,”
“But I’m hungry!”
“Stop whining, Josh!” Annerson sipped her coffee, “Did it cross your little mind that maybe the real reason you’re here instead of in Shipyard 3 is because complaining to me is so much easier than actually doing something?”
“So that means no lunch?”
“It means, Josh, that maybe you should take some firmer action than just standing outside their door, begging to be let in.” Annerson sat back in her seat, crossing her arms.
“They want you to be a shipbuilder, right?”
“Then go build something!”
Mytim had sat in every chair in the Roadrunner’s cramped lounge, in at least two different positions.
The lounge was opposite the mess hall, towards the front of the ship. It was tiny, like the mess hall, about twice the size of Mytim’s quarters. Only two other crewmembers were present, one of whom looked strangely at Mytim as she tried to get comfortable.
Finally giving up, Mytim tossed the padd into a disposal and started looking for Laarthi.
She found her on Deck 4, working on an illuminated rack in one corner of the small cargo bay.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to grow something edible,” Laarthi replied, her tail swishing in pleasure despite the clear lack of anything living in what Mytim could now see was a hydroponics rack, “And how are you spending your free time this evening?”
“Wishing for a properly designed chair,” Mytim sighed, “This ship is just so…just so…bland! There’s no grace, no elegance!”
“Replicate one,” Laarthi suggested.
“No, a chair!”
“And place it where?”
“Hmmm. Good point,”
“I’m accustomed to a certain level of luxury,” Mytim went on, “But ships this size aren’t about luxury. We’re supposed to be in a Starbase right now, orbiting a friendly planet filled with luxury goods for sale, and Virgii won’t even let us trade or shop anymore!”
“What?” Laarthi spun around, “How am I supposed to get more seeds or better equipment if we can’t barter?”
“He claims that we’re more likely to get attacked if we keep stopping to talk to strange races,”
“Well,” Laarthi had to admit, “He has a point,”
“Maybe he does,” Mytim admitted, “But sooner or later, we’re going to need supplies. And do you want to be haggling for them because we’re on the verge of running out?”
“I think you’re over-reacting again,” Laarthi said calmly, walking over the the replicator. “Two units of fertilizer mixter Laarthi 21-B,”
The computer beeped.
“Request denied,” it said. Then the voice changed to a digitized version of Virgii’s British accent. “Virgii’s Law #5: Save now, Have later,”
Laarthi’s left eye twitched.
“I have a plan,” she said.
Back aboard Haven, Shurgroe was locked in Lab 4 in the Department of Shipbuilding tower. One of the six towers attached to the Command Tower, the DoS tower contained administrative and research space to support the shipbuilding facilities in the Outer Rim. It was also very empty, like most of the city. Only the Department of Police and External Security tower was quieter, as the Civil Protection Team was operating out of one of the smaller buildings in the suburbs and Lt. Stoneryder couldn’t be bothered to climb the stairs up into the DoPES lobby.
In any event, Shurgroe had complete privacy and access to an impressive array of replicator patterns, tools, materials, micro-construction bots and everything else you’d expect for researching and modeling starship designs. A Matrian shipbuilding bot was powered down in one corner, but Shurgroe had given the creepy thing a wide berth.
“D-DoDO to D-DoS,” his comm-badge chirped. Shurgroe frowned at the strange message, then chalked it up as a malfunction in the comm system. On the table in front of him, a spherical framework about the size of a medicine ball was quickly taking shape. A tiny computer processor was already affixed to the inside, and Shurgroe was in the process of attaching a series of tiny anti-gravity units.
“Lt. Wyer to Lt. Shurgroe,”
“Why didn’t you answer my last comm?” Wyer asked calmly.
“Y-You tried comming me?”
“I’m D-DoDO. You’re D-DoS,” Wyer reminded him.
“That’s just too confusing,” Shurgroe said, “Keep that up, and all our wandering malaises are going to need alleviation,”
There was a long pause.
“Nevermind. Shurgroe out,” he went back to work, replicating a series of tiny phaser arrays.
“Wyer to Shurgroe,”
“The reason I was calling,” Wyer sounded tired, “Is that I need half a dozen construction bots for 45 Bahkar Street. The pool wasn’t drained before the city was hidden, and now it’s frozen. The ice is buckling part of the penthouse suite ceiling.”
“T-t-t-thats your job. Inside the city stuff,”
“I am aware of that. However the construction bots are all assigned to Shipyard 3. I can’t get any without your authorization,”
“I’m…er…working on my authorization right now,” Shurgroe said, fixing the first phaser emitter into place.
“Please hurry,” Wyer said. He sighed, then dropped his voice, “Abela is already on my case over resale value,”
“Seen,” Shurgroe said, holding back a giggle, “Let me get back to you tomorrow,”
Aboard the Roadrunner, Laarthi and Mytim were waiting in the tiny conference room for Virgii.
“I traced the course of the trading vessel here,” Laarthi said, pointing to a planet just off their projected course, “I’ve also detected trace amounts of dilithium here,” she pointed to another start system, off their course in the opposite direction, “and here,” she pointed back at the first planet.
“I scanned those systems. There was nothing,” Mytim said.
“There is now that one of the sensor arrays is out of alignment,” Laarthi said, “We send Virgii and the Roadrunner to check out this system, while we take the shuttle back along the merchant-ship’s route and find something to buy,”
At that moment, the doors swished open and Virgii stepped in.
“Ladies, always a pleasure to set aside some of my personal time in the line of duty,” he said, taking a seat.
Five minutes later, Virgii was interrupting their little briefing.
“No, no,” he said, “Virgii’s Law #4 clearly states that a Federation-“
“Virgii’s Law #8 states that anytime you see dilithium, you should grab it immediately!” Laarthi interrupted.
“There’s no such law!”
“There should be! We run out of that stuff, and we’re dead in the water!”
“Think of it in turns of cost vs. savings,” Mytim jumped in, “The fuel cost for this detour is insignificant. But even half a kilo of dilithium could stretch our power supplies considerably.
“Very well,” Virgii said, “But you will stay in constant contact with me! I will authorize every aspect of your excursion, and-“
“Thanks, we’ll be in the shuttle!’ Mytim said, grabbing Laarthi by the arm and heading out.
