Author: Alan Decker
Star Traks: The Lost Years #9
The Old Man and the Conspiracy
Looking back, it was all my wife’s fault…the whole thing…right from the beginning. That’s a joke. Don’t quote me on that. I said don’t quote me! Hey!!!
Personal Interview, May 2404
Not for the first time in her life, Karina Durham was in serious trouble. Laying uncomfortably on the floor of the flight deck of her own ship, trussed up like an Orion slave girl about to be delivered to her new owner, Karina wondered how the old man had managed to get the drop on her so easily.
In HER pilot’s chair, the old man busied himself at the controls muttering incessantly. Since tying her up, he’d actually seemed completely unconcerned about her presence. Instead he continued that annoying mumbling. Every once in a while, she could make out a word. It was usually “condor,” but she had no idea what the significance of some Earth bird could be.
The upside of being ignored was that Karina had been able to slowly dislodge the shirt (one of HER shirts) the old man had used to gag her. Rather than scream, which would probably just get her gagged again…or worse, Karina decided to try engaging the nutcase in conversation. Alexander Rydell, wherever he was at that particular moment, would have been proud of her. She just hoped she’d live long enough to tell him about it.
“Um…I hate to interrupt, but if these condors are bothering you so much, perhaps I can help,” she said, surprised at how calm and collected she managed to keep the tone of her voice.
The old man turned to face her, his eyes wide with that special gleam that afflicts the especially insane. “Oh, but you already are,” he replied, smiling broadly in a way that made Karina want to crawl out of her skin. “The time of the condors is at hand. The bait has become the antidote; therefore, new bait is needed to bring the antidote to me.”
“Right…” Karina said, not comprehending a word the madman was sputtering. “So you need me to help you get this new bait.”
“No no, my darling wormy. The hook is set. The bait is here. And now the antidote WILL come!”
“What are you talking about?” Karina snapped, unable to hold in her anger any longer.
The old man knelt down beside her, leaning in disconcertingly close. “Wriggling worms on shiny hooks bobbing in the gentle waves, oblivious to their fate they are as the monsters of the deep circle, moving in closer and closer. Do you see?”
“Not at all.”
“Poor poor worm.”
“Wait…I’M THE BAIT?”
“Light shines through the murky sea.” He patted her cheek softly, replaced her gag, then returned to his work. Karina saw him activate her distress beacon. “Wriggle well, my lovely worm.”
Captain Alexander Rydell took a moment to look out at the scene before him and just let it wash over him. His nose reveled in the sweet smells of cotton candy and funnel cakes intermingling with fresh french fries and hamburgers. All around, members of his crew were laughing and enjoying themselves. But, like any good host, Rydell decided to check things over personally just to be absolutely positive that his guests were satisfied. It was times like this that made him positive that he’d made the right choice in converting The Suburb into a resort that he could run after he retired from Starfleet. He still wasn’t exactly sure when that day would be, especially since the Zenedron Construction Group seemed to be taking forever with the renovations. Maybe he should have listened to Captain Lisa Beck and gone with a different firm. Oh well. Too late now.
Rydell moved through the crowds, exchanging pleasantries with various people until he spotted Lieutenant Commander Monica Vaughn sauntering over to him in an almost- non-existent bikini, which consisted of little more than three small, strategically placed patches of silver cloth.
“You like?” Vaughn asked seductively.
“Is that your usual carnival wear?” Rydell replied as Vaughn did a model-like spin for him to give him the full effect of her attire.
“I thought you meant Carnival. You know. Rio de Janeiro. Partying day and night. Scantily-clad men and women filling the streets. And the constant smell of…” She pressed herself against Rydell’s side, her voice lowering to a throaty whisper. “…sex in the air.”
Rydell reeled for just a moment. The perfume Vaughn was wearing was intoxicating, and damn she looked good, but he was already spoken for. Rydell forced his mind to clear and smiled. “Nope. I meant clowns, cotton candy, and rides. Sorry.”
“Your loss,” Vaughn said. “Although my carnival does have rides.”
“I don’t think I meet the height requirement.”
“Think of it more as a length requirement.”
“Now you’re getting into confidential Starfleet information,” Rydell said.
“Confidential is no problem at all.”
“Of course not, but it’d be rude of me to leave my own party. I’m sure you can find someone else with some time on his hands, though.”
Vaughn gently took Rydell’s hands and placed them on her uncovered rear. “You sure you wouldn’t prefer to use your hands?”
Rydell moved his hands away. “Positive.”
“It’s only a matter of time, Rydell. Remember that,” Vaughn said, backing into the crowd.
“How could I forget? At least I can enjoy watching you go.”
“But it’s so much more entertaining watching me come.”
“Until later, Captain.” Vaughn laughed and disappeared into the throngs milling about the carnival, leaving Rydell to get back to surveying the various booths and attractions. Counselor Webber’s fortune telling booth seemed to be doing well as was the dunking booth. Rydell was about to continue on when something about the dunking booth caught his attention. He walked over to Commander Jaroch, the officer manning the booth, who was preparing to hand three balls to the next customer waiting in line, a line that seemed to stretch on forever.
“Wasn’t Dillon’s shift in the booth supposed to end about two hours ago?” Rydell asked Jaroch. Inside the booth, Commander Travis Dillon was soaking wet and looking miserable. Upon spotting Rydell, he immediately perked up and rushed toward the exit of the booth, only to be violently thrown backwards by a forcefield.
“He seems to be having difficulties with the door,” Jaroch said flatly.
“Get him out of there and find whoever’s next on the schedule.”
“That would be you, sir.”
