Author: Brendan Chris
“And that’s that,” Dr. Strobnick said, nodding with satisfaction as he leaned back from the navigation panel in the Roadrunner’s cramped bridge.
“That’s…what exactly?” Lt. Laarthi asked. Technically, she was the Roadrunner’s Chief Engineer. Practically, she was a Starfleet Intelligence agent. She was OK with engineering problems, but it was really something better suited to the drones down in SI R&D.
“Dr. Strobnick has corrected the unit conversion problem in the quantum slipstream drive,” Lt. Mytim said softly, her voice carefully controlled to convey dignity yet deference. It was the practiced voice of one who felt she was the equal or superior of the people she was addressing, but who wanted to avoid ruffling any feathers. Or fur, in Laarthi’s case. For that matter, she also wanted to be sure that her anger didn’t actually manifest itself by setting Laarthi’s fur on fire.
“It was surprisingly easy,” Strobnick said, not noticing the careful manner with which Mytim addressed him, “Undergraduates can be so careless. But I’m still surprised even they could make such a simple mistake such as this,”
“If it was in fact a mistake,” Laarthi murmered. They’d already discovered one piece of sabotage aboard the experimental ship. Who was to say this wasn’t another?
“Hopefully my colleagues back in Federation space were able to find this little error without my assistance,” Strobnick mused.
Mytim mentally composed half a dozen different replies, none of which she felt she could deliver without a smirk or a dose of sarcasm. Instead, she returned to her station and began examining her left cheek in a reflective surface. If that small bump turned into a full-blown pimple, there was going to be hell to pay!
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Laarthi said flatly, “But how does this help us?”
“Well…since using the slipstream drive is too dangerous to risk, I suppose it doesn’t,” Strobnick shrugged, “But really, my dear, academia doesn’t have to be useful to be interesting!”
“I’ll be in engineering,” Laarthi said, turning to leave
It was the only reply she was confident she could give without resorting to profanity.
Starbase 341, Haven, Matrian Solar System:
Lieutenant Wyer pressed the door chime then waited politely outside of Captain Simplot’s ready room. A small office just off the second level of the Command Complex, the ready room had been claimed by Simplot after she’d learned that her actual office was several floors down in the Command Tower. Colonel Abela had claimed an identical office directly opposite Simplot’s, leaving two more up for grabs. Wyer, for his part, had no interest in having a workspace right in the city’s brain…in fact, he planned on moving all of his work out to the Department of Dome Operations tower as soon as he could.
Simplot was taking unusually long to answer her door. The door was unlocked, so Wyer let himself in.
Simplot was crouched over her small desk, a series of cylindrical containers arranged on the surface. One of them was emitting steam, evidently a kettle. Another held dark powder, a third was empty while a smaller pair held what appeared to be cream and sugar.
“Chemistry?” he inquired.
“Coffee,” Simplot replied, “I swear, if I don’t get a decent cup I’m going to kill somebody. Possibly you. Nothing personal, you’re just the nearest available corpse. But I feel like I’m back in the Dark Ages, using this crap!”
“I see,” Wyer wasn’t sure how to respond, “We do have replicators, of course, and I know we’ve added many Federation recipes to the database,”
“If replicators did the trick, people wouldn’t get all excited about visiting planets, starbases, or other places that have actual coffee,” Simplot said. She measured the ground coffee into the largest container, added boiling water, the placed the top on the container.
“Now, in theory, I let it sit. Then I’ll have coffee,” she said, not sounding very confident. “Oh, did you want something?”
“Queen Anselia has requested a communication in fifteen minutes,” he said.
“Does Abela know?”
“No, the message was sent to you,” Wyer replied.
“See? At least SOMEBODY understands how the chain of command is supposed to work here!” Simplot said, still staring at the coffee press.
“Lt. Stoneryder would also like me to remind you that as we don’t have a civilian population, having him sit in the security office all day is a pointless waste of workout time,”
Simplot shook her head.
“Tell him to go through Abela. She’s my First Officer, there’s no reason why you should deal with crap like that,” she said.
“I think he’s afraid of her, still,” Wyer replied.
“Good.” Simplot poured half a cup of coffee, added cream and sugar, sipped, then made a disgusted grimace. Grainy coffee grounds swirled in the cup.
“This is like drinking mud,” she said, spitting the ground- filled coffee back into the mug, “This stupid machine doesn’t work. I swear, if I don’t get decent coffee soon, I WILL kill you!”
She turned and stepped towards the door to Ops, barely missing Shurgroe as he entered.
“Do I smell real coffee?” he asked eagerly.
“Have at it,” Simplot said, disgusted, as she exited the tiny office. Shrugging at Shurgroe, Wyer followed.
Shurgroe observed the array of equipment on the desk. After a moment’s thought, he pressed the plunger on the French Press, forcing the coffee grounds to the bottom. He poured a cup and took a sip.
“Tastes fine to me,” he shrugged.
“So, any idea what Her Royal Highness wants to talk about?” Simplot asked Abela as she climbed the stairs into the Command Deck. As usual, Abela’s reddish hair was carefully braided behind her head, her reddish-blueish-purplish Matrian Defence Fatigues impeccably groomed.
“If it has anything to do with a request to rename the North Suburb ‘Humantown’, then I quit,” Abela replied.
“Fissett, send Anselia a message asking to rename-“ Simplot started.
“Forget it, I’m not quitting!” Abela cut her off.
“I don’t know, that sounded like a firm commitment,” Simplot smiled, “And how would Queen Anselia feel if she knew one of her senior officers was breaking her word?”
“Queen Anselia can-“
Biting her lip, Abela cursed herself and turned to face the active holo-table on which the image of Anselia was projected. Of course Simplot would time their little argument with the start of the communication!
“Can certainly express any opinions she wishes, as befits a Matrian of her stature,” Abela said tightly.
“Charming,” Anselia said, her mouth curling slightly, “Do you make a beeping noise when you back up like that?”
“What can we do for you, your highness?” Abela swallowed, embarrassed.
“Captain Simplot, are you familiar with the Waystation Project?” Anselia asked, her holographic image turning to face Simplot.
“Uh, they built a big dumbbell-shaped space station at the edge of Federation space,” Simplot said, thinking back to the logs she’d been reading, “At least it used to be the edge of Federation space. Now the station is a hub for people travelling through the surrounding sectors,”
“Travel between the Matrian Republic and the Federation goes through Waystation,” Abela said, her memory jogged, “Senous as well,”
“It’s the nearest outpost to this sector, other than Starbase 341,” Simplot finished.
“You mean Haven,” Abela corrected her.
“Whatever,” Simplot shrugged
“The important point,” Anselia said as Abela shot Simplot her usual glare, “Is that the Waystation Project was successful. In fact, they’re expanding. A Starfleet team will be visiting Senous and Matria Prime to scout potential sites for the new station, Waystation-2,”
“Really?” Simplot grinned, “They must be expecting some heavy traffic!”