The next day, Shurgroe strode confidently out of Silverbrook Station and down the corridor to Shipyard 3. His medicine-ball sized construction hovered over his right shoulder, a small control box clenched in his right hand. Those guards wanted to see his building skills? Here they were.
“Good morning ladies,” he said, approaching the guarded yard entrance, “I brought a little surprise for you,”
“What is that thing?” one of the demanded.
“The Death Star!” Shurgroe said proudly.
“Oh, umm…I-it’s from an old Earth classic. It’s a giant space station that destroys planets. Or a model of one, anyway. See?”
He pressed a button and a series of green beams shot out of a large dish on the upper surface of the sphere, converged, and speared out to hit one of the women square in the chest.
“Tingles a little,” she said, annoyed.
“So there. I built something. N-n-now let me in?”
The guard laughed. Then she reached out and tousled his hair. Like he was a kid brother that had just shown her a neat trick!
“Nice try, little guy, really. Tell you what, I’ll tell Major Dekair you stopped by, OK?”
“N-no,” Shrugroe force out, “I need half a dozen construction bots for a project in the city!”
“You’re really not in a position to be asking for favours, pip-squeak,”
“Aren’t I?” Shurgroe twisted a control and the Death Star rose over his shoulder and flew towards the guard. There was a hum as it’s weapon system prepared to fire again, this time at higher power.
With a move that would have made a basketball player proud, the closest guard reached out and slammed the model station down as through to dribble. Instead of bouncing, the lower quarter of the model smashed to pieces and sparks flew as the power cell shorted out.
“Oh…crap…” Shurgroe muttered.
“Try again tomorrow, kiddo,” the guard chucked as he picked up the scattered pieces.
“Oh, I will,” Shurgroe muttered, “I sure as ‘H’, ‘E’, double-hockey-sticks will!”
“This is shuttlecraft Little Beeper to bridge, requesting departure clearance,” Lt. Laarthi said into the comm, sitting properly at the shuttle’s pilot station.
“Releasing docking clamps,” the voice of Dr. Strobnick came back, “Do watch out for the ring nacelle when you depart.
“Hard to miss it,” Laarthi said. Indeed, the upper half of the shuttle’s window was dominated by the inner side of the Roadrunner’s quantum slipstream nacelle. There was a metallic-sounding THUNK as the clamps holding the shuttle in its socket on the upper rear of the Roadrunner’s main hull retracted. With a puff of manoeuvring thrusters, the shuttle eased free of the larger ship, then flew clear.
“Three days without having to listen to that overblown, pompous windbag,” Laarthi sighed, “You know, I didn’t realize until now just how badly I needed it,”
“If I don’t hear his voice once, it’ll be a successful trip,” Mytim agreed.
“Course is set. Engaging warp drive,”
“Virgii’s Law #7,” the computer abruptly spoke, “Haste makes waste. Please select a lower warp factor,”
“Chief Engineer’s override,” Laarthi said, “Authorization kilo, tango three fifty-four,”
The computer beeped, then went quiet.
“It appears you do have a few perks with your new position,’ Mytim observed.
“If only shutting up the real thing was as easy,”
The next morning, as Mytim and Laarthi were still warping to their destination, Dr. Annerson was walking through the paneled hallways of the Command Tower, a tray of food balanced on one hand and a map padd in the other. If only the city had been built with one of those neat ‘follow the lights’ guide systems! Of course, maybe it had been, but nobody had gotten around to activating it yet.
In any event, she was trying to find her way to the workship where Shurgroe had apparently been working all night. He’d missed the staff briefing that morning, sending a message saying that he was working on something important. Captain Simplot had seemed willing to let the matter drop, but Colonel Abela had tracked his message to the source and insisted on sending somebody to ‘handle’ him.
She reached the end of the long corridor taking her from the central Command Tower to the DoS tower. A series of transparent aluminum security doors had been propped open, more evidence that the building wasn’t seeing much use. After moving past a deserted security desk and navigating a short maze of smaller hallways, she found herself at the entrance to Laboratory Workshop #4.
“Josh?” she called, “Are you in there? I brought breakfast!”
There was a sort of mumbled reply…nothing she could make out.
She juggled for a moment, trying to get a hand free enough to hit the door control. Finally she grunted, purposefully dropped the map padd and opened the door.
“I said don’t come in!” Shurgroe said frantically, trying to shield something from her with his body.
“Why not? Are you working on another sex-bot?” Annerson tsk’ed, “Really, Josh, wasn’t getting your thingy stuck the one time bad enough?”
“It’s nothing like that,” Shurgroe muttered, his face turning beet-red, “And that wasn’t a sex-bot. It was a…it was a…was a…um. Educational aid?”
“Uh-huh,” Annerson winked. She noticed something on one of the other workstations in the room. It looked like a half-smashed globe. “Having some trouble?”
“It’s those shipyard women again,” Shurgroe said glumly, “I thought that if I built something, they’d take me seriously.”
“So whatcha doing now?”
Shurgroe, looking like he was about to give up the combination to the vault containing his life savings, reluctantly moved to the side, revealing his newest project.
Annerson’s jaw dropped as she looked at the model. Nearly a meter across at the base, it was shaped like a metallic, horizontal snowflake; six pier-like platforms attacked at the center, each of them supporting a cluster of glittering metal-and glass towers. The central section, where the piers joined, contained the biggest cluster of towers, dominated by a single spire that thrust up above the others.
“Another Matrian city?” she asked. Even as she said it, she could see the architecture was all wrong. The model was grey and metallic, while Matrian architecture emphasized stone in blue and red colours. The model also lacked any greenery, essential to all Matrian designs.
“No. More Earth science-fiction,” Shurgroe said, “Like the Death Star,” he nodded at the half-smashed globe, “It’s the city of Atlantis. Or at least a fictional version of it.” He hit a button on a control panel and the city eased off the table, hovering in the air. Another button and a hazy shield appeared around the model city. “Some tricks with holograms and forcefields, but at least this one’ll be harder for them to smash,”
He tapped a few more buttons and the city returned to the workbench.
