Author: Alan Decker
Star Traks: The Lost Years #12
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’d like to thank the players of the Star Traks RPG for helping me field test some of the ideas used in this arc, namely the subspace generators and reality breaches.
“You have to see it from my point of view. One second, we were fighting to save the Federation; the next, space had gone completely weird. At the time, finding out what the dog had to say seemed like a good idea.”
Captain Andrea Carr
Personal Interview, March 2406.
The bridge crew of the Secondprize reflexively shielded their eyes and screamed as the ship was sucked into the chaotic maelstrom resulting from the colliding and rippling of the one hundred plus subspace pockets stored by the generators on Admiral Sulu’s crippled freighter.
“Get it off!” Captain Alexander Rydell shouted as Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins pounded blindly on her console trying to shut off the insanity-inducing swirls, eddies, and who-knew-what-else gyrating on the Secondprize viewscreen.
Finally, the image vanished, replaced by a still frame of Rydell in full Elvis regalia caught in mid-hip swivel.
“At least you caught my good side,” Rydell commented.
“Sorry. It’s just what came up,” Hawkins said.
“Blind luck, I guess,” Rydell said, heading over to Commander Jaroch at the science console. “What the hell just happened?”
“Evidently, the shockwave from our torpedoes had a negative impact on the stability of the subspace generators lining the freighter’s hull,” Jaroch replied.
“Negative impact!” Commander Travis Dillon cried, leaping up from his chair. “We messed up space!”
“Just a little of it,” Jaroch replied. “The effect seems to be limited to a sphere approximately two kilometers in diameter.”
“That’s great and all, but just what is this effect?” Rydell asked.
“From what I can tell, subspace within this area has been distorted to the point that reality itself has ceased to remain constant. We are far enough away from the epicenter that the effects here are mild to non-existent, but the freighter is directly in the middle of several warring realities, one for each of the generators.”
“So can we get out of here?” Dillon asked.
“What kind of answer is that?”
“A safe one.”
Rydell raised his hands to silence his first officer and science officer. “We aren’t going anywhere for the moment,” he said. “Jaroch, I don’t care how you do it, but find the generator holding Waystation and get it onto this ship. After that, we can worry about Sulu’s fleet and getting ourselves out of here. In the meantime…”
Rydell trailed off as a human male, probably in his mid-twenties, wearing a striped shirt in alternating light and dark shades of green and beige pants appeared on the bridge.
“Intruder alert!” Dillon shouted.
“Who the hell are you alerting?” Hawkins asked. “I’m right here.”
“Just relax, people,” Rydell said. He turned to the newcomer. “Welcome to the USS Secondprize. Mr…?”
The man smiled brightly. “Hi! It’s me, Steve! Have you seen, Blue, my puppy?”
“You have a puppy?” Lieutenant Andrea Carr asked excitedly from the ops console. “I have one, too. Of course, she got zapped by some aliens and now talks, but…”
Before Carr could get much farther, a blue cartoon dog leapt out from under the chair to the left of the command chair, which was usually occupied by Counselor Webber, and into Steve’s arms.
“Bow roww bow bow!” Blue barked happily, then gave Steve a big lick across the face.
“Um…Jaroch?” Rydell asked confused.
“Yes. I am aware that the dog is a cartoon. As I said, reality is not quite stable.”
Dillon stepped over to Steve and Blue angrily. “We don’t have time for this. Leave this ship immediately!”
“Hmmm…,” Steve said thoughtfully, resting his chin on his fist. “That’s a tough one. I’m not really sure we can.” Steve looked out at open air, focusing on some unseen person or persons. “Do you know how we can leave?” He turned to his animated puppy. “Do you know, Blue?”
“Ro roww!!” Blue barked.
Suddenly, Blue jumped at Dillon and smacked him in the forehead with her paw, leaving a giant blue paw print behind.
“Ow!” Dillon cried, falling to the deck.
“What a great idea!” Steve said, oblivious to Dillon’s pain. “We’ll play Blue’s Clues to find out how we can leave!”
“We are gonna play Blue’s Clues
‘Cause we’re out in space. YEAH!”
“Uh…how do you play that?” Carr asked, walking over as Blue ran off into a turbolift.
“I think a claw went into my eye,” Dillon wailed.
“First, we need our handy, dandy…” Steve whipped a small, spiral bound object from his pocket. “NOTEBOOK!”
“I think I’m losing blood!” Dillon screamed.
Rydell stepped over his fallen first officer to Carr, Blue, and Steve. “Lieutenant, if you want to see to our…guest here, feel free.”
“Thank you, sir!” Carr replied. She grabbed Steve by the arm and dragged him into a turbolift to chase down Blue.
For a brief moment, the bridge returned to relative calm.
“Has anyone seen my cornea?” Dillon moaned.
“Oh, get up,” Rydell snapped, giving Dillon a swift kick in the ass.
Captain Lisa Beck didn’t know quite what she was expecting to happen when Admiral Sulu ordered the subspace pocket to be activated, but she was surprised by how anti-climactic it was.
Once the generator activated, Beck and the others imprisoned with her in the cargo bay on Waystation found themselves pretty much still in the cargo bay. The floor was there. Most of the walls were there, but in certain areas, the wall had been replaced by a milky nothingness. It looked ethereal enough, but when she tried to put her hand through it, Beck found that the surface was as solid and cool to the touch as a slab of marble.
“So now what do we do?” Karina Durham demanded as Beck experimentally pressed against the opaque surface of the subspace pocket.
“I’m open to suggestions,” Beck replied.
“Dammit!” Karina shouted at no one in particular, then stormed away.
“I’m guessing she doesn’t relax well,” Lieutenant Craig Porter commented as he stepped over to Beck.
“Maybe the whole being imprisoned in an inescapable pocket of subspace without food or water thing is getting to her,” Beck said.
“Hmmm…that is a possibility,” Porter said.
“What do you think about this?” Beck asked, knocking on the perimeter of the subspace pocket.
Porter considered it for a moment. “Well, I don’t have a tricorder on me, but remember what you just said about this being inescapable?”
“Just what I wanted to hear,” Beck said flatly.
“Don’t worry, Captain. Something’s bound to happen before long.”
Porter was right. A short time later, the Secondprize caught up with the freighter and opened fire.
And then reality shifted.
On Admiral Sulu’s freighter, code-named logically enough Condor’s Aviary, reality had also gone on vacation, sending the freighter’s bridge into utter chaos as the Next Federation crew watched the consoles around them slowly transform into large piles of mud.
“Stabilize!” Sulu shouted.
“Stabilize what?” his helm officer cried.
“Shut down the subspace generators. All of them!”
Sulu looked around with impotent rage as his ship mud-ified around him. “Would somebody please do something?!?”
And then his crew obediently dissolved into piles of liquid dirt.
“Not that!” Sulu screamed just before melting into the muck himself.
Captain Rydell paced the bridge of the Secondprize expectantly as he waited for someone…anyone to come up with a plan of action. Thus far, the odds weren’t looking too good. Ensign Bill Woodville, who’d stepped in to take Lieutenant Carr’s place, and Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan were deep into a card game; although, Rydell had no idea where Sullivan had managed to stash an entire 257 card Hinalix deck and even less of an idea how they were even going to play a Betazoid card game designed for telepaths.
Lieutenant Commander Hawkins, meanwhile, had escorted Dillon back to his seat and was firmly assuring him that all of his facial bits were indeed intact and that there was not a cartoon dog running around the ship with one of Dillon’s eyes stuck on its claw.
“Captain,” Commander Jaroch said finally. “I may have something.”
“It was pretty much you or nobody,” Rydell said, jogging over to the science station. “What’s the news?”
“Uncertain at best,” Jaroch replied.
“I’ll take what I can get at this point.”
Jaroch tapped a few commands on the science console, bringing up an image of what looked like a bunch of colored bubbles pressed against each other.
“You spying on one of Counselor Webber’s bubble baths again?” Rydell asked.
“No,” Jaroch replied darkly. “And that first time was simply an error in the sensor routing protocols.”
“Uh huh. Go on.”
Jaroch’s eyes narrowed at Rydell for a moment, then the Yynsian continued. “This particular series of bubbles is actually a representation of what is outside the ship. Each bubble represents a reality field created by a subspace generator. In effect, the generators have breached reality itself and formed alternate realities within their spheres of influence.