“Oh…well…I guess he’ll be okay for a bit longer. Carry on.” Rydell was just about to step away when his commbadge chirped.
“Bridge to Rydell,” the voice of Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan said.
“Go ahead,” Rydell said.
“Sorry to use your commbadge rather than the ship’s comm system, but I thought you might want to hear this first.”
“Don’t leave me in suspense, Commander,” Rydell said.
“We’re receiving a distress call…addressed to you personally.”
“Well, they can’t be in too much distress if they’re being picky about who comes racing to their rescue,” Rydell said jovially.
“It’s Karina Durham.”
Rydell’s smile vanished. “Get us there now.”
“We’re already on our way.” Even as Sullivan’s words hit his ears, Rydell could feel the ship rocketing forward.
“I’ll be up in a minute. Fill me in on the details then. Rydell out.” He turned his attention back to the carnival surrounding him. “Computer, end program.” Instantly, the rides and booths vanished, leaving an empty holodeck of several very surprised crewmembers, particularly Lieutenant Commander Vaughn, who had pulled Ensign Woodville into a storage tent that no longer existed for bit of her own style of carnival game.
“Party’s over, people,” Rydell shouted. “Get to your posts.” He left the holodeck without another word followed closely by Commander Jaroch and a staggering Commander Dillon.
“What do we know?” Rydell demanded as he charged out of the turbolift onto the bridge. Jaroch and Dillon quickly took their posts as Lieutenant Commander Sullivan leapt up from the command chair to give Rydell her report.
“Not too much,” Sullivan replied. “Several minutes ago we received an incoming message addressed to us…well, to you actually. It was text only, but it was definitely from the Acapella II.”
“So what happened?”
“I don’t know,” Sullivan said. “The message was completely generic.”
“Other than being specifically address to me.”
“Right. We’re on an intercept course now, which won’t take too long, since she’s also coming right at us.”
“Here? She told me she’d be in Cardassian space for the next couple of weeks. We’re parsecs from there,” Rydell said.
“Sensor contact confirmed,” Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins said from the tactical console. “Unless somebody else is running around in an identical freighter with her transponder code, it’s her.”
“Hail her,” Rydell said.
“Captain, all of the Acapella II’s systems appear to be undamaged,” Jaroch reported from his science console.
“How long to intercept?”
“Thirty seconds,” Sullivan replied from the helm.
“No response to our hails.”
“I am detecting two life signs,” Jaroch said.
“She’s not slowing down any,” Sullivan said.
“Bring us along side and pace her,” Rydell ordered heading back toward the turbolift. “I’m beaming over. You have the conn, Commander,” Rydell said, looking to Dillon. “Have Dr. Aldridge join us in the transporter room. Jaroch, Hawkins. You’re with me.”
“Captain, this is far outside standard procedure,” Dillon protested. “I should beam over, or, even better, we should just beam whoever’s over there over here.”
“We don’t know enough about the situation to just latch onto people blindly with a transporter. And that’s someone I love over there. YOU have the conn, now sit your ass down.”
“Aye,” Dillon said, quickly plopping down into the command chair. “Have a safe trip.”
“I’ll send a postcard,” Rydell replied, leading Jaroch and Hawkins into the turbolift.
Rydell wasn’t sure what kind of situation he and his team would be beaming into, but he certainly didn’t expect to get tackled the moment he materialized on the Acapella II. As legs wrapped around his waist, a set of soft lips pressed urgently against his, then, just as abruptly, were yanked away as Lieutenant Commander Hawkins slammed the “attacker” to the deck.
“Hey!” Karina Durham complained, rubbing the back of her head, which had impacted against the floor.
“Just doing my job,” Hawkins replied. “You could have been a threat.”
“Well I wasn’t.”
“Which is why you’re still alive,” Rydell said, helping Karina to her feet. “Under normal circumstances, she would have vaporized you. Now what’s the big emergency?”
“Him,” Karina said, pointing to the far side of the command deck…which actually wasn’t all that far away, considering the minute size of the Acapella II. It was a small craft built for speed. Karina Durham specialized in getting small cargo from place to place in a hurry…usually because said cargo didn’t exactly measure up to the letter of the law in some way or another.
Rydell, Hawkins, Jaroch, and Dr. Aldridge followed Karina’s direction and soon spotted the “him” in question. An older man sat in a heap against the bulkhead, face obscured by a mop of wild white hair, his arms and legs tied in front of him. The man looked up, his gaze locking on Rydell as a toothy grin spread across his face.
Hawkins spoke before Rydell had the chance. “You goddamned bastard!” She was across the command deck in a flash, hoisting the man into the air in fury.
“Someone she knows?” Karina remarked.
“Well, I sure the hell don’t,” Dr. Beth Aldridge said. “And I’d rather not have to get acquainted with him in sickbay.”
“Put the admiral down, Patricia,” Rydell said as he walked over to a man he didn’t ever expect to…or want to see again: Admiral Earl Wyndham. Hawkins dropped Wyndham in a heap and stalked back behind Rydell.
“Jaroch, you and Hawkins check the ship out. If Wyndham’s left any surprises on board, I want to know about them.”
“A wise precaution,” Jaroch said, gently pulling Hawkins out of the room even though she refused to take her eyes off of Wyndham, whom she had fixed with one of the evilest stares Rydell had ever witnessed.
“So this time Hansel follows the crumbs to the land of gingerbread,” Wyndham said once Jaroch and Hawkins had left the room.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Aldridge asked.
“I’m not sure, but he definitely wanted Alex,” Karina said. “The bastard said he needed discreet transport out of Cardassian space, but he ended up jumping me, locking my controls out, and trying to find you.”
