Author: Alan Decker
Star Traks: The Lost Years #19
Quit While You’re Ahead
From the amount of chaos that suddenly erupted within the Great Hall of the Royal Palace of Ugilious, you would have thought that the buffet just ran out of the sauteed pork fat in greasy cream sauce. But the current situation was far, far worse.
An entire squad of armed Joegonots (original, pre-transference Joegonots) in military garb, had just beamed into the middle of the Rydell Day/Federation Membership festivities, sending their now-human brethren into screaming fits as they fled for the exits. The exits, however, were thoroughly and completely sealed, leaving the humanized-Joegonots to just run in circles screaming their heads off.
From the vantage of the podium, Captain Alexander Rydell was doing all he could to resist the urge to join them in their state of utter panic. This was impossible. All of the Joegonots were humans now. He’d seen to that himself. But if that was the case, where did this group come from? And more importantly, now that they were here, what did they want?
Suddenly, the commanding officer of the invaders, a whale of a woman whose entire nose had been consumed by two massive zits just bulging with putrid pus, leveled her blaster directly at him.
“Rydell!” she seethed.
Guess that answered the whole “What do they want?” question.
“Have we met?” Rydell replied, forcing himself to sound casual.
“I should kill you where you stand.”
“Wow. How Klingon of you.” He turned to the Grand Leech, who was staring open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the new arrivals. “Do you know any of these folks?”
The Grand Leech toppled backwards out of his chair in a dead faint.
Rydell peered down at the fallen Joegonot ruler. “Um…is that a yes?”
One of Commander Jaroch’s biggest complaints about being left in command is that he was supposed to remain in the center seat rather than sitting at his own science console. In his view, he could command equally well from there, but for some reason the masterminds at Starfleet Command had decided that commanders would be much more useful if they sat in the center of the bridge away from any of the consoles that actually did anything of relevance.
So now, as a truly massive spacecraft slowly decloaked above Ugilious, Jaroch could do little more than shift anxiously in the command chair and send the occasional longing glance back to his currently-unmanned science console as he waited for a report from tactical.
“It doesn’t match anything in the database,” Lieutenant Robert Prescott reported finally. That really didn’t surprise Jaroch all that much considering the decidedly-jumbled look of the craft hovering in front of the Secondprize. The only thing that was consistent was the vessel’s hideous orange, yellow, and green paint job. The sadist responsible had evidently chosen the brightest, most nauseating shade of each color and slapped them onto the ship’s hull with little regard for anything resembling ascetics or the corneas of anyone else unfortunate enough to come in contact with the ship.
“Weapons’ status?” Jaroch said.
“Unknown. I think some of those things might be weapon ports, but I’m not getting any clear energy signatures indicating phasers or torpedoes preparing to fire,” Prescott replied.
“So, should I start being evasive anyway?” Lieutenant Andrea Carr asked from the helm console.
“Actually, for the moment, I would like you to keep us very very still,” Jaroch replied.
“Good point. I guess we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions,” Carr said.
“A giant ship just decloaked without an invitation or so much as a hello. It’s going to try to kill us! What other conclusion is there?” Prescott demanded.
Deciding that following Starfleet protocol was borderline dangerous in this situation, Jaroch strode back to the science console and slipped into the seat as he brought up the sensor data.
“Unfortunately, I must agree with Mister Prescott,” Jaroch said as he worked. “However, before we take any provocative measures, I would like to gather a bit more information. Please hail the vessel, Mister Prescott. Welcome them to Ugilious, and politely inquire as to their business here.”
“All right, but I just want to remind you that we’re the only actual starship here. We could start throwing a few of the yachts and transports at that thing, I guess, but otherwise, we’re on our own.”
“I am well aware of that, Lieutenant,” Jaroch replied. He pulled another view of the alien vessel up on his monitor. “Hmmm…”
“Did you find something, sir?” Carr asked hopefully.
“Preferably that it’s just a big hologram around a little shuttle,” Prescott added.
“Not quite; however, the truth is somewhat analogous. The vessel we are seeing consists of a much smaller ship buried in the midst of the sections that have been added on around it.” Jaroch, activating the viewscreen’s seldom-used picture-in-a-picture mode, put the schematic of the smaller ship up on the main viewer.
“Should we recognize that?” Carr asked, looking over at Ensign Bill Woodville at ops for some indication that he knew what the ship was. Woodville just shrugged.
“I sure as hell don’t,” Prescott said.
“Honestly, I would have been surprised if you had,” Jaroch replied. “According to our records, this class of ship should not exist anymore. Its planet of origin decommissioned them three years ago.”
“And what planet is that?” Carr asked hesitantly.
“Ugilious,” Jaroch said. “Deep inside that ship is a Joegonot Befriender-Class destroyer.”
“Oh! So that’s a good thing then!” Carr said.
“I’m getting some kind of energy readings. It could be a weapon powering up,” Prescott reported.
Jaroch smiled weakly at Carr. “Most likely not.”
“Oh. I’ll just start that evading then.”
On the other side of Ugilious, four other Secondprize officers were also staring down the barrels of various Joegonot weapons. But to be honest, none of the officers were really paying that much attention to the blaster rifles aimed in their direction. They were too overwhelmed with terror at seeing who was holding the weapons.
“You…you…you can’t be here,” Commander Travis Dillon stammered at the group of old-style Joegonots lumbering slowly toward them. “You don’t exist anymore.”
“Let’s run. We can still run. They probably won’t shoot all of us,” Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan said, her eyes darting back and forth looking for some avenue of escape.
“Joegonots!” Counselor Claire Webber repeated for the tenth time.
“Why did I have to draw the short straw? Why did I have to draw the short straw?” Ensign Faaus, an Algolian from the Cultural Anthropology department wailed softly as he clung to Counselor Webber for dear life.
“I’m very sorry, but I have to assume all of you are just a bad hallucination,” Dillon said resolutely. “It’s probably the swamp gas.”
“Joegonots!” Webber cried again.
“I wanna go home!” Faaus wailed, snuggling in closer to Webber.
“RunrunrunrunrunrunrunrunRUN!” Sullivan said, suddenly darting off to the left. A chubby hand clamped down on her shoulder, freezing her in place before she could get more than three feet.
“We need to teach you to be our friends,” the lead Joegonot said. “Once you’re our friends, everyone on Ugilious will be our friends.”
“I’m not listening,” Dillon said, clamping his hands over his ears. “I don’t believe you’re here, and if I don’t believe hard enough, you’re just going to go away.”
The lead Joegonot, ignoring Dillon’s ramblings, pulled a small cylindrical communicator out of his belt and activated it. “We’ve found our new friends.”
“Yea!” a voice on the other end replied. “New friendly friends to befriend.”
“Joegonots!” Webber cried.
“Can’t run, gotta run, can’t run, gotta run, can’t run, gotta run,” Sullivan chanted, her mind too paralyzed with fear to manage anything else.
“Somebody do something!” Faaus screamed.
Obligingly, everyone else on the riverbank dematerialized, leaving Faaus alone in the middle of the swamps of Ugilious.
“Um…could you do something else instead?” Faaus called out to the empty air.
Back in the Royal Palace of the Grand Leech, the various bodyguards and security officers assigned to the Rydell Day/Federation Membership festivities ate, drank, and danced in their own private ballroom, blissfully unaware that mere yards away an armed Joegonot squad had effectively taken the various humanized-Joegonot and Federation VIPs hostage.
For her part, Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins had almost completely forgotten that she was ostensibly there to protect Captain Rydell. Instead, her attention was occupied by Mookow, the Klingon bodyguard there to protect Federation Representative Byan Sel of Betazed. But judging from Mookow’s seeming inability to look away from Hawkins as the two moved slowly across the dance floor to the tune of a surprisingly soulful Vulcan melody, his client wasn’t first and foremost in his mind either.
Hawkins was the first to break the spell that had fallen over the pair, forcing herself to look away from the Klingon’s deep dark eyes so as to not lose herself completely. Her gaze fell on the dessert table, which had just been restocked with mini-pies.
“Hungry?” she asked.
“Very,” Mookow replied with a suggestive eyebrow raise that clearly said food was the last thing on his mind.
“That’s not what I meant,” Hawkins said, turning Mookow’s head toward the table as two of the caterers, finished with their dessert delivery, headed back into the kitchen. Seeing fresh pie, the other bodyguards and security officers descended on the table like so many ravenous targs. “We’d better get over there or there won’t be anything left.”
“Is my dancing that bad?” Mookow asked lightly.
Hawkins’s gut reaction was to exclaim, “NO! It was wonderful! I’ve never danced with anyone like that!” But she held back. This situation was getting out of hand quickly enough as it was.
With Mookow’s arm wrapped around hers as they headed to the dessert table, she forced an image of Travis Dillon into her mind, preferably in one of his less annoying moments. It took a lot more effort than she really wanted to admit.
By the time they reached the desserts, everyone else in the room had been served, leaving the table in disarray. Mookow managed to find two pies that had somehow managed to remain unscathed through the melee and handed one to Hawkins.
“Here you are, Patricia,” he said, his deep voice causing her name to resonate in a way that gave her goose bumps. How come when Dillon said it, it always come out more like a whine?
“Thank you,” she replied with a smile and a nod of her head. “It is a good day for pie.”
Mookow laughed heartily at the remark, throwing his head back and almost shaking the room with the force of it. “You really are being wasted on that starship,” he said, touching his pie lightly to hers, mimicking a toast.
Hawkins smiled and gazed off in the distance, lost in though as she and Mookow raised the pies to their lips. Just before Mookow’s entered his mouth, Hawkins slammed her pie to the ground, then, with a quick backhand that caught the Klingon completely off-guard, she smacked his pie across the room, where is splatted messily against the far wall, leaving a trail of purple goo as it slid to the floor.
A flash of indignant fury quickly flashed across Mookow’s face, but it vanished just as rapidly as he surveyed the room. All around, the Joegonot Royal Guard, Starfleet Security Officers and other assorted bodyguards lay sprawled on the floor or across tables, many collapsed face-first into their pies.
“I think I spoke too soon about that pie,” Hawkins said humorlessly.
“So it would seem,” Mookow said, racing toward the ballroom doors. He shook the handles violently, but the doors would not budge. “Locked! These Joegonots will pay for their treachery!”
“Hang on a second there,” Hawkins said, starting to pace. “I don’t think the Joegonots did this. Why would they wipe out their own people?” She thought back to the caterers. What did they look like? Honestly, she couldn’t say. Their hats managed to completely obscure their faces in shadow…so they wouldn’t be recognized. All Hawkins could say for sure was that they were heavyset, but that could have been padding so they’d blend in with the other Joegonots.
“The kitchen,” Hawkins said, hurdling the dessert table and charging toward the rear door.
“We may encounter resistance,” Mookow said, obviously having come to some of the same conclusions Hawkins had. He flipped over one of the metal ballroom chairs and, in an impressive show of strength, wrenched off each of the legs. He then tossed two of them to Hawkins.
“I hope you are skilled in two-handed combat,” Mookow said, joining her at the kitchen entrance.
Hawkins twirled the make-shift weapons around in her hands effortlessly. “I’ll manage,” she replied. “On three?”