“So Waystation is in some kind of alternate reality right now?”
“Precisely. As is each of the Next Federation vessels. The one point of uncertainty is the freighter itself. It is at the direct epicenter of the phenomena.”
“So what does that mean?” Rydell asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Great. What can we do in the meantime?”
Jaroch pulled up another image, this time of a Federation runabout. “Each reality breach will have a unique subspace phase variance as will we. Since we are in sort of a reality limbo, you might say, we have the possibility of taking a runabout into these breaches and retaining the ability to exit due to our differing phase variance.”
“So we can leave but whoever is already in the breach can’t.”
“Correct,” Jaroch said.
“It’s a start,” Rydell said, clapping Jaroch on the shoulder. “We’ll worry about the next step when we find Waystation.” Rydell turned back to the rest of his bridge crew, none of whom were paying him a bit of attention.
“I hate to interrupt,” he announced. “But we’ve got a little bit of work to do. We’re taking two runabouts…”
“I thought we only salvaged one,” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan said.
“This ship already had one,” Rydell said without missing a beat. “Now then, Sullivan, you and Hawkins will take one runabout. Jaroch and I will take the other. Dillon, you have the conn.”
“What happened to boy-girl, boy-girl?” Sullivan asked.
Hawkins smirked. “He just wanted to go with Jaroch and his big, manly tricorders.”
“No insult is intended, ladies,” Rydell said as the group headed for the turbolift. He turned on Jaroch. “And don’t you get any ideas either.”
“Please do not force J’Ter to wake up and cause you great harm. He has been dormant for quite a while, and I would like to keep it that way.”
“Oooh. A threat,” Hawkins said with a glint in her eye.
Jaroch chose to ignore the comment, staring straight ahead as the doors closed and the turbolift began its descent.
Back on the bridge, Dillon quickly shifted over to the command chair and took a look around. Other than Ensign Woodville, he was the only one there.
“Where the hell is everyone?” Dillon demanded.
Ensign Woodville immediately piped up. “Well, Lieutenant Carr would normally take over helm with Lieutenant Commander Sullivan gone, but she’s chasing a dog. And Lieutenant Prescott should be at tactical, but he’s playing…er…calibrating the new phaser rifles that came in the armory when we took over this ship. And do we even have a back up science officer?”
“I think Jaroch was training Carr’s dog,” Dillon replied. He leaned back in the command chair, tapping his fingers on the arm rest in annoyance. “Well isn’t this just great,” he groused.
“We could play cards,” Woodville offered.
Dillon glared at him. “We are responsible for the safety of this entire ship. I take that duty very seriously, and I resent the fact that you would even suggest…” Dillon trailed off, looking at the cards again. “Well, maybe just one game.”
Lieutenant Carr had to admit that, at first, she’d had no idea how she and Steve were going to keep track of one cartoon dog on a ship the size of the Secondprize, but Steve had an almost sixth sense about where Blue was heading at any particular moment.
Beyond that, though, he seemed a dumb as a rock. He would continually look off into nothingness and say things like, “I can see I’m really going to need your help today” or “Now we need to ride in this…this…what is it? Turbolift! That’s right. Wow. You’re really smart!” As to who this “you” was, Carr didn’t have a clue. And just to top things off, Steve continued to sing.
“We are looking for Blue’s clues,
We are looking for Blue’s clues.
Wonder where they are.”
Steve finally entered a room on Deck Eight with Carr following close behind. The room’s sky blue walls gave her a big hint as to where they’d ended up: Counselor Webber’s office.
“Hi there!” Webber said happily from atop the step stool she was using to paste some puffy clouds onto the wall. “Like my new office?”
“It’s…big,” Carr said, looking around.
“I know! I love it! I worried that this whole switching ships thing would be really traumatic, but I think it’s worked out really well.”
“For you at least,” Carr replied.
“Well, if I’m not happy, how can I counsel anyone else? Speaking of, did you and…your friend need my services?”
Steve stepped forward and waved excitedly. “Hi. It’s me, Steve! Have you seen Blue, my puppy?”
Webber thought for a moment. “Um…your dog wouldn’t be a cartoon would it?” she asked.
“Yes it is,” Carr said. “Long story.”
“Oh. I thought it was just a hallucination from the fumes from this glue,” Webber said, holding up the glue bottle. On it was a large, blue paw print.
“A clue! A clue!” Steve cried. “You know what we need? Our handy, dandy…NOTEBOOK!” Steve whipped out his notebook, pulled the crayon out of the spiral binding, and started to draw the glue bottle as Webber edged over to Carr.
“Is he okay?” Webber whispered.
“I think this is normal for him,” Carr replied. “But we’ve got to go. There are two more clues to find!”
“Clues to what?” Webber asked. Steve put the notebook back in his pocket and raced toward the exit.
“Long story!” Carr called as she chased after Steve.
“Hmmm…maybe I should be spending more time up on the bridge after all,” Webber thought. She shrugged, then returned to hanging up her happy little clouds.
The room around Captain Beck and the others shifted, forming itself into a swanky ballroom as everyone inside found themselves dressed in tuxedos and elegant evening gowns. Before Beck could even remark on the turn of events, she wasn’t quite herself anymore.
“So, the Countess Von Beck has decided to grace us with her presence,” Porter said, a cigarette pinched between his fingers. “I thought after the death of your father, you would have learned enough to stay away from Wayside City.”
Beck produced a cigarette of her own, this one mounted in the end of a long, black cigarette holder. “You underestimate my resources, Mister Porter. Just because my father is gone does not mean I’m alone.”
“Ha! You’re bluffing. PorterCorp will take control of your holdings before the end of the month.”
“Not if he has anything to say about it,” Beck replied, pointing at the male figure silhouetted in the doorway.
“Who is that?” Porter demanded.
“He’s…” <dramatic pause>
DUM DUM DUMMMMMM!
A swirling bluish-gray mass of pulsating subspace eddies and currents met the Runabouts Chickahominy and Patapsco as they sailed out of the Secondprize’s shuttlebay.
Commander Jaroch had already given each team a flight plan so that, by the end, they would have entered each and every one of the reality breaches filling the region ahead of them.
Sullivan and Hawkins in the Chickahominy sped ahead to their first target as Rydell, flying the recently-renamed Patapsco (Before it had been named the Condor-471/2 by the former Next Federation crew of the ship) took a more cautious approach to their first reality breach.
“Anything I need to know before we head in?” Rydell asked as the runabout approached the barrier.
“A great many things, I imagine,” Jaroch replied without looking up from the sensors. “Unfortunately, I do not have any further information to give you.”
“Guess we’ll be winging it then.”
“When do we not?”
“Good point,” Rydell said as he pushed the runabout into the first breach. They immediately ground to a halt as the ship was completely surrounded by some kind of greenish gelatinous substance. “What the hell?”
“Scanning,” Jaroch said.
“There’s a ship out there!” Rydell said, pointing at a Nebula-class vessel in the distance which was equally stuck.
“It is Jello,” Jaroch reported finally.
“This entire reality is made of lime-flavored Jello, except for us, of course, and the Next Federation ship out there.”
Rydell craned his neck to see out the upper part of the viewport. “Wait. Is that a cucumber slice? Gross! Let’s get out of here.”
“Reverse course. The phase variance should allow us to slip out with ease,” Jaroch said.
“Thank the great bird,” Rydell muttered, slipping back into his seat. The two officers were quiet for a moment as the runabout reversed through the Jello.
“Jaroch…” Rydell said finally.
“What do you think of Karina?”
“Karina Durham? I would say that she is an intelligent woman who has chosen a rather unseemly occupation…assuming she is still alive, of course.” Jaroch immediately realized what he’d just said.
“I am sorry. I should have realized that your zeal to reach Waystation had to do with a bit more than rescuing Captain Beck and her crew.”
Rydell smiled weakly. “It’s okay. And I am thinking about Beck and the others, but I have to believe that Karina made it to Waystation somehow. She’s been on her own for too long to let some halfwits from the Next Federation blow her out of space.”
“Then making for the moment the assumption that she is still alive, why do you care what I think of her?”
“I don’t know really. I was just thinking about…I don’t know. Don’t worry about it.” Rydell turned his attention back to the runabout controls.
