Ladies and gentlemen, the next item up for bid is this lovely disclaimer. It's only had one owner and reads, Star Trek belongs to CBS, Paramount, and Viacom. Some vandal has scrawled, Star Traks belongs to Alan Decker just below that in crayon, but I'm sure that will wash right off. Shall we start the bidding at 10 cents?

Author: Alan Decker
Copyright: 2002

Star Traks: The Lost Years #5

The Next Item Up For Bid…

by Alan Decker

If I were a less responsible person, I’d probably blame the whole mess on Bradley Dillon. He’s the one who had to go put his damn R&D facility in such an inconvenient sector of space. But I’m not that kind of woman. I knew the dangers of my business when I got into it. Hell, I enjoy the dangers of my business…most of the time.

I guess if I had a business card, it’d read “Karina Durham: Independent Transport Operator,” but let’s be honest here. I’m a smuggler. If you have something you want shipped that you don’t want the Federation authorities to know about, you call me.

Which is precisely what had happened. A business rival of Dillon Enterprises had somehow bribed one of Bradley Dillon’s R&D guys into swiping a subspace generator. One of my requirements for taking a job is that I know EXACTLY what it is that I’m transporting, so I actually have some info about this little darling. The subspace generator creates pockets of subspace that can be used the increase the size of a structure artificially. For example, my ship currently has enough room for me and some small cargo. Add one of these generators, and I can add a banquet hall and ballroom all within the ship I already have. If Dillon Enterprises were ever to create one that worked, crowding would never be an issue anywhere again. Hell, that vole-trap I rent for when I’m not off on jobs could be the size of a mansion. I could certainly understand why a rival business would want it.

The initial part of the job went off without a hitch. I cruised into the system where Dillon’s R&D lab is located at the appointed time. I found my package floating in orbit around the fifth moon of the third planet (I have no idea how it got there or who put it there. That’s none of my affair), then I beamed it on board and cruised on out of there without receiving so much as a “Hello. What the hell are you doing here?” hail from the R&D space station. My guess is that they have standing orders to keep a low profile.

Next came the hard part. I was under contract to deliver the generator back to Alpha Centauri in four days. I could do it, but it meant taking a quick short-cut through a corner of Shelliak space. Now I don’t know if you know anything about these bastards. Basically, they don’t like humanoids. We’re supposedly inferior, (This coming from a species that looks like giant bald-guys covered in tar) so they signed this treaty with the Federation agreeing that we won’t go anywhere near them.

Their really annoying personality trait, though, is their damn obsession with legal technicalities. I guess some people could probably find a way to turn that to their advantage. It turned out just to be a royal pain in my ass, though.

Here’s what happened. After cruising away from the Dillon Enterprises R&D station, I pushed my ship, the Acapella II…I know. Odd ship name. It basically means “without accompaniment,” which is how I operate. Just me. No crew. That way I’m the only one to take the risks and the only one to reap the rewards. As for the II part, I lost the first Acapella a few years ago when I was shot down by some nutcase named Zero, but that’s another story. Anyway, I pushed my ship up to warp 9.3 and zipped into Shelliak space. Almost immediately, they were on me. Three Shelliak cruisers. It was like they were waiting for me, which they were…in a sense. I found out later that they’d been having problems with people like me using their territory as a short cut. Turns out they don’t like that very much.

So their ships came at me from three different directions forcing me to either run for it or stay and chat. Considering that I had no idea how many other Shelliak ships they might have watching the border into Federation space that I was heading toward, I decided to try the old “sweet, lost traveler” bit. I slowed to impulse and started transmitting hails as soon as their ships pulled along side me.

“Um…hello…,” I began, trying to sound as demure as possible. “Can you kind folks help me? I think I’m lost.” There was silence for a couple of seconds, then their reply started.

“Federation captain, under Articles 271 through 289 of the Treaty of Armens, your vessel and its contents are now the property of the Shelliak Corporate and will be disposed of as such. In accordance with Articles 290 through 293 of the Treaty of Armens, your right to dispute this was waived when you crossed into the territory of the Shelliak Corporate as laid out in Articles 4 through 112 of the Treaty of Armens. As stipulated in Articles 300 through 345 of the Treaty of Armens, you will now surrender yourself and your vessel to our control.”

This wasn’t exactly the response I was hoping for, but you can see what I mean earlier about their thing about legal technicalities.

Before I could phrase an appropriate reply, all three ships latched tractor beams onto the Acapella II and hauled us into warp on a course toward the nearest Shelliak outpost. In the meantime, a couple of their giant goo guys beamed on board the Acapella II to start assessing their prize.

My gut instinct was to start blasting them, but where would that get me? My ship would still be in the tractor beams, and they’d probably just send in more guys to terminate me. Best to play nice and just look for my opportunity. Besides, it wasn’t like the subspace generator was just sitting out in the open. I tend to specialize in transporting smaller items in cases where time is a factor, so the Acapella II is basically a couple of big engines with a tiny, and well hidden, storage compartment for my cargo.

So instead I decided to go with the friendly approach. “So what I can do for you fellas?”

“This ship and it’s contents now belong to the Shelliak Corporate,” the leader…I assume, of their boarding party said. “Are you the only biological life form on board?”

“It’s just me,” I replied.

“One biological lifeform. Classification: humanoid. Species: Terran. We will continue on. Wait here until the collection team arrives to sort you.”

“Sort me?” I said, growing angry. “Just what the k’varnitz do you guys think you’re going to do to me?” I love Andorian profanity. The language is so rich. Formal Andorian, and this is the language used by the upper crust now, has 317 distinct profane words, one for any possible situation. You have to admire that, which is why I learned the language in the first place.

The Shelliak turned toward me again. If he had anything resembling facial features, I’m sure they would have looked annoyed. “Under Articles 271 through 289 of the Treaty of Armens, your ship and its contents now belong to us.”

“I know! But that doesn’t apply to me! I’m a Federation citizen. I have rights,” I protested.

“In accordance with Articles 290 though 293 of the Treaty of Armens, your right to dispute our claim has been waived. You are now property of the Shelliak. You will be sorted.”

“Why you…” I went for my phaser and made it almost three feet before I was slammed by some kind of weapon. I didn’t see clothes on them when they beamed on board, much less weaponry. I managed to get out a pained grunt before I slammed to the deck and lost consciousness.

I woke up who knows how much time later inside of a dim, gray room. The only light was a pale orange glow coming in from outside through a transparent aluminum panel in the ceiling. I quickly surmised that my room was actually more like a large box.

“You are awake,” a voice boomed seemingly from all around me.

“Uh…yeah,” I replied, looking around for a speaker box or a monitor.

“You and your ship have been sorted by the Shelliak Corporate and have been deemed worthless to our culture.”

“Gee thanks,” I muttered.

“Therefore, in accordance with Decree 5,002, Subparagraph H, Lines 2,999 through 12,450 of the Shelliak Corporate Governmental Policy Manual, Fourth Edition, you and your belongings will be sold off to the highest bidder at an auction to take place at our border four days from now. The event has been publicized in the major galactic news sources, so we expect a good turn out. That is all.”

“Wait! Auctioned! You can’t just sell me! I’M A HUMAN BEING!”

No response.

“Are you listening to me?!?!?!”