“Well you succeeded, Wyndham. What do you want?”
“Last time you missed the trail, and now the condors have multiplied and are ready to strike. The poison must become the antidote if the body is to survive the assault of the condors.”
“Does this make ANY sense to you?” Aldridge asked.
“Sort of,” Rydell replied. “This is Admiral Earl Wyndham. He was the admiral in charge of the Secondprize’s construction and staffing. On our first voyage, though, he went nuts and stole a shuttle. Hawkins and I went after him and traced his path to a hidden base of some sort in an asteroid field. The base had some kind of bizarre mind warping technology that Wyndham used to terrorize Hawkins.”
“He terrorized her?” Aldridge said in disbelief.
“He made her the person she is today really,” Rydell said. “He tried to destroy her mind, but she fought back, hardening herself in the process.”
“No wonder she wasn’t thrilled to see him.”
“Exactly. He escaped and destroyed the asteroid base, but Starfleet claimed that it wasn’t even theirs to begin with. Whose was it, Wyndham?”
“That’s a query for the condors,” Wyndham replied.
“Why do you keep talking about condors?” Rydell pressed. “What does that mean?”
Karina stepped in between Rydell and Wyndham. “Alex, this man is nuts. If he had been any better at knot tying, I might not even be alive right now. Why are you even listening to him?”
“These are the ravings of a deluded mind,” Aldridge added. “He needs treatment and counseling, not for you to feed his delusions any further.”
In an instant, Wyndham’s hands flew free of the ropes and he had a death grip on Rydell’s arms. “The condors are coming, and you helped bring them. You must get to the nest first. Turn their poison back on them. You are the antidote!” His grip tightened on Rydell. “GO OR WE WILL ALL SUFFER!”
A hypospray hissed as Dr. Aldridge administered a strong sedative to Wyndham, who slumped back down limply. “I’m transporting him back to the ship,” Aldridge said in a tone that told Rydell she wouldn’t accept any dissension. He nodded quietly, lost in thought as she contacted the Secondprize. Aldridge and Wyndham dematerialized a moment later just as Jaroch and Hawkins reentered the command deck.
“So will my ship be blowing up?” Karina asked.
“Unlikely,” Jaroch replied, then turned to Rydell to make his report. “The vessel is free of explosives or computer viruses as far as I can tell. Wyndham does not seem to have brought any personal belongings on board other than this.” Jaroch handed Rydell a padd. On it was a picture of Rydell and Karina walking through Starfleet Square Mall on Waystation together. Below the picture was a brief section of biographical data on Karina Durham.
“He did his homework,” Karina said.
“He wanted to get to me, so he knew the best way was to go after you,” Rydell replied.
Karina wrapped her arms around Rydell’s neck. “Cheer up, buddy. You manage to bring excitement into a girl’s life.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 53997.4. After apprehending former-Admiral Earl Wyndham, the Secondprize is continuing to travel alongside the Acapella II as our chief engineer attempts to bypass the lockout Wyndham put on the Acapella II’s systems. In the meantime, I have offered Miss Durham the hospitality of the Secondprize.”
“Ooh, ‘Miss Durham,’” Karina said, tilting Rydell’s chair back from behind as he finished recording his log at his desk in his quarters. “It sounds so formal.”
“Would you prefer that I tell them the truth?” Rydell asked, looking up at her.
“And what would that be?” she replied with a grin.
“That I’ve brought you back here just so we can try and wear out my Starfleet issue mattress.”
“A challenge. I love it,” Karina said, giving Rydell’s chair a spin. “Guess we’d better get cracking.” She pulled on Rydell’s arms, but he wasn’t budging. His face still looked troubled. “He’s nuts, Alex. Let it go.”
“Wyndham managed to survive on his own quite well for seven years. That pretty amazing for a man who seems so totally deranged.”
“Maybe someone else did find him first and took care of him for a while. Maybe Wyndham just recently got out on his own again.”
“I guess that’s possible.”
“But you don’t believe it for a second,” Karina said.
“Sorry, hon. There’s just too much outside evidence. That base Hawkins and I found. His ability to completely lock out your computers.”
“About that, when is your engineer going to fix that thing?” Karina demanded.
Rydell grabbed Karina around the waist and pulled her into the chair with him. “You that anxious to leave?”
“No, but I don’t like my ship running without a pilot. Captain stuff. You understand.”
“Absolutely. And I’m sure Commander Baird will have it fixed soon. If that’s not good enough, we could just blast your engines or eject your core.”
“Thank you, but I’d like to have my ship back in one piece.”
“Just offering,” Rydell said smiling.
“Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia.” Commander Travis Dillon wondered just how many times he was going to have to say Hawkins’ name before she realized he was talking to her. As it was, she just sat across the table from him in their quarters staring blankly out the window, her dinner lying in front of her untouched.
“Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia… Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia…Patricia… Patricia…Patricia…”
“OH FOR GOD’S SAKE WILL YOU SHUT UP!!!!” Hawkins screamed suddenly with such force that Dillon jerked backwards in his chair, tipping it over and sending him falling to the deck.
“I love you,” Dillon said meekly from the floor.
“What?” Hawkins demanded.
“I heard you,” Hawkins said. “But why the hell are you saying it now?”
“You looked upset. I thought you might need to hear it,” Dillon replied, picking himself up off the carpet and sitting back down in his chair.
Hawkins’s demeanor softened. “Thanks. Really. And I’m sorry I’m distant. This Wyndham thing has thrown me for a loop. I’d just about managed to forget he ever existed.”