“I am certainly no expert on relationships,” Jaroch said after a moment. “However, you and Miss Durham appear to be a good fit. She makes you happy. Beyond that, there is little I can say.”
“Thanks, Jaroch,” Rydell said. “Sometimes I just need someone to come out and say what I should already know.”
“Then I am happy to state the obvious for you.”
Lieutenant Commander Sullivan banked the runabout into another hard turn, narrowly avoiding another oncoming obstacle.
“This isn’t reality!” Hawkins protested. “Let me start shooting!”
“No!” Sullivan shot back, just as another pterodactyl soared by, its Neanderthal rider waving a meaty fist at them. “I can handle it.”
“Wait! There’s another ship,” Hawkins said, pointing at the tactical readout. “Akira class. They’re stuck in some kind of tar pit and…ooooh.”
“I think a woolly mammoth just took a dump on their saucer.”
“That’s it. It’s not Waystation, so we’re getting out of here,” Sullivan said, whipping the runabout around and zipping in and out of the prehistoric rush hour traffic toward the exit of this particular breach.
A roar shook the runabout, forcing Sullivan to climb sharply to avoid the snapping jaws of a giant tyrannosaurus. “Damn. That’s worse than Scott’s snoring,” Sullivan said. A moment later, space…well, a swirly mass of subspace actually, opened ahead of them as they exited the breach.
“Emily,” Hawkins said after a moment of silence.
“Does Scott ever drive you nuts?”
“What kind of nuts are you talking about?” Sullivan replied with a glint in her eye.
“The bad kind.”
“Oh. Yeah. All the time. You do remember that little breakup we had. We barely spoke for almost two years.”
“But now you’re married to him.”
Sullivan put the runabout on auto-pilot for a moment and turned to face Hawkins. “Where’s this going, Patricia?”
Hawkins shifted as though the subject was making her uncomfortable. “It’s just…well…Travis has just been more annoying than usual lately. I don’t know if he’s changed or maybe I just can’t tolerate his quirks anymore.”
“Quirks? Is that what we’re calling them now?”
“I’m being serious here. I really don’t know if Travis is who I want to be with anymore.”
“I can’t pretend to understand Travis Dillon, but the fact is that you two have been together for close to four years now.”
Hawkins’ eyes widened. “Has it been that long?”
“Yep. And I know that you wouldn’t have put up with him for this long if he didn’t have something that you loved about him. Whether or not that something is still there, I can’t say. People change. You change. Maybe he’s not the one anymore, but you owe it to yourself to find out and soon.”
Hawkins was about to reply when Sullivan cut her off. “But don’t take that as meaning that you should just up and leave him. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of putting up with Scott, it’s that relationship aren’t all sweetness and light. If it’s worth having, it’s worth working for.”
Hawkins thought for a moment. “I’m not sure where this leaves me.”
“Can’t help you there,” Sullivan replied, steering the runabout into the next reality breach. “You need to figure that out on your own.”
“Thanks,” Hawkins said as the universe changed around the runabout. She stared out the front viewport. “Is that a chicken?”
“I think so.”
“Why is it wearing leather?”
“I don’t even want to know.”
Ensign Woodville leaned forward in the chair to left of the command chair and considered the eighteen cards in his hand as Commander Dillon idly shifted his cards around from one position to the next. Woodville’s favorite Bergman film, “The Seventh Seal” had a scene of a knight playing chess with death. Woodville wondered if playing cards with a Dillon came close…probably not on a philosophical level. After several moments of careful thought, Woodville realized that Hinalix was probably far simpler when you could read your opponent’s mind to see what cards they had.
He finally set down a green quelk and a purple buobel and looked at Dillon. Dillon, meanwhile, was busy staring off into space.
“Your move, sir,” Woodville said finally.
“I think I’m going to do it,” Dillon proclaimed.
“It would make the game go faster.”
Dillon glared at him. “Not that! Marriage!”
Woodville gulped nervously. “Um…I don’t know you that well and…”
“Not you! Patricia!”
“Oh thank goodness.”
Dillon’s eyes narrowed. “What does that mean? You think I’m not good enough for you?”
The ensign frantically looked around, hoping to see some way out of this. Fortunately, Dillon gave it to him.
“Never mind that,” Dillon continued. “I’m trying to talk to you about something important here.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“I would hope you are. Now the simple fact is Lieutenant Commander Hawkins and I have been together for almost four years now. It’s probably time we took the next step.”
“You mean marriage.”
“Of course I mean marriage! Have you been paying attention at all?”
“Paying attention to what?” Lieutenant Robert Prescott asked as he stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge.
“How about paying attention to when you’re supposed to be on the bridge?” Dillon fumed, turning on the back-up tactical officer.
“I was detained,” Prescott said.
“Sure you were. Get to your posts!”
Woodville quickly scrambled back to ops as Commander Dillon settled deeper into the command chair to mull over his potential engagement.
Panting for breath, Carr chased the seemingly-tireless Steve around the Secondprize’s secondary hull. Finally, he raced through a set of large double doors, causing Carr to skid to a halt.
The damn fool had gone into Engineering.
Commander Baird was going to eat him alive.
“Steve, NO!” Carr cried, rushing in after him. Her eyes immediately locked on Commander Scott Baird, who looked absolutely furious. The big question was whether he was mad about the uninvited guests in his domain or the giant blue paw print smack dab in the middle of his intermix chamber.
“A clue! A CLUE!” Steve shouted.
“Oh, I’ll give you a f***ing clue, you f***ing piece of freaky-ass space trash!” Baird said, mashing his hand into a fist.
“Commander, don’t!” Carr exclaimed, diving between Baird and Steve. For his part, Steve hadn’t seemed to notice that anything was amiss. He already had his handy, dandy notebook out and was sketching frantically.
“Hmm…” Steve pondered. “What do you think glue and a matter-antimatter intermix chamber have to do with what Blue is trying to tell us?”
Carr gaped at him. “Here’s a question, how the do you even know the words matter-antimatter intermix chamber?”
Steve thought for a moment. “Gee. I don’t know. Maybe we should ask Blue when we catch up with her.” His face brightened. “Maybe we could even play Blue’s Clues to find out how I know!”
“We can talk about that later,” Carr said, urging Steve toward the exit.
“Yeah. Now let’s talk about the f***ing paw print on my f***ing warp core!” Baird said angrily, pointing behind him.
Carr looked. “Um…what paw print?” she asked innocently. Baird whirled around. The paw print was gone.
“How the f***!”
“Gotta run!” Carr said, quickly grabbing Steve’s arm and dragging him out of Engineering.
“Your husband!” Craig Porter exclaimed as the other guests at the cocktail party gasped in shock.
“Yes,” Countess Von Beck said defiantly. “And he will see to it that your designs on my holdings fail miserably.”
“I will not step aside so easily.”
“Oh, I think you will,” Beck said. She waved to the man silhouetted in the doorway. “Come over here…SLEDGE.”
Porter drew back as though he’d been slapped.
“MY EVIL TWIN!!!”
DUM DUM DUMMMMMM!!!!!
After searching several more breaches and one narrow escape from a reality where ordinary cars and trucks transformed into massive, heavily-armed robots, Rydell steered the Runabout Patapsco into yet another in a seemingly-endless series of warped dimensions.
Considering that he’d braced himself for the worst, Rydell was pleasantly surprised to enter this new breach and see absolutely nothing.
“Jaroch?” he asked as the Yynsian science officer pored over his sensor readouts.
“We appear to be nowhere,” Jaroch replied.
“Oh that helps.”
“I am detecting two massive objects dead ahead. Both are of the general configuration of Waystation.”
Rydell slammed the runabout to full impulse before Jaroch’s words even faded from the air. The captain wasn’t sure why there were two of them, but, considering the weirdness they’d experienced so far, it wasn’t all that surprising.
“I have a third sensor contact,” Jaroch reported. “A massive humanoid on a direct course for the two other objects.”
“Hold on. You already said the objects were massive. Is this humanoid just as massive?”
“Far more so.”
“Lovely,” Rydell muttered.
Through the viewport, he could see the two objects growing closer. One was indeed Waystation, its lights and beacons still shining through the blackness. The other object…well, it was just a giant metal thing shaped like Waystation, complete with two saucers connected by a long tube.