Nothing. Evidently they weren’t. I began pacing my box looking for a way out, but, other than the small vents providing me with breathable air, there didn’t seem to be anything I could access, much less pry open.

Over the course of the next few days, my moods swung wildly from desperation to anger to resignation. The Shelliak provided me with food, clothing, and the portable sonic shower taken from my ship but insisted on watching my every move as I used these items. Considering their almost voyeuristic attitude, I thought about trying to seduce my guard, but I quickly realized he didn’t consider me to be much different than a dog or a cat. He was simply making sure I didn’t escape.

Of course, considering the mess I was in, the fact that none of the Shelliak were out to have sex with me was a relief. I know full well the dangers a woman takes on herself when she goes into my line of work. Let’s face it, not every race in the galaxy is as forward-thinking as humans. Hell, not even all humans are so forward-thinking. One time during a run I crossed this bastard named Resnick. He was a human smuggler who had a client who wanted my cargo. Resnick’s ship got the drop on me, and, before I knew it, he had every weapon on his ship trained on the Acapella. That’s when he started talking about how he’s not only going to take my cargo but me as well. He spent so long tell me exactly what he was going to do to me when he got his hands on me that I managed to send a feedback loop into his comm system that shorted out his whole bridge. I should have blown him to bits, but I detected a Starfleet ship just on the edge of my sensor range. I knew Resnick had a few warrants out on him, so I just zipped off leaving him to talk to the Starfleeters.

So I’d been in close scrapes before, but the idea of being sold scared the hell out of me. There are a lot of freaks and weirdos in this galaxy, and the last thing I wanted was to end up as one of their playtoys. But with no tools or weapons around, I was stuck waiting for some kind of opportunity to open up.

Unfortunately, nothing did. The days passed slowly until finally I felt my crate being moved. I screamed for someone to answer me, but my calls were ignored…as usual. I’d discovered over the past few days that the Shelliak weren’t great conversationalists.

The box was finally dropped roughly, and I could hear a clamor of different voices outside speaking in a variety of languages. Then I heard the box’s front access panel unlatch. Quickly, I messed up my hair as much as possible, stooped over, and otherwise tried to make myself look unappealing as I was revealed to the mass of auction attendees.

The Shelliak evidently were holding the auction in the cargo bay of their vessel. A vast force field containing a Class M environment had been erected for the visiting bidders, while the Shelliak remained safely in their Class H environment…all except for the few Shelliak wearing some sort of force field belt who were moving auction goods, which were all of my belongings, around for the bidders. I could see the Acapella II sitting off to the side where several beings of various species eyed it and ran their hands along its hull.

That all stopped the moment my box fully opened. While most species will not participate in the buying and selling of sentient beings, they’ll still watch the spectacle when they can.

“Lot Number 665, ladies and gentleman,” A Shelliak voice boomed. “This Terran female was the pilot of the ship you see to your lefts. She is approximately 1.86 meters tall, weighs 61.4 kilograms, and has aged 32 Terran years.” Well, at least he didn’t give my measurements out.

“Do I hear 1 bar of latinum?” the Shelliak continued.

“One bar,” a Ferengi cried.

“Three,” an Orion countered.

“Five,” a voice in the back shouted. In the crowd, I couldn’t make out his species.

“Five bars and two strips,” the Ferengi said.

“We will only accept even bar bids on this item,” the Shelliak said. “Do I hear six bars?”



“Nine!” The voices were shouting so fast that I couldn’t keep track of who was bidding. It seemed to be mostly Ferengi and Orions; although, I caught at least one Cardassian bidding and what looked like a Romulan.

Gradually, the voices became less frequent as the bids rose.

“Forty-two. Do I hear forty-two?” the Shelliak asked.

“All right, forty-two!” the Ferengi spat angrily. “But she had better be worth it.”

“Forty-five!” another voice from the back shouted. Forty-five bars of latinum. Despite the horrible situation I was in, I could help letting out a low whistle at how much I was worth. That was a fair chunk of cash.

“Do I hear forty-six? Forty-six? Forty-five going once…twice… sold, to the gentleman in the rear. Bidder number 214. Thank you. Your purchase will be transported to your vessel once we receive payment.” And that was when they closed the box back up, sealing me inside.

I began to pace again, cursing myself for not at least trying to escape. But where would I have gone? It certainly didn’t look like any of the beings in that room were real interested in helping me.

Finally, I felt a transporter beam lock onto me and the crate, sending us, I assumed, to the ship of the winning bidder. I sat down on the floor, pulled my knees up to my chest, and lowered my head trying to look as defeated as possible. I figured that when the lucky winner opened the box, he’d come over the check me out, giving me the opportunity to catch him off guard, score a solid hit, and try to make it to the box exit and seal him inside.

The box panel finally started to open, and I could hear footsteps walking inside…then they stopped.

“Damn it!” an unmistakably familiar voice said jovially. “I specifically ordered the red model with a leather interior!”

I tentatively looked up at the newcomer. There was the smiling face of a man I hadn’t seen in four years. He couldn’t have shown up at a better time.

“Alex?” I said, my voice almost shaking. It just had to be him.

The smile widened.

“ALEX!” I leapt up off the floor and ran at him, embracing him in a tight hug. I don’t normally go for big displays of emotion like that, but seeing his face instead of some Ferengi or Orion was one hell of a relief.

“If this is the hello I get, we need to run into each other more often,” Alexander Rydell said as he returned my hug. I finally let go of him and stepped back to take a look. The first thing that struck me was that he was wearing civilian clothes.

“Now don’t tell me you up and left Starfleet, Rydell,” I said, regaining my usual composure.

“Not at all, Miss Durham,” he said. “I’m on an undercover mission specifically to save your ass.”

“Wow. I’m impressed. I had no idea Starfleet cared so much,” I replied, as Rydell locked his arm around mine and escorted me out of the box into the cargo bay of what looked to be a fairly recent model private space cruiser, the fancy expensive kind with amenities my poor Acapella II could only dream of.

“Actually, they don’t,” Rydell said as we walked out into the corridor of the vessel. “However, I’ve been keeping my eye on you.”

“You have, huh?” I said, jabbing him playfully in the side. “Didn’t think I could take care of myself?”

“I was just hoping you’d stay out of trouble,” Rydell replied. “I never saw you on Starfleet’s Most Wanted, which was a relief. But you’re just lucky I have your name flagged on my ship’s computer; otherwise, I might not of found out about this little shindig until it was too late.”

“So you made Starfleet come rescue me. I’m definitely impressed. I didn’t think you had that much clout.”

Rydell smiled weakly. “I don’t…but Bradley Dillon does.”

I’m guessing he noticed all the color drain from my face. “Oh sh**. Thanks for going out of your way to arrest me yourself, but can you give me back to the Shelliak or something?”

“That’s not why I’m here, Karina,” Rydell said. “Bradley Dillon’s the one who hired you to pick up the subspace generator.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense. Why would he want something smuggled out of his own place?”

“He knew there was a security leak somewhere in the facility, so he created a fake personality and started poking around for that leak. When he got a bite, he hired you to go pick up the generator. As soon as it was beamed off the station, he knew who was responsible. You were supposed to deliver it to one of his operatives on Alpha Centauri, but then you got yourself captured by the Shelliak.”

“Hey. That wasn’t my fault,” I said defensively. “I wasn’t expecting their whole damn fleet to be waiting for me when I crossed the border.”