“He’s not going to be here long. As soon as we get the Captain’s girlfriend’s ship taken care of, we’ll drop Wyndham off at the nearest starbase. You’ll never see him again.”
“Until the next time he comes looking for Captain Rydell…or me.”
“That’s not going to happen. I hear Tantalus V has really improved their security precautions.”
“Right,” Hawkins said, obviously not convinced. She was quiet for a few moments. “I’m a better person than I used to be, aren’t I?” she asked finally just as Dillon stuffed a fork full of spaghetti into his mouth.
“Mmumm-mmmuf,” he replied, nodding vigorously, so vigorously that a stray noodle that hadn’t quite made it all the way into his mouth whipped up and down across his face, splattering him with sauce. Hawkins sighed and in a sudden move, smashed his face into her napkin and wiped.
“MMMM! <GULP> Thanks,” Dillon said.
“What I asked!” Hawkins pressed.
“I already said yes,” Dillon said.
“That wasn’t a yes or no question.”
“You asked if you’re a better person. I said yes. How is that a wrong answer?” Dillon asked confused.
“All right. You’re much better now that you were…when were you referring to specifically?”
“Are you just trying to piss me off?” Hawkins asked.
“Then answer the damn question!”
“I will when you ask it clearly!”
Hawkins took a couple of deep breaths and looked across the table intently at Dillon. “Am I, meaning me, a better person, meaning better able to function in the universe, than I was before we ran into Wyndham, meaning that whack job in sickbay?”
Dillon was quiet for a moment as he formulated his response. “Yes.”
“You didn’t let me finish,” Dillon said defensively.
“You’re stronger now, more sure of who you are. The Patricia Hawkins who first came aboard the ship was meek and vulnerable. Most likely one of the stronger personalities on this ship would have rolled over you. You’re better off. I firmly believe that.”
“So what? You couldn’t have loved the other me?”
“Why do I feel like this is one of those ‘Do I look fat?’ type questions where I lose no matter what I say?”
“You’re right. It wasn’t a fair question,” Hawkins said. The shock of that statement was enough almost to knock Dillon back to the floor again. Hawkins smiled innocently. “Did I say something that surprised you, darling?”
“I feel like I should log this into my day planner,” Dillon replied. “A woman admits a question is unfair.”
“Oh like you have so much experience with women to compare it to,” Hawkins teased.
“This coming from the only person on this ship with as little dating experience as I’ve had,” Dillon shot back.
“Bastard,” Hawkins grinned.
“Witch,” Dillon replied, smiling equally broadly.
“Are we starting to sound like Emily and Scott or is it just me?”
“It’s just you, but don’t think I’m letting you change the subject.” Dillon straightened up and placed his hands on his hips overdramatically. “My honor has been slighted.”
“You wanna settle this on the holodeck, mister,” Hawkins challenged, standing up.
“Damn right,” Dillon said, going toe to toe with her.
“Good,” Hawkins said, kissing Dillon with such force that his knees started to buckle. She let him go and pushed him back. “See you in the holodeck.” She ran out of their quarters laughing as Dillon tried to regain his composure and give chase.
Doctor Beth Aldridge had definite preferences when it came to the type of medical care she gave. At the top of the list was an autopsy. Something had always fascinated her about a dead body. Nothing in a necrophilia sense. It was more about seeing all of the complex functions of the human body at a dead stop, so to speak. But she had been torn away from her first love when Starfleet assigned her to the Secondprize.
Since that time, she had discovered that attempting to prevent the living from becoming dead has its interesting aspects as well. Besides, treating critical cases got the adrenalin pumping.
Farther down the list came the mundane bumps, bruises, and bugs that seemed to be part and parcel to being alive.
At the very bottom of the list was the one type of illness Aldridge refused to get involved with: mental illness. She knew all about the scientific and medically based reasons behind insanity, but it still gave her the willies.
So when Earl Wyndham shook off the effects of the sedative Aldridge had given him, the doctor immediately called in the person on the ship whose job it was to deal with wackos: Counselor Claire Webber.
From the comfort of a chair on the far side of sickbay, Aldridge watched Webber approach the deranged man.
“Did we have a nice nap?” Webber asked soothingly as she stood beside Wyndham’s biobed. Wyndham had raised the head of the bed, allowing him to sit up and consider Webber.
“I was not in your nap, I’m afraid, but mine was quite lovely,” Wyndham replied calmly. “Thank you for asking, Miss…”
“Webber. Counselor Webber, actually. But call me Claire. How are you feeling, Admiral?”
Wyndham shook his head and smiled ruefully. “I cannot claim that title anymore, my dear. But I do appreciate that you’d want to use it. But as to your question, I am feeling fine. I would like to speak to the captain, though.”
“He’s…in a meeting at the moment. Is there anything I could help you with perhaps? Or a message that you’d like me to pass along?”
Wyndham chuckled. “None that he would believe, I’d imagine.”
“Is it about something you believe?”
“Believe?” Wyndham said, his calm veneer wavering for a second as his eyes flashed with intensity. “My dear, I KNOW things, things which may mean the end of our lives as we know them. Now I must see Rydell. I must…OOOF!”
Webber grabbed Wyndham in one of her trademark bear hugs, knocking the wind out of the former admiral. “There there now. Everything’s going to be just fine. We’re taking you to some people that you can tell all about these things you know, and they will help you. I promise.” She released Wyndham, allowing him to fall back on the biobed.
“You don’t understand, but you will,” Wyndham said. “I’ve seen to that. One way or another, you will meet the condors. I only hope for us all that it’s before the condors can strike!”