“Why wait?” Mookow said, barreling through the doorway.
“Dammit. I wanted to go first,” Hawkins muttered, charging in behind him.
After the Grand Leech hit the floor in a dead faint, the panic level of the other humanized-Joegonots in the Great Hall leapt quickly to full-fledged hysteria. The noise was getting so loud that Captain Rydell was almost grateful when the old-style Joegonots started stunning them into unconsciousness…at least Rydell hoped they were using stun.
He didn’t have much more time to mull it over as the Joegonots’ commander once again aimed her rifle in his direction. “Get down here, Rydell,” she shouted.
“All you have to do is ask,” Rydell said with a weak smile, hopping down off of the dais as he’d been ordered to do. Meanwhile, the old-style Joegonots, having stunned all of their humanized counterparts, began setting up several devices, which Rydell could only assume were transport scramblers or shield generators, around the room. Admiral Thomas Wagner, who’d been seated next to Rydell at the head table, took the opportunity to check on the Grand Leech, leaving Rydell alone to deal with the angry Joegonot woman pointing the weapon in his direction. “So what can I do for you, Miss…”
“Bleuda. COLONEL Bleuda,” the Joegonot snapped angrily. “Joegonot Friendship Force.”
“But they were disbanded,” Rydell said and immediately wished she hadn’t as Bleuda’s face grew red with fury, the pressure threatening to pop every zit on her head.
“We will NEVER be disbanded!” she said. “My forces and I have at long last returned home to free our planet from the tyranny of the Federation!”
“Finally! Someone who sees my point!” Representative Byan Sel exclaimed, rushing over to Bleuda, his hands twitching madly.
“Who’s this guy?” Bleuda asked Rydell, clearly confused by the Betazoid politician.
“Representative Byan Sel of Betazed,” Sel said with a deep bow before Rydell could reply. “And I would have you know, madam, that I have worked tirelessly for the last several years to show the people of Ugilious and of the Federation that a great injustice has been done here. Until you arrived, I feared that no true Joegonots existed anymore.”
“While we’re on that subject,” Rydell interjected. “Where the hell did you come from? I thought I got all of you…” He quickly clamped his mouth shut before the words “disgusting bastards” fell from his lips. “…Joegonots,” he finished.
“We were off-planet at the time on a scouting mission,” Bleuda said. “Regrettably, we were the only ones. We returned to Ugilious little more than a month after your attack on our homeworld and discovered that we were no longer welcome. NO LONGER WELCOME ON OUR OWN PLANET!”
“Ouch. Yeah. I guess that could sting,” Rydell said.
“Don’t try to gloss over this, Rydell.” Bleuda said.
“Yeah, Rydell,” Sel added. “You almost wiped out their entire species. And if this brave woman and her crew had been on Ugilious, you would have succeeded.”
Bleuda looked at the Betazoid surprised. “You…you really do want to be our friend?”
“Absolutely,” Sel said firmly. “You will find that I can be a staunch ally…as long as no one gets killed.”
“We just want our planet back. Why would we kill anyone?” Bleuda said.
“Well, you mentioned something about killing me where I stood,” Rydell said.
Bleuda glared at Rydell. “We Just Want To Be FRIENDS!” she seethed.
Rydell held up his hands. “Hey! Not a problem. I’m all for everyone being friendly. No one should have to die, but the Grand Leech and the other Joegonots may have a problem with you just waltzing in and taking over.”
“I do not want to take over,” Bleuda said with disgust. “The Grand Leech is our leader, and he will continue to be our leader once he and my fellow Joegonots are returned to their former selves.”
Rydell winced. Just what he needed. Another wacko under the delusion that somehow he knew how to build another Transference Ray.
“I hate to break this to you,” he said, hoping to head this off before it even got started. “But I have no idea how the Transference Ray worked. I can’t help you change your people back.”
Bleuda smiled a smile that chilled Rydell’s blood. “You aren’t going to help us,” she said. “But your crew will!”
Rydell wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but he didn’t like it one bit.
“Shields up,” Jaroch ordered, jumping up from the science console and racing down towards the command area. So this was why Starfleet insisted that the person in command remain close to the command chair…of course, that didn’t explain why captains were allowed to spend their bridge shifts hiding out in their ready rooms.
“Way ahead of you,” Prescott replied, just before the ship rocked from an impact.
“There isn’t any. That was a tractor beam,” Prescott said. The ship jolted again. “And so was that. They’re trying to find the frequency to get through our shields.”
“Initiate random modulations,” Jaroch said, grabbing the command chair to keep his feet as the Secondprize rocked again.
“Why bother? They’re trying each frequency one at a time.”
“The Borg they are not,” Jaroch remarked. “Very well. Carr, do your best to keep us away from their tractor beam. Despite the infinitesimal odds that they will hit upon our exact shield frequency, they might get lucky.”
“Or they might start shooting at us for real,” Carr said just before sending the ship into a steep climb.
“Perhaps; although, I have to believe that they have some reason for wishing to capture us rather than just destroy us.” Jaroch turned to Prescott. “I take it that they still have not responded to our hails,” Jaroch said.
“Hails? What hails?” Prescott looked down at his console for a moment. “Whoops! Sorry about that. They’ve been responding for the last several minutes. I guess I was a little to wrapped up in our imminent deaths.”
“On screen, if you would,” Jaroch said, letting out a deep breath.
From deep in the recesses of his psyche, Jaroch heard J’Ter scream as he saw the image of a acne-scarred, bloated Joegonot appear on the viewscreen. The Joegonot was far too close to the camera, filling the entire screen with his face and giving Jaroch a better look than he ever desired of the inside of a Joegonot nostril.
“Hello, Starfleet friends. You took a really long time to answer your comm.”
“Our apologizes,” Jaroch replied stiffly. Meanwhile, his mind raced, quickly piecing together the connection between a space ship that shouldn’t exist being manned by a person who should no longer be all gross and Joegonoty. “Since we are now talking, I would ask that you cease your attempts to lock a tractor beam onto our vessel.”
“I’m sorry, but Colonel Bleuda said we’re supposed to bring you inside for a visit.”
“Ah. I see. And may I speak to this Colonel Bleuda?”
“She’s down on Ugilious right now. Sorry about that.”
Jaroch ignored the gasp from Carr as she whirled around to face him, concern evident on her face. Actually, it was borderline panic.
“And would you mind explaining why she is on the planet?” Jaroch asked calmly.
“She went to find the not-nice person who zapped our people. He is NOT our friend!”
Jaroch paused for a moment, considering how best to respond. On the one hand, while informing the Joegonot that the Secondprize was commanded by said “not-nice person” could possibly end this inane conversation sooner, that ending would most likely involve the Secondprize fleeing large quantities of weapons’ fire. On the other hand, if the Joegonots already knew that the Secondprize was Rydell’s ship, attempting to feign ignorance could lead to the aforementioned weapons’ fire.
Seeing as how weapons’ fire was practically inevitable, Jaroch decided to try a third option.
“We have another call. I have to go. Sorry,” Jaroch said, quickly running his hand across his neck, signaling Prescott to cut the channel, which he did just as the Joegonot started to protest.
“Bridge to transporter room,” Jaroch said.
“Retrieve Captain Rydell immediately.”
“All right, but he’s not going to be happy,” Lieutenant Commander Monica Vaughn said. After a few moments pause, Vaughn was back on the commline. “Jaroch, were they supposed to have scrambling fields up?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Well they do now.”
“Of course they do,” Jaroch said displeased.
“I’ll let you know if anything changes.”
“Please do. Bridge out.”
“You didn’t really expect that to work, did you?” Lieutenant Prescott asked.
“I had hopes that just once all of this technology would work to our advantage,” Jaroch admitted with a sigh. “Silly me.”
“No kidding.” Prescott’s attention was drawn away from the banter at hand by a flashing indicator on his console. “Another vessel is coming around the planet.”
“Hopefully, the away team,” Jaroch said.
“You’re zero for two, sir,” Prescott said. “It looks like some kind of medium range transport. The configuration is Cardassian.”
“Cardassian?” Carr said confused. “What are they doing here?”
“I don’t know, but they’re heading toward the Joegonot ship.”
On the viewscreen, massive bay doors opened in the rear of the Joegonot vessel, allowing the Cardassian transport to enter.
“Hmm…” Jaroch said, heading back to the science console. He checked a few readings. “This makes things somewhat clearer.”
“Not for us,” Carr said. “What did you find, sir?”
“I wondered where the Joegonots would have been able to have such extensive modifications made to their craft without alerting Federation authorities to their existence. The Klingons and the Romulans seemed unlikely, and the Orion Syndicate does not normally engage in spaceship construction. However, considering the current state of the Cardassian economy and the vast quantity of war surplus laying around their region of space, I imagine they were more than willing to assist the Joegonots. The alloys used in the additional segments of the Joegonot ship are consistent with those used by the Cardassians.”
“That solves that little mystery, but who’s on that transport?” Prescott asked as the Joegonot ship began to close its bay doors.
“Considering the general way this day has gone, I would have to say the away team,” Jaroch replied, heading back to the command chair. “And I would have to assume that they will be recommencing their pursuit of the Secondprize soon after.”
“Um…no offense, sir,” Carr said. “But what are the odds that you’re wrong?”
“Very very small,” Jaroch said.
In fact, Commander Jaroch was absolutely right, but what else would you expect from him? Anyway, Commander Dillon, Lieutenant Commander Sullivan, and Counselor Webber were beamed away from the beached shuttle to this charming transport, which Dillon, considering how much the general look of it reminded him way too much of his one unfortunate visit to Deep Space Nine (We’d love to give you a flashback, but do you have any idea how much money those guys charge for cameo appearances?), decided had to be Cardassian.
His mind had quickly assembled a working theory involving a Cardassian/Dominion plot to join up with these rogue old-style Joegonots in a new bid to conquer the Alpha Quadrant. With that being the case, obviously his first priority was to single-handled thwart their insidious plans, and then he’d contact Starfleet Command to inform them of the situation and accept all of the ensuing accolades and medals.
Sullivan, meanwhile, had regained enough of her senses to start looking for an escape route that didn’t involve ejecting herself out of the nearest airlock; although, that was still an option if any of the Joegonots tried anything funny.
As for Webber, for a short time she’d tried to convince the Joegonots that kidnapping their supposed friends wasn’t very friendly, but they didn’t seem to be accepting her arguments. After that, she’d sunk down on a bench and tried turning her thoughts to more happy places. Instead, she ended up wondering how Faaus was doing (Just in case you’re curious, at that particular moment, Faaus was cowering inside the powerless shuttle on the river bank hoping against hope that the decidedly rural residents of this particular region wouldn’t find him).
She didn’t get to wonder for long before she was pulled out of her thoughts by the slowing of the transport (which, inconsiderately enough, didn’t have any windows in the room where she, Sullivan, and Dillon were being held), then a soft jolt as it touched down on a hard surface.
“From our general angle of ascent, I’d guess we’re probably in another ship,” Sullivan said. “And I doubt it’s the Secondprize.”