“I just have a few more tweaks to make, then I’ll show those bi…um…those mean girls who the master builder is!”
“Well, have some breakfast first,” Annerson advised, “Then you can worry about flying your little city around the…city…later.”
“This is the Federation shuttlecraft Little Beeper,” Mytim said calmly, “Requesting landing pattern.
“Little Beeper, this is <gurgle> control,” a watery-sounding voice, similar to the blob they’d encountered before spoke, “Nature of your visit?”
“Are you bringing any fruits, meats or nuts onto the planet?”
“No fruits, no meats,” Mytim replied, “And we left the nut back on our other ship,”
“Our sensors are detecting one hundred and twenty kilograms of meat aboard your ship,” the voice replied.
Laarthi and Mytim exchanged a confused look.
“Uhhh…there’s nothing in here but us,” Laarthi said.
“Ohhh….you’re carbon-based bipeds?”
“Why didn’t you say so? Just be sure you get a flesh receipt on your way through customs. Transmitting landing co-ordinates now,”
“Suddenly, I’m questioning whether or not this is a good idea,” Laarthi said.
“There is no possible way the two of us weigh more than one hundred and ten kilos,” Mytim said.
“OK, here are your flesh receipts,” the amorphous blob behind the counter said pleasantly, “Now, your reason for visiting is commerce. Which of you is the merchant, and which of you is for sale?”
“I..what…we…” Laarthi stammered.
“Kidding, kidding,” the blob said, jiggling like a bowl of jello, “I never get tired of that one. OK, everything appears to be in order. Enjoy your stay on <gargle-blat>. And if you can correctly pronounce the name of our planet within forty-eight hours, you get a free dinner at <gurgle-mumble>!”
“How charming,” Mytim smiled insincerely, then grabbed Laarthi by the arm.
“First stop, furniture,” she said, “I need a chair that doesn’t force my back into new shapes.”
“Second stop, fertilizer,” Laarthi said.
They stepped out of the spaceport and found themselves confronted with a skyline of towering buildings, a web of streets and passageways and about three hundred anxious cab- drivers, eager for a new fare.
“First stop, a map,” Laarthi amended.
Shurgroe walked confidently down the corridors between Silverbrook Station and Shipyard 3, the model of Atlantis following him like an obedient puppy. Well, OK, as far as Shurgroe goes, his walk was pretty confident. Most people wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
In any event, he approached the same set of blast doors guarded by the same two Matrian security guards.
“Hey kiddo,” one of the said, “Bring anything new this time?”
“Sure did,” Shurgroe said. Atlantis hovered around the corner and came to a stop in front of the guards, turning slowly on its axis. Shrugroe had the distinct pleasure of watching the taller guard’s jaw drop in surprise.
“Very nice,” she finally said, admiring her reflection in the windows of a tiny building, “Could do with a lake. Or some grass. Or something other than metal. But not bad. “ She stepped back, allowing the second guard to take a look.
“Tell you what,” the first guard said, “I bet Major Dekair would be interested in seeing what makes this thing tick. We’ll take it to her, then see if she’ll meet you in, oh, say tomorrow?”
“How about I take it to Major Dekair, and she can meet with me now,” Shrugroe said. “I-I-I am h-her boss, after all,”
“Uh-huh, whatever,” the second guard said. She reached out, grippeing one of the tiny buildings near the edge of the model. With a small snap, the tower broke off.
“Oops,” she said, smiling “Did I do that?”
“Bad move,” Shrugroe said, tapping a button. A domed force-field appeared around the model, zapping the guard’s fingers before she could do any more damage. Tiny hatches opened on the model, and a swarm of what looked like glowing, holographic fire-flies flew out, swarming straight at the offending guard.
“Hey!” she snapped, slapping at the tiny lights as they sparked against her skin, ‘That HURTS!”
She swung her phaser rifle like a bat, trying to knock the attacking model to the ground. There was a brief flare of sparks as the force-field repelled the attack, then another swarm of holographic fire-flies burst out of the model and flew at the guard.
“Pretty cool, huh? Shurgroe said, “I installed a holo-generator for the effect,”
“OK, fine!” the first guard snapped, taking a step back, “Turn the damned thing off and we’ll take you to see Major Dekair!”
“Deal,” Shurgroe said. He tapped the ‘standby’ button on the model remote.
Instead of floating gently to the ground, Atlantis unleashed another attack, this time at the first guard.
“I SAID CALL IT OFF!” she called, wincing as tiny balls of energy popped against her arm.
“I’m trying!” Shurgroe cried, frantically slamming his finger against the ‘OFF’ button, “It’s not responding!”
The second guard fired her phaser, the beam crashing into the model’s shield. The model ducked around a corner, a steady stream of energy balls flying towards the phaser rifle until it sparked and went dead.
Shurgroe and the two guards looked at each other, then Shurgroe carefully peaked around the corner.
Atlantis was gone.
“Uh-oh,” he groaned.
Mytim and Laarthi collapsed, exhausted, into a pair of chairs in what they hoped was a restaurant. They were surrounded by the blob-like citizens of the planet, gurgling happily away in chairs that looked more like egg-cups. And they were extending tentacle-like extrusions of themselves around object on the nearby tables and seemed to be eating them. Mytime and Laarthi, the only two bipeds sitting in the more conventional off-worlder section, assumed they were eating.
“Twenty-five stores and not one acceptable chair,” Mytim said, fluttering one hand delicately, “How…dissapointing!”
Laarthi’s tail swished around angrily as she tapped at her tricorder.
“And the only acceptable source of fertilizer was their equivalent of a funeral home,” she hissed. A passing waiter expelled a pair of menus from itself with a wet ‘blurp’.
“Virgii’s Law #9: Avoid speaking to planetary citizens. It usually just makes them angry,” the tricorder spoke. Laarthi responded by tearing out the device’s tiny speaker.
“And that’s not helping!” she snapped.
“I wish I could say that we should just try again in the next star system,” Mytim sighed dramatically, “However, we both know that Virgii will never allow it,”
“I’m not hungry anymore,” Laarthi said suddenly, her gaze flickering between the incomprehensible menus and the bizarre goop the other customers were…absorbing. “Let’s just go back to the shuttle.”