“Did you lose a pet bird as a child by any chance? This condor obsession is really unhealthy.”
On the other side of the room, Aldridge groaned.
Over on the Acapella II, Commander Scott Baird was enjoying the singular bliss of being alone with a puzzling engineering problem. Actually, he probably could have done without the engineering problem part, but the being alone more than made up for it. He had to hand it to whoever had made the engine modifications on the Acapella II. The ship was a fine tuned speed machine. Of course, right now it was speeding along on a course set by Earl Wyndham and would continue to do so unless Baird found a way unlock the controls.
Baird’s first instinct had been just to disconnect the warp core by hand if necessary, but tossing the ship from warp to sublight that quickly would do a hell of a lot more damage than the 20th century equivalent of dropping your transmission.
What had then followed was more computer hacking than real engineering work. Baird spent hours up on the Acapella II’s command deck trying to find a way around the block Wyndham had placed in the computer system. So far, he wasn’t having the best of luck.
“F***!” Baird screamed for the thousandth time as he pushed himself forcefully away from the computer console. He stood up angrily, knocking the chair aside, and paced across the command deck fuming and racking his brain for some other way to approach this problem. If the ship were stopped, he could just wipe the entire computer core, but he wasn’t willing to face the consequences of erasing the ship’s navigation and engineering subroutines at warp speed.
He was just about to give in and contact Lieutenant Commander Jaroch for help when he noticed a padd laying on the floor near a bulkhead. He picked it up and saw that it was a displaying a picture of Captain Rydell and Karina Durham walking together on what appeared to be Waystation. Baird was just about to put it aside when he saw the blinking message just below the picture.
“TIME ELAPSED. PRESS TO CONTINUE.”
Being the curious sort, as most engineers are, Baird pressed the blinking line of text…
Back in sickbay, Counselor Webber had just turned away from Wyndham in order to ask Dr. Aldridge why she’d groaned when she heard a familiar hum behind her and saw Aldridge rising up out of her chair. She whirled back around in time to see the last few stray sparkles of a transporter beam.
Admiral Wyndham was gone.
At first Baird didn’t think touching the line of text had done a damn thing. The padd was still showing the picture of Rydell and Durham. The only difference was that the blinking text was now gone.
His attention was then distracted by the man materializing directly in front of him.
“I’ll take that!” Wyndham said, snatching the padd away from Baird. Before Baird had a chance to reply, the engineer dematerialized in a cascade of blue.
Captain Rydell and Karina Durham were otherwise occupied in Rydell’s bedroom at that very moment with activities of a personal nature (If you want to know what they were doing, find a copy of the Kama Sutra, turn to page…oh, I’ve just been informed by our legal department that I can’t reveal that information. Sorry about that folks. Back to the paragraph already in progress). The only reason Rydell realized that anything was amiss was the slight bit of motion he caught out of the corner of his eye, which drew his attention away from Karina on the bed under and to the windows just above his headboard. Even being otherwise occupied, Rydell realized that the Acapella II, which he’d had a perfect view of out the window as the Secondprize sped alongside it, was now veering away rapidly.
“Why did you stop?” Karina asked hoarsely.
“Your ship just sailed.”
“What?” Karina demanded, squirming out from under Rydell and getting to her knees so she could see out the window. “Who’s flying my ship?!?”
“Well, Commander Baird was over there…”
“Baird to Rydell,” the chief engineer’s voice broke in angrily.
“…but I’m guessing he’s not anymore,” Rydell finished. “Go ahead, Commander.”
“That f***ing nutjob friend of yours just ran off with the Acapella II!”
“How did he get out of sickbay?” Rydell asked.
“How should I…”
“Aldridge to Rydell,” Dr. Beth Aldridge’s voice broke in suddenly.
“Talk about service,” Rydell muttered. “Go ahead, Doctor.”
“So I’ve heard. Any idea how?”
“He beamed away!” Counselor Webber’s voice shouted. “I hugged him, and then he was gone.”
“Don’t take it personally, Counselor,” Rydell replied. “Thanks for the updates. I’ll take it from here. Rydell out.”
“And just what do you plan to do?” Karina asked pointedly.
Rydell shrugged. “Only one thing to do. Chase him down. Rydell to…”
“Bridge to Rydell,” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan’s voice interrupted.
“You’ve got these people trained too well,” Karina said as she pulled her clothes back on. “They know what you’re going to do before you do.”
“I’m hoping that’s a compliment,” Rydell replied. “Go ahead, Sullivan.”
“The Acapella II is changing course erratically. Jaroch doesn’t think it’s under computer control anymore.”
“It’s not,” Rydell said. “Wyndham’s back over there.”
“Confirmed,” Sullivan said. “Jaroch’s detecting one life form.”
“Try and catch him,” Rydell said, prompting a snort from Karina. “But be aware that he’s on a VERY fast ship.”
“I’ll see if my honey can’t squeeze a bit more out of the engines. Bridge out.”
Rydell turned his attention back to Karina. “I’m impressed. You’ve been remarkably quiet for a woman who’s just had her ship stolen.”
“Lost ships just seem to be a danger around you,” Karina replied. “Besides, you’re the captain here. I’m not about to start barking demands at you in front of your crew.”
Rydell wrapped his arms around Karina and kissed her on the forehead. “Sometimes you’re so perfect you amaze me.”