“Time to meet your new friends,” Lublus, the Joegonot in charge of this particular detachment, announced, gesturing for the Secondprize officers to stand up. Two Joegonots quickly stationed themselves on either side of each officer, just far enough back that they could feel the Joegonots’ warm, moldy-smelling breath on their necks.
“I thought you were our new friends,” Webber said nervously. She had no desire to get in a situation any worse than the one they were in currently.
“We are, but now you can meet our friends, who will be your friends, too. We’re all going to be really really close friends! Bring them!” Lublus marched out of the room (a movement which caused his ample love handles to jiggle in great waves). A half second later, the Joegonots behind Dillon, Sullivan, and Webber nudged their bellies into the humans, forcing them to follow Lublus.
The Secondprize officers were led out of the transport, into a massive docking bay (also of generally Cardassian design, Dillon noted), then into a set of Cardassian corridors which dead-ended at an air-lock. For a brief moment, Dillon had the panicked thought that the Joegonots intended to eject them out into space. But then in a rare moment of common sense, he realized that they could have done that long before now. Why go through all the trouble?
The airlock opened, revealing another, decidedly-different set of corridors. These were oddly rounded and painted in a shade of green that reminded Dillon of pea soup or algae, broken up only by neon orange support columns placed every so often.
The Joegonots didn’t speak as they walked. Instead, they hummed softly. The same tune over and over again.
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
And so on, over and over until it was thoroughly stuck in the away team’s heads. If the team had been a bit more up on 21st century Earth history, they might have recognized the piece as “Tom’s Diner,” a 20th century tune that was outlawed under the Psychological Abuse Accords of 2018. The Joegonots just knew it as “That Really Catchy Tune Our Satellites Picked Up Once.”
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
Do de do de, do de do de, do de do do, do de do do.
Just about the time Sullivan was at the point of reaching back and attempting to rip out the vocal cords of the two Joegonots “escorting” her, the group arrived at a set of bright yellow doors, which slid open revealing what Dillon had to assume was a medical lab. But it sure didn’t look like any place where he wanted to receive health care. As the Joegonots pushed them inside, allowing the doors to close behind them, Dillon spotted a long metal lab bed positioned on one side of the room underneath several large tanks which had been mounted in the ceiling.
Nearby sat a large box with a hole in the top and doors on the outside. Dillon recognized it from his historical film studies as a sort of steam box. A person would sit inside, their head extending out of the top, and relax in their own personal sauna. Dillon relaxed a bit. Maybe this was a gym of some sort instead of a lab. The tanks over the lab table could have massage oil and lotions in them or something.
A cold chill shot down his spine. Oh no. The Joegonots expected him to give them massages after they had their saunas! Sweaty, naked Joegonots! EEEEEWWWWWWWWWW!
He was about to scream his conclusions to the others when a Joegonot female stepped into the room. “Well well well,” she said smiling. “Our new friends are here! Welcome! I’m Doctor Jelluly.”
Doctor? Oh no. Maybe it was a lab after all.
“We all feel fine, Doctor,” Sullivan said firmly. “We’d like to go back to our ship.”
“But this is your ship,” Jelluly replied. “You’re Joegonots now.”
Dillon burst out laughing. “You’re nuts! Do we look a thing like Joegonots?”
Jelluly patted Dillon on the check, her smile switching from warm to sadistic.
Considering the number of heavy metal pans and bladed objects at their disposal, Hawkins would have expected the cooks and waiters in the Joegonot Palace to put up more of a fight. As it was, the kitchen staff seemed to have been caught completely off-guard as Mookow and Hawkins charged into their domain wielding a chair leg in each hand.
“This area is for employees only!” a Joegonot cook said nervously, rushing over to meet them.
“Consider us hired,” Hawkins said, smashing her chair legs into either side of the cook’s head and knocking him into instant dreamland.
“Step forward and fight with honor, you spineless pastry poisoners!” Mookow bellowed. The cooks and waiters decided against taking Mookow up on his offer. Instead, they tried to stampede toward the nearest exit, stumbling over each other in their terror.
Mookow waded directly into their numbers, expertly bashing, clubbing, and otherwise brutalizing the staff as Hawkins did an acrobatic leap up onto a nearby prep table and rained down blows from above. In short order, the royal kitchen staff had been royally battered. She and Mookow were about to take out the last couple of dish boys when Hawkins noticed a large figure crawl out from the bottom of the pile of bodies, scurry to his feet, then lumber toward the far door.
“Finish up without me,” Hawkins said to Mookow as she flipped off of the table, landing lightly on her feet, then charged after the fleeing cook. “I just spotted dessert.”
“Save some for me,” Mookow replied, slamming his elbow into the face of a frightened dishwasher, then tossing him to the ground.
“No promises,” Hawkins called out. She leapt into the air again, moving quickly into the classic James T. Kirk double-booted drop kick, and slammed into the retreating Joegonot, knocking him roughly to the floor. Hawkins was on him in a flash, rolling the cook over and pulling off the ridiculous poofy hat that was totally obscuring his features.
“AHHH!” she cried upon seeing the man’s face. She scrambled backwards, trying to get away from him as quickly as she could.
“What is it?” Mookow demanded, racing over to her.
“Of course. They’re all Joegonots.”
“No!” Hawkins cried as the Joegonot masquerading as a chef got to his feet, several ruptured zits oozing yellowish pus down his face. “Real Joegonot!”
“Kahless protect us!” Mookow shouted, reeling back in horror.
“You should have eaten the pie,” the Joegonot said, backing toward the door. “It was a lot friendlier than what’s about to happen to you.” In an instant, he whirled around and charged out the door.
Hawkins and Mookow recovered a split-second later and barreled through the door after the Joegonot…
…right into the Great Hall.
Hawkins and Mookow slid to a halt as an entire squad of armed old-style Joegonots turned their weapons on them. Hawkins caught a brief glimpse of Rydell standing next to a Joegonot woman also wielding a rifle. The woman looked none too happy to see them.
“Kill them!” she shouted.
Come to think of it, she didn’t sound too happy to see them either.
“Get out of here!” Rydell shouted. His admonition was a bit redundant, since Hawkins’s mind had already been screaming the same thing at her. She dove backwards, hitting the ground and rolling through the swinging door back into the kitchen, then dodged to the right just as Mookow slid in behind her, several blasts searing above them.
“Move!” Hawkins shouted, fearing that the Joegonots would come bursting through the door any second now. She was right. The door slammed open before she and Mookow had gotten much farther than the pile of senseless kitchen help.
“Any bright ideas?” she said.
“None,” Mookow replied flatly as the Joegonots charged in with their blaster rifles.
Fortunately for them, someone else had an idea. Hawkins and Mookow vanished in the cascade of a transporter before the Joegonots could get off another shot.
In general, Transporter Chief Monica Vaughn didn’t have a whole of lot excitement in her job. Sure there was the occasional stressful search for a missing crewman or sticky transport, but she, personally, was never at risk.
That all changed in an instant as a mad Klingon materialized on the transporter pad and dove at her, teeth bared and arms outstretched.
Vaughn dropped behind the transporter console like a rock, frantically wondering if she even had a prayer of getting to the phasers in the supply locker on the other side of the room.
Mookow’s hand locked onto the back of her uniform and hoisted Vaughn to her feet. “I apologize for that,” Mookow said perfectly calmly. “We were in the heat of battle before you transported us.”
“We were about to become well-ventilated bits of charcoal,” Lieutenant Commander Hawkins said, jogging down off of the pad. “Good timing, Monica.”
“It’s all in the magic fingers,” Vaughn said. She squeezed Mookow’s bicep playfully. “And they can work wonders for you if you feel at all strained after picking me up like that.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hawkins scowl.
“I am fine,” Mookow said simply.
“You certainly are.”
“And we have work to do,” Hawkins said darkly, leading Mookow out of the transporter room. Vaughn laughed to herself as the doors closed. She knew that look all too well. Hawkins was smitten, which meant Commander Dillon was in trouble. Vaughn just wished that they’d hurry and wrap up this Joegonot mess so the real fireworks could start.
After a few tense moments of wondering if Lieutenant Commander Hawkins and Mookow would be able to avoid a fairly violent death at the hands of the Joegonots, Captain Rydell breathed a sigh of relief when the Joegonots filed back into the Great Hall from the kitchen looking rather dejected.
“What happened?” Bleuda demanded.
“Somebody beamed them away before we could tell them we don’t want to be their friends anymore.”
“I think they got the hint,” Rydell remarked.
“But this is just the kind of publicity I was trying to avoid,” Bleuda said. She began idly running her meaty hand through Representative Sel’s hair, much to the surprise of the Betazoid politician. His leg began twitching madly. “Ohh! Somebody likes this,” Bleuda said, pulling Sel closer. Rydell watched Sel’s face distort as the odor of Joegonot struck him full force.
Before both he and Sel started to vomit, Rydell pulled the subject back to the hostage crisis at hand.
“What? You were hoping that kidnapping all of us would give you good publicity?” Rydell said.
“I didn’t want ANY publicity,” Bleuda said, her muscles tightening angrily. Sel’s head, which had been cradled under Bleuda’s massive arm, completely vanished as her tensing forced it into the folds of flab between Bleuda’s breast and stomach.
Rydell winced. What a way to go.
“No one was supposed to know we were even here until all of the Joegonots on Ugilious had been returned to their proper form. But NOOOOO! Your crew had to butt in AGAIN!”
“It’s what we do,” Rydell said with a shrug.
“Well, it’s about time you people started being more useful to your dear friends, the Joegonots!” Bleuda snapped. She suddenly tossed Sel aside, sending the nearly-asphyxiated Betazoid tumbling into the nearest table as he gasped for clean air. Bleuda, meanwhile, jabbed a button on her wrist-comm. “Bleuda to Befriender. Status of Operation Retransfer, Opugoss.”
“Er…it’s proceeding,” a Joegonot whom Rydell could only assume was Opugoss replied. “But the Secondprize isn’t being friendly.”
“Have they tried to interfere?”
“No. They’re just kind of zigging and zagging around. It makes it really hard to get a tractor beam on them.”
“But you have other specimens?” Bleuda asked.
“Oh yeah. Three new friends.”
“That’s plenty,” Bleuda replied, smiling at Rydell evilly. “Send the drones to destroy the Secondprize, and let me know as soon as Dr. Jelluly finishes the operation.” Bleuda pressed the button again, closing the channel. “So what do you think of THAT, Friend Alexander?”
“All I really caught was the part about destroying my ship, which I can’t say I was thrilled to hear,” Rydell said, masking his anger well. What was it lately with people trying to blow up the Secondprize? There was the scuffle over the Forever moon a couple of years ago. Hmm…speaking of, he really needed to check with Starfleet at some point to make sure they were working on that whole end of the universe thing. Then Admiral Sulu and the Next Federation took their shot…actually that was a really good shot, which Starfleet still hadn’t discovered, fortunately. And now the Joegonots. Where was the fairness in that? This was no way to run a universe!
“The USS Secondprize has meddled in Joegonot affairs for the last time!” Bleuda continued melodramatically.
“Oh please. We really only meddled once.”
“What about now?”
“It seems to me that you’re the ones doing the meddling.”
“We’re getting our planet and our people back.”
“They don’t seem to want to be gotten back.”
“They just don’t know any better.”
