Author: Alan Decker
Star Traks: The Lost Years #13
Early Check Out
“La la la LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!”
The Fat Lady
As the soft glow of candles illuminated his quarters, Captain Alexander Rydell gazed across the intimate dinner table at the woman he loved. Karina Durham smiled back, a smile of such warmth and vitality that Rydell could look at it for the rest of his life.
At that moment, Rydell was the closest he had ever been to complete contentment.
Close, but not quite there.
Something was still nagging at him, and had been ever since the Secondprize left Waystation three days earlier.
He needed to hear three little words.
And then the comm chirped.
“I have him,” Commander Jaroch’s voice stated.
Rydell’s own smile broadened as suddenly all became right with the universe.
“I’m starting to think maybe we need to start having some music at these things,” Dr. Beth Aldridge said as she scooped a heaping pile of crawfish etouffee on to her plate from the buffet in the Secondprize’s briefing room.
“Don’t push your luck, Doctor,” Captain Rydell said as he strode into the room, prompting Scott and the other assembled officers to quickly grab their plates and drinks and take their seats around the table. Karina Durham slid in behind Rydell and quietly sat down in the chair just to Rydell’s left.
“What have you got for me, Jaroch?” Rydell asked, diving right into the briefing without preamble.
The Yynsian science officer quickly swallowed a fork-full of pasta, wiped his mouth on a napkin, and stepped over to the briefing room monitor, which displayed a freeze frame image of the final confrontation between Starfleet and the Next Federation fleet that had occurred just days earlier.
“Careful analysis of sensor logs from the various vessels involved in the capture and subduing of the Next Federation ships has revealed that the Runabout Patapsco was not present by the time our forces arrived.”
“Well, we knew that,” Commander Travis Dillon said disdainfully. Jaroch shot him a quick glare, then continued with his briefing.
“However, the Secondprize’s external camera captured this image. Due to the aftereffects of the reality breach on our systems, the image is somewhat distorted, but I have enhanced it.” Jaroch activated the monitor. On the screen, a small runabout jumped to impulse and sped out of range.
“Yes. Admiral Sulu left. We got that part,” Dillon said.
Jaroch turned on Dillon. “Commander, I…”
“Generally I wouldn’t step on your presentation, Jaroch,” Rydell interrupted. “But could we get to the point?”
“Very well,” Jaroch said unhappily. “In short, Sulu fled the scene on a general heading of 384 Mark 6. No Starfleet vessels encountered the Patapsco after this; however, our Independent Advisor…” Jaroch gestured toward Karina Durham. “…was able to contact some of her…associates, who had seen our missing runabout. With their assistance, I was able to track Sulu to the planet Orlagas.”
“That was getting to the point?” Commander Scott Baird asked.
“I was quite brief,” Jaroch replied.
“You could have just said, ‘He’s on Orlagas,’” Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan said.
“That would completely overlook the process I used to track him down.”
“Exactly,” Rydell, Dillon, Sullivan, Baird, Scott, and Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins all said at once.
“Don’t feel bad, Jaroch,” Karina Durham said. “I liked the longer version.”
“Only because you were in it,” Rydell said.
“I wasn’t quite finished,” Jaroch said. “I have a great deal of information on Orlagas itself.”
Hawkins snatched Jaroch’s padd out of his hand and scanned down it quickly. “Orlagas is not in the Federation. End of story.”
“Sounds good to me,” Commander Baird said, rising from his seat. “I’ll be in Engineering.”
“Woah woah woah,” Rydell said. “Sit down.” He turned to Jaroch. “It’s not in the Federation? Where the hell is it?”
“Sector 347 Beta.”
“But that’s in Federation space.”
“True,” Jaroch said. “However Orlagas is not.”
The room was silent for a moment.
“And?” Rydell said expectantly.
“You said you wanted the short version.”
“Just tell me about the damn planet,” Rydell snapped exasperated.
Jaroch seemed quite pleased with himself as he returned to the monitor and brought up an image of a rather average-looking M class planet. A couple of continents, a couple of oceans, two polar ice caps. The usual.
“Orlagas has steadfastly refused to join the Federation ever since first contact was made fifty-four years ago. At the time, the Orlagan Council made some noises about their own desire for conquest and expansion, goals which did not fit in with the Federation charter. Their plans for galactic domination, whatever they may have been, evaporated quickly as systems neighboring Orlagas joined the Federation one by one. In short order, the Orlagans found themselves surrounded. Seven more offers for membership have been made by the Federation since then, but out of stubborness or perhaps dementia, the Orlagan Council has continued to refuse.”
Rydell sighed. “And let me guess. We don’t have an extradition treaty with them.”
“That is correct,” Jaroch replied.
“However, the Orlagans have never been ones to turn away visitors.”
“Then we’re going to Orlagas,” Rydell said, slapping his hands down on the table.
“And just what are we going to do when we get there?” Hawkins asked.
“I haven’t quite figured that part out yet,” Rydell said. “But I will,” he finished quickly, not that anyone had really seemed concerned. Rydell’s crew had been with him long enough to know that he tended to work on the fly. “Dismissed.”
Karina Durham lingered as Rydell’s officers filtered out of the conference room. “Problem?” Rydell asked.
“Since when was I an Independent Advisor?”
“Starfleet bureaucracy. I needed a way to keep you actively involved in this assignment. Otherwise, Dillon would be all over me about including you in staff meetings and all.”
“He didn’t seem to mind when we tracked down Sulu the first time,” Karina replied.
“Yeah, but then as a kidnappee, you were integrally involved in the matter at hand. Trust me, Dillon has the regs on these things cross-referenced in his head. It’s scary.”
“Well that takes care of him? But what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you sure you don’t mind having me around? This is really Starfleet’s deal now.”
“You have as much of an interest in seeing Sulu brought to justice as I do.”
“Oooh. Brought to justice. It sounds so…heroic,” Karina mocked.
“Keep messing with me, Durham, and you’ll be experiencing a whole other kind of Rydell justice,” Rydell replied with a grin.
Karina was quiet for a moment. “So you’re sure?”
“Absolutely,” Rydell said, taking her hands in his. “We’ll go to Orlagas, capture Sulu, and grab some dinner. A date and a mission all in one.”