“Only sometimes,” Karina grinned. “Stick around, Rydell. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 53998.6. Wyndham’s playing with us. That much is clear. Every time we gain a little ground, he speeds up. If we fall too far behind, he slows down. Escape isn’t his plan. He’s leading us somewhere. We’ve already crossed into the Beta Quadrant within two sectors of Waystation. I thought briefly about contacting Captain Beck to see if she could intercept Wyndham, but my curiosity has gotten the better of me. Where are we going? What is it that he’s so intent on me seeing? How long will this go on before…”
“Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan said from the helm console, pulling Rydell way from his log entry. “The Acapella II is slowing…now I’m reading all stop.”
Rydell leaned back in his command chair thoughtfully. “Oookay, so what’s out there, Jaroch?”
“Nothing,” the Yynsian science officer replied flatly.
“Wow that’s a bit anti-climactic.”
“I could say ‘nothing’ with more enthusiasm if you would like.”
“Are there any other ships in the area?” Rydell asked, looking back at his tactical officer.
“You mean besides us?” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins replied. “Not a one.”
“All right, Sullivan. Take us alongside. Hawkins, I am putting you personally in charge of Admiral Wyndham’s custody this time.”
“Oh, he won’t be going anywhere,” Hawkins replied darkly.
“Admiral Wyndham seems to have had other ideas,” Jaroch said. “The ship is empty.”
“How?” Rydell demanded.
“I have no clue at the moment,” Jaroch replied.
“You and Hawkins get over there and see if you can find one then. He brought us out here for a reason and I damn well want to know what it is.”
“Captain’s Log. Supplemental. The game is still on even though one of the players has seemingly vanished. Jaroch and Hawkins were unable to find a trace of Wyndham on the Acapella II, but Wyndham did leave a set of coordinates displayed on the helm console, obviously assuming we would find them. Before we proceed, I’ve decided to get some input from someone who knows this area of space a lot better than I do.”
“It’s a scum pit,” Captain Lisa Beck said, her face scowling on the monitor on Rydell’s ready room desk.
“Literally or figuratively,” Rydell replied with a smile.
“A little of both actually,” Beck replied. “The coordinates are for a small planetoid called Demon’s Sanctum where some alternative businesses have sprung up. You could kind of think of it as a Waystation for people who’d get arrested if they came to the real Waystation. Smugglers, mercenaries, arms traders, door-to-door missionaries. That sort.”
“So I guess they wouldn’t much approve of us waltzing in with the Secondprize.”
“Um NO. Why are you even thinking of going there, Alex?”
“Earl Wyndham,” Rydell replied. Beck’s face immediately registered surprised recognition at the name.
“Yes, and I feel he’s trying to give me some kind of information he thinks is vital. I don’t want him captured and sent off to Tantalus just yet, so I’m handling this myself.”
“In other words, this conversation never happened and I don’t have a clue where you are.”
“I owe you, Lisa. See you soon,” Rydell said.
“Good luck. And be careful! Don’t make me blast that entire planet to hell looking for you.”
“Deal. Rydell out.”
“So how much do you owe her?” Karina Durham asked from over on the ready room sofa where she’d sat during Rydell’s conversation with Captain Beck.
“Is that jealousy I hear?” Rydell asked, walking around his desk to the sofa.
“I don’t know. Should it be?” Karina retorted playfully. “Maybe you prefer statuesque red heads to little old me.”
“Statuesque huh? Nice term.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“Me?” Rydell said innocently.
“Okay. Then let’s talk about you for a minute. Your ship’s systems have been unlocked. Wyndham’s gone. Technically, you could just run off.”
Karina frowned. “Why don’t I like the sound of that ‘technically’?”
Rydell sat down on the sofa next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “How would you like to be involved in an undercover Starfleet mission?”
“Do I get a choice?”
Rydell shrugged. “It’s your ship, but wouldn’t you like to know why Wyndham kidnapped you?”
“He’s nuts. I thought we already established that.”
“But what if he’s not?”
“Okay! Okay! What did you have in mind?”
Rydell clapped his hands together. “I’m so glad you asked. Rydell to Dillon and Hawkins. Would you join me in my ready room?”
A couple of moments later, Commander Dillon and Lieutenant Commander Hawkins entered. By that time, Rydell had returned to his desk chair, and Karina was lounging languidly on the sofa. Rydell briefly filled Dillon and Hawkins in on the information Captain Beck had given him then launched into his plan…such as it was.
“Captain Durham, Lieutenant Commander Hawkins and myself will take the Acapella II to Demon’s Sanctum, where we will attempt to find out why Wyndham sent us there. In the meantime, the Secondprize under the command of Commander Dillon will remain as far away and as inconspicuous as possible so as to not be noticed by the residents of Demon’s Sanctum. The Acapella II will drop a sensor buoy on our way to the planetoid that you can use to boost the Secondprize’s sensor capability and keep and eye on us. Any questions or objections?”
“YES!” Karina, Dillon and Hawkins said all at once.
“What?” Rydell replied. “I thought it was a good plan.”
“You can’t go,” Dillon and Hawkins said in unison.
“My thought exactly,” Karina said.
“Et tu, darling?” Rydell said.
“I don’t think I even need to get into the regulations about this type of situation,” Dillon said.
“No you don’t,” Hawkins said pointedly. She then turned on Rydell. “But I am not letting you go into a place teeming with the scum of the galaxy. Do you have any idea what would happen to you if someone figured out you were a Starfleet captain?”
“Besides,” Karina said. “We need you commanding the cavalry in case we get in over our heads.”
“All right,” Rydell said, throwing up his hands in surrender. “I’ll stay here and send Dillon instead, but if anything, and I mean ANYTHING goes wrong, you are to get out immediately. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir!” Dillon replied crisply, then turned on his heel and left the ready room followed by Hawkins.