“You could have just stayed in Federation space like a good captain.”

“Can it, Rydell,” I said. “Just tell me how you got mixed up in all this.”

“Bradley Dillon and I contacted Starfleet about your capture at the same time and both got transferred to the admiral in charge of this sector. He wasn’t real interested in hearing from either of us, so he just put Bradley and I on the same commline and hung up. Bradley and I had a quick chat, came up with a plan, and here I am charging to the rescue in his ship…a little too late, unfortunately.”

“What do you mean too late?” I asked warily.

“Bradley really wants his generator back. As far as we could tell from the auction manifest, the Shelliak didn’t find it on your ship. Problem is your ship was sold before I could get here. I was only fifteen minutes late. How was I to know they were going to start with the ship?”

“So who has it?” I demanded.

“I’m not sure,” Rydell said, “but I’m tracking it now. Last I could tell, it seemed to be on a course for Mirador. There’s a private spaceport there…”

“Yeah. I’ve been there a few times,” I replied. “Good luck convincing station security to give me my ship back, though..”

“We’ll just have to improvise then,” Rydell replied. We stopped in front of a set of doors. “Your cabin, Madam. I was able to pick up most of your personal belongings at the auction, and it’s all in there. Get a shower, some rest, or some food. Relax. I’ll let you know when we get to Mirador.”

“Thanks,” I said, stepping into the room. “And thanks for coming after me. It means a lot.”

Rydell smiled again. That smile could probably charm the spots off a Trill. And then there was that amused glint in his eye that always seemed to be there. This was a man who enjoyed his life. And he had a way of infecting those around him with his attitude. “Not a problem,” he said simply, then headed off down the corridor.

I watched him go. If he realized I was doing it, he didn’t give any indication. I have to say it was a bit unlike me. I hadn’t seen him in four years since we both ended up captured by that Zero freak on The Suburb. At the time, I’d just considered Rydell to be another stick-in-the-mud Starfleet type. He’d surprised me with his relaxed charm, but then we went our separate ways. He had his ship, and I had a business to run. I never honestly expected to see him again, but now that he was here, I was glad to have this second chance to get to know him.

Once Rydell disappeared around the corner, I let the doors to my cabin close and headed straight to the shower. I needed some real water to wash off days of being stuck in that box. Rydell was right. I definitely needed to relax.

I was pulled out of a deep sleep by the feeling of someone touching my arm. I snapped awake, jerking away from the intruder while my brain struggled to remember just where it was and whether or not it was in danger.

“Woah. Calm down. It’s just me,” Rydell’s voice said. My vision gradually cleared, revealing Rydell sitting on the edge of my bed smiling at me. “I commed you, but you weren’t responding, so I figured I’d better come check on you.”

“Sorry. It’s been a while since I slept in a real bed,” I said groggily as I sat up. I caught Rydell’s gaze briefly shift from my face to my tank-top as the cover slid down my front. A moment later, he was all business.

“Understandable. Did you get something to eat?”

“Several something’s actually,” I replied.

Rydell nodded and stood up. “Well, I’ll let you get yourself together. We should be docking at Mirador in the next half hour. Your ship is about five minutes ahead of us. I’m going to gradually close the gap, so that we arrive at Mirador at the same time without him getting too suspicious that he’s being followed.”

“How do you know it’s a he?” I said, just to be combative.

“I’m just being generic,” Rydell replied. “No offense meant.”

“Yeah right. Well, you’d better get out of here, or you’re going to be offended by my mostly naked ass when I get out of this bed.”

Rydell smiled mischievously. “I don’t think I could find that offensive at all.”

I lobbed my pillow at him. “Out!”

Rydell jumped up off the bed and beat a hasty retreat for the door. “I’ll be in the cockpit whenever you’re decent,” he said, stealing at look back at me.

“Thanks, but you’re just going to have to settle for me being dressed. I haven’t seen decent in years.”

I heard Rydell laugh as he doors closed behind him, leaving me alone in the room. I immediately went and had another shower, just because I could. Never again would I take such luxuries for granted.

After spending several minutes just letting the water fall on my head and cascade down my body, I dried off, got dressed, and headed up to join Rydell.

“Perfect timing,” he said as I entered the cockpit of the Bach, as Bradley had christened this particular freighter, and slid into the co-pilot’s seat. Ahead of us, Mirador loomed, filling the viewport. The station had started out almost two hundred years ago as an unmanned supply outpost for the Zakdorn. Over the years, other spacefaring cultures happened upon it and added sections of their own. Now, Mirador was a hodge-podge of different styles and technologies all kept together by sheer force of will. Actually, the Zakdorn officially run Mirador and maintain its primary systems from their hub at the center of the station, but each company that has added to it really controls their own segments. You’d think that a station so loosely managed would disintegrate, but the place just keeps humming along.

Despite the swarm of ships approaching, orbiting, and leaving Mirador, I was immediately able to spot the Acapella II. Hey, a pilot knows her ship.

“With any luck, we’ll be able to find a docking port right beside her. I’ve got carte blanche from Bradley Dillon to buy the ship right out from under its new owner,” Rydell said as I watched the Acapella II suffering under the hands of another. This z’kezzet couldn’t even fly straight. My poor baby. I was about to make some comment to that effect when I noticed the Acapella II veer off to port, then dive toward a massive array of shipyards, docking arms, and cargo bays.

“Oh please no,” I muttered. Sometimes even Andorian profanity just doesn’t cut it.

“What?” Rydell said, following my gaze. “What is it? Where is he going?”

“Simms Ship Lines has a major hub here. He’s headed straight into their private docking facility. So much for Bradley Dillon’s money doing us any good.”

“You don’t know that,” Rydell replied. “It could just be an employee who bought the ship.”

“In any case, we can’t dock there,” I said, suddenly feeling that the wind had been knocked out of me. “There’s a bar near there that’s popular with the Simms people. We can start there and see what we can find out.”

Rydell turned to me and put his hands on my shoulders. “Buck up, little camper. We’ll get your ship back. We have to. Otherwise, Bradley’s going to have us killed.”

I smiled weakly. “Thanks for the pep talk, coach.”

Twenty minutes later, after we’d docked the Bach and dealt with Mirador’s Zakdorn liaison officer, Rydell and I were seated at a table in Gaelnug, a bar run by a set of Tellarite twins. According to them, Gaelnug was the Tellar word for drunk. Seemed like an appropriate name to me.

“So how should we play this?” Rydell asked, leaning across the table to whisper in my hear. “I assuming we don’t want to look like we’re just here looking for someone.”

“Definitely not. The people we’d be likely to find wouldn’t be exactly what we had in mind,” I replied.

“I guess that leaves business or pleasure.”

“Business,” I said. “If you tried to pick me up, I’d either leave with you quickly or toss you across the bar. Just act like you’re trying to hire my services.”

Rydell, despite his best effort to control it, cracked a smile.

“Not those kind of services!” I snapped. Rydell settled back into his seat as I gave the bar another once over. Most of the patrons were laborers from the various shipyards and cargo docks on Mirador. I recognized a couple of my fellow independent shipping agents as well. While the bar was noisy, I didn’t notice anyone going on loudly about getting a new ship, as would have been the case if one of these folks had actually gotten a new ship.