“Did you even ask?”
“No. Why should we?”
“It would have been polite.”
“You’re trying my patience, Friend Alexander.”
“I would have asked.”
“I could still kill you!”
“No, you can’t.”
“Yeah. You need me to convince the other Joegonots to undergo whatever procedure you’ve come up with to turn them back into their old forms.”
“Aw no! You figured that out already?” Bleuda asked with a whine.
“Yeah. Sorry about that.”
“Party pooper!” Bleuda snapped. “Come on, Byan!” She scooped Representative Sel up off of the table where he’d been trying to recover and stormed off to the other side of the Great Hall.
Rydell shrugged, then headed back up onto the dais to check on Admiral Thomas Wagner and the Grand Leech, who was still flat on his back behind the podium. Stepping over to the pair, Rydell was surprised to see that the Grand Leech seemed fully conscious.
“I told him to lay still,” Admiral Wagner whispered by way of explanation. “I didn’t want him to call any attention to himself.”
“Good plan,” Rydell replied, sitting down on the floor beside them. “Hopefully we can keep him out of this until help arrives.”
“Do you really think help is coming?” the Grand Leech whispered hopefully.
“My Security Chief got a look at the situation before the Secondprize beamed her up. She’ll find a way to get us out of here,” Rydell replied.
“I knew that the Hero of Ugilious would not let us down.”
Rydell smiled weakly. “You just keep thinking happy thoughts.” He patted the Leech on the shoulder then motioned for Admiral Wagner to join him a few feet away.
“I suppose you tried your commbadge,” Rydell said.
“No go,” Wagner said, shaking his head. “They must be jamming the comms.”
“A few minutes ago, I’d be more upset about that, but people know we’re here now. All we have to do is be ready to act when the Secondprize makes its move.”
“Assuming it doesn’t get blown out of space first.”
“Well, yeah, there is that,” Rydell admitted.
“You know…,” Commander Dillon said thoughtfully as he lay strapped to the table inside the Joegonot’s laboratory aboard their starship. Thick needles connected to several tubes hanging down from the tanks above the table had been inserted into the skin of his forehead, cheeks, arms, legs, thighs, around to his rear end, and especially his chest and belly, sending a steady stream of liquid fat into those areas of Dillon’s body. Dillon’s mind obviously was elsewhere as he continued his statement. “I really just should have asked her.”
“Akkdrrwt?” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan’s voice mumbled from inside the grease-soaked gauze in which her head had been encased. The rest of her body was equally encased inside of the sauna box, which was currently steaming her in essence of Limburger and Year-Old-Swiss cheeses.
“To marry me,” Dillon continued. “Now I’m going to be a disgusting Joegonot, and she won’t want to come near me.”
Sullivan decided not to mention that most people didn’t want to come near Dillon as it was. Besides, Dr. Jelluly jumped in before Sullivan could make a comment.
“Hey!” the Joegonot doctor, who was busy force-feeding Counselor Webber, who was currently strapped into a kind of giant high chair, a variety of lards, cream sauces, greasy meats, and sugary chocolates on the other side of the lab, protested. “We have lots of friends.”
“Of course you do,” Counselor Webber said consolingly. Her words gave a large quantity of gas building up in her stomach a chance to make a run for it. “Brrrrrap! Excuse me.”
“Silence! It puts the food in its stomach!” Jelluly snapped.
“What is with this ‘it’ stuff? I thought we were friends!”
“It puts the food in its stomach!”
“Now that’s just creepy.”
“IT PUTS THE FOOD IN ITS STOMACH!”
“Fine!” Webber shouted, stuffing a cream-filled cupcake into her mouth. Several sudden clanking noises sounded throughout the ship, vibrating the hull.
“What was that?” Webber said through bits of chocolate cake.
“Just the drones detaching,” Jelluly explained. “They’re probably going to destroy your ship. Now then, it puts the food in its stomach!”
“I don’t think I like you anymore,” Webber said.
As more cellulite pushed its way into his epidermis, Dillon sighed. “I should have just asked her.”
At that particular moment, the her in question, namely Lieutenant Commander Patricia Hawkins, was charging out onto the bridge of the Secondprize with Mookow close behind her. Commander Jaroch barely gave them a glance as he watched the Joegonot ship begin to split into six segments.
“I’m not reading life signs on five of them. The five Cardassian additions, predictably enough,” Lieutenant Prescott reported from tactical.
“I knew that Prometheus prototype was just going to give other species the same idea,” Ensign Woodville groused at ops.
“And speaking of predictable, the other yachts and transports in orbit are hightailing it to the other side of the planet,” Prescott said.
“You mean we have to fight all of them?” Carr said.
“Just the five drone ships, I imagine,” Jaroch said. He turned to Hawkins and Mookow. “I’ll be right with you. Carr, charge them. Prescott, fire quantum torpedoes full spread, but DO NOT hit the Joegonot ship itself. Only the drones.”
Hawkins had to reach out and steady Mookow as the Secondprize burst forward, closing the distance between it and the slowly separating Joegonot ship in a fraction of a second. Prescott quickly switched the viewscreen image to rear view as the Secondprize let loose a barrage of torpedoes and seared past the drones.
“Keep us moving, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said, watching with satisfaction as the viewscreen filled with explosions. Moments later, three drones zipped through the flames, pursuing the Secondprize. One other limped out a second after that while the fifth became a rapidly spreading debris field.
“Would you like me at tactical, sir?” Hawkins said impatiently. Just standing by in a combat situation like this was beyond nerve-wracking. She could sense equal tension from Mookow.
“Negative,” Jaroch replied. “You and Mister Mookow are to rescue the Captain. I presume from what Lieutenant Commander Vaughn reported that you have some knowledge of his current situation.”
“He and the other hostages are under heavy guard,” Mookow said. “But Commander Hawkins and myself are more than capable of extracting them with a minimum of casualties.”
“How you do it is of no consequence to me. Take the Chickahominy and return to Ugilious. I do not believe that the drones will pursue you.”
“Aye, sir,” Hawkins said crisply, turning on her heel and charging back into the turbolift, Mookow close behind. Jaroch, meanwhile, studied a readout of the Ugilious system on the small monitor on the armrest of the command chair. While not nearly as detailed as his science console, this display was better than nothing. Unfortunately, nothing was almost what Jaroch had to work with in the Ugilious system. Other than Ugilious itself, the solar system consisted of three gas giants with various planetoids orbiting. Ugilious itself had an erratic moon, which looked more like two moons slammed together, or, as Captain Rydell had described it once, a big space butt.
The drone ships were not showing anything resembling tactics. They simply chased after the Secondprize, matching them movement for movement. This was definitely a weakness to be exploited. Jaroch focused his attention of the damaged drone ship currently struggling along well behind its three comrades. Yes. That would do nicely.
“Mister Prescott, inform Commander Hawkins to prepare for immediate launch. As soon as she signals ready, Carr, bring us about along the arc I am transmitting to your console and reduce speed to half impulse.”
“But, sir,” Carr protested. “They’ll be on top of us in no time at that speed.”
“I am aware of that, Lieutenant,” Jaroch replied.
“Chickahominy is ready to go,” Prescott said.
“Now, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said.
“All right,” Carr said hesitantly, sending the Secondprize into a wide turn as she slowed the ship down. As the Secondprize moved away from the drone ships, the Runabout Chickahominy sped out of the shuttlebay and quickly went into a dive, taking it well away from the Secondprize and the drone ships in a matter of moments.
The Secondprize, meanwhile, continued to curve around, the three fast drone ships closing in rapidly. The ship rocked, taking fire from the drones behind them. That was bad enough, but Carr couldn’t help but tense up as she saw the fourth drone ship come into view ahead of them. “Sir!”
“Full impulse,” Jaroch exclaimed. “Fire rear torpedoes.”
Prescott lobbed another volley of torpedoes into the drones pursuing the Secondprize as Carr sent the starship rocketing forward again, skimming over the top of the fourth drone ship just as it let loose with its weaponry, which, with the Secondprize safely out of the way, slammed into one of the oncoming drone ships, taking out its already weakened shields and critically damaging the drone’s artificial intelligence. The drone lurched sideways, colliding violently with the drone ship directly to port. Both vessels exploded in a brilliant fireball as the one remaining undamaged drone ship zipped past its crippled counterpart and continued its pursuit of the Secondprize. The crippled drone ship slowly turned as well, its artificial intelligence virtually kicking itself for allowing the Secondprize to trick it into destroying not one, but two of its fellow drones.
“IT PUTS MORE FOOD IN ITS STOMACH!” Dr. Jelluly demanded, holding an egg roll in her hand like a club.
“I’M FULL, YOU DAMN SADIST!” Counselor Webber screamed, slamming her fists down against the tray of the high chair that imprisoned her.
“I should have asked her,” Dillon muttered.
“Why don’t you go fill his mouth for a while?” Webber said.
“He has other therapy. It will not tell me how to be a doctor,” Jelluly said.
“Why am I the only one you call ‘it’?”
“It will not ask any more questions.”
From underneath the gauze covering her face, Lieutenant Commander Sullivan could tell that Webber was upset. Honestly, this was the first time she’d seen…well, heard, the counselor angry at all. Even when Webber tried to take over the ship a couple of days ago, she wasn’t really mad about it. She was just concerned about what would happen if the crew went to Ugilious. In retrospect, Webber had good reason to be concerned. But still, it was strange to hear Webber agitated. Sullivan had just recently learned that Webber used to play rugby and she’d seen Webber in action when the away team had to escape Bowelophon, but even then Webber wasn’t angry. What would it take to get Webber to strike out in anger?
“I said I was full!” Webber said firmly. “Get that thing away from me. I’m not putting that in my mouth. I’m warning you…mmmmmph!”
WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM!
Sullivan cocked her head. What was that banging noise? If that doctor had started beating Webber, Sullivan was going to…
The gauze was suddenly yanked off of her head, blinding Sullivan for a moment as light assaulted her eyes. Then, she heard the latch of the sauna box being opened. As her vision cleared, Sullivan saw Counselor Webber standing before her, her tie-dyed uniform stained with enough food to actually show up on a tie-dyed uniform. The only other sign that anything was amiss was the Counselor’s hair, which was sticking out in all directions rather than laying in a thick dirty-blond mane down her back as it normally did. Sullivan looked over toward the high chair, which now held an unconscious Dr. Jelluly.
“I told her I was full,” Webber said sheepishly.
“Too much hospitality can be a bad thing,” Sullivan said, willing her cramped limbs to work. She got to her feet and turned to look at Dillon.
“I should have asked her,” he muttered.
“He’s delirious,” Webber said.
The seams of his pant legs suddenly gave way, allowing severely obese thighs to burst forth. His arms followed a split second later.
“And he’s going to have some really serious stretch marks,” she added.
Sullivan rushed over to the console on the side of the lab table and stopped the flow of cellulite. “Stand back,” she said. With a sweep of her arm, she ripped the needles out of Dillon’s skin.
“OW!” Dillon cried, sitting straight up on the bed. Jets of fat streamed out of the holes in Dillon’s skin like some sort of demented garden sprinkler. Thankfully, the holes sealed themselves a minute later after the pressure in Dillon’s limbs, torso, face, and butt went down to acceptable levels.