Then Rydell got a look at the approaching humanoid, a truly huge, muscle-bound thing far far larger than Waystation or its doppleganger who was dressed in some sort of blue one-piece spandex outfit. Suddenly, the reality of this reality dawned on him.
“Dumbbells,” he muttered.
“Who exactly are you referring to?” Jaroch asked.
“Not a who. Them!” Rydell said, pointing out the viewport at Waystation and its double. “He’s going to use them as dumbbells!”
Sure enough, the large creature leaned down, wrapped an extra-meaty hand around the connecting tube of Waystation and the duplicate, then started doing curls.
Jaroch stared in stunned silence at this truly ludicrous turn of events. Only the movement of Rydell getting up from his chair shook him out of it. As Jaroch watched, Rydell pulled a phaser rifle and tricorder out of the ship’s supply locker.
“What are you doing?” Jaroch asked.
“What does it look like? I’m beaming over. Now where’s Captain Beck?”
Jaroch checked his sensors. “I am not reading any standard Starfleet commbadges; however, there are approximately 30 life-signs aboard as well as several subspace disturbances.”
“Sulu must have pocketed the crew. Go get the Chickahominy. We may need backup.”
“You cannot go over there alone,” Jaroch protested.
“Actually, yes, I can,” Rydell said as he programmed the transporter. “Contact me when you get back.”
Before Jaroch could say another word, Rydell vanished in the blue cascade of the transporter.
Starfleet Square Mall was deserted as Captain Rydell materialized outside of Dillon’s Supply Depot, which was pretty much why he’d decided to beam in there. He could feel slight jolts as the station’s inertial dampeners struggled to compensate for the weight-lifting giant outside. While holding his phaser rifle in his left arm, he pulled the tricorder out of his pocket and flipped it open. Six life-signs were nearby, but they seemed to be stationary. With any luck, Rydell would be able to get the drop on them before they knew what was happening.
He followed the readings on the tricorder to the outside of the Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet Andorian Restaurant, an odd fact considering that none of the readings were Andorian. Maybe the Next Federation was using it as their base of operations on this level.
Rydell crouched below the restaurant’s picture window, then cautiously poked his head up and peered inside. There were six Next Federation officers in there all right, but this definitely wasn’t their base. All six of them, five men and one woman, had been strung up, suspended by their wrists, each rotating as the group revolved around an industrial strength cooking unit.
Resting his rifle on his shoulder, Rydell casually strolled into the restaurant, then pulled up a chair to watch the show. All six of the officers were almost unconscious, but one finally opened his weary eyes enough to see Rydell.
“Help…us,” he croaked.
“Those Andorian booby-traps can be pretty nasty, huh? Nice of Ih’mad not to kill you first; of course, he does like the food to be fresh.”
“I know. You’re roasting over there. Coming along nicely too, by the looks of it.”
A series of tubes in the ceiling suddenly squirted basting juice down on the captured officers, eliciting a series of pained groans.
“We surrender,” the officer pleaded. “Please get us down!”
“Not a problem,” Rydell said with a broad grin. He aimed the rifle in the officers’ general direction. “Hmmm…who’s feeling the most done?”
“How about you?” Rydell said, firing a blast that severed the ropes holding a young ensign, who promptly fell to the ground and rolled away from the heating element. “Feeling better?”
“Sure. I’d be happy to help you out with that, but I need something from you first.”
“I thought you might say that. Where’s the crew?”
“Wrong crew, big guy,” Rydell said. “The Waystation crew.”
The ensign looked back at the other officers for guidance. All of them nodded their heads as emphatically as they could. “Cargo Bays. Captain Beck is in the generator in Cargo Bay 7.”
“Now that wasn’t so hard was it?”
Following another turbolift ride, Steve and Lieutenant Carr tore out onto the bridge at full speed. Commander Dillon was already out of the command chair and glaring furiously at the door to Captain Rydell’s ready room.
Blue had evidently been there.
Dillon turned on Steve and Carr, his breath ragged. “Get…that…DOG!” he seethed.
“Yes, sir,” Carr said quickly, leading Steve into the captain’s ready room. Blue was nowhere in sight.
“That’s odd,” Carr said, peering around the empty room. She poked her head into the bathroom just to make sure Blue wasn’t there.
“Hmm…” Steve said, resting his chin on his fist. “Are you sure that Blue came in here?”
“Where else would she go?” Carr asked and then realized Steve was talking to his unseen audience again and not to her.
While Steve paced the room, she sat down on the sofa and idly fidgeted with the captain’s model of the Secondprize. A hint of blue caught her eye. She squinted at the model’s deflector dish. Sure enough, there was a tiny blue paw print there.
“A clue!” she exclaimed, jumping up off the sofa, model in hand.
“Oh!” Steve said excitedly. “A deflector dish! You know what that means? It’s time for our handy, dandy NOTEBOOK!”
He sketched the deflector dish on the page after his drawing of the intermix chamber while Carr sat back on the sofa and tried to put the pieces together in her head. All of a sudden, Blue jumped out from under Rydell’s desk and into her lap.
“Roww ro rowwww!” Blue barked excited.
“That’s right, Blue,” Steve said. “We now have three clues.” He froze for a moment, his eyes almost bugging out of his skull. “Did you hear that? We have all three clues! That means it’s time for our THINKING CHAIR!”
He and Blue ran out of the ready room, with Carr close on her heels.
“What now?” Dillon groused from the command chair…and then he wasn’t sitting there anymore. Somehow he blipped back behind the tactical console and hit the deck with a thud as Steve leapt into the vacated center seat.
Ignoring Dillon’s protests, Carr sat down in the first officer’s seat beside Steve.
Steve opened his notebook and spoke earnestly toward the viewscreen. “Okay. Let’s look at the clues. We have glue…” Steve’s glue sketch leapt off the page and danced just above his head. “…a matter-antimatter intermix chamber…” The warp core sketched joined the glue sketch in a rousing watusi. “…and a deflector dish.” And now three sketches danced.
Steve continued on as if dancing sketches were an everyday occurrence for him. “Now how does Blue think we can leave with these items? Hmmm… Well what if we glued the deflector dish to the warp core and made it into kind of a hang glider?”
“NO!” Dillon cried rushed back to the front of the bridge.
“Please, sir,” Carr said. “We’re thinking.”
“That’s why we’re in our Thinking Chair,” Steve added.
“That’s MY chair!” Dillon screamed.
“Hold on!” Carr exclaimed suddenly. “What if we somehow channeled energy from the warp core through the deflector dish to glue subspace back together!”
“ROWWW ROWWW ROWWWWWW!” Blue howled, nodding her head emphatically.
“That’s it!” Steve said happily. “We just figured out Blue’s Clues!”
“We just figured out Blue’s Clues,
‘Cause we’re really smart. Yeah!”
“Carr to Baird.”
“I don’t have your f***ing dog,” Baird’s voice snapped back.
“No, sir. We know how to get out of here.”
“Oh do tell,” Baird said unenthusiastically.
“We just need to channel warp energy through the deflector dish to glue subspace back together.”
“Uh huh. Sure,” Baird said. “Did the dog or the geek in the striped shirt tell you…” The Chief Engineer suddenly trailed off. “F*** me! That might work. I’ll get back to you. Engineering out.”
“What do you think, sir?” Carr asked Dillon, feeling a bit smug.
“I think you’re both in my chairs,” Dillon said.
“What was that?”
After securing the Next Federation officers in Waystation’s brig, Captain Rydell descended to Deck 56. So far, things had gone extraordinarily well. Evidently the few Next Federation officers on board were too busy dealing with the massive weightlifter outside to notice that an additional life-sign had beamed on board.
As another jolt rocked the station, Rydell cautiously stepped out of the turbolift on Deck 56. The corridor was deserted, but he could hear voices around the corner…at least four of them.
He lowered himself onto his belly and peered around the corner into a corridor lined with large sets of double doors. The cargo bays! Each door was being “guarded” by one Next Federation officer; although, they seemed far more concerned about gabbing with each other than looking for any possible intruders.
Sliding his rifle aside, Rydell pulled out two of the hand phasers he’d confiscated from the Next Federation officers in the Andorian Restaurant and took careful aim at the two guards farthest away from him.