“You sure know how to show a girl a good time.”
“You know it. I’ll see you at 8. I’ll bring the flowers; you bring the phasers.”
“Entering the Orlagas system,” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan reported from the helm console. Rydell leaned a bit farther forward in the command chair. After traveling for six days and through several parsecs of space, the Secondprize was finally closing in on its quarry.
“We’re being hailed,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins said.
“No big surprised there,” Rydell said. “Assure the Council we’re not here to invade.”
“Actually, the signal is originating from the third moon of Orlagas. Audio only.”
“Odd,” Rydell murmured. “Let’s hear it.”
Hawkins tapped a control on her console, causing a droning feminine voice to issue forth from the speakers.
“On behalf of the Orlagas Visitors’ Bureau, we welcome you to beautiful Orlagas. Get away from it all while staying close to home. Be sure to attend the annual Grinix Ingleberry Festival from Delvon 3rd to the 12th. Looking for that perfect gift? The artisans of the Opogy Craft Market create one-of-a-kind works of art daily…”
“These people wanted to conquer known space?” Commander Dillon said in disbelief.
“Well they’ve almost bored me into submission,” Sullivan commented.
“Can we talk to a real person?” Rydell asked impatiently.
“I’m working on it,” Hawkins said. “Press one…press three…press two…sh**! Press one…press three…now press FOUR!”
“Orlagas Visitors’ Bureau,” a flat female voice said tiredly. “Now’s the time to get your best rates at the Werliwuu Ski Resort. This is Jeknip. How may I help you?”
“This is Captain Alexander Rydell of the Federation Starship Secondprize. I just wanted to notify your government that we have entered your space.”
“And how long will you be staying?” Jeknip replied as if reading from a script.
“Um…it depends on how long it takes us to find the man we’re looking for.”
“Is he a fugitive from the Federation?”
“Is he or are you carrying any fruits, vegetables, or wildlife banned by the Federation-Orlagas Customs Accord of 2357?”
Rydell looked back at Jaroch questioningly. The Yynsian checked his console then shook his head. “No,” Rydell said.
“Please move into an available standard orbit and enjoy your stay with us. Thank you for visiting Orlagas.”
“Thank you,” Rydell replied. He gestured to Sullivan. “You heard the lady.”
“One standard orbit, coming up. I’ll try to find us a scenic one, but I bet the best ones are all taken this time of year,” Sullivan said.
“Captain,” Hawkins said suddenly. “We just received a text communique from the Orlagas Council. Evidently we’ve been assigned a Visitor Relations Officer to ‘enhance’ our stay.”
“More like meddle in our business,” Rydell said.
“Either way, we’re to meet with him as soon as we beam down.”
“Jaroch, any sign of Admiral Sulu?”
“There are several terrans on the surface,” Jaroch replied. “However, I have located the Patapsco. It is located in an orbital docking facility owned by a consortium of hotels and resorts. I am requesting a map of the facility now.”
“What good is that going to do us?” Dillon said. “You said you already found the runabout.”
“Yeah, but the map might tell us which hotel owns the space the Patapsco is parked in,” Hawkins snapped impatiently.
“Jeeze. Sorry,” Dillon muttered.
“It does indeed,” Jaroch said. “That particular space is assigned to the appropriately named Hidden Lair Resort and Tennis Club.”
“Jaroch, Sullivan, you’re with me. You too, Hawkins, but first tell the Orlagans we’ll meet our babysitter at the Hidden Lair and have Miss Durham join us in the transporter room,” Rydell said, heading toward the turbolift.
Rydell and the away team materialized in front of a dilapidated motel on the outskirts of Konatonga, an unremarkable small town located in the northwest of Orlagas’ primary continent. At least Rydell assumed the town was unremarkable. A misty haze seemed to cover everything with only vague outlines of other buildings visible in the distance.
“How luxurious,” Sullivan muttered, looking over the long, ranch style motel. Its pale blue paint was badly faded and cracked as the structure itself seemed to sag.
Jaroch checked his tricorder. “It is made of…” He suppressed a smirk. “…wood.”
“Maybe they’re going for some sort of nostalgia thing,” Rydell offered.
“Actually we are,” a short, hunched-over man said as he approached from the entrance of the motel lobby. “Our guests find it rustic.”
“My apologies,” Rydell said, immediately switching into diplomatic mode.
“I’m guessing you’re the Starfleet people I’m supposed to meet,” the man replied, sounding less than thrilled. “The uniforms are kind of a tip-off.”
“And I thought we’d blend right in,” Hawkins muttered.
Rydell quickly shook the man’s hand, while pointing off toward the motel with his free hand. Jaroch, Hawkins, Sullivan, and Karina Durham wordlessly scattered to start their search.
“Where are they going?” the man said, looking at the retreating officers.
“We haven’t even been introduced,” Rydell said, turning the man’s head back to face him. “Captain Alexander Rydell. USS Secondprize. And you are?”
“Um…Eickner. Thadlo Eickner. Visitor Relations Office.”
“A pleasure,” Rydell said, releasing Eickner from his iron handshake and walking off toward the motel lobby, forcing Eickner to jog to catch up.
“Captain, we really need to talk about this fugitive situation before I can allow you to proceed,” Eickner protested. “What you’re about to do is considered a VERY serious violation of our treaty with the Federation. Unless you want to provoke a war…”
“War?” Rydell gasped in shock, playing it for all it was worth. “My dear Mister Eickner, I assure you that my crew and I have no intention of violating Orlagan law or the sanctity of the treaty between our governments that we all value so highly. We simply wish to ascertain that Hitori Sulu is, in fact, here.”
“And if he is?” Eickner asked skeptically.
“We may ask him to speak to us, but if he doesn’t, that’s his affair. You have my word as a Starfleet Officer that we will not remove him from this planet.”
Rydell stepped through the doors into the lobby, a dreary room covered in dark wood paneling that seemed to sap every ounce of life from the place. Behind a large desk, a heavyset woman leaned back in a chair engrossed in a padd on which she was watching one of the new Feder-dramas that had sprung up in response to the success of Days of Honor. She didn’t seem to notice that anyone else had entered the lobby.