“Aside from Matria Prime and Senous there are dozens of sentient races in the vicinity,” Abela said, “Back in my day, the Matrian Empire itself had over a dozen colonies!”
“And, of course, there are indications of undiscovered sentient races between us and the current Waystation,” Anselia continued, “After all, the exploration route taken to Matrian Space by Starfleet was a bit more…direct…then usual,”
“We can’t become Waystation-2,” Simplot suddenly frowned, “Then we’d have to memorize ANOTHER name for this place, and print up whole new brochures!”
“Marketing aside,” Anselia said, “The Council has made an application for the Waystation-2 designation. The review team will be arriving in two days aboard the…what was it?” she reviewed a padd, “The USS Hummingbird. Another one of those silly experimental ships,”
“Let’s hope they got the bugs out of this one,” Simplot mused.
“In any case, the Council expects that you will show the review team a good time,” Anselia went on, “Show them that Haven is a vital hub for commerce and travel in the sector,”
“But…it isn’t!” Abela gaped, “The Council hasn’t even let us start moving businesses or citizens aboard yet!”
“You have one active shipyard,”
“That we don’t even control, thanks to you!”
Anselia sighed. She fished around her desk, muttering to herself. Finally, she found a padd and pressed her thumb to the approval tab.
“There. I’ve approved one shift of workers for Shipyard 1, along with an order of defence satellites and the necessary staff and civilians needed to support both shipyards. Congratulations.” Abela folder he hands in front of her, “But as for the rest, you’re own your own. Starfleet says they specialize in being creative, so be creative!”
With that, the holo-image vanished.
“So,” Simplot said slowly, “We have two days to make this place seem like a vital metropolis?”
Abela had turned to look over the railing and down into the city. With the exception of a few lights in the closer towers, it was dark and deserted. Snow whipped through the empty streets and only a single tram was moving between Downtown and the Outer Rim; the rest of the antigravity tracks were powered down. She could almost imagine seeing tumbleweeds blowing in the breeze, or would have if she’d been from Earth.
“Yes,” she said dryly, “Thoughts?”
“How about a keggar?” Simplot suggested.
Abela chuckled. It wasn’t a particularly happy sound.
“So, let me see if I understand this,” Lt Boxer said, scratching his ear, “The fast drive is working now, but we still can’t use it? That chews peanut butter!”
“I could explain it,” Mytim said coolly, “But then I’d have to explain again when Lt Cmdr Virgii arrives.” Despite her tone, she was thrilled at the current scientific puzzle. She’d spent more than enough time recently trying to deal with puzzles of a more mystical nature, so puzzling over something that could be measured and quantified was a welcome change.
They, along with Laarthi and Strobnick, were seated in the Roadrunner’s small conference room. The table dominated the room and was pushed up against a long bench-seat that ran along the outer wall. The seat was comfortable enough, but unfortunately it led to those lovely situations where if one person sitting near the middle wanted out, almost EVERYBODY had to get up.
“Sorry I’m late,” Virgii said, stepping into the room.
“Hiya Captain!” Boxer said happily, nearly jumping from his seat, “How are you? I’m glad you’re back!”
“Dogs,” Laarthi sighed, “Always SO happy when the boss comes home,”
“Good day, Lieutenant,” Virgii said, giving Boxer an odd look. He took a seat in one of the actual chair-style chairs on the inner side of the table. “Report, please,”
“The QS drive is fully repaired,” Dr. Strobnick said immediately.
“Yes, and if we could use it, I’d be thrilled,” Virgii snorted, “Lt Laarthi, the consumables report?”
“We might be able to use the QS drive,” Mytim interrupted, folding her hands carefully in front of her.
“I thought,” Laarthi said, “That since we can’t compensate for variances in the slipstream it’s too dangerous to use the drive to get back home,”
“It is,” Strobnick took over, “But Lt Mytim has been analyzing our sensor data from the trip out. It’s not enough for use to safely reverse course, but it does offer an interesting possibility,”
“Here,” Mytim tapped the table. Since the room was too small for a viewscreen, the tabletop itself had to be used as a display surface. A star chart appeared, showing the Roadrunner’s starting point, end point, and a wavy line connecting the two.
“Shouldn’t that be a straight line?” Boxer asked.
“Hyper-dimensional geometry is…tricky,” Mytim said, “In any event, we can’t reverse course. However, I’ve pinpointed some regions that seem to have less variance than the norm. We may be able to use the drive to traverse these regions at very low slipstream speeds, while crossing the rest with conventional warp drive,”
Now everybody was giving Mytim their full attention.
“How much time could this cut off our travel time?” Virgii demanded.
“Anywhere from one to five years,” Mytim replied.
“Then we’re doing it,” he replied firmly.
“There’s a drawback,” Laarthi interrupted.
Everybody looked at her.
“But you didn’t even know about this plan until two minutes ago!” Boxer objected.
“I can think,” Laarthi shot back.
“And what’s the problem?” Virgii asked.
“We’re talking about traversing great distances and landing right in the middle of unexplored territory,” Laarthi said, “Not once, but many times! We know that the Aerostar encountered the Flarn on one such trip! We were lucky our own jump landed us in peaceful territory!”
“Except for that moon we crashed into,” Mytim pointed out.
“We’ll be crossing unexplored territory regardless of what speed we’re going,” Strobnick waved aside Laarthi’s concern.
“With long range sensors sweeps,” Laarthi refused to be shut down, “And with information we get from friendly races like the Wuyans! Thanks to them, we had star charts and species dossiers that lasted us nearly a month! If we use the slipstream drive, we could land in the middle of a war!”
Both she and Strobnick looked expectantly at Virgii.
Virgii swallowed. It was decision-making time. He opened his mouth to reply, then closed it. After his recent experiences with the Wuyan, he’d come to appreciate the fact that some decisions had to be made carefully. On the other hand, he couldn’t stand a commander who just waffled around. But the ship was in peaceful space, on course and with plenty of supplies. He could afford a bit of time.
“You’ll have my decision by tomorrow,” he said.
“The transport Queen of Matria is requesting permission to dock,” reported one of the Matrian crewmen.
“Send them to Docking Bay 12,” Abela said, barely looking over from where she hovered behind Fissett and Wyer, “Are you two finished yet?”
“That depends,” Wyer said calmly, “Can you talk to the computer yet?”
“Shouldn’t you be wearing your crash helmet?” Abela asked him sharply, “I’d hate for you to bump your head and start channelling a serial killer or something!”
Wyer didn’t reply, instead turning back to his console.
“He’s very sorry about that,” Fissett explained helpfully. Abela just rolled her eyes.
“Madam,” she said, firmly addressing the computer “I want a status report of all vehicular maintenance sub-systems in Docking Bay 12,”
“No,” Abela replied to Wyer, “I can’t talk to it yet,”
“Then no, we’re not finished yet,” Wyer replied.
“You. Can’t. Be. Serious.” Simplot cut in, looking at Abela in horror.