For the former Academy sharpshooting champ, the next few moments were practically effortless. Rydell fired, one phaser in each hand, dropping the two farthest guards. As expected, the remaining pair turned away from Rydell to see what had happened to their comrades. They found out a microsecond later when stun blasts slammed into their backs.
The pair managed to turn around, shocked looks on their faces, and see Rydell climbing to his feet just before they collapsed to the deck.
“Good night. Thanks for playing,” Rydell said with a smile and wave as they lost consciousness.
A torrent of water splashed against the viewport of the Runabout Chickahominy prompting a startled cry from Lieutenant Commander Sullivan. Another splash hit.
“He’s drooling on us!” Hawkins shouted, holding onto her chair for dear life as the runabout was turned all sorts of uncomfortable directions. Out the viewport, a giant baby head came into view as the mega-infant which currently had the runabout locked in his grip moved to stick the ship in his mouth.
“I told you we shouldn’t have stayed this long,” Sullivan said.
“We had to see who was in here,” Hawkins retorted. The “who” turned out to be an Ambassador class starship which now lay in pieces on the floor of this giant nursery. It’s nacelles had been ripped off and thoroughly gnawed on while the saucer was coated in some kind of pudding-like substance.
“We’re going in!” Sullivan cried, covering her eyes with her hands.
“Sorry, baby,” Hawkins said, slamming her hand down on the fire control. A photon torpedo sailed ahead into the baby’s mouth. Reflexively, the child swallowed it. A split-second later, he dropped the runabout like a hot potato and started to gag.
“GO!” Hawkins screamed as the mega-infant heaved outside.
“Going!” Sullivan replied, frantically hitting controls as she realized what was about to happen.
The Chickahominy sailed to safety just moments before a flood of vomit erupted from the baby like some kind of fleshy volcano and spilled everywhere. The fallen Ambassador class ship was caught in the resulting wave and tossed violently against the wall.
Before the baby could recover its wits enough to look for its escaped toy, Sullivan sped the Chickahominy out of the breach into the subspace chaos beyond. Immediately, the runabout’s comm system began to flash.
“Chickahominy here,” Hawkins said, activating the comm.
“Jaroch here. The captain and I have located Waystation. Please join me immediately.”
“You? Where’s the captain?” Hawkins demanded.
“Already on board the station. He insisted on going alone.”
“We’re on our way,” Hawkins said, closing the channel as Sullivan altered course.
Inside Cargo Bay 7 but an entire reality away from Captain Rydell, Bradley Dillon handed a glass of champagne to Karina Durham.
“You look stunning, my dear,” Bradley said, clinking his glass against hers. Karina immediately noticed the sorrow in his voice.
“Bradley, darling, what is it?”
“No! Something is wrong. You must tell me.”
Bradley placed the back of his hand against his forehead dramatically. “I wanted to protect you from this, dearest.”
“What is it?”
“I’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I have 6 weeks to live.”
“NO!” Karina cried, clutching her stomach.
“I’m so sorry, darling. I’ve seen all the best doctors. There’s nothing they can do.”
Karina looked at him, tears welling in her eyes. “But you can’t go.”
“I have no choice.”
DUM DUM DUMMMMM!
One of the little things about command that Dillon hated (and there were very few things that he hated about being in command) was waiting, particularly when there was absolutely nothing for him to do in the interim. Ensign Woodville’s cards had conveniently vanished, leaving Dillon only the slideshow of candid crew shots going by on the viewscreen. Carr, meanwhile, was hunched over the helm console, monitoring Commander Baird’s progress in Engineering.
At long last, Commander Baird stepped out of the turbolift, almost tripping over Steve and Blue, who were sitting on the floor rolling around with each other.
“What the hell?” Baird snapped.
“Roww roww!” Blue cried, smacking a paw down on Baird’s boot and leaving a print.
Steve’s eyes widened. “What a great idea! We can play Blue’s Clues to find out what the hell!”
“NO!” Dillon and Carr shouted. “Not again!”
“Whatever,” Baird muttered. He leaned over, snatched a bit of Steve’s shirt, then used it to wipe the offending paw print off his boot.
Dillon looked at him expectantly. “Well…”
“What?” Baird said.
“I assume there’s a reason you’re up here.”
Baird ignored Dillon and walked over to Carr. “It’s ready.”
“Great!” Carr said excitedly, jumping up from her seat and running back to the tactical console. “I’ll tell the captain!”
Dillon glared back at her, steam almost billowing out of his ears. “Hello! We have a chain of command here!” he said.
“Why should she waste the time asking you to order her to do the obvious?” Baird demanded. “Just let her send the f***ing comm.”
“Fine!” Dillon plopped back down in the command chair to pout as Carr tried to open a channel to the Patapsco. Commander Jaroch responded a moment later.
“Where’s Captain Rydell?” Dillon demanded, butting in before Carr could even tell Jaroch why she’d commed.
“He is attempting to single-handedly liberate Waystation, if you must know,” Jaroch replied. “But I assume you have not contacted us for that.”
“We have a plan,” Carr said.
“Congratulations,” Jaroch said flatly. “What has that to do with me?”
“Carr came up with a way to seal the breaches,” Commander Baird said.
“I see. Was the cartoon dog somehow involved in this?”
“Well…yeah,” Carr said hesitantly. Unless Carr’s ears were deceiving her, the Yynsian sighed.
“Very well. What is this plan?”
“We’re going to fire a pulse from the deflector dish at the freighter,” Baird explained. “It should seal the breaches and return us to normal space. You can see the down side, though.”
“What down side?” Dillon demanded.
“Well, Admiral Sulu will be able to de-pocket his fleet,” Carr said.
Dillon winced, visualizing the Secondprize going down in flames…again. “Oh no. That’s not good.”
“I take it you wish us to somehow seize control of the freighter before you activate the pulse,” Jaroch said.
“Um…yes, sir,” Carr said hesitantly. “Otherwise…”
“No need to justify it any further,” Jaroch interrupted. “I have Lieutenant Commanders Sullivan and Hawkins flying beside me. We will retrieve the captain and take the freighter. Jaroch out.”
“So what do we do next in this great plan of yours?” Dillon asked pointedly.
“Well, I guess we wait,” Carr said.
“Damn! I just KNEW you were going to say that!” Dillon grumbled, settling in deeper into the command chair.
Having had a little bit of experience with subspace generators, Captain Rydell knew pretty much what to expect when he opened the doors to Cargo Bay 7. Sure enough, a lone meter-cubed device sat blinking innocently in the middle of the otherwise empty room.
Looking closer, Rydell realized that the air around the generator seemed to be rippling. It was evidently experiencing, to a lesser degree, some of the same reality breaching that was occurring outside.
Rydell experimentally poked one of his confiscated hand phasers through the edge of the ripple effect. Immediately, the end of the phaser elongated and morphed into the end of a black cane. He continued reaching forward until the cane touched the generator. It seemed solid enough, much to Rydell’s relief.
Using the cane as an extension of his arm, he typed in the commands to deactivate the subspace generator. The rippling intensified, threatening to completely consume Rydell, then suddenly vanished into the generator. A moment later, Rydell found himself surrounded by several very disoriented Waystation personnel and Karina Durham.
Rydell spotted her instantly and had her scooped up in his arms before she even registered her new surroundings. At first Karina tried to fight off the lips pressing against hers, then melted into Rydell as she realized who was holding her.
After several long moments, the pair finally parted lips, but still held onto each other, unwilling to risk the other slipping away.
“Hi there,” Rydell said softly, brushing Karina’s hair out of her face.
“I was wondering how long it’d take you to turn up,” she replied with a smile.
“I could leave again if that’s going to be your attitude,” Rydell said playfully.
Karina’s arms wrapped around his neck more tightly. “Don’t you dare.”
“Ahem,” Captain Beck said from behind Rydell. “I know I’m killing the romance here, but I’d really like to know what’s going on with my station.”
“Slave driver,” Rydell replied, looking over his shoulder. He turned back to Karina. “Don’t you go anywhere.”
“Not a chance,” she said. She kissed him once more, then reluctantly let him go.
“Okay,” Rydell said, switching to command mode. “There are thirty Next Federation officers on board. I’ve taken care of ten of them, but ops, engineering, and a few other key areas are still occupied. The rest of the Waystation crew are still in subspace pockets in the surrounding cargo bays.”