A few moments later, the remaining members of the away team entered, mission accomplished.
“There are five terrans at this motel besides present company,” Jaroch reported.
“Two of them are an elderly couple,” Hawkins said. “I met them on their way to dinner. Evidently, there’s a great Chinese place just in town.”
“Here?” Rydell asked in disbelief.
“We have to cater to the likes of our guests,” Eickner said unhappily. “Sure you all want to come to Orlagas. Oh it’s so exotic to go to a non-Federation world. Aren’t you all such risk takers? And then you won’t eat our food!”
“But then there are those that do not consider boiled tree branches in snail slime sauce to be food,” Jaroch remarked.
“YOU EAT THAT?” Rydell, Hawkins, Sullivan, and Karina shouted.
“It’s a delicacy,” Eickner snapped insulted.
The woman at the counter belched loudly. “Yep,” she grunted. “Had three branches for lunch myself.”
Rydell shook off his growing nausea and tried to refocus on the matter at hand. “What about the other terrans?”
“One’s a woman,” Karina said.
“According to my tricorder scans, there are two other terran males, but neither has left his room,” Jaroch said.
Rydell looked around the lobby for a moment, then locked onto a pot of limp flowers. He grabbed two flowers and handed one each to Hawkins and Sullivan. “Have some civilian clothes sent down, then it’s door knock time.”
“Why can’t she do this?” Sullivan asked, pointing at Karina. “She’s already in civies!”
“Yeah, but Sulu will recognize her.”
“And he won’t recognize us?” Sullivan said. “We beamed onto his bridge and kicked the crap out of his officers!”
“And he tried to have me executed,” Hawkins added.
“True, but I think he was more focused on me. Just go with me on this one.”
“Fine, but what are we supposed to do with the flowers?”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Rydell replied.
“Who’s there?” the occupant of Room 213 called through his door.
“Flower-gram!” came the perky reply.
The man opened his door and saw a smiling young woman gazing back at him. As advertised, she held a long yellow flower in her hand.
“What do you want?” the man snapped.
The woman started to sing.
“Welcome to Orlagas.
We think it’s really neat.
Now come eat at China Hills!
Our buffet can’t be beat!”
The woman abruptly pushed the flower into the man’s hand and ran off down the sidewalk.
Mortimer Crenshaw, recently retired from 50 years of service to the Federation Freight Service, shrugged and shuffled back into his room to return to his nap.
“It wasn’t him,” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan said, running back into the lobby. “But I think he liked the song. And that damn Chinese place owes me for the advertising I just did.”
“Nice work. I’m sorry I missed the musical number, though,” Rydell said.
“We can do a duet sometime,” Sullivan replied. “Maybe Simms Ship Lines needs new jingle singers.”
“Perhaps we could forgo any further musical interludes and wait for Lieutenant Commander Hawkins to return,” Jaroch said.
“The thrill is gone, eh Jaroch?” Rydell chided.
The door of room 178 opened just a crack revealing merely a hint of the room’s dim interior.
“What?” the room’s occupant demanded, his features shrouded in shadow.
“Have you ever considered the true meaning of peace?” the woman standing outside the door asked, a large flower hiding large portions of her face.
“Ha!” the man spat.
“Your cynicism blocks your path to enlightenment. Only through the Church of the…Yellow Blossom will you find the path to serenity.”
“I had my path,” the room’s occupant said darkly. “Now I’m working on another one.”
“But why toil in solitude when you can join your brothers and sisters in the Church of the Yellow Blossom?”
“I think my way will be far more fulfilling.”
The woman nodded slightly. “At least allow me to bless your endeavors…”
“…and that’s when I smacked him with the flower,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins explained safely back in the lobby of the Hidden Lair Resort and Tennis Club (Although, with all the fog around, the away team yet had to figure out where the tennis courts were, much less how anyone could play on them).
“But you’re sure it was Sulu?” Rydell asked.
“Oh yeah. Definitely.”
“Wait,” Eickner interrupted. “You assaulted a guest on our world?”
“She blessed him,” Rydell said before Hawkins could reply to the Orlagan, an event which would most likely involve blood loss. “Surely your world is not going to stand in the way of free religious expression.”
Eickner muttered something under his breath and wandered off toward the motel’s brochure rack.
Hawkins suddenly turned on Rydell. “With all due respect, sir, please don’t ever make me do that again. I barely made it through.”
“It sounds to me like you did a great job,” Rydell replied.
“Yeah, but peace and serenity? Give me a break!”
“So what’s the next step in the master plan?” Karina asked.
“Back off, lady. We’re professionals,” Rydell said with a grin.
“Sure enough,” Sullivan said, then fell silent for a second. “So what are we going to do? We can’t just beam him out of here.”
“Like the Orlagans would even notice,” Hawkins said.
“Yes, we would!” Eickner called from the brochure rack.
“If we can’t take Sulu, we’re just going to have to convince him to leave,” Rydell said. “Oh, Mister Eickner!”
“What now?” Eickner asked, walking back over to them. “Haven’t you done what you came here to do?”
Rydell smiled. “Why yes we have, but we just can’t get over the natural beauty of this area! Can we, folks?”
“Oh definitely not!” Karina said effusively as Hawkins and Sullivan nodded and smiled weakly.
“Mister Jaroch?” Rydell prompted.
“The area is…a place I had not visited.”
“See?” Rydell said quickly. “He doesn’t say that about just anywhere.”
“Only those places I have not visited,” Jaroch remarked, prompting Hawkins to slam her boot down on his foot.
“So you’re staying?” Eickner asked warily.
“Absolutely!” Rydell replied, clapping his hands together as he strode past the dismayed Orlagan over to the motel check in counter, where another visitor was busy trying to get a room.
“…I don’t need a lot of monogrammed towels or unnecessary extras of that sort which jack of the price. All I’m looking for is a clean room, reasonably priced. And that’s what I heard you had here. Clean rooms, reasonably priced.”
“Room 154,” the desk clerk said flatly, pointing at a retinal scanner imbedded in the desk. “Check out time is eleven. Next.”
“We’d like a room please,” Rydell said, stepping forward with charming smile.
“A room?” the clerk replied with a scowl as she considered the group. “One room for all five of you?”