“What?” Abela rolled her eyes again, “They were supposed to have that computer personality installed weeks ago! We have a review board to impress, dammit!”
“Not that,” Simplot shook her head, “The computer. You can’t call it ‘Madam’!”
“Of course I can,” Abela waved Simplot aside, “It’s Matrian tradition. Or it was. And I’m making sure it is again!”
“But nothing. I’m not changing names for you, and that’s final. Now, how about we have our liason officer go down and greet our new residents?”
“We don’t have-“ Simplot tried.
“MDHQ has permitted the approved of several leases in Atrium 1,” Abela was moving down the stairs to the turbolifts now, “I’ll be meeting the first few merchants there shortly. I’m sure you can manage things without me,”
Simplot was starting to turn red.
“MMMPPPHHHZZZZZTTTT!!!!!” she squeaked.
“Just let it all out,” Wyer said soothingly.
“WE DON’T HAVE A LIASON OFFICER TO GREET THE SHIPBUILDERS, AND THERE’S NOBODY AT THE DOCKING BAY TO TELL THE MERCHANTS WHICH WAY TO THE ATRIUM, SO YOU’RE NOT ACTUALLY MEETING ANYBODY AND YOU CAN’T CALL THE COMPUTER ‘MADAM’ BECAUSE THAT MAKES THIS PLACE SOUND SO…SO…WHORE-HOUSEY!”
Simplot took several deep breaths.
“Better now?” Wyer asked, oblivious of the looks of horror coming from the Matrian staff.
“No,” Simplot grunted. She pointed at a random crewman. “You. You’re today’s liason officer. Go down to Bay 12 and…liason. And somebody tell Josh that his new shipyard minions are here,”
With that, she stormed down to the second level and into her ready room.
The Matrian man she’d pointed at was staring after her in horror.
“Don’t you have someplace to be?” Wyer asked mildly.
The Matrian looked at the Yynsian, perhaps remembering his reign of terror several weeks ago, then bolted for the exit.
While the officers aboard Haven were figuring out how to deal with their new residents, Lt. Cmdr. Virgii was seated at the tiny desk in his cramped quarters aboard the Road Runner. He’d been there for nearly two hours now, locked in silent contemplation.
At least, that’s what he’d wanted his crew to think.
He’d spent the first hour or so trying pace in the tiny cabin. That hadn’t gone well, so he’d sat in his chair…then on his bunk…then he’d laid down. And got up. And paced some more.
What the heck was he supposed to do?
Laarthi was right. If they started making jumps of several hundred light years, there was no telling what kind of space they’d land in. A jump all the way back to Federation space would have been different…but that wasn’t happening without tearing the ship apart. But how could he ignore the chance of cutting years off their trip?
That line of thinking had led to Plan B: Sit in his chair until somebody came in to make his decision easier. It always happened to all the best crews, after all. The captain would sit, muse and maybe listen to music. And then the First Officer would walk in, drop some nugget of wisdom and the whole thing would be solved in a minute or two.
Virgii faced the door and waited.
Hmm. Who was his First Officer, anyway?
“There is no way we can have this shipyard running in two days,”
Lt. Shurgroe gulped as he was confronted by a 6’5, 230lb Matrian woman. She was solid muscle from head to toe, no doubt about it. She was also a very clear reminder that Matrian society was matriarchal…and why.
“B-But Q-Q-Q-Queen Anselia said-“
“Queen Anselia,” the woman spat, “Is a politician. She doesn’t understand what it’s like to build something! To see a ship taking form beneath your hands! To feel that first pulse from his reactors…that first shimmer of energy from his nacelles!”
“Look, just don’t worry your pretty little face about it,” she said, giving him a condescending pat on the head, “We’ll be up and running as soon as possible. But why don’t you scram…a shipyard is no place for a little guy like you,”
“Juli, Fresta, get him out of here.”
“Sure thing, boss,”
Two more burly women grabbed Shurgroe by the arms and started pulling him out of the main control deck for Shipyard 1.
“See ya, toots,” one of them said, giving Shurgroe’s butt a firm tap just before the doors closed.
Shurgroe stood there for a moment.
“What the heck just happened?” he muttered, “And why does it keep happening to ME?”
The next morning, Simplot was slowly climbing the stairs from the passageway between her apartment building and the Transit Hub when she came across Shurgroe, sitting halfway up the steps.
“Morning, Josh,” she said, “Too tired to get to the top?”
“Well, no,” he said. Truth be told, Abela had given him a Traveller, a device that automatically found the best transit routes for him, and even allowed him to take turbolifts anywhere in the city in an emergency.
“I swear,” Simplot said as Shurgroe started following her up the stairs, “By the end of this posting, I’m going to have the most spectacular ass in the fleet!”
“I talked to some of our new shipbuilders yesterday,” Shurgroe said.
“Oh yeah? How are they? Did that poor Matrian I shafted get them settled?”
“They’re settling in,” Shurgroe said, “Most of them wanted quarters in the Rim, close to work. But I think one or two are going to apply for units in the suburbs,”
“Then they can talk to the real estate office. What’s the problem?” Simplot shrugged.
“Um…my male parts, actually,” Shurgroe said, embarrassed.
“Shouldn’t that kind of thing go to Dr. Annerson?”
“No, I mean…those Matrian woman are female chauvinist pigs!” Shurgoe exclaimed, “They kicked me right out! Said a shipyard was ‘no place for a pretty little thing like me’!”
“That’s two shipyards you’ve been kicked out of now, Josh,” Simplot said, “Not a good record for the Director of Shipbuilding,”
“I know! But look at the mess I caused getting the women in Shipyard 3 to take me seriously” Shurgroe almost wailed, “I can’t do that again! I j-j-j-just don’t know what to do about it!”
“Well, I would suggest…wait a minute…do you smell that?” Simplot’s eyes suddenly started darting back and forth. They’d reached the second level of the Transit Hub. Another level up was the crossover bridge to the inner hub and the Command Tower lobby, but straight ahead of them were the open double-doors that led into Atrium 1. Simplot charged ahead, leaving Shurgroe struggling to keep up.
The Atrium was largely unchanged; an egg-shaped space over five levels high, with storefronts lining the inner walls. Out towards the city, the entire outer wall of the egg consisted of windows. The Atriums had been largely ignored due to the fact that they were completely deserted. Or at least they used to be.
Several storefronts were now under construction. Shurgroe could see a Matrian clothing store, two restaurants and some sort of crafts store already taking shape, along with the newly opened 24th Century Realty office. Simplot had made a bee-line straight for a café that was apparently already open for business.
“Oh thank God,” she said, sniffing a cup of Matrian coffee and thumbing the payment pad, “Now we just need a Dillon’s Supply Depot, a Beanus Coffee Hut, and maybe a Romulus Republic.”
“That was fast,” Shurgroe frowned, “I thought Abela just approved these places yesterday?”
“We have a review board to convince, Josh,” Simplot said, “Time is money! Speaking of which, don’t you have a shipyard to handle?”