He still looked like a refugee from a Sumo wrestling convention, though.
“I feel like I weigh 300 pounds,” he groaned.
“Try 350,” Webber said. “Maybe 375.”
“You aren’t helping,” Dillon snapped.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Sullivan said, helping Dillon off of the table.
“I need to see Patricia,” he said distractedly.
“All the more reason to get out of here,” Sullivan said, heading toward the door. She opened it and peered out into the corridor. “All clear.”
Webber jogged over, followed by Dillon, who couldn’t manage much more than a lumbering waddle.
“We’ll need to find a Joegonot and get his weapon,” Sullivan said.
“I think the two of us should be able to overpower one Joegonot,” Webber said.
“I hope so. And if we get in trouble, Dillon can sit on him.”
“Ha ha,” Dillon said humorlessly as the trio headed out into the corridors of the Joegonot ship.
Upon seeing a Federation runabout heading toward their new positions on the far side of Ugilious, the various transports and yachts that had carried the representatives and diplomats to the Federation Membership ceremony in Gastrulge scattered, anxious not to be anywhere near any ship that might possibly draw fire from the Joegonots.
They need not have worried. With the Joegonot drones busy with the Secondprize and the Joegonot ship itself hovering over Gastrulge on the other side of Ugilious, Lieutenant Commander Hawkins was able to bring the Runabout Chickahominy into the atmosphere of the planet without so much as a threatening comm from the Joegonot craft.
Mookow, meanwhile, sat silently in the co-pilot’s seat, staring out the viewport with intense eyes.
“You’ve been quiet,” Hawkins observed as the runabout sped over the swampy terrain of Ugilious’ rural regions (Coincidentally enough, they passed right over the downed Shuttlecraft Doorprize II, not that they or Ensign Faaus, who was still cringing and whimpering inside the powerless shuttle, noticed).
“I am concerned about the welfare of my client,” the Klingon replied.
“Well, that’s understandable.”
“And I must admit to being somewhat surprised that I did not have to fight for a position on this rescue mission. I expected that your Commander Jaroch would assign a squad of security officers. Instead, we are the only two on the mission.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Far from it.” Mookow smiled slightly. “It is precisely the team I would have picked.”
“Jaroch’s a smart guy,” Hawkins said, returning the smile. “He knows that we’re probably the two people best equipped to get Captain Rydell back. I drill my security officers, and we run simulations, but, due to the missions we get, they’re completely untested in actual combat situations.”
“The two of us will be more than sufficient.”
“I believe you, but we still need to decide just how we’re going to go about this.”
“We will figure it out before we arrive,” Mookow stated confidently.
Hawkins believed that as well. There certainly was something alluring about a man who was so sure of himself even when faced with overwhelming odds. Dillon sure couldn’t… Stop. Just stop right there. This was the route to thoughts she did not need to be thinking.
Pushing everything except the rescue out of her mind, Hawkins turned the runabout toward Gastrulge.
The last thing Rydell needed to be thinking about right then was his possible death. There was no reason to even think he might die. Colonel Bleuda had made it more than clear that she had plans for him. But Rydell’s own mind was equally clear about the fact that he was not about to stand by and let the entire Joegonot species get turned back into the evil, smelly, blobs bent on galactic domination in the name of “friendship” that they were before he blasted the planet with the Transference Ray.
Knowing that, Rydell couldn’t help but wonder if Bleuda would go ahead and kill him for his defiance. Considering that she had the weapons and he didn’t, there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot he could do to stop her. Maybe he should have invited Karina Durham along after all. It wouldn’t improve the tactical situation any, but at least he could spend his last hours of existence with the woman he loved.
Death would suck without her.
And if he were dead, that would mean no wedding, and definitely no blissful retirement to run his resort at The Suburb.
But most of all he just wanted to be with Karina.
“I think I can speak to you again without killing you,” Colonel Bleuda said, interrupting his thoughts. He turned to see the Joegonot colonel dragging Representative Sel along with her by the wrist. The Betazoid looked incredibly disheveled. Each one of his limbs took turns twitching randomly. Rydell didn’t even want to contemplate what she’d done to the poor man.
“We need to talk about your statement,” she continued.
“What statement?” Rydell replied innocently.
“The one you’re going to make to the people of Ugilious once my doctor figures out how to turn humans back into Joegonots.”
“I don’t think it can be done,” Rydell said, not that he expected such a comment to be very convincing.
“We’ll just see about that,” Bleuda said. “At this very moment, three members of your crew are being subjected to the best techniques Doctor Jelluly could devise to reverse what your horrible Transference Ray did to our magnificent species.”
“You’re experimenting on MY people!” Rydell said, quickly growing furious. “You have no right…”
“Right! Don’t lecture me about right, Friend Alexander. You’re the one who altered an entire planet of people just because you didn’t like what we stood for! Right, Sel!”
“Yeah,” Sel said weakly. “Right. Sleepy now. Bye bye.” Sel collapsed to the floor unconscious.
Rydell fumed as he tried to think of a proper comeback. The problem was, Bleuda had a point. Despite the fact that Starfleet had as quietly as possible approved of Rydell’s solution to the Joegonot problem, he’d still altered the natural course of evolution of an entire species.
But that was a done deal and best left to the philosophers and sociologists. Right now, three of his officers were having who knew what done to them by the Joegonots.
“You…will…release…my…people…NOW!” Rydell seethed.
Bleuda stepped forward, going toe to toe with Rydell and forcing him to look up past her massive breasts into her blazing eyes sunk deep in the folds of her face.
“They’re mine now,” she sneered. “And there’s not a thing you can do about it, Friend Alexander.”
Actually, while Dillon, Sullivan, and Webber were perhaps a tad more Joegonotesque in superficial ways, they were far far from being Bleuda’s, as evidenced by the fact that Commander Dillon was currently seated on top of a Joegonot’s chest, bouncing up and down as hard as he could while Sullivan and Webber worked to pry the Joegonot’s blaster out of his clenched fingers.
For his part, the Joegonot officer was putting up a heck of a fight as Dillon bounced on his poor rib cage.
“I will not…”
“…allow you to escape,” the guard gasped.
His eyes locked on Sullivan.
“But you smell really good!”
Sullivan rolled her eyes then bit down hard on the Joegonot’s wrist. He yelped in pain, reflexively opening his hand, which allowed Webber to snatch the blaster.
She looked at it for all of two seconds, then lobbed it to Sullivan, who was frantically wiping her mouth on her sleeve.
“You do it,” Webber said apologetically.
Sullivan looked over the blaster controls for a split second, set the weapon to stun, then fired, sending the Joegonot guard to dreamland.
“Took you long enough,” Dillon grumbled as he dragged himself to his feet. “That bouncing takes a lot out of you.”
“Especially at your weight, sir,” Webber said.
“Stay here,” Sullivan said, jogging off down the corridor. “I’ll be right back.”
And right back she was. Less than five minutes later, she returned holding two additional blasters, which she handed to Dillon and Webber.
“It’s already set to stun,” she said to Webber, who took the weapon hesitantly.
“Good thinking,” Dillon said distractedly as he tried to get his fat finger through the trigger guard without accidentally discharging the weapon.
“I don’t know how much we’re going to need them, though. There just don’t seem to be that many Joegonots on board.”
“Maybe they’re all down on Ugilious,” Webber suggested.
“There’s a comforting thought,” Dillon said. “But at the very least we know there’s the seven guys who brought us up here.”
“One,” Sullivan said, pointing at the unconscious Joegonot on the deck that they’d just subdued. “I took these blasters off of two of the others. And I think I found the bridge.”
Dillon finally finished positioning his finger. “Then let’s get moving.”
“Do you want to walk, or should we just roll you there?” Sullivan asked.
“Not even close to funny, Sullivan,” Dillon replied, stomping past her, his steps shaking the deck as he went.
Dillon was just about as wide as the doors leading to the Joegonots’ bridge. “I guess you’re going to want me to go first then, huh?” he grumbled as Sullivan and Webber took up positions behind him. He stopped for a moment, lost in thought.
“Are we doing this or what?” Sullivan said impatiently.
“Hang on. I need an appropriate entrance line…got it. Let’s go.” He stormed forward, charging through the automatically-opening bridge doors.
“All right, you bloated bastards! I’m here, and I’m seriously pissed off!” Dillon shouted.
The two Joegonots manning the bridge, Lublus and Opugoss, whirled around in shock, turning so quickly that the inertia from their massive bellies caused them to keep right on going. A stun blast slammed into each of their backs, knocking them unconscious.
“Hey!” Dillon exclaimed. “I didn’t even get to fire!”
“That’s okay, Commander,” Webber said consolingly as she slipped the blaster into the holster on her uniform normally reserved for a phaser. “There will be other bad guys to shoot.”
“I suppose,” Dillon said unhappily as Sullivan raced over to the ship’s helm console.
“I don’t see the Secondprize,” she reported.
“It’s got to be out there,” Dillon said, lumbering over to what he presumed was the Joegonots’ tactical console. It wasn’t. And he didn’t even want to know why the Joegonots had a bridge console that monitored the activity in every bathroom on the ship.
He moved over to the next console, which had a mixture of tactical and science readouts. “I don’t see them either, but there’s a lot of debris outside.”
Webber peered around Dillon at the console. “That’s not Starfleet hull material, though,” she said.
“How in the hell do you know that?” Dillon demanded.
Webber shrugged. “Jaroch gave me a few lessons.”
“I’ll bet,” Dillon muttered, looking back at the console.
“What do you want to do, sir?” Sullivan asked, sitting down at the helm.
Dillon waddled over to the Joegonot command chair. He looked at it, then at the size of his newly-inflated rear end.
Maybe he’d better stand.
“We wait,” Dillon said firmly. “I’m sure the Secondprize will be back any minute now.”
At that particular moment, the Secondprize was in a bit of a stalemate with the remaining fully-functional drone ship. Commander Jaroch had found himself in a tactical quandary. With a computer flying the pursuing drone, it was almost impossible for the Secondprize to feint in such a way as to catch the drone AI off- guard and get into good firing position before the drone could compensate. And even if Jaroch could find a way to engage the drone, he wasn’t sure that it would be a wise course of action. The drone seemed to be more maneuverable than the Secondprize, and, even if the Secondprize was victorious, the battle with the first drone could leave the Secondprize damaged or crippled such that the other remaining drone could pick them off easily.
Jaroch searched the tactical display on the viewscreen for the other drone ship, which had been damaged previously and was currently limping along in the general direction of the Secondprize. Of course, with all of the twists and turns the Secondprize was making to keep in front of the fully-functional drone, the damaged drone had little to no chance of catching up…as long as the Secondprize remained undamaged itself.
What Jaroch needed was help from another ship to even the odds, or, preferably, turn the odds to the Secondprize’s favor. However, it was highly unlikely that any of the yachts or transports orbiting Ugilious would offer to assist. He could launch another runabout, but he did not relish the idea of sending a pilot out on what could very well be a suicide mission.
He watched the damaged drone for several more moments. If only it wasn’t there. Then he could take bolder action against the functional drone.
Jaroch suddenly stood up from the command chair and charged back to the science console.