“Well, we’ve already got them outnumbered,” Beck said, looking around at the crew surrounding them.
Rydell handed Beck and Lieutenant Commander Porter the hand phasers he’d taken from the Next Federation officers in the Andorian restaurant. “There are four more outside.”
“It’s a start,” Beck said, checking the phaser setting.
“Jaroch to Rydell,” Rydell’s commbadge barked suddenly.
Rydell tapped the insignia on his chest. “Go ahead.”
“I have returned with our back-up.”
“Good man. I’ve released Captain Beck, a good portion of her crew, and one Karina Durham.”
“I am relieved to hear that, sir.”
Rydell smiled. “Not as much as I am.”
“We’re going to be making a pit stop at the armory, then go rampaging through the station blasting any Next Fed we see. Wanna come? It’ll be fun.”
“Again, no doubt. However, our presence has been requested at a different engagement.” Jaroch quickly filled Rydell in on Carr’s plan.
Rydell turned to Beck and Karina. “Looks like there’s been a slight change in my social calendar. Karina knows how to shut down the other generators.” Rydell tossed the phaser rifle to Karina. “Have fun ladies.”
“You know it,” Beck said. She moved away, barking orders to her crew as he went.
Rydell looked at Karina apologetically. He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. “I know. I’m more help here,” she said. “Just be careful.”
“I always am. I’ll be back for you in no time.”
“Jaroch, energize,” Rydell said. Karina watched Rydell dematerialize, then joined Beck and the others.
“All right,” Captain Rydell said as the two runabouts hovered over the fore section of the freighter. “We’ll all beam onto the bridge, each of us into a different corner. If anyone moves, stun ‘em. As soon as we have the bridge, we’ll seal it off from the rest of the ship and see about incapacitating the rest of the crew.”
“There probably won’t be any sort of intruder defense system,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins said over the commline open between the two runabouts. “That means no anesthezine.”
“We’ll deal with it when we get there,” Rydell said as he and Jaroch grabbed phaser rifles and headed to the transporter padd at the rear of the cockpit. Jaroch quickly typed in the coordinates. “Energize on three. One…two…three…”
Rydell and Jaroch dematerialized, reappearing a moment later on the freighter’s bridge…or what used to be the bridge anyway. At the moment, it looked more like every maid’s nightmare…and not a soul was in sight.
“Well maybe we won’t need to worry about the crew after all,” Rydell said, stepping slowly through the foot thick layer of mud on the floor.
Under the mud, something stirred. Actually, it was a lot of somethings.
The mud all around the Secondprize crewmembers bubbled and churned as Rydell and the others gathered in the center of the bridge, back to back, rifles at the ready.
Shapes rose out of the mud, gradually taking somewhat humanoid shape. Rydell stared closely at one in particular.
A mouth opened on the shape in question, mud dripping into it. “Kill them!” A horrifying voice that was Sulu’s but amplified hundreds of times bellowed. Suddenly, solid arms of mud grew at the Secondprize away team from all sides.
The explanation for the occasional jolting of the deck under Captain Beck’s feet had come as a bit of a shock to her. Rydell could have had the decency to mention that her station was being curled repeatedly by some giant before running off. Porter had accessed the sensors from an auxiliary terminal inside one of the cargo bays leading to that discovery and the far more comforting fact that there were only five Next Federation officers in ops.
So far, no one seemed to have noticed that Beck and company had been freed and were now well armed. That was just fine with her. At that very moment, she, Porter, and three other security officers were ascending toward ops while other teams led by the recently-freed Commander Walter Morales, Lieutenant Sean Russell, and Colonel Martin Lazlo fanned out across the station to retake what was rightfully theirs.
Even as the turbolift slowed at ops, Beck could hear shouting from the other side of the door.
“How is that possible?”
“I don’t know! It’s just not working! The weapons are just dead!”
Beck typed in a couple of quick commands on the turbolift control pad, preventing the doors from opening and giving her a moment to check over her phaser. It was dead, too.
“Great. I guess this is the ‘no phasers’ reality up here,” Porter muttered.
“We may not be able to shoot them, but we can still use them as weapons,” Beck said.
“Batter up,” Porter remarked as Beck opened the lift doors. The five Waystation crewmembers stormed out onto the bridge, quickly fanning out to take on a Next Federation officer.
Beck rushed Hueffen, the cocky Nordic woman who’d imprisoned Beck and the others in the subspace pocket in the first place. “Oh I was SO hoping you’d be here,” Beck said.
“And I’m pretty happy to see you, too,” Lieutenant Commander Porter said, focusing an angry glare on Lieutenant Aaron Stanton, who was cowering by the tactical console. Stanton had every reason to be worried. It was his betrayal that had allowed the Next Federation to take over Waystation in the first place.
“Save a few whacks for me, Craig,” Beck said, just before swinging her rifle at Hueffen.
The rifle smashed into the side of Hueffen’s head…and snapped in two. Beck looked at the remaining half she held in her hand. “Wood!” she exclaimed. The other Waystation officers had made similar discoveries. The Next Federation officers took advantage of the Waystation crew’s surprise to mount an offensive of their own.
Stanton picked Porter up with surprising strength and tossed him against the nearby tactical console. He crashed right through it, revealing it to be nothing more than a bunch of thin plywood. Now it was the Stanton’s turn to be surprised. Porter scrambled out of the damaged console, lifted the entire thing, and flung it at Stanton. That much wood slamming into his skull was enough to send Stanton collapsing to the deck unconscious.
“I told you to save some for me!” Beck protested.
“Sorry,” Porter replied, giving Stanton a swift kick just to make sure he was really out.
Hueffen made a move to attack Beck but before she got an inch, she was yanked back by her hair as Beck latched onto the back of the Nordic woman’s head and slammed it against the science console. After three more hits, Hueffen slumped to the deck, her senseless head stuck in a hole bashed in the console.
Seeing that they were now outnumbered five to three, the remaining Next Federation officers wisely surrendered. Beck’s security officers escorted them into the turbolift in wrist binders, leaving Beck and Porter alone in what was left of ops.
Neither officer spoke for several seconds.
“Wow. It looked so realistic,” Porter remarked finally.
“Magic of the movies, Craig,” Beck replied.
“I just hope it goes back to normal whenever Captain Rydell gets this mess straightened out.”
“No kidding. I’d feel pretty ridiculous barking orders in a room made of plywood and cardboard.”
“Phasers on stun!” Rydell ordered, blasting aside an oncoming mud tentacle. “These are…were people.”
“Fine, but what do we stun?” Sullivan demanded. “The mud’s everywhere.”
“Get to the generator controls. I will handle this,” Jaroch said, his voice straining. Rydell whipped around to face his science officer. There was a look in the Yynsian’s eyes that Rydell hadn’t seen in a long time. J’Ter was coming.
Hawkins got off a wide-beam shot, deflecting several of the approaching mud appendages. “You are not staying here alone!”
Jaroch suddenly let out a battle cry of such ferocity that the attacking mud creatures froze in fear.
“NO ONE TELLS A PRINCE WHAT HE WILL AND WILL NOT DO, PUNY MORTAL!” Jaroch/J’Ter bellowed.
“Oh can the puny mortal crap,” Hawkins snapped as the mud creatures began their advance.
“Well, Sullivan and I will leave you two to sort out your differences,” Rydell said, blasting a path toward the bridge doors. “But you are both to beam out if you can’t handle things. That is an order, and live captains outrank dead princes, buddy.”
Rydell and Sullivan rushed out into the corridors of the freighter, as Jaroch/J’Ter launched forward, swinging his phaser rifle like one of the hytao swords of his home planet. Hawkins saw several mud forms moving toward the bridge doors to pursue Rydell.
“Exit’s closed!” she said, sending a searing blast into the mud pit in front of them. She skidded over to the doors, sliding half the way there, and positioned herself in front of the bridge’s only exit, firing into the crowd of mud creatures as Jaroch/J’Ter set about dismantling them with his rifle, then, when that got too mud coated, with his bear hands. Hawkins had to admit he had good technique.
Rydell and Sullivan got ten steps down the dark corridor when they heard footsteps approaching them. On the bright side, there wasn’t any mud here. On the downside, the walls of the corridor were now rocky cavern walls illuminated by occasional torches.