With that, she turned back towards the Transit Hub, leaving Josh standing near the railing.
He looked out at the open Atrium. The bustle of merchants setting up shop only filled a small section of one level of the open structure, the tapping of their tools echoing in the vast space.
“Yeah, we’re really going to convince them,” he muttered.
“Good morning, crew,” Virgii said confidently, striding the two paces from the bridge entrance to his command chair.
“Hiya!” Boxer said happily, wagging his tail, “Hi-hi-hi!”
Laarthi hissed at him.
Mytim turned from the science console.
“I’ve plotted out a preliminary course, based on the areas of below-average quantum variance,”
“Lieutenant, who said we were using your plan?” Virgii asked reproachfully.
“Lt. Laarthi heard you flipping the coin in your quarters late last night,” Mytim replied.
“What? But…how could she hear that?”
“I was unsure, up until you cried ‘that’s it, eight out of fifteen and not one more’!” Laarthi replied.
“I see,” Virgii gulped. That’s it: his sex life was officially dead as long as Laarthi was his neighbour. “Then yes, prepare the quantum slipstream drive. Lt. Mytim, what is our first jump?”
“Our first jump will take us three hundred light years on a bearing of 340 mark 2,” Dr. Strobnick cut in.
“That cuts what…five months off our trip?” Virgii asked.
“Less. We’re not going in a straight line,”
“Oh,” Virgii swallowed, “When can we activate the drive?”
“Anytime now,” Mytim said, before Strobnick could answer.
“Then let’s do this,”
“Oh boy!” Boxer said happily, “We’re going on a trip!”
Virgii closed his eyes and gripped his arm rests.
“Very well then,” he said tightly.
There was a growing hum as the Roadrunner’s experimental drive powered up. Outside the ship the sleek warp nacelles went dark as drive plasma was redirected to the ring nacelle, which glowed to life. As the quantum core powered up there was a brief twisting of light directly ahead of the small ship, the suggestion of a dent, as though the light were actually drilling into space itself. Then the Roadrunner stretched and vanished.
Virgii cracked open one eye, somewhat surprised to see the swirling blue and black tunnel of slipstream drive outside the bridge windows instead of the afterlife.
“Slipstream drive is at 10%,” Mytim reported, “Attempting to compensate for variance,”
The ship shook, almost hard enough to throw Virgii out of his seat.
“Is that supposed to be happening?” Boxer asked nervously.
“This is why we’re not supposed to use the drive like this,” Laarthi replied. Her tone was confident, but Boxer could see the claw marks she was making in her console.
The ride smoothened out for a few minutes. A few became several, then nearly twenty. A few minor bumps here and there kept everybody on their toes. Then Strobnick’s navigation panel started beeping.
“I think we’re coming up on a subspace fibre bundle,” he said, worried, “Reduce drive power to five percent until we’re past it,”
“Doesn’t the slipstream collapse rather spectacularly at 4.8%?” Virgii asked, worried.
“That’s still a zero-point-two margin of error,” Strobnick waved him away, then looked thoughtful, “Of course, if you combine the error of the instruments with the irregularities of the drive itself, then yes I suppose there is some risk,”
Virgii didn’t have the chance to say anything more before the ship hit the fibre bundle, spinning out of control. He was vaguely aware of Strobnick shouting “No, turn INTO the skid”, right before the spinning tunnel collapsed into the darkness of normal space.
“Shutdown successful,” Mytim said, visibly working to calm herself, “The slipstream was collapsing,” she looked at her readouts, “But we’re a quarter of the way through that jump anyway.”
“Hmm? Oh!” Boxer had nearly forgotten that he was the guard dog, so to speak. It was his job to watch out for threats! He quickly consulted the scanners.
“Nothing. We’re in interstellar space,”
“Good,” Virgii pried his fingers out of the arm-rests, “Then we can afford to take a day or two to recover before we try that again.
Station Log, Supplemental:
“OK, yes, I realize that two days is pushing it for a supplementary log entry, but I’m busy! We’re all busy!”
“Thanks to Colonel Abela’s efforts, we now have a total of six businesses up and running in Atrium 1. Which, by the way needs a better name. Yes, dammit Abela, I draw the line at the shopping mall! IT MUST BE NAMED!”
“Anyway, even though I can at least get some good coffee in the morning, the Atrium is nowhere near the bustling hub we need for our little demonstration to the Waystation selection board. We have a couple of other plans, but we just don’t have time to set them in motion!”
“Shurgroe has now been kicked out of both functioning shipyards. I say ‘functioning’ lightly, as the new shift for Shipyard 1 is still…what was it…‘confirming that the workplace meets union requirements’. I really think he’s going to have to grow a pair…or maybe in the case of the Matrians retract a pair is better. Anyway, he needs to do something about a pair before he’ll be able to deal with those women.”
“And to top it all off, the review board is due in ten minutes!”
“We’re screwed,” Abela signed, sitting in the nearest chair in the Ops command deck, “Haven is loaded with potential…but I doubt the board is going to care about that,”
“Don’t worry, Myress,” Simplot said, trying to be reassuring, “Look at the competition! Senous is the only other planet on the route, and they don’t have anything to offer.”
“Limitless sex,” Ensign Kesser spoke up from the tactical panel…or the pulpit that was currently serving as a tactical panel.
“Bodies that could be carved from marble,” Fissett added, her voice turning dreamy.
“Yeah, I guess…and I don’t know about Matria, but on Earth sleeping with the judges is a time-honoured way of winning contests,” Simplot grunted, her expression turning glum.
“So…we can get the Waystation designation if we sleep with the judges?” Abela looked intrigued.
“I doubt your husband would like that idea,”
“Anything in the line of duty,” Abela’s lips tightened.
“Not that it matters,” Wyer spoke up from the biosphere control console, “I’ve read the reports on Senous. If we’re down to that kind of competition between us and them, there’s no way we’ll win,”
“You,” Abela said darkly, “Are really getting on my bad side,”
“I’m not trying to be offensive-“
“But I’m still offended!”
Thousands of light-years away…
“You’re sure it’s going to work right this time?” Virgii asked, drumming his fingers on the command chair armrest.
“With a 96% certainly, 14 times out of 15,” Dr. Strobnick assured him.
“Then why can I see through your arm?”
Strobnick swallowed then quickly reigned in his camouflage abilities.
“I’ve made a few minor modifications to the slipstream drive,” he said defensively, “It was meant to operate at higher power levels in a stabilized slipstream, not the way we’re using it now. Because this way has a greater chance of killing us!”
“Yak, yak, yak,” Laarthi cut in, “Honestly, Captain, I have no clue what he did. He made some adjustments to the core and told me not to ‘worry my little community-college head over it’.”
Virgii sighed. But the choice had already been made. Time to go.
“Very well,” he said, “Let’s give this another try.”
“Hummingbird is due in one minute,” Kesser reported.
“Hey,” Wyer sat up in his seat, “Did we ever send Starfleet the updated scans of the Matrian system?”