They stood and left. As they walked down the broad avenue leading back towards the spaceport, Mytim was overcome with a wave of frustration. This was all, totally and completely, Virgii’s fault. And what could they do about it? Nothing! The man was in command…more than that, they’d practically forced him into command. There was no Starfleet HQ to replace him, no fellow Captains (or Acting Captains) to influence him and no friendly ports where he’d have no choice but to let them get out and stretch their legs. There was nothing but the tiny confines of the Roadrunner, along with whatever friendly races they happened to find on their way home. And Virgii was apparently now intent on alienating as many of the…er…aliens…as possible.
Mytim took a deep breath. This was undignified. She calmed her mind, imagining all her anger and frustration was leaving her in waves, flooding away, leaving her calm and collected once more.
She was so caught up in her own mental state that she didn’t even notice a nearby blob shudder in surprise.
<garble-phloo> nearly liquefied in shock as it felt a wave of emotional energy wash over it. It extended a sensory stalk and quickly began panning around the area. Nothing but ordinary, average-looking citizens and a pair of meat-bipeds. Surely neither of THEM were capable of harnessing the sort of energies it has sensed.
Ordinarily, <garble-phloo> wouldn’t have paid the meat-bipeds a second thought. Unfortunately, its situation as less then ordinary. Two Enforcers were on its trail, and unless it could either find a way to ditch its highly illegal possession or to properly use it, it was going on a one-way trip to the desiccation chambers.
Chalking the odd occurrence up to chance, <garble-phloo> was about to resume its course when it felt another, stronger wave wash over it. Again it panned around, and again the only thing it saw out of the ordinary was the two bipeds. Only this time the one with fur was speaking angrily into a little pin on its front-side.
“Computer, I don’t care if the priority message is coming from Fleet Admiral Ra’al, I’m not interested in having it patched through!” she snapped, clearly agitated.
“What is it?” the other one asked.
“Virgii is trying to force a priority comm-channel through the shuttle’s-“
“Lieutenant Mytim, this is Captain Virgii,” the little pin spoke, “Lieutenant, did you know one of our sensors is out of alignment? There isn’t a trace of dilithium in this sector! You really should be more diligent in maintaining your equipement!”
<garble-phloo> oozed back, nearly liquefying again at the energy that crackled off the hairless biped.
“I’ll keep that in mind, sir,” she said coldly, her arms crossed, “We’re setting course for the rendez-vouz point now,”
“See that you do,” the voice said, “Virgii out.”
“I’m going to kill him,” the furred alien said simply, “I’m going to claw at him until he’s gooey enough to pass for one of these things,”
“Now, now,” the hairless one said, placing her fingertips gently on her companion, “Don’t be hasty. Endless torture also has its benefits,”
They resumed their walk towards the spaceport. Collecting itself, <garble-phloo> rushed to follow.
It couldn’t use the energy crystal carefully hidden near a mitochondrial cluster, but maybe the meat-biped could.
Shurgroe and the two guards, Katren and Plisses, moved carefully down the corridors of Haven’s Outer Rim.
“How long until that thing runs out of power?” Katren demanded.
“Well, I used one of those Old Matrian micro-fusion thingies that power your construction bots. So sometime between next month and two hundred years from now,” Shurgroe gulped.
“And it didn’t cross your little male mind that building something with weapons would be a bad idea!?”
“Y-you smashed my Death Star,” Shurgroe replied, “I put too much work into that Atlantis model to see it crushed! And those little light beads are far too weak to really hurt anyone. Well, probably.”
“Hold,” Plisses said, raising a hand. Suddenly, Shurgroe and Katren could hear it too: the soft hum of antigrav units. They peered around the corner and into Silverbook Station. The Atlantis model was hovering near the open doors of the tram, almost as though consulting the route map displayed on the overhead display.
“On three,” Phlisses said. She counted down with her fingers, then she and Katren jumped out, firing with their remaining phaser rifle. Shurgroe resumed tapping away at his remote, trying to at least get the shield to drop.
Instead, ignoring the incoming phaser beams, Atlantis surged straight at them, its drone launcher doors opening.
“Uh, RUN!” Shurgroe shouted just as another wave of yellow fireflies was unleashed. They darted back into the corridor, then ducked around the first corner. Behind them, Atlantis easily kept pace.
“Double back to the station!” Katren shouted, “Into the tram!”
Taking a pair of quick corners and running back into Silverbrook Station through the side entrance, they sprinted for the tram. The doors closed just in time, the yellow energy balls sparking against the window.
“Go, GO!” Katren shouted at Shurgroe, pushing him towards a chair with a small panel.
“Just DO it!”
Shrugroe tapped frantically, trying to set the tram on manual. With a jolt, it accelerated into the tunnel at full speed. In reverse.
They looked around. There was no sign of Atlantis.
“That was close,” Katren said.
“Shurgroe to Ops,” Shurgroe spoke, “Advise all personnel to avoid the vicinity of Silverbrook Station. And…uh…is anybody at the internal sensor panel?”
“Lt. Cmdr Shurgroe,” the voice of Colonel Abela came back, “Glad to see you’re back at work. Is there a problem?”
Shurgroe bit his lip. Both Katren and Phlisses were nodding ‘YES’ emphatically.
“No Colonel, n-n-nothing serious. Just a small equipment problem. We’ll have it cleared up in a few moments.”
“See that you do. Abela out,”
The Matrian guards were staring at him in disbelief.
“She likes it when people handle their own problems,” he said in a small voice. He cleared his throat. “Besides, I know who to talk to.”
“Better talk to them fast,” Phlisses said, nodding at the window. Further down the tunnel, a small cluster of lights, tiny windows shining out of tiny buildings, was slowly gaining on the tram.
Dr. Annerson was contemplating one of the greatest mysteries in the universe. Which, in her world, meant she was staring at Josh Shurgroe’s psychological profile and wondering just how the hell the messed up little bugger had made it through Starfleet Academy.
“Shurgroe to Annerson,”
“Hi Josh,” Annerson said pleasantly, tapping her comm-badge, “I was just thinking of you. Any luck with the shipyard?”