“Six,” Eickner said unhappily.
“Starfleet’s on a budget,” Rydell shrugged.
“Fine,” the woman replied. “Room…”
“We require room 176 or 180,” Jaroch said quickly, referring to his tricorder.
“I believe that 180 may be unoccupied.”
The clerk typed in the room request. “You friends of the Admiral?” she asked uninterestedly.
“Oh, there’s an admiral here?” Rydell asked innocently.
“Admiral Sulu’s kept a room here for several years now. Funny you should come now. I think this is the first time he’s actually used it.”
Rydell forced a laugh. “What a coincidence.”
Eickner just groaned.
A short time later, the away team was safely ensconced in Room 180, a clean, reasonably priced room with two double beds and a cot, and unpacking two large suitcases that the Secondprize had beamed down.
“I fail to see what good any of this is going to do,” Eickner, who had insisted on tagging along, said disapprovingly.
“And the beauty of it is you don’t have to,” Rydell retorted, prompting an even deeper scowl from the Orlagan bureaucrat.
Rydell decided to soften his stance a bit. “You said yourself that we cannot take Admiral Sulu off of this planet, right?”
“Correct. You’d be starting a MAJOR diplomatic incident!” Eickner replied. Sullivan and Hawkins quickly turned away to hide their snickering as Rydell nodded gravely.
“Exactly,” Rydell continued. “But if Sulu should decide to leave on his own, that’s not your problem.”
“I guess…” Eickner said warily.
“Then we’re in good shape,” Rydell said bright. “Jaroch, start drilling.”
Unbeknownst to Admiral Sulu, a micro-thin laser penetrated the wall of his motel room just below the velvet painting of some man in a white jumpsuit singing into a microphone. Two tiny filaments then poked through the hole ever so slightly.
“I have video,” Jaroch said from the bed in Room 180, where he sat hunched over a small monitor.
“That’s it?” Rydell asked, looking at the grainy feed.
“He has his lights off,” Jaroch said. “I can switch to infrared; however, the image will not improve dramatically.”
“What about night vision?” Hawkins asked.
“It’s a bigger fiber.”
“Let’s not risk it,” Rydell said, looking over Sulu’s room as best he could. The Admiral himself was seated at the room’s wooden table, jotting notes into a padd. Nearby, the bed sat undisturbed; although, oddly enough, the pillows had been pulled onto the floor.
“What is he doing?” Rydell asked.
“Hopefully writing his last will and testament,” Karina replied.
“He certainly seems to be deep in concentration, whatever it is,” Sullivan said as an evil smile crossed her face. “Let’s screw it up!”
Sulu read over the last several lines he had written, checking carefully to make sure the conveyed his exact sentiments about the…
BOOM BOOM SHAKA LAKA BOOM!!
BOOM BOOM SHAKA LAKA BOOM BOOM!!
Sulu’s hands instinctively flew up to cover his ears, almost puncturing his right ear drum with his light pen in the process.
The noise was unrelenting.
BOOM SHAKA LAKA BOOM!!
BOOM BOOM SHAKA LAKA BOOM BOOM!!
“NOW IT’S TIME FOR THE ROMULAN ROCK
ROCKIN FAR HARDER THAN MISTER SPOCK!!!
KLINGONS THINK THAT THEY’RE THE SH**!!!
WELL, WE’RE HERE AND TOO LEGIT!!!”
“Where did you find that?” Rydell asked Jaroch as the Yynsian valiantly fought to suppress a smirk.
“The Secondprize has a rather extensive music database,” Jaroch replied. “Mainly thanks to yourself.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you knew about this…stuff.”
“Let us just say that I was saving it for a similar use aboard ship,” Jaroch said.
“Commander Dillon won’t know what he’s missing,” Rydell said with a laugh.
“Oh, I am sure that I will find a suitable substitute.”
After several minutes of futile pounding on the wall of his room, Sulu threw his door open and marched furiously to the door of Room 180, the source of the hideous racket assaulting his ears.
“Oops. I think we may have been a little too loud,” Rydell said.
“Are you going to answer it?” Karina asked alarmed.
“He’ll know it’s us!”
“That’s what I’m counting on,” Rydell said. “Togas everyone.” Rydell grabbed a few white sheets out of one of the suitcases and tossed them to the room’s occupants, who quickly slid them on. Eickner eyed his for a moment, then decided to follow suit. When in Rome…
Sulu pounded on the door several more times, each one harder than the last. After sliding on his toga, Rydell bided his time for a bit, whistling casually, then finally threw the door open just as Sulu was about to knock again.
“Woah! You aren’t Bruce! Where’s my keg?” Rydell said as Sulu’s eyes widened in utter horror. The throbbing veins on his forehead were enough to make Rydell wonder if the Admiral was going to have a stroke right then and there.
“You…how…you…no…can’t….” Sulu stammered for words, his chest heaving rapidly as his mind struggled to deal with the impossibility standing before him.
“Sorry if we were too loud,” Rydell continued unfazed. “We’re just REALLY excited to finally be here. See you around.” Rydell closed the door just as Sulu finally found his voice.
“It’s not going to work, Rydell!” Admiral Sulu shouted, looking up from his padd. He checked the chronometer quickly. 3:30 in the morning. Who the hell was up at this hour?
“I said go away!”
“No you didn’t,” a female voice called from the other side of the door.
“Well, that’s what I meant!”
“That’s it!” Sulu stalked over to the comm panel on the beside table and called the front desk.
“Hidden Lair Resort and Tennis Club front desk. How may I help you?”
“Rydell?!?” Sulu shouted, jumping back from the comm panel as though it had bit him.
“Hitori? Is that you, you old son of a photon torpedo?” Rydell’s voice replied jovially. “Imagine that. Here I am, just giving the old fellow who works the night shift a break, and someone I know calls. What are the odds?”
“You won’t get away with this, Rydell!” Sulu replied angrily, slapping the comm line closed.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
“Police! Open up!”
Captain Rydell crawled out of bed, wiping the sleep from his eyes as he did so, and stumbled over to the door dressed only in his Starfleet issue boxer shorts.
A young Orlagan in a police uniform was at the door; Admiral Sulu stood a few steps back smiling evilly. “May I help you?” Rydell asked innocently.