“I don’t know,” Simplot shrugged, “Who’s our science officer? Did we assign one after what’s her name went missing? Mytim?”
Fissett shyly raised her hand.
“Me,” she said, “And no, why would I?”
“Because we used a very big energy beam generator to mess with the quantum fabric of space near Matria VI,” Wyer said, his eyes growing wide.
“WHAT?” Abela demanded, “You messed with our quantum…space…fabric? You didn’t say anything about that!”
“Because the only people who would notice would be people travelling in a quantum slipstream!” Wyer exclaimed, “And I can count the number of known QS vessels in the galaxy on one hand!”
“Uh oh,” Simplot gulped.
“Sensors! Show us their arrival point” Abela ordered, “Get us a visual!”
The holo-table came to life with a 3D representation of the space around Matria Prime. Near the small disk of Haven there was a tiny flash of light. The view zoomed in, just in time to catch a glimpse of a warping of space, the barest hint of a tunnel. Then a ship emerged sporting an elongated saucer and a pair of sleek twin nacelles, just now coming to life as the ring-nacelle surrounding the aft section of the ship went dark. Then there was a second flash of light; this one blue. The ship seemed to waver, faded, then abruptly solidified. It shot forward, right towards the city.
“That was…weird,” Fissett said. Wyer came over to join her.
“Well, there was some weird distortion on the sensors,” he said, “But everything seems OK.”
“They why are they COMING RIGHT AT US?” Fissett cried as the Hummingbird soared towards the city dome.
One minute, Mytim was activating the slipstream drive. The next, the Roadrunner was plunging towards certain doom.
“PULL UP! PULL UP!” Virgii cried.
“AHHH!!!” Boxer shouted.
Mytim wrestled with the helm controls, trying to pull the Roadrunner up and away from the giant monstrosity that had appeared in their path. She pulled the ship halfway though a barrel roll then yanked the ship to port. Virgii caught a glimpse of what looked like a giant, shaken ‘Snowy Village’ snow globe before the view out the windows was replaced with stars.
“Bollocks!” he shouted, turning to Strobnick, “What just happened!”
“Hail them!” Abela snarled, “They nearly hit us! What idiot is driving that thing??”
“Starbase Haven to USS Hummingbird,” Kesser started speaking into the comm, “Come in, Hummingbird. Respond, please…or the cranky lady over here is going to get mean!”
He listened for a moment while Abela gave him a dark look. After a moment, Simplot joined her.
“No response,” he said.
“Open channel,” Simplot ordered, “Starbase 341 to Hummigbird. I’m not the cranky lady, but I am the station commander. And your pilot has some explaining to do!”
The comm crackled.
“This is the USS Roadrunner,” an officious-sounding British voice came back, “Captain Virgii commanding.”
“Acting Captain,” corrected a voice in the background.
Abela and Simplot exchanged a look.
“Say again?” Abela demanded.
“We come in peace,” the officious-sounding voice continued, “We’re on a mission of exploration, viewing the local cultures and what-not. Kindly allow us to continue on our path and we’ll be of no bother,”
“Roadrunner, check your maps,” Abela said, still looking surprised, “You’re in Matrian space,”
“Federation space,” Simplot corrected.
“You can’t rename things, Starfleeter!”
“I’m not renaming it, Matrian space is part of Federation space! It’s, like, the vanilla ice cream of the great Federation banana split!”
“WHAT are you TALKING ABOUT??”
“We’re…we’re back?” Virgii sounded stunned, “Truly? Home?”
“You have arrived at Starbase Haven,” Abela confirmed, beginning to tire of the repetition.
“Uh, but you guys are a little late,” Simplot added, “Hey, how about some ice cream!”
The bridge of the Roadrunner was quiet. Through the forward window they could see one of Haven’s docking ports extending to receive them, a purplish tractor beam playing over their ship’s hull.
“HORRAY!” Boxer said suddenly, scaring the hell out of everybody.
“What the hell?” Virgii finally asked Strobnick.
“Well, there are always numerous possibilities,” Strobnick said quickly, “The universe is quite vast, and the number of-“
“He has no clue,” Laarthi cut him off. She’d stood from her station and grabbed Boxer by the arm.
“Excuse us, Captain. We need to, uh, prepare for arrival,” she said.
“We do?” Boxer cocked his hair, too confused to shake her off.
“We do,” she replied firmly, pulling him off the bridge.
As they descended the cramped stairway to deck two, Boxer whispered to Laarthi.
“This isn’t really about getting ready for arrival, is it?” he said conspiratorially.
“No,” Laarthi hissed back, “It’s about the fact that somebody sabotaged this ship weeks ago. Somebody who might have allies on Starbase 341! And now suddenly we’re right at their doorstep!”
“But we blew the saboteur into space,” Boxer objected, “Along with my favourite chew-toy!”
“I doubt he was working alone,” Laarthi said.
“Virgii to Laarthi,”
“Did your arrival preparations by chance including beaming something to the starbase?” Virgii asked.
Laarthi’s eyes widened.
“Yes?” she said, “Yes. I, uh, had to beam some…uh…”
“Some of the materials we picked up at Wuyan for analysis,” Boxer chimed in.
“Couldn’t it have waited?”
“NO! Laarthi out!”
They exchanged a glance.
“So the saboteur is dead, huh?” Laarthi asked.
“Uh-oh,” Boxer wimpered.
Within fifeteen minutes the Roadrunner’s senior staff had been escorted from their Outer Rim docking port, through the transit system and to the central tower. Virgii looked curiously out the windows as the tram sped across one of the bridges, wondering just what sort of space station had snowstorms. Mytim and Strobnick however, were comparing sensor readings on a pair of padds, trying to figure out what had happened.
“Where’s the rest of their staff?” Abela asked coolly once they arrived.
Lieutenant Franches and two of his team members had escorted Virgii, Mytim and Strobnick to the Command Tower Principle Conference. Mytim didn’t seem to be taking note of their near nudity, but Virgii was careful to keep his distance.
“Well, my Chief Engineer and Chief of Security had to run off on some materials analysis,” Virgii jumped in, before Franches could answer, “But really, we don’t have much staff aboard the ship.
“About that,” Simplot cut in, “What the heck happened to you guys?”
Virgii and Mytim quickly explained how the ship had been sent thousands of light-years off course and their plan to make short hops closer to home.
“But then we just appeared here,” Virgii said, “Like magic,”
Mytim sucked in a sudden breath.
“There is no such thing as magic!” she said harshly.
“There appears to have been some sort of unexpected quantum tunnelling effect,” Dr. Strobnick said, “We entered a slipstream just as the Hummingbird was exiting one. Something created some kind of link between our ships, and our slipstream vectors were cross-imposed.
“That’s, uh, just out of curiousity, not something we could have caused by the quantum disruption of shooting a big energy beam meant to knock a ship out of the slipstream, is it?” Lt. Wyer asked carefully.
“Perhaps,” Strobnick shrugged, “Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Wyer gulped.