My eyes scanned over the assortment of beings sitting on bar stools, then I turned my attention back to Rydell. “Did Bradley send some babysitters along with you?” I asked.

“The Vulcans?” Rydell replied. I had no idea how Rydell had even seen them. I hadn’t noticed him turn around, much less examine the bar patrons. “Nope. This is the first I’ve seen of them. They certainly seem to be watching us, though.”

I saw the two Vulcan males stand up and head our way. “I think they know we’re talking about them.”

“Damn those ears,” Rydell replied, sounding spectacularly unconcerned as the Vulcans lowered themselves into the two vacant chairs at our table.

“We will be joining you,” one of them said. At this point, it was useless to try to tell them apart. They looked like Vulcans. Black hair. Pointy ears. Drab black outfits.

“Looks like it,” Rydell replied. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m George Washington, and this is my lovely wife Martha.”

“Your attempt at humor is weak and ill-timed, Captain Rydell,” the other Vulcan said.

“Weak?” Rydell said, feigning indignation. He turned to me. “Was that weak?”

“Yeah. Very,” I said.

“Shows how much you all know about comedy.”

“Captain, I am Spaanz, and this is Taanz. And we are here to watch…your back,” the first Vulcan said.

“Ooookay,” Rydell said. “But what was with that pause?”

“That pause was irrelevant. Bradley Dillon sent us here to see to it that you complete your assignment. Once you have retrieved the item, you will give it to us, so that we may take it back to Mister Dillon,” Taanz said.

“Woah. Hold on there a second, my pointy pals,” Rydell said. “Bradley didn’t say a damn thing about middle men. You two relax, get drunk…please, and let Miss Durham and I handle this. Then WE will go talk to Bradley…notice that BRADLEY and I are on a first name basis, thank you very much.”

“Listen to me now and understand the logic of this later,” Spaanz said, leaning across the table in a surprisingly effective attempt to intimidate us. “If you do not do precisely as we have said, Taanz and I will have no alternative but to terminate both of you.”

“Is that the logical thing to do?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” Taanz said. “Our employer is quite powerful, and it would be most illogical to endanger the device or our jobs.” Spaanz and Taanz then slid back their sleeves ever so slightly, revealing wrist-mounted blasters that they were somehow able to slip past the Zakdorn, since no one Mirador was supposed to be armed.

“We will be in touch,” Spaanz said as he and Taanz rose from the table. Without another word, the Vulcans slipped out of the bar.

“Damn. What has the universe come to when even the Vulcans go around threatening people?” Rydell said, clearly amused by what had just happened. I silently put my finger to my lips, signaling Rydell to shut the hell up, then I ducked under the table.

“I don’t think this is the place,” I heard Rydell say. I slammed my fist into his shin, then spotted my quarry. Climbing back up into my seat, I placed the small black dot in front of Rydell, then squashed it with my thumb.

“Listening device,” I said.

“I know. You missed one,” he replied, putting an odd, brownish squiggly-thing down in front of me. “Don’t worry. I already deactivated it. It’s pretty advanced stuff…even for Bradley Dillon.”

“I guess Starfleet Intel needs to keep better tabs on what Dillon Enterprises R&D is working on,” I said, taking a drink of my beer.

“No kidding. Not my department, though,” Rydell said. “You think we’ve probably drawn attention to ourselves now.”

“Probably,” I said humorlessly, picking up my mug again. I almost dropped it as I saw John Simms, Jr. himself walk into the bar with his arm wrapped around the shoulder of a teenaged boy who was Simms’ spitting image.

“Two hytellan rainstorms from my son and I,” Simms announced loudly as he entered the bar. “Prepare to watch the spaceways, ladies and gentleman. Today John Simms the Third has become the proud owner of his very own vessel.”

“So Daddy bought little Johnny a shippy-poo,” a voice spat from the crowd. “How sweet.”

“Hey!” Johnny Simms III snapped. “I bought it myself. Got it damn cheap, too! I love auctions!”

“He’s got the Simms business sense,” Simms said proudly as he and Johnny sat down at the bar.

“Oh it’s worse than I thought,” I mumbled, putting my head down on the table.

“He has a son? I thought he was dating that Dawes woman who sings their jingles,” Rydell said.

“The first Mrs. John Simms, Jr. took him for a hefty divorce settlement and left Johnny III behind while she ran off with some muscle-bound Risan. Wise choice,” I said, lifting my head back up. Well, trying to, anyway. It’d become stuck to the table. I should have known better than to touch anything in the Gaelnug with my bare skin. I yanked my head up, ripping the top layer of skin off of my forehead in the process.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “We know who has the Acapella II. That’s all we can do for now.”

“Fine by me,” Rydell replied. He and I slipped out of the bar and back to his ship.

That evening, after Rydell had administered to my sore head with a dermal regenerator, he and I sat in his quarters having dinner. When he offered, I expected to walk into some weak candlelit attempt at seduction. To Rydell’s credit, nothing like that was around. After several minutes of eating and bland conversation about the mission, I couldn’t resist taking a jab at him.

“You’re being remarkably well-behaved,” I said smiling.

“What were you expecting?” Rydell asked.

“Word about you has gotten around, Captain. Does Janisa Neelen ring a bell?”

“Janisa? Hmm…that was Rigel VI if I recall. She was the governor’s attaché. Very nice woman. We had dinner together.”

“Right,” I said. “She certainly remembers you.”

“Glad to hear it. I like to leave an impression.”

“Anyone serious?”

“Hey! When did this become interrogate Alex? What about you? How long of a trail of broken hearted men have you left through the quadrant?”

I smiled enigmatically. “A few. Comes with the job.”

“Exactly,” Rydell replied.

We were silent for a few moments. “I need to confess something,” I said finally.

“Oh really?” Rydell said, leaning forward interested.

“I’ve been keeping tabs on you too. Trying to anyway. Starfleet doesn’t post your assignments on FedNet like they do most of the other ships. Has the Secondprize moved up to Top Secret duty?”

“Not quite,” Rydell replied. “Starfleet PR decided it’d be a lot easier on them if they just didn’t let anyone know what the Secondprize was up to. They look better that way.”

“Look better. But your ship saved the timestream last time I saw you.”

“And that was one of our better and more normal days. Trust me. In the last couple of years alone, we’ve almost destroyed the universe, been forced to surrender to a primitive planet, gone missing twice, had one of our pets go sentient and try to take over the ship, and stolen a corpse. Not to mention the three week drunken binge we went on. And those are just the high points.”

“Don’t take this wrong way, but if you guys are such screw-ups, why the hell do you have a ship? Is Starfleet that desperate?”

“Got me,” Rydell replied. “But we do get the job done. Our methods are just a bit unorthodox.”

“That’s a diplomatic way to put it.”

“I try. Well, we’ve got a lot to do tomorrow. I should probably let you get some sleep,” Rydell said suddenly. Honestly, I didn’t know whether to be impressed or offended. Here he was, a man who had acquired something of a reputation of being VERY fond of seducing women, and he hadn’t so much as complimented my eyes. Either he was capable of self-control, which would be a nice change considering some of the men I’d dated in my time, or he found me completely undesirable, something I found hard to accept considering the way I’d noticed him looking at me at times.

Rydell walked me to the door of his quarters to say goodnight. “I’m glad we crossed paths again,” he said after a somewhat awkward silence. “It’s been fun.”