“This gentlemen has made some serious charges against you and your friends,” the officer said. “Have you been stalking him?”
“Stalking?” Rydell exclaimed in surprise. “Of course not! Now we did get a tad too boisterous when we first arrived, but we apologized for that.”
“Is that true?” the officer asked, turning on Sulu.
“It was a ruse!” Sulu spat.
“But he did apologize,” Eickner said, crawling up off of the floor where he’d crashed for the night. For a bureaucrat, he certainly was tenacious. He refused to leave Rydell and company alone for one moment.
“I see,” the officer said, glaring at Sulu. “Now what about this late-night knocking.”
“It wasn’t me,” Rydell said. “I was working last night.”
“Working?” the officer asked surprised.
“He took the late shift for Mister Holnick,” Karina Durham said, sliding up beside Rydell with only a sheet draped loosely around her, the effect of which was not lost on the officers. “He’s such a sweet old man that Alex couldn’t stand to have him slaving down in the cold lobby alone.”
“Of course he wasn’t the one knocking,” Sulu snapped. “He was the one who answered when I commed the front desk! It was a woman, dammit! Ask them!”
The officer pulled a small device off of his belt and typed in a couple of commands. The device obediently spat out a piece of paper, which the officer slapped into Sulu’s hand. “I sincerely hope this fine will show you how seriously we here on Orlagas take the filing of false reports.” He turned back to Rydell and tipped his hat. “I’m sorry to have bothered you, sir…ma’am.”
“No trouble at all,” Karina replied, flashing a warm smile that brought a blush to the officer’s face as he retreated.
“This isn’t over, Rydell!” Sulu shouted as Rydell started to close the door.
“Not by a long shot,” Rydell replied, allowing the door to slam shut as Sulu fumed impotently.
“You know,” Rydell said thoughtfully sixteen hours later as he paced Room 180, “I really expected some sort of countermove from him by now.” Over the ensuing hours since Sulu’s last appearance at their doorstep, the away team had grown rather bored. Even Eickner had excused himself, saying he had more urgent affairs to attend to; although, he insisted that Rydell contact him before making any further moves. Rydell had replied with his usual, jaunty “Not a problem!” then proceeded to completely push the existence of the Orlagan bureaucrat out of his mind.
“He’s just laying there,” Sullivan said, peering at the grainy video feed from Sulu’s room as the Admiral lay motionless on the bed. For some reason, about the time Sulu had gotten into bed, the picture from his room had gone haywire, forcing Jaroch to spend several minutes compensating. At first, Rydell had thought that Sulu was trying some sort of diversion while he slipped away, but tricorder readings indicated that the person in the room was indeed Sulu and he was indeed alive…even if he’d been motionless for ages.
“He must have one hell of a headache,” Karina muttered.
“What do you mean?” Rydell asked, walking over to the monitor.
“He’s had that neural relaxer on ever since he got into bed,” Karina said, pointing at an indistinct shape on Sulu’s head.
“Guess we’re really getting to him,” Rydell said, moving away. “Maybe now we should…” Rydell trailed off as a vague memory stirred. Something wasn’t right.
“Jaroch, pull up the video from our initial scans of the room. Was that device visible anywhere?”
“What are you thinking, Alex?” Karina asked as Rydell hunched over the monitor while Jaroch called up the requested time index.
“I believe this may be it,” Jaroch said, magnifying a section of the frame. On the nightstand beside the then-unused bed sat a semi-circular device that would just fit around someone’s head.
“Okay. This is going to sound strange, but did we lose the video feed when he put that thing on?” Rydell asked, his hands moving edgily. Jaroch scanned forward through the sensor data until the moment the video had gone haywire. Sure enough, Sulu had just put the device on his head and activated it.
“Son of a…” Rydell said, shaking his head in shock. “Hawkins, do you recognize that thing?”
Lieutenant Commander Hawkins stared at the screen for a moment as Jaroch brought the enhanced image back up. “Should I? It’s just a…that f***ing prick!”
“I think she remembers,” Rydell said.
“Then could you fill the rest of us in?” Sullivan asked.
“That’s the thing Admiral Wyndham was using to amplify his mind or take us into his mind or get into my mind or whatever the hell that thing did,” Hawkins said angrily.
“Several years ago, we saw a device like this on an asteroid outpost moments before it blew up,” Rydell explained to Karina. “Before that, though, we didn’t even know we were in an outpost. Somehow, whatever that thing is allowed Wyndham to basically control reality. He could even go into our minds.”
Hawkins already had her phaser drawn. “I’m going over there,” she said, marching toward the door.
“You go into that room, and you’ll be stepping right into Sulu’s reality,” Rydell said. “You’re going to need completely different weapons in there. I’ll go.”
“What?” Karina exclaimed.
“Miss Durham has a point,” Jaroch said. “As you yourself just said, you will require different weapons.”
Rydell smiled. “True enough.” He headed toward the door. “Remember, you are not to lay a hand on Sulu on Orlagas. If he makes a move, let him go. We’ll handle it from the Secondprize.” Rydell stepped out of the room, leaving those remaining in silence.
“Damn I hate watching him go like that,” Karina said, slumping down onto the bed.
Sullivan sat down beside her. “Comes with the job. You’ll get used to it.”
“Maybe I don’t want to get used to it.”
“If I may, Miss Durham,” Jaroch said. “I do not believe he enjoys watching you leave to pursue your particular line of work either.”
Karina chuckled weakly. “I certainly do run into my share of occupational hazards…but then so does he.”
“The real question is, are they hazards that the other person can live with?” Sullivan said.
“And is the other person someone you can live with?” Hawkins muttered.
Karina put her hands up to silence the conversation. “Let’s get him through the current hazard, then we can figure out my love life…assuming I still have one.”
Aside from just showing himself to be an all-around nice guy and giving himself the opportunity to torment Sulu a bit more, Captain Rydell had had an ulterior motive for taking over the night shift at the motel’s front desk from that kindly old gentleman, Mr. Holnick. It gave him the opportunity to add his own retinal scan to the file on Sulu’s room.