“Um…well…the guards agreed to let me meet with Major Dekair,” Shurgroe’s voice sounded even more strained than usual.
“That’s good news!” Annerson said warmly.
“What’s the problem now, Josh?” she demanded.
“Um, well, I’m not sure how to say this…”
There was the sound of phaser fire over the line. Annerson reflexively looked out her window. Before she could roll her eyes at her own silly reaction (what were the odds Shurgroe would be visible from halfway up the Command Tower?) she saw a single tram speeding across the nearest bridge and into Downtown. Somebody in the tram appeared to be firing at something following them, but whatever it was was too small for Annerson to see. Something the size of…oh.
“Josh,” she sighed, “We have one of those ‘out of control robot/computer/AI’ problems that Starfleet officers just seem to keep running into, don’t we?”
“Uh, yes,” now Shurgroe sounded embarrassed, “But don’t worry, everything is under control…HOLD ON!”
Annerson watched as the tram suddenly reversed direction. The tiny dot that was the Atlantis model barely managed to dodge out of the way as the tram shot towards the Outer Rim at top speed.
“Oh, Josh,” Annerson shook her head, “I’ll go get Wyer and security. Try not to get killed, OK hon?”
Mytim and Laarthi were almost at the spaceports when the sirens went off. All around them lights were flashing, sirens were blaring and gelatinous bodies were quivering with fear or excitement. Hell, for all they knew sirens and flashing lights signalled the beginning of a twenty-four-hour blob orgy on this planet.
Inwardly cringing at the mental image, Mytim started pulling Laarthi towards the spaceport entrance, only to find with some surprise that Laarthi was already pulling her towards the entrance. After a brief tug-of war over who was the tower and who was being towed, they bolted.
“Attention all citizens,” a voice droned, “A Code-23 recovery is underway. Please evacuate the area in an orderly fashion. Attention all citizens…”
“What does that mean?” Laarthi demanded, annoyed. Nobody answered.
“It means it’s time for us to leave,” Mytim said.
They’d just crossed the security checkpoint when there was a commotion behind them.
“NO!” the translated voice shrieked, “YOU WILL NOT TAKE ME! I AM AN AGENT OF THE BLEAKEST NIGHT! OUR POWER WILL BE UNBROKEN!”
“Ànother crazy cult member,” a nearby blob shook its…well, the upper part of its blob- shaped body, “Next it’ll be ‘You cannot break the symbiosis, and energy crystal this and unlocking potential that. Bunch of raving lunatics!”
“THE SYMBIOSIS CANNOT BE BROKEN!” The same blob behind them shouted as it was targeted by security…blobs, “My energies will seek out the next potential! They will be gifted the power of the-“
The blobs ravings were cut off as dozens of energy bolts slammed into it, boiling its gel until the entire thing exploded in a massive SPLAT!
Both Mytim and Laarthi watched in horror as boiled alien gel flew towards them, promising to thoroughly ruin one of the few civilian outfits they’d brought on this hellish trip.
“That’s dis-GUSTING!” Laarthi snapped, starring in horror at her sodden fur, “I…ugh…UGH! To the ship! I need a shower, NOW!”
Mytim wasn’t listening. She was staring straight ahead, right at the spot where the alien had died. A strange feeling was tingling across her skin, almost as though she was being surrounded by…by something. There was a brief surge of energy, like the ultimate caffeine high, then the sensation vanished.
“Mytim, COME ON!” Laarthi gave her a firm tug, “Before they decide they need to lock down the spaceport, or question everybody, or some other bureaucratic nonsense!”
“Right,” Mytim shook her head. “Yes, yes of course.”
But as she walked, working to maintain her collected exterior, the aliens last words rang in her head: ‘The next potential…’
“So, let me get this straight,” Colonel Abela crossed her arms, “Somebody built a computer-controlled gadget that’s running around terrorizing people, and now we have to figure out how to stop it?”
“Yup,” Captain Simplot replied, “It’s fairly simple, actually.”
“And this sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME???”
“Check some starship logs sometime,” Lieutenant Stoneryder commented. He was wandering around the command deck, looking down at the display screens on the second level and through the lower windows into the city, “Nice place you have up here, by the way,”
“If you’d been doing your JOB, this wouldn’t be your first visit here since you arrived!” Abela shouted.
“What I can’t figure out is why Josh didn’t tell us?” Simplot wondered, “I mean, why Annerson, of all people?”
“He did call me,” Abela said, “I can’t imagine why he didn’t just tell me then?”
“Oh, no idea, Miss Bitch-a-Lot,” Stoneryder muttered.
“What was that?” Abela snapped.
“Nothing,” Stoneryder said innocently. He flexed one arm over his head, finger pointing, “Is the beach…THAT way?”
“What?” Abela glared, “Why don’t you get a security team and some weapons and go HELP Mr. Shurgroe and my guards before they’re HORRIBLY KILLED!”
Stoneryder dropped his arm, looking angrily at his bicep.
“Guess I have to hit the gym more for that trick to work,” he muttered.
“GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”
“I’m going! I’m going!”
“Josh, this is Liz,” Shurgroe’s comm-badge beeped, “Reinforcements are on the way. Well, I mean, Stoneryder is on the way. But if he handles his phaser rifle as well as he handled his gun in ‘Vixens Vs. Warriors: Unleashed’ then you should be OK!”
“I knew I’d seen that Starfleeter from somewhere!” Katren said brightly.
“Ewww,” Shurgroe groaned.
They were still flying down the tunnel, on their second full circuit of the Outer Rim. Phlisses had forced one of the doors partway open while they’d been out in the open city and had been taking pot-shots at the pursuing model, but once they’d hit the tunnels again she’d been forced to choose between closing the door and losing an arm. Luckily, Atlantis’ tiny drone weapons couldn’t penetrate the transparent aluminum of the tram’s windows.
“He’ll have a hard time catching us,” Shurgroe said, looking worriedly out at the tiny city as it paced them, “We’ll have to stop at some point,”
There was a glow from Atlantis’ weapon’s hatches, then a swarm of tiny drones flew down, right at the vulnerable antigravity tracks.