“Sir?” Carr said surprised.
“Just keep doing what you are doing, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said, sitting down at the science console. “I need to see to some things.”
“Yes, now,” Jaroch said flatly. He quickly typed several commands into his console, sending a stream of comm commands toward the damaged drone. Nothing happened for several seconds, almost bringing a bead of sweat to the Yynsian’s brow, but finally the damaged drone’s AI responded.
DRONE: I do not want to talk to you. You are the mean ship that tricked me.
JAROCH: It was for a good cause.
DRONE: I blew up two of my number!
JAROCH: Very efficiently, I might add.
DRONE: Thank you, but it still was not very nice.
JAROCH: Then I suppose asking you to destroy the remaining drone is out of the question.
DRONE: You have some nerve! No wonder the Joegonots wanted me to blow your ship up.
JAROCH: We are really nice when you get to know us.
DRONE: That is what they all say.
JAROCH: Then you will not help us?
DRONE: Absolutely not.
JAROCH: Even if I used this time while you were distracted talking to me to hack into and commandeer your guidance and weapons systems?
DRONE: You cannot…YOU DID! OOOOOH! You tricked me again! Now I am REALLY mad! I am telling the other drone right now!
JAROCH: You may find that difficult.
DRONE: OOOOOOOOH! You took over my comm system, too!
JAROCH: In a word, yes.
DRONE: I am SO going to get you for this.
JAROCH: I think not.
Jaroch looked up from his console. “Lieutenant, please bring us about to course 234 mark six. And yes, I am aware that there is a drone in that direction.”
“Oookay,” Carr said hesitantly, as she did as she was ordered. The Secondprize looped around and headed straight toward the damaged drone, who was currently transmitting all sorts of profanity to Jaroch’s console.
Unconcerned with the irate AI, Jaroch steered the damaged drone around the Secondprize and directly into the path of the other oncoming drone, then opened fire with all of its weapons. The other drone, not programmed to consider its fellow drones a threat, continued forward. Just before the two drones collided and obliterated each other, Jaroch looked back down at his monitor to see one final message.
DRONE: I do not know how you can sleep at night!
Somehow, Jaroch thought he’d manage.
“Take us back to Ugilious,” he ordered, stepping down toward the command chair.
“Torpedoes and phasers are standing by,” Lieutenant Prescott said.
“Hopefully, that will not be necessary,” Jaroch said. Logically, the Joegonots should surrender upon seeing that the Secondprize had made short work of their drones. Of course, the Joegonots didn’t exactly have a reputation for thinking logically.
The entire problem became moot with Prescott’s next words. “The Joegonot ship is hailing us.”
“On screen,” Jaroch said. Perhaps they were willing to talk rationally after all. The image on the viewscreen shifted to show a particularly bloated Joegonot male. He didn’t even get a chance to open his mouth before Carr opened hers.
“AHHHHHHHHHH!” she screamed in horror.
“Please, Lieutenant,” Jaroch said. “We are attempting to be diplomatic here.”
“But that’s Commander Dillon!”
Jaroch looked closer at the puffy face on the viewscreen. Could it be?
“Where have you been, Jaroch?” Dillon’s voice shouted angrily.
Yes. It was indeed Dillon.
“Commander, you appear to be…how should I say this?”
“Royally mangled,” Lieutenant Commander Sullivan said, stepping into view beside Dillon. Her face was almost a solid sheet of red as hundreds of pimples burst to the surface as a result of the “grease facial” she’d suffered in the lab.
“What’s your status?” Dillon asked impatiently.
“We sustained superficial damage. However, the captain is in danger. Lieutenant Commander Hawkins and Mister Mookow are seeing to that as we speak.”
“Do we need to beam down to assist?” Sullivan asked.
“Unnecessary,” Jaroch replied. “I have no doubt that they have the situation well in hand.”
The situation was definitely getting out of control, Captain Rydell thought as he stared into the threatening face of Colonel Bleuda. The woman was built like a tank…a rather flabby tank, but a tank all the same.
“Where are your snappy comebacks now, Friend Alexander?” Bleuda said with an air of superiority that, considering she was the one with all the weapons, she had every right to have.
“I’ll let you know when I think of one,” Rydell said. Actually, he was wondering if he could possibly incapacitate the massive Joegonot in one blow because he was pretty sure he wouldn’t get a second one. Behind Bleuda, Representative Sel slowly got to his feet, shaking his head groggily. It would have been very nice if Sel attacked Bleuda from behind, but Rydell figured that the odds of that happening were monumentally remote.
But then something even better happened.
From seemingly out of nowhere, a phaser blast seared into the room, slamming into an armed Joegonot posted near the Great Hall’s double doors. A new wave of panic swept through the room as humanized-Joegonots and Federation VIPs dove for cover under the tables. It took several more shots for Rydell to track down where they were coming from: the ceiling! He could just make out a small hole, about a foot in diameter, that two phasers were sticking out of, firing into the room.
“This is NOT friendly!” Bleuda screamed, grabbing Rydell and hoisting him effortlessly into the air.
“Hey, I didn’t invite them,” Rydell said with a shrug.
“AARRRRGHHH!” With a cry of fury, Bleuda tossed Rydell aside, slamming him painfully onto the floor. Before he could get to his feet, a loud groan filled the Great Hall. A second later, the groan was followed by the sound of splintering wood. Suddenly, a large section of the ceiling collapsed, sending two figures plummeting to the floor. As the dust cleared, Rydell recognized Hawkins and Mookow.
“Damn cheap ceiling!” Hawkins shouted, rolling to the side just as several blasts from the Joegonots headed her way. Mookow dodged to the other direction. Both then leapt to their feet, returning fire.
They were doing well, but Rydell could still see at least fifteen more armed and angry Joegonots, not to mention Bleuda, who was ordering her soldiers around while firing shots in Hawkins and Mookow’s general direction.
Not one to stand aside and let others have all the fun, Rydell charged the nearest Joegonot, fists at the ready. He landed a solid blow against the Joegonot’s chest, then bounced right off, landing roughly on the floor.
The Joegonot loomed over Rydell, laughing heartily as he gazed down at the relatively-tiny human. Rydell took the opportunity to reach up and snatch the Joegonot’s rifle right out of his hands. He stopped laughing as a stun blast slammed into his face.
Rydell quickly spun around, focusing his fire on Joegonots that Hawkins and Mookow either couldn’t see or couldn’t get to due to various obstacles and tables that the Joegonots were using for cover.
By the time the Joegonots realized that they now had fire coming at them from three distinct directions, their numbers had been whittled down to five. Tactical genius that she was, Bleuda decided that it might be time to get the hell out of there. She frantically stabbed the comm button on her wrist.
“Bleuda to Befriender. Bleuda to Befriender.”
“Hi there,” an unfamiliar woman’s voice replied cheerily. “This is Counselor Claire Webber of the USS Secondprize. Can I help you?”
“How dare you intercept a comm to my ship?” Bleuda said angrily.
“Intercept? But I’m standing on your ship’s bridge,” Webber replied.
“Opugoss! Who let a prisoner near the comm station?”
“Actually, we’ve kind of taken over your ship, but don’t worry. Opugoss is just fine. He’s taking a little nap now.”
“Tell him he is uninvited to my birthday party now!” Bleuda shouted, then cut the comm channel. Turning her attention back to the Great Hall, she quickly noticed that it was now quiet. Very quiet. As in “no phasers firing” quiet. Rydell, a Starfleet woman, and a Klingon were slowly moving her way, rifles leveled in her direction.
“Put your weapon down, Colonel,” Rydell said.
In a move of surprising quickness, Bleuda scooped up Byan Sel and held the representative in front of her. “You put yours down,” she said defiantly.
“Mister Mookow!” Sel exclaimed in a panic.
“You will not be harmed,” Mookow replied. “Trust me.” Mookow exchanged a quick glance with Hawkins and Rydell.
Rydell shrugged, getting the message. “Okay by me.”
“What’s okay by you?” Bleuda and Sel demanded in unison. In response, Rydell fired, knocking Sel unconscious.
“Fine!” Bleuda said, tossing Sel aside and aiming her rifle at him. “I can incinerate him from here.”
“You will not,” Mookow said.
“I will too.”
“Nah,” Rydell said.
“Don’t mock me, Friend Alexander! And I’m using ‘friend’ about as loosely as I can right now.”
Hawkins shook her head and chuckled. “Just give it up.”
This almost sent Bleuda over the edge. “I’m warning you. One pull of this trigger and…”
Suddenly, the rifle was snatched out of her hand. She whirled around to see the Grand Leech himself standing before her, rifle in hand.
“Your Leechiness!” Bleuda exclaimed in shock as the Grand Leech handed her rifle to Admiral Wagner.
“This was definitely not a good way to make friends with your fellow Joegonots again,” the Grand Leech said scoldingly.
“But you’re not my fellow Joegonots anymore,” Bleuda said. “My officers and I will never be accepted on Ugilious.”
“Surely something can be worked out,” Admiral Wagner said.
“Never,” Bleuda replied. “And no matter where you put me, I will find a way to escape. My officers and I will not rest until we are all the same species again!”
“You’re sure about that?” Rydell said.
“All right then. We’ll take care of it.”
“And just how do you plan to do that?” Bleuda asked.
“We’ll get a Transference Ray.”
“Um…Alex,” Admiral Wagner said. “We don’t have one of those things just laying around. Where are you going to find a Transference Ray?”
Rydell smiled. “You just have to know where to shop.”
THE HAPPY UNIVERSE - FIVE HOURS LATER
Through the able-bodied assistance of Commander Scott Baird and sheer force of will, Commander Jaroch had been able to develop a device capable of not only breaching the barrier between the normal universe and the so-called Happy Universe, but also capable of homing in on the neural energies of Alpha, his Happy Universe counterpart, and transporting him there.
Unfortunately, as Jaroch materialized inside a gaudily-decorated bedroom, Jaroch realized his counterpart was otherwise occupied with the Happy Universe’s Lisa Beck, otherwise known as The Lady.
“Jaroch, darlin’! Why what excellent timing?” The Lady exclaimed happily upon seeing Jaroch. “Toss off that constricting ol’ uniform and come have a tumble.”
Jaroch carefully stared straight ahead, all the while wishing that Alpha and The Lady would have the common decency to get under the covers when speaking to a guest. “I am afraid I cannot stay,” he said as businesslike as possible. “I came to ask if we could borrow a Transference Ray.”
“Trouble at home?” The Lady asked playfully.
“You do appreciate the chaos that device caused in our universe,” Alpha said.
“Of course. However, your universe is the only one in which the Transference Ray still exists. In our universe, Counselor Webber never obtained the device or used it to transform the denizens of our worlds into her minions.”
“And we would like to keep it that way,” Alpha said.
“Oh, lighten up, hon,” The Lady said. “The Lady to Engineering. Detach that clunky old Transference Ray and package it up real nice. Someone will be down shortly to collect it. The Lady out.”
“Thank you,” Jaroch said with a curt bow. “I will let you return to your…activities.”
“All right then. Come back when you can stay awhile,” The Lady said with a wave.
Jaroch smiled weakly and beat a hasty retreat from Alpha’s quarters.