“And the fun ain’t over yet,” I said. Deciding that I was going to have to be a bit more assertive if this was going to go anywhere, I gave Rydell a peck on the cheek, then strolled back to my quarters, making sure to sway my hips just a little more than normal. Sultry, but not sleazy. I didn’t look back at him, but, judging from the fact that I didn’t hear his door close, I knew he was watching me go.

The next morning, we decided to spilt up to see if we could find a way to get Johnny the Third to hand the Acapella II over to us. Splitting up just seemed like the wisest option, since if one of us failed, it would leave another person that Johnny didn’t recognize. Bradley Dillon had told Rydell that getting back the subspace generator was primary and everything else was expendable. Generator or no generator, I was not losing my ship, so I decided to see about getting rid of some of Bradley’s other property: namely the Bach.

Slipping into the Simms Docking Hub was fairly easy. Most of Simms’s employees were occupied out in the shipyards, leaving the hub almost empty. The people I did pass didn’t even give me a second glance. Over the years, I’ve learned that the key to getting into anywhere is just to confidently walk on in. As long the look on your face says that you belong there, no one’s going to bother you. It’s when you start looking like you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing that people start getting nosy.

Continuing to maintain my “I belong here” attitude, I found an information access terminal and found out where the Acapella II was docked. The thought of just flat out stealing the ship briefly crossed my mind, but the Zakdorn tended to frown on that sort of behavior. Most likely, I’d be vaporized before I even got far enough away to fire up the impulse engines. And even if I did get away, John Simms. Jr. would have half the bounty hunters in the quadrant chasing down the evil person who took away his little boy’s spaceship.

By a stroke of luck, Johnny Simms was just walking out of the docking arm leading to the Acapella II when I approached. “Mr. Simms,” I said warmly, walking over to him and shaking his hand firmly. “Maggie Drake, I.R.C. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The young man stared at me, blinking his blue eyes a couple of times in confusion. “What’s an I.R.C.?”

“Interstellar Racing Commission. A pleasure. I’m here to speak to you about this vessel you acquired through the Shelliak. Now I could stand here all day tossing legal technicalities back and forth about their so-called auctions, Mr. Simms, but I know you’re a busy man and don’t have time for that sort of thing. So I’ll get to the point. The I.R.C. has authorized me to exchange this vessel for a brand new Fellistronautics Model 3001 luxury cruiser which is at this very moment docked at Mirador.” I wrapped an arm around the boy’s shoulder, making sure to press my body against his as I did do. “Now, if you’ll come with me, we can get the paperwork taken care of, and you can claim your brand new, top-of-the-line, luxury starcruiser.”

Johnny allowed me to take him about three steps before he twisted away and turned on me. “You want to race my ship?” he asked. “Stellar! I bet that baby can do some serious warping! How do I sign up?”

“Mr. Simms, you seem to have missed the point here,” I said. “I’m here to acquire your vessel, not recruit you.”

“No way. The Annihilator is not for sale and definitely not for trade. Dad would kill me if he thought I traded away what I bought with all that birthday money he gave me. But thanks for the idea. After the party tonight, we’re going to see what she can do!” Johnny whooped excitedly and ran off down the corridor toward the main Simms administration area.

For a few more seconds, I lingered, seriously reconsidering just getting on board and stealing the Acapella II back. No one who would name a ship “The Annihilator” had any business flying a child’s solar glider, much less a complex machine with the grace and beauty of my Acapella II.

Finally, my brain reminded me of all the bad things that could happen if I just swiped my ship, so I left. Rydell was waiting for me in the corridors of the main station module just beyond the entry to the Simms Ship Lines portion of Mirador.

“No luck, huh?” he said, seeing me approach.

“Not a bit.”

“That would be unfortunate,” Spaanz’s voice said from behind me. He and Taanz appeared out of nowhere and were now huddling in way too close to Rydell and I. I heard a soft click, then felt the barrel of Spaanz’s wrist blaster jab uncomfortably into my side. From the wince on Rydell’s face, obviously Taanz had done the same to him.

“We do not believe that you fully understand the importance of your assignment,” Spaanz continued. “Allow us to remind you.”

“Bradley Dillon is so going to hear about this,” Rydell snapped.

“You will find that he does not care,” Spaanz said. “We have no intention of causing you harm…yet; however, we wished to provide you with a bit of motivation to complete your task. If the device is not recovered, the two of you will not be recovered. Is that clear?”

“You’re a bad Vulcan,” Rydell said. “Whatever happened to peace, serenity, Surak, and all that.”

“Even logic must give way to economics,” Spaanz said. “We will be in touch.”

And then they were gone, vanished into the crowd moving through the corridor.

“Now that La-la and Sunshine are gone, did you find out anything we can use?” Rydell asked.

“Possibly. It’s Johnny’s birthday. That’s how he got the money for the ship. He’s having a big party tonight to celebrate, then he’s going to take the Acapella II out to see what she can do. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that neanderthal take her anywhere!”

“Birthday party huh?” Rydell said thoughtfully. “I don’t suppose you have any musical training do you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snapped. “Just because I didn’t go to Starfleet Academy doesn’t mean I’m a complete moron. So I was raised by a couple of smugglers. So what? Mom and Dad made sure I had a VERY well-rounded education before they handed the business over to me. They’re brilliant people. How else could they have retired to Risa by the age of 50! I know music. I know philosophy. I know history. I know science. I know…”

“Okay!” Rydell shouted, raising his hands up in surrender. “Karina, calm down. I didn’t mean anything negative by that. I was just asking a question. Maybe I phrased it badly. I’m sorry. I just wanted to know if you play any instruments.”

“A little violin. Why?”

“Hmm…no help. Possibly it won’t matter. Head back to the ship. I need to go talk to John Simms, Jr.”

“He’s not going to give you his son’s ship. So what do you have to talk to him about?”

Rydell smiled broadly. “A gig.”

I was sitting in the Bach’s small mess hall when Rydell returned about an hour later looking incredibly pleased with himself.

“Let me guess. Starfleet ingenuity has saved the day yet again. You have the generator, my ship is docked right outside, and the Shelliak have agreed never to pester Federation citizens again,” I said, crossing my arms and leaning back in my chair.

“Not quite. That would be nice, though,” Rydell replied, then ordered himself some vaguely-steakish-looking Bolian dish out of the replicator. “No, I just had a wonderful chat with Mr. Simms about his son’s birthday party. Can you believe he was going to go with recorded music? Of course, I had to explain to him his error and show him the superiority of a live performer.”

“Live performer?” I said, a smile spreading across my face. “You’re going to sing? You?”

“There are many things about me that you don’t know, Karina. Many many things.”

“Evidently. I’m going to have to start doing some research into the life of Alex Rydell.”

“No no. For tonight, I’m Freddie Deveraux!”

“Aren’t a couple of singers already using that last name?” I asked.

“Never mind that. I’ve got to eat then get my set together,” Rydell said, sitting down across from me with his meal.

“And just what am I supposed to do while you’re entertaining the masses?”

“Get that generator back. You’re going in as my girlfriend.”

“Oh am I?” I replied, amused.

“It’s just a cover,” Rydell said defensively. “During my set, you can slip away and get onto the Acapella II. Find the generator, slap a transporter homing beacon onto it, activate it, and we’re home free. The generator beams here, you come back to the party, no one’s the wiser.”