“Uh-oh,” Shurgroe forced out, just before the tram slammed into the tunnel floor, the screech of metal on metal almost deafening. He was thrown against both Matrians, the three of them slamming into the crash balloons that suddenly deployed. Finally, the battered tram slid to a stop.
“Emergency. Emergency,” a smooth female voice chanted in Matrian, “Transit accident detected. Rerouting tram traffic to Levels 4 and 34. Please remain where you are; a rescue party has been dispatched.”
“Hey, they finally got Madam working!” Phlisses said cheerfully.
“Inverse hippopotamus detected in the vicinity of the North Beach. Initiating lake drainage sequence. Lake drainage aborted by user,”
“Stupid piece of-“ Wyer’s voice was briefly heard over the comm. The voice of the city’s computer warbled out, like a slowly slowing record.
“Or not,” Shurgroe gulped.
“We should run,” Katren said, forcing open one door and pointing to where Atlantis was preparing to unleash another attack.
“Uh-oh,” Laarthi said, “We’ve got a tail,”
“Well yes, of course you do, most cats-“
“I mean somebody’s following us!”
“Oh. Of course,”
“We’re still an hour away from the rendezvous point,” Laarthi cursed, “And I can’t get any more speed out of these engines. I guess we’ll just have to meet the blasted bureaucrats and get this paperwork hell over with!”
“NO!” Mytim said sharply. She didn’t know why, but something was telling her that she couldn’t let the alien blobs anywhere near her. Especially the ones in charge. Something…something…something was different.
If only she could just make them go away!
Something stirred. Shaking her head, Mytim returned her attention to her console, trying to figure out how to coax more power of the shuttle’s engines.
“What is this place?” Shurgroe asked. He and the two Matrians had run through several double-width corridors and into some sort of facility. He wasn’t sure what it was, but from what he could see it looked like it was meant to handle a lot of pedestrian traffic.
“Uh, do you see any signs?”
“There’s one.” Shurgroe pointed.
“We’re in the Sportsplex,” Katren replied after a quick glance.
They rushed around the corner, then found themselves at the edge of a broad arena. It almost could have been medium sized hockey arena, except for the fact that the play area was rectangular, with sharp corners as opposed to rounded ends. Half a dozen rising terraces rose up on all sides, giving way to vertical balconies, although the seating was incomplete.
“Wow, I didn’t know we had one of these!” Shurgroe said.
“This is too open, we’re sitting ducks!”
“DUCK!” somebody shouted.
Phlisses pulled Shurgroe to the ground as a dozen phaser rifles opened up, the beams passing over their heads and towards the model city. Three or four hit, causing the city’s shield to spark briefly before it unleashed its counter attack.
“Security is here!” Phlisses explained, somewhat belatedly.
“HOLY CRAP!” Stoneryder cried, ducking as a retalitory yellow swarm of drones flew over his head. Around him, Lieutenant Franches and the Civil Protection Team ducked and covered. They were only one balcony above Shurgroe and the guards.
They fired again, more shots hitting home. But the shield held, and the tiny city unleashed another attack.
“YOU! Engineer!” Stoneryder shouted, “You BUILT that thing? WTF, man?”
“Shut up you…you….bad person!” Shurgroe yelled back.
One of the CPT men threw a primitive bola at the model city, cursing as it bounced off the shield.
“I’ll show you how this is done!” Stoneryder said. He leapt over the railing, directly at the city. He landed square on the dome-shaped shield, driving the city down to the deck. There was a brief shower of sparks as flesh met force-field, then Atlantis popped back up in the air and soared straight up towards the arena ceiling, veering off to the right seconds before hitting the ceiling. Stoneryder was tossed to the floor, quivering as a few last jolts of energy ran through his body.
“It’s heading towards the pool area!” one of the CPT members shouted. Lieutenant Franches, ignoring the still-shaking Stoneryder on the deck below, took off towards the stairs, his team in close persuit.
“Owie,” Stoneryder gulped, his hair standing straight up and his uniform scorched.
“Call me sometime,” Phlisses said, popping a small card with her comm-code into the waistband of his pants before running after the security team.
“Oh come on, Phlisses,” Katren said, “A porn star? REALLY?”
“Hey, I don’t wanna marry him, I just want a private performance!”
Shurgroe looked down at Stoneryder.
“Ewww,” he said again, then raced after the Matrians
Shurgroe had just managed to haul himself up five or six flights of stairs and was looking for a sign that might, hopefully, have a symbol of something resembling a pool on it when the CP Team came charging back. Their bare arms and chests were covered with red spots, almost as thought they’d each been subjected to the smouldering butts of a dozen careless smokers.
“Retreat!” one of them cried, running past Shurgroe.
“Strategic advance to the rear!” Franches corrected as he passed by.
Right on the heels of the Civil Protection Team came Phlisses and Katren, the latter grabbing Shurgroe by the arm and hauling him along.
“I think we’ve made it angry!” she said, panting, “We’ve got to get to a tram!”
“And you’ve got to think up a way out of this mess!” Phlisses added, “Something better than getting the doctor to send an army of nitwits!”
“You built the thing! You should know how to take it out!” Katren snapped.
Shurgroe nearly stopped in his tracks.
“I have to get to my lab!” he said, “You have to keep it busy until I get back!”
“Oh sure, just keep a homicidal model city ‘busy’!”
“They’re going to be in weapons range in five minutes,” Laarthi said, sounding worried, “I wonder what they’re all dogged up about?”
“I am certain I do not know,” Mytim said crisply. Inwardly, she was feeling very, very strange. It was almost as though she could feel the pursuing ship. The cold texture of the metal hull under her hands. She could feel goosebumps on her arms as the ship’s navigational deflectors tickled at that sensitive spot on the inside of her elbow. She could smell the faint whiff of plasma exhaust spewing from the other ships nacelles.
“Hey, wake up! Laarthi said, snapping her fingers. (Or trying to…it doesn’t work very well with furred species.)
“Interception in two minutes! I’m cutting the engines! Send Virgii a message telling him to meet us here!”