“In any event,” Simplot said, “Our liaison officer can set you up with temporary quarters near your ship until you can drop by Haven Estates or 24th Century Realty and start hunting for a good condo,”
“I beg your pardon?” Virgii asked.
“Condom?” Strobnick wondered, “Are we expected to have sex? Is this some Matrian custom?”
“No, condominium, not condom! It’s an apartment that you have to pay a lot more money for,” Simplot explained.
“Who’s our liaison officer officer today?” Wyer asked.
“Just make Kesser do it,” Simplot shrugged.
“Haven Estates?” Virgii and Mytim looked helplessly at each other.
“Don’t let them talk you into something downtown right off the bat,” Abela advised, “Some of the suburbs are quite lovely…though if you want a lot of space you’ll have to settle for something in the Rim,”
“I say…” Virgii cocked his head.
“Oh, and winter is scheduled to end in another month,” Simplot added, “So you might want to try for something near the lake. I think Lieutenant Stoneryder wants to get at least one of the beaches properly groomed.”
“Do you like the snowfall today, by the way?” Wyer asked, “It took several hours to figure out how to induce a gentle snow rather than a blizzard,”
“Do let us know if you need any help moving,” Abela said, abruptly losing interest and heading for the exit.
Virgii and Mytim just looked back at them.
“Well, you are assigned here, after all,” Simplot shrugged, “Better late than never,”
“But who wants to bet,” Shurgroe broken, “That the Hummingbird is stuck near the galactic core right now?”
“That seams like a certainty,” Strobnick nodded.
“Uh oh,” Simplot said, “All those Admirals and performance analysis people…stranded years from home. That’s probably going to hurt our review score,”
Meanwhile, thousands of light years away….
Admiral Thomas Wagner looked out the windows of the Hummingbird’s bridge, scanning space around the small ship.
“Isn’t there supposed to be a planet here?” he asked the officer seated in the command chair.
“Don’t ask me,” replied Commander Tifnay, “I’m a performance critic, not a deep space explorer.”
“And we’re sure that Metric thing was the only problem with the drive?”
“Positive. At least this ship didn’t disappear during the test flight like that last one,”
“Unless…maybe we just did,” Wagner shook his head.
“Oh.” Tifnay swallowed, “Uh-oh,”
Back on Haven, Laarthi was leading Boxer on a mad rush through the maze of passageways and stairways that was Haven’s Outer Rim.
“Laarthi, where are we going?” Boxer asked as the feline officer took a sharp right into some sort of cargo thoroughfare, “Couldn’t we have at least found the liaison office and gotten a map?”
“Did you pay no attention to Construct Navigation during your training?” Laarthi spat, “I have the beam-in co-ordinates, I can get us there.”
“Nice place,” Boxer observed, “When I heard we were posted to an alien-built station, I was afraid we’d be in for something like Deep Space Nine,”
Laarthi had felt the exact same way, but there was no way she was telling him that.
They’d gone up several levels from the docking port and had moved a considerable distance clockwise around the city, so to speak. From what Laarthi could tell, they were in a residential section. They’d turned off the main corridors and found themselves navigating a large hexagon with calmer, more sombre colour tones than the red and blue of the rest of the station. Doorways were interspaced at regular intervals. Laarthi led them straight for one of them.
“Dead end,” she said with satisfaction, “If we were quick on our feet, the culprit may even still be inside!”
“Maybe we should have brought weapons?” Boxer offered.
“Weapons…oh s**t,” Laarthi muttered.
Boxer pondered their lack of offensive capabilities for a moment, then bared his teeth.
“Beh-er?” he offered.
Laarthi sighed, but extended her claws and hit the door release.
It was almost something from a comic book. A rather pathetic comic book, featuring Cat Girl and Dog Boy as they burst into a fairly non-descript apartment, teeth and manicured claws bared and ready for action. Any super-villian worth half his salt would have taken one look, patted them on the head and sent them on their way. As it was, the apartment was empty. One of the living room windows was open, letting in a burst of cold wind.
“Who turned down the heat?” Boxer asked, his fur fluffing up as he quickly secured the apartment.
Laarthi wasn’t listening to him. She stood in front of the broad picture window, staring out at the scene before her. Boxer followed her gaze, seeing only a fairly standard if compact cityscape huddled under a layer of snow. The trees in a nearby park had glimmers of hoarfrost on their branches and the light from the planet above reflected off the white blanket of snow.
Laarthi saw none of the snow. As her eyes passed over the city, she saw rooftop gardens, vines and tailings hanging over their edges. She saw grassy parks, with plenty of shady spots under brilliant green trees. She saw flowers of all conceivable shapes and colours flowing from carefully manicured flower beds and opportunities for all manner of landscaping.
“Laarthi?” Boxer tapped a promising-looking button next to the window. A clear panel slid across from one side, cutting off the cold wind. Laarthi shook herself as if awakening from a dream.
“Right. We’re chasing somebody,” she said.
“I think it’s a little late,” Boxer winced. Down below, at the base of the inner rim, he could see tracks in the snow leading into the nearest building. From there, the saboteur could have gone anywhere.
“Blast,” Laarthi cursed.
“Now what?” Boxer asked.
“Now we start investigating, Mr. Chief of Security,” Laarthi said angrily, stomping out of the apartment with a curious lack of her usual feline grace, “Make sure there aren’t any departing ships he or she can get away on! Then we start searching this place!”
“Do we get to sleep first? It’s been a long day,”
“NO!” Laarthi snapped.
“No, you can’t have access to the departures log,” Lieutenant Fissett said, “I’m sorry,”
“Why not?” Laarthi demanded. The two of them had gone straight to Haven’s command center in their quest. Boxer was pacing around the lower level, staring out at the cityscape below while Laarthi had scampered right up to the command deck.
“Because there isn’t one,” Fissett explained, “We’ve had, like, zero traffic. Other than a couple of shipyards opening up, and all that came from Matria Prime anyway,”
“But you must have a shuttle service to the planet!”
“Sure, but we’re in transporter range of the home-world anyway,”
“TRANSPORTER RANGE?” Laarthi choked, then immediately fought to calm herself. The saboteur could be anywhere on the planet by now! “May I see the transporter logs then?”
“I guess,” Fissett set Laarthi up at a nearby control pulpit.
“Nothing,” she muttered after a quick scan, “Where did you go, you little…”
“Laarthi, I’m tired,” Boxer said, climbing up the stairs, “It’s been a long day and about nine thousand light-years. I just want to sleep. We don’t even know that the…” he looked over at Lieutenant Fissett, “that the material samples are going to do anything tonight,” he finished.
“Fine,” Laarthi said grudgingly, “But we’re sleeping on the Roadrunner,”
Boxer’s tail drooped.