Around the corner stepped two bulky humanoid creatures, gnarled sharp teeth jutting out from their green lips in odd directions as black soulless eyes stared forward blankly.
Rydell and Sullivan fired. Their phaser blasts slammed into the creatures’ scaly green hides, then were immediately absorbed. In response, the creatures opened their gaping mouths. Suddenly, streams of fire lanced forward out of them, forcing Rydell and Sullivan to drop to the deck.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got any of that iced tea you make on you at the moment,” Rydell said.
“Sorry,” Sullivan said. “I just started brewing a pot before we left.”
“Guess we’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way,” Rydell said as he and Sullivan scrambled to their feet.
“Get the hell out of here.” Rydell slapped his commbadge. “Rydell to Hawkins. Grab Jaroch and get back to the runabout. We’ll meet you there.”
Taking a cue from Rydell, Sullivan contacted the Chickahominy. “Two to beam out. Energize!”
The two officers dematerialized a split-second before the creatures sent another volley of flames billowing in their direction.
Rydell and Sullivan jumped off of the Chickahominy’s transporter pad seconds before Hawkins and Jaroch/J’Ter materialized. The Yynsian’s head thrashed from side to side as he took in his new surroundings, battle lust filling his eyes.
“It’s over,” Rydell said soothingly. “You can go back to sleep now…or wherever it is you past lives go when you aren’t wreaking havoc here.”
Jaroch/J’Ter’s eyes started to roll back into his head. “I will remember your insult,” Jaroch/J’Ter said. “Puny…” He trailed off, then suddenly snapped back to alertness.
“Jaroch?” Hawkins asked.
“Yes.” The Yynsian staggered a bit. Rydell caught his arm and led him to a chair. “My apologies. I have not experienced a past life takeover in quite a while and am no longer used to the aftereffects”
“Not a problem,” Rydell said. “If J’Ter had to show up, this was a really good time.”
“Quite,” Jaroch said. “Were you able to reach the generator controls?”
“The generator controls no longer exist on that ship,” Sullivan said.
“We’re going to have to close the reality breaches before we can do anything,” Rydell added.
“I’ll tell the Secondprize,” Hawkins said, slipping into the co-pilot’s seat as Sullivan took the pilot’s chair.
“If this works, we aren’t going to have much time before Sulu releases his fleet,” Rydell said. “Jaroch, Hawkins, and I will go back down there. Sullivan, I don’t want this freighter going anywhere.”
“So disable the freighter but don’t hit the generators,” Sullivan confirmed.
“You got it.”
“Isn’t that what got us into this mess in the first place?”
“Think of this as take two,” Rydell said, heading back to the transporter with a recovered Jaroch.
“Secondprize reports ready,” Hawkins said.
“Moving us out of the blast zone,” Sullivan reported.
“Rydell to Dillon.”
“Dillon here,” the Secondprize’s first officer replied over the comm. system. “Standing by to fire, sir.”
“By all means,” Rydell said.
“You heard the man,” Commander Dillon said, looking forward at Carr. She pressed the fire control she’d brought up on the Secondprize’s helm console. Instantly, a brilliant burst of blue energy shot out of the Secondprize’s deflector dish and hit the freighter. The effect spread rapidly, engulfing the freighter completely, then expanding outward until the Secondprize itself was affected.
At the rear of the bridge, Steve and Blue also began to glow, floating up into the air as Steve started to sing.
“Now it’s time for so long,
But we’ll sing just one more song.
Thanks for doing your part.
You sure are smart.
With me and you, and my dog Blue,
We can do ANYTHING that we want to do.”
“Good bye. So long,” Steve said as he and Blue waved.
“Bye, Steve!” Carr said, waving back eagerly. “Thanks for your help.”
“Bow bow BOWWW!!” Blue barked.
“Goodbye, Blue! I’ll miss you!”
And then it was all over. The subspace chaos outside the ship had vanished, leaving a reassuring spacescape in its place.
“Move in to cover the runabouts! Shields up!” Dillon ordered, snapping to action. “Arm all weapons. At the first sign of a subspace disturbance, fire!”
As soon as the Secondprize’s deflector dish shut down, Rydell, Jaroch, and Hawkins transported back onto the freighter, phaser rifles at the ready.
“We’re back,” Rydell said as he faced the bridge full of surprised Next Federation officers. He leveled his rifle at Admiral Sulu. “Nice to see you’re decent this time.”
Sulu stiffened and straightened his uniform. “You should have stayed out of this, Rydell. It was none of your concern.”
“How is an attempt to overthrow my government not my concern, particularly when you go shooting up my ship in the process?”
“You brought this on yourself. All of it.” Sulu dove for the comm panel on his command chair. “Deactivate the…”
Sulu jerked backwards as a phaser blast obliterated the arm of his command chair. The Next Federation officers made a move forward, but quickly rethought their actions as Jaroch and Hawkins readied their weapons.
“I think you missed something, Admiral. This is OVER!” Rydell said.
“Only for you,” Sulu replied. He made a quick motion with his hand. On cue, the seven other officers on the bridge charged. Jaroch, Rydell, and Hawkins were just able to get their shots off before the officers reached them. As the officer closest to Rydell dropped to the deck, two others latched onto his arms. He could only watch as Sulu raced out into the freighter’s corridors. Jaroch and Hawkins were now similarly occupied with other officers.
“Switch targets!” Rydell called. He struggled to aim his rifle at the officer attacking Hawkins, while she aimed her rifle around at the officer wrestling with Jaroch and Jaroch wrenched his toward Rydell. All three pulled the trigger, leaving Jaroch and Hawkins without assailants. The lone officer left on Rydell, Sulu’s assistant Radley, leapt off of the captain’s back and raised his arms in the air as he realized the turn events has taken.
“I surrender!” Radley cried.
“Too late,” Hawkins said, firing. Before Radley hit the ground, Rydell was out the door chasing Sulu.
He raced around a corner, following the sound of fleeing footsteps, and almost barreled straight into two more Next Federations. Without even slowing down, Rydell raised his rifle, shot one, then slammed the butt of his weapon into the side of the head of the other, dropping both to the deck unconscious.
Rydell picked up speed, blasting three more officers as he doggedly pursued the renegade admiral toward the rear of the freighter. At the end of a corridor, he saw a set of doors closing and surged ahead, rushing through them mere seconds later.
Sulu was there, phaser in hand. Rydell skidded to a halt.
“Put it down,” Sulu said, holding his weapon on Rydell as he stepped behind a console inside what appeared to be a converted cargo hold. All around, monitors showed the status of the various ships encased inside the subspace pockets. Rydell got some small relief out of seeing that Waystation was no longer being used as a weight set. Otherwise, things weren’t looking too good…not that he’d show that to Sulu.
“Do you know how many times a year I end up with a phaser pointed at me?” Rydell said as he tossed his phaser rifle aside.
“I never claimed to be original,” Sulu replied. Rydell, who’d been watching closely for it, saw the slight movement in Sulu’s hand just before the admiral’s thumb pressed down on the firing control of his phaser. Rydell dove for his rifle, Sulu’s blast searing millimeters above him. Sulu fired wildly, pinning Rydell to the deck while Sulu frantically tapped commands into his console.
“Say goodbye to your ship, Rydell…again! Maybe it’ll have the sense to stay down this time!”
“Subspace disturbance!” Lieutenant Prescott shouted suddenly, almost sending Dillon flying out of the command chair.
“Here we go again,” Carr said as several dozen starships faded into view on the viewscreen.
“New contacts!” Prescott said.
“We see them,” Dillon said. “Prepare to fire.”
“No! Not them,” Prescott replied. The image on the viewscreen shifted suddenly. “THEM!”
The viewscreen was filled with literally hundreds of starships, with more dropping out of warp all the time.
“Oh, they had so better be on our side,” Dillon said nervously.
Rydell wasn’t sure why, but suddenly Sulu stopped firing.
“NO!” the admiral screamed, slamming his fist down on the console.
“Something wrong?” Rydell asked as he leapt to his feet, rifle trained on Sulu.
Sulu was positively seething. “You and I are not done,” he said.
“Sure. I’ll come visit you in prison,” Rydell replied, still not sure what has so shaken Sulu. Before he could ask him, the admiral tapped another control and vanished in the beam of a transporter.