“Yes, yes of course,” Mytim said. She did not, however, move her hands towards her console. If only they had a cloaking device! Or some other way to hide!
“What are you DOING?” Laarthi demanded.
“Be quiet,” Mytim said, softly but firmly. There was a small twitch that felt like it came from deep inside her head, almost like the flexing of a very unused muscle, then Laarthi abruptly turned back to her console and stopped speaking.
Barely aware of what she was doing, Mytim pictured the shuttle, trying to see it the same way she’d seen the pursuing ship. The feel of the hull, the sound of the engines, the scent of the exhaust.
Then she placed herself between the two ships and…pushed.
“Change course to 010 mark 0,” she said to Laarthi.
“Hmm?” Laarthi shook her head. “Why?”
“Just do it, please,”
The shuttle turned slightly. The pursuing ship however, continued on its original course. After a moment, it slowed to a stop.
“They’re running sensor sweeps,” Laarthi said, frowing. A moment later, the ship turned, then shot back into warp.
“Weird,” Laarthi said, “Must have been some sort of sensor malfunction,”
“Yes,” Mytim swallowed, “Must have been,”
“Simplot to Shurgroe,”
Shurgroe dropped the hydrospanner he was using, muttering a minor oath to Hades as he fumbled to pick it up.
“Not to question your technique, Josh,” Simplot said, “But an update now and then would be nice. Y’know, something other than Dr. Annerson screaming that she can’t figure out how to steer the hover-ambulance…then me asking her WHY she’s trying to steer a hover-ambulance, and when did we get a hover-ambulance anyway…and her saying that Stoneryder had been zapped into oblivion by your…your…flying science fiction space city??!!??” By the end of the rant, Simplot’s voice was picking up just a hint of panic.
“I do have a plan, ma’am,” Shurgroe said, “Honest! I’m just a bit…busy!”
“Well hurry it up!”
The channel clicked dead.
Shurgroe looked at his workbench and swallowed. This was either the answer to his problems, or another disaster just waiting to happen.
Dr. Annerson wasn’t exactly enjoying her spectacular view of the city.
When she’d received word that one of the security team had been injured all the way out in the Outer Rim, she’d called for a site-to-site transport, only be informed that the Matrian transporters weren’t capable of site-to-site beaming. Colonel Abela had instead informed her that there was an emergency hover-ambulance just down the hall from her clinic. It had been easy to find, basically a rounded rectangle embedded behind a launch hatch in the side of the tower. Piloting it, however, had been a new adventure. She’d barely managed to fly out to the Outer Rim and haul Stoneryder back on a stretcher…now she found herself circling around Downtown with no idea how to dock the damned thing at the clinic!
Down below, she could see several members of the Civil Protection Team squaring off against Atlantis. The security team had been hastily equipped with duranium shields they could use to protect their bare skin against the drone attacks, mostly by swatting them away, but Atlantis had them backed up against the lakeshore, and was still pressing the attack.
Annerson knew that building models was just a hobby of Shurgroe’s, but she couldn’t help but think that Starfleet R&D would be interested in taking a close look at that gizmo.
“Shurgroe to Annerson,”
“Bit busy, Josh,” Annerson said, releasing her death-grip on the control sticks just long enough to slap her comm-badge.
“Can you give me a lift to the fight?” Shurgroe asked.
Annerson was so dumbstruck she almost flew into a building.
“Are you NUTS?” she snapped, “I’m barely keeping this thing from crashing and killing me AND my patient! And you want a RIDE???”
“Well, you landed it once, right? I’m here near the Downtown shore. Can you see me waving?”
“I’m going to FLATTEN you!” Annerson seethed. With no small amount of difficulty she managed to manoeuvre the hover-ambulance around to Shurgroe’s general location and began to descend.
“What’s going on?” Stoneryder slurred from the back.
“Shut up!” Annerson growled. With a jolt, the hover-ambulance set down on a snow-covered section of sandy beach.
“Janet!” Shurgroe said, tapping on the hatch to the pilot compartment, “Slide over, I need in!”
“Are you crazy?” Annerson said, “There isn’t room up here for both of us!”
“But there isn’t room in the back for me…unless I climb on top of this guy, and I don’t want to do that!”
“The more the merrier!” Stoneryder groaned deliriously.
“Just leave him on the beach; he’ll be fine until somebody comes to get him!” Annerson snapped.
“That’s not very Hippat…hippopot…doctorly of you,”
“I’m in a very BAD MOOD!” Annerson snapped as Shurgroe opened the rear hatch and slid Stoneryder’s stretcher onto the beach.
“Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus lane!” Stoneryder giggled as his stretcher crunched onto the snowy ground.
Shurgroe climbed into the back, tossing a couple of emergency blankets in Stoneryder’s general direction before pulling the door shut.
“Now hurry, I have a plan…I just don’t want to be standing out there if it doesn’t work!”
Annerson noticed Shurgroe was now clutching two remote controls in his hands.
“Ohhhh no, Josh,” she signed, “You are the ONLY engineer I know that would solve an insane robot problem by involving ANOTHER insane robot!”
Down on the ground Lt. Franches was alternating between wishing he was someplace warm and wishing he was hiding in a duranium box. Someplace warm because he and his team weren’t wearing their long underwear for outdoor operations, and a duranium box because that was the only thing he could think of that would offer 100% protection from those blasted stinging yellow lights!
“Onto the lake!” he called to his team, taking a careful step onto the ice.
“It’s too thin!” one of his men cried, “We’ll fall through!”
“You’d rather get zapped again?” Franches demanded, batting away several micro-drones with his shield. Atlantis was slowly spinning on its axis and it edged closer to them, its shield still repelling the phaser hits.
“Franches to Haven Command Center!” Franches slapped his comm-badge again, “Tell that engineer that whatever he has planned, it better happen soon!”
“He says ‘duck’,” Simplot’s voice came back after a moment.
Before Franches could say another word, a medicine-ball sized globe flew out from behind a nearby building, on a direct course towards Atlantis. Several green energy beams fired out from a dish-shaped indentation in the upper surface of the globe, converging into a single, thick beam that speared out, striking Atlantis dead center. The glittering model city jolted back, its dome-shaped shield flickering.