Rydell looked squarely into the scanner of Room 178, the door of which immediately unlocked with a soft click. Despite the confident facade he’d put on for his crew and Karina…more for Karina…Rydell had no real desire to step into the room. His last experience with one of these devices had been entirely unpleasant and almost cost Hawkins her mind.
The door opened into nothing. Just a flat surface of opaque shimmering blackness stared back at him. Rydell took one deep breath to steel himself, then stepped forward, sliding right through the blackness into…
He was on the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters as the sun shone down from above. The scene was idyllic. Not too warm, a slight breeze coming in off of the bay fluttering the leaves and blades of grass gently.
Rydell’s eye was caught by the buildings off in the distance, buildings that were there but not quite there. The entire landscape grew fuzzy the farther away he peered. Then Rydell saw the statue. A massive figure rising ten stories into the air. High Commander Hitori Sulu.
The courtyard in front of headquarters, which had been deserted a moment earlier, was suddenly filled with armed Starfleet Officers, all wearing the uniforms of the late 23rd century, the stiff maroon jobs that Rydell had always thought looked way too severe for Starfleet.
“You will come with us,” a brusk male said, grabbing Rydell’s arm as another officer grabbed his other arm. The sensation was strange, as though there was an invisible layer of something between him and the officers holding him. Rydell tried to look at the guards’ faces, but could not get them to come into focus. From his peripheral vision, he could make out eyebrows, a nose, and lips, but when he looked at the man dead on, the features blurred and fuzzed just as the buildings in the distance had.
Rydell was dragged into the headquarters building, through the corridors, and to the doors of what had been the main auditorium used for large-scale briefings, award ceremonies, and the like. But as the doors slid open, Rydell saw that the decor had been changed a bit. Rows of officers stood at attention on either side of the room, forming an aisle down to the front, where Admiral Sulu sat in a high backed chair. Rydell fought down a smirk as he realized the chair was a replica of the command chair from an old Constitution-class starship that had had its back rest raised to a ridiculous degree.
The guards holding Rydell dragged him to the front of the chamber and tossed him forward. Obviously, they’d hoped Rydell would hit the ground at Sulu’s feet, but Rydell kept his footing, drawing an angry sneer from Sulu.
“I bet you didn’t think you’d be stepping into this, eh Rydell?” Sulu said. “You thought you were going to just waltz into that fetid motel room and take me away.”
“Not really,” Rydell replied nonchalantly. “I saw your doohickey.”
“WHEN DID YOU SEE MY DOOHICKEY?!?” Sulu bellowed.
“Really, Admiral. You shouldn’t talk about such things in front of your men.”
Sulu rose from his “throne” in a fury and stalked down to Rydell. “How do you know about the mind expander? Tell me, or I will create a hell for you so terrifying that you’ll spend the rest of your short miserable existence whimpering my name.”
“First off, I really don’t give a damn about your threats. And second, it’s not that big a deal. Admiral Wyndham led me to one of those doohickeys years ago.”
“I think you overestimate your power here. This is my mind. MY domain!”
Rydell shrugged. “Fits the pattern.”
“Pattern?” Sulu snapped angrily. “I don’t have a pattern! I am far too complex of a man for you to ever understand. We Sulus are tactical geniuses, stretching all the way back to my cousin’s great grandfather Hikaru Sulu!”
“In your case, it skipped a generation,” Rydell said. “This place fits your pattern, your pathetic miserable pattern.”
“Fine. What pattern?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Because it’s my pattern!”
“I thought you didn’t have a pattern.”
“TELL ME BEFORE I HAVE YOU EVISCERATED!”
“Jeeze. What a grouch.”
Rydell stared at Sulu unfazed. “You’re reality-obsessed,” he said finally.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You feel like you haven’t achieved the glory you should have or lived up to your family name, so, rather than blame it on your own shortcomings, you’ve decided to change reality. First you tried externally with the Next Federation, and I’m sure that the idea of using the subspace generators to hide your fleet appealed to you in ways you couldn’t even consciously comprehend. Then when that failed miserably, you decided to retreat into another reality created in your own mind by the doohickey, which I assume you stole from Starfleet Sciences or something years ago. But the point is, you suck, but you’re blaming reality.”
“Where did you get this stream of psychobabble?” Sulu said with utter contempt.
“I took a correspondence course in high school. Pretty good, huh? I think I missed my calling.”
“Not hardly. You’re wrong. Completely wrong. Every bit of it,” Sulu stated. “I know what I’m trying to do here, and I don’t expect you to understand. Hikaru will understand, though. He’ll see what I’ve accomplished.”
“Um…I hate to break this to you, but…”
A loud fanfare sounded, echoing through the chamber.
“He has arrived!” Admiral Sulu exclaimed, turning on his heel and striding back to his throne. “Keep this one quiet,” he ordered as guards grabbed Rydell and pulled him off to the side of the aisle.
The chamber doors swung open revealing a lone man standing at the entrance. As some over-ostentatious march played, the man strode down the aisle, taking in the scene around him as he did so.
Hikaru Sulu, looking like he’d just stepped out of a holovid from one of Rydell’s Academy history classes, stopped before Hitori Sulu’s throne as the Admiral rose from his seat to greet his honored guest.
“Great Great Uncle, welcome to the Next Federation. I trust you had a pleasant trip,” Hitori said, with a slight bow.
Hikaru Sulu ignored him for the moment as he continued to survey the room. At long last, he turned to face his descendant. “My…GOD!”
“You like it!”
“Have you completely lost touch with reality?” Hikaru finished as Hitori’s face flashed to a look of confused fear.
“Told you,” Rydell remarked from a few feet away.
Hitori chose to ignore him, instead focusing on his ancestor. “I have returned the Federation to its proper place in the galaxy.”
“I wasn’t aware that it had lost its place,” Hikaru replied.
“The old Federation had become weak. When it should have been out expanding borders and conquering foes, it was too busy with talking and diplomacy. The Federation changed, so I took action to change it back.”
“The Federation didn’t change,” Rydell said. “The galaxy did. Look at the political landscape, Admiral. There are other powers in almost every direction. Of course diplomacy was going to become more important. It’s either that or war.”
“Maybe wars are what we need,” Hitori shot back. “But our leadership is too cowardly to fight them.”