Virgii wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting when the Roadrunner returned to Federation space (under his leadership, of course), but it sure wasn’t the ‘Wham, Bam, Thank You Acting Captain’ routine that he’d received at Starbase 341. Simplot had dismissed him and his ‘staff’ from the briefing, only to summon him back fifteen minutes later to talk to Admiral Janeway. He’d thought that she, a fellow ‘dislocatee’, would understand his valiant bravery and effort in getting his crew home in a matter of months, but she’d simply demanded a dump of the Roadrunner’s computer logs then signed off rather abruptly. (That her ego might have been a little burned by the fact that her crew had been MIA for seven years didn’t enter Virgii’s mind.)
Now he found himself sitting in a small lounge next to the Roadrunner’s docking port. Haven’s docking ports were tucked into the underside of the inner edge of the Outer Rim, underneath the broad disc that supported the city proper. It made sense in a fashion, considering the traffic generated Spaceside by the docking bays and the shipyards. But the view absolutely sucked. Blank hull dominated the view out the window, stretching off to some sort of beam emitter over a kilometre away. Heavy supports ran from the Rim to the center of the city. He could see open space and a wedge of planet if he got close to the window and looked down, but he was trying to brood and such a posture wasn’t conducive to decent brooding.
The door behind him hissed open, then closed. Virgii looked around, but didn’t see anybody. Inferior Matrian design, no doubt.
He turned back to the view outside. If he looked to his left and down he could see the Roadrunner nosed up to the docking port. A series of robotic arms had emerged from the city’s hull and gripped his small ship, clutching it securely.
“Have you enjoyed our return?”
Virii nearly soiled himself at the unexpected voice.
“AHHHHHHH!!!!” Panicking, he looked around for several seconds before realization kicked in.
“Strobnick?” he demanded, “Blimey, what are you trying to do, kill me?”
“What?” Strobnick’s voice sounded confused, “Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” With a brief shimmer, the alien appeared in a chair next to Virgii.
“Didn’t realize…you were invisible!”
“A reflex action, truley,” Strobnick held up his chin, “Kicks in when I’m…upset. Quite useful during my undergraduate exams, downright confusing when I disappeared halfway through my master’s thesis presentation. Half the audience thought that I was demonstrating a personal cloak. The Romulans wanted me killed immediately,”
“But how would they find you?” Virgii wondered.
Strobnick said nothing.
“So, did you get in touch with your colleagues at the propulsion research lab?”
“I did,” Strobnick said curtly.
“And they refuse to believe that a malfunction in their precious experimental drive could be caused by something as trivial as a data conversion error,” he said, “Especially now, given that a second prototype has disappeared into deep space,” he started flickering out again, “The project will likely be terminated, unless the Hummingbird can be found, quickly,”
“First thing in the morning we’ll hijack a science lab and start scanning that…that quantum weak-spot they accidentally created here,” Virgii said, “We’ll have everything figured out in no time,”
“Including why the Roadrunner is leaving without us,” Strobnick said, staring out the window.
“Of course, that too,” Virgii waved a hand, unconcerned. He paused, frowned, then turned to the window. “I beg your pardon?”
Laarthi and Boxer had returned to the Roadrunner, but Boxer was in his bunk less than five minutes before he got up, pulled on a robe and padded up to the bridge. He was about to sit in the center seat when a whiff of Virgii’s scent sent him over to the pilot seat. He couldn’t see anything but grey hull outside the front window. The side windows just showed the inner surface of the Outer Rim stretching off in both directions.
Why was he here? For that matter, why was he even on this ship? He and Laarthi had had to stop by the nearby guest quarters to retrieve their luggage, which the extremely bored baggage bots had delivered within a minute of the Road Runner’s arrival. The quarters were nice. Not as spacious as the apartment they’d chased the saboteur through, but far larger and more comfortable than the small cabins on the ship. So why was he stuck back on the ship while everybody else enjoyed a good night sleep?
“Don’t move,” a cold female voice said directly behind him, “I have a nine-millimetre pistol pointed at the back of your furry little head, and I’m not afraid to use it,”
“A what?” Boxer wondered. Oh yeah, he was on the ship because there was a saboteur on the loose. Well, good news! He found her! Ohhh, this was good! He was a good dog!
“A chemically-propelled projectile weapon that will splatter your brains over the front window without setting off the weapons sensors,” the voice said pleasantly, “And since I hate washing brains off of surfaces, I do suggest you cooperate with me,”
Uh-oh. Brain splatters were messy. Messy wasn’t good. Messy was bad. If his brains had to be cleaned up, he’d be called a very bad boy.
Oh yeah, he’d be dead too.
“Now,” the voice said, “The first thing we’re going to do is flood this ship with anesthazine. Can’t have your feline friend coming up here, can we?”
Biting his lip, but remembering the splattered brain threat, Boxer sealed off the cockpit and activated the intruder defence systems.
“Good boy,” the voice purred. Boxer’s tail wagged twice before he could stop himself…just on reflex. The voice hardened. “Now release the docking clamps and set course to 197 mark 2,”
Boxer tapped at the controls, only to have the helm reply with an unpleasant BLATT!
“I can’t,” he said, “The station controls that,”
“I see,” the voice sighed, “I expected this.”
She placed a device on the helm. It beeped and chirped for a moment. Boxer looked at the thing out of the corner of his eye. It almost looked like Federation technology. Something to break into the computers of an alien station? Unfortunately, the device didn’t seem to be working on the Matrian computer. With a similar BLATT, it gave up.
“Fiddlesticks,” the woman grunted, “I didn’t really expect this, but I did prepare for it! Open a channel to the command center!”
With a whimper, Boxer obeyed.
“This is…YAAWWWWNNNN…Haven Command Complex, how may I direct your comm?” Major Jakerd said. He’d drawn the night shift this week, but wasn’t exactly unhappy about it. Oh yes, he disliked staying up late. Or all night, for that matter. But if that meant that other officers could have pleasant dreams, than it was a sacrifice he was willing to make. As long as they let him put his feet up on an extra chair…which for that matter Abela would never allow if she were present. Luckily she’d gone to bed.
“You can direct my call to shut the hell up,” a female voice said pleasantly, “Let me be clear. I have planted a bomb on one of your antimatter reactors. Release the docking clamps on the USS Roadrunner immediately or I’ll blow us all to hell,”
“I’m sorry ma’am,” he said, “I think you have the wrong number. This is the Haven Command Center, also known as Starbase 341. We’re hoping to get the Waystation-2 designation too, but the review board is lost in deep space at the moment. May I direct your call to the people you really mean to threaten?”
There was silence on the line for a moment.
“Can I speak to somebody who’s in charge?” the voice demanded.
“That’s me,” Jakerd said proudly.
“I see.” Another pause, “Do you know where the Uqam tram station is?”
“Yes ma’am, I can see it right out the window,” Jakerd said, looking out at the dark city.
“Can you see it right now?”
“Not for long,”
There was a flash of light. It was fairly small, considering the size of the tram station and its distance from the command center. But the rising fireball, the growing cloud of smoke and the rumble as the city base transmitted the shock of the explosion up to the command center were still unmistakable.
“Now, release the docking clamps, or your whole city is going up in a fireball,” the voice snapped.