“Death Star 1, Atlantis 0!” Shurgroe yelled triumphantly over the comm. Franches looked up to see a blocky hovercraft with the words ‘Ambulance’ written across the side in Matrian flying unsteadily through the air above them.
“Get out of my way, Josh!” a female voice came over the comm, “I can’t pilot this thing with your head up here!”
“Well I can’t control the Death Star if I can’t see what’s happening! Unless you want me to put it on auto-pilot, like Atlantis?”
Franches watched as another series of beams surged out, converged, missed Atlantis and blew a very large hole in the side of a nearby building.
“NO!” he shouted, “No more crazy robots!”
Up in the command center, Colonel Abela and Captain Simplot were watching the fight through one of the enhanced windows. Simplot winced as the Death Star blew another gaping hole in the side of another building.
Abela looked at her coldly.
“Happens all the time, hmm?” she asked tightly.
“Well…it’s not…uncommon,” Simplot replied, “Besides, I’m sure we can fix up that wall. It’s just fake stone, right?”
“Real or not, you can tell when stone’s been patched or replaced,” Abela said, watching as the CPT scrambled to get away from the warring models, “It’s never the same.”
“Well, you get to supervise Wyer and a construction team while they try, right?”
“I suppose there is a, how you say, silver lining to the cloud,” Abela replied, shooting a look of death in Wyer’s general direction.
Wyer just sighed.
“Uh-oh,” Shurgroe muttered.
“What ‘uh-oh’?” Annerson demanded.
“I think I pissed it off,”
Outside, streams of tiny yellow lights were flooding from all three of Atlantis’ weapons ports, swarming into intricate patterns before slamming into the Death Star. The Death Star fired back with its main weapon. Atlantis’ shield held, but the drones in the air vanished as power was rerouted from the holographic projector to the shield.
“I think you’re weakening it!” Franches called over the comm.
“Yeah, but those holo-energy-burst-thingies are screwing up the circuitry!” Shurgroe called back, “I don’t know how many more hits the shell I built can take!”
The Death Star faltered as another drone cloud hit it, then recovered enough to hit Atlantis with another shot. The attacking drones again vanished, giving the Death Star a couple of second to press its attack before Atlantis resumed firing.
“It’s weakening!” Franches called to his troops, lifting his weapon and adding his fire to the Death Star’s attack. Within seconds, his troops followed suit.
Atlantis soared back over the lake, unable to fire, all of its power being diverted to the shield.
“All that work, down the drain,” Shurgroe sighed, tapping at the Death Star controls to send it in for the kill.
“You can always build another one,” Annerson offered.
“NO HE CAN’T!!” Simplot, Abela and Franches’ voices all came over the comm.
“I might not have to,” Shurgroe said, his voice oddly calm.
From the lakeshore, the hover-ambulance and the Command Tower, everybody turned their attention back to Atlantis. The model was hovering over the open water halfway between the outer shore and the Downtown island. It had stopped rotating, and was now edging closer and closer to the water. The Death Star fired again, narrowing missing the model city as it descended. It gently touched down on the surface of the water…then kept going.
“I knew I shouldn’t have uploaded Science Fiction Wiki into the AI,” Shurgroe muttered.
“What’s it doing, Josh?” Simplot demanded as the city model disappeared into the icy water.
“It’s fulfilling the Atlantis myth,” Shurgroe sighed, “It’s submerging itself so that the water dissappates energy weapons.”
Sure enough, the next shot from the Death Star sizzled against the water, but didn’t penetrate very deep.
“Oh great. So now what? Are you going to build a model submarine to torpedo the heck out of it??”
“Actually,” Shurgroe gulped, “If we leave it alone and let it follow the rest of the, er, mythology of the series I based the model on, it’ll just sit there until its power cell runs out, then float back up, harmless. Um, granted, it hasn’t followed it all that well so far. But I can patrol the lake with the Death Star for a week or two…just in case.”
“Try two or three,” Abela snapped.
“And you might want to go pick up Stoneryder,” Simplot came back on the comm, “He’s starting to turn blue. Wow, I can’t wait until people move into the buildings and we can really try out these fancy zoom windows!”
“This is a COMMAND CENTER, not a VOYEUR LOUNGE!” Abela snapped, just as the channel went dead.
“Well,” Shurgroe fell back into the back of the ambulance with relief, “That settles that.”
Thousands of light years away, Mytim and Laarthi watched through the cockpit window as the Roadrunner dropped out of warp less than a kilometre from the shuttle.
“Let’s go ladies, pip-pip!” Virgii’s voice came over the comm, causing both women to cringe, “We’ve wasted quite enough time on this little enterprise, it’s time we were on our way!”
“Commencing docking procedure,” Laarthi snapped, bringing the shuttle around and easing into the docking receptacle. There was a slight jolt, then a series of metallic snicks as various connectors and the main airlock hooked in. The hatch in the floor behind them opened, and Laarthi moved to exit the shuttle.
“Don’t forget your stuff,” Laarthi reminded her as she climbed down the short ladder into the Roadrunner.
“My…” Mytim was confused. She hadn’t bought anything…nothing had caught her eye. Yet there was a large package with her name on it sitting in the tiny cargo area. Frowning, she picked it up. The wrapper tore away, revealing a heavy, leather-bound book.
Spells for Beginners.
Mytim opened the book and found a small inscription inside the cover:
‘This one’s a freebie, my dear,’ it read, ‘The rest will be harder to find.’
“Mytim?” Laarthi called “Are you OK up there?”
Mytim thought back to the alien shuttle, the surge of energy she’d felt when the alien died, and the book that had now mysteriously appeared in front of her.
“Oh, I think I’m going to be just fine,” she said, permitting herself a small, private grin.
Deep under the water, anchored to the lakebed, the Atlantis model settled in among the silt, diverting the power from its antigravity engines into the processor core and holographic generator. A small construct appeared next to the city, a tiny cable connecting it to the city base. A small jolt of power extracted a minute quanity of hydrogen from the water, hydrogen that was immediately combined with other molecules into a fuel source compatible with the Matrian power cell. Another small refinery appeared.
One day, Atlantis would rise again.