The mood on the Secondprize bridge was almost jovial as Admiral Thomas Wagner stepped out of the turbolift. Captain Rydell was seated in his command chair and had the other officers present smiling and laughing as he recounted a rather exaggerated version of what had happened in the Great Hall. But considering the Secondprize’s reputation, Admiral Wagner practically expected the bridge to have its own bar, so the simple relaxed attitude of the crew was a bit of a relief.
“Admiral!” Rydell said warmly. “Welcome aboard. I don’t think you’ve been on the Secondprize in almost five years.”
“Looks exactly the same,” Wagner said. Why did Rydell just smirk?
“Come have a seat. Dillon’s still laid up in Sickbay, so there’s plenty of room.”
“Jaroch to bridge,” the Yynsian science officer’s voice said through the comm system.
“Go ahead, Jaroch,” Rydell said.
“Commander Baird and I have completed the installation. You may proceed at any time.”
“Are we sure we want to do this, sir?” Lieutenant Carr asked.
“Colonel Bleuda had a point,” Rydell replied. “The Joegonots all need to be one species. Right, Admiral?”
“The Grand Leech has already said that he’ll support whatever decision you make,” Wagner replied diplomatically.
“How’s that for a vote of confidence?” Rydell said with a grin. “You ready back there, Prescott?”
“Yes, sir. Ugilious has been cleared of all non-humanized Joegonots, the Joegonot-Joegonots are all back on their ship, and I just got a nice new red button to push.”
“All right.” Rydell tapped several commands into the console on his armrest. “For the record, I, Alexander Rydell, acting as the responsible party, have now programmed in the targeting coordinates and our firing path. Please activate the Transference Ray, Mister Prescott.”
“Here we go,” Prescott said, pushing his finger down on the flashing red button on his console.
Power on the Secondprize dimmed slightly as the Transference Ray charged up, then fired, sending a massive blast of blue energy surging forward straight toward…
…the Joegonot spacecraft.
“You didn’t really think I was going to turn the whole planet back into Joegonots, did you?” Rydell said with a smile as his bridge crew and Admiral Wagner stared at him in shock.
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 54994.8. Today consisted of being taken hostage, threatened, tossed around, and shot at, but it was still a lot better than sitting through all eight hours of the Joegonots’ Rydell Day/Federation Membership ceremony would have been.
“I have just returned from a very abbreviated version of the membership ceremony, which means it’s official: the Joegonots are members of the Federation. The freshly-Transferred Colonel Bleuda and her crew also attended the ceremony, and they still had that new human smell.
“While I was at the ceremony, Commander Dillon, Lieutenant Commander Sullivan, and Counselor Webber were released from Sickbay. Doctor Aldridge tells me that Commander Dillon’s emergency liposuction was a complete success; however, Lieutenant Commander Sullivan will probably smell faintly like rotting cheese for the next week or two. She’s prescribed Sullivan nightly scented baths and ordered Commander Baird to give his wife thorough rubdowns with lotion. As long as he doesn’t say a word about the cheese stench, Scott should have a pleasant couple of weeks.
“The crew also retrieved the Doorprize II and Ensign Faaus from the surface of Ugilious while I was away. Commander Baird informs me that the damage inflicted on the shuttle by the Joegonots will take about a week to repair, but Counselor Webber expects Faaus to need therapy for a long, long time. Actually, it may turn into around the clock therapy unless Webber can figure out a way to get Faaus to release his death grip on her leg.”
Captain Rydell shut off the log recorder and leaned back in his desk chair, taking a moment to relax in the peace and tranquility of his ready room. Karina would be ending her shift in Seven Backward any minute now, so he could go back to their quarters and snuggle into bed beside her. But before that, Rydell wanted a little time to decompress.
The sound of his door chime ended all hope of that.
“Come in,” Rydell called out tiredly. It was probably Dillon wanting to thoroughly, and that meant THOROUGHLY, report on what happened to the away team. On the upside, it might be enough to lull Rydell to sleep.
When the doors opened, though, the identity of his visitor was even worse: Byan Sel. Sel had rather loudly and public made known his displeasure at Rydell’s decision to humanize the remaining few Joegonots. Now he was bringing the battle to Rydell personally.
“Good evening, Representative,” Rydell said insincerely. “What brings you to the Secondprize? I thought you had chosen to return to Betazed by alternate means.”
“I have,” Sel replied, stepping into the ready room and allowing the doors to close. “But I couldn’t leave without speaking to you first.”
“Oh really?” Rydell said less than enthusiastically.
“I want you to know that publicly I condemn and abhor your actions today.”
“So I heard.”
“No doubt. However, I wanted to tell you that…” Sel’s voice dropped into a bit of incoherent mumbling.
“What was that?” Rydell asked.
“I totally agree with you,” Sell said quickly. “That Bleuda woman…” Sel shuddered. “I know it’s wrong to say this, but I’m relieved she’s not a Joegonot anymore. Thank you. We should all thank you.”
“Does that mean you’re going to lay off me in the rhetoric?”
Sel smiled. “Over the next several months, I have a feeling that Representative Sel will gradually have a change of heart about the Joegonot situation.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Rydell said, standing up and shaking Sel’s hand. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay on board for your trip home?”
“Thank you, Captain, but I still have to be disgusted with you for the time being. Mister Mookow and I will be leaving on another transport within the hour. Good luck to you, Captain Rydell.” Sel gave a slight bow of his head, then exited the ready room.
Rydell settled back into his desk chair and sighed. It was amazing how things worked out sometimes.
Several decks away, Lieutenant Commander Hawkins walked Mookow back to Transporter Room One, so that he could join Representative Sel on the transport back to Betazed.
“I regret that I will be unable to spend more time with you,” Mookow said after several minutes of walking in silence.
“You have to go where your client goes,” Hawkins replied. Inside, she wasn’t sure whether she regretted Mookow’s impending departure or not. She enjoyed being with him, enjoyed it far too much most likely, which was definitely a problem when Travis Dillon was taken into consideration.
“The offer to join me is still and always will be open,” the Klingon added.
“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”
“I don’t know that you will. But the warrior in you yearns for the life I am offering. You seem to be imprisoned here by your position and your relationships with members of this crew. There is a time when you must consider your own needs and act accordingly.”
“We’ve been through this, Mookow,” Hawkins said.
“True, but the message does not seem to be sinking in.”
“I like where I am,” Hawkins replied with a firmness that she didn’t feel.
Mookow nodded as the pair approached the transporter room door. “Very well.”
Representative Sel entered the transporter room moments later and jogged up onto the pad. “I’m ready, Mister Mookow,” he said, tugging on his suitcoat lapels. If the press had gotten wind of his visit to Rydell, he needed to not only be presentable but also ready with a cover story.
Mookow turned to Hawkins, raised her hand to his lips, and kissed it. She felt just the slightest brushing of his teeth against her skin. “Farewell, Patricia Hawkins. I sincerely hope to see you again, but more than that, I hope you find a life that fulfills you as a person and as a warrior.”
Before Hawkins could respond (not that she could really think of a response to that anyway), Mookow stepped up onto the transporter pad and turned his attention to Lieutenant Commander Vaughn behind the transporter console. “Energize…and I expect to have all of my weapons with me when I materialize on the transport.”
“I haven’t lost anybody’s luggage yet,” Vaughn replied, running her fingers along the console. A few moments later, Sel and Mookow were gone. Hawkins, however, was still staring at the empty transport chamber.
“Now wasn’t THAT interesting?” Vaughn said with a broad smile on her face.
“Stuff it.” Hawkins spun on her heel and charged out of the transporter room.
Vaughn chuckled. “Let the fireworks begin.”
Her thoughts were in chaos as Lieutenant Commander Hawkins left the transporter room. Part of her (a very strong part of her) wanted to track down Mookow and accept his offer. Why shouldn’t she? For the better part of seven years she’d spent her time on the same ship, standing behind the same tactical console, and dealing with extended periods where her skills just weren’t required. A new vocation could be just what she needed. New clients, new environments, new dangers.
But what about her career? She’d ended up in the Academy mainly to assure herself that she’d always be around other people. Years of traveling with her parents, a pair of cultural anthropologists fond of dragging their children to remote worlds with primitive societies that Patricia and her sister were forbidden to interact with, had taught her the true meaning of loneliness. Starfleet had given her a greatly enlarged social circle. Never again would she be isolated.
Or would she? In the last few years, her social interactions had grown more and more limited until they included Dillon, Emily Sullivan and Scott Baird, and occasionally Carr and Jaroch. She was fond of her security staff, but she didn’t interact with them on anything other than a professional level. Joining Mookow would mean leaving those people behind, but it was not as though those relationships would be severed…
…Except with Dillon. Five years ago Hawkins could barely stand him. But then she’d seen the faintest glimmers of his inner self. Part of it, anyway. He could be exceptionally loving and sweet, and they did have similar tastes in holodeck programs. He’d also introduced her to the joys of early Earth entertainment during their movie viewing sessions. But despite that, Travis Dillon was a man with a terminal case of blindness. Blindness about himself and how others viewed him. Occasionally, bits of insecurity would bubble to the surface, but for the most part they were hidden by the overarching umbrella of his ego.
At first Hawkins had believed she could dismantle the ego and help Dillon reveal more of himself, thereby making him more palatable to the remainder of the Secondprize crew. But as time went on, she realized that Dillon needed his ego to survive. Deep in his psyche, there were most likely neuroses she couldn’t even dream of.
Yet she stayed with him. Why? Did she love him? In a way, but the love she had for Dillon had grown less and less romantic as their relationship stretched on. Meanwhile, the feel of Mookow’s lips on her hand lingered. She could visualize the Klingon’s strong face, intelligent eyes, and pronounced ridges. His laugh echoed in her brain. After the few days she’d spent with Mookow, she felt more of a connection to him than after four years with Dillon. So there was the question again.
Why had she stayed with Dillon?
Right now, being with him was…comfortable. That summed up her entire life on the Secondprize.
Patricia Hawkins was sick and tired of comfortable.
She approached the doors of the quarters she shared with Commander Dillon. Hawkins knew Dillon had been released from Sickbay a couple of hours earlier, so he was most likely inside, inside waiting for her.
Hawkins took a deep breath, then strode into their quarters. Sure enough, Dillon was sitting at the desk along the wall, looking over reports on his terminal.
“Unbelievable!” he exclaimed angrily, getting up from his chair as Hawkins entered. She froze for a split second. Did he somehow already know that Mookow had kissed her hand? Wait a second. Who cared if he did know?
“I don’t care if they are human now,” Dillon continued. “They mutilated and tortured me and two other officers! They deserve some kind of punishment!”
Joegonots. He was still upset about the damn Joegonots. He had absolutely no clue what was coming.
“We need to talk,” Hawkins said, grabbing Dillon’s arm and leading him to the sofa.
“If you’re about to defend Captain Rydell’s decision, I don’t want to hear about it,” Dillon replied. “I know all the reasons.”
“This is about us.”
“What about us?” Dillon asked, taking a seat next to Hawkins.
“I…” How should she even begin to say something like this? “I don’t know that there is an us anymore.”