“We’ll be fine,” Karina said. “This is my kind of turf.”
“And that helped us so much on Mirador,” Rydell said sarcastically, then ducked as his bust of Prince flew through the space his head had recently occupied.
The patrons of the Demon’s Cask Tavern and Karaoke Bar barely glanced up as the three newcomers entered the establishment. That in itself was one of the charms of the place. No one noticed you as long as you didn’t notice them. It made life easier in the event that you were cornered by one of the many law enforcement organizations in the galaxy and being pelted with questions about the location of one lowlife or another. Plausible deniability.
Of course, not looking up at those entering a bar was pretty much standard procedure across the galaxy. The last thing you wanted was to suddenly find an angry Icthylian hoisting you over the table, ready to pierce you with his swordlike nose, because he thinks you smirked at his new shoes.
Back to the hive of scum and villainy at hand, even if any of the patrons had looked up, the new arrivals didn’t look all that out of place. One man and two women, but the woman with the black hair didn’t seem to be with the other two. She made her way to the bar as the remaining couple took a table.
“What’ll you have?” the waiter, a rough looking one-eared Romulan asked the pair at the table.
“Something strong, but not too strong,” Commander Dillon, now dressed in attire more suited to a smuggler, replied. He didn’t want a repeat of that fiasco with the Singularity drinks on Golhunda Three. “How about a beer? Dark beer. Preferably from Earth.”
The Romulan snorted derisively and turned to the lady at the table. “For you?”
“Shot of tequila…Cardassian if you’ve got it,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins said.
“A lady with taste. Be back.” The Romulan wandered off, obviously in no hurry to put in their drink order.
“Do you see him?” Dillon whispered, looking around the bar as subtly as possible.
“No,” Hawkins said, he head perfectly still. “Who’s to say he’s even here? If we wants to lead us to something, maybe whatever that something may be is around here.”
“Good point,” Dillon said. He reached over to the table beside there’s and tapped the Orion sitting there on the shoulder. “Hi there. Nice to see you. There anything interesting going on in this neck of the stars?”
The Orion turned to face Dillon, clearly unamused. “Interesting? What do you think about this?” He suddenly grabbed Dillon’s hand and bit down on it hard.
“Hey!” Dillon cried, instinctively grabbing the Orion’s head with his free hand, yanking it painfully off of his bloodied hand, and slamming it down into his raised knee several times. The Orion’s eyes rolled back into his head as Dillon let go, causing the unconscious alien to collapse into his own drink. The other Orions gathered at the table applauded politely, then returned to their conversation.
“You try the next table,” Dillon said, wrapping his hand as best he could in a napkin.
Meanwhile, at the bar, Karina Durham was content to sit quietly with her Romulan ale (The ale was quite good actually. The bar proprietor, who happened to be Romulan, brewed his own) and take in her surroundings. Wyndham was nowhere in sight, which was a relief. The last thing they needed was for that lunatic to make a scene, particularly since that scene would probably involve her, Dillon, and Hawkins.
A conversation down the bar caught her attention, although she could only make out snippets of it.
“…another ship disappeared…”
“…snartzz’n asteroid ring…”
“…not safe here anymore. There’s too many new faces.”
That last comment seemed to be directed right at her. Karina realized that the two Andorians she’d been eavesdropping on were glaring with at her.”
She stiffened, her face darkening. “K’veltz nazz varrrrx!” she snapped, adding the appropriate hand gesture. The two Andorians stared in shock for a moment, then smiled, nodded appreciatively, and returned to their conversation. Sometimes you just had to know how to talk to people.
After making a mental note to tell Rydell about what she’d just heard, Karina glanced over in Dillon and Hawkins’s direction to see how they were faring. After the incident with the Orion, the pair had continued making inquiries about anything interesting nearby. Karina doubted that they’d learn anything. At best, they’d be told to shut the hell up. At worst, well Dillon’s hand injury was probably just the beginning.
Two tall figures stepped up to the table, each taking a position behind Dillon and Hawkins’s chairs. Karina almost choked on her drink as recognition hit.
It was those two Vulcans from Mirador, Spaanz and Taanz, the one’s who’d stolen Bradley Dillon’s subspace pocket generator right out from under her. She could almost understand why two scumbags like them might be in a place like this, but what did they want with Dillon and Hawkins?
“What do you want?” Hawkins snarled as the two Vulcans took up positions disconcertingly close to their chair.
“I am Spaanz.”
“And I am Taanz.”
The two then spoke in unison. “And we are here to shut…” The paused momentarily, an oddly dramatic maneuver for a pair of Vulcans. “…you up!”
“We’re sorry. Were we talking too loudly?” Dillon asked while attempting to find Karina and somehow indicate to her that they might be in trouble.
“Attempting to feign innocence is illogical,” Spaanz said.
“Look,” Hawkins said, attempting to push her chair back and stand up. She ran right into Taanz’s unmoving bulk. “If you’ve got a problem, let’s take it outside.”
Spaanz and Taanz looked at each other. “Most logical.”
From across the room, Karina saw Spaanz and Taanz pull small tube-like objects out of their pockets. Karina knew she should try and help, but she couldn’t think of one possible course of action that would be useful. She couldn’t overpower Spaanz and Taanz alone, and the other bar patrons certainly didn’t seem like the types to rise up in her defense. Her best bet was just to remain unnoticed, then get to Rydell as fast as she could. A thick needle extended from each tube, which the Vulcan’s then jammed into Dillon and Hawkins’s sides, causing the two officers to slump against the table unconscious.