“What about the Acapella II?” I demanded.

Rydell put his fork down with a sigh. “I’m sure Bradley Dillon will buy you a new ship.”

“Dammit, Rydell! Every time you show up, I lose a ship!”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t draw any attention to ourselves. It’s just a ship.”

“Would you say that about the Secondprize?”

“Yes,” Rydell replied without a pause. Odd thing was I believed him. “I care about people, not some piece of machinery.”

“Then what is this subspace generator?” I retorted.

“You think I give a damn about that box? I’m here because of you, and if WE don’t retrieve it, your life will be ruined. Bradley Dillon will see to that.”

“So this is about me?”

“Of course it is!” Rydell snapped. In a sudden motion, I reached across the table, grabbed Rydell by the collar, and pulled his lips to mine. A moment later, I ended the kiss and tossed him back into his chair.

“Thanks,” I said, getting up from my chair. “I mean it.”

“Not a problem,” Rydell said somewhat dazed.

Two hours later, wrapped arm and arm in two of the most ridiculous outfits I’ve ever seen, Rydell and I approached the guard watching the entrance to Johnny Simms the Third’s birthday bash. Rydell was dressed in a white jumpsuit covered with rhinestones, a pair of high white boots, and a red scarf. Meanwhile, I was in a frilly purple dress (which covered a very functional black jumpsuit) with a feather boa wrapped around my neck.

The guard stepped away from his post to intercept us as we approached, his hand extended to block our path.

“Now I know Mr. Simms would not invite the likes of you two,” the guard said. “Get moving.”

“You dare speak this way to Freddie Deveraux?” Rydell said angrily, ripping his red scarf from around his neck and throwing it to the ground in a huff. “I have performed before presidents, royalty, and emperors!”

“So you’re the entertainment?” the guard asked hesitantly.

“I am an ARTISTE!” Rydell bellowed.

The guard backed away, quickly retreating to his post to check the guest list. “Yeah. Freddie Deveraux. You’re on the list. Who’s she?”

“Hi!” I said as perkily as possibly, bobbing my head from side to side. “I’m with Freddie. Isn’t he GORGEOUS?”

“I wouldn’t know,” the guard replied. “You’re cleared to pass.”

“Isn’t he the best?” I continued, playing my part to the hilt and rubbing my hands down Rydell’s chest.

Rydell shrugged at the guard and smiled. “My adoring public. What’s a guy to do?” We locked arms again and strolled into the party.

“I’m going to get you for this later,” I muttered.

“Why?” Rydell replied. “You were great.”

“I do like playing a bimbo.”

“Bimbos arouse less suspicious. Come on.”

John Simms, Jr. had cleared out one of his cargo bays for the party. Now, the room was filled with tables, chairs, a buffet, flashing holographic images, and even some old-fashioned balloons. At the front of the room, a stage had been erected for Rydell’s performance, but, in the meantime, classics from groups like the Rhondellas, Fabe and Mabe, Flowing Pitakh’s Blood, and Orion Slaveship blasted over the room’s speaker system.

In the middle of it all, surrounded by a group of men and women all about his age, was Johnny Simms III, gyrating away to the beat. Surprisingly enough, the kid could move. Even better, though, he looked happy and well-distracted from thinking about my ship.

While I watched Johnny, Rydell was intercepted by John Simms, Jr. and a woman, who I could only assume was Simms’s girlfriend and Simms Ship Lines’ spokeswoman, Mindy Dawes. “Right on time, Mr. Deveraux. I appreciate that from my employees,” Simms said. “Should I give you some kind of introduction?”

“Just slip this into your lighting and sound console,” Rydell said, handing Simms an isodisc. “I’ll take it from there.”

“Oh, Mr. Deveraux,” Mindy exclaimed, pushing forward to shake Rydell’s hand. “It is such an honor to meet you. You know, I sing, too. I sing all of John-John’s jingles, don’t I, honey bunny?”

“That you do, my angel,” Simms replied. “Now let’s leave Mr. Deveraux alone to prepare for his show.”

“Bye Bye,” Mindy said, waving vapidly, as she and Simms sped away, leaving Rydell and I alone for a moment. “Stick around for at least the first song,” Rydell said. “After that…”

“After that, I’ll excuse myself,” I interrupted. “I’ve done this kind of thing before, Rydell. It’s in my job description.”

“Right sorry.”

“It’s okay. You’re used to being in command,” I replied. “But I don’t take orders, Alex.”

“No kidding. It’s refreshing.”

“Flatterer. Go do your little show.”

“Little!” Rydell gasped. “You dare insult the great Freddie Deveraux?”

“Get out of here,” I said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “But wish me luck first.”

Before I knew it, Rydell had his arms wrapped around me and was deep into kissing me. I have no idea how much time passed as we stood there, lost in each other.

“Good luck,” he whispered after finally pulling away. With that, he headed toward the stage. Suddenly, the lights in the cargo bay went dark, as searchlights cris-crossed back and forth and a deep voice boomed over the loudspeakers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight and tonight only, John Simms, Jr. is proud to present, straight from his stage spectacular in the Pulsar Casino Hotel on Bransonis, Music Capitol of the Cosmos, here he is…the one…the only…FREDDIE DEVERAUX!!!”

Rydell charged onto the stage and immediately dove into a funky little tune about some girl in a raspberry beret, which got the crowd moving almost immediately. Much to my surprise, Rydell had one hell of a voice and the stage presence to match. If he hadn’t gone into Starfleet, he probably could have had a successful career in music.

At the end of his first song, Rydell took a moment to address the applauding crowd: “Thank you. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I am Freddie Deveraux, and it is a great honor to be here tonight to celebrate the birthday of John Simms the Third. Johnny, I want to take this opportunity to tell you one thing I’ve learned in my life. There are two things that keep this universe rolling along: love and latinum. I don’t have much to say about the latinum, but here’s a little song about long, which I’m dedicating to all the ladies in the audience.”

Wise men say,

Only fools rush in,

But I can’t help

Falling in love with you.

Shall I stay…

As Rydell continued singing, I took the opportunity to slip back out into the hallway. The guard barely gave me a second look.

“Ladies room is down the corridor, around the corner, fourth door on the left,” he mumbled without looking up from his mini- holovision. Sounded like he was watching Days of Honor. A rerun at that. I was tempted to spoil the ending for him and tell him who the father of Minister Vag’s baby was, but I decided to be nice and keep my mouth shut. No need to antagonize the guy, since I wanted him to pay as little attention to me as possible.

I slipped around the corner and headed off toward the docking structure. As I expected, the place was deserted. I was able to get onto the Acapella II without a soul noticing me. The first thing I did was head to the hidden storage locker located in the back wall of the closet in my quarters…or what used to be my quarters anyway. The Shelliak had done an admirable job of stripping away anything that was mine. At least Rydell had managed to buy most of it back. Now I just needed to get the ship itself.

The ship’s computer recognized my retinal scan and opened the small cargo compartment revealing the subspace generator. The device was only about a three foot cube, not very big to have caused me so much trouble. The sooner I got it back to the Bach, the sooner I could worry about finding a way to reclaim the Acapella II..

I pulled the two transport homing beacons Rydell had given me out of my dress (While they were a bit uncomfortable, those two little disks had made a pretty decent push-up bra) and was about to attach them to the subspace generator, when I heard voices approaching. I quickly closed the closet door, shutting me in, and strained to hear who was coming. Pretty soon, I could make out Johnny’s voice.