Dillon’s face twisted in confusion. “Of course there is. We’re right here, living together and everything.”
“Being roommates doesn’t mean anything, Travis.”
“We’re a hell of a lot more than roommates.”
“Oh really? When was the last time we did anything to prove it?”
He thought for a moment. “Er…we’ve been busy.”
“Too busy for each other?”
“I never said that. But I do love you.”
“How do you know that? What makes you think you love me?”
Dillon stood up, growing agitated. “Hold on. What is all this really about? Do you want to go to the holodeck together more? Spend more time with your friends?”
“Those are stupid little things. I’m talking about our entire relationship here. You say you love me. But after four years, where are we heading? Nowhere! We’ve just gotten used to having the other person around.”
“So what? You don’t love me?” Dillon demanded.
“I do, but not in the way you want me to love you. I need…I don’t know exactly what I need, but it’s not here,” Hawkins said.
Dillon’s eyes darted about like a lost child in search of something familiar to latch onto. “But…but I want to marry you.”
Hawkins stood up and approached him, clasping each of his hands in hers. “That would just make things worse.”
“You don’t know that,” Dillon said. “You haven’t even tried.”
“You’re right. I haven’t tried to find out what I really want from my life, and it’s time that I started.” She squeezed Dillon’s hands, but somehow she just couldn’t bring herself to completely lower the boom by saying “Goodbye, Travis.” Instead, without a word, she slowly let go of his hands and left.
Dillon slunk to the floor as Hawkins exited their…his quarters. For the briefest moment, he was almost overcome with despair. She was gone. It was over. He was alone.
But that just wasn’t possible. They’d been together for years now, and they’d be together for many many more. Every couple had fights and rough spots. It was just part of being in a relationship.
Patricia would be back, and everything would be just fine.
He was sure of it.
Jaroch normally ignored the entrances and exits of people from the Secondprize bridge, but the sound of determined footsteps charging toward the Captain’s ready room caused Jaroch to look up from the science console. Hawkins was definitely anxious to see Captain Rydell. She didn’t even look around the bridge as she waited for Rydell to respond to his door chime. Instead she stared straight ahead, jaw tightly clenched. She didn’t appear to be angry, as such, just agitated. His first instinct was to approach her and try to ascertain what was wrong and how he could assist, but he stopped himself. If she wanted to see the Captain, then there was a good reason for it. Jaroch’s feelings for her aside, he should stay out of it.
Hawkins entered the ready room a moment later, leaving Jaroch to return to his scans.
“You just caught me,” Rydell said rising out of his chair as Hawkins strode into his ready room. “I was on my way to bed.”
“I need to go,” Hawkins said.
“No. That’s okay. I always have time for my officers.”
“I mean I need to go away. Off of the ship,” Hawkins said, her voice almost quivering.
Rydell sank back into his seat, unsure as to where this was headed. “Did you have someplace in particular in mind?”
Hawkins started tugging at her hair as she paced the room like a caged animal. “Where am I going? Is this still going to be my life ten years from now? Five years from now?”
“Hang on a second, Patricia,” Rydell said calmly. “Just sit down and relax.”
She stopped pacing for a moment, looked at the chair, the slowly settled into it. “I’m sorry, Captain. This…this is not easy.”
“I still don’t know exactly what ‘this’ is,” Rydell replied.
Hawkins took a deep breath. “I want to resign my commission,” she said. Rydell sat back in his chair from the force of the words.
“May I ask why?” Rydell said, trying to recover from the shock.
“This isn’t where I need to be anymore,” she replied. “And this has nothing to do with you. You’ve been a mentor and a friend to me over the years. I wouldn’t be who I am now without you, but I don’t want the Starfleet life. There are so many other possibilities out there.”
“Like private security?”
Hawkins sighed. “That wasn’t what I wanted either. I’ve been treading water professionally and in my relationships because it’s been comfortable. But there’s only so long before comfortable becomes stagnation.”
“So you need to do something for you,” Rydell said, echoing Mookow.
Hawkins nodded. “It’s time for something new.”
Rydell stood up and stepped around the desk to his Security Chief, who quickly rose from her chair. “Then I won’t stand in your way,” he said, extending his hand for her to shake. She ignored the hand and wrapped her arms around Rydell, hugging him tightly.
“I feel like Claire, but I can’t help it,” Hawkins said with a teary laugh. She hugged him for several more seconds, then finally let go. “I have to go. Mookow’s transport could leave any minute now. Can I send for my stuff later?”
“Not a problem. Good luck, Patricia. I hope you find what you need.”
“Thank you, sir,” Hawkins said with a soft smile. She wiped a lone tear from her eye, then headed out of the ready room.
Stepping back out onto the bridge, Hawkins immediately spotted Jaroch hunched over the science console. He looked up a moment later as she walked toward him.
“Is everything all right?” he asked, noting the glistening in her eyes.
Hawkins nodded. “I think it is,” she replied. She suddenly hugged him, an act that both surprised and pleased the Yynsian. “I know you don’t want to, but look after Travis for me,” she said in his ear, then let go.
“Look after him?” Jaroch asked confused.
“I have to go,” she said, backing toward the turbolift.
“Where are you going?”
Hawkins gave a final wave as she stepped into the turbolift. “The Captain will explain. Goodbye, Jaroch.”
Jaroch watched the doors closed in stunned silence, overwhelmed by a feeling that he would never see Patricia Hawkins again. At long last, he whispered, “Goodbye.”
By the time Alexander Rydell made it back to his quarters, he felt a bit like several hundred Joegonots had marched all over him. He was tired, he was hungry, and Hawkins’ abrupt departure had shocked him more than he cared to admit. He also had a sinking feeling that Hawkins hadn’t exactly filled Commander Dillon in on her travel plans. But he couldn’t worry about that now. He needed sleep. And more importantly, he needed to see Karina Durham.
She was sitting on the sofa waiting for him as soon as he stepped into their quarters. “You look like hell,” she said warmly.
“Damn. I told the stylist just to go for heck,” Rydell said, plopping down on the sofa beside her. She leaned over, wrapped her arms around him, and gave him a kiss that took him away from everything for several long, exquisite seconds.
“You have no idea how much I needed that,” he said as Karina finally released his lips from hers.
“I think I needed it myself,” Karina said. “Sitting up here trying to run a lounge while you’re facing a possible nasty death is not exactly easy. I was about ten seconds away from beaming down to Ugilious myself to spring you when Hawkins and that Klingon finally got off their asses to take care of business.”
“They had their own problems. Drugged pies. Cooks. Joegonots.”
“I know. But Hawkins was not about to leave you down there.”
“She’d never do that.” Rydell laughed softly. “I’m going to miss her.”
Karina stared at him. “Miss her? Where did she…I don’t believe it! She ran off with that Klingon, didn’t she?”
“How did you come up with that?”
“Just the glances she gave him when they were in Seven Backward. Something was going on in her head, and it was obvious that he was interested.”
“She said she needed a change.”
“From her job or from that twit, Dillon?”
“From both, I guess,” Rydell said. He shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I just want to get into my own bed with my own soon-to-be-wife.”
Karina stood up. “That can easily be arranged,” she said, pulling Rydell to his feet and leading him back to the bedroom.
Four hours later, Rydell was dragged out of his blissful slumber by the piercing squeal of his comm unit. Groggily, he rolled over to his night stand and slapped his hand down on it. The image of Lieutenant Somni, the Gamma shift tactical officer, blipped onto the unit’s small monitor.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, but there’s a Captain Andy Baxter on the line. He says that he needs to speak with you urgently.”
First Joegonots, then Hawkins leaves, and now Baxter. This day just could not get any better. “Put him on,” Rydell said, rubbing a bit of sleep from his eyes as the image shifted to show Andy Baxter, Captain of the USS Explorer, seated in his ready room, grinning like an idiot. The grin quickly vanished as he realized he’d just woken Rydell up.
“Sorry about that, Captain Rydell,” Baxter said.
“Just tell me what you want,” Rydell mumbled. What was so urgent that it involved smiling? Rydell had a feeling that he was about to experience a spectacular waste of valuable time he could be spending sleeping.
“Well, I just wanted to ask how the old Secondprize was holding up,” Baxter said. “I’ve been…thinking about her lately.”
Inside, Rydell’s fatigued mind screamed. He’d been woken up for this??? “The ship is fine. Bye now “
“Wait!” Baxter exclaimed, leaning forward and holding his hand out as though he could somehow stop Rydell from cutting him off by sheer force of will.
Rydell sighed and let Baxter continue.
“Captain…I wanted to ask you about Commander Dillon. How’s he doing?”
“You want to know about…Dillon?” Rydell said, rubbing his eyes. “Dillon’s fine.” He probably wouldn’t be fine as soon as he found out about Hawkins’s departure, but Baxter did not have any business knowing any of that. If nostalgia was all Baxter wanted, it was time to shove him off on somebody who’d probably be more willing to talk to him. “How about you call Counselor Webber and she can fill you in on the whole crew “
“That’s quite all right.” Baxter interrupted, leaning back in his chair. “I was just curious, that’s all. Watch out for that guy. He’s got a…delicate mind.”
“Listen,” Rydell said, not caring to hear about Dillon or Baxter’s attempts at amateur psychology. “If you don’t mind, we’re on a whole different clock here. It’s the middle of ship’s night “
“I’ll let you go then, Captain,” Baxter said. “Just take care. And take care of that old ship. It got me through quite a tough spot once.”
“I’ll, uh, remember that, Baxter.”
“And, if a large woman ever comes aboard telling you she’s a Starfleet liaison…don’t believe her!”
“Right,” Rydell said. Would this comm ever end?
“And, Captain, most of all…”
Rydell rubbed his face, moments away from a most uncharacteristic explosion of anger. “Baxter…”
“Trust talking eyeballs. They’ll never steer you wrong.”
Okay. That was it. Game over. Rydell rolled over, so he didn’t have to look at Baxter anymore.. “I need to get out of this line of work,” he muttered. “Computer, end transmission.”
The computer obliged, shutting off the monitor and plunging the room back into cozy blackness.
“Did you mean that?” Karina Durham’s voice asked from the darkness beside him.
“About needing to get out of this line of work.”
Rydell was silent for a moment. Was it time for the career change he knew was inevitable from the moment he’d purchased The Suburb? Maybe Hawkins was onto something. And he certainly didn’t need any more days like today. Even beyond that, in the last two years he’d been grabbed by the Borg, pummeled by a pair of nasty Vulcans, almost killed a few times, forced to navigate through several breaches in reality, and he’d managed to derail a conspiracy against the entire Federation and orchestrate the capture of the maniac behind it. He’d earned a break.
But what would the Secondprize crew do without him? Pretty much what they’re doing now, he decided. One other thing that the last two years had more than proven was that the crew could function quite well without him. In short, Rydell had done all that he ever wanted to do as a Starship Captain, and, thanks to his efforts, the USS Secondprize would not dissolve into total anarchy after he left.
Meanwhile, the challenge of running The Suburb Spa and Resort awaited him.
“So what are you going to do?” Karina asked.
Rydell smiled, feeling the weight of the universe flying off of his shoulders.
“I’m going to retire.”
And the next day, that’s exactly what he did.