The nearby table of Orions applauded politely as Spaanz and Taanz scooped up Dillon and Hawkins and carried them out of the bar.
A minute later, Karina paid her tab and casually slipped out the door. Spaanz and Taanz were nowhere to be found in the mud covered street outside, and Karina knew it’d be crazy to try and find them alone. She pressed a button on her wrist chronometer, activating her automatic transport retrieval, and beamed back to the Acapella II…which she then steered away from Demon’s Sanctum as fast as the ship could go, which was pretty damn fast.
The Secondprize hailed her as soon as she entered their sensor range. “What happened?” Rydell demanded. Karina could see him on her monitor as he stood in the center of the Secondprize’s bridge.
“Spaanz and Taanz are here. They grabbed Dillon and Hawkins. I don’t know where they went. I’m sorry, Alex. There wasn’t anything I could do.”
“You got back here and informed us,” Rydell replied. “That’s what’s important. We’re opening the main shuttlebay doors now. You can dock there.”
“Alex! I almost forgot! I heard a couple of Andorians talking about some nearby asteroid ring where ships have been disappearing. I don’t know if it’s connected, but maybe that’s what Wyndham wanted you to know about.”
“It’s the only lead we’ve got,” Rydell said. “The shuttlebay’s open. We’ll get underway as soon as you’re aboard. Secondprize out.”
Before Rydell’s image winked out, Karina could see the lines of concern on his face. She absently touched the monitor as the Acapella II arced gracefully toward the Secondprize’s main shuttlebay. At least she’d be with him through this. Rydell had always told her that he’d never lost a crewmember. If Spaanz and Taanz had done anything to Dillon and Hawkins, Karina knew that Rydell wouldn’t rest until they’d been hunted down. At least she’d be there for that, too. She owed those two Vulcans a bit of payback herself for what they’d put her and Rydell through on Mirador.
By the time Karina made it up to the bridge, the Secondprize was well underway. She slipped unobtrusively to the side of the bridge as Rydell and his officers set to work locating the asteroid ring or, if possible, a ship leaving Demon’s Sanctum carrying two Vulcans and two humans.
“Talk to me, Jaroch,” Rydell said, pacing the bridge.
“There is indeed an asteroid field in this sector that could be described as a ring,” Jaroch reported. “The initial Starfleet survey conjectured that the ring is the result of an exploding planet. Interestingly, the Demon’s Sanctum planetoid does not appear on the survey.”
“Now that’s convenient,” Rydell said.
“Habitable planets tend to draw Starfleet’s attention,” Karina said. “Something the residents of this sector obviously don’t want.”
“True, however I am troubled by the fact that a person or persons were able to edit a Starfleet survey report,” Jaroch said.
“Maybe nobody edited anything,” Karina said. “There were Romulans on Demon’s Sanctum. They could have just cloaked it.”
“The power necessary to cloak a planetoid would have produced an anomaly in the sensor readings, which is not present. Someone with access to the readings edited them. That indicates someone within Starfleet.”
“All of which is important,” Rydell said. “But not right now. Sullivan, get us to that ring. Jaroch, see if you can spot our Vulcan friends.” Rydell turned to Karina and gestured at Dillon’s seat. “Care to join me?”
“Thanks, but I’ll stand,” Karina said. “Sitting there seems wrong somehow.”
“It would be the best thing to happen to that chair in ages,” Jaroch muttered.
“Got ‘em!” Lieutenant Prescott exclaimed from tactical. “Bearing 394 point 6.”
“Jaroch?” Rydell said.
“Confirmed,” Jaroch said. “A ship has emerged from the far side of the Demon’s Sanctum and is on a direct course for the asteroid ring. I am reading four life signs aboard. Two Terran. Two Vulcan.”
“Good, but you’re slipping, Jaroch,” Rydell said with a smile. “Someone else beat you to it.”
“I was also reviewing the transmission logs of the Starfleet survey data from this sector in an attempt to narrow down a list of possible suspects.”
“Excuses, excuses,” Rydell said, turning back to face the viewscreen.
“Do you want me to catch up with them?” Sullivan asked.
Rydell shook his head. “No no. Hang back. Spaanz and Taanz are lackeys. Someone else is behind this…whatever the hell this is. Stay out of the range of their sensors. We’ll follow them in at a comfortable distance.”
“Hanging back,” Sullivan said as Spaanz and Taanz’s ship moved ahead toward the asteroid ring, entered, then was obscured from view by the large asteroids spinning lazily through space.
“Is there anything in there?” Rydell asked as Jaroch scanned the ring on his monitors.
“I cannot tell at this range,” Jaroch replied. “I can only assume that the composition of the asteroids is affecting the sensors.”
“We’ll know soon enough,” Rydell said. The Secondprize glided toward the asteroid ring at a pace that seemed painfully slow to the bridge crew.
Finally, the ship slid between two large asteroids into the vast expanse at the center of the ring.
And then the very fabric of space seemed to part like curtains revealing a very different scene. An entire fleet of Federation-style starships floated ahead of the Secondprize. There had to be hundreds of them.
“Oh my GOD!” Karina gasped.
“Well, at least they’re on our side,” Rydell said.
Behind him, Prescott choked on a whimper. “Um…sir, their weapons are hot…and locked on us!”
“Then again…” Rydell muttered grimly.
TO BE CONTINUED…
AUTHOR’S NOTE: For those of you who need a refresher on the events leading up to this story, check out “The Hawkins Incident” in “The Reject’s Table” series and “Star Traks: The Lost Years #5: The Next Item Up For Bid.”