Without asking, the tech manning the docking control panel complied. Jakerd was staring out the window, tears forming in his eyes.
“Colonel Abela is going to be SOOOO pissed!” he groaned.
At the Roadrunner’s docking port, Lieutenant Mytim was shifting her weight from one foot to another. To an outside observer, it would have looked like a slow-motion version of the ‘I Gotta Pee Polka’. In this case, it was more a matter of indecision than urinary or bladder issues.
Mytim had been on the verge of falling asleep in her guest quarters on Level 12 of the Outer Rim. She’d been moderately pleased with the plush furnishings of the small apartment, including a reading chair that had her clapping her hands with delight. She’d stretched out on the queen-sized bed, enjoying the feeling of the soft mattress after so many nights on her unyielding bunk aboard the ship and was sinking into blissful oblivion when there was a sudden bolt of alarm. She’d sat up and started listening carefully, but deep down she knew she hadn’t heard anything. No, this was her other sense speaking…the one she tried not to think about too much. She’d been working hard to keep her unexplainable talents under control, especially after she’d nearly incinerated a planet with them. Still, she could feel that something was wrong, and this reaction had led to her standing in the station-side airlock leading to the Roadrunner. But for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to actually board the ship.
Finally, she closed her eyes and reached out with her extra sense. She’d find what the problem was, resolve it and get back to sleep. She could feel Virgii and Strobnick nearby, nothing unusual there. Boxer and Laarthi were aboard the ship, again nothing unusual. Some random person, probably part of the crew, wandering the corridors of the tiny ship. Otherwise, this entire section of the city was empty. Heck, their entire quadrant of the city was deserted! What kind of starbase was this supposed to be, anyway?
There was a sudden pulse of emotion from Boxer, a surge of panic and fear. Without meaning to, Mytim stepped into the Roadrunner, just in time for the hatch to close and clouds of anesthazine knock-out gas to descend. With a thud, she fell to the floor.
“Who’s taking my ship!” Virgii demanded, face plastered across the viewport, “Nobody signed for it! I’ll still be held responsible! Do you know how expensive a ship is?”
“I can’t tell who it is, but I see two people on the bridge. One is holding a weapon.”
“Hijacking! Quick, where’s the nearest docking bay?”
Virgii called Ops and repeated his demand.
“Twenty levels up, the other edge of the rim and about two hundred meters clockwise,” a blubbery voice replied, “Why?”
Virgii was already running, dragging Strobnick behind him.
“What the hell is going on and why haven’t you handled it?” Colonel Abela demanded, climbing the steps to the command deck.
“They threatened to blow us up!” Major Jakerd cried, “And then they blew part of us up?”
“And they stole the Starfleet ship,” a tech added.
“Exterior view!” Abela snapped. The windows and screens switched to a three-sixty view of space. Abela spun for moment, then spotted the Roadrunner speeding away from them.
“Tractor beam!” she ordered.
“Uh, they planted a bomb on one of our reactors,” the tech pointed out.
“I see,” she said, very calmly, “Cancel tractor beam. Let them go. Get Wyer in the reactor rooms. He’s good with bombs,”
Simplot and Shurgroe had just emerged from the turbolift.
“The Roadrunner has gone to warp,” the tech reported. Simplot stopped in her tracks as she saw the flash of the Roadrunner’s nacelles as the ship vanished.
“Captain Virgin get sick of us already?” she asked.
“Hijacking,” Abela said simply.
Simplot held up a finger.
“Oh no they didn’t!” she snapped, “Josh! Beam us to the runabout! Abela, get us cleared for launch!”
As the two Starfleeters were beamed to the runabout, Abela turned to a beeping panel. Somebody in Docking Bay 6 wanted departure clearance? What the heck?”
“This is Captain Virgii of the USS Road…well, at the moment I seem to be borrowing the Matrian vessel…um…Strobnick, is there a dedication plaque or something in here? No? I see. This is Captain Virgii borrowing the Matrian vessel…um…Coyote. Yes, that’s as good a name as any. Strobnick, log that please. Thank you. Ahem, this is the Matrian vessel Coyote, requesting permission to go chase my ship! My other ship, that is.”
Abela was about to give him a piece of her mind when an interesting fact hit her: Simplot and Shurgroe were leaving. Yup, she could see the tiny runabout vanish into warp as it chased after the larger (but still small) Roadrunner. Now this other Starfleeter wanted to take off in a two hundred year old Matrian scout that had been sitting in a docking bay most of its life.
By letting this one ship go, she’d have the city almost entirely to herself and her people.
“Permission to depart granted,” she said, accessing the remote door controls and opening the docking bay doors, “Best of luck,”
As the second ship sped away from the city and jumped into warp, Abela sat back into her chair and smiled.
Her victory was short-lived.
“Colonel Abela, where is everybody?” It was Lieutenant Wyer, fully dressed. Either he was a quick changer, or he hadn’t gone to bed yet.
“Shouldn’t you be defusing a bomb?” she asked pointedly, ignoring the question.
“Bomb?” he asked.
“Jakerd, I TOLD you to…” Abela looked around, only to find Jakerd sitting at a computer typing out a long, rambling email to Wyer’s messaging address, “Oy vay. Tomorrow, we are going to have a very long talk about the importance of brevity in communications.” She turned to Wyer, “There is a bomb planted on one of our reactors. We don’t know which one. Go find it and disarm it,”
“By Mi Clane,” Wyer paled, “Right. On it,”
He turned and ran down the stairs.
Abela paused, then hung over the railing and called after him.
“Wait,” she said, “If you didn’t know about the bomb, what were doing up here at this ungodly hour?”
“Oh,” Wyer skidded to a halt, “We need to find the Roadrunner people and get them back on their ship!”
“Because I’ve been in the DoDO tower all night, analyzing sensor readings,” Wyer said, “And whatever quantum weirdness it was that linked them to the Hummingbird is still there, and it’s decaying!”
Abela thought about this for a moment.
“And,” Wyer said, “I’m fairly sure that if either ship activates its slipstream drive before the link decays, they’ll swap places again!”
“So the review team would be back here, and Virgii and his people would be back in the middle of nowhere?”
“Oh good,” Abela gave a sigh of relief, “This whole incident is hurting our odds of getting the Waystation-2 designation as it is,”
“You don’t get it!” Wyer said, losing some of his normal cool, “If they swap back without actually being aboard the Roadrunner, they’ll pop out into empty space and die horribly!”
Abela put her hands on her hips.
“You Starfleet people!” she said, disgusted, “You just can’t do anything the easy way, can you?”
Wyer stared back at her.
“Fine, go take care of the bomb and make sure we’re not going to die in a fiery explosion, then we’ll see about saving your Starfleet friends,” Abela made shoo-ing motions with one hand. Wyer bolted for the turbolift.
Abela dropped back into her chair. She looked at the chair next to her, then frowned.
“And who the hell had their boots up on the furniture!?” she demanded.
So much for peace and quiet.