“Tell that to the Dominion,” Rydell replied.
Hikaru Sulu placed a hand on Hitori’s shoulder. “This isn’t the way to your own command.”
“Wait a minute,” Rydell said. “He’s never had a command? Then how did he become an Admiral?”
“He rose up through the administrative ladder.”
“They said I was unfit for the center seat,” Hitori cried. “UNFIT! ME!”
“Imagine that,” Rydell muttered.
“Quiet, Rydell! I know who I am and what I’m capable of! And if the Federation thinks they’re going to keep me down…”
“Shut up!” Hikaru Sulu thundered. “You should have stayed in the damn accounting corps where you belonged.”
“No!” Hitori shot back. “You of all people have to understand! The Next Federation was going to be modeled after your example.”
“No thank you,” Hikaru said. “And you should listen to this man.” He gestured at Rydell. “He’s the only one here with any sense.”
Hitori sputtered. “You…you’re agreeing with Rydell? That imbecile?”
Hikaru Sulu stiffened. “That imbecile, as you call him, is a Starfleet captain, a champion of Federation ideals. But you…you are a traitor.”
“No no no. Not here too!” Hitori wailed. “NOOOOOO!” Hitori clapped his hands to his head, then vanished in a flash.
“He’ll be shutting down the mind expander now,” Hikaru said. “We only have a few moments.”
“Thank you. I don’t think I could have gotten through to him without you.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Rydell was quiet for a moment, trying to figure out how to make conversation with a legend. “Um…sir?”
“Did mean all of that champion of Federation ideals bit?”
Hikaru smiled. “I may have embellished a bit…but I must say that you do remind me of someone I once served with.”
Hikaru started laughing. “Not hardly,” he said as the world around Rydell dissolved into blackness.
Slightly dazed, Rydell stepped out of Room 178, mind expander in hand, and found Jaroch waiting for him on the walkway.
“Are you all right, sir?” Jaroch asked.
“Fine,” Rydell said, shaking his head a bit. “Just had a bit of a reality shift there.”
“I believe we have had far too many of those in the last several weeks.”
“No arguments there,” Rydell replied. “What about Sulu?”
“The Admiral checked out moments ago and requested immediate transport to the orbital docking facility. He appeared to be rather upset.”
“Well, watching all of your dreams and aspirations vanish in an instant can do that to a guy,” Rydell said.
“Quite. Shall I contact the Secondprize?”
“Sure, but aren’t we a few people short?”
“Lieutenant Commanders Hawkins and Sullivan and Miss Durham are waiting for us on board. They beamed up as soon as Sulu left.”
“I see. It’s all about Sulu. No one cares about MY well-being.”
“I have no doubt Miss Durham will see to your well-being later this evening.”
Rydell laughed. “I’ve managed to teach you something over the years after all.” Rydell fell silent for a moment as Jaroch contacted the Secondprize.
“Hey, Jaroch,” Rydell said as they waited for the transporter to lock on to them. “Do I remind you of James T. Kirk at all?”
“Not even a little.”
“Would you like the list?”
“Um…never mind,” Rydell said as he and Jaroch began to dematerialize.
“Okay, where’s our little rat scurrying to now?” Rydell asked as he ran out of the turbolift onto the Secondprize’s bridge.
“Heading 174 Mark 6,” Hawkins reported from tactical.
“But we aren’t going to be chasing him any time soon,” Karina Durham said from Counselor Webber’s usual seat to the left of the command chair as she pointed at the viewscreen.
“Oh,” Rydell said, instantly deflating as he saw the group of Orlagan ships hovering around the Secondprize. He turned on Commander Dillon. “What did you do?”
“Nothing!” Dillon cried, rising indignantly from his seat.
“He really didn’t this time,” Lieutenant Carr said from ops.
“Amazingly enough,” Sullivan muttered.
“The Orlagan Minister of Starfleet Relations has asked to speak to you whenever you returned,” Hawkins said. “Do you want to talk to her?”
“Might as well,” Rydell said, straightening his uniform as the viewscreen image switched to show a middle-aged woman in a pressed business suit sitting stiffly behind a large wooden desk. The name “Minister Golichek” printed in large gold letters on a black name plate sat at the front of the desk. Behind her on the wall hung a large portrait of the Minister herself dressed in the same damn suit.
“Minister,” Rydell said, with a deferential nod. “I am Captain Rydell of the USS Secondprize. My tactical officer says you wished to speak with me.”
“Don’t play innocent with me, Rydell,” Golichek shot back. “Admiral Sulu contacted my office and told me what you’ve been up to. Mister Eickner may think you stayed within the bounds of Orlagan law, but I’m not so easily fooled. I know what you did.”
“We were trying to run Sulu off the planet,” Rydell replied.
“You were trying to run Sulu off the planet!” Golichek shouted, then realized what Rydell had just said. “Ha! So you admit it!”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Rydell asked. “We did it. It worked. Now we’ll be going.”
“Not so fast, Rydell. I don’t want Starfleet to think they can just waltz in here and harass our guests, wanted criminals or no. You’re staying here until Sulu is long gone. We have mobilized our entire fleet against you!”
“Ah, so that would explain the Orlagan amateur production of Swan Lake going on outside my ship.”
“That’s it, Rydell! I WILL be lodging a formal protest with your government. See how you like that! HA!” Minister Golichek slammed her hand down on her desk, closing the comm channel.
“How many ships is it, Hawkins?”
“Fifteen,” Hawkins said. “But we can take them.”
“No no. That would start a ‘war,’” Rydell said, rolling his eyes.
“Come on!” Hawkins said hopefully. “It’d be a really short war.”
“I know, but we’re going to play nice and sit here.”
“Sit here!” Karina said in shock. “After all this, we’re just going to let him get away?”
Rydell smiled. “Not quite. I had a feeling something like this might happen. It usually does with this type of government. I’ve made arrangements.”
“What sort of arrangements?”
“I called in a favor.”
“Could you be less vague?” Karina snapped.
Rydell’s grin grew wider. “Nope.”
Admiral Sulu couldn’t help but laugh as he sped away from the Orlagan system. In typical Starfleet fashion, they had just sent one ship to capture him. So with the Secondprize detained around Orlagas, he was free to find a new place to hide.