“Come on, baby,” he was saying. “You’ve got to see this. Now just imagine it decorated. You’ve got to try this bed. Come lay down here with me.”

Okay. Johnny and his companion were going to be distracted…on my bed. Pushing that thought out of my mind, I turned my attention back to the subspace generator. And that’s when I realized what a complete and total moron I was. I could get the Acapella II back right now, but Johnny and friend would have to go.

It was time for a surprise visit from Johnny’s other girlfriend, namely me. I threw open the closet door and jumped out screaming, “SURPRISE!” And there was Johnny, in my bed, and pulling the shirt off of another guy.

I froze for a second, my mind racing to figure out what to do next. I finally decided to just press on.

“Johnny!” I cried. “But you said you loved me! I hid here waiting for you. I WAS GONNA BE YOUR BIRTHDAY PRESENT!”

“You little bitch!” Johnny’s “friend” shouted, slapping Johnny across the face and bolting from the room.

“Ralph! Ralph, wait!” Johnny called, jumping off the bed to chase Ralph down. “I don’t even know who that woman is. I swear!” Johnny ran out the room, then, following at a casual distance, I made sure the two of them left the ship. After sealing the hatch from the inside, I headed back to the cargo hold in my closet, pulled out the padd that had come bundled with the subspace generator, and started reading.

“Welcome to the Quick Start Guide for the Dillon Enterprise Maxi-Space 3000, blah blah blah. Storage issues will be a thing of the past, blah blah blah. Ah, here we go, creating your first subspace pocket…” It looked simple enough. Of course, if Bradley Dillon was ever planning on marketing these for the general public, it would have to be.

After getting a quick idea about what I needed to do, I activated the unit’s anti-grav generator and steered it out of my hidden cargo hold to the transporter pad at the rear of the Acapella II’s cockpit. Then, I quickly pulled an EVA suit out of the emergency locker (Fortunately, the Shelliak had enough respect for Federation law to know that they couldn’t sell the Acapella II with the EVA suits removed), climbed into it, then headed up to the control console and disengaged the docking clamps. As the Acapella II slowly began to drift away from the Simms Ship Lines docking arm, I beamed the subspace generator and myself out into space just above the ship.

“Okay,” I muttered, going back through the device instructions. “Engage targeting computer…check. Select target…check.” The outline of the Acapella II appeared on the small monitor embedded in the subspace generator as the device quickly started calculating how big of a subspace pocket to form. “Wait for the green light…” A green light next to the monitor winked on, signaling all was ready. “Press Activation toggle…” I hit the blinking red button below the green light.

Suddenly, the space around the Acapella II began to warp and quiver. The ship itself seemed to be rippling. Then, just as fast as it started, it was over. And the Acapella II was gone. “POCKET FORMATION COMPLETE,” the monitor on the subspace generator read.

I couldn’t help put smile as I reached into the pockets on my EVA suit, pulled out the transport homing beacons, and attached one to the subspace generator and one to myself. After switching them both on and feeling the transporter beam lock onto me, I finally began to relax.

Life was good.

I had my ship.

I had the generator…

…I had two Vulcans aiming wrist-mounted phasers at me.

“Congratulations on your success,” Spaanz said as soon as I finished materializing in the Bach’s small transporter room. “Our employer will be most pleased when we deliver this to him.”

“Yeah, well you guys aren’t delivering it,” I said defiantly, hoping the phasers were more for show than anything else. “Bradley Dillon got me into this mess, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to be the one to plop this piece of sh** into his lap. I never leave a job unfinished!”

“Miss Durham, I cannot imagine that an intelligent woman such as yourself does not understand the illogic of such a position. Clearly Taanz and I have the advantage in this particular transaction. Now then, you will step off of the transporter pad and away from the device; otherwise, Taanz will vaporize your right leg from the knee down. Or, if you so desire, I can have Taanz disintegrate you now. I prefer not to kill those that I come into contact with, but I will not hesitate to do so should you leave me no alternative.”

“Are you sure you two aren’t actually Romulans?”

“That would, perhaps, be convenient for your world view,” Spaanz replied. “However, I can assure you that my associate and I are most definitely Vulcans. A Romulan would have simply killed you when you materialized on the transporter pad.”

“I can’t argue with that logic,” I muttered.

“As I said, you are an intelligent woman. Now then, if you would step away from the device.”

I took a moment to consider my options. I could run at one or the other of them, but that would just be plain stupid. Assuming the other didn’t vaporize me the second I started after his colleague, their superior Vulcan strength would let one of them overpower me easily. I didn’t have a chance against two of them.

At this point, I could either stall for time and hope that Rydell came back or just accept defeat and let Spaanz and Taanz take the generator back to Bradley Dillon instead. Actually, it didn’t make much sense to me why they were so adamant about this. Well, it couldn’t hurt to ask.

I took a step away from the generator, then stopped as though the thought had just struck me. “Why the hell are you two so determined to take this back yourselves. We’re all working toward the same goal here?”

Spaanz clasped his hands behind his back and started to pace, as though he was giving a lecture. “You must look at it from our perspective. Why should we allow you to retain the item when we can improve our standing by returning with it and showing Mr. Dillon our abilities? And if we can convince him that we took the device from you and returned it to him because you intended to sell it yourself on the black market, we will most likely achieve higher status in his organization.”

“Dammit. Even that’s logical,” I muttered.

“Thank you.”

“Spaanz!” Taanz said suddenly, startling me. He hadn’t spoken in so long that I thought he’d gone mute. “Listen!”

“Footsteps approaching rapidly. Rydell must be returning. Conceal yourself behind the transporter console. I will ambush him from here.” Spaanz pressed himself against the wall directly beside the door, keeping a phaser aimed at me with his left hand while he balled up his right fist to bash Rydell when he came through the door.

A moment later, the transporter room door opened revealing Rydell, slightly out of breath from running and still dressed in his rhinestone jumpsuit. Now, I don’t know if it was some sixth sense that Starfleet Officers develop from their training or if the sight of me just standing right by the transporter pad awkwardly clued him in, but Rydell immediately ducked, just as Spaanz swung his arm with all its superior Vulcan strength at him.

Rydell, from a kneeling position, clasped his fists together and swung back at Spaanz with that patented Starfleet two-handed attack, catching the Vulcan square in the mid-section. Spaanz doubled over as Rydell sprang to his feet, smashing Spaanz with a vicious two-handed uppercut to the face.

Taanz, seeing his comrade start to slump to the deck, emerged from his hiding place behind the transporter console, phaser drawn. Rydell, who was still busy bashing Spaanz in the head with his white, rhinestone studded boot, hadn’t even noticed him yet. I dove back to the subspace generator, ripped one of the transporter beacons off of it, and flung it at Taanz like a frisbee. The disc caught Taanz on the side of the head, knocking his aim off just as he fired.

Rydell stopped kicking Spaanz long enough to reassess the situation. Spaanz, though still dazed, managed to take the opportunity to grab onto Rydell’s leg.

“Get the hell out of here!” Rydell shouted at me as he struck Spaanz again with his fists. “Save the generator!” Typical heroic Starfleet crap. I was about to protest with Spaanz flipped Rydell’s leg up, sending the captain sprawling to the floor. Okay. So maybe Rydell had a point.