Rydell raced over to the console to try and reseal the subspace pockets. Over thirty ships were already out with more appearing all the time. To top it all off, Sulu had locked out the console. But then Rydell spotted the incoming fleet. He ran out of the room, making it back to the bridge in less than a minute.
Jaroch and Hawkins had stacked the unconscious Next Federation officers in a corner and taken up positions behind the freighter’s science console and helm respectively. On the viewscreen, the new arrivals loomed closer.
“We seem to have company,” Jaroch said, acknowledging Rydell’s entrance with a nod.
“And they’re hailing us,” Hawkins reported. “It’s Admiral Cooper!”
“On screen,” Rydell said relieved. The image on the viewscreen shifted to show a starship bridge. Admiral Edward Cooper was standing in the center of the screen, flanked by the ship’s captain.
“Rydell!” Cooper exclaimed in shock. “Where’s Sulu?”
“I wish I knew, Admiral,” Rydell replied. “He beamed out somewhere as soon as you showed up.”
“Damn. Is the situation secure over there?”
“We seem to have things in hand. What about the Next Federation fleet?” Rydell asked.
“They seem to understand simple math,” Cooper replied. “The fleet surrendered without firing a shot, much to the relief of your Commander Dillon.”
“He’s not the only one,” Rydell said. “But how did you know we were here?”
“We received a tip,” Cooper said. Then Admiral Earl Wyndham stepped into view beside Cooper.
“Wyndham!” Rydell said. “It all makes sense now. He was working for you the whole time.”
“Oh no. He’s nuts. We’re about to take him for a nice long stay at Tantalus V. Fortunately for you, we were able to corroborate enough of his story through Starfleet Intel to convince us to take action. Good thing we did, too.”
“No arguments here,” Rydell said.
“I’m sure. Great work, Captain. Frankly, we’re amazed that the Secondprize came through all this without a scratch.”
Rydell hesitated slightly. “Yes, well…we just try to do the best job we can.”
“That’s why we’re so amazed. By the way, did you get new bridge carpeting? I could swear it looked different when I spoke with Commander Dillon just now.”
“Yeah…um…we got tired of the old burgundy and decided to switch to something in a dark blue. Did you like it?”
“It’s carpeting, Rydell. I don’t really give a damn.”
“You brought it up,” Rydell replied.
Cooper sighed. “And as usual when talking to you folks, I’m sorry I did. Cooper out.”
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 54001.7. After the complete and unconditional surrender of the Next Federation fleet, we have returned Waystation to its rightful place in the cosmos. The renovated station was even easier to tow into place than the first Waystation. Of course, the fact that it was in a subspace pocket at the time might have helped just a little bit.
“On the downside of all of this, Admiral Sulu has vanished…and so has the Runabout Patapsco. Since we’d left the Patapsco unmanned, Sulu was able to beam aboard and fly off while the Federation forces were dealing with the Next Federation fleet. Even though Sulu’s efforts to overthrow the Federation have utterly failed, the fact that he’s still out there is making it hard for me to celebrate.”
Looking around at the bustling crowds in Starfleet Square Mall, Captain Rydell had a hard time believing that just a couple of days ago, Waystation had been taken over by a hostile force. Evidently the station’s residents didn’t let such things get to them. Bradley Dillon was even having a “Life Returns to Normal” sale in Dillon’s Supply Depot. Rydell wondered how much of Bradley’s deep deep discounts were prompted by a desire to smooth things over with the Federation before Starfleet started asking questions about the source of the subspace generators.
Continuing down the concourse, Rydell passed the Andorian restaurant, which was also packed. At the entrance, Ih’mad stood showing off the Meritorious Service Medal Starfleet had awarded him on Rydell’s recommendation. Spotting Rydell, he bowed deeply. Rydell returned the gesture with a grin, then allowed the Andorian to return to his customers.
Soon he heard footsteps rushing up behind him. “No running in the mall,” he snapped with mock sternness as Karina Durham jogged up beside him.
“You planning on calling security?”
“That depends on whether or not you’ve been to Nendegar’s Secret.”
“Sorry. I’ve never been much for lingerie,” Karina said with a glint in her eye as she walked backwards ahead of Rydell. “Just gets in the way.”
“My sentiments exactly,” Rydell replied, grabbing her suddenly and pulling her in close.
“Captain!” Karina said, feigning shock. “What kind of example are you setting for your crew?”
“Hopefully the kind they’ll follow,” Rydell replied, then kissed her.
“Sounds like a Starfleet policy I can live with,” Karina said after the kiss. She clasped Rydell’s hand and fell into step beside him. “So where is the savior of the Federation headed?”
Rydell laughed. “Trust me. This will be hushed up before you know it. But, since you asked, I was heading to Victoria’s Pub…to meet a lady.”
“Oh really?” Karina replied. “Well well.”
“Unfortunately, the lady is married, and her husband will be there,” Rydell continued. “So I guess I can drag you along.”
“Dare I accept such an honor?” Karina laughed.
“No choice. Let’s go,” Rydell said, grabbing her arm and pulling her off down the mall.
A short distance away, Commander Dillon sat at a table by the windows of the Andorian restaurant watching the crowds pass by. Despite his external appearance of serenity, inside he was a nervous wreck. The small jewelry box in his pocket seemed to weigh a ton.
“This is nice,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins said from across the table.
“Yep,” Dillon said distractedly.
“After all that’s happened in the last couple of days, we can sure use the break.”
“Are you even listening to me?”
“That’s it. I’m leaving.”
Dillon whipped around in a blur. “Please don’t.”
“Then talk to me,” Hawkins demanded.
“I’m sorry. I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
Hawkins glared at him. “If you’re still worried about Starfleet figuring out we switched ships, stop. No one’s noticed. No one even cares.”
“It’s not that,” Dillon said, his hand wrapping around the box in his pocket. Come on, Travis. Just pull out the box and ask the question…wait, ask the question then pull out the box…and then open the box. Wait…is there a way to open the box smoothly to show off the ring as you pull it out of your pocket?
“Then what is it?” Hawkins asked impatiently.
“Well, Patricia, I… What I mean is that we… I want to know if…”
“Your dinners,” the Andorian waiter said, interrupting Dillon’s train of thought as he set two steaming plates of blackened kzeslek heart in spleen sauce down in front of them.
“Great! I’m starved,” Hawkins said, digging in. She looked up at Dillon, chewing madly. “I’m still listening,” she mumbled through a mouth full of food.
“Never mind,” Dillon said, taking his hand back out of his pocket. “It was nothing.”
Lieutenant Commander Sullivan waved from the table she was seated at with Commander Baird as Rydell and Karina stepped into Victoria’s. In one fluid motion, she grabbed a waitress with her other arm and held her until Rydell and Karina could sit down and give their drink orders.
“You have to catch them while you can, right hon?” Sullivan said.
Commander Baird grunted in agreement as he chugged down an exceptionally dark beer than flowed like maple syrup. Five other mugs in front of Baird attested to the fact that he’d been at this for a while. Of course, considering Baird’s alcohol tolerance, it’d take at least ten more for him to hit anything resembling drunk.
“There you go, luvs,” the waitress said with a cockney lilt, setting a Rigelian brew in front of Rydell and two tequila shots in front of Karina then heading back to the bar.
“I just love a British accent,” Rydell said with a smile.
“Me too,” Sullivan said. She slapped Baird playfully on the arm. “So where’s yours?”
“I lived in the UK for all of two years before my parents moved. I never got a f***ing accent,” Baird said.
“I love you anyway, hon.”
“And so do we,” Rydell added with a smirk.
“F*** you all.”
“So is there any word on our next assignment?” Sullivan asked. “If it were up to me, we’d be going after our stolen runabout,” Sullivan said.
Baird snorted. “It wasn’t even ours. How could Sulu steal something that was his in the first place?”
“As far as I’m concerned, it was ours,” Rydell said.
Sullivan sighed. “Of course now he’s gotten away, which means he’s inevitably going to show back up at some point just to torment us.”
“Oh no,” Rydell said, leaning in intently. “I’m not playing that game. He can run for now, but we are going to find him. And when we do, I’m going to end this thing once and for all!”
TO BE CONCLUDED…