The loss of the mind expander was troublesome. He never should have let Rydell rattle him to the point that he left it behind, but that wouldn’t matter in the larger scheme of things. Actually, it was for the best. Retreating into his own mind was weak. He needed to rebuild and replan. The Federation could still be his. But right now, he needed another non-Federation world where he could start anew.
His concentration was shot all to hell as another ship blew past his so quickly that their deflector shields almost brushed against each other. Sulu stared ahead, trying to make out the type of ship it was.
Another runabout. A cold spike of fear shot down Sulu’s spine, but he quickly calmed himself. Whoever was in the other runabout wasn’t necessarily looking for him. From the way the other runabout was moving, Sulu wondered if it’d been stolen from a Starfleet installation. Federation pilots usually didn’t nearly graze other ships.
Sulu slapped his comm panel, hailing the other ship. “You maniac! You’d better calm that flying down, Mister, or I’m going to file a report with Starfleet.”
“Admiral Sulu? Is that you?” an unfamiliar male voice called back. “This is Lieutenant Zachary Ford? Do you remember me? I flew a shuttlepod for you just before I got assigned to the Secondprize, remember? You got spacesick and threw up all over your dress uniform.”
Sulu’s eyes widened in horror. Ford. Sulu had ordered him transferred to the Secondprize right after the shuttlepod incident. The man was a menace at the helm.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!!!” Sulu shouted, suddenly veering the Patapsco into a nearby star system. There was enough cover there for him to dodge Ford for a while.
“Come on, Admiral. It was only a little loop,” Ford continued.
“STAY AWAY!” Sulu closed the comm channel and wiped away the sweat that was suddenly appearing on his brow as he steered close to a ringed gas giant in the system.
Secondprize. Secondprize. Why did he keep running into the Secondprize? Weren’t there ANY other ships in Starfleet?
In answer to his question, the mammoth silhouette of a Galaxy-class starship emerged from behind the gas giant on a direct course with the Patapsco. Before Sulu could take evasive maneuvers, a tractor beam lanced out of the Galaxy-class ship’s saucer, locking the runabout in place in perfect position for Sulu to read the larger vessel’s hull lettering:
The comm system indicator blinked that a hail was being received, but Sulu refused to answer it. Then somehow, as though of its own free will, the monitor beside him flashed to life.
“Well, if it isn’t Admiral Sulu?” the man in the Explorer’s command chair said without the slightest hint of surprise in his voice. Sulu hesitantly looked at the screen. The image of Commander David Conway waved back. “Greetings from the crew of the USS Explorer. Captain Baxter would have liked to be here, but he’s serving a short prison sentence at the moment. Otherwise, though, the gang’s all here. The gang YOU put here from what I understand. Say there, J’hana, what is it we’re supposed to be again?”
“Incompetents and rejects,” the Explorer’s Andorian tactical officer replied scowling.
“Really? You don’t say? Wow, I hope we aren’t so incompetent that we accidently launch a torpedo and blow the Admiral out of space. That would be a real shame, wouldn’t it?”
“Only because I would not be able to torture him personally,” J’hana replied.
“We can’t have that now, can we?” Conway said, turning to Lieutenant Commander Kristen Larkin in the chair beside him. “Do we have accommodations for the Admiral?”
“Indeed,” the android replied. “I believe he will find our brig austere, yet sufficient.”
“Hear that, Admiral?” Conway said. “We’ve got the red carpet all ready for you. Energize, J’hana…and try to keep his limbs on this time.”
As Sulu dematerialized on his way to the Explorer’s brig, his cry echoed deafeningly through the Runabout Patapsco.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 54024.3. Thanks to a little timely intervention by Commander David Conway and the crew of the Explorer, Admiral Hitori Sulu has been apprehended and is currently on his way to the UFP Legal Affairs Facility on Rigus IX to await trial. Both Admiral Cooper and Admiral Wagner assure me that Sulu will not be seeing the outside of a penal colony for a VERY long time.
“Meanwhile, the Secondprize has departed Orlagas after a positively delightful stay. And we even managed to avoid a major diplomatic incident. Will wonders never cease? But now it’s high time I turn my attention to a matter of a far more personal nature.”
Captain Rydell stepped into Seven Backward to find that the lounge was practically deserted. Of course, since Guinanco disapproved of late-night carousing, the place usually emptied after the music shut off at 2200 hours.
Rydell wasn’t all that interested in drinking or carousing that particular moment. Instead, the object of his interest sat at a table by the window watching the stars sail past as the Secondprize cruised along at warp.
“I seem to remember finding you in this exact spot a couple of years ago,” Rydell said to Karina Durham as he sat down in the chair across from her.
“Same situation, too,” Karina replied sadly. “I’d lost my ship then as well. I’ve got to stop hanging around with you, Rydell. You’re bad for business.”
“Hey, I lost my ship this time, too,” Rydell replied.
“Seems you fixed that problem,” Karina said somewhat bitterly.
Rydell waved over a waiter. The waiter shook his head no, but a quick, fierce glare from Rydell caused him to change his mind. “Two gin and tonics,” he ordered. The waiter was about to protest that the bar was closed, but thought better of it and scurried off to fill the order.
“So are you just going to get another ship?” Rydell asked.
“The Federation is going to foot the bill, so why not?”
“Maybe I’ve got a better idea,” Rydell said as the waiter returned with their drinks.
“Like what?” Karina snapped skeptically before downing hers in one gulp.
Rydell took a long drink from his, then set it down on the table thoughtfully. “Stay here…with me.”
“I could take some leave. We could go see how the remodeling job is coming at the Suburb.”
Karina chuckled. “Oh goody. Could we please go back to the place where that psycho Zero tried to kill us?”
“Hey! That’s my retirement paradise you’re talking about there, lady,” Rydell replied grinning.
“I don’t believe you.” Karina suddenly laughed loudly, drawing the attention of the few patrons left in the lounge. “I don’t believe me!”
“Does that mean you’ll do it?” Rydell asked.
“Yes,” Karina said. “I’ll stay.” That smile that Rydell could look at for the rest of his life spread across her face.
And then Alexander Rydell heard the greatest three words of his life.
“I love you.”