I raced over to the transporter console and, after yanking it off of the EVA suit I was still wearing, bashed Taanz across the head with the other transporter beacon. He stumbled against the wall, giving me just enough time to set the transporter coordinates for empty space just beyond the Bach. I gave Taanz a roundhouse kick for good measure, knocking him back into the wall again, and ran up onto the transporter platform just in time for the transporter to dematerialize me and the subspace generator.

Out in space, I floated over to the generator, grabbed the instruction padd from its storage pocket on the side of the unit, and quickly read how to get my ship out of the subspace pocket it was sitting in. “Find empty area large enough to hold your stored item. Press deactivate.” Simple enough. I followed the instructions and, moments later, the Acapella II rippled into existence in front of me. I used the suit’s thruster boots to speed to the Acapella II’s airlock and entered the ship.

I didn’t have a lot of time. The Zakdorn would definitely notice a ship just appearing outside their station. Sure enough, when I got to the cockpit and checked the scanners, three Mirador Patrol craft were closing in on my position. I slowly steered the Acapella II away from the generator (I didn’t have the time or the free hands to get a proper transporter lock and bring it aboard) drawing the Zakdorn ships away from it, then, as soon as I was clear, I engaged the warp drive and got the hell out of there…

…At least that’s what I wanted the Zakdorn to believe. In actuality, I just zipped a light year or so away and ducked into a conveniently- located, sensor-obscuring nebula. Once safely inside, I changed to one of my alternate transponder codes. One thing about my line of work is that sometimes you find yourself as a persona non-grata in certain star systems. People start looking for your ship with orders to destroy it. That’s why I picked up this multi-ponder. I can change the identity of my ship as easily as I can change channels on my holovision.

I launched a small probe sensor probe to the edge of the nebula to feed me tactical telemetry. As I expected, no pursuit was in sight. The Zakdorn lose interest in problem ships the moment they leave Mirador.

With my ship now claiming to be the Andronicus, I leisurely flew out of the nebula and approached Mirador. Docking control hailed me, asked me my business, and put the through the usual rigamarole that a ship arriving at Mirador has to go through. There was no sign that they even suspected I was the ship that just zipped away from there minutes earlier.

I was assigned a docking slip near the Bach, so, while I let the autopilot handle the actual docking, I scoured the space around the Bach for the subspace generator. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

The next ten minutes seemed to last an eternity as I ran off my ship and had to deal with the Zakdorn docking officer who wanted me to fill out their usual barrage of paperwork. I somehow forced my way through it without letting on that I was worried or in a rush. As soon as he scurried off to whatever level of hell is reserved to middle management bureaucrats, I broke into an all-out run to get to the Bach’s docking hatch.

The hatch was wide open, which I hoped meant that Spaanz and Taanz were gone. I also hoped that they’d left Rydell alive. I first went to my room on the Bach and grabbed a blaster out of my gear that Rydell had bought back from the Shelliak, then I cautiously approached the ship’s small transporter room.

From outside, I couldn’t hear any voices or movement. I took that as a good sign that Spaanz and Taanz were gone, but not so good in terms of Rydell’s possible survival. I stepped through the doors and immediately spotting Rydell laying in a crumpled heap in the middle of the floor.

“Oh, you had better be alive,” I said nervously.

“Barely,” Rydell’s voice croaked back. I raced over to him as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. Honestly, he looked better than I expected him to. Yes, he had two black eyes and his right arm appeared broken, but otherwise he seemed to be in one piece.

“Where are Spaanz and Taanz?” I asked.

“Spaanz was beating the hell out of me, but as soon as he saw you beam out with the generator, he said it wasn’t logical to continue pummeling me, so they left,” Rydell replied as I helped him to his feet.

“That was it? They just left?” I asked. Rydell glared at me. Okay. It was a stupid thing to say.

“What? Would you have preferred that they ripped my limbs off or something?”

“I’m sorry. Forget I said it.”

“At least tell me you got the generator.”

“Let’s go get you fixed up,” I said quickly. “Where’s your medkit?”

“You didn’t get the generator.”

“I had to warp out in a hurry. It was gone when I came back.”

“Yippee for Spaanz and Taanz,” Rydell spat.

“They can have the damn thing,” I replied. So, it was my first job I couldn’t complete. It was bound to happen sometime. “As long as they take it back to Bradley, I don’t care.”

“What do you mean you don’t have it?” I demanded, rising up from my chair in Bradley Dillon’s office on Waystation three days later. “Your two Vulcan thugs when through a hell of a lot of trouble to get it away from us and bring it back to you.”

“You could have at least told me you were sending those two goons to shadow us,” Rydell added from the chair beside me. Thanks to the wonders of 24th century medicine, he was good as new by the time we arrived at Waystation. Of course, he credited my round-the-clock vigilance and tender loving care. I credit the fact that he slept most of the way. The strain of performing, fighting Spaanz, then going through a round of medical treatment had taken a lot out of him. In truth, we’d barely talked since we left Mirador.

“I didn’t send anybody,” Bradley Dillon said intensely as he paced his wood-paneled office. “I didn’t think I’d need to since I sent a STARFLEET CAPTAIN.”

“So you didn’t hire Spaanz and Taanz?” I pressed.

“I most certainly did not, Miss Durham,” Bradley replied. He turned on Rydell. “So let me make sure I have the facts straight here, Captain. “I sent you to the Shelliak Corporate where you spent a great deal of my latinum to retrieve Miss Durham, her ship, and, most importantly, my subspace generator. Yet you come back here without the one thing I really sent you to get. Is that right, Rydell?”

“Pretty much. But you’re leaving out the part about rescuing a Federation citizen, which, in the end, should be primary over everything,” Rydell replied.

“I should have known,” Bradley said. “Anyone from the same ship as my brother just has to be incompetent. Get out. Just go.” Bradley collapsed into his desk chair and started massaging his temples as Rydell and I quietly slipped out of his office. I saw no need to get someone that rich and powerful any more upset.

“Can I hitch a ride back to my ship?” Rydell asked as he and I entered the turbolift outside of the Dillon Enterprises complex. It was the first either of us had said since leaving Bradley Dillon’s office.

“Doesn’t Starfleet take care of that sort of thing?”

“Yeah, but I don’t feel like talking to anyone Starfleet right now,” Rydell replied.

“How about talking to non-Starfleet people?” I said.

Rydell smiled. “That I can handle.” He was quiet for a moment. “I just want to know who the hell has that generator. Spaanz and Taanz had to be working for somebody. I really don’t think a couple of Vulcans would ally themselves with the Romulans, but you…”

I put my hand over Rydell’s mouth. “Shut up,” I said. “If you want a ride, you won’t say another word about this whole mess.” Rydell nodded, so I let go of his mouth.

“I guess I can come up with other things to talk about,” Rydell said.

“Good. If I’m going to be stuck with you for the next few days, you’d better be entertaining.”

“Oh, I can be VERY entertaining,” Rydell replied, a twinkle in his eye.

I nuzzled my lips up against his ear, my body pressing against his back. “You’d better be, buddy. Or you’re going to be hitchhiking back to the Secondprize.”

Sometime later, the turbolift doors opened onto the level where I’d docked the Acapella II.

We were too